Imagine the following scenario. You are down to your final $100 in your checking account, your savings and emergency funds have been wiped clean, and you’re faced with the following obligations: filling up the gas tank in your car, buying groceries for the week, paying your cell phone bill, and buying birthday gifts for your niece. How would you determine your financial priorities?
Fortunately, most of us don’t face such difficult circumstances when determining how to spend the money we earn, but the overall concept still applies. Allocating your income each month can be a challenging juggling act whether you earn $2,000 or $10,000 per month.
The sad reality is that many families float along month after month without a financial game plan. It’s not uncommon for high-earners to live paycheck to paycheck because they don’t have a grasp on their personal financial priorities. And even those who make efforts to spend wisely forget to adjust their game plan when major life events (think child birth, job change, sale or purchase of a home) come along.
No matter where you fall on the financial game plan spectrum –from no plan at all to a perfectly executed one—it is critical to be sure that your overall plan aligns with your financial priorities and values.
Read on to learn how my wife and I establish and evaluate our financial priorities –and how you can do the same!
Why You Need to Define Your Financial Priorities in the First Place
As stated above, defining financial priorities for your family is a critical piece of your overall game plan with money. If you agree with this concept, skip ahead to the next heading. If you find yourself challenging or questioning this, there are several reasons why it is important.
Progress is hard to achieve without an understanding of your financial priorities. Think of heading out on a vacation without knowing your destination. This might be fun for a while, but if you do it continuously you’ll end up nowhere, even if you are making decent time.
Without defined priorities, it is easy to float from one goal to another without careful thought and planning. This may cause you to be unprepared for major financial events like college, weddings, and retirement.
If you do not have ranked financial priorities, you will most likely finding yourself multitasking with your money. Aside from research which proves that multitasking doesn’t work, multitasking with money is especially dangerous because it lengthens the time for completion of even the simplest tasks.
Building a List of Your Priorities
When you’re ready to begin building a list of your financial priorities, you may feel overwhelmed by where to begin. I recommend two approaches that have worked for me and my wife; though both are different, I believe they will effectively lead you to similar conclusions.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ve probably noticed that I frequently refer to Values. Simply put, I define values as your personal principles or standards of what is most important to you in life. In your quest to Take Back Control of Life and Money, ensuring that you make money, spend money, save money, invest money, and give money in alignment with your values is critical.
When it comes to determining your financial values, I recommend asking yourself a few simple questions:
What is your main reason for earning money?
What use of your money do feel is most fulfilling?
How do you best contribute to your overall financial well-being?
What kind of legacy do you wish to leave behind?
Answering these questions may not be easy, but your answers will reveal what is most important to you. A proper understanding of your values can help you identify and rank your financial priorities. For more information on discovering your values, sign-up below to receive my FREE Money Values Toolkit.
Following Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps
A values-based approach may seem too time consuming for some people, especially those who are extremely busy. The 7 Baby Steps, as created by personal finance expert Dave Ramsey and pictured to the right, represent a ready-made plan for defining your financial priorities and translating them into an actionable game plan.
When my wife and I first were married, Dave Ramsey’s teachings in The Total Money Makeover and Financial Peace Revisited helped us narrow our focus and define our financial priorities. They helped us discover that we value Dependability, Giving, Stewardship, and Order.
Translating Priorities into Action
As a result, we did what few newlyweds do: we committed to a budget, chose to live in an inexpensive rented town home instead of high-priced corporate apartments, rarely went out to eat or bought new clothes, and focused on being content with what we had.
Having a clear understanding of our financial priorities helped us to define a vision for our future. This vision led us into action to pay off a small car loan, save for a house down payment, secure term life insurance policies for each of us, and pay off my student loan debt over the course of the first six years of our marriage.
Understanding your financial priorities is important, but acting on them is what matters most. Once you’ve narrowed them down yourself, you can begin to Take Back Control of Life and Money and experience deep fulfillment.
What are your current financial priorities? How often do you review your priorities and plans with money?
Tax refund: Next to the words “pay day” and “debt free,” these are my two favorite finance-related words. Whether my annual tax refund is a modest sum or a mid-size windfall, I am always happy to see my refund directly-deposited into my checking account. Admittedly, knowing how to make the most of your tax refund can be a daunting task.
The FinanceSuperhero Guide to Making the Most of Your Tax Refund
Assuming you have a tax refund coming your way, you could be on the verge of changing your financial picture.With great opportunity comes great responsibility!The following advice will help you to make the most of your tax refund and make significant progress on your financial journey. I recommend following the steps in numerical order.
1. Give a Portion of Your Tax Refund to a Charitable Organization
Longtime readers will not be surprised that I am suggesting giving as the first step to make the most of your tax refund. As previously mentioned, Mrs. Superhero and I have placed Giving at the top of our monthly budget. Giving aligns with our values, and helping others provides us with much more satisfaction and enjoyment than buying more stuff or eating delicious food.
I strongly believe that giving 10% is the best way that we can make a charitable contribution prior to reaching financial independence (at which time we will significantly increase our giving). We have always done this, dating back to the time when we faced a mountain of debt, and we continue to do so today, even though we are only a few months away from carrying no debt other than our mortgage.
Why? As I mentioned, we believe helping others is both a calling and the most satisfying use of our money. Giving is also a strong reminder that money is not something to be hoarded out of greed. We want to value money and practice good stewardship, but we also want to remain far removed from the love of money.
Many people reject giving in favor of keeping their money strictly to themselves. Ironically, it is usually these same people who senselessly give their money to big banks and other financiers in the form of outlandish interest payments on cars, boats, and other stuff.
Personally, I would rather give in a meaningful way. Even if you give 1% of your tax refund, you will help others and begin to change the way you view money.
2. Increase Your Savings and/or Emergency Fund
After supporting societal progress by giving, use your tax refund proceeds to improve your liquid savings. Unless you are an extremely high income earner or have a stable passive income stream, you absolutely must have an Emergency Fund. If you do not have one, consider this a full-blown, alarm-sounding crisis that must be addressed immediately! Statistically-speaking, there is close to a 100% chance that you will experience some form of an emergency within the next decade, so be ready!
While I recommend maintaining an Emergency Fund of at least 3-6 months of minimum living expenses, you may also wish to establish an additional Opportunity Fund. I do not specifically recommend amounts or figures for this fund, and you may wish to skip it entirely in favor of moving onto Step 3. However, an Opportunity Fund could allow you to make a fun, somewhat impulsive decision without any accompanying feelings of guilt or regret.
3. Get out of Debt – Once and For All!
After you have given and increased your security via your Emergency Fund, you are fully-prepared to take on the primary barrier standing in the way of Financial Independence: Debt.
The sooner you eliminate your non-mortgage debts, the sooner you free a significant portion of your monthly income and simultaneously gain the freedom to invest in tax-advantaged retirement accounts. Both the Snowball and Avalanche methods are valid means to achieve debt freedom. For the purposes of this post, I am less-concerned with the method you implement to eliminate your debt; just get it done. You may get the push you need if you make the most of your tax refund in this way!
4. Invest in Tax-Advantaged Investments
The real fun begins when you no longer have non-mortgage debt. If you are free from the shackles of debt, the next optimal use for your tax refund is to maximize your retirement contributions. For the purposes of this limited space, ensure you are maximizing employer-offered plans, specifically if they offer a match, and then move onto your Roth IRA.
If you’re looking for an easy to use platform for investing, Betterment could be the solution for you. Their Tax-Coordinated Portfolio works to maximize your earnings and minimize tax burdens across all types of accounts, including taxable accounts, Roth IRAs, and traditional IRAs. It is simple to sign-up or rollover an account, select a portfolio of ETFs, and be on your way toward earning better returns right away.
Compared to other platforms, the Betterment portfolio is designed to achieve optimal returns at every level of risk. Through diversification, automated rebalancing, better behavior, and lower fees, the Betterment approach to investing can help you generate 2.9% higher returns than a typical DIY investor.
If you do not have children, skip ahead to Step 6. If you have children, you need to learn the nuances of the Coverdell ESA (Education Savings Account, also nicknamed the Education IRA) and 429 plan. The ESA has income and contribution limits (currently $2,000 per year), but I recommend you start with the ESA in most circumstances, if eligible.
The important thing to understand is that minimal contributions to these vehicles will place you in a position to send your children to college without the burden of student loans if you begin early.
What could you do with an extra $1,000 per month? $2,500? $5,000? I just felt an overwhelming sense of excitement and peace typing these words. The next time I visit my doctor and have my blood-pressure checked, I am going to visualize the wonders of a mortgage-free life to improve my numbers.
For the average family, mortgage interest represents the second-largest expense that they will pay in their entire lifetime. In some cases, total mortgage interest paid on a 30 year mortgage can be approximately 75-80% of total principal, even at today’s advantageous interest rates! Make the most of your tax refund to accomplish progress on an annual basis and you could shave several years off your mortgage, especially if you are already paying extra on principal on a monthly basis.
7. Invest in Non-Retirement Funds and/or Real Estate
If you have made it to Step 7, please allow me to offer my congratulations. With no debt whatsoever, healthy savings, and kids’ college covered, you are poised to generate significant wealth. At this stage, you may have achieved Financial Independence, depending upon your lifestyle.
I recommend using tax refund money to invest in simple index funds at this stage. A modest tax refund sum is enough to get you started with many index funds. Adopt a long-term approach, relax, and watch your money grow.
Similarly, this is the time to invest in real estate, if interested. Becoming a landlord isn’t for everyone, and paying a property manager could eat into your net profit from owning a rental property. However, a rental property can yield some of the highest annual investment returns if managed well and purchased at prices below market value.
Fortunately, today’s investors can invest in real estate without the hassle of becoming a landlord or hiring a property manager. Fundrise offers real estate investment options with low entry costs.. As of February 2017, they offer three eREITs for new investors: the West Cost eREIT, the Heartland eREIT, and the East Cost eREIT. It is amazing that technology has brought common investors like you and me the opportunity to invest in multi-million dollar buildings half way around the country!
At this stage, true fun begins. When you are financially well-poised for the future, a tax refund represents an opportunity to both invest and add joy to your life simultaneously. This is the time to make improvements around your home which increase your happiness and feature a high return on investment.
Good Investments: new front door, landscaping, deck or patio, kitchen or bath remodel, walkway lighting
Bad Investments: swimming pools, utility sheds
9. Build Sinking Funds for Bucket List Items
Last, but not least, comes additional saving for specific purchases. If you make it down to Step 9 when determining how to implement your tax refund, you are an authentic Superhero. I recommend establishing separate sinking funds for a variety of priorities, such as vacations, new car purchases, secondary homes, or major home additions.
The purpose of a sinking fund is to plan for future purchases which are far off in the future. At this stage, you do not want to be fooled into getting back into debt or be caught off guard by large, necessary expenses. With a sinking fund, you won’t be financially caught off guard when your house needs a new roof, your furnace fails, or your vehicle sputters and dies.
Are You Ready to Make the Most of Your Tax Refund?
A tax refund is a great opportunity to get ahead in your finances. I am confident that you will not fail to cover all of your bases by following these steps. Depending upon where you are in your journey toward Restoring Order to Your World of Finances, you may wish to skip steps or modify the order. For example, renters may wish to place saving for a home down payment in the Steps.
If you haven’t yet filed your 2016 tax returns, be sure to check out E-File.com or LibertyTax today. Either way, careful consideration of your circumstances will put you on the path to make the most of your tax refund this year!
Note: This post was last updated on February 14, 2017.
Readers, did you receive a tax refund this year? Are you currently awaiting a refund? How do you plan to make the most of your tax refund?
Every day is a transaction of sorts. We rise with the currency of time in our possession. How we utilize or spend that time varies greatly from person to person and day to day. When we make the choice to spend our time, we project the returns which may come our way –enjoyment, fun, accomplishment, or financial gain, to name a few. But do we always remember to count the cost?
I have spent a great deal of time, somewhat ironically, thinking about this very subject over the past several weeks. Last Thursday, we said our final goodbyes to my grandmother. At 91 years old, she was the matriarchal head of the family. We will remember and miss her unwavering faith, sense of humor, unmatched skills in the kitchen, and wisdom which exceeded her years.
As I thought about what made Grandma special, it occurred to me that she rarely failed to examine all of the aspects of a situation or opportunity before moving forward. She was quick and decisive because she understood herself, knew her values, and could predict returns while also counting the cost.
Grandma married my Grandpa during the throes of WWII on October 1, 1942, while both were just teenagers. Their first apartment had few redeeming qualities, other than being “cheap.” But Grandma and Grandpa knew that their short-term sacrifices would pay great dividends in the future.
When my uncle was born one year later, Grandma and Grandpa kept their resolve. Grandpa worked as many hours as he could as a machinist at the local plant while also working side jobs delivering newspapers, butchering at the slaughterhouse, and painting with his father-in-law. Meanwhile, Grandma took care of everything at home, even as their family grew. At times, she worked, too.
At times, they sacrificed a great deal to get where they were going, but family always remained their top priority. If an opportunity arose and the cost was calculated to impact family priorities, it was promptly dismissed. Grandma in particular always maintained that Sundays were a day for God and family.
Because of her foresight and unwillingness to compromise that which she valued most, Grandma was able to achieve many goals in life without sacrificing that which mattered most to her.
As for you and me? We, too, need to learn to count the cost.
Considering a new job? Count the cost.
Evaluating options for college next fall? Count the cost.
Looking to start a business/side hustle, pick up a new hobby, or buy a new car?
Count the cost.
Every decision you make will have both an instant and an ongoing impact your time, life, and of course, money. Weigh your options carefully and evaluate the outcomes to the best of your ability. Do not sacrifice anything of supreme importance to achieve lesser goals. And once you decide to act, be sure to strive to begin, continue, and finish with the end in mind.
Each circumstance and opportunity we encounter throughout life is unique. However, while circumstances around you may change, that which you value and cherish most should remain mostly consistent over time. Your values will serve as the foundation upon which you ultimately evaluate possible returns and count the cost.
Like my Grandma and Grandpa, may you count it carefully.
In life, we receive so much from our parents; overall looks, hair color, height, and a host of other genetically-driven predispositions are largely hereditary. Sometimes, we follow in our parents’ footsteps, and sometimes we do not. With some notable exceptions, we get what we get, and life keeps rolling on – for better or for worse.
Recently, I read an article in The Atlantic – Rich People Raise Rich Kids – which caused me to ponder the financial impact our parents have upon our life trajectory. The issues explored and conclusions drawn in the article are thought-provoking, to say the least.
If “Rich People Raise Rich Kids,” does that imply that the corollary, i.e. “Poor People Raise Poor Kids,” is often true?
Of course, life experience shows us the impact our parents can play in financial futures. Plenty of people are born into money, but countless folks create their own wealth. Many of us will learn to manage money, for better or worse, in the same manner demonstrated by our parents. Others will seek their own path, if they bother to pay attention at all.
And all of this says nothing of the fact that our trajectories may change over time, though change can be hard to set into motion. The poor can become rich, and the rich can lose it all, sometimes in shocking fashion. This is America, after all. *Cues chants* USA! USA! USA!
The power and importance of environment is one point which I tend to agree with wholeheartedly from the aforementioned article. My life story bears out this truth every step of the way.
I grew up in a typical middle class home in West Michigan. My mom worked as a departmental secretary for a reputable regional bank, and my dad worked in manufacturing for one of the largest aerospace engineering companies in the country. Mom earned her Associates degree, while dad entered the work force after completing high school.
We lived in a 3 bedroom, 1 bathroom ranch home which was conveniently located within a few miles of everything: school, work, shopping, and my grandparents. Our family was solidly middle-class, though I had no idea or even any understanding of what that meant at the time.
My parents made the very best of the overall environment in which I was raised. When I was four, they sold our house and moved to the other side of town so I could attend the best schools in the area. I didn’t know at the time, but my mom often remarks today that this move was a financial sacrifice in may respects.
For reasons which I still do not fully understand, I was born with a sharp edge to achieve, and this desire only strengthened itself as I grew up. I didn’t want to just do something – I wanted to win, to be the best, to get a share of the spotlight. Of course, it didn’t work out every single time, but that internal motivation was sometimes a difference-maker.
Equally important, my internal motivation was complimented by external factors. My grandfather always pushed me toward the improbable and believed so much in me that I began to believe in myself.
My self-belief and confidence was shaken many times, but I survived and grew stronger because my parents were not of the helicopter variety. They allowed me to be independent, solve my own problems, and experience difficulty. I learned to bend without breaking.
My parents supported all of my far flung endeavors – competing in chess tournaments all across the country, basketball leagues and camps, and music lessons – and encouraged me to do my best. I was strong-willed and in hindsight demanded a lot. I was lucky to have good parents who provided opportunities.
The rest of the story is simple. I went to college, got a job, and moved out of state, like countless other people before and since. I am not special, and my life is not remarkable. My parents, extended family, and the environment they cultivated for me, on the other hand, are special and remarkable.
Foster a Great Environment For Your Kids
So how can today’s parents foster a positive environment for children and put them in a position to become successful? The following solutions offer a good starting point:
–Get to know your children. A one-size-fits-all approach will never work. In the interest of transparency, I am not yet a parent, but my experience as a teacher illustrates the importance of knowing children as individuals. Spending time with them is the best way to get to know them.
–Model a balanced, prioritized lifestyle. Kids are impressionable and form a surprisingly-high number of conclusions at young ages. As adults, they will remember how you spent your time and model their own priorities after yours in many ways, whether consciously or not.
–Allow your children to fail and encourage them to persevere when they do. They will learn important lessons as a result. They will become resilient, strong, and unafraid to fail, all of which are characteristics which will help them to succeed.
As the past few weeks and months have shown, the United States currently run rampant with problems. Racism, violence, misogyny, and bigotry are impossible to ignore, easy to diagnose, and difficult to cure. I believe these problems, though significant and important on their own, may be traced back to a larger problem: selfishness. And I believe there is a cure for selfishness: outrageous giving and generosity.
Call me an optimist, but I believe that selfishness and empathy can co-exist when applied in healthy doses. Most of us, myself included, tend to be naturally good at looking out for own best interests. Thinking outside ourselves requires deliberation and conscious effort; actually acting on behalf of others requires a steady dose of humility to boot.
Self-Benefits of Giving and Generosity
For the person of even average ambition, striking a balance between ambition and contentment is an ongoing challenge. I face this battle every day, and I lose more often than I win. I know that more prestige, money, and belongings will not provide the lasting happiness which I seek, but it doesn’t stop me from trying to attain it in this manner anyway.
In The Legacy Journey, Dave Ramsey writes, “Giving is the antidote for selfishness. It’s the hallmark character quality of those who win with money.” I believe Ramsey is correct, as giving leads to humility and contentment. In the act of giving, the giver admits that she has enough, that the time or resources being given are needed more by someone else. It is empowering to realize this truth because it supports action. When we give to others and realize that we no longer miss what has been generously given, we are one step closer to contentment. With contentment comes the ability to manage finances with wisdom and restraint.
Contentment is not the only self-benefit of giving. In my experience, giving and generosity ultimately help us grow to be better receivers. As Arthur Miller wrote,
A closed hand cannot receive. The phrase has a Biblical ring, and a Biblical wisdom that applies profoundly to everyday human affairs. The man who will not share himself with his neighbors receives little friendship in return. . .
. . . To be sower of seeds, a man must open his hand. He must do this, clearly, before he can reap. And the process doesn’t stop there. To possess knowledge or wisdom, he must open his mind. If he wants to receive love, he must offer it – and to do this he will need an open heart.
Look around and you will see the truth of these five words shining everywhere. A closed hand cannot receive – partly because it is shut, and nothing can get in. But mostly because it has nothing to give.
While giving requires humility, receiving may require even more. I naturally prefer giving to others rather than receiving, but as I have reflected on the reasons why this is so, pride is the only answer.
Giving and generosity are good not only for mental health but also physical well-being. According to several studies, they also can lower blood pressure, improve self-esteem, decrease stress, and boost life expectancy.
Giving Benefits Others
It seems so obvious that giving generously to others directly benefits others, but this is often the last benefit we consider when choosing to give.
Giving to others goes far beyond financial benefits. Hope and faith in others have a more lasting impact, in many cases, even after the money has been spent. The emotions which result from acts of giving, for both the giver and the receiver, are valuable in ways which cannot be measured in isolation. The following video is a poignant reminder.
A Call to Give
During this fragile time, in which holiday spirit and cheer may fail to counterbalance a climate of fear and worry, humble yourself and demonstrate giving and generosity to your fellow man. Increase your annual holiday donations. Volunteer your time and talents to serve those who are less fortunate. Foster goodwill by paying for the coffee for the driver behind you in the Starbucks line. At our cores, we are not much different from one another. When you give, you better yourself, improve your financial management, and close the gaps which divide us all.
How do you give to others? How will you be generous this holiday season? How do you feel your giving and generosity benefit others?
These days, it seems there is a widening gap in our country. No, I’m not talking about the gap between Hillary and Donald supporters, though that gap may continue to grow even as the country attempts to unite under a Trump presidency. The gap I am referring to is the gap between those who hustle and those who do not; those who work multiple jobs and those who barely work at all; those who apply some elbow grease and those who dally; those who apply themselves to the fullest and those who lead a lackadaisical life of leisure.
Let’s call them The Hustlers and The Spectators.
These two groups are what we might label diametrically opposed; one values pushing oneself to the limits in search of accomplishment, while the other seeks to avoid so at all costs.
I’ve found myself in both camps at distinct times in my life. While it’s worth noting that we all go through natural seasons in life, sometimes the life of a Hustler or Spectator is a conscious choice. We weigh the benefits of both paths and choose to reap what appears to be the most enticing rewards. Sometimes life decides for us.
For the sake of discussion, let us simply define a Hustler as one who engages in one or more of the following:
*Works more than 40 hours per week
*Holds more than one job
*Actively seeks side jobs and extra gigs to earn additional money
For the most part, I am surrounded by Hustlers. Teachers seem to be routinely bashed as glorified babysitters by those on the outside, but they are among the hardest-working and most-underpaid professionals. Most bloggers manage to squeeze out time to remain dedicated to their craft despite other full-time work, family demands, and the ever-present call to rest. And let us not forget the hardest workers of all, mothers, who are always on the clock.
This saturation of hustle all around me has provoked a great deal of thought over the past several weeks. It has led me to ask an important question:
How much hustle is too much?
The Benefits of Extreme Hustle
Last week, from Thursday morning until Sunday evening, I found myself in either work mode or sleep mode. My time was used very efficiently: work at the day job, real estate showings, phone calls, scheduling, and a charity event. Much to my disappointment, I didn’t have time to devote to the blog.
Some may consider this use of time to be a bit extreme, but I see many benefits of this brand of extreme hustle:
*Less time to blow money on stupid things
*Increased opportunities for fulfillment
*The chance to make a difference for others
*Remain mentally sharp even as you age
The Downsides of Extreme Hustle
On the other hand, to be transparent, I was running on fumes by the time Sunday evening rolled around. All of the hustle and bustle had finally caught up with me. Fortunately, I have always been able to adapt and recover quickly after burning both ends of the candle. Others may not recover so quickly, leaving them susceptible to the downsides of extreme hustle:
*Too much stress
*Decreased happiness if your hustling does not align with your gifts and interests
*Less time for family, recreation, community engagement
As with most questions related to personal finance, the answer is best decided by the person who matters most: you.
I believe everyone should have a side hustle these days, as the benefits outweigh the negatives. But exactly how much time should be devoted to that side hustle is a very personal matter.
Working too much can actually be bad. We all have our limits. It takes a sadistic person to torture himself with never-ending work. It should not be a point of pride to be too busy to do anything other than work, eat, shower, and sleep, in my opinion.
Four Signs You’re Doing Too Much
A) You forget things- a lot.
B) You have lost touch with most of your closest friends.
C) You have rearranged your personal schedule for work multiple times in the past month.
D) Your efficiency severely lags. If you find yourself frequently multi-tasking (which has been shown to be a myth), it might be time to re-evaluate your level of hustle.
Readers, how much hustle is too much? How do you evaluate your use of time?
The suggestion that money and behavior are forever linked is likely to elicit some very strong opinions on both sides of the debate. A majority of people base their position upon personal experience, as is the case with many debates.
Many people argue that wealthy people lack compassion and therefore do not behave charitably. Others protest that wealthy people make the vast majority of charitable contributions. The trouble is that both arguments are equally valid depending upon one’s perspective and specific circumstances.
Money Augments Existing Character
In 1940, during the early stages of WWII, a businessman acquired a company nicknamed “Emalia.” The company produced enamel cookware for the nation’s military. This businessman initially sought the cheapest labor available in an effort to maximize his profit margins. An already wealthy man appeared to grow even wealthier in the process.
When the violence and destruction of war threatened the well-being of his operation, the businessman sought government support to move his factory to another location. Many of his cheap laborers were rerouted to alternate locations, which caused the businessman to endure great financial loss to regain his labor force.
Following the factory relocation, Emalia ceased production of enamelware and began producing artillery shells to support the war effort. When the military questioned the factory’s low output of useful artillery, the businessman began purchasing finished inventory on the black market and reselling it as his own.
When government appointees caught on to this businessman’s deception, he sought their silence and secrecy through bribery. By the end of the war, this businessman had spent his entire fortune – reportedly in excess of $1 million – on relocation, bribes, maintaining his “cheap” workforce, and the purchase of black market goods.
Who was this man?
To Nazi sympathizers, Schindler was a traitor and war criminal who used his wealth to defy his political party and commit despicable acts of cowardice. To the rest of the world, he was a noble hero who, despite his flaws, used his position of wealth to save the lives of an estimated 1,200 persecuted Jews.
Despite living a life of drunkenness and adultery, Oskar Schindler’s vast wealth amplified his character and led him to risk his entire fortune, even his life, to save the lives of Jews. In his case, we may observe that money changes behavior for the better by bringing out a person’s true colors. After all, Schindler did what he was best at – lying, swindling, cheating, and bribing – while nobly sacrificing his wealth to save lives.
In the end, neither Oskar Schindler’s money nor behavior alone would have been enough. It was his money and behavior which saved the lives of Jews.
Admittedly, this is perhaps an extreme example, yet it provides a memorable illustration of an important truth: money augments existing character.
Money Does Not Change Everyone
For many people, money and behavior are linked, and often with negative consequences. However, money does not change everyone. Most of us learned this lesson at a very young age through literature and film. I learned it through a reading of Roald Dahl’s timeless book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and the 1971 Gene Wilder film Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.
As you may recall, the film version takes liberty with the character of Arthur Slugworth, a candy-making rival of Wonka. Slugworth attempts to bribe all of the children who find Golden Tickets into providing him an Everlasting Gobstopper so he can uncover the secret formula and ruin Wonka forever. When Slugworth encounters our protagonist, Charlie Bucket, in a dark alley, he provides Charlie’s first test of character.
“Now listen very carefully because I’m going to make you very rich indeed… So all I want you to do is get a hold of one Everlasting Gobstopper. . . Think it over, will you? A new house for your family. Good food and comfort for the rest of their lives.”
Charlie and Grandpa Joe enjoy a fanciful visit to Wonka’s chocolate factory, and at the end, Willy Wonka probes Charlie for a link between money and behavior. After being informed that Charlie has lost his right to a lifetime supply of chocolate due to stealing fizzy lifting drinks, an incredulous Grandpa Joe shows his true colors.
“How could you do something like this, build up a little boy’s hopes and then smash all his dreams to pieces? You’re an inhuman monster. . . Come on, Charlie. Let’s get out of here. I’ll get even with him if it’s the last thing I ever do. If Slugworth wants a Gobstopper, he’ll get one.”
In a shining moment in film, Charlie Bucket displays an uncommon display of youthful character and returns the Gobstopper. Willy Wonka drops his act and whispers, “So shines a good deed in a weary world.” After apologizing to Charlie for putting him through a trying ordeal, Wonka reveals that “Slugworth” is really Mr. Wilkinson, a Wonka employee.
Yes, perhaps I have gone to the opposite extreme now in pulling an example from film, but Charlie Bucket’s example reveals that money and behavior are not linked in all people.
Three Steps to Build Positive Connections Between Money and Behavior
In light of the previous analyses, it appears to be reasonable to conclude that people should strive to maximize the positive connections between money and behavior while minimizing or eliminating altogether the negative connections. Of course, this requires tremendous personal discipline, but I believe it can be done by actively seeking to apply the following three action steps to build positive connections between money and behavior:
1. Do not withhold money from those in need
While I won’t advocate that you give away your entire nest egg a la Oskar Schindler, I will challenge you to increase your charitable giving right away. Furthermore, when your income increases, increase your giving in corresponding fashion. For example, if you currently contribute 2% of your annual earnings to charity, be sure that you continue to contribute that same percentage after receiving a raise.
2. Do not find your happiness in money
Despite our human instincts which seek to convince us otherwise, there is not a linear relationship between money and happiness. Researchers have not yet established solid proof that money can or cannot buy happiness; in fact, research over the past ten years reveals that behavioral psychologists may be more divided on this issue than ever before.
Perhaps the link between money and happiness does not lie within how much money or how many possessions one possesses, but instead lies in purposefully managing the money and possessions which pass through his hands.
3. Do not allow yourself to be defined by money
If you allow money to define you, you are constructing a fragile glass house. Instead, live a life of introspection and view any excess money as a means to make a contribution to society.
Ultimately, whether you allow yourself to develop negative links between money and behavior is a personal matter. Wherever you find yourself on the spectrum, from rags to riches or somewhere in between, money will always seek to bring out the best and worst in you. By allowing money to augment but not change your existing character, you will be well on your way toward cultivating the positive connections between money and behavior.
What have your personal experiences taught you regarding the connection between money and behavior? What challenges do you face in cultivating positive connections between money and behavior?
Before today’s post, I wanted to share that I recently took part in the Behind the Screen Interview Series at FamilyMoneyPlan. You can check out my interview with Andrew here.
My Motivation to Achieve Financial Success – Legacy
A brand-new home with every amenity.
Freedom from stress and the day-to-day rat race.
Full control over your life and your finances.
When it comes to money, we all are motivated by different factors. Those motivating factors can also change over time based upon our formative life experiences.
However, for as long as I can remember, my motivation to achieve financial success has always been about one primary factor:
My Model of Motivation
I have written extensively in the past about the impact my Grandpa had on my life and my outlook on work ethic, success, and money. Since he passed away just over three years ago, a day has not passed in which I fail to think about him and the incredible legacy he left behind.
While many people do not aspire to leave a legacy or make a profound impact upon their loved ones, my Grandpa knew exactly what he and my Grandma were doing. I learned this at a very early age.
As a young child, I vividly recall the long walk to the lake one warm July 4th evening. As was customary, the entire extended family – Grandpa and Grandma, several aunts and uncles, and far too many cousins to count – had set out well before dusk to stake out our seats for the evening firework show.
To be clear, I cannot recall if my memories of what happened next are firsthand or simply recollections of the story; strangely, time has a way of clouding memories. Regardless, I will always remember the words my Grandpa spoke to my Grandma and as they walked side-by-side and lead the way to our usual seats.
“Look what we did, Mother,” he said, glancing over his shoulder at our entire family.
We were Grandpa’s proudest accomplishment. We were his legacy.
I think back on that story often. In many ways, it ranks as one of the most formative experiences of my childhood. In that moment, I learned a valuable lesson on what is truly important in life.
In my eyes, my Grandpa had it all: a long, relatively-healthy life; a beautiful home; considerable, though undeclared, wealth; and the freedom to do as he pleased. Yet, his family meant far more to him than all earthly possessions.
Yes, my Grandpa loved money. In fact, when I spoke at his funeral, I shared the true story of the time he opened his wallet and a moth flew out. Like a typical, hard-working Dutch man, he was not in any hurry to spend his hard-earned money. But he had his priorities in order. He was generous and kind when it mattered most, especially to family and friends.
I often wonder if my priorities, too, will stand the test of time.
On the surface, I have no doubt that many of my friends and loved ones completely misunderstand my money motivations. To many of them, I am sure I appear to be greedy, miserly, or a workaholic. Some may even think I must be self-obsessed and vain.
However, I believe short-term sacrifice is worth the long-term gains waiting to be realized. Over my lifetime, I have learned that it is the motivation behind one’s actions, not the actions alone, which deserves scrutiny.
My wife and I aren’t working hard to inflate our current lifestyle, live it up in the present, and run the risk of burn-out. No, we are sacrificing in the short-term in order to build our ability to focus on what is truly important to us five, ten, and twenty years from now. In a culture which places the highest value on instant gratification, we are embracing the opposite.
Once in a while, when it feels like I’m burning the wick at both ends, I like to hit the streets for an evening run and clear my head. Invariably, my thoughts drift and I begin to form visions of the future: our future kids playing in the yard, sending them off to college without any debt, walking my daughters down the aisle on their wedding days, and taking the entire family, grandchildren included, on a two-week getaway to Disney World. Those thoughts are the magical panacea for my weariness.
In the present, those visions represent a future worthy of current sacrifice and hard work.
Those thoughts – my future family and the experiences I hope to provide for them – will be a significant part of my legacy.
Today begins a multi-part series titled Lessons From the Gridiron. Today’s installment, Uncommon Lessons From an Uncommon Coach – Part 1, is a character study of one of the most eccentric and competitive men to every play the game of football, James Joseph Harbaugh. Please check back next week for the continuation of this series.
It initially struck me as an unremarkable tweet:
Yet the above image featuring the wise words of University of Michigan Head Football Coach Jim Harbaugh has been the desktop background on my PC for over a year. Every time I consider changing the display, I reconsider, as the message has guided me well – at work, at home, on the run, with this blog, and, of course, in my finances.
If you’ve been reading FinanceSuperhero for a while, you may recall that I strive to live by the question, “What is it time for now?” Though Harbaugh didn’t inspire this question, he is certainly a master of making the most of the present at all times.
Coach Harbaugh undoubtedly has his detractors and critics. He is quite possibly equal parts genius and simpleton, open-book and enigma, competitor and friend.
Despite the apparent string of contradictions, one thing is abundantly clear:
Jim Harbaugh stops at nothing in the pursuit of success.
The Young Milk Boy
At an August 2015 media day, a young boy asked Coach Harbaugh how much milk he would need to drink in order to grow up to be a quarterback. Not surprisingly, Harbaugh offered the boy a bear hug and advised him to “drink as much as your little belly can hold.”
In January 2015 HBO feature and Detroit Free Press article, Harbaugh shared the similar plan that ultimately helped him grow to become a 6-3 quarterback.
I prayed about it a lot – ‘I want to be 6-2, I want to be 6-2. So we started delivering milk everyday [in school] and we got one free milk for delivering all the milk. But every kid that was absent, every kid that was sick, every kid that didn’t show up or didn’t want their milk, that tray would go back to the little milk room and I would just drink as much milk as my belly could hold. I drank a lot of milk. Whole milk. Not the candy-ass 2%. . . I finally got to 6-3.
Without question, Harbaugh possessed relentless intensity and desire to excel even as a grade school milk boy. He grasped at an early age what many never will understand: each moment offers a singular opportunity to grow.
What if more of us treated every dollar with the same care and intensity?
A Unique Drive
From the ages of 10 to 16, Jim Harbaugh lived in Ann Arbor, Michigan, while his dad worked as an assistant football coach for the Wolverines. He reportedly still gets his hair cut today at the same barbershop, State Street Barbershop, where he received haircuts back in the 1970s. He knows the streets of Ann Arbor like the back of his hand.
Though Harbaugh is a man of precision and direction, those characteristics do not stop him from pausing to learn important lessons. A Bleacher Report article details the following illustrative story:
As [Harbaugh] explained it, he was on his way to the office when he noticed a traffic light wasn’t working; a cop was standing in the middle of a busy intersection, directing cars this way and that way. The female officer displayed such command of the intersection that Harbaugh pulled over to the side of the road, mesmerized.
For half an hour, Harbaugh sat in his car and studied the scene. He was nearly late for practice because he was so enthralled with the skill and the savvy of the traffic cop. “I like to watch people doing their job at the highest level,” he said. “I really do.”
On the surface, this behavior seems wasteful, at best, and insane at worst. Yet, to Harbaugh, a devoted maximizer, it was an opportunity to learn something new and apply it to his own craft.
What if more of us sought to learn at all times and applied newfound knowledge to become a wiser budgeter, investor, and employee?
Most notably, while others are quick to give up multiple times over, Harbaugh persists.
When the khaki-wearing coach saw the woman of his dreams at a restaurant, he promptly approached her to introduce himself. Says Harbaugh
Sarah was there getting take-out . . . I saw her leaving. I went up to her and asked if I could meet her. She said, “Sure, you can meet me.” I didn’t believe her, at first. I thought it was one of those fake numbers she was giving me.
But I called her. Multiple times. Like, nine times before she returned my call. I could tell she was a winner. All the way.
What if more of us sought to act with even a fraction of the persistence which Harbaugh exhibits on a regular basis?
Say what you will, but Jim Harbaugh has a knack for getting what he wants. He has a profound ability to visualize where he wants to get and enact a plan to get there. And he possesses an uncanny ability to learn extraordinary lessons in the midst of ordinary experiences.
Oh, and he and his wife Sarah recently announced that she is pregnant with their seventh child.
The last week has been a whirlwind in the Superhero household, to put it lightly. Between trips to the hospital to visit with Superhero Grandma (who is now doing very well, thankfully) and celebrating Mrs. Superhero’s birthday, I have not had much time to write this last week, much less interact with others within the personal finance blogging community.
On the other hand, I have had significant time for thinking and reflection. Two days ago, I read a fascinating article by Breanna Noble in the Detroit News, Majority of dads think they should be paid. Throughout the article, Noble refers to a study which outlines all of the valuable household contributions by the typical father and attempts to place a value on that work.
A few quotes that stood out to me:
A father’s work for a year is valued at $24,738 and, according to a new poll, a lot of dads would like to be paid in more than just hugs.
. . .
Detroit Councilman André Spivey, co-chairman for the Task Force on Black Male Engagement and a father of two, said dads and mentors benefit the community by helping children reach their potential and pass on what they learned.
“Fathers need to be a good example, to be the leaders they are called to be,” Spivey said. “I know if we do that, we can turn our community around.”
. . .
Robert Rupert, also of Detroit, said he thinks dads deserve $100 per day.
“It’s a lot of work,” Rupert said. “But the wife should get $200 for what she does.”
Rupert, a home improvement specialist, said his father wasn’t around when he was a child, so he makes sure he is present for his children. For example, he picks up his grandchildren from school when his children cannot.
“I’m there when they need me,” Rupert said. “I try to stay around in their life, help them when they need help.”
. . .
Spivey said ultimately, being a father is a responsibility, but it’s one that comes with joy, gratitude and the opportunity to give back.
“I can’t put a number on that,” the councilman said. “I think it’s priceless.”
Today, in reflection on this article and in honor of Superhero Dad on Father’s Day, I would like to share a few of the most priceless lessons bestowed upon me by my father.
PRESENCE IS GREATER THAN PRESENTS
Superhero Dad has always worked a full-time job, along with countless hours of overtime, for as long as I can remember. Despite these long hours, he could always be counted on to faithfully attend all of my sporting events – basketball, baseball, wrestling, and track – and music performances. While many of my closest friends just assumed that their parents could not or would not attend a majority of their events, I took it for granted that my parents would be there.
When I think back on the greatest gift Superhero Dad ever gave me, I don’t think about the toys, video games, or the basketball hoop in the driveway; I think about the value of his consistent, supportive presence in my life.
EXPERIENCES ARE TO BE TREASURED
Between working to provide for our family and supporting us with his presence at a wide variety of activities, it is a wonder that Superhero Dad had time for anything else. One of the things that I will always respect about him is that he always made time for both the little and big things when it mattered most.
As a child, Dad and I bonded over several shared interests, namely sports, but also the game of chess. When I pursued chess competitively and began attending (and winning) several chess tournaments, Dad was there for me; he was a companion, a chauffeur, and after I grew to be the superior player in a short time, a punching bag, so to speak.
Dad probably doesn’t know this, but my favorite part about attending tournaments all across the Midwest was the experience of spending the entire day together. Today, I hardly think back on the size of the trophies I won or the expert opponents I defeated, but do think often of the treasured experiences on the road with my Dad.
THE POWER OF NO
While Superhero Dad was and still is as supportive a father as one could hope for, he certainly was not afraid to set me and my siblings straight from time to time. If we pushed the envelope a bit too much, we could be sure that Dad would press his tongue to the roof of his mouth and utter a much-dreaded, one-word response:
Whether we were asking for money (me), to stay outside a bit later during the summer (my brother), or to have another friend come over to play (my sister), Dad was at the ready to say “no.”
As children, I am sure we hated to be told no. As a very persistent child, I am sure that I protested and debated virtually every time I heard it. But today, I recognize the benefits of Dad’s periodic toughness with us.
A recently reviewed article in Psychology Today by Judith Sills, Ph.D., asserts that while “no” can be difficult to hear, it can be very freeing while providing several benefits (emphasis mine).
Organizational psychologist Adam Grant, author of Give and Take and a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, outs the many professional rewards and successes that accrue to generous givers. Still, Grant emphasizes that “the ability to say No is one of the most important skills one can have, particularly for givers.”
Grant points to the power of No as necessary to carve time for one’s own goals and agenda. Without it, other people dictate your schedule and limit your accomplishments. Says Grant, “Saying No is especially huge in establishing a work/life balance. Without that ability, work will cannibalize your life.”
No also makes other people respect you and your time more, Grant notes. “When you are able to say No, people are careful to come to you with only meaningful requests, rather than simply asking for any help you might be able to give.”
No makes your Yes more meaningful, or as Grant puts it, “It makes you more of a specialist, rather than a generalist in what you give to others.” When we say Yes thoughtfully, because we are giving in our area of expertise, rather than saying Yes out of a need to be liked, we are far more apt to feel satisfied by giving.
No pays off in the personal arena as well as the professional one. It’s exhilarating to feel in charge of one’s self, to be the boundary setter and the decider. There’s a bonus in energy and self-confidence.
Too, No tests the health and equity of your closest relationships. If you feel you cannot say No, at least to some things, some of the time, then you are not being loved—you are being controlled.
Finally, and perhaps most important, personal integrity requires the power of No. The ability to say No is an essential element of one’s moral compass. Without it, we are merely agreeable pleasers, the Pillsbury doughboys of morals and values. Whatever the cost or quake involved when you deliver a No, backbone is defined by your ability to say it.
Dad may not have intended it, but in telling me “no,” he was raising a boy who would grow up to be a man of self-discipline, control, and integrity.
If you’re reading this, Dad, thank you for being a great father. The lessons you taught me continue to resonate with me, and I look forward to imparting them upon my own children when that time comes.
Readers, what lessons have you learned from your father?