Normally when a parent leaves a letter to his children the doors and windows are closed. However, when your dad is a business owner and somewhat known due to decades of publishing, the public will want to look in the window. Regardless, this letter is for you girls and no one else.
My fondest hope is you will print and carry this letter with you. There are many things I want to share with you about life. I know it looks daunting and impossible at times, but it isn’t that bad. During those darkest hours, hours when you doubt your own judgment, you can reference this letter and know that your father has felt this way many times in his life. Watching me over the years you probably think it comes easy for me. It doesn’t. I fight as hard as or harder than the next guy to achieve goals.
The same applies for those moments of excessive glee. Honing the highs and lows is an important part of living a joyful life. Always keep an optimistic attitude. Regardless the situation, it helps. Things are never as bad as they seem and rarely perfect either. Life is in the middle.
Life is a journey best taken at a gentle pace. Don’t rush! Goals are fine as long as there is more. The only real goal life offers is death and you will get that right the first time, same as everyone else. What matters is what you do now, at this very moment. Yesterday is a memory; tomorrow a dream. All that is real, all that matters is this moment in time. The universe is not 13.7 billion years old. It is one moment only. This moment. The one you live in.
Instant gratification is the hallmark of a good economy according to the government wonks and marketers. It is also the hallmark of the impoverished souls forced to work forever in a soulless job to cover the debt payments.
Watching clients for decades has made it clear there are only a few golden rules to wealthy. Automatic investing is one; deferred gratification is the other. Deferred gratification is what funds the investment account so I think deferred gratification is by far the more powerful of the two traits.
Instant gratification is sometimes hard to see. Today I will point out all the signs you are satiating your lusts a bit too quickly for your own good. By recognizing your overzealous spending habits you can delay gratification to your benefit. You give up nothing, but gain plenty of freedom, less (or no) debt and financial independence. It is a stress-free way to conduct life.
Readers of this blog are always looking for a side hustle. Seasonal tax preparation is a perfect fit for many early retirees. A small tax preparation business allows for an earlier retirement as the side income can easily be enough to live on for even a modestly frugal person. Another large reader demographic involves the accounting industry. There are plenty of blogs talking about tax issues, but few discuss the realities of starting, promoting and maintaining a tax practice.
I touch on the subject of practice building periodically, but my email folder is filled with requests for a more detailed post. A recent email from someone called Speed (I love it!) asked a series of questions that encompasses the bulk of practice management requests. Much of what I discuss can be applied to most other business ideas with only slight modifications.
Rather than give a play-by-play on starting and managing a tax practice, I will take each of Speed’s questions and answer them. The reason for avoiding the play-by-play is because there are many ways of starting a successful business. I don’t want to give the illusion you are locked into one pattern to win. Life is rarely that neat.
Reaching financial independence requires a consistent set of skills and persistence. The habits that allowed you to amass a sizable nest egg don’t die just because you pass some arbitrary border. Education, job, and family life consume all your time in the beginning.
After college it is time to earn a living. After finding a job it is time to climb the ladder, all the while saving a massive percent of your income to reach your financial goals.
Family is a priority. A significant other and children take time and money. You increase your saving and investing skills. Raising a family is expensive only if you don’t know how to shop. You hit the rummage sales and thrift shops for kid’s clothing, toys, height chair, car seat and other stuff the youngsters will grow out of quickly. Later you sell the kid’s stuff for about what you paid for it at a rummage sale of your own, passing the same opportunity you had to another young couple.
And then it happens. Your hard work, intelligent spending and diligent saving pay off. You reached financial independence earlier than planned. Now you have another problem you never gave much thought to before: your legacy. If you reach financial independence early, how large will your net worth grow before you leave this world?
Thinking about your legacy when you are still in the building stages is hard. It requires looking into the eyes of the possible: early death. What happens if you die while the kiddos are still minors? A plan is needed. Even if the kids are grown, a plan of succession is necessary. And what if kids are not part of the picture? Then what happens to your legacy? Let’s explore the possibilities.
When my accounting practice went from a part-time seasonal pastime to a full-time firm I needed to bring in talented employees. Bev, a close friend of the family, had many years of experience working for other tax firms so I asked her to work for me. She accepted the offer.
Decades started to pile up. The joke around the office was Bev worked for my firm longer than I had. It wasn’t far from the truth. Bev was always a talented and faithful employee. She did good work and I could trust her.
But time counts, and keeps counting. Bev had something few people ever possess: talent and personality. Clients loved Bev and for good reason. She knew her stuff and made people around her feel comfortable. In my darkest hours she was there to hold the firm together. When my youngest daughter was born with birth defects she kept the office open while my mental wounds healed.
I have fond memories of those days. I also remember how it ended. Bev comes from a farming background; solid German stock. What I mean to say is she isn’t a petite girl. Wisconsin winters can be brutal. Arctic blasts made it difficult for her to breathe outside. I was worried about her. It was the excuse used to force her to retire.
But that was a lie. The truth is something was changing in Bev. It started slow and steadily advanced. She wasn’t as good at taxes as she once had been. Once she was great at taxes, now she was merely good and rapidly approaching mediocre. It is a terrible thing to say about someone with such an honorable and distinguished career.
I noticed the changes in Bev when she reached her mid-60s. It was small at first. Little things were missed. Sometimes the tax return was correct, but little things around the tax return were forgotten. A note was not updated; a basis statement not completed. And clients still loved Bev.
Each year got progressively worse until the work was unacceptable. I had to review all her work at a much higher level. Bev had to go. It was not an easy choice. She accepted her retirement and took to it like a pig takes to shit, but she was hurt at the time. She still brings her personal tax work in for us to prepare.
Is that Footsteps I Here?
Even if you read the news poorly you know healthcare costs in the U.S. are astronomical. The U.S. healthcare system is more than double the cost of the world’s second costliest health care system in the U.K. And what do we get for all this extra money we pay for healthcare? Subpar performance. The U.S. currently ranks 37 according to the World Health Organization, right behind Costa Rica and ahead of Slovenia. Pathetic.
Medical issues are the one area of life that can destroy early retirement plans or any illusion of financial independence. To make it worse, health insurance is now required in the United States and it isn’t cheap. For American citizens, you are forced to participate in this inadequate health care system by financially supporting it to your maximum potential.
To add salt to the wound, many medical procedures are not covered. Weight-loss programs, cosmetic surgery, teeth whitening and hair transplants are not deductible expenses on U.S. tax returns, nor is it covered by most insurance. If your insurance does not pay for it, it comes out of your pocket. Many deductible medical expenses are not routinely covered by insurance. Eyeglasses and Lasik surgery come to mind.
Three books I read since the beginning of the year stand out as books readers of The Wealthy Accountant should find interesting and useful. Two books I recommend for purchase, the other can be borrowed from the library; I’ll indicate my recommendation as I introduce each book. The dividing line between borrowing from the library and purchase is the desire to mark the book with a highlighter as you read. Highlighted books are easy to use as future reference. All books I recommend in this blog are books I highlight and own.
A strong theme on The Wealthy Accountant is frugality. So why do I recommend the purchase of so many book? First, I have a weakness when it comes to books. I buy a third to half of all books I read. The percentage changes with time. Many times I start reading a library book and instantly know I want to mark the important passages for future research and use. Your need for research material may not be as high as mine if you don’t own a business or publish a blog.
Second, if a book is important I will find a way to own it. Knowledge is power; knowledge is freedom. My mind is my most precious asset. I feed my mind every day and reference back to previously read books often. A well-read person is almost always wealthier in financial terms, but is always wealthier in quality of life. I have never met a successful person who is not well-read.
Cutting costs is easy. Unnecessary spending is tossed out the window. But books are as vital as food. Some books, especially novels, are a one-time read so the library is a perfect way to consume these books without any financial outlay. Some nonfiction books fall in the same category. Then there are books which touch us deeply. A few works of fiction rise to this level. Flowers for Algernon comes to mind. Many nonfiction books are significant enough to own. If you are like me, you will find yourself returning to these treasures often.
On to our list of must read books to finish off the winter.
Modern technology and automation is making our lives easier every day. Virtually every task humans do is also done faster, cheaper, better by some automatic process with a silicon chip inside it. These automation processes started showing up a few centuries ago and started changing human life in fundamental ways in the last 100 years. The pace started slow with a steepening incline of progress. Today, we face a challenge never faced by humans before: what to do.
Free time was always a part of human living. It took the Industrial Revolution to transform human stock into expendable machines. In hunter and gatherer days, man would spend large amounts of time idle, pursuing whatever created interest. We can still see a few remaining fragments of art at historical sites. Hunting parties might extend for days or even weeks. Once game was slaughtered and the meats cured, the pantry was full for an extended period of time. Weeks, even month were free to build monuments, create art, and tell stories around the fire.
Then the Agricultural Revolution arrived. Man had his first taste of what was yet to come. Humans were now slave to the ox and land. Working the land and domesticating animals kept man busier than hunter/gatherer days. Hunched over the plow all day brought the first lower back pain for the species. Humans worked more hours than ever. But once the crops were planted there was free time, followed by a flurry of activity harvesting the crops. Then, man settled in for a long winter season of leisure.