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Lifestyle, Small Business

It’s a Small World

There is a ritual the accounting profession goes through every autumn. Eager tax professionals attend continuing education programs to hear all the latest tax law changes with interpretation. Large hotel venues fill with CPAs, enrolled agents, and even attorneys eager to learn. The room is filled with tax professionals all from within a hundred miles.

It amazes me how small the accounting profession is. Tax professionals are an even smaller crowd. A handful of conferences draw nearly the entire industry in each geographic region of the country. Smaller programs abound, but the annual refresher courses with tax law updates bring out the vast majority of the industry.

The same people attend year after year. We know each other. Sometimes personally, sometimes we are only aware of each other’s existence. Many times we talk and share ideas, talking taxes, clients and business management. There is respect in the air. We have something in common and feel comfortable together.  Some of us worked in the same office or worked together on a client’s file. Few members of the crowd feel we are competition.




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Early Retirement, Frugal Living, Lifestyle

Stop Working for Money

Have you ever wondered why Elon Musk keeps pushing so hard? A hundred million from PayPal wasn’t enough, I guess. Building the greatest all-electric car is not enough for Musk, either. He also wants to fundamentally change the way humans see the world by starting a company called SpaceX. As I write, Musk promised to take two people to the other side of the moon and back next year! Talk about pushing yourself.

Before you start thinking Musk is a slacker, he also has this thing he manages called Solar City. If you want to build the greatest electric car ever you may as well figure out a way to fuel the darn thing for next to nothing. Right?

You would think running three large companies at the leading edge of technology would be enough for a 45 year old man with plenty of money to kick back and spend the rest of his life gloating. If you think that you don’t know Elon very well. He wants to put mankind on Mars in the next decade and send the species even further into space. His dreams never stop flowing and he makes them real against all odds. Just one great feat of Musk’s would make anyone’s career complete. So why does he do it? Why does Musk keep dreaming and then putting those dreams into action?




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Taxes and Investing

Finding a Good Accountant

The topic of finding a qualified tax professional is common in my mailbox. There is no pat answer for each request so I generally ignore them. Another common request is for a referral if I am too busy. It is true I only accept a small fraction of the requests for service, but the good news is I have more staff this tax season and have been accepting more new clients than last year. The bad news is that I don’t have someone to refer you to in your area.

Yesterday I received an email that touched me. Long emails usually die before I read more than three sentences due to time constraints. This email was different. The sender asked to remain anonymous and I will honor that request. He asked: How do I go about finding a good local accountant? He wants someone local he could shake hands and sit down with to discuss his tax and financial matters. I get it. He continued: I am hoping for an idiot-proof, step-by-step guide. I don’t know where to start searching, never mind narrowing the choices.

Finding qualified professionals is a difficult task. I wish it were as easy as an idiot-proof guide, but there is no such thing. My goal today is to share ways to increase the odds you have a good tax professional on your side.

Good tax professionals are a busy group, especially this time of year. The industry has consolidated over the last few decades and many top notch accountants have retired. Making matters worse is fewer people entering the field. CPAs frequently seek employment in government and large corporations or large accounting firms. The small and mid-sized accounting practice is a dying breed. These are the same firms serving the average American family’s tax preparation and planning needs. Finding an awesome tax professional to work with you is getting harder by the day. I have a few ideas to help you land a good one, but you might not like what you here.

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Lifestyle

Watch the News Right or Turn it Off




News over the years has deteriorated into biased reporting, slanted by political opinion. Finding quality news to form your own opinion is nearly impossible to find. Yet, without good information you can’t make informed decisions in your investing, business or personal life.

As bad as it is, there are ways to still get quality news reports. It requires effort to sift through the garbage to find facts you can use to improve your business and personal life. The BBC, The Economist, and National Public Radio still provide solid reporting with a minimal of political bias. Fox News is not news, except for those rare occasions when they report an event they have not had time to work a political angle on yet. CNN is somewhat better, but still contains plenty of bias.

Before you blame to broadcasters and the internet news feeds, remember, we are the ones feeding the beast. By consuming meaningless opinion pieces we encourage more of the same production. Our own personal biases will determine if we love Fox News or hate it. I don’t care for Fox News for a completely different reason I will share shortly.

Polarization and populism has taken over. People only want to hear what they want to hear. News no longer informs with facts; it reinforces already existing personal biases. It caters to base emotions like anger and hate. And let’s not pick on Fox News alone. I don’t watch TV so unless I am visiting family or in an airport, I don’t get much TV news indoctrination. I prefer internet news feeds. CNBC provides business news, The Economist provides a wide variety of news from around the world, and gasp, I also tend to sift through the dung pile of Yahoo’s news feed.Continue reading

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Early Retirement, Lifestyle

Recap of Camp Mustache SE

Working as a team to climb any wall in our way.

Each edition of Camp Mustache gets better than the one before. Camp Mustache SE in Gainesville, Florida (January 13 –January 16, 2017) is the fourth in a series of camps, this being the first outside the Seattle area. I have had the honor of attending and speaking at all but the first Camp Mustache.

Stephen Baughier organized the event with guidance, advice and a helping hand from Emma Pattee. Emma’s experience organizing Camp Mustache in Seattle allowed Stephen to move up the learning curve faster. The added experience and hard work made Camp Mustache SE awesome on every level. For the record, I have already accepted the offer to attend Camp Mustache IV in Seattle over Memorial Day weekend in the states this May. There is no doubt the gathering will be an incredible place to learn and meet like-minded people in the FIRE community.

Several notable names were in attendance. Pete, the guest of honor, was, of course, there. J.D. Roth (Money Boss), Joshua Sheats (Radical Personal Finance), Brad Barrett (Travel Miles 101), Gwen (Fiery Millennials), Jonathon Mendonsa (Chosefi), Zeona McIntyre (ZeonaMcIntyre.com), Brooks Nelson (Gainesville Cohousing) and more were available for questions. (Hope I did not miss anyone.) Continue reading

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Lifestyle, Small Business

The Gift of Karma and the Art of Pay It Forward

endlessknot03dI settled back with a good book on a quiet New Year’s Eve back in the early days of my accounting practice. Mrs. Accountant goes to bed early and was already tucked in. We rarely party or go out on New Year’s Eve. To us it is just another day.

My tax office back then was the remodeled basement so I was always close to work. Since the accounting part of my business was many years into the future, there wasn’t much to do around the holidays except enjoy some great reading. A few preparations for the upcoming tax season were as far as they could go.

Cable did not enter our house back then and network television did not interest me. The World Wide Web was just coming into existence and wasn’t a household phrase yet. Internet service was America Online accessed by dial-up. There were fewer distractions to drag a guy away from a good book in those days.

I was reading one of Will Durant’s Story of Civilization books that New Year’s Eve as memory serves. (I consider Will Durant one of the best writers to have ever live. His 11 volume Story of Civilization series is some of the best writing on human history ever.) My cup of tea was on the table next to my recliner where I was reading.

I lived in town for a few years back then to establish my practice. The living room had a bay window looking out toward the street. It was my custom to keep the curtains open so I could see if anything was happening outside.

A blood-curdling scream pulled my eyes from my book. Out the bay window I saw a woman falling from the passenger side of a car! She fell hard. The car sped off.


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Lifestyle

Silent Night




stars-821611_960_720The year is 1991. Mrs. Accountant and I had a foster child that year. On Christmas morning I was to take him to his mother for a day. We got up early and dressed for the chilly morn. I lived in town at the time. His mother lived in apartments near the Valley Fair Mall, the first mall in America.

The mall is gone now, replaced by a variety of shops, a gas station, and a movie theater. The apartments still stand. As I drove down Memorial Drive we rounded the curve toward the apartments. The road was dead quiet. No cars anywhere. It felt peaceful. A major highway completely empty. It only happens once per year on Christmas morning. I stopped the car in the middle of the road and watched a lone snowflake land on the glass and melt. I leaned forward and looked up at the early morning sky out the windshield. The hair on my skin rose with gooseflesh.

“Where is everyone,” asked my foster child, a huge young man from a family with more issues than I care to remember.

“They are sleeping,” I said in barely a whisper. “Resting. But not for long. They are exhausted from all the running and spending. Resting for a day. Tomorrow they will be back, crazed as ever, credit card in hand.” I turned to my foster child, “Never be like them.”Continue reading

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Lifestyle, Small Business

20% is Enough Effort

8632234386_56ed10483b_zOver a hundred years ago an Italian economist made a discovery while in his garden. Vilfredo Pareto noticed on a pleasant 1906 afternoon that 20% of the pea pods in his garden produced 80% of his pea production. His interest piqued, Pareto wanted to know if this 80/20 ratio applied to other areas, including business. In every place he looked the ratio held. 80% of results came from 20% of the inputs.

Today we call this the Pareto Principle or the 80/20 Principle. The ratio isn’t perfect, but more of an approximation, somewhere around 4 to 1 or 5 to 1. And it happens everywhere, not just in business or an Italian’s garden! Think about it. You wear 20% of your clothes 80% of the time; use 20% of your home or apartment 80% of the time; eat the same food 80% of the time.

Illinois Tool Works is a large public corporation that has turned the 80/20 Principle into a profitable business plan. ITW buys smaller competitors on a regular basis and then sends in their teams to ramp up profitability by firing clients! Sort of. The 80/20 Principle says 80% of profits come from 20% of clients. Yup. It does. I ran the numbers in my own office. A small list of my clients brings in the bulk of profits. And ITW capitalizes on this fact to improve profitability in companies they purchase.

Think of your personal life. You spend 80% of your waking hours doing the same 20% of activities. If a normal day includes 20 activities, about 80% of the time will be spent on four of those activities.


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