I was recently interviewed for a podcast where one of the interviewers asked why I used such difficult words in my blog. I was taken aback by the question because I don’t think I use 50¢ words unless it is to increase clarity. 

In this third and last installment of Christmas themed personal finance posts I am going to be guilty of the most egregious crime: I will use another 50¢ word to convey a message of importance.

It started with the popular current activity of paying for the person behind you in the checkout line or fast food drive-through. It certainly is  fine gesture of goodwill. I rarely eat at fast food restaurants, but started to wonder what I would do if my meal were paid for. Would I pay for the person behind me if there was someone behind me in line to keep the cycle going?

The more I thought about it the more it disturbed me. Why should my meal be comped when I have ample financial resources? Shouldn’t the money be applied where needed the most, with people suffering financial hardship?

The same thing happens at the grocery store. A kind fellow (or woman) pays for the groceries of someone next to them. I like this more because it is at least easier to determine if the person in question could use the financial help. But that isn’t a guarantee, however. I dress down often and look like a homeless man more often than not. You can ask my employees. I’ve been known to wander in wearing worn jogging pants and a t-shirt. Judging a book by its cover is a 50/50 proposition at best.

The act of kindness I find most beneficial is when someone pays the utility bills for several people who are struggling financially, as noted by their delinquent bill. 

Regardless the Christmas spirit, there is always a nagging voice warning me such behavior could be counter-productive or going to the wrong soul.

 

A Christmas Carol

I can’t imagine there is anyone reading this post that is unfamiliar with the short Charles Dickens holiday novel, A Christmas Carol. Most have seen one of the myriad adaptions of the book. Some renditions are really good and some are left lacking and untrue to the original story.

We all remember the ghosts visiting Scrooge: the ghost of Christmas past, present and future. It is the ghost of Christmas present that interests us most. 

As you recall, the ghost of Christmas present took Scrooge to see his nephew’s house and the laughter-filled party. It was a humble celebration for sure, but celebration no less.  But that was not all the ghost of Christmas present had to reveal. 

Upon leaving the Cratchits’, Scrooge was taken from the city of London to the “deserted moor” of a miners camp; then to a solitary lighthouse under the crash of waves; and finally to the desk of a ship far out at sea. In each instance the celebration was humble. Kind words, the humming of a Christmas tune were the extent of the Christmas celebrations. It was humility the spirit wanted Scrooge to see; humility while celebrating the greatest hope ever offered.

And then Scrooge heard laughter, the laughter of his nephew as he is ripped back to the scene of Christmas present closer to home. 

 

Propitiation

Now for our 50¢ word. You might remember this word from church if you are a person of faith. Propitiation is generally used in religion to mean “the paying of another’s debts”. A more accurate representation of propitiation is to “appease”. 

Today’s 50¢ word is required because the meaning is so much deeper and richer and the explanation spreads far further than mere appeasement. This is part of your life in the secular world as well.

To propitiate is to seek favor. That is opposite of my pay-it-forward philosophy. Paying for the person’s meal behind me creates a debt for that person. What if the person behind you is poorer than you and barely has the funds to pay for his own meal and the person behind him has a more expensive meal? You did no favors to that one person.

A child who breaks a vase might wash the dishes for mom before being asked as a peace offering; a form of propitiation. 

An act of propitiation must be conciliatory. You are sorry for some action or words spoken. Propitiation is more than saying, “Sorry.” It is an act meant to convey your deep-felt sorrow for having committed the act or saying the words. A single word is rarely adequate to propitiate. 

Why do we feel compelled to propitiate? And why is it so important? Because it really deals with trust. You show an act of kindness so the person knows they can trust you and the negative act or words were unintended. It is unlikely you would feel compelled to propitiate to a stranger. A simple “Sorry” suffices if you cut a stranger off. But a friend, someone you trust and want to trust you requires more if you value the relationship.

This is not to take away from the value to giving to others. This is the season of giving. But is it giving if you saddle yourself with debt? How will the people close to you, and that trust you, feel if you cause personal money problems because you gave too much?

I strongly feel the pull of charity. Life has been very good to me. However, I measure carefully the gifts I give. I do not want to enable bad behavior or make matters worse. Working through money problems is hard, but gives you the skills to survive the rest of your life without much outside help. There is something to be said about that. 

 

Christmas Present

While Scrooge learned to share with all after the visit from the Christmas ghosts, he focused his giving where it did most good. Scrooge understood propitiation. The fat turkey was sent to the Cratchits’ household; extra coal for heat was allowed at the office. 

The pages of my copy of A Christmas Carol are yellow with some pages torn. The book has been with me a very long time. I think I bought it when I was in junior high as part of a book drive at school. I thought it was a book of Christmas songs, if memory serves. I was unenlightened in my youth. Time has remedied the issue.

Periodically I pull the text from my shelves for a reminder on how to live life right. I look back in my life to gather a full assessment of where I have been. Everyone has things they would rather have forgotten. But in the dark brutal honestly is the only way. 

After reviewing your past, take an inventory of the present. Life, you will find, is probably a lot better than you allow yourself to enjoy.There are so many things to be grateful for: family, health (you are alive and reading this, right?), neighbors (they are better than you think), community and so forth.

Once you review your past and take an inventory of the present, you can create the future most desirable to you. Money problems can be addressed, love rekindled with your spouse or significant other, serving in your community where it benefits most. Remember, you cannot control what “they” do, but you have complete control over what “you” do and think.

 

Pay-It-Forward

If you want to pay for the meal of the person behind you, go for it!  It was not my intention to dissuade you from such behavior. There is something heart-warming about the activity. Even this weary-eyed blogger has paid for the groceries of an older lady at the grocery store when he saw the need.

The greatest gift of all.

Be sure to focus your gifts where they will produce the intended outcome. 

A final story: Years ago I was coming home from work in a snow storm. Tax season was getting long and I was tired. The car in front of me lost control, a snow drift throwing the car. He ended up in the ditch.

I stopped to make sure the young man was unharmed. People didn’t have cell phones in those days the way we do today, so I offered to drive him home. He accepted. 

As I dropped him off at his home he asked me what I wanted for the ride, indicating money. I waved my hand “no”.

He was a young gentleman and it was obvious he was not financially flush. I didn’t help him with the intention of earning a fee. The good feeling knowing he got home safe was enough.

I left the young man with these words: “The next time you see someone in need, you help them. That is all I ask.

 

That was a very long time ago. Sometimes I wonder if the young man ever carried out my directive. 

Please don’t think I am against giving. Gifts to friends, family or co-workers is a fine activity. Keep it reasonable so nobody suffers financially as a result.

Helping strangers is the ultimate charity. Homeless and abuse shelters are wonderful ways to give where it makes a large difference to those who really need help.

Some gifts are debts. You may hear of propitiation at church this Christmas season. You may wish to appease a family member or friend you treated poorly to regain trust. 

No matter your reasons, always be ready to pay-it-forward. Just never do more harm by the giving.

 

MERRY CHRISTMAS, kind readers. May the spirit of the season be with you and your family all year round. 

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

The seven deadly sins, or cardinal sins, have been with us a very long time, outlining behavior we must avoid if we are to live a good life. 

The other side of the seven deadly sins are the seven virtues. For every destructive behavior there is a twin virtue. Achieve the virtues and you find the much sought after Holy Grail of wealth and happiness. 

There was also another, 8th, cardinal sin. In addition to Envy (at another’s success), Wrath, Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Sloth and Pride, we were also warned of something called acedia. Acedia is hard to translate from Greek to English exactly. It can mean despair or despondency. It is more than sloth or laziness. Acedia is giving up hope.

Acedia sounded slightly like what the monks were doing—giving up on life for a secluded life in a monastery. To solve the problem acedia was merged with sloth since there were similarities. 

Acedia  is a leading cause of financial problems for many people because acedia also includes an outlook of gloom and despair. Losing hope is the most destructive thing that can happen to you because is gets you to stop trying to do the right thing. The “what difference does it make” attitude ends all chances for better days. If these feelings of hopelessness become chronic you will suffer both physical and mental illness, profound sadness (emptiness and complete lack of joy) and destruction of wealth, if any yet remains.

Let’s take a look at the seven deadly sins and their polar opposite virtues before digging into fixing these attitudes before they do any more damage.

The Seven Deadly SinsThe Virtues
LustChastity
GluttonyTemperance
GreedCharity
SlothDiligence
WrathPatience
EnvyGratitude
PrideHumility

 

The Danger of Acedia

Acedia, or apathy and all that entails, leads to serious behavioral issues guaranteed to destroy all forms of wealth: mental, physical, spiritual, financial. 

The seven deadly sins are not a religious construct! Yes, we get the cardinal sins from the Catholic Church, but they are nowhere to be found in the Bible. These sins are not spiritual behaviors. When we see things like lust, greed and envy in others we are instantly turned off. 

The cardinal sins are not meant to convict. The seven deadly sins are the first step in outlining the proper behavior for a good life. When we see chastity, charity and diligence in others we are attracted to them. We trust them and for good reason. They have the virtues we all recognize as beneficial and helpful.

Once despair (or apathy or hopelessness or despondency) sets in it is a spiral down.

Think of it this way. Once you give up hope on your finances because the bills are too large and the debt a burden, bankruptcy is not far behind.

Not all bankruptcy is acedia. Medical bills can take over and a virtuous person will take proper steps to provide adequate medical care for her family members. If the cost is too significant the only choice is bankruptcy. (This is a United States issue mostly so readers from outside the U.S. will just have to take my word for it.)

 

Living the virtues is the only path to lifelong happiness.

 

The real danger of acedia (apathy) is refusing to take the proper steps to live a good life. Not funding your retirement account adequately means hardship in old age. Investing spontaneously in hot stocks instead of investing with index funds is also a form of acedia. Timing the market also falls within the purview of this vice. 

Living for today as if tomorrow will never come may seem like a happy life to the outside world, but it is really a form of despondency known as a cardinal sin for thousands of years. Eating a poor diet and not exercising to preserve and prolong your current health advantages is also a form of giving up encompassed by acedia.

It sounds so simple to just say “Despond” or “Despair”. The vice is much more pernicious! Like most vices, it creeps up slowly until it has you firmly in it’s grasp. 

Lifestyle creep is an excellent example. As your income increases it is easy to up your spending. You reconcile your spending as “deserving it” for working so hard. Instead of making money work for you; you now work for money as debt has a serious price: interest payments.

 

 

Building Virtues

“Thou shalt not’s” have a negative vibe. Tell someone not to do something and before you know they are up to their hips in it. 

Rather than preach against the cardinal sins and the 8th deadly sin of acedia, I will focus on encouraging the virtues.

Saying “Don’t lust” is easier said than done. Asking you to consider chastity is more likely to get positive results.

This is a financial blog. Telling you not to be greedy might go against what you interpret as success and financial independence. Instead, I encourage charity; the virtue opposite greed. Trying to not be greedy is practically impossible. But an attitude of charity and giving seems natural and something we want to do. Don’t confuse greed with merely having financial wealth either. Money is not a problem. Even large amounts of money are fine. The “love” of money is the problem and that is where greed resides.

Envy is a vice we all fall prey too. Envy is more than mere jealousy. Envy drives you to anger when someone else is successful. Hating someone because they won the race or retired earlier than you are good examples. You should never compete against someone “out there”. You are the only person you should compete against. The age you retire or reach financial independence is irrelevant. You may have had more medical issues or your friend may have had a push from an inheritance. 

You kill envy with gratitude. Regular readers know how strongly I feel about paying-it-forward, especially to those who will never be able to pay you back or even know it was you that provided the gift. 

It is impossible to feel envy while you are giving. Not all giving is financial either. The greatest gift doesn’t always require money to fix it. I once held the hand of a very old client (92 years old, if memory serves) over the Christmas season as she sat in a nursing home waiting to die. All her family was gone, dead from old age. I went to visit her because I knew she was nearing the end of her life. The next morning she was gone. Money does nothing in those situations. A soft smile and warm hand is worth more than all the money in the world and it was in my power to share, so I did.

To turn away is acedia. Paying-it-forward is the virtue. So is a smile and a kind hand. 

 

Practicing Virtues

What is your greatest weakness, your greatest vice? Is it pride? Then practice humility and serve without expectation of even a shred of recognition for your service. 

Perhaps you suffer from lust. The internet makes it easier than ever to satiate (maybe that isn’t the right word since lust feeds on itself) your desires. If so, you need to practice chastity in thought, word and deed. You may need professional help if the disease has taken root too deep.

A 2009 study indicated men confessed to lust more than any other deadly sin and women acknowledged pride as their greatest struggle.

This isn’t a universal statement, only the results of a single study by Fr. Roberto Busa, a Jesuit scholar. Each individual is different. If greed is your greatest vice, then this is where you need to focus attention. 

Greed is frugality gone too far. We see this with bloggers preaching the good news of early retirement by extreme poverty. It becomes a sickness which frequently leads to envy. Greed goes too far when there is no room for charity. Greed goes too far when it comes at the expense of you and your family’s well-being. 

We are all different. The virtue we most admire is the one that might need the greatest attention. A through examination of our-self might reveal one or more vices harming us and those around us. 

Benjamin Franklin worked on virtues every day of his adult life. He would check off each virtue he held true to that day. He failed often and admitted it.  Perfection was not the goal. Perfectionism is akin to pride. The goal was to improve each day and do so in an honest manner.

It is the attempt at growing the virtues in our life that matter.  Some of the vices are destroying your financial wealth. The old 8th deadly sin is far more pernicious than most of us suppose when it comes to wealth. 

If we can reduce greed, lust, apathy, pride and envy in our life we become better people. Our friends and family benefit since this is a form of paying-it forward and leading by example.

It is the Christmas season as I write this.  We have all received so many gifts. We can give so much of ourselves. This is more important than another trinket or cash.

It isn’t excessive frugality either. It is called gratitude. Gratitude for our family, neighbors, friends and community. A cheerful “Hello!” accompanied with a wide smile all year round is a true sign of a well adjusted individual committed to the virtuous life.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Personal Capital is an incredible tool to manage all your investments in one place. You can watch your net worth grow as you reach toward financial independence and beyond. Did I mention Personal Capital is free?

Side Hustle Selling tradelines yields a high return compared to time invested, as much as $1,000 per hour. The tradeline company I use is Tradeline Supply Company. Let Darren know you are from The Wealthy Accountant. Call 888-844-8910, email Darren@TradelineSupply.com or read my review.

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to sky rocket, there is an alternative preserving the wealth of families all over America. Here is my review of Medi-Share and additional resources to bring health care under control in your household.

QuickBooks is a daily part of life in my office. Managing a business requires accurate books without wasting time. QuickBooks is an excellent tool for managing your business, rental properties, side hustle and personal finances.

cost segregation study can reduce taxes $100,000 for income property owners. Here is my review of how cost segregation studies work and how to get one yourself.

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

IMG_20160730_163028A couple of weeks ago the police started calling. It started with my cell phone which is unusual. Anyone who knows me knows I never answer my cell phone; I actually keep it on mute most of the time. Calls from my phone generally are from my youngest daughter, Mrs. Accountant, or Tabatha at the office. The best way to reach me for business matters is by calling the office and speaking with Karen; for personal matters call Mrs. Accountant. By calling me directly you will not get through. Yes, I write a blog, but I have also weaned myself from most modern instant communication stuff. I think it is unhealthy to be tuned in and turned on non-stop.

The police are a persistent bunch. The officer calling left several messages. It was important. He had to speak with me and only me, but would not indicate what it was about. I ignored the calls; I knew what it was about. Then he moved on to the office and started leaving messages there. I’ve been down this road before. When a police officer calls outside his jurisdiction something is up and it is less than honest. The police from a small town in a different county do not call for “official” business with only a vague “important” message.

The front desk at my office is handled by an employee only a few weeks on the job. She was nervous the police were calling. Like most people, she thinks when the police call you drop everything and prepare your nose for Brownian motion (Google it). I am not most people. She took the message and was concerned. I explained what it was really about and that it was not important.

Finally, the police officer decided to play his only quasi threat card he had. Since he failed to get past my gatekeeper and I refused to play along and return the call, he asked when I got in each morning. He then said he would show up the next day. Now even the newbie got it; police do not travel outside their jurisdiction unless it is for a crime committed in their jurisdiction and if a real crime were committed they would not spend two weeks leaving vague messages.

IMG_20160730_162818

Through these doors is the courtroom Steven Avery was convicted and the subject of a Netflix documentary. I live six miles away.

Blue Cons Matter

At this point you might think I have no respect for the police. Not true. The police are a vital part of the community and the community must support the police in their efforts to keep people safe. Several employees were nervous because this police officer was so insistent and I was not taking him seriously. Now the officer was going to show up on our doorstep! Except, it never happened. He never showed up. It was an empty threat just like I said it was.

So what really happened? Why all the calls without mentioning what the calls were about? Why the threat to show up at a business, implying a disruptive atmosphere? There is a small chance it was not even a police officer. Scam artists love to bilk business owners by pretending to be someone important, like a police officer.

The odds are high it was a real police officer and I knew it. One thing you learn when you are in business for decades is that not every call from the police (or any government employee) is important even if they think it is. He kept leaving messages it was important, yet refused to indicate what the important issue was. In poker we call this a tell. When the police have a ‘real’ important matter they show up unannounced or at least say what they are dealing with.

Here is what really happened. The police periodically raise money for their benevolent fund and for special projects dealing with kids or the community. I don’t return the call or respond in any way because I know they want my money and they will say some really heavy-handed shit to get it. It goes in cycles. Once the calls start they pick up for a while until it burns itself out. I ignore them all. Police should never take a heavy-handed approach to get money, regardless how good the cause; it destroys trust with the business community. When I am put into a position where I feel forced or even slightly coerced into donating to a cause I take a pass. I do not trust strong-arm tactics used to raise money.

Mine!

Mine!

“Yes” Will Cost You

Back in the early days of my career I was an easy mark, as many business owners are, for police fund-raising projects. What I did not know was the consequences of saying ‘yes’. Here is what would happen if I returned the call and contributed to the cause the officer was sponsoring. As an inducement I am promised a business card sized ad in a flyer handed out at the event. Don’t worry; you will get zero business from such a chintzy promotion. What will happen is every fund-raising police department in a 200 mile radius will get a copy and you are first on the list to call. They will bleed you dry if you let them.

Once you get on “the list” you are in a world of hurt. Getting off takes time. The only way to get off “the list” is to stop supporting ALL such requests. Twenty years ago I had to get very rude to back the piranhas, I mean the police, off. They do not take “no” for an answer. It always gets down to implied threats and an attitude if I don’t kiss their ass. Since I don’t care for the taste of shit sandwich I am turned off by their approach.

I knew it was coming. The recent well publicized police shootings were a guarantee “the list” needed to be expanded and I would be a prime target again. I do feel sorry for the officers harmed or killed and their families. Need I remind you they signed up for the job, I didn’t. It is dangerous work. Taxpayers spend plenty helping law enforcement. I would be open to helping financially if I was not made to feel inferior if I didn’t donate. And I do NOT want to be on “the list”! If I give it is because I want to. I do not want a recurring bill I feel obligated to support and harming my personal financial independence.

Not All Cons are Illegal

The original con, or confidence game, had the mark handing over their money, watch, or other item of value, of their own free will. Crime is easier to identify when force is used to take something. But if you just handed it over to the police, who will you call to file a complaint? It is the perfect con. The police are in a position of authority and can easily abuse that authority without much effort. In the back of a business owner’s mind they are thinking if they don’t hand over their money the police may not protect their business in a time of need or could retaliate by issuing a speeding ticket when one is unwarranted.

I think these are empty fears. Most police officers are professional. Even when they ask for money they are under pressure by their department to raise money. They might be using strong-arm tactics so they can just get it over with. I have no inside knowledge on this so take my opinion with a grain of salt.

Bad for Your Financial Health

Business owners are not the only ones under pressure to part with their hard-earned money. Employees get constant requests at their job. Girl Scout cookies make their round each year; United Way has a wonderful payroll deduction plan just for you. The causes to contribute to are endless. Once you say “yes” it makes it easier for others to ask you to do the same for their preferred cause. You did give to Joe over there; you have to give to me, too. Pressure is applied and it becomes nearly impossible to say “no”.

You better learn to say ‘no’ if you want financial independence. I donate a significant portion of my income each year to charitable organizations I think do a good job helping people in need because I have significant financial resources to do so. If they send me a request for money I generally ignore it. My generosity is above average; my tolerance for manipulation well below average. I give what I want, when I want, and only if it fits comfortably within my financial framework and personal worldview of a worthy cause.

I was fortunate to reach financial independence at an early age. If I worked for someone else I would surely have checked out and retired. As a business owner, I love what I do. I am lucky; I know it. Business owners that survive learn to push back on all the things looking to clean out their checkbook. It means being tough and sometimes rude. Fuck’em! It is my money, I earned it, and I will do with it as I please. Whether you are a business owner or not you had better learn the same skills. As your retirement funds grow more and more people will want a piece of that action. Those who reach financial independence and stay there are the ones who guard their wealth against all enemies, domestic or foreign.

And if Officer Sanderwood or Sanderfoot, or whatever the hell his name is, keeps calling, tell him I gave at the office.