Posts Tagged ‘Debt free’

Regaining Motivation When You Have No Debt

What happens when the thing that motivated you most of your life is removed? Here is how you can bring meaning and purpose back to your life.
What happens when the thing that motivated you most of your life is removed? Here is how you can bring meaning and purpose back to your life.

What happens when the thing that motivated you most of your life is removed? Here is how you can bring meaning and purpose back to your life.

The literature is largely silent on what you should do once you attain financial independence(FI). Plenty has been written about building wealth and how much is needed to reach FI and how much you can safely withdraw each year in retirement.

Plenty of debate has also revolved around paying off the mortgage — any debt for that matter — versus plowing the excess payments into investments that pretend to offer a return greater than the interest rate on your debt. While investments can provide outsized returns, the return isn’t guaranteed; the interest on the debt is.

As much as we preach about eliminating debt as part of a smart wealth building program designed for FI, there are some benefits to having certain kinds of debt. Risks are always present, but the advantage may be worth the risk. Buying a home without debt ever would mean most people would never have a chance at home ownership. And you can forget about income properties if you can’t use leverage to start your real estate empire unless you inherited from a rich uncle.

A mortgage (all debt) does have one powerful advantage most people overlook. Debt is the #1 motivator when it comes to getting people to sacrifice time with family and friends. Debt motivates you to work harder than you ever would if debt demands were not hanging over your head.

So if debt is so caustic to financial success a prime goal should be to remove debt from your life except for only the rarest of cases. But then what?

If you pay off your debt and build a sizable nest egg, a primary motivation to keep producing declines! How will the economic engine of progress ever survive? (I’m being facetious here.)

People will take a second, or even third, job just to pay for prior sins, plus interest. Families are destroyed; health ruined; children neglected, just to make good on your obligations. You did give your word and you’re a person of your word.

 

And then you had a come to Jesus moment. Maybe you read a blog or had a serious talk with a councilor or your accountant. Debt became enemy #1. And then the debt finally disappeared and cash kept accumulating in your investment accounts until money was no longer a reason to work; money is only a tool now.

A once powerful motivator in your life is gone. You either took an early retirement, did the traveling thing you always wanted to or started a side gig from a childhood dream. And it didn’t take long before you asked: Is this all their is? Is there no more?

Travel became dreary as it was nothing more than a replacement for the old job. Life on the road isn’t what you hoped it would be. Travel is wonderful in modest gulps, but inhaling the elixir sends it down the wrong pipe and you end up coughing it back out.

Early retirement left you with long days and nothing to do. The fellowship from the work environment is gone and you miss it.

The side gig fills some of the gaps, but still something is missing.




Finding the Meaning of Life and Motivation

While debt can be a thorn in your backside motivating you to action, it is a cruel taskmaster at best. Better the drudgery of excess travel, days of boredom or a side hustle that doesn’t completely fill the gaps of emptiness. Debt can do more than motivate; it can destroy. Best to keep the debt where it belongs; in the past.

Use the secrets wealthy, successful and happy people use to achieve anything.

Use the secrets wealthy, successful and happy people use to achieve anything.

A mixture of options can improve the attitude. Some travel is a great thing. Time off to read, think, reflect and enjoy family time is important and something to cling tenaciously to. And side hustles can be a lot of fun so why give that up.

If you really think about it, traveling, more free time and side gigs are not the problem! The problem was created by debt and you’re still suffering the consequences even when it’s gone.

For the first time in your life you can do something truly meaningful. In the past you were so focused on paying the bills you never learned how to make a real difference in the world that juiced you to the max. You were too busy helping Wells Fargo meet analysts expectations for the quarter.

The travel, family and free time and side gigs are good things to have and do. But too much of a good thing is bad. (Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But can you imagine me connected to the hip of Mrs. Accountant? I’d have a rolling pin beside the puss by the second day! There is such a thing as too close.)

So now we need to add meaning back into our lives; something that makes us excited to get out of bed and charge into the day.

Before I share what I consider the best motivational tool any FI individual can have, let me share a few other ways to bring viva! back into your life:

  1. Plan: You may have heard retired people saying their more busy once they retired than when they worked. It’s true! I see it all the time. And it was because they had a plan. They planned retirement before they got there: the travel ventures, entertainment choices, how much family time and with whom, how much time to dedicate to a hobby. If you plan you will find more than enough meaningful stuff (a purely technical term, I might add) to fill your day; more than enough to motivate you to get out bed exited daily. Too many people think they will retire and do one thing like travel or golf. That ends up the new job and drudgery. Variety is the magic potion.
  2. Turn your side hustle into a real business: A side gig can occupy a portion of time each week. Depending on the depth of your side gig determines the time and enjoyment involved. However, a side hustle doesn’t contain the drive necessary to really push. (You don’t have to do it if you don’t want to.) If you really enjoy your side hustle, consider going all-in. A full-blown business takes work, but if the work is pleasurable it becomes a powerful motivator. A business provides much more to a community than a mere side gig. Not only will you provide more valuable goods and services for your community, you might even create jobs. Best of all, when you run your own business you are the captain. You can make real changes; solve real problems perplexing society.
  3. Challenge yourself: Of course travel and side gigs have challenges, but I’m talking about something more. Using travel as an example: you can take a tour or strike out on your own. Striking out on your own have various levels. Consider an extended stay in a country, learning their language and culture on a deep level. Since many reading this blog are younger, consider mountain climbing or similar challenging tasks. It takes time and dedication to learn serious climbing. It could take years or decades to reach a level on competence. (You will not climb El Capitan in Yosemite the first week. Not if you want to live long enough to get your motivation back, at least.) Striving for excellence in a large goal will have you jumping out of bed each morning early to meet the day.
  4. Set personal goals: This pertains to what was said above. Business is filled with goals; planning is a form of goal-setting; undertaking (remember we used mountain climbing as an example so the pun was intended) a massive challenge (learning a new skill to a level above mere competence) will bring motivation back into you life. Not all goals need to be grandiose. If your life is consumed by one all-encompassing goal it can cost you in other areas of life. Notice I said “personal” goals. Goals must include family and friends and should include many short, easily attainable goals. Business and rock climbing are major goals. That isn’t what I’m talking about in this point. Numerous smaller goals of things you think you’ll enjoy is what I’m suggesting. It’s all about enjoying the process and feeling motivated and alive each day.
  5. Take on a large project: Turning a side hustle into a full-fledged business is a “large” project. What I’m suggesting in this point is a bit different. The large project I’m suggesting straddles the business and personal world. For example: get a college degree in a field that interests you (history might be a poor degree choice, but now you have the time and money to really dig in). Now is the time to write that novel you always promised yourself you would write. Maybe start a blog and share your adventure from subsistence to abundance.

The whole idea of these ideas is to give you one big thing to do with your life with multiple smaller goals to keep you active and motivated. Any of these endeavors will fill a good portion of your day and provide motivation to keep moving forward.

The key is to choose something important, that makes a difference in the lives of others. Hedonism will only take you so far. When you do something that benefits others your life is filled with meaning and purpose. That is the birthplace of motivation.

And that brings us to the last and most powerful way to gain motivation, meaning and purpose in life when you’ve reached the safety of financial security.




The Meaning of Life is to Give

I work with numerous wealthy individuals in my practice. What I see in private I also see in the news: wealthy people like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett giving large chunks of their net worth to charity.

The happiest people in the world have a reason to get out of bed each day. Learn the lessons the wealthy use to do the impossible.

The happiest people in the world have a reason to get out of bed each day. Learn the lessons the wealthy use to do the impossible.

It goes beyond mere financial donations. Peter Lynch, the great mutual fund manager at Fidelity Investments’s Magellan Fund from 1977 to 1990, volunteers his time and experience to charitable organizations. Bill Gates not only donated a massive chunk of his wealth; he started and funded the foundation he runs, changing the world for the better. Gates’s experience allows him to make a serious difference.

You also have skills and experiences many organizations can use. There is no greater satisfaction or satisfying job than to work with people of a common cause doing good. 

Listen, we hear all the bloggers bragging about their exotic travel and early retirement bragging. After a while the selfies get old. It must be depressing to spend so much time in self-aggrandizement.

We can do better! Let’s use the 5 points above to illustrate what I’m suggesting:

  1. Plan your giving: Each gives what each has. Maybe you have loads of money so you spend time reviewing the best organizations to fund. Maybe you’re good at helping raise money for organizations. (You’ll be in higher than demand than you can imagine if you are.) Maybe you love working with your hands. Perhaps Habitat for Humanity could use someone with excellent construction skills.  You have limited time and resources so you need a plan on how to give wisely.
  2. Experience: People tend to enjoy what they are good at. Familiarity bias is something we can use to our advantage. I work with a non-profit connected to Goodwill helping people with serious money and/or tax problems. It’s what I’m good at; it’s what I enjoy, so it is where I can do the most good. Take an inventory of the skills and experiences you have and match it with the things you most enjoy doing. Satisfaction of a job well done and demand for your skill sets will leave you massively motivated, satisfied and enjoying every day to the max.
  3. It ain’t easy, but it sure is darn fun: Life is most enjoyable when challenged. Charitable organizations are designed to deal with challenges. The work can be hard at times, even frustrating, as you try to achieve goals that make the world a better place. Working with like-minded people is one of the most pleasurable things you can do.
  4. Pace yourself: Don’t turn your good nature into drudgery. Set limits (read: goals). You can’t solve all the ills plaguing our world alone. The nice thing about FI is you can pace yourself. One day of challenges at a time instead of overwhelm is just the ticket to living the good life post-debt.
  5. Service: Serving your community is a large project by definition. Remember, you can help more than one organization. But don’t spread yourself too thin. The goal is motivation.

People are happiest when they give. (Read that again.) Giving is the meaning of life.

You spent a lifetime fighting to retire debt obligations. Now that you buried the debt-demons and built a mighty financial fortune, it’s time to find a reason to live another day.

There are so many things you can do to feel alive each morning.

I get up early; I always have. I’m excited about life. Deep down I kept a mortgage around way to long, knowing it was a powerful tool to motivate me. (You can check the links at the beginning of this post to read more about my mortgage/wealth adventures.)

Debt is a stupid way to stay motivated.

I knew once I retired my mortgage a serious motivation pillar would be removed from my life. My net worth is well above the FI threshold.

No more than the mortgage was gone and I noticed the loss of drive to set more appointments or even write so much on this blog. The nice thing about FI is you no longer have to do anything anymore; it is also the greatest problem.

It doesn’t have to be that way. You can live a life filled with excitement and adventure; you can live each day knowing there are people who really need you.

Find what motivates you. Sit down and really think about it. Write your thoughts out.

The world will be a better place if you do.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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 segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you very much!

 

 



The Benefits of Having a Mortgage

Paying off the mortgage is the American Dream and the first step toward retirement; it’s harder to retire with a mortgage payment blowing a hole through a fixed budget. Owning your home is the foundation of any vibrant financial plan. Until your home is unencumbered (without a mortgage) the bank still owns it in a manner of speaking (and they’ll remind you of it if you miss a payment).

Still, a home mortgage has its benefits. The traditional reasons to carry mortgage debt are bad reasons to carry the liability, but there are still a few good reasons.

We will review the traditional reasons for borrowing against your home and why the benefit is perceived rather than real. We will finish with the three reasons a mortgage can help you build wealth.




Revolving Mortgage

The debate is legend: should I pay off the mortgage faster or invest the extra instead? I recently finished that personal debate permanently.

In Accounting 101 they teach students how leverage (borrowed money) spikes investment returns. It all makes sense.  If I pay cash for a $100,000 home and it increases in price by $3,000 the first year I managed a meager 3% return on my investment (assuming you feel your primary residence is an investment). If instead you borrowed $90,000 and only invested $10,000 of your own money, the gain jumps to 30% ($3,000 increase in value divided by the investment of $10,000).

A mortgage is a powerful financial tool to build wealth. It also carries risks that can harm. Learn how to use a mortgage to build wealth.

A mortgage is a powerful financial tool to build wealth. It also carries risks that can harm.

They also teach of the risks of leverage in the classroom, but it doesn’t feel as real as the real world will make it. Leverage is wonderful animal when your assets are increasing in value. When the inevitable decline happens real pain begins.

In our above example the 30% gain is an illusion. If you have a mortgage against your home you will pay interest and that reduces the actual gain. Let’s assume a 5% interest rate on your mortgage. This equals $4,500 in interest the first year without consideration for the principle payments on each monthly payment. Your 30% gain went south darn fast, taking a $3,000 gain and turning it negative!

But if I invested the $90,000 (assuming I didn’t need a mortgage) and earned a return there I once again should be popping some mouth-watering returns. Maybe.

We’ll return to this in a moment.

Understanding how leverage can spike investment returns, I always subscribed to holding a mortgage. I bought my first home in 1986 and had a loan against it. It was paid off when the home was sold. (I’m embarrassed to say it was a mobile home, but in my defense I was single and enjoying life to the max. I was retired at the time (turned out to be gap years only) and immersing myself in an endless supply of books.)

From the mobile home I moved into a three bedroom ranch in town (1989); full mortgage in place. Opting to invest every dollar I had, the mortgage was never paid a penny sooner. Then I bought the farm (sounds morbid, doesn’t it?).

The farm is my final resting place and — embarrassed as I am to say it — was used as an ATM since 1995 when I took ownership. The farmhouse was unlivable, but I wanted a traditional barn and the 10 acres also appealed to me. I coughed up a $120,000 hairball with a $100,000 mortgage. I handled some remodeling on my own to make the farmhouse livable until I was ready to seriously remodel with an addition.

A few years later (somewhere around the year 2000) the mortgage was down to $40,000. It was time for a serious upgrade.

My 900 square foot farmhouse swelled to 3,000 square feet and cost close to $200,000 to remodel and expand. (I still swallow hard when I think of that. Not to be outdone, the bank (Farm Credit; they have awesome terms and interest rates for farmers) allowed me to borrow 80% of the value of the finished home; $400,000. That means I was able to grab another 80 grand and drop it into the market.

By 2008 the farm mortgage was under $100,000 again as I paid extra in spurts. The market tanked and good credit came to the rescue; I was able to take another quarter million. Into the market it went.

Of course I look like a hero because the timing of my remortgages coincided with market declines. This wasn’t an accident. When the market died I wanted to add to the account and the ATM was cheap money. (You can read the prior article linked above for more. The ends do NOT justify the means so the increase in investment value is a poor reason to toot my horn.)

I tell you this story for a reason. I struggled with paying off the mortgage for decades as many readers also do. I had the funds to retire the debt a long time ago, but chose to keep the mortgage anyway. Until last month.

At the beginning of this year I had whittled down the mortgage to ~$100,000. I didn’t want to sell assets/investments to pay the mortgage, causing a taxable event. Hyper-frugality set in. By June the mortgage was down to $57,000 and the sickness set in. It was time to kill the mortgage forever!

And I did it! On October 5th I made a special trip to the bank to put the final nail in the mortgage. (Mrs. Accountant came with to experience the magical moment. Either that or she didn’t trust me and was worried I might chicken out and drop it all in an index fund.)




Traditional Benefits of a Mortgage

Mortgages have been touted for a variety of reasons with promises of helping the economy, providing liquidity to the housing market and offering tax advantages to some. We’ll now run down many of the most popular traditional mortgage advantages and why it’s best to avoid the boondoggle.

 

Real estate is a known way to create and build wealth. Turn your property into a cash cow using the right financial tools.

Real estate is a known way to create and build wealth. Turn your property into a cash cow using the right financial tools.

1.) Tax Advantages. This is the most popular reason given for having a larger mortgage. Banks and other financial institutions have a vested interest (pun intended) to get you to borrow more. You know the advertisements: Mortgage interest may be tax deductible. Consult your tax professional. Rarely do people consult with their tax professional and the bank is counting on it. All people hear is mortgage interest is tax deductible.

Why this is bad advice. 

Every lie has a grain of truth to it. Mortgage interest is deductible. Unfortunately many will not benefit from the deductibility of the mortgage interest they pay because they don’t itemize. Also, paying the bank $10,000 in interest just so the IRS might give you up to $3,000 back is a really stupid move.

 

2.) You can afford more house. Yes, the more you borrow the more house you can buy. If every home was required to be purchased with cash the price of homes would drop precipitously.

Why this is bad advice.

Just because you can dig a deeper hole doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. Dig a deep enough hole and it’s called a grave.

 

3.) You can invest the difference for a higher rate of return. Fair enough. If you borrow the maximum you free up capital for other investments.

Why this is bad advice. 

This concept is fine as long as you don’t take on more house than you can afford. And you have to actually invest the difference. After 35 years in the tax profession I can count on one hand with fingers left over of people who invested money earmarked for additional mortgage payments into an investment account. Sure, some may have invested the money without a formal accounting. But my suspicion (gather from decades of experience) is that people tend not to save the money; they just increase lifestyle spending. All is fine until storm clouds appear.

 

7 ways to use your mortgage to build wealth.

7 ways to use your mortgage to build wealth.

4.) You don’t have to sell assets triggering a tax event to put more down on the house. Once again, fair enough. I used the same philosophy when paying my home off faster (fast!). Selling assets to put more down on a property can cause a serious tax issue. A larger mortgage (temporarily) makes a lot of financial sense.   

Why this is bad advice.

The larger the mortgage (the more leverage) the larger the risk something can go wrong. The investments you didn’t sell could decline in value. Selling to have a reduced mortgage means you forgo future gains on the sold investment. By keeping the asset and acquiring a larger mortgage you take on market risk while paying additional interest to boot.

 

5.) Investment gains. I hear it all the time, “The market goes up 10% a year while I’m only paying 5% interest.” It is true the market averages gains of about 10% per year on average. Some years the market increases more; other times the market gets cut in half! 

Why this is bad advice.

As we noted at the beginning of this article, leverage seems like a great idea. . . until you look under the hood. It might be easier to see with an income property.

The choice is to pay cash for the property or mortgage it to the hilt. If you mortgage the property you can invest the difference.

Let’s assume you purchase a $120,000 property for cash. If the value increases 3% the first year your net worth has increased $3,600, plus any profits from renting the property. Sound good, but the real estate agent introduced you to his banker friend and he says you can borrow $100,000. This means you can buy more properties (now you know why the agent recommended his banker) or keep the money in an index fund or other investment.

A good banker can make the numbers look compelling and this banker is gooood. You decide to borrow $100,000 for 15 years at a fixed 5%. We’ll use simple interest to keep this easy to follow. The value increased the same 3% as above (and also a common annual increase in value for real estate). The value of the property increased $3,600; the mortgage interest amounted to $5,000!

Yikes! You actually lost on the deal!

Maybe not. The property in a vacuum with the mortgage appears to have lost $1,400 the first year. Hopefully you didn’t invest in 5 more properties with the same mortgage deal because then you are hurting. The $100,000 you left invested earned, let’s say, the average 10%, or $10,000. Added together you made $8,600. It seems the mortgage was a good deal after all.

Buuuut. . .  You have to assume a good market (or a pretty good return on whatever investment you made) to justify the out-sized mortgage. If the investment under-performed, or, {gulp!} declined in value, you not only suffered a loss on the investment, the property has interest expenses in excess of the gain in value, increasing the total loss from the investment.

 

 

The above traditional advantages are not bad in and of themselves. Most people don’t decide between paying cash or a mortgage; they don’t have the money to pay cash so a mortgage is the only choice. Home ownership, especially as you begin your financial journey, almost always requires a mortgage.

Now we turn to non-traditional reasons to have a mortgage; reasons that might actually make sense.




Good Reasons to Have a Mortgage

Real, or good, reasons to have a mortgage are few. The risks of leverage are higher than most people anticipate. The odds are virtually 100% the economy will decline one or more times during the lifetime of a mortgage. Job loss or disability further add to mortgage risks. Rare is the person who doesn’t have a few times when the mortgage payment is a challenge.

All the negatives of the mortgage doesn’t mean the liability is totally worthless. There area a few reasons I can think of to have a mortgage, reasons worth their weight in gold.

 

There are good reasons to have a mortgage. Tax benefits are the smallest benefit. A mortgage can do a whole lot more when used properly.

There are good reasons to have a mortgage. Tax benefits are the smallest benefit. A mortgage can do a whole lot more when used properly.

1.) Free up capital. Leverage entails risk; no working capital can be a greater risk! If you pay cash for a property and have no working capital to deal with maintenance, insurance, property taxes or other expenses you can find yourself in just as deep as if you have a large mortgage.

Landlords should be acutely aware of this issue. Vacancies early in property ownership can cause serious financial harm. Without a mortgage the landlord should have a really good cash flow. But, you need a maintenance fund and resources to cover insurance and taxes should the property refuse to rent early in the ownership cycle.

The same can be said for those buying a primary residence. Without any emergency fund, a minor unexpected expense can create hardship.   

Solutions to potential problems. 

Up till now I’ve used the all-or-none approach. Taking out a small mortgage can free up capital to deal with any of the problems listed above.

Another very low-cost solution is a home equity line of credit (HELOC). For a couple hundred dollars you can secure a line of credit against the property. If things go well you have no additional mortgage expenses; if cash gets tight you have a resource to manage the bumps.

 

2.) Working capital. In business, investment properties and even your personal life, working capital is necessary to achieve your financial goals. Being property rich and cash poor means you have to pass on obvious opportunities for financial gain.   

Solutions.

When I bought my office building I didn’t want a mortgage. Profits are really nice when you don’t owe anyone anything. However, the seller wanted to spread his taxes out so I accepted a land contract (7 year amortization; seller allowed me to make a final lump sum in the fifth year).

But owning my office building requires ~ $200,000 of my net worth to be tied up in real estate. If an opportunity comes along I might have to pass and that would bother me. (It really would!) So I’ve always had a line of credit in my business. Originally it was attached to the building; now I have an unsecured line of credit. This allows me to smooth out the lumpiness of my business income (spring is good; year-end not so much).

I haven’t used the LOC for a few years so the only cost in $150 per year. Still, if I ever needed funds I can dip into the LOC for a very short term. This allows me to invest excess capital more quickly without fear I’ll need it before the good times return the following tax season.

 

3,) Motivation. This is the reason I wrote this post. I knew from the beginning if I ever paid off my mortgage, to be totally debt-free top to bottom, I would no longer have a financial motivation to get out of bed. And just as I predicted, I’m feeling the slump.

Financially I had the money to pay the house off decades ago without even a minor hardship. My logic was that I invested the extra money I borrowed so it was okay to keep the spur of a mortgage in my shorts.

Don’t worry too much, kind readers. I still roll out of bed around noon and put in an hour or two before calling it a day. (I’m joking, guys!)

Financial independence is different from debt-free! A mortgage always focused my attention. It helped me push my frugality (defense) while encouraging more income growth (offense). The frugal part has been good since the mortgage is gone; good habits continue on.

However, I find myself thinking more and more about how much I don’t have to do now that I’m mortgage free. I need $2,000 a month to live without a mortgage payment (a bit more during the winter heating season; a bit less in the summer). The nice thing about a mortgage is I needed lots of income to fully fund retirement accounts, add to non-qualified accounts and then pay extra on the mortgage. Without the mortgage money is no longer a driving force even on a minor scale!

 




And this is where we stop for now. My next post will deal with finding motivation when money is no longer an issue. Debt creates (or at least should) a crisis environment. As my good friend Mr. Money Mustache says, “It’s not a debt emergency; it’s a DEBT EMERGENCY!!!

I used a DEBT EMERGENCY to prod me in the past. Now I need to grow up and find motivation from other places. While debt can focus one’s attention, it is a poor way to achieve a goal! I used it way too long.

Debt is a tool with serious risks. Debt in and of itself isn’t bad, but it can create the illusion it is making things better when all it is really doing is increasing risk. We can do better than that.

Paying off my last liability has been liberating. I’m glad I did it. There are many ways to refocus attention so you can continue to create value in the world around you and in your life.

I think you’ll enjoy the answers I publish next week.

Happy Thanksgiving, American readers!

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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 segregations studies work and how to get one yourself.

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you very much!

 



Paying Off the Mortgage vs Investing the Difference

You don't own your home until the mortgage is paid off; the bank does. Mortgage payoff tips you can use to become debt-free. Dave Ramsey #wealthyaccountant #daveramsey #mortgagetips #debtfree #mortgagefree #mortgagepayofftipsOne of the most difficult decisions you can make as you struggle toward financial independence is deciding between paying off the mortgage quickly or investing the excess funds instead. The water is more muddy when we see a roaring stock market for as far back as the eye can see coupled with low interest rates. The answer seems simple and obvious: pay off the mortgage as slowly as possible and invest the difference in broad market-based index funds.

You might also think people well past the mile-marker of financial independence would have an even easier choice. Once the risk of a market decline passes due to your excessive net worth, it is tempting to automatically choose the course with the greatest opportunity for maximum gain.

Your favorite accountant has struggles with the same decision: pay it off  or invest. It all came to a head recently when the topic came up on Facebook. I gave my opinion and the fur flew. Before long my inbox was stuffed with requests for a fully fleshed out explanation of my position.




My Struggle

For someone working his entire life in finance this shouldn’t be a problem, you’d think. But it isn’t that simple.

Any first year accounting student knows leverage (debt) can spike returns. Less understood—for reasons I can’t understand—is the effect leverage has when the investment goes down or even treads water. Leverage does enhance profits nicely in a climbing market. When the market goes sideways the interest expense of leverage starts to hurt. In a down market is turns brutal with losses magnified and interest accruing to rub salt in the wound.

When it come to real estate a false sense of security sets in. Unlike securities, real estate doesn’t face a margin call if prices decline. The bank will not borrow you more in such cases, but you don’t have to come up with more money over the regular payment. As long as things eventually turn around you are fine. At least that is the theory.

Should you pay off your mortgage early or invest the difference? Here are mortgage payoff tips to help you decide between investing and paying the mortgage off faster. #wealthyaccountant #mortgage #mortgagetips #mortgagepayofftips #creditscore #DaveRamseyArmed with this information I begin my journey. I bought the farm (No, really! A beautiful 10 acre farm with hiking trails and a pond. What did you think? I died?) in the mid 1990s for $120,000. Five or so years later the mortgage was down to ~$40,000.

My old farmhouse needed serious work. We jacked up the house to secure the foundation, remodeled the original home and made serious additions. The Accountant household went from 950 square feet of living space to over 3,000. (No, I’m not proud of my extravagance.)

The remodeling and additions cost more than $200,000, all put on the credit card, aka, the new mortgage. The Accountant household had a serious debt now.

The good news is that I had no other debt and a net worth approaching eight figures. Our home appraised at $400,000 and change. Borrowing was relatively cheap and there was no real risk to such indebtedness in my situation. I did make payments well beyond the minimum to pay the house off sooner. (Some habits are hard to kill.)

By the time the world ended in 2008 – 09 I had the mortgage down to ~ $100,000, maybe a bit lower. The stock market tanked and I had plenty of room to borrow more against my home.

With my credit the bank was willing to give me pretty much anything I wanted. They needed to lend to low risk people and businesses and I was the lowest of risks. Since I have a farm I qualify for special loans only available to farmers. As luck would have it, I snagged a 2.125% loan fixed for 30 years!

Not being one for half measures I borrowed nearly $300,000, reducing my home equity to the lowest level in my life. I dropped the cash in the market.

It wasn’t a long wait. The market stopped declining and then started rising in fits and starts. For almost 10 years now my gambit has worked well. I made extra payments once again, but not as much as in past times.

Five years ago the mortgage was ~ $300,000. The market turned the borrowed funds into a bigger number. I refused selling the investments. But I increased my payments to reduce the large number on my loan statement. (It bothered me!)

Income from my practice now started going into loan reduction over more market investments. Yes, the market kept climbing, but I wanted that mortgage much lower. I found it disturbing to have the highest debt level in my life when I enjoyed the highest net worth of the same life. Even my business lived debt-free. This house thing, while a good move according to first-year accounting students, occupied my thoughts better used on other projects.

I also turned up the frugal. I learned to cut costs like a crazy man! Coupled with a nice business income I was able to shave $50,000 or more from the mortgage each year. My goal was to reduce the interest expense. Yes, the rate was low, but $300,000 at 2% is still $6,000!

Last year the mortgage collapsed to under $200,000. The race was on. Without resorting to asset sales I refocused my efforts to reduce the mortgage. By the end of last year the mortgage stood a hair into the six figures.




The Final Assault

There are several dry-erase boards around my office. Many are filled with cryptic messages on my personal and business finances. I use a type of shorthand known only to me. Sometimes employees ask what all the gibberish means. I tell them if it’s pertinent to their job.

Here is why you must start paying extra on your mortgage today. Investing the extra mortgage payments instead does not work. Pay off your mortgage in 5 years or less. #wealthyaccountant #savingmoney #personalfinance #moneyA dry-erase board outside my office door has a series of numbers. The cryptic numbers were my madness to retire the farm mortgage. The original goal was to pay $56,800 on the mortgage this year, including interest. (Don’t ask why $56,800; it’s along story.)

As I entered summer it looked as if I could meet my goal. By late summer I met the goal for the entire year. Something snapped in my head when the mortgage hit $58,000 and change. I wanted it gone and now!

In the last two months I drove the mortgage from $58,000 to under $16,000. After I return home from FinCon in Orlando I will move money from a side business to retire the mortgage.

For the first time in my adult life I will be debt free before Halloween. That sounds so insane to me. I can scream “I’m debt-free!” to Dave Ramsey for the first time since the early 1980s while my net worth is well into the eight figures. I kept the mortgage to pad my net worth when the advantages would do absolutely nothing for my lifestyle.

And once again I was forced to reconsider my choice as the course of financially savvy individuals raked me over the coals on Facebook.




Why I Took the Course I Did

When I gave my opinion in a finance group on why I felt paying off the mortgage was better than investing the difference I was mobbed. In a matter of moments there was nothing left but a grease spot  on the pavement.

My argument was simple. Paying off all debt not only reduces risk of default, but frees all the time spent thinking about managing the debt. That was my come to Jesus moment. I discovered I was spending more time thinking about my $300,000 mortgage than the millions I had in investments!

The mortgage was always planned. Payments were on automatic, but extra payments had to be considered. I also kept thinking about how long I wanted to keep this darn thing. Am I willing to keep a mortgage until I’m 70 just to kite the difference I could make in the market? The answer, once I seriously thought about it, was NO!!! And the more I thought about it the more I realized I was wasting quality time on a debt I don’t even need.

The only argument against my solution was that the market does a heck of a lot better than the 2 1/8% I pay on the mortgage. Once I thought about that I realized it was a stupid argument. Yes, it worked well for me since the market has been climbing with barely a hiccup for a decade. What they were really saying is that the ends justify the means. I disagree.

Investing versus extra mortgage payments? It isn't an easy choice. Learn the best choice for you. #wealthyaccountant #mortgage #money #mortgagetips #payments #investments #invest #timeI won because the market was up a lot. How would I look if the market pulled a 1968 to 1982 when the market went nowhere for 14 years? Not nearly as smart, I would gather.

After careful consideration I came to the conclusion (took me long enough considering my age) that paying off the mortgage as fast as possible, regardless of tax deductions or the interest rate, is the only correct course. Here is why: The mortgage is guaranteed while the market is not. The market may climb or it could sink or stagnate. It’s happened for long periods of time. We sometimes forget our history. The mortgage is always there until paid, plus all the interest. No reprieve.

The other expense a mortgage has is time. Even with payments on automatic you still need to manage funds to make the payment. You either earn money or transfer from an investment into the account funds will be drawn from. Don’t forget or there will be penalties!

Time, more than interest or money, were the deciding factor. You might think debt doesn’t take time and allows you to spike your investment returns. Well, it does take time and thought and planning. That time comes from personal time. And debt is a harsh mistress when investments turn south.

I was a Dave Ramsey Endorsed Local Provider (ELP) for years. I have no problem putting every expense I can on the credit card. I pay it in full each month with auto-pay. I also make room for modest mortgage debt. I’ve changed my tune.

I think debt-free is the only way to go. Even if you have massive wealth outside the debt with zero risk to your FI (financial independence) status, it is still better to retire the mortgage on the primary residence, second home and rental properties. (Income properties do very well without mortgages, even in terrible economic times. Hard to lose when there are no monthly payments.)

There is one last thing I noticed as I approach the final payment on my home. Mrs. Accountant and I are giddy as school girls. (I don’t look good in a dress so no ugly comments.) Breaking the million dollar net worth marker didn’t get so much as a “Yippie!” out of Mrs. A. Every time I go to Farm Credit and drop another 10 grand or so she walks on air.

So do I. I must confess I feel a heavy weight lifted off my shoulders. I can’t believe paying off a debt that didn’t even register in the household budget affected my subconscious so much. But it did! It is impossible to understand how much debt affects you until you remove it. How much weight bares down on you until it is removed.

I always thought it was about how much I was worth. No more. I think you are a helluva lot richer without debt than with a massive net worth. I feel better about myself financially now than ever before. I always knew I owed somebody. Now that is gone and I can yell:

“I’M DEBT FREE!!!”

I hope you will join me. You can’t believe the colors on this side of the fence.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Credit Cards can be a powerful money management tool when used correctly. Use this link to find a listing of the best credit card offers. You can expand your search to maximize cash and travel rewards.

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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you very much!



How Debt Spurs Economic Growth

Debt is harsh taskmaster. End the stress of student loans, credit card debt and mortgages. Break the chains of debt. Live debt-free. #daveramsey #debtproblems #stress #studentloans #creditcarddebtAs mankind evolved they needed a way to store value that wasn’t cumbersome. Sure, trading a cow for supplies seems like a good idea, but what about wages? Do you get a cow or a peck of barley for a good day of labor? Well actually, yes. That is exactly what happened. It held back commerce because you needed an immediate need between two or more parties to have an equitable exchange of value. And God forbid you were really good at mass-producing something. The oversupply of that item would make it worthless.

Even before mankind invented money as a store of wealth, people were able to borrow. Rather than make an equitable trade now, you would promise to provide a good or service later. And you better keep up your end of the bargain. The punishment for reneging on a debt was severe. You could lose a hand, be imprisoned, forced into servitude (slavery) or outright killed. No, in the early days of money and prior, it was best to honor your commitments. The alternative was unthinkable.

Slavery was a common result for nonpayment of debts. Debt was not entered into lightly as it put your freedom at risk. The Old Testament of the Bible has several passages which show how ancient man dealt with debt absconders. They were merciless.




The Invention of Money and How It Works

Debt has lost much of its fearsomeness nowadays. I promise not to get religious on y’all, but need I remind you around half of the parables of Jesus dealt with money and wealth. Money is important. People knew it two thousand years ago and they know it today. Unfortunately, people don’t understand it much better than the Classical Greeks did as they tried to come to terms with the new way to store and transfer value.

Free yourself from the slavery of debt. End the burden and interest expense adding stress to your life. End debt. #enddebt #debtfree #nomoredebt #studentloans #paydayloansMankind has gone from, “Neither a borrower, nor a lender be”, to, “You need a good credit score to live in modern society.” The dividing line happened somewhere between the Shakespearean play Hamlet—where the above phrase comes from—and today. Lending was always considered risky business for all parties involved.

Money makes it easier to borrow (and cheat). Governments have been debasing money since its invention. Don’t worry. The proletariat figured out how to shave coins before the first day was out. A deal between two people needed to be honored and violence could result if one party felt the other party cut corners on their end of the deal if both ends of the transaction happened at different times. The horse you promised in six months for the purchase of twenty acres of land might have developed a lame hoof. Negotiations took a decidedly more hostile approach afterwards.

The more people started to understand money the worse it got. Money requires a level of trust. If most people refused to accept the item used as money at a set rate of value it becomes useless. That’s why precious metals and other small valuable items were the first forms of money. Government debasement and coin shaving was a serious issue. Debasement destroyed trust in government issued coins and coin shaving was a crime because it was honing in on the government’s debasement turf.

Then somebody got the idea to create fiat money. Fiat money is declared valuable by the government by decree. I sometimes call cryptocurrencies fiat money when in fact they are not. My argument is cryptocurrencies are declared by decree of the blockchain rather than the government. Both declare value for something that has none and gets us all to agree the fantasy is real. That is why money has value today; because we all agree to pretend it does. Fiat money in not backed by anything of value, just faith in the issuing government. Good luck with that.




The Problem with Debt

In modern times debt seems a reasonably risk-free way to transact business. In my office we frequently bypass even fiat money for a check which we trust the bank will honor with fiat money or we allow the client to take a loan from their credit card company which once again pays us in fiat money. It’s all based on trust.

But risk-free (or nearly so) transactions are relatively modern. Reneging on a debt was a serious matter for good reason. The lender would have a hard time replacing the lost value promised. Powerful banking families and governments were also the ones doing the lending so they were inspired to formulate laws with serious consequences for not upholding your end of the obligation. And as bad as people knew debt was, they could still get in trouble. The landlord wanted rent, the church wanted a tithe and the government wanted taxes. You were a serf or risked your eternal soul. And your taxes were an implied debt forced upon you.

And still the government loves debt!

Why the Government Wants You to be a Slave Go into Debt

Economists falsely believe that more debt lubricates an economy. It doesn’t. It sucks interest from productive labor and gives nothing in return. Think about it for a second. Human beings dreamed up a store of wealth based on trust and that had only pretend value. Then, we convinced people if we let them use the fantasy value for a short while they would have to go into slavery get a job and earn imaginary value to repay the pretend money. The only “real” thing in this whole process is the part where you trade part of your life to satisfy your obligation based on fiat money. (Bet you feel kinda foolish right now, don’tcha?)

Well, if debt doesn’t lubricate economic growth as the government and economists all tell us, why is it so darn important for the Federal Reserve to encourage people to borrow more? The answer is in the above lecture! Slavery!

Yes, borrowed money is generally spent instantly, causing the short-term illusion of economic growth. Heck, when you put a vacation on the credit card it’s all fun and games. PARTY TIME! When you get back from vacation it still feels good. Then the payments come due. Still okay, but not as much fun. Then you have a serious need for funds and you are saddled with debt. The car breaks down or medical bills arrive and Katy bar the door. Debt now has you firmly in its grip. A serious matter is made worse because the other side of party time just came home to roost.

The root of the word mortgage is “death pledge”. Is that a graphic enough term for you? People knew from early times a mortgage wasn’t a home loan—the soft language we use today for a death pledge. It was something a lot more serious.




A World without Debt

It sounds melodramatic when you echo the warning over debt. Most people today either have debt or once upon a time did. Bankruptcy laws are generous these days. And why not? If the banks get in trouble the government bails them out by creating more money out of thin air, or as we say on the farm, by fiat.

My family has always been business owners. My dad has an agricultural repair business. While it pains me to admit my dear ol’ dad might be right, he did make an observation decades ago I never forgot. He noticed employees loaded with debt were a double edged sword. First, the debt kept’em coming to work. They had no other choice. In short, their debt made them a slave to my dad’s business. Self inflicted slavery, for sure. But slavery all the same. But second, the debt load made for high drama employees. It takes time and massive energy to juggle a debt burden. Paying the boat and car loan, mortgage or rent, Jet Ski payment, cottage payment and credit card bills are exhausting work. These people were under severe stress and it showed. They got sick more often and tended to have other bad habits (smoking, drinking and/or drugs) to relieve the stress. The stress drove them to the unhealthy lifestyle.

People walk free-willing, eyes open, into debt. Then reality strikes. You’ve been enslaved by your own doing!

Break free from debt today! The stress of debt is killing you. Get the plan and motivation to end debt in your life today. Regain your financial freedom. #financialfreedom #debtfree #studentloans #creditcarddebt #debt #stressThe economic imprint the borrowed money caused is long gone. Only the pain remains. And the pain lasts a lot longer than the pleasure did!

The government knows all this. They know your debt fueled spending is ointment that quickly wears off. The government also knows you are now left with two unpleasant options: sell a large part of your life and freedom to satisfy those debts, plus interest, or declare bankruptcy where they restrict you financially for a time. Bankruptcy doesn’t solve the problem; it only eases the pressure a bit so it’s possible to claw your way back. Part of your life is getting sold, slave. Get used to it.

And there’s your answer to how debt spurs economic growth. It forces you to work more than you have to. It wasn’t the debt fueled spending; it was your forced servitude to satisfy your obligation. In debt, they (government and employers) own you. You have to work. And you only keep a portion of the benefit! You are forced to work for a lower wage because you need money now! Debt comes first, eating second. That is why we have homeless and starving people in the richest nation in the history of mankind.

Interest sucks a portion of your hard-earned labor, too. Not only are you forced to work and accept a lower wage, you give up some of the remainder to the lender in interest. Remember interest? The stuff created out of thin air—fiat money—now requires you to repay a fantasy debt you agreed to with flesh and blood.




Coda

When I write these kinds of posts I get a lot of complaints I sound like Dave Ramsey. Well, for the record, I was a Dave Ramsey Endorsed Local Provider for many years. And I consider it a compliment when compared to Dave and his simple, yet powerful message. A lot to like in the guy.

I’ll make a deal with you. When the you guys stop telling me how smart and responsible with debt you are, I’ll stop taking the sledgehammer to your skull on this issue. Debt can be a powerful tool, no doubt. But debt is enslavement, as we illustrated above. Stop telling Dave and me we’re wrong.

Get your life back. Live your dream. The bank is the largest expense in most households. Big income and nothing left to live on. Insane! I beg you, kind readers. In these awesome economic times it isn’t the place to become complacent. Debt feels good now because it mentally feels like tax-free money. Paying it back means you have to make more money to repay the debt and pay tax on that money, too. You don’t need much to live a good life, but a boatload of income to pay all your debt obligations. More required income to cover debt and living means more taxes for the government.

And that is why the government tells us debt fuels economic growth. By the way, only a fool believes what the government tells him.

 

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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you very much!



Profiting From the Next Recession

Rare is the decade where a capitalist society doesn’t experience an economic slowdown. Call it a soft landing, recession or depression, the results are the same with varying degrees. Economic slowdowns and declines are inevitable under capitalism.

Expansions are born from the depths of the previous economic decline. Inflation tends to be low and unemployment high. Pent up demand is waiting for an influx of goods and services to satiate desires. As businesses whittle down inventory, the recession eases. A glimmer of increased demand begins the cycle all over. Employment increases to meet demand. Eventually wages climb as the labor market tightens.

Increasing productivity means even a slowdown in growth can start unemployment ratcheting higher; no actual recession needed to send hearts aflutter. Sometimes the economy slows sharply as in the early 1980s and 2008. Most recessions since World War II have been mild, with GDP declining 2% or less. The 2008 recession lasted 18 months and it felt like the world would end. In reality, GDP declined 5.1%. The 2001 recession, in comparison, lasted 8 months with a .3% decline in GDP.

The last time economic activity declined more than 10% was in the waning days of WWII. Reduced military spending caused the GDP to dip 12.7%. Unemployment didn’t climb much in 1945 as the U.S started the switch back to a peacetime economy. Before WWII, recessions more often than not exceeded 10%. Economic downturns were far sharper in those days and lasted longer. Still, unemployment can climb quickly to double digits or nearly so. When pink slips start flying they come fast and furious.

The longest economic expansion on record started March 1991 and continued for a full 10 years, ending March 2001. The current economic expansion started June 2009. We are nearing another record long period of economic nirvana.

Long periods of economic bliss lull people into a false sense of security. Debt grows larger as a percent of income as households are more confident.

Inflation is creeping higher. The Fed is slowing increasing interest rates to reflect a normalization of interest rates after the deep 2008 recession. Unemployment is near record lows and employment numbers are off the scale! Warning signs are beginning to show as consumers are reaching their credit limit, ending the buying binge. The cycle is nearing the point of renewal.

Renewal is painful if you’re unprepared.




Signs

Overproduction and debt usually play a role in most recessions. U.S. production isn’t as out of touch with demand as world production, most notably in China and Germany. However, by previous economic standards, the economy isn’t stressed enough to trigger a downturn of any size. Things look really good right now. But. . .

Tariffs are the wildcard. Tariffs are designed to slow the economy, regardless the claims of politicians. Business is well aware of the seriousness of the current rush to impose tariffs. Tariffs also push inflation higher.

Signs are showing in the EU, China and other countries. The U.S. so far is humming like a well oiled machine. If tariffs continue ratcheting higher the U.S. will eventually stumble, too.

Tariffs are taking on a different flavor this time around. (This time isn’t different, however.) In 1929, tariffs were adjusted across the board. Retaliatory tariffs were levied nation against nation around the world. Today we see the U.S. imposing tariffs and the target nation strikes back with narrowly focused tariffs against the U.S. only. Without the U.S. a vacuum has formed. Most nations are building new economic alliances without the U.S.

There is no doubt tariffs will cause pain around the world. The U.S. already discovered how the new world order of tariffs will be played out. Harley-Davidson, an iconic American company, is moving some production to Europe to avoid tariffs. If the intension of the tariffs was to bring jobs back home, it’s having the opposite effect! Time will tell how this new world order plays out.




Doomsday Preparations

The world isn’t going to end! You can drop the end of the world stuff right now. However, there is economic pain coming. The exact cause is not yet known. The possibilities discussed about are strong possibilities. Then again, it could be something totally out of left field, like Lehman Brothers in 2008. You never know.

What we do know is that this cycle is long in the tooth and it’s time to prepare for the inevitable slowdown in economic activity, even if it doesn’t culminate in a full-blown recession. Unemployment will climb someday and probably sooner than most people expect. If tariffs bite as they did in the past, we could be within a year of slower economic growth.

Since my crystal ball isn’t any clearer than yours, all I can do is provide good advice that works in good times and bad. Wealthy people have certain habits you need to acquire ASAP!

For several years now I’ve warned clients to reduce, or even eliminate, debt. The 2008 recession only hurt if you were saddled with debt payments. Without debt, 2008 was a minor inconvenience. Debt is a common recession culprit. Don’t be part of the problem! Your insistence you are responsible with debt crumbles when unemployment makes an appearance in your household, your income properties are vacant or the tenants refuse to pay, or your business or side hustle no longer provides the cash needed. I hear the “responsible with debt” mantra often. I’ve also been around long enough to watch said clients have their home repossessed.

Debt is the most important issue to address. If you are deep in debt, there are steps you can take to reduce liabilities fast. Normal pay down of debt may not be fast enough to give you a margin of safety before the recession strikes. Prices are still high. Selling assets at a high is better than liquidating later at any price, or worse, giving assets back to the bank.

I firmly believe you should NEVER have debt on a vehicle. EVER! If you need a car loan you can’t afford the vehicle. If you bought real estate the last few years, consider reducing debt by selling highly appreciated properties. I know real estate never declines in value (egads!), but selling a property or two to eliminate debt obligations allows you to sleep better in any economic environment.

Here is the last word on debt; I promise. All consumer debt must go! No credit card debt! Period.  Now is the best time in a generation to reduce debt. Your assets are worth more now than in decades. Take advantage of your great fortune.




Rainy Day Fund

I’m now going to share advice I give to all clients near, entering or in retirement.

Retirees need to keep ~ two years of spending in a liquid account (money market (I like Vanguard), Discover Savings, Capital One 360 or T-bills). If the market keeps rallying, take living expenses from your index funds. If the market declines, use the liquid funds to live on. Divert capital gains and dividend distributions to the liquid account instead of reinvesting. This gives you a margin of safety of several years before you’d have to either reduce your lifestyle or sell index funds in a down market to cover living expenses.

For those not in—or near—retirement, the same philosophy applies. Rather than two years of living expenses in liquid funds, you may wish to only keep one. In a perfect world you would have Roth IRAs so there would be no tax consequences of moving some index fund money to the money market account.

Facts and circumstances will determine the correct level for you and the accounts you increase liquidity in. Having liquid funds to cover living expenses is a powerful tool to weather any economic storm. The only issues not covered are outliers. An uninsured medical emergency can throw any plan awry. Disability is another potential problem. It’s impossible to cover all possibilities. Having a cushion, a margin of safety, stacks the deck in your favor.




A Hard Man to Break

I don’t predict the economy or the stock market. Far better than me try and fail miserably. This isn’t about market timing! This is about structuring your finances in an appropriate way.

Debt is the worst cancer. Debt is a crisis, especially this late in the business cycle unless you think this time is different. (It’s not!) Low debt levels are always the better path. Virtually every wealthy person you meet says the same thing: leverage (debt) bites you in the end.

Keep adding to your retirement accounts. This is not the time to break a good habit. If you don’t have a lot of non-qualified (non-retirement) money you may have to keep some IRA or other retirement money liquid. If your finances are not affected, no problem. If you do face financial stress you at least have liquid funds available (even if a tax penalty applies) to cover living expenses for an extended period of time without the bank knocking at the door.

Opportunities are created in recessions. The U.S. has had 49 economic downturns in its history. We get to celebrate the grand ol’ 50th with the next recession. Limited debt and liquid funds for spending needs allows you to keep your money invested for the next inevitable economic expansion. The winners of the last recession were the ones who stood pat or even bought while the market was down.

Things have to get really bad for people without debt to suffer. A liquid nest egg coupled with no debt requires a complete system failure before you feel any real pain. And if the system does fail there is nowhere to hide so it doesn’t pay to prepare for it. It’s lights out.



 

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?

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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Teach Children to Follow Their Dreams

This isn’t your parent’s China. China is an ultra modern society with the people curious about the world at large.

From a young age I knew exactly wanted to do. Then I changed my mind.

Such is youth. My dad had different plans for me. My childhood was spent on the family farm and it was an awesome life. My dad owned an agricultural repair business and the plan was in place for me to slide right into the company. There was only one problem: I hated the work.

My children are now adults. One is in China while the youngest just graduated high school. My fondest hope was that at least one of the two would be interested in tax and accounting work. No dice.

Forcing your children into a family business is always a bad idea. The kids might love the work and they should then be welcomed with open arms if they do. But most kids don’t want to follow in their parent’s footsteps. Their dreams are different. Most often they follow their parent’s path because they don’t know where else to turn.

Rural areas face the same issue. When few career opportunities exist young people must either leave the area or work in the coal mine. It’s the perfect recipe for unhappiness.

Heather, my oldest, is spending a month in China teaching a 5-year old girl English as a second language. The host family is treating Heather great.

Brooke, the youngest, prefers working in dirt. She works for my dad’s company landscaping. She also has a few side jobs working for people in town clean their yard and garden.

Both my girls are happy. I couldn’t ask for a better gift. I never forced either of my girls into living my life. The goal was to always help them follow their dream. The only constant from dad was the endless indoctrination of personal finance advice. As a result my girls are handling money better than 99%. I guess that means they’ll be the future 1%. Good for them.



Nothing to Lose

Steve Jobs said “you have nothing to lose” in his Stanford commencement address in 2005. Jordan Peterson has said the same thing in many of his videos. What both mean is that in the end we are all dead. Nothing we say or do will change that. Knowing someday you’ll be dead is a humbling attitude you can channel into productive projects. You have nothing to lose by following your dreams.

Failing is part of the process. As much as failure hurts, we know it will all be forgotten someday as the hands of times sweep all our actions into the depths of history. Nobody remembers the details of the numerous failures of Thomas Edison as he worked toward the light bulb. We just remember the one that worked.

Starting a business or side hustle is the ultimate leap of faith. Failure will be displayed to our embarrassment. Or will it? If I didn’t share my many business failures over the years none of you would know! I share the mishaps because that is where learning takes place. Success is a poor teacher so I show where things went wrong.



Go East, Young Girl. Far East

I tried to ingrain the “you have nothing to lose” attitude in my girls. I drilled the lessons into their heads daily without remorse. Early on I was worried they may not be getting the message. Then, as the years progressed, it became obvious they were listening after all.

Heather at a jewelry expo in Beijing. She always loves her art.

Heather worked in my office for a short while and still fills in periodically. She worked in my office at first for the same reason many kids work in the family business: it’s an easy option. It didn’t take long to learn she wasn’t interested in the tax or accounting life. Personal finance was as far as she wanted to go in the accounting world. Dad took a deep breath and allowed his sweetie to cut her own path. It was the right thing to do.

From high school on Heather was interested in East Asia. She built plans to go to college in Thailand and South Korea. Later she learned she could teach English as a second language in countries around the world. Good grades and an unrelenting drive made it a reality. Fundraising and financial tricks learned from dad gave her the chance to see China as an insider rather than a tourist for practically no money!

Her host family is awesome! Heather is seeing China from the perspective of a Chinese family. She lives with her host family, tutoring their five year old daughter, Dora. Dora is such a sweetheart. WeChat allows us to communicate without cost. Dora speaks good English and is a bundle of energy. Heather will be heartbroken when she has to return home. She will always have memories (and friends) in a land far away. The modern world makes it easy to stay in touch.

In middle school you would never have guessed Heather would take the path she did. On a family trip to South Dakota Heather was so anxious we had to stop at every turn off for a bathroom break. We even created a few new rest stops along the way. It was bad. (Heather will probably read this while still in China. She’ll be embarrassed when she does. Consider it dad’s revenge for making him stop every quarter mile.)

Heather inherited the early travel anxiety from dad. I’m crazy when I have to travel. It always sounds like a good idea until the departure date approaches. Mrs. Accountant can tell you many stories of the strangle behaviors I’ve undertake when on the road. I travel for business with rare exception. I keep myself hyper busy so I can control the anxiety. If I’m not chatty, running my mouth a million miles an hour, I withdraw into my own fantasy world. The best non-business trip I ever took was to Costa Rica. My parents invited Mrs. Accountant and me. This allowed for some normalcy with more family around. Still, I didn’t say much during the trip as I mentally withdrew.

Heather and Dora. The world is an awesome (and smaller) place.

Heather outgrew her travel anxiety. Thank god for that. Heather is there, in China, learning their culture and teaching at the same time. The world is much smaller now.

I get to see the world through her eyes and from the perspective of her host family. They seem a lot like people here. They have strong family ties and enjoy time together. They are interested in the world around them. More people speak Mandarin as a native language than any other; English in number three behind Spanish. Still, Heather traveled to China to teach English, whereas Chinese people speak English when they come to the U.S. Strange how they are such an enlightened society as not to demand everyone conform to their culture and language.

The activities Heather enjoys with Dora make me smile. They do so many fun things together. She sends pictures every day. Dora is a well-adjusted young lady. When we video chat Dora keeps hopping in and out of the camera view. We are just normal people to her. Our smaller world reminds us we are all normal people, regardless of culture.

Imagine if I would have demanded Heather work in the family business? All this would have been lost. Heather would have felt a longing for a different life while I dealt with an employee unhappy with her job.

As much as I want to point my girls in a certain direction, I can’t. There was no way I could have guessed Heather would end up where she is. She is better for it too. She called yesterday (about 9:30 p.m. in Beijing) because her car overheated in standstill traffic. I talked her through it. She eventually contacted her host family. The dad stayed behind to handle the auto repairs while mom brought Dora and Heather home. I am so proud of how Heather handled the situation. She really has grown up. She grew up because I allowed her to fly.

The Ground is the Same over Here

Brooke took a path I didn’t expect either. She never even tried to work in my office. She did stuff tax organizers into envelopes over the holidays each year. But her heart was never in the office—any office.

Brooke is interested in computers, but schooling is something she wants to put off for a bit. She has a few coins saved so she has time to decide the path she wishes to travel. In the mean time she likes working in the ground. Heather is traveling land in China while Brooke turns dirt in the backwoods of Wisconsin. It’s a living. And she enjoys it!

Brooke left the door open for college a year or so down the road when she is more certain she wants to learn more about computers. Landscaping and nurseries are acceptable ways to fill a day and gain an income in the mean time.

Again, if I would have forced the issue, requiring Brooke to take a path I thought appropriate for her, she would have been miserable. There is no way a parent can know what will appeal to their children.

There is a way we can help, but is takes a lot of fortitude.




The Guiding Hand of Parents

You can teach your children how to follow their dreams. Engage them. Require them to think about the things they want to do in life. Pay attention to their interests and encourage them to pursue their dreams.

Heather and Dora rollerblading in the middle of Beijing at night. Those two are having a great time and are the terror of China. They’re both cuties.

That doesn’t mean the kids get a blank check to do what they want. Quite the contrary. My girls had to earn whatever path they choose to walk. I didn’t pay Heather’s way to China.

College wasn’t a free ride either. Heather struggled with getting to college. I didn’t support her attempts at several higher education ideas financially. She had to earn her way before I stepped in and helped. Once she buckled down and got serious about full-time college she was able to raise the funds necessary to attend school without selling investments to get there. She got so close before she couldn’t do it anymore. I immediately stepped in and provided the rest. For the record, my contribution was very small, a few thousand dollars. Think about that. Heather will leave college with a degree, no student loans, no debt and dad will still be solvent having invested less than $5,000. And Heather got to travel to China (Netherlands next year). She also has a job tutoring people in China from home (online) while she finishes school. She has a bright future!

While Heather is starting to create a path she is likely to travel most or all of her life, Brooke is just starting out. She is 18 and experimenting with her choices. I can’t say as much about her because her story is only beginning. I see the same pattern in Brooke that I saw in Heather. The only difference will be the ultimate path taken.

Parents worry about their kids. It’s only natural. Here is what I did:

  • Provide a supporting hand.
  • Be consistent.
  • Freely offer advice and guidance without doing it for them.
  • Let them explore the available options.
  • Don’t force them into the family business.
  • Let them fail. Failure is the only way to learn.
  • Let them fly. All the way to China, if you must. Your heart will eventually begin beating again.
  • Love them regardless their choice.
  • Share your stories, your wisdom.
  • Use humor.
  • Hug them. It matters.

Most of all, always welcome them home. It’s hard letting go. It is for the best. It is so much sweeter when they return.



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?

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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

The Best Speech Ever Given

Jordan Peterson is one of the greatest thinkers of our time.

When you think of the most powerful, motivating speeches ever given, Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address comes to mind. In less than three hundred words* Lincoln encompassed the issues facing the nation. As great as the speech was, it was backward looking (Four score and seven years ago) with hope to the future. Lincoln was able to clearly articulate his message in a few minutes. He struggled up to the moment of addressing the crowd as Gettysburg. It was the planning and preparation that lent to the quality of the message.

Closer to home we might consider the commencement address Steve Jobs gave at Stanford in 2005. At fifteen minutes, Jobs communicated a narrower message with significant reinforcement of his theme. Once again, serious planning took place prior to the presentation. Jobs was legendary in his drive toward excellence. He could speak before a crowd extemporaneously, but preferred formal presentations he could and did practice again and again until everything was choreographed to perfection. Errors were ironed out. He practiced so much that when he was live he could continue without missing a beat if technology failed while he was on stage. A Steve Jobs presentation was a show to behold.

Speeches that resonate come in many flavors. YouTube is filled with powerful speeches from movies and sports coaches. Speeches that cause a shiver to run down your spine include elements of life itself. “You can do it” is motivational, but when the words and emotions dig deeper we quickly realize the importance of what we are hearing.

Today I want to share a short speech (10 minutes from a longer interview) by Jordan Peterson. I’ve been reading and listening to his work for a while now. His recent rise to fame makes his plea more vital than ever.




A Typical Day at Harvard

The excerpt comes from a longer interview Peterson gave to a group at Harvard University. The video begins with Peterson asked what advice he would give students that want to make a difference in the world after they graduate. Peterson never missed a beat when he said, “Read great books!”

You can watch the video on your own and should several times to digest the entire message. What you should get on the first pass is that while Peterson was giving an interview, his responses are not completely extemporaneous. Over a long career he has developed a remarkable philosophy on how to live a good life. Does that sound familiar? It should. It’s been a while, but I’ve talked about Stoicism plenty enough in the past in this blog.

The overtones in this interview are dripping with stoic thought. Around halfway through the excerpt the interviewer even asks Peterson how to live a good life. What makes the responses so powerful is how Peterson opened the floodgate and released an articulate and passionate plea for listeners to accept how incredibly awesome our lives are today in the Western world.




A Game of Cards

Friday night is sheepshead (a card game with some (okay, few) similarities to bridge) night in the Accountant neighborhood. Since we are all a bunch of old duffers living in the backwoods of Nowhere, Wisconsin, the game starts at 7 and ends shortly after 9. (Did I mention us country folk prefer to hit the hay shortly after sundown?)

A few weeks ago one of our players, Pete, asked — as he always does — how our week was. I decided to return the favor and ask Pete how his week was. The rest of the night was shot. I don’t think we got more than three or four hands in before closing time.

My faith in the future is firmly intact. A recent sunset at the Accountant farmstead was a reminder and renewal of my faith in life, the future, the world around us and the beauty of life.

My polite interest in Pete’s prior week was all it took to open the gate and let it all out. Pete couldn’t stop talking about how awesome and great life was. Backwoods people live a frugal life due to environment. We can’t order pizza delivery. (There is no pizza delivery in our neck of the woods.) The closest shopping opportunity is 30 miles away and none of us miss the chance to be separated from our cash. (The card game is frequently brutal on the family budget. We play for dimes and a bad night could set a guy back a full dollar, dollar and a half. Like I said: brutal.)

Pete didn’t miss any of the highlights of our incredible modern world. We have internet (high speed!) here in the backwoods. Food is cheap and varied. The cost of living is cheaper than ever. We live longer and have medical technology to not only keep us alive, but to live better. A bum knee is a simple replacement today; in the past it was a permanent diminution to quality of life.

Debt is the only real problem messing up all the fun in our ultra-modern world, according to Pete and company. When things get tough (as if that is even possible today) you can reduce spending in all areas. You can cook more at home or turn down the heat/turn off the AC. You can walk or bike instead or burning gasoline. All budget items are easily reduced, expect debt payments. Those stay stubbornly locked in place regardless of events chipping away at family finances.

Pete retired fifteen or so years ago when he was about my age. He cut back even earlier, enjoying three day (or four) weekends. Now Pete is looking down the barrel of Social Security. Any day now he can pull the trigger and enjoy the influx of even more income. In Pete’s own words, he can’t spend what he already has! He has lived off an amount less than his Social Security check promises to be for years.




What Everyone Must Learn in College, But Rarely Does

Back to Jordan Peterson.

Peterson made it clear what college and a college education is all about. Most people think college is about learning a skill you can use to get a job. It’s not! College is where you must learn to think; a place where you must learn to articulate. That’s why he places such emphasis on reading good books.

Books have been a massive part of my life from an early age. I took a super early mini retirement in my young 20s to sit at home and read all day. There is no doubt the three or four years I bowed out of life to immerse myself in quality literature determined the success in all areas of my life.

My thirty year marriage has been the highlight of my life and still going strong. I learned from people who spent a lifetime together how to have that very thing. I read about raising good children, running a business, investing, personal finance, budgeting and taxes. I also took time to read novels with a powerful message.

So, if you go to college to learn how to articulate, think and speak, what are you to do with this superpower? “Stop unnecessary suffering,” according to Peterson.




Personal Mission

Money is only a tool. This is a personal finance blog firmly in the categories of tax, financial independence, early retirement and wealth building. But none of that is the underlying theme. I need to learn to articulate better, as Peterson suggests, to communicate this message. You don’t want money; you want to be useful!

The wisdom Peterson shares in a ten minute interview segment is a lifetime worth of knowledge. He shares another secret society is struggling with currently. He talks about how the 1% are not greedy bastards. He explains why you are not richer than you are. It’s because you are young! If you are a good steward of your money it will grow. Given time it will grow rather large. Your favorite accountant is a prime example. I’m currently on the top of the net worth list over at Rockstar Finance. I’m also a bit old to be telling people I’m considering early retirement. Give it another decade and I’ll be looking over the edge of late retirement (grow up, man!).  The truth is I had more time than folks in their 20s to accumulate my wealth. And as Peterson said, I’m not a greedy miser hoarding my money. I’m looking for new opportunities to reduce suffering in the world so to speak.

Life is so good today! When people whine and complain over how oppressed they are, I, like Peterson, am so disappointed. We can make a difference, but it will never happen complaining about everyone else!

The Accountant girls enjoying Frogg’s ice cream in Sherwood, Wisconsin.

My card-playing buddy, Pete, shares some traits with your favorite accountant. He doesn’t like to travel and has managed to live a life with far less traveling than yours truly has done. His wife likes to travel and does so with her friends. Pete happily drives his old truck (he recently bought a new one since the old one gave up the ghost) around the neighborhood playing with his solo rental property. He milked cows for a farmer just south of my farm for many years to pass time. If he gets bored and something pops up (it always does) he will do that for a while. Oh, and he stops at Frogg’s Ice Cream a lot in the summer.

If you get the chance to cure cancer, then do it! The suffering your will reduce in the world will be incredible! Most of us will make a smaller mark in the world. I’m here to tell you it’s okay to make a small difference. Just make a difference!  Daily incremental improvement compounds into massive results.

Pete provides shelter for a family and helps neighbors in need of fill-in help. He reduces suffering in his small way while living the life of his dreams. Maybe you prefer travel and grander endeavors. Awesome! We each need to play the role our personality allows.

I’m a lowly tax accountant. Yes, I reduce suffering by solving tax issues for businesses and individuals. I also contribute by sharing my experience and knowledge on this and other blogs.

Jordan Peterson makes it clear we need to learn to articulate because the world is in desperate need of people who can communicate a message, knowledge and information in an articulate way. I still have room to grow.

And good thing because I’m not ready to hang up my cleats yet.

 

* There are at least five versions of the Gettysburg Address, each with slight variations from the others, including word count. The Bliss copy is the most famous.



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?

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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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.

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

Amazon is a good way to control costs by comparison shopping. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.

Depression and Personal Finance

If you are feeling suicidal, please seek help immediately. You can call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741. Find a trusted friend or family member to stay with you while you are suicidal.

 

Break the cycle of debt and depression. Loneliness, sadness, depression and helplessness are natural responses to serious money problems. #money #moneyproblems #debt #depression #suicide #breakthecycleDepression knows no boundaries. Anyone at any age can experience debilitating depression. No one is exempt: male or female, young and old, every ethnic background, every religious belief and every level of the economic spectrum.

Depression is hard to treat since it comes in so many flavors. Some people experience mild or seasonal depression, sometimes known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Depression can be brutally severe or cycle between periods of hyperactive behavior followed by an equally severe depressive episode. To complicate matter more, manic-depressives can cycle fast or slow.

Medication doesn’t help everyone and for many only provides mild relief. Frequently external factors trigger an event. Overwhelming debt can bring the walls crashing in.

But external triggers are not necessary for those with a tendency for depression. Successful and wealthy people are not exempt from external triggers causing depression. Eliminating debt can go a long way for many people in regaining mental health. But not always.




The Dear Debt Mission

Melanie is an incredible young woman who writes the Dear Debt blog. What started as a public journey to break up with debt brought an unexpected consequence. People started reading her blog and contacting her with their stories of unmanageable debt. Melanie also noticed in her analytics program that many people finding her blog were suicidal due to their debt load.

It might be forgivable to bow our head in silence and move on feeling there is nothing we can do. Not Melanie. Every September, which is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month, Melanie has a Debt Drop program where she encourages bloggers to join her in creating a web of posts focusing on suicide awareness and prevention. A heavy dose of debt reduction is encouraged. I added to the list a few times myself. Here is another entry.

It is impossible to know how many lives have been saved due to Melanie’s efforts. Certainly the number of people helped is tremendous.

But that isn’t why I’m writing today. There is another group of people in desperate need of help I want to address.

Living the Dream or Living in a Dream

Before we continue I must make a confession. The author is a rapid cycler manic-depressive. The dark days of winter can cause SAD, but I also suffer awesome bouts of efficient hyper-activity followed by crushing depression. It can happen any time of the year.

When I was a boy I was diagnosed with the disease. Later doctors tried a cocktail of medications to tone down the highs and lows. Lithium did nothing. Prozac and similar drugs were ineffective. They even tried scary drugs that really messed with my head. Eventually the medications were ended and I attended therapy to understand my triggers and methods to control an episode.

Here is the funny thing. I never had an overwhelming debt burden in my life. I grew up poor on a farm in rural Wisconsin, but we always had food, family life was good and I never felt like we were poor until I got older and the outside world reminded me what I am.

Later I married the best woman on earth and she blessed our household with two incredible daughters. Home life has always been good for me. I got lucky. With a predisposition for mania followed by depression, I found a way to create a life that minimized triggers. Like I said, lucky.




Money Doesn’t Solve Every Problem

When people are deep in debt they think money will solve all their problems. It doesn’t! Money will solve some issues in your life. Money can reduce and eliminate debt obligations. This is a major stress reducer.

Lots of money also opens doors unavailable to the poor. Money makes it easier to retire young or choose the job of your choice since you have resources to weather the time between fulfilling jobs. Money means you don’t have to settle for any job offered just to put food on the table. If you enjoy traveling money certainly helps with that too.

Money can solve financial problems. It can’t fix a broken marriage or resolve a drug problem. Money can buy quality healthcare, but can’t cure every ailment. And money can’t stop the demons of depression from crushing you down.

 

Dealing with Depression

To someone deep in debt it may sound strange to hear someone is suicidal when they have a quality home life and financial wealth. But depression doesn’t work that way!

Mental illness carries a social stigma. It shouldn’t. Depression is not a sign of weakness. Depression is a disease and must be treated as any disease.

Debt can cause serious depression. Not knowing where to turn is normal. Get your life back. #debt #suicide #depression #personalfinance #studentloans #creditcarddebtLeft unchecked it can destroy things of value in your life. Medication is an option for some. I encourage you to have a serious talk with your doctor on your situation. If medication doesn’t work for you, as it doesn’t for the author, you need a different set of tools. I will share some that have worked for me.

I was hesitant writing this post. After nearly a decade of controling excessive bouts of depression (I am less successful controlling the manias) I am in the deepest episode in nearly a decade.

Age gave me experience in handling triggers. Small bouts of depression would set in, but it was manageable. I have ready mental tools to get me back into life and motivated again. Manias are the worst because they make you feel so good as you get stuff done. I even managed to reduce the downside after a mania. Encouraging a mild mania is a valuable tool for an accountant during tax season. It is also dangerous. But when tax season spills into the remainder of the year the energy needs to come from somewhere, or so goes the crazy thinking.

Now is a good time to review the tricks I’ve learned to deal with depression since I’m struggling right now:

  • Triggers: Even if medication helps, controlling triggers is vital. Dark and short winter days can trigger depression in some people. It was an issue for me when I was younger, but it has been a non-event in later adulthood. Sunlight or sun lamps can help.

OTC medication or mild stimulants can trigger an event. For me large amounts of caffeine can trigger a mania. It’s easy when the workload increases to pound the coffee. You should constantly observe your response to foods, beverages, medications and recreational drugs (legal and illegal).

Stress is a huge trigger for many people. This is where a heavy debt burden comes in. But money isn’t the only stress. Other illness or the death of a friend or family member can do it. An unforeseen event can lift the stress level and start an uncontrollable spiral into depression.

  • Communicate: I have a very close relationship with my wife, Mrs. Accountant. We talk all the time. We can feel each other’s moods. Mrs. Accountant frequently knows I’m headed for depression before I do. She can see the outward signs I’m not paying attention to.

A trusted friend, family member or counselor is a tremendous benefit. Let people around you know when you are going down. Make sure a plan is in place to protect you if you become suicidal. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of intelligence. You know the helplessness of depression. When the depression passes, only then do you realize what you would have thrown away if you ended your life. And the damage to your friends and family lasts decades and longer. Do the right thing. Have a support team in place.

  • Train Yourself: Many people benefit from motivational tapes if they only have mild depression or borderline personality disorder. The upbeat message of optimism from speakers like Zig Ziglar have helped millions.
  • Diet and Exercise: Finding the right diet and mix of aerobic and strength exercises has made an incredible difference in my life. It’s those times where running a business cuts into running in the park conflict when I eventually get into trouble. Then diet suffers and the sodas go down the throat during the day and Jack at night. It all ends badly. Discover what foods cause attacks. And consider a sensible exercise program developed with a professional (trainer, doctor, et cetera).
  • Sleep: Lack of sleep is a serious stressor. Depressive episodes for me are usually preceded by a bout of sleeplessness. Lack of sleep even messes with people who don’t have depression. Get your sleep. It might be the most important thing you do all day. Cut the caffeine if it disturbs your slumber.
  • Avoid alcohol: For some reason people with depression think alcohol will deaden the pain. It might a first, but alcohol doesn’t deaden the pain long and the risk of addiction is real. Alcohol is no solution for depression and is fraught with problems.
  • Avoid important decisions while suffering a depressive event: Depression is a funny thing when it comes to decision making. I can prepare a mean tax return without issue while struggling with depression. The reason is the decisions are less about a choice and more about application of facts. The decisions best avoided while depressed include financial decisions.

Important financial decisions are best avoided while suffering deep depression. Your judgment is clouded when you are suffering. Cashing in a retirement account is a bad idea when you should be focusing on healing. Major expenditures are also to be avoided at these times. Now is not the time to shop, buy a new car, home, et cetera.

When depression strikes deep I start to eliminate things. I cut back on life demands. Depression causes me (most people) to withdraw. I try to cut back on projects or even eliminate them. I’m not saying this is a good thing because this in itself is a decision with consequences long after the depression ends. Unfortunately, you don’t always have a choice. Life doesn’t go on as usual when you suffer depression. Something has to give and certain activities need to be curtailed. Things you don’t want to cut back are your relationships and job. Your family and friends are your support group in your time of need. And you may need that job later when the fog lifts.

  • Seek professional help: It isn’t easy to seek help for depression. When you are suffering the blinding tunnel vision of depression you don’t think anyone can help and don’t even know you need help many times. When not depressed you think you are okay now. You must break out of the trap and seek appropriate medical attention.
  • Don’t be alone: Depression can do strange things to good people. If you are suicidal, call the number at the top of this post. Help is available. Whenever possible, have someone with you.

Remain Strong

It’s not always possible to control triggers. A surprise stressor can come out of left field. Some people are lucky enough to grow out of some types of depression like SAD or borderline personality disorder. Regardless, the illness is always there. Like any serious disease, it is nothing to be ashamed of. Seek help. There are solutions.

And most of all, remember, you are not alone.

 

Wealth Building Resources

Personal Finance 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 Finance is free?

Medi-Share is a low cost way to manage health care costs. As health insurance premiums continue to skyrocket, 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.

PeerSteet is an alternative way to invest in the real estate market without the hassle of management. Investing in mortgages has never been easier. 7-12% historical APRs. Here is my review of PeerStreet.

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.

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

Amazon good way to control costs and comparison shop. The cost of a product includes travel to the store. When you start a shopping trip to Amazon here it also supports this blog. Thank you.