Posts Tagged ‘FIRE community’

Why the FIRE Movement Will Never Die

The worldview of financial independence and early retirement has been under assault recently. Suze Orman proclaimed to the world her hate for the FIRE movement on the Afford Anything podcast and set off a firestorm that culminated in a Washington Post article and a belated apology in the form of back-stepping her comments; seems she misunderstood the FIRE movement before passing judgement. (Or, perhaps, books sales were involved. Just throwing that out there.)

One of our very own, Sam Dogen of the Financial Samurai blog, has also turned a critical eye to the nascent FIRE movement. In a MarketWatch article Dogen is reported as saying FIRE stands for:

Foolish Idealist Returns to Employer

rather than Financial Independence/Retire Early.

Ouch!

The promise of financial security and early retirement will never grow old. The FIRE community has delivered since the invention of money and is still going strong. Learn the ancient lessons for a better today.

The promise of financial security and early retirement will never grow old. The FIRE community has delivered since the invention of money and is still going strong. Learn the ancient lessons for a better today.

What precipitated the rebuke was a simple one-month market decline. December 2018 was the worst stock market performance by most broad indexes since 1931. And the death of the movement was declared and a new acronym was created with the hope of replacing the Old World Order. What has so far been the shallowest of bear markets (defined as a 20% or greater decline from a recent market top) has heralded the end of times once again. And we barely (pun intended) entered bear market territory!

It is true the market could once again turn lower and inflict pain on the foolish. It is also true I’ve been critical of the FIRE community myself a time or three. And don’t think for a minute I didn’t catch hell for it too, only on a smaller scale. (Guys, you know when you link an article on Reddit, the web host—that would be me—can see it. I heard the nasty things said about my pedigree.)

As critical of the the FIRE community and the movement as Orman, Dogen and a certain wealthy accountant who shall remain unnamed are, the movement is never going to die! That’s right. The FIRE movement has grown large enough it can make the economic needle wobble now and again and that makes some people nervous. But the movement, the community, will never die.

Who Started the FIRE Movement?

Modern acolytes can be forgiven for thinking Get Rich Slowly, Early Retirement Extreme or even Mr. Money Mustache kicked this whole thing into gear. The truth is the concept of the FIRE movement has been around for a very, very long time.

Retirement, or at least the ability to to live a hedonistic lifestyle, appeals to many people. Age has nothing to do with it. Punching a clock working for the man gets old real fast when you don’t have perspective. Until you realize how useless life becomes when you spend each day creating no value and have no real reason to live do you begin to understand. Then the job looks more appealing. Or starting a business. In either case you get real interaction with people on a similar mission and it brings the spice back to life. (Redditors, fire up your engines!)

Join a community where financial freedom is the phrase of the day. Early retirement and other financial goals are possible when you become part of the FIRE community.

Join a community where financial freedom is the phrase of the day. Early retirement and other financial goals are possible when you become part of the FIRE community.

But I contend, as I often have in this blog, that retirement had nothing to do with the FIRE movement. It was never about retirement; that was the dream sold to get victims in the door. FIRE has always been about wealth, about independence and freedom. People never wanted to be retired like and old worn out machine. They wanted meaningful activities. Financial independence allows the freedom to choose and that is what people really wanted all along.

And still they keep searching because they don’t understand what it is they really desire.

The beauty of the FIRE lifestyle is it encourages elimination of debt and all the stress it brings and investing intelligently in index funds with a long-term time horizon. Without debt you can withstand a lot of economic instability. Every minor wobble in economic activity has the debtor soiling his, ah, well . . .  We’ll leave it at that.

People hate living paycheck to paycheck and love the idea they can choose their destiny. FIRE delivers on that promise. And the concept is not a modern one.

Benjamin Franklin spoke often of money and wealth. In a way he was the father of the American FIRE movement. But if you go back 2,000 years you can read the parables of Jesus and see that over half his recorded teachings involve money and wealth. But even that isn’t the beginning! Proverbs in the Old Testament teaches plenty of lesson about money. I don’t want to go all religion on you, but I do want to point out that the teachings of the FIRE community are not new.

In fact, if you want to know who actually started the FIRE movement you have to go all the way back to Grog, the caveman, as he taught around the evening campfire. He would say to the young and old, “No debt!” Grunt. “Debt bad. Invest in community coconut index fund.”

As funny as I might think I am, man discovered these principles early on. Shakespeare peppered his verse with financial wisdom. Every religion I studied speaks about wealth, debt and money. Great leaders in business from the beginning of time had to acquire the skills of the modern FIRE community if they wanted to survive.

The truth is the FIRE movement discovered some of the oldest lessons of the species and dressed it up in contemporary clothing. Nothing wrong with that. Except some, the snake oil salesmen, don’t get it because they are peddling large loads of manure and they need to discredit the wise to move today’s load of. . .

Evolution

The FIRE movement is not dead; it is evolving. A long bull market in stocks has lured many new converts. Secretly they kept their debt while plowing at least a bit more into index funds. As long as the elevator raced higher on the back of a SpaceX rocket things would be good. Besides, you saw how Elon Musk developed rockets that gently land themselves, ready for instant reuse.

A short market decline will not end the FIRE movement. The Great Depression didn’t kill the philosophy of the FIRE movement, though it had different names back then. The worse the economy the stronger the FIRE message appeals! Mild economic downturns and market corrections will not slow this animal down. If the economy and/or stock market get vulgar the FIRE community message will evolve as it should.

“It was the worst of times, it was the best of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness. . . ” wrote Dickens to begin A Tale of Two Cities. Things haven’t changed much in 160 years. It doesn’t end any better either. (You can read the book to understand what I mean.) Things are good right now. Jobs are plentiful, prices relatively low and many investments have moved significantly higher over the past decade. But government, corporate and personal debt are all at record highs, some precipitously so. The best and worst of times. Especially when you realize the debt will be a harsh slave in the next economic cleansing, same as the last.

The best is ahead of us! The longest bull market in the U.S. lasted a decade, starting in the early 1990s until the current bull market. To put this in perspective, the two longest bull runs in the market happened in the past 30 years. The vast majority have no idea what it was like prior to 1980. For the old guys who do, we take extra caution to keep debt low, if we use the acid at all, placing our wealth in a broad mix of businesses throwing off a steady stream of income. We know there are no guarantees, but we structure our financial lives to withstand a very strong storm.

FIRE of the past was about frugality (it always was about frugality) and retiring from enforced labor due to financial condition. This is changing to something more valuable for the acolyte and society at large. Retirement is becoming less the goal and creating value the new mantra.

It’s not about work to fill the day; it is about fulfilling work. It’s about creating something of value, something we can be proud of. Curing a disease, building an advanced rocket or electric car is part of the New World Order inside the FIRE community.

We discovered it was easy in the modern world to save money and invest it. We discovered how easy it was to build a massive net worth, negating the necessity of work. But we also discovered it left us empty.

FIRE’d Up

The modern incarnation of the FIRE movement is young, made up of millennials who thought the dream of retiring at 30 would make their lives meaningful. They now have the experience to know that was a lie.

Travel has been a massive draw for many entering the FIRE lifestyle. What was discovered is extended vacations or a gap year are perfect for exploratory travel. Then, when the road turns weary, there is a home where people gather most days of the week to create an even better world. Call it work; call it your business. Call it what you want.

Financial freedom and retirement are not hollow goals. Join the FIRE community and feel the Strength of a community versed in helping people achieve their financial goals.

Financial freedom and retirement are not hollow goals. Join the FIRE community and feel the Strength of a community versed in helping people achieve their financial goals.

Social media is filled with people in desperate need of financial help. Maybe it’s a tax issue, or debt or other unique challenge. A few weeks ago I saw in a private Facebook group a young lady who was worried about the market. She put the down payment to a home they wished to purchase in an index fund last June and the fund was now down 25%, or $20,000 for her. She wanted advice. Many offered. I said: If you put a home down payment in the market what you are saying is you will buy your home five or more years in the future. Any sooner and you should not have put the money in the market. It was shallow comfort, I’m sure. But if I’m lucky I helped two or three people thinking of making the same mistake.

Orman was wrong. So are most people inside the movement!

The FIRE movement is nothing to hate and the people inside the community should grow some thicker skin. It is said: Of which much is given, much is expected. Those in the community have built a larger fortune than most. Jealousy is a given, especially from those unwilling to take the simple steps outlined for thousands of years by one FIRE community after another.

People will hate you for being rich and hate you for being poor. I’d rather be hated for being rich; it’s less painful.

The modern FIRE community has a gift unlike previous FIRE movements. We are not limited to the few wise locals living the FIRE (or whatever name it was called in the past) lifestyle. We are a worldwide movement, community. The internet has made us legion. We have a massive support group and an awesome responsibility to our world, our community, our family, ourselves.

We have a gift we must share! A market decline, even a large one, will not unravel the FIRE movement. I disagree with Dogen and the MarketWatch article. We don’t need another acronym to identify with responsible financial activities.

The basics make us great. Michael Jordan wasn’t great because he could make the three-point shot (though he was darn good at it, too); he was great because he mastered the basics, like the layup.

Money basics are not that hard and work extremely well. Teach your children, family and friends. Teach your community and share with the world. Together we can make a difference; together we can change the world.

The FIRE community will have its challenges and may soon go under a different name. For those in the know, we know exactly what the message is. It is as old as Grog and his nightly chat around the FIRE.

Remember to share the same message with your children around the hearth.

It is our future. Our only hope.

 

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.

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!

 

How to Retire Happy with Lots of Money

What is the secret to a happy retirement with lots of money? Here are a few who actually did it.
What is the secret to a happy retirement with lots of money? Here are a few who actually did it.

What is the secret to a happy retirement with lots of money? Here are a few who actually did it.

When I started this blog a primary goal was to share the worldview from my side of the desk. Over the years I’ve seen things I would never have seen if I were not in the profession I am in. And now I’ve seen things in the early retirement community I can no longer keep secret.

Many secrets have been shared over the last few years while new secrets have emerged as I sit smack-dab in the middle of the FIRE (financial independence/retire early) community. In many regards I represent an anti-FIRE philosophy. I espouse frugality while venting disdain for travel and anything that echoes of retirement.

As an odd apologist for the FIRE community I watched on as Suze Orman set the community on fire when she exclaimed she HATED! the FIRE movement. While card-carrying members were up in arms I muttered under my breath, “I know what you mean.”

Yes, you heard that right. I actually agreed with Orman on something, a rare occurrence. Orman’s insistence you need $5 million to retire is absolute rubbish. But there is something deeply disturbing about the FIRE community and it has the power to rip it apart.

To make matters worse, I may be the only one in the community who understands what is happening under the surface. And how I know this is due to my unique position in the community.

As readers may know (and they will now if they didn’t), I prepare taxes or advise a number of A-list bloggers within the FIRE community. I also consult with several people each week from this blog. And a concerning pattern has taken shape.

Feelings of Failure

It didn’t exactly start with Mr. Money Mustache, but the FIRE community solidified around Pete and his work. Pete retired at the ripe old age of 30 and set a new standard in early retirement.

News feeds have a litany of stories of 30-somethings living the good life as they travel abroad. Coupled with the stories of people paying off a gazillion dollars in debt in four and a half minutes and it starts to look easy.

Except it isn’t that easy! It’s actually damn hard. Personal circumstances play a vital role. Where you live, your health and education opportunities determine at least a part of the outcome.

I’ve been consulting with members of the FIRE community for close to 5 years now. At every personal finance (PF) conference I’ve attended I conducted consulting sessions. Tuesdays and Thursdays are consulting days at the office and I’m usually booked months in advance. (Okay! Sometimes I get caught up because I say “no” for a few months to every request.)

You would think consulting sessions with a “wealthy accountant” would focus on taxes. Au contraire. Personal finance issues and retirement are front and center as well.

People pay a lot of money for what frequently turns into a therapy session. Fully half of all consulting sessions start with an apology that sounds something like this: “I’m 37, but I haven’t retired yet.”

WHAT!

Your 37 and and haven’t retired? The inhumanity. But I have to take their words seriously! The words come out as contrition. These people feel like complete failures because they were still gainfully employed the day after their 30th birthday.

The steady stories of early retirees living the good life, traveling the world and loaded with cash has warped the worldview of many young people.

Another 15% or so of consulting clients already reached financial independence and partook of early retirement. Traveling grew old or they didn’t care for running around any more. They need guidance to get back into life.

Which leaves at best a third of my consulting clients who ask what I would consider normal questions of a tax guy.

Tears in Heaven

On more than one occasion it came to tears. Earlier this year a young man needed a consulting session bad. He started the session with an apology; he was 32 and still was working out of necessity. His voice broke and then the tears came.

This is why I felt somewhat the same as Suze Orman said she HATED! the FIRE community idea of frugality and early retirement. There is more to it than that. Some people take it to heart and experience depression when the extraordinary doesn’t come to pass.

Orman is wrong on many levels. She is too much of a self-promoter for me. But she does get it right often enough. That is why she reached the position she has as a trusted (by many) financial resource.

Orman is also right on a few things. A singular goal of early retirement smacks of narrow-mindedness. Exactly what do you plan on doing with all that time if not engaged in creating value? (Now you know why I’m an outlier of the FIRE community. Many stay far away due to my opinions concerned they may rub off. A recent visit to the doctor confirms I’m contagious.)

But if a community causes depression in some people it might be time to rethink the mantra. I’m only one guy and I have only so many therapy session time slots. There has to be a better way.

 

Publicly Speaking

A few weeks ago I was talking with Pete (Mr. Money Mustache) when I shared these facts with him. He was aghast. He had no idea people were experiencing these kinds of negative emotions due to the FIRE movement and his work.

Family, friends and loved ones are the true meaning of a happy and joyful life. Money and wealth don't make for an incredible retirement; you do.

Family, friends and loved ones are the true meaning of a happy and joyful life. Money and wealth don’t make for an incredible retirement; you do.

But it’s not Pete’s fault! Like many people Pete had the opportunity. Unlike many people he went for it and succeeded! His story resonated and for a reason. The MMM story provides a template for how it can be done.

Saving hard and investing gives you an advantage. If others are distressed it isn’t your fault!

I wish I had an easy answer for people struggling with FIRE community concepts. If you reached your 40th birthday, or God forbid, 50, before you retire there is no shame! Even if you retire at 70 or older there is no shame.

But the older guys are not the problem. When a 70 year old asks for a consulting session he doesn’t worry about early retirement; he wants guidance on financial issues, legacy planning, investments, taxes and medical problems. The pressure to retire early left the station long ago. And thank God for that. Pity is not a good place to begin a PF plan.

For the younger guys feeling the weight I need to convince them retirement isn’t the issue; financial independence is. Clients in their 20s want a firm game plan to reach the finish line no later than their 30th year. It’s an insane request.

Up to this point I just said what needed to be said, but the only way to get the message across is with an allegory. And I start with a joke so their minds open to options.

Here is what I say:

I’m not afraid of public speaking; I’m afraid people might actually believe what I tell them.

Public speaking is the number one fear for most people. People would prefer a root canal than to speak before a group.

Not me. I’ve never had an issue with speaking to a group of any size. I guess I’m weird that way.

What does scare the living bejesus out of me is that someone in the crowd may actually listen and take my words to heart. And that too is a bit strange. (It seems your favorite accountant is often half bubble off center.)

 

Easy Peasy

From the inception of this blog to today I’ve worked hard to outline where I failed and how I dealt with the issues. But no matter how hard I try people seem to think it was easy for me.

History seems preordained to future readers. The same applies to me. Readers know the outcome even when reading the struggles I faced and anguish I felt. There was no chance of failure. The outcome was known.

It was never easy and it certainly wasn’t a sure thing at the time. The nights I lay awake in bed in a cold sweat trying to figure out what to do did not guarantee an acceptable outcome. There were a few times when I thought I was finished for good. Business can mete out some bloody lessons.

And that is why public speaking doesn’t scare. I faced far worse deaths than dying on stage.

But what about my fear that people might take my words to heart?

That is where the real fear lies. When I accept a podcast or speak to a group (or even when speaking to a client in a consulting session) there is no guarantee my best advise will work. Like everyone else, my past is littered with good ideas that went bust!

My concern when working with any client is to prevent further harm. A victim of assault (yes, I’ve had a few sessions where personal safety was the primary issue) needs good advise, but the risks already exist and it is imperative I weigh my words carefully to prevent further harm.

Even when it comes to business, money and taxes I take great care. The mistakes I’ve made over the years are legend and a reminder of how fallible I am . Yes, a tax professional with my experience can get it wrong. (I know, it blows my mind, too!)

But it happens. The best laid plans often go awry. Standing in front of a group of people doesn’t cause the fear. The fear is later when I realize some of the attendees will take my words and use them. Using history as a guide I know some of those concepts will not work as designed.

Lots of Money

By now alert readers will point out the title of this post promised a happy retirement with money; lots and lots of cash.

I didn’t forget my promise and it wasn’t a click bait title either. Before I could deliver on the promise I had to expose you to the riptides under the surface of the FIRE community; a riptide even the fearless leaders of the community are probably not aware of.

Then I needed to share an allegory to illustrate the problem the leaders of the community face. The winners have a jilted view. They made it happen. They saved, invested and it worked. It is hard at times to see what is happening on the ground floor when sitting at the peak

There are many with serious medical issues not so lucky. Educational and business opportunities also play a key role.

Still, nearly anyone (I leave room for the possibility some have little to no chance of living the FIRE fantasy) can reach the goals espoused by the FIRE community.

Suze Orman was wrong to HATE! the FIRE community when she later admitted she didn’t fully understand the movement. (I think Suze Orman is a very smart lady and knew exactly what the FIRE community stood for. She also understands human psychology. She said exactly what she wanted and the FIRE community promoted her most recent book better than $100 million of advertising. We need to be smarter than that FIRE community and not be so easily baited.)

She did get one thing right. The FIRE community leaves many feeling empty when the bar is set so high that only a few can reach it (retire by 30 that is, not financial independence which is attainable by the vast majority).

The pursuit of financial independence and attaining said goal at any age is awesome! Feeling bad because some 30-something has his/her picture in the news feed enjoying another adventure around the world is the wrong impression to take.

Remember who I am! I consult with many of these people and speak with them periodically even if they aren’t clients. More than you think return to a “normal” job or start their own business after the shine comes off the bauble of early retirement.

So how do you reach financial independence? How do you get the loads of money I promised?

As my old friend Doug Nordman once said, “Your net worth is a product of

  1. your savings rate,
  2. investment fees and
  3. time.”

It’s as simple as that. The more you save and invest the better off you are, just give it a little time. The larger the percentage of your income you invest in low-cost index funds mixed with time determines your net worth. To reach your goals you only need to plug in the numbers and wait a bit.

If you want to retire sooner you have to increase your savings rate. The earlier you start the earlier your reach financial independence. Then you can toy with retirement until it gets old and you decide to start creating value again.

Of course your income will also plays a role. The higher your income the easier it is to save a larger percentage of your income. A good six-figure income can take you from zero to FI within 10 years. Minimum wage will take longer.

Retire Happy

The most viewed post of this blog was published years ago in April of 2016. In that post I share how I met Mrs. Accountant and how our relationship grew. I concluded the best way to have a rich, happy life (the best kept secret of early retirees, the wealthy and happy people) was to have a nurturing relationship with the one you love for life. In other words, I stayed married for over 30 years now (to the same woman, if I need to point that out!). This one fact is largely responsible for my level of wealth, happiness and contentment with life. (Every morning I wake and feel stunned by level of awesomeness my life has been. That same moment every morning I realize the relationship with the woman sleeping next to me is the most valuable asset I have.)

Early retirement gets all the press, but how you retire is what really matters. Retire to the life you will love at any age.

Early retirement gets all the press, but how you retire is what really matters. Retire to the life you will love at any age.

Money is the easy part! This blog and many others provide plenty of ideas to get rich. Even when I speak to a group and I fear someone might think I actually know something, I still utter a few golden nuggets you can use to have a better than even chance at knocking the ball out of the park.

Happy is the hard part because people don’t listen to what I say. There is no fear on my part when I explain what has made me happy in life.

And it’s more than happiness! Happiness is an event and fleeting. Winning the lottery or having a child or achieving early retirement at age 29 (eat your heart our mustachioed man) will bring happiness. Happiness creates a giddiness. And it is fleeting. Once the newness of the experience begin to fade, so does the happiness.

Instead, I encourage joy. Joy is much more than happiness and not dependent on an external event. Joy comes from in here (pointing to my head and heart) not out there. I imagine I will feel joy on my deathbed as I say goodbye to my children, family and friends. This isn’t happiness. I’ll miss the people I love and dying doesn’t sound like fun. But I will feel joy.

Joy is a more powerful emotion. In a world where people are brought to tears over a delayed retirement (delayed to some age less than 50 especially) it is important to spend less time on happiness (retiring at 30 brings happiness for a while) and more time experiencing joy. You can feel joy in any situation in any location. The choice is yours because joy is internal.

Joy is contentment, a coming to terms with oneself. Joy is gratitude for the gift of life. Even if it means a life of hardship and poverty.

Pete did a good thing when he set a goal of retiring by his 30th birthday and reaching said goal. His example can provide us with tools to achieve our own goals. (All those young people in the news feeds telling their story of early retirement provide the same material: a blueprint to help us design our own goals. Our goals; not their’s.)

If for some reason you manage to retire by the time you live 30 years on this planet I’m sure you’ll feel happiness. At least for a little while.

If you want to know the secret of happiness then you need to feel gratitude for whatever life has dealt you. Then you feel something even more powerful than happiness: JOY!

And nobody can take that away from you.

 

 

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.

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!

 

Suicide Prevention in the FIRE Community

This blog post is part of the 3rd Annual Suicide Prevention & Awareness Month blog tour. If you are feeling suicidal, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text HOME to 741741.

 

Call it First World problems; the minor inconveniences of life: the traffic light turned red at the last moment, you’re surprised by a repair, you discover you have to work past the age of 30. We live in such opportune times it’s easy to forget real difficulties exist. Some right in our own communities.

September is National Suicide Prevention and Awareness Month and Melanie Lockert of Dear Debt is asking personal finance bloggers once again to take up the keyboard to prevent unnecessary tragedy. I participated in the first two Suicide Prevention Blog Tours but intended to sit this one out when I got the email. I had no idea what I wanted to write. I said what I needed to say and had no more to add to the heap of literature on suicide prevention. Then I walked to the mailbox.

A Difficult Weekend

The Suicide Prevention Blog Tour is designed to bring attention debt, depression and suicide. Some bloggers keep it simple, pushing the simple message of hope and encouragement. I prefer a longer emotional story to illustrate my point.

The statistics are damning. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people in their early 20s and the overall rate of suicide increased 28% from 1999 to 20161. Mental health is a serious factor in suicide, but not always a factor. Complicating matters is that most suicide attempts are not the result of one issue only.

September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. Debt is a leading cause of suicide. Debt help is available. Debt free. Debt freedom. #wealthyaccountant #debt #suicide #suicideawareness #suicideprevention #debtsnowball #debtfreeFinancial problems (the focus of the Suicide Prevention Blog Tour) are the fifth leading cause of all suicides1. Relationship problems are the leading cause. And that is where First World problems and a short walk to my mailbox collided.

Melanie’s email had already started sliding down the list of unanswered emails when I took that fateful walk to the roadside. Just in time for the Labor Day weekend, the current issue of National Geographic had arrived.

The cover of the magazine was disturbing, an ominous sign. This is the kind of reading I bury and get back to much later if ever. I normally read National Geographic from beginning to end religiously. This time I put the magazine next to my reading chair with the cover facing down. It was too hard to look at.

But like a Stephen King novel, it kept calling out to me. Slowly I paged through the magazine and gathered information on the disturbing cover. The story was about Katie Stubblefield and the face transplant she received.

I dared to start my routine read of the issue with the letter From the Editor and was in tears before I finished the letter I was so moved. I was vested in the story and the tragedy that brought this young woman into a nightmare I doubted I could ever personally survive.

20 Seconds that Changed a Life Forever

Katie was born to a loving family and grew to be a beautiful and intelligent woman. She was plagued with a perfectionist personality. When her perfect world started to crumble a final piece to the puzzle would put her face before the world.

Katie struggled to be the best at everything. One day she discovered messages on her boyfriend’s phone to another woman. He immediately broke up with her when she confronted him.

Katie went home and locked herself in the bathroom with her father’s rifle and cried. With no history of mental illness, depression or indication of suicidal tendencies, she put the barrel of the rifle under her chin and pulled the trigger.

But Katie did not die.

Her brother found her in a pool of blood, her face blown off from the blast. She was rushed to the hospital and stabilized. When the local medical community could do no more she was sent to the Cleveland Clinic.

I encourage you to read the September 2018 issue of National Geographic. Katie’s story is powerful and moving. Katie does get a face transplant from a woman who died of an overdose. The story cuts a wide wound in here (pointing to my chest). The words that stuck with me the most in the article were uttered by Katie’s mother, Alesia, “It was one moment. One moment, 20 seconds, changed our lives.”

Duty of the FI/RE2 Community

You would think a community of people well on their way toward financial independence would not have money problems so severe they would contemplate suicide. Unfortunately, many people who come to this community have had a traumatic life experience that forced them to reevaluate. These people are at risk of tripping over the cliff. Bloggers, podcasters and YouTubers of the community must always be cognizant of the people they serve lest they discover one day a promising life was ended because we took FI for granted.

September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. Debt is a leading cause of suicide. Debt help is available. Debt free. Debt freedom. Debt snowball. IRS debt. #wealthyaccountant #debt #suicide #suicideawareness #suicideprevention #debtsnowball #debtfree #irsdebtEveryone is carrying a burden! Money can provide comfort and options in life, but it doesn’t change the strain of a serious medical situation. Divorce rips a family apart and the kids suffer most. Money will not salve that wound.

And mental health is a serious medical issue that money does not magically fix. Yes, wealth allows for most, if not all, medical options. Still, the depression can strike anyone at any time. Instead of shaking our heads and wondering why when we hear a person with financial independence and enjoying and early retirement puts a gun to their head, we should remember money didn’t make them sick; a medical condition did.

Maybe you’re lucky and don’t have depression. As a member of this community you are morally bound to help others who do suffer. Your wealth is not an invitation to unrestrained hedonism. When we see a fallen soul we are duty-bound to help. Like the military, we don’t leave one of our own on the battlefield.

Watchful Eyes

Nobody saw it coming when Katie Stubblefield snapped. There were signs in afterthought, but nothing anybody could have recognized. And that can happen. A singular event can trigger a massive negative response. It is hard to understand what can make us feel helpless and unwilling to continue on.

Fortunately, most people tell us they are walking into the dark. We must keep our eyes and ears open for the warning signs. Significant loss is a leading reason people tumble into the darkness. Depression can rear its ugly head for the first time after the loss of a loved one. Being shunned by people you love and respect can wreck devastation on the psyche.

I’ve been around this crowd long enough to know a few struggle with a heavy burden. Even our kind-hearted and fearless leader, Melanie, has struggled. She put debt behind her and discovered how deep the despair many feel with insurmountable financial problems. Melanie also suffered the loss of a loved one after a relatively long relationship. He decided to go his own way. I can’t imagine her pain. Still, I listen from a distance (mostly her online comments) for hints of trouble. Those closest to her should be even more vigilant.

As a community we are very fortunate. Even if we are deep in debt and taking our first steps toward freedom we are incredibly blessed! No matter how difficult the road ahead may seem, we know we don’t walk alone. There are numerous souls who have gone before willing to help, willing to lend a hand, to pull you up, to help you stand tall and straight.

Luck has Nothing to do with It

Katie did not get lucky. If she were lucky she would never have put the gun to her head. She will get a new lease on life. It will be anything but easy. The medical challenges ahead will never cease. After four years she finally has a face. The surgeries and pain and struggle will be relentless and unending. Building FI is similar in many ways. We work hard, save, invest and care deeply.

September is Suicide Awareness and Prevention Month. Debt is a leading cause of suicide. Debt help is available. Debt free. Debt freedom. Debt snowball. IRS debt. Depression and mental health. #wealthyaccountant #debt #suicide #suicideawareness #suicideprevention #debtsnowball #debtfree #irsdebt #depressionPeople suffer for many reasons. Usually we can keep the demons under control. But everyone has a breaking point. Push hard enough far enough and the darkness wins. You can’t step back from the darkness alone. It is like a black hole with infinite power to draw you in.  If you ever reach that point, pray someone with the courage and the heart grabs you from behind and pulls you to safety.  No matter how much money you have or don’t have will make no difference.

The gun in Katie’s hands didn’t ask about her financial situation. The one bout of depression she had took control and changed her life forever. It is nothing short of a miracle she didn’t die that fateful day. Her family never left her side as she fought and still fights for life. The doctors worked miracles and have never stopped working to give Katie the life she deserves.

The only way any of us are safe from the darkness is if we all are committed to helping anyone at the brink. It is the only thing that makes us human; the true meaning of wealth; what it means to truly be financially independent.

 

Please, if you are suffering depression or suicidal thoughts, call either a local crisis hot line or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255). The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24/7, is confidential and free.

 

You are not in this alone.

 

1 National Geographic Magazine, September 2018, Page 89

2 Financial Independence/Early Retirement

 

Resources

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Call 1-800-273-8255

Crisis Text Line — Text HOME to 741741

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention

Project Semicolon

CNQR

Open Path Collective — affordable therapy. You can also check your local college to see if their graduate program in counseling offers discounted sessions.

Debtors Anonymous

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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

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

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

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

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!

Freaky Friday: Laughing All the Way to the FIRE Lifestyle

Skrattande kvinna

Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. — Mark Twain

 

Have you ever wondered what people were like when they were younger? What were people who attained financial independence early life like when they were growing up? Is there anything special about early retirees?

A week ago I proposed life is one big joke and then it is over. My original intentions were to add more humorous material. What concerned me were two things. One, writing humor is no easy feat. All too often when writing a joke, crickets fill the room after the punch line. The only fallback for the comedian is, “Well, I guess ya had ta be there.” Two, not everyone thinks the same thing is funny.

Several people emailed and said they would prefer more humor. Most emails indicated the reader enjoyed my periodic poke at candor in earlier posts and look forward to more of the same. When I speak I always add these asides many find comical. When I speak it is natural and for the most part, uncontrollable; it just comes out. Now I am asked to be funny on purpose. Oh, shit!

All the stories here are true as I remember them with a small amount of literary license applied to smooth the story. I would never lie, fib, or adlib to you. You have my word. This is the little shit, ah, kid I was growing up and into early adulthood. Less than a decade later my net worth crossed the seven figure mark. What is surprising is I lived at all.

Things we Did

Biking: Growing up on a farm has its advantages. The wide open spaces offer opportunities to explore. Even in our rural setting we had neighbors. Not too far from the farm a family moved into a rental. The single family home had a few landscaped acres, but more important, they had kids! My uncle, Kev, brother, Dean, and I used to ride our bikes around the fields of the farm playing cops and robbers. We chased each other down as cops complete with a screamed “rrrrrrrraaaahhhhh, rrrrrrrraaaahhhhhh,” or biked like hell to keep ahead of the coppers.

Our new neighbors had two sons (our age roughly) and a daughter. The oldest boy was Len. He was a big dude and funny as hell. He had a habit of doing before thinking. He saw our clan playing cops and robbers around the farm and joined us on his bike.

Len played a bit rough. Bigger, he could chase us down easier and would sometimes push us over. Dick! It was all in good fun, however.

Behind the barn we had a manure pile. (Don’t get ahead of me here.) This is not an ordinary manure pile with hay and straw mixed. This was slurry from the free stall barn. The manure was push on a pile and later hauled to the fields for fertilizer. Our particular manure pile was about three to four feet high with maybe an inch of firm crust. Growing up on the farm we knew the manure pile was there. You had to. The manure pile was impossible to see if you biked around the edge of the barn fast until it was too late.

Well, Len was having one of those days. He was biking at warp speed and getting a bit rough so I cut him off and he starts to chase. I gave it everything I had, blowing past mach 4. It was going to be close as I raced along the west side of the barn and around to the free stall barn. I stood off my seat as I pressed the pedals with all my legs had. As I approached the edge of the free stall barn I made a sharp left at the corner. Len anticipated my move and cut left at the edge of the barn with me. What Len did not see is that I immediately cut hard right as soon as I cleared the corner missing the manure pile.

It was too late for poor Len. He hit the spread out manure pile square. When his front tire hit the edge it stopped cold, sending Len face first into the soft landing of slurry. When he stood up he looked like the swamp monster leaving the pond. Dean, Kev, and I laughed so hard as he walked from the manure pile dripping with manure we almost peed out pants. Almost.

We were not worried about retaliation. Len needed to get washed up. Instead of washing off at the front of the barn he ran home where his mother kicked his ass.

I do not know whatever happened to Len. His brother was a bit on the heavy side so we nicknamed him Mini Clause. He also gave us kids a recipe we enjoyed for years: Joel’s chocolate cookies. We lost the recipe years ago, but I still hanker for them. Joel, if you read this, send me an email with your recipe. Len, if you are reading this, Kev lives in San Diego; my address is confidential.
Water fight by Augustas Didzgalvis
Summer Water Fights: Northeast Wisconsin can get warm and muggy in July. After the cows were milked at night there was always the risk of an unprovoked water fight on a hot day. The long summer days were not conducive to higher levels of thinking. An unprovoked five-gallon pail of well water would end with everyone dripping wet.

I had a brainy idea one summer evening and received help from my uncle, Daryl. I figure the best way to have a water fight, and not get wet, is to use some creative warfare tactics. I decided we should fill a five-gallon pail with water and tie it above the milk house doorway with just the bottom of the pail reaching into the doorway. The idea was that when the door was opened the bottom of the pail would push out, spilling the water on the victim.

The victim was supposed to be my dad. I always wanted to get dear ‘ol dad good in a water fight. Daryl helped me tie the pail above the milk house door. My dad always had the same routine after milking. It was a lock. He would walk out the milk house door and end up with a bucket of cold water on his head.

Unfortunately, the gods did not love us. Before my dad could be victimized, my grandfather, whom we affectionately call Doc because he knew so many home remedies, came walking toward the milk house door. Before my dad finished his rounds, Doc walked through the door. The water bucket idea worked perfectly! For some reason Doc was not wet. It might have had something to do with the steam coming off him from the heat on his forehead.

Boy, did we catch hell. None of us caught hell like we did that night, except for my dad. Damn it! We laugh about it now, but back then we were concerned we might not make it through the night.

Farm Dog 1: Every farm needs a dog. We had a dog named King. He would run with the tractor down the road a mile before giving up; he would chase the farm truck halfway to town before calling it a day. One day we were headed to town to pick up supplies and did not want King to come along so we did not allow him to ride in the back of the truck. True to form, King chased the truck as we started out. This time I put on my Tony Robbins hat before Tony Robbins was a tingle in his daddy’s shorts. I rolled down the window and started chanting, “Go, King, go; go, King, go.”

Wouldn’t you know it? The friggin dog chased all the way to town, seven miles. Of course, we felt bad for King and let him ride in the back of the truck on the way home.

Farm Dog 2: A few years earlier we had a mutt named Tipper. Back in those days farmers kept the cows out in the field during the day. A dog would help herd the ladies back to the barn for milking. On this particular day Tipper was very motivated to get the cows up and moving to the barn. Some cows as they got older got an ‘I don’t give a fuck’ attitude. Number 37 was one such cow. She was lying in the grass at the edge of the field next to the road. Tipper was having none of this. With a “sic ’em” Tipper was off at full throttle. For some reason Tipper did not put on the brakes that day as he closed ranks with Number 37. Number 37 decided she was not interested in getting up all that fast. Poor Tipper ran, full-speed, into the forehead of Number 37, bounced off, hit a fence post, and ended up in the ditch. It is all fun and games until someone pokes an eye out. I confess we laughed until we saw Tipper twitching in the ditch.

The good news is Tipper was only temporarily dazed by the collision. He was a lot smarter after that. He approached cows with an added layer of caution. Experience is such a good teacher. Like Tipper, never run full-speed into a situation or you might end up in the ditch twitching, too.

Ghost in the Machine: Dean and I get along like brothers, which is surprising considering the circumstances. You see, when Dean was about seven or eight, Kev and I came up with a brilliant idea to scare the shit out of him. I am five years older than Dean and Kev is two years older than me; Kev is my uncle (dad’s youngest brother).

Our idea was to create a recording of ghost sounds. Kev had a cassette recorder and I helped his record about twenty minutes of scary sounds. We started out softly at first, “wooooooo, woooooooooooo.” Then we ramped it up to, “wwwwoooOOOOOO, AAAAAHHHHHHHH!” (Hey, we thought it was scary.)

In the old farm house we lived in the cold air duct in the basement had an access panel. We placed the recorder in the duct and closed it up. The tape had ten or so minutes of silence before the sounds began. Kev and I found Dean outside and invited him into the house to play a board game. As we sat and played the voices and sounds started slowly. At first Dean had a strange look on his face. How we kept a straight face is beyond me. As the sounds got louder Dean asked if we heard it. With an innocent face we shook our heads ‘no’. As the sounds got louder, Dean got more paranoid. It was too much. He ran from the house screaming. Kev and I busted up laughing.

All good jokes have a fatal flaw. Dean ran outside and told our dad. Dean refused to go back in the house. My dad walked in before we could retrieve the recorder. My dad heard out Oscar performance, “WWWWWOOOOO!!!” in stereo from the furnace vents. Needless to say, we got our asses kicked and kicked good. Dean almost had to sleep outside that night. It took until ten o’clock to convince him the house was okay. After all these years we still laugh.

Polish Canon: Do y’all know what a polish canon is? A polish canon as we constructed them utilized tin cans. Back then Campbell’s Soup cans were made of tin with a seam on both ends. We would take five or six can, cut off both ends with a can opener, and duct tape them together. We would add one last can to the end where we would punch several holes with a nail on the flat end panel and on the opposite end of the can put one small hole on the edge just above the seam. Tomato soup cans worked best for blowing out the contents. The final can was attached to the canon. We then placed a tennis ball into the canon, added lighter fluid to the working end, rolled it back and forth in our hands until the lighter fluid was all vapor, and then put a match to the single hole at the back of the canon.

Polish canons are more powerful than you think. They fire with a lot of noise. The tennis ball can fly as much as a quarter mile. We experimented with the mixture until we were able to get the tennis ball flying a third of a mile.

Never satisfied, we decided it was time to build a bigger cannon with coffee cans. (C’mon, guys! You are getting ahead of me again.) The concept was sound. We built the bigger canon with the same design. By now we had discovered gasoline worked better when sending a tennis ball half way to the creek. Good thing we did not have anything the right size to put in the advanced canon or we would have died that day. A bigger cannon needed a foundation so we place the back of the canon into a depression in the ground toward the front of the house. We loaded her up with gasoline. Then we lit the match.

They say the loudest noise ever heard by man was the sound of Krakatoa erupting in 1883. Not true. When that canon let loose we lost our hearing for a day or so. The coffee cans were warped and twisted. By divine intervention, the cans held together and did not shred into shrapnel. There was no doubt it was a single use canon.

My grandfather, Kev’s dad, was enjoying an afternoon nap when the Germans opened the artillery. He flew out of the house and chewed us a new one. The great news, however, is we did not hear a word he said. By reading his lips he was mentioning the Lord a lot, however.
Firecrackers lit by hand
Some Damn Fool is Shooting at Me: It still amazes me my grandfather made it to 90. He certainly played a good game of cards, not that we helped any. A couple of years after the polish canon incident, we concocted an idea where we would throw a box of firecrackers into the fireplace. (It sounded like a good idea at the time.) Thanksgiving was approaching and the cool autumn day caused us to move inside for our entertainment. Granddad was once again enjoying a short afternoon nap. (As farmers we almost always took an afternoon nap. We started milking cows at four in the morning so a nap was needed.) In my defense, Kev was the one who threw the firecrackers into the fire. I admit I might have provided some encouragement. Okay, I egged him on.

The firecrackers did all we had hoped for. The rapid fire BANG! of each firecracker was awesome! Dear ‘ol Doc jumped off the couch and started yelling, “Some damn fool is shooting at me!” Oh, then reality showed up. It was the worst spanking I endured in my life. Lesson learned.

Things We Did Not Do, but Thought Of

Acetylene Bomb: One idea we toyed with off and on was the acetylene bomb. I am glad we never tried it. The idea was to fill an empty 55 gallon drum with acetylene from a torch and set it off. We laughed as we envisioned the explosion and hole created in the field where the bomb would be placed.

I know people who actually tried this. None died, but most ended up with permanent hearing loss or injuries. Our self-preservation instincts served us well in this instance.

Whoopee for Church: I grew up in a religious family. The years have tempered my zeal (I have not been in a church for a few years), but most of my family holds the Bible high. At our church the pastor has a seat on either side behind the pulpit where he sits when song is sung. The wooden benches has a cushion. I always thought it would be a good idea to slip a whoopee cushion under the padding. When the pastor sat as a song began it would let out a loud fart for the whole congregation to hear. Alas, I never realized my calling. Good thing. I could have been struck down and sent straight to hell right there and then. If God did not take action, my father (not to be confused with, Father) would have.

There are many more stories to tell. I will refrain to protect the guilty (that would be me, guys). The stories above are fun. I think I am at my best when I get on a rant. When one shows up I’ll try to record it and see if it translates to paper. Usually I need a couple of espressos and a shot or three of whisky to get me going. It is an experiment worth practicing.

Enjoy your weekend, kind readers. Don’t take life too seriously. Early retirement and financial independence mean nothing if you can’t laugh and have a lot of fun along the way. Make life a trip worth travelling.

If you enjoy what you read here, be sure to subscribe. You will get an email as soon as I publish new harrassments.

Also, share your funny stories in the comments below. It eases the pain.

Finding Balance in the FIRE Lifestyle

FIRE: Financial Independence, Retire Early

There are only a few good reasons to work. They are good reasons, of course, but can quickly overrun your personal life, destroying the original goal of working in the first place. The two good reasons I can think of to works are:

  • Saving for retirement, and
  • Love of the work.

In the beginning it is hard to tell if you love your work because you have to work. That is why we preach early retirement here; not to bow out of life as soon as possible, but to live the life you want. Once you have amassed a large enough nest egg you are retired even if you chose to continue working your job. FIRE allows you that freedom.

Once you have moved beyond the need to work a job many people continue to do so. Self-employed people are the worst. I know, I’m living it! Just because you can quit doing what you do to earn income does not mean you should. If you enjoy the work environment, co-workers, clients, and the work itself, why would you quit? There is no shame in doing what you love as you work toward financial independence and even afterwards.

No matter how much you love the work, however, there are always days. My office is living a series of “one of those days”. I want to share how I plan on working through the situation. First, some background on why we are feeling the pressure.

The Building of a Disaster

Every catastrophe starts with a great idea. In this case I had a plan to partner with Mr. Money Mustache on an idea. It went better than planned. The guy is awesome and instead of giving me a minor plug, he gave me a full article. When millions of people see the work I do they want to join the fun. Unfortunately, I have a small accounting office.

It was a challenge at first, but I was on a mission. We accepted about 1 in 120 requests from people/businesses to be a client. This low acceptance rate still increased our client base and workload over 50%. As a good business owner I hired additional staff to handle added tax work. Then the best laid plan started to burn.

51SX3LQaagL._SX285_BO1,204,203,200_We still had to field thousands of emails (sometimes 200 or more a day) just to tell people “no”. My time was stretched, but people understood. The perfect storm was brewing. Then the phone calls came. The people we accepted as clients wanted more personal time than I had to offer. My workload was getting further and further behind. I was no longer keeping promises, never acceptable business practice.

A CPA I hired with 9 years experience proved incompetent. I refused to allow work to go out wrong. Worse, he could barely manage a tax return a day. I let him go. My number one tax preparer contracted a respiratory infection that affected her all tax season; she missed over three weeks during the heart of tax season. Another preparer is attending college and only worked three days a week. The great news is I never get sick. But the work kept piling up as people demanded my attention instead of allowing me to complete work.

Darkest Before the Dawn

By the tax due date I was further behind than at any time in my career. It was overwhelming and clients did not care. The non-stop calls and emails only made it worse. We actually prepared fewer tax returns by the due date than the previous year even with additional staff. Most new clients and many regular clients were suffering my misfortune.

Let me introduce you the two most awesome women I have had the honor to work with: Karen and Natasha. Karen is my office manager and prides herself on quality work. She takes her work personally. Natasha is my front desk and administrative assistant. As the tax season wore on, Natasha never complained, but I could see her efficiency decline. She was worn out by the phone calls and complaints of slow work. The workload was too much, as well. Natasha is like Karen in that she prides herself in doing high quality work. This only made Natasha feel worse.

Karen is another story. By sitting in a chair so many hours she acquired back pain. She started wearing a brace so she could handle the extended work hours sitting.

Keith’s Rule # 11: Never work yourself to injury.

The brace was only a short-term solution, if you can even call it that. My entire team collapsed under the weight of excessive demands. Pain drained Karen even faster. Yesterday it ended in an argument over workflow. Last night she came into my office and nearly broke into tears. Listen to what she said, “I can’t take anymore. We are not serving our clients the way they should. I have never done such poor work. Our clients deserve better.” She didn’t say those words exactly, but it is what the conversation was about.

How do you handle an overwhelming situation? What can a business owner do when he finds himself with more work than it is possible to get done?

My Solution

I love the work I do, but in the accounting/tax industry there is always a due date looming. This means stress can interfere with a balanced lifestyle. Clients are sometime miffed when I take an afternoon walk or jog in the park during tax season or in cases like now when we are so far behind. I still do it.

Keith’s Rule # 12: Health is more important than work.

For Karen and Natasha, they have lost balance in their lives. My job, as business owner, is to bring the balance back so they can serve the clients right. After tax season ended I gave my team a paid day off in addition to their normal vacation days. I required the extra day off. It was a grueling tax season. But one day is not enough.

Karen and Natasha suffered the most because they fielded all the phone calls, complaints, and emails. Each phone call pushed them a little lower and less efficient. It was beginning to feed on itself.

This morning I woke up around five (normal for me) and rolled over to snuggle Mrs. Accountant. We talked a while about the challenges in the office, both worn out employees and clients who need work completed. It was then that I hatched my plan to get my office back.

I am forcing Karen and Natasha to have a one-hour massage on company time and company expense today. I know they will complain they do not have time; I have a solution for that, too. Karen and Natasha both will receive four hours of uninterrupted time each day: no emails, no phone calls (I will take their phone away). Karen will have a DO NOT DISTURB sign on her door during her four hours. If she needs a coffee, it will be brought to her; she can have her cigarette break (yeah, I have an office of smokers, except me) outside a door from her office. I do not want her to accidentally run into a client that starts the whole process of interruption all over again. In four hours she will get more done than she has been in a week. Once she gets momentum and her sanity back she will start feeling better about herself and how she is treating clients.

Natasha is a bit different. It is hard to get away at the front desk. No problem. I am bringing in a temp to answer calls for her 4 hours a day. She can see clients, but can also focus on getting her work done. By getting a break from the non-stop phone calls she will be able to help the clients by getting work recorded and to the clients faster. By reducing the stress level she should feel better as she accomplishes her goals each day.

Well, if clients don’t get the hand-holding, will they be pissed? Sure, a few will. A small number of clients are the ones applying all the pressure and stalling all work efforts. They will be mad until the work gets done. If they persist I will have one less client. There are 12,000 itching to fill the slot.

My team is more important than just beating work out of them. It sure feels that way this tax season. I hate it and it will stop now. Karen fought me yesterday on some of these ideas, but this is coming from exhaustion. I will regain my office after a fantastic surge in new business. By taking actions that treat my employees fair and with respect, we will serve clients better. New clients always take more work as we learn to understand their situation. It was my fault I accepted too many. I will honor my commitment to my clients (even if on the slow side at first) and treat my team with respect. I learned a lot this year. I will use the added knowledge to improve the work we produce in the future.

I know my attitude will make my team healthier and happier than ever while showing respect for their personal life and well being.

* I am not the only one experiencing these types of challenges. Feel free to share your situation and solution in the comments.