A few years ago Mrs. Accountant and I attended our first Camp Mustache in Seattle. It was my epiphany to the personal finance community. Sure, I had decades of experience under my belt and a history of writing on the subject, but never before did I have such a platform to spread the gospel.
It didn’t take long for people to know who I was. I have that effect on people. Many attendees were still working a job as they moved toward financial independence and early retirement. From the minute I arrived people knew I was a tax guy. People were interested in what other people did as they worked toward their financial goals.
It didn’t take long before Mrs. Accountant was asked what she did. She hesitated for the smallest fraction of time. It was a tell. But Mrs. Accountant is fast on her toes; you have to be if you live with a crazy accountant. She said, “I work in his office,” pointing to me. Of course, they pressed her for details on the kind of work she did in my office. It wasn’t pretty.
Later, when Mrs. Accountant and I were alone, I explained to her that this is one group you don’t have to bullshit. They get the early retirement thing. Somewhere back in her early 30s Mrs. Accountant checked out of the regulated work routine. She did what I was supposed to do.
Early retirement doesn’t mean ‘waiting for death’. Mrs. Accountant is very active. Sometimes it takes me upwards of an hour to catch her. I’m getting old.
The best part about Mrs. Accountant taking an early retirement is that I eat in a 5-star restaurant every day. Every day! We rarely dine out because nothing compares to what Mrs. A can put on a plate.
Mrs. A has a busy day. Sure, she gets plenty of time to read and relax; something her husband has a hard time doing. She also does plenty of work (Ick! That 4-letter word again.) around the house and farm. She takes care of the chickens every day and, except for repairs and maintenance, keeps the household running smoothly.
She also guarantees I never pay a cent for anything I buy on Amazon.
Retirement is more profitable than working at times. The free food from the garden and meat from the barn is tax-free income because we never have to spend much for our food. And you don’t pay tax on what you could have spent on something. Mrs. A turned us into Free Birds.
There is one other thing she does: product testing. Our annual spending dropped below $30,000 this last year and it seems to decline slightly each year that passes. We just lost the desire to want stuff. To keep up with what is going on in the world around us Mrs. A has product testing.
She has quite a list of resources available to her (she uses iPoll the most).Several days a month she checks all the polls that pay her for her opinion. The best part is the offers of product testing. Companies send her lots of stuff to test and pay her for doing so. Tooth paste, candy, hand lotion, and even boxes of buns have arrived at our home for testing. Some stuff is really bad and she lets the manufacturer know about it. Other times stuff is really good and she shares that too. Most stuff is only okay.
It’s more fun than profit that motivates Mrs. A. She likes doing it so I support her efforts. There is also a side effect. Polls pay a buck or so, but product testing pays on average $10 to $25 a swing, sometimes more.
Some venues pay cash to a PayPal account. They all offer Amazon gift cards, sometimes at a discount, so your $25 product testing might be worth $27.50 in Amazon gift cards.
We started by taking Amazon gift cards and then moved to PayPal cash when we discovered we did not spend all the money Mrs. A earned testing products. It bothered me Mrs. A did all that work and was not allowed a discount when taking cash. The Amazon cards were frequently worth more so we went back to them.
I hate shopping, even online. I’d rather have a root canal than shop. That is why I leave the task to Mrs. Accountant. But all that money accumulating in the Amazon account was disconcerting. Mrs. A can pull in several hundred dollars a month testing products. And when you have a household filled with people allergic to shopping it becomes a problem. That money should be invested, earning more money, while waiting for the day in will never get spent.
Good Thing I Work
If all we spent money on was personal stuff we would never in a lifetime use all the Amazon money. Your favorite accountant came up with a solution. The tax office needs stuff more than our household. The business bought office supplies, digging into the stash a bit. Still, $3,000 (and many times more) was added to the pile each year. That is a lot of office supplies. We don’t buy toner because it is included in the service contracts. Paper is free because I have a print shop for a client and they load me up on paper in exchange for doing their sales tax reports. (A hell of a deal.) When paper and toner are removed from the equation there is not much spending left in the office either and employees refuse to take their paycheck in Amazon gift cards.
At least we used some of the bounty.
Collecting stuff is a sickness. At least my sickness doesn’t fill storage sheds. By now you probably guessed I collect money. More accurately, I collect investments. You will not find a fancy car in my garage; it is a bank repo I bought over 10 years ago. My home is an old farmhouse I remodeled. The clothes I wear were purchased by Mrs. A from the discount or clearance rack. Most days I wear less than $10 to cover my dignity. You would be surprised how many shirts and pants I own that Mrs. A paid $3 or less for. And this is all clothing that sold for $20 or more only a few months prior.
As much as I hate shopping, I have a nose for a deal. Around the house there is little to spend on; the office is different. A modest sized business requires some spending, regardless how tight-fisted the accountant happens to be. When spending is no longer avoidable I go into action researching the best choices. Many products have rebates, even if purchased as part of a contract. Many times I get rebates as gift cards that are used like cash. Other times they offer Amazon cards. For some reason when you keep your eyes open for that kind of thing it shows up everywhere.
So the Amazon pile grows.
It Pays to Shop
Building a pile of cash in the Amazon account is fun on one hand and a bit of a waste on the other. When a pile of money is not working for me earning even more money I get antsy. I broke down and deiced to shop Amazon. I was looking for a way to use some of the money on things I already was spending on. Nothing.
The office had plenty of supplies and I don’t want more crap in the house.
I ran across an article about gift cards Amazon sold. You could buy gift cards for nearly any store on the planet, including more Amazon gift cards. I had no interest in spending at any of these merchants with one exception: Netflix. I already have Netflix and I paid for a year or three of service with my Amazon stash. I wish I could tell you something more exciting on the gift card front, but I don’t spend much. Maybe if I traveled more. Hopefully you can do better.
Crazy, Wild-Assed Spending
There is one exception to my spending habits. I like books. The library and I have been having an affair for the better part of a century (my first library visit was when I was a wee little tyke, or so I’ve been told) and I have serious concerns Mrs. A has been having an affair with the same library behind my back. (Well, actually, she does in front of my face.)
Some books I want to own. I know, I know. It’s free from the library. But I use my books for research when I write; they make me happy; they feel so warm and soft; I love them; please don’t take my friends from me.
So, yes, I frequently tell people to go out and buy books. Sometimes I am chided; but they didn’t cost me a cent. And I get to hold them all to myself. Nahhh! The library still lends me most of what I read. Yet I treasure the volumes in my home.
If I recommend buying a book from Amazon, know two things: 1.) I probably did not spend a dime to have the book delivered to my office the next day, and 2) I get paid a commission from Amazon as an affiliate when you use an Amazon link in this blog. (Man’s gotta eat.)
I don’t encourage spending. The library has every book you can ever want and much more. They buy the book if they don’t have it and you ask!
Many of you are like me, you want to own some books and sometimes spending does happen. I get it. I always find an Amazon affiliate link from a blogger I like whenever I buy from Amazon. I want to support their work. Don’t use any of this information, however, to justify unnecessary spending. This blog is about responsible financial living.
With some planning (and maybe a Mrs. A in your household testing products) you can also amass a nice sized Amazon account for future needs (and even a few wants). It’s a real bitch having so much money you can’t spend it. You can’t invest Amazon gift card balances in an index fund. If you could . . .
A letter was waiting for me on the kitchen table. My daughter had a letter from school. “What’s this?” I ask. My daughter was all smiles as she says, “I made Student-of-the-Month.” Mrs. Accountant was not as excited as she should have been and I know why. Her bullshit meter goes off as easy as mine. I read the letter and discovered there is more than one Student-of-the-Month. In fact, there are a lot of Students-of-the-Month. And here is the coup de grace that set off the BS meter in Mrs. Accountant: Our daughter gets a free meal at a certain restaurant with all the other “Students” of the Month. Of course, mom and dad have to fork out an armload for their meal and mom and dad are required to attend the function if our daughter is to get her meal gratis.
Free: The one word in the English language sure to get people to look. It is used by marketers and scam artists alike with great skill. It is the most dangerous word to a responsible lifestyle and early retirement. Free is used to get people to spend money on stuff they don’t want. In the case of my daughter, it is a tool to get people to buy overpriced meals out of obligation. The best part is that the mark is not the person you have to convince. The school is all too happy to oblige. They can hand out awards at no cost while sending the worst financial message possible to the student.
Why do schools fall for this BS? Why do parents? My daughter knew it was too good to be true because we talk about money openly in my home. We are skeptical about something “free”. My girls know “free” is seldom really free. Schools fall for it for one of two reasons:
1.) Intentionally to raise money for the school, or
2.) They don’t know better.
It could be a bit of both. People don’t know how to handle money because nobody taught them. Mom and dad did not know and the teachers at school were just as clueless. There is no doubt in my mind why this country has so many money problems on the personal and family level. Since money is the number one reason people get divorced, it is imperative we teach our children solid financial skills. This is about more than money; it is about relationships, children, and families.
The Student of the Month scam is not the first to come home from the public school system. My children received more “free” coupons, certificates, and tokens over the years for free ice cream, desert, meals, and park admission than I can shake a fist at. And mom and dad are required to attend with junior at full price. And it works! Children put on a full-court press of guilt for not taking junior to the free meals they earned if mom and dad waver. The Wealthy Accountant wavers and the junior accountants do too. Sometimes I wonder if we should have home schooled. We talked about it.
School Is Only the Beginning
Home schooling would not have solved the problem. Life is filled with these so-called free offers.
I am what is affectionately known as a “plate-licker”. Mrs. Accountant and I attend “free” meals meant for easy marks, I mean as informational seminars. They sell investments (annuities), energy devices (over-priced and worthless), real estate programs (less than worthless), and other sure-fire, money-making ideas. My goal is not to get a free meal, though I never turn one away. No, my goal is to learn what is out there so I can inform my clients. Since I have no intention of buying, I am known as a plate licker.
It starts so innocent. A post card or other mass mailing with an offer you can’t refuse and it is FREE! arrives in the mail. Leave your checkbook at home, they say. Enjoy a free meal with your spouse, they say. Learn what the wealthy and insiders know, they say. Bah! Every one of these FREE! seminars are the same. The advice is worse than bad, the products over-priced, and the whole presentation is dressed up to look like it all works as illustrated. I have seen twenty or so of these seminars and they all have the same pattern: buy annuities, install radiant barrier in your home, and give us $25,000 and we will teach you how to flip houses and make millions. What you get is: shitty investment advice to buy a fixed or index annuity that pays the sales rep a massive commission so he can pay for all those free meals, pay $3,000 to install some cheap products to reduce your utility bill (you can do-it-yourself for a couple hundred bucks), or advice on house flipping you can get online for free. There is always a grain of truth. Remember, the con man never takes your money; you give it to him of your own free will
And why do people get suckered into this crap ad nauseam? Because they were taught in school it must be good if it is free.
I know, you don’t go to those seminars. Good for you. You are richer for it. Free is damn expensive. But you get suckered with free stuff every day. It comes walking in your home and you welcome it with open arms.
The worst example I ever saw was the Microsoft Windows 10 rollout. Microsoft wanted to sell you the heroin so bad they gave you your first hit for free. Several hits in fact. Got to get you hooked, you know. As a pusher, they are insistent. Any corporation that is as annoying and invasive as Microsoft was when they rolled out Windows 10 is up to no good. They don’t give anything for free without a reason. It was their version of “You are the Student of the Month”.
My security team put an end to all the pop-ups Microsoft installed in their updates to all earlier Windows versions. Now I read in the news Microsoft is disabling your ability to use other products if you are using Windows 10. Microsoft wants to force you to use (and pay for) only Microsoft products. I am sure they will never apply monopoly pricing on their monopoly of your computer. Your computer.
Recently, Microsoft Outlook stopped working at the office when we used the online version unless you used Internet Explorer. Microsoft is trying to force us to use their browser. Unfortunately, I don’t take kindly to such underhanded tactics. We are not switching to Internet Explorer; we are switching from Outlook to a non-Microsoft product. We are actually moving everything from Microsoft we can. I don’t trust the corporation anymore. They need to learn respect before I’ll ever consider them in my office again.
What about Google?
Google gives just about everything away for free. Is Google also a bad deal? Not in my opinion. Not to sound like a hypocrite, but I use the same tactic in my business Google does. When you walk in my office I offer free soda, coffee, tea, along with other goodies. The difference between Microsoft and me is I don’t hold my clients hostage if they drink the Kool-Aid. You can have a free soda or Keurig coffee regardless if you are a client. I have people stop by just for the freebie and to say hi. Obligation is not attached to the free gift.
Google does the same. They have loads of free software. I track this blog with Google Analytics and Google AdSense. Google has tools that allow me to research topics I am writing on. Search is free. Traffic research is free.
Why is it okay when Google and I hand out a freebie and not for Microsoft, the free seminar guys, and the school? The difference is in disclosure. You know I want your business and I give a free refreshment to get an opportunity to gain your business. Google gives free stuff so you use their search engine and hopefully engage the ads. That is how Google makes money. There is no obligation, nor are you forced.
The school on the other hand sends kids home to pressure mom and dad into a really bad money spending situation; Microsoft makes it almost impossible to work on your own computer unless you cough up control. (Microsoft crossed the line with the Windows 10 rollout and now uses Windows 10 to force non-Microsoft products from working.) And don’t get me started again on how the seminar guys work.
Free is not free; somebody is paying for it. Free soda is covered by the company which gets its money from paying customers. The next time you are offered something “free” you might want to step back and ask if it is really a good decision to accept the free gift. It might cost more than you are willing to pay.
Anyone up for a free meal (you may have won a free iPod) just for attending an informational seminar on a timeshare?
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.
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 segregation 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.