Imagine you had a time machine. You could go back in time and change anything you wanted. A past mistake could be erased, a missed opportunity taken, a relationship saved. If I had such a time machine I would change nothing. I would leave everything exactly as it happened, including all the regrets.

A popular attitude suggests many people would go back in time and kill Adolf Hitler before he committed his crimes against humanity. I wouldn’t. I would let the approximately 60 million people died; I would allow the gas chambers to continue.

Why would I pass a chance to save all those people? Am I really that cold? No, I am not that cold, but I do know everything happens for a reason. If Hitler didn’t do what he did more than a billion people could have died and the human race sent back to the Stone Age.

Imagine a time machine existed allowing anyone to go back and kill Hitler before the nightmare began. Imagine someone bumped off little Adolf when he was a wee tyke. How would human history have evolved differently.

Well, for one, scientists would not have been motivated to split the atom quite so soon. But make no mistake, scientists were getting close to discovering the mystery of splitting the atom. The atomic bomb wasn’t concocted out of thin air when the desire for a big BOOM was needed. No, human knowledge was getting close.

Without Hitler, Germany might have kept her scientists. Germany might have invented the bomb in the 1950s or 1960s without the impetus of war. The United States and other nations would have soon followed.

Like World War II, such delicate programs would have been conducted in secret. Many nations may have built a nuclear arsenal unbeknownst to anyone else. The itch to use such a massive weapon to gain geopolitical advantage would have been immense.

One small conflagration could have started a limited nuclear exchange. Consequences would have been somewhat unknown. All politicians would have known is that an entire city or army could be crushed in an instant. Nuclear fallout and secondary damage would have been speculation and curiosity only.

A geopolitical event leading to a limited nuclear exchange would easily turn into a full-fledged nuclear exchange. Approximately 2.3 billion people lived on the planet in 1940; more by the time a nuclear event would have been likely.

A billion or more people would die in such a scenario. And it all is a likely possibility if Hitler didn’t do what he did.

Say You’re Sorry

There is a difference between going back and changing something you regret in life and wishing you hadn’t done it. Except for psychopaths, we all have things we wish we had not done. Wishing we had not done something is the result of learning a valuable lesson.

Like Hitler, there would be negative consequences if you went back in time and changed a negative event in your life. Negative events teach far more than positive events. Failure, and all the accompanying pain, motivates learning better than any other thing. Take away the failure and you lose all the motivation to learn and change.

This is a personal finance blog so we will consider money. As a reader you may start to believe personal finance bloggers have it made. They learned to save and invest properly at an early ago to achieve serious financial goals.

Where do you think personal finance bloggers get these ideas? I can assure you it comes from mistakes; big, fat, juicy financial bloodletting mistakes. We put our pants on one leg at a time. No special sauce gave us an advantage. We learned from reading, research and experience. There are no shortcuts.

But what about the really big mistakes? A marriage destroyed in a moment of lustful passion or an intoxicated decision to sit behind the wheel leads to a lost life. The consequences will be life changing for you regardless, and the legal or criminal justice system will not be the only ones meting out the pain.

Since it is easier to be sorry for doing something than traveling back in time, you had better get used to accepting where you are in life. The bad decisions can take a toll.

Changing time is not possible. All you or I have is the ability to feel sorry for our actions and make amends if possible. Even with amends it doesn’t change what happened; amends only allow all parties to live with the reality of what happened.

The Stoics understood this all too well. Epictetus says there are only four things you have complete control over: how you interpret what happens to you, how you respond, moving toward something (attraction) and moving away from something (aversion). Of the four things you have complete control of all take place between the ears. Attraction and aversion are not physical acts; they are mental. Your response to events is a mental act. You control completely your mental response. Your response in the physical world is limited by many factors.

Regret is normal; shame is normal; fear is normal. The emotional response to stupid things done is normal. You did what you did because it seemed like the right thing to do at the time. Maybe you talked yourself into an affair feeling it would remain a secret and harm no one. Maybe driving impaired didn’t seem so bad. What are the odds of an accident? I’m not that drunk.

And then you start wishing. Wishing you could go back in time and change things; undo what you have done. Once again, it is easier to be sorry, learn a lesson and face consequences than travel back in time. So all we have are the time worn words of Epictetus, a slave who won his freedom.

Making a Difference

The natural evolution of this blog is to provide intense programs to help people meet their goals. A current, in progress, redesign of this blog will incorporate some of these abilities so rolling out a program will be easy when I am ready.

The first program is already outlined and ready for production. But hold onto your hats, folks; the program is for convicted criminals! That’s right. I have outlined a twelve week program on how to reach financial goals for the toughest crowd imaginable.

The decision was easy for me. Wisconsin currently spends north of a billion dollars per year on prisons and a large number of these people are there for weed and alcohol. Most are not bad people, but their life is really messed up due to a bad choice.

My program will not help incorrigibles. Good people who just did stupid things—is anyone excluded—need a way to get their life back. A society is not better when you take away all hope for a large fraction of the population.

Over twelve weeks my hope is these people will learn how to hold their head high and stop wanting to change time, accepting life as it is. I don’t care if they killed someone in an auto accident while intoxicated. They can be sorry for their prior actions, but life is as it is. This program isn’t about wishing.

The outline is fleshed out and may be expanded to sixteen or twenty weeks in the future. I submitted the proposal to the proper authorities to move forward. As of yet no word.

There is a reason to expect no response. If my work reduces recidivism, the people in charge lose job security. A successful program means there is less need for jail and prison guards, fewer prosecutors and judges, fewer taxes required for a smaller police force. The criminal justice system lives on failure. Doing the job right, successfully, harms their job security. We’ll see how enlightened they are soon enough.

I can hear you already. “It’s not fair! Why do criminals get this powerful program, but not me?” Glad you asked.

Part of my proposal insists the program be recorded to teach others in Corrections to learn to do what I do and to publish each session online (YouTube, et cetera). Recordings also allow me to review my performance to improve my skills and update properly.

Still, the first program is designed for criminals willing to integrate back into society.

The second phase will be directed toward victims. Victims deserve a chance too! The original program will need some modifications to work for victims. Victims have different needs and have different challenges than offenders.

Phase three includes the general public. You, kind reader, are not forgotten. All three phases can take place simultaneously. Once I flesh out some of the issues with the offender’s program I will be ready to start building the general program for the masses. Victims will have their own program shortly after the initial phase.

The offender and victim programs are relatively easy to do. I prepare the program and present each week until the program concludes. A government official will record the program for future use and publication.

The program planned for you, kind readers, is much more intense. Your training program will cover closer to twenty weeks. Reading and videos will be part of the program, including assignments that push you toward financial independence quickly.

The program will show you how to start and maintain a successful business and how to build a large net worth fast. The best part for many is reaching financial independence in as little as five years. Each situation is different. Most can get there in five or so years, even if they are at zero. Others deep in debt or with physical limitations will take longer to achieve their goals.

This blog’s redesign will incorporate the ability to disseminate this type of program. The cost of producing the program will be steep so it will be a premium product (my fancy way of saying I’ll probably charge for the program).

My guess is this will take about a year to get this into your hands. Patience, kind readers, it is a virtue.

I am excited about this program. I hope the local government takes me up on the offer. It would be a great starting point to iron out any issues while serving the community. If not, the program for the general public will still move forward.

Do you want to sell sugar water for the rest of your life, or do you want to come with me and change the world?  —Steve Jobs to John Scully, then President of Pepsi.

For the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: ‘If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?’ And whenever the answer has been ‘No’ for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.  —Steve Jobs

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A thought experiment: Why do you want money? What drives you to attain financial independence? Why is retirement such a powerful draw? Think about these questions before you read on. I want you to really understand why you do the things you do when it comes to money. Think about what money does for you.

Readers here already understand they don’t want the headline. Money, in and of itself, is worthless. It is paper with inked pictures of deceased individuals. So what. But money also symbolizes something. Money is how we trade value when we are not bartering. Because money is a store of value until needed, we can do things with money impossible with barter. Money can earn a profit. I guess you could barter for seeds. Then you could create some of the characteristics of money if you farm. Still, money is a tool, nothing more.

Happiness

Having money, lots of money, does not make you happy. Money gives you choice. By building wealth you can open opportunities unavailable to you before. It takes money to invest to build passive income for an independent lifestyle. With money you can open your dream business, travel, spend more time with family.

So much focus is on accumulating money, saving, investing, retiring. What you really want is something totally different. I always dreamed of owning my own business and except for one year of my adult life I have. A certain level of wealth is necessary to reach personal goals. But even these goals do not come from money.

Happy LifeThe next logical question is: Why do you want to retire? Travel? Spend more time with family? The end game is a feeling. If you carry the questions far enough you will come to answers that really matter. Having money gives me freedom to travel and spend time with family. Traveling and family time make you feel good. Make you happy.

Every action we take is to avoid pain or gain pleasure: real or imagined. You overspend because you think the things you are buying will make you happy. By questioning all purchases you will find most expenditures only provide illusory happiness. The new car is not new for long and the cost of maintaining the car hurts.

Research shows we gain more lasting pleasure from experiences rather than things. A family vacation is a fond memory; the flat screen TV is not. My family trip to Costa Rica with my parents is filled with great memories we still talk about around the card table. Our discussion on the TV is usually filled with derision, if it is discussed at all.

The Greatest Feeling in the World

People love to laugh. It is a universal feeling. There is no culture I am aware of where jokes and good-natured fun are not a part of daily life. Some cultures smile more than others, but all people enjoy a good laugh, even the sour-pusses.

I am asked to speak multiple times per year. Since I am not a big fan of travelling, I limit the number of engagements to a handful each year and most are relatively close to home. Slowly, I am opening myself to more gigs. When I speak to one group, people in the audience take the experience home with them. Organizations they belong to now ask me to speak for their group. Goodwill Industries has asked me to speak every year for many years now. Last year they wanted me twice so I could discuss two topics.

Anyone who knows me knows I do not take life seriously. I have a grab bag of one-liners I use to illustrate life lessons.

Keith’s Rule # 15: Life is a joke and then it is over.

Rule 15 illustrates my personal worldview. When I am at home or in a crowd I always share stories. My favorite stories have a twist with a humorous slant. Stories should teach a lesson while still having fun. There is so much to laugh at. When I speak I include a lot of one-liner asides. I take a serious topics (frequently taxes since I am an accountant) and get people to laugh at the craziness of the make believe world of tax law. There is no real world connection to your taxes. Your taxable income has no relation to your real world cash flow. (Okay, smart ass in the back row. There is a relationship, a damn poor one.) Taxes are make-believe, like the boogie man.

Turn it into a Skit

Anything happening in my vicinity is fair game. The gym is a fertile playground. People do crazy things at the gym while I am serious about my workout. I will not share my well-developed skit on the gym here. If you catch me in public, just fire me up and watch the sparks fly. Yikes! You need to do the same thing. Turn events that irritate and annoy you into a big joke. Stress melts away when you do. Okay, you talked me into it.

Yes, I went to the gym this morning to lift some stuff. I try to avoid the early morning as the geriatric crowd is in control. But Mrs. Accountant wanted to go to Zumba, so I went with her. Let us start with the locker room.

  • You do not need to use the locker on top of mine when you can space it out a little. I DON’T want to touch you, even a brief glace, when you are naked!
  • Wear clothes! I know you think you are a perfect specimen for a 94 year old, but for the love of god, cover up. Do not stand in the middle of the locker room talking to another dead guy, I mean old guy. Nobody likes walking around you. We do not care about your story about mole removal. I know you are proud of the family jewels, but please, do not force the rest of us to see them. We are not as excited about it as you are.
  • Close the shower curtain. Really, people. The curtain is there for a reason. There have been a few instances where I experienced snow blindness from accidentally catching sight of your alabaster cheeks.

On to the gym floor.

  • Wear a shirt guys. Sure you have a rock’in hot bod for someone 72. But the gym rules say you need to wear a shirt. Your sweat on the equipment is disgusting.
  • Wear a real shirt. To circumvent gym rules a few geriatrics have decided to wear shirts with no sleeves, full of holes and baggy. Christ people, your nipples look like age spots; cover them up.
  • Don’t jump on a machine in front of me and just sit there talking. When you see me using a machine it does not mean you take the first chance to slip into the seat and discuss your flatulence problem with Carl for two hours. Other people would like to use the machine, too.
  • As long as we are talking about hogging a machine, workout if you are on the gym floor. The equipment is not a random place to sit. I see you enter the gym. You do zero exercise, talk with every old lady in the place (you Casanova), and occupy as many pieces of equipment as you possibly can.

Thank god, they all need to get home by noon for a nap.

See how much fun that was. A situation which has caused a fair number of people to disappear, never to be seen again, is turned into a good laugh. I can lift 40, maybe 50 pounds more when people drive me insane at the gym. As my temperature rises I focus on all the hilarious material I am gathering, lowering stress, until it is much more manageable.

The Outcome

My favorite comedian, George Carlin, was fond of saying you need to stop feeling vested in the outcome. All the money in the world will not bring happiness if you are vested in the outcome of the next election. You will be upset, mad, or angry non-stop as long as your happiness is predicated upon someone else’s action or inaction. I laugh about the gym, but in reality, if some old guy pulls one of the above mentioned stunts I change my workout to a machine or bench available. My body is always happy with a mix-up in the routine. And yes, I laugh when I see some old guy standing around naked, thinking he is god’s gift to the Nutcracker Suite. Idiots are always the most fun anyway.

Money is important. Anyone who tells you different will lie to you about a lot of other things too. I still argue it is not money that you want. You do not want the big investment account, fancy car, or vacation. My guess is you want the feelings and experiences these things provide. A well-stocked portfolio of index funds gives you the feeling of freedom and safety; cars, homes, and other stuff pretend to give you value when they are mostly wasting assets or require more spending to maintain; travel allows you to learn and experience while creating fond memories you can share a lifetime.

I am not against stuff. The less stuff you have the better, but I am not against a few material distractions. Creating memories (even if I hate travelling) is important. Memories bring meaning to life. Drama Queens can set aside the annoying whining and replace it with something fun and entertaining most people enjoy listening to.

My dream of owning my business is now filled. It has been filled for 30 years. Early retirement people say I held on too long. A business owner client of mine once gave me this advice on why you should sell your business in 15 years regardless: if you can’t make enough money in 15 year in your business to retire, you never will. He is right. Most of us hang on too long because we love what we do.

Money has not been an issue for me for two decades. If I had a zero net worth outside my business I could still retire comfortably selling my business. The rent on the building alone would cover most of my personal expenses. As important as questioning our spending is, it is equally as important to question our retention of stuff, including home and business. I will cover how I am handling the transition of my business in a future post.