And if you can’t be with the one you love, honey. Love the one your with. —Stephen Stills

The accounting industry has been consolidating for decades. When I started my practice in the 1980s the local newspaper had several pages of business card sized ads hawking the wares of local tax offices and CPA firms. Today you would be hard pressed to find an ad (outside the massive DIY tax software) by any tax or accounting firm even in the depths of tax season.

There are several reasons why the corner mom and pop tax office is dying. The tax code has steadily increased in complexity. If I didn’t have a background of knowledge to build on I might not consider the tax field if I were starting today.

Finding qualified tax/accounting professionals is harder than it’s ever been. The number of graduates coming out of college with a desire to work in accounting has declined. Those who do choose the tax/accounting field are picked up by government agencies and larger firms, all who have deeper pockets to pay new talent.

Stress is probably the biggest factor in the decline of the field as a career choice. Recently I had lunch with two young ladies who started their tax/bookkeeping office two years prior. I accepted the dinner date with the intention on building a relationship to possibly share new clients. Before the meal was served I was informed the two young ladies were so busy they couldn’t take any new clients. In two year they were full-up. They contacted me because they wanted to see the guy in sunglasses writing the crazy accounting blog in the Fox Cities.

Looking for the Exit

Long, stressful hours call my sanity into question every tax season. It always starts nice, but then every client wants a piece of my time to chat. Then I get behind and more tired by the day. By March it physically hurts really, really bad. If you ever want to buy a tax office cheap, make the offer in late March or early April. Just a wise piece of advice.

I get my fair share of offers to sell. A year doesn’t pass where I don’t see three to five offers. The big franchise names always make at least one pass. H&R Block wants to slap their pukey green on the side of my building so bad it hurts. I toss the offer before reading it. The answer is no.

Serious offers I might consider also arrive. Sometimes attorneys show up with paperwork demanding I give them a hearing. My location and time on the job has created a modest amount of value in my neck of the woods, I guess. Some offers show up in the mail, others with a phone call. For some strange reason local tax/accounting offices think I want to sell in August or September. Are they kidding! Running my practice is a breeze in late summer. Why would I ever want to sell when I have full control of the volume of traffic?

A word of advice to anyone looking to buy an accounting office cheap: make the offer late in tax season. From personal emotions and attitudes, I actually would consider an offer at such a time. Anything to release me from the physical and mental agony of unrelenting demands on my time. I’m also more open to negotiating the sale price in late spring. Just sayin’.

I Hate My Job!

You can love any job! I grew up on a family farm (virtual forced child labor) shoveling manure. Believe it or not, cleaning the barn was one of my favorite jobs! I could see my progress with each pass of the tractor. There was something intoxicating about working in shit.

I hated milking cows, however, but look back fondly on the experience now. I learned to accept the long hours in the milking parlor listening to tunes and caring for my ladies, the cows.

Cleaning the barn meant more open space to enjoy the outdoors. Milking cows was managed from the concrete pit of a milking parlor. It was cold and damp. I milked cows for about eight hours a day when I was in high school. There wasn’t much time for a life in such circumstances. I quickly learned to hate milking cows and farming. The pay was microscopic, the work hard, the hours long and I had virtually no interaction with people. The milking parlor was a one man job. I kept twelve cows filling the bulk tank simultaneously for hour after hour. To this day I can still see the fan blowing fresh air into the parlor as I milked cows during a summer thunder storm. If only I could enjoy the rain outside.

I hated my job. It was also 1982, a very bad year for the economy in the Rust Belt. I was trapped and acted as any trapped animal does. Late that year the family farm finished a bankruptcy. I had mixed feelings. I didn’t want to go back into farming and sure as hell didn’t want to milk another cow!

Love What You Do

Accountants see strange things walk in their door. The most perplexing is a young individual who is only a few years out of school complaining how much they hate their job. They’ve been reading some blogs (sometimes even this one) and are invigorated to pursue early retirement. I can’t help but think, Why would anyone spend years in college pursuing a job they didn’t like? I sure hope to God it wasn’t only about money. That would be short-sighted and shallow.

Dream jobs still have their days! Difficulty causes stress, but shouldn’t diminish your love for the task at hand. After growing up working endless hours farming I moved to town for a few years, started my practice and then moved back to the country to a small farm! It was in my blood. Raising animals and the land had an irresistible pull on me. I don’t milk cows on my hobby farm, but there are still jobs I don’t care to do. It comes with the territory.

I was too young to know how good I had it! If I’d have grown up in the big city my early life might have been easier. Then again, maybe not. Kind readers from said big cities might beg to differ. Their life wasn’t all roses either.

My formative years made me who I am. For that I am grateful. The stories I share on this blog and my other writings are only possible because I milked those cows, cleaned those barns and fed those calves. The work became a part of me. A good part.

It took me a long time to grow up and realize anyone can love any type of work. If I worked in the sewers I could learn to enjoy the moment. Cleaning barns has similarities and I liked that job.

Finding work you love is easy. Don’t limit your mindset to preconceived notions of what a “good” job is. Working at a fast food restaurant might not pay a lot, but can easily provide massive amount of personal satisfaction.

My news feeds are filled with stories of people retiring young. How can so many people have chosen the wrong profession to want to quit so badly? Some even spent massive amounts of money and time in college to hone their craft. And still, within a few short years they want out so bad it hurts.

Regardless the age you retire, in my office I see people returning to some form of organized labor. Life is meaningless for many without the companionship of co-workers and clients. “Work” is about serving your fellow man (or woman). That’s the magic potion searched for throughput the ages! The meaning of life is to serve! When you Pay it Forward to help another it gives your own life massive amounts of added value too!

Back Home

After a long day of work it feels good to be home. There is nothing wrong with that. Just because you love your work doesn’t mean there are days it hurts or doesn’t satisfy. It’s okay to feel like you need a break. (Might I suggest a break?)

Early retirement—retirement at any age—is not about checking out of life. No satisfaction is to be found there. A change in career, pursuit of other interests and a short sabbatical are great options you have every right to consider. Traditional retirement is a trap! Providing value is the true meaning of life.

Now we return to your favorite accountant and notice the time of year. Yes, we are approaching mid-March as I write this. S-corporation and partnership returns are due in just over a week. I filed over 40 extensions of these entity returns today alone. Many will be completed on time if clients bring in all their paperwork so some extensions are only filed just in case.

I’m also tired. I don’t feel good. Exhaustion is part of every waking moment. My back hurts from sitting too much. My eyes burn from staring at the computer screen all day. The price of my practice dropped 15-20% since early February. I want to sleep. I want to read a book. I want to go home.

Some smart cookie will read this post and realize now is the time to pounce. In August I laugh sales offers right out the door. Now that we are in the dog days of tax season an offer will not be laughed out the door. I’m too tired to laugh. Should such an offer arrive in the next few weeks I’ll stare for several seconds as I attempt to digest what is happening. I’ll get a visual of life without the work I love and usher you out the door, open or closed.

I love what I do. I love my work! This is who I am; what I want to do. I’ll quit the day they begin lowering my casket into the ground and not a day sooner.

I’ll even milk a cow if I have to.

Hey der kind readers. Dis is da welty accountant from way up nort der hey where it gets darn cold in da winnertime. Payin all dos heatin bills is a might painful here in Phuket, Weeesconsin, sometimes known as Nowhere, Weeesconsin so extra side income is always welcome.

Mrs. Accountant does her best to contribute to the family budget by cookin and cleanin whenever the work shows up. She is the kindest thing to ever walk God’s green earth and proves it by sending your favorite accountant with a brown bag lunch to work every day to save money.

She also likes to do surveys online for some extra cash. Well, da udder day she discovered a way to make some real money. I’m not talking small potatoes like selling weed or anything. I’m talkin big time!

She got herself a heck of a side hustle as a secret shopper! Yup. Da missus done got herself some serious job now. And as you can see from da picture of the check above, da missus sure cleaned house (haha, pun intended) with her first job.

Sharing da Experience

I wanna share da experience we had wit dis secret shopping job. Above you can see da first part of da letter dey sent da missus Priority Mail. Des guys don mess around! Dey spent some serious money to get dis to us fast.

I broke da letter into two pictures so you can see what it says easier. I’ll go through the process so you can join in on this awesome side hustle.

First of all, we got da check in da same envelope. Des guys don’t sit on der hands. When dey give instructions dey back it up wit cash!

First thing we had to do was deposit the Cashier’s Check in our bank. Well, right away I knew somethin was wrong. I’ve seen des checks come through the office now and again and know from experience des guys bite off more than they can chew. Sometimes der checks don’t clear right away. Too many secret shoppers, I guess.

Click to enlarge.

I did some leg work (not the leg work I do at the gym, by the way) to verify des guys were ready to rock. A quick internet search revealed the first problem. Their check had the wrong routing number. Personally, I’d fire da guys who printed the checks wrong!

The next thing I knew was dat Kenneth Ginola guy no longer worked at Whitney Bank. Hard ta chew somebody’s tail if he ain’t der no more! They musta taught I was some stupid country bumpkin.

This wasn’t going to work. Des guys might not mess around, but dey are sloppy as hell. Don’t dey know I can’t send’em money I don’t have?

Well, the bottom half of the letter told us where to send our experience report. Once again it was sloppy work. I sent an email to both addresses provided. They came back undeliverable. No worries, mate. They used an online account to print the postage. I tracked it back to the sender, Jose Ceda.

I called Jose and told him I was excited about da offer he sent da missus, but he might wanna be careful and all with our current President’s dislike for most people named Jose. Just sayin.

I also told Jose about da sloppy work and that I still wanted to work wit da guy if he cleaned up his act.

Before long I knew des guys were bush league. They wanted da missus to send some of da money back with a Moneygram and something called a Walmart2Walmart thingie. I never heard of dis stuff so he explained it to me.

Click to enlarge.

Of course da missus messed it all up. We biked over to Wally World and tried to get the Moneygram to dat Anthony Reyna guy in Houston and the udder guy, Gerald Chaffman, also of Huston.

Ah, it was frustratin as getout. Finally I threw up my hands and walked out and called Jose back. (BTW, he had a very pleasant voice and spoke mighty darn good English for a guy from Eastern Europe.) Anywho, I finally convinced Jose to just give me his banking info so I could wire him his money back. I never saw a guy so happy to get out of a deal in my life.

He gave me da bank info. After hanging up da phone I decided it would be da Christian thing to do to still try to get dis to work. After all, we did give our word and we still had the cashier’s check.

Wat I did was use Jose’s bank info and ACHed da money outta his account and into mine. Strange how smooth money transfers when you get all da numbers right. You can always trust your friendly accountant to get da job done.

As you can see from da letter, we are supposed to keep $270 for ourself, $370 if we get da job done in a day. Well, all da dickin around took more than a day, but I said f@*ck’em, figuring da missus deserved da bonus for all the extra work we did.

Before we could send Jose some of his money back we got an email from Jose. (It still amazes me how much stuff they know about a guy these days.) Jose was upset we withdrew $1,980 from his account instead of depositing it. All I can say is he wasn’t as excited as he was before.

The madder he got the more Russian he sounded. I promised Jose I’d personally see to it da missus would complete the secret shopper assignment.

We didn’t actually return to Wally World, but figured we could just make some of it up since Wally World is the only place to buy supplies for a hundert miles in any direction. (Welcome to Phuket!)

I sat down with da missus and worked through the twelve questions we were supposed ta answer. Most of da questions were stupid. Darn near got in trouble when I knew the name of the cute cashier over at Wally World. Dang Jose.

Question 8 was also a problem. Ya see, in backwoods Weesconsin we rarely use the restroom facilities. Normally we just walk out behind Wally World when we need to water the horse.

When I got done sendin Jose the answers to his questions I decided it was such a hassle I wasn’t going to send Moneygrams or other such crazy stuff. I kept the money! I know it’s not da Christian thing to do and all, but for the record I haven’t been to church in God knows how long. (Actually, God might have a hard time remembering the last time I visited for dinner.)

One last thing. I highlighted in yellow the last message on the secret shopper instructions. I am EXPRESSLY FORBIDDEN to disclose this information to anyone.

I won’t tell anyone if you don’t.

Time to Get Serious

Kind readers, I made a joke out of a serious issue harming numerous people every day. Mrs. Accountant does surveys and recently did a few secret shopper projects.

The letter, check and mailing label above all showed up a few weeks ago. We think it came from a Swagbucks offer.

Normally I throw stuff like this out, but decided to write about it. I could have explained the situation and ended with saying, “DON’T!” Instead, I wanted to take a different approach. We are constantly warned of these types of scams. The fact that they are still active means they probably work and many people are getting hurt!

The story above is made up. I took the situation and turned it into a joke. However, it’s no joke to those victimized by these criminals.

There is no doubt in my mind the cashier’s check is bogus. Because I’m writing a blog post I did some research. There really is a Whitney Bank on Johnston Street! But the check is bogus. The check is printed on check stock you can buy online or at Office Depot. A quick call to the bank and it becomes clear this is a scam.

The poor and elderly are most vulnerable. The people least able to suffer the loss are the best target for these scumbags.

Here is how the scam works in a nutshell. They send you a cashier’s check with instructions to deposit the check at your bank, withdraw the money and forward some of the money to the scammer via some type of wire transfer. They tell you to keep a portion as your reward. Later you discover the cashier’s check was bogus and you are out the money.

Today in the office (I’m writing this the day before publication) a client came in with a stack of papers, victim to a similar type of scam. In his case it was a new client of his business who needed extra cash so they used their credit card to withdraw money. They then sent it to another bank account. Later the credit card was discovered stolen and they are now out the money.

If you ever see anyone in a situation where they are asked to deposit a check or credit card payment and send the money to another account, please stop them and call the police.

Have a serious talk with elderly parents and grandparents. Talk to your children. Warn friends and family of the signs something isn’t right. There is no reason to take a check, credit card or any other means of payment and forward it to another account. Ever!

If anyone you know thinks this kind of thing is legitimate, yell at them at the top of your voice,

“DON’T!”

Frugal living is challenging at times. What seems like a meaningless small change can energize your budget and fire your investments on a steeper trajectory.

Countless blogs and websites provide lists on how to save money. Turn out lights, turn down the heat in winter and the library are good ideas. Mr. Money Mustache has a strong drive to bike. On several occasions he has published on the benefits of biking. Biking is good for your health and cuts energy use. Reducing or eliminating what he calls a “clown-like car habit”, you cut spending by serious coin.

Like many readers I undertake a number of these ideas. I keep my house 60 degrees F in the winter. To keep warm I wrestle Mrs. Accountant and the kids to keep them away from the thermostat. I use natural lighting whenever available.

The farmstead is a whisker more than 15 miles from my office. I bike about 100 days a year. The savings are modest, but noticeable. A 30 mile round trip costs me about $15 according to the IRS mileage rate. My vehicles are purchased used and run for a couple decades before they are replaced so my vehicle cost is less. I estimate my real cost per mile is closer to 30 cents. This means every bike ride to the office allows me to keep an extra $9 in my pocket, tax-free. (You don’t pay an extra tax for not spending money.)

A Lesson from Walmart. Yes, Walmart

Back around 2008 Walmart started to examine its energy costs. The idea was to offer affordable compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) to customers; the thought being CFLs lasted longer so Walmart would soon have more shelf space for other products. The energy savings customers experienced would likely be spent at Walmart on other items.

The discussion eventually turned internal. What if Walmart used CFLs in their stores? One idea was to replace incandescent bulbs with CFLs in the ceiling fans on display. Of the 3,230 stores Walmart had at the time, the average store had ten ceiling fans. Each ceiling fan had four bulbs.

Each bulb produced a minor savings, but when the Law of Large Numbers took hold Walmart stood to reduce their utility bill $6 million per year! Management had an easy decision.

Since then Walmart has expanded their energy philosophy to include utilizing as much natural lighting as possible and electric semis to deliver products to stores around the U.S.

CFLs cost more than incandescent bulbs upfront, but the longer life of the CFL (8-10 times as long) and energy savings more than cover the initial capital outlay. Total savings from reduced energy use is several times the entire upfront cost.

Lesson from a Humble Accountant

My memory is slipping with age. I can’t remember the exact year I transitioned to CFLs and later LEDs. What I can share is how I determined when it was a good idea to make the switch. Regardless the exact date, I was an early adaptor.

We will focus on my office to keep the discussion simple. I used the same thought process to transform my lighting at home.

Lighting is an important consideration in a tax practice. Eyes get tired easy enough looking at a computer screen all days and trying to decipher smudged and faded documents. Security lighting and signage are also important.

The outside of my office building is covered by floodlights and security cameras. The entrance light is always on. Security lights and the sign are on a photovoltaic trigger. This means the two lights at the entrance are on 24/7 and the sign and security lighting average 12 hours of operation per day — more in the winter, less in summer.

I forget the exact wattage used so I’ll stick with 100 watts per bulb when incandescent bulbs were used. My research showed an equivalent CFL used only 26 watts. Each hour of operation used 76 fewer watts per unit.

The hourly savings didn’t amount to much. However, when a light is operating an average of 12 hours a day 365 days a year we get 4,380 hours of annual use. 4,380 hours of use times 76 watts of reduced energy consumption per hour equals 332,880 fewer watts used per year. Reduced energy consumption of 332 kilowatts times $.12 per kilowatt and we save 39.84 per unit! We have twelve units.

The lighting replacements paid for themselves in less than a year! And they lasted longer.

 

Inside the office we have 40 of those 4-foot tube CFL bulbs. We use as much natural lighting as possible, but we still operate half the light banks most days.

The typical office uses what is called a T12 linear fluorescent bulb. Each bank has two or four bulbs. T12 bulbs use 40 watts.

Offices are turning to smaller T8 bulbs. The length is the same but the diameter is a bit smaller. T8s kick out the same light as a T12 and tend to last somewhat longer (modestly in my experience), using 32 watts per hour.

The office has on average 20 lights on each day for 10 hours. Two-hundred lighting hours using 32 watts instead of 40 watts reduces electricity usage 1,600 watts per day or 320,000 watts on a 200 day work year. (I cut the work year to adjust for reduced summer hours.) 320 kilowatts time $.12 adds to a modest $38.40 in saving per year.

T8s are easier on the eyes and don’t fade as much as T12s. You might remember seeing one side of these linear bulbs in an office turning black. This happens as the bulbs ages. The bulb still works, but output is reduced. T8s have fewer problems with dimming as they age. For accountants this is a blessing for our eyes.

 

Security lighting has since converted to LEDs which use even less energy. We’ll forgo the math to keep the story moving. Lights with heavy use are worth the extra cost of LEDs. Security lights, the sign and the entrance are LED lights. LEDs also weather the outdoors and cold better.

LEDs have one additional advantage. Incandescent and CFL lights blast light in every direction. LEDs focus with a narrower footprint. This means our security lighting is brightest where we want it.

No More Complaining

You can hear the groans when Mr. Money Mustache reiterates once again the necessity of biking over an automobile. The complaints follow fast on his heels. You can’t haul stuff with a bike. (MMM proved that wrong.) It’s too cold, hot, dark, rainy, blah, blah, blah. You can’t bike where I live because of the piles of snow, or, it’s too far to bike.

MMM doesn’t buy the complaints and neither do I. Small changes can add up to big savings. There is a point of diminishing returns. As my office lighting energy use has declined, every additional capital expenditure to reduce energy use further has less bang for the buck. With security lights now using 12 watts per hour of operation I need to focus elsewhere to reduce energy use.

LED flood lights available at Amazon.

Driving sucks a lot of cash out of the pocket. Lighting can put a few dollars in your pocket per month; biking can keep hundreds in the First National Bank of Wallet. My commute is a hefty 30 miles round trip. If Pete knew this we’d need the paddles to bring him back. (Don’t walk into the light, Pete!)

Even driving an older vehicle squanders $9 per commute, or $45 per week, or $2,340 per year. (I think I’m going to be nauseous.) Biking when the sun is shining (as I do) cuts perhaps as much as $1,000 per year from my transportation budget!

 

It’s true. Our frugal efforts alone will not change the world. At best it will allow us a lifestyle with a smaller carbon footprint. A couple thousand tax-free dollars doesn’t hurt either.

Where it starts to add up is when we work together as a team. When thousands and millions start adopting better choices in lighting and transportation the numbers become mind-boggling.

An unenlightened major corporation like Walmart was able to shave $6 million per year off their energy bill. The number is already big enough to make a difference.

Now it’s your turn to join in.

Save yourself, save the world. Love frugal without giving up a thing.

 

Compare LED prices at Amazon. A few minutes of math could lower your energy bill.

This week’s Stalking the Accountant edition is special. We had another drawing for cash prizes here at The Wealthy Accountant and it ended up a humbling experience where dozens of people will benefit far more than the minor investment of cash would indicate.

The drawing pulled names from subscribers who opened their email of the latest blog posts. The winners of the $50 prize are:

Ben O of Essex Junction, VT, and

Jeff H of Santa Barbara

The prize is awarded as either a PayPal transfer or an Amazon gift card. Both took the Amazon card.

Here is where it got real. When I informed Jeff of his win he sent the following email:

Keith,

 Awesome! It’s great to be a winner!

 I’m actually a blogger myself (www.themoneycommando.com) and rather than sending the money to me I’d like to propose something else.

 My wife is on the board of a local charity called Domestic Violence Solutions (DVS). Basically, they provide a shelter for women and children who are the victims of domestic violence. The shelter gives the women and children a place to stay while they look for a new place to live. They usually leave at a moment’s notice and don’t have kid’s clothing, a crib, bottles, etc. DVS supplies these things in the shelter and lets the families keep them to help them get on their feet. 

 How about if you donate the $50 Amazon gift card to DVS? You get the tax deduction, DVS gets a bit of exposure (maybe it will encourage somebody else to donate too), and DVS can use the gift card to get whatever baby supplies they need (it’s always changing from week to week).

 Here’s the DVS website: https://www.dvsolutions.org/en/

 What do you think?

 Jeff H. from Santa Barbara

 

Of course I agreed! It was an awesome idea!

This was a perfect opportunity to put some of TWA profits to work. I’ve dedicated 100% of the profits of this blog to charitable causes. I doubled the award to Domestic Violence Solutions to $100. Not a lot, but a gesture of good will.

Jeff’s wife responded as such:

Hi Keith,

Thank you so much for matching the gift card! Our emergency shelter is in great need of about 25 new pillows and this will allow for us to buy almost half!

We are deeply grateful.

 Heartfelt thanks,

 

I couldn’t let it alone. A simple comfort most people take for granted — a comfortable place to lay your head — is unavailable to some victims of abuse. I knew what I had to do.

If $100 bought nearly half the pillows needed, another $150 should finish the job. A drawing meant to engage my readers has turned into a $250 gift to a domestic violence shelter giving dozens of people comfort.

Here is the reply:

WOW, you just made our day Keith!!!

 Most of us take having a soft pillow for granted, but when a victim and her children enter our shelters (usually in the middle of the night) they arrive with nothing but the clothes on their backs, traumatized and thankful to be alive. Having a warm, comfortable and safe place to sleep means so much to our clients.  

 From the bottom of my heart, THANK YOU!

Would it be OK to acknowledge your generosity on our social media?  

With sincere gratitude,

 

Before I take a bow, let me remind you I didn’t do this. You did!

This blog has revenue because of you, kind readers. That revenue is destined to change lives for the better in our communities. You need to take the bow. I’m only the conduit. You did this. You changed the lives of those women, often times kids in tow, surviving violence.

I know you’re as moved as I am by this. It’s okay to take a moment here to reflect on what our group has just done.

Finally, if you want to add to the gift to Domestic Violence Solutions you can do so here:

Please provide comfort to a child – donate now at https://comfortandjoyforachild.funraise.org/

A child’s future is in your hands.

 

The Other #MeToo

In 2017 women started to speak out in waves. It was 100% necessary! It had to happen. The violence and assault of women had to be exposed before the problem can be addressed.

Even some men came forward. We sometimes forget about men who suffered sexual assaults as children.

The #MeToo movement has another side gaining ground fast. This part of the #MeToo movement is dedicated to supporting the survivors of violence in any way they can.

Guys can come across as dicks at times. We are not talking about that kind of behavior. When a man does something to offend a woman it may have been with good and honorable intentions. What we are talking about is verbal, mental and physical assault. Violence against a woman of any kind is never acceptable. EVER!

The other #MeToo movement, the movement of men determined to support the rights of women to live peaceably without threat of violence and intimidation, needs to grow more.

I’ve supported the women who have come forward (and the silent survivors struggling with the demons) from the beginning. Now, finally, I can stand up and say, “#MeToo.” Not as a survivor, but as a supporter of every woman who has had to deal with the trauma of assault.

Please join The Wealthy Accountant and me in supporting this cause.

 

After such a heavy start to the weekend edition it’s time to relax with some entertainment.

What I’m Reading

The stock market was tame for so long (every month of 2017 was a winner) I had to pull out an old favorite when we experienced a mild correction. Stocks for the Long Run by Jeremy J. Siegel is a classic. It’s not an advice book for investing in the market. Rather, the book is a treasure trove of data on the market’s performance from the beginning. The accountant in me can’t resist.

 

What I’m Watching

Elon Musk sent a rocket into space the week before last with a Tesla Roadster as the payload. The publicity stunt gave Musk plenty of bang for his buck and I’m adding to the benefits by sharing the following video here. In this video we learn what space will do the Starman and the Roadster. We also learn about several Easter Eggs hidden in the Roadster traveling to the stars.

 

What I’m Listening To

I worked in silence most of the week. Tax season is in full swing now and time is tight. I’ll be at the office for a short day on Sunday to get some larger returns done without interruption.

Here is one album is listened to earlier in the week:

I know my taste in music can be out there. But by sharing hidden gems I uncover is the reason for the weekend edition of Stalking the Accountant.

 

Have a great weekend, kind readers. See y’all back here in a turn.

Grab the reader’s attention early. A rubber snake might do the trick. Then again, maybe not.

Every writing conference I’ve ever been to has a breakout session titled: PANTSER OR PLOTTER?

Beginning writers flock to these things because they think it’s an important part of the writing process when the question is really a matter of personal work habits.

Many successful writers plant their tail in front of the keyboard and start pounding out copy while others need a detailed plan before the muse flickers to life. Plotters take the risk they’ll plan until infinity before rolling up their sleeves and working; writing from the seat of your pants can lead to rambling pros in need of heavy editing.

The longer the work the more need for at least a few details before you start. Novels need a plan (which usually changes several times before reaching the conclusion) while a short story can start as a vague concept and move to the page rather quickly.

Blogger’s Dilemma

Bloggers are desperate to get something published. Once upon a time you had to write until your fingers bled to improve your voice and acuity on the page. The only true way to master the writing craft is to write. A lot!

Traditional publishers want polished work. Polish comes from experience. Experience comes from practice. It takes heart to write endlessly perfecting your craft without much reinforcement.

The publishing world has changed tremendously over the last several decades. Self-published books were universally bad in the past. Today many of the best books on the market either are self-published or started as a self-pub.

Bloggers are like any other writer. They want to see their stuff out there as soon as possible. Rushed work looks, well, rushed.

I’ve received several requests to discuss my writing habits. Most people realize publishing a half million words a year on a personal finance blog is a lot of work. They want to know where I get my ideas, do I plot or write by the seat of my pants, when do I write and how fast do I write.

I imagine the Plutus Award for Best New Personal Finance Blog of the Year has something to do with it. Another part is my story telling. People expect boring facts when they see “Accountant” in the title. Surprising the reader with engaging storytelling mixed with useful information grabs them early and keeps them.

Some questions are hard to answer. One reader asked how I come up with such awesome post titles. I didn’t have an answer.

Writers have a difficult time explaining what makes a good piece of writing a good piece of writing. At first glance it appears I just sit down and peck out a story, hit publish and people get Ooooo lips.

Rather than give you stale, dry description on how to write an engaging blog post people will want to read and will keep coming back for more, I will show you how I do it. My way isn’t right for everyone, but it does give you an idea on how my creative process works.

How I Write

Ideas hit me all the time. Reading a book, watching a movie, talking with friends, thing jump out at me and demand recording. The working title of this post was the title of this section. Of course, if I want anyone outside my regular readers to become “engaged” in this post I had better come up with a better title.

When ideas hit I take notes. At home, at the office, on the road, I keep paper and pencil handy. Yes, even beside the bed is paper and pencil. I sleep on the couch about half the time and in bed the other half. On the couch I’m surrounded by books and papers. When my creativity is highest I wrap myself in the literature and recording utensils.

Rarely do I sit and write spontaneously. After a long day, writing a quality post requires some advance planning. If I had no previous ideas to mull you wouldn’t see a new post the next day.

There are 64 unwritten posts in my WordPress queue. You need a title to save the idea, but every title is accompanied with a few sentences outlining a theme I wish to address. Sometimes the notes are detailed and run several hundred words and links to resources. Most descriptions are short. This post has two sentences as the material for pumping my creative energy.

Most ideas die in my little notebooks. After thinking about them for a few days it becomes clear the idea doesn’t work or the project would be 20,000 words. (As an example: I had planned a post on climate change and why it doesn’t matter, plus how it affects personal finances. The material I gathered kept growing until I realized it would be a veeeeery long post. It would also cause people to throw things at me since it’s such a politicized topic. I had planned a second post on mass extinctions and why we are not in the sixth great extinction. The natural world is becoming more diverse even as people think humans are killing everything off. The work on both these posts would have ended up short books in their briefest form so I shelved the projects. I did get to read several really good books on the subject so all wasn’t lost.)

(Good blog posts also try to avoid long paragraphs.)

Three times a week I publish on a topic of interest in the personal finance community (I hope). On Saturday I give readers a glimpse inside my personal life.

Every day I am thinking about writing! When I take a break or eat I’m thinking about what I’ll write in an upcoming post. The thoughts are never more than a few inches away.

By the time I punch the first words onto the digital screen I’ve played the idea through my mind countless times. I start the story and then toss it when it goes down a dead end road. As I work around the farm or workout at the gym I’m playing with possible scenarios.

The Fun Part

Most days I have a good idea which posts I’ll be writing for at least a week out, including the “Stalking the Accountant” post on Saturday.

This gives me time to work the idea out in my head. Plotting is something I rarely do even when writing a long novel. (Eight years ago I wrote a 180,000 word science fiction novel from a three sentence note. I knew where I wanted to go and started building the story. It ended up someplace different and a better story that is now the first book of a trilogy.)

Pantser writing has a huge risk. Plotting is drudge work. I like to write. After plenty of time thinking the idea through (sometimes with and sometimes without notes) I set to work. Writing from the seat of my pants means there are times I write a post and get the dry heaves when reviewing. Yes, I have to start all over. The idea I regurgitated is dead and gone once that happens. Those are tough days when I have self-imposed deadlines.

Most of the deleting these days happens in the editing process. Maybe a dozen or so posts get completely rejected per year. Most can be salvaged with work. On good days (when the whisky is flowing freely) the necessary editing is light. Those days are rare.

What comes next is the part people seem most interested in. They want to know “how” I write.

Most posts, including this one, are written the night before they are published. The clock reads 10:05 as I type these words.

On a good night I can stamp 1,000 words of rough draft to the laptop’s memory banks per hour. On a bad night I start to wonder if I’ll get any sleep before sunrise.

Normally, rough draft takes two hour or so for posts on this blog. If more research is needed or if I want to add more links for readers to dig deeper into certain points I don’t have space to adequately cover in the post the time commitment increases.

It seems easy at this point. Some crazy guy from Nowhere, Wisconsin types for a couple hours and calls it a day. If only it were so easy.

Dozens of hours of thought entered the scene before the first word was typed. Sometimes I read entire books or pull information from several books to build a quality post. I don’t show books just to get an Amazon sale! These books really add to the learning process of the reader!

Writing rough draft appeals to beginning writers. I don’t know why. From the outside it must seem like that is all a writer does.

The hard work reignites the next morning. Editing also takes several hours as I rework the words until they communicate what I demand them to. Time constraints can be an issue.

I read every post out loud to Mrs. Accountant. Reading aloud is the most powerful editing tool I know of. If Mrs. Accountant will not sit still to listen to you read your work to her you can still read aloud to yourself. Trust me, it works.

Important note: Stephen King in his book On Writing tells a story of an editor who once sent him a note along with rejection letter stating: Final draft is rough draft minus 10%.

I don’t delete as much as I used to. As you build your writing skills you will delete less, yet still edit plenty. Sometimes you even add during the editing process. Remember the 180,000 word novel I mentioned above? In the editing process I highlighted 30 pages that needed to go and hit delete. I loved the story deleted, but it had no place in the novel. If you want engaging writing you have to do it.

Publishing a blog is more than words. I was never a picture taker. Now I’m always looking for possible images to add to posts. At least phones have cameras today and Google automatically downloads the things to “Photos” on my laptop. Don’t ask me how.

Formatting the post takes about an hour.

As soon as I finish I hit publish. Sometimes I finish a day or so early. In those instances I schedule the post. Most scheduled posts are written the day before versus the night before. This means Mrs. Accountant listens to the story at night. Before I hit the hay I format and schedule the post.

Personal Touch

The information to this point is mechanical information. It tells you what you’ll see if you follow me around and read my mind. You see me mentally taking notes and planning. You see me writing and editing. My personal writing schedule will not produce engaging posts!

Engaging writing has a piece of you in it. Stories are vital! Most posts on The Wealthy Accountant have some element of story. A good writer knows which parts of the story to leave out. The same story can be told multiple times from different perspectives!

Your life is rich and full of stories. Your childhood, work, marriage, health and family are a cornucopia of stories to share.

Our wedding candle as we approach our 30th wedding anniversary. The personal touch is the key ingredient of engaging writing. Always have a piece of you in there.

No matter the subject, stories are important. Without a personal story the information is just rote formality. For crying out loud, kind readers, I write on taxes and personal finance! Story is the only thing I have to offer unless you think plagiarizing the stock quotes page of The Wall Street Journal is engaging material.

Stories from history or the news are interesting, but often told. Your story, told right, is one only you can tell and readers will find it near impossible to put down or stay away.

Stories are unique in communicating information. Story allows a message above the communicated information. Think of the power of Christ’s parables. They stood the test of time and are so memorable for a reason regardless your faith.

When you own the story the reader gets a chance to step into your world. That’s why a started publishing the “Stalking” posts every Saturday. Engaged readers want to know more about the person they are growing fond of!

Share a piece of you and readers will be engaged. Readers feel like they know you and in a way they do. Writing allows the author to share at a deeper, more intimate level than mere verbal communication.

Practice, kind readers. If you are looking to write an engaging blog you MUST practice. Practice is the only way to get good. Write every day. Never believe you must publish every word you smear across the parchment. The words aren’t that precious until you can string them together in a way that makes your readers swallow hard. They just can’t seem to get the lump in their throat to go down.

The clock now read 10:37. This post is coming to an end. I’ll read a bit before retiring for the night.

Tomorrow morning the hard work starts. If I do it right (or is it write) you’ll be thinking about these words for a lifetime.

Recent volatility in the stock market has people reassessing their appetite for risk. Investing in a bull market is easy as it seems the only way equities go is up.

The recent bull market has an added way of lulling people into a false sense of security. Last year many indexes never saw even a 5% pullback even once. Some didn’t see a 3% decline at any point! This is a highly unusual situation confirming for some people the stock market doesn’t test your resolve as often as it does.

In the past week we’ve had a > 5% intraday swing in the market indexes. Many individual stocks had even greater moves!

The first shock wave most investors put on a brave face. The constant chatter on social media meant it was all an act. The market caught people’s attention.

The broad market didn’t even close down 10%, a level considered a normal and expected pullback in the broad market, before the clichés were pulled out.

I didn’t Lose Money Because I Didn’t Sell

This is the stupidest thing I hear every time the market pulls back or a correction is discussed. If you don’t sell you don’t have a taxable event, but your net worth has declined!

If you believe stupid clichés to keep you from making bad investment decisions you might want to consider money market accounts before you experience a bloodletting.

There are people who refused to sell Enron. They NEVER actually sold Enron. Does that mean they never lost money? Heck, no! The Enron Scandal destroyed many life savings. Not selling didn’t make it better!

Granted, index funds are different from an individual stock, especially Enron. But the lesson is learned. Whether you sell or not doesn’t change the fact your investments declined at least temporarily.

The worst part about these old worn out clichés is that it focuses your attention on the wrong details.  Refusing to sell because you know it’s the wrong thig to do in a down market is radically different from thinking about what you SHOULD do!

I agree, panic selling is a bad idea. But BSing yourself into thinking you haven’t lost money when your portfolio dropped $87,000 is industrial strength stupid.

Another line of reasoning has people backtrack to the last time the market traded at the lower level and then saying if they hadn’t checked their account since then they wouldn’t even know the market went through a conniption fit. But you do know and your brain is in overdrive trying to preserve the previous old highs!

A Better Way

There is a better way to look at the stock market when it declines. Instead of focusing on denial (refusing to sell in a down market only to succumb when it gets super bad at the ultimate low) focus on value.

The underlying value of the businesses you own a fractional share of (that is what stock ownership really is if you didn’t know) probably didn’t change much in value since traders blew out their backside timing the market.

Once a decline begins a lot of selling is forced by margin calls! Sanity or reality has nothing to do with it. Leverage increases risk magnitudes of order. When you borrow to invest it’s not if, it’s when the boom will be lowered. Pray to every god ever known you don’t get lucky the first time using debt. Debt also magnifies gains. If you win the first round you are either addicted or lulled into digging in deeper next time. Either way the carnage will also be increased.

I hate it when people say they refuse to sell into a down market. Has anyone considered putting new money to work during a decline? Just asking.

There are tricks, games you can play, to reduce the sting your psyche experiences, especially when you are starting out. We’ll go there next before we discuss good reasons to sell.

Let’s Play a Game

My 18th birthday came less than month after I graduated high school and I couldn’t wait. I had a veeeery modest nest egg in a passbook savings account (remember those) at the bank. Shortly after I reached the age of majority I pulled most of the money out and dropped it into growth & income funds.

I timed my age perfectly. In August 1982 the market took off like a streak and never looked back. Until 1987.

Even in an advancing market there are down days. As the 80s bull market got longer in the tooth volatility increased. Record highs meant larger point losses if not actual percentage records.

Not immune to the emotions of market moves I knew I had to find a way to short circuit my brain to avoid the fear and pitfalls of down days.

I devised a game from watching my account grow. A down month was never as bad as the overall market because automatic deposits muted the losses. Up months really looked good! Using an old spreadsheet (I think actually used Excel 1.0 at one time (gawd, I’m old)) my account values took on a stair step pattern as each new investment jumped the account value and dividends kept ratcheting higher.

My game only works with small accounts, but it sure helped me when I was building my first million. What I did was this. When the market declined I would do everything in my power to increase new investments so the actual value of the account didn’t decline.

An example would be if I had an account value of $100,000 and the market pulled back 3% I would try to add at least $3,000 of new money during the month. I worked hard to always keep my account value at the old high water mark.

Big declines are hard to offset and as the account grows larger even small declines became hard to offset.

The game was still the same. I might not offset the whole market decline, but I sure put a dent in it.

Then 1987 showed up.

Market volatility increased as the bull market aged. I wasn’t a millionaire at the time, but my accounts worked deep enough into the six figures to make constant investments as the market declined from a top in August to the gut-wrenching losses of October more and more difficult.

I’d be lying to you if I said I controlled my emotions during the market turmoil of 1987. My guts were a disaster. The only good news I can report is that I was so scared $hitless I never sold. I was numb all over. At least I did my job keeping the economy afloat with regular purchases of Fruit of Loom.

What I didn’t understand as a young adult was that my game actually prepared me to think about market prices differently.

Market declines were not about willpower NOT to sell, but rather an opportunity to reassess value.

In down markets there will be companies on sale. Not all of them, but a few.

All those mutual fund/index fund investments also go just a smidge further in a down market, too, buying more shares with each dollar invested. The other game I played was to track the number of shares owned. Philip Morris might be down, but I still own my pro-rata share of the company. That part is mine. My part of the revenue; my part of the assets; my part of the profits; my part of the dividends.

Strangely, the dividend stream never dipped much so I changed my game as the account values increases to add new money to maintain the income stream only.

Isn’t money a fun game?

Market Timing

Smart people will tell you to never try timing the market. I think I’m a relatively smart guy! It could be delusion, but it’s my fantasy so I’m sticking with it.

In late January I mentioned on social media (Facebook) that I moved to my highest cash position in my adult life. I was promptly jumped for market timing. A few days later we had the current market pullback.

So what gives, Sir Accountant?

Well, in my defense, I wasn’t timing the market. My gains over the last decade have been nothing short of astounding. Second, when I calculated the discounted future value of earnings with higher interest rates due to the tax law changes the numbers no longer added up.

I had no idea my selling would be so well timed. But . . .

My timing wasn’t timing! And even if I was so lucky to time the market so right I still need to pick the right time to jump back in!

For the record, I didn’t sell with the intention of buying back at a lower price.

I sold because the value of future earnings were not high enough to keep eight figures and over 80% of my net worth in index funds and individual stocks.

Since the market DID decline I might return some of the money from where it came. A 5% decline isn’t enough to change my mind. Now if we see blood flowing in the streets I might bite. It’ll take at least a 20% decline to accomplish that. I’m not holding my breath.

I hope this ends all discussion of my mighty stocks timing skills which I don’t possess.

What to do and Where To

So what should you do in volatile markets?

First, DON’T PANIC!!!

The broad markets have always come back and always will. If I’m wrong there will not be earth to live on so it will not matter. You’ll have to sue me after the collapse of civilization if I’m wrong.

If you are a millennial and your account is small enough, try playing my game. Cut every possible expense and add to your regular investments until your account value has little or no change.

If your account is getting bigger play the first game with an eye toward keeping the dividend stream pointing north. This is easy so far as dividends are rising nicely as I write.

I sometimes tell people not to look at their investments when the market falls, but I am assuming there are no adults in the room. I recommend you know exactly where you stand so you can make intelligent decisions like adding extra to the pile while stocks are on sale. And it’s okay to have cash available for just such an event. Some crazy accountant from Nowhere, Wisconsin told me that.

The best way I know to visualize your holdings is with Personal Capital. The best part is there is no cost to open an account and kick the tires. Seeing your investments performance live can provide additional encouragement to play the games I outlined above.

Negative attitudes about declines are caustic! Willpower alone will not help you sleep at night and may actually get you to wait for further declines before selling! Playing a game with your mind to recognize value is a powerful tool.

The last thing I want to touch on is what I plan on doing with the cash balance I built in January.

There are alternative investments available for those in the know. One investment I’m testing is PeerStreet.

PeerStreet works a lot like Lending Club and Prosper but with what I consider less risk since you invest in real estate loans with at least 25% equity whereas Lending Club and Prosper are unsecured loans. Returns are comparable and if recent personal results are any indicator, PeerStreet does better.

This is only one alternative investment I’m considering. With the better part of eight figures in cash I’ll need a few more ideas. I’ll share them when I know more.

I’ll be publishing a PeerStreet review, but there are compliance issues. PeerStreet is only for accredited investors (PeerStreet has the details on their site if you follow the link above). Once PeerStreet’s compliance department grants permission I’ll share my review..

 

So there you have it. How to control your emotions when the world turns into a raving mad mob of Chicken Littles.

Anyone up for a friendly game?

Those little devils are everywhere. Drone fever has swept the country and it has me hopping mad. In the last week my office has been buzzed every workday and the Accountant farm had its privacy disrupted three times.

The animals hate it! Drones buzzing overhead send the chickens running for cover while the steers run the length of the pasture trying to get away. Privacy is the main concern at the office. If somebody wants to invade my privacy on the farm while I water the horse out back there isn’t much to see. (Ah, that didn’t come out right.)

Therefore, I hereby announce The Wealthy Accountant will start selling anti-drone guns for $500 a pop with the beautiful logo of The Wealthy Accountant emblazoned on the side. This is a limited offer! Only 10,000 will be manufactured. When they are gone they’re gone.

To recoup my costs fast I’ll be announcing the anti-drone guns all over social media, especially Twitter.

There are two kinds of people in this world, my friend. Those who love to annoy people with their drone and those who love to shoot’em down. I’m betting you are like me and fall into the latter camp.

One problem still needs to be resolved before shipping starts. It seems UPS doesn’t allow shipping of a package with ANTI-DRONE GUN printed on the side. My solution is to changes the package to read NOT AN ANTI-DRONE GUN.

Get Real

Branding is one of the most important tasks a company undertakes. This blog also needs to brand or it will fall into irrelevance as cobwebs start gracing the corners of the site.

My tax office has built a brand over the previous three decades locally and finds its footprint spreading far and wide as of late.

Many readers here are in the accounting profession looking for ideas to save their clients more money and get ideas on how to grow their business. Other readers have a side gig. In either case you still need at least a bit of branding to turn a profit.

Branding is where the real money is. Most goods and services are commodities. Everybody can sell what you’re selling and everybody does. There is always some schmuck willing to cut corners and offer a discounted price to yours.

President Trump is a master at branding. Whether you like the guy or not you still have to sit back and watch how he has done so well financially. Even if his net worth numbers are inflated he still can teach us a lot. Trump has turned his name into a worldwide brand generating hundreds of millions of dollars.

Trump doesn’t really build anything. He licenses his name so the real builder can slap Trump’s name on the side of the building. Yeah, I know. He does build some stuff. But the big money, the money his fortune is built on, is his brand.

FIRE!

By now you probably realize the opening of this post was a gag. Anti-drone guns exist and the military and police can buy them, but you and I are probably not allowed.

The opening is a play on Elon Musk’s latest attention-getting behavior. Musk is playing a flamethrower stunt for all its worth. In the end he will probably never ship a one, returning all deposits while he keeps all the press.

Musk has flooded Twitter with the sensationalism of his flamethrower sale. To give the stunt some legitimacy he found a loophole in the law allowing flamethrowers that shoot flame less than ten feet. Of course when you make a splash like Elon with a sale of 10,000 flamethrowers, lawmakers get nervous. What could possibly go wrong?

Even with the flamethrowers sold out Musk has played the publicity stunt for all its worth. First he had the sale. Then they sold out. (Lot of pyromaniacs out there, I guess.) Then UPS said “no” so Musk tweets boxes will say NOT A FLAMETHROWER. Then he tweets about the law probably killing the whole idea. Don’t worry, Musk assured. If the law is changed and the idea flames out, all monies will be returned. I think Elon keeps any interest that accrued on the nine mil and all the free PR.

Wait for It

I stand in awe of the skills Musk has at marketing and generating free publicity. The value of the attention (branding value) he gets is immeasurable. I can’t get CNBC, Business Insider or MarketWatch to even mumble my name.

Warren Buffett has a way of catching headlines without the drama. Ryan Holiday went to extremes at times during his career to generate buzz. Musk and Trump are legends.

Then we have respectable family men like Richard Branson. Once upon a time Virgin Atlantic (the Virgin brands belong to Branson) added shiatsu messages to their on-board Upper Class service. Branson is from the UK and British Airways (BA) thought Virgin Atlantic’s shiatsu messages were a joke. When BA didn’t follow suit Virgin bought ad space in a few select locations at Heathrow Airport stating: British Airways doesn’t Give a Shiatsu.

Funny, Richard. Real funny.

Sometimes a branding opportunity falls into your lap. British Airways once again took a thinly veiled jab at Virgin with two-page ads in the New York Times and other newspapers with the message: More people choose British Airways to London than any other airline. Duh!

BA is the largest airline in the UK so they do carry more passengers than any other airline. But the Duh! at the end was an unnecessary jab.

Branson’s team went to work producing a fitting response. Within hours they were ready to go. (It shows their sense of humor is as sick as your favorite accountant’s.) The next day the New York Times had another two-page ad, this time reading: More people switch to Virgin Atlantic from British Airways than from any other airline. Hah!

According to Branson it got heated quickly. My understanding is a lawsuit was threatened. Oh, well!

Branding with Integrity

Branson has written on leadership and building a company from scratch and fighting against the big boys. Branding is absolutely necessary to survive! The cost of building a brand is prohibitive if you use traditional advertising venues. Even social media is expense for a micro-sized firm.

Social media makes it easier to find an audience than ever before. My earlier writing from the 80s and 90s found it hard to find a home. My brand was nonexistent so my work sold for peanuts or worse, tear sheets.

I adopted Amazon and social media relatively early in promoting my brand, but was never real good at it. I’m getting better. Unfortunately, I fell into the sinkhole of time social media demands when you don’t automate and do it wrong. It’s impossible for me to communicate with every reader individually even on social media. With 100,000 page views per month and growing the task would be daunting moving toward impossible.

Branson said it best in his book The Virgin Way: If It’s Not Fun It’s Not Worth Doing when he wrote:

We have always relied on smart, cutting-edge creativity and scads of often quite self-deprecating humour to get ourselves noticed — it’s called getting a bigger bang for a much smaller buck.

Every blogger looking to grow their viewership must read Branson’s book!

The first thing that jumps out of Branson’s quote in my prime problem. He said smart. My challenge just got more, ah, shall we say, challenging.

Humor and self-deprecation are powerful tools when communicating. To the best of my ability I use these tools when writing posts. Growing traffic and an award might be the result of such behavior.

Shootout at the OK Coral

How far do we have to push to be noticed? Branson was lowered from the top of a building on a rope while wearing a dress and did that hot air balloon thing.

If I thought it would work I’d wear a mini skirt and high heels, too, but I’m worried I’d lose the remaining three clients I have left. (To the ladies in the office. NO!)

Ryan Holiday took the extreme measure of vandalizing his own posters and your favorite accountant begged people to steal his stuff.

Warren Buffett uses whimsical country humor.

Musk builds fast electric cars, rockets, and solar panels, plans to go to Mars, and has a Boring Company selling $700,000 of hats and $9 million of flamethrowers.

Will it require even crazier ideas to be noticed? Artists do it. Musicians especially. Getting noticed in a crowded room takes effort and talent.

There is a point where it goes too far. How would Musk feel if he did manage to get the flamethrowers built and delivered and some psycho burned a daycare to the ground killing dozens of children? He’d get more publicity, but this time the kind he wouldn’t want.

Consistent quality work speaks volumes. Getting noticed doesn’t require a massive budget. A well placed Facebook ad for under $100 could generate quality buzz. A free tweet could do the same.

Mild self-deprecation is the best branding you can do. Shouting the loudest or craziest as our current President does isn’t always a good idea. Trump mastered that shtick, but most will fare poorly attempting the same.

I like some of Musk’s ideas and think Branson has hired a team of geniuses when it comes to branding and PR.

My original idea was to claim I was selling nukes stolen from North Korea. After some thought I came to the conclusion a couple percent of my readers might think it was unbelievable or even clickbait.

So I’m left stealing an idea from Branson. If I thought for a second I would triple my page views permanently by wearing a dress all weekend at FinCon, I would.

Ugh! Just had a visual.

Maybe we should stick with flamethrowers.

How many friends do you have? Thirty? More? Ten or less? It’s an interesting question because it determines a great deal of our happiness.

Loneliness is feared as much as the night. Losing a spouse or loved one cuts deep as we know how much we’ll miss the dearly departed.

Age can bring on acute loneliness. I wrote a Christmas post a few years back about a client who died shortly after I visited her Christmas Eve. Her name was Sophie. She died many years ago. I visited her because I understood how alone she was. Sophie was a client for many years and she spent the last years of her life in unrelenting isolation. Every time I think of her it brings tears to my eyes. I can still feel her weak hand squeeze mine all those years ago.

“One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever know . . .” is a familiar ballad that resonates because we all know how easy we could find ourselves alone. Deep down we all fear the emptiness.

The worst punishment in prison is solitary confinement. Cutting a human being from the stimulation of other humans is considered punishment. It’s really torture and any human forcing another into isolation deserves the death penalty. Isolation destroys the mind; destroys the human and any intelligent person undertaking such activity is the lowest form of life.

Personal Finance and Friends

It might seem strange for a personal finance blog to cover isolation as a topic. However, there are several correlatives between avoidance of isolation, the types of friends you have and wealth.

Some people like a certain kind of isolation. Personally, I like quiet time walking my farm and working with my animals. This is radically different from the kind of isolation Sophie lived through.

Isolation in a confined space is maddening. Sophie couldn’t get around those last years of her life and needed people to visit her. To the best of my knowledge she only had one friend who visited on a regular basis.

People are so desperate to avoid being alone they start to consider acquaintances as friends.

I have a lot of acquaintances, but very few real friends. I bet you’re the same.

Business owners tend to have a larger list of acquaintances. I meet people from all walks of life and learn very intimate and personal things about them. It’s my job! I have to know my client to advise wisely and prepare an accurate return. Even digging into a client’s life doesn’t guarantee I will not miss something. As I write, a client of many years emailed to ask why he didn’t get certain credits. He never answered the questions in the organizer so it was missed until he said something that triggered me to ask the question verbally. Good thing the returns are still able to be amended.

In my life I also have employees. They are acquaintances, not friends! Employers who are friends with employees are asking for trouble!

Then we have this blog. I meet loads of people due to this abstract. Some people I meet at conferences and many more via email, phone or the comments section.

You are probably different. Your acquaintances might be a group of people you socialize with at the bar. You might consider these people friends, but they are almost certainly only acquaintances.

Who constitutes a real friend then? Mrs. Accountant is top of the list for me. Deep down she is my only true friends. My daughters and extended family are friends in a way, but family is family. I get along well with my blood relatives. We don’t chum around, but make no mistake, we will defend our own vigorously. At best I maybe have two real friends outside my bride.

Life is like that. Our true friends are limited while our circle of acquaintances is vast. This is an important understanding to have if you value living a debt-free lifestyle with ample helpings of wealth.

The Lost Art of Small Talk

Valuable time is wasted on small talk. A typical greeting goes something like this:

“Hey, how’s it going?”

“Great. Haven’t been better. You?”

“Happier than a whore on her day off!”

We say it with incredible choreography. We say these things so often we don’t even know we are saying it. We even think we’re a comedian with our witty repertoire.

But nobody is listening.

If you answered a “How’ya doin’” with a “Worst day of my life” you’d probably here the same rehearsed reply of “Good to hear it.”

Small talk is wasted breath! Small talk is something acquaintances engage in. Friends are much deeper.

A simple greeting can waste irreplaceable minutes of your finite life. Added together over a lifetime and you might be surprised to know the average person wastes 4 years and three months uttering and replying to meaningless greetings (I made up that statistic).

Unchecked, you can waste massive parts of each day in empty banter with people you are only acquainted with.

There is a way to tell if you are dealing with a real friend or a fair weather friend. Think for a moment what would happen if you left the group. Would these people stay in touch at a significant level or would it dwindle in a hurry?

My experience tells me most people will evaporate like the morning mist. Staying in touch via social media doesn’t count either! When I meet people at conferences we sometimes end up connected on social media platforms. But once time passes the “likes” decrease and the interaction stops. Sure, you can keep an eye on what your acquaintance is up to, but that’s nothing more than satisfying your curiosity about how things have evolved for a prior acquaintance.

 Dealing with Fair Weather Friends

Fair weather friends can suck the life out of you. As long as you’re buying they are willing to lift a glass with a cheer.

In a manner of speaking clients are the ultimate fair weather friends. They are good people, don’t get me wrong. I love the people I serve. I also have no illusion we are not close buds.

Clients are similar to an employer/employee relationship. As long as you do good work and they keep paying for said work the relationship is golden. Do crappy work for a week and see how long the friendship lasts? Don’t get paid and see how long you feel friendly?

Fair weather friends are not bad people! Few people have what it takes to be a true friend. Most people wander through life focusing on the minutia and looking for drama. People who gossip are a perfect example of who will not make a real friend for anyone. They’ll cut you lose in heartbeat for their own petty dramas. And don’t worry. There is always something to feel righteous indignation about.

Before we deal with fair weather friends further we should discuss the interpersonal relationships between real friends.

It can be hard to look in from the outside and tell if the friendship is real or a friendship of convenience. Greetings between real friends happen all the time. Every night when I return home I inquire into Mrs. Accountant’s day. She asks about my day. Some days are only mildly informative. Some days we sit and talk for hours.

You can share a beer with a true friend as easily as with an acquaintance. You probably mix acquaintances and true friends at the same time.

True friends stick around when the going gets tough even if you are in the wrong. Real friends hold each other accountable but never dismiss the relationship over a disagreement.

Real friends have deep and meaningful talks. Talk is 99% superficial with acquaintances.

For people who enjoy traveling, tell me your stories. How deep are the relationships when you’re passing through? Your spouse or significant other is the only real friend you have in the room.

Even when people meet with common interests the friendships are superficial. How many people have you met at personal finance conferences? How many do you stay in touch with? How many are a deep and meaningful relationship? I understand.

Meaningful Relationships

Jim Rohn said you are like the five people you spend the most time with. I think this excludes to a minor extent people you work with and might include people you read and follow.

Deep, intimate relationships are built on more than casual nights to the movies or tavern. Real relationships have emotional attachments. If the relationship were to end you would feel pain.

Conversations in deep relationships are far more personal. Two guys (they don’t have to be gay and if they are, they are) can have a deep relationship built on trust, sharing and understanding. Think of the depth between soldiers in the foxhole. It gets real mighty fast or everyone is dead. There is no doubt when I see retired military guys meeting several decades later on a regular schedule to catch up they are real friends, even if the friendship was created by circumstances. When trust is that great it can’t die!

Research has shown if a skinny person has all obese friends the skinny person will put on weight instead of the obese group trimming down.

Heading to the shopping mall with crazy people friends who like to spend and you are more likely to overspend as well. I’ve even noticed this in the frugal FIRE (financial independence, retire early) community. The same people keep attending every conference as fast as they are organized. At some point you have to say enough.

Meeting with people of like mind is a wonderful thing to do in moderation. Time spent with people sharing similar thought patterns can be invigorating and FUN! But it is superficial! Most of these people are acquaintances only. You can learn a lot from them and teach a bit, too. But friends are what matter in life.

Everything in moderation. It’s not healthy for your favorite accountant to whine about traveling because I prefer to cocoon. Stowing away on my ten acres isn’t healthy either! I still need to get out. It’s a work in progess.

My preferred method of communication is writing. In the office plenty of verbal communication takes place too. But can you imagine if I only wrote letters to Mrs. Accountant and never verbally told her the depth of my love? Letters are special because most people don’t take the time to write them. I, on the other hand, need to assure I nurture the relationships that matter in my life with verbal confirmation. (I actually framed love poetry I wrote to Mrs. Accountant twenty years ago. It was my best attempt at a sonnet. She stayed so it must have worked.)

Fear

The things you read and study, the people you hang with, family and true friends play an outsized role in your success in life. Reading powerful leaders is important. Also read the classics.

The time you spend with people will influence your thinking more than you anticipate. Take the challenge. If you are deep in debt start reading debt-free blogs and books. Ask to hang out with people who save and invest a lot. Before long you’ll brown bag lunch because in your worldview people no longer have huge debts or spend like drunken sailors.

The opposite applies, too. Have too many people around you, even mere acquaintances, who are spendthrifts and within no time you’ll have some serious credit card debt to contend with. At least you’ll have an 8-mile to the gallon Hummer as a wasting asset in your driveway.

Don’t settle for friends or acquaintances who don’t share your values to avoid loneliness. Work hard to be a real friend and you will find true friends of your own.

Choose your friends wisely. The kind of life you live will depend on it.