5 Things Millionaires Spend On

What you spend on is more important than frugality.

When it comes to the blogs and other tracts providing information on building wealth, frugality carries most of the weight. And it makes sense. The greater the difference of income over spending is a strong determinant of the level of wealth an individual will achieve during their lifetime as compared to their income level. 

As important as frugality is, spending is even more important, even if it doesn’t garner the column inches the matter deserves. Spending less than you earn is the seed money for investments and without investments it is impossible to build significant wealth.

As an accountant I see people from all spectrums of income. Frugality, even hyper-frugality, is the hallmark of those with modest levels of wealth. Even the lowest income earners can amass a half million or more in a working career when frugality is taken to religious levels, with the excess invested in equities like index funds.

Mid-levels of income also do well with only the single tool of frugality. As their wealth grows they sometimes seek out professionals to help them. These clients tend to want short consulting sessions once a year with a review at tax time. 

Then come the serious achievers. These people sometimes have modest incomes, sometimes large incomes.  Regardless their income level, these people smack it out of the park. Their level of wealth is well beyond what would be expected for their income level or level of frugality (the excess of income above spending).

Super-achievers in wealth building focus on spending rather than frugality. They know spending is more important. And they know most spending drains their energy and wealth while proper spending can actually make them richer!

They also know that wealth is fleeting. The highway is littered with the corpses of wealthy people of yesteryear. A lifetime of building wealth can be lost in less time than it takes to snap your fingers. That is today’s topic. Wealthy people that keep it long enough to leave a legacy spend on the 5 things listed below in a disproportionate amount compared to the general population. As you flex your frugality muscles you want to consider spending some of that excess on these things to grow and preserve your wealth. Because, remember, when you have money there are always those looking to separate you from it.

Millionaires and Health

How wealthy can you really be if you are chronically sick? In pain? Or dead! 

If you have your health you are already wealthy and rich people know it and take steps to keep it that way. Eating quality food and exercise are primary. Proper medical care also plays a key role.

I see poor people and those looking to super-charge their frugality, to achieve goals like early retirement, refuse to pay for quality food or a gym membership or a piece of exercise equipment. It is counter-productive behavior.

I have a membership at Lake Park Swim & Fitness. Mrs. Accountant attends two or three exercise groups per week and I hit the floor (where the weights are) three times per week. This is a part of our routine! Physical activity is a priority in our life. Mrs. Accountant loves it so much she took a part-time job their working two nights per week cleaning up a bit (and for a free membership).

Outside the gym I also remain active. I walk an hour each day and sometimes jog. My sneakers see at least 3 miles of travel daily above and beyond normal movements (walking to the water cooler, et cetera). I chop wood on my farm, plant trees and work the garden. I recently bought a step meter to see how I’m doing. Rare is the day with fewer than 10,000 steps and many days are well above 20,000. Mrs. Accountant has similar numbers.

Lake Park isn’t the cheapest gym, but they also are not the cheapest gym. (Yes, you read that right.) It is the cleanest gym (and friendliest) gym I’ve ever been a member of.  I want a clean environment and working equipment. My workouts are serious business and I want a gym that feels the same way.

Food is another important expenditure for the wealthy. I grow much of my own food, but nutritious food can be had from the grocery store and it doesn’t require the “organic” label. Processed foods are limited in my household. Fresh fruits and vegetables are a common sight. We freeze and can lots of homegrown produce. Home prepared meals are the best so we do it a lot.

Health includes medical services. I see many poor people (and even some earning a reasonable wage) foregoing medical care and recommended treatments. Modern technology has given us the longest lifespan in human history, but it does no good if you don’t use the technology. 

Reasonable medical insurance to deal with a big medical issues is a must in the U.S where there is limited national healthcare for people under age 65. Regular checkups and taking required medications are all part of the program. Wealthy people know it is easier to stay healthy than to regain health. And as a reminder, without health, financial wealth has far less meaning.

 

Millionaires and Legal

Most people know they need to take care of their health. Fewer understand the importance of legal protection.

What takes a lifetime to build can be sued away in a fraction of a moment. Wealthy people know it, too. Keeping wealth already accumulated is vital to keeping wealth all the way to the finish line. 

It blows this accountant’s mind when people set up their own business entity. They have no experience (in most cases) in how to do this correctly, but they do it anyway. These hard working people put in the hours for years and even decades. Yet, their first step is to take a shortcut, the cheaper way. (Notice I said cheaper, not frugal. Frugal doesn’t take shortcuts; cheapskates do.) 

The same applies to wills and other legal documents. Of course, if you do it wrong you will not be around to clean up the mess; your friends and family will. (Nice memory you left the kids.) 

In all my 37 years in practice I’ve never seen a truly wealthy person take legal shortcuts. I have seen many people lose a lifetime of work, sometimes while in retirement, over  not using a qualified professional to handle their legal needs. 

I keep a law firm on speed dial for legal questions and other legal services. They have my retainer. When in doubt I go to the professionals to help me make quality decisions. I understand tax laws well (and still rely on other tax professionals for research all the time), but legal matters not so much. Attorneys sometimes have a bad reputation. It should not be that way. My legal team is a vital part of my financial plan. Their advice is always welcome. Attorneys can save you a massive amount of money and grief when planning ahead, or, they can cost even more trying to fix a mess that might end up with a settlement costing you decades of your invested savings (work or lifeforce, as some say).

 

Millionaires and Tax and Accounting

I’ll admit this part is self-serving. It is also a vital part of wealth creation and retention. 

When you add up all the taxes you pay (income, property, excise, gift, sales and more) it is the biggest single expense in your life. Even your home doesn’t cost as much as all taxes combined are pealing from your wallet. Even a modest income can see half or more lost to the litany of taxes the government has devised to separate you from your hard-earned money.

In my office the tax professionals sometimes laugh when people say they prepare their own tax return. “We always enjoy summer work,” is their response. There is some truth to that.

Frugality is not enough if you want to be wealthy. How you spend and what you spend on will make the difference in how wealthy you become. If you want to be a millionaire you need to spend like a millionaire. That means frugality one one hand and intelligent spending that serves your needs on the other.But it gets worse. To this day I have never had a consulting session with a client or someone from this blog where I didn’t save that client several times in taxes what they paid me. There have been cases where a $1,000 consulting fee yielded 6-figures in additional wealth, much of it from tax savings. 

I have no problem with people preparing their own return when it is very simple. However, a tax professional is worth her weight in gold if she works with you! Rare is the non tax professional that knows when it is best to elect to treat their side hustle or business as an S-corp over a sole proprietorship. If you own income properties do you understand the mechanics of a cost-segregation study? If you own any investments are you aware of tools to defer and eliminate taxes on the profits? Like-kind exchanges? Opportunity funds? Delaware Statutory Trusts?

Even something as simple as  professional bookkeeping can send your net worth skyward faster. One of my accountants just helped an investment property owner from Mississippi clean up his books. Now he knows where he is financially at all times. He can make better decisions; I can give him better advice. Banks loans are easier to get and rates lower. He really has professional looking books! (It would be bragging if I did the work, but Dawn gets all the credit.)

His taxes are also lower because I can help him plan instead of react. He refers to us as his OCD accountant. Yes, we take pride in our work and pay attention to detail. It is never enough to have clean books. We demand we provide guidance to optimize wealth building for every client we serve. 

It doesn’t come cheap, of course. But I deliver greater results because I am incentivized to do so and invest in growing my arsenal to better serve clients. The cheapest isn’t always that cheap.

The income property owner discussed above had several accounting firms who could not get his fast growing rental business under control. Dawn even struggled in the beginning. There was, and is, a lot to digest. I kept applying steady, yet firm, pressure. While the client benefited, I was training an accountant on how to handle the difficult cases. Now that the books are clean it isn’t so challenging anymore.

And this brings up another important point. Not every tax and/or accounting professional is cut from the same cloth. Some are better than others and some are outright incompetent. In a previous post I discuss how you can find high quality tax professionals and accountants for your wealth building team. The same applies when looking for a legal professional.

With so much on the line it is worth hiring a competent tax professional. If your return is simple you can prepare it yourself. I have many consulting sessions with people who prepare their own tax return. I review the prior return as part of the consulting session and it is usually okay.

Tax and accounting  professionals are worth their most when consulting. Their large reservoir of knowledge and experience can help you make better career and investment choices. It is difficult at best to build serious wealth without a highly qualified tax professional.

 

Millionaires and Education

Primary and secondary schooling, along with a college, is designed to teach you how to learn. Until you learn how to learn nothing else will matter. Yes, college will educate you on the basics in your field of study, but it is just the basics, as hard as those final exams were.

The most powerful tool the millionaires has to create and build wealth is never-ending education. Learning never ends for the wealthy.Nothing prepares you for real world. College textbooks have nice neat questions with exact answers. Real life rarely delivers such a neat package. Thinking on your feet and designing answers on the go is vital to success. That is why doctors spend so much time in college and even more time sharpening their skills as interns and in residency.

Once you learn how to learn the world is at your beck and call. What you learn in college can quickly become dated. Your “real” education begins after graduation!  

Many professions require continuing education (CE). Doctors, attorneys, accountants and enrolled agents (a tax professional designation) all are required to take continuing education courses each year. And for good reason. Bad habits can set in and CE can bring behavior back in line. New technologies and changing laws all require more learning, more education.

Application is harder than theory. I see tax professionals and accountants come out of college and struggle when they move from the legal facts to applying those facts in real world situations. Clients don’t always bring in all their paperwork. Some (all too many) are trying to game the system. Your job is to keep clients in line (they didn’t teach you that in college, did they?) and use the material at hand to build the most accurate record.

Doctors face a rude awakening when the classroom makes way for the medical theater. Answers are not always easy to define or find and time is of the essence. It’s an open book test with a human life on the line and the clock speeding forward.

You don’t have to be in a profession to benefit from education. In all facets of my life I have continued learning. Reading is a daily part of life (a big part of life). Every day is a learning experience! Even after all these years of study and thousands of books digested, I still feel like a neophyte most of the time. The more you learn the more you realize there is to learn. It is humbling.

Learning is one of the great pleasures in life, too. Wealthy people find this compelling. They spend a disproportionate amount of their income and wealth on education at all times of their life and enjoy the process. The wonder of discovery never grows old. 

Spending on education is a guilty pleasure wealthy people never skimp on. My personal library has pushed past 3,000 volumes and I make prodigious use of several local libraries as well. I am a sponge for knowledge and people pay me a lot of money to see how I put the pieces together as it applies to them. And there is nothing more pleasurable and fun than that.

 

Millionaires and Insurance

This expenditure of the wealthy might come as a surprise to many. That is because you need to sift the junk insurance from the stuff that matters when it come to building and retaining wealth.

To start, we are not talking about the insurance you purchase for small electronics at retail outlets. If you can’t afford to fix or replace an $86 item you can’t afford the item. This is junk insurance and wealthy people don’t buy it. Besides, most credit cards provide similar insurance for free just for charging the item on their card.

Wealthy people strategically target their insurance spending. It has to protect wealthy adequately or build wealth.

Large assets require coverage. Homeowners should have adequate insurance to protect against large losses. Wealthy people frequently have high deductibles, however. Small losses are easily handler out-of-pocket and insuring for small losses is always a losing game.

Home and auto insurance are more than just protecting the asset’s value. Many wealthy people don’t have collision on their vehicle or have a high deductible. That is because a damaged car is a mild inconvenience when it comes to building serious wealth. 

Lawsuits, on the other hand, are a different story. A minor fender-bender might set you back a few thousand; the lawsuit several hundred thousand and a boatload of time, anxiety and stress.

Wealthy people almost always enhance their insurance with an umbrella policy, extending liability coverage beyond the original policy limits. Damage to property almost always  is a minor issue when it comes to wealth, but a lawsuit can eliminate all vestiges wealth ever existed in your portfolio. And, as already mentioned, it can happen faster than the snap of the fingers.

Other insurances wealthy people use fund legacy planning and business protection. Protecting a business protects the income stream, an important consideration for the wealthy and those soon to be. Legacy planning frequently includes insurance to deal with tax issues, fund charities of choice and provide long-term for family after our wealthy friend departs this realm. You would be surprised how much income can be generated with a proper insurance policy and it isn’t the insurance policy providing the income, only the protection and/or framework to provide such additional income.

Non-wealthy people fight this expenditure the most. I even saw a popular blogger a few years back claim he forewent homeowner’s insurance. I can only imagine the risk and damage readers taking his advice faced. (The real value of homeowner’s insurance in the liability protection, not the casualty coverage, by the way.)

Wealthy people buy insurance that protects against serious losses to wealth while poor people insure items on Amazon with a sticker price under $100. That one simple fact tells a very large story.

The right insurance is important. The insurance agent might not be the right place to go to find out the best values in insurance (insurance agents don’t always understand legal and tax issues). That is why we consult with educated attorneys and tax/accounting professionals. Your accountant and attorney are a vital part of your plan to build and retain wealth, and frequently have a fundamental understanding of all the wealth issues involved, including insurance.

 

Coda

There are other things wealthy people spend on too. The 5 above are areas wealthy people generally do not skimp on. Too much is at stake if they do.

Thinking like a wealthy person is the first step in building wealth. Keep yourself as healthy as possible, adequately protect yourself with qualified legal professionals, also hire qualified people in the tax and accounting field, never stop learning and protect your current and future assets with proper insurance.

You might have other priorities. Many wealthy people travel more than I do, but it isn’t required. Some buy more home than I would feel comfortable living in. To each their own, I say. But the 5 categories above are where all wealthy people focus their spending if they plan on keeping it. That might be a hint you should, too. 

Engage frugality and put the excess monies to work. Learning to save and spend properly is the only way to reach financial goals; to reach true levels of significant wealth.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

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

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

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

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

This is Not the Next Great Depression

It is said we stand in preparation to fight the last war. It never plays out as planned and the war of the prior generation is ultimately not the war of the present.

Economic crises are cut from the same cloth as war. We prepare for the prior economic calamity with significant resources. Then, when we least expect it, a new threat rises and brings the best laid plans of men to dust. 

We are presently experiencing a crisis like never before. A pandemic has swept the planet and threatens to keep circling the globe in waves of slightly different variations man has no natural immunity against. Knowing we have prepared for the last war, the pillars built after the financial crisis of 2008-9, is meaningless. Man has experienced pandemics before, even more deadly contagions than the current infection. But economically, we will have to venture further back in time for an equivalent.  And when you mix the two together it becomes a crisis unrecognizable.

President Herbert Hoover

Fearful we will make the mistake of preparing for the wrong confrontation, we quickly shift our focus from the prior economic crisis of a decade ago and focus on the pandemic of 1918-9 and The Great Depression of the 1930s. 

Except even that isn’t the same on virtually all levels. Never before has the stock market collapsed so fast from an all-time high to a bear market (a 20% or greater decline). The prior record from The Great Depression has fallen handily. 

The death toll is lower today than the pandemic of 1918-9. So far. It is fear that drives us. In a knee-jerk reaction we shutter large swaths of the economy, leaving only those industries we consider vital, functioning. The wheels of industry ground to a halt until the world stopped. All is quiet on the Western front, a front that covers the whole of mankind.

Fear controls decisions — and if you have control of your fear — others will manipulate your activities as if you acted on your personal fears. The disease is not the worst and modern medicine is containing the damage. It is worrisome, but it seems man will conquer the new scourge in a reasonable amount of time. Then, life can return to normal.

Or can it?

Healing the sick and preventing illness will prove the easy part of this theatrical presentation. The damage already done to the economy is massive. Many businesses, large and small, will not return. The question remains: Is the the next Great Depression?

It is dangerous to say this time is different. Fortunately it is already different so there is room for hope. 

And, before we point out why this is not the next Great Depression, we can thank the gods that be we had The Great Recession of 2008-9 as a dress rehearsal. For without that economic nightmare, we might never have had the courage to use the tools necessary to make this time different in a better way.

 

A History of Economic Collapse

It is acceptable banter in polite company to say this is the worst economy since The Great Depression or the economic consequences will be worse than The Great Depression. But the story starts before that great economic event, and Herbert Hoover was instrumental in the solution. 

During World War I, The War to End All Wars, Herbert Hoover earned the nickname “The Great Humanitarian.” As Europe descended into war, Hoover organized the largest relief effort in history. With tireless effort he secured funding for resources to feed the civilians on the Continent. Even after the war he worked to stabilize the destroyed nations on both sides of the battlefield.

President Wilson turned to Hoover to head his Food Administration. Hoover labored hard to bring 120,000 Americans home when they were caught unprepared in Europe as war broke out. Then he fed Belgium, a nation controlled by Germany, an enemy of the U.S. in that Great War. Hoover manged to feed millions while keeping America’s soldiers well fed at the same time. A delicate balancing act at best.

After the war Hoover headed the American Relief Administration, feeding 20 million in Central Europe. A devastating pandemic took hold during the later days of the war. As soldiers returned home they brought the deadly Spanish Flu with them. 

In 1918-9 the government closed businesses and churches to fight the pandemic. Face masks were required in many communities with harsh penalties for failure to comply. The shelter-in-place policies of today were not part of the strategy in fighting the Spanish Flu in the same blanket manner applied in early 2020. 

After the war the stock market enjoyed a relief rally. Businesses grew tepidly, if at all, as a war hangover recession loomed. The reduced war spending eventually affected economic activity. Though not spoken about often historically, the recession of 1920-21 is the result, in part, from the efforts to combat the pandemic of a few years earlier. 

President Harding tapped Hoover for his Secretary of Commerce. A recession that began in January of 1920 and ran until July of the following year was especially deep. Research conducted by Robert Barro and Jose Ursua indicated the Spanish Flu reduced worldwide economic activity by 6-8%. 

Herbert Hoover proved up to the task of defeating this deep economic decline of the early 1920s. His work led to the booming economy in the decade ahead. 

 

It has never been a good bet to bet against America.

 

The Great Depression

If ever there was a president up to the task of defeating an economic crisis it was Herbert Hoover. President Hoover was concerned over the wild speculation on Wall Street. A nasty tariff fight in Congress spooked the markets and caused sharp declines, but quickly recovered each time in early and mid-1929. Then the wheels came off. 

On September 3, 1929 the Dow Jones Industrial Average hit a high, a level it would not see again until November 23, 1954. What started slow turned into a steamroll. In October 1929 it was free fall.

But the economy seemed sound by many measures. The stock market was down much more than economic activity would dictate. This started a process of efforts by President Hoover that never seems to work.

One measure after another was tried. Fear the solutions (usually involving more government debt) would exacerbate the problem caused President Hoover to use only half measures. Tax cuts were on the table, but not too many so as not to sink the national debt into the unknown abyss. Increased government spending was also on the table, but once again, only in half measures as to at least pretend fiscal constraint was being applied.

Hoover’s ideas were exactly what the nation needed to exit The Great Depression early, if only the president could have seen clear to unleash the dogs 100% in battle against the economic disaster unfolding. FDR, once in office, used virtually all the programs proposed by Hoover. FDR used greater flare to describe his programs and gave them different names. FDR also did not hold back. The national debt ballooned like never before. It was different that time.

Yet, even President Roosevelt could not go all-in. FDR’s programs started the economy rolling again, but not to new heights. And after a period of growth he increased taxes to reduce the deficit, triggering the second phase of The Great Depression in 1937. A quick learner, FDR saw the economy stall and stepped on the gas again quickly. There seemed no end to the deficit spending.

It took another world war to open the spending gates wide enough to permanently end The Great Depression. In 1946 the federal budget deficit exceeded 26% of GDP. This may stand as the largest imbalance in the U.S. government’s history.

 

2020 Is Not the Next Great Depression

This time is different is the battle cry of the unenlightened. History may not repeat, but is tends to rhyme. My good buddy Samuel Clemens once told me something along those lines a long time ago. However, every once in a while, it is different. In short, there always has to be a first time for everything.

By many economic measures the economy is taking it on the chin worse than any time in modern history. The stock market collapse is faster than 1929 or 1987. Thirty million are out of work in the first month of the pandemic and counting. Many businesses were forced to close and many never reopen due to the financial shock to their budget. 

There is another difference nobody wants to place front and center. Unlike the early days of The Great Depression, the government stepped up with all canons and fired fast and hard this time around. Even during the Great Recession of a decade ago Congress dragged its feet on how much stimulus should be provided the economy. 

This is the greatest time is history to be alive. What mankind is accomplishing was unthinkable a mere decade ago.

Unlike The Great Depression and with lessons learned from a half generation ago, the Fed dropped rates to zero instantly and reignited quantitative easing on a scale unthinkable a decade ago. Congress passed, and the president signed, stimulus bills at lightning speed. Trillions of dollars were pumped into the economy with fiscal policy (government spending) and trillions more with monetary policy (Federal Reserve activities).  

Never before have so many economic weapons been brought to bear, not even in a wartime situation. Some snickered when President Trump said he was a wartime president. Not a personal fan of the current president, I still agree with him on this issue. It will take a war time effort and war time powers to right the economic ship.

The Great Depression spiraled ever downward as elected leaders provided ineffective levels of economic stimulus 90 years ago and the reluctant efforts of a decade ago led to anemic economic growth as the economy left the Great Recession behind. The just finished economic expansion had one of the slowest, if not slowest, starts in U.S. history. 

The willingness of leaders in Washington to spend whatever is necessary, coupled with the Federal Reserve’s willingness to use unlimited resources to counter the economic dislocation, make it impossible for economic activity to descend into the chaos of the 1930s. Stimulus checks to individuals and forgivable loans to small businesses will limit the damage. Make no mistake, the damage will be acute and will linger. That lesson was taught us by The Great Depression. WWII spending proved the path necessary financially to beat the economic demon into submission. 

More proposals keep coming forward. Nearly $3 trillion in stimulus spending is already passed and working its way into the hands of individuals and businesses. It is not enough and will run short. Congress knows it and keeps pumping more stimulus measures at every whiff of a slowing economy. How much more stimulus spending will come is anyone’s guess. All I know is nobody seems to want to rein in the excesses at this time. And that is probably a good thing. The 26% of GDP deficit in 1943 is only the worst year of many with large fiscal deficits in the early 1940s. The spending was insane back then and America thrived afterwards. With the money going into the hands of Americans (back then and now) there is no doubt in this accountant’s mind the economy will pass this painful speed bump reasonably quickly with far fewer casualties than if belated measures similar to 2008-9 were used; or worse, the reluctant policies of 1929-1932.

The stock market has enjoyed a healthy bounce off the initial bottom. Nobody knows if this is a bear market rally or the first leg up in a V-shaped recovery. As always, follow the advice from another buddy of mine, Warren Buffett: It has never been a good bet to bet against America.

 

What Could Derail the Stimulus Measures

The Fed dropped rates to zero, opened the gates to unlimited quantitative easing bond purchases and has extended the purchases far beyond Treasuries. It seems the printing press (creation of more money/increasing the money supply) has not caused inflation to increase by any discernible amount over the past decade. In fact, inflation has been stepping lower and lower since the early 1980s. 

Printing more money, if you will allow my use of the term, has not ignited inflation in recent decades. What always seems to be an unbreakable law in times past does not seem to be an issue at present. Reason says at some point more money will force prices higher. Where that point is nobody knows. Many economists expected it to be an issue by now. Since inflation never seems to rear its ugly head anymore, economists as less frightened by it. 

Perhaps the lack of fear over inflation is low because most have never lived through it or it is a very distant memory. 

If inflation should make an appearance it could be game over. This whole fantasy of stimulus spending with the Federal Reserve buying all the newly issued bonds with fiat money only works if inflation does not attend the party. 

SpaceX is taking us to the future.

The national debt is likely to pass $25 trillion this calendar year with more red ink on the horizon. We could be paving the groundwork for one of the richest economic booms in the history of mankind or a worldwide inflationary disaster of Biblical proportions. I lay odds on the former.

Inflation may increase for a short time as demand is high and supply is artificially constrained. Once the pandemic passes completely in a year or two (the virus fades into the history books like the Spanish Flu or with the advent of a vaccine) supply and demand should find an equilibrium.

I know people are scared. Scared of getting sick and of losing loved ones. Scared of not having enough to feed themselves or their family, shelter and care for their family. Scared their business will fail. There are so many things that can befall us. I am an optimist and a realist. Businesses will fail. People will die. It will not be all roses. But we, as a people, will survive and even thrive. 

New businesses will be started; jobs will be created. Families will heal and new friendships forged. Warren Buffett is right, America’s best days are still ahead. The same can be said of the entire human race, all peoples, from all nations. 

This time is different. It is also the same. And like every time tragedy struck in the past, humanity has survived, thrived, grown and reached higher afterwards than ever before.

I for one am glad I am on this journey with you, kind readers. We should never be afraid of making the hard decisions. It will not be as bad as The Great Depression because this will not stretch out for a decade followed by a world war. This will last a year or so at most with the worst happening this year. And the other side will be glorious as the resources to build new businesses that will travel to the stars and beyond as being created as we speak. 

That is the hope you and I both need to live through this trial. There is no one more than you I would rather be on this journey with. Godspeed.

 

 

More Wealth Building Resources

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

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

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

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

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

If You Love Spending Money This Will Make You Rich

5 spending habits that can make you wealthy. How you spend your money determines how rich you will be. Right spending habits increase your wealth. #wealthyaccountant #spending #spendinghabits #investing #debt ##indexfunds #incomeproperties #rentalproperty #guilty #guiltyfeelings #buyersremorse“Should I feel guilty when spending money?” It’s a common question when I consult with clients. They are so tuned into frugality they sometimes start associating negative feelings with money. It’s a bad thing to start feeling.

Spending money is NOT an evil activity! In modern society we have it so easy that we tend to either overspend (the vast majority) or become hyper-frugal (a significant percentage of the demographic reading this blog). Both lifestyles are unhealthy. Overspending leads to serious problems when the bills come due and income might not keep up. Debt is a serious issue I ask clients (and readers) to consider purging. The opposite of overspending is the hyper-frugal drive. This can suck the pleasure out of life as fast as a heavy debt burden.

I tend toward the frugal side of the equation and get called out on it periodically, too. Sometimes I do things just because it’s the cheaper choice. If I were as smart as I think I am I would reconsider such decision-making. Frugal isn’t always the best answer.

Frugality for me is more about my hate for shopping. When I spend I know exactly what I want and side purchases are never a distraction.

Buying a good or service feels good even for a frugal accountant like me. I needed a longer breaker bar (torque bar) to get the lug nuts off a tractor tire so I can take it in for repair. The breaker bar I have is only 14 inches; the one I bought is 30. By the time you read this I might have that tire off with my new piece of equipment. Yes, I’ll save money on a service call by getting the tire to the shop, but it still feels kind of good knowing I have a shiny new tool in the garage.

But spending is a problem for many people. Frugality is a forced habit at best for the majority. Economically enforced austerity gives way to bad spending habits when normalcy returns. The cycle is familiar and we know it while we do it. If only we could stop.

Since most people enjoy spending money I thought I’d share 5 ways you should spend because this kind of spending makes you richer. In fact, if you don’t adopt these spending habits I outline below you will suffer serious personal finance issues. Those who have money will realize they were already spending this way. For the rest of you, please come along. I’m going to show how you will want to spend that money burning a hole in your pocket.

Maintenance

This may sound like common sense, but too many people defer spending to their detriment. Every so often you should change the oil in the car. It runs better and lasts longer when you do. When the roof needs replacement frugality is not your friend. The structural damage follows shortly after and gets very expensive. Then you get to spend a lot of money for no additional value. That is not a good spending habit.

5 ways spending can make you rich. Spending habits can lead to debt or wealth. Here are the secret spending habits of the wealthy.. #wealthyaccountant #secrets #wealthy #spending #spendinghabits #habits #debt #moneyDo-it-yourself (DIY) projects are a good opportunity to spend. One of the cables broke on my garage door recently. I bought new cables and discovered I didn’t have tools or the recommended bars to loosen and tighten the spring. I broke down a bought a pair (you need two) to finish the job. Now I need to keep them safe for a distant future event when I need to work on a garage door again. The cost was only $15, but it is spending. The spending saved me the cost of a service call which would have been significantly more. Some spending is good spending and increases your wealth.

The same situation occurred at the office this summer when I wanted to do some light landscaping. The place really needed it. Clients have a better opinion of an establishment with appealing décor. I acquired several quotes which all came in over $10,000. (And it wasn’t that big of a job!) I decided to do the job in-house. The cost of dirt and river rock and some seed money for some extra helping hands was under $2,000. I have several huge rolls of felt in the barn I used and unused treated fence posts from a previous farm project so that cost nothing extra. In the end I spent a couple thousand, assuaging my spending itch, and created over $10,000 in value; more if you count the added business an attractive building can bring in.

Maintenance and DIY projects are a perfect way to spend money in a way that creates value. If I would have written a check for $10,000 to landscape the office it wouldn’t have felt as good. I got the satisfaction of a job well done and the opportunity to order 10 yards of top soil and two orders of river rock. There were multiple spending opportunities for the same job. For people with an itch to spend, this might be a good way to kill two birds with one stone.

Pay Down Debt

I’ve preached this line often before. Loan payments are not completely new spending. The interest is, but it doesn’t feel like fun spending. You get nothing for the interest spending: no pretty baubles or service or vacation. Nothing. Your wealth just disappears.

The act of spending is addicting to many. Rather than spend on more stuff and putting it on the credit card at 18%, consider tricking your brain into spending the right way. Here is what I propose. Spending is about wanting something. Some people enjoy the shopping experience. Either way, turn these desires into a wealth creating machine. For the shopping addict, lay out all your debt and obsessively review your balances. Create an aggressive spending payoff habit. Set your payments up on automatic, but also send in extra whenever an extra nickel crosses your path. Turn it into a game! Have fun with this. Instead of building debt, turn debt elimination into an exciting adventure.

If shopping doesn’t trip your trigger then you probably spend just to have something new. I have something shiny and new you’re going to want: a debt free balance sheet! I mean it. Instead of a new boat, roll up your sleeves and butcher those bills. Remember, it is easier to enjoy a new toy when you don’t have to work to pay off the toy, plus interest.

Investing

Once you pay down debt you might be tempted to return to old habits which caused the financial problems. I say, “Nyet!”

The newfound habit you used to eliminate debt is a good behavior for proper future spending habits. Turn investing into an automatic wealth creating machine. Automating investing doesn’t always satisfy the itch to spend. There is a solution.

It may be hard to believe, but there was a time when I enjoyed spending a bit more than I tend to nowadays. Money was rolling in and times were good in the 1990s. I was smart enough to know good times don’t last forever so I devised a plan to satiate my spending desires with intelligent cash allocation.

These are the 5 things you need to spend on if you want to be rich. The 5 secret spending habits wealthy people use are available to anyone. Frugality isn't the entire game. The wealthy spend. They spend right. #wealthyaccountant #frugality #frugalliving #wealth #money #passiveincome #spending #spendinghabitsTax season was always a good time of year. My mutual funds were automated, but I needed a home for my excess cash so I wouldn’t be tempted to spend it. My solution: dividend re-investment plans (DRIPs). I wrote checks to all my DRIPs. It gave me great pleasure to finish my day with a spending splurge. I’d write a check to JNJ, Aflac, Phillip Morris, Wrigley (damn you, Warren) and more. As fast as it came in I sent it out. I don’t know what you spend your money on, but I have a nasty habit of buying as much stock as I can get my hands on. For the record, it’s a good habit to have.

DRIPs aren’t what they used to be. Brokerage accounts generally automate re-investment of dividends and many DRIPs now have fees. There is still a solution. Set a minimum amount you can easily invest every month. Automate the process. Then either write a check every time money comes in or log in and set up a transfer. Trust me, you’ll have so much fun spending on your index fund. The best part? Instead of paying interest on your purchase you’ll be paid dividends instead. Oh, the joy!

Turn investing into a game. Real wealth creation is built on the proper allocation of capital. The bank is fine for short-term and emergency funds. But your serious money needs to be working hard building a better world and the only way to do that is to own a piece of great businesses.

Another spending game to consider is investing funds you planned on spending foolishly. Excessive dining out or drinking in bars can be swapped out for an index fund investment. I’m not telling you to forgo a pleasurable life. God forbid! All I’m suggesting is that you switch some consumer spending for investment spending. And besides, you know as well as I you will enjoy those dividend checks more than interest payments.

Income Properties

If you have an itch to spend, income properties are for you. Many moons ago I owned a city of real estate in my portfolio. From personal experience I can attest you get plenty of spending opportunities when you own real estate.

Your primary residence is different from income property. Money you spend on your primary residence (or second home) comes from another source and can run dry. Income properties have—wait for it—their own income stream to fund expenses. If you have a serious spending itch, real estate done properly can scratch that itch raw.

You still need to buy properties right! Stupid income property purchases will force really bad spending even when you discover how bad the spending is and want to stop. Sometimes you can’t. But a small portfolio of investment property can give you plenty of opportunity to shop and buy. Researching the right property should be a priority. Once you own the property there are always things that need to be paid for: property taxes, utilities, insurance, repairs and maintenance. A property manager can do all this for you, but you can write the check yourself if you insist. Even still, you can review your monthly statement from the manger which will show all the spending. It should serve as a powerful ointment for your spending itch.

Small Business/Side Hustle

Okay, hustlers! Nothing beats spending opportunities than a small business or side gig. Even a frugal guy like me still manages many hundreds of thousands of dollars in annual spending just by owning a small accounting practice. Every two weeks payday comes around and I get ample reminders on how to spend my money.

These smart spending habits can put serious money in your pocket. Spending on the right things can increase your wealth rather than build debt. Spend your way to riches! #wealthyaccountant #smart #spending #happiness #dreams #frugality #frugalA side gig or business is an easy way to alleviate the desire to spend. Maybe too easy. While I can brag I spend $250,000 in my business, it needs to be brought into perspective. I’ve seen too many people over the years start a business, spending like mad to get it up and running. It soon becomes apparent my client isn’t ever going to make a sale. He’s going to keep spending until he’s broke without ever actually starting the business. Then he asks if it’s deductible. (Not if it was a hobby or you treated it as such.)

Still, business owners are spending daily. At home my wallet has moths. At the office money is moving constantly. Office supplies are replenished, utilities are paid, property taxes come due, employees get paid, IT needs money. The list goes on and on. A frugal habit goes a long way toward profitability in a business. It’s easy to spend; not so easy to bring it in.

Spending/shopping addiction is a serious problem with many consequences. Shopping is a waste of time compared to time spent with family and friends. Shopping has its place as long as it doesn’t rise to addiction. Business has a natural built-in need to allocate money. If you can run a “real” business or side hustle you have my blessing. Before long you will lose that desire to spend. Take it from a three decade business owner. Spending gets old real fast when it becomes a job. (You know; a job. That thing you want to take early retirement from.)

Coda

Spending in and of itself is not wrong! Overspending is a bad habit and even a sickness. Excessive frugality is a bit of a sickness too. Careful readers may have noticed that from a certain unnamed accountant over the past few years.

I’m not here to tell you to never spend. What I want for you, kind readers, is a healthy relationship with money and spending. Reducing debt to background noise is important. Investing for your future and that of your family is imperative.

Spending easily becomes a job! Money is a powerful tool to help you live a quality life. Too much or too little is a problem. Using the 5 ways to spend listed above will make you wealthier. That is what we are about around here: quality of life which is the true meaning of wealth.

Finally, can you do me a favor? If you think this is as important as I do, go back to the top of this post and use the buttons to share on social media. You can pin the placards to Pinterest, as well. Help me spread the word. Let’s make the world a better place where people control their spending and build powerful, nurturing money habits.

Thank you.

 

More Wealth Building Resources

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

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

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

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

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

Worthy Financial offers a flat 5% on their investment. You can read my review here. 

10 Ridiculous Ways to Save Money I’ll Never Mention

According to Sheryl Crow you only need one sheet per visit.

Yesterday was April Fools’ Day; it was also Easter. I couldn’t bring myself to pull a prank on the day celebrated by Christians of Jesus’ resurrection. But today is fair game!

To lighten the mood as your favorite accountant traverses the bowels of the late stages of the current tax season I decided to publish something fun. (Well, it was fun to me.) Be forewarned. After two months of sleep deprivation there is something seriously wrong with my head. While I think this is funny, you may not. Of course this doesn’t belong published on a personal finance blog. That’s why I published it.

Have fun with this, kind readers. The tax season finish line rapidly approaches. Nothing scares the bejesus out of you like the mind of a stressed accountant. That’s why it’s so entertaining!

If you pay careful attention you might find a few hidden gems you can secretly use yourself to save money. I won’t say a thing if you don’t.

  1. One Sheet of Toilet Paper per Event

Sheryl Crow popularized this awesome method to reduce bathroom waste. Not only do you save money, you defend the environment. Considering what TP is used for, limiting TP use might be the least of Mother Nature’s concerns. Mass extinctions have started over less traumatic events.

Once word spread, Crow backtracked on her original recommendation. I’m not buying it! Crow is a one sheet of TP per episode type of girl. I can see it in her eyes. I fully endorse this time honored way to reduce spending by implementing this practice in my household. My team isn’t nearly as psyched as I am. Might need a motivational rally.

  1. One Set of Clothing When You Travel

I ran across this several times now. If I ever hit my head and decide to take up world travel I’m going to use this idea. As a light packer when on the road this idea resonates with me.

The process is simple. You only need one or two sets of cloths when on the road. You shower with your clothes on, lathering up and rinsing off without the hassle of undressing and dressing! After walking around for half an hour your clothes are dry anyway, except in the tropics where if you started with dry clothes they’d be wet within a half hour.

Think of all the luggage fees you don’t have to pay anymore.

  1. Steal Hotel Soap

Sure, your moral compass makes this sound horrible, but stick with me. I personally keep partially used hotel soap. Why waste a good product! The goal here is to outright steal the stuff or keep using every bar of soap at least once so your conscientious is soothed. Either way, you can save $3, maybe $4, every year with this one simple habit.

Remember, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness if caught than to ask for permission.

  1. Don’t Change/Launder Your Clothes

Before you retch, hear me out. We all know people wear clothes longer between washes as they age. Heck, grandpa wore the same sweater for 22 years before it disintegrated off his back! As a responsible blogger I will NOT ask you to go that far.

Am I eating your goat?

What I’m suggesting is a planned attack on laundry. If the shirt or pants you wore today isn’t visibly dirty put it to the side for a day or two and wear it to work again. (Don’t wear the same thing to work for a week straight. Co-workers will notice and file a complaint. Yes, I know the smell is all in their head, but who needs the hassle.)

Underwear and socks are another issue. I always go for the sniff test. It’s important you do this right. You can’t just pull off your shorts and bury your face in them (as much fun as that sounds). Walk outside to acclimate your olfactory nerves to freshness before returning to undertake the sniff test. (Note: put on another set of clothes before walking around outside. I’m sure I didn’t need to say that except for maybe 20% or so of readers. If you get arrested for indecent exposure I’m not bailing you out.)

Guys, don’t do the underwear/socks sniff test in front of the wife and kids. Dad, let mom handle her own sniff tests. (I warned you at the outset this would cross the line. You, of your own free will, traveled this far. Don’t blame me.)

The few simple steps outlined here should cut laundering expenses 80% or more in most Western households.

  1. Cut Your Own Wood and Cook Outside

I joke I cut my own wood and cook meals outside as soon as weather permits here on the family farm in NE Wisconsin. My 10 acres of the world has enough trees to keep the stove hot all summer.

Country living makes it easier for me. City living still has opportunities for people willing to think outside the box. Let’s just say every city I’ve ever been to has a t least one park with trees. Need I say more?

If the cops show up you didn’t hear it from me.

  1. Free Hot Water for Showers All Summer

This frugal idea is an itch I want to scratch so bad it hurts. The concept is simple. Buy a couple hundred feet of black garden hose and place it on the roof of your house. A few strategically placed nails should allow you to spread the hose out for full exposure to the afternoon sun without the hose coming off the roof.

I was this close to using this money-saver when I had calves. I could have used the God-given hot water to mix the milk replacer for the little guys. Mrs. Accountant caught me with the ladder and the whole plan crashed to the ground.

Summer is once again approaching. Late afternoon hot showers are on the menu. (If Mrs. Accountant doesn’t catch wind of my little plan.)

  1. Reusable Toilet Paper

Before anyone says a word, this is a real thing! They (whoever “they” are) call it “family cloth” and you can buy it on Amazon. Once again we have an opportunity to save the environment and money!

Now I know what you’re thinking, my frugal friends. You think I added an Amazon link to these reusable butt wipers to cash in on the craze. And you’re right. I don’t expect to see sales for any of these things, but if I do I’m calling you out. Got it?

  1. Don’t Flush Until It’s Full

Remember grandpa again. He always said, “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” It’s a time honored practice preserving the family budget since Julius Caesar took over in Rome. Don’t go against a tried and true method of frugality.

I’ll let you decide when to use the little lever on the side of the toilet.

  1. Get a Gym Membership so you don’t have to Shower at Home Ever Again

This one is just plain stupid, as George Carlin would say. Why else would you have a membership? To work out! Really! If I wanted to work I’d get a job. I belong to the gym for the steam room, fellowship (because I don’t attend church as much as I should) and the free showers.

I’m not going to say I never shower at home, but it’s rare. I visit the gym three or four times a week and shower when I’m done steaming, ah, working out. Every time! This saves on the water bill and the cost of heating the water. Smart people like me is why so many gyms go out of business after a few years. Hey! Don’t blame me. They signed the contract too.

  1. Don’t Wash Your Hands after Using the Bathroom

Speaking of George Carlin, I’m not alone when I don’t shower every day or not washing my hands after every visit to the restroom. Check out the YouTube link of George explaining when you should and should not wash your hands. It makes perfect sense to me. (I wash after every bathroom visit, for anyone wondering.)

Bonus: Eat Your Pets

As I researched this post I found a few really neat ideas to save money I haven’t used to date. This one really resonated because I’ve done it!

Don’t even think about. If you know what’s good for you you’ll put the BBQ sauce away.

You see, growing up on a farm we understood the value of treating our animals right. Then, after an appropriate amount of time we ate them. You call it hamburger; we called it Blackie or Bess. You call it a chicken wing; we called her Cluck.

Rabbits and other critters graced the menu periodically, too. I wanted to finish this post with an antidote about eating the family cat, but due the rude description in my notes Mrs. Accountant used her veto power to prevent me from sharing that frugal idea with you. You’ll have to figure it out on your own. If you’re as frugal as I think you are you’ll know what to do.

 

Okay, before I sign off I want to reiterate this is all fun and games. No animals were hurt in the production of this post. Tax season is wearing me down and I’m not normal anymore. My publishing schedule will be lighter until the finish line. Details are available on the Where Am I page.

I also promise to get serious, too. No more pu—, ah, cat jokes.

 

Attributes of a Wealthy Individual or The Smartest Guy in the Room Isn’t the Richest

Twin brothers walk into the Wealthy Accountant’s office. One brother is as smart as a whip with an IQ of 147 and a wiz with numbers. The other twin, while looking identical to his brother, is a bit short in the mental category. The less bright brother is hard working, but knows he can’t outthink his twin brother.

Which twin do you think has the greatest financial advantage? Which one is likely to become a millionaire?

Would you believe me if I told you the super-smart twin is orders of magnitude less likely to amass a financial fortune? Yet time and time again I see it in my office: smart people underperforming and average people hitting it out of the park.

Here’s the funny thing. Both brothers are probably equal in intelligence. Life experiences caused one brother to think of himself as average. Perhaps the less intelligent brother preferred working outside with his hands while the high IQ brother pursued a profession.

Doctors and attorneys are awesome at playing financial offense. Many professionals share this quality. But high levels of intelligence don’t correlate well with high levels of financial wealth.

Big Hat, No Cattle

Thomas J Stanley argues in his 2001 book, The Millionaire Mind, that many professionals with a high income don’t have a corresponding level of net worth. Decamillionaires (people with a net worth north of ten million) have a term for people with high levels of income and little to show for it: big hat, no cattle.

These high earning professionals are also extremely intelligent. So intelligent, in fact, they start to believe they can outsmart the markets by timing them. They also have another weakness. Professionals need to maintain an outward appearance of affluence to convince other they are really good at what they do. Who would ever believe an accountant driving around in a bank reposed beater or attorney living in an 800 square foot home?

Average people in average income jobs are more suited to seven and eight figures of wealth! You read that right. The salvage yard owner is far more likely to have a serious level of net worth than a doctor, attorney or (gulp) accountant. Stock brokers and other financial advisors should have an inside track, but spending levels and a high level of understanding of how markets work causes many of these professionals to trade or time the market. The only traders with a snowball’s chance in hell of winning long-term are the market makers and financial newsletter publishers.

My Side of the Desk

Swing around, if you will, to my side of the desk. From my perspective you can see things clearer.

Every day people from all walks of life wander through my office. I have law firms, doctors and even accounting firms as clients. By and large this group enjoys a higher income than average. They also have a low level of net worth compared to what they earn. Worse, I’ve seen more than a few of these professionals pulling in upwards of a half million annually with only a low six figure net worth to show for it.

Before we continue, re-read the last sentence of the last paragraph. For some reason I find it vaguely important to our discussion.

There are plenty of excuses as to why these people are worth only slightly more than their last paycheck. None of them resonate with me.

High spending coupled with high income leaves you just as poor as if you never earned a dime in your life! It’s not the level of income; it’s the level of spending!

Don’t leave my side of the desk yet. I have a few more clients to introduce you to.

Oh, here comes Sam. He worked in the mill his entire life. Not the smartest guy in the world, but a helluva family man. He goes to church every Sunday. His wife died a few years back. Worked in the paper mill his entire life before retiring with $4.7 million. By looking at him (or his car or his home or his . . . ) you would never guess he is rich. (Sam is a real client with a different name.)

Here comes another wonderful client. Jack has a landscaping company. He clips and maintains lawns for businesses and rich people, you know, the doctors, attorneys, financial advisors and accountants. Don’t say anything, but the guy maxes out his retirement accounts before adding more to his non-qualified accounts. Oh, and he is a millionaire too. Didn’t expect that considering the rust bucket he’s driving, did you?

The same pattern holds for farmers (they’re not all poor!), truckers, salvage yard dealers and guys laying concrete.

Reality Check

Don’t bite your tongue so hard. They aren’t all rich. Yes, I know guys in the military (or retired from) who are pretty darn rich. Many are pretty darn poor, too.

Not every doctor and attorney is net worth poor compared to their income. Many people in average jobs struggle. What I’m getting at is the people you expect to be rich are putting on a show. They have a big hat, but no cattle. They spend all their money putting on a façade. There’s nothing left to fund real wealth!

People with average incomes in jobs where there is little to no expectation of wealth have an easier time hiding their financial accumulations. A worn pair of jeans is more than fine to wear to work at the salvage yard or auction house. It’s expected!

When I first started investing in micro-loans on the Prosper platform I was able to see a few details on the borrower. Prosper provided a credit score and income range along with the borrower’s occupation. For some reason accountant’s needed loans in May. This blew me away for two reasons. First, an accountant should be flush with cash after tax season.

Second, some accountant’s work outside the tax field so they could need additional funds. Prosper also listed the reason for the loan request. When an accountant requests a loan to pay bills in May I’m dubious. Online lending platforms are not the cheapest way to borrow money! Any accountant worth his salt would never make such a poor financial decision. I say “his” because no woman would ever do something so foolish. (Yes, that was a joke.)

Prosper confirmed what I suspected from serving my clients. High income professionals frequently are poor handlers of money.

Smarticus

There is a lesson for the wise in this tale. You do NOT need a high income to be wealthy or financially independent! Average people in average jobs with average income can excel financially. The statistics are clear.

Sure, a high income can get you to seven figure net worth status faster if you can avoid the siren call of excessive spending to play the role. Even a below average income can grow into a tidy nest egg if handled properly. Minimum wage is a hard racket, for sure. But once your income climbs to a level even below the national average you have plenty of resources to fund an early retirement!

Excuses will show up in the comments. It goes with the territory on blog posts with this topic. They are still only excuses. Income level plays a role in your net worth. By age thirty you should have at least two years income invested. Once you reach 40 your net worth should exceed at least 10 times your annual income. If you are pulling down a $50,000 annual salary you should have a half mil tucked away in an index fund by your 40th birthday. As each decade passes the net worth report card should grow larger.

This is where the rubber touches the pavement. Really smart people want to trade stocks and bonds. They want to time the market because they did all the research. Of course the market makes a fool of the well educated.

There are only two ways to accumulate money in the market. The first is to drop the money into an index fund, or, if you are so inclined to engage an actively managed fund, a growth and income fund. Forget about aggressive funds and other crazy ideas. Your goal is to be rich!

The other way to get rich investing is to research listed companies for undiscovered value. Buy these gems and hold them for somewhere in the neighborhood of forever. Then go out and find another undervalued business to invest in.

Remember, you don’t want to be the smartest guy in the room. The smartest guy is often broke!

I want to be smart.  Just not that smart.

It’s been a while since I showed you my working papers. Below are my unedited notes for this post. It should also be noted the working title of this post was Attributes of a Wealthy Individualor The Smartest Guy in the Room isn’t the Richest was added at the last minute as a tribute to the Rocky and Bullwinkle cartoon. Hope the insight into my writing style helps you with your writing.

What characteristics are most common in the wealthy? High intelligence doesn’t guarantee wealth, it actually hurts! Smart people think they can outsmart the market and time it. Professionals have an appearance to keep. Doctors and sales people need to look the part. The massive spending required to “look good” reduces savings and all the profits those savings generate.

Average people have a much better chance. The salvage yard owner has nothing to prove so she socks away a massive percentage of her income and puts it into index funds because she know she can’t do better,.

I see it in my office all the time. A recent client picked up his return. He is retired with a serious seven figure retirement account before looking at non-qualified monies or other assets. He is an average guy from an average family retired from a mill job. And he’s rich.

Don’t be so smart to talk yourself into poverty. Intelligence can only dig you out of so deep a hole.

Prioritizing Tax Benefits

Two kinds of clients scare me most. The first ask me as they pick up their tax return what they can do to lower their tax bill. The other requires a pry bar to get complete information out of them during the year.

Each of these clients scares me because I can’t give them a good answer. The first client is really asking what they could have done better last year when the answer makes no difference and the second client gives me reasonably accurate information (if I’m lucky) meaning my advice is only “reasonably” accurate.

The worst part is some tax breaks aren’t gentle phase-outs, but cliffs. One additional dollar of income can cost $500 of tax savings! Clients receiving the healthcare credit face several cliffs as their income crosses mile markers of the federal poverty level (100%, 200%, 300% and 400%). A small amount of additional income can result is a significant reduction in the credit causing a seriously higher tax bill.

Compounding the problem is where you take a deduction. A good example here is Health Savings Account contributions. You can pay the money yourself and take a deduction on Page 1 of Form 1040 or have your employer withhold from your paycheck and deposit the funds. The second way is usually better.

HSA contributions are an adjustment to gross income when you make the contribution yourself. When handled through a payroll deduction it reduces the W-2 and hence, total income. The further up the page a deduction is taken, the better. As you move down Form 1040 options for certain credits and deductions are reduced.

Prioritizing Your Tax Planning

Money is limited so you have to pick and choose which tax benefits to focus on. We will use a hypothetical client named Fawn to illustrate how prioritizing tax options can yield massive results.

Fawn is a single mother with a son approaching the age of majority. She works full-time and earns in the low to mid 30’s with overtime.

Fawn has several issues to consider. We will assume healthcare is covered at work or she doesn’t have a health plan from the Healthcare.gov site. We do this to simplify our illustration and to focus on three potential tax planning options: Earned Income Credit, Saver’s Credit and the Student Loan Interest Deduction.

HSA contributions can affect different areas of the return.

The Earned Income Credit is on a sliding scale. It starts low, maxes out around $10,000 to $20,000 (depending on how many children you have), and hovers around this maximum plateau for a while before starting a slow decline as income climbs. Fawn’s EIC is slightly under $1,000.

Earning more money will reduce her credit. But, there is a way to earn more and still get a larger EIC. If Fawn has a retirement plan at work she can divert money to this fund so it never shows up on her personal tax return. An HSA run through payroll will have a similar effect.

EIC is generally calculated off Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) and earned income with some modifications. We will not go into all the possible issues affects Fawn’s return. What I want to make clear is the advantages of reducing income on certain areas of the tax return without giving up income. In short, I want you to have your cake and eat it too.

Choices are almost always available to reduce taxes and increase a refund if plan in advance. We can pick this apart deeper, but today’s point is concept. I want you to understand a simple concept. You don’t have to earn less to avoid the loss of credits.

When higher income increases taxes due and reduces or eliminates credits at a rate near or greater than your additional income it makes sense to stop earning unless you can break through to the next level where income goes up while taxes are muted. Or you follow my plan.

Bringing Together Disparate Pieces

Every action can have multiple effects! Diverting more money into a 401(k) can do more than just reduce your reported income on the W-2. Lower income means lower tax. It also means you might qualify for a Saver’s Credit! Think of that for a moment. The very act of saving might actually reduce your income enough to qualify you for a Saver’s Credit. Isn’t the tax code great!

There is still one more problem Fawn can’t figure out how to solve. She has student loans that just came out of deferment. The payments are small and will all go to interest for a while.

The new tax law working through Congress might eliminate the student loan interest deduction after this year so she wants to pay at least $2,500 to max out this year’s deduction. Unfortunately, all this retirement saving to maximize the EIC and Saver’s Credit has reduced her take-home pay to the minimum level she needs to cover basic bills.

The student loan interest deduction might also reduce state income taxes. This is an important deduction and since it might go away, Fawn wants to max out the benefit this year.

She can’t reduce her income more without keeping food on the table. Here is where tax planning leaves the comfort of Form 1040 and heads for the real world. Fawn needs $2,500 to pay at least the full amount of the interest deduction. (Remember, all payments will go to interest first and she has at least $2,500 of accumulated interest.)

Since Fawn started making token payments earlier in the year (let’s say $500) she has some of the deduction covered already. It would probably make sense to borrow money short-term to max out the student loan deduction. Her top dollar will probably be in the 15% tax bracket so the student loan deduction will benefit her $300 if she can come up with the remaining $2,000 to maximize the deduction.

Credit card is probably a bad idea here, but a car loan or help from family or a friend makes sense. Fawn could also approach her employer and ask him for a loan. If she explained her situation nicely, the employer might buy into the idea since it helps a valued member of his team and really costs him nothing more than a temporary loss of use of a small amount of money.

The Good Game

Gaming the system is one of America’s great pastimes. It can be very rewarding as long as you keep it legal.

The above example has plenty of holes and I took some liberty with the facts. I was careful not to get hung up on exact numbers. No matter what numbers I use, your situation will be somewhat different. I understand increasing her 401(k) investment helps the Saver’s Credit limits. It might also increase the credit from10% to 20% (or more) of the first $2,000. The student loan interest deduction could improve situations all around the tax return.

The point today is to look at your tax situation and examine it for un- or under-utilized deductions and credits and then start thinking outside the box.

There are many opportunities to manipulate your tax results legally! Adjusting your 401(k) contributions higher doesn’t reduce your take-home pay as much as the additional contribution due to lower taxes and potentially higher credits.

Normal people can do this; not just the self-employed or rich! HSA and 401(k) contributions are not a drain on the budget; they are necessary parts of a vibrant financial plan.

I focused on lower income earners this post. I get plenty of complaints I spend too much time on ideas reducing taxes for the self-employed and high incomers. Every income category has opportunities.

Whether you are a good client or one who wants to know how the past could have been better or only coughs up all the information needed during tax season, you can plan with purpose.

Fawn is not a hypothetical client (though her name was changed to protect the guilty); she is a living, breathing human being I’ve helped for a few years now. I modified her factset slightly for this post and because she reads this blog and is sure to remind me when she gets around to reading this post.

We ran the numbers and it paid to borrow money to take advantage of the student loan interest deduction. She can pay the loan in full (which her awesome employer did lend to her) by April 1st. Her increased refund will kill most of the loan.

The best part is she keeps the money, the added tax savings, no matter what happens in the future.

And if we get a new tax code we get to play the game with a few different rules. So hand me the dice; it’s my turn to roll.

Higher Interest Rates Will Cause Inflation

Fed funds historical rates.

There was a time not that long ago when people believed higher interest rates slowed the economy, caused higher unemployment, dampened demand and put pressure on prices. The Federal Reserve in the United States and Central Banks around the planet held this belief tight to the chest. When the economy overheated, causing inflation to creep up, the Fed would start increasing interest rates until demand weakened as consumers faced higher borrowing costs.

The opposite also held true. Low interest rates were thought to spark strong economic growth as lower interest rates freed cash in family budgets for more spending while encouraging businesses to ramp up production with cheap credit. Since the Great Depression this theory held true and worked, even if slowly, in controlling economic activity. Then we had the twin recessions of the early 1980s.

All Downhill from the Peak

Stagflation in the 1970s proved difficult to contain. Two OPEC oil embargoes ramped up prices on oil, causing virtually all goods and services to increase without growing real wages to fund the price increases until wages started getting cost of living (COLA) increases each year. Inflation for the first time was chained with a weak economy.

High inflation encourages spending because the money in your pocket will be worth less in the morning. Businesses faced an opposite effect. Funding capital expenditures became more costly as Paul Volcker, the chairman of the Fed, racketed up interest rates at a steep rate. Killing inflation would require painful medicine. A weak economy was crushed. Housing suffered most. Mortgages rates were comfortably in double digit territory if you could get a loan at all.

The medicine worked. Demand dried up from the higher interest rates causing inflation to abate. It was the last time interest rate changes were so effective on economic performance.

Good Medicine Going Bad

Lower interest rates followed the brutal twin 1980s recessions. The stock market and economy rallied strongly. Pent up demand for housing lifted housing stocks and the building boom was off. The 1981 Tax Code overhaul gave businesses additional deductions for capital expenditures. It might be hard to believe expensing of assets worked this way. Back then the limit on Section 179 expensing of assets was raised from $10,000 to $25,000. Small business was ecstatic.

Increased tax deductions for capital expenditures caused a boom in production which required more workers. Increased production reduced inflation while employment skyrocketed. The world was good with only one warning cloud on the horizon: debt.

Current chairman of the Federal Reserve, Janet Yellen (left). Former chairmen (from second left to right) : Alan Greenspan, Ben Bernanke and Paul Volcker.

The tax cuts were funded with massive amount of new federal government debt. The annual federal deficit broke $200 billion and kept climbing. The credit card was getting a workout.

The smart money believed the excessive government spending would pay for itself with higher economic output increasing revenues. That promise has never been realized.

Lower interest rates were the perfect medicine for housing and housing creates lots of job, most good-paying jobs. By 1984 the economy was on fire with 7.4% growth that year while inflation was still easing.

The Fed was concerned by the heady growth and started increasing rates until it triggered selling by program trading. The economy barely missed a beat. In 1987 the economy expanded 3.5% and another 4.2% in 1988. The 1987 stock market crash be damned.

High interest rates took some time to reduce economic production, but not real long. Lower interest rates had an almost instantaneous reaction in the markets and marketplace. From Wall Street to Main Street, these were the good times.

The first warning signs something was fundamentally wrong showed up in the next recession which began in July 1990 and lasted for eight months.

Interest rates trended down from 1982 onwards. Periodic rate increases gave the economy indigestion causing the Fed to resume lowering rates again. Each peak in the rate cycle was lower and the lows were lower.

And the recoveries were longer, less steep and left more people behind as many high paying jobs never returned.

As the economy began climbing in April 1991 it was like watching water boil or grass grow. Growth was a heck of a lot slower than the liftoff from the 1982 recession. Some blamed it on the first Gulf War. There was merit in the observation. People stopped spending as they sat around the television absorbing their newfound entertainment: bloodshed.

One More Party

The slow growth out of the 1990/1 recession eventually broke loose with several years of 4%+ GDP expansion at the end of the millennium.

The terrorist attacks of 2001 set the tone for the next recession. President George W. Bush came on television and encouraged Americans to keep spending to show the terrorists our nation could not be deterred. The Fed added liquidity to the system (lowered interest rates) to unheard of levels. People began wondering what would happen when rates went to zero. What weapon to spur the economy would the Fed have then?

Lower interest rates did the trick. The 2001 recession was so short and mild the U.S. GDP still expanded 1% for the entire year.

But the economic expansion lower interest rates should have caused didn’t work as well this time. What was a concern in the post 1990/1 recession expansion turned into full-blown panic. The stock market lost half its value. The new money the Fed created stopped the pain on Wall Street. Main Street was not nearly as happy. Job growth was steady, but low. Only two years of the first decade of the new millennium had GDP growth over 3% in the U.S.

The stock market climbed from depressed levels and eventually made new highs. It was an unconvincing multi-year rally.

Then all the printed money that disappeared into derivatives and sub-prime mortgages came home to roost.

Current Economic Cycle

When the first cracks appeared the Federal Reserve had very few weapons in its quiver. Interest rates were already the lowest in recent memory prior to a recession.

Housing was in bad shape after the 2008 recession. My house could’ve used a few new shingles.

The 2008 recession was fast and brutal triggered by a cascading set of events which culminated in money-center banks and investment banking houses on the verge of collapse.  Low interest rates were not enough to stop the bleeding. Rates were now touching 0% and the economy was still in dire straits.

The Fed toyed with negative interest rates and the Japanese, Swiss, and European Union Central Banks all sent rates into negative territory where the borrower gets paid (!) to borrow money instead of paying to borrow. The lender took all the risk for a guarantee to lose money to boot.

In the U.S. the Fed started early in experimenting with alternative methods of pumping more liquidity into the banking system. It worked, sort of. The economic recovery from the 2008/9 recession never exceeded 3% in any calendar year, the slowest recovery in the nation’s history. The growth once again was steady, but painfully slow.

Wages were slow to increase as family budgets struggled to pay the bills. Low wage growth kept a lid on demand, inflation and job growth.

The current economic cycle started from the lowest interest rates in this nation’s history. The federal government kept spending at a rapid pace, all put on the credit card. The current federal national debt is over $20 trillion and growing at around a half trillion more each year. And we couldn’t manage 3% growth.

Where is the Inflation

There have been more predictions all the money printing would cause rampant inflation soon than there have been calls for the world ending. Prices fooled the experts. A basket of goods followed by the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) hovered slightly above zero with a few extended periods of deflation.

For eight years the Fed kept interest rates at 0% and the economy slowly clawed forward a few percent per year. And I think I know why.

Typical human blaming a bovine again.

Low interest rates were the medicine our parents and grandparents used to spur economic growth. But this time WAS different! Technology had finally advanced so far it was hurting the economy! Or more accurately, technology was increasing faster than demand could absorb.

Low interest rates no longer increases demand. Even businesses didn’t spend aggressively in the low interest rate environment until the last few years. What business did spend went further than ever. $4,000 computers two decades ago now cost under $1,000 and do a thousand times more and faster. Business spent less because the cost of capital expenditures had declined for many technologies and the cost of capital was nearly free. If technology costs would have remained unchanged, businesses would have created and capital expenditure boom.

Low interest rates after all these years seem to cause deflation instead of spurring economic growth like the good ol’ days. And higher interest rates, if the economic model is truly turned upside down, should cause the economy to overheat and inflation to expand. Here’s why.

New World Order

Keeping Interest rates so low for so long must have caused a few academics to rethink the classical model. Low rates caused bubbles and imbalances in the markets without any money trickling down to Main Street to create jobs and more demand for goods and services. It was a Wall Street pile-up where average people paid the price for the sins of a few with control over the newly created money.

It’s called pushing on a string. More money pushed into the banking system either didn’t find its way into the general economy or people refused to spend it if they did get it. This isn’t all bad if the savinga rate climbs as households save and invest a larger portion of their income.

This wasn’t the case either. The savings rate climbed slightly, but not anywhere near the levels money creation would dictate if the money weren’t spent. Where was the money going? Nowhere. The money supply was larger than ever as the Fed’s balance sheet bloated, but it all sat in money-center and Central Bank vaults around the world.

None of this matters since it was a wasted exercise carried out by central bankers. The money was created, yet most never entered the economy. No wonder the GDP was anemic.

Low Rates Caused Deflation, Now Rising Rates will Cause Inflation

Most businesses today have plenty of capacity. Here is an example from CNBC showing how low interest rates caused a glut in domestic milk supplies. Low interest rates allowed factory farms to add capacity at virtually no cost, over supplying the market and driving down prices. Industry after industry is in the same boat.

Low interest rates encouraged the over production. Higher interest rates will increase the cost of capital expenditures for businesses, eventually reducing supply and increasing prices. This is the opposite effect we might expect in the past. Higher interest rates usually slowed the economy and if raised far enough still will. But the initial effect will be to decrease supply as marginal production is taken offline.

The experiment isn’t over and my supposition could be 100% wrong, not that my batting average is any worse than that of economists. Interest rates are slow on the takeoff this economic cycle. Eventually a trigger point will be reached, causing the economy to overheat and prices to climb faster.

The higher interest rates will not work any better controlling inflation than low interest rates encouraged economic growth.

My concern is the trend. Since 1980, interest rates have been cycling lower. We went negative this time around and the fed funds rate peaked at 5.25% during the prior economic expansion. This cycle the Fed worries the current 1-1.25% fed funds rate might slow the economy. Crazy!

If lower rates don’t encourage inflation and rapid GDP growth, then higher rates probably will. At no time in history has this amount of money ever been created and hyperinflation hasn’t followed. There are no indications of rapidly increasing prices on the horizon, however.

Higher interest rates might do the trick or we could head still lower this interest rate long cycle. Only time will tell.

The earnings stream from a company is worth more in a low interest rate environment. If inflation starts the rear its ugly head the Fed will worry and jack interest rates, causing business investment to slow, marginal production to be taken offline, causing prices to increase. Remember, you heard it here first. And earnings are worth a lot less as rates rise.

Just a few things to consider as you plan the family budget.

 

Side Notes

Ever wonder how your favorite accountant takes notes for a new post idea? Below are my notes used to prompt the writing of this post, unedited. Writers might find the evolution of an article of interest.

The old world paradigm hasn’t worked for a few decades now. The old school says lower interest rates spurs demand and eventually inflation. At no time in history has so much money creation taken place for this long without a massive upturn in inflation. What is different this time?

Lower rates lead to a muted economic expansion with slow growing demand and modest job growth. The economy should have overheated by now. Why?

Instead of inflation, technology made it easy to increase production and the cost of capital was near zero encouraging this capacity expansion. Everything seems to be in a glut. From oil to food, there is plenty enough to satiate 100% of demand. Low interest rates now seem to fund capacity expansion faster than demand.

Higher interest rates will increase the cost of capacity expansion and will lead to higher interest rates.

What worked in the past is turned on its head! The Fed reduced rates for a decade and printed money with reckless abandon to further spur demand. It didn’t happen the way the textbook said it would. Higher rates, the traditional fix for inflation, may also have an inverse effect from the expected norm. When inflation does show up as the Fed increases rates the Fed may overreact and keep raising rates to kill inflation. It will work if rates go high enough. Demand can be quashed by high interest rates.

It would be easier and less painful to consider doing the opposite of what we always did in the past. It might just work this time.

https://www.cnbc.com/2017/09/22/dairy-glut-in-us-leads-to-problem-of-spilled-milk.html

 

How to Complain To Your Credit Card Company

Today we have a special guest post from Josh Wilson of Family Faith Finance. Josh’s idea for an article is one I would’ve written if I’d thought of it. I talk about using credit cards as a tool to better manage your finances and those juicy bonuses they offer, tax-free. But what if something goes wrong? Identity theft drips from the newsfeeds. Unauthorized charges happen.

There is a way to protect yourself. Most readers are aware of their credit card’s dispute process. But if the dispute goes wrong there are still options short of arbitration. Josh gives us the basic framework in disputing a credit card charge or issuing bank’s action before moving to a powerful tool to resolve the worst problems with lenders. I’ll let Josh tell the story.

 

How to Complain To Your Credit Card Company

 

By Josh Wilson, creator, blogger, and personal finance junkie.

 

While credit cards aren’t a prerequisite, they’re a great tool for emergencies, recurring payments, cash management, to build credit score and for bonuses. Usually having a credit card is no big deal, either, but then life interferes? Having a complaint against your credit card company is normal and if you do you’re definitely not alone. The most common complaints about credit card companies include: billing disputes, identity theft, and account closure.

 

When you have an issue with your credit card service it’s best to work directly with the issuing bank first before seeking arbitration or help from a third-party advocacy group. Contacting a credit card company to file a complaint can seem daunting, but most complaints can easily be handled with some research and a phone call. The process is similar for most credit card companies, but there are a few things to remember when filing a credit card complaint.

 

  • First, it’s going to take some work. You are going to have to make phone calls, write letters, send in copies of bank statements and more to deal with a fraudulent charge on your credit card or other credit issues. Just be prepared and make sure you have everything organized.
  • Second, you must document everything. It will make the process much easier. To keep good records, use email, record your phone calls and print two copies of all paperwork you send them.

 

Let’s review the process of filing a complaint with your credit card company:

 

Evaluate the charge or discrepancy. This is the first step if we’re looking at billing mistakes or potentially fraudulent charges. You want to make doubly sure that you didn’t simply forget about a charge you did make. You may have to look up the location or call various merchants when trying to figure out if you made a purchase there.

 

Contact the merchant or credit card company.  Once you have your information together you should contact the merchant or credit card company. If it is for a fraudulent charge you should first contact the merchant to dispute it. If they can’t or refuse to remedy the error, contact the credit card company and alert them. [TWA Note: I would report a fraudulent charge using the bank’s online portal and let the bank deal with the issue. I wouldn’t call the merchant.]

 

Mail paperwork.  More than likely you will be asked to send in some information to the credit card company. This is usually handled with a fax or scan, but may require a hard copy snail mailed. Most banks don’t require paper complaints, but if required, send in a copy, keeping the original documents for your records.

 

Play the waiting game and appeal if necessary.  Once you’ve sent the information you need to wait while the company does their own research. Sometimes your dispute is denied. If that is the case you can appeal, asking for an explanation as to why the dispute was denied. However, most credit card companies will require you to appeal within 10-14 days of receiving your verdict on your initial complaint.

 

What happens when the credit card company is unwilling to resolve the issue? This occasionally happens and it’s not your fault. You can do everything right and the company may decide you are liable. Luckily there’s a government agency designed to handle this, namely the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, which is designed to assure financial institutions follow the laws and treat you fairly. They have a process where you can file a complaint against a financial institution if you have a problem with your credit card, mortgage, student loan or any other issue involving a lender.

 

How do you file a CFPB complaint?

The CFPB has a unique process for filing a complaint. Once a complaint is filed they become a liaison between the consumer and financial institution.

  1. You file your complaint on their website. You can log in to check or update the status at any time.
  2. The CFPB reviews your complaint and all the documents you provided them.
  3. They contact the financial institution on your behalf to settle the dispute.
  4. The credit card company responds to you and the CFPB.
  5. Your complaint is updated when it’s resolved and the CFPB publically publishes the results.

 

Whether you file a complaint with your credit card company or with the CFPB, you shouldn’t be anxious about addressing an issue involving your credit card, student loans, mortgage, or any other loan.