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The Butler Project » 2008 » March

Entries from March 2008 ↓

3 Simple Ideas for Cultivating Gratitude

single tree landscape

Your relationship with money is a choice. You can choose to use money gratefully or you can choose to do it grudgingly, either way you pay, but only with gratitude do you recognize abundance and dissipate fear.

Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.

John Henry Jowett

Do you want to feel abundance?

Friday I posted about the blessings of feeling gratitude and it’s amazing ability to chase fear away. If you have not yet experienced the benefits of gratitude, try these three exercises. They don’t cost anything, nor do they take more than a few moments of your time, yet you will find the power of gratitude to lift your mood and change your day amazing!

1. The next time you buy something, stop and consider the many hands and systems that were required to bring the product in its current form to you.
Feel gratitude that those systems are in place.

apple

Image credit: ๑۩۞۩๑~OTH~๑۩۞۩๑

2. As you go about your daily work, whether it be housekeeping, delivering pizza, or making high commission sales, stop and consider the people and machines that make your work possible. (I personally pat my washing machine and tell it “thank you” each time I do laundry. I mean really, how much better is a washing machine in my basement than a rock in a river?)

3. When you start to feel you don’t have enough, or you will never have enough, allow those feelings to be for a moment, and then replace the fear with gratitude for what you have and the experiences you are gaining.

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.

Aesop

It may take a few tries before you can really feel grateful for hard things, but allow yourself some practice! You will get better, gratitude will come easier, and your life will be lighter.

With Gratitude, Fear Disappears

grocery cart

Image credit: Topato

What purchases did you make today? What stores did you go to? Perhaps you bought food at the grocery store. Think about your feelings as you shopped and paid for that food. Was your mind filled with thoughts such as these?

  • Ugh, the price of milk just keeps going up. Somebody has got to do something about this; it’s just milk!
  • Why does organic food have to cost so much? These organic carrots look just like those regular carrots.
  • I’ll never be able to afford T-bone steak.
  • Why do I always have to wait in line? Can’t they figure out how to get people out of here more efficiently?

How did it make you feel? Was it a happy experience??

Pay Your Bills With Gratitude

Many years ago I read some financial advice that changed me. It was a simple, seemingly inconsequential suggestion from Suze Orman that I “pay my bills with gratitude”. It sounded crazy. At that point, paying bills meant feeling like I didn’t have enough money and never would, that I could never do anything fun because I had to spend all my money just for basic survival. So, I took the advice, figuring things couldn’t get any worse and it didn’t cost anything or even take any extra time.

The next time I paid my bills I dutifully thought “I’m glad I have electricity in my home to run my air conditioner and dishwasher.” “Thank you for providing me with TV service so that I can learn and be entertained.” “Thank you for picking up my trash so it doesn’t pile up around my home.”

While the thoughts I was forcing were just that–forced (and somewhat laced with sarcasm), they did begin to change my feelings as I paid bills. I began to be grateful for money– for the money I had coming in as well as the money I exchanged for the services I was enjoying. This gratitude spilled over into my everyday life as I began to notice the blessings in my life that I had taken for granted: when I came in from the hot outdoors into my cool air conditioned house, I was grateful. When I toted my heavy trash can out to the curb, I was grateful. When my old car got me to and from the places I wanted to be, I was grateful I didn’t have to walk. I began to see abundance in my life that I had never noticed before.

It’s counter intuitive, but if you’ve experienced living with gratitude compared with living with indifference or anger, you understand the difference I am writing about. I am a happier and better person with gratitude. You can be too.

Fear Disappears

“When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.”

-Tony Robbins

For so many of us, dealing with money means dealing with emotions such as guilt, shame, anger, and fear. Think about the shopping trip mentioned earlier and the negative feelings associated with it. How would your experience have changed if you replaced those feelings with thoughts like these?

  • I’m so grateful I have a cart and don’t have to carry all this stuff.
  • It is so convenient for me to buy produce, dairy products, meat, and household items all at the same store.
  • I am so glad we have people who are willing to take the risk of farming, putting in long hours and depending on the mercy of the weather to bring in a good crop and provide us with fruits and vegetables and grains.
  • Wow, these grapes came all the way from Chile. A lot of coordination went on to get them here, in this nice little bag, basically clean and ready to eat.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Does it change your perspective on grocery shopping?

bbq sauce

Image credit:phototram

Fear simply cannot coexist when gratitude is introduced. Your mind cannot simultaneously have thoughts of never being able to afford T-bones and gratitude for farmers and ranchers. The negative emotions you associate with money are actually banished with gratitude.

You can feel gratitude all day long when dealing with money. If you’re picking up a newspaper, buying a new car or filling your car with gasoline, stop and consider how many people and how many systems are necessary to get products from their raw form to the state in which you purchase them. It’s a bit awe inspiring.

How do you feel now?

Are you convinced you’d like to try to experience more gratitude in your life? Perhaps you don’t believe it can make that big of a difference. Maybe you think your relationship with money is fine–your financial life is not plagued by negative emotions. Wherever your feelings fall in this spectrum, I have some exercises that will make a difference in your life. Tune in Monday for some simple ideas that cost nothing and take only a few moments of your time, but will return a life where “fear disappears and abundance appears.”

We Saved Like Bandits, and Invested in Businesses

More from my interview with a millionaire, MR.

Central Park

On Tuesday we posted an excerpts from my interview with MR, a furniture store owner in Salt Lake City. As I re-read the transcript of my conversation with him yesterday, I realized MR had a lot more to say about wealth creation. Here is the second installment; it focuses almost entirely on MR’s investing philosophy.

I’ll say at the outset that his specific approach may not work for everyone, but everyone would be better off if we applied the underlying principles. Look for ways you could apply his approach to your particular situation as you read.

During the conversation risk and investing came up several times. Although MR doesn’t seek out risk, he was still willing to take calculated risks under the right conditions:

MR: I take risks, and they’re all very calculated…I’ve [even] developed real estate along the way.

Mark: What kind of real estate have you done?

MR: I’ve done some retail subdivisions. We bought…600 acres…and did a development up there when everyone said we couldn’t. We put one together and sold it out in a couple weeks, and made a couple million dollars on that deal.

And that was scary, actually, because it was out of my control. You’re at the whim of city councils and county councils. And that was a closed county. They didn’t like development. But I was just very tenacious and stayed after it - took me two years of meetings to get it done, but once we got it done and built we sold it out quickly. There was a huge demand.

[I found this story about real estate investing especially interesting because MR always talks about maintaining control of your money and your investments, so I’m sure it was nerve-wracking for him to have to rely on these elected officials in a small county.

The interesting part is that since he felt that he couldn’t completely control the outcome of the investment, he did everything in his power to influence the outcome by going to “two years of meetings to get it done.” What a great lesson in investing.]

Mark: You’ve told me that all the wealthy people you know did it “a brick at a time”. How has that been true in your life?

MR: [We got completely out of debt] and then we saved like bandits, and invested in businesses. I didn’t make any…I’ve never made a dime in the stock market. I don’t do equities because I can’t control them. To me, it’s gambling; I’m lousy at it. I do what I can control. I do a deal every day at the store, we do deals every day and we make money on every deal, and it compounds. It’s not rocket science. It’s really not.

I don’t let anybody handle my money. No brokers, no advisers. For me, that’s all a shot in the dark, and I don’t understand it. And I’m horrible at trying to guess where to put my dough.

Mark: What is the one piece of financial advice you’d give? [Yes, I know I published part of the answer to this question on Tuesday. Here’s the rest of it.]

MR: Don’t do anything that you don’t understand, that keeps you up at night. And personally, don’t give your money to other people to handle. Do it yourself.

I personally don’t go after equities. I don’t do anything like that, but I do go after solid things I can control, solid investments. I buy land free and clear. I know it’s pretty much a done deal when I develop it. I sell it or I know the market’s there.

[Think back to the real estate development he did. Interesting that he paid cash for the land? It was just one more way he minimized his risk.]

MR: Take every dime you have and get out of debt, and then go look at what’s out there. Because there’s a ton of opportunity anywhere you look; there are ways to make money.

Mark: So you sleep pretty well at night.

MR: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I know exactly what my return is on money that’s not in the business, because it’s all in fixed instruments, and you know when you’re getting a small return on a whole lot of money, at least you know what that return is and it’s okay. You know, you can live.

So I’m not trying to make millions in the market. I’m just trying to preserve, at my stage (I’m 55), just preserve what I have and enjoy life. But yeah, we don’t borrow money. Not business, not anything. In retail if the market turns, generally, and people stop buying, if you’re [buying] your goods with a bank, you’ve got more problems than just your mortgage or just the lease on the buildings.

Mark: You obviously have no interest in the market.

MR: Yeah, it’s scary for me. And I’ve got some great friends that are brokers that are multi-millionaires that seem to understand it, but I sleep better at night. I really do.

You know for me to fail now my bank would have to collapse and take my money with it. Other than that, there’s no exposure anywhere. Which is a great feeling, when you’ve still got two kids at home. You’re not trying to build a kingdom anymore; you’re just trying to enjoy your life.

What are the lessons learned from MR’s experience? Many of you will say “I can’t pay cash for land,” or “I can’t afford to keep all my money out of the stock market. It’s the only vehicle available to me.”

All of that may be true. And I’m not a stock-market hater. Neither is MR. His only point is that he’s not going to put his money into the market when he doesn’t have the skill or experience to make his money work for him there.

The principles that stick with me from this conversation are:

1. Accountability: YOU are responsible for your wealth. Don’t blame the market or your broker, or the administrator of your 401k if your nest egg isn’t growing as fast as you think it should be. Take ownership of your financial future.

2. Control: If you can’t directly control the outcome of your investments, do everything you can to influence the result by educating yourself and making decisions that absolutely minimize your exposure, while still positioning you for a reasonable return on your money.

What did you get from these interviews? We’d love to hear your comments on the insights from MR!

Interview with a Millionaire: M.R., a Furniture Store Owner

Arched Gate

As an interesting follow-up to the questions I asked you yesterday, I wanted to post some excerpts from my interview with MR, a furniture store owner in Salt Lake City. He was good enough to spend about half an hour on the phone with me, and gave me great insight into what it takes to be a successful person, and his thoughts on becoming financially independent.

First a little background on him. As a young man, MR spent two years in North Carolina, and during some of his spare time he toured the furniture factories and other industries in the area.

He says he was “fascinated by the furniture thing”, so when he moved back to Utah in his early 20s he went to work in a furniture store, and became one of their most “prolific salesmen.”

The store he was selling for was struggling though, and he saw that they would soon be closing their doors. Around that time a major furniture manufacturer approached him about the opportunity to become one of their first franchisees.

The thought of striking out on his own was scary, and he had to borrow $50,000 to get the business off the ground. For him, borrowing that money and facing the task of opening a successful store and paying off that debt was, as he put it, “gut wrenching.”

But he did do it, and in his words “We really haven’t had, other than the initial fear, [any] setbacks. It’s been solid since the year we opened. It’s just grown every year since then.”

MR is a great example of someone whose primary goal has been to limit risk by avoiding debt and making only sure money investments. That strategy has paid off in a big way for him. He’s now a multi-millionaire, with not a penny of debt to anyone, and no exposure to the risks of the markets.

Our conversation started with a look at what it takes to be successful:

Mark: The word tenacious keeps coming up in my millionaire interviews. What single attribute of yours would you say has contributed most to the success you’ve had?

MR: [T]hat word, tenacious. It’s a sticktoitiveness.

I’ve never met anyone who it was a flash in the pan that made him a ton of dough instantly and life was good. The guys that I run with have been tenacious, have done it a brick at a time, till they built the wall over a long period of time.

The get rich quick thing you always hear about usually doesn’t happen. It’s always hard work, and almost exclusively, all entrepreneurs. They did their own thing; they weren’t working for anyone, or [at least] for very long. They did their own business, their own thing.

I don’t know anybody who inherited wealth, personally. I don’t know anybody who got rich quick. I know a lot of millionaires in my circle of friends, and all of them have done it, you know, a year at a time, a month at a time over their careers.

Building wealth is not a big deal once you get a little bit of dough under your belt, and you’re smart about it, and you clear all debt – and that was crucial.

My wife and I, we worked two jobs when we were first married, each, so that we could pay off our huge mortgage of thirty thousand bucks. And we did that in a couple years and then we saved like bandits, and invested in businesses.

Mark: What is the one piece of financial advice you’d give?

MR: First, clear all debt, at any sacrifice. Clear your mortgage. Don’t borrow money for cars. If you can’t pay for it, don’t buy it. And that takes discipline, and that takes tenacity, and that takes guts. And once you’ve cleared debt, then you’ve got a little money that you can invest in a business without putting your family at risk, without putting your own financial well-being at risk.

Mark: You know, there are a lot of people out there who say, “Don’t pay off your house. Leverage your house.”

MR: Nonsense.

MB: So, why is it so important to clear ALL the debt before anything else?

MR: Because it’s a personal triumph. You’re not in bondage to anybody. You’ve cleared every debt you owe. Nobody’s coming after you; nobody’s looking at you for money, and you control what you do with your money. The leveraging your house thing is the biggest bunch of nonsense in the history of the planet, and you’re seeing the results of that right now in the collapse of the market, the real estate market.

[I]f you mortgage a solid asset like that, and if you take the money and you gamble with the money, odds are you’re going to lose. So that’s an asset you don’t fool with. You just don’t. You clear it out so your family’s secure, you’re secure. And then you go after businesses.

Clear all your dough – any debt you have and you’ll be surprised what an inner strength that gives you if you’ve had the discipline to do that. Don’t drive a Lexus; don’t drive a BMW, don’t do any of that until all of those debts are gone, then you can start doing some of that other stuff.

So what do you think? How can you implement some of these philosophies into your own personal financial plan? My conversation with MR made a big impact on me. The day after he and I spoke I paid off a car and 3 credit cards.

Sure, the car and the credit cards were all at super-low interest rates, and the payments were very manageable for me, but MR inspired me to get out of debt, so I did what I could that day and made a plan to get rid of the rest of my debt as quickly as possible.

You know the best part? By paying off that car and those credit cards I effectively gave myself a five-figure raise in my annual net income! Maybe that would make a good article for this site…

Image Credit: Kenn Chaplin

What Would You Do With $1,000,000?

Snowy Mountain

Let’s say you have a rich uncle. You probably don’t, but let’s say you do. And let’s say your rich uncle dies, and since you’re the favorite niece/nephew of your rich uncle, he lives you $1 Million in his will. No, let me rephrase that - he leaves you enough money in his will that you have $1 Million left over even after you pay taxes. Incredible, right?

I know this is a stretch, but stick with me. This is a mental exercise that will help you learn something about yourself and your financial personality. And hey, it’s not a bad fantasy.

So you have the money, but there’s one problem…what are you going to do with it? I’d say most people don’t have any idea what they’d do with a million dollars if they had it. Work through this exercise with me. You’ll learn something about yourself, I guarantee it.

Discover Your Financial Personality

I’m not going to answer any of the questions below for you today. In a series of future posts we’ll take them on one at a time, but at this point I want you to do the work yourself. Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and do your best to answer each of the questions above. Think of it as the beginning of your financial autobiography. After you’ve answered them, you need to justify your answers to yourself.

Here are a few questions to think about as you decide what to do with your million:

1. Would you pay off your mortgage and all other debt?

What would be the upside of paying off all debt? What would be the downside? Could there ever be a downside to paying off your debt?

2. Even if you paid off all your debt, you’d probably have some money left over (I hope!). What would you do with the remainder?

Would you buy a new car? Would you buy some toys?

Would you invest some or all of the remainder?

3. If you decided to invest the money, how would you invest it?

Would you buy stocks, mutual funds, or real estate? What about bonds? Do you know the difference?

If you were going to buy real estate, what kind of real estate would you buy? Rental property? Commercial or residential? Raw land?

Make Decisions According to Your Values

I’m guessing a lot of you won’t be able to answer the questions with any confidence. You may be able to answer the questions, but could your decisions stand up to direct attack? They’d better be able to, because your financial choices will be attacked every day - directly by the media and indirectly by the decisions you see other people make.

A big key to becoming financially independent is the ability to identify your financial values, make decisions according to your values, and then stick to those decisions no matter what you see your neighbors do or what the media tells you.

Take an hour to write down your answers to these questions. If you don’t write your answers down, you’ll forget your thoughts within minutes, and they’ll be of no value you to you. By writing them down, you make them concrete in your mind. This will pay off!

*Image credit: g.naharro