Tag Archives: Coworker

The Most Valuable Gift I Got This Christmas

Remember the non-fiction book I mentioned? Of course you don’t; imagine my ego to assume that you would! The nerve of me.

Doesn’t matter. My grandparents gave me the book pictured left, which before cracking it open and reading a page, I thought, “That’s nice” and didn’t think much else.

Then I started to read.

In just two weeks I have become the biggest fan of Dave Ramsey’s teachings about money management. I’d already heard of another book by Ramsey, Financial Peace, because I have a coworker whose a big fan of it. I had already begun to enact some of those principles in how I spend money, for no other reason than because they just made sense. The Total Money Makeover appears to be the cliffnotes version of Financial Peace in shorter, broader strokes.

He begins the book by telling you what the book is NOT, which I love:

The book is NOT politically correct.

It is NOT a way to get rich quick.

It does NOT contain secrets (or even details) of investing.

It does NOT solve your problems without hard work.

What it does do, at least what it has done for me, was convince me that with a little sacrifice and a lot of effort and attention, my wife and I can be debt free in a few short years, and through rigorous investing thereafter, might retire as millionaires.

Again, no “get rich quick” schemes or gimmicks; he’s talking about spending years and years and years investing, and that’s only after you’ve freed up tremendous amounts of your income compared to the average American.

The steps themselves are simple, but most people just don’t exercise the discipline to put them into action.

1. Save up $1,000 liquid emergency fund.

2. Pay down your smallest debt. After that debt is paid, use its monthly payment as additional money for your next smallest debt. Use both those payments in your third smallest, and so forth.

There are more steps, but I’m going to pause right there because that’s the one that has me fired up and excited. Because it’s so easy if you just actually do it.

I’ve tried to talk to friends and co-workers about this, and as Dave predicts in his book, they just don’t get it.

“Imagine having no payments except your mortgage by 2012,” I posit.

My friends answer this as if I’d said, “Imagine having a flying horse by 2012,” and they answer appropriately.

“That sure would be nice. Keep dreaming.”

What? No. I’ve already done the math.

In our case (me and my wife’s), we attended an expensive private school (we didn’t know any better. We do now.) So our debt is going to take a bit longer to pay off: ~4 years at our current salaries. That may sound like a long time, but in my case, that’s roughly half the time it took me to go to school. Had we started the first year we were out of school, we’d be done by now.

It’s not magic, it’s not mythical, and it’s not hypothetical. It’s posssible.

But most Americans truly cannot even imagine living without debt, and dogmatically insist that it’s impossible to have no credit cards and no car payments, and no payments of any kind.

In the meanwhile, I’m convinced that most people have no idea just how much money they make because they throw quite a lot of it away. I’ve looked at the numbers in our budget, and without loans, we’d have a lot of spending money, even after rigorous investing. And I can tell you, we don’t make that much money overall. Neither of us pulls a salary I would consider even remotely “comfortable”. But when you look at where all the money is going, and how much of it is wasted on interest, it becomes clear there’s a lot more to be had than we thought.

If we manage it intelligently.

Step 3 is to save 3-6 months of expenses in some liquid form.

Step 4 is to invest 15% of your gross income. Which should be a cakewalk if you have no bills except mortgage and utilities.

Step 5 is to save for your children’s college eduction.

Step 6 is to pay off your mortgage. Entirely.

During all of this, you don’t charge ANYTHING to a credit card or loan. Ever. No 90 days same as cash. No car payments – you pay cash. No student loans; if you want to go to school, you pay cash.

People will insist you need a good credit rating. Why? If you aren’t borrowing anything, whom do you have to depend on for credit?

I’m sold, and I’m determined to be a millionaire by the time I retire, even if (god forbid) I never sell a single book. Not by some magic formula or get rich quick scheme. But by making the necessary sacrifices now to eliminate debt and keep more of my own paycheck.

I’ve done the math myself. There’s no reason it won’t work, except possibly lack of follow-through.

But by now, most of you already think I’m crazy for trying. That’s okay. I expected that.

Playing to an empty auditorium

Busy?The single most energizing thing for me as a writer is having my work read. You can tell me it sucks or you can tell me it blew your mind; either way, I feel connected with you. Either way, I have motivation to sit down and fix the problems you presented (even if I’m cussing the day you were born), or try to deliver more of what you liked.

I don’t particularly mind not having my work read, except that it’s hard to stay focused and motivated for sustained periods. I am jealous of writers who blog about the latest fixes their editors discussed, whereas I’m finding my way mostly in the dark. But if I see a friend or coworker who hasn’t read my work, I don’t think, HEY! What a jerk, why haven’t you read my story yet?

I don’t get angry or frustrated about that; it really doesn’t affect me. Some people don’t read, some don’t read fantasy/sci fi, and some are just waiting for me to hit it big. That’s fine.

I do get frustrated when people ask for my work and then don’t read it, either for days, or weeks, or months at a time. I know intellectually it’s not personal. I’m told that it isn’t related to the quality of the writing.

But the most common excuse simply isn’t plausible: “I don’t have time.”

Unless you’re in a high pressure civil service field like firefighting or law enforcement, are getting married (or divorced) imminently, or have had some other┬álife-altering change, I seriously doubt that you “don’t have time”.

I’m a bit of a workaholic myself…I’ll stay late and come in early. Even at home, I engage in any number of not-quite-play projects like learning guitar, making videos, designing websites, and of course writing. But I’ll be the first to admit I sat on my ass playing video games or watching tv a significant portion of the weekend.

I can recall just four times in my life I “didn’t have time”.

  1. In high school, there was a period I taught Sunday School, was in two choirs, held a part time job, was in band and in a play, attended chess club, and sundry other church and after-school activities. Even then, I still had time to read and write things between activities, even if I wasn’t home often.
  2. In Army Basic Training, we started with 15 minutes of free time (if we were well-behaved and lucky). Even then, you could stay up reading/writing after lights out, provided you used the red lens on your flashlight (the red glow would not wake people whereas the white would).
  3. Summers in college, there were a few conferences I worked round-the-clock, literally awakened by my pager, worked all day, and the last thing I did before bed was work-related, grabbing showers and meals whenever I could meanwhile. These usually lasted two or three days to a week.
  4. Certain parts of the shift rotation in law enforcement left very little time for doing much more than sleeping and going back to work. This happened every two weeks for three/four days each.

These were the times I was at my absolute busiest in my whole life, doing nothing but working, eating, and sleeping. Even then, I still had time to read scripture or fiction or letters, or any manuscripts a friend might hand me.

Even if I hand you fifty pages of text, it likely wouldn’t take you more than ten minutes to finish it all…less than a smoke break, or the time during commercials of a 30-minute sitcom, etc. Most of the portions I submit are significantly smaller.

Let’s be honest…it’s not that you ‘don’t have time’, which as you can see is one of the flimsiest excuses ever invented, it’s that you chose not to. What you do with your time is your own decision. But why offer to read my work if you aren’t going to? That just leaves me craving feedback that never materializes.

If you ask me to do something and I haven’t done it, it isn’t because I don’t have time. It’s because I goofed off instead.