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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.

The difference between Writing and Writering

MotivationNew Year’s Day, I mentioned I wanted to be “a writer”. My father-in-law corrected me:

“You are.”

That’s right; I am. I write regularly in pursuit of publication; I’m not merely journaling, blogging, or setting idle words to print in hope that “someday” I might come into my craft.

I write intently and deliberately and with passion.

So I corrected myself:

“I want ‘writer’ to be my day job.”

This is a goal I’ve had virtually all my life. But WHY?

The answer is because I enjoy writing. And if you do what you love, you never ‘work’ a day in your life…right?

Only here’s the problem. Sometimes writing feels like work. Sometimes instead of feeling excited about a project, I dread returning to it.

In other words, sometimes I don’t enjoy writing.

…so why do it?

If the purpose of becoming a writer is to something I enjoy, and I cease enjoying this particular activity, what’s the sense of doing it, at least in the short term?

It’s hard to say.

Which makes it hard to write.

But I’ve noticed something here at the turn of the new year. I try not to make “resolutions” but I do try to make general improvements…then again, I do this year round. But January 1 is usually a time where I say to myself, “Write more.” (Duh.)

But it isn’t the New Year that’s motivated me to begin writing again this year. It’s not the thought of prestige or financial security or even just doing something I like.

No.

It’s the books I got for Christmas. One of each kind:

  • Fiction
  • Non-fiction
  • Short Story collection

And I’m thoroughly enjoying all three. And each line, page, or chapter I enjoy makes me want to offer that same enjoyment in turn to others. It makes me want to write, whether I’m ever published or “successful”. Just for the challenge of doing it, the same way I enjoy playing video games or eating. The activity itself becomes satisfying again.

I’m reminded that I used to read hours every day, every night before bed, every morning at breakfast, every single break at work. And reading is what greased the wheels to make me want to write.

The problem is this:

I can’t find that many ¬†good books.

My dry spell writing towards the final months of 2009 directly correlates to a dry spell reading. I had tried the latest recommended authors and books and found them lacking, and become further unwilling to take up any new volume with each that dissatisfied me.

And I’ve reread everything in my personal library half a dozen times or more already, including some of the ones I don’t even like that much.

So this I beg you, fellow reader:

If you know a good author, recommend him/her to me in a hurry. Buy a book for me and put it in my hands — I’ll pay you cash on the spot for it if I have faith in your judgment. Because I never knew it before, but good books are fuel for my fire. Without them, I go up in smoke.

Website Updates

windowslivewriterfeediconsandfeedreaders-103ffrss4I’m not sure if you can technically call them “updates” for a brand new website that is still under construction in some ways.

Nevertheless, I’ve added some content to the site in the last couple of days I thought worth mentioning.

First, I’ve fleshed out three sub-pages to my Completed Projects page, explaining my philosophy and approach to Short Stories, Nonfiction, and Novels and the roles each of these projects play in my writing career.

Next, I’ve included the full text of two nonfiction articles; previously self-published at Helium, I can no longer sell first publication rights for them so I lose nothing by posting them here. More will follow in the days to come.

Third, I’ve included the first half of two short stories: Perfect Justice and New Magic. If you haven’t read these before, have a look. Or even if you have read them, feel free to peruse them again, suggesting improvements as you go.

I’ve also added pictures to practically every page and post, and enabled avatars in comments. I’ll be adding my own avatar later this evening. I don’t know how they work yet for end users, since I enable mine in the administrative back end, but if you figure it out let me know. It’s possible I may need to add a “login” feature to the site, but hopefully not. (I want to keep it as simple as possible.)

I plan on adding links to the bottom of teaser content (partial stories and sample chapters) which direct readers, “Where’s the rest of this story?” One idea I had is to include an option to buy a single copy of a full story from me for $1-$2 (or $1 per chapter for novels), but I need to research the legality of doing this and then publishing first north american rights from an intellectual property standpoint. In any case, I will add a “request this story” option and close friends and family will of course be entitled to full versions of any story they wish.