Debt Bad, Leverage Good

Big money stack. Finance concept

Sometimes in life a concept can either mean something good or mean something bad, depending on the person’s perspective.  A word like “debt” can illicit pangs of dread or a spark of promise, depending on the listener’s mindset.  The difference between the two is in some combination of observation, education and experience.

In our consumer-driven society, there is a lot of anxiety around debt.  The media regularly reports on the financial habits of American households and how much we are beholden to creditors.  The types of household debt of greatest concern seems to be credit cards (consumer) and mortgages.  The data tell us that Americans do not save – for the most part – which is the inevitable result of the simultaneous accumulation of large amounts of credit card debt.  At the same time, many homeowners are upside down on their mortgages or own homes they cannot truly afford.  We are losing value hand over fist: first, to high credit card interest rates, then to loss of property value.  We are trained to believe that debt in and of itself is bad, and there is no shortage of evidence that seems convincing.

But, this presidential election brings to light an important truth about debt that often goes un-reported: debt can also be good for you.  One of the two candidates in this race is an unapologetic debt enthusiast.  He has grown an empire built on debt (other business practices aside.)  Almost anyone who has amassed a fortune in business has done so by utilizing the power of debt, but they call it leverage.

According to a recent Inc. article, “the only way to get rich rapidly is to understand the principle of leverage.”  The author describes leverage as the financial secret of the super wealthy.  In simplest terms, leverage allows a person the potential to exponentially increase the benefit, or return, received from putting an asset to work; it can be your time, energy, money or other resources.  A person utilizing the principle of leverage has acquired more of what they need to accomplish a goal, but that additional resource is not derived from their own effort.  In the case off money, the resource is, of course, debt.

Leverage is the bread and butter of the capital markets.  There are many financial instruments (options, futures, etc) that increase the buying power of an investor’s dollar, thereby allowing the investor to own more shares of a company than would otherwise be possible.  Businesses use leverage to operate, expand and improve when they borrow.  In real estate, investors use leverage to acquire, rehab and flip properties.  An investor or developer who pools funds from other investors will be able to do much bigger.  Real estate investors even fund acquisitions and rehabs with credit cards (which for most people is on par with a 4-letter word.)  The key to leverage in your finances is to “buy things that will appreciate in value. When you can leverage your time and your money and then put your money to work, you are on the road to riches.”

Leverage is a valuable mechanism for maximizing output and efficiency in the functions that impact profits.  The author gives an example of how this works.  It’s also the concept behind network marketing: on your own you will make a certain income.  But if you duplicate your efforts via a team that you develop to work with you, each of whom will develop teams of their own,  your income will expand exponentially.  An entrepreneur may start off doing all the labor him/her self, but when he/she is able to hire staff to do the work instead, he/she will have created an opportunity to significantly increase both the client base and the amount of work that gets done within the same time frame.  This way time, energy and money are leveraged, which can quickly escalate one’s income and grow wealth.

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Tools forming a house with energy efficiency chimney

Real Estate Investing, With Other Peoples’ Money (It’s a thing)

 

I am a hard-core multi-tasker, in life and in business.  For better or worse, I am happiest when I have several objectives to handle at once.  So I like the idea of having multiple streams of (potential) income.   I have a variety of really strong skills and I enjoy finding ways to grow and use them.

Last year I attended a very impressive seminar on real estate investing.  It was held over 3 days in 8-hour-long sessions.  The purpose was to show attendees how to become financially independent by investing in real estate, but at a higher level.  The scope of the information and the extent of the detail provided was stunning, and frankly a bit overwhelming.  So exceptional was the training and the skill of the trainer that a ballroom full of hundreds of people remained transfixed from the first minute of the first day to the last minute of the last day.  Some attendees were seasoned renters, rehabbers and flippers who found themselves blown away by the eye-opening education.

One of the biggest take-aways from the seminar was that it is possible to get started in real estate investing with little to no money out of pocket.  Even some of the most successful real estate investors began with hardly any money to their name. Below are a handful of ways that cash-poor self-starters can begin their journey to financial freedom through investing in real estate.

6 Real Estate Investment Money Myths, Busted!

1.  Wholesaling

Wholesaling is a  popular way to get started in real estate.  A real estate wholesaler is someone who helps investors locate the types of properties they are interested in buying.  The warehouser builds a database of homeowners who are looking to sell their properties as soon as possible, as well as active investors who have the funds to grab the right opportunity when it presents itself.  When you see a sign on the road with an offer like, “WE BUY HOUSES, ANY CONDITION” that person is a wholesaler.  A wholesaler is a type of real estate investing intermediary.

2.  Creative Financing

This is for someone willing to take on a bit of calculated risk. There are quite a few ways that a budding investors short on funds can find money to get started.  These methods may sound irresponsible because they contradict conventional wisdom.  For example, if investing for retirement standard guidance is to invest for the long-term and NEVER make withdrawals so you don’t miss out on gains.  But I have a saying, “It’s not the ‘what’, it’s the ‘how’.”  In other words, it’s the ‘how’ in what you want to accomplish, not the ‘what’ itself that counts.  With the right information and training, what may look like a questionable decision to someone else could be the best decision you will ever make.

HELOC

One way to begin investing in real estate is to tap the equity in your own home through a home equity line of credit (HELOC).  I won’t go into too much detail here but with the right amount of planning and skill to do it properly this can be a relatively safe way to begin investing without having to come up with cash out of pocket.

Retirement Account

A similar method that successful real estate investors have used to get started without having to come up with extra money is by taking a short-term loan from their retirement accounts such as the 401K.

Private Money Lenders

Real estate investors must always have a Rolodex (so to speak!) of sources of money to acquire more properties.  I call them the ‘investors’ investors’, but the official title for individuals who will lend their own money is ‘private money lenders’.  A private money lender is anyone you may know – a family member; wealthy associate; property owner; etc, who has money that they are looking to lend to others with the expectation, of course, of a certain return on that investment.  This is one way that individuals seeking to grow their portfolio can do so without having to go into the stock market, where value is largely arbitrary.  Private lenders include people who lend from their HELOC.

Long gone are the days when people could park their money in a savings account and watch the interest pile up, and not even conventional investing wisdom from the stock market gurus are panning out as they did in decades of the recent past. Today there is a new paradigm.  In this new world of constant uncertainty and upheaval it is imperative, in my opinion, to have a backup plan for our financial survival that is well-rounded and smart; calculated investing in real estate should one of the tools in that tool box.

RUSSIA, NIZHNY NOVGOROD - JUNE 15, 2015: Sculpture of coin purse - symbol of stability and well-being.

The “Millennial Investor” Is A Thing…

Thirty trillion dollars. “Trillion.” With a “t.” That is the estimated amount that so-called millennials will inherit from their baby-boomer parents over the next few decades.  It is the largest transfer of wealth, possibly in human history.  By the way, who are these people?  Seriously.  The fact is most people are entirely unprepared financially for retirement!  Clearly these are not the kids of the millions of baby boomers who will be reliant upon social security to make ends meet.  But I digress.Wealth managers today focus a lot of energy targeting the baby boomers themselves, especially to help them protect whatever wealth they have amassed, to sustain their lifestyle after retirement.  It is a very large market.  But apparently the wealth that is going to be transferred to millennials will be an even larger market, and investment advisors are beginning to position themselves to capture the opportunity.  In the clip below, one such advisor talks about a program his firm offers called Backpacks to Briefcases.  It pairs millennial clients with their contemporaries in the wealth management game, whom they may better be able to relate.

Financial literacy is woefully lacking in our education system, even among the well-off, so this is a great idea.  The fortunate ones who will be coming into enormous sums of money will need the training that many of their parents didn’t receive in order that they may make wise decisions about managing, spending and donating their windfall.

Preparing Millennials for a $30 Trillion Wealth Transfer

You don’t have to inherit a large fortune for sound money management to be relevant to you.  Any amount of money you have earned or inherited should be handled properly.  True, we are more likely to blow through money that we have been given rather than money that we have earned on our own.  But no matter the circumstance, sound financial practices matter.  For example: a guy in his mid-20’s inherits the proceeds of a large life insurance policy, pension and 401K upon his mother’s passing, totaling several hundred thousand dollars.  He uses his windfall to live the large – traveling, partying, and everything else.  Fast forward five years, the money is gone and he’s worse off than he was before.  True story. There is an expression one of my friend taught me: “It’s not what you make (have), it’s what you keep.”

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Make Your List. Check It Twice. (Or more)

 

We’re nearing the end of summer. In some places the public school year has already begun. And do you know what that means? Christmas is around the corner! Sure, back-to-school season is almost over and parents are happy, I’m sure, for the relief on their wallet.  But at the blink of an eye we’ll be gearing up again for that great shopping season that retailers and consumers alike wait all year for. In our debt-dependent, consumerist society we are most vulnerable to overspend during this time.

Christmas, for better and worse, can be a very emotional time. It raises sentimental feelings about family, friends and togetherness. Advertisers are masters at pushing those emotional buttons to create a strong impulse to buy things we often can’t afford to express to our loved ones how much we care.  The best defense is to devise a solid plan and commit an iron will, now, to resist the temptation to overspend later.  We certainly don’t want to experience another year paying off all the debt we accumulated in the name of the birth of our Lord!

Here are five things to do starting today to handle the next big shopping season like a boss!

  1.  Make a List

List all of the people (individuals, organizations, charities, etc) for whom you would like to buy a gift. Write down everyone you can think of.  You can pare down later.

2.  Get Ideas

Get an idea of what each person/organization would want or appreciate. Write down all of these ideas next to the name. If you’re really organized use a spreadsheet! As you know, vendors will be throwing huge deals at us to get our business.  This way you know what to zoom in on when your phone apps, inbox and mailbox gets inundated with offers.

3.   Estimate the Cost

So now that you have your list and some ideas about what kind of gifts each recipient may like, you can begin to put a budget in place.  Get estimates for the items.  Yes there will be sales, discounts, rewards and cash back promotions, but it’s still useful to determine how much it could cost without those benefits.  Give yourself a little cushion.  The grand total will be your Target Christmas Shopping Allowance (TCSA).

4.  Start a bank account

For the sole purpose of your Christmas budget.  This way, it won’t get mixed up with other money.  If you leave the Christmas funds in the same account that you shop and pay bills from it will be easy to have a memory lapse after a while and end up dipping into it.  Also, it will be easier to see how well you’re progressing toward your TCSA by keeping these funds separate.

5.  Save

Now comes the hard part: consistent implementation.  There are roughly three months between now and Christmas shopping season.  How much money do you need to save each month to reach your TCSA, and by what specific date would you want to accomplish that savings goal?

Knowing how much money you will need, and by when, along with clear ideas on the types of gifts you want to focus on will hopefully give you some sense of control and reduce stress when the season is upon us.  It will help with overall household budgeting as well because you aren’t waiting until the last minute to come up with a large sum of money.  You get to pace yourself.  And when the time comes you may be less likely to make hasty, financially wasteful gifting decisions.

Wallet - Chanel

Are Your Finances “On Fleek”? Part 1

 

On fleek: the quality of being perfect or on point; the combination of fly and sleek, synonymous with ‘on point’ (on top of things; in control of the situation) Source: http://www.urbandictionary.com

How to be on top of our finances and in control of our financial situation isn’t something that comes to most us naturally.  Many of us don’t have parents and other mentors and influencers who have the knowledge and personal experience from which to impart any real financial wisdom.  It’s one of the main areas of weakness in the public school curriculum.  Money management, after all, is foundational to life itself but I have yet to hear of a high school or middle school that teaches kids how to handle money.  We’re told to go to college or trade school and get a job but nothing about how to handle the money we will spend the majority of our time and energy to earn.  So for the most part we’re left to figure things out as we go along, which is often a journey riddled with setbacks, stress and missed opportunities.

So what does it mean to have your finances ‘on point,’ or ‘on fleek?’  A high income? Loads of money in the bank? Certainly those things have the potential to make it a lot easier. But there’s the saying, “It’s not how much you make, it’s how much you keep.”  Fortunes are made and lost every day.  The specifics of what it will take to get in control of your financial situation is unique to you, however here is a good place to start.

Top 3 Ways to Get Your Finances On Fleek, Starting Today!

1.  Keep Your Receipts.

Do you withdraw cash from the ATM and a day or two later you have no idea what you did with it?  Do you impulse shop on a regular basis?  Do you go to a store for one thing and end up getting ten?  Do you buy things simply because they’re “cheap” or a “great deal?”  In our capitalist society it’s easy to fall into these pitfalls.  One small, “insignificant” purchase here, another one there, and in a couple of days or so your wallet is light again.

Or do you purchase with your debit card on a regular basis?  I have broken myself out of the habit of never having cash, for two main reasons: 1) obviously there are times when I actually do need greenbacks to pay for something, but 2) paying with a debit card, just as with a credit card, can give the feeling that you have more money than you really do.  There’s a pain factor in having to reach into your wallet or purse and remove that money from your person and hand it over.  Swiping a card doesn’t involve as much deliberate thought – you don’t literally see the money leaving you.  Worst yet, it is easier to walk away without a receipt because we assume the transaction will appear on our statement.

Homework: For 30 days get a receipt for every single purchase, no matter how small, and even purchases that are unusual/one-time; don’t leave anything out.  Keep the receipts in a folder dedicated to that purpose.  At the end of the month – or throughout the month if you’re a very organized person – categorize them.  For example: gas; toiletries; eating out; transportation; coffee; breakfast; personal care; entertainment; etc.  At the end of the month add up each category then add them all up for a grand total.  You will repeat this 2 more times (come back for Part 2).

It is imperative that you understand what your spending habits are and where your money is going before you can truly be in control of your finances.  Just as how pulling out cash forces you to face the reality of the depletion of your bank account, collecting receipts forces you to view your spending in a concrete way, unlike just keeping it in your head.

2. Know Your Worth

Your “net worth,” that is.  Your Net Worth is a number that measures your personal financial condition.  Knowing this number will give you a baseline for your financial life. It will provide a frame of reference for gauging the progress of getting your finances on fleek as you learn, implement those lessons, make adjustments, and improve.  In a nutshell, you want to get to a place where this number continues to go up, or at the very least does not go back too often.  How do I calculate my net worth, you ask?  Simple: your assets – your liabilities.

What are assets?  Things you own that are of value; things you can sell.  Approximate what they are worth, realistically.  It’s easy to look up similar items on eBay, craigslist and elsewhere on the web to see what others are willing to pay for similar things.

What are liabilities?  Your financial responsibilities.  Debts and obligations. Ex., student loans, credit cards, personal loans, medical bills, etc.

There are several advantages to knowing your Net Worth.  It paints a very realistic picture of your financial situation in the here and now.  It gives an idea how far or not you have to go to at least breaking even.  Life is like a business, you want to operate at a profit.  In addition, seeing the big picture can make tackling the details much more manageable.  And it can impart more of a sense of purpose to keeping track of receipts, discussed above (more on that later).  For people with families of their own, the net worth can give a general idea of how much of a financial burden your family would be left with if, God forbid, you take your last breath before being able to get on solid financial footing.

3. Honor Your Commitments  Reputation is everything.  And honor cannot be compartmentalized.  You’re either honorable and trustworthy or you’re not.

The worst thing you can do is destroy your financial reputation.  This isn’t about being perfect; it’s about the journey to a clean slate.  Your net worth, discussed above, includes all debts and obligations and that isn’t just about credit cards and student loans.  Have you borrowed money or other resources from family and friends that you haven’t begun to return?  Have you asked for something with the promise to repay in one way or another but have yet to follow up with action?  These are things that will hurt you in the long run financially.  Not only will your loved ones no longer trust you, but the circle of people you will be able to rely on if and/or when things get even worse will disappear when word gets around.

It doesn’t take much to keep your reputation stellar as you get your money on point.  All you have to do is be your word.  Say what you’ll do then do it.  Don’t over-shoot how much you can accomplish.  Be honest about your capabilities and then be disciplined in keeping in integrity.  If a wrench gets thrown into your path, let your creditors know up front then state by when you will be able to get back on track.  Even with institutions, as long as you consistently exhibit the intention to repay, you can keep some of the pressure off.  Pay what you can afford and do it on a regular basis: monthly or bi-weekly until you get to a point where you can do more.

***What tips and tricks do you use to keep your finances on fleek? Respond below!