The first part of this blog will be a bit random – but stick with me! It will all tie together in the end. TRUST ME – STICK WITH ME!
I am fond of asking people: "Who is the easiest person in the world to convince?" Rarely do people get the correct answer. The answer is "Yourself."
My Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday thought is that I am glad I know this lesson. Do I always follow and honor the wisdom – not exactly – but knowing this axiom makes it easier to temper and put the brakes on my behavior.
There are so many cool things upon which to convince yourself that you must spend your money. There are home and landscaping improvements, 65-inch 3-D plasma screen televisions, cool cars, trips to Disneyworld, Bose surround sound systems, boats, private school tuition, $1,000 Facconable suits, $300 Juicy sweatsuits and of course diamonds. Then there are products and goods to "purchase" security, such as life/disability insurance and even 401k plans & stocks/bonds. Some people convince themselves that they need $395,000 European cars, $173,000 horses and $5.3 million home renovations. Some people convince themselves that keeping up with their relatives and friends is the best way to spend their money.
I invest plenty of time (and money) into my business of helping others. I keep up this blog and then try to read extensively about topics that will help me assist my clients. I attend far-away seminars of the highest quality, such as those given by the National Association of Consumer Bankruptcy Attorneys and the American Bankruptcy Institute. I could probably do "less" but I enjoy the prestige and and trust of my clients – the clients hold me in esteem for these "extra" things done which may reveal knowledge that I can use to the client’s benefit – and I receive the esteem of my clients in exchange.
I work hard to earn the esteem of my clients. I have very little time, but I invest what I have into my business of helping others in times of need. Over the Thanksgiving Day holiday, as of 8:05 a.m. on "Black Friday", I have thus far completed 102 pages of the 258 page book "Foreclosure Prevention Counseling" a 2009 publication put out by the National Consumer Law Center. The publication is actually 405 pages in length, but pages 259-405 are appendix, glossary, sample forms and other supplementary materials. Time I should perhaps spend at the gymnasium or recreating with my wife and family is frequently siphoned off to build my blog, websites and to increase my knowledge of consumer law and bankruptcy issues.
I do not have a functional TV (I find TV largely a waste of time and I do not want to model TV watching to my children) so I try to read as much as I can. This week I have have read two editions (Wednesday’s and Friday’s) of the New York Times – I adore the NY Times and throughout the financial crisis of the past two years, it has provided plenty of information for my blog. I try to read the NY Times at least twice weekly – you should think about it too, it is available for $2.00 at most any Starbucks or Tully’s coffee house.
Ok, here is where I tie it all together.
On this day after Thanksgiving (Black Friday 11/26/10), I am reflecting on how pleased and grateful to be working with my clients – and how much I learn in exchange from my clients about the frailty of finances and how elusive is the Nirvana of financial security.
The Friday 11/26/2010 "Black Friday" edition of the NY Times has an article entitled: "A Windfall, Blown Away". http://www.nytimes.com/2010/11/26/business/26fall.html
This is the story of Nick and Kate Martin, who in 1998 received $14 million from the sale of their shares of a family advertising business. Other relatives received more, but the Martins received a tidy sum of $10 million after taxes. They blew it all. All of it. It is all gone.
Mr. Martin is now 59 years old, and is thankful that he did find a job, paying about $51,000 per year. His wife Kate helps out at a school, earning $14,000 per year. Mr. Martin found a job in Kansas, and he lives there with the parties’ 13 year old son. Mrs. Martin to date refuses to leave New York, where she lives on the parties’ remaining property (soon likely to be foreclosed) with the couple’s 9 year old daughter. Given the article, it doesn’t sound like Mrs. Martin is in any hurry to live with her husband in Kansas. The article subtly presents a family perhaps irremediably ripped apart by the disappointment of vanished wealth.
The story of Mr. and Mrs. Martin served as a "wake-up" call for me. As my law practice has grown and an ever increasing number of people see the value of what I am able to offer and appreciate the care and concern with which my staff and I approach their cases, I have been rewarded with increasing revenues – and the accompanying and sometimes difficult responsibility to use such new resources wisely.
The "hook" in the article is towards the end – Mrs. Martin tries to explain why the couple moved from California (where they lived before the $14 million windfall) to England, and then on to Vermont and finally New York, where they plowed millions into building an Adirondacks (upstate New York) "family compound" residence. They tried to sell the Adirondacks property for $4.9 million, but the best offer to date has been about $1.25 million. The Martin’s have stopped making payments on the $1.1 million Adirondack’s mortgage, and $51,000 annual property taxes on the Adirondack’s property. They have also stopped making payments on the Vermont property’s mortgage and property taxes, which also has not sold.
The parties estimate that they poured $5.3 million into refurbishing the Adirondack property (acquired for $250,000) and an additional $600,000 into the Vermont property(acquired for $650,000). The Vermont property was listed in 2007 – and there have not been any offers.
The couple sold a $395,000 Aston Martin vehicle, and a horse for which they had paid $173,000, and drained their final $91,000 retirement account.
Ms. Geraldine Fabrikant of the NY Times reports as follows: "Mrs. Martin says she believes the move from California was motivated in part because he [Mr. Martin] resented his brother and brother-in-law’s bigger role in the community. [in California, where the family business that had been sold was based] She [Mrs. Martin] also speculates that the Adirondacks estate was alluring partly as a way of keeping up. ‘I think he wanted to show his brother and brother-in-law that he had a big home, too’, she said over dinner recently in Saratoga Springs, N.Y. Mr. Martin disagreed. ‘We are Irish Catholics, and we thought it would be a compound for our family over generations,’ he said. After the cramped rooms at their house in England, he liked the big rooms, he said. ‘Sometimes, things don’t work out.’
Mr. and Mrs. Martin convinced themselves that they needed a $5.3 million lakeside "family compound" in the Adirondacks for the benefit of their family.
I easily convince myself that I need to acquire additional investments/insurances, additional consumer goods and additional "all sorts of stuff" for the safety, enjoyment/recreation and security of my family. But here is the painful question – is all this work and all of this effort at success perhaps more weighted towards "all about me"? – am I not just perhaps searching for greater self-esteem through the drive to acquire greater financial security, more awesome toys and greater displays of success? Are the benefits of greater safety, security and enjoyment/recreation for my family just the side-effects and the collateral results of a personal drive to be recognized as a rarely rivaled and extremely accomplished leader in my field – with the security, financial success and toys to "prove" to myself that I am such a cutting edge leader?
Mr. and Mrs. Martin seem completely lacking in maturity and insight. Obviously, I am not THAT stupid or dimwitted. However, it begs the question, how much less stupid am I than the Martins? The Martins’ situation also asks you the same questions.
If you are considering bankruptcy for a "fresh start" to recover from past hard luck or perhaps past indiscretions (or maybe a combination of a little of both) remember well that there are creditors out there who wish to ruin your fresh start. The creditors want to "reward" you with new credit cards, financing for cars, boats, ATVs, bigger houses, RVs, vacations, time shares, sofas/furniture and you-name-it.
Your bankruptcy case may well result in the most unbelievable plethora of new credit opportunities. Consider making a plan – convince yourself to do it. The Martins obviously lacked any sort of plan (or if they had one, it was fueled by whimsy and "lets-do-this-for-now" reasoning of self-deceit).
Resist the creditors who want to ruin your post-bankruptcy fresh start. Convince yourself to follow this 10-step plan:
-Step one: I will max out my 401k contributions.
-Step two: Of my remaining income, I will save 10% until I have at least four months’ worth of net-pay saved up.
-Step three: I will acquire disability insurance paying about 75% of my current net pay.
-Step four: After having saved 3 months’ worth of net pay, I will set up 529 educational plans for my children and/or grandchildren contributing no less than $100 monthly per child, regardless of the child’s age.
-Step five: In addition to the minimum monthly payment, I will pay an extra 50% of the minimum monthly payment towards my student loan debt.
-Step six: In addition to my minimum monthly mortgage payment(s), I will pay at least an extra 10% to pay down the mortgage(s).
-Step seven: I will chat with my boss to see if he/she will considering establishing performance goals for myself, and attempt to negotiate the raises that I may achieve for reaching certain performance goals.
-Step eight: I will set up a "vehicle fund" into which I will deposit $125 monthly towards the acquisition of a replacement vehicle. -Step nine: Until I am "on track" and living on a budget that enables me to maintain all of the above goals #1-7, I will not seek any new debt in any form.
-Step ten: I will avoid refund anticipation loans, payday loans, rent-to-own, pawning and any other sort of short-term lending. I will not refinance unsecured debt into secured debt, such as paying off credit cards with a home equity line of credit (HELOC).
The nirvana of financial security is elusive…you may never have the chance presented to the Martins to be fully financially secure (the Martins blew it, of course). But you CAN do something. Consider steps #1-10 above.
Convince yourself. Its so easy to convince yourself.