A couple links on Crowdfunding

mirrorFrom time to time students will ask me for direction about doing personal fundraising or crowdsourcing. Here are a couple of resources if you are curious about the crowdsourcing landscape. As always, feel free to reach out with questions or to talk through what you are thinking.

https://donations.fb.com/

 

https://www.thebalancesmb.com/a-guide-what-is-crowdfunding-985100

 

https://www.paypal.com/us/webapps/mpp/givingfund/home

 

Two thoughts from Seth Godin on this topic:

https://seths.blog/2011/03/who-will-say-go/

https://seths.blog/2014/07/bobsourcing/

 

 

Extra Income in 2018

1000 extra in 2018Creating a little extra margin in our financial lives will radically change our relationship with money. Saving or earning an extra $1,000 would make a big difference in all of our lives. We can do it in 2018.

A spark of Hope let’s us Believe it’s possible. A little Belief starts our brains looking for Opportunities. An Opportunity seized creates an Action. Action leads to the physical changing of our circumstances.

Changing our physical conditions is “work” in all its forms. The work of creating order from chaos. “All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty.

Here is an article link to get your brain working and create some hope. Hope in this case being the persistent belief that its possible to change our physical circumstances through “work”.

ARTICLE LINK: 101 Ways to Make $1,000

 

REMINDER: INCOME VS EXPENSES

money tree

When I counsel people (including myself) on how to make their budgets work, I often find that they are much better at EITHER controlling spending OR earning money.

As a reminder, there are two sides to each budget/balance sheet:

INCOME

and

OUTGO (expenses)

The old cliché is that we tend to be ‘savers’ or ‘spenders’. While that is often true, it is very difficult to win with money if you a thrifty saver but don’t earn enough money. Likewise, no matter what my income is I can always find a way to outspend it.

To make a budget/balance sheet work, we need to earn enough AND spend it wisely. The majority of people that volunteer to come talk to me about their money (grad students), tend to be thrifty savers but are having a hard time making ends meet without going into debt – something they don’t want to do.

For them, they don’t have a saving/investing type problem. Instead, we have to put our heads together on how they can earn more money. That can be challenging with the time constraints of school and family. It also isn’t a quick fix – there isn’t one change to be made.

The good news is that there are lots of options. Earning more money is a skill that can be built. The reality is that someone that has earned more in the past is significantly more likely to earn more in the future. Why?

It may be that they are more apt to recognize financial opportunity, how to leverage their skills in the marketplace, how to ‘sell’ themselves as a bargain to potential employers, or how to provide and communicate their value.

More on that:

https://graduatefree.com/2015/01/20/part-time-jobs/

https://graduatefree.com/2016/11/17/how-to-get-paid/

https://graduatefree.com/2016/12/07/how-to-reset-your-life/

Step one to any change is making a decision. If we decide we need to make more money to make our budget work, we will begin to look for and see opportunities. Prayer is a powerful tool in this. God can open the eyes of our mind.

Alternative path to wealth

Dollar signLast week I teased that aside from hoping to strike it rich with a miracle investment, there was a better route to go. Here is my brilliant three-step plan:

One: Earn More

Dave Ramsey teaches that your most important wealth building tool is your income. To build wealth, you need to generate income. Saving money (income minus expenses) and investing (return on saved money) are impossible without generating income. Obviously more income increases your chances (but certainly doesn’t guarantee) of having a surplus. If we aren’t currently generating a surplus, we need to either (or both) cut expenses and/or generate more income. Here is some advice on generating more income.

Two: Get rid of Debt

Getting out of debt accomplishes two super important things. First, you take over control of your income. Debt is a lien against your future income. Take control of your future income – it will allow you to save which is step one in accumulate wealth. Second, if you are paying interest on debt, you can have a guaranteed return on an investment by keeping that interest for yourself. See this.

Three: Save cash

This seems counter intuitive, but having a large cash reserve is valuable for several reasons. First, you can negotiate significant discounts on things you are forced to buy. Second, you are prepared when assets that we know and understand become significantly discounted. Like when we get our next recession.  There is a lot more to be said about the advantages of liquidity, but I recommend trying it to see how it feels.

 

Concession from last week. While I’m steadfast that we should let go of the myth of being a great investor, it’s really important to understand that yielding a couple of extra percent yields a massive difference in returns over time. Over 20 years, the difference between earning 6% and 12% on an investment isn’t 2x the return, it’s 3x. This goes up even more over time and/or return.

The Myth of Investing to Wealth

WarrenOur country loves the “Horatio Alger” story – the old rags to riches. In our culture, one of the most popular narratives to riches is through being a great investor.* If I can figure out the market, I’ll be able to see something others don’t and it will make me wealthy. Warren Buffett is the hero of this story. I poured through his biography (The Snowball, 832 pages!) when it came out looking for secrets and clues. One potentially controversial belief I’ve developed:

I don’t believe being a “great investor” is a reasonable path to wealth.

We need to let go of the myth that we are one hot stock tip away from financial success. This narrative is baked into our entire culture. TV networks like CNBC and Fox Business are built on this myth (Here is the 8 best TV shows ranked by a website dedicated to investors). Entire print industries (Money magazine, financial help books) have this narrative intertwined in their unspoken promise to the reader.

I’m convinced it doesn’t work and in fact it’s a massive waste of time and distraction from actually accumulating wealth. Why? Here are three of many reasons:

  • Not enough initial capital

A friend of mine recent came and asked for some advice on which stock to buy with a $1,000. I didn’t have the courage to tell them it didn’t matter. Warren Buffett, the wealthiest person in America and perhaps the best investor in our history has earned around 20% compounded return. Maybe you’re a better investor then Warren Buffett, but if you’re as good as him in 10 years your $1,000 will be worth $7,268.

The point is that most of us don’t have enough upfront capital to take advantage of outsized returns, even if we were to get them. Does this mean we shouldn’t save or make wise investments? Of course not. It should pop the bubble that I’m only one key investment away from financial freedom.

There is a huge separation between how it feels for my $1,000 to be up (or God forbid down) 8 points this morning and the actual impact that will have on my life. That’s why some of the best investors don’t follow the market or invest in individual stocks. That’s why it “doesn’t matter”. There are a dozen other more important financial decisions each month that will affect my financial future far more than the short term fluctuations a $1,000 investment.

  • Have to live on the returns

My dad went to a three-day seminar on how to use stock shorts and options to make a killing in the market. One major problem (beside the fact that nobody actually “beat’s the market”) is that if my dad did this from home he’d still have to pay for his regular living expense from his earnings. For example, if he earned 20% on a huge sum of money like $250k, he would clear about $50,000 in income before taxes. The problem is that he’d use most of that money up, you know, eating and stuff.  It would make it almost impossible to actually accumulate wealth unless you had your living expenses covered by an actual income or you had some amount of money large enough ($2M+) that $50k wasn’t a significant deduction from returns.

Another example. People have asked me about real estate investing. I think it’s a wonderful investment, but unless you have a significant amount of capital don’t plan on making a living doing it for many years. It’s a great side job, but if you’re living on the returns it’s a poor way to accumulate wealth. In fact, almost everyone I know that has done well in real estate has done it by working (improving, changing use, managing, etc.) rather then passive investing.

  • Not really an expert

This one hurts a little. My pride tends to try to convince me that I know more then I really do. I’ve noticed that the professional investors from books like The Big Short and The Snowball spend a tremendous amount of time and attention learning their craft inside and out. I know several professional investors personally, and I’m continually taken aback by how much they put into understanding each investment. Even after exhaustive consideration, they build investment models around the inherent acknowledgement that they will be wrong some of the time.

If someone says you should invest in such-and-such because the kids are using it or something, I beg you to stay away. Virtually all public information is trash. One of the core tenants of all investing is “Invest in what you know”. Being honest about what I really know isn’t easy, but it will save me a lot of dashed expectations and refocus me back on activities that pay huge dividends.

 

Next week: If you aren’t going to waste time/effort/dashed expectations chasing the next great investing tip, what should you do instead?

 

*This rags-to-riches through a great investment is woven into our DNA across all cultures. Jesus told a popular parable about this with a twist – investing everything you have to acquire the truest treasure of life.

How to get Paid

$2 bill logoSome students I counsel are skeptical when I advise them that they can and should be earning more money.

If you want to earn more money, it is helpful to understand how and why employers pay employees. Understanding this will dramatically improve your earning power. Here are three main ways employees are compensated:

1.) Hourly. This is the most common and first (and usually only) way most of my students think about being paid. When I tell them they can easily earn $25+ an hour they say “Nobody is paying that.” Correction: (Almost) Nobody pays that per hour. Hourly work is the lowest common denominator – we all have an hour. It’s not based on skill or productivity. There’s nothing wrong with being paid hourly, just understand that both your hours and the dollar per hour the employer can justify are limited.

2.) Piece Work. Many jobs pay by the job, not by the hour. For example, you may be paid $100 to clean a house that should take 5 hours. That’s $20 an hour work. If you can do it in 4 hours, you just received a 25% pay raise. If you’re looking for part time work, finding work that pays by the job instead of the hour is a great way to dramatically boost your income.

3.) Value Added. The highest paying jobs pay by the amount of value you can add. A simple version of this is someone who works on commission. If I sell 3 cars instead of 1 car on a Tuesday, my hourly income is 3x higher. The employer is happy to pay me because they are earning more money. I have ‘added more value’ then I cost my employer. More jobs than you think use this model. It’s “knowing where to hit”. This is why Zig taught “You will get all you want in life, if you help enough other people get what they want.

There are lots of other ways to make money (buying and selling stuff, investing, etc.), but those are three models employers use in determining what compensation structure to offer.

Here are some random thoughts on these compensation plans:

  • Pastors should insist on positioning themselves as ‘Piece Work’ and ‘Value Add’, never on hourly. Your Sunday sermon is ‘Piece Work’. It needs to be ready to go by Sunday at 8am. If you can train and discipline yourself to prepare it in 10 hours instead of 20, you should then go home to raise your kids, play golf, or spend time in spiritual renewal. The reality is that being able to prepare it in 10 hours instead of 20 is a unique value you bring, and you need to capture that value for yourself. If you raise a healthier family, the church will benefit from that so the value is mutually beneficial. This isn’t just true of sermon prep, it’s also true of staff meetings, budget committees, dealing with people who complain, etc.
  • When it comes to adding value, there is a huge mark up. Pastors that are educated, good leaders, and have excellent communication skills are going to command a significant premium. Rick Warren has sold over 25 million books, and while he has been blessed with lots of skills, gifts, and opportunities from his maker, he isn’t lucky. The same is true for a local electrician like my friend Tim. Tim is compensated far more than many others in his field because being honest and dependable has a huge premium in his field.
  • The great news is that the ways you can add value are truly limitless. Find the areas that have the highest return on your time. It might be recruiting new kids to the youth group. It might be solving problems without requiring direction. Studies show that food servers that use their name and smile can earn $2.00 more per tip.
  • Part time income is really well suited for piece work and value add. If you worked in retail you might make $10 an hour. 10 hours a week would be $100. But you could make several times that if you were a piano teacher or math tutor charging $40 an hour. It would require you to put together flyers and facebook posts to spread the word. The actual time you spend teaching piano is somewhat valuable, but the time you spend finding new clients is extremely valuable. Finding new clients will pay you $100-$200 an hour. No matter what job you have, figure out what part of that job is the most valuable and do it more.
  • To truly understand value, we need to understand the stories people tell themselves. Teaching little Suzy the piano probably isn’t the highest value you bring. As a parent I want to believe that I am opening up the world of music to my kids. Broadening their horizons and teaching them the arts. The REAL value you bring isn’t teaching the piano its confirming my story to myself that I’m a good parent.
  • You don’t need to be self-employed for this to work. If I cleaned houses, I might go to my boss and ask “What’s the value of a new customer?” If they hired our company once a month for an average of three years and the company made a profit of $100 each visit a new customer would be worth $3,600 to the company. Would the company pay me $500 to find them a new customer? Of course. Then I would put up flyers on the bulletin board at church, let friends know I was looking for new customers. I may have started as a house keeper, but now I have a side hustle.
  • Most people that don’t believe they can make a lot more money don’t understand where they can add true value. A piano teacher is somewhat valuable. But if the teacher asks for referrals every week at the end of the lesson, that 1-2 minutes is worth hundreds of dollars per hour.
  • If you have the capacity for 10 students and you have 15 willing to take lessons, you can raise your rate from $40 to $50 (or $20-$35 or $55-$65). You will lose a couple students, but still have 10 willing to pay the extra. You didn’t earn a 25% raise for being a great teacher (though you may and should be), you earned that by finding more clients. No matter what job or field, figure out where the value is added to the organization.
  • I’m not convinced driving for Uber or Lyft is a good job. It wears out my car (my factory), my income is limited by the hours I can work, and there are very few ways I can add additional value.
  • I watched “The Big Short” last night and was reminded that nobody understands “Value Add” like financial professionals. Hedge fund managers build it right into their agreements (2 and 20) so there isn’t any ambiguity when it comes time to get paid.
  • Perhaps the most important skill you can build is learning how to explain to the client what exactly is the value you add and why that is important and worth it to them.
  • The heart of all jobs is solving a problem. The highest paid people are able to communicate “I understand your problem” and “I can help you”. It’s really empathy. That will get you the job, following through and delivering on and above your promise will keep the job or keep the customer coming back.

Income Inequality

Rio Opening CeremoniesMy wife loves the Olympics so we’ve been watching a lot of them this week. Yesterday I saw some stunning images like the one on the right accompanying several articles like these.

On a recent Malcolm Gladwell podcast he raised an interesting question about how to solve problems. Is a particular problem a ‘basketball problem’ where teams need to improve the best player or is it a ‘soccer problem’ where improvement comes by improving the worst player?

His point was that some problems have top down solutions and other problems have bottom up solutions.

The image above really provides a stunning portrait of income inequality. When it comes to Income Inequality, almost all the articles talk about it like a ‘basketball problem’. That is they focus on the top .01%. That’s understandable because broke people are always at zero. When the .01% get even more money the Inequality goes up. The reality is that the top 1% of income earners receiving 20% of the pre-tax income is a problem.

But assuming you are not in the 1%, I would suggest that the best use of your and my time is not trying to tear down the 1% but rather work on lifting up from the bottom. Specifically what do I need to do to lift myself and others up from the bottom?

I believe that creating opportunities and paths out of zero is the key. It’s a soccer solution. I can’t lift everyone up, but it’s a lot more impactful to move from destitution to the middle then to move from the middle up or from up to slightly less up.

In today’s world, there are a lot of opportunities, but the traditional paths are no longer clear. Instead, we need to really get creative on how to create and find opportunities to help myself and others into financial stability. I think it starts with a lot of questions:

 

How can I create a financially stable environment to raise my children?

How can I pull one friend out of instability and into financial peace?

How can I create an emergency fund that will take the crisis out of my financial life?

How can I prepare my children for life so they won’t be financially burdened for decades into the future?

How can I help one impoverished person start a business?

How can I avoid and payoff debt?

Do I need to work more or at a different employer?

Are substance abuse issues causing me to stay in poverty?

How can I pay my house off and take back my income?

How would a small business I start create future financial freedom?

If I could earn an extra $500 a month as a freelance employee at night or on the weekends how would that change my life?

If I could cut my lifestyle expenses by $200 a month, what would I do with an extra million dollars in 40 years?

Would something as simple as access to clean water enable a poor person to start working and producing something of value they could sell?

How would personal financial margin create opportunities for myself and others?

What do I need to change to create a path to financial stability?

Do I have a plan?

In what ways to I put a higher value on luxury then on stability?

How do I evaluate needs versus wants?

 

If I am drowning, it’s really difficult to save another drowning person. It takes personal capacity;  savings and extra cash flow to be able to give and be generous. I believe lifting myself out of poverty is step one in helping others do the same and creating greater income equality.

Flexibility: Why Debt Hurts Your Income

ball-and-chainIn addition to my original post on Loan Forgiveness, last week I reviewed the Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program.

I wanted to blow out one additional thought on the PSLF – but this really applies to all debt, any government program, and your ability to negotiate a higher salary for the rest of your life.

The value of flexibility

The human brain is really poorly equipped to understand opportunity cost.  Opportunity cost – basically the idea that when you do “A”, you forgo the opportunity to also do “B”. For example, if you are a full time student, you forgo the opportunity to work for that year. It’s hard to compare/contrast the value of a degree and a year of formal education versus a year of income and experience. It’s REALLY hard to evaluate today’s opportunity value over the next 20, 30, 40 years.  For example, if you saved $6,000 in that year and it earned 10% over the next 40 years it would be worth $322,000.  Is that more or less valuable than a year of education?

One of the underrated problems of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan is that it lock’s you into one job. While it may seem amazing to have $75,000 of debt forgiven, if you really break it out that’s $840 a month or $10,000 a year (including interest). Is it possible through hard work and diligent looking to find a job or alternative stream of income where you can earn an additional $10k a year? Absolutely.

When you find an additional stream of income or develop a skill that serves the community in a way where they are willing to pay you for it, you own that. It transfers with you into new geographic or employment futures. It’s additional financial flexibility provides leverage in the type of jobs you choose to take.

This commitment to flexibility is why one financial guru dislikes home ownership. James Altucher is a secular, contrarian, pot-stirrer that tries to reshape our financial perspectives. Note the reason for his position against home ownership:

You’re trapped. Lets spell out very clearly why the myth of homeownership became religion in the United States. Its because corporations didn’t want their employees to have many job choices. So they encouraged them to own homes. So they can’t move away and get new jobs. Job salaries is a function of supply and demand. If you can’t move, then your supply of jobs  is low. You can’t argue the reverse, since new adults are always competing with you. (source)

His point (among others in the article) is: the Opportunity Cost of homeownership is that the illiquidity of your house prohibits your ability to take a different job outside a very limited geographic area.

Think about that point in the context of the Public Service Loan Forgiveness plan. If your employer knows you have a large student debt burden does that give you more leverage in salary negotiations? Of course not – they know you need a job. Once you have the job, does it put downward pressure on your future income? Sure – they know you are locked in. If your employer knows you need 120 consecutive payments from a qualified 501c3 or you fall out of the PSLF, does that give them additional leverage?

Your employer shouldn’t have that leverage. Even if they know you could go earn $10k-$20k MORE in the non-501c3 market, if you’ve been in the PSLF for four, five, or six years they are pretty confident you won’t leave.

The first rule of negotiating: Whoever has the most ability to walk-away has the leverage.

 

 

 

 

Part Time Jobs

Work SignOne of the best ways to ‘cash flow’ your education is by working one or more jobs. Often there is a bottleneck of people applying for jobs everyone sees or knows about, while high paying part time jobs lie unfilled. To perk up your antenna to possible opportunities, here is an incomplete list of part time jobs. This is just a quick list I thought of off the top of my head, but I borrowed from this resource and I didn’t include any job where I didn’t actually know someone that has done it. I also didn’t include any jobs where a discernible skill or licensing requirement was necessary before starting – so no ‘C++’, ‘auto mechanic’, or ‘life insurance sales’. If you have a discernible skill you should probably leverage that into a high paying part-time job.

I’ve organized them around sectors of the market that seem to have high labor needs:

REAL ESTATE:

  1. Roofing
  2. House Painting
  3. Demo Contractor
  4. Architectural Salvage
  5. Window Cleaning
  6. House Cleaning
  7. Handyman Services
  8. Flip houses
  9. Birddog houses
  10. Real Estate Broker
  11. Mow Lawns/Shovel Snow
  12. Set Up Electronic Systems
  13. Rent rooms in your house
  14. Services REALTORS Need:
    1. Handyman work
    2. Design Flyers
    3. Blogging
    4. Video Marketing
    5. Photography
    6. Personal Assistant
    7. House Staging

CARS:

  1. Sell Cars
  2. Detail Cars
  3. Flip Cars
  4. Tint windows

SPORTS:

  1. Personal Coaching
  2. Dance Lessons
  3. Personal Trainer
  4. Build Golf Clubs
  5. Run a sports league
  6. Referee

ARTSY:

  1. Antiquing
  2. Piano Lessons
  3. Window Painting for Businesses
  4. Graphic Design piecework

FOOD:

  1. Catering
  2. Making Cakes
  3. Deliver Pizzas/Sandwiches
  4. Serving (Waiter/Waitress)

CHILDREN:

  1. Nanny
  2. Babysitting
  3. Special Needs Services
  4. Tutoring
  5. SAT training class
  6. Before and After School Care

ON CAMPUS:

  1. Work-study

ENTREPRENEURS:

  1. EBay (buying things and selling them)
  2. Phone Calling for Sales Guys
  3. Multi Level Marketing
  4. Blogging for Small Businesses
  5. Web design

SERVICE JOBS:

  1. Retail (Home Depot, Macy’s, Etc.)
  2. Deliver Newspapers
  3. Dog Walker
  4. Part Time Bookkeeping
  5. Drive the elderly
  6. Mobile shoe shine

We live in a country with a $17 Trillion annual economy. There is plenty of opportunity for anyone that wants it. The hard part is discerning what is the most effective (leveraging your time and skill) use of your abilities. Go!