How To Get From Deep In Debt To Solvent And Secure

  1. From deep in debt to solvent and secure

“Debt Kills Creativity”,  Damian Mason

There’s no bigger dream-killer than being deep in debt. And there’s nothing worse on a relationship than financial stress. So in 1995, with over $20,000 in consumer debt and barely one job between us, my wife and I did what anyone should, to get from deep in debt to solvent and secure  – we fled the country.

But not to a place with a lower cost of living. We quit our jobs, rented out our house, put our stuff in storage and bought one-way tickets to Tokyo. The most expensive place we could find. Then we signed contracts for two very low-paying jobs.

You’re right, that’s totally nuts. Crazy financial strategy right there. But 2½ years later we returned to the States completely debt-free with $10,000 cash in hand (100,000 in yen, actually) to re-start our American Dream .

How did we do it? With a change in financial philosophy and 5 simple strategies you can copy.

Pay Yourself First

If there’s one overriding piece of advice to follow, this is it. Pay yourself first. Let everyone else get in line. We’d gotten lulled into thinking we could “afford” a bunch of things we hadn’t yet earned. This causes a lot of people to pay their bills first, squander a bit on luxury, then put what’s left into savings.

Absolutely not. If you’re doing this, stop it right now!

Take 25 percent off the top and sock it away. Then pay your bills. If there’s money left over, great. Have a good time. Buy ridiculous, impractical things. But only when you’ve paid yourself first.

From our first payday in Japan, we sent one paycheck home to pay off our debt, and lived off the other. We paid ourselves first, then lived off what was left.

For Everyone Else, Use Auto Pay 

Living in Japan in the 90’s, we were surprised to find there were no checking accounts. The Japanese paid their routine bills automatically from their bank accounts and used cash for everything else. No checks or credit cards, no late fees, interest or overwhelming balances. Just debts that were settled in full, every month, automatically.

Manics, more than any type of people, have trouble with details like writing checks, finding and addressing envelopes, hunting down stamps and remembering to get things in the mail. That’s five steps for every bill. Neither smart nor lazy, that’s a procrastinator’s path to late fees.

I should know. I’ve paid thousands in late fees. And not because I was broke. But because my process was broke. It required too much discipline. Other types of people live neat, orderly lives. But not us.

So when we returned to the U.S., we set up all our recurring bills on auto-pay. No more late fees, and more importantly, no time, thought or effort. Smart and lazy!

Live Within Your Means

This was tough in a place so incredibly expensive. At home we paid $1 for 4 ears of corn. In Japan we paid $4 for 1 ear of corn. We paid 25 cents a pound for a watermelon at home. In Japan watermelons were $25. Each.

With seeds!

So we adapted, and learned the most important lesson of all. We had to get over the shame of being humble about our spending, instead of  digging our hole deeper to save face.

When a group goes out to dinner in Japan, they split the check evenly no matter who orders what. It only took a few $100 tabs for a bowl of miso soup and a salad to realize we couldn’t afford other people’s extravagance. So we stopped going along with the crowd when we couldn’t afford to, and caught up with them after dinner.

Move To The Cash Standard

When credit is easy, it’s tempting to buy first and pay later. But credit card debt is the number 1 killer of financial dreams. If you’re carrying consumer debt, you’re digging a hole that will be tough to get out of, no matter your income.

In Japan we each made only 250,000 yen a month. That’s $2500 American dollars. Since our credit cards were tapped out, and no one wanted to let a Gaijin (filthy devil foreigner) run up a tab, we had to stop spending when the cash was gone. We walked instead of hailing a cab, and cooked at home instead of eating out.

The upside was losing weight from all the walking, and finally getting full after a meal (Japanese portions are tiny!).

It was tough for a while, but over time we stopped digging the hole and started filling it in. Today we carry no consumer debt besides a mortgage. Yes, we use credit cards, to earn airline miles and track our spending. But we pay them in full automatically each month from our checking account. Because they’re all on auto-pay.

From Deep In Debt To Solvent And Secure

Suzy Orman likes to tell people to “stand in your truth.” It can be painful at first, if your truth is deep dept. But the path to solvency and security is through knowing exactly where you stand financially.

So we put it on paper. All our debts subtracted from all our assets. A classic but simple balance sheet with a bottom line. At first the bottom line was ugly and very red. But we moved into the black with conscious effort and honest acknowledgment of where we stood.

It didn’t happen all at once. But by the time we moved home we were solvent. And we’ve stayed that way ever since by following these 5 simple strategies.

If you want some help with this, let me know. I’ll send you a template of my balance sheet to get you to your bottom line. Then you can go from deep in debt, to solvent and secure. Or to patting yourself on the back for already being financially awesome.

It’s a very good feeling…

 

5 Strong Manic Impressives You Should Know And Love

I’m often surprised when people who seem much different from me (together, disciplined, grown up) admit to sharing my Manic traits. Since it’s sometimes hard to identify someone’s style, I thought I’d give you some examples. So for purely academic reasons, here are 5 strong Manic Impressives you should know and love.

Popeye The Sailor Man

Popeye showed several strong Manic Impressive traits. He was an advocate for others with a strong sense of justice.  He was assertive, and would take action when others wouldn’t. While they cowered and ducked for cover, Popeye stepped up to take down the bully.

And he had a strong sense of self. With his own personal branding statement, “I Yam What I Yam,” Popeye was a strong, confident, somewhat existential, working class poet-philosopher.

He was also a bit forgetful and got in his own way. Ever watch him babysit Sweat Pea? Constantly allowing that tyke to wander into traffic, construction sites, and other life-threatening situations.

And yes, he was a substance user. Possibly an abuser. But like all Manics, Popeye needed to be inspired to perform. It may seem like a weakness, but let’s face it, when Popeye downed his spinach, he always kicked ass. He made no excuses for it either – it was right there in his theme song – “I’m strong to the finish, when I eats my spinach, I’m Popeye the Sailorman!”

Peter ‘StarLord’ Quill, Guardians Of The Galaxy

“Starlord” as he wants to be called, models Manic behavior in several ways. He is a rule breaker. He is a smartass. He starts out as a delinquent and falls into his role of Guardian by accident. He usually means well, but often falls victim to his bad habits and dysfunctional childhood.

And like Popeye, he relies heavily on inspiration. But instead of using a substance to trigger his inspiration, StarLord’s trigger of choice is music. This is an extremely Manic trait.

But not just any music. The R&B pop hits from the 70’s, the favorite music of his mother, who died when StarLord was just a kid. There’s a reason Manic Impressives can never seem to get enough attention, and it’s often rooted in childhood abandonment issues.  This guy is a classic Freudian fuck-up hero.

But like most Manics he is completely loveable. Even when he’s breaking all the rules, you just want him to win. Because he’s a scamp, he’s audacious, he thumbs his nose at authority, and he loves his mama. All the qualities we love in a hero.

Anthony Dinozo Jr., NCIS

You may not have realized this one because he’s in the by-the-book field of law enforcement, he’s a former jock and, yes ladies, he’s extremely handsome. But look at his behavior on the job. He’s a classic smartass constantly needling his co-workers and getting slapped in the back of the head by his boss.

Tony is irritating.  He gets under people’s skin with his constant razing and hazing. But he’s impressive. Not as a specialist like his computer geek sidekick or martial arts badass love interest. He’s a generalist who uses his intuition and perception to solve murders and identify the killers.

He too uses the arts as inspiration, and often makes breakthroughs in a case with his extensive knowledge and obsession with cinema, often to the great annoyance of those around him. To them it looks like he’s screwing around. But he’s actually using his knowledge of popular culture to think outside the box, in a highly imaginative way.

Tony, though often inappropriately playful at work, is a strong leader. But his antics lead others to underestimate his work ethic and intelligence. A true Manic Impressive, he never lets the seriousness of his profession get in the way of a good time.

Deadpool

Wade Wilson, former Special Forces badass turned super-antihero, is a vulgar smartass. And like most Manic Impressives, he uses his biting, dark humor as a weapon, and also as a shield, to protect his tender feelings and insecurities.

He is one seriously fucked-up dude, having become a mutant in an effort to cure his terminal cancer. But the disfigurement caused by his treatment creates incredible self-doubt, a trait common among Manics. So he covers it up with his costume and his raging sarcasm.

Deadpool’s need for revenge drives him to do regrettable things, and to many people he comes across as a total a-hole. But underneath his mask is a deeply misunderstood soul that longs for the intimacy he constantly pushes away in his relationships.

But oh is he impressive. Not just in his fighting ability and his quest for justice. He is impressive with words. His profane, guttural, wicked humor puts him in a class all his own. This guy is hilarious, with a wit sharper than his weapons of choice  – two razor-sharp Japanese katanas. Deadpool is a deadly smartass’ smartass.

Captain Benjamin Franklin “Hawkeye” Pierce, MASH

Hawkeye Pierce, an amazingly skilled physician, was the heart and soul of the team at the 4077 Mobile Army Surgical Hospital. Though an inveterate rule breaker and prankster, Hawkeye was a dedicated, conscientious, and deeply caring man.

He just found the conditions of a field unit in the Korean War too much to bear at times, and did what any good Manic Impressive would. He attacked the stupidity of the army rule-makers and installed a moonshine martini still in his tent.

He never lost sight of his mission, to care for the sick and wounded, but he went out of his way to poke fun at his leaders and make an untenable situation  as human and compassionate as possible. This meant taking on every chance to seek justice, and making a pass at every attractive woman in sight.

Without Hawkeye’s brashness, the downtrodden and low-ranking personnel would have had to suffer in silence. But he was their champion and took his role seriously, in true Manic fashion. He mocked, ridiculed, pranked and shamed anyone who put rules above logic, and order above decency.

Hawkeye was a strong leader, and a huge smartass. But everyone loved him for it, and the show (and movie) would have been unwatchable without him.

Leading By Example

All five of these fictional characters were strong leaders, and constantly put themselves in the spotlight when it mattered most. They sacrificed their own comfort to make life better for others, and took advantage of every opportunity to seek justice and punch lines.

If all of us can just channel their energy, bravado and humor in our daily lives, the world would be a much happier and funnier place.

 

 

 

You May Be Closer Than You Think

You May Be Closer Than You Think
Stargate

My chance encounter last week got me thinking about the barriers that separate us from success. How one lucky break can get us through to a dream job interview, a new social circle, a whole new venture. Singular moments where your world collides with possibility, proving you may be closer than you think to your dreams.

It’s like there’s a thin membrane that separates us from the next big level in our lives. Like that portal thingee in Stargate.  If we can just break through this thin barrier, we can step into another dimension of success, using the talent and experience  we already have.

Challenging The Laws Of Physics

Try this little experiment. Get a cup of water and try to float a paperclip on it. If you’re like most people and most paperclips, you will fail. It will sink to the bottom.

Now, take a second paperclip, bend the inside loop 90 degrees to form a letter ‘L’. Then place the first paperclip on this ‘L’ shaped clip and lower it gently to the water’s surface. If you’re like most people and most paperclips, it will now float on the surface.

Amazing right? How can this piece of metal float on water? It’s because of a thin membrane of surface tension caused by air pressure pushing down on the water.

How Surface Tension Keeps Us From What We Want

Like the membrane on top of water created by surface tension, you may be stuck behind a thin membrane separating you from success.

A flexible barrier caused by opposing simultaneous forces. The outside force, pushing inward, is life’s circumstances that keep you in check.  Lack of  time or money or knowing the right people. Things that can be solved with effort, patience, and a little luck.

On the inside pushing outward, is the pressure from your internal beliefs. You create this in your head, thinking the things you want are so far away and require huge shifts in your circumstances.

Self-limiting beliefs cause the internal pressure that forms the thin membrane separating us from our desires.

You May Be Closer Than You Think

So, what if we lessen the internal pressure? Suddenly the membrane weakens. Our thinking can pierce the pressure that holds us back. Then it’s just a matter of  hustle and patience and persistence. Things we have. Things we can control.

We need to see what’s possible, and listen to the little whispers of our deepest desires. Yet most of us are afraid of our desires. They’re scary because they challenge our current circumstances. We can’t be stand-up comedians because we have families to support. We can’t be wealthy because we’re afraid of losing money in the stock market. We can’t be artists because we can’t make a living right now with our music, our acting or our poetry.

How We Self Sabotage

Those fears keep us from doing what we can do – chip away, little by little, with the discretionary time we do have.

Our desires are so scary that we actually manufacture situations so we can tell the little whispers they’re not practical.

We procrastinate little unimportant things, like paperwork and filing deadlines, until they become urgent. Then we tell ourselves that we can’t chase our dreams. We have to do these other things or the lights will go off or the IRS will garnish our meager wages.

In the end, we’re so afraid of trying and failing that we create situations that rob us of the chance to try.  We tell the little whispers to be quiet and go away – until we retire, or our ships come in, or our big breaks materialize.

Little Breaks Are All We Need

Big breaks are great, but what we really need are little breaks. Little cracks in the membrane, enough to allow us to squeeze through. To taste enough success to know our talent is real, our skills are valuable, and our dreams are achievable.

If you reduce the internal pressure on your membrane, you can start poking holes in it. Then you can take action and breakthrough to the success that is waiting for you on the other side. 

Gloria Estefan sang it best:

Get on your feet, get up and make it happen

Get on your feet, stand up and take some action…

So get out your paperclips. Bend them, float them, and once you see how you can challenge the laws of physics, use their little pointy ends to poke holes. Holes big enough to step through – in the direction of your little whispered desires. Because your dreams may be closer than you think

 

The Gift of a Chance Encounter

Chance Encounter
My Beach Haul

Yesterday was my birthday, so being a good Manic Impressive I did the only reasonable thing. I ditched work and drove to the beach. My particular piece of heaven is San Gregorio State Beach, just 39 miles from my front door. It’s where I go whenever I need to relax, recharge, and get inspired. Or get a gift of a Chance Encounter.

Before I could even get out of the parking lot, a man called out to me and struck up a conversation. He was out from Connecticut visiting his daughter at Stanford, and decided to check out the beach as a little adventure on his birthday.

I pulled out my driver’s license, shoved it at him and said, “you mean our birthday?” My instant new best friend Terry and I spent the next hour enjoying each other’s company. I gave him a tour of my favorite spots while we reveled in the beauty of the beach and our serendipitous meeting.

A Chance Encounter

What are the odds? Two men from opposite sides of the country who share a birthday, meet by chance on that very day. I could not get past the amazing coincidence. Neither of us were planning on being in that spot at that time. I only decided to go 90 minutes earlier. He was just wandering down Highway 1 on a whim. Continue reading The Gift of a Chance Encounter

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

One Man's Trash Is Another Man's Treasure As I’m grinding through my clutter, I’m tempted to hold onto things and sell them. I know my trash can be someone else’s treasure, but this urge is often just a stalling tactic to protect my hoard.  Yet every now and then it works.

Like when I got up on a stepladder to inspect the beams in our ceiling.  Turns out they were not rough-hewn hardwood as they appeared. They were fake molded styrofoam. They’d fooled us for years, but the minute my wife found out they weren’t real, they had to go. Stat.

So we removed the beams and scraped the “popcorn” texture ourselves, to save money before hiring a painter to re-do our ceilings. It turned out to be a tough, messy job.

But I ended up with over a dozen of these cool fake beams. I was mesmerized with the possibilities. They looked genuine but weighed next to nothing, and you could cut them with a putty knife. I could build a fort, a cool 4th of July float, or sell them for gobs of cash. Continue reading One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

3 Damn Good Reasons To Clear Out Your Clutter

Most creative people I know have a bit of clutter in their homes. Sometimes the more brilliant and innovative you are, the more you’ll struggle to keep the crap at bay. Some of us accept this as part of our natures. But there are lots of good reasons to clear out your clutter.

This is my garage. The picture will be a Rorschach test for you. If you’re neat and tidy you’ll cringe at the mess. If you’re messy you’ll think it’s pretty organized. If you’re my wife, you’ll run inside the house and yell, “How’d you get the car in there?”

12 years ago we turned the garage into a playroom for our kid. It was sweet and cozy. 3 years later we had to cram all our furniture in there during a remodel. The work took a matter of months, but the garage never recovered. It turned dank and hoardy. Continue reading 3 Damn Good Reasons To Clear Out Your Clutter

How To Profit FromThe Legacy of Richard Bolles

“The key to a happy and fulfilling future is knowing yourself. This self-knowledge is the most important component of finding the right career.”    

Richard Bolles was responsible for coaching laid-off ministers to find a new line of work. He was a minister ministering to ministers who could no longer minister. To help his clients, he wrote a little pamphlet with tips on how to move on to another calling.

The pamphlet had strategies that went against all conventional wisdom. It taught job seekers to stop relying on want ads (Craigslist postings for you Millennials), and network their way into jobs created just for them.

Instead of waiting to be interviewed by companies, Bolles coached people to go out and interview the companies they wanted to work for. Very disruptive strategies. Perfect for Manic Impressives. Continue reading How To Profit FromThe Legacy of Richard Bolles

How To Find Lost Things

How To Find Lost ThingsManic Impressives often struggle with things. Organizing them. Keeping track of them. And often, finding them. It is estimated that the average Manic Impressive will spend 7.2 years* of his or her life searching for lost things. (*Okay, I totally made this up.) Which is why we need to know how to find lost things.

The answer can be found in the second act of the cinematic gem, “Dude Where’s My Car?” Ashton Kutcher and Seann Willam Scott play stoner party boys that come out to the curb after a night of fierce partying to find their car is missing.

After Ashton delivers the movie’s title line, Seann gives him the solution that all of us need to use whenever we lose something:

“We need to get back into the state of mind we were in last night. That way we can retrace our steps. Sense memory, simulated perception, altered conscious memory retrieval. Discovery Channel.”

Yes, Discovery Channel indeed. Continue reading How To Find Lost Things

4 Smart & Lazy Methods of Tax Preparation

Smart & LazyTuesday’s the big day. The day all Americans face a hard deadline. You either get that midnight postmark or you pay penalties and interest. Procrastinate all you want, but when April 15th rolls around you’d better have your act together. But it’s okay to be smart & lazy about it.

I imagine you have some friends who filed their taxes months ago. They’re probably at the mall right now spending their refunds. But not you. You’re sweating that deadline like you do every year. And even though you should be working on your return right now, you’re doing everything in your power to distract yourself  and procrastinate (like reading this blog), instead of buckling down and getting your taxes done.

Your organized friends have never filed an extension. You try every year not to, but somehow this annual deadline creeps up and there you are, right up against it, debating whether or not to throw in the towel, file an extension, and put it all off until October.

Again. Continue reading 4 Smart & Lazy Methods of Tax Preparation

13 Surefire Tips To Kill It At Your Garage Sale

It’s springtime. Time to clear out your crap and turn it into cash. If you are like the rest of us, there’s a whole bunch of stuff you don’t use clogging up your house. It needs to go. But it won’t happen if you handle your sale like an amateur. Not to worry. I can help you. I’m a pro at this. Here are my 13 surefire tips to kill it at your garage sale.

1 ) Do It Like A Pro

This is a retail sales event, so do what good retail merchandisers do. Advertise, price, display, negotiate and service with a little style and panache. You need a certain amount of organization to attract people, and a strategy to entice and cajole your customers to pay you to cart off your crap.

A sloppy garage sale is less work on the front end, but it will net less cash and create more work on the back-end. Do the advance work. You really don’t want to be moving your crap back into the house at the end of a long day. Continue reading 13 Surefire Tips To Kill It At Your Garage Sale