Career advice 2



I have spent most of my recent posts on playing defense (expense management) but have decided to switch gears and go back on offense today. Let’s talk about some career management.


Most millionaires chose wisely in their occupation – by choosing something they enjoyed and were good at.  Those 2 things are probably related – you probably don’t enjoy doing something you aren’t that good at.  I know you probably think I reference too many books, but I am going to strongly encourage you to get one more – but this isn’t a normal book and you only need to read 2 or 3 chapters (say what? (Ron Burgandy voice). The book is called strengths finder 2.0

It’s an unusual book because you start by taking on an online survey about your preferences/personality and that survey measures your work-related strengths.


strengths book


“Do you have the opportunity to do what you do best every day? Chances are, you don’t. All too often, our natural talents go untapped. From the cradle to the cubicle, we devote more time to fixing our shortcomings than to developing our strengths.”


Think of it this way – if Cam Newton discovered that he is a terrible tennis player (he probably isn’t, but hey, work with me), should he spend a bunch of time trying to improve this shortcoming? Or would he be better off focusing on improving his extraordinary QB skills? The answer is so easy even captain oblivious would get this one right. The same thought process applies to your career and job choices.


Many surveys indicate that an overwhelming majority (between 70 and 80%) of Americans hate/dislike their jobs. Don’t complain about it – do something about it!


Take the strengths finder survey and figure out your top 5 strengths and which occupations best fit you. My top strength is that I’m analytical, which fits really well in my chosen field of accounting. I’m an oddball because I really like my job (most days anyhow). I’m fortunate because I am working in a field well-suited to my personal makeup.

It’s more than just choosing the right occupation though. Let me summarize my next 5 career tips.

  1. Take the strengths finder survey and figure out what your good at (see above if you skipped that part).


2. Research the industry and the company before you ever interview for a prospective job.  Don’t go in uninformed.


  1. Ask candid questions of existing employees (if you can).


  1. Ask questions about the management style of your immediate supervisor. You will be unhappy if you expect freedom from your manager and instead work for a micro-manager.


  1. Know your worth – there are lots of ways to research online:,, I confess I am not familiar with all of them, but hopefully it can help you establish a range of what your salary should be based on your skills, experience, field, location, etc. The internet is an amazing resource – don’t waste it. The best time to negotiate your salary is before you accept the position. Go online and look for industry forums. Read industry salary guides. Do your homework and know what you are worth. Knowledge is power.


see below my original post on career advice




Top 3 causes of financial anxiety

financial anxiety


A 2016 Northwestern Mutual study revealed that 85% of US adults suffer from financial anxiety. According to gobankingrates the top 3 causes of money related anxiety are:


  1. Never being able to retire. I think this is a valid concern (ding, ding, ding, no more callers please, we have a winner!). According to USATODAY, 46% of Americans save 5% or less of their income. 5% is a good place to start but that’s not going to be enough to retire on. Save early and often. I recommend saving at least 10% of your salary once you get your first “real” job out of college.   I believe you should bump up your saving percentage to 15% by the time you are 30 (earlier if you can – the power of compounding works much better if you start early).


I suggest you participate in your 401k plan at work, especially if the company offers a matching contribution; if they do not offer a match then use a traditional or Roth IRA (tax diversity) instead. I recommend low-cost index funds for starters, but the amount you save is more important than the investment vehicle (IMHO). By the time you are 40, I think you should calculate how much you really need (an exact number) to retire on (or become financially independent). Chris Hogan calls this the R:IQ.  If you get the book, it includes a survey that you can fill out to find out your unique R:IQ.  I highly recommend you at least calculate your R:IQ.  I read the book too – quite interesting and motivating as well.


chris hogan

see below one of my previous posts about becoming financially independent


  1. Always living paycheck-to-paycheck. According to money/cnn 76% of Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. (Houston, we have a problem!)


see below one of my previous posts on ways to reduce your costs.


see below one of my previous posts on how to set some financial priorities


Set a balanced budget. Setting a budget is simple – I didn’t say it’s easy – but it is simple. Spend less than you make. Start with the basics: food, housing, and transportation: then pay any debts you owe (student loans). I only recommend adding luxuries (don’t confuse wants with needs) if you are debt-free (excluding your mortgage). If you really want that new couch then save up and pay for it in full – don’t put it on a credit card.


  1. Living in debt forever. It all goes back to setting a sustainable budget.


see below one of my previous posts that will help get you started on your own financial plan (aka a budget)


But let’s say you made a few mistakes while playing the game of life and have accumulated some debts (e.g., student loans, car payments, etc.), what do I do now? You get mad and pay-off those debts as fast as you can. #you only live once – don’t spend it constantly paying off past debts. Let’s do a debt snowball. (see video below). Pay off the smallest one, then move on to the next one, and so on.  I know it’s not easy – getting ahead never is – but it is worth it.     .      .


Lifestyle creep



It’s one of the most common answers given by millionaires as to how they achieved success – they avoided lifestyle creep. So what actually is lifestyle creep? According to


A situation where people’s lifestyle or standard of living improves as their discretionary income rises either through an increase in income or decrease in costs.   As lifestyle creep occurs, and more money is spent on lifestyle, former luxuries are now considered necessities.


I know I’m guilty – especially going out to eat. When I was in college, Taco Bell was a staple; $.29, $.39, $.49 cent tacos. I could eat lunch for under $2 – and that usually involved 4 or 5 tacos. Dinner was frequently pizza. My two roommates and I would split a large pizza that only cost $5 – split 3 ways that was a pretty good deal – even though the pizza wasn’t really that good – more like marina sauce on cardboard – but hey, I was on a college budget.   .     .  Fast-forward to today – I spend over $500 per month going out to eat.  I lost the college lifestyle and my budget conscious mindset – guess I thought I deserved to go out to nicer restaurants.        .          . (wrong!)


I’ve driven 2 Honda Civics (total of 13 years combined) in the past, but today I drive a much nicer Chevy Impala. If I had chosen to live my college lifestyle even after I started my career, I would have been able to save more and accelerate my financial independence – this is one of the secrets that millionaires have figured out.   It takes a tremendous amount of self-control to delay gratification and keep driving that “old” car for a few more years, but the benefits to your savings are tremendous.


Let’s say your first job out of college paid a $30,000 salary and you learned to live on that salary. When you get your first raise – try to bank your raise and maintain your current standard of living. Over time you will realize you have the ability to save a significant percentage of your salary.


This will necessarily mean holding on to your stuff longer: clothes, cars, smart-phones, houses – you name it – hang onto it as long as you can and keep your expenses low. It’s the secret sauce to getting ahead. It means you will want to research and buy quality items that will last – the cheapest clothes aren’t necessarily the best value – in fact they usually are not.


I think cars and houses are the heavy hitters that will really move the needle, so choose wisely when purchasing both – I recommend a solid used car that you can keep for at least 5 – preferably 10 years. I recommend buying an existing home close to your job – I also recommend you get a 15 year mortgage and aim for a house that costs no more than twice your salary. If you make a $75,000 salary, look for a house that costs no more than $150,000. I know this won’t be easy, but you will thank yourself later .   .     .


If you can save 20% of your salary (without going into debt), and live on the rest, then you are fast on your way to financial success.


I want to add one more topic to this post – vacations – this is the time of year to get away for a week or two. Just check Facebook and I’m sure you will see some amazing pictures of places your friends have gone this summer. Don’t compare your vacation to your social-media feed. That unhealthy comparison is a competition you can’t win. Don’t compare your life to their social media avatar. What you may not realize is the credit card that was maxed out for that two week stay in Saint Thomas.  You only live once – don’t spend the next 10 years paying off a credit card balance.  I strongly recommend that you save up and pay cash for your next vacation.  And read Rachel’s book Love Your Life Not Theirs

Cruze book


6 ways to measure financial success



I recently read an interesting Forbes article about measuring success. I will summarize below and include a link at the bottom of the post. I confess I like any tool that measures your progress towards your financial freedom. I believe these 6 check-points are useful references to challenge the status quo.


If you always give what you always gave then you’ll always get what you always got


In finances, you aren’t competing against your neighbor or your co-worker; you are competing against yourself! Are you making progress toward your goal of financial independence? Or are you getting in your own way? Let’s walk through the 6 steps and see if there are any areas you need to work on.


  1. Your net worth. The article suggests you check this once a year. Write this down and see how you are doing from year-to-year? Is your net worth going up or down? Remember that net worth is everything you own (e.g. house, 401k, etc.), subtracting everything you owe (e.g., mortgage, student loans, credit cards, etc.).


When your outflow exceeds your inflow then your up-keep is your down-fall.


  1. Your credit score. An excellent credit score will result in a lower interest rate and that can make a big difference. A 4% 30 year mortgage on a $300,000 house would have over $215,000 in interest over 30 years! (a 15 year mortgage would have less than $100,000 in interest, but that’s a topic for another day); that same 30 year mortgage would include about $280,000 in interest at 5%. Going from 4% to 5% on the mortgage will cost you an extra $65,000! (for the same house. .   .) A good credit score is an indication of paying your bills on time and being conscientious to pay-off your debt. I would rather you not had debt at all (other than a 15 year mortgage), but if you already have debt, don’t neglect your credit score and end up paying more in interest.     .       . The article suggests a very good score is 740 (and higher).


  1. The number of months your emergency fund will carry you. Most financial planners suggest 3-6 months worth of expenses be saved in a savings account (not stocks, bonds, CDs etc.) What would happen if you lost your job or had another financial emergency (examples include medical emergencies and necessary home repairs (e.g., a leaky roof). What would happen if you lost your job tomorrow? Would this involve lots of credit card debt.     .       .


  1. Your retirement saving percentage. Millionaires on average invest at least 20% of their income, according to the Millionaire next door book by Thomas Stanley. This article suggests you start with 10% to retirement, 5% to an emergency fund, and 5% for other goals.


  1. Your debt-to-income ratio. To calculate your debt-to-income ratio, take the total of your monthly debt payments (e.g., car payments, student loans, etc.) and divide it by your gross monthly income (for the month). It’s optimal to be debt-free, of course, but according to, lenders look for a target debt-to-income ratio of 36% or less. What’s yours?



  1. Your giving percentage. Personally, I believe a true measure of personal financial security is the ability to give. I don’t just say that as a Christian (Christ was a giver, John 3:16, just sayin’). Giving will change your perspective on life – I promise. Remember, its not about you (purpose driven life book). Research even indicates that giving to others makes us happier than spending money on ourselves. I am a Christian so I believe this percentage should be at least 10% – the Bible tells us not to steal from God.


As you improve and grow your wealth, it will be rewarding to look back and see how far you’ve come. has changed my life.

What are you still doing here, the blog post is done. Shoo.

your still here

Ok fine, I’ll say it again. changed my life.

This is not a fanatical statement. I don’t say it with the wide-eyed fervor of a zealot proselytizing his chosen idol, but with the calm rationale of fact-grounded retrospect. I do not run around yelling at friends, family, and strangers on the street, “Try, it will change your liiiiiiiiiiife.” (Textually simulated Doppler effect is hard.) Instead I sit at my computer or my desk on the day I pay bills and think to myself, “Man, this app is just the best. I need to make sure my fiancee uses this before we get married.” This app has quietly made my life better., in the basest form of its use, is an aggregator, allowing me to link all of my accounts to one place. It allows me to see the big picture, as it were, and allows me to develop a philosophy for that particular month. I have lean months. I have fat months. The shape of those months, however, comes from the information gleaned from having all my accounts listed on a single page, and updated from the companies that hold those very accounts. It also allows me to see my spending trends, so that little bit of lying to yourself that you really needed to spend $748 on fidget spinners and mobile app games is no longer as convincing.

Another thing, and this is the thing that makes me feel like a financial genius, is that Mint gives you a monthly soft credit report from Equifax, one of the big three credit bureaus. In addition to giving you the score, there is a breakdown of what goes into the score you have, what goals will help you raise that score, and how long negative impacts on your score will stick around. It doesn’t take very much brain power (thus how I feel like a genius) to determine a rough course of action that will allow you to raise your credit score. As a reference, I have raised mine 10 points last month, and almost 40 points since I started using this feature. Information really is power, and this information grants anyone the power to get other people to loan them money at slightly better interest rates.

The last function of that I use, is the bill pay feature. It already tracks your bills, the functionality to pay them from accounts already linked to the same site is a no-brainer (again, very good for me). Even if you are nervous about putting all your information into one place, Intuit, who owns TurboTax, is about as safe a bet as you will find. If you aren’t going to give your information to Intuit, chances are you probably aren’t going to feel comfortable linking your accounts to anything. Which is your prerogative, again I am not a zealot. has other features, such as budget setting functionality, links to TurboTax for easy tax filing next April, financial blog posts (sorry for mentioning another blog on here, Jimmy), and suggestions for various banks, credit cards, lenders, etc. I am not as qualified to speak to that as I do not currently use those features, but it is nice to have them there.

I am getting married in October, and in taking the long view of my finances, my future, and my family, I turned to and instead of foundering, I came up with a purpose and a plan. I am not a zealot. I am not a proselyte. I am not the guy you shy away from at parties because he doesn’t have any other topics of conversation (you shy away from me at parties because I have too many topics of conversation). I am, however, a believer that is a very very good way to change your life for the better. To gain the power of information, and to be given a direction to point that power. I do not shout it in the streets, but I will say: changed my life.


The previous guest post was by the incomparable Marcus; philosophy major from Montreat college, purveyor of Biblical truth, the seeker of serenity!    .     .   the one, the only Sir Ulrich Von Liechtenstein! (ok, maybe I exaggerated a little on that last part)

Top 5 personal finance books to read this summer


Don’t stop learning! Read! It’s a life-long pursuit. Most college graduates never read another book after college. Millionaires, on the other hand, read a non-fiction book every month.


See below a list of great books that I have read (I’m actually still reading one of these now).


Top 5 personal finance books to read this summer


  1. The first billion is the toughest by T. Boone Pickens; his biographical account is inspirational – I recall that he was totally broke in his late 60s but changed his mindset and became a billionaire.


  1. Love your life not theirs by Rachel Cruze; I’m actually reading this one now, “life can look pretty good for everyone in your social media feed, but if you look a little closer, you might find some surprises .    .     . credit card bills, student loans, car payments.     .       .   may be crippling some people”


  1. Retire Inspired by Chris Hogan; best book on retirement I have ever read, includes a calculation (based on your situation) of your R:IQ, the unique dollar amount you should save before declaring your financial independence.


  1. Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley; a great read that includes important lessons learned from actual millionaires. See my previous post (hyper-link below) that summarizes the key take-aways from this book.


  1. Complete guide to money by Dave Ramsey; the definitive book to gaining your financial freedom.   Dave takes great Biblical truth and helps you apply it to your financial journey.  A must read for anyone who wants to take control of their finances.



young learn


Honorable mention – 5 more bonus books


Stop acting Rich by Thomas Stanley; good follow up to his book the millionaire next door – focuses on cars and houses, two of my weaknesses.   .    .


Debt free living by Larry Burkett; Larry Burkett was the original inspiration for me to write this blog. I got to see him in person when he came to Charlotte (many years ago, before his passing)


Master your money by Ron Blue; really a hands on workbook from Crown Financial; associate of Larry Burkett back in the day.


Getting back to even by Jim Cramer; good introduction to the stock market and how to invest your “mad” money.


Smart money, smart kids by Rachel Cruze; a must read if you are a parent!