We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story

“Over your lifetime, you’ll actually miss more deals than you’ll catch onto.”

Two of the principles of my blog are “Long-Term Thinking/Delayed Gratification”, and the teaching of “Financial Literacy” as money and investing are topics that I ponder and study quite a bit these days.  I wasn’t taught a lot about them as a youth and strive regularly to fill that space in my personal toolbox.  Learning about investing money is actually critical for all employees who are responsible for saving into their own “Defined Contribution” plans.  A third principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” – helping others to be successful.  This particular story involves all three principles and focuses on two investing opportunities from years past – both of which could have drastically changed my life today if I had been in position to take advantage of them.

This post was inspired by two people.  One is a mentor who has literally adopted me and whom I regularly meet with to talk about the content of my blog, economics, current events and everything else under the sun.  Everyone should have a mentor like this.  The second individual is a long-time friend from our hometown of Buffalo, NY.  He worked in the banking industry, and has always had a bit of an entrepreneurial mind.

Instead of diving right into the story, for context I’ll go back to my brief high school basketball career – one of the best times of my life.  One of the things our coaches tried to stress to us was “boxing out” on defense.  That is putting a body on your man once a shot went up from the opposing team.  By committing to boxing out as a team, any team almost certainly could position itself to get the rebound and limit shot opportunities for the opponent no matter their height or leaping ability.  It was a simple and effective technique if used consistently and for our young minds, that was the hard part – doing it consistently.  All it took was being mentally alert, and positioning oneself at the right time.

Okay, let’s talk about Facebook and Bitcoin.  I’ll start with a reading assignment my mentor gave me about three months ago.  One of the topics we discuss regularly is investing money – something he is very experienced at and has taught his kids to do – something I’m playing catch up on.  At the conclusion of one of our mentoring sessions, he gave me a book to read titled “How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000: Earn, Save and Invest by James McKenna and Jeanine Glista with Matt Fontaine, the creators of Biz Kid$.  When he first handed me the book, I made a comment about it being a, “Children’s book,” to which he quickly snapped back at me, “Do you know everything thing in this children’s book?”  Eager to know more of what he knew, I didn’t take offense, but instead appreciated his coaching.  He tasked me with reading the book prior to our next mentoring session.

As I read through the book, the initial chapters started with basic money lessons youngsters should have – ways to legally earn money such as through doing chores or eventually getting a job, and also planning and goal setting – some lessons many children aren’t taught at an early age.  Later the book delved into investments in a very simple and digestible way – charts, diagrams, pictures and all.  One caption that stood out for me was something on page 106, which told the story of Facebook’s Initial Public Offering (IPO) back in 2012.

“We should all pool our money together and buy Facebook stock,” my friend described earlier said enthusiastically.  It was the holiday season up in our hometown of Buffalo, NY.  He had worked in the banking industry for a while and had knowledge of investment vehicles that myself and my brother, and probably most of his family didn’t have.  We were all at his grandmother’s house where his relatives gathered to fellowship as they did most years.  I watched as he floated around his grandmother’s upper unit telling everyone, “We should pool our money and buy some Facebook stock.  They’re about to have an IPO.”

At that point, Facebook had completely eclipsed Myspace as the number one social media site and most everyone was on it.  While most everyone was using it to reconnect, share the most intimate details of their lives, and other unscrupulous things, its creator Mark Zuckerberg, was cleverly devising ways to monetize his creation through selling advertising space.  It never occurred me, and I would guess the majority of the users, to invest in it.

A mischievous guy at times, I thought this was just another one of my friend’s bright ideas that he was trying to suck us all into.  But was it?  As described in How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000, Facebook’s initial stock price in 2012 opened at $38 per share.  Shortly thereafter the stock price decreased to $17.55.  When I heard that the stock price went down, I laughed internally at the prospect of all of us “pooling” our money to buy this Facebook stock, and the fact that my friend was lobbying so hard for us to do it.  But that was just the beginning.

Facebook’s stock rebounded over the next five years from that $17.55 per share drop and eventually appreciated to around $100 per share in 2015 when How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000 was published.  Just before crafting this piece, I checked the business section of the Washington Post for stock prices and to gauge the health of our economy – a regular exercise now.  There I saw that Facebook’s stock is now trading around $170 per share, that’s right $170.  It’s also now considered one of the “Four Horseman” of technology stocks – the other three being Amazon, Apple, and Google.

So let’s put this all in perspective.  What occurred to me when I read that passage in the book was that if I simply had $2,000 lying around and ready to invest in 2012, I could’ve purchased just 100 shares of the Facebook stock for a total value of $1,755 (plus the cost per trade).  Holding onto that stock for another five years, those 100 shares would have appreciated to a total value of $17,550 which could either be cashed out for another purpose, or held for more appreciation.  There would of course be the potential of loss too as with all investments, but Facebook has become a very strong company.  But if you were positioned to get into the game at that point, you would’ve been rewarded later on.

I’ve come to realize that life is all about positioning similar to the way smart basketball players position themselves to get rebounds when a shot goes up, as opposed to simply leaving things to chance.  When I look back to where I was in 2012, I honestly wasn’t in position to safely buy stock of any kind.  I was still lugging around a considerable amount of debt from school, and from mistakes made shortly after starting my federal career – paying too much money for some real estate investing trainings (discussed in another post).  I was recently out of a tumultuous relationship where money was an issue – my not spending enough.  I further had no emergency fund (see Dave Ramsey), and I hadn’t started funding my government retirement plan at least up to the point where I would get my 5% matching contribution – something all employees should position themselves to do if employers offer it.  What’s more is that I didn’t understand much about the stock investing game other than you want to “buy low” and “sell high” whether or not you get into an opportunity when it’s first offered, or if you find something of value at a discounted price and chances are it will appreciate – stocks, real estate, whatever.

But there is so much more to it than buying low and selling high.  There are lessons which take time and commitment to learn – this is part of positioning one’s self.  Furthermore, there are often sacrifices to be made to have money to invest – sacrifices such as not buying a car if public transportation and Uber can be used, taking one’s lunch to work more often times than not, and not “Turning Up” at the club on a regular basis.  As a man, another position might be not having a girlfriend for a while, or at least finding one who isn’t high maintenance.  These are examples of the positioning one must do to be ready to take advantage of the next Facebook if and when it ever comes around.

My friend was right in that it would have been good for us to take advantage of the Facebook IPO.  Coincidentally a couple of years later, he came back to us and told us that we should take advantage of something called “Bitcoin”, a new cyber-currency which I thought was another one of his silly ideas.  He was very enthused about it, but one of the issues was he couldn’t clearly explain to us what Bitcoin was and why it was important going forward.  This brings up another very key point.  A very important investing rule of thumb is that one should never invest in something they don’t understand.  It turned out though that he was right again.  Two to three years later, Bitcoin seems to be paying off for those who positioned themselves and invested in it when it was dirt cheap.  See the recurring theme here?

This post is not about buying Facebook or Bitcoin today in 2017 per se.  Those ships have arguably sailed, and you’d have to have enough money readily available even just to buy 10 shares of Facebook stock today.  In terms of getting into these opportunities early when they’re affordable, you have to position yourself, and that’s the central point.  Either you’re in a position to take advantage of an opportunity when it’s presented to you, or you’re not.  This involves knowledge and resources – studying your investment of choice, minimizing your debt, saving for emergencies, and then allocating money to invest – money you won’t be adversely affected by the if investment doesn’t work.  If you’re not in position to take advantage of a particular opportunity, you can always position yourself for the next one, and the one after that, and then the one after that.  It’s all about foresight and positioning.  Before starting discretionary/speculative investments, it might also be worthwhile to see a trustworthy financial planner (or someone knowledgeable whom you really trust) to make sure you’re on sure footing.

For the people who were in position to get into Facebook and Bitcoin, it wasn’t magic.  They had the resources and they were probably spending time studying those opportunities so that they were able to strike at the right time.  It all takes some time and effort, and how you spend your time will determine if you’re in position to take advantage of the next Facebook.  In closing, I highly recommend How To Turn $100 Into $1,000,000 to youngsters who have the aptitude for money and finance, and for adults like myself who’ve needed to play catch up.  I’ve personally started sharing copies with those in my inner-circle.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Father’s Day 2017: reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons

Last month I wrote a piece in celebration of Mother’s Day, so it’s only fitting that I write something in celebration of Father’s Day as well.  The Mother’s Day post was about a specific piece of advice my mother gave me about my engagement and looming marriage a couple of years ago.  As jokingly stated in that post, Dad didn’t give me much advice in that particular instance.  He did give me lots of guidance throughout my life though.  Over on my “Heroes and Quotes” page, his is the first quote which was some advice he gave me at a young age about how to succeed academically.

There was much more though, particularly in way of advice about money, women and other things – lots about money and women.  He sometimes consciously taught me things, and some things I learned simply from observation.  With two of the key principles of my blog being “Creating Ecosystems of Success”, and “Empowering Others”, I’m going to reflect on some of his money lessons and some of their deeper and associated life meanings/significances – some of which I had to question.  As in most cases, I didn’t understand everything that was being said then as I do now.

As I go through some of this stuff, keep in mind that fathers are important – biological, step-, or mentors of all sorts.  According to data from Kid’s Count in 2015, 66% of African American kids were raised by a single-parent while the national average was 35%.  My parents divorced when I was three-years old and I thus grew up in a single-parent household for the majority of my childhood.  While I’ve sometimes looked back and wondered what it would’ve been like to have my father in the house, the blessing was that while he wasn’t physically there, it was important for him to be as visible and accessible as possible.

“Always make sure your children know who you are.”  He tried hard to keep up with the words of his own father who died during his teens.  It sounds like a simple thing, but as I grew into adulthood myself, went through college and even started dating, I realized that not every father did this, especially in the black community.  The results often times were catastrophic with long lasting ramifications, especially in dating or ‘pair-bonding’ – a separate topic all in itself.

*  *  *

“You just did something I don’t like.  You didn’t count your change.  How do you know that the cashier gave you the correct change?”  I was an early teen when this discussion took place.  I had just paid for something, took the change the cashier gave me and immediately stuffed it into my pocket.  A stern man, his words, “You just did something I don’t like,” stopped me dead in my tracks.  I didn’t think he was paying attention, but sure enough he was – in general Dad was always paying attention to the most minute details even when you thought he wasn’t.  He also remembered things long after you forgot them and would bring them back up when you least expected it.

When I discovered what he was unhappy about, it made sense to me and I started counting my change.  I even started calculating in my mind the change I was supposed to get back from cashiers before they gave it to me.  The lesson here was to be careful with my money, and to trust no one.  Years later he observed that I was in fact careful with my money.  I told him that I had gotten the behavior from him.  He replied saying something very profound, “Well son, when you have to make child support payments, you have to be very careful with your money.”

“You always keep your receipt because you never know when you’re going to have to return something.”  I don’t know which came first, this lesson or the change counting lesson, but they weren’t far apart.  His father had gotten on him about this when he was younger.  He had allegedly gone into lower Manhattan to buy some underwear and returned home without the receipt resulting in his getting scolded.

“When you get paid, you want to account for all of your expenses.”  This was an early lesson about budgeting.  We didn’t sit down and do one right then and there, and I wouldn’t master it until at least ten years later, but I always remembered the discussion.

“You always pay yourself first.”  This lesson came shortly after I started working, though again as a teen, I didn’t grasp the power of this advice until later.  It had tremendous implications in one’s prime earning years where diligent individuals save for both emergencies and investments and build wealth while others spend all of their income.

“You don’t quit your job unless you have another one to go to.”  Dad gave me this sage wisdom between my junior and senior years of high school after quitting my very first job at the Denny’s Restaurant, near the Buffalo airport.  I lasted three months at that job which consisted of washing dishes, cleaning up the restaurant, and taking out the garbage.  I didn’t last long enough to have to shovel snow in the winter.  The place where I really wanted to work for my first job was McDonald’s.  At the time it looked fun to me.  I was happy to have an income, but after a while I grew tired of working at Denny’s – coming home sweaty, greasy, and exhausted.  Without talking to anyone, I quit that job right there on the spot with no other job to go to.  It was then that I came to the understanding that I had no more cash flow – a sign of immaturity.  The only positive thing about that situation was that I was still in high school and wasn’t required to contribute to any of my mother’s household bills.  Some adults quit their job without having a replacement and put themselves in a pickle; often burdening those around them.

“You always keep money in the bank because you never know when an emergency is going to arise.”  There’s a very funny story behind this lesson and it involves a woman – something very dramatic and stressful according to Dad.  For my own safety, I’ll just stick to the lesson.  At an early age, Dad stressed the importance of having money in the bank due to unforeseen emergencies which inevitably happen to you, or to someone around you.  In this particular quagmire he had gotten into, having some money in the bank helped him get out of it.  He also regretted once not having $5,000 available for a mortgage down payment on a house he was renting.

“You can keep dating her if you want to.  You might have to miss your electric bill.”  This sobering advice came during my first year in graduate school in my mid-twenties.  It was one of my first experiences learning something that Dad had talked about for most of my childhood – women and money.  At least most of the ones we knew came with a price tag, and wanted to be wined and dined.

I had, unfortunately, taken a liking to someone whom I dated for one to two months who openly admitted she was needy, which I didn’t understand at the time as she had already started her own career.  Inexperienced at dating, she grew frustrated with my meager finances and my lack of understanding of what was expected of me.  Dad’s advice here, which came in a hurtful and mocking tone, was simply communicating that I needed to determine whether or not I could afford this particular female.  I decided that I couldn’t.

It’s an important set of questions for all men to ask themselves when meeting a potential partner.  Can I afford her?  Does she line up with my priorities?  Will she tank my finances?  This was also one of the first times I could personally feel the pain, the scars, and the poor fortune my father experienced in the dating jungle after he and my mother split – as there was lots of despair, and little hope or encouragement in his words.

“When you have to make child support payments, it forces you to be very careful with your money.”  I have to be very careful here as this is a sensitive topic, and my mother generally proof-reads my articles.  Throughout my childhood, Dad sometimes lamented about making child support payments – not because he didn’t want to support his children, but because I think he had a hard time making ends meet on his own end.  During my childhood, he eventually took a second job in the military to pay the bills.  It’s a sensitive topic because while he felt maxed out, my mother felt as though he wasn’t doing enough.  And I’ll stop there, but suffice it to say that in many instances men and women see money (and life) differently.  In some instances, as the ones being asked to provide, it can seem like your best is never enough – a hard pill to swallow.  He and I talked about this a lot as I got older and I started experiencing my own scrapes and bruises with the opposite sex.

“The bank is going to want to look at all of your bank statements when you apply for a mortgage, and $2,000 isn’t any money,” Dad scoffed at me, making me feel five feet tall.  I was still living with the big guy during my Postdoctoral fellowship.  I had started reading Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad Poor Dad series and had joined my local Real Estate Investment Club.  I wanted to make an ambitious move and get my first investment property – a duplex which I would live in and eventually rent out for “Passive” income.  I needed some help with the closing costs and associated expenses, so I asked him for a loan.  It was one of the worst experiences of my life.

Instead of a nice teachable discussion about the ups, the downs, and the ins, and outs of trying such a thing – it turned into him putting me in a proverbial headlock.  It dragged on for days and days as he mulled over it, and asked me random pointed questions about it – his analysis and communication styles.  After a while I just wanted to drop the whole thing, and I concluded that I never wanted to be in a position to ask his help for anything money-related, though I did once more, and returned to the same conclusion.

In hindsight while it was smart to want to create a passive income stream, it wasn’t a good idea in that particular instance.  I wasn’t going to stay in that area long-term, and I wasn’t experienced enough, and didn’t have enough money to manage a property from a long-distance.  What was funny was that many people don’t even have $2,000 in the bank they can access quickly.  That said, he was right in that it wasn’t a substantial amount of money.  He was also right in that prior to qualifying you for a mortgage, the banks do want to know everything about your financial history.

Dad was also jaded in terms of being a landlord from a prior experience, as he once had a tenant in his lower unit – an older woman.  According to him, he went downstairs to collect the rent one day, and the woman transformed into a malevolent, ominous, and demon-possessed state.  It scared him at the time and forever soured him on being a landlord.

“I wouldn’t invest in the Stock Market if I were you.”  This bit of advice was given to me in my 30s when I expressed that I wanted to buy some stock by the end of that particular year.  Because of his own life experiences, Dad was averse to losing money.  Coincidentally, one of our closest cousins recommended I get in the game and buy stock, and even today experts like Dr. Boyce Watkins, strongly advocate blacks getting into the Stock Market.  So who was right in this case?  Who was to be believed and trusted?

This gets back to one of the points I made in my 2017 Mother’s Day post.  As we grow into adulthood, I think we all get to a point where everything our parents tell us can’t be taken as the gospel and in some instances must be questioned and or pondered critically.  In this particular instance, yes investing in stocks does involve potential loss.  An important consideration going in though is whether or not you understand that there is a potential for the loss, and whether or not you can absorb the loss.  In other words, do you have emergency money in the bank, and is the amount to be invested allocated for that reason?  Can it be easily replaced for another round?  This is a much different thought process than simply stating, “You’re going to lose your money if you do that.”

*  *  *

If the tone of this blog post was in part melancholy and mixed, then it reflects our father-son relationship which has been full of contradictions and mystery.  When I look back at my youth many of my childhood experiences were marked by concerns over money.  I’m not saying that I grew up in poverty because I didn’t by any means.  I don’t really remember my mother, whom I spent the majority of my childhood with, talking about money a lot, but I think she shielded my brother and me from some things – sheltering us, as one of my aunts often said.  I did look around at peers, such as my best friend and realized that I didn’t have Air Jordans, Starter Jackets, Karl Kani, or any of the trendiest apparel of our cohort.

Most of the money-related talks as I grew up actually came from my father and as you might have gathered from this post, many of them had some sort of pain associated with them.  As I’ve gotten older, I understand things much better now.  As we get older we start to see that our parents are people who make mistakes themselves, and are not perfect though at one point we may have thought they were.  In some instances we start to understand their pains and struggles.

Over the years our father-son relationship has gone through a lot of changes – some good and some bad with multiple ups and downs.  Overall I’m grateful for everything my father has done for me, and I tell him that every time I see him now (my mother too).  That said, as I think President Obama said years ago, for children whose biological fathers are missing, there can be other fathers too.  And even if a child’s father isn’t a good one, or can’t supply everything needed, there can again be other fathers to fill in those gaps.  I certainly have many.

There are a lot of podcasts and men’s stations on places like YouTube these days – many talking about the importance of fathers.  My favorite in this current station of my life is Paul Elam’sA Voice for Men” – content I would recommend for any man still figuring things out in our society – personal values, dating and marriage, and finally gender/societal roles.  Fathers are very important if for no other reason than to lend a balanced perspective on the world.  This is true for both boys and girls who themselves will eventually both grow into men and women.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part three

This is the conclusion of my interview of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA regarding Homeownership and the African American Community.  In part two of our discussion, we talked about some of the impediments of Black homeownership, some things our youth can start learning at an early age regarding financial literacy, and finally, the effect of the housing market boom and crash on African American wealth.  In part three of our discussion, we talked about Reverse Mortgages, and general recommendations and considerations for first time African American homebuyers.  This entire interview addresses all of the principles of my blog recently added to the site.

Anwar Dunbar:  What is a Reverse Mortgage and why are they bad products?

Simone Griffin:  They aren’t necessarily bad.  It is about the type of reverse mortgage you get and what you need it for.  A Reverse Mortgage is for people 65 years and older who wish to borrow against the equity in their home. This is a loan which has to be repaid when the homeowner dies. The homeowner still has to maintain the property, and pay property taxes and homeowners insurance.

Reverse Mortgages can come with high fees, so they should really only be utilized if there are no heirs to the house, or if the homeowner truly has no other money to live on.  Let’s say you own your home outright and have no other ways to pay your bills.  If you get a reverse mortgage and there’s nobody who can step in and pay that loan off when you die, the only way to get it paid off is by selling the house.  You’ve lost way more than you’ve gained.  Your family and future generations have just lost a piece of property that they could have lived in.

Consider Brooklyn, NY, where the difference between the average income and the cost of a home is astronomical.  Imagine a Black family who bought a home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, who may have come in through the great migration from the south and bought a home in the 1960s or 1970s – now those Brownstones are going for well over a million dollars.

In 2010 Grandpa took out a reverse mortgage for $300,000, plus fees.  He died last year, and now the family can’t come up with the amount owed to the bank, so the only thing they can do is sell the house.  That’s a million-dollar house which they could never afford today, and $700,000 in equity has gone to the bank.

This is why we have to train our people in their working years about how to afford retirement. Aside for a reverse mortgage you can’t borrow for it.  If you don’t have anyone to leave the home to and you need the money, then it’s fine.  However, it should be a choice, not something you do because you didn’t plan well for retirement; especially if you have kids and grandkids who can utilize that property.

AD:  Redlining.  Are you seeing a lot of that in DC?

SG:  After the housing, boom shady investors went door to door saying, ‘We want to buy your house. We’ll offer you $300,000 cash if you move tomorrow, and we’ll take care of all of the repairs.’  Except that the house is actually worth $500,000.  When you’re paying cash for a house, an appraisal is not required.  So people didn’t bother to spend the money on one, they just took the $300,000 and ran.  If the homeowner had the property appraised, they could have sold it for a much higher amount.  Or they could have kept it. Unfortunately, many of the same people in DC with parents or grandparents who purchased houses for $30,000 or $40,000 sold them at the wrong time.  Now the neighborhoods are turning and they’re saying, ‘I want to move back,’ but they can no longer afford to.

AD: I used a first time homebuyer’s 3% down program with cash back at closing when I bought my condo.  That came with several caveats and nuances that I didn’t understand – I just saw that it was 3% down with cash back at closing.  I also bought into the sentiment that I was wasting money by renting and making someone else rich – a common motivation for first time homebuyers.  What advice would you give first time African American home buyers who are looking to purchase a home?  What things should they stay away from and what would you encourage?

SG:  I would encourage them to stay away from Adjustable Rate Mortgages (ARMS) and creative financing.  A 3% down payment is fine.  Right now those the 3% down loans are often an FHA product, which means you have to pay Private Mortgage Insurance (PMI), around 1% of the total loan until you have about 20% equity.  There are also 5% and 10% down products that don’t require PMI but the additional down payment may delay your purchase.  Using an organization like HomeFree-USA will help you leverage the home buying opportunity since we’re familiar with many different products, as well as different loan officers.

Lenders are now starting to understand the drawbacks that requiring 20% down or PMI brings. As a result, more are offering lower down payment products. Our job at HomeFree-USA is to be aware of these products, and marry them with local, state and federal funds that will help decrease the cost of homeownership for the buyer.  Now is a very good time to buy.  But don’t fret if you can’t find a product right now – we know where they are.

If there is any way to pay down your debts as much as possible, you should do that.  I know this is easier said than done, but if you can do it, it’s incredibly important to your peace of mind and  for affordability.  People get intimidated by their debt pay down process and what they have to sacrifice.  They’ll say, ‘Well it’s two whole years,’ and then I flip it and I say, ‘It’s only two years.’  In the grand scheme of life, the money you can earn from saving or investing the money you’re paying in debt is substantial.

Let’s say you’re paying $200 in student loans every month, and you’re able to get that paid off in one or two years.  If you put that $200 into a Mutual Fund, that money will grow over time.  You’re paying interest while in debt, so it’s worth it to just drop out of life for two years, or however long it takes, and say, ‘I want this over.  I’m paying off these debts and moving forward with life.’  Then you can take the money you’ve saved and use it towards a down payment on a house and avoid things like financing cars by paying cash.

People assume that they have to finance a car and that’s not the case.  I’ve never financed a car.  I only buy used cars, and each one is better than the last. But many Americans do not take the time to say, ‘I’m willing to put off something that I really want for the greater good (delaying gratification), so I don’t have to spend money financing a car.’  I recommended this to a friend.  She didn’t do it and is still not at the level that she wants to be financially. I thought to myself, ‘If she’d taken the year I suggested to not have a car, her company would have paid for transportation to and from meetings, she could have walked, gotten rides, taken the Metro or Lyft, and after only a year would’ve been in a much better position in life.’

She lives in the center of the city.  It’s an entirely different situation if you live in Odenton and have to drive to DC every day.  But when you live in the city and work in the city, and the metro is only 10 minutes away, there is some leverage.  It’s just a matter of being slightly inconvenienced for now in order to get to a greater position later (delayed gratification).  And many Americans don’t feel comfortable doing that, but the problem is Black Americans have fewer options than non-Hispanic whites.

AD:  That’s absolutely right.  I personally have some higher financial goals and decided to get rid of my car for numerous reasons in 2012; living right next to the metro being one of the main ones.  Some people just can’t fathom the idea of not owning a car.  But I aspire to do things like growing my net worth, and attaining some assets (stocks and eventually real estate, for example).

SG:  My father has a condo in the U Street Corridor.  I was there this week helping him, and it’s very hard to find parking. The metro, and a bike stand, are both 2 blocks away.  There are three grocery stores in the neighborhood and numerous restaurants.  Why would you need a car if you lived there?  If you live someplace that’s not far from the metro, why not take the opportunity do this for yourself so that you can eventually drive whatever you want?  Like Dave Ramsey says, ‘We’re going to live like no one else, so later we can live like no one else.’  Take that opportunity now.  But many people just don’t see it as an opportunity which is unfortunate, because where Black people are concerned, we don’t have as much to fall back on.

AD:  That’s right.  So a lot of this is in how you’re perceiving things, what you know, and what you’re willing to do.

SG:  Exactly.

AD:  Well, Simone, that was awesome.  A lot of people are going to benefit from reading this.  Do you have any parting comments or do you want to introduce HomeFree-USA one more time?

SG: To learn more about HomeFree-USA, go to www.homefreeusa.org. My financial blog is www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  If they have any questions they can reach out to me at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org. If your readers are ready to start the homeownership experience, they can contact us at 301-891-8400.  They don’t have to talk to me for that.

We have a free class at our Riverdale, MD office every other Thursday, “Five Home Buying Secrets Everyone Ought to Know”.  HomeFree-USA is judged by the number of successful and sustainable home owners we produce, not just the number of clients we see.  That’s the key difference.

AD:  Okay, well Simone, that’s all I’ve got.  Once again thank you for this interview and for sharing your expertise and your experiences.  If we can do a follow up piece in the future, that’s something I would be very interested in.

SG:  Okay, thank you Anwar.

Thank for taking the time to read this interview.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff

A couple of years ago when still writing for the Examiner, I wrote a sentimental tribute piece about my mother for Mother’s Day discussing everything she did for my brother and me.  In short she put being a mother first above all else.  Looking back at my youth I don’t remember her really partying aside from holiday celebrations at her places of employment.  There were always lots of home cooked meals, togetherness, and church on Sundays, though I didn’t appreciate it at the time.  There was also a lot of love and positive affirmation in our home.

Her motherly guidance continued well into my adulthood.  One of her greatest gifts was given to me a couple of years ago, and I can guarantee that it isn’t a gift that you the reader would expect.  It was a lifesaving gift – one that impacted our immediate family, and that helped stop me from going over my own personal “Fiscal Cliff” and falling to my demise.  I’m sharing this story because I think about it often, but also so that it might help save someone else.  This post will probably likewise touch someone, and maybe draw a laugh or two, or three, or four.

Many of you remember the term “Fiscal Cliff” from one of President Barrack Obama’s earliest showdowns with Republicans regarding the financial future of the United States – at the time a potential massive increase in taxes and broad spending cuts.  There are also be personal fiscal cliffs – situations in which a particular set of financial factors causes or threatens sudden and severe economic decline.  While the sizes and scales are different, they both involve needs, wants, how items in question are going to get paid for, and the after effects.

Only those really close to me know that I was engaged to be married two or three years ago.  Not being one to post my personal business all over Facebook, I initially told only a trusted few.  My former fiancée will remain anonymous, and my challenge likewise will be to tell this story in the fairest way possible, without demonizing and piling on her, as it would show very little class, so wish me luck.  Instead, I will focus on something my mother shared with me, and how it stayed with me as my brief engagement unfolded.  There were actually a couple of quotes that stuck with me but hers was special.

*  *  *

“You know it’s the custom for the bride’s father and/or family to pay for the wedding,” my mother told me shortly after my fiancée accepted my proposal (which I botched by not doing the getting on one knee ritual).  I didn’t know the first thing about weddings and in the previous year had to learn quickly about the “Four Cs” for picking out engagement rings: Cut, Clarity, Carat size, and Color.  Depending on the woman, rings can be a really, really big deal – perhaps too big a deal in the grand scheme of things.  That’s a separate discussion.

Living in two different cities, there were a lot of details my fiancée and I had to work out besides the wedding itself.  We loosely mutually agreed that the ceremony should be held out in the city she was from on the Pacific coast.  I think it was around that time a ballpark number for how much we would spend on the wedding emerged; $18,000 which quickly got rounded up to $20,000.  The funny thing is I think I threw the number out there – not because I had dreamt of spending that amount, but because I had heard two friends say that they had spent that amount on their wedding with some help from their folks I believe.

After she accepted the proposal, things went fast.  Within a week, a close friend sent her a “How to Get Married” book with all of the planning and steps.  There were also plans to go dress shopping in New York City just like the show Say Yes to the Dress.  There is a lot I could say about what all happened next, but for the sake of keeping this focused, I’ll just say that there was a lot of deliberation over the amount to be spent.  While I wanted to keep it at $20,000 or below, my fiancée lobbied to push the number upwards.

“You’re probably going to end up spending a little bit over what you set the budget at,” my mother said, which didn’t make me feel any better.

“How many people are you all inviting?  The dollar amount is going to grow exponentially with the number of guests you’re inviting because you’re going to be feeding all of those people,” a close friend and fellow University of Michigan alumnus said, who had gotten married while we were all still in school.  He and his wife spent a little over $10,000 of their graduate school stipends – a tremendous feat.

It’s the custom for the bride’s father or family to pay for the wedding, my mother’s words continued to roll around in my head.  But whose custom was this?  And what if the bride’s father or family didn’t have any money?  Then what?

Eventually I started to ponder the enormity of spending $20,000 on our big day.  I started thinking that it wasn’t a smart idea even though I was a federal employee with a, “good government job.”  I had only recently gotten rid of my revolving consumer debt and didn’t have a substantial emergency fund in the bank, and neither did she.  I had also only recently started getting the 5% matching contribution on my government Thrift Savings Plan retirement account.  Furthermore, I had my eyes on buying stock, and moving into the wealthy class.

It’s the custom for the bride’s father or family to pay for the wedding.  What can one do with $20,000?  One can use it as a down payment on a home (depending on the market).  One can purchase a brand new car.  One can invest that money and grow it.  One can donate to charities and scholarship funds for needy kids.  It can also simply be put away for an emergency fund for life’s inevitable calamities.  It can be used to start a business of some sort.  In this case it could also be spent on a one-day bonanza for friends and family who would go back to their lives afterwards.

“What you all need to do is live off of one of your incomes for a year and save the other one,” one of my mentors said when I told him that I was thinking about making the big plunge months earlier.  He was an experienced entrepreneur several years my senior and had seen a lot in his life’s journey.  “You all need to save $50,000 in the bank – actually black people need to have $100,000 in the bank,” he continued.  “Whenever we’re jobless it takes us longer to get hired.”

We need to save $50,000 in the bank?  We need to save $100,000 in the bank?  In addition to my mother’s words about the bride’s family paying for the wedding, my mentor’s words also bounced around in my head.  Was such a thing even possible?  With proper planning and prioritization, and agreeing in a relationship context, absolutely it was possible.  While I could see the power in doing such a thing however, I wondered how realistic it was for the particular set of circumstances I was in.  My fiancée and I didn’t reside on the same planet money-wise, and in several other key ways, which gets to the being ‘equally yoked’ principal that’s often discussed when long-term relationships come up.  This living off of one income for the first year advice actually wasn’t new.  It was just my first time hearing it.

I found out something else highly relevant to this discussion by chance in the Washington PostIt was shared by Michelle Singletary to whom I have to give the credit for citing it in her “Color of Money” column.  In an article discussing finance-related topics couples should discuss before getting serious (credit scores/history for example), she cited a study by Emory Professors Andrew Francis and Hugo Mialon titled A Diamond is Forever’ and Other Fairy Tales: The Relationship between Wedding Expenses and Marriage Duration.  They found that couples who spent greater than $20,000 on a wedding and associated costs are 3.5 times more likely to get divorced than couples who spent $5,000 and $10,000.  CNN and PBS covered this as well.

“You know Anwar, $20,000 is actually the low end for the amount spent on a wedding,” another close friend and Michigan alumnus said in the aftermath of the whole thing.  That may have been true, but the question in my mind once again centered around whose role it was to pay for all of it.  Was it the couple or the bride’s family?  Both families?  And what were the long-term consequences?  Furthermore, was it sane for a couple with no inheritances, and collectively no assets, to invest that type of money in something like that?

My gut told me no, but there is something sentimental, warm and fuzzy when it comes to women, engagements, weddings and shows like Say Yes to the Dress – something that defies all logic and reason.  As a man, you can easily get swept up in it all because well – it’s what many women like and what many women want to do.  Many have dreamt about their ‘Big Day’ since they were little.

As alluded to earlier, it wasn’t exactly a stable partnership and life’s many circumstances caused the whole thing to implode.  It was actually biblical in magnitude – something made for TV.  I thus didn’t have to proceed down the path that was unfolding in front of me which I saw leading me over the edge of my own personal fiscal cliff onto the rocks below.  No, I never got the ring back.  I got that question a lot – mostly from females I shared the story with, and from one guy – a cunning salesman who was trying to get me to purchase one of his insurance products in a coffee shop one morning.  I gladly told everyone no, as it paled in comparison to the money that I would’ve spent had the whole thing gone forward.

About a year after my engagement imploded, a close friend got married – a Pakistani woman.  I was blessed to be invited to one of the three days of their weekend long wedding celebration/ceremony.  That’s right, it was three days in accordance with Pakistani culture – they do it big.  The ceremony I attended was at a beautiful hall and had all the trimmings.  My coworker and her husband, who was also Pakistani, were both dressed in the most immaculate costumes in accordance with their culture.  He actually rode in on a pony.  I looked around in amazement as all of us guests were treated like royalty.

She shared with me that her parents and the groom’s parents paid in the ballpark of $30,000 for the whole thing – that’s right $30,000.  Coming from the eastside of Buffalo, that’s a lot of money, and afterwards I pondered over and over again that their parents paid for it.  It was their culture and the norm in their community.  They also had an abundance of stable families where their parents actually had the funds to put into that type of thing – perhaps a demonstration of Pakistani privilege.

I continued to ponder their wedding weekend.  Because their parents footed the bill, they as a young couple didn’t take a huge financial hit.  They were able to just continue on with their lives and build – saving into their retirement accounts, planning vacations, pondering purchasing a home, etc.  They were able to start in a good place.  The same was true for another friend.  She and her spouse came from two stable families and themselves didn’t personally make huge investments on their big day.  The bride’s diamond ring was not purchased at some extravagant store like on TV, but instead, it was passed down through the generations in the groom’s family – again a benefit of coming from a stable family.

*  *  *

“Weddings are a big waste of money,” said a professor on my thesis committee at the University of Michigan with a look of disgust on his face.  He was kind of conservative, and had homes in both Ann Arbor and Jackson Hole, Wyo.  He had been around a while and had seen a lot of stuff.  I didn’t understand any of it at the time so I thought he might’ve just been being an old curmudgeon.  He was probably thinking that there were better things that could be done with the tens of thousands of dollars spent on weddings.

Are weddings, engagement rings, and all of the associated costs a waste of money?  As with most things it depends on your point of view.  That said, as a couple, before dumping tens of thousands of dollars into something like that, I think it’s important that both agree on it and ask each other several key questions.  Are you going into debt for it?  Have you already started building wealth individually?  Can your relatives afford to kick in?  Where will you two be after the festivities once everyone else has gone home?  Is spending an astronomical amount of money a need or a want?

“It’s the custom for the bride’s father and or family to pay for the wedding.”  I don’t know that my mother knew that her words would stay in my mind as they did.  The words made more and more sense to me as I thought about them.  From a logical standpoint, if I as a man have just saved for an engagement ring – a month’s salary or more, does it now make sense to dump more money into a one-day extravaganza leaving us financially exposed?  For me at the time, no, it didn’t make any sense.  By the way, this wasn’t the only advice my mother gave me.  As a spiritual woman, there was much more.  My father?  He didn’t give me much of anything advice-wise.  His greatest anxiety/concern was having to fly out to the west coast to attend the ceremony.

Everyone has to decide for themselves what’s right as families and cultures are different.  As mentioned earlier, after a life of making financial mistakes out of ignorance, and only recently discovering some of the key secrets to wealth building such as knowing what a Net Worth was, my focus was more on savings and investments.  Furthermore, having been bailed out of a couple of jams by one of my uncles for example, asking him for more money at that time felt unacceptable.  The same was true for my father of whom I also decided it was unacceptable to ask for financial support of any kind at my current station in life.

For any men reading this and thinking about taking the plunge, this stuff is a big deal.  Many of the ladies (not all) dream about their wedding and will even critique and mock each other over them, as I witnessed a couple of high income-professional ladies do about a peer who paid for her wedding expenses out of pocket.  To cut costs, she and her fiancé wisely did things like cater their reception.  He was a master chef and put in some sweat equity of his own on the food.  I think they spent ~ $10,000 on the wedding, maybe a little less.  Also, some ladies think a spectacular ring is owed them, and will make them feel better during those inevitable rough marital patches.  Some will concede the wedding for a $20,000 or ring.

Think about your life, your goals and the long-term ramifications if you’re paying out of pocket.   Be real with yourself and your partner.  Determine whether or not you’re dealing in needs or wants and where you’ll be on the back end of the wedding.  If the two of you can’t agree there then that should, ‘give you pause,’ as my mother would say.  Interestingly my father’s second wife felt that past a certain age, there shouldn’t be any expectations for families to help pay for anything, and that’s assuming again that you had parents and families who had the means to begin with.

“My friend’s father told her that he would give her a $10,000 gift if she and her fiancé eloped,” a woman in my former lab said at a recent science conference.  Her friend’s father had clearly done the math in his head and projected what a wedding would cost him, and determined that $10,000 would be a fraction of that cost.

While the majority of this story was about me I’m going to close out by going back to my mother as this post is in celebration of Mother’s Day.  It was her words that stayed with me throughout this whole experience.  That being said, one of the challenges to growing up is having the discernment to reconcile your parent’s experiences/beliefs and words of wisdom with your own situation as the two don’t always go together.  Sometimes you do inevitably deviate from what they recommend for any number of reasons – sometimes disappointing them and even going through the hardship they tried to protect you from, and sometimes not.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

 

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part two

This article is a continuation of my interview with Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA regarding homeownership and the African American community.  In part one, Simone discussed the inception of her organization HomeFree-USA, and why homeownership is critical to the African American community in the United States.  In part two, we discuss some of the historic and recent impediments to black homeownership, some of the things our youth can start learning at an early age regarding Financial Literacy, and finally the effect of the Housing Market Boom/Crash on African American wealth.

Anwar Dunbar:  You touched upon this earlier when you discussed disparities in income, but what are the other main impediments holding African Americans back as a group in terms of homeownership?

Simone Griffin:  There are a couple of different things.  Number one, lenders aren’t as open to lending to people with lower credit scores.  Because they’re over-correcting after the housing crisis, they prefer to lend to people with a 750 credit score or higher.  Many black people don’t have that, but it doesn’t mean that we can’t pay our mortgages.  They simply may not have learned the importance of credit and how to manage it.  And it has nothing to do with your education status – they don’t teach personal finance in college, and are just beginning to do so in high schools.

AD:  No, they don’t.

SG:  If your family doesn’t know anything about credit and you don’t learn about it in school, then how could you be prepared with a 750 or greater score?

AD:  Yes, that’s a very good point.

SG:  A big difference between us and non-Hispanic whites is that between the Great Depression and the 1960s when America was building its wealth, black people were locked out due “Redlining” and other discriminatory tactics.  The Fair Housing and Fair Credit Laws were enacted in the late 1960s and early 1970s, which made it illegal to discriminate against people of color.  The problem was, when we tried to buy homes we were expected to make a 20% down payment, and many black people simply didn’t have that type of money. So when home appreciation soared during the 1970s and 1980s, many moderate income black people were unable to buy, which further crippled their ability to build wealth.  Many are still trying to catch up, and it’s 2017!

Meanwhile there are other ethnic groups who have money saved and may be able to give their kids a leg up.  Their kids may have student loan debt, but they can help them pay down their debt faster, or with a down payment on a house.  Mostly though, we’re starting over with every generation.  There are still many first generation college students in our communities – and college is a big indicator of how much more money you’ll make throughout your career.  So we’re still playing catch up to a degree.  This is why HomeFree-USA is so important, because you need that type of knowledge and access to get ahead.

Likewise, we’re positioned to tell the mortgage industry, ‘You say you want diversity, and want to lend to all kinds of people, but your 750 credit score requirement is locking black people out – black people who really could qualify.’  We’re not suggesting they throw a mortgage product out there and tell everyone they’re eligible. We never did that.  There were so many people we met with during the housing boom and said, ‘You should not be buying right now.’  But there were certain things they could do to improve their position, and we’re here to guide them through the corrections.

What’s important is a level of education to the borrower and to the lender.  The lender needs to understand what the borrowers are dealing with right now – what black people are dealing with.  We may have excess student loans, but if you look at non-traditional sources of credit, you will see that these borrowers are typically paying their rent on time for example, something that’s rarely reported to the credit bureau.  Cell phone and utility bills are also not always reported.

Many African Americans are unbanked or under-banked and we’re not used to working with the traditional lenders.  But that doesn’t mean that we’re not paying our bills, and these are the kinds of things that we’re communicating to the lenders.

AD:  I help teach the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University Ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church.  As I’ve gone through as a student and a group leader, I think about the things that I was taught home (and not taught).  My mother says that she taught us about mortgages, but I don’t remember getting any of that – or I was just too caught up in the distractions of being a young adult.  Is there an age that’s too early for our kids to start learning this stuff?  Ideally how early should our kids be getting these things?

SG: I think you can start early, but age appropriately.  The sooner someone can start working and making their own money, that’s a big thing.  But in the interim just teach kids about giving, saving and spending, and allow them to hold their own money.  Kids for example, may know that money comes out of an ATM but they don’t understand what goes into making the money.  They may ask, ‘Can we get this?’, and you might reply, ‘No it’s not in the budget,’ allowing you to go into an understanding of what the budget is.

My friend has a nine-year old son who is in love with Pokémon cards and always asks her to buy them so he can trade them in school.  The problem is, he has no concept of how much the cards cost.  I suggested she give him an allotment of money every month for the cards, and once he spends it, it’s gone and that’s it. When it’s his money, as opposed to asking her to spend her money, it will change the level of focus he has on the purchase and care of the cards.

AD:  Earlier you talked about African Americans not having access to homeownership when other groups did from post the Depression era to the 1960s.  How did the 2008 Housing Market Crash affect African American homeownership since we were already playing catch up and were just getting into the game?

SG:  It obliterated our wealth.  One big mistake African Americans made is that we looked at our houses as investments.  We would buy a house, but not put any money into savings or other investment vehicles.  In the 1960s, 70s and 80s, our parents and grandparents had pensions, but most companies have replaced those with 401k plans, which they may not contribute to.  We now have to be conscientious about our entire financial life, including retirement.

When the housing crisis hit, it wasn’t all our fault.  Some people were truly led astray, and there were certainly many people who shouldn’t have been approved for such large mortgages.  I lived in Atlanta during the crisis, and the city was hit brutally by the crisis.  I met so many older people whose houses were paid off, and somebody at their church convinced them to get a Reverse Mortgage, which needlessly got them back into debt.  They didn’t even know what they were signing.  There were so many scams going on in Georgia at that time, including one where people thought they were signing up for one mortgage payment, only to find that there was a carbon copy of the real mortgage document underneath the original one, which required them to pay a far higher monthly payment.

Buyers were often blamed and told they bought too much house.  No, some of these people did their best to buy affordably, but were led astray – another reason why HomeFree-USA is so important.  If you’re working with us, we teach you the questions to ask your loan officer, realtor, inspector and appraiser.

During the housing boom loan officers were saying, ‘Oh, I can get you qualified for a $400,000 house even though you only make $40,000.’   Couple that with an agent who says, ‘I see you’re qualified for $400,000. Let me show you a house that’s worth $450,000 and we can negotiate down to $400, 000,’ and it ends up finally being around $425,000.  You say to yourself, ‘It’s fine because my loan officer says I can pay $500 every month.  So, today your payments may be an affordable $500 a month, which makes you feel comfortable in using your credit cards to pay for your new furniture. But five years later you receive a letter stating that you owe $20,000, due within 30 days. After the 30 days and $20,000, your new mortgage payment will be $5,000 per month. This actually happened to several people.  The homebuyers were either completely unaware of the balloon loan, or were told by their loan officer that they could simply refinance.  But the housing market crashed and they now owed more than their house was worth, meaning they were stuck.

This is why I avoid thinking of a home as an investment.  It can go down in value, especially at the beginning of your mortgage before you’ve built any equity.  We go financially awry when we make our house our only real investment without understanding that you have to diversify your portfolio.

This interview will continue in part three of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses Homeownership and the African American Community.  To read some more of Simone’s financial writings, visit her blog at www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  She can also be contacted directly at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org.

Thank your for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and a the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/site I endorse which be found on that particular page of my site.

Your net worth, your gross salary, and what they mean

Note.  The subject matter of this blog post is not new.  It has been known for years by those who learned about it in their families, or who have discovered it on their own.  It’s simply a discussion from my personal perspective which I think is worth visiting.  The pictures displayed throughout this post are from the eastside of my hometown of Buffalo, NY.  My first money lessons started there – a lot of what not to do, and they capture the essence of some of the money challenges facing my brothers and sisters in my hometown and across the country.

Life is literally a lottery and regardless of your color or nationality, one of its immutable truths is that you can’t control the family you were born into.  You can’t control the parents you are born to, which likewise dictate the privileges and advantages you have access to.  We often think of privilege in terms of black and white (White Privilege), but there are also black families that have privileges over other black families.  The family you are born into in large part guides your start in life, the information, and the values that will dictate your early life choices – good or bad, though they don’t necessarily shape all that comes afterwards – a good thing for some.

Neither of my parents talked about what a Net Worth was when I was growing up.  As described in the Big Words Blog Site Story, my mother and her siblings were first generation college students – descendants of parents who were a part of the Great Migration.  My father’s situation was similar.  They were children of the Civil Rights Era, and thus the big goal for them was earning college degrees and then securing stable jobs on equal footing with their white peers.  That for them was winning and it was also a surpassing of their elders.  For those of us born from their generation (Generation X), going to college was also expected, but what would be the next level for us?  What was winning for our generation?

These days I have a lot of discussions with via text messaging with my brother Amahl, and three close friends from Hutch-Tech High School in Buffalo, NY: the twins Alim and Raheem Gaines and our other buddy, Hestin Brown.  All week long we discuss topics including sports, politics, and some of the silly stuff we see in the media, on Black Twitter and on Facebook.  We discuss social issues as well, particularly as they relate to the black community.  We’re a “Black Male’s Support Group”, or even our own little “Think Tank”.  Recently in a group dialogue that started out with a controversy regarding Tyrese Gibson’s spouse and whether she was actually black, something else much more important came up; the concept of one’s net worth.

Alim cited something he heard about listing what black men in the United States earn in terms of average gross income.  I responded wondering what the breakdown was for black women and Alim on cue cited the 2010 study by Mariko Chang describing Black and Hispanic women having average net worths of only $100 and $120.  I quickly pointed out that there was a difference between one’s gross income and their net worth.  My brother, the eldest in our group, asked what a net worth was.  For perspective, we’re all just above the age of 40.  Alim and I both knew the answer and gave it.  I shared that I was first introduced to the term in my late 20s, but didn’t completely grasp it until my mid-30s – very, very late in the game.  I pondered the fact that my brother still hadn’t grasped it yet – not a knock on him by any means, just our life’s circumstance.  I then wondered how our own life decisions would have been different had we known this important concept in our teens.

Just briefly, your net worth is the numerical difference between what you own and what you owe – your savings and your assets minus your debts and obligations.  Your savings are self-explanatory – the amount of liquid cash you have available and can access quickly.  Assets can be anything from securities such as stocks, gold or silver, real estate investments, equity in your home, or profitable businesses.  If you’re an employee, a major contributor to your net worth is your retirement savings – that’s if you’ve been disciplined enough (and able) to steadily set money aside.  Debts are self-explanatory as well.  Common forms of debt are: credit cards, car notes, mortgages, home equity lines of credit, loans against your retirement savings, etc.

I only started learning about what a net worth was in my late 20s, out of curiosity and chance.  Books like the Rich Dad Poor Dad talked about it, in addition to the Millionaire Next Door.  In Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University (FPU), the term is not explicitly addressed, but FPU’s ; ‘Baby Steps’ ultimately lead to a steadily increasing net worth.

Okay, so what’s the big deal about this somewhat abstract and nebulous term that only few understand?  The answer is that your net worth is a metric of your wealth which is very, very different than your gross salary.  This is a critical distinction because a high gross salary doesn’t necessarily translate into a high net worth.  A person or a couple can have high gross salaries and still have a negative net worth(s).

In Black America we’re often enamored and impressed with individuals who make six figures.  Similar to one’s occupation, making six figures by itself can be deceptive.  You would assume that a medical doctor, a lawyer, or a news anchor would be very comfortable, but not necessarily – the same is true for someone who makes six figures.  Imagine if a person has a gross salary of $100,000 and their expenses are $95,000.  They’re still essentially broke right?  Beyond a certain point, your gross income is what Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, calls an ‘Entrance Criteria’ – an attribute that allows you entry into a club, though it isn’t a predictor of greatness.  ‘Excellence Criteria’ is what separates the great from the average and the underachievers.  These are the things that allow one to become wealthy in this case.

Contrary to the images we’re bombarded with in the media, the excellence criteria for building your net worth don’t necessarily involve a lavish and high consumption lifestyle, but instead being frugal and careful with one’s money.  Dr. Thomas Stanley wrote extensively about this in his Millionaire Next Door series.  This means that many people are chasing after the wrong things in life and not knowing it until it’s too late.

What are some keys to growing your Net Worth?  Some of them include:

  • Budgeting one’s money and controlling costs – learning to run a surplus vs. a deficit;
  • Saving money gradually in an emergency fund, retirement and then potentially for investments and;
  • Carrying the least amount of debt possible.

What are some keys to keeping and maintaining a low/negative net worth?  Some of them include:

  • Spending more than you earn – spending everything you earn;
  • Not saving anything and;
  • Carrying large amounts of debt – particularly on the things that lose value or don’t justify borrowing the money – cars, sneakers, and degrees which don’t lead to well-paying jobs.

In his Rich Dad Poor Dad series, Robert Kiyosaki actually defines wealth as the amount of time one can go without working while still being able to cover expenses.

But what are the greater implications of growing your net worth and wealth?  They can position you to do things like build businesses.  They can be used to donate to charities, and to give other students, for example, the chance to go to school to better themselves – something sorely needed in Black America.  This is the importance of organizations like the United Negro College Fund for example.  They can be used to fund political candidates and campaigns, and have a true seat at the table when national and local policy decisions are made.  At the end of the day, politics is all about money right?

In Black America right now discussions, like the ones my buddies and I have, are actually taking place about the differences between having a high net worth and having a high salary – again two things which don’t necessarily correlate.  One gentleman on Twitter, a Nigerian I think, who regularly beats the net worth drum often rebutting people who think they’ve made it because they’ve attained a high gross salary and have luxury items like Mercedes Benzes and BMWs.  While these are prestigious toys, they gradually lose value and deceptively don’t translate into wealth.

The interesting thing about one’s net worth is that it can’t be negotiated with one’s employer – it’s something that must be decided and acted upon by the individual once they understand it – like choosing to eat healthy or choosing to continue to eat an unhealthy diet.  It can’t be legislated or forced upon groups of people, nor should it be.  It’s a personal choice just like practicing a religion or choosing a spouse.  Speaking of which, I’ve read that judges actually consider a couple’s net worth during divorces and usually just split everything down the middle – a source of tension particularly when one of the spouses hasn’t earned the assets being split.

“Tasha and Ron are living large.  She’s a School Administrator and he’s a Fireman,” my mother said about couple in their 40s who are friends of the family.  She was looking at their professions and what she thought their salaries were and concluded that they were winning financially.

“Actually you don’t know that, Mom,” I said in reply.  “People can look like they’re making it on the outside, but without knowing their savings, their bills and their debts are, you don’t really know how they’re doing.”  My response echoed Robert Kiyosaki’s books where he stated that an individual’s financial success is actually dictated by their income statement and balance sheet – two things you can’t see by looking at someone – but things banks weight highly when qualifying individuals for mortgages or business loans.

What prevents individuals from growing their net worths?  Several things actually.  One is ignorance.  If no one ever tells you about it and you don’t stumble upon the information, you’ll never know.  Secondly, personal choices prevent one from doing it.  It takes discipline and drive, and many individuals lack those.  As a man, if you’ve recklessly had a bunch of kids and are bogged down with child support payments, you’ll probably never get there.  If you’re a single mother also with many kids, you’ll also have a hard time getting there as well.  It’s not impossible, just exponentially more difficult.  In one of his videos, Dr. Boyce Watkins stated that the average cost of a child is $250,000 up until it turns 18 years of age.  The other piece is that in some instances, particularly in Black America, only a handful of people in a given family get educated and earn a decent salary.  Those individuals are often looked upon to take care of everyone else – a potential, “Siphoning off of the wealth,” as Dr. Michael Eric Dyson said, partially joking, at the 2015 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference.  That day he was leading a Wealth-Building panel.

Growing a high net worth doesn’t necessarily involve going to get a Ph.D., an M.D., a Pharm D., or a J.D.  You actually don’t necessarily need a college degree to do it.  It simply requires a steady stream of income, understanding debt, and priorities.  This is what Dave Ramsey meant when he said, “Money is 20% knowledge and 80% behavior.”  This is also one of the key principles in Robert Kiyosaki’s Cashflow game where players must choose their profession before playing.  One would think in the game that it would be easier to get out of the “Rat Race” by being one of the higher income professionals like the doctor, lawyer, or the airline pilot, but it’s actually easier as the web designer or the janitor.  While they generate less gross income, they also carry less debt and have fewer bills.  Their cost per child is also less than the higher income professionals.

Understanding what a net worth is and then making the decisions to grow it is a paradigm shift and a powerful one.  As with most things, we all have lives and everyone’s situations are unique.  We all have relatives and friends who may not necessarily understand the decisions and temporary sacrifices being made, and thus it’s important to know your own motivations – you have to know your ‘why’.

Again, a net worth is not a salary that you make every year.  It’s a result of spending habits and specific money choices.  How often should it be calculated?  One of my mentors told me that it should be calculated quarterly.  If you haven’t been paying attention to it, your initial assessment may not look pretty, but it gives you a place to start from – kind of like a doctor’s checkup.

So what’s your net worth?  Don’t answer that.  From experience, just like your gross income, it’s best if you keep it to yourself and only share it with a trusted few if anyone at all.  Money does different things to different people, and when people think you have it, it can do strange things to your relationships – your relatives and friends.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave comments.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on my Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM, and Financial Literacy, there other blogs/sites I endorse which found on that particular page of my site.

Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses homeownership and the African American community part one

One of the goals of the Big Words Blog Site is to discuss Financial Literacy-related topics, particularly as they relate to the African American community.  A key aspect of wealth building is homeownership.  Coincidentally, for my very first interview for the site, I had the privilege of interviewing the very knowledgeable Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA.  Simone and I met at the reception for the National Association of Real Estate Brokers (NAREB) at the 2016 Congressional Black Caucus Annual Legislative Conference.

During our interview, Simone discussed how HomeFree-USA was conceived and its mission, why homeownership is critical for African Americans, the effect of the 2008 housing market crash on African American homeownership and wealth, and the overall challenges the Black community faces in securing and maintaining homeownership.  Based on the wealth of information shared by Simone, our very candid and insightful interview will be posted in three parts.

Anwar Dunbar:  First of all, Simone, I want to thank you for your willingness to talk.  When I finished school, I realized that there were gaps in my financial knowledge.  Homeownership and real estate fall under that umbrella so I want to disseminate information that can help individuals, like myself, who want to have a firmer grasp on these concepts much earlier in life.

How did you get involved in real estate?

Simone Griffin: HomeFree-USA is a family business, which my parents started in 1995.  My father was in Mortgage Servicing for almost 20 years before that.  The servicing entity collects your mortgage payments and pays out the property taxes and homeowner’s insurance.  If you fall behind on your mortgage, they’re the ones you speak to.

My mother was in the retail business, and had a marketing background.  My parents noticed how many minorities in the DC area were locked out of homeownership, primarily because they didn’t know that they could afford it.  Many were government employees with very stable jobs, but no one in their family had ever owned a home.  My mother started HomeFree-USA, and my father later joined her, for those who had no one to guide them through all facets of becoming a successful, sustainable homeowner.

Realtors are often the default vehicle for helping people with their credit and debt issues, but that isn’t their job.  Their real job is to help you find a house.  It’s the job of the financial institution to make sure that you’re financially capable of repaying the loan, but as any homeowner knows, there’s far more that goes into owning a house than just the paying the mortgage.  And when you’ve been renting your whole life and don’t know any homeowners, it feels like a lofty feat.

HomeFree-USA walks with you so you know what you’re doing, are confident that you’re getting a good loan, and are buying well within your affordability range.

Ninety-six percent of the people who fell victim to the Housing Boom and subsequent Foreclosure Crisis didn’t see organizations like HomeFree-USA when they were buying their homes.  Had we seen them, there’s a high chance that they wouldn’t have been in those situations.  They worked with realtors and loan officers, but again it’s not their job to educate and prepare.  Their job is to help you get a loan and into a house.  Because there are shady businesses everywhere, you have to have enough knowledge to know when you’re being lead in the right direction and when someone is trying to take advantage.  That’s why HomeFree-USA is in existence.

AD:  Okay, so in summary, what is the mission of HomeFree USA?

SG:  The mission of HomeFree-USA is to:

  • Strengthen people through sustainable homeownership, financial education and coaching;
  • Enhance communities by creating affordable homeownership opportunities through the acquisition, rehabilitation and sale of Real Estate Owned (REO) properties; and
  • Elevate our partners with capacity building assistance and mutually beneficial programs and initiatives.

AD:  Before we move on you mentioned when the DC market was, ‘Affordable.’  For readers who don’t live in the DC area, what was affordable price-wise versus where we’re at right now?

SG:  Most of our homebuyers at that time were moderate income single mothers – making $35,000 to $55,000 a year.  You could buy a home in DC at that time making that kind of money.  Even if you adjust for inflation today, you cannot buy a house unless it’s an affordable set-aside (of which there are few) with that income.  I made $30,000 when I bought my house.  I could do that in the District then: now, no way.  The average income has also increased in DC, but not to the point where it makes homeownership affordable for all.

AD: They say that DC is no longer Chocolate City.

SG:  No, it’s definitely not Chocolate City anymore.

AD:  Why is homeownership so critical for the African American community in the United States?

SG:   First, one of the big misnomers is that homeownership should be used as an investment vehicle.  I don’t necessarily look at it as an investment vehicle, although homes typically appreciate in value over time.  Most importantly, homeownership stabilizes your expenses, which is invaluable when building wealth.  It also gives your family a foundation that they always know they can come home to.

On average, people of color are still paid less than non-Hispanic whites in this country.  I believe Black women are paid 60% less than their non-Hispanic white male counterparts, so we have to create ways to stabilize our income and expenses as much as possible, while continuing to work on income disparities.  Also, homeowners are typically more focused and invested in the state of their community.  If you have kids, the school system becomes really important.  Holding legislators accountable for actions which may affect your home value also becomes really important. There is a direct correlation between the health of a community and the number of homeowners.  You also get the advantage of having a tax write off.

I just don’t want people to look at homeownership purely as an investment.  Some people feel like it’s a given that their house should go up in value, and that’s not true. It’s an investment and investments are risky.  In the long run though, real estate tends to beat even the stock market in returns.

AD:  I was talking to a coworker recently and we were in fact discussing that when you rent, your rent tends to go up every year, and when you have a mortgage it tends to stay stable.

SG:  That’s true.  Your property taxes and homeowner insurance may increase, but if you have a consistent mortgage payment every month, you can stabilize your overall budget and begin to build true wealth.

This interview will continue in parts two and three of Simone Griffin of HomeFree-USA discusses Homeownership and the African American Community.  To read some more of Simone’s financial writings, visit her blog at www.moneymagnet.homefreeusa.org.  She can also be contacted directly at moneymagnet@homefreeusa.org.  A special tank you is extended to Simone Griffin and HomeFree-USA for participating in this interview and also for providing the picture for this post.

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Chris Brown discusses true stewardship and financial peace

sports-jacket-standing-hands-together-close-up2_backdropAround 2012, two friends introduced me to Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University – a faith based curriculum for managing one’s finances and achieving financial security and stability.  I had heard of Dave Ramsey before and knew that he had a radio show, and maybe had written some books.  I admittedly was suspicious that it was potentially another Multi-Level Network Marketing business proposal.  It turned out to be something very different, and four years later it has changed my own finances and life, and I also help out with the Financial Peace Ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church.  The following interview was published on the Examiner shortly after Dave Ramsey’s Washington, DC Smart Money Tour stop in the spring of 2016.  There I met Chris Brown who took the stage along with Dave that night, and was subsequently granted an interview.

* * *

On April 21, 2016, talk show host Dave Ramsey and his team visited Washington DC for one of his many Smart Money Tour stops.  That evening, Ramsey shared the stage with a member of his team, Chris Brown.  This Chris Brown, however, is not the controversial recording artist who shares the same name as they joked that night, but instead he is the host of the True Stewardship talk show.  Shortly after the tour stop Chris granted an interview to talk about his background, his True Stewardship talk show, and Financial Peace.

Anwar Dunbar:  Hello Chris.  We met briefly just after the Washington DC tour stop when you took the time out to talk to all of the current and prospective Financial Peace University (FPU) coordinators in the audience.  I really appreciate the opportunity to follow up with you and talk a little bit more.

Just a little bit about me for some context here. I’m a coordinator in the Financial Peace Ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA.  When I start with a group these days, as part of my personal story, I tell them first and foremost that I have a Ph.D. in Pharmacology from the University of Michigan.  I share that at one point in my life I thought being a “Dr.” would be the key to having a good comfortable life.  In the sciences, a Ph.D. typically commands a significant income.  It wasn’t until after I completed my doctorate, got my first job and made some money mistakes that I realized the degree by itself, while definitely an accomplishment, didn’t put me where I wanted to be in life.   There were a lot of aspects to the financial world and money that I just didn’t understand, and several lessons that I hadn’t been taught.

At the end of the DC Tour Stop, you took some time to acknowledge the FPU coordinators in the audience.  Did you start off as a coordinator yourself?  How did you get to your current position where you’re working with Dave Ramsey and hosting your own talk show?

Chris Brown:  Yes, I remember meeting you.  Well, I think it was important that I had a background in Financial Peace University, and whether or not I was a coordinator or had been to a class, I think that it’s important that whenever you’re going to be representing a philosophy and a way of life – you’ve got to know that you’re behind it and living out what you say.  So I think that’s important.  Whether or not I was a coordinator, I don’t think that would’ve mattered. I’ve never personally coordinated a class.  I’ve been in several of them.  I’ve actually led at a church and my role was to make sure that we had several coordinators and that they felt equipped.  So for me, I went from attending a couple of Financial Peace classes to making sure that several of them happened at my church.  I kind of skipped over the coordinator piece.

AD:  So you must of have distinguished yourself in such a way that you got to meet and work with Dave Ramsey.  How did that all come about?

CB:  Yes.  I view my role at Dave Ramsey Solutions not as a platform thing.  It’s more of a calling.  We lead out, Dave and myself in particular, with our mistakes, not necessarily as experts.  It’s more of a vulnerability of saying we have been successful, but more than that what people are actually relating to is that we have failed, and that’s what people are resonating with the most.  We’ve applied biblical principles and they’ve worked, and we’ve applied non-biblical principles and they haven’t worked.  And so we’ve seen both worlds, so we lead out with our vulnerabilities and our huge mistakes.

AD:  How long have you been doing your True Stewardship talk show?  When did that start?

CB:  It’s been about a year.  Dave has always had a passion for stewardship which is managing God’s blessing, God’s way for God’s glory.  It’s deeper than just financial principals, the Xs and Os, and the mathematics.  It’s more of we’ve been entrusted with resources, our time and our talents.  And how do we manage those things for those who have lived by faith as believers?  And we wanted to make sure that we ministered to that particular demographic.

Dave is obviously serving everybody whether you’re a person of faith for not.  But he wanted to make sure that we had a branch of our organization that just ministered to those people of faith, and broke down what the Bible says about money.  There are 2,350 verses in the Bible all about how to handle wealth and possessions.  We want listeners to not only be educated, but empowered, and that they feel a little bit of encouragement and hope wherever they find themselves in their stewardship financial journey – when they apply themselves they can find themselves being successful on the other side.

It’s a twenty-five minute show, and just like Dave’s it’s a call-in show.  Dave Ramsey has a call-in show Monday thru Friday.  It’s a three-hour call in show in 550 plus markets around the country.  Mine is a twenty-five minute show.  It’s also call-in.  I occasionally have a guest, or I occasionally do a full teaching myself, but it’s on Monday thru Friday, as well in 20 different markets and both of us have podcasts that are associated with the show, and also we stream on our websites.

AD:  With so many financial gurus out there with their own systems for wealth building, do you find that some people perceive Financial Peace University to be a hustle or is it perceived the way you guys intend it to be?

CB:  I’ve never really thought about it that way because we’re really focused in on what we’re trying to do.  We like to say that we’re on a crusade.  We’re really trying to enhance a movement that’s already started so we’re more focused in on what we’re doing.  I don’t know about what all of the other gurus are doing.  I don’t know if there are any, if they’re twisted or if they’re shady.  I’m actually not familiar with any of that, but I do know that we have a very loyal tribe, and I also know that there are a lot of results, and people will follow where there are a lot of results.

Over the last twenty years there have been over four million people who have gone through this class and have experienced an average $8,000 swing in their finances in just the first 90 days. And so for around $100 for you to enroll in Financial Peace University and have a kit and some resources, and a book and all of that kind of stuff – after 90 days to have an $8,000 swing in your finances, for me the value of that is so big.  There’s never been a question about the value added to society.  So I really feel that way.  We give away a bunch of stuff for free on our websites and podcasts and radio shows.  It’s our way to serve the community.

dsc03840AD:  From your testimony at the tour stop, it sounds as you were pretty deep into the real estate investing world and experienced a lot of success, which is a lot of further than I ever got.  I did some learning, but never got any deals done.  Based upon your experience, once someone’s life becomes “Financially Peaceful”, would you recommend that arena for someone else?  Once you get out to Baby Steps Five and Six and you’ve got money in the bank and no debt; you’ve got your 15% retirement savings going, and you’re saving for your kid’s college funds, would you recommend someone going into the real estate investing arena to acquire properties, flipping homes, and similar things?

CB:  Let me just say that investing in real estate is great.  So there are a couple of factors.  First you have to make sure that you’re already diversified.  What we teach in Baby Step Four, which starts getting into investing, is to start with 15% of your household income going towards long-term investments – things with tax advantages.  You want to think long-term so you want to make sure you’re diversified: mutual funds, 401-Ks, Roth IRAs, 403-Bs, 457s, those kinds of things first.  Then you’re going to go to Baby Steps Five and Six; pay off your primary mortgage first – that primary has to be paid off first, and then you can get into rental homes, flipping homes, but only with cash so you’re not borrowing anything for that to happen.  So let’s say you go out and buy a $100,000 house with cash and two and a half years later you sell it for $175,000 – that’s really good.  You get cash, you use that $175,000 and then you go buy two properties for $70,000 each, and then clean them all up, and then two years later you sell them both for $200,000 each, or $150,000, whatever it is, but it’s always with cash.  You also want to buy investment properties where you have a local intelligence where you are, and where you can feel it.  You don’t ever want be a landlord if you’re living out of town.  You want to do it in your town.

AD:  As a literacy Examiner, from time to time I’ve written about money, not telling people what to do or trying to sound judgmental myself, because I’m not rich and have made my share of money mistakes.  However, I think the principles of Financial Peace University and money lessons in general are important to talk about.  With the exception of one or two pieces I’ve written, many of my financial articles have gotten little to moderate reaction.  Have you found money to be a sensitive topic in your experience, and if so, why do you think that is?

CB:  I’ve personally seen more traction on articles, and videos and teachings when they have a personal, emotional or a relational component in them.  So it’s not really just about the facts because we live in Google society where you can look up the information.  You need the inspiration with the information – some kind of personal or vulnerable moment whenever you’re explaining anything financially or some kind of personal anecdote.  Those pieces tend to be shared and liked a little more often because, yes you’re right, it’s a sensitive topic.  Its taboo to talk about money and there are lots of opinions out there and nobody can argue with your experience.  For me, I deal with the faith-based side and on the faith-based side you can’t argue with the scriptures.  So I lead out with the scriptures and my experience and that’s a lot better than if I do a cold article that says, “Here are the three steps to budgeting”.  You can find that stuff on a lot of different websites, but what you can’t find is your story.

AD:  You’re right, I wrote a piece called, The Difference Between Being Cheap and Frugal, and it got a lot reaction I think first because I told a story with it in a humorous way, and also because it’s something a lot of people have been personally faced with.

When you were coming up, did your folks talk to you about a lot of this stuff or did you have to find it all out on your own?

dsc03836CB:  I have an interesting story.  This is pretty cool.  I did not have a dad growing up.  I actually had four fathers who were all violent and we were always running away from them, from abuse shelter to abuse shelter.  So I didn’t have a dad and my Mom, because she was a single, Mom was always working three jobs and was never home.  So I really raised myself, but I say that liberally because I’d be sitting in an apartment with no food and no furniture for days at a time completely bored stiff, but the one thing I did have was my Yellow Sony Walkman; if you remember from all the way back in the day before the Sony Discman.

I was listening to the radio and I was never a really big music guy at the ages of 11, 12 and 13 years old.  I was always more intrigued by learning because to that point, I had just been sitting around the house by myself and bored, and we didn’t really have TV and cable or anything like that, so I was just intrigued by things that would get me to think.  So I would listen to guys like: Charles Stanley, James Dobson and Larry Burkett, and then later on Dave Ramsey.  Pretty much the radio raised me.  I mixed that in with some pastors, some teachers and coaches – there ended up being some bosses later on that really walked me through life and taught me these principles. Then I found out about Financial Peace University which made it more formalized.  But for me, I was never taught this stuff other than listening to the radio, and no one ever sat me down in a formal setting and taught me these things.  For me it just clicked and as soon as I knew that it was God’s way of handling money, it made sense to me.

I actually didn’t make a lot of money mistakes in middle school, high school or college.  I did great financially starting off as an adult.  I was the man.  I was rocking and thinking that what I was doing at the time really worked.  And then one day I decided I was going to get cocky.  I was flipping homes and I said, ‘Why am I flipping homes one at a time?  This is great.  This is fun.  This is awesome.  I’ll flip eight at a time.  I’ll go borrow a million dollars and I’m going to expedite this thing.  I’m going to get rich quick.’  The year was 2007 (the start of the bursting of the housing bubble) and for the next 36 months I couldn’t put a renter in any of my properties and I couldn’t sell any of them, so I was paying out $10,000 a month on vacant homes all of the way to January 2011 when I had to walk into a filled courtroom, look a Trustee in the eye and I had to file bankruptcy.  So it was a major fall because of one month of getting greedy and getting cocky.  So I was never taught, but I learned more from that big mistake than I learned all of the rest of the time.  I will never go borrow again, not even for a house.  I will never borrow money again period.

AD:  So at the DC Smart Money Tour stop you told us the funny story about your sons and the garage door.  As an education writer and a science tutor, I’m always fascinated by what resources some kids have access to early in their lives versus others, because what you learn at a young age can greatly impact your life as an adult.  Are these lessons you’re going to teach them gradually?  Or are you going to sit them down one day and say, “Okay guys, we’re going to sit down and watch Financial Peace University today and then we’re going to debrief afterwards”?  How are you planning to do that?

CB:  The best thing I can do is teach them the world view and the heart behind good financial management.  I don’t want to manage their behavior, I want to manage their heart and so every day from the time they’ve been able to retain a thought – so four, five, and maybe six years old – anytime anything happens with relationships or anything else, there’s a great teaching opportunity to say, “That relationship, that brother of yours, God has put that relationship in your life trusting you to make sure you handle that relationship well and for His glory.”  And they’re not going to get it right away, but I’m planting seeds all of the way throughout their childhood.

Now as far as formal guidance, they’re already getting that.  They actually love it because kids are sponges.  We have what we call Financial Peace Junior.  It’s a great curriculum and age appropriate for my kids and they actually love it.  They’ve got this savings jar and it’s got three different compartments where you: give, save, and spend.  They have a chore chart where they get commissions for their chores.  Two of my three have bank accounts where they save and we go out to the mall and they save their saving part, give their giving part, and spend their spending part.  So it’s been great and when its time they’ll go to the next curriculum for middle-schoolers and high schoolers; Generation Change and then Financial Peace University.  I don’t ever want to make them do anything.  I want them to want to, and I’m never going to force them.

I think the only thing I would do if they were rebellious and looking to get married at 23 years old, I think about six months before they got married, if they hadn’t done it yet, I would probably bribe them to make sure they’ve got it in their brain first.  I’d say, “I’ll give you $200 to watch this class just so that I know that you did,” and just so that I know that I equipped them on my side as a parent.  I would say, “You’ve got to listen to this.  This is going to save you thousands and thousands of dollars, maybe even millions if you sit down and watch this.”  So I would make sure that before they got married they did it, but I don’t think I’m going to have that problem so far.

AD:  And once again Chris, when does your show come on?  You have a livestream broadcast right?

CB:  In DC we’re on at 3:30 pm on 780 AM-WAVA.  And, of course, we’re on in 20 different markets at all different times from noon to 8 pm depending on the market all of the way from Seattle, Portland, San Diego, Washington DC, Detroit, all over the place.  We also have iTunes podcasts and we’re on Google Play and we’re also at Stewardship.com. So there are lots of different places people can connect with us.

AD:  Well Chris, those are all of the questions that I have.

CB:  Thank you, Anwar, we appreciate all of your work.

A special thanks for this interview goes out to: Chris Brown, Dave Ramsey Solutions, to the Alfred Street Baptist Church, and finally to Tommy and Erica Walker, founders of the Financial Peace University Ministry at the Alfred Street Baptist Church.  If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

The difference between being cheap and frugal
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
Your net worth, your gross salary and what they mean
Simone Griffin discusses homeownership and the African American community part one (also parts two and three)
Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Father’s Day 2017: reflections on some of Dad’s money and life lessons

Thank you for taking the time out to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blog/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The difference between being cheap and frugal

cheap-and-frugalThe following piece was originally published on the Examiner back in December of 2013, and actually turned out to be one of my most popular compositions.  It visited something very emotional; one’s money management and how it is perceived by others – families, friends, significant others, etc.  It discusses how two groups of people are classified in terms of their money management; those who are cheap and those who are frugal.  It was in part inspired by the late Deborah Aguiar-Vélez, founder of Escuchame who came to my job and gave a discussion about wealth building.  Prior to publishing this piece she granted me permission to use a slide from her talk as the accompanying visual for this article.

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“The difference between envy and jealousy Anwar is that there is no malice attached to envy,” my mentor and friend Mark told me in a recent meeting.  “When someone is jealous of you, you have something that they want which upsets them and they will go to great lengths to make sure you don’t have it anymore or don’t even get it in the first place.  They may even go as far as to cause you harm.  Envy is simply when someone wishes they had what you have with no malice attached.  Envy and jealousy are two different words that most people confuse.”

Mark and I frequently have discussions like this spanning numerous areas/topics.  This one reminded me of another confusion of words; the definitions of cheap and frugal, two very important concepts in the worlds of financial literacy and intelligence, and thus the basis of this article.

“Hell yeah I’m cheap and proud of it too.  I want to save every single penny that I can,” a coworker named Hardy said smiling during a random conversation at work a couple of years ago.  “I don’t mind getting perfectly good stuff for free either.  My wife’s family frequently gets rid of really good stuff, and I willingly take it.”

“You’re proud of being cheap?” was my question to Hardy after hearing him revel in his self-diagnosis.  Cheap was not a flattering word in my vernacular.  The word had recently been pinned on me by a girlfriend leaving me feeling snake bitten and sickened by just hearing someone say it.  This conversation with Hardy gave me a new perspective on the matter and actually made me laugh at the word.

Another word that was assigned to me years ago by another female during graduate school was frugal, which is actually an important attribute to have when you are in school but also later in life.  It wasn’t exactly clear to me at that point what that word meant as my behavior was simply the recapitulation of the spending habits of my mother and father who themselves were frugal.

During Hispanic Heritage Month almost a year after my discussion with Hardy, entrepreneur Deborah Aguiar-Vélez, owner and founder of the company Escuchame visited my job and gave a really good seminar on wealth building.  Much of her talk discussed sound financial decision making, living within one’s means and saving money which sound like common sense ideas but for many people are not.  Interestingly a couple of her slides described the differences between being frugal and being cheap.

Mrs. Vélez eloquently described being frugal as:

  • Living within your means
  • Careful management of anything valuable which expends nothing unnecessarily, and applies what is used to a profitable purpose
  • Finding ways to save money
  • A conscious decision and you are therefore in control of your actions towards a goal

That slide was followed up with a description of what frugal is not:

  • Cheapness
  • Meanness
  • Bizarre behavior
  • Suffering
  • Difficult

Her talk helped me to see that there is in fact nothing wrong with being frugal, and re-enforced why it’s a good idea to be this way versus the alternatives; impulsive, frivolous and wasteful.  My discussions with Hardy described above and Mrs. Velez’s seminar also reminded me that labels and titles that we assign to each other are often subject to one’s point of view.

Though this post was written partially in a humorous way, these are important and serious lessons for everyone, especially in our society which actively promotes consumerism to all economic classes poor and rich, and attaches self-worth to material objects and luxuries of all kinds.

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A special thank you goes out to Mrs. Deborah Aguiar-Vélez of Eschuchame for allowing me to cite her and her materials in this piece.  Thank you for taking the time to read this post.  If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment.  To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site.  Lastly follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page.  While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that page of my site.