John U. Bacon presents his new book Endzone to Michigan’s D.C. Alumni Club: A look back

I first heard about Author John U. Bacon as a graduate student at the University of Michigan where I regularly listened to ‘The Ticket 1050 AM-WTKA‘. I heard all of the latest news and commentary on Michigan sports on that station, and it was a lot of fun listening to it all, especially during football season. I later found that John was a fixture at the University serving as a faculty member, and as an Ann Arbor native he had a deep knowledge of the history of the University of Michigan’s athletics – particularly its storied football program. John U. Bacon has authored numerous books about the program, its coaches and players, and the world of big time college football in general. In 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington D.C. hosted John who presented his latest book Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football. The book chronicled the ascension of the football program, its descent into perhaps its darkest time, and then its magical return solidified by the hiring of Head Coach Jim Harbaugh.

I originally published this piece on the Examiner in November of 2015. We were deep into Jim Harbaugh’s first season – weeks after the heartbreaking loss to the Michigan State Spartans at the Michigan Stadium best known to alumni (such as myself) and fans as the “Big House”. With the exception of a graduate transfer from Iowa named Jake Rudock, Coach Harbaugh inherited Brady Hoke’s players and had begun implementing his own culture. Three years into the rebuilding of the program, we haven’t made it into the College Football Playoff (CFP) yet, but the maize and blue is much better off than in the years spanning from 2007 to 2015 – the eight-year stretch that John U. Bacon chronicled in Endzone: The Rise, Fall, and Return of Michigan Football.

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“When you’re selling Michigan Football, you’re selling one of the most fundamental things that humans have to offer: the need to be together, to stand for something, and to stand in the same place,” said Mr. Bacon, discussing his latest book, with his signature comedic energy and exuberance. “Michigan Football stands for a set of values. The Redskins don’t! The Bears don’t! The Dolphins don’t!”

On October 29, 2015, the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosted a book signing by Mr. Bacon. The event took place at Squire Patton and Boggs, and started with registration, followed by an initial book signing. He then gave a detailed discussion of the genesis of his latest book, followed by an overview of its story.

“It’s actually stunning how badly things were going for the Football program, and I’ve never seen the dominos fall into place so well and for a story to come out the way that it did,” Mr. Bacon said describing what led to his writing Endzone. “The inspirational part of the book which I hope the readers get, is that to me, this is Michigan’s finest hour. The Students, the Faculty, the Alumni, the Letterman, the Regents, all of these people recognized Michigan values and sought to restore them and I think that’s the ultimate story.”

“If you’re running Michigan athletics, yes, you have to have sound business practices. However, you also need to understand that the reason the thing exists is that the people see it as a religion and not a business, and that’s a fundamental difference between the Redskins and the Wolverines,” Bacon said, discussing the magic behind Michigan Football.

Endzone chronicles the ascension of the University of Michigan’s football program spanning from its earliest days unde9r Fielding Yost to its recent golden age under Bo Schembechler and Lloyd Carr. He then discussed how the magic of the program was lost in recent years, due to poor administrative, business and political decisions made off the field that, negatively affected the product on the field and support of the program. The book also discusses the current re-ascension of the program with the recent hiring of Jim Harbaugh, one of the program’s legendary quarterbacks and most celebrated figures.

John U. Bacon has become the official Historian of the Michigan Football. He has authored numerous books, many capturing the history of the University of Michigan’s storied football program, and the current state of college football including:

Fourth and Long: The Fight for the Soul of College Football;
Three and Out: Rich Rodriguez and the Wolverines in the Crucible of College Football and;
Bo’s Lasting Lessons: The Legendary Coach Teaches the Timeless Fundamentals of Leadership.

Endzone is not only a chronology of Michigan Football, it’s also a story of how not to run a business,” said Erik Ruselowski, Treasurer of the DC Alumni Club during the introduction. Following the discussion, Mr. Bacon finished signing books for the 100-plus attendees who purchased all of the available copies of Endzone that evening.

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I was a graduate student at the University of Michigan towards the end of Lloyd Carr’s tenure as Head Coach of its football team. My first year was actually Tom Brady’s senior season and the inaugural year of the controversial Bowl Championship Series (BCS) – the predecessor to the CFP. Coach Carr’s teams were talented and competitive but in the new era of the BCS, he was unable to recapture the magic that carried the Wolverines to the National Championship in 1997. During that stretch there were always two to three losses that took Michigan out of contention. Our fan base began calling for his head and ultimately they got the coaching change they wanted. They also got several things they didn’t want or anticipate. As Mr. Bacon describes in Endzone, there is a lot more that goes into a college football program than what you see on the field on Saturdays, in the bowl games, and at the NFL Drafts.

Since publishing Endzone, Mr. Bacon has published two more books: Playing Hurt which he co-wrote with ESPN’s John Saunders, and The Great Halifax Explosion in which the story’s main hero is the University of Michigan’s first hockey coach. To learn more about John U. Bacon his books, and speaking engagements, go to: www.johnubacon.com.

A special thank you is extended to the University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. for allowing me to cover John U. Bacon’s visit in 2015. Thank you also to John U. Bacon for chronicling the history of Michigan Football’s vast and storied history. If you enjoyed this story, you might also enjoy:

Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game
Michigan beats Florida 33-17: A recap of the maize and blue’s season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten Officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

The University of Michigan Alumni Club of Greater Washington, D.C. hosts many events throughout the year for its alumni, in addition to its sports game watches, for which the University and its alumni are well known. If you are a University of Michigan alumnus in the Washington, D.C. metro area and would like to keep up with the club’s events, please go to www.umdc.org. GO BLUE!!!!

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.

Michigan defeats Maryland 35-10: Two weeks until the 2017 Ohio State game

On Nov. 11, Coach Jim Harbaugh’s No. 21 ranked Michigan Wolverines pushed their record to 8-2 overall, and 5-2 in the Big Ten East with a 35-10 victory over the Maryland Terrapins in College Park, MD. Michigan’s dominating performance started early holding Maryland scoreless until the third quarter when the Terrapins scored their first three points. With redshirt freshman Brandon Peters under center, the Wolverines used a balanced attack where the running game gave Peters time to sit back and find targets like tight end Zach Gentry who rumbled into the end zone in the second quarter to put the maize and blue up 21-0 (see ESPN’s box score for more stats). Other scores were by Chris Evans who actually leapt over a Maryland defender late in the game as Michigan wore down the clock, Henry Poggi and Sean McKeon.

“Go Blue!!!!!” we Michigan fans said to each other on Washington, DC’s metro system as we commuted to the game to sit and watch our storied football program in 30 degree temperatures. It was pretty much a home game for the maize and blue, as we all sung “The Victors” in the stands after Michigan’s scores. Many of the Maryland fans left the stadium at halftime with their team down 28-0.

It’s been an interesting football season for the 2017 Michigan Wolverines. Michigan’s victory over Maryland wasn’t a surprise to the fan base. Having fallen out of the Top 25 following our loss to Penn State two weeks ago, I didn’t realize that Wolverines had crept back into the AP Top 25 and the Coaches Poll at Nos. 21 and 22 respectively after blowouts of Rutgers and Minnesota. The question now is will the maize and blue still be ranked when the clock expires on November 25, in two weeks? The final two tests of the 2017 Michigan Football Wolverines may be their biggest of the season; a match up with the undefeated Wisconsin Badgers at Camp Randall Stadium who are ranked No. 3 in the Coaches Poll, and then our old friends the No. 11 ranked Ohio State Buckeyes at the Big House who just crushed Michigan State last night 48-3.

As described in my recap of the season opener against the Florida Gators, the results of this season haven’t been completely unexpected, at least by some of us in the fan base. Going in, I saw this season as a rebuilding year where there might be some growing pains. While quarterback Wilton Speight returned, he did struggle down the stretch of the 2016 season albeit while healing from a broken collarbone. Even with his experience, and bringing us close to beating Ohio State in that controversial 2016 loss, we graduated three very experienced receivers in Jehu Chesson, Amara Darboh, and tight end Jake Butt, replacing them with a talented but young receiving corp. Tariq Black, probably our best deep threat was lost early this season to a foot injury, and the rest of the group has made its share of mistakes; dropped passes, fumbles, and an inability to get separation from defenders. While he wasn’t the most explosive running back, we also graduated De’veon Smith who was a very effective pass blocker – a key component of the pro-style offense Coach Harbaugh runs.

Pass protection has been a major area of struggle for the Wolverines since the beginning of the season which arguably led to Wilton Speights three cracked vertebra. It’s remained a problem as backup quarterback John O’ Korn also struggled and had been on the run the majority of the time after taking over for Speight. Against Rutgers, Coach Harbaugh inserted Brandon Peters in relief of O’ Korn who has looked good, although against weaker opponents. The positive is that the running game seems to be rolling now which may simplify the game for our young offense and will open the passing game for Peters, or Wilton Speight should he return. Recent reports are saying that he is on the mend and I wouldn’t be surprised if Coach Harbaugh plays him against Ohio State in two weeks.

The one constant for the 2017 Wolverines has been the defense led by Rashan Gary, Maurice Hurst, and Devin Bush. Coach Harbaugh and Coach Don Brown have done an excellent job not only replacing last year’s veterans like Chris Wormley, Ryan Glasgow, Jourdan Lewis and Jabrill Peppers, but they’ve also kept this unit motivated and hungry even when the other side of the ball hasn’t delivered much help. Our kicking game has been pretty consistent as well.

Many Michigan fans have grown restless as this season has gone by. Coach Harbaugh has been criticized for running too complicated an offense for the crop of players he has. One high school buddy with very little patience has been particularly frustrated that the maize and blue isn’t in this year’s College Football Playoff discussion this season often comparing Coach Harbaugh to Nick Saban and Urban Meyer. My buddy actually isn’t alone though as part of the Michigan fan base has short patience and is sometimes unrealistic in its expectations causing us to squabble amongst ourselves.

If one is being realistic, the results from this season make sense. Once again the Wolverines graduated several experienced players at key positions from last year’s team which was in the playoff discussion throughout the year. In pretty much any arena, it takes time, experience (some mistakes) to figure out how to excel. As a mentor often tells me, “Success and failure live side by side, and you can’t have one without the other.” My guess is that the experiences from this season will make the 2018 team and those going forward very solid units, perhaps even championship-caliber football teams.

This year’s team has also been nipped by injuries. While Wilton Speight didn’t charge out of the gate early on like many of us hoped he would, but he was our most experienced quarterback who played in some very big games last year. The loss of Tariq Black also took away our best deep threat. Lastly if you look at Coach Harbaugh’s records at the University of San Diego and at Stanford, his successes were gradual until his teams became powers, both in his fourth years I believe. Since coming to Michigan he had a crop of players he didn’t recruit, and coached them up well all while bringing in his own recruits who are getting on the job training right now.

I’m going to approach our two remaining games with a controlled optimism as I did this season in general. Both Wisconsin and Ohio State have no doubt been watching game film on Michigan and know that the big question mark for our team is our passing game. Our defense will likely buy time as it has all season, but our opponents will likely “load the box” to stop our running game and then try to make Peters or Speight if he comes back, try to beat them. My prediction is that our passing attack, will dictate the outcomes of the next two weeks. I have to think that Coach Harbaugh has thought about this as well, and may have a few tricks up his own sleeve.

Speaking of Coach Harbaugh, similar to the 2015 Maryland game, I caught a glimpse of him and the team as they shuffled out the locker room under the night sky, and onto their busses dressed in their maize and blue sweat suits. That year it was 12 or 1 pm kickoff, and the graduate transfer Jack Ruddock was our starting quarterback beating out both Shane Morris and Wilton Speight for the job. That season Coach Harbaugh inherited a team consisting mostly of Brady Hoke’s recruits – many of which were very talented players who themselves had taken their share of lumps and growing pains.

I recognized offensive and defensive coordinators Tim Drevno, Don Brown, and defensive line coach Greg Mattison immediately. As a Michigan alumnus, I also recognized longtime radio analyst Jim Brandstatter. Some of the players went straight to their busses with their postgame meals in hand which looked like Chik-Fila. Others stopped, signed autographs and took pictures with the fans. I also recognized wider receiver Grant Perry. Coach Harbaugh who is a rock star in his own right created a buzz when he came walking through. I recognized Maurice Hurst as well whom I follow on Twitter. He took a picture with me and godson, a freshman football player at Bowie High School. He was nice enough to wait while I turned my phone back on, which was almost dead at that point.

GO BLUE!!!! Thank you for taking the time to reading this blog post. If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy:

Michigan beats Florida 33-17: a recap of the maize and blue’s 2017 season opener
The 2016 Michigan-Ohio State game, the Big Ten officials, and the College Football Playoff
Chris Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and/or leave a comment. If you liked this review, please do click the like button, leave comments, and share it. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subs3cription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. You can follow me on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and you can also follow me 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 Herren discusses his journey, drug addiction, substance abuse and wellness

“Look at the first day, and not the worst day.”

The first principle of my blog is “Creating Ecosystems of Success” of which health and wellness are major aspects.  Personal stories also fall under this principle as they are one of the most powerful means of teaching individuals about success and failure.  Recently, three high schools in Northern Virginia hosted a very special guest who shared his life journey starting from his days as a high school basketball standout, to his college basketball stardom, to his ascension to the National Basketball Association (NBA), and then his personal struggles with drug addiction and substance abuse along the way.

On Oct. 2 Chris Herren visited Northern Virginia to talk to students and families about his basketball journey and his lifelong struggle with drug addiction and substance abuse.  In the first of many local stops, Herren spoke at Fairfax High School to an audience of all students in the morning, and then to adults, families and the general public in the evening.  I first heard part of Chris’s story years ago on the Jim Rome Show, and then I watched ESPN’s powerful documentary on his life and journey, Unguarded.  I learned about his visit a couple of weeks ago by chance after Tweeting to Chris’s foundation ‘The Herren Project’.  I told them that I would’ve definitely attended one of his talks in Massachusetts if I lived there.  They shared that he would be making an appearance in early October in the DC area, and as a lover of sports stories, I knew that I had to attend.

Chris Herren was one of the top 20 high school basketball players coming out of Durfee High School in 1994 with multiple offers to some of the nation’s top college basketball programs.  It was in high school where he first experimented with alcohol – something he had seen his father do growing up.  After playing just a little bit for Boston College, he failed a drug test which almost ended his career.  He received a second chance from a legendary coach who had given numerous young men second chances throughout his career – legendary coach Jerry Tarkanian also known as “Tark the Shark”, who had taken over as head coach at Fresno State University where I first saw Chris play on television.  There he played his way into being the 33rd overall pick for the Denver Nuggets in the 1999 NBA Draft.  He was later traded to the Boston Celtics where his drug problems escalated, and then went on to play overseas in Italy where his life further spiraled downwards before setting off on his road to recovery years later.

“The kids across the room who didn’t do anything, they had something I didn’t have,” Chris said in his strong New England accent, describing one of the high school parties he attended where he and his friends consumed alcohol underage, while another set of kids across the room didn’t consume anything and were fine with it.  During his talk, Chris told many stories about his journey which involved experimentation and addiction to Cocaine, OxyContin, and finally Heroin – all while becoming a father and a professional basketball player.  This particular story was significant because it touched on something many young people struggle with well into adulthood; personal contentment and self-esteem.

The significance of Chris’s opening quote of this post is to get people to note where our personals problems start and their root causes, as opposed to focusing solely on the end results – substance abuse, drug overdoses, suicides, and many others.  His just happened to be his father’s struggle with alcoholism, his mother’s resulting pain, and then the experimentation with drugs and alcohol amongst his peers early on as teens.  Chris’s other over-arching message was about “Wellness”, and how both parents and schools need to be more vigilant and aware of the struggles of young people which can lead to any number of injurious outcomes later in life if not caught early and addressed.

“Over the last seven years I’ve had the responsibility of sharing my story in front of a million kids.  I truly believe in my heart that I’ve made a difference for some, and I do this for many reasons,” Chris Herren said opening up his talk.  “When it comes to addiction, I think we’ve gone horribly wrong.  I think we put way too much focus on the worst day, and we forget about the first day.

“It’s safe as parents to show our children pictures of drug addicts and how to watch a movie and at the end explain to them what happened.  It’s hard to sit them down at 15 years old and say honestly, ‘Please tell me why you’re letting this begin.’

After telling his story, Chris took questions from the audience – parents and teens, whom he also makes himself available to through email.  Afterwards he graciously took pictures with those of us in the audience and took further questions individually.  I seized the opportunity to ask him one to two more.

“He’s one of the people that I will unconditionally love for the rest of my life.  I did the eulogy at his funeral at the Thomas and Mack Center in front of 12,000 people.  What I told everyone that night is that he meant the world to me.  He changed me,” Chris reflected afterwards when I asked him to say a few words on Jerry Tarkanian.  “I do what I do today because he did that for me.”

“He gave me a second chance and I truly believe people are worth second chances.  If we didn’t give second chances to people in recovery, we’d be much worse off.  He instilled that in me and it continues in my life today.”

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 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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.