Airbnb: Read The Fine Print

I used Airbnb for the first time when traveling to northern California this past winter. The sign up process was free, fairly straightforward, and I assumed I would be paying less for decent accommodations than I would otherwise pay at a hotel. After reviewing many places together with the ‘Host’ profiles, I chose a place that also had sixty-five positive (and no negative) reviews.

Within ten minutes of arriving, I decided to leave. Because the place I booked was in the middle of a construction zone operating from 7:30 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., with a condo being built on one side and a two-story home razed on the other. And the place had a putrid odor throughout, as if the owner’s preferred air freshener was Lysol. And the windows didn’t open. And there were giant cans of Raid strategically placed in each room. I took this as a hint that I was sharing residence with a family of monster spiders that regularly consumed other large insects or small rodents.

Okay, listen, complaining isn’t my thing, and I’m sure I would have survived, maybe leaving after one week with a minor respiratory ailment or pounding headache. But I wasn’t there to survive and pop Tylenol like candy. Rather, when I’m on vacation I like to relax, leave my worries behind and, importantly, not be concerned with losing a finger tip to a hungry rat.

So I checked out of Lysol Central and into a comfortable hotel that revealed no obvious signs of endangering my health; a perfectly pleasant non-hostile environment that I have come to associate with the word ‘vacation’. And for this decision I paid a hefty financial price, having forfeited my pre-payment to Airbnb and having to cough up for hotel costs. Oh well. I placed this experience in the ‘live and learn’ category.

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Pay Now and Receive Discount, or Pay Later?

When reserving a hotel room, there’s often a choice between the pay now and pay later option. Pay now and receive a small discount on total room price in exchange for your payment being non-refundable. Pay later, forgo the discount, and receive the twin benefits of being able to cancel your reservation within 24-48 hours of reservation date, and not paying for your stay until check-out time.

As a vacationing consumer, I like maximum flexibility when it comes to making payment because you never know what twist or turn life will take. So I typically forgo the room discount.

For me, paying a slightly higher rate and retaining the option to cancel my reservation is like taking out an insurance policy; I’d rather pay a bit more up front than get stuck with paying for a week’s worth of a hotel room that I didn’t use because, for one reason or another, plans changed.

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Airbnb’s Awful Refund Policies

Airbnb has six different refund policies. This is ridiculous in itself. One simple policy would surely suffice. Anyway, I digress.

Back to the Lysol experience, I could have contacted Airbnb and complained and asked for my money back. Then Airbnb would have contacted the Host to request their feedback. Based on information received from the Host and myself, Airbnb would then decide whether to issue a full or partial refund.

Did I want to be involved in a drawn out bureaucratic tangle? With me being a first time ‘Guest’ on Airbnb, and the ‘Host’ having sixty-five favorable reviews, I chose to eat the loss and avoid the prolonged nonsense of petitioning for a refund.

And even if I did receive a full refund, Airbnb would keep applicable taxes. What?! That’s right. Let’s say you pay $1,000 for your stay. Taxes are 12%, which works out to $120. So your cost with taxes is $1,120. It’s established that you’re entitled to a refund of $1,000 but Airbnb will keep $120 paid toward taxes because … why???

Because they can. Because they’re a company valued at more than $30 Billion (USD) and their heft and popularity means they can set the terms.

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How Airbnb Makes Money

As the facilitator, the middleman, Airbnb occupies a sweet spot, taking money from the Host and Guest.

Guest Fees. When I booked my reservation, the daily cost was $175 @ seven days for a total of $1,225. When I went to the payment page, here’s what I found:

$1,225 + $147 (Airbnb service fee) + $250 (Host cleaning fee) = $1,622. And taxes on top of that. And this is typical, with Guests paying between a 5-15% service fee to Airbnb. (note that Hosts can charge whatever the market will bear re: cleaning fees).

Hosts Fees. Hosts pay a 3% (of reservation cost, before fees and taxes) service fee for each reservation.

Currency Exchange Rate. This is one you may not know about. Let’s say you’re an American resident traveling to Europe. When you book that ever so charming Parisian pied-a-terre, your credit card will be charged in Euros. And Airbnb will determine the currency exchange rate from USD to EUR. Well, just know that you will not receive a rate of exchange beneficial to you, and Airbnb is making money off the currency conversion.

Foreign Transaction Fee. As if it’s not enough to swipe a piece from the currency exchange transaction, Airbnb charges a separate 3% currency conversion fee. Why? Absolutely no reason other than a cash grab; there are no additional costs incurred by Airbnb to accept payment via credit cards issued in different currencies.

Buried Treasure. I booked my trip to Lysol Central in October for a vacation that was to happen in March. Per their policy, Airbnb demands full payment up front so my credit card was charged immediately upon booking. But here’s the beautiful catch, as far as Airbnb is concerned: they don’t remit payment to the Host until 24 hours after the Guest checks in. Meaning, Airbnb held my money for more than five months.

What’s the big deal, you ask? In the interim, between the time that the Guest makes payment and Airbnb releases payment to the Host, Airbnb invests this money. I can’t tell you how these funds are invested or how much they make off of other peoples money because that information is held tight to the collective chest of Airbnb management. But I’ll say it’s fair to assume that, with more than 80,000 rooms booked every day (and growing) on Airbnb, and likely millions of dollars arriving daily in their accounts, they’re making some serious coin from investing your money.

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Who Cares? I Love Airbnb!

‘Listen Ralph Nader, what you’re saying is all well and good and informative but, really, do I care? You’re talking about a for- profit company providing a service that I choose to take or leave.’

Correct. Oh, and I’ll take the Nader reference as a compliment. Because part of my purpose here is to inform readers, to empower them with knowledge that allows for better decision-making. And knowing how a company operates, where your money is going, and what are your choices, falls under my self-appointed mandate.

So, yes, as you may have gathered, I’m not a fan of Airbnb. Its payment policies are too restrictive, and what you see in online photos is not necessarily what you get, no matter how many fawning reviews a Host receives ( … reviews are another game – both Host and Guest want to give each other positive reviews. Host, because they want to attract more Guests. Guests, because they want Host to speak well of them so the next Host they choose will review what others have said and agree to rent their place to the Guest).

For our next vacation, if I don’t book a hotel room, I’ll be using Vacation Rental By Owner. VRBO is sooooo much easier to navigate. They don’t take full payment up front, instead asking for partial payment immediately (a deposit) and the balance sometime before arrival date. And if I have to cancel, the refund is issued by the Owner, not VRBO and, unlike Airbnb, I may actually receive a 100% refund.

But what it comes down to is this: I like to know what I’m paying for, and I prefer to give my business to companies that not only offer consumer friendly policies but also offer transparency as to how they go about conducting business. And now that I’m sufficiently informed about Airbnb, I choose to give my business to their competitor. That’s my choice and my right as a consumer.

Happy travels to you, wherever you stay!

 

 

 

 

 

Fear Not The Bag Lady

I know a woman named Lily. She lays awake nights worrying that her bed will soon be a makeshift cardboard box on the street. This despite financial wealth that would have the 99% salivating.

Lily owns her own home, a comfortably sized condo in a luxury building. She has an investment portfolio worth north of $5 million bucks. Annual revenue generated from investments? A tidy $200,000 before taxes. Oh yeah, as if that weren’t enough, government coffers kick in a yearly $16,000. Part of this bonus dough comes from simply reaching a certain age, and the other part is drawn from society’s pension fund to which we all contribute during our working years.

What does Lily do with all this money? Well, not one to feel that money is burning a hole in her yoga pants pocket, for the most part she’s a prudent consumer. That said, she indulges from time to time in travels around the globe. Sure, travel is pricey, but Lily loves meeting new people, experiencing different cultures, and she can afford it. And because she doesn’t come close to spending what’s remaining after taxes from her $216,000 gross income, she donates a fair bit to her favorite charities.

All in all, Lily has no financial concerns. But this doesn’t stop her suffering from a malady commonly referred to as, ‘What’s The Point Of Having Money If You Worry So Much About Money That Anxiety Stresses You Out, Meddles With Your Peace of Mind, And Jumbles Inner Equilibrium.’

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Let Go My Nose

I don’t mean to be glib. Money, and the chance of losing all of her money, is a real concern for Lily.

Frightened of losing her wealth, Lily fixates on the ‘what ifs’. What if my investment portfolio drops in value? And if that happens, what if I can no longer afford condo property taxes and monthly payments? If I have to sell the condo, and I place the proceeds in my bank account, what if someone then steals my identity, gains access to my account and all my money is taken? If I have no money, what will I do? Live on the street? Eat at a soup kitchen? Or if I get sick? What happens if I don’t have enough money to pay for health care? Or, or, or …

Are these real concerns? Sure. Conceivably, any of those scenarios could play out. But let’s step back for a moment, put a lid on fear, and give reason some room to breathe.

Lily is 75 years old. Her health is excellent. She has first rate insurance coverage that would take care of most, if not all, medical related costs. Her portfolio is mostly in high rated bonds and cash. Meaning? The portfolio is minimally exposed to stock market volatility, and risk of loss is highly unlikely. Her financial institution fully insures all customer accounts against losses arising from identity theft. And, if needed or desired, Lily could well afford private nursing care without dipping into her principal.

Still, try telling this to Lily and you hit a wall of fear that blocks reason from taking hold.

That’s the thing with money, our connection to it is intensely emotional, not rational. So, Lily, like too many others, lets money concerns lead her around by the nose.


ENTER BUDDHA

bmAttachment brings misery. Those who know the joy of peace of mind, whether wealthy or poor, have learned to let go the delight of having money and possessions.


Magic Numbers Are Delusions

The Boston College Center on Wealth and Philanthropy undertook a study titled, The Joys and Dilemmas of Wealth. The joys being obvious, the study focused on dilemmas.

For our purposes, here’s what stood out from the results: despite their enormous financial wealth (study participants had a net worth of $25 million plus), the majority of participants did not see themselves as financially secure. Go on, read that bit again. Now roll your eyes and shake your head because that’s the natural response.

You want nuttier? Here we go: participants stated that, to feel financially secure, they would need about another 25% of their current assets. 25% huh? So, with a net worth of $25m, we’re talking $6m and change. Whoa!

Just for fun, let’s break this down. Say participant ‘A’ has $25m. Presumably, peace of mind comes from being bumped up past $31m. As for participant ‘B’, she has $50m. Well, she needs to hurdle over $62m to bask in the warm and fuzzies.

What’s going on here?! The unfortunate part is that these folks will never feel peace of mind, regardless of how much money they have, because they are tying peace of mind to a dollar figure. The thing is, peace of mind does not suddenly arrive when you hit a magic number.

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Bag Lady Syndrome

According to results of a study by Allianz (Allianz SE – OTCMKTS:AZSEY), a giant German based life insurance company, nearly 30% of women between ages 25-75 who earn more than $200,000 annually fear the proverbial dropping of the other shoe that will result in them living on the street, alone and penniless.

And almost 50% of the women, regardless of their age, income, or marital status, fear becoming ‘bag ladies’. And these are women who run the family household and have a solid career, some of whom earn more than their spouse.

Why didn’t Allianz include men in the study? Well, it seems that while women tend to be grounded, willing to acknowledge limitations, and question themselves and others with a view to learning, men are, um, uh, um … different.

How so? Generally speaking, men make for terrible study subjects on this issue because they are prone to self-delusional thinking. Specifically, men the world over are known to inhabit two primary delusions:

  • Men know where they are going, thus never ask for directions.
  • Financial know-how is genetically programmed into their wiring.

My guess is that if someone ventured to study men on this subject, and were able to somehow, magically, tease out the male animal’s delusionary thought processes, there may come into being a condition known as Bag Man Syndrome, in which men exhibit the same money fears as women. Until that day arrives, we’re focused on women.


CHEWY BIT

For those readers who disagree about the nature of men, please write a letter to the editor (that would be me) explaining the basis of your disagreement, providing proof that you are not delusional, and I will be sure not to respond because, you see, a writer needs latitude and I humbly request that you smile and grant me this latitude.


Deconstructing the Mythical Bag Lady

I don’t claim to know precisely why this sense of impending financial doom is prevalent among women. But I’ll do my best to shed some light on the issue. In this regard, consider the following:

  • Travel through history and you’ll see that women were blocked from acquiring wealth, power and freedom. Today, this oppression continues outright in most countries though in subtler forms in Western countries.
  • Sure, women are now empowered like never before but there is still a ways to go. Economic imbalances persist in North America and Europe with women typically paid less than men for the same work.
  • As a result of taking time out from the work force to populate our planet and care for little ones, women earn less thus save less for retirement.

There are many excellent books on this topic, with the most recent one to make a splash written by Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook Chief Operating Officer, and woman extraordinaire, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead – https://www.amazon.com/Lean-Women-Work-Will-Lead/dp/0385349947.

  • We humans become acclimated to our environment. If generation after generation of women are taught that money matters are not their concern, and are not afforded the opportunity to assume authority over financial matters, then over the decades and centuries, this kind of thinking burrows into the subconscious, leading women to internalize a belief that they are limited in their financial ability.

Okay, so if we know how the bag lady myth came about then the question becomes, how is the subconscious rehabilitated and destructive thoughts banished?


ENTER BUDDHA

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Do not allow the words or actions of others to define who you are, especially when those words or actions lead to self-limiting beliefs. Honestly acknowledge these beliefs, then challenge them. If false, discard them and replace with positive self-perception. Changing your thoughts, replacing the negative with positive, leads to confidence and ability.


Reconstructing Your Relation With Money

So if you’ve been plagued by this negative line of thinking, it’s time to stop and investigate why. It’s time to change your relationship with money, open up this particular space, and plant new ideas supportive of financial success and peace of mind such as:

  • There is no mysterious formula to successfully managing money. Read lots, study lots, and go to it, just like any other venture (oh, and staying part of the BuddhaMoney community will seriously increase your odds of success!)
  • Empowering yourself is good for you.
  • Banish fear through planning and saving.
  • If you’re feeling stressed, hire a qualified financial professional to help out.
  • The whole ‘bag lady’ myth and the shoe dropping superstition, let that silly thinking go so you can get on with life and not be dragged down by yourself.

Just so you know, I’m not giving up on Lily. I’m working with her. I’m planting seeds. I’m watering the seeds. I’m hopeful that she’ll one day be able to minimize the irrational money fears that grip her way too tight. And when that day arrives, when Lily rejoices in all that she is and all that she has, she’ll know true freedom.


ps. Dear BuddhaMoney members, this article was published back in January, 2017. It’s posting for the second time results from me encountering this issue over and over, and wanting to do what I’m able to empower people to face this issue, do what they can to lessen the grip of negative emotions, and feel that much lighter in the way they relate to money. 

 

 

The Seattle Project

There was an amazing response to my last post about Hygge (pronounced “Hoo-gah”). So I’m following up by continuing the discussion, focusing in on this thing we call happiness. Exploring why happiness matters, and how to bring more hunky-dory feelings into our day-to-day living.

Not just because happiness is a worthwhile goal, although mellowing in blissful mental states is most definitely high on the list. But also because when we’re clear-eyed, feeling the groove, and our mind is in a good place, then we’re driven by positive, constructive thoughts, and we make healthier decisions all around.

This includes money related decisions, i.e., better investment choices, increasing savings and reducing debt. In short, happiness is good for the head, the heart, and the wallet.

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Gross National Product … Rejection!

If you read the business pages, you’ve no doubt come across the term, Gross Domestic Product (GDP).

Technically, GDP is defined as the value of all goods and services made by a country’s residents and businesses. In essence, GDP refers to measurement of an economy’s output or production. And it’s used to gauge the health of a country’s economy.

GDP plays a large role in driving government policy and Central Bank interest rates, both of which aim for strong, sustainable GDP growth. Because the thinking goes that more economic growth means more employment, more people making and spending money, and a more prosperous nation.

And, so says conventional wisdom, when people have money to burn, they are happier. Governments like happy, content people because they’re less likely to agitate for change, less likely to ‘throw the bums out’ at the next election. Thus continues the relentless focus on GDP.

The government of Bhutan doesn’t buy it. Bhutan (bordered by Tibet and India; human population less than one million) rejects the idea that prosperity is measured strictly in economic terms. Instead, the Bhutanese people measure prosperity through Gross National Happiness, i.e., ‘well-being’ takes preference over material growth.

But let me be clear here: Bhutan is not saying that GDP doesn’t matter. Not at all, because economic output, growth, has tremendous potential benefits for individuals and all of society. But Bhutan’s question is … growth at what cost? 

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The Happiness Alliance

There’s a non-profit organization based in Seattle, Washington, called The Happiness Alliance (HA). Inspired by Bhutan, these forward thinking folks assume a holistic view of life that expands the concept of prosperity beyond how much dough you can jingle jangle in your pocket.

Here’s the jist of what HA has to say:

  • The purpose of government is to secure equitable opportunities for all people’s happiness.
  • The purpose of the economy is for human happiness and planetary sustainability.
  • The point of life is to be happy.
  • You are the happiness movement.

Radical notions? That instead of going to battle every day for our share of the pie, accumulating as much stuff as we’re able and keeping it to our self, well, we’re all in it together, cooperating, compromising, accepting shared responsibility, breathing life into the notion of ‘common good’.

And we can do so if we understand that,

“You are the happiness movement.”

Really, I love this! The idea that it’s up to each of us to shape our own perspective, to choose to let the light in … or not. Now, I’m not here to tell you what that means, to let the light in. That’s personal, it’s for you to figure out.

But I will reveal my own hand in saying that when enough people see the purpose of government as being to secure equitable opportunities for all peoples happiness, then you get a society like Denmark (see The Danish Way of Wealth) that repeatedly scores at or near the top of the World Happiness Report.

Denmark. Derided by some as a ‘welfare’ state. Praised by others for adopting a balanced approach to life. Not pursuing growth at all costs yet enjoying a high standard of living. Compassionate toward its people. All of its people. Not just those fortunate enough to afford a middle class, or higher, lifestyle.

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What Does Wealth Mean To You

That’s the question we all have to ask. What is wealth? How do our values inform our definition of wealth? And does monetary wealth affect our values?

Is wealth only about accumulating assets? Or is there more to being wealthy? Is it about finding contentment? Does contentment lead to the warm and fuzzies? Some would say that contentment is our greatest wealth.


Enter Buddha

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The cause of suffering is craving. When one is filled with intense drive to acquire, the drive in itself causes suffering, causes much anxiety, and little satisfaction even once the desired object is attained.

Do not confuse quality of life with a quantitative ‘standard of living’. Quantity does not lead to happiness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Danish Way Of Wealth

Since 2012, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has undertaken an annual comparative study of happiness within nations. The study measures …

Since 2012, the Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN) has undertaken an annual comparative study of happiness within nations. The study measures a host of variables factored into measuring happiness then publishes its results in something titled the World Happiness Report. Now, for anyone who may be about to raise their eyebrows and question whether the study is nothing more than a hippie dippy tie dyed waste of taxpayers money, check your impulse and have a look at some of the study’s purposes:

  • Mobilize global scientific and technological expertise to promote practical solutions for sustainable development, including implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • Accelerate joint learning and promote integrated approaches that address the interconnected economic, social, and environmental challenges confronting the world.
  • Enable a large number of leaders from all regions and diverse backgrounds to participate in the development of the network.

Seemingly laudable goals? Sure seems so. And all the better for putting forth ideals recognizing that we live in an inter-connected world, a world where the force of an Australian sneeze may reverberate in Chile; a Chinese smile may ricochet in Iceland.

 

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Building Social Trust, Not Walls

Still, what do these stated goals have to do with Happiness?

To answer this question, I’ll pass the megaphone over to Jeff Sachs, co-editor of the study and director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University.

Jeff says that world leaders need to understand what matters most to people if they are to have any hope of creating sound policy. He goes on to say that,

“Happiness is a result of creating strong social foundations. It’s time to build social trust and healthy lives, not [arm our self with] guns or [build] walls.”

What Sachs is getting at is the idea that trusting each other, our elected leaders, and institutions, is essential for an individual and a society to establish a firmly anchored sense of well being. And the bonus about feeling groovy, about feeling in soulful harmony with our self? Aside from the genuinely positive vibrations we share with fellow humans and other creatures, we’re more productive, more peaceful, more compassionate, earn more, and live longer.

And this is how happiness connects to the study’s purposes: governments that truly wish to build an inclusive society, one that fosters social cohesion and sustainable economic development, first need a baseline assessment of their people’s current state of well being. Then comes the task of figuring out what’s working, what’s not working , and implementing change to make us better.

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Is Denmark Utopia?

Each year since the first World Happiness Report was issued, Denmark has ranked at or near the top. Why? What does a country that is home to less than six million people know that others don’t? A country where people prefer to stay inside for much of November through March owing to the cold, and pop umbrellas open for near 180 days of the year because of rain.

Ya, well, weather is a state of mind as far as Danes are concerned. I mean, we’re talking about a country that entertains a steady flow of foreign government representatives who are on a mission to find out what the heck it is that makes Danes so damn happy.

There’s no such rush to the USA, a country sitting at #14 on the happiness scale. Some argue that this relatively poor showing is a result of misguided political leaders who espouse misguided policies emphasizing economic growth above all else. The thinking among these leaders being that more money translates to a better, happier life. Really? Will they never learn?

Living in a monster house does not bring happiness. Driving a Mercedes does not nurture one’s soul. Having more money than one’s neighbour does not elevate self-worth or contribute to one’s value as a human being. Because here’s the thing: happiness is not driven by the bottom line. And this is where America (and some other countries) falls down; with an overriding emphasis on money, the economy, taxes.

Back to Jeff Sachs, he says,

“America’s crisis is, in short, a social crisis. Not an economic crisis.”

So what may the USA, and other countries (I’m not trying to pick here; every country has their pluses and minuses) learn from Denmark? First off, this Nordic country knows neither economic nor social crisis. Along with the other top 5 countries, they rank high for caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance.  All reflective of a strong sense of community and understanding in the common good.

But you know what’s even better? You know what puts the Danes over the top? A little something known as HYGGE (pronounced ‘hoo-gah’ – see youtube video link here).

 

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HYGGE Is the Secret

‘Hygge’ is a Danish word. Though there’s no precise translation into English, here’s a few close approximations:

  • Cosiness of the soul
  • The art of creating intimacy
  • Cocoa by candlelight

Whichever definition you hang your hat on, Hygge is about an atmosphere, an experience. It’s about being with people we care for, people we love. It’s a feeling that we’re safe; that we may let our guard down; that we may engage in conversation about “big important” issues or silly nonsense; or that we may be silent in the company of others.

Of course, you could say that while Hygge sounds pleasant, the Danes have other reasons to be happy. Such as free health care, free education (from pre-school through university), subsidized childcare, job training and re-training, generous unemployment insurance (about $1900 USD/month after taxes), fuel subsidies and rent allowance for the elderly.

Yes, these social programs cost money. And to fund these programs, Denmark has the highest tax rates among European countries. Agh! Oh no! Taxes are evil! Or … are they? Is it not possible to find a compromise, a balance beneficial to both citizens and society at large, to the common good? Danish folks would say yes.

They say yes to a social system that has a burgeoning middle class, high taxes are acknowledged as a drag on economic growth but the welcome trade-off is a peaceful, caring society where no one, including vulnerable members of society, is left behind.

And this choice in favor of an expansive social system is made with awareness that collective wealth results in collective well being. In this regard, taxes are far from evil; rather, they’re perceived as an investment in society. They’re a purchase of quality of life. Because sharing and spreading wealth reduces risk, uncertainty and anxiety among citizens. And doing so nurtures happiness. And spreads the joy of Hygge!

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The Humility of Hygge

Oh, there’s so much more to say about Hygge, this word, this concept, this value, embraced by so many Danes, and contributing to one of the most successful societies we know.

Hygge is humble. Hygge is not rushing. Hygge is moderation. Hygge is watching leaves fall, baking cookies, sharing stories and laughter. Hygge is playing board games, swimming in the lake, dining on home cooked food. Hygge is saving money, making do with less, savoring simple pleasures, being grateful for what you have. Hygge is listening to birds sing, watching a child ride a bike or, better yet, riding a bike with the child. Hygge is the right atmosphere, degree of comfort and warmth, wanting to be engaged with people, caring for whom you are with. Hygge is real, balanced, down to earth.

In effect, Hygge is anti-bling, anti-consumption, anti-prestige not for ideological reasons but because it is not possible for money and entitlement to buy Hygge. In fact, if money is used in an attempt to improve Hygge, well, this act in itself is so anti-Hygge that the Hygge factor will be reduced or eliminated altogether!

What else?

Hygge is Candles. The Danes burn more candles by far than any other country. Candles, you see, create the right atmosphere.

Hygge is Presence. In this sense, Hygge is Buddha-like in emphasizing that we Be Here Now; welcome each and every moment.

Hygge is Simple Pleasures. Coffee, cake, cookies, chocolate. Whatever relaxes your mind and warms your heart.

Hygge is Equality. ‘WE’ takes priority over ‘ME’.

Hygge is Gratitude. Enjoy what you have; do not envy others.

Hygge is Harmony. Life is not a competition. We like you for you, not because of your achievements.

Hygge is Comfort. Get cozy. Relax. Take a break. Sip tea.

Hygge is Compromise and Truce. No drama. Let’s be kind and get along.

Hygge is Togetherness. Building relationships.

Hygge is Shelter. Your home, your country, this world, is your tribe. A place of peace and security.

If nothing else, my hope is that by reading the word ‘Hygge’ so many times that you now feel somewhat comfortable enunciating the word out loud (H00-gah). May you embrace Hygge!

ps. thanks to Meik Wiking, chief executive officer of the Happiness Research Institute in Copenhagen, for writing The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way To Live Well. A warm, inviting read that inspired this post, inspired me to continue learning more about Danish society, and to welcome more Hygge into my life.

 

MEIK WIKING jacket.jpg
MEIK WIKING jacket.jpg

 

 

Ride Your Way To Wealth

Ride Demon (new name for my 11-year old son) recently bought a hoverboard. If you’re asking, ‘what’s a hoverboard’, well, know that you’re not alone. Because that was my immediate response when Ride Demon excitedly told me of his intended purchase. And my ignorance was cause for him to look at me as if I were from Mars. Or just really, really old and out of touch. I told him to go with the Mars theory.

Then Ride Demon proceeded to tell me all about hoverboards, starting with: they’re soooo much fun, move fast, and carving the streets on a board is awesome. It’s kind of like an electronic skateboard but wayyyyy more cool because they’re battery powered, come with Bluetooth speakers to play music while riding, and are controlled by body motion. Meaning, you lean slightly forward or backward to slow down or speed up, and steer right or left by placing more weight on one foot or the other.

After learning everything I always wanted to know about hoverboards, I asked Ride Demon about the cost (a few hundred dollars).

“I have it covered.”

“Oh?”

“I’m not asking you to pay.” (interpretation: it’s my money and I can do what I want).

“Okay.”

“I know it’s a lot but I’ve been saving my money for a long time and this is something I want.” (interpretation: I’d like to buy this without your opinions and analysis, Dad).

“Absolutely, your call.”

“And I’ve done all the research (the kid knows me; this would have been my next question), and this is the best board for the best price.”

“Totally trust you. Go for it.”

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Money Can’t Love Buy But It Can Buy Experience

So Ride Demon buys the board. And he’s having a blast. The added bonus is that a friend of his is into hoverboard riding as well. So the two boys venture out daily, doing their thing, no helicopter parents around to tell them to slow down or be careful.

Whether he’ll remain interested for a few days, weeks or months, who knows. And whether the expensive price tag was worth it, well, that’s a matter of judgment and perspective.

The way I see it, the kid is learning about money management. On his own, he reviews his bank balance, tally’s up the expense and consequent hit to his savings account, and makes the executive decision to forge onward with the purchase.

Sure, he gets a kick out of watching his balance grow. But, really, the three digit number only gives back so much in the excitement department. Ride Demon calculated that riding the board throughout the summer is worth a whole lot more than any squishy feeling he might get from hanging tight to money.

And I, the Dad in this equation, encourage the kid to jump through these mental hoops. To weigh the costs and benefits to any purchase. And when he makes a mistake, regrets a purchase, all the better. Because he’s learning, and what better time to learn than when you’re a kid, when life is generally free and easy (little does he know!), without financial responsibility, and no money mistake will end in any sort of enduring hardship.

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Self-Balancing

There’s another name for a hoverboard: self-balancing scooter. Yet, while the board does its best to facilitate balance, it won’t work unless you find your own center of gravity, bring your own balance to the board.

Ride Demon was a natural. He quickly learned how to stay upright and comfortably navigate. And as I watched him savoring one sweet ride after another, I’m thinking I’d like to try. So he lets me have a go at it. I step on, shake and wobble for a few seconds, then fall off. Again and again. It’s not as simple as it looks.

Neither is money management for many of us (you knew that, eventually, I was going to bring this around to more talk about money!). I mean, even when someone like Yours Truly passes on a wealth of knowledge (ahem), and you absorb that knowledge, decision making may nonetheless start from a place of discomfort (‘is this the right investment for me? Am I spending too much?) and end with a sense of uncertainty (‘I sure hope the investment works out because I really don’t want to lose money’; ‘it was fun going out for dinner four times this month but now I may not be able to pay off my credit card balance in full’).

So what do you do? Well, this is where I’m going to deliver one of those ‘sounds easy in theory but challenging to implement’ notions. You get comfortable with discomfort; you cozy up to uncertainty. You do your research, acquire information needed for wise decision-making, then make your call. And you do so with conviction knowing that the future is inherently uncertain. And if it works out, good! If not, that’s okay, you learn from it, adjust, and move forward. Not so different than life.

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Kid Rules

I love being around kids. We adults can learn so much from them. When Ride Demon falls down and scrapes his knee, bangs his elbow good, he doesn’t hesitate to get right back up, place himself in the proverbial saddle and get back to carving the streets. He seems to have an innate sense of balance, one that keeps it all in healthy perspective, one that doesn’t harshly self-judge, one that’s accepting, that exudes spirited enjoyment of life.

Now, all that said, the kid doesn’t have money issues and adult responsibilities. Okay, fair enough. But since you and I do, it’s even more important to find and embrace a healthy balanced perspective on money, and all other facets of life. Because it’s when we’re in balance that we’re healthy, wealthy, and just plain old feeling groovy about this gift of life.

 

 

 

 

 

Don’t Fall For Scams

Some years ago when I operated my own law firm, a client of mine (let’s call him Greedy Dude) asked for my counsel on a pending business deal. According to Greedy Dude, the deal was to happen like this: he would transfer $50,000 (USD) to a Nigerian bank account in the name of Nasty Shady Character (not the recipient’s real name, but you get my point). This money would be used to pay bribes to Seriously Bad Guys who would then release $40 million (USD) that belonged to Nasty Shady Character. Being ever so grateful for the release of funds, Nasty Shady Character would share the bounty and transfer $20 million (USD) to Greedy Dude.

I did my best to persuade Greedy Dude that he was being set up, scammed, tricked, conned, swindled. Call it what you will. I queried how Nasty Shady Character got hold of his name and contact information and why a stranger would so readily hand over a fortune to another stranger. I questioned the fact that he had never met with Nasty Shady Character, really knew nothing about him. I explained that Nigeria is notorious for these kinds of scams, so much so that they even have a name, the 419 scheme, in honor of the Nigerian criminal code anti-fraud section. I pointed out that there is zero assurance of the truth of what he’s being told and near certainty that the information fed to him is false. And I vehemently expressed my opinion that any and all money forwarded to Nasty Shady Character would be in vain. But I couldn’t break through. I was up against a formidable opponent: Greed.

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Come On! People Actually Fall For These Schemes?

Here’s an email I received in my spam folder just the other day:

“Good Day Friend;

My name is Dr. Christopher Brown, A banker by Profession and Currently A Director of Finance Auditing and Accounting Unit in my Bank, Which the name will giving to you as soon as you respond for security reason.

I got your email address in my search for a reputable and reliable person to help me claim the sum of Fifteen Million Six Hundred Thousand United State Dollars ($15,600,000.00) Deposited in our Bank by one of our customer Eng. Mueller who die with his wife and two children on the 21Th day of April 2001 in car clash along Aflao express road.

Since his death no one has come up as his next of kin and all our efforts to locate any member of his family immediate family has prove Abortive that was why I decided to see if I can get anybody who has the same surname or last name with him via Internet preferably some one of the same nationality with him which I believe you have all the qualities we need.

Why I am contacting you is to present you to our bank as the next of Kin to the deceased customer. He was Drilling contractor with some Oil Companies here in west Africa. So it will be more acceptable and wiser to present you through paper work to the Bank for claim of the total fund.

I will give you all the necessary requirements that the bank may request from you and follow up the transfer of the fund into your account as an Insider. It will interest you to know that I and my partners has been keeping the account dormant to enable our plans for the funds to come through and this is the time and we are happy to locate you for the perfection of the transfer of the Fund into your nominated Bank Account to be given.

As soon as I get your positive response I will update you about the mode of disbursement and we will also need to know about investing in your Country as a way of helping your people who suppose are the original owner’s of this Fund, I suggest you get back to me as soon as possible through my confidential email (dr.cbrown@yandex.com) stating your wish in this deal.”

The email is so absurd it’s comical. Who would fall for an email riddled with poor English, a preposterous story fitting for a third rate B-movie script, and a promise of millions from an unknown person because, hey, this is your lucky day? Well, here’s the sad part: Greedy Dude was not the only one to get reeled in.

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How It All Plays Out

The U.S. Secret Service, the agency responsible for investigating this kind of fraud, estimates that Seriously Bad Guys gross several hundred million dollars annually from their evil game, known to law enforcement as an Advance Fee Fraud.

The typical scenario goes like this:

1. DANGLING BAIT

First contact is an unsolicited email, such as the one above, intended to tug at heartstrings and appeal to a sense of altruism. The email will be full of bizarrely polite language, a sob story, and promise of a huge payoff. The name on the email will be a government official, businessperson, doctor, or a surviving spouse of a former government bigwig in Nigeria or another country whose money is temporarily tied up.

Once the soon-to-be victim takes the bait and replies, a second email arrives offering to transfer big time dough into intended victim’s bank account IF intended victim pays fees or ‘taxes’, in the range of several thousand dollars, necessary to gain access to the money. In exchange, intended victim is promised a share of the fortune that inevitably originated from an unclaimed estate, dying Samaritan, corrupt executive, etc., etc.

2. NATURE OF THE Game

Seriously Bad Guys are out to steal your money and/or identity. Never (this bears repeating), NEVER, will they send money to the victim. Instead, more and more emails will arrive, relentlessly asking for more and more money, accompanied by excuses as to why the transfer of funds to your account is delayed.

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What The … Is Going On In Their Head?

Alright, so the vast majority of people who receive these emails junk them immediately. But there’s still a tiny percentage that take an interest. A small group of people who don’t see absurdity; instead, they see opportunity. And this opportunity is worth pursuing because the potential reward outweighs the risk. Owing to this sort of skewed, deluded and unfortunate perception, these people make for the ideal mark.

Here’s how David Maurer explained the mark’s mindset in his book, The Big Con:

“As the lust for large and easy profits is fanned into a hot flame, the mark puts all his scruples behind him.

He closes out his bank account, liquidates his property, borrows from his friends, embezzles from his employer or his clients.

In the mad frenzy of cheating someone else, he is unaware of the fact that he is the real victim, carefully selected and fatted for the kill. Thus arises the trite but nonetheless sage maxim:

‘You can’t cheat an honest man.’ ”

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Keep Life Simple And Free And Honest

Giving the nod to that last line, honesty includes not letting greed take hold. The only reason the scam works is because the greed factor raises its ugly green head.

Enter Buddha

bmDo not allow Need to turn into Greed. Be grateful for what you have. Accept that More does Not equal Better. Know that what you have is Enough. And you will avoid Suffering.

 

 

Buy Substance, Not Image

Last week, my Apple MacBook gasped, wheezed, and hiccupped uncontrollably. Then there was silence. After more than eight years of devoted service, this was the machine’s way of saying goodbye. I said my thanks, expressed gratitude, and made arrangements for its various parts to be recycled. Moments later I was online at the Apple Store purchasing a replacement, a new MacBook Air.

And I didn’t think twice about shelling out a fair bit of dough for another pricey Apple laptop. Because the brand has earned my trust. Not owing to superficial matters such as the ‘cool, hip, styyyyllllish factor’, slick marketing or product packaging. But because my experience with Apple products has led me to associate the brand with superior quality, durability, reliability, and ease of use.

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Brand Power

Branding is important. It sells an image. From a consumer’s perspective, the brand communicates what the organization is all about. And it speaks to more than the utilitarian function or benefits of a particular product or service; it’s also intended to speak directly to each consumer, to make each consumer feel special, to tap into our emotional network for the purpose of bonding consumer with brand thus giving birth to Loyal, Repeat, Profitable Consumer.

If this seems part science fiction, part Dr. Evil (cue Mike Myers), well … welcome to the mercenary underbelly of marketing (cue sinister laugh of Vincent Price – have a listen, and a laugh of your own, @ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fRamB30E9mU).

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Okay, maniacal chuckles aside, it’s time for a real life example: Nike (NYSE:NKE). The shoe manufacture of sizeable fame and fortune that takes its name from the Greek goddess of Victory.

The corporation that became known as the ‘Just Do It’ brand. And in bringing to life one of the most successful slogans ever, Nike knocked the socks off the advertising world. More importantly from a shareholder’s perspective, they gained millions of new, faithful, true believer customers, enabling them to sprint miles ahead of the competition.

Why has ‘Just Do It’ been so successful? Well, even though their primary product back in 1988, when the slogan first aired, was shoes, Nike didn’t position themselves as shoe sellers. Instead, Nike was selling courage.

Here’s what I mean: the slogan speaks to laziness. To varying degrees, happens to everyone, right? We get lazy. And laziness is our foe. That’s where magic shoes come to the rescue, shoes marked with a simple swoosh, shoes ushered into the public consciousness with a battle cry, shoes urging you to wrestle with your inner sloth, shoes beseeching you to suck it up, get off the couch and DO IT!

Do whatever it is that’s necessary to reach your goals, be they business or personal. And know that when you DO IT, when you engage in hard work and personal sacrifice, when you roar like a lion (or a highly paid athlete) you empower your self.

For close to thirty years, the Just Do It message has resonated with huge numbers of consumers worldwide and facilitated Nike’s continuing success.

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Whatever You Do, Don’t Identify With A Brand

That’s all well and good for Nike. But what about the consumer? Is it in the consumer’s best interest to attach them self to a brand? To be hypnotized by a swoosh? To believe that one kind of shoe or computer or car or anything else being sold in our hyper-competitive commercial markets is better or awesome or desirable simply because of a logo or a slogan or an all too common celebrity endorsement for those companies lacking the oomph! of a Nike slogan?

Frankly, it’s delusional on the part of the consumer to think this way. To think that marketing campaigns are anything but surface bluster, hype and showmanship the sole purpose of which is to stimulate sales, NOT to accurately reflect quality or value. Or to think that celebrity endorsements have any substantive value whatsoever when it comes to the worth of a product.

Ahhh, but mine appears to be a lonely voice in the wilderness (said with an Irish lilt).

Because brands, together with marketing campaigns, are powerful. Moreso because consumers want to believe the fanciful imagery being sold.

They want to believe that slipping into a pair of new Nike shoes will let them soar like Michael Jordan or slice and dice a tennis ball like Roger Federer. Consumers want to believe that dabbing on Chanel No. 5 will increase their sex appeal because Nicole Kidman is paid $4 million/year to shill for the perfume. Or sipping Nespresso, owned by Nestle (OTCMKTS:NSRGY), the $275 million consumer products giant, is fashionable therefore desirable because George Clooney takes home $5 million/year for being its poster boy.

Fascinating really. Actors, athletes … celebrities of all stripes, are people hired by for-profit organizations to capitalize on their ‘star’ power, to seduce wide eyed consumers. Consumers who spend too much money, sometimes more than they can afford, sometimes taking on destructive debt, sometimes losing or misplacing their sense of self, as a result of buying into the celebrity brand.

Why, is the question someone as naïve as myself asks? Why does the magnetic celebrity pull exist? Is it because the consumer wants to feel like the celebrity? Is it because the consumer admires the celebrity’s image (because that’s all the public is privy to – an image), and feels connected to the celebrity when wearing clothes or perfume that the celebrity endorses? And this makes consumer feel better about them self?

Hmmm. This is what I’m going with: bewitched consumers, having fallen prey to the misguided notion that in buying a product they are connecting with the ‘star’, feel a sense of belonging, camaraderie, and all around feel good.

An accurate understanding or not, what’s more important is for consumer to ask: what is the benefit, and what is the cost of my expenditure?

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Who Do You Trust With Your Life Savings?

Financial institutions do their own form of branding.

Wealthsimple, one of the larger independent American Robo-Advisory companies, recently circulated a money focused article apparently written for them by Kevin Bacon, the actor (https://www.wealthsimple.com/en-us/magazine/money-diary-kevin-bacon). All I can say to this is that Bacon may not want to give up his day job.

Why would Wealthsimple want an actor to write an article about money? Straight up, they’re banking on his status to attract new customers.

Colonial Penn, an insurance company, uses Alex Trebek as their spokesperson. And why not? He has hosted the most popular television game show ever, Jeopardy, for more than 30 years. So, clearly he knows what he’s talking about when it comes to insurance products. Okay, sarcasm aside, Trebek is an excellent front man. Widely recognizable name, calm presence, pleasant on stage personality; everything about Trebek says he’s a perfect fit for a staid industry.

But does this mean you should do business with Colonial Penn? I really don’t know. Because I haven’t researched the company. That said, there’s no way I would make a decision based on a T.V. personality pitching their products. Because it makes zero impression on me, the fact that someone who earns their living playing someone who they’re not on an entertainment show is now their public salesman (because that’s what actors do, they play, and as they play, they sell an image void of authenticity; and this is what earns the public’s trust, an inauthentic image, and the more the public fawns over the image, the more the actor is paid for their role, the more this reinforces the actor’s inherent narcissism … and the public continues to buy in???).

What matters is substance, not image. If Colonial Penn, or any other company for that matter, backs up image with substance, then it’s all good. Apple backs up image with substance, with quality and value. So does Nike. As do some other companies.

For the sake of your wealth, whether your buying products or services, financial or otherwise, ignore the show, the glitz, the imagery intended to sucker you in. Instead, dig deep into the notion of value, fully understand costs and benefits before making the call or clicking ‘purchase’.

I mean, we’re all consumers of one sort or another. And in the consumer role, it’s always to our advantage to be fully informed.

You Can Have It All

I’m of the view that I can learn from anyone. In this sense, we are all each other’s teacher.

As for money matters, sure, I know a fair bit about finance and investing. Still, that doesn’t mean I’m done with learning more. Because when it comes to learning, less is NOT more. Nope. More is more. And my plan is to keep on thirsting for knowledge, to continue growing, until my departure date from this planet we call home.

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If You Want It, Here It Is, You Can Have It

My 17-year old son tells me that he’s terrible at managing money.

My 26-year old niece says she doesn’t even know where to start when it comes to investing.

My 42-year old friend complains about mortgage debt and making ends meet.

My 47-year old friend fears for his financial future, knowing he has contributed way too little to his retirement account yet remains unwilling to reduce borrowing and spending.

My 59-year old relative, who has crazy long longevity in her family, plans to continue working into her 80s despite a decent sized nest egg because she’s concerned she’ll run out of money before she runs out of breath.

My 81-year old Uncle, who lost any sense of purpose after his wife passed way, does little with his days but review his substantial investment accounts, the size of which seems to be the only support for his sense of self.

Whew! Not a content bunch, at least on the financial front. And these are some of the folks I learn from, with my primary takeaway being this: freedom is often a perspective, an outlook. And this includes financial freedom.

Because, the thing is, if you want financial freedom, you can have it. But not in the conventional way of thinking, i.e., not by earning or inheriting a gazillion dollars. Rather, through adjusting your relationship to money, by empowering your self through learning about money matters, by tweaking the way you manage money, this is how you achieve financial freedom.

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Money Troubles: Two Sources

1. I Want It!

When did so many of us so-called adults revert to an adolescent mindset? A sense of entitlement, a demanding, impulsive neediness to have what we want when we want it?

A long, long time ago (say, when Elvis first popularized hip gyrations), credit was virtually non-existent. So if you didn’t have the money to buy stuff, well, you didn’t buy it.

The obvious upside of this sort of system was no debt. The perceived downside was you either didn’t get stuff or your possession of stuff was delayed until you could save enough dough.

Then along came credit. And people feeling it was their ‘born in America right’ to possess material things that they cannot afford. And lenders, in business for the purpose of earning bucks from lending, were all too happy to lend.

As for the deep dark debt holes being dug by Ms. and Mr. Consumer, well, that was the lender’s business only if they didn’t get repaid. Otherwise,  Consumer would bear the burden and the strain and the stress of debt.

And why shouldn’t they? I mean, presuming Consumer is of the age of majority, presuming Consumer has been wearing big boy / big girl pants for some time, isn’t it Consumer’s responsibility to manage their finances?

It’s not like Consumer is being forced to borrow money, to max out several credit cards, to finance a luxury car or take out a McMansion home mortgage. So in the end, if Consumer is voluntarily taking on debt, then Consumer alone is responsible for that debt, and all its attendant headaches.

… Stop Wanting! 

You know a simple, entirely effective way to eliminate debt, to prevent that pulsating ulcer from ever happening?

For the single purpose of your financial health and resulting freedom, turn the clock back to the 1950s. Pretend credit does not exist. Pay all cash for each and every purchase, whenever possible, except for your home. And even then, borrow only the absolute minimum. And be certain you can and will repay the mortgage within the contractually agreed upon timeframe.

And recognize that not having the money means you cannot afford the purchase. And that’s okay. There’s no need to keep up with the Jones because the Jones are dead. This is 2017, not 1950. Once you stop wanting what you cannot afford, an amazing thing happens. The leaky boat that is your financial house soon repairs itself. Clouds disperse revealing blue sky, sunshine, and calm waters. Your sense of freedom expands, and life is good.


2. Greed Sucks

You can’t have it all and pay for it later. Thinking otherwise defines greed. Inherently, greed is destructive. It will mess with your moral compass. Blow up relationships. Leave you empty.

So how do you quiet your wants so they’re reasonable and not obsessively focused on Self?

Give some away. Really. Giving away money or possessions has the effect of taming the greed monster. In effect, you become more of a Giver, rather than a Taker. And once you start down the Giving path, here’s what happens:

  • Compassion. Prioritizing the needs of others ahead of your own wants not only reduces selfish desire, but also contributes to you seeing how much you already have, and caring for others.
  • Generosity. When you realize how fortunate you are to have what you have, in terms of the people in your life and material goods, then you become grateful. The natural outflow of a heart filled with gratitude is generosity. Generosity subdues greed. And inner peace and contentment then thrive.

But don’t take my word for it. Try it your self; see what happens. And if you’re so inclined, you might want to think about the following:

  • Regular Giving. Determine how much money, stuff and/or time you will give away, and when you will make your gifts, i.e., monthly, annually, etc.
  • Others First. Give to others before giving to your self.
  • Plan. Take time to devise a thoughtful giving plan.
  • Voluntary. Giving comes from inside you, not from social pressure. Be driven by issues close to your heart, issues that engage and excite you, whatever those may be.
  • Happy. Generosity brings happiness to you and the recipient just as surely as miserliness brings misery.

Yours For The Taking

All those people I mentioned in the second paragraph, if they take on the perspective that learning is a never-ending process, and if they are patient and kind to them self, then financial freedom is waiting for them. Because through giving to others and our Self, we’re all allowed to take freedom and feel good about it.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Boost Your Energy Account

A student approaches his meditation teacher and says, “My meditation is horrible! My mind is bouncing from one thought to the next, my back hurts, and I’m straining just to stay awake.”

“It will pass,” the teacher responds calmly.

One week later, the student returns to his teacher. “I can’t believe the change! My meditation practice is wonderful! I feel so aware, peaceful, and focused!”

“It will pass,” the teacher responds calmly.


Little Story, Big Message

I love this little story with the big message: throughout our life, we experience all sorts of feelings and thoughts that constantly change, sometimes from moment to moment.

And once moments pass, they cannot be recaptured or experienced again the same way. Sure, that may be obvious to you now as you’re reading this post. But sometimes, when our self-awareness is, um, let’s say compromised, we forget. Sometimes we try to hold on to good times, wanting to extend our experience indefinitely into the future. But in a world where change is the only constant, life doesn’t work that way.

Instead, events and circumstances go our way … until they don’t. And when they don’t, we might feel frustrated, irritable, confused or disappointed. Then we might start struggling for solutions because we want these feelings to go away. And we think that the only way for these feelings to recede is to adjust the external world, have it conform to our wishes. But a funny thing happens on the way to struggling for solutions: the more we ‘want’, the more entrenched becomes the struggle.

Consider it this way: you know when you’re trying to think of a particular word, and you’re certain that the word is there but for whatever reason it remains hidden, teasing you, resting on the proverbial tip of your tongue? And the more you try to coax out the word, the deeper it goes into hiding and the more aggravated you become?

Eventually, you give up. Your mind stops searching. You forget about the word. You let it go. Then, other thoughts drift through your mind. And soon, without trying one itty bit, the word suddenly appears. And you smile, say the word out loud, repeat it more than once, and with great self-satisfaction say to your self, ‘yes, I knew it was in there!’

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Relax, Come To It

Energy is our natural currency. When we squander our energy reserves through stress, worry, envy, judgment, and greed, we’re less able to think clearly. And cloudy thinking leads to poor decision-making, leads to undesirable outcomes, leads to stress and compounding negative energy.

It’s not like we actively, consciously, search for negativity or want to waste our energy. Still, darkness comes and goes. Largely because we want to control external circumstances and have not learned to accept that which we cannot change.

So … how do we experience inner contentment, happiness, blue skies, for extended periods of time regardless of which way our external world is turning?

Ahhh, well now, I suppose this is the $64 question. This is where my duty to you is one of introducing the magic elixir, revealing to you ingredients guaranteed to swell your energy account with positive ions, leading to feelings of ease and satisfaction, feelings conducive to excellent decision-making, decisions that benefit your spiritual, psychological and financial well-being.

And the answer is … Yoga.

No, wait. Let me back up. It’s not that easy. It never is because it’s not supposed to be. The thing is, there’s nothing at all magical about yoga. Rather, what I’m getting at, what the practice of yoga allows you to get at if you’re open to it, is a healthy, serene, sense of balance.

How so? Well, um, really, I don’t exactly know. I mean, I could blather on about studies detailing the many beneficial physiological effects of yoga practice, or I could tell you about my personal experiences, tell you how amazing I feel after every single yoga class and how I wish I could bottle up those good and scrumptious feelings to use at my whim. Still, the only way to truly understand the benefits of yoga is to practice yoga.

That said, here’s what I do know: start your day with a bit of yoga, a sprinkling of laughter, a dose of fun … and that in itself is magic. Call it magical reality. Call it an amazing form of medicine, one that acts as a powerful antidote to stress, pain, conflict and any other form of negativity.

Want to feel physically stronger, mentally alert, emotionally balanced? Get your self to yoga class. Want to bring more light in? Laugh! Want to keep the light around permanently? Laugh more! Play! Have fun!

Yes, yes, we have responsibilities, we have bills to pay, investments to make, debts to repay, budgets to draft, research to undertake, retirement to prepare for, BuddhaMoney blog posts to read … of course we do. Still, when we lighten our duties, responsibilities and burdens with a hearty guffaw, a gut busting chortle, a relaxed smile, playtime, then we’re healthier. And our good health leads to a calm perspective, a broader outlook, a sense of grounding, focus and alertness. All of which doesn’t just smooth out your time on planet Earth, it also leads to you becoming a better investor, and a wealthier person.

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If You Want It, Here It Is, Come And Get It

I know, yoga is trendy, it’s all the rage. But don’t let this turn you off. Look past the trivial, superficial, North American marketed aspect of yoga, the Lululemon (NASDAQ:LULU) tight tops, check-out-my-butt pants and hotty hot (actual name) shorts, and you’ll find a more than 5,000 year old practice that offers participants the opportunity to grow their positive energy reserves partly through learning to be self-aware and responsible for our feelings and happiness.

You want a buff body? Sure, yoga will take you there. But that’s not what yoga is all about. Not at all. Rather, yoga practitioners seek awareness of their deepest nature. Because through self-awareness, through learning to be present for every sensation in every moment, we learn to be responsible for who and what we are.

And we learn to understand that, to a large degree, we have the power to make our self. When this is understood, then we know that happiness is a choice; that we are responsible for our own happiness. Because our happiness, our contentment, is unrelated to external circumstances. Happiness, you see, is an inside job.

And it’s kinda, sort of, really excellent when you’ve done the inner work, and bring peace to your daily life, including money matters. Because money management, saving and investing can be fraught with emotion and confusion. So if you’re coming at it from a peaceful place, with a clear mind, where you’re able to tune out noise then, sure as Buddha is sitting cross-legged, smiling by the Bodhi tree, you increase your likelihood of finding balance, wealth and success.

 

Avocado Toast Ruining Retirement

Avocado is a pear shaped, alligator skinned nutritional powerhouse, a veritable stand-in for your one-a-day multivitamin. Humble, ordinary, unassuming, The Avocado is packed with protein, carbohydrates, healthy fats, fiber, zero sodium and a teeny amount of sugar (0.7 grams per 100 grams of avocado); boasts more potassium than the mighty banana; is high in antioxidants such as Lutein and Zeaxanthin, both beneficial to eye health; is loaded with heart healthy fatty acids such as Oleic Acid; and is chock-full of other vitamins and minerals, including calcium, iron, magnesium, copper, manganese, phosphorous, zinc, vitamins C, B6, B12, A, D, E, K, thiamine, riboflavin, and niacin. [big thanks to healthambition.com for providing the link to The Avocado – yes, minor plug here, bit of a positive energy exchange, with no money changing hands].

As extraordinary as this fruit is, spread avocado on toast and you better buckle up. Prepare your self to enter the fifth dimension. A dimension above and beyond sustenance and dietary needs. A dimension indifferent to price, but focused only on what is hip, trendy, and fashionable.

 

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YOU PAID HOW MUCH?

A super food if there ever was one, in the USA average cost for one avocado is about $1.30 (USD). As for Canada, land of minimal corporate competition and resulting higher prices, you’re looking at about $2.25 (CAD) per avocado.

But … once the green on the inside avocado is slathered on a piece of toast, gussied up to induce maximum salivation, and served at a stylish cafe/restaurant, the price rockets to $7 (USD). Sure, bread adds to the total cost and the bread is pricier when artisanal. Still, bread doesn’t add much since you could buy a whole loaf of most breads, artisanal or not, for $7 or less. Assuming a conservative estimate of 15 slices per loaf, that works out to about $0.47 per slice.

Tallying up the numbers, we’re looking at $1.30 for the avocado and no more than a buck for two slices of toast. Grand total cost: $2.30, but that’s only if you dare to toast your bread at home then mash up the avocado on the toast.

Yet, people are more than willing, to fork over more than 3x cost for avocado on toast. Why?

Maybe the following online review of a certain café will give a glimpse of the what’s important for the I-Don’t-Care-What-It-Costs-Because-I-Love-It-And-Toast-Is-Way-Cool crowd:

Their avocado toast is amazing. A clever balance of soft and crispy textures that appeals to both sweet and savory taste palates.”

Okay. Whatever gets your eyes and stomach dancing, I suppose. Although, I can’t help but think that when you pay that much money for simple food requiring so little preparation, you have to rationalize cost somehow.

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Hold The Toast and Choose to Salivate Over Your Growing Wealth

The preceding paragraph was completely judgmental. But not in the way you may think. I’m not judging the ways in which people spend their money. It’s their money to do with as they wish.

What I am judging is the choice to make a habit of dropping $7 on toast. Because small discretionary purchases add up. Just like the $5 specialty coffee adds up when you’re a regular customer. And if purchases like these are part of your budget, you should be aware of the downside. You should know that this sort of spending cuts into savings, and lessens the odds of financial freedom today and down the road.

This is the spiel I gave to my 26 year old Toronto dwelling niece. And she shot back,

‘I like going to cafes. I like getting my coffee on the outside. And if I indulge in avocado on toast now and then, I’m okay with that too. Besides, it’s not like I’ll ever be able to afford a house in this city so this is what my friends and I spend our money on.’

Have you done the math? Coffee $5/day, 30 days/month x 12 = $1800. Add in trendy toast, say twice/week for 52 weeks working out to about $730. Total bill: more than $2,500 per year.

‘Sure, I get it. That’s a fair bit of money. Still, you know much the average home costs here. Almost one million! Trust me, abstaining from toast and coffee is not enough for me to accumulate a down payment.’

She’s right. But the thing is, it’s not just about the toast, avocado and coffee bill. Rather, it’s about a way of thinking, it’s about perspective and goals.

As for perspective, if you’re only thinking about the here and now, not the future, then odds are savings is not a priority. And if indulging now is the priority then, without a doubt, large purchases, such as a home, will not happen. As well, current debt, such as student loans or credit card debt, will not be paid down, and financial strain will weigh heavy on your shoulders.

But if you have one eye toward the future, if one of your goals is to become financially independent and free, then it makes sense to sacrifice some small pleasures.

These sacrifices yield immediate results in the form of increased savings. Savings may be invested. Investments grow. And, eventually, you just may have enough for that down payment. And your future self will thank you for your foresight, for your balanced approach to life.

As for avocado on toast? No need to fret; you can still indulge. But at home. With you and your friends taking turns at the toaster, spreading on the avocado, and making coffee. Try it. You never know, this way may be even be more fun.


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Enter Buddha

Ordinarily, our minds impatiently grumble about that which has not happened. Instead, learn to be patient. Express gratitude for that which has already happened, and patience for that which will happen.