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.

 

 

 

 

 

Amazon Prime: The Inside Story

When shopping for books, my first choice is to buy used at the online marketplace, AbeBooks, a company that sources books from local bookshops around the world.

The fact that the books are used? Not an issue at all. I pay a whole lot less than what I would have paid if buying new, with the added bonus that every book I’ve ordered arrives in excellent condition.

The downside, if you can call it that, is that books may be mailed from countries like Australia or England and not arrive for anywhere between 7-21 days or so after placing an order. But I’m good with that. Because it’s rare, if ever, that I absolutely need a book immediately. And you know what? It’s fun waiting. It’s fun anticipating arrival, not unlike looking forward to going on vacation. Waiting reinforces my understanding of the phrase, ‘patience is its own reward’.

Besides, if I need a book immediately (owing to impulse control system shutdown), it may be available at a local bookstore. If not, there’s always Amazon.

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Prime Time With Amazon

Amazon bills its annual Prime Day as ‘a one-day only global shopping event exclusively for Prime members!’ Oh, how exciting, more shopping, more deals, more spending, more getting excited about … stuff.

Sarcasm aside, Amazon is not (surprise, surprise) acting out of the goodness of its heart when enticing consumers to shop until they’ve maxed out their credit card. Nah. Instead, Amazon is intent on taking over the consumer world (chewy thought: given Amazon’s voracious and insatiable growth, will the federal government step in one day, brand Amazon a monopoly and require it to break up into smaller pieces? Stay tuned).

And here’s where Prime Day greases the ravenous machine. July being a quiet retail period, Amazon offers big time deals. In the process, they attract new third-party sellers to their site (which, in turn, enhances product assortment) and persuade more consumers to sign up for Amazon Prime. Because, remember, this is a member’s only sale. And as one credit card company put it in an advertising campaign of years past, ‘membership has its privileges’. Right. The privilege to buy more stuff. Whooo Hooo (ooops, sarcasm reflexively returned).

Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s founder and CEO, knows exactly what he’s doing. Bezos knows consumer behaviour inside out. He knows that the first two Prime Days (this year is #3), generated profits 4x greater than the typical daily profit haul. And he knows that getting consumers to pay $99 to become a Prime Time member is only part of the pitch.

Because internal research has shown that Prime members spend more time noodling around Amazon’s ecosystem of services, and they spend more money. All of which further cements Amazon’s retail dominance.

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Why I Shop At Amazon

More and more, I buy stuff at Amazon. At first, it was only books that I couldn’t find on AbeBooks (did I mention that Amazon bought AbeBooks in 2008?), because even if they didn’t offer a new book priced lower than competitors, they offered free shipping. And convenience. And reliability. And excellent customer service if a package got lost or was damaged during shipping.

Now, for all those reasons, I’ve been buying other stuff at Amazon. And, obviously, I’m not the only one, their reach now being far (think India and China) and wide (think decimated mom and pop bookstores, not to mention the once substantial, now deceased, Borders and Circuit City, and the recent acquisition of Whole Foods). Recent talk of Nike selling their products on Amazon was enough to boost Nike share price and drag down their competitors (Foot Locker fell 6%; Dicks Sporting Goods dropped 5.3%, Under Armour shed 1.5%).

The thing is, Amazon lives up to its name in breadth. The company is a huge distribution channel and only getting bigger, selling everything from clothes to cat litter to car parts. So other retailers want access to that connection to massive hordes of consumers. And not having that direct line to potential consumers is proving damaging as people continue to shop more online than in store. So damaging that some are closing up shop (for example, Sears is now kaput and Macys has shut 100s of stores).

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It’s Just A Store

Amazon makes shopping easy. And the prices are good. The sales even better. Fine. Still, it’s just a store. It sells stuff. You want to spend $99 to become a Prime Member? That’s your call. But don’t buy stuff just because its ON SALE or a GREAT DEAL or a LIMITED TIME OFFER. Don’t fall prey to the marketing jargon, the nonsense, the only purpose of which is to get you, the consumer, to open your wallet and fatten Amazon’s profits.

As for me, I’ll survive just fine without Amazon Prime and their promise of delivery within 2 hours or 24 hours. Sure, it’s a convenient service. But is my personal convenience really that important? Nope. I don’t need it. In fact, I don’t want it. Because I prefer not living life at high speed. I prefer anticipation. I prefer the wait. And I prefer not to buy more than I need.


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Enter Buddha

To be impatient is to be anxious, uneasy, even greedy. Patience, however, is alert, active, expectant. Patience is not dull, it is radiant. It is a flame burning bright.

 

Cars Are Terrible Investments

Here’s what one journalist wrote about Tesla cars: ‘Tesla fans are crazy advocates. They attach deep emotional significance to the car. They’re not just paying for a mode of transportation, they’re paying for a slice of the future.’

Yup. There’s a whole lot of wildly passionate car lovers out there. People whose emotions drive them to buy a cool, fast or stylish car. People who see their car as a reflection of them self, an object that reinforces their self-image. People who want a visible status symbol broadcasting to others that they’ve arrived, have dough, care about the environment, or lean left or right in the political sense.

Then there are the folks who don’t get caught up in the hype. These people don’t quite understand why others form an emotional bond to a 4,000-pound hunk of steel, aluminum, glass and rubber.

They see cars as utilitarian objects, the purpose of which is to efficiently transport you from A to B, from home to the office, school, the grocery store, kids soccer games. And just like the dreamy car lovers, the emotionally-detached-from-cars types let the world know who they are through choosing a car based on safety ratings, fuel efficiency, and price.

Still, no matter who you are or what your reason is for owning a car, be it a luxury or economy model, cars are terrible, horrible, no good investments.

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Virtually Guaranteed To Lose Money

Question: Name an investment that loses 25% of its value immediately upon purchase, and even more value down the road?

Answer: Your Car.

As soon as you sign the transfer papers for that $30,000 car, its resale value drops about $7,500. Because a car is what’s known as a depreciating asset, meaning it loses big value, fast. Own a collector’s classic that has held or exceeded its original sticker price? That’s all fine and good, and your car would be an exception. But for the overwhelming majority of owners, cars are a non-stop money burn.

Question: Aside from a lower resale value, will I incur other car ownership costs?

Answer: Oh ya, a whole lot more!

We’re talking annual insurance payments, licensing and registration, repairs not covered by warranty, and ordinary maintenance costs including gas (or electricity), new tires, brake pads, etc.

Question: How else will I lose money from car ownership?

Answer: Finance your purchase.

Look, if you don’t have enough money to buy the car, then don’t buy it. Think about it: if you borrow funds for the purchase, just like taking out any other loan, you pay interest. So if you’re paying interest for, say, five years, you’ve not only shelled out 30k, you not only incur ongoing expenses, but you also pay even MORE than the sticker price thanks to interest payments.

Question: What’s even worse than financing your purchase?

Answer: Leasing.

Leasing is renting. You’re renting the car for several years. At the end of the lease term, you have zero equity in the car. Yes, when the lease expires you’ll have the option to purchase the car but don’t expect to get any sort of deal. You’ll be paying full price. And usually, you’ll end up paying more for the car than if you had purchased it at the outset.

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So What Do You Do?

Cars are expensive. Cars are money pits. But a bicycle, scooter, or hoverboard doesn’t suit your needs. So what do you do?

Ideally, make an all cash purchase of a used vehicle sporting high resale value. And keep the car forever.

By not shelling out for a new car every three to five years (and remember that the resale price of your old car will not even come close to paying for new wheels), you’ll save serious dough that may be put toward saving and investing. That’s the beauty of cutting expenses: more money in your pocket, more financial stability, more freedom today and down the road.

If an all cash purchase isn’t possible, then hold your breath and go the financing route.

Borrow the least amount necessary and no more. Don’t get sucked into the ‘low monthly payments’ sell job. Fact is, with any sort of financing you’ll end up increasing the bottom line price for your car. And work out the money details before you commit to the buy, i.e., know what you can afford, and know that you will pay off the loan within a fixed time period.

Finally, do your best to negotiate cost downward. Because in the car sales business there’s a few things you absolutely need to know:

  1. You can always negotiate on price. And if the dealership refuses, then take your business elsewhere. That said, they all negotiate. It’s part of the game. But the onus is on you to insist on a better deal.
  1. Car dealerships are not in the business of losing money. Keep this in mind when they’re tossing sales pitches your way. You know, stuff like ‘$2,000 cash back offer!’ or ‘employee discount available for a limited time!’.

The usual nonsense where dealerships try to make you believe (‘make believe’ being the key phrase) that you’ll get the car for less than dealer cost. The thing is, dealerships are profiting on every sale. And they should. I mean, if they didn’t turn a profit, then they wouldn’t be in business for long. But instead of fattening their profits, you should be looking to minimize their take by driving the best bargain possible.

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Pad Path To Wealth By Keeping Emotions in Check

Car ownership is a lifestyle choice. And it would be wise to make choices that do not hamstring your finances, negatively affect your way of living, or interfere with your financial goals. With more money in your pocket, those leisurely Sunday drives will have you smiling.

 

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.

 

Money & Marriage: Troublesome Mix

Holding top spot on the chart tracking Things-That-Couples-Fight-About? Money.

No matter how much you have or don’t have, money triggers disagreement between couples. Why? Well, let’s introduce this issue by saying that everyone has their our own approach to spending, saving and investing money. And it’s rare for two people to consistently be on the same page with their money thoughts and feelings.

But here’s the thing: it’s never just about money. It’s deeper than that. It’s complicated and thorny and knotty and tricky and just plain tough.

Below the surface, sowing the seeds for argument, is the issue we all have to face one day (no, not the one where you question why and how you morphed into your parent): what does money mean to you?

  • Does money represent Safety? Power? Love? Control? Success? Freedom? Prestige? Generosity?
  • What did you learn from your parents (our typical role models for managing money), how do you emulate their saving and spending patterns, and have you questioned why you emulate them at all?
  • Do you share money decisions with your partner? If yes, do both of you have a fair and equal say regarding money decisions? If not, you absolutely have to look into this because, unless your partner sports wings (hint: heavenly angel), resentment is growing.
  • As for the person earning less money, is their self-esteem taking a hit; feeling as though they don’t measure up because they’re not contributing enough dough to the relationship? And maybe not receiving enough respect for other contributions and accomplishments?

Potentially, it’s a minefield, this whole money and relationships business! But do not fret, for all is not lost for those who read on.

Communication and Flexibility

Okay, so you love each other, maybe you’re even nuts about each other (good for you!) but when it comes to finances, there is close to zero compatibility. What do you do?

Talk to each other. Open up. Reveal your hopes and dreams and fears and debts and assets. In a relaxed, peaceful way because, hey, this is your partner and you love her/him, and there’s no place for anxiety where two healthy adults are discussing what is the best way forward for both of them.

When you’re talking, expect to compromise, to take one or two or three for the team because that’s what teammates do for each other. They understand that money management is a joint responsibility, recognize the pressure that their partner is under, empathize with the particular emotional money-related baggage carried by their partner, and help out where possible. The bonus of working together? Disagreements are kept to a minimum, and you’ll respect each other that much more.

No Two Ways About It: Budgets Are Not Sexy

Sexy, shmexy. So it’s not your idea of fun. Okay, got it. Opinion noted. Now, forget about judging the process and acknowledge that drafting a family budget is The Most Effective Way To Track Your Money.

And when you track your money, you are soooooo much more likely to reduce frivolous spending, contribute to savings, achieve your financial goals and … (drum roll please) minimize money related disagreements thereby making for a more loving and peaceful relationship and life.

I mean, if you both want to retire at, say, age 55, and move to Peru because you do not want to live another day without sipping their unbelievably delicious, delectable coffee then, budget-wise, what do you have to do to make this happen?

If you want to buy a home, top up your investment accounts, save for the kids education costs, pay off the mortgage … again, figure out what needs to be done and structure the budget to make goals a reality.

As the architect of your life, you are much more likely to build according to plan when you actually have a plan, i.e, a budget. And you review the plan once or twice each year, adjusting as necessary to account for life changes. The alternative, which rarely works out well, is something called ‘a hope and prayer’. I don’t recommend this.

For those who get a headache just thinking about the task of drafting a budget, well, technology to the rescue! There are a whole bunch of money management programs that smooth the process. For starters, take a look at Mint and Learnvest.

Whether you rely on this kind of program or not, the point is for you to do whatever you need to get that budget in place, to ensure your plans turn into reality according to your schedule.

Two Becomes One

In a healthy relationship, there is no more ‘yours’ or ‘mine’ when it comes to money matters. When you hitch your wagon to another, you sign up for the assets and the debts.

As a team, you’re building together for a common future. And if you don’t accept this line of thinking, um, well, money issues will definitely be an ongoing source of stress. Because by not accepting the team concept, you’re going at it alone and, last time I checked, marriage was exclusively a team game. The go-it-alone approach? That’s just a sign of deeper issues, starting with lack of respect and trust that will ultimately corrode your relationship.

Shhhh! It’s Secret

Referring back to the ‘Marriage Is A Team Game’ line of thinking, don’t hide money issues from your partner. Don’t keep a secret credit card or make large purchases without telling your partner. In the wider world, that kind of behavior is called deception and it’s not looked upon kindly. Because if you intentionally deceive your partner, then it’s not about money, it’s about trust, and lack of trust is not healthy for any relationship.

That said, no one cares to be micro-managed. In this regard, you may want to agree upon a dollar amount that would activate the I-should-tell-my-partner-about-this purchase-because-I-love-my-partner. For example, both of you agree to make a point of telling the other when making a purchase costing more than $100, or whatever dollar amount suits you. And this sort of behavior has the added bonus of reinforcing trust and respect, and making life peaceful and loving for the long haul.

Thrifty Couples Are Happier

It’s not about the money or being a miser. Rather, it’s about what you value. If you value relationships, friends, giving effort, and purpose, then you walk hand in hand with happiness. And if you value loading up your existence with material stuff, then the worse off you’ll be as far as happiness goes.

Of course, this notion of value I’m spouting is from a bygone era. It doesn’t have to be but that seems to be the general direction of things.

Fact is, we live in a society that elevates a corporate culture promoting product cycles lasting maybe six months, one where we consumers are encouraged to buy the latest model, the biggest home, the most luxurious car, and spare no expense because (hello banks and lending companies!) you have the option of borrowing money and going further into debt.

Stuff. It’s a powerful draw for most of us. The mere wanting of stuff is enough to turn some of us into bobbleheads; bouncing around excitedly, our mind shut off from any other thoughts, like the inevitable weight we’ll feel under the burden of credit card debt or home line of credit debt, and the gloomy pessimism we experience when our financial hole gets deeper and deeper. Most importantly, the damage that excessive consumption and resulting debt does to meaningful relationships.

The thing is, the so-called Disney created ‘American Dream’, it’s not about having everything you want. Nope. It’s about achieving self-sufficiency, knowing that you do not have to rely on someone else for your livelihood. And the more you spend, the more you consume, the less likely you will ever know this kind of freedom or happiness, the kind that thrifty couples know really well.

Manufacturing Trouble

Sure, potentially, money and relationships present a minefield of trouble. But it doesn’t have to be this way. And it won’t be this way if you’re willing to put in the effort to understand the source of your own feelings about money, and to respect, trust and engage in an ongoing, open dialogue with your partner. Do this and eventually money will lose the top spot on the Things-That-Couples-Fight-About chart.


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Enter Buddha

Love one another, but make not a bond of love.
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

 

 

Omar’s Rooftop Yoga

It is Saturday, 9:30 in the morning. I’m wearing yoga shorts, t-shirt and sandals. Together with my wife, we make our way to the 4th floor rooftop of a non-glitzy West Hollywood hotel tucked into a quiet neighborhood. Once outside, the world falls into place. Gigantic blue sky, sunshine, comfortable temperature of 70 degrees (21C), warm gentle wind, and birds singing their songs.

After removing our sandals and unrolling mats, we join eight other yoga devotees, each of whom are lying face up toward the heavens, smiling. Smiling because this is as good as it gets. This is life at its indulgent finest. This is complete and total inner peace amidst external tranquility.

Settling in, body feeling heavy, feeling like I could return to restful slumber, the instructor appears. The yogi. The Omar.

The Omar

If you can, try to imagine a mix between Eddie Murphy, the comedian, and Buddha. The result would be Omar, former New Yorker, now plying his craft in L.A.

Omar is not only an amazing yoga instructor but also the funniest yogi I’ve met. He had me laughing so hard at some points during class that I had to stop posing and simply let the side-splitting laughs run their course. And I’m not talking little chuckles here. No, it was more like face contortions, body convulsions, stop, please stop, kind of laughter.

But it wasn’t like Omar was bent on doing a stand up routine. First and foremost, he’s a yogi imparting his teaching of yoga. It’s just that, while leading us through poses, he shared his gift of humor. Humor is part of his nature. And thankfully for all of us, he chose to share.

Now, if Omar had led the class similar to other yogis, providing good instruction, tossing in spiritual sayings, my experience would have still been enjoyable. But the fact that Omar generously added another dimension of himself, one not strictly associated with teaching yoga, made the class memorable. And after class, I told him of my appreciation for his efforts, for his being, for sharing his humour with all of us … because this was my way of giving back what I could to Omar. And he was gracious enough to accept my gift.

Every Choice Has Consequences

I’m super thankful for Omar choosing to share his gifts for teaching and humor. And I also recognize that I would not have met Omar if I didn’t make certain financial choices for myself.

If I didn’t spend moderately and within my budget, consistently contribute to savings, and wisely invest my money, I would not have been fortunate enough to travel to California and enjoy a vacation.

The thing is, this vacation was planned well in advance, and I made a fair calculation as to how much I was willing to spend.

To remain within my spending parameters:

  • Points accumulated on a credit card were used to pay for airline tickets (except that payment of taxes, which was a few hundred dollars, came out of my pocket as the credit card companies don’t allow points to be used to pay for taxes);
  • The least expensive rental car was reserved because smaller cars are less expensive and require less gas and there’s no reason for me to rent anything other than a small car;
  • We ate at restaurants a couple of times but for the most part bought food for snacks and meals at Trader Joes because it gets tiresome and needlessly expensive going to restaurants;
  • We stayed at moderately priced but pleasant hotels for the three days, two nights we were in Palm Springs …

(okay, I know what you’re thinking … Palm Springs? Really? Why? I’m not interested in shopping or getting a facelift, and I don’t golf – it’s not really a sport … it’s mind numbingly boring … golf courses are horrible for the environment, a ridiculous drain on water reserves – oops, excuse my mini anti-golf rant. Okay, here’s the thing about Palm Springs that I focused on: the scenery. Stunningly beautiful, magnificent scenery with the mountains, desert flora, and spectacular hiking trails!)

  • img_3091While spending a few nights in Joshua Tree National Park (https://www.nps.gov/jotr/index.htm), we camped, not because it cost less but moreso because it was absolutely amazing to camp in the midst of the Mohave Desert’s unbelievable beauty and stare wondrously at a night time sky overflowing with stars.

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Shape Your Life

Following the Middle Way, balancing spending against saving and investing, I put myself in a position where I could enjoy a fantastic get away. Consciously choosing to exercise discipline when it comes to spending, saving and investing, and knowing I was saving for a specific goal, I reaped the reward: memorable experiences with people, and feeling awed by Mother Nature’s extraordinary artistry.

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Avoid Silly Car Rental Fees

In late summer, my wife and I flew into San Francisco airport where we rented a car and drove north of the city on Highway 101 for ninety minutes to a charming rental cottage located just outside of Point Reyes National Park in Marin County, a stone’s throw, and a deep, exhilarating inhale from the Pacific Ocean.

If you haven’t visited this part of the USA, and you appreciate nature, well, it’s kinda super fantastic beautiful. The morning fog, rolling grassy hills populated by cows and horses and sheep doing their Zen meditation, imposing Redwood and Douglas Fir and Garry Oak trees, wildflowers, farmland, ranches, coastal grassland, hiking trails, beaches, along with friendly, easy going locals made for a peaceful, hugely enjoyable experience.

And all this phenomenal nature was an added bonus to the primary purpose of our trip: to further our learning and understanding of meditative practice and, in the process, our self. For this, we participated in classes and talks at Spirit Rock Insight Meditation Center in Woodacre, a pleasantly slowwwwww fifteen-minute drive from our cottage on a two lane winding road. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, the rental car, it operated just fine.

Blowing in the Wind

Right, the rental car. When out of town and in need of a car, I typically rent a compact or sub-compact vehicle depending on how much highway driving I expect to do. If I’m mostly keeping to city streets, I’ll rent a sub-compact because the rental and fuel cost is lower. But if there is more highway driving expected, then I’ll go with a compact. Though the rental and fuel cost is higher, the difference is usually negligible. Having driven sub-compacts on the highway and feeling the car being pushed from side to side by the wind or  a draft created by a semi-truck passing, I justify the added expense of a compact by factoring in the security I feel (whether real or imagined) in a larger, heavier car.

My Not So Excellent Rental Car Experience

Okay, let me now tell you about my rental car encounter which, I’ll take a wild guess here, is not much different from the experience of many other people. In an attempt to provide you with the full effect, I’m thinking I’ll try to re-create the dialogue, not all of it, but the parts that illustrate why we consumers need to stay on our toes when renting a car, otherwise it will cost us:

Rental Car Guy: “Now, Mr. BuddhaMoneyLama, let’s talk about the insurance you need.”

BML: “Need? What do I need? Who says I need insurance?”

Rental Car Guy: Well, sir, I could not recommend more strongly that you be fully insured for accidents causing any damage to the vehicle and/or injuries to you that result in medical costs incurred by you and/or passengers in the vehicle; theft of the vehicle or any belongings inside of the vehicle; or damage that the vehicle may cause to other persons and/or their property.

BML: “Thank you but I’m covered.”

Rental Car Guy: “You are fully covered?”

BML: “That’s right, fully covered.”

Rental Car Guy: “What are you covered for, sir?”

BML: “What am I covered for? All the things you just recited.”

Rental Car Guy: “May I see the documentation?”

BML: “What documentation?”

Rental Car Guy: “The insurance documentation of course.”

BML: [slightly bewildered] “Why do you need to see the documents? I just tick a box that says insurance declined and that’s that. Who carries car insurance documents with them when they travel?”

Rental Car Guy: “Unless you can prove that you have coverage, then you have to buy insurance.”

BML: “Since when?”

Rental Car Guy stands there, not saying anything.

BML: [fatigued from travel, impatience rising despite efforts to maintain balance] “May I speak with your supervisor?”

Rental Car Guy: [looks down at computer for several seconds, then resumes eye contact] “Oh, you know what, it looks like you’ll be fine without documentation. As long as you’re certain that you have insurance for all possible risks.

BML: [Rental Car Guy’s unrelenting sales pressure has the desired effect, causing me to doubt myself. Am I covered? My home insurance broker told me I’m fully covered? But what if there’s some risks I don’t know about? Maybe the safer bet is to pay the extra money and buy their insurance? Nah. Rental Car Guy is doing his job by messing with my head and he’s good at it]. “I’m certain. May we move forward please?”

Rental Car Guy: “Sure. If you’ll just sign here, initial here and here, and sign here, oh and here, and don’t forget to initial here and there, and sign here … all of which indicate that you are fully and completely responsible for any loss or damage to the vehicle, all vehicle contents, and injuries to yourself and passengers in the vehicle.” [he says in a grave tone, trying one last time to touch my emotional insecurities, expecting this will cause me to seek safety under the insurance umbrella]. Alright then, now, if you’re traveling over the Golden Gate bridge, you will want to buy a pass to avoid paying the toll charge.”

BML: “What does that cost?” (Unfortunately, I didn’t do my homework on this before arriving).

Rental Car Guy: “$49 for the duration of the car rental.”

BML: “At most, we’ll be traveling over the bridge twice. That will cost $49?”

Rental Car Guy: “That’s right.”

BML: “Seems a bit pricey. Are there any alternatives?”

Rental Car Guy: “This is the recommended alternative.”

BML: [Oy! I think but don’t say. You have to keep pushing these people to get information] “But there are alternatives?”

Rental Car Guy: “You may pay online. Just go to their website.” [Rental Car Guy, sensing he is losing the sale, is not entirely helpful, and does not offer the website address until I push for that as well].

BML: “What’s the one time crossing rate?”

Rental Car Guy: “$7.50”.

BML: “Then why would I pay $49?”

Rental Car Guy: “It’s a matter of convenience and planning for the unexpected since you don’t know how many times you will cross the bridge.”

BML: “I already told you: twice. At most, we will cross the bridge twice.” [tiring of the game, my frustration percolated to the surface].

Rental Car Guy: “Then you would like the pass?”


Enter Buddha

Patience is the antidote to aggression. If you experience the feeling of aggression and act upon it, aggression will escalate and you will hurt your self and others.

When you are patient, you are smart. You stop and wait. You remain quiet because your words and actions will reveal an aggressive state of mind.

There is no need to criticize or blame Car Rental Guy; he is simply doing his job. Recognize this and try to let go of the fact that these moments are not transpiring as you would like; you do not need to resolve this encounter according to your agenda. If you practice patience, aggression will dissipate and you will no longer suffer.


BML: [Yes, I do hear Buddha’s voice in my head at times. So I did my best to be patient and kind] “No, thank you.”

Rental Car Guy: “Alright. We’re almost done here. Just have to ask you about gas. Would you like to prepay for a full tank of gas? This way, you don’t have to concern yourself with filling the tank before returning the car. If you do not choose to prepay, then you should return the car with a full tank. If we have to fill the tank, then you’ll pay a premium, typically a few dollars per gallon above the going rate for gas.”

BML: “So I’m clear here, if I choose the prepay option, no matter how much gas is in the car when returned, it could be near empty or half full or anything else, I’m charged for a full tank now?”

Rental Car Guy: “That’s right.”

BML: [The advantage of agreeing to the prepay option is the peace of mind I get from not having to run around looking for a gas station before returning the car to the airport, especially if we’re running late. The disadvantage, odds are I will not return the car with an empty tank. If the tank is empty, all is good because I’ve paid for the gas I’ve used. But if there’s gas in the tank, it’s like leaving money on the table because I’ve paid for that gas and will not use it, which is a bonus for the car rental agency. With Buddha still whispering to me, I said …] “No, thank you.”

Rental Car Guy: “You’re sure about that, sir? You do understand what the cost will be if you do not return the car with a full tank?

BML: “Yes.”

Beware High Pressure Sales Tactics

It’s the same high pressure sales tactics with car rental agencies every time I rent a car. Usually, I know what to expect and decline their numerous offers with a smile. This time, however, I was thrown off my game by Rental Car Guy asking for insurance documents and whether I would purchase the bridge toll pass. Oh well, I learned and I’ll know for next time.

And, just in case you’re wondering, the car was returned with a full tank. On the downside, we did cross the Golden Gate bridge twice but forgot to visit their website to pay the toll. Cameras being everywhere, snapshots were taken of our license plate number and, a few weeks later, we received a notice in the mail from the car rental agency stating that they charged my credit card a total of $15.00 for the two toll crossings. Though I wasn’t thrilled with the extra charge, my post-vacation, post-meditative mindset allowed me to say, ‘oh well’. For my next visit, I’ll be better prepared.