A Chance To Do It Right

This posting was made in a favorite programming forum where a 21-year old participant asked this question:

“What are the things you know now that you wish you’d not only known but ACTED ON when you were my age? What are your general investment or savings strategies? Should I avoid dating and romance until I have a set amount of money set aside, or is it irrelevant?

This a good question to ask at his stage of life, so I posted the following from personal experiences and the reflections of what others found valuable.

Advice Disclaimer:
Advice is most often only worth what it cost.  More often it is never worth the price you pay. When listening to advise, be very discriminating about what you adopt. Instead, consider what you hear regarding how it fits for what you hope to achieve, and how you need to live.

Another aspect making advice suspect is how it is from the sender’s perspective of what that person thinks should be accepted. It is almost impossible to detect this potential flaw, and it can render all or most of the given advice meaningless.

Instead, look for information about what people do and find successful, or in most cases what they have found doesn’t work. Only when you are allowed to look at applied results can you decide if the advice might be appropriate.

To keep recommendations from being rigid, what follows are some general lessons that capture the ideas of what I would keep in mind had I the chance to do it all over again.

Considering Advice:

There aren’t any rules in life that will ensure success.  Some behaviors can help increase our chances of being successful. To know which actions will work for yourself, you must have some sense of the goals you hope to achieve.

The primary factor to understanding goals is to know how you want to live. Not just regarding monetary wealth, but what will meet your personal beliefs, so you never violate the trust declared to others and yourself.

A general way to get a sense of personal goals is to ask yourself, how you would want your children or the most important people in your life to remember you. Their memories will be imprinted by what you do and how they compare to what you declare. Another aspect that will help you understand a goal is to figure out what makes you glow inside. For some, it is beating the crap out of a competitor. For others, it is offering a helping hand to the disadvantaged. For most it is someplace in between. Finding your personal answers to these questions will help you understand what kind of advice fits for who you are, and with whom you share your time and home.

Also, everyone’s beliefs and values will evolve over time. How we see things today will most often change as our experiences and understandings accumulate. There is an adage that goes something like this, “Life is short, and we are too soon old and too late smart.” In looking back, that says a lot. It also says be open to new ideas and not be too quick to judge as you probably don’t understand yet.

Achieving Success:
If there is a formula I haven’t found all of it, but I do know that better than 90 percent of what is needed is attained by just showing up and going to work. Simple persistence and honest effort to do your best will take you most of the way to success.

Showing up when you don’t want to, or would like to be elsewhere takes discipline. Without a key grip on your personal control, you haven’t a chance of being successful. As for what else is needed, I’ve depended upon luck because I’m not as smart as lucky given all I’ve been able to accomplish. Luck is an important factor for many of the very successful people I know, although not all of them agree on the smart-to-luck ratio. However, if you have a choice between being lucky and smart, go for lucky, but don’t leave out needing to be smart, and the required effort and skills needed to achieve your goals.

Acts – Commission and Omission:
What matters in life isn’t just derived from what we do, but is also influenced by what we don’t do. Telling a lie, or not telling the truth, are each good examples of what not to do. I know this complicates things, but life wasn’t designed to be simple or easy.

Dating doesn’t sound as committed, but most often the process of dating is the first step toward the ultimate act of being committed. This issue is critical because getting some can often bring more than you expected, so be sure to think long about what else can arrive when getting what you want. Getting what you want brings in the issue of how some gifts keep on giving and taking.  When that happens, it puts your life in a position where you will be in less control than you are now. Remember, no matter how much control you think you have, you are probably exaggerating it.

Picking a Mate:
Again no rules work here, but some observations and key characteristic to look for can help you understand if the attraction will work past the next Sunrise.

Most healthy relationships have at least three features that are easy to see. First, there should be some chemistry between the pair. Second, there should be a set of common goals agreed upon, and both must be willing to communicate their personal feelings without denigrating the other person. Dialog for agreeing, instead of division for rejection helps connections grow stronger. If any one of these is missing, resentment, blame and court order payments often follow.

Be willing to negotiate. Each of us has to understand our personal needs and beliefs and realize how often much of them will change over time. If only one side gets the lion’s share most of the time, the other party will starve in some personal way.  Living with a hungry lion isn’t the safest way to exist. Not everyone sees things the same for a lot of reason, but if you and your mate can talk about the issues without tearing each other apart, you’ll have more than most people ever achieve. A critical aspect to negotiating is to focus on the issues, and don’t draw a line in the sand. Lines to never cross one day may be the shortest paths out of misery tomorrow.

Pay attention to how you feel when you are with your other person for a while. Do you find your feelings are motivating you to be elsewhere?  When those feelings happen, they are a signal to acknowledge the discomfort, consider what is causing it, and then do something about it. This reaction is the same for the person you are with.  Pay careful attention to how they feel when they perform that same comparison. For example, if they are always trying to escape before long, try asking why, and if that doesn’t work, it is probably time to let them go so others can have a chance to connect while it still matters.

Keeping Promises:
If you make a commitment keep it.  If you can’t talk to the other person from your heart in a transparent and honest manner before you break the promise.  Failure here will lose their respect.  When a promise is broken, it is a break in trust. Trust lost is often never regained with the quality it had before. Moreover, accumulating breaks in trust will eventually break a bond that can’t be repaired. If this is too hard to deal with, then just do what you say you will do. No exceptions, no matter what the other person’s age may be.

Money is the grease that can make life easier, or it can be the distraction that triggers greed and makes everyone suspect and angry. Having enough to meet your needs and those of your family helps you work on being who you want to be, but all too often money blinds us into working way too much at feeding its accounts.

A plan to have enough money around when you are old will keep you from being an unnecessary load on others.  Begin saving when you are young.  Make saving a habit, and be sure you have some available when you reach retirement. Don’t wait for old age to show you how critical nest eggs are to living the 10 to 12 years of life after retirement.

At a minimum, try to put at least 10% of your weekly pay into an interest bearing account. As that account grows, consider putting about a third into safe and regulated investments, and put another third into more risky, but proven investments (Don’t ignore the word proven). Keeping it in various places will keep all of it from disappearing overnight like so many experienced during the recent market collapses.

Don’t ignore real estate as a safe investment vehicle. Owning the home you live in and pay for is great.  Having a few more homes that other people pay for is even better.

If I could do this over, I would do all the items above, plus I would also save another 10% of the income to buy more homes. If the new Social Security age of 67 seems like a late time in life to get onto having fun, having more savings and real estate earlier is a good way to have fun sooner.

Credit Cards:
This area is so important and so often violated.  Credit debt is one of the primary causes why so many people don’t have anything other than debt for most of their lives.

In simple terms, don’t put anything on a credit card that isn’t going to be available at the end of the month. Don’t buy anything you can’t afford to pay off when the bill arrives. In other words, if you don’t have the cash for it, and your life doesn’t depend on it, don’t put the plastic down.

With that said, plastic is a better way to buy things you pay off at the end of the month because of the protection they provide.  Credit cards are handy for covering an unexpected or chronic income timing problem.  In both cases, only use plastic as a loan device when the debt payoff timing span is short.  Plastic is also great for traveling because they keep the amount of cash you need to carry to a minimum, and in many places credit cards are accepted easier than cash.

Getting out of Debt:
Credit card debt adds twelve to twenty-five percent of the average balance to the payment balance every month when it is not paid off at the end of the month. This cost of money is greater than what most people can ever recover over the long term because individual income rates don’t grow enough to service rates that high. This debt growth rate means that most people can never retire a credit card debt without a strong focus on not spending, cutting living cost significantly, receiving and unexpected money gains, or bankruptcy, if they only make the increasing minimum payment on the account’s statement.

For far too many people see the term “minimum payment” as a simple way to keep payments down and keep spending.  What they don’t see is the minimum payment amount is the smallest payment possible to prevent the card from being suspended, and prevent the debt collectors from calling. In simple terms, a minimum payment strategy is a plan for self-induced lender slavery in the land of the free.

If you have debt, do whatever you can legally to get it retired and resist leaving a balance on your statement with as much energy as you can, and never forget how much our emotional “wants” cannot hide temptations.

Selecting friends:
A famous person named Morris Massey once said something like, “People are mostly the products of their environments and the people they knew in those conditions.” That isn’t exact, but it covers the issue that apprentice programs work because people do best when they can emulate someone. Because of this, the people we spend time with will influence what we do, and impact on how each will behave. This fact makes it critical for us to be careful about selecting environments and friends. It also means that our children will be influenced more by what we do and where they are than what we say, so being honorable and consistent is critical to helping those around us not get confused about what we think is important and what we prioritize. It also says, don’t live just anywhere.

Learning to trust yourself is easy for some, and almost impossible for others. Wherever you are on that scale, one way to gain confidence in yourself is to be brutally honest with your internal appraisals when something doesn’t work as expected, and do the same even when it does. Personal introspection is critical because it provides the learning about what does and doesn’t work for you.  That understanding can help you gain the confidence you’ll need to trust your decisions, and then improve how you make them.

Finally: Learn to live well, laugh hard and love with all your being while you can, because the time when you can’t is getting closer.

– posted by Roger D. @ 10:49 AM

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