Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Reach Beyond Yourself

This third and final commentary was originally posted December 6, 2012.

Though written almost 3 years ago, the term “Fiscal Cliff” is fairly fresh in my memory. At that time, I was very aware of how closely everyone followed the news, how it dominated most any conversation, and how most people expressed a concern for how the “cliff” would impact them.

I was amazed at how the conversations were so personal, and the actions were not.

When I shared the thoughts below, I stressed the importance of gaining a better understanding of the key issues at hand, the relationship between finances and freedom, and free enterprise and entrepreneurialism. Three years later, our economy has shifted even further. These topics are just as important now, and they hit most everyone even closer to home. Financial literacy is as critical as ever.

What I most enjoy about returning to this post is the perspective and the call to action that the Centurion Advisory group article provided. As I said below, beyond the education and the guidance to take care of things “at home”, I hope this inspires you to also take the opportunity to reach beyond the noise, and reach beyond yourself, to make a difference in the lives of others.


One cannot develop others in an area he isn’t developing himself. To that end, I have always included a variety of publications and newsletters in my reading cycle that strengthen my understanding of the most significant matters currently driving the course of our nation.

Not the latest trends, and not the messages from mainstream media, but rather the core issues in play, the questions they raise, and the foundational principles being applied (or not) in their solutions. I also enjoy learning from the perspectives of other leaders concerned about the same.

I have always had a keen interest in the history of our nation, and enjoy learning about economic and financial principles. The more I study the two, the more I learn how finances drive freedoms, from our “personal economies” to our national financial systems. This past election, the economy was a core issue, yet our viewpoints on the economic issues showed amazing diversity.

Many viewed the issues from a very personal perspective. Others put aside a concern for personal gain in favor of national strength. Some had short term views, and others looked far into the future. Almost suddenly thereafter, the focus became a pending “cliff” only a couple of months away.

I encourage you to…
  • better understand the issues at hand, learn all you can about them and view them through a lens of sound principles beyond the sound-bites being discussed
  • understand what drives our economy, what drives our freedom as a nation and learn how they are interrelated
  • gain a better understanding of free enterprise and entrepreneurialism, and how integral they are to where our country is headed

But also rise above it. Regardless of the short-term actions taken by the national leaders in the coming weeks, step back and see how little these decisions impact you. Or, perhaps, don’t let them.

In the article below, the Centurion Advisory group adds to their end-of-year outlook a great perspective on inward concern versus outward focus, and the importance of taking actions in both. Beyond the education it provides, and the guidance to take care of things “at home”, I hope this inspires you to also take the opportunity to reach beyond the noise, and reach beyond yourself, to make a difference in the lives of others.

FROM: Centurion Advisory Group, Newsletter, 12/4/2012

Domestic equity markets have followed a very traditional pattern this year. They were up through April, accomplished almost nothing through the end of October, and were up a bit in a volatile November. This pattern generally yields a solid December, but I'm no fortune teller, so we will know for certain the evening of December 31st.

Most investors have made money this year, whether they've invested in stocks or bonds, and regardless of where in the world they have invested. Again, this confirms a very traditional pattern, described by some as the "Wall of Worry". When many are fearful of investing, or concerned that the market will take a plunge, the market can do well. An added complication is that for many of us, the fall of 2008 and spring of 2009 don't seem that far away, and none of us are excited about a repeat. This "Wall of Worry" isn't a perfect pattern, though the general correlation makes for a fascinating study in human behavior.

At the moment, there are plenty of macro issues to worry about, for those who choose to burn through energy worrying about things. Our fearless leaders in DC have gone almost four years without a budget, and they are still wrangling over tax details to avoid what has been called a "fiscal cliff". The U.S., and many other countries, is absolutely covered up with debt, and there is no politician living that is willing to stand in, and help resolve these long term issues. Some wonder what happens to the viability of the U.S. if the U.S. dollar is no longer the world's reserve currency. The Middle East continues to be a milieu of tribal warfare.

If it helps any, let me remind us that there have always been wars, and rumors of wars. Over the last 100 years, there have been two world wars, and almost too many other conflicts to reference. There have been currency implosions, destruction of people groups, tribes, and rainforests, terrorist attacks on the U.S and many other countries, tsunamis, hurricanes, tornadoes, and hosts of other natural disasters, and on, and on.

In spite of this, and sometimes because of it, "here in Topeka", the screen door needs to be fixed, diapers need to be changed, and meals need to be prepared. Life for most will go on, and these "most" will continue to pay their light bill (Warren Buffett figured this out a long time ago), buy groceries for the family, tennis shoes for the kids, and gas for the car. The well run companies that offer these products and services will continue to be profitable, hire new employees, and expand. As these companies see similar opportunities around the globe, they will expand into enterprises with a global footprint.

So, what does all this mean, and how do you take action at the moment? Let me suggest a dual focus, one inward looking, and one outward looking.

First, know that your personal economy isn't directly related to the overall economy. Most of you reading this have developed some level of skill or expertise that allows you enough income to pay your bills. Provided you have food, clothes, and shelter, the rest of your personal economy is a function of one thing - discipline. Our highest and best recommendation is to spend lightly, save diligently, invest wisely and with counsel, and stay far away from debt. These habits and disciplines, exercised consistently across decades, will yield magnificent results. There is no better place to be financially than debt free, profitable, and cash flow positive, and on this issue, I speak from experience.

Now, what about outward looking? About 45% of voters were pleased with the recent elections, and 45% were displeased, with 10%, and growing, fairly agnostic and cynical about the whole thing. And yet, political outcomes, regardless of where we each fall on the spectrum, are white noise compared to other, larger, issues.

For decades, our country has been the city on a hill, the golden land, which offered opportunity to all. From around the world, immigrants came, seeking a life which was better than the one they left behind. For more than two hundred years, we have stories of those from meager beginnings, from all countries around the globe, finding a better life for themselves and their families in the U.S.

A study of these stories reveals a commitment to work, to give, to share, and to help others. A few of the names are Andrew Carnegie, who built many of the libraries in this country, Nathan Hale, who was saddened that he had only one life to give, and Patrick Henry, whose oratory helped inspire a young nation to freedom.

Others include Abe Lincoln, who was seen as inept, yet governed during one of our country's most difficult moments, George Washington Carver, who applied his God given talents in spite of what many would call built in disadvantages, Teddy Roosevelt, who challenged us with his "man in the arena" speech, Ben Carson, raised by a single mother, yet one of our premier physicians, Shahid Khan, new owner of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who came here with little, and Churchill (I know he's a Brit), who through force of will saw a weak England to victory against the Nazi war machine.

Here's the question. What will we choose? Will we choose only to feather our own nest, to hide behind security gates and locked doors, to move only within circles of folks like us? Or, will we choose to reach out? Can we, by example, show the world, even if that world is simply our neighborhood, how to live? Will we intentionally look beyond the belief system, the orientation, the skin color, the accent, the appearance, to hear the story, to offer a word of encouragement, to find a way to help, to be a friend?

Will we bind up the brokenhearted, loose the chains of injustice, help set the captives free? Will we share our food with the hungry, offer shelter to the homeless, and clothes for the naked? Will we choose to restore those broken relationships of our own flesh and blood? Will we choose to offer words of kindness and encouragement, instead of criticism, complaint, and condemnation?

If we will, then we will live in a supernatural light, and will find healing instead of brokenness. We will be given physical strength, and our lives will be as a well-watered garden. We will be called a repairer of broken walls, and a restorer of streets with dwellings.

A Plan for Financial Success

This second commentary was originally posted March 9, 2009.

The nation was firmly entrenched in the recession but by no means headed for depression. I remember the little quip: a recession is when your neighbor loses his job; a depression in when you lose yours.

When asked by a Senate subcommittee, Ron Blue provided a straightforward “plan” for financial success given the current economy. Think long term, spend less than you earn, maintain emergency savings, and minimize debt.

In reality, Mr. Blue simply provided four sound, timeless financial principles. They were true going into the depression, in the midst of it, climbing out of it, into today and far into the future.

Those who followed these principles thrived. They thrive today. They will thrive tomorrow. Are you following them?

If you are in crisis, there is no better time to start then now.


What if you had a plan for financial success?

Ron Blue recently testified before a Senate subcommittee conducting hearings on “Solutions for a New Era: Jobs and Families.” Mr. Blue was appearing based on his solid reputation of financial expertise.

A Senator asked him what the average American family should do in the current economy. Ron Blue said that the American family could benefit from following a four-part financial plan:
  • Think long-term with goals and investing
  • Spend less than you earn
  • Maintain liquidity (or emergency savings)
  • Minimize the use of debt

Think Long Term: The longer term your perspective, the better financial decisions you will make.

Spend Less Than You Earn: You need to know what you are earning, what you are spending, have a plan and monitor it. Over the long term, this will contribute to financial success.

Maintain Emergency Savings: A reserve will help you ride out the surprises of life and avoid debt.

Minimize and Eliminate Debt: Debt may allow you to have more now, but it reduces your ability to have more in the future. Debt is an obligation on your future income, and because of compounding, it may represent the single most important factor influencing your future financial success.

These four principles work in concert. Together, they represent a formula for financial success.

These principles are so timely to today’s economic climate. Perhaps because they are timeless. They are by no means new; they trace back for thousands of years.

The principles have endured the test of time. They are independent of the economy - recession or boom. They are insensitive to oil prices and the real estate market. Many rich people, and likely many more poor people, can attest to them.

Those that have followed this path in recent years are comfortably surviving - some thriving - in the economic concerns of today. If you have been following them, continue. You will continue to thrive.

If you are in crisis, there is no better time to start then now. You cannot establish a strong financial foundation without them. They will lead you out of your crisis, and help you prevent them in the future.

Note - reference source “Surviving Financial Meltdown” by Ron Blue and Jeremy White.

The Middle Class is Shrinking

A business colleague just sent me a very kind note.

Our recent discussions had centered on financial literacy, more specifically the lack of it. Both of us were amazed at the state of our economy. Our national economy. Our world economy. The personal economies of most everyone who will share a candid conversation on the topic. Without a doubt, the same holds true for many not willing to address it (talk or action) as well.

In his note, my colleague reminded me of several blogs I had posted over the past years on the subject of financial literacy and complimented the fact that the insights were as relevant today as they were in the financial climate in which they were written.

My response? Principles are timeless.

He encouraged me to re-post a few of these blogs and see if they inspire thought and action today. I invite you consider what I wrote, from several perspectives… how they reflected the time in which they were written, how they apply today, and what lessons may apply looking forward.

This first commentary below was originally posted December 5, 2008. One CNN Money article of the day used terms like “indicators in a tailspin” and “very severe recession.” Thankfully, no one was worried about a depression.

Almost seven years later, would you agree that the middle class was shrinking and continues to do so at an even faster pace? What are your thoughts? What actions did you take then? What actions do you plan to take today?

Wealth, poverty, and the group in the middle. There is a distinct division within our society. Though we may debate the actual numbers, don’t miss the point.

We find the wealthy at one end of the spectrum. I reference Robert Kiyosaki and the Cashflow Quadrant for my definition of the wealthy, and the estimate that it‘s about 5% of the population.

On the other end are those below the poverty line. A year or so ago, that was about 15%. What would you think has happened to that number in the last few months?

For now, that leaves the remaining 80% in what would be called the middle class.

Kiyosaki and others have documented what we can see clearly. The middle class is shrinking. Jobs are going away by downsizing and outsourcing. Those reductions have recently accelerated through business failures and store closings. For those that remain, wages are dropping. Add global competition and a transformation of the business world, the rate of change is staggering.

Much of this change, and the impact, is outside of our direct sphere of influence. But not all of it.

I submit that where we find ourselves now (and the direction we move) relates directly to our ability to compete on an individual level. And it’s far beyond tactical execution. As an example, did you know that 80% of people that lose their jobs do so because of people skills rather than technical skills or expertise?

More than anything else, it's actually our thinking, the information that we obtain and leverage, that drives our results.

What I’ve learned is that, for me, I have to constantly develop myself to remain competitive. I have to grow to simply keep pace. As an employee, as an entrepreneur or as a business owner, the story is the same. Stop learning, and you start dying. In this case, that’s financial death and all that comes with it.

So what will you do with this information?

Do you agree that there is a 5/80/15 split?

Do you agree that the middle is shrinking?

Are they moving up to the 5% or down to the 15%?

By default or inaction, most are moving down to the 15%.

Will you follow them...

or will you chart a course towards the 5% instead?

Where are you now…

and which direction are you planning on going?

Will you take action?

What will happen if you don’t?