Making Money 101? What to do today!

I write about advanced financial strategies; these are designed in three stages: Making Money 101 – Get on your feet, financially speaking; Making Money 201 – Build your wealth; and, Making Money 301 – Keep your wealth.

Another way to look at it is that my blogs are all about getting you to your Number, then keeping you there!

Since we are dealing in time-frames of years (at least 7 years to go from ‘zero to financial hero’) we have to expect to deal in all phases of market cycles – both the up’s and the down’s – so I avoid talking about specific ‘today’ strategies in favor of the longer-term.

However, my son has said that I need to help people through the current financial ‘crisis’, so that’s what I am going to do over the next 3 days:

Today, advice for all those Making Money 101 …

Wherever your money is right now, keep it there!

That’s it, thanks for reading ūüėČ

Oh, you want details?!

OK, here it comes:

– If you are currently in cash, stay in cash.

– If you are currently in stocks or mutual funds, stay in stocks/mutual funds.

– If you are currently in real-estate AND can afford the payments and are not ridiculously in credit card and other consumer debt, stay in real-estate.


Well, as this post explained, over the long run, you will achieve the market averages for all of these investment choices … only if you stick with them through thick and thin.

Right now qualifies as being about as ‘thin’ as anything in the last 100+ years ūüėČ

If you run away during the bad times (now) and only buy in the good times (2006) you will be buying high and selling low: the exact opposite of what you should be doing …

… then, you will be lucky to make 3% or 4% annual returns – the same (or less) than if you had kept your money in cash!

So, for those MM101’ers out there, what are you doing with your assets while the financial world seems to be crumbling around you?

It's a Wonderful Life …

There was a great¬†black-and-white¬†movie that they show every Christmas, without fail,¬†that starred¬†Jimmy Stewart. The movie is called It’s a Wonderful Life and, if you’ve never seen it, I highly encourage you to find it and watch it.

It’s a particularly great – and relevant – movie for anybody following along (hopefully, actively!) in my 7 Millionaires … In Training! ‘grand experiment’.

Even though the movie was a financial ‘failure’ when it was first released, and failed to win any of the 6 Oscars it was nominated for, it has since been recognized for the tour de force it really is and the film has since been recognized by the American Film Institute as one of the 100 best American films ever made, and placed number one on their list of the most inspirational American films of all time.

The premise is that George (Jimmy Stewart) has a Savings & Loan business that defaults and he feels that he has let his town down and tries to commit suicide. An ‘angel’ then shows George what life in the town would have been like without him – showing him how many people he ‘touched’ in his life and gives him a second chance.

This clip – the final 9 minutes of the film – picks up there …

The financial relevance?

Nothing and everything, as those following here are about to find out … but, it may help to explain why I have asked them (and, you, if you want to follow along actively or passively):

  • To answer 10 ‘soul searching’ life¬†questions.
  • To think deeply about what¬†you really¬†don’t want in your life
  • To think even more deeply about what¬†you what do want in your life

… and more.

I hope that you’ll take the time to look in and see what all the life-changing fuss is about.

Play the match game …

Here’s an ‘investing match game’ for you to try … simply match the active investment actions in Column A with the investment vehicle of choice in Column B (you must use each word in Column A once, and once only … you may use any word/s in Column B as often as you like):

Investment Actions Investment Choice
Rehab’ing / Flipping ¬† Real-Estate
Mortgaging / Leveraging   Motor Vehicle
No Money Down   Business Assets

Now, is this a trick question? If you’re honest, you probably answered:

Investment Actions Investment Choice
Rehab’ing / Flipping ¬† Real-Estate
Mortgaging / Leveraging   Real-Estate
No Money Down   Real-Estate

… after all, these are all ways to make money with real-estate; so did you pass the little test?

Good, because here is how they might work:

1. Rehab’ing, then flipping (quickly on-selling) real-estate

You can purchase a run-down property in a good location (usually a small house, condo, duplex, triplex or perhaps a run-down apartment complex), provide some of your own labor (or try and find a general contractor willing to work cheap) to fix up the kitchen and bathroom/s, apply a little paint and some new carpet, and … voila … you get to re-list the property and resell it for a price that covers your purchase price + rehab + profit (both yours and the general contractor). At least that how it used to be done – and, will again, sooner or later. Rehab’ing and flipping can be a useful way to generate a small lump of cash (also known as ‘chunking‘).

2. Mortgaging real-estate

You can purchase some real-estate, perhaps putting in a deposit of 10% – 20% and then using the bank’s money to pay for the balance. You can either live in the property or rent it out to help cover the cost of the mortgage (which you should usually fix so that you can be certain of your future costs). Since the mortgage payments do NOT rise with inflation (if you were smart enough to fix them), but rents do … over the long run you will earn an income and an eventual capital gain as the property increases in value. Buying and holding is a simple strategy for long-term wealth.

3. No Money Down

This is where you find a creative way to avoid paying a deposit (perhaps you don’t have the cash?) and then work with one of the other two strategies. There are people who swear by this method and others who say that there is no ethical way to use this strategy in a repeatable fashion. In either case, you use tools, like assuming an existing loan, and/or seller carry-back financing and/or finding a partner to avoid the necessity for fronting the 20% deposit yourself.

Of course, this little primer on real-estate was just a little ruse to stop you from peeking ahead

… you see, even though I have also invested in real-estate in many different ways, here’s how I would¬†match up those columns a¬†little differently, based upon some things that I have actually done over the years:

Investment Actions Investment Choice
Rehab’ing / Flipping ¬† Motor Vehicle
Mortgaging Leveraging   Business Assets
No Money Down   Business Assets

i)¬†Rehab’ing, then flipping¬†a motor vehicle

Just out of college, I landed a high-flying job in the hot IT sector (yes, we had computers in the 80’s … just bigger) … when all of my friends were buying their first new car, I was selling mine, to buy …

… a 10 year old Porsche 911 (the particularly ‘hot’¬†S-model) for just $13,000¬†(she was a beauty, but more exhaust fumes ended up inside the car than outside … helps to explain the loss of a few memory cells).

The trouble is that she was that horrible bright/lime green that the German engineers thought was oh so appealing … yuk. I hired a compressor and bought some paint and materials¬†…¬†and, a friend who (said that he) had some experience spray painting, helped me to strip and sand the car’s exterior¬†to bare metal then we spray painted it (in his backyard garage) a beautiful red … acrylic. We used over-the-counter enamel spray cans in a matching red to change the color of the interior of the doors, cabin, and engine/trunk because those areas were too hard to sand smooth and polish to a shine.

When we were finished the car ‘looked’ a million dollars …. needless to say I flipped it pretty quicky … selling it for $26,000. That was a decent profit for a¬†not-long-out-of-college kid in the early 1980’s!

2. Mortgaging business assets

I mentioned in a previous post that I left my high-flying job just shy of 10 years to join my father in a very small finance business (just me, my father, and one administrative clerk); it didn’t perform very well, not even covering salaries. However, when my father got sick, I decided to buy out the family, leaving me $30k in debt.

The only problem was, that being a finance company, the business needed funding – bank funding, and a lot of it. The best solution that I could come up with was to find a bank who would treat the business assets (the ‘paper’ that we were funding) just like real-estate: I had no trouble finding a major bank willing to lend me 75% against those assets at a middling-to-high interest rate (leaving me to find the 25% deposit … by way of a partner whom I found then later bought out). The bank took no other security other than my personal guarantee … now, I have banks lining up to fund millions at up to 95% of those same assets (sub-prime or no sub-prime!) with no additional security and, now at an excellent rate.

3. No Money Down

Obviously, finding a partner for that business was a ‘no money down’ technique as applied to business, rather than real-estate. However, I came to the USA to sell some software to a related business. What I found was a business that had been family-owned for 50 years, allowed to run down, then been purchased by a large multinational for a ridiculous sum.

Naturally, the part of the business that I was interested in was not operating profitably, so instead of selling them my software and services to help them ‘fix’ the business themselves, I provided a cost-benefit that showed that they should give me majority share – for nothing – in return for taking over, and re-engineering its operations.

My team and I turned that business around in just a few, short months, and I sold my share to another public company for a huge gain (what’s the return on ‘no money down’? Infinite!) just 2 years later.

The point here is that money can be made anywhere, in any manner … all you need to apply is the NEED to achieve a certain level of financial result, the VISION to see a way to get there, and the PERSISTENCE to see it through …

… failure to do so will NEVER be for a lack of opportunity!

The lesser of two evils?


Ramit Seth of I Will Teach You To Be Rich recently arose from his bunker – where he has been holed up, busy polishing the manuscript to his latest book [publishers please!] to pose the question:

¬†‚ÄúShould I invest in CDs or a Roth IRA?‚ÄĚ

The post was brief, and to the point:

Sherene writes:

I am a recent college graduate and I want to put the little money I have saved (approx $3,000) into something that will give me good returns over the years. Would you suggest I get CDs or a Roth IRA?”

The two are very different.

A Roth IRA is an investment account, but once you get it, you have to put money in it and invest. You can read all about it on my article The World’s Easiest Guide to Retirement Accounts.

A CD is a type of investment, which you can buy inside (or outside) of any investment account. And if you’re wondering what I think about CDs/bonds…

It was the last line that triggered the most comments … and, of course those comments were split into¬†four camps:

1. Pro-CD’s

2. Pro-Bonds

3. A little of both

4. Ramit, why don’t you write more ūüėČ

But, these miss the point …

Are you an ACTIVE investor or a PASSIVE investor?

Active Investor

You will have realized that you can’t retire on $1,000,000 in 15 to 20 years. And, inflation will serve to ensure that investing greatly in either Bonds or CD’s will¬†keep you poor.

Therefore, you will be looking for direct (maybe¬†leveraged through margin borrowing, if you have the ‘appetite’) investments in a very few stocks that you understand and love, a business here or there if you have the aptitude and interest, and/or a few well-chosen real-estate investments.

You will manage these for growth and hold until they no longer make sense to keep, or you retire (and, want to adjust your investment strategy).

I don’t see any room in this portfolio for either CD’s or Bonds, except as short-term vehicles for parking cash while you gear up for the ‘next big thing’ do you?

Passive Investor

OK, so we don’t all want to be rich … and some of you are just window-shopping this blog (or, seeing how the ‘other half’ lives?).

Let’s say that you DO subscribe to the $1,000,000 (or even $2,000,000) in 15 – 20 year philosophy (yes, I even had some applicants for my 7 Millionaires … In Training!¬†‘experiment’ with that outlook … they don’t need my training; they just need Valium!) … what then?

Firstly, you¬†will be looking to max out your 401k/ROTH certainly enough for the full employer-match; this will probably mean selecting from the¬†list of funds available … unlikely to include Bonds (although, there may be a Bond Fund in there, somewhere) and certainly CD’s won’t be an option. So, it’s a moot point.

Secondly, you will probably be looking to invest in buying a home … saving a deposit, making payments, etc. then trading up as soon as the sun starts to shine (now, there’s a financial treadmill for you!). So, it’s a moot point.

But, Uncle Harry might die and leave you with $20,000 and you are suddenly faced with the decision: CD’s or Bonds …

…. hah, you think you got me? No way!

I would be immediately looking at becoming an Active Investor ($20k might just be enough for a deposit on that nice little rental ‘fixer upper’ down the street).

But, let’s say that you still are determined to retire late and poor … but, don’t want to be quite so poor …¬†where would I go for advice on conservatively investing that nice little chunk of change?

Hmmm … when I look for investing advice, I usually look to the best in the business. That’s why I went to Warren Buffett’s Annual General Meeting in Omaha a few weeks ago.

At the meeting, Warren¬†suggested that IF you don’t really know what you’re doing,¬†you should dollar-cost average (that means put a little bit over time) into little pieces of all of “American Business” … he later clarified that to mean a low-cost Index Fund (in fact, he named Vanguard).


Well inflation will keep your CD’s and Bonds worthless … by buying and holding Index Funds (LOW-COST ones) for a VERY LONG time, the market will go up (there hasn’t been a SINGLE 30-year period where the market hasn’t averaged an 8% return) and you will stand a better chance to beat inflation …

Of course, none of these PASSIVE investment strategies will make you rich (or even financially free at a young age), but Warren’s strategy at least has a better chance of¬†keeping you out of the poor house, and giving you a chance of retiring at 55 or 65 … IF you start young enough, and maintain the course for 20+ years!

But, what if you don’t want to invest in stocks at all … even via an ultra-low-cost Index Fund? Is it thenOK to invest in Bonds or CD’s?

Maybe, but I would much rather plonk that $20k into my mortgage!

I know that I said that it’s a dumb strategy, but it’s sure better than the CD/Bond alternative (better after-tax returns, but check with your financial adviser before doing anything!).

In fact, the only time that I would invest in:

1. CD’s – when I need to ‘park’ some money for a while … waiting for the next ideal investment to come along.

2. Bonds – when I am already rich and retired: Bonds can play an important part in maintaining wealth as part of a Making Money 301 strategy. As Ramit mentions in his comments, Bonds can be laddered (that means bought with a variety of expiry/cash-out dates).

For two great Bonds-in-Retirement strategies, read: Worry Free Investing by Zvi Bodie and The Grangaard Strategy by Paul Grangaard.

Now, let’s go and get rich!

PS For more Personal Finance articles visit:

How to sort the rational wheat from the emotional chaff …

I published a post last week called 10 steps to whatever it is that you want … how to weigh up the cost of a lifestyle decision¬†which¬†outlined a basic Making Money 101 decision-making process to help you sort your way through a discretionary purchase decision (you know the type: “Hey, that 48″ plasma screen would look really great on that wall!”).

You see, I come from the school of Ambivalent Frugality – sometimes you should … sometimes you shouldn’t. After all, money was invented to trade for ‘stuff’, right?

We just have to trade it for the RIGHT stuff, only when we can AFFORD it; and, the 10 Steps were designed to help us do exactly that.

Now, I don’t normally do a follow-up post so quickly¬†… after all, what will I have left to write about next month?! ūüôā

[AJC: kind’a reminds me of the old joke: why shouldn’t you look out of your office window all morning? Because you’ll have nothing to do all afternoon!]

But, Diane had a great question attached to my original post that this post is designed to help her answer – and, I hope that it helps you, too!

Here’s part of Diane’s question:

Have a dilemma regarding is it a need or a want – I have a house now, student loans, bad debt ) and need to decrease everything. I have a rescue Old English Sheepdog I‚Äôve had now over a year and a half. Always meant to get a [larger] fence up, even prior to getting him, but had different expenses and no savings to cover them (hence the debt climb) and have put off getting a fence up … under the 10 questions, it doesn‚Äôt qualify as something to change lifestyle, but … I think this is a need, but¬†… it is a financial decision as well. It‚Äôs not putting food in our mouths, but it is providing shelter and protection for the family dog who is also protection for us (single mom household). Or is this too left-field?

Now, this is definitely not left field, but – at least on the surface-¬†the 10 Questions¬†seem more¬†designed to answer “can I afford ‘stupid stuff'”-type questions than these really tricky emotional ones.

In my experience, when we get into emotional ‘need v want v life-changing’ questions, rational decision-making can fall flat on it’s head.

But, I have a simple solution …

… one that doesn’t need to involve attempting to answer (preferably, Qualified Shrink Assisted) a myriad of ‘soft’ questions like: “will the animal suffer if you don’t¬†put the larger fence up?”¬†and/or “will YOU suffer¬†if you delay puttin¬†the larger fence up?” and/or “did your parents emotionally ‘fence’ you in when you were young and are you projecting this onto your dog?” and so on [AJC: Sigmund would be SO proud of me].

Instead, I shortcut the whole process for Diane – and, I suggest that you give this a try next time you are trying to avoid answering the 10 Questions because you really need something that you probably can’t afford, too – by simply asking her to do the following:

Follow the 10 questions exactly as written … that’s what I put them there for!

Simple … isn’t it?

Now, Diane, if you followed this advice on Sunday when you left your comment, by now you would have made your own sane, rational decision. Right?

If as I suspect, given your financial position, it was against Poor Pooch then I have a question for you:

How do you really feel now, having made that really hard decision?

…… [Diane inserts emotional feeling of (a) relief having made the ‘right’¬†decision, or (b) pain having made what feels like a terrible, albeit financially correct decision, or (c) she’s emotionally dead] …..

Diane – and all of us – that is the only way to sort through an emotional need from a want:

Make the decision rationally, then see how you really feel …

then, go with your feeling!

That’s what LIFE is all about … and, didn’t we just say that our money is to support our life?


PS There’s a neat shortcut to this process: when faced with a difficult choice¬†– and you don’t want to pay for professional advice to help you get through the decision-making process – simply flip a coin and mentally go with the decision. Dig deep to see how¬†that makes you feel … and, go with your feeling!