Friday, March 2, 2012

I wonder how they do it?

For me, the obsession started on the trip home after a visit with some family friends. I’m maybe 12 years old. As we rolled along, I was sitting on the wide vinyl seat with my two younger brothers beside me and my mom and dad were chatting up front. The exact details have been lost to time, but these family friends had achieved a level of material success that my father admired. They had what my dad wanted for himself, and apparently they had achieved it with resources similar to ours. In this context, my dad asked THE QUESTION: 
“I wonder how they do it?” 
I suppose that it was largely rhetorical. I don’t think my dad ever called them up to ask. Either way, I NEVER forgot the question. In fact, I’ve been pondering it on and off ever since. The question has power, because in it lies the implication that there is always another way. No matter what path you are on, there exist other options, possibly better options. I’ve spent the last 20 years studying, reading, meditating and sometimes teaching and preaching on matters of personal finance because of that question.
When I graduated from college in 1994 with $22,000 of student loan debt, $2,200 on a Visa card, and a low paying, entry level job, I wondered how I was going to “do it.” My debt load was higher than my annual income – I was starting out with a negative net worth. Yikes! Welcome to the real world. So I started hustling extra work to earn more money and I started studying up on personal finance.  With all that my 18 years of formal education had taught me, it taught me nothing about handling money. I needed to fill in the blanks, and fast!
I read every finance book and magazine I could get my hands on. I learned enough that I started to develop my own informed opinions. (I will recommend the best of what I’ve read in a future post.) Sometimes, I found myself disagreeing with what I read and able to argue against it. That’s when you know you are getting a firm handle on a topic. Ignorance cured, I was on my way.
In 2006, I went “all in” and enrolled in the Certified Financial Planning program at Bryant University. (I did this just for my own entertainment, and when my classmates found out, they all thought I was insane.) The classes I took were challenging. Completing them increased my financial confidence and competence. However, I felt that there was one thing missing from all that analytical book learning – a little bit of heart. 
Knowing what to do is a small part of managing your money. Actually doing it is the larger part. That’s where things get interesting. What each of us wants out of life (what we value) will determine what we think we ought to do with our money. This is the part I like best, and the part that compels me to teach, write and share on the topic of personal finance, most recently in this new blog.
This project is dedicated to my dad for asking the question that started it all, and to my mom for always encouraging me to write. It is dedicated to my wife Kelly who has very patiently taken this trip with me for the last 13 years. Finally, this is for my children, to whom I hope to impart all I know, so that one day people will look to them and say, “I wonder how they do it?”

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