Saturday, March 31, 2012

Recycling - Trash to Treasure

Recycling is a pretty large industry.  How large?  According to Lewis Clark Recyclers, Inc. the industry employs 1.1 million people and generates $236 billion in revenue.  If I could only capture 0.1% of the marketplace I'd be a very wealthy person.




What's the deal with recycling?  I think we do a pretty poor job in America when it comes to recycling.  Why?  Lack of good information, laziness, and lack of creativity.  Most businesses needs a good system of how to operate efficiently, and look for economies of scale.  Many large businesses I feel have too much overhead to operate very well.  Most people would never dream of becoming a trash man and therefore the system has failed.


The thought of having separate trashcans for different types of materials?  Some people have a hard enough time putting stuff they do not want in the trash can let alone putting it in the correct one.  Really you need to have the following separated:


  • Metals
  • Plastics
  • Cardboard
  • Glass
  • Food
  • Everything Else
Personally, I would take it a step further.  I want my metals to be separated between Ferrous and Non-Ferrous metals.  Why?  Because you can make more money doing this.  Metals that are non-ferrous like copper, brass, and aluminum yield decent money per pound wen recycling.


A computer that I stumbled across that is a small town operation is EcoStraps.  When I first read about the company in a business magazine I was amazed with the business model.  Here is a couple of kids (23 years old) who have a company that generates 1 million in revenues and was profitable in the first year.  This is amazing results and shows big money can be made locally small scale.  Frankly, I'm surprised that more cities haven't started such companies up.


What can you do to make some cash with trash?  Well, it depends on where you live.  When we lived in New York you could take your uncrushed aluminum cans and go to place on base that you could feed into these vending machines.  The machines would scan the cans and crush them.  Then we would take the receipts to the Class 6 and get paid.  You would get $0.05 per can. 


In Ohio we do not have a system to get paid like that.  What you have to do is take it to the nearest scrap yard.  If you google search for scrap yards you can find one nearest to you.  They want you to split up all your metals.  Otherwise they pay you less.  For example...if you have a car radiator you need to cut off the sides with a ripsaw.  The sides have steel on them and if you do not do this you'll get significantly less money.


I have the repuation at my work place as someone who will recycle scrap metal.  So, I have received many items to be scrapped from co-workers and neighbors.  My 8 year old daughter helps me out finding cans anytime we go on a walk.  It cleans up the neighborhood, and we get some cash along the way.


We even made a song about it.  Ashley sings, "I have a business, to pay for my toys.  Collecting cans from the neighbors, forget those boys.  I work hard, to make some cash. (Saluting)  Thank you sir for all your trash."


If you don't have kids, let me tell you...they are great.  I never truly understood love until I had my first kid. 



Switching companies - Saving money is a phone call away

Saving money can sometimes be as easy as placing a phone call to a competitor.  Several reasons why people do not pick up the phone and place the call.




  • Buyer's remorse...the feeling that you get when you paid too much or purchased something you wish you hadn't
  • Laziness
  • Lack of information
  • Brand Loyalty
  • Uncertainty of new product or service
  • Telephobia
The last reason telephobia is real.  I sometimes experience it from time to time.  It is an awful feeling that I think was developed when I was a stockbroker at Fidelity.  All those phone calls that I took while I worked at the company.  I really dislike answering the phone for all the reasons listed on Wikipedia's telephone phobia page.


Buyer's remorse...no one wants to know that they paid too much for anything.  I'm sure you have heard commercials about GEICO saving you 15% on car insurance.  Almost makes you feel like you are an idiot if you don't call.  No one wants to feel that way, however being ignorant is not bliss.


Do not feel this way!  Make the phone call...because the opposite may happen.  You might realize that you cannot save 15%.  In fact your policy might be much better than what GEICO has to offer.  Then you can be proud of yourself.  However, if you were paying $1,200 for car insurance and you could save 15%.  That is $180 per year or $15 per month.  Make the call.  If you spend 15 minutes to save $180 that is $720 per hour. I think $720 per hour is worth the time.


Sometimes, you might get better services or better coverage too.  When I switched insurance companies to an independent insurance agent not only did I save money, but my coverage increased.  I went from having the minimum coverage of $15k/30k for liability to $100k/$300k.  I am a big fan of independent insurance agents.  Typically the rates are better because you are not paying for a lot of the marketing costs.  Plus, call me old fashioned, but I prefer to work with one agent, and not a call center.


This applies to health, home, and renters insurance.  Cell phone plans can be changed so that you get what you need.  I purchased my first cell phone in America was in 2011.  I purchased Virgin Mobile and pay about $26 per month for a data package with 300 minutes.  We barely even use the phone and I feel is a waste of money. 


Internet service, energy, and cable providers can all be changed to possibility provide better or the same value and cost you less.  Get out and see how much you can save.  If you do make any changes to save money or increase value, comment about it to encourage others to do the same.

Cleaning Product



Very few products are impressive to me.  Anytime I see one of those infomercials about a product, they seemed like they would work well.  Many times I have been left disappointed.  Usually the best way to find out if a product is any good is either through a live demonstration, or word of mouth.  Live demonstrations seem like to be a thing of the past.  I remember an inventor friend of mine who said he was a top salesman for Slick 50.  He would go around giving demonstrations showing how great the product was. 


I have used many car products in my day, and some of them lived up to my expectations.  Many were just average to questionable whether they did anything at all.


Today was one of those days where I was impressed with a product.  So impressed that I am letting all of my readers know about it.  This Mr. Clean magic eraser worked on all the marks with the exception of pen that my daughter and son made on our walls.  We have tried other products without success.  When talking to my co-workers it seemed several of them already knew about the product.  One of them mentioned that this product works good on stove tops.  As of today, there was a couple for $3 off on the website.


If someone can tell us of a product that removes pen marks out of wallpaper that would be helpful.   I did try white toothpaste as was recommended on another website.


Why is this information important?  Well, if you rent your home and it is time to leave you might need to clean up after your kids if they made marks on the walls.  It would be much cheaper to use a product like this to remove pencil or crayons from the walls.  Last thing you want when PCSing is to have to pay for damages.


Know of any great products?  Let us know...leave a comment!







Cost of Entertainment



This year was the first time my family ever went skiing/tubing with the family.  We drove 1 hour 15 minutes to get to the slopes.  It was a beautiful day out, but not really for snow sports.  It got up to 49 degrees.  I was dressed in full snow suit, and was sweating like crazy.  The cost was $24 for adults and $12.50 for kids for 3 hours.  I went out with my two daughters for about 1 ½ hours.  Then my wife switched with me.  So the trip cost us $49 plus around $15 in gas since I was taking the minivan.  The purchase price for entertainment was $64 for 3 hours.  Taking the amount paid by number of hours came out to $21.33 per hour for our family.  Plus we lost 2 ½ hours for drive time.  Lucky for me I enjoy driving with the family.

Something to keep in mind is determining how much you are paying for your entertainment.  Sometimes you pay a lot and get very little in return.  For instance…going to the movies with the whole family of five would cost $45 for the movie plus about $20 for popcorn and drink for one person.  The movie would last about 2 hours.  Total cost per hour…$32.50.

In economics they have something called utility.  That is the amount of enjoyment or satisfaction you receive from consuming a good or service.  Maximizing your utility is very important.  If you have ever had buyer’s remorse…it could be because you just purchased something that has negative economic utility.  Another example is eating fast food.  You might enjoy the first sandwich, and maybe even the second.  However with each sandwich you have diminishing enjoyment.  If you ate 15 sandwiches you might have negative utility by throwing up or getting sick.

Understanding this concept can help you save money.  For example…whether you watch a movie on the big screen or on home, you may get about the same utility.  You may be able to increase your utility at home by watching with friends.  I would rather wait until a movie comes out at the library, Hulu or Netflix.  We pay $8.50 per month to watch streaming movies and TV shows on Netfilx all the time.  Remember...the price for convenience is very high.

I was able to watch several TV shows that would have taken ¼ longer due to commercials had I watched them when they originally aired.  Shows like Lost, Battlestar Galactica, 24, and Star Gate I was able to watch straight through.  Our family probably spends about 3 hours a day on Netflix during the winter months.  That is 90 hours per month or $0.09 per hour.  Pretty cheap form of entertainment, but as a family we sure waste a lot of time watching the TV.


If I purchased cable TV for $100 per month, and watched the same amount of time...my cost per hour would be 90 hours/$100 = $1.11 per hour.  This is over 12 times more expensive or 1200%.  Consider this return on investment.  If you switched you would get 1200% return on your investment.


This is a very important concept.  Spending a lot of money on something can create bad habits when it comes to entertainment.  If you are paying over $100 per month for cable it almost forces you to watch TV.  Why?  Economic utility!  You are forcing yourself to achieve your optimum economic utility based on how much you paid.  This concept is probably pretty new to you, so if you have questions be sure to comment.


Let's say that your economic utility for TV is $1 per hour.  If you pay $50 then you may watch TV for 50 hour per month.  If you paid $100 you would need to watch TV for 100 hours per month.  100 hours/$100 = $1.  I am not certain if any studies have been done, but I think that games like World of Warcraft among others in a way forces people to play because they do not want to "waste" their money.  You spend $12 or $14 per month, you want to get your money's worth.


The same thing is true when going to a lunch or dinner buffet.  You say to yourself...I want to get my money's worth?  Am I right?  So, many times you each much more than you would have otherwise.  Many times to the point of seriously diminishing your economic utility.  I know I have done it quite often...why did I eat so much?

As I stated earlier sometimes you increase your utility by having friends join you.  Adding friends can be an easy way to increase utility.  It can be a way to decrease as well.  For example, if you are married and you invite friends that your spouse doesn’t like…negative utility for the spouse.

Try determining how much you are paying for your entertainment, plus the number of hours, and then rank them as far as how much you enjoy it.  It may surprise you how much you are paying or wasting your time doing something you might not like as much as something else.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Combat Camera - Year's best military photography

Today I stumbled on a pretty neat site that had some great photography of people in the military.  The website is Foreign Policy.  These pictures brought up all kinds of memories that I had while serving in the Army.  It goes to show how difficult some of the jobs in the military really are.  America is truly great!


If you have a great picture that you would like to share on this blog, e-mail it to me with your name, rank, branch of service and base.



Savings and government bonds account difficulty

I came home from work today and went to open up a Treasury Direct account.  I had one before, but I couldn't remember what all my account information was.  So, I have to fill out an account authorization and mail it in.  It needs to be certified by an signature guaranteed stamp or medallion stamp.  Not to be confused with a public notary.


I'm a little disappointed that I couldn't start putting money in the account.  I am saving the money for my kids in case they decide to go to college.  As of today...interest earnings may be excluded from Federal income tax when used to finance education (see education tax exclusions).  Which means the money is just as good as putting it in a Roth IRA, without the restrictions.  Speaking of the Roth IRA...I am not a fan of the Roth IRA.  This discussion will have to be saved for a later date as why I dislike the Roth IRA. 


I have only 3 more days before my CPA exam.  I also know there are several big college basketball games this weekend.  I hope all of you have a great weekend!

Money - Reducing expenses

Back when I was in college we had a communication class.  In this class we had to give several presentations.  One of these presentations I decided to do on reducing your expenses.


Saving money such as buying something 50% off, or going to a thrift store, or using compact florescent lights (CFL) or light emitting diodes (LED) to save electricity are all ways of saving money.  Sometimes saving money is immediate...such as getting a 10% discount at Lowes or Home Depot because you serve in the military.  Some are longer term like buying a CFL and saving on electricity over the years.


Sometimes savings can be occurred by doing things smarter.  I'm sure you've heard that putting the proper air in your tires can increases your gas mileage if they are under inflated.  I know in the Army that any time people go on leave a vehicle inspection was required to make sure you are safe.  This is good practice to keep with you throughout your life.


Saving energy at work is important too.  Being in the military or a civil servant we have a responsibility to the taxpayer and ourselves to curb fraud, waste, and abuse.  This means turning out lights when you leave a room for the day, or turning off your computer monitor when it time to leave.  At one of my previous employers we were all told to turn off our computers and desk lights entirely when we went home for the day.  If we didn't, we would get in serious trouble.  Why?  It cost the company a lot of money to run large amounts of electricity.  Keeping costs low meant being able to make more money or grow the company larger.  Growing the company means more promotions, and better pay.  Some workplaces requires us to leave the computers on all day everyday.  I find this rather silly, but they run updates at night.  However, I still turn off my monitors when I leave for the day.


Something I recently purchased was some rechargeable batteries.  They came in an 8 pack of AA and 4 pack of AAA plus charger for about $29 from Sam's Club.  It always seemed like we went though batteries so quickly, so I decided to give them a try.  I'll have to let everyone know how they are working and determine if savings exist or not.  I've put the first 4 batteries to use and am happy thus far.  I'm positive from an environmental standpoint it is a good idea, but costs should not outweigh benefits.


Something that I do is follow a flexible budget.  Basically what this means to me is I calculate my gross income and subtract all of my expenses.  I use excel to determine where my income is coming from, and where it is going.  The majority of it goes to shelter, taxes, and food.  I do not have the capability share this basic spreadsheet on this blog yet.  If you e-mail me I'd be happy to send it to you.  Why is it flexible?  Well, because each month I look and make certain that my estimates are correct and if I can reduce any of these expenses.


Knowing where your money is going is very important to your financial well-being.  Successful businesses know exactly where there cash is flowing.  This way you can make changes and improvements and see immediate gains.


Any example of a change I made was not having cable or satellite.  When I was in the Army we had satellite TV.  Now that the Internet can practically stream everything...I purchased Netflix streaming online, and we watch it through our PS3.  I used to watch shows on Hulu quite a bit too.  This is a free service.  I've watched shows when I am on a business trip using my laptop.  The cost including tax is about $8.50.  I subscribe to Time Warner Roadrunner and pay about $53 per month. It used to be cheaper, but the one year is up.  I have a home phone through Ooma.  It costs me around $3.68 for unlimited local and long distance.  The quality is good except for the occasional beep like someone pressed one of the numbers on the phone.  The price is great.  You do not need to have your computer on all the time, you could take it with you, and it has 911 capabilities.  This saves me a great deal of money every month.


I'm always looking for better deals, and I may make a switch to Amazon Prime in the near future.  Currently I do not think PS3 works with Amazon Prime.  This would save me even more money, plus Amazon Prime has several other benefits such as quicker shipping, and free downloadable books.


Know a great way to save money?  Let us know!



Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rule of Thumb - Housing

Over my short lifetime I have lived in several places.  We have also purchased several homes.  We have bought a mobile home, a condo, and four houses.  The mobile home we paid in cash, however we made some pretty large mistakes when it came to financing houses.




When it comes to our finances, most of us probably learned from our parents.  If our parents weren't doing something right then the wrong knowledge is passed along.  From my reading and experience I have learned a few critical things when it comes to purchasing a home.


First of all, in almost all cases you would not want to finance a home with a 30 year mortgage.  This mortgage can wreck havoc on your financial future.  First housing rule of thumb...just say no to a 30 year mortgage.


Thanks to the Census we have information about how much people move.  According to the U.S. Census people move on average 11.7 times in their life.  This is a lot of times.  I am above average on the number of times I have moved.


Because many of us move so frequently it can be difficult to find a place to stay for the long term.  The mood has changed in the last few years regarding housing.  It used to be that owning a house was a smart financial decision.  However, with the massive losses in real estate many people are realizing or have realized that your house is not always an asset.  With people unable to sell without taking huge financial losses.


Renting much like owning has pros and cons.  A rule of thumb that I wish I had about 4 years ago is...rent for at least one year before deciding to purchase a house when moving to a new area.  When I got my new job as a stockbroker within a month I purchased a new house.  Within 6 months I had taken a new job and needed to move back.  We ended up having to carry that house for 6 months and sold it for a loss of about $15,000.


My second housing rule of thumb is if financing...use a 10 or 15 year fixed mortgage.  If you can get a better interest rate with a 10 year, go for it if you can afford the payments.  If you cannot get a better rate with a 10 year, then choose a 15 year mortgage.  Why not 30 year?  Well, I know quite a few late 50s or 60 year old people who have not paid off their house.  It will difficult to have a good retirement without your primary house paid for.


The third housing rule of thumb is to not pay more than 2 times your gross salary for a house.  This means if you make $50,000 per year then you shouldn't purchase a house more than $100,000.


The fourth housing rule of thumb is to put down 20%.  Over leveraging is a bad thing.  In business, banks typically will not loan money to a business that doesn't have sufficient capital.  Typically 5% or 10% will not cut it.  Not having enough capital to put down on a property can leave you in financial ruin.


My last housing rule of thumb is a bit tricky.  In my opinion when purchasing a house you should have an exit plan.  Selling a house may not always be the best option.  In fact, many people have realized that they cannot sell, and have decided to rent their house.  People in the last several years had paid too much for housing.  The last housing rule of thumb is the purchase price of the house should be able to bring in 1% in monthly rent.  $100,000 x 1% = $1,000.  If the house you are thinking of purchasing can yield 1% in rent then chances are you are in good shape.  Obviously if you can rent it for more than 1% the better.


Why the 1% rule?  If you purchased the $100,000 house and put 20% down and got a 15 year mortgage your monthly payment for mortgage only would be $581.78 @ 3.75%.  Add property taxes of $180 and insurance of $50 per month.  This totals to $811.78.  You can make money renting out your house using this formula.  Your principle payment would be starting off at $332 and would increase each month.  This means your financial gain barring no maintenance is $520.22 per month or $6242.64 per year.  This doesn't include the added tax benefits.  Doing a simple Return on Investment calculation by dividing $6242.64/20,000 = 31.2%.  However, to be a true accounting ROI you must subtract out depreciation.  The 31.2% is misleading.


When purchasing real estate you have building an land.  The IRS rules for depreciation states that you cannot depreciate land.  Using 20% for land and 80% building gives you $80,000 to depreciate.  IRS rules says that for residential properties you use 27.5 years.  Simply take 80,000/27.5 = $2,909.  You will need to subtract out the $2,909 from the $6242.62 giving you $3333.62.  Divide this amount by your investment $3,333.62/20,000 = 16.67%.



If you think you can get this kind of return in your first year of renting your house think again.  First year rental start ups can be large, and typically result in a loss (at least for tax purposes).  Plus this is not cash flow.  Cash flow is critical to your financial well-being.  Remember, it is your life blood.  Over half of the money was principle being paid off.  If you use strictly cash flow and subtract out depreciation your return will be -734.36/20,000 = -3.67%.


With real estate like many investments you look at the long term.  Will rents be higher in 10 years then they are today?  More than likely the answer is yes.  Will your principle be paid off in 15 years?  Yes, unless you refinance.


One final note...do not pay too much for closing costs.  There are many places that can save you money on closing costs.  Shop around...it is worth it!  Take your time when you are shopping for a house.  This is a major financial decision and the ramifications can be huge.

Money - Savings bond update

After writing about Series EE and I Savings bonds the other day, I decided to pull out my savings bonds and calculate how much they are worth.  Back when I purchased the EE and I bonds in 2004-2006 they were still being issued in paper form.  I didn't have very much money at the time.  It had been a year since I got out of the Army and was living off my GI Bill and part-time work while finishing my degree.  As of 2012 paper bonds are no longer available at financial institutions.  They can only be purchased through Treasury Direct.


It is unfortunate, but I do understand why they decided to change for cost and tracking purposes...it is better for America.  I did like the different pictures on each of the different notes.


The Series I bonds have outperformed the Series EE by quite a lot.  My EE bonds as of today are earning 1.19%.  My I bonds are earning currently anywhere from 4.08 -- 4.48%.  I spent $1,025 and have earned tax free interest of $293.01.  The interest will remain tax free until I cash out.  Since I purchased them more than 5 years ago, I can withdraw the money at anytime without any penalty, and they will be except from state income tax.


You can purchase up to $10,000 each of the EE and I savings bonds.  The I bonds have seriously outperformed the EE bonds, and I expect them to continue to outperform them.  Like the treasury direct website indicates that you may be better off purchasing different treasuries if you are paying larger amounts in cash.  These bonds were setup so that individuals can start small and grow a bond portfolio.  You can read more about this in their FAQ.


After reviewing the performance of these bonds I must say I am a fan of the series I bonds, and will continue to purchase more through Treasury Direct.  This form of investment is very patriot.  It is even written on the EE savings bond in the picture.  If you need a simple way to save money you can buy them with as little as $25.


Bonds are a key ingredient to anyone's investment portfolio.   These bonds makes it very easy to start small and without the brokerage fees or bank fees.  It is the gift that keeps on giving.


One word of caution...being a tax guy, one must be careful when cashing in these bonds.  Because they accrue interest tax free the amount of money that one can earn over several years could be substantial.  If you are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) you might lose out on serious money if you cash out of your bonds and have investment income of $3,200 for 2012.  The maximum credit for someone married with 3 or more children in 2010 was $5,666.


In American it is unfortunate that in some situations tax decisions trumps economic decisions.  Meaning we make decisions based on tax consequences rather than determining what is the best economic decision.


All in all, bonds are a simple no frills investment tool that is overshadowed and drowned out by all the noise.  Why?  Well, brokers will not make money off you if you buy these instruments.  Being a ex-stockbroker someone could ask me what they should do with their money.  What should they invest in?  I couldn't tell them that the best decision for them would be to pay off their credit cards or mortgage.  Even if it were true for this person.  Remember, very few people are financial advisers.  Which means most people can only give guidance.  Why?  Liability can fall on those who give advice.  A well written article by Mary Willett wrote on this subject.


As a stockbroker, you can only guide them with the tools you have available.  Digging into your financial situation beyond an investment portfolio is out of the scope and training of a stockbroker.  As a stockbroker my job was to give guidance, relay information, and help the sales team bring in additional money.  Use people for what they are capable of delivering.  You wouldn't ask a realtor what stocks to pick, nor would you ask your stockbroker if renting out your house is a smart thing to do.



A conversation

Today I had a brief conversation with a co-worker of mine.  The conversation went a bit like this:


"Hey Gary, I'm a bit disappointed with your intro.


"What do you mean?" I replied.


"We talked about this yesterday.  Your open letter to Warren Buffett...it really isn't an open letter." he said.


This was some of the conversation I had today.  We had spoke yesterday with my idea to finally submit a letter to Warren Buffett in having him put his money where his mouth was and match any American who would contribute $2 to help pay off the national debt.  He said that what I wrote just didn't have enough impact.


I am a big fan of America...as I am sure most if not all of you are.  I believe that America is the greatest nation on Earth, and I believe we can have the greatest government on Earth as well.  Getting out of debt is the first step in showing the world that we have what it takes to remain a great nation.  If our government fails, then being a Military Millionaire won't matter because we will have much larger problems.


My conversation was that I felt if I personally challenged Mr. Buffett to solely match America's payment that it would be too much of a liability, and not fair.  He said that I might as well send a letter to President Obama and have him use his Executive powers to change the IRS tax form for 2013.  $2 for a debt free America could be used as part of his campaign for reelection.  I would be more than happy if the President would do such a thing.  Since I wrote to Mr. Buffett instead of the President it has no real impact because I was writing to someone who couldn't make such a change.


Although no one has commented on this blog, I have received several comments on my Facebook page.  I would prefer if people would comment on this blog rather than Facebook.  This way others can see them, and respond as well.  He also mentioned during our conversation that I should do book reviews as to why my recommended books are so important.  This I can do.


As this blog continues to grow, I ask you to continue to read, but comment as well.  One comment can be the start of something great. 


As always, I appreciate your support.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

An open letter to Warren Buffett - $2 for a debt free America



I have read about Mr. Buffett in the news during this 2012 tax season challenging Republican congressmen and women to help pay down the national debt.  Foxnews among other news outlets covered the article.

Mr. Buffett said he that he would match any republican congressman or woman if they put money towards paying down the debt.  As an added bonus Mr. Buffett said he would go 3 for 1 for Republican Leader Mitch McConnell.  I’ve studied much about Warren Buffett and his business partner Charlie Munger.  I consider him one of my financial mentors, even though I've never met the person.  My thoughts on learning about finance is that you want to learn from the best.  I have read much about Warren Buffett, George Soros, Jim Rogers, Donald Trump and many others.  Many of the people I have studied...I have great respect for.  Warren Buffet is one of those people.  I would suggest you read The Intelligent Investor and Security Analysis written by Buffett’s mentor Benjamin Graham.

An idea struck me while I was helping some Air Force personnel with their taxes this year.  On every tax return it asks tax payers if they would like to contribute $3 to the Presidential Election Campaign Fund.  What is this? 
You can read more about it at the FEC.gov website.

Personally I would never check the box to contribute to this fund, but apparently 33 million people do each year by checking off the box ($99,000,000).  In my opinion money could be better spent elsewhere.   My proposal to Mr. Buffett is to change the check box or add an additional check box.  I would like a box that asks if you would like to contribute $2 to help pay off the national debt.  Why two dollars?  Two dollars for debt has a nice ring to it.  Check here...$2 for a debt free America.  Plus I really like the movie “Better off dead” where the paper boy would go around asking for his $2 tip.  

If you pay $2 then my goal would be have businesses and wealthy Americans to show their true love for America and match all contributions until the debt is paid off.  Since our government is in debt and we the people still supposedly own the government…I see no reason why we should be in debt.

Patriots from across the nation and many others would be willing to spare 2 bucks to help rid this 500 pound gorilla off our backs.  We live in a great nation and our government should be a debt free nation.  This is my letter to Warren Buffett.  I hope that you and I can work together.  With your vast influence I am confident we can get this accomplished.

I cannot thank Warren Buffett enough for giving me such a great idea, and challenging people in Washington to help reduce the national debt.  I would be more than willing to champion the idea or drive to Omaha to meet with Mr. Buffett regarding this pressing issue.

Sincerely,

Gary Ober
U.S. Army Veteran
Fighting for Financial Freedom

Money – Life insurance



A morbid, but important topic…however in the end I’m sorry to say this, but we are all going to die.  Life insurance which is really death insurance…can be a tricky subject.  A company is willing to pay you big money if you die.  If you die in an accident, many time they will pay you 2 or 3 times more money if you purchase certain riders.  Crazy isn’t it?  What is truly crazy is as the purchaser of life insurance you are placing a bet that you will die, and the insurance company is betting that you will not die.  Who wins in the end?  Well, the insurance industry is a multi-billion dollar industry.  An industry like this doesn't become large by placing bad bets.

Let me get something across to you first and foremost.  You cannot get rich by purchasing life insurance on yourself.  You can make someone else rich buy purchasing it, but buying a policy on yourself to make money won’t work out very well for you.  In fact you will be disappointed.  With life insurance you are attempting to have someone else become whole from financial perspective if you lose a loved one.


My father passed away while I was in the Army at the age of 21.  No money could ever replace my father.  First of all, he wasn’t insured enough to make up for the loss of income that my mom had to deal with.  Emotionally it has never been the same.  Losing someone you have trusted and loved since you were born is irreplaceable.  He died of cancer at the age of 56.  It was equally difficult for my sisters and mother.  We have moved on, but if you haven’t lost someone who you love be I pray you won’t have to experience it for a long time.  The good thing about my father’s death was we were all together, and by his side when he passed.  We were able to say goodbye, and he asked us if he did a good job as a father.  We all said yes...of course you did great dad as we cheered him on!  He lifted his arms up in the air, and then folded them behind his head.  He was at peace.  A day later he passed away.


Life insurance, Wills, and estate planning are areas that we decide to put off because of the nature of the topic.  However, try not to put them off for too long.  If your parents or loved one tells you to fill out a will...just do it.  They are important to your life planning.  In the movies for action films they used to talk about plan B.  Plan B usually doesn’t exist or it is terrible.  Without having the right life insurance coverage,  up to date wills, and estate planning is like having no plan A.  I encourage all of you to take some time to explore the subject.  If you have questions then ask them.


About 7 years ago I did work for AFLAC and passed my insurance exam for the State of Ohio.  That license is has been expired for quite some time. However, I did learn a lot about insurance and the industry.

As a military member you have access to Servicemembers' Group Life Insurance SGLI.  This is an insurance plan that might be right for you.  I know that they will cover you in peacetime or war and at the time I served was reasonable insurance policy.  Some life insurance companies will not cover you if you go to war or perform risky activities such as skydiving…something to keep in mind.  I do remember that prior to deploying the legal office would help out with wills and you could ask insurance and power of attorney questions.  If you are deploying it is especially important to get your financial matters in order.  Personally I would review my finances at least once a year.  Tax time is a great time to plan, set goals, and review success and failures from the prior year.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Money - ATM



The ATM has been around since I’ve been alive.  When I was 3 years old the ATM machine used to be called “Green Machines”.  I told my parents that when I grow up, I wanted to be a “green machine”.  I was fascinated with money and wanted to be a part of it.  My parents had a good chuckle and never let me forget it.  My father said, “They will just hang you up there and you can hand out the money.”   

I never really used the ATM machine until I was the Army.  When it was time to get haircuts in Basic training, we all lined up to the mighty ATM machine to withdraw money.  A few times the machine ran out of cash and put a damper in the drill sergeants plans.  This was the first time I experienced the evils of the ATM.  Now granted ATM fees have gotten better since they were back in 1999…at least I hope.  I’m not completely sure since I refuse to use them.  Hopefully some of our readers can educate me.  
Transaction fees were $2 or more per withdraw!  That is a hefty fee.  If I withdrew a measly $20 I instantly lost $2 or 10% of the money I withdrew.  If I withdrew $100, then the fee was down to 2%.  This brings up a very important point and skill.  You really need to start thinking in percentages.  Wealthy people think in percentages.  This skill or subject was probably just glossed over when you went to school.  It is a shame really since this skill is much more important than Geometry.  I do not have an ATM card for a couple reasons.

ATM cards seem to be a thing of the past.  Many times people are given debit cards now.  I’ve had my share of experiences with debit cards…and they were all bad.  I have had my debit card number stolen and used twice.  When I mean stolen, this doesn’t mean out of my wallet.  They used it to make a purchase over the Internet.  Getting money back from my bank was a big hassle.  This has never happened with my credit card.  If it did happen, at least my cash wasn't taken.  

Second, reason why I do not like ATM/debit cards is because life is about people not machines.  I want to talk with people and get to know them.  I do not want to know my ATM machine.   Knowing your banker is very important to becoming a military millionaire.  

Third, ATM machines fall into that convenience area.  This is why people were so heavily taxed every time they withdrew money.   This was free money for the banks.  I spent one day in Advanced Individual Training (AIT) on the weekend just watching people walk up and use a particular ATM machine.  The line was constantly 20 people deep or more.  I think I counted over 200 people who used this machine for a few hours.  It was like this all payday weekend.  I figured that whoever owned this ATM machine probably made around $5,000 in ATM fees each payday weekend.  I remember several soldiers who lived in the same barracks as me taking out $20 multiple times per day and being charged this fee each time.  Please do not be like those soldiers!  Find a way to avoid convenience fees!  Open up a local bank or credit union that pays you interest.  Close out banks you no longer need.

Military Bases – The Good, Bad, and Ugly



This segment I’d like to talk about military bases pros and cons.  I would like to take your comments and questions regarding the bases you have lived.  I am hoping to get a lot of comments on this subject.  I will split up the bases by service.  I’ll get this segment started.

I was stationed in Youngsan South Korea, and Fort Drum New York.  I went to basic training at Fort Jackson and AIT at Fort Gordon Georgia.  I also stayed at Schofield barracks in Hawaii for 2 weeks.

Fort Jackson - South Carolina
Never in my life have I experienced such heat and humidity as I did in South Carolina.  The Good about South Carolina…the gas is much cheaper than Ohio.  The bad… it was way too hot for my blood.  I’m not a big fan of sweating, and I’m pretty sure I sweat more in South Carolina than I have my whole life.  The Ugly was those darn ants.  These ants would crawl all the way up your uniform until they got to your neck and then would dig in.  Perhaps they were big fans of Twilight.  I’m not certain for sure…but I had never been bitten by an ant until I lived in South Carolina.

Fort Gordon - Georgia
This base was pretty much the same as Fort Jackson.  I lived there from September to December so the heat wasn’t as bad as it was for me in South Carolina.  I do remember running around in shorts in December.   That would never happen in Ohio…at Fort Drum NY was another story.  For some reason while stationed in Fort Drum people liked to run in shorts during the winter. 
The pros to Fort Gordon was the mess halls.  I really enjoyed eating the food.  The kitchen police (KP) duty…not so much.  I enjoyed KP duty (as much as one can) much more in basic training.  The bad about Fort Gordon…AIT for me was much worse than basic training.  I had to wake up at 4am rather than 5:30am like I did in basic training.  The Ugly…something I did that I should have never done was take a Greyhound bus back home to Dayton.  It took me about 13 hours to get home and I was one of the last people to get out of there for Christmas.
Youngsan - South Korea
base in Korea.  My best experience ever was in South Korea.  I met my wife in South Korea, the food was cheap and delicious.  The barrack rooms were the best since I had joined the Army.  The shopping was unbelievable, and so was the night life.  In Korea you almost feel like a celebrity.  At least that is the way the people made me feel.  The Korean people always seemed to try and compare you with some famous person they knew from America.
 
Unfortunately, I was Jim Carrey.  Not sure if I was the Jim Carrey in Dumb and Dumber…or Ace Ventura Jim Carrey.  My other friend was Tiger Woods.  It was a good time.  

The bad…I was in culture shock for about 6 months.  I really didn’t explore much of Korea like I wished I had.  I missed home.  It did feel like a prison at times.  The Ugly…for me it was personally bad since my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and was expected to die within a year.  I lost the ability to spend the last year of my life with my father.  I was told many times that I could get a compassionate reassignment, but with no success.

Fort Drum - Upstate New York
I finally made it back to the states from Korea and was excited to drive my 1988 Trans Am GTA.  It was my Knight Rider. All digital dash, leather seats, she was a real beauty.  By the way…that is part of the trailer I lived in While I was stationed at Fort Drum.  It never really moved since half the year the car was under a block of ice.

This care had the 350 V8 that got me about 12 miles per gallon and was a financial train wreck.  I purchased it for $6,000 back in 1999 after my favorite car the Dodge Monaco was rear ended by a truck.


On my way to Fort Drum, my Trans Am went completely dead while I was driving 65 per hour.   It then started snowing as I pulled over on the highway.  I began to get my safety triangles out when I noticed my dome light was on.  I turned the key and it started back up.  Thank goodness!  I had many strange electrical problems with that car.  The base was blanked with snow and over the course of my time there I got my Trans Am stuck 3 times.  It was a terrible place to drive that car.  I drove it only 4000 miles in 4 years.  As soon as I arrived at Fort Drum and started in-processing the attitude of everyone was that this place was a frozen hell.  The Bad…Fort Drum PT was very difficult.  They had more injuries than any other base probably due to the snow and ice.  The Ugly…-38 degrees?


Enough said.  Let us talk about your bases.  Be sure to specify what branch of service you are in and where it is located.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Money – Your Bank



Direct deposit is a must in this day and age.  You cannot get paid without a bank or credit union account.  Why you chose the bank you did can have a serious impact to your wealth.  When I first joined the Army I opened up a bank account in reception through Wachovia.  This bank was a non-interest bearing account.   I kept this account for over two years.  Choosing the right bank is important because most of us do not embrace change.   Changing your bank seems to be a hassle.  This is not always the case, but many times laziness sinks in.  This was the case for me.  I didn’t respect money like I should have.  I didn’t focus on making money, but rather focused on saving.  From my experience is seems easier to save than to make money.  

Benjamin Franklin once said a penny saved is a penny earned.  What he meant by that was not saving money by putting it in a bank.  A penny saved is if you can figure out a way to pay less than the asking price on a good or service.  The other saying is a penny saved is a penny taxed.  Again Benjamin Franklin wasn’t talking about putting money into savings.  The money you didn’t spend has already been taxed.

Non-interest bearing accounts is almost always a bad way to do banking.  Letting someone borrow your money and not give you interest is bad for your finances.  This is the same as withholding too much of your money out of your paycheck.  Unless you are receiving some sort of major benefit other than free checking, you should receive interest for parking your hard earned money at a bank.  They owe it to you!

Several reasons exist why you choose the bank you do.  I think that convenience is a major reason.  This is why I chose Wachovia.  It was convenient at the time.  Convenience costs you money.  People who make purchases at convenient stores pay more on average than if you got to a non- convenience store.  An article was written on this subject calling it the convenience tax.

Please do not get caught up with this.  In my opinion, you do want a bank that is within 3 miles from where you live, and pays you interest.  If you are in the military this may force you to change your bank several times in your career.  This is normal.  I am a big fan of using online banking for savings, but I do prefer to have a bank that I can stop in to make withdraws for I do not use ATM machines.

Currently I use two brick and mortar banks, an online bank, and a credit union.  The credit union and bank is at my workplace which is a great benefit.  The credit union has competitive interest rates and has one of those neat change machines to get dollars out of your coins.  My bank at my workplace I use because I get special benefits for my credit cards.  I also have another bank that I use which I have my mortgage through.  I use that bank because they have $299 closing costs on home purchases.  This bank has the cheapest closing costs and competitive mortgage interest rates in the area

With a little research (let your fingers do the walking) or even a lot of research can go a long way to saving and making money.  So go out and start shopping for a new bank!

Goals


Several books that I have read on leadership and successful people talk a lot about them setting goals.  A classic book that I do recommend reading is Think and Grow Rich.  I'm sure you could find it at your local library.  It talks in detail about goals among other usual tips that will help you gain wealth.  Businesses make plans and set goals all the time.  Most businesses have a mission statement, strategic plans with visions of where the company will go in the future.  People should do the same with their personal lives.  Sure it takes time, but the rewards are many.  They can help you out in your personal life, plus give you some valuable skills in your career.

A personal goal that I have had since high school was to get my CPA.  I didn’t really know why I wanted at the time; however after I took my accounting class it seemed like something I needed to have.  Seemed like a prestigious accomplishment, would force me to learn and would increase my credibility.  

This experience has been very painful.  It is the learning process.  As adult learners we forget how painful it was learning new things.  If you have kids you know how horrible it is for them to learn math or how to read.  Some kids get it quickly, but most have a hard time.  Lots of anger, crying and frustration.  I’m not just talking about my kids.  As adults we can do something that you could not do as a young child…quit.  Can you imagine if you were allowed to quit as a kid?  To become a military millionaire, you really have to be a lifelong learner.  The good news is that as an adult you can learn about things that interest you.

Learning is typically not fun.  It is painful, boring, and confusing among other things.  Many times it is even embarrassing.  None of that really matters.  What matters is that you go out and challenge yourself.  I just wrote about motivation, find someone to help you stay motivated.  You cannot live life alone, and I encourage you to find someone that is positive and someone who you can achieve goals together.   In the Army we had battle buddies.  Someone you could depend on and would help keep each other on track.  In the Air Force there is the Wingman concept.  Remember...we are all on the same team.

Doing things that anyone can do does not grow you personally, and doesn’t help out your career or America.  Finishing difficult tasks gives you a sense of accomplishment.  If you completed basic training or OTS/OCS it was a great accomplishment.  Why?  Cause it was difficult at the time.  Could you do it again?  Sure, probably a lot better than you did the first time around.
Something I failed to do when I set my goal of getting my CPA was to put a date as to when I wanted to achieve this goal.   I do have an end date now...August 24, 2012.  Whether I pass or fail any of my exams doesn't matter.  This date is set and the current plan is to finish then.

This puts pressure on you to perform.  Many people are procrastinators.  This is ok…in fact many people perform best under pressure.  You’ll also want to tell others what you are doing.

I remember reading an article about someone wanting to quit smoking.  They wrote on a note card that they were quitting smoking and passed it to all of their friends and family.  This helped them commit to quitting.  Set some goals and get out there and tell someone!  Like me and everyone else...by posting a comment.

Motiviation - Team Building

Today, I want to talk about team building and motivation.  When I was in basic training and advanced individual training (AIT) my drill sergeants would talk about motivation.  They really didn't care too much about anything else as long as we stayed motivated.  Many times the reason why we were punished was because of our lack of motivation.  Soon we realized this and it was amazing how well we worked as a team. 

I realize that not everyone is a team player, but it sure helps if most people who you work with are team players.  Staying motivated no matter what work your environment is can be difficult.  It is always nice to blow off some steam and have a good time.

A team building exercise I participated in recently was an eating contest.  I had never participated in an eating contest before.  My co-worker Kim told me about it and with enough encouragement decided it would be nice if our office would participate in this challenge. 


I sent out an e-mail to the office letting them know of the challenge and asked if anyone else would like to participate.  We had three people partake in the challenge and about 15 people from the office watching and cheering us on. 


The challenge was to finish a 16" Super Duper Philly cheese steak in 16 minutes or less.  The prize for completing the challenge was a free meal, a tee shirt, and of course office pride.  If you couldn't complete the meal, it cost you $20.  I managed to finish in 6 minutes.

What does this have to do with Military Millionaire?  Simple...motivation, taking risks, accomplishment, entertainment, and of course it was free food and a shirt.  If you are someone who is motivated you can pretty much accomplish anything within the laws of physics.  Motivation is all about your attitude.

Lastly, I want to thank Mike Storer who is an outstanding individual.  He is a great motivator and helped put this special event in motion.  Mike has a son Matt who is currently serving in the United States Air Force at Hurlburt Field.  My understanding is Matt will soon be promoted to Airmen First Class.  Congratulations Matt!

What motivates you?  Let us know by leaving a comment or sending an e-mail.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

MM - Expectations

Expectations are important.  I hope to release a new article everyday...but I am quite busy at the moment.  I have written several articles already and should be good for one article per day for a month or two.  However, I am studying for the CPA exam which requires about 25 hours per week.  If all goes according to plan and I do not fail any exam (not likely), then I should be finished by August.  The CPA exam has a pass rate of about 45%.






My friend John is getting married in May, and I must attend his wedding.  Personally, I love weddings.  Nothing more exciting than a two people who love each other and want to spend the rest of their lives together.  Even if it doesn't work out that way, at that moment in time, that is the plan.


My goal is to post a minimum of one per day, but I hope to do much more.  You can expect a new post at 7pm EST.


In the meantime, if I haven't posted anything for a day or two, think about something that concerns you, and send me an e-mail or comment on one of the articles I have written.


The more information I receive, the better this blog can become.

Why I joined the Military #2 - Armed Forces Office


So there I was being driven by a complete stranger.  In the car was another soldier straight out of basic training.  He never said a word.  We get to the office and he gives me some brochures, shows me how much I would get paid, showed me his college transcripts and how much better he has done in school after joining the Army.  He spoke on the phone a lot and made me wait.  Probably part of the whole hurry up and wait mentality and perhaps a marketing technique. 
Back then the slogan was be all that you can be…get an edge on life…in the Army.  I feel this is true today.  However, it isn’t just the Army.  Any branch of service I feel gives you an edge in life.  

So, here I am starting to fill out seemingly endless paperwork when the head boss came out and welcomed me.  All I really remember was he was a strong bald dude or an uglier version of Mr. Clean.  He started talking about how great the Army is…all the girls that love soldiers and parties that they have.  Not that this interested me in the least.  Then he went away and the recruiter told me I’d start off as an E-2 because I had college.  I started studying how much I was going to get paid and started calculating my GI Bill benefits and how much I thought I could save.  I figured I could save about $40,000 based on my calculations.  I do remember filling out forms asking if I smoked or did drugs.  They asked me this several times, and told me that if I did to make sure I stopped doing them at least 30 day or maybe a week before I went to MEPS.  They also asked if I was willing to kill someone.  I wasn’t sure at first, but then he said if it came down to someone going to kill you or you kill them would you do pull the trigger.  I said I would.  

He then showed me some pictures of barracks that were nothing like what they were in real life.  Perhaps they were Air Force barracks.  After that was all done, he asked me if I would like to be taken home.  I said no, I’ll run back home from Meijer.

After running back home I told my mother what happened and she was devastated.  I told my mom that I could get experience working as an accountant, get paid, and my college paid for too.  She still wasn’t pleased.  I found out that Wright State was costing my parents $10,000 for tuition, room, board, and food.  My mother had saved money for school and I felt that it was a waste of money.  I’d rather find a way to pay for school and she could just give me the money she saved.  I felt I could persuade her into doing this.  I was successful, but only after I finished my degree.  What a great incentive!

Later that evening my father came home from work.  We told him that I have decided to join the Army.  He began to sing, “You’re in the Army now, you’re not behind the plow, you’re in the ditch, you son of a…you’re in the Army now.”
I proceeded to punch him several times in the arm as he laughed and kept singing.  I only had to convince my mother that it was a good idea to join.

Why I joined the Military #1



People love a good story, and I am positive that everyone has great stories of their personal experiences in the military.  My story is no different.  Besides playing with GI Joes and toy guns when I was little, I really didn’t have any desire to join the military.  When you join the military people want to know who you are, where are you from, and why you joined.  Let me answer those burning questions.

My name is Gary Ober and I am from Dayton, Ohio the birthplace of Aviation.  Why on earth did someone who grew up in the heart of avionics join the Army?  Simple…I wanted to be tough.  But seriously…it all started my freshman year of college at Wright State University.  The course work as a freshman was boring.  I spent much of my time playing video games and eating (yes I gained my Freshman 15).  Many of the classes were review from what I did in High School.  I was living in the dorms since my mother wanted me to have the “college” experience.  For my college experience I had three other roommates in a 12x16 foot room plus a bathroom.  Two of my roommates within a quarter dropped out and the third roommate towards the end of the school year started doing drugs.  The weird behavior began where he threatened me for not letting him use my computer to play StarCraft until 2am. 

I didn’t have a car because my mother had a rule that since my older sister didn’t have one until she was a sophomore then I wasn’t able to have one.  Mother didn’t want me to work even though I had been working since I was 14.  Besides eating, playing basketball and video games I was interested in finding that special someone as well.  I had been Internet dating since 1995 back when dial-up and Bulletin Board Systems (BBS) still existed.  If you know anything about dial-up I had a 2400 baud modem for about a month, then upgraded to a 9600 baud.  During my winter break I met a girl online through AOL named JeepBabe22.  After finding out information about her I convinced her that we should meet.  She was into running and for our first date we went running together at a local park trail.  She wanted to run a marathon, so I started training with her.

One day when my mother was out shopping with my car I decided that I needed to go to the local grocery (Meijer).  The store was about 5 miles away and thought it was a nice day for a winter jog.  During my run I started to think about how crappy school was.  I started to pray to God and ask him to lead me in a new direction in life.  We all want to be happy and have our lives meaningful.  I asked God to give me a sign of what I should do differently in my life...a new direction.  About two miles into the run I notice a car about a half mile from me that wasn’t turning on the main road for some reason.  As I got closer I had an overwhelming feeling that someone wanted to talk to me.  Finally I got to the car and a clean cut, tall, black gentleman in military uniform stepped out of the vehicle.  He introduced himself and asked me what I doing and where I went to school.  I told him I was out jogging to Meijer and went to Wright State University.  “Do you like running?" he asked.

I told him I was training for a marathon with my girlfriend.  He asked what I was studying.  I told him accounting.  The recruiter then asked if I could get job as an accountant for the Army would I join.  A lot of things started running through my head at this time.  I’m thinking…experience is important for getting jobs in accounting.  I also was wondering if this is the sign God was giving me.  I thought that this must be the sign.  I said yes.  That my friend is the start of my faith based journey into the military.

E-mail me your story...and as always leave a comment.

Military Millionaire - An Introduction



As my first blog I wanted to give you a vision of what is to come.  To get excited about what the future holds.  This is whether you are active duty, reserve/guard, veteran, government civilian, or interested in joining the most powerful military in the world.  You are in a great position to become wealthy.  Misinformation is everywhere, and being able to separate the good from the bad can be difficult.  I am writing to help with your personal finance goals.  Through my personal experiences that I have had, and through wisdom of some of the greatest financial minds in history, I feel confident that you can do well financially.  The military has some of the best training.  You learn discipline, duty, loyalty, structure, and execution.  These skills alone give you an edge not only outside the military, but with your finances.  In my book and through these blogs I hope to open your eyes and minds on the many advantages of being part of the military family.


The area of training that most people never receive is financial training.  You can become an adult with no understanding of how taxes, banking, investing, saving, credit, and debt even works.  If you do not understand what to do with your money someone will gladly take your money off your hands…for a fee of course.  I have seen and heard many stories of people getting ripped off while serving and I’m hoping that this blog will stop some of you in making a decision that could cost you big time.


I salute each of you in deciding to serve the citizens of America.  In these seemingly difficult times we live in opportunity always exists.  Freedom is what we fight for each and every day.  We fight for the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  Happiness is something we all want.  Finding meaning in this life is a way to pursue happiness.   As a military family we are all on the same team.  Life is a team sport.  It is time to get to work as individuals of this great team to make our communities great or even better than they already are. 


Everyone has been told one time or another that money isn’t everything.  This is true…however money is something.  Many of our life struggles and decisions are based on our availability to money.  Financial stress is a leading cause of failed marriages and relationships.  If you ever loaned money to a friend and they never paid you back this can destroy the relationship.  So, whether money isn’t everything…it is important.


Throughout these blogs I will show you that those who serve can become a millionaire.  I will show you that whether you are enlisted or an officer, you can do it.  How you get there…well that is the fun part.  It is really up to you.  That is why it is called personal finance.  You are personally responsible for getting yourself to reach your goals.  I’m here to help!  Hopefully others will also help you along the way with their comments.  I look forward to this journey with you.  I hope that I can personally meet many of you, and at the very least hear about some of the successes, and possible setbacks that you may occur along the way.  Stay strong…and never give up!