Career 
9
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Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy: Part Two

This is a post by Gary Bonner, a regular contributor on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

This is the conclusion of Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy article, an article by regular BFP contributor Gary Bonner. Part one is available here.

It was during those 5 hours that I reflected on how I got myself into this health mess. The company was relentless in demanding results on the very visible, very important project that I was providing a considerable amount of shoulder to lift off the ground. This project was a transition and I had to continue doing my former duties as I developed a new project. The requirements consumed me. Even when I was home I didn’t rest because I was planning for the next day’s work in my head.

Laying there listening to the beeping monitors, in between interruptions for x-rays taken by a portable machine and the nurses checking in on me, I started thinking about my family and my loved ones. I thought about how I hadn’t paid any attention to them and had let life events pass me by in the name of “getting the job done.” Then it dawned on me. I remembered a moment twelve years ago, when I had sat on the side of my father’s bed (he was a victim of cancer) as he peacefully took his last breath. My mother, his wife of 50 years, his older son and daughter-in law, his only brother plus his nephew and wife stood next to him.

Then the thought just crystallized from somewhere deep inside: “No one lays on their deathbed wishing they had spent more time at the office.” And here I was. I had crossed the Rubicon with Caesar back into Roman territory. I would never look at corporate life the same. I would do what I had to do but I wouldn’t, couldn’t, bite off more than I could chew ever again.

Over the next several months I underwent a series of stress tests, special echo cardiograms, and finally an angiogram. This procedure runs a tube, with a camera at the end, through your groin muscle through your body cavity to look at the arteries of your heart. You are awake but your body is “knocked down” by a Valium I-V. If there had been blockage, the doctor would have inserted a stent to insure good blood flow. Fortunately the cardiologist, a doctor of world wide respect in his field, announced that there was no blockage and that I had one of the strongest heart muscles he had ever seen.

I wish that was the end of the story.

That was in November 2004.

When I returned to work nothing had changed, the attitude of management had become more unrelenting. I withdrew from the new project to return to my old job. I steadily refused to put in extra effort and felt the heat turn up on me. Timid to fight back because I wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to get fired and lose my medical benefits, I operated in a world of conflict between my personal health needs and, from my viewpoint, the demands of a high pressure job. My health broke again. I wound up back in the Emergency Room 3 times between 2005 and 2007.

The last time I said to my doctor who had wheeled me to the ER, “You know, my ticket book from the ambulance company doesn’t only contain round trip tickets. There is a black one that says ‘one way’. I am tired of playing Russian Roulette with my health.”

He agreed.

I needed a lot of rest to stabilize and restore my health. While out on disability the company terminated my employment. (As of this writing I am exploring to see if I have any legal remedies for their action)

I lost out on an opportunity for a lump sum retirement payment and will have to accept a monthly annuity that will be modest at best. Why? Because I demonstrated to the company that I had the capacity and ability to accomplish results with a good work ethic. I gained a reputation as a “go to guy” if you were faced with a hard problem.

One of the rules of business is “if you find someone who can get something done right the first time, give him more to do.” In the 20th century, management took care of their workhorses by grooming, feeding and taking care of productive people. Now, in the 21st century, things are done differently. If a company rides a workhorse until it breaks down, managers just pull their pistol and shoot the horse. They’ll get another one.

Our world runs at lighting speed and is faster than the one I joined thirty-five years ago as a “go-getter.” People now hitting their stride in the work world are quicker, better informed and very energetic. The same was said of my generation by my parents. It is important to know that the fastest and best workhorse today will one day be eclipsed by a younger and faster one. How you use your resources now will determine how long you will stay “in the harness” and how much you will enjoy life. At some point “overtime” will mean something much different than it does today. I found out the hard way.

There are much easier ways: stay focused, stay balanced, stay healthy.

This afternoon, I’ll share with you the thoughts I had when Gary first emailed me this story (we had never intended for this to become a post, it was just a conversation between two people that I felt told a powerful story) and why I asked him to share it with everyone.


 Career 
2
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Stay Focused, Stay Balanced, Stay Healthy: Part One

This is a post by Gary Bonner, a regular contributor on Blueprint for Financial Prosperity.

I came up with “no one ever laid on their death bed and wished they had spent more time at the office” out of personal experience. After putting in a marathon 21 days straight of 12-14 grueling hours at my desk, my health broke. I was in a meeting with 2 people who both questioned me “are you alright?” Not wanting to take a break I said I was okay. They both gave me skeptical looks and even asked again. Reassuring them I was okay we finished the meeting. That night I didn’t sleep very well and woke up exhausted.

The next morning I got to work early and worked on my “to do” list. A “floor meeting” was called where people stand around aisles of cubicles because you can’t get everyone into one room to listen to a manager speak. I felt a sharp sting down my left side. I waved off my manager and walked down three flights of stairs to the parking garage and drove five miles in freeway traffic to my doctor’s office.

The receptionist took one look at me, crinkled her forehead and said “You need to see the doctor right now don’t you Gary” … I nodded and walked past a waiting room of patients who had appointments. The nurse took my blood pressure and left the room. The doctor came in and took my blood pressure again. I had been a patient of his for a few years. He is a great doctor and we have a very warm friendship.

He said, “Hang on, I need to make a phone call.”

I was feeling pretty woozy and after a few moments the door opened. The doctor unfolded a wheelchair and said “Come on and sit down, I’m going to take you over to the Emergency Room and get some tests done”.

I looked at him and asked, “Why the chair?”

He replied, “It’s okay, I do this a few times a month for patients. And besides, they have the equipment over there that I need to run the tests”.

I sat down, he wheeled me through his bulging room of patients with appointments and pushed me to the elevator and went down to street level. The Emergency Room was about four city blocks from the doctor’s building in a large medical complex covering acres of ground. Visualize a slightly built man about 5′ 7″ and 165 pounds pushing a 5′ 10″ guy weighing about 215 pounds down an open street that distance. If it hadn’t been serious, the image would have been laughable.

It was about 10:30 in the morning when we entered the Emergency Room. It was absolutely quiet, as if everyone was on a coffee break. The doctor said “Mr. Bonner needs to have some tests run.” The whole Emergency Room staff jumped like bunch of scared cats. They put me into an emergency bay where I laid on a gurney after stripping off my clothes and donning a hospital gown. Then, they brought in every conceivable instrument of modern science like the machines were coming off an assembly line.

Four registered nurses (RN) and a doctor started sticking needles in me, setting up an I-V drip and strapping on monitoring equipment. I craned my head around and saw the blood pressure reading: 233 over 130. Not good. Normal is 120 over 70. They pumped me full of drugs and even put an external heart rhythm equalizer on my chest. It emits electronic impulses directly to my heart. I couldn’t figure out why they were using it since the monitor showed I was in sinus rhythm but the RN said it was for “precaution”. Then they left me alone to let the drugs do their work.

I stared up at the ceiling and muttered “Well Lord, is this it?”

There is an old saying there is a “sting” at death. Although I didn’t feel that big a sting, I definitely was stung really hard.

The nurses checked on me every 15 minutes. At one point I asked one, “Where are we in the process here?”.

She answered, “We are about halfway between determining if we can release you or if we will admit you overnight for observation.” At roughly 3 pm, five hours after the doctor had wheeled me into the Emergency Room, I was released to go home. A friend picked me up and the doctor signed me out on disability for a month. I didn’t have a heart attack or a stroke, but I came as close as one can without sliding over the edge.

This is only part one of this poignant saga, continue to part two.


 Credit 
9
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5% Cash Back at Supermarkets & Gas Stations

Citi® Diamond Preferred® Rewards CardThis offer has expired.

Well well, it looks like we finally have the return of a long lost cash back favorite from a year or two ago… the coveted 5% cashback on supermarkets, drug stores and gas stations credit card in the form of the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards card. (if that’s not your thing, here’s my list of the best cash back credit cards)

A few years ago, there were a dozen of these types of cards. In the last year, that number dropped to zero. Those that did exist only offered it on gasoline and imposed ridiculously low limits such as the Discover Open Road card (gives 5% on gasoline but only up to $5 a month!). Back in the heyday, each were vying for “share of wallet,” the industry term for how much of your spending gets put on their card. They often earn a couple percentage points per transaction so the hope is that you use the card for more than the 5% categories, which is a loss leader for them (this ignores the finance charges, fees, and other charges they impose for a variety of reasons).

Looks like they’re making a come back with the Citi Diamond Preferred Rewards card is leading the way.

Any catches? Yes, there are a few. Like all Citi cards, the cashback now comes in the form of ThankYou Network points rather than straight up cash. Those with student loans can convert the points into “cash,” making it a truly 5% cashback card. If you don’t have student loans, you’ll have to take it in the form of gift cards to get a full percentage value. You can always sell the gift cards and still get close to 5% cashback in the worst case.

Another catch is that the 5% promotion is for the first 12 months. I normally don’t like promotional offers (with the exception of when the Citi CashReturns had 5% cashback on everything) but right now this is the only card that offers 5% on the “everyday shopping” category (which includes supermarket, drug stores and gas stations). There are a couple alternatives if you’re looking for a gas cashback credit card, but none exist (to my knowledge) for supermarkets.

Finally, the only limit on cashback is an annual limit of 75,000 ThankYou points – it’s unlikely you will reach that limit ($15,000 in spending in the 5% categories!).

Some other features that may be of interest: 12 month 0% APY balance transfer, no annual fee, 1% cash back on everything else. The 12 month 0% APY balance transfer is nice but it has a balance transfer fee of 5%, I’d pass on that. The no annual fee is standard and the 1% cashback on everything else is also pretty standard.

Overall, I think this card is a good option if you’re looking for a way to shave 5% off your supermarket and gas bills.

Blue Cash from American Express. The Blue Cash from American Express offers 5% cashback at supermarkets, drugstores and gas stations with no limit whatsoever. The card also offers a 0% balance transfer for 12 months with a 3% transfer fee capped at $99.


 Government 
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$7500 First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit

Farm House with Rising SunUpdate 2/12: The $15,000 provision has been replaced by an $8,000 first-time home buyer credit, according to the Wall Street Journal. The credit is set to expire November 30th unless it is extended (which is currently being discussed).

Senate Republicans added a provision that would make the credit a $15,000 tax credit for all home-buyers, not just first time home-buyers. It would also be a true credit, not a “credit” you have to pay back over 15 years.

One of the big pieces of the housing rescue bill, passed and signed into law in July, was a $7,500 “tax credit” for first time homebuyers. While experts aren’t sure whether it’s “going to work,” these types of tax credits have been used in the past so they do have some history.

There is one aspect of this bill that is surprising and it has to do with one of the qualification rules. You can own a vacation home or a rental property and still qualify for this tax credit. I don’t know if it’s an oversight because of the strict determination of “primary residence” or if it was an intended rule. I don’t think individuals who own rental property or vacation homes necessarily need assistance on buying a primary residence.

First Time Homebuyer Tax Credit Rules

To qualify, you must satisfy these conditions:

  • The home much be purchased as a primary residence.
  • You must not have owned a primary residence in the last three years. For couples, both individuals must not have owned a primary residence in the last three years. Vacation homes and rental properties don’t affect this (you aren’t DQ’d if you have a vacation home or rental property).
  • Must not be a non-resident alien as defined by the IRS in Publication 519.
  • Individuals must have a modified adjusted gross income of less than $75,000 annually and couples MAGI of less than $150,000 to qualify for the full amount.
  • The phaseout range begins at $75,000 and ends at $95,000 for individuals, $150,000 and $170,000 respectively for couples.
  • The home must be closed between April 9th, 2008 and July 1st, 2009.
  • No mention of a credit score or history requirement, but knowing that will help when it comes to getting a mortgage. I recommend checking out myFICO.com, a service of Fair Isaac, the people who invented the FICO credit score.

How the “tax credit” works:

  • The tax credit is 10% of the home’s sale price with a maximum of $7500.
  • You can claim the credit on taxes filed in 2008 or 2009.
  • It’s a credit and not a deduction (difference between tax credit and tax deduction).
  • “Tax credit” is a misnomer because it’s really a zero percent loan with some qualifications.

Tax Credit Loan Repayment Terms

The tax credit isn’t really a tax credit, it’s really just a tax free loan with some qualifications. You have to start paying back this loan within two years and you make equal payments over 15 years. When you sell your home, any profits will go first into paying off that loan. If you sell at a loss, the difference will be forgiven… meaning you will not owe any money on the loan (though it should be recorded as income as is typical with most loan forgiveness agreements, so you will owe taxes on it).

Should You Do It?

I would, why wouldn’t you take an interest free loan? :)

(Photo: orvaratli)


 The Home 
11
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Double Check Your For Sale Listing Details

Home For SaleA little over two years ago, my friend discovered that she had developed mold in her basement. It was a strain so difficult to manage that it required thousands of dollars to eradicate and she developed medical problems because of it. She had it professionally cleaned and had a ultra-violet light-equipped HVAC system installed to combat future growths. Despite all her improvements (and spore-free test results), her medical issues persisted and she was forced to move out and try to sell her home.

When I looked at the description used to explain the comforts of her home, I was aghast. The description, couched in all sorts of non-specific novelette-type prose like “quaint neighborhood” and “lovingly renovated,” did nothing to describe any non-mold related improvements. While a bit shady, I could understand not mentioning the mold related enhancements such as the UV HVAC system or the extensive cleaning of the basement; but the listing completely skipped how she replaced all her appliances with stainless steel, replaced her counter-top, and installed hardwood floors on the first floor. It even skipped on describing the renovated bathroom on the first floor.

My logic for offering as much information as possible so that buyers can make an informed decision on whether they want to tour a place stems from my experience with buying pay per click advertising. The key in any type of advertising is to lower your cost of acquisition. The cost in this case is your time. What you want is someone who is genuinely interested in your home coming to get a tour. If someone absolutely hates stainless steel appliances and doesn’t know you have them, they might be turned off the minute they walk in. You’ve just spent time showing a place with zero chance of a sale and time away from showing it to someone who would buy it.

On the other hand, if they don’t care about hardwood floors and they come, they might be pleasantly surprised but they won’t value it as much. You want the person who values hardwoods to visit because you will be paid more if that person buys. That person is more likely to answer the listing if they see hardwoods in the description. Offering as much information as possible might limit your pool potential of buyers but the probability one of them buys will increase (in pay per click advertising, you want a lot of targeted clicks, not just a lot of clicks).

I told my friend this but she was reluctant to ask the real estate agent to change the listing because she felt the agent knew best. While I have no doubt that a listing agent knows more than I do about selling homes, I find it difficult to believe that you would avoid mentioning stainless steel appliances, hardwood floors, or a newly renovated bathroom.

Ultimately my friend was unable to sell the home and is now happily renting it out. (this is more a product of the softening real estate market and the agent having too many listings to manage at the time)

Often, experts do know more than you in their domain but it never hurts to make suggestions. When you’re talking about such valuable assets and when the cost of asking is zero, it makes no sense not to ask.

(Photo: thetruthabout)


 Personal Finance 
4
comments

7 Deadly Sins of Personal Finance: Don’t Plan For the Future

7 Deadly Sins of Personal FinanceHot on the heels of a pretty bad sin yesterday, Failing to Budget, comes its brother in arms – failing to plan for the future.

(Click to continue reading…)


 Devil's Advocate 
30
comments

Don’t Go To A Private University

Devils Advocate Logo
This is a Devil's Advocate post.

All throughout high school, the importance of going to college was everywhere. If it wasn’t my parents, it was my teachers. If it wasn’t my teachers, it was the guidance counselor. Everyone stressed the importance of college. In fact, they were even more specific. They stressed the importance of getting into a good college, which in guidance counselor terms meant a college that was good in the field you were interested in. In many many cases, that college was a private university. While safe advice, it’s not necessarily true.

Going to a public university gives you a better shot at success than a private university. You don’t have to go to a private university to succeed. In fact, going to a private university gives you no advantage over a public university. To take it to an extreme, going to a private university puts you at a disadvantage in life because you are paying significantly more for your education, thus saddling you with debt obligations, with no benefit.

(Click to continue reading…)


 General 
4
comments

Welcome Gary!

Gary BonnerOne of the great pleasures of writing a blog is being able to interact with everyone who takes time out of their day to read what I publish. I am also very thankful for everyone who contributes to the success of this site when they leave comments on the articles (thanks for correcting all of my mistakes!).

One of those kind individuals was Gary Bonner (profile). Those of you who have been reading for a while may recognize his name from prior guest posts he’s written. I first “met” him when he left a comment on the Don’t Pay Your Dues post in early May. Here’s an excerpt of what he said:

Truer words have never been spoken. There is no one who lies on their death bed and says “I wish I had spent more time at the office”. I “paid my dues” for 35 years and one of the world’s largest corporations had a “reduction in force” RIF vs. RIP recently. Almost all the participants in a Defined Benefit Pension Plan that closed enrollment a decade ago were shown the door, including me. [read the whole comment]

I asked if Gary would be interested in writing a guest post on that one quote: There is no one who lies on their death bed and says “I wish I had spent more time at the office”. That post became Making a Living? Or, Making a Life?, a post about how the important things in life aren’t necessarily what you think they are.

I’ve asked Gary to become a regular contributor to this site in guest posts, approximately twice a month (more depending on how prolific he feels) because he brings a perspective I cannot. Having 35 years of experience in the corporate world, he’s at a phase of his life that I cannot accurate relate to (I can pretend, but let’s be honest, I’m 28, no kids, just married… I can’t bring to the table what he can) and it’s a perspective I feel would bring a richness to the site that it currently lacks.

My wife’s uncle once said about this site, and I’m paraphrasing, “He sure talks a lot about money.” I didn’t get the quote in context, just what my wife relayed, but I think what he meant was that there’s a lot more to personal finance than the finance. The personal aspect, the part that is enabled by proper finances, is far more important and certainly appropriate subject matter for a pfblog. With Gary, I think that we can get more of that and put a lot of our personal finance issues within a broader context.

Lastly, as I said before, I’m only 28. I can understand how Roth IRAs work and how to calculate APY from APR, but I can’t accurately talk about having kids or how to retire because I simply haven’t experienced it yet. I couldn’t talk about buying a home until I actually bought a home, a subject that dominated the posts of this blog for at least a month. Now I hope that we can bring more to the table with Gary’s writing.

If you made it this far, thanks for reading this long introduction, I feel very honored to have Gary contribute because it’s like having a mentor. On Wednesday there will be a pair of very poignant posts that I think everyone should read it (it started as a personal email and Gary agreed to share it with the world).

If you want to learn more about Gary, here’s Gary’s profile page. Please give him a hearty welcome!


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