Exciting News!

The past few weeks have included some exciting happenings, so I wanted to take this week’s Conversation to share the news with you:

First, on Wednesday, November 30th, I was up pretty early poking around on TimMaurer.com to prepare an upcoming post when I saw what I thought was a mistake.  It appeared that by 7am eastern that morning, the site had already enjoyed a flood of viewers—almost 1,500, shattering any past single day record, before most people have even had their morning coffee!

It turned out that USA Today had released a review of the book I co-authored, The Ultimate Financial Plan, which, of course, filled me with anticipation wondering whether or not the review was actually…positive.  Practically covering my eyes, I navigated to the online review, overwhelmed to see the headline: “Ultimate Financial Plan lives up to name.”  Jim Stovall and I have believed in this project since its inception, but I must admit my eyes started welling up as I received the hearty affirmation from one of the world’s most prominent media voices.  You can read the full review by clicking HERE.

One of the new realities in publishing, however, is that even after getting positive reviews in The New York Times and U.S.A. Today, we’re not guaranteed any level of success in spreading this entertaining education we believe to be so vital to individuals and households across the country, especially in these difficult financial times.  As you are probably aware, Amazon.com is now the primary driver of the dissemination of books, with and without covers, so I’m going to ask you a rare favor to help us further build momentum for this project: If you’ve read and enjoyed The Ultimate Financial Plan (or its “first edition,” The Financial Crossroads) would you please consider sharing your thoughts by reviewing the book on Amazon?  If you’d be so kind, you can do so by clicking HERE.

Second, that same week, I had the privilege of forging a new relationship with one of my favorite media outlets, ForbesForbes may have published its first magazine issue in 1917, but along the way they have also become a leader in new media, including blogging.  So when they asked me to begin blogging as a Forbes contributor, it was an easy decision for me.  You can check out the new blog by clicking HERE, and if you click on the picture bearing my mug, it will give you the opportunity to “follow” me, receiving updates when I post new content.  Initially, you’ll recognize some similarity between the content on TimMaurer.com and on Forbes, but I will also be creating wholly new content, like this week’s post, “It’s 10pm…Do you know how your advisor is getting paid?”

I’m very thankful for these new opportunities, but especially for YOUR support of my mission to change the way people view and interact with money.  Thank you for reading, commenting, questioning and sharing.  And as always, I look forward to your helpful suggestions about how I can make this correspondence better serve you. 

New and Old

by Jim Stovall

We seem to be constantly on the search for something new to replace something that is old.  We are bombarded with advertisements, promotions, and sales pitches imploring us to experience the latest, best, new, and improved items that may be available.  While, in many cases, new things are better than old things, there are certainly many exceptions in which old things are best.

My late, great friend and mentor Paul Harvey was fond of saying, “Not everything we call new and improved is.”

As a small child, I remember that my mother would divide my toys into two groups.  One group went into my toy box which I would play with immediately, and the other group of toys went into a cardboard box that was stored for later use.  At a point and time known only to my mother, when I started getting bored or my toys seemed stale, she would immediately replace the group of toys in my toy box with those that had been in storage.  I instantly felt as though I had all new toys.  Everything seemed exciting and brand new.

You can have this same experience as near as your bookshelf.  Some of the greatest titles you have ever read are waiting for you to revisit them and delve into the treasures that you have forgotten or simply missed the first time through.  There are some books that, frankly, are not worth finishing, but there are others that bear reading many times.  I re-read some of my favorite authors annually and would swear that they somehow rewrote sections of the book or added chapters while the book was sitting on my shelf, because it seems so fresh and new to me after multiple readings.

All of us enjoy meeting new people, making new friends, and forming new business relationships.  It is great to be actively pursuing new people in our lives, both personally and professionally, but always remember that some of the greatest people you will ever meet in your entire life are people you have already met.  Unfortunately, too often, we think of people we already know like a book we’ve already read.  We let friendships slide and business relationships dwindle away due to lack of attention.  With a little thought and care, along with some of the new social media tools, there is just no excuse for not staying in touch with people who are meaningful to us.

One of the new year’s resolutions I actually made and have kept for several years involved getting together with my parents each week.  Several years ago, I realized that even though my parents live a few miles from my home that I had gone several months without getting together with them.  After making the decision to see them each week, I have found the experience to be imminently rewarding in many ways, and I have learned things about my parents and other people in our family tree that I had never known before and wouldn’t have ever known had I not made the effort to stay in touch.

As you go through your day today, explore new people, places, and things, but don’t forget the treasure of the people, places, and things you can revisit time after time.

Today’s the day!

Dependable People

by Jim Stovall

The world could be divided very simply into two distinct groups of people.  There are people who you can trust to get things done, and there are people you can’t.

All of us have a myriad of things to do each day in our personal and professional lives.  How we prioritize these items and get them done on a regular basis will determine how successful we will become.  Even if you work or live by yourself, you are dependent upon other people for each of the tasks you want to accomplish on your daily list.  In some cases, you are waiting on other people to bring you the tools or information you need to move ahead.  In other cases, you are delegating responsibilities to others so that you can oversee a project or work on other aspects of it at the same time.

Recently, I went through several weeks of my daily list of tasks and realized that about 80 percent of the items I work on each day are dependent upon others.  If the people whom I had delegated items to or venders I had depended upon were totally reliable, my days would be much more free and clear than they are.

Recently, I was talking to a friend about a business professional he was dealing with on a project.  He had glowing recommendations for this individual.  As he told me the story, it basically boiled down to the fact that he had arranged to have this person perform a job in a certain way, with a particular budget, with a definite deadline.  The person he was praising had, indeed, done what he said he was going to do, within the allotted time, and within the prescribed budget.

It is sad to realize that in the world we live in today, if you do what you say you’re going to do, in a reliable and dependable fashion, it becomes noteworthy, and you become legendary among your customers or circle of influence.

As you move toward your goals and objectives in life, seek to surround yourself with people whom you can depend on.  This will help you avoid the redundancy of asking someone to do something and then being forced to follow up to see if it was actually completed and done properly.

As you go through your day today, strive to be a person who is dependable and reliable, and surround yourself with people who hold themselves to the same standard.

Today’s the day!

Occupation Preoccupation

While many of the headlines dominating today’s news are very important and financial in nature—a collapsing union in Europe and corporate greed in the U.S.—a disproportionate focus on them, considering our relative lack of control over their outcomes, does little more than increase our stress level.  This increased stress level only leads to lower productivity in those parts of our lives we can control.  It’s important, therefore, to ensure you’re addressing all of those things you CAN control in your money and life as a pre-requisite to the occupation of any given street.

The following exercises are designed to decrease your stress level, increase your financial health and make you a better occupier of whatever cause you pursue:

Tune-out.  We live in an age in which news is not just pervasive, it’s invasive!    As a financial planner, I’d even fooled myself into believing that it was a vocational requirement that I take in as much news as is humanly possible.  Sadly, I must confess I have failed in my more important duties as a husband and father at times, barking out nonsense like, “Do you have any idea what’s going on in the market right now??” as justification for being emotionally missing on the home front because of my preoccupation with volatility on Wall Street.

Last week, I took some advice to tune out and reaped the benefits.  Instead of defaulting to the radio in my car, I defaulted to silence.  What an incredible exercise!  Instead of fretting over fresh news of the devaluation of my home, rising unemployment in my community and riots in Greece over calls for fiscal discipline, I was able to breathe at a more normal pace and appreciate the changing leaves for the first time this fall.  It was as if time slowed down.  The benefit?  I walked into my office, my meetings and, at most importantly, my home, with a refreshed spirit and clearer mind.

Name your worries.  With greater clarity from your tune-out session, you’ll be able to better identify those things currently weighing on you.  If you’re like me, though, one of those primary worries is that you simply don’t have enough time (our most valuable commodity) to complete everything you need to do that day; so begin one of your days with silence on your drive into the office and before you turn your computer on, write a list of those things that are currently worrying you.  Many will be financial in nature: Your real estate losses, concern over a job loss or income reduction, frustration with market volatility, confusion regarding your 401k elections, increases in your health insurance costs and inequity in household cash flow.

After you’ve completed your list, you’ll notice that simply writing your worries down and looking at them will be impactful.  You may realize quickly that this-and-that are just silly, not worthy of worry.  Some items may represent areas where you don’t have control, but you may have some influence and can determine how best to exercise it.  But I also encourage you to take notice of how many of them you lack control over.  Draw a line through them, and begin disciplining yourself to cast off your worry for those things over which you have no control.

Control what you can.  Regardless of whether or not you could’ve been wiser about your last home purchase, you don’t have any more control over the depressed housing market today than the boom we all enjoyed in the early- and mid-2000’s.  You do have control, however, over your ability to refinance your loan at historically low interest rates, thereby reducing your monthly housing costs.  If your loan-to-value ratio won’t allow a standard refinance, look into a loan modification.  You don’t have control over the increasing cost of food, but you still decide what to put in the grocery basket.

The number one way to relieve your financial worry is through better cash flow management.  Regardless of whether you’re a struggling graduate making $20,000 per year or a business owner making $2 million, the health of every financial household is dictated by your discipline in the management of income and expenses.  It’s not easy to budget, because of the tedium and time required, but it is simple.

Many mistake budgeting as a chore for the financially desperate or destitute, but nothing could be further from the truth.  If you were the CFO of a company and were presenting your annual plan to the board, they’d ask to see your budget.  Can you imagine if you said, “Ah, money comes in and money goes out—it just always seems to work”?  You’d be hunting for a new job, and the logic is no different on the home front.  You’re the CFO.  Budget.

The protest movements across the U.S. that have gained steam in recent days and years are centered on economic issues, from the Tea Party to the Occupy movement.  I seek in no way to condemn or ridicule anyone choosing to spend time engaged in a lawful occupation of whatever street for whatever cause near and dear.  But before you occupy Wall Street, please occupy your street.  You’ll have less stress and be better financially prepared for whatever occupation you undertake.

Real Financial Planning

This is the last in a September series[i] that has featured guest posts from some of the most prolific bloggers and authors in the realm of money and life today.  If you missed any of them, I encourage you to revisit the wisdom Derek Sivers, Chris Guillebeau and J.D. Roth shared with us on TimMaurer.com.  And we complete this series of superstars with the person who I believe has taken the most unique approach to enhancing our understanding of personal finance—certainly the most artistic!

Carl Richards is a financial planner, blogger and the founder of the elusive Secret Society of Real Financial Planners.  Armed with a Sharpie and cardstock, Carl used his limited artistic skills to communicate some of the more complex and profound truths of financial planning and investing to clients with simple sketches.  His building body of work at www.BehaviorGap.com received more notice than he expected, and he was invited to become a regular contributor to the New York Times.  In January 2012, Portfolio/Penguin will publish Carl’s first book, Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money.

Thankfully, I’ve also had the privilege of getting to know Carl personally, and through that relationship, I can certify beyond any doubt that Carl’s means, methods and message are not merely a smokescreen for attracting followers or selling books, but based on the foundational values upon which he grounds his life at work and home.  He’s been kind enough to share a sketch and a few words with us:

 It seems like making important financial decisions should be easy. After all, it’s just simple math, right? We’ve all been taught that one plus one equals two. Consequently, we often think that the process of making good financial decisions is as simple as plugging a few numbers into a spreadsheet or an online calculator. After hitting enter, we’ll have the answer.

The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t seem to be that simple. Making good financial decisions requires that we consider the implications of those decisions within the context of our lives. My life and your life do not look the same; therefore, they don’t fit into a spreadsheet.

What may be a good financial decision for me may be a disaster for you and vice versa. In my day job as a financial planner, I’m often asked by friends or people in the media, “What are you telling your clients to do now?” Recently I found myself becoming increasingly agitated by that question. Because of course the answer is, “It depends on the client you’re referring to,” because the answer will be as unique as their situation.

Real financial planning happens at the intersection of your life and your money. The problem of course is that this intersection is an emotional place. I think this is a challenge because most of us were raised with the idea that money, sex, and politics are not things that we discuss openly or in polite company.

Most of our parents felt like it was their job to protect us from the financial side of our families. We didn’t talk about money at the dinner table and chances are we didn’t talk about money at all. Our parents’ well-intentioned desire to protect their kids has left most of us ill-equipped to deal with the emotional issues that surround financial decisions and with the distinct belief that financial decisions can and should fit into a nice clean spreadsheet.

But they don’t. Dreams, fears, and our most cherished goals for our children don’t fit into a spreadsheet. Often those things are what financial decisions are really about. It’s not about finding the best investment; it’s about asking ourselves why we’re investing in the first place.

So in light of this fact, how do we go about making good financial decisions? It starts with taking the time to get really clear about where we’re trying to go and, maybe even more importantly, about why. So my suggestion is to stop watching Jim Cramer scream about nothing important and to put down the latest research report you received from the brokerage firm. Instead, take that time to have meaningful conversations with the people you love about money, your values as a family, and the kind of life you want to live together.

The subtitle of my first book was “The Intersection of Money and Life,” but I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone encapsulate it better.  Many thanks, Carl!

[i] If you missed the last couple weeks, you might not know that to celebrate the release of my new book, The Ultimate Financial Plan, co-authored with Jim Stovall, I’m featuring guest posts from some of the bloggers and writers who’ve most inspired me of late.    

Mastering the Mental Game of Money

In this special September of guest posts from four noted authors and bloggers on money and life, you’re in for yet another treat.  J.D. Roth is an accidental personal finance expert. For over five years, he’s been writing about smart money management at Get Rich Slowly. He’s too humble to tell you himself, but his blog was chosen by Time magazine as one of “The Best Blogs of 2011.” 

He’s the author of Your Money: The Missing Manual (O’Reilly Media, 2010), the personal finance columnist for Entrepreneur magazine, and a regular contributor to Time’s Moneyland blog. Really, though, he just wants to write about travel, but he’s been kind enough to give us a synopsis of the most potent lessons he’s learned as a personal finance blogger.


Last weekend, I attended my twenty-year college reunion. In 1991, I graduated from Willamette University with a degree in psychology (and a minor in writing). I also graduated with debt. Not student loans—I was fortunate enough to have earned scholarships to pay my tuition—but something far worse: credit card debt. Yes, it’s true. I was one of those proverbial college students who was suckered into a life of debt by credit card offers in the student center. By the time I graduated from college, I had three credit cards, and was desperate for a job to make my payments on them.

And so it began. For the next five years, I accumulated more and more credit card debt, topping out at over $20,000 before I got fed up and cut up my credit cards. Even that wasn’t enough to stop me from spending. I borrowed from family and friends. I took out personal loans. By 2004, I’d acquired over $35,000 in consumer debt. It wouldn’t have seemed so bad if I’d used this $35,000 to pay for medical bills or to start a business. But I didn’t. I used the money to buy computers and comic books and other crazy stuff.

Getting Smart About Money

My story isn’t unique, and I know that. Lots of people make dumb mistakes. But when you’re living the dumb mistake, you feel all alone. You feel helpless. When you’re in debt, it feels like you’re drowning, like you’ll never make it to shore. Here we are in 2011, though, and things have changed. Seven years ago, I had over $35,000 in debt, and I was falling further behind every year. Today, I have over $35,000 in savings — and I pull further ahead every year.

How’d I do it? Well, I didn’t win the lottery, and I didn’t rob a bank. Instead, I spent several years making small, subtle changes. I learned how to live a frugal lifestyle, cutting back on the things I didn’t really need (like cable television). I discovered the debt snowball, a sort of mind game that allows people like me to finally pay off their debt instead of just wishing they had. I started to save for emergencies, for retirement, and for fun. I worked long hours to bring in extra income. All of this was hard work, but it paid off. In December 2007, I became debt-free, and I’ve remained so ever since.

Along the way, I’ve written about my progress at Get Rich Slowly, my personal-finance blog. I’ve shared my triumphs and my failures. Because let’s be very clear: I’ve made many mistakes over the past few years. Even today, I still do dumb things with money. These mistakes used to get me down, but that’s not true anymore. Now I know that the mistakes actually help me learn.

Lessons Learned

After more than five years writing about money, I’ve learned quite a bit just from personal experience. I’ve also learned by talking with my friends and neighbors, and from exchanging e-mail with hundreds thousands of readers. My financial education has come from their stories. What have I learned? Here are some of the most valuable lessons:

  • Money is more about mind than it is about math. Financial success is more about mastering the mental game of money than about understanding the numbers. The math of personal finance is simple — spend less than you earn — it’s controlling your habits and emotions that’s difficult.
  • The perfect is the enemy of the good. Too many people never get started putting their finances in order because they don’t know what the “best” first step is. Don’t worry about getting things exactly right — just choose a good option and do something to get started.
  • Do what works for you. Each of us is different. We have different goals, personalities, and experiences. We each need to find the tools and techniques that are effective for our own situations. There’s no one right way to save, invest, pay off debt, or buy a house — and don’t believe anyone who tells you there is. Experiment until you find methods that are effective for you.
  • You can have anything you want — but you can’t have everything you want. Being smart with money isn’t about giving up your plasma TV or your daily latte. It’s about setting priorities and managing expectations, about choosing to spend only on the things that matter to you, while cutting costs on the things that don’t.
  • Nobody cares more about your money than you do. The advice that others give you is almost always in their best interest, which may or may not be the same as your best interest. Don’t do what others tell you just because they hold a position of authority or seem to have a persuasive argument. Do your own research, get advice from a variety of sources, and in the end, make your own decisions based on your own goals and values.

What makes personal finance interesting to me is the personal side of it. We’re not robots. We’re not computers. We don’t make financial decisions based solely on logic. Instead, we allow passion and emotion to sway our decisions. Don’t believe me? What are your hobbies? How much do you spend on them? How is that logical? Do you have pets? Children? Do either of those make much financial sense? And have you ever loaned (or borrowed) money from a friend or family member? How did that work out? Was that a situation you evaluated solely with logic?

I feel fortunate to be debt-free today. I intend to remain that way for the rest of my life. But that’s not enough for me anymore. I want to help others become (or stay) debt-free. To that end, I’ll continue to write about money at Get Rich Slowly (and various other places around the web). There’s a lot of practical information out there about the nuts and bolts of personal finance, but I feel like there isn’t much written about the mental game of money. That’s too bad. Because ultimately, it’s mastering this mental game that’s most important.

The Forbes Formula

Over the last decade, I have been fortunate and privileged to develop an ongoing friendship with Steve Forbes.  We first worked together in 1999 when he was producing a book entitled Great American Success Stories.  After that, I began visiting Mr. Forbes in his office on each of my trips to New York City.  Over the years, we have had many wonderful conversations sitting around the table in the library on the second floor of the Forbes Building.  I have often wished I could include the readers of my books, those who watch my movies, and you who read these weekly columns in those wonderful discussions with Steve Forbes.

Earlier this year, Mr. Forbes did a small cameo role, playing himself, in a movie based on one of my books — www.TheLampMovie.com.  After we shot his part in the film, Mr. Forbes and I sat down at the library table for another of our treasured conversations, but I captured this one on film to share with you and those who will buy The Lamp movie as the interview will be one of the special features on the DVD.

Steve Forbes is probably more associated with money and finance than anyone in the world today.  I believe his views on how our money relates to our lives are priceless.

Recently, my coauthor Tim Maurer and I have written a new book designed to help people take control of their lives and their futures by taking control of their money —The Ultimate Financial Plan.

I’m a firm believer that no one ever had a money problem.  They may have had an idea problem, a motivation problem, a management problem, or a lack of direction problem, but money is never the cause of your problems.  Money is a result.

Last year, there were several million quarter-inch drill bits sold in North America.  Ironically, no one really wants a quarter-inch drill bit.  They simply want a quarter-inch hole.  In much the same way, no one wants money.  They want the things and the security that money can bring.  We would be foolish, if not insane, to desire a huge pile of dirty, crumpled-up slips of paper with pictures of dead presidents.  What we want, instead, are the homes, cars, vacations, college educations, and retirements money can buy.  In The Ultimate Financial Plan we give readers the tools that they need to make their money start working for them as hard as they have worked for their money.

These are confusing and frustrating times in the financial world.  Your retirement plan has probably lost value, your savings may have dwindled, and you may be questioning the value of your home.  It is more important than ever that you keep your financial goals in mind and make sure that your money plan is custom designed to get you from here to there.

The current financial cycles will inevitably change, and there will be better days again and difficult days will follow that.  The important thing is that you know where you’re going and how you’re going to get there.

As you go through your day today, remember:  Money is a tool and a vehicle.  It can serve you if you will harness and control it.

Today’s the day!

— by Jim Stovall

Why I Gave Away My Company To Charity

A Guest Post From Derek Sivers

Tim’s Note: In last week’s post, “It’s About You, Not Me,” I announced that to celebrate the release of my new book co-authored with Jim Stovall, The Ultimate Financial Plan, I’d be featuring four consecutive guest posts from some of the most compelling authors and bloggers you’ll read today.  I can’t tell you how honored I am that any of them—much less all four—would’ve accepted my invitation, and we get kicked off today with a post that will blow your mind from entrepreneur and best-selling author, Derek Sivers.

In short, Derek is a musician with enough technical ingenuity, passion and vision to have truly changed the way music is delivered today.  (You’ve probably benefited from his work without even knowing it!) 

Frustrated that there were no online outlets on which independent musicians (most of the musicians out there who haven’t received a big record contract), could sell their music, Derek created one, simply to sell his own music.  After a few other bands asked if he could replicate the trick on their websites, he realized he may be able to create a company that would provide this and other services to independent musicians.  Years later, Apple’s famous leader, Steve Jobs, was knocking on Derek’s door asking him to make his extensive online library of independent music available on iTunes.[i][ii] 

At the peak of his success, Derek felt the call to leave his baby—CD Baby—in the qualified hands of others and he sold the company.  For $22 million! (Not bad for a “struggling musician.”)  But get this—he had already placed CD Baby in a trust that would irrevocably give the proceeds to charity.  Here’s a piece of his story:

Two friends were at a party held at the mansion of a billionaire. One said, “Wow! Look at this place! This guy has everything!” The other said, “Yes, but I have something he’ll never have: enough.

When I decided to sell my company in 2008, I already had enough.

I live simply. I hate waste and excess. I have a good apartment, a good laptop, and a few other basics. But the less I own, the happier I am. The lack of possessions gives me the priceless freedom to live anywhere anytime.

Having too much money can be harmful. It throws off perspective. It makes people do stupid things like buy “extra” cars or houses they don’t use – or upgrade to first class for “only” $10,000 so they can be a little more comfortable for a few hours.

So I didn’t need or even want the money from the sale of the company. I just wanted to make sure I had enough for a simple comfortable life. The rest should go to music education, since that’s what made such a difference in my life.

So I found a great way to do this. I created a charitable trust called the “Independent Musicians Charitable Remainder Unitrust.” When I die, all of its assets will go to music education. But while I’m alive, it pays out 5% of its value per year to me.

(Note: 5% is the minimum allowed by law. It’s still too much. I would have preferred 1%, but oh well. I’m free to use it to start new businesses to help people, or whatever.)

A few months before the sale, I transferred the ownership of CD Baby and HostBaby, all the intellectual property like trademarks and software, into the trust.

It was irreversibly and irrevokably gone. It was no longer mine. It all belonged to the charitable trust.

Then, when Disc Makers bought it, they bought it not from me but from the trust, turning it into $22 million cash to benefit music education.

So instead of me selling the company – (getting taxed on the income, and giving what’s left to charity) – that move of giving away the company to charity then having the charity sell it saved about $5 million in taxes. (That means $5 million more going to music education.)

Also, the move of giving it away into a trust now – instead of holding on to it until I die – means its investments get to grow and compound tax-free for life, which again means more goes to musicians in the end.

I’m only writing this article because many people have asked why I gave it away, so I thought I’d write my long explanation once and for all.

It’s not that I’m altruistic. I’m sacrificing nothing. I’ve just learned what makes me happy. And doing it this way made me the happiest.

I get the deeper happiness of knowing the lucky streak I’ve had in my life will benefit tons of people – not just me.

I get the pride of knowing I did something irreversibly smart before I could change my mind.

I get the safety of knowing I won’t be the target of a frivolous lawsuit, since I have very little net worth.

I get the unburdened freedom of having it out of my hands so I can’t do something stupid.

But most of all, I get the constant priceless reminder that I have enough.

I have not seen anyone more personify “The Gift of Enough,” as Jim and I discuss it in The Ultimate Financial Plan.  I encourage you to indulge in more of Derek’s story outlined in his book, Anything You Want.  The surprises don’t end with his massive gift, and whether you’re a successful business owner or a starving artist, you’ll find a ton of money-and-life wisdom in his book and his blog.

Thanks for sharing part of your story with us, Derek!

[i] Since when does Steve Jobs have to ask for ANYTHING??  (Except, of course, for rights to the Beatles library…which he eventually got.)

[ii] Interestingly, I’ve had the privilege to see Derek’s brainchild at work.  Outside of personal finance, my foremost hobby is music, and as the drummer for my brother’s band—The Jon Maurer Band—we were recently able to release our debut EP through the company Derek created, CD Baby.  For little more than peanuts, here’s what our profile page looks like on the CD Baby site: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/thejonmaurerband.

It’s About You, Not Me

I announced a few weeks ago that my second book, a co-authored project with best-selling author, Jim Stovall, would be coming out shortly.  Upon release of that news and the book’s title—The Ultimate Financial Plan—a few of my closest friends gave me some good-natured ribbing for a title that could be presumed a dubious self-proclamation of preeminence.  So although I know they were only kidding, I’d like to use this as an opportunity to explain the origin and meaning of the title and make an exciting announcement about TimMaurer.com blog posts in the month of September.

Jim Stovall and I believe with every fiber of our beings that contained in this book is, indeed, the ultimate financial plan.  However, it’s not about us.  We don’t claim to be the brightest financial minds in the universe.  We don’t purport this book to be the number one source of all facts and numbers pertaining to the discipline of personal finance (thank goodness, because it would be too long and boring).  Nor do we allege it to contain the most cutting edge thinking that will revolutionize the business or practice of financial planning — with an advisor or on your own.

Personal finance is more personal than it is finance.

The reason we believe this to be the ultimate offering in its genre is quite the opposite.  It’s not so much about us, but more about YOU.  This book is strenuously focused on you, your values and your plans for the present and future.  We may appear to represent a financial industry, which, even after a timeless humbling through the financial crisis, still seems to muster a condescending tone.  Even some of my favorite personal finance gurus are famous for calling out the stupidity of their followers.  But we’re not.  We’re not talking down to you from the pulpit, but instead across the table.  We’re not sharing insight about concepts we’ve ginned up to sell a book.  We’re sharing personal narratives and experiences we’ve gained from employing these concepts—both in our own lives and in the lives of those we advise and influence.

Let’s also not forget this book is another in a series of books Jim has written that began with The Ultimate Gift.  Selling more than four million copies and seeing it turned into a movie starring James Garner, Brian Dennehy and Abigail Breslin was affirmation enough that the heart of Jim’s novel, a story about a wayward young man learning to earn his inheritance, impacted people deeply.   It was followed by The Ultimate Life (also soon to be released as a movie).  Frankly, when I approached Jim about co-authoring a book that would allow the timeless wisdom of The Ultimate Gift to be translated through a personal finance guidebook, he hesitated, having maintained a personal policy of not co-authoring.  But then Jim realized this could be his contribution to a world ever increasingly in need of applicable wisdom facing the big climb out of the financial crisis crater.

Simply put, we believe personal finance is more personal than it is finance, so our stories and advice and practical applications are skewed heavily in that direction.

A very special September

We’re going to commit a cardinal marketing sin and take the focus further off of us just as this week marks our official promotional kick-off of the book’s release.  Over the next four weeks, I’ll be featuring guest posts from four world-class authors and bloggers that have been an inspiration to me and millions of others through their work.  I’m honored and humbled that they’ve each shown a willingness to engage you, personally, on this blog.  You’ll surely not want to miss them:

  • Thursday, September 8th, you’ll enjoy a post from entrepreneur and the best-selling author of Anything You Want, Derek Sivers, explaining why he, after building a company that revolutionized the music sales industry (CD Baby), gave the $22 million proceeds from its sale to charity.  (Yes, you read that correctly.)
  • Thursday, September 15th, I’ll share a post from Chris Guillebeau, a travel and career author and blogger whose every move is followed by over 150,000 online readers.  Chris took the time to entertain and educate us on “The $30 Hotel and the Battleship Slumber Party.”
  • Thursday, September 22nd, our guest post will come from J.D. Roth.  J.D. is a blogging pioneer in the realm of personal finance who started the uber-successful blog, “Get Rich Slowly,” voted as one of Time magazine’s “Best Blogs of 2011.”  J.D. will be sharing his take on the intensely personal elements of personal finance.
  • Finally, on Thursday, September 29, I’m excited to see what Carl Richards has drawn up for us.  Carl is the cutting edge financial planner who has worked his way into the hearts of so many through his Behavior Gap blog featured in the New York Times, employing little more than a sharp wit and a Sharpie pen in his exploration of the relationship between money and values.

I look forward to bringing you these world class writers through TimMaurer.com.

Oh, and by the way…

The Ultimate Financial Plan IS now available for purchase on Amazon.com and Barnesandnoble.com.  You can also purchase it on your Kindle  and you should see it available on your Nook and in bookstores everywhere within a week.  Thanks for passing the word if you’re so inclined!

Twitter—A resource, not a popularity contest

If you live in the MidAtlantic, how did you confirm it was an earthquake that shook the ground on Tuesday, the 23rd[i]?  You probably asked someone in your office if they felt that or picked up the phone to ask another scantily qualified source the same question.  That’s what my wife did, and the phones didn’t work, only further exacerbating her fear.  I looked at my phone and checked Twitter. 

In last week’s post, I referenced a pot-stirring discussion I started within the financial planning community via the no-longer-new-fangled communication medium known as Twitter, and I promised to devote this week’s post to this phenomenon-turned-convention that, after a couple years of stumbling and bumbling through, I’m finally learning how to use effectively.

I am not one of the early adopters, embracing every technological innovation.  For example,  I scoffed at the notion of reading a book on anything other than paper pages, and only became a Kindle convert after my well-read mother showed her own willingness to embrace an e-reader (in her case, a Nook).  I also tried Twitter for the first time about two years ago, prodded by a well-intended arm twister encouraging me, “You’ve gotta be on Twitter!”  The first time, I gave up on it in spirit after about two days.  The Twitter canvas was too broad for me to understand and appeared to lack any depth or genuine import.  I struggled to know why I should care what anyone is doing multiple times throughout the day.  I cancelled my first account after only weeks.

But as the medium started to become more ubiquitous, most of those who I respected as communicators in more traditional veins began to embrace Twitter.  I started to explore the concept more and read how others I respected were using it effectively.  The second time I approached Twitter, then, I came willingly, not out of compulsion.

The result?  Twitter has become my number one source for quality information intake.

For starters, let’s explore what Twitter actually is.  It’s a communication medium in which messages are sent and read—the catch is that these messages are limited to no more than 140 characters.  They’re not captured, like an email, but instead they scroll as they are submitted.  Like me, you might wonder what of much value can be said in little more than a short sentence, but among those 140 characters can (and often is) a link to an external URL—a web address that takes you to a particular article or blog post.  Now, when each of my favorite reporters at institutions like the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Money, Kiplinger’s Personal Finance or the New York Times, or online outlets like TheStreet.com, writes an article they send a Twitter notification to all of their followers.

The revelation I had about Twitter was that although it can be a very effective tool for sending a message, it’s an even better mechanism for scanning and receiving information—quality information, not just where B celebrities are having lunch.  So, even if you don’t care to say anything on Twitter, you’re welcome to open an account and just start following the people whose writing and preferences interest you.  And, if they start sharing too much information for your taste, you simply stop following them.

If I’ve tempted you to consider Twitter, let me bring you up to speed on the vital Twitter terminology you’ll want to understand to make yours a beneficial experience:

  • Handle:  A handle is the actual string of letters and numbers preceded by an @ sign, with which you’re identified on Twitter.  You can keep it simple, like me, and use some variant of your name—@TimMaurer—or you might use something more creative and clever, like the personal finance blogger I follow, @feedthepig.  Twitter sign-up is free and can be done at www.twitter.com.
  • Tweets:  Tweets are the 140 character messages you create and read.  (I guess that makes those of us utilizing the medium either a Tweeter or a Twit!)
  • Retweets:  When you read something you like or support (or disagree with), you can retweet the original message, as-is or with your comments.
  • Followers:  Whether you’re on Facebook or not, you’re no doubt familiar with their terminology by now.  On Facebook, you collect “friends.”  On Twitter, they’re called “followers.”  When you search a particular person or information outlet, you are given the option to follow them; if you do so, you become their follower.  If you’re broadcasting information, those you attract will be your followers.  Unlike Facebook, however, you don’t need permission to follow someone; but they’re under no compulsion to follow you back unless they choose to do so.  Initially, I was taught to just start following people for the purpose of attracting followers—and indeed, you’ll see a lot of people out there who have thousands of followers, but who follow almost exactly the same number.  I don’t have the time or desire to follow thousands of people, sorting the wheat from the chaff, so I follow only those whom I want to follow.  I view Twitter not as a popularity contest (a conviction more likely to fall on Facebook), but as a resource.
  • Stream:  Your stream is the running commentary of those you follow viewed on your computer or mobile device.
  • Lists: Lists are the way to make Twitter work for you.  Undoubtedly, you have various interests in life—vocational, financial, recreational, spiritual and beyond—and the creation of lists will help you hone what it is you want to read.  For example, create your own newspaper list; a list with reporters from all of your favorite traditional and online news outlets.  Each morning, wake up and see what they’re reporting. For example, I enjoy the Wall Street Journal reporter, Jason Zweig’s, market commentary, so I’m following @jasonzweigwsj.  (Recognize, though, if you follow an entire media outlet, you’re going to get ALL the news they’re sending and that may clutter your Twitter stream.)  Some of the lists I’ve created are “Best of,” “Personal (and other) Finance,” “Writing & Publishing,” “News,” “Music & Art” and “Life & Faith.”  Your lists can be public or private, and you can subscribe to the lists of those you follow and respect.
  • Twitter Terminology:  There is a lot of Twitter code out there, most of which I probably don’t know or understand, but the most common and powerful is no doubt the hash tag—#.  Hash tags can be created by anyone and they are ways for people to track particular discussion threads or trends.  The best example I can give you is that when I attended a recent financial planning conference, many of the attendees were using a common hash tag tweeting out great quotes from various sessions.  The hash tag was a way for all of the attendees to track the conference, even if we weren’t following each other.  This works for everything from #financialplanning to #mozart to #bacon.

Twitter may not be something in which you’ve been able to find value, so I’m not twisting your arm, telling you you’ve got to get involved with Twitter.  You don’t.  But I do think it could bring value to your pursuit of topics relating to money and life.  Enjoy!

By the way, if you’re new to Twitter and have any difficulty applying any of the above mentioned advice, please use the comments section of this post to ask any questions you have.  And some of you are far more adept in the art of Twitter—if that’s you, please feel free to correct or add to anything I’ve said in the comments section!

[i] A very important note here is that earthquakes are not covered under most homeowner’s insurance policies.  We don’t think about earthquakes much on the east coast, but we were reminded yet again recently that we DO actually live on a fault line.  For more information on the importance of adding earthquake coverage to your homeowner’s policy, read this past blog post: “Would your homeowner’s policy cover an earthquake?”