The Gift That Keeps On Taking!

07-12-27-lexus-red-bow “Let’s be honest. No one ever wished for a smaller holiday gift.”  So starts a TV commercial that seems to be running in nearly every commercial block throughout the month of December.  Since it’s not my desire to shed a bad light on the company who developed this marketing pitch, I’ll not mention them, but only give you a hint: it rhymes with Schmexus.

They make excellent cars, and many would argue they do so at a reasonable value as compared to other luxury car makers.  The beef I have with them, and nearly every other luxury car maker, is that they ask us to actually make the purchase of one of their vehicles a Christmas present.  What does that do to your gift budget?  Is stacking another $37,975 (to over $50,000 with all the options) on top of your existing holiday gift budget doable?

Cousin-eddie As Cousin Eddie said in Christmas Vacation: “Clark, that’s the gift that keeps on giving the whole year!” (Watch that hysterical clip by clicking HERE.)  For most, the purchase of a new car is the gift that keeps on TAKING the whole year… or two, or five or six.  If, for example, you get the top of the line stocking stuffer, even with “attractive financing options at 1.9%,” you’ll be paying over $850 PER MONTH for FIVE YEARS!  

I’m not expecting ad agencies to provide us with an ethical foundation as consumers—it could easily be argued that it’s their objective to melt away our common financial sense this holiday season.  But as I find myself staring longingly at luxury SUVs beset with bows as big as a Christmas tree, I thought it might be valuable to remind myself—and anyone else who might be susceptible to an indulgent moment this time of year—that a $50,000 present that requires an amortized mortgage on a depreciating asset isn’t really a gift…but instead, a burden.

I’m going to take off posting this Friday, so MERRY CHRISTMAS!!

And check out WBAL-TV 11 in Baltimore this Sunday, the 26th at 9:15am, when I’ll be sharing some of these thoughts live.

Belts and Budgets

1269613009money-belt Ahh, the holidays.  That time of year when spirits are lifted and offenses are forgiven.  When the smell of wassail and a freshly cut Fraser fir wafts through the home.  And, of course, it’s a time when both belts and budgets are stretched, almost as if it’s tradition.  I try never to ask of you something that I’ve not struggled with and asked of myself.  So it is with humility that I offer this prescription for a merrier Christmas and happier New Year regarding belts and budgets:

Eat and spend less.

Deep, huh?  Actually, it is.  Most of the mechanics of successful money and life management are embarrassingly simple; it is WE—you and me—who are hard to manage.  This stuff may be simple, but it’s certainly not easy.

The first question we should ask is, “Am I a natural?”  Do I have an innate proclivity for success in the realms of food and financial-based consumption?  Some people are blessed with a body that can incur a high-caloric blitzkrieg and not seem worse for doing so, but that’s a tiny minority.  For the rest of us, we must reach a mathematical equilibrium in which we’re expending a proportionate amount of the calories we take in.  Then, each of us has a physiological disposition that either makes it harder or easier to reach a comfortable and healthy balance.  That last component is what makes dieting a challenge—many of the variables are unseen.

Budgeting has a similar set of variables.  Money comes in and money goes out.  The primary objective is to spend less than you take in, and the “physiological disposition” equivalent in personal finance is the amount, frequency and variability in the level of income.  It is, necessarily, easier for a family with one monthly paycheck and a set of monthly bills to manage household cash flow than it is for a two-income family with self-employed individuals responsible for the income.  But regardless of the level of complexity, believe me when I tell you that there are natural budgeters—those who have a tendency to spend less than they take in—and those with a predisposition for over-consumption.  Hopefully you’re one.  (Frankly, I’m not.  It’s work.)

The first step towards managing each of these topics well, especially around the holidays when the challenge is exacerbated, is to know where we are weakest.  For food consumption, behold the “French Fry Rule”:  Know the extent of your will power.  For me, I’ve learned that I AM capable of saying NO when the server asks me, “Would you like French fries with that?”  But once the fries are on my plate, I will, invariably, eat them!  Know where (and also when) your will power is strong and weak, and play to your strengths.

When it comes to financial overindulgence, consider “The Four Forms of Money Rule”:  There are four primary forms of money—cash, checks, debit cards and credit cards—and each of us is most responsible with one and least responsible with one.  Personally, I am least responsible with cash.  If cash is in my pocket, much like if French Fries are on my plate, I’m going to dispose of it!

The key to success in both healthy budgeting and eating is to KNOW YOURSELF.  Don’t allow yourself to deceive…yourself.  Be honest and give yourself a fighting chance by playing to your strengths and avoiding your weaknesses.  And when you start to hear that lie in your head, pouting that you’re depriving yourself of a well-deserved treat, remind “it” that the balance and comfort you’ll feel when the temptation has passed is a far more desirable than the momentary indulgence.  As my good friend, Pat Goodman, tells me, “You must not only want what you want; you must want what your wants lead to!”

And if you think I’m asking too much of you, check out Leo Babauta’s blog post entitled, “The Case Against Buying Christmas Presents.”  I’m not necessarily suggesting you go that far, but Leo shares some great wisdom in here that speaks to the underlying causes of holiday-specific excess in spending and takes it to another level.

Pogo Stick Retirement Planning (for Younger Generations)

Pogo stick
While most of my career has been spent advising the Depression Baby and Baby Boomer generations, I have a real heart for younger generations… which, for those of you who know me personally, should come as no surprise.  After all, I’m a Gen-Xer myself.  I’m married (ten years this April) with two energetic boys, ages 5 and almost 7, so I’m right in the thick of it with many of my peers who have built their careers and financial lives in a decade that has delivered the highest level of stock market and real estate volatility since the Great Depression.  And while the complexity in planning for 30- and 40-somethings is often not as great as those who’ve traveled further down life’s winding path, there is no denying that our planning needs range the broadest spectrum imaginable in personal finance.

Some of these topics, such as retirement, appear almost beyond the grasp of younger generations because the variables are so many and the timeline so long.  Indeed, for those closer to the front-end of our retirement journey, we’re faced with a daunting task indeed.  The retirement planning “three-legged stool”—once consisting of a corporate pension, a Social Security retirement benefit and personal savings (savings, 401ks & IRAs) is now the retirement pogo stick!  It’s on us—you and me—to fund our own retirements.  Further complicating matters, doctors suggest that the quantity of life for Gen X and Yer's may far exceed that of our parents and grandparents.  We’re likely to live a long time, but the quality of life—to the degree that it is improved by cash flow—is in question because of the burden of saving.

Last week, I focused on two retirement planning “silver bullets” for hopeful Boomer retirees (Part I & Part II) who may fear that a decade of economic uncertainty has put their goal for a comfortable retirement out of reach.  Here’s how the two concepts I shared are applied to younger generations:

MOVE: The disparity in cost of living across our great country is so vast that it’s almost unfathomable.  I encouraged those on the home stretch of retirement that one could take a failing financial scenario in Parkton, MD—a typical northeast suburban environment—and transplant it in Knoxville, TN, where the same exact home equity and retirement savings would allow them to live happily ever after… financially speaking.  The advantage YOU have is that you can make a decision NOW to take advantage of this geographic arbitrage in advance.  You can CHOOSE to live in a higher cost-of-living area now while keeping an eye on another area to which you might like to transition later in life to give your plan for financial independence a turbo boost.  (Check out the cost-of-living in your area and dream about others with this tool: 

WORK: The second silver bullet for near retirees is to transition from a higher-paying job that feels like a grind to a job that they love for less pay, fully recognizing that both medically and financially speaking, we’re really all better off working indefinitely.  The bad news for Baby Boomersis that many grew up with a more utopian view of retirement… that they’d work for “X” number of years and then cast off the chains of employment to spend their latter years in the lap of leisure, if not luxury.  We, however, should simply never buy this lie propagated by the behemoth financial industry, preferring to dangle the carrot of unencumbered bliss on our horizon so that we’d stay on the hamster wheel of hording in the accounts they manage for fees and commissions.  We should EXPECT that we’ll be working indefinitely, and, facing that reality, we should work tirelessly to seek and find that career that doesn’t feel like work.  We can be financially independent as early as our 30s, not because we’ve saved a few million bucks by then (although that wouldn’t hurt), but because we’re working because we WANT to, not because we HAVE to.

What younger generations have lost is the hope that we’ll be able to rely on someone or something else to take care of us financially in our later phases of life.  What we have gained is the freedom and flexibility to pursue a life that is uniquely ours.  Enjoy every minute of it!


Retirement Planning Silver Bullets, Part I (of 2)

Moving truck A recent Wall Street Journal article by Karen Damato entitled, “Retiring in 10 years? Uh-Oh,” addressed a justified fear striking the hearts of millions of prospective retirees: that they won’t be able to afford to retire.  The article is well founded and focuses largely on the investment aspects of retirement planning—the schizophrenic battle in retirement nest eggs to seek growth to make up for past losses while attempting to adequately ensure capital preservation.  The focus of this first of two posts is to provide you with one of the most powerful things you can do, OUTSIDE of your investment portfolio, to improve your retirement plan: MOVE.

If you are already retired or planning to be so within the next 10 years, as the WSJ article clearly articulates, you cannot solely rely on compounded portfolio growth to save you.  Additionally, you may find yourself on the wrong end of the real estate bubble with substantially diminished equity in your home and more debt than can be floated without a salary (and a dwindling desire to perpetuate that salary).  What’s left? MOVE, to a lower cost of living area.

This maneuver is especially compelling when contrasting the highest cost of living areas with the lowest.  According to, an online resource estimating the cost of living in areas across the country, the median home price in Chevy Chase Village, a DC suburb in Maryland, is $1,022,570 and the cost of living is 166% higher than the U.S. average!  Whereas, the median home price in the Great Recession bludgeoned, Detroit, is $65,440, with a cost of living 23.30% lower than the U.S. average.

But if that comparison appears all too convenient and unrealistic, consider this contrast: Baltimore suburb, Parkton, MD, boasts a median home price of $444,350 and a cost of living 54% higher than the U.S. average.  Meanwhile, Knoxville, TN, the engaging home of the University of Tennessee, has a median home price of $125,930 and a cost of living 15% lower than the national average… and it doesn’t snow as much.

Let’s picture a prospective couple in Parkton, trying to figure out their plan for retirement:

In Parkton

  • Home now worth $500,000o
  • $200,000 — mortgage (from college costs and home improvements when house was worth $600,000 and rising)
  • Need $100,000 of income to cover annual expenses
    • Mortgage principal and interest payment ($200k loan @ 5% for 15years) = $19k per year
    • Income need less mortgage = $81,000o
  • Took pension lump-sum offer, invested in 401k, total retirement assets of $800,000o
  • Social Security plus 4% withdrawal from retirement accounts = $50,000 (50% of estimated need)

In Knoxville

  • Comparable home purchased for $200,000—mortgage free
  • $100,000 additional net proceeds from home sale added to retirement nest egg, now $900,000
  • According to cost of living ratio, $45,360 income in Knoxville would feel like $81,000 in Parkton
  • Social Security plus 4% withdrawal from retirement accounts = $54,000 (119% of estimated need)

If you find yourself in a retirement planning pickle, I’m not suggesting you read this and put a for sale sign in your yard.  COST of living should not be confused with QUALITY of living, and if your geography and proximity to friends and family is where you derive the most joy, it’s not my suggestion that you have a financial duty to uproot.  But, if you’ve reached a retirement plan dead-end and find yourself without options and a yearning for a refreshing change of pace, there is no question that transplanting your financial life to a lower cost of living area can transform a bleak retirement plan into one that is quite comfortable.

Part Two (of two) of Retirement Planning Silver Bullets will be released on Friday, December 10th.

Gifting: The Pressure is OFF

A-christmas-story-ralphie-santa We’re now in the midst of Hanukkah and Christmas will be here in a few short weeks.  The Season of Giving, right?  And with all of the great things about this season also comes gifting stress.  You know how it works…You get together with someone this time of year for lunch or coffee and they come bearing gifts.  You immediately feel like a putz because you didn’t get one, so as soon as you leave, you head to the mall and buy them a gift…out of guilt.

Or, your children spend the entire month of December hearing about all the presents that their friends at school are going to get.  They start listing out the aggregate of ALL the gifts they’ve been hearing about at school on a daily basis and you are burdened by the thought that your child might be hanging his or her head at the lunch table when all the kids are discussing what they got.  So, you get them…everything.

You have a new boyfriend, girlfriend, fiancé or spouse and this is your first holiday season together, so you decide that you’re going to show them you know how to do it right.  And, you’re scared to death that they are going to outspend you, so you make sure that they don’t…out of fear.

Fear and guilt are not good motivators.   Thoughtful, heartfelt impulsion, on the other hand, is a great way to gift.  So, if you’re a last minute gift buyer like me, I suggest that you sit down and think about who you feel impelled to give a gift to, and then actually apply a budget to each gift – a guideline on how much you want to spend.  NEVER use credit to pay for a gift, because then you start the New Year off with a lower net worth than you had the day after Thanksgiving.  If you free yourself from giving out of guilt or fear, you’ll enjoy the season all the more.

The Cure For Greed

Interesting, isn’t it, how all that seems to be good about the holiday season recently incepted also seems to be accompanied by something… less than good?  Along with the bountiful feast on Thanksgiving comes the gluttony of eating like animals preparing for hibernation.  Along with the tradition of competitive college and professional football comes the sloth of watching three games… back-to-back… in the same spot… on the same couch.  And along with the season of giving comes the season of frenzied consumption, driven by marketing that at times seems downright manipulative.

Please don’t perceive my tone as judgmental; I only used the examples mentioned because they are those temptations to which I am most susceptible.  I am not a member of the naturally frugal minority condemning the profligate materialistic majority.  It is, after all, my tendency to prefer more over less, better over worse, cool over dorky and hip over unfashionable.

So it is with humility, then, that I posit this “Cure for Greed,” learned quite unintentionally through an experience many years ago that helps me avoid succumbing to the tug of materialism, an enticement we all face daily:

What It’s NOT and What It IS

Humblepie_medium I’m convinced that men posses a tendency that occasionally, but predictably, propels a misnomer out of our mouths to demonstrate our obtuseness and invite a hefty slice of Thanksgiving-sized humble pie, lest our egos inflate beyond a manageable size.  Recently I was invited, in the presence of my wife and a few other couples, to join a group of men on an outing designed to reset our testosterone levels—something having to do with cards and viewing a football game on an over-sized television.

My eyes lit up, until I received a loving nudge from my bride reminding me that she was already committed that night and had asked me to manage the home front.  Not begrudgingly—because, indeed, I love the opportunity to get some quality time with my two adventurous boys, ages 5 and 6—I innocently responded that I was not able to join the guys because, “I’m babysitting that night.”  As it turns out, fathers are apparently not supposed to refer to watching their own children as “babysitting.”  Ahhhhh.  Lesson learned!

Words are important.  Words are powerful.  They can stop tears from running down the face of a little one and bind two people together for life, but they can also deflate a person’s will and manipulate.  Two of the terms in my vocational realm that are so often misused are “Financial Planning” and “Financial Advising.”  What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I ask, “What is financial planning/advising?”  My guess is that 65% of people assume the term is synonymous with the sale or management of investments by a stockbroker.  The other 30% probably think that it is the pursuit of finding the right insurance coverage.

It may be generous to assume that 5% of people have been painted an accurate picture of what true financial planning or advising really is.  One thing that makes accurate discernment so difficult regarding this terminology is that financial planning does, indeed, include investment planning and insurance planning.  But if the advice stops there, it’s not genuine financial planning.  The primary reason that financial planning has been viewed in such a modular fashion is that the behemoth financial industry realized, before financial planning even became a thing, that couching product sales in the appearance of sound planning and advice was good business.  But, at the end of the day, financial planning with a brokerage firm inevitably leads almost solely to the sale of brokerage products; with banks, banking products; and with insurance companies, insurance products.  Below you’ll find a glossary with more complete definitions of the fundamental tenets of true financial planning and advice; what it’s NOT and what it IS:

  • Investment planning—Is NOT merely the sale of stocks, bonds and mutual funds; it IS determining how all of the assets in your life—including stocks, bonds and mutual funds, but also real estate, commodities and entrepreneurial ventures—intersect with life and move you closer to your goals and objectives.
  • Insurance planning—Is NOT just about buying prescribed insurance products; it IS learning how to manage risk first through risk avoidance, risk reduction and risk assumption before transferring risk through insurance products.
  • Cash flow/budget planning—Is NOT just for the under-resourced living paycheck-to-paycheck; it IS the engine of every household’s sound financial plan, just as it is for every successful business.
  • Tax planning—Is NOT having your tax return prepared or jamming your numbers through Turbo Tax; it IS planning for the present, but also the mid-term and the long-term regarding payroll taxes, income tax, capital gains tax, tax deferral, gift tax, inheritance tax and estate tax.
  • Education planning—Is NOT sloughing a random chunk of money every month into an education savings plan to assuage your guilt that you’re too busy keeping your own financial house in order to apply much thought to the cost of your children’s education; it IS first developing a Family Education Policy (here’s how much mom and dad are willing to pay and the terms you need to meet to receive that help) and then establishing a deliberate plan to meet those goals, some of which should be saved in a 529 education savings plan.
  • Retirement planning—Is NOT slaving away at a job you don’t love so that you can shelve as much of your income as humanly possible in a 401k and IRAs to which you’ll look for financial salvation in a retirement that can’t come soon enough; it IS, first and foremost, finding a career that you can enjoy indefinitely so that you are always employable (the BEST insurance against running out of income in retirement), saving effectively for financial independence while also allocating dollars to enjoying life today and in the mid-term.
  • Estate planning—Is NOT sleeping through an expensive meeting with an attorney to have documents drafted that you don’t understand; it IS examining the impact that you’d like to leave on this earth and implementing tangible plans—yes, through wills, powers of attorney, advance directives and occasionally other trusts, but also—designed to create a legacy, no matter your age.

Speak well.  Plan well.  Live well!

Selfish Generosity

The-art-of-non-conformity-set-your-own-rules-live-the-life-you-want-and-change-the-world Chris Guillebeau is an interesting dude.  I had the chance to hang out with him recently when he was stopping in Baltimore on his book tour in support of his new book, The Art of Non-Conformity, and I interviewed Chris on the radio show, Money, Riches & Wealth.  In case you’ve never heard of Chris and require a little more buy-in to believe he’s worthy of the “interesting” label, my summary following should do the trick:

Chris quit high-school after his freshman year, got his GED, snuck into community college, finished hisundergrad degree in 2 years (your math is correct—at that point, he wouldn’t have even finished high school ordinarily), served with an aid organization in Africa for several years, came back to the states to complete grad school, began to blog, became a professional writer and then wrote a book including a chapter in which he calculates to the penny how he could’ve gotten more education for far less outside of grad school rather than in.

You might expect this rebel with a cause to be a loud, type-A, bull-in-a-china-shop sort, but I was somewhat surprised to learn he’s actually a soft-spoken introvert.  That hasn’t stopped him from communicating a truck-load of wisdom, certainly through his book, The Art of Non-Conformity, but even more so through his online presence (which you can enjoy at

And here’s the most interesting thing about Chris and his vision that separates him from the vast majority of vocational self-help voices:

He doesn’t think it’s all about YOU (or him or me).

Way too many books—most glaringly, The Secret—have attempted to make us followers by courting us with self-centric pronouncements that WE are each the center of a universe that is waiting to dutifully serve us all the success and money we could dream of if we simply dedicate our every thought and action to that “reality.”   Mr. Guillebeau, on the other hand, sends a strikingly non-hedonistic message.  Sure, he believes that we should be enjoying nearly every minute of our education and job, but instead of attracting us with visions of living endless hours with our toes in the sand and a fruity umbrella drink in hand, he encourages us to live a life filled with purpose and work that may be enriching, but definitely fulfilling.

He believes that in order for us to be entirely fulfilled with our life’s work, we need to be serving someone other than ourselves; that we—regardless of our age—must be building a legacy, not just an estate.  He calls it “selfish generosity.”  Doing something good for others that is also good for you.  If you struggle to believe that one can find financial stability, or even affluence, by pursuing a vocational course that doesn’t seek first and always to serve oneself, take a look at, well, Chris.  Or, have some fun learning about Blake Mycoskie, the young entrepreneur who started a phenomenally successful, for-profit shoe company—TOMS Shoes—on the premise that they would give away one pair of shoes for every pair sold. One-for-one.

Aw, I don’t know…the whole greed-centered focus worked out so well in the Great Recession, though! (Sorry, I’m obviously struggling with my 2010 New Year’s Resolution to avoid the use of sarcasm…)

Listen to just a few minutes of my interview with Chris Guillebeau on this topic by clicking here:


Chris Inteview



Ben Franklin Was Wrong!

Benjamin-franklin-dollar-billBen Frankin was, without question, a man of wisdom.  He was right about many things, but one area in which I must respectfully disagree with the sage is his insistence that the only certainties in this life are death and taxes.  Of course, taxes and death are hard to avoid, but there are also other things in life that we will most definitely not evade.  In this last of an 18 blog series on the subject matter contained in the book I co-authored with best-selling author, Jim Stovall, we address another one of those certainties and the steps that one must take to adapt and thrive in the face of it.

 From The Financial Crossroads, Chapter 18, “Your Story, Your Plan”:

We have made reference in other parts of the book to the oft quoted phrase about death and taxes.  I enjoy history, so I had to trace its origin.  It appears that Daniel Defoe, in 1726, was the first to make this now famous claim, albeit more eloquently: “Things as certain as death and taxes, can be more firmly believed.”  Much closer to the modern day phrase, however, was Ben Franklin’s redux in a letter to Jean-Baptiste Leroy in 1789, in which he said, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Regardless of the veracity of this line of thought, I find it all quite depressing.  But I do think that we could turn this into a phrase in which we’d all agree: One guarantee in this world is change.

Do you embrace, reject, resist or retreat from change?  The fact that you purchased this book tells me you probably don’t reject it.  That you read this far tells me you probably don’t resist it.  The question now, however, is whether you will embrace it or retreat from it.  The easier path is to retreat, because as Arnold Bennett tells us, “even a change for the better, is always accompanied by drawbacks and discomforts.”  Regarding the intersection of money and life, there are two different types of change: fundamental change and practical change.  In a perfect world, fundamental change happens first and practical change follows almost effortlessly.  But fundamental change does not always come easily.  Often times, practical change precedes fundamental change as we allow a discipline to shape our view fundamentally.

A fundamental change is seeing the world as a risk manager; practical change is altering your insurance policies.  Fundamental change is shifting from a retirement plan to a fulfillment plan; practical change is taking degree or certificate college courses that could lead to a job change.  Fundamental change is seeing your estate plan as a legacy plan; practical change is updating your will.

Practical change is cutting up the credit cards, your path to more; fundamental change is genuine contentment with enough.  Practical change is beginning a giving program; fundamental change is having less of an attachment to material things.  Practical change is writing your Personal Money Story; fundamental change is realizing its significance.  Practical change is dealing with the dollars and cents in life; fundamental change is life itself.

Selling Snow Cones To Eskimos

The financial services business is… interesting.  It’s not entirely devoid of good intentions and well-meaning people, but there is no question whose interest is the top priority—and it ain’t yours!  To paint you a picture, I’ve included an excerpt from The Financial Crossroads; the story of how I first entered (then temporarily left) “the business.”

From Chapter Seventeen: Everyone Is Biased:

Snow-cone-210x300 “Everyone is biased.”  Those were the words of a mentor of mine shortly after I entered the business of financial advising.  I had already been working in the financial industry for several years, but this was the second time that my idealistic view of the objective, trusted financial advisor received a healthy dose of reality.  The first time was about three years earlier.  I had just finished celebrating my rite of passage into the stock brokerage world—successful completion of the “Series 7” examination that allows one to sell stocks, bonds, mutual funds, options, and various other securities to the public—when I left my entry-level back office job at a reputable brokerage firm to join a successful team of stock brokers at another firm as a “junior broker.”

I showed up the first day, bright and early, in my token blue pin-striped suit, starched white shirt, and bold power tie.  I sauntered into the team leader’s office to await my very first “Morning Call.”  I listened intently and began feverishly taking notes as a man’s voice rang through a small box detailing the economic events and non-events that were expected to influence the stock and bond markets that day, as well as the state of the current “inventory” that the company held.

As the call wrapped up with a dose of encouragement—akin to a team chant before a football game—I took a deep breath, a final swig of coffee, and moved forward onto the edge of my chair, eagerly awaiting the golden wisdom from my suspender-bound leader as I set out to save the populous from their deviant financial ways.  He stood up, glanced out over the magnificent view of the Baltimore harbor visible from his corner office, and invited me to walk across the hall to get comfortable in my new confines.

He grabbed a three-ring binder, six inches thick, and opened it to the first page.  Then he told me to write down the only note he had taken during the morning call:  “BGE 6.5% Preferred.”  My mission was to call the first number attached to the first name (of many) on the first page (of many) and begin a conversation to help bring whoever answered the phone to the conclusion that they could simply not go another day without putting some of their hard earned money to work for them in this bargain basement deal with an unbeatable yield on this new issue of the bedrock Baltimore utility company’s preferred stock.

I was told to start by putting a smile on my face, because my joy would better translate through the other end of the phone.  I should talk and talk and talk until the voice either transitioned into a static dial tone or submitted to my plea to “talk to the resident expert” in house (my team leader), at which point I should put them on hold and alert the big shark that we had a fish on the line (I’m not stretching the metaphors here; that’s really how they talked).

This was my dream??  Several weeks later, driving home from a client lunch with my leader, I got up the nerve to ask him a question, the answer to which I was dying to know:  “What drives you?  A genuine interest to guide a client to the path of financial success or a pure love of the sale?”

I appreciated his honesty as he let out a “hrmph” and retorted, “The sale—of course!  If this business dried up, I’d sell snow cones to Eskimos!”

He was the resident trainer for the company’s new breed of financial advisors that would guide (or pester) the residents of the Baltimore metropolitan area.  I talked to him a few days later and told him that I felt we had a “philosophical disconnect” in the way we viewed the business.  He agreed, saying, “Yeah, some people just aren’t cut out for the phone,” and we parted on good terms.

The celebrated entrance into the business I had dreamt about since the eighth grade ended in disappointment after only two months.