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Lady Luck can’t have her eye out for all of us…

Sometimes the luck is in my favor.

I know most of you are aware of my Amazon business where I buy and sell a bunch of things.  Whether or not it really can be identified as a business is a topic for debate, I’m sure.  That can be a topic for another day.

This day, however, is going to be dedicated to that dirty idea of “opportunism”.  Whether you call it luck, fate, or fortune, sometimes life presents opportunities that are too good to pass up.  I had one of those encounters the other day.

There is a store I went into that I haven’t visited in a while.  I figured I would just see, on a whim, if there were any products I could resell to jump-start sales online.  Walking through the entire store, I didn’t find a great number of compelling items.  Honestly, my cart had some LED bulbs, and a few jars of coconut oil.  Being ungated in grocery, I can sell it on Amazon, so that was going to be a test purchase.  The bulbs weren’t too interesting to me because it looked like I was only going to be seeing a $1-$2 profit on each bulb sold.  Still a profit though, so I bought everything.

​How is this luck?

I went home and unloaded everything into the house.  I put it all down in my work area so I could list, package and ship everything the next day.  We had some company come over, and I had mentioned to my buddy about the Amazon business.  He was curious about it so I took him downstairs to show him the process.  In doing so, I realized the bulbs are also sold in multi-packs.  Looking at the multi-packs, my small profit just multiplied by a factor of 5.

​So I asked my buddy if he was interested in going for a ride.  We took the Forester because I knew the Jetta wasn’t equipped for this mission.  We drove back to the store, and I asked the first employee I saw, “Hey, how much will you take off the price if I buy ALL of your stock?”  She went to go get the manager, who came over and asked me what I meant.  I explained that I wanted to buy out their entire stock, and he looked at it and said unfortunately they cannot do anything with the price.  It was worth a shot, but I still went ahead and counted out all the bulbs.

Sounds pretty lucky.

​We stuffed the Forester completely full.  To the point that if the store would have required a highway trip, I would have been afraid of being pulled over because there was no seeing out the back.  It took me about 6 hours total to wrap, label, package and ship everything.  They have been selling which is wonderful.

​Nonetheless, luck is no longer in my favor as it seems all of the stores have a cap of 10 per customer now.  I’m not saying I’m responsible, as it could have been just plain luck and a good manager that got me the first purchase.  So the search continues for a profitable and refillable product.

What is in your five year plan?

Do you even have a plan?

The other day I had my monthly team call at work, and one of the elements of the call is “food for thought” story.  I refer to them as “motivational moments”.  The team seems to enjoy them as it breaks up the discussions on work stuff, and provides a little entertainment.  This call’s story was called “5+5=5” and it spoke on the reasons people are not achieving their goals.  See, it is very easy to write out your plan, bucket-list, goals sheet, or whatever you rely on.  However, all too often I hear of people writing them down but then never revisiting them.  I’ve been guilty of it, too.  I found a folded up sheet that had 5 year goals from when I was 22.  I accomplished 1 of the 9…1!!!

I asked my team if they have their plan written somewhere.  Some do, some don’t.  I then asked if they ever pull it out to update, modify, or re-do.  None of them did.  Perhaps you are in the same boat?  Don’t worry, though, because after you read this, you’ll rush to update those plans.

​What is the point of the plan?

​Your plan, whether it be 1-year or 10-years, outlines the items that matter most to you.  Perhaps you hope to buy a new car, or a house, or get married.  Whatever your goal may be, it goes on the list.  BE realistic! If you have no savings and a negative net worth, retirement is unlikely next year.

​The best part about the plan, however, is that once you write down what you hope to accomplish, then you can start identifying the steps it will take to get there.  Now some people find this part daunting, but for me it works best to go backwards from your desired goal.  You want to be financially independent?  You are going to need some sweet investments.  Ok let’s invest some money.  Well, you should probably have a positive net worth.  To get that, it is time to get rid of these college loans.  To do that I need money.  To get money I need more side hustles.

​So at this point I can then start identifying some side hustles to focus on.  Selling items online, copy-writing and editing, web development, the possibilities are endless.

​Yeah, but what about this 5+5=5 thing?

​So the third five is your five-year plan, if you have a ten-year, or a two-year just sub in that number.  Stop worrying about the math, it is just to catch your attention.  Whatever the duration, that is the sum result of the first two fives.

​The first five refers to the five people you spend the most time with, in your life.  Some may even say, these are the five people you care most about, but this doesn’t necessarily have to be the case.  You may have heard this, but there is a popular adage that you become the average of the five people you spend the most time with.  This is the first element of the equation.  If your goal is to run a marathon, but the only running your “fav five” (Thanks T-Mobile,) does is their mouths, there is a much lower likelihood of success for you.

​The second five refers to the last five books you read or listened to.  Audible counts, people.  Seriously, why aren’t you reading more?  If you want to be an entrepreneur, read about it.  Are you interested in finance or investing?  Read a book.  Add more opportunities for learning in your life.  You will be paying yourself in something that no one can ever take from you.  Also, unlike in school, you get to choose everything you read, and learn.

​Get out there and plan for yourself…

​Then come back in a couple years and let’s talk about how you did.  I set the bar pretty low, so there is no way you cannot do better than that sheet I found.

Are efficient companies as great as we are led to believe?

One of the more efficient companies

​Many of you know that I have a side business selling items on Amazon, eBay and many local channels.  While I am in no position to replace my income from my day job, I do okay.  Recently, I had the opportunity to work with one of the major shipping and logistics companies.  This company in particular was routinely lauded throughout my college career as being the pinnacle of logistics, efficient labor and customer service.  Some of the day’s events, though, have led me to question what is going on over there.

Shipping product is a process

I stumbled upon a deal on some light bulbs that I simply could not pass up.  I bought out the stock in the store, and filled my wife’s SUV completely in order to bring them home.  My goal was to list, label, package and ship everything in less than 24 hours like the efficient animal I am.  However, after bringing everything home, I decided to start the process the following morning.

Now, I have been doing the Amazon thing for months now, so I have my own efficient process down fairly well.  I have my printers configured and use a tool so the tags are printed as I enter them into the system.  Then, I tag all the products, but with these being multi-packs I had to wrap them together.  When all was said and done it took me about 6 hours to wrap, tag and pack 252 bulbs.  These were then put into 17 boxes, weighed, shipping purchased, and then everything was labeled and put into the garage.

​My first problem…

​My first problem came when I realized that I didn’t get an option to have the packages picked up.  I figured I could just log into my account and request a pickup like I have done with other shippers in the past.  I could not find any kind of option since I had already paid for shipping.  No problem, I’ll just reach out to Customer Service.  Everything is going smoothly and I give him one of the tracking numbers for the packages.  I started to tell him that there are 17 boxes and a combined weight of almost 160 lbs.  He kept talking over me, so I figured that I would just follow his script and make it a point at the end to share my info.

​Everything was booked and confirmed, so I told him that there are 17 boxes with the total weight, and he said that’s fine, and we then selected a day.  I got my confirmation number and when I confirmed it back he talked over me again.  Whatever, at this point everything I need is done, right?

​WRONG

​When I opened up the garage, the driver had that look I was worried I would see.  I knew he was thinking about how this was going to fit on the truck.  Now, I am a self-proclaimed master at all-things-efficient, sometimes, so I grabbed my hand-truck and started carting the boxes to the vehicle.  He mentioned to me that if he would have known how many boxes there were he probably would have had them pack light so he could get them dropped off sooner.  I told him that I shared with the agent exactly what to expect because I didn’t want to have this in two trips.  Turns out this is fairly common.

Why is this happening?

A simple note is all it would take to fix what could have turned into quite an inconvenience.  For the company being this efficient, effective, and exalted organization, I’m honestly quite disappointed.  However, it has led me to consider that I’m probably missing some of the more simple things myself.  Tomorrow will be a day of analysis and reflection.  After all, improvement is a continual process.

Things I have learned from building a business

Building a business is wonderful

​Recently, I decided to close my Aggro Clothing business, and started reflected on my work.  Over the course of 13 months I learned an incredible amount regarding e-commerce and building a company.  There were shortcomings, and instances where I was under-prepared for certain elements.  However, I do recognize that overall it was a very positive experience.  Have you ever considered starting a business?

What did my business do wrong?

I don’t know that I would say it did wrong, but I started a business in a saturated market.  The low barriers to entry were very appealing since this was my first attempt at building something like this.  Now, I knew going into it that the industry was saturated.  I chose to continue forward because I expected it to be most valuable in terms of education.  This in mind, education is one of the best investments for me, so that was the motivation.

​What did it do right?

So, so many things.  I met some incredible people, and received overwhelming support. Learning about many different e-commerce platforms and minor web-design strategies were also interesting side-effects. Working with some very talented artists, I was able to breathe life into designs that I came up with.  It also provided an outlet for some of my brand ambassadors’ creative skills.  Additionally, I had somehow (inadvertantly) created an image through my website that the business was much more successful evidenced by an offer to buy.  For that being my first business and crafting this image, I am super proud.

​Let’s go deeper

What I have learned about business seems so fundamental.  If you have a firm grasp on your true customers, then you know how to be successful.  If you are able to identify the core demographics then you are easily able to determine needs or wants.  This would undoubtedly contribute to gigantic success for your business.  I have to admit, I was not particularly skilled in this area.  I struggled for the longest time at honing in on the group of people that I identified as my core clients.

​How did business go?

It was fun.  More than anything I had a blast.  I chose to close it down because I found myself dedicated less energy to it than I needed to in order to make it more successful.  Additionally, sales had been flat and it was not something that excited me as much as it once had.  So I chose to step back and dedicate this time, energy, and money to other adventures.  I am still doing my arbitrage and enjoying it for the time being.  I am also still considering building more things, just for the sake of learning.

​Have you started working on your ideas?  Need some help?

For when you are having a bad day!

Today was a bad day!

I could not seem to get out of my own way today, and it was more than what I assume a typical “funk” would be.  Rather, I felt as if I was a step behind my usual pace.  I missed out on a contract because I didn’t pursue a partner as frequently as I should have.  Additionally, I am recovering from a major cheat day on my typical eating strategy.  That would probably explain my feeling sluggish.  We all have a bad day from time to time, and mine don’t show up too frequently.  Perhaps I shouldn’t complain.

​What does the science say?

Scientific American published an article that talked about the fact that bad moods are contagious.  We as a people have a tendency to replicate the emotions we see on other people’s faces.  As we all may have heard in the past, simply smiling has the ability to improve our mood.  Is it far-fetched to imagine that the opposite is true, that expressions of anger can inspire angry feelings?  If that is true, then bad moods could truly be contagious.

​This negativity breeds further negative energy and thought.  Perpetuating the negative energy is unlikely to result in a positive outcome.  This raises the likelihood of another bad day coming up.

Why should I stop?

​​As we all know, the biggest reason behind complaining is the venting.  Everyone loves to complain to “get it off [my] chest”, but have you ever noticed that it usually results in more complaining?  Maybe you aren’t the one continuing it, but before long your entire group is discussing things they hate.  While this can be fun from time to time, in some groups, it should not be a staple in the topics of conversation for you and your friends.

​What should I do when I have a bad day?

​Some of the things that help me are to look at a bigger scale.  This is one day in my lifetime.  Even if it were to stretch itself for longer, it is still a drop in the bucket of time.  Additionally, today wasn’t a total bust, as I made some sales on Amazon this evening.  Additionally, not to be that guy, but I have a roof over my head, clothes on my body, food in my kitchen, and family that loves me.  There are many things to be grateful for.

​No one can be that positive all the time.

​This is absolutely right.  You have every right to complain about things bothering you.  This is especially true when it is in hope of putting a solution in place.  I read somewhere that being told “there are always people that have it worse than you” is just like being told you can’t be upset about smashing your thumb with a hammer because there are people out there that have lost their entire hand.  (I completely paraphrased that one…)  No one can take away your feelings, however, it is the polite thing to do to not drag anyone down with you.

A bad day is no fun…

​but tomorrow is a new opportunity to do better.  Just remember that when things get tough it is perfectly acceptable to retreat, regroup, then return!

Planning for the future… – Part 3 – Repayment is hard

So it began…repayment!

​Looking over my plan, I realized that it is so easy to get in way over our heads.  I realize, now, how bad my spending habits were.  Something has to change, and I guess it will have to be me.  My goal is to be debt free (mortgage excluded) by 2025.

​Let’s do this

​So I decided on Debt Avalanche and created my own little motivational tool.  I took a pad of paper and filled out my bills in order of their due dates.  This is purely for my own interests as these bills are all set up for automatic payment.  I used my friendly amortization tables to show, on each page, the results my payment has on the balance for each account.  This visual reminder is not too awesome at the beginning, but as things pick up steam, my repayment is going to look very rewarding.

​Repayment = Discipline

I have a personality type that likes to flirt with extremes.  For instance, I could give myself more “fun” money and just accept that I’ll be paying longer on everything.  However, I need to get rid of this debt sooner rather than later.  So I set myself a rather strict, but reasonable weekly budget for misc. spending.  Through this, there is no reason I could not double- and triple-pay on some accounts when it becomes their turn.

​I also suffer from flashy-item syndrome.  Anytime I see something cool, or interesting, I start to think of ways I could incorporate it into my life.  That is how I ended up with a smart home.  However, it is different this time.  I truly want this, and I strongly believe that when we want something badly enough, we make it happen.

​This is going to be tough.

I sometimes feel that I am not wired for this, but I don’t have access to unlimited amounts of money.  One great thing that may come as a result of this repayment process is a shift in mindset.  When I finish paying everything off, I will have a much greater appreciation for spending my money wisely as I’ll have a better grasp of the time it takes to get out from under that boulder.

The numbers may be scary at first

I have three payments before my first account will be completed.  After that, nothing until eight months go by.  Next, I sit still with my payments for another 5 months before the big ones start happening.  As you see, I don’t start tackling my biggest challenges until July of 2018.  December 2019 is when I start getting hyper-aggressive towards my student loans.  Barring anything happening, I will send my last student loan payment November of 2024.

Don’t give up

Another nice benefit will be the better feelings of knowing that I am disciplined enough to accomplish this.  Maybe I can find a way to turn my goal of getting a set of washboard abs into a system like this.

Planning for the future… – Part 2 – Debt techniques

Debt Snowballs and Avalanches

​No, I am not looking to get you further in debt.  If you are anything like me, then you’ve mastered that part.  In the last post I mentioned a couple terms that are exceptionally useful in terms of getting rid of debt.  Debt snowball and Debt avalanche are two different approaches to the same goal.  Let’s get right into this.

The techniques

Essentially, it has you pay the minimum payments on your debts for all except one.  This special debt will be known as your “focus” debt.  Where they differ, however, is what becomes the focus debt.  The debt snowball focuses on your account that has the lowest balance and pays it off.  This results in faster results to get the “ball rolling”.  Debt avalanche, however, focuses on your account that has the highest interest rate.  This method takes longer for your first win, but it tackles those ridiculous interest rates in order.

​Which is better?

​Personally, debt avalanche makes the most sense to me.  Pursuing the highest interest rates first minimizes the amount I will end up paying total over the life of the payback period.  However, I cannot discount the positive reinforcement that comes from the snowball method getting rid of your first debt faster.  I suppose it is best left up to each individual to decide.  Compare the interest in total across both methods and decide whether or not the difference is worth it.

​Why are we talking about debt?

​Student loans are out of control.  Borrowers are not finding jobs that allow them to pay as much on their loans.  Creating some kind of system that helps you get this under control is imperative.  Additionally, debt of any kind can benefit from either of these systems, assuming of course you aren’t penalized for early repayment.

​This really sounds like a lot of work…

​Well, you are in luck.  Since part 1, I have found a tool online that makes this whole process as easy as getting your account balances and interest rates.  Undebt.it is an exceptional tool for doing the very things that I wasted invested my time doing manually.  The free account has pretty much everything you need, but for $12 a year you can get some cool features.  Things that are sure to excite your next date night, such as amortization tables.  Seriously, I started the 30 day pro trial for this feature alone.

​Give it a shot and see what works for you.  If you are stuck, they site has an incredibly responsive support team.  If you want to reach out to me, feel free to.  I would love ot hear your experience with this or any tool that works.

Planning for the future is purely a numbers game, Part 1

The future is coming…

​Fairly recently, I recognized a slight dissonance in my personal plan.  I prided myself for my future planning in terms of building these businesses, and working to make more pursuits possible.  Pursuits that I benefited from, as well as my family.  Sure, I do all of the textbook things like 401K, independent investing, and automating bill payments so there is less risk for late payments.  Nonetheless, I took an accidental, but honest, inventory of where I was at in life and compared it to where I wanted to be.

I didn’t like the future I was laying out…

Through my work, I make decent money, and it provides me the ability to pursue my other interests.  I provide for my family, and myself.  Truthfully, I am blessed.  I have a loving family, a home, gainful employment, and this seemingly unquenchable thirst for knowledge.  However, like many others I have a bit of a spending habit.  I realized this when I was trying to create a budget.  I was going over my credit card debt as well as my student loans.  It truly was enough to make you want to throw up all over someone’s shoes.

I have student loans that are currently sitting slightly above twice the national average.  It is gross.  I went to state schools for undergrad and grad school, but it still ended up being a rather expensive adventure.

​Boo Hoo! Me and everyone else with our student loan whining…

​That’s not what this is, though.  I don’t want my loans nullified, or paid for me.  I was fine accepting the money, so I am fine paying it back.  To do this, I enlisted the nerdy side of me.  I outlined every single debt that I have, (mortgage excluded for now,) and put it all into a spreadsheet.  Then, by using a simple calculation system, I incorporated the interest rates for each of the loan accounts and then identified when everything would be paid off.

I wish I could say that it is all sunshine and rainbows now, but just having the end listed did nothing for me.  My loans are structured to the extended repayment system so in the event that I hit financial hardship I am not fighting for a concession.  Most of these loans are expected to run their course after 25 years of paying.  That is 300 months for those of you counting at home.  Now, this is where the nerd comes in.  I started playing with adjusting the repayment amounts to better understand how much time I could shave off by increasing my payments.

​Coupling this with my budget that I finished, I found that the future does not actually need to be so bleak.  I can add much more money to those payments and have it paid off in ten years.  Then I remembered I had not incorporated the CC debt into the equation.  Are you all familiar with Debt Snowballs and Debt Avalanches?  We will go in-depth on those next time, but let me tell you, this system may be the one for me.

Weathering the storm during troubling times

​Troubling times are an inevitability.

​The other day, one of the businesses I am involved in had to make a major decision that resulted in layoffs.  As with all troubling times, a great deal of uncertainty and fear rears its ugly head amongst workers at all levels.  This particular organization, however, handled it quite well by keeping communication open.  It also concerned itself with the well-being of those that were most affected by these changes.

I have been fortunate enough to not be on the receiving end of such difficult news, but I have had to deliver it.  It is never an easy time, and the best one can hope for is that the company is in a position to provide a safety net for the worker(s).  Maybe you are not in a position to make decisions like this, but knowledge is power.

What does it mean?

​Companies may refer to an event like this as any number of terms including: downsizing, rightsizing, layoffs, organizational restructuring, and many more.  Essentially, the company has decided that some of the workers are either no longer needed, or can no longer be supported.  While this sounds very cold, most business owners and decision makers do not make these decisions lightly.  I have worked at some organizations that have held out for as long as possible, offering everything from furloughs, to salary cuts, before making staffing changes.

​The danger in a situation like this, however, is the possibility of holding on too long.  What if the damage is irreparable?

​Yeah, but what about MY troubling times?

​No one wants to be the one impacted by these tough decisions.  Business owners are responsible for the lives of the workers, as well as the life of the business.  You could have everyone in the organization be an all-star, but someone will still need to be cut from the team.  By no means am I saying that you do not have a right to be upset or complain.  You have every right to feel the emotions that you do.  The only options we have in times of good and times of bad is to do our best to mitigate the risk.

​Mitigate, how?

​There are many different areas we should focus on.  One of the companies I work with is an IT Services organization.  One thing that comes to mind is a Disaster Recovery (DR) and Business Continuity (BC) plan.  A DR strategy is part of your BC Plan, but it essentially comes down to the following points:

  • ​BC is the plan that gets put in place once things go wrong
    • This is a proactive plan for when resources (money, ability, people, etc.) are lost or no longer able to provide the same services or outcomes.
  • DR is how you plan to restore the “systems” you had in place before the event.
    • In IT this typically relates to documentation and data backups.

​To apply this differently, swap a few words and end up with something like this:

  • BC is the plan you have for continuing your lifestyle.
    • You may have to adjust things down in terms of spending, or make cuts wherever possible.  Ideally you have built up some kind of emergency fund to protect yourself for a period.
    • This may also be helped if your organization offers severance, though not always possible if things are already in a major financial bind.
  • DR is your plan to get back on your feet.
    • Maybe start that business you have been thinking about
    • Call up your friends and see if anyone is looking for someone with your unique set of skills.

Many people throughout history have found accidental success as a result of shifting careers, or downsizing.  It is worth noting, however, that it is still something you will need to process.  This processing may take some time, but don’t force yourself to rush through your emotions.  Take your time, regroup, and then get to it.  Reach out to me if you have any questions.

 

I have so many ideas, but so little time!

IDEAS!!!

​So I have been sitting here today doing some work for my main job.  As it usually goes, I started thinking about some of the many things I want to spend time working on.  To simplify the idea, my life kind of revolves around three resources: time, energy, and money.  I will never have all three, so I make the most of the two I have at that time.

​How do you manage your projects and ideas?

​The problem I am running into is identifying what projects are the best for me to spend my limited resources on.  How many of you are dealing with this?  I met with my CPA last week, and he was talking to me about my “endeavors”.  One of his key points is “what are your goals?”  He asked me to list off my projects and identify the number of hours I should be applying to each in order to be successful.  Then total up the hours and compare it to the amount of time I have available outside of my primary responsibilities.

​Unsurprisingly, my current projects require more time than I have to work with.  This issue is compounded by the fact that I came up with some more ideas today.  I think I need to give up on something.  However, do not worry, I am not leaving any of you.  I am here for you, long-term.

​How do you choose between your children?

​No, seriously, how do you choose which one stays?  It is not as simple as identifying which of my projects are most profitable.  I never wanted to judge these ideas based solely on profitability.  I wanted to look at it in terms of what is most fun, as well as what is most fulfilling.  From there I started adding other variables such as time expense, number of ​moving pieces (outside variables), as well as several others.

​Did this help me?  Absolutely not!  In fact, I am still wrestling with this very problem.  I have reduced my time on a couple elements in order to free up some time and money to pursue one of my next items.  Nonetheless, I know this is temporary.  I need to sit down and make a decision.

​Why is making a decision so hard?

I read an article about Zadie Smith that spoke about her personal philosophy on editing her stories.  I will paraphrase it as it refers to more than writing a novel: take your work, and let it sit for a while.  Put it in a drawer, a case, or somewhere out of site long enough for your to remove yourself from the role of creator.  Become a consumer of your creation, and you will understand editing.  Her words, “You need a certain head on your shoulders to edit a novel…you need to get the head of a smart stranger that has just picked it up off the shelf in a bookstore.”

​It is incredible and yet so simple in concept.  Remove yourself from the role of creator and you can derive the value your creation provides.  I’ll be using this as a guide in the future.

What do you think?