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The Six Secrets to a Rich Life

* By Marc Eisenson

Wouldn't it be great if you could leave all your money worries and job stress behind? Well, you can. And you don't have to move into a cave to live a freer, happier, healthier life -- or choose between your work, your pleasures, your friends, and your family.

All it really takes is the right investment portfolio. A portfolio not just of stocks and bonds, but one that includes key investments that you make in yourself and in your family. Like any good portfolio, the best investments you can make in yourself are diversified, carefully managed, and geared to the long term.

That's the premise of Invest in Yourself: Six Secrets to a Rich Life, the new book Nancy and I wrote with our wonderful friend and colleague, credit expert Gerri Detweiler. In it, we explain that to create the portfolio that's right for you, you've got to invest time and energy in figuring out what you really want -- and what will get you there.

While there are no “one-size-fits-all” formulas for the good life, we're convinced that everyone, no matter how deep in debt, no matter how unhappy at home or at work, can change direction and make their dreams come true -- without being irresponsible or reckless. Sometimes all it takes is a bit of fine tuning. At other times, major modifications may be in order.

Some of the ideas in Invest in Yourself will be quite familiar to our longtime newsletter readers, but they'll also find a lot of new information and resources. For example, we finally tackle that thorny topic of how to pay for college. (You can breathe a sigh of relief. We'll show you how to get a top quality education for your kid without either one of you earning a doctorate in debt!)

We've organized our collective wisdom into six “secrets,” or if you will, rules to live by:

  1. Make Your Own Lifestyle Decisions
  2. Put Your Family First
  3. Wherever You Work, Be in Business for Yourself
  4. Make the Most of the Money You Bring Home
  5. Turn Your Debts into Golden Investments
  6. Map Out Your Own Financial Future

If you focus your time and energy in the pursuit of these six principles, I guarantee that you'll lead a richer life in many more ways than the sum total of the money in your stock and bond portfolio! But don't get me wrong. Invest in Yourself is not a rule book. What we're advocating is a self-designed life, where you spend your time and energy getting what you want, and doing what you believe in -- not wasting them on things you might not really want, but think you “should” have.

For some that may mean a simple life, for others it may mean Monte Carlo. It's your choice. But to get wherever you want to go, you have to be clear about what you really want. Then to create the life you want, you have to make honest choices based on the facts of your life: both the financial facts, and the way you feel.

Nancy and I wanted to share our Invest in Yourself ideas with you first -- as our work on these pages, as well as your letters to us and our responses, have had so much to do with helping us to articulate them. (The book's table of contents appears at the end of this article.)

1. Make Your Own Lifestyle Decisions
I gave up a lucrative, very demanding electrical contracting business for a simpler life. Nancy left a fast-track foundation job in New York City for country living. Gerri gave up a high profile position to go it on her own, as a writer, consultant, and speaker on consumer credit issues. We each made our major lifestyle decisions after a good deal of soul searching, along with some very practical “testing the waters” experiences.

While we firmly believe that the key to financial happiness is spending less than you earn, only you can determine what's really “right” when it comes to how you earn, invest, and spend your income. You can have piles of money, but if you're not living the life you want to live, you won't be able to buy enough things to make up for it.

Up until now, have you made your lifestyle decisions by default, or by consciously deciding what your priorities are? It's your choice from here on out.

In Invest in Yourself, as we have in this newsletter, we help you look at your lifestyle alternatives -- and the financial consequences of making major changes, like going from a dual income family to a one income household (so one spouse can stay home with the kids) or pulling up stakes and leaving the big city (or small town) behind. When done hastily, without a good deal of thought and planning, the emotional and financial consequences of adjusting to a new life -- perhaps without a job and the support of family and friends -- can turn a dream into a nightmare.

Of course, you don't have to give up your job or move cross country to change your lifestyle for the better. Small steps can make a world of difference. But we're convinced that first you need to consciously set priorities and figure out what makes the most sense -- for you and your family, which brings us to the book's next secret:

2. Put Your Family First
As a nation, we're working longer hours and spending less time with our families, leaving our kids by the wayside (or in front of the TV or Nintendo). Data show typical Americans spend hardly any time talking to their kids. It's easy to fall into this pattern -- and surprisingly easy to change it -- by putting yourself and your family first.

You know the project that's sitting on your desk? Chances are, it can wait until tomorrow (really!), but kids grow up all too quickly. Those school plays and Little League games you missed will be remembered, and regretted, for a lifetime. Family camping trips or treehouse construction will also be long remembered. Which kind of memories do you want your kids to have?

3. Wherever You Work, Be in Business for Yourself
The last decade has changed our notions of job security. These days, while you're expected to be creative, resourceful, on top of the latest innovations, and dedicated to the workplace, you can't even count on being employed come tomorrow. While your goal may be to improve your job satisfaction and financial well-being, you've got to be prepared for cutbacks, downsizings, and mergers -- in other words, the old heave-ho.

In Invest in Yourself, we present a host of strategies that'll help you get ahead on the job you're at now -- or help you move on to a new position. But if you've been reading this newsletter for awhile, you already know that our favorite game plan for hedging your bets is having an Ace in the Hole, a very small business (or two) that you start on the cheap. For some, it becomes the stepping stone to a new career, for others it's a sideline that offers both extra income and welcome tax deductions. Everyone we know who's got an Ace feels more secure for having it.

4. Make the Most of the Money You Bring Home
The further it goes, the less you need to earn. We're not talking about deprivation here -- or anywhere in Invest in Yourself. Practicing the fine art of penny pinching means you can have the things you really want -- without spending your life working for the almighty buck.

If you know us, you know what we think are the basics before you buy: Decide if you really want it -- then comparison shop, negotiate for the best prices, barter, and if possible, buy used. This section of Invest in Yourself could have easily been called “The Joy of Frugality,” or maybe we should bill it as the “how to” course on becoming The Millionaire Next Door. (The book's authors, Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, make it clear that millionaires are a pretty frugal lot.)

5. Turn Your Debts into Golden Investments
If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times -- PAY DOWN THOSE DEBTS! It's a powerful antidote to the “payday to payday” blues.

Here's a hot tip in case you're just tuning in: If you're in the 28% tax bracket, paying off a typical 17% credit card balance is the same as earning 23.5% before taxes. But unlike the stock market, paying off those plastic monsters is risk-free, guaranteed, and tax-free. (It's tax-free because you don't have to pay taxes on money you save yourself -- even if it's at 17%!)

With their low minimum payments each month, credit card companies want you to think it doesn't really hurt you very much to owe them money. But the less you send in, the more you'll pay and the longer it'll take you to get out from under. Making minimum payments on a typical $3,500 card balance at 17% could cost you more than $7,500 in interest. Your total cost could be more than three times as much as you borrowed. And it could take you 35 years to pay it off. Was yesterday's lunch that good?

Beat those plastic purveyors at their own game, and pay off your balances as fast as possible. Even a few extra bucks a month will yield a big return. For example, just adding an extra $3 a month to the minimum payment on that $3,500 in charges will save you more than $1,860 and over 10 years of payments! If you can come up with $25 a month, that'll put $5,364 back in your assets column -- yes, more than you owed -- and save over 26 years of payments!

Here's the best long-term strategy: Stop charging items you can't pay for or don't need. Do you really want a new thingamabob that will wind up costing you three to four times as much as what you couldn't afford in the first place? Especially if your old thingamabob is still humming along, we hope you'll decide to pass.

If you become a pocket change investor (hey, that sounds like a catchy name for a newsletter!) in your home, car, or student loan you'll save a ton of money and be that much closer to financial freedom.

In addition to showing you how to whittle down those loan balances, we'll help you save money on big-ticket items, so you can keep future debts to a minimum, and future pleasures to a stress-reduced maximum.

6. Map Out Your Own Financial Future
Ever think, “If I had a million dollars, I'd ...”? Well, chances are you will have that much, and then some. As we've pointed out here before, over your working lives, you and your spouse will rake in over $2,000,000. And that's just if you make today's median family income ... and never get a raise! Of course, you won't get it all in one lump sum, but it's a bundle all the same. Managing it wisely will make all the difference for your future.

If the thought of budgets, asset allocation, and financial plans give you a headache, you can join the finance phobic crowd ... or check out Invest in Yourself. We'll help you figure when to do what -- and where to go to find sound financial advice.

We've come a long way since Nancy, Gerri, and I first began batting around ideas for Invest in Yourself, over four years ago. I hope you'll decide to give it a try, and that you've enjoyed this “sneak preview.”

You should be able to find the book in bookstores or at the library, and we're also offering it for sale. The cover price is $22.95, but we're now selling it for $12.95.

Reprinted from The Pocket Change Investor © 1998, Marc Eisenson & Nancy Castleman

What the Press Is Saying About the Book The Book's Table of Contents

The Pocket Change Investor
The Secrets to Getting Ahead -- Even If You Have a Pile of Credit Card Bills, Hefty Mortgage Payments,
Loans Out on a Clunker or Two, & a Bad Case of the "I'm Tired of Living Payday to Payday" Blues.

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