Sep 7 2010

Thank God for Stupid People

Carlos Portocarrero

On Thursday August 26 at 8:39pm, M and I made this (M did most of the work):

new baby

A beautiful baby girl! It’s been a crazy/amazing/exhausting week. All the qualifiers you can think of—good and bad—seem to fit into this new stage of life they call parenthood. And throughout the whole time leading up to her birth there’s been one idea that’s helped get over all the conflicting emotions that she brought with her:

Stupider people than me have babies all the time and they seem to get along just fine. We’ll be OK.

And really, when times get really tough and you start to doubt everything you think and do, this idea keeps coming back to me and giving me faith that we can be good parents. Despite the piercing cries for no apparent reason. Despite the lack of sleep. Despite the times when M and I stare at each other in the middle of a meltdown and wonder, “Now what?”

Despite all of that, we can do this. And we can do it better than most other people—even if we don’t always feel like it. We’re lucky: we have families that love us and are there for us. We have parents that are still together over a combined 60 years later. We are well educated and have a pretty decent idea of what you’re supposed to do to successfully raise a baby. We have all the books (too many, actually). We have siblings that will do whatever it takes to help us out. We have good insurance that covers a large majority of the hospital expenses. We have a nice cash pile of savings just in case we need it.

We have way more than your average person does when they embark on parenthood. We basically have a head start and as long as we give it our best shot we will be OK.

I can’t tell you how comforting this idea is to a new parent. If you’ve had a kid, you know what I’m talking about.

How this Relates to Money

The fact that you are reading a blog about personal finance means you are already way ahead of the money game. That you even know something called “personal finance” even exists means you know more about managing your money than 90% of the people out there.

But you probably already knew that. The reason this “stupid people” concept is so important is because it can apply to so many other things in life. Want to start a business or get some freelance income? Dumb people do that every day.

Want to get a different job in another field? You know dumb people at your work that have done just that.

Thinking of learning a new language but think it might be too tough? Doesn’t Ted in accounting know Swahili?

Think it’s impossible to become an expert at Excel or some other piece of software? You know the drill.

Confidence is such an important part of accomplishing something or doing something well and knowing that dumb people do it all the time should give you some faith in yourself that you can and will achieve your goal.

Now go out there and do something incredible like making a baby—odds are you’ll do just fine.

Image by Jerry M.

Jun 22 2010

Gordon Gekko was Right: Greed is Good

Carlos Portocarrero

Gordon Gekko
Wall Street is a classic movie. I decided to watch it again this week because I’m mildly interested in the sequel, Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. The original movie was about Gordon Gekko, a powerful Wall Street mogul with an insatiable thirst for money. I expected the movie to really resonate with me because of all the crap that’s happened in the financial world recently.

It didn’t. Instead, I found myself focusing on the infamous speech Gordon Gekko gives to Bluestar stockholders:

Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms—greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge—has marked the upward surge of mankind.

It’s a very convincing piece of rhetoric, and it’s no wonder so many young people wound up wanting to become the next Gordon Gekko, which was the exact opposite of what director Oliver Stone was trying to accomplish with the movie.

Greed is Good

It is. Think about it: without greed you wouldn’t have any companies churning out new, exciting products. You wouldn’t have Pfizer pumping millions of dollars into researching new medicine that cures all kinds of diseases. They do it for the money—for profit—and we all get the benefit of feeling better/living longer.

For a price, of course.

There would be no Apple if it wasn’t for greed. Maybe Steve Jobs does actually have a more altruistic reason for pushing Apple as fas as its gone. Maybe it’s not about money, but he’s still greedy. He wants to be on the cutting edge of technology and design. He wants his products to be the sexiest. He wants to be in control.

That thirst to accomplish these things—it’s all one form or another of greed.

We Are All Greedy

With our time, with our money, with our freedom. Think about it these questions:

  • Why do we want more money?
  • Why do we want a promotion?
  • Why do we want to pay as little as possible in taxes?
  • Why do we want to leave work at 5pm on the dot every day (or earlier)?
  • Why do we want to be our own boss?
  • Why is there such a thing as “alone time?”

It’s all about greed—be it money, time, knowledge, or personal freedom. We want what we want and most of the time greed is the motivator.

Morality vs Greed

Nobody has ever gone to jail for greed. In the movie, Gekko and Bud Fox go to jail for breaking the law, not for being greedy. The key here is that greed didn’t drive them to break the law, it was their lack of morals. They were willing to break the rules in order to make more money, and that was their downfall.

But that’s not greed, that’s a lack of morals.

This is where most people get it wrong: they like rail on people like Gordon Gekko for being greedy and being “in it just for the money.” Well guess what? Without that inherent interest in the money, the world wouldn’t be where it is today.

Gekko was right on that: it has marked the upward surge of mankind.

And we should use that insatiable feeling of greed (for whatever it is you really really want) and turn it into a motivator.

Warren Buffett is Greedy

If there’s anyone in Wall Street (or just in the world of business) that is the anti-Gekko, it’s Warren Buffett. He’s known for being honest and anything he aligns himself with immediately benefits from his cachet. But guess what? Warren Buffett is greedier than most of us.

It’s why he pored over an ungodly amount of financial statements and annual reports in his life—he was looking for opportunities to make money. People like Warren Buffett don’t need any more money—but there he is still making deals left and right trying to get a proper return on his investment.

It may sound odd because we’re so used to using greed as a negative word. Instead, let’s use greed as a motivator to get us to contribute to this “upward surge of mankind.” And if that’s too much to ask for, then at least the upward surge of you.

Next time you feel guilty about spending too much time on something or trying to make more money or trying to make things better for yourself somehow—don’t. Accept the greed and use it to push you ahead and get things done.

And please don’t break the law.

This article was included in the Carnival of Financial Planning.

May 17 2010

Why We Love Money: Fear

Carlos Portocarrero

money zoomed in

A while back, I asked myself a question: why do we do things for the money when we know that’s not what’s going to give us the fulfillment we supposedly want? We always pick the money, and the reason I wound up giving was security. Money does a lot and has the power to do a lot in our lives.

OK—fine. But putting aside why we do the things we do, what about the opposite? What is it that keeps us from doing the things we really want to do?

Let’s Make This About Myself

I would love to become a Michael Lewis/Bill Simmons hybrid: a guy that writes passionate stories about being a big-time Cubs/baseball fan and gets paid for it. I would also love to become a best-selling novelist that writes a book every 3–5 years and spends most of his time researching, delving into characters’ psyches, and doing all that other cool shit that established writers get to do.

But I’m not doing anything that would make those goals a reality right now, and there’s a reason for it: I’m afraid.

Fear is keeping me from doing the obvious, which is writing a blog about baseball and the Cubs. Fear is keeping me from writing short stories (again) and sending them out to be rejected (again). It’s all about the fear of failure.

But it’s the way that I’m judging failure that bothers me.

What if I don’t make any money at the end of it? What if I write a goofy blog about baseball stuff that no one winds up reading and no one cares about? What if it doesn’t lead to anything greater? What if it doesn’t get me a job writing for ESPN or Sports Illustrated?

Then what? Did I just wast all that time and effort?

At the core of all these confused thoughts and insecurities is one thing: fear.

Fear of really going for what you’re passionate about in life and trying to make it come true. And then failing.

That’s why I write about money on this site. I put some AdSense ads up and sell some links here and there and a trickle of money comes in. Is that success? Am I failing? I don’t know…it’s hard to say. But I can see the numbers. I can see money coming in. Month after month, I see it pile up into more and more substantial amounts.

The money tells me I’m doing something right.

I had been submitting fiction stories for a long time and have $300 and a stack of rejection letters to show for it.

So I decided to start a new site: Applied Analytics. Why? Because I saw there was a need for people to learn how to read what Google Analytics spits out and I think I can help those people. And I think that, down the line, I can make some money off of it.

Let’s be honest though: money is the main motivation. I like helping people and when I get comments and emails from people saying “thank you,” I feed off of that like nothing else. Including money.

But I wouldn’t do Applied Analytics if someone told me today that I wouldn’t make any money off of it in the long term. I just wouldn’t.

And something about that seems wrong. You should be doing what you love to do. What you’re passionate about. What you would do for free if that’s what it came to.

I should be writing about baseball for free.

I should be writing fiction for free.

And I should be loving every minute of it.

But there is the fear. It’s all powerful and all encompassing. The fear is what keeps me from really going after these things. Throw in a baby for good measure and the fear grows and grows.

Day care. Diapers. Strollers. Toys. Nannies. Doctor visits. College fund.

Fear, fear, fear.

That’s why we love money so much. That’s why we chase it around at all costs.

It’s not because we’re greedy or heartless or materialistic. The truth is much simpler: we’re just afraid.

Image by kevindooley

This post was included in the Carnival of Money Stories over at Funny About Money and the Best of Money Carnival at Scordo.

May 6 2010

More Money, More Better

Carlos Portocarrero

Let’s be honest: as much as we love repeating the cliché that money can’t buy happiness, you can’t argue that having more money would certainly make all our lives easier and “better.” If you had all the money in the world, you’d probably quit your job and do what you really love to do. Maybe that’s working at a library or maybe it’s building origami animals in your basement.

Whatever it is—you could do it full time without the pressures of figuring out how to balance what you WANT to do with what you NEED to do to make a living.

So in a way, money can buy happiness. Or maybe we should call it peace of mind. I know it sounds ugly and materialistic, but I really think it’s true. If it isn’t, then I’m just caught in the greedy trap of wanting more money just like the rest of the world. But I don’t think wanting more money makes me a bad/insincere guy.

I think it makes me honest.

Maybe when I have a child (due September 2!) I’ll feel differently, although after doing the math on child care and diapers and all the other stuff—I doubt it. I’m going to need all the coin I can get!

But right now, I’m focused on how I can make more money to make things more comfortable for my wife, myself, and my baby. So that we can travel when we want to. So that my baby can have what it needs. So that my baby’s stroller can monster truck all over your baby’s stroller.

More money means more possibilities.

I feel dirty saying that, but I’m starting to think it’s true. And that’s OK.

Making More $

That’s why I bought Chris Guillebeau’s Create Your Own Freedom guide (see my review here) and that’s why I’m so excited about his latest guide: The Empire Building Kit. Chris only opens this one up every so often and the last time he did I was thinking about it and thinking about it until it slipped my mind and it got closed up before I could buy it.

But he’s opening it up again on Tuesday, May 18. The guide includes all kinds of info on building your own lifestyle business by taking small steps every day to accomplish the overall goal. I’ll write more about it as the day gets closer but I wanted to share since I was so happy with his guide. It’s going to be awesome.

The Making More $ Guide

Another project I’m working on is a guide to help readers make more money in their 9–5 jobs. I think a lot of people want to increase their income but they don’t want to start a side business—they just want to maximize their value at work and then come home and chill out, not develop a business plan and find funding. Not everyone is built to start their own business, but that doesn’t mean you can’t increase your income.

So I’m putting together a guide (partly inspired by Chris’ Create Your Own Freedom guide) with step-by-step directions on how to assess and improve your value as an employee. I’m going to be offering tips, information, and advice on everything from the psychological part of asking for more to what you do if you’ve tried it all and you still aren’t getting anywhere.

I’m really excited about the information I’m putting into it, and if you want to help (besides getting it when it comes out!), you can take this super-fast survey to help me figure out exactly the type of stuff people want from a guide like this.

And thanks to all the people who have already filled it out—it’s been very helpful!

Image by thelastminute

This post was included in the Carnival of Money Stories