A Monday Back in Swing

August has been a difficult month. My father has suffered a long history of health problems starting with brain cancer 16 years ago, aggravated seizure disorder, and two recent major spinal surgeries. On July 27th, dad fell after experiencing a seizure and severely fractured his skull. He underwent surgery to repair the injury, followed by four long weeks in the hospital with complications. Last Monday, August 22nd at about 11:35am, he died peacefully surrounded by his wife and children.

Today, I’m back at work. Dad, who favored routine, would have me keep busy. Not to take my mind off of him and how much I miss being able to go talk to him about music or to hear a story from his childhood, but because our daily lives represent what we do best. Dad appreciated the added value of someone with passion. Dad also believed in doing what you love. It showed in his work – teaching children, reading, and performing music.

I love you Daddy, be well.

Wachovia’s Brilliant Customer Disservice

I’ve a new Evil Empire for the list: Wachovia. I know that they’ve always been evil, but I wasn’t a customer of theirs until a few weeks ago when they finally completed their acquisition of Southtrust Bank.

The first shameful act of Wachovia is that they purchased and squished one of the best financial institutions I’ve ever done business with. Southtrust employees were courteous, their service was excellent, their product offering was wonderful, and my experience with them was just wonderful as a whole.

The second shameful act of Wachovia requires a bit of backstory…

To prevent little cash flow hiccups, my wife and I set up a line of credit on our Southtrust checking account and paid a small enrollment fee to eliminate a per-transfer charge for automatic transfers from our line of credit. This service was wonderful because we have a number of auto-draft bills that get paid all at once during the month rather than being evenly split between paychecks. Sometimes we’d drop to the red the day before payday and this would prevent NSFs (for free) and we’d pay the debt back in a day or two.

Wachovia doesn’t care. It has been my understanding that when you buy a business, you buy their liabilities as well. Southtrust offered this service to us on a per-year basis. We’ve paid for our year, which doesn’t end for several more months. Wachovia doesn’t care. I talked to a “Wachovia Representative” on the phone who was able to give my $5 back and then reiterate (in her own words) the aforementioned mantra of this fine bank (read: Evil Empire): “Wachovia doesn’t care.”

In the end, what they do is what they do. The minute I heard that my wonderfully customer service oriented bank was being bought by this giant, I started my search for a new financial institution for my day-to-day banking. This transition is nearly complete, so I need not worry about my $5 a pop transfer fee again.

So, to Wachovia: You had your chance and you blew it. Now, Bryan doesn’t care.

Out here in the fields…

…I fight for my meals.

I could probably write a book quite effective at helping people prevent making the same mistakes that I have made in the past 8 years or so. This is especially true for financial mistakes. Considering a book deal is pretty much out of the question, I’ll drop a few tips here.

Many of these are common sense. To many you’ll reply “duh, Bryan.” But even if you’ve considered every one previously, it may help to see someone vouch for their validity. These should be especially helpful for those of you just graduating from college. Many of you have student loan debt. Many of you have something worse: leftover debt from the last couple years of college when you said to yourself “Oh, I’ll have a job soon to pay this off.” Many of you now have a job that pays you twice (or more) what your parents made when they graduated. This described me well. And after making plenty of mistakes, I can tell you how to deal with it.

What not to do…

  • Don’t act like you’re rich, think like you’re rich. – You aren’t rich. Your offer letter may seem to be a gold mine relative to your old college retail job, or even your posh internship but the real world is expensive. You’ll soon see that if you don’t consider every dollar you spend, it will be all gone and you’ll rely on Citibank to buy your groceries.
  • Don’t go buy a new car. – Overheard at college graduations everywhere: “Dude, my starting salary will pay for a Boxter!” Dude, no it won’t. It’s all too easy to forget that you have to pay taxes, buy groceries, and have somewhere to live. If you absolutely need a new car, go buy a reputably reliable car off of lease, program, fleet, or whatever else you can find. A year-old car has already taken its near 40% depreciation hit. Buying new basically puts you upside down on your financing instantly.
  • Don’t fully fund your retirement account. – This happens to by my biggest regret. Read carefully: if your employer matches money into a tax deferred savings plan of some sort (401k, etc.) then you’d better be contributing up to that matching amount. It’s free money! However, if you’ve still got debt (I know you do – remember student loans, auto loans, mortgage, credit cards, store cards, etc.) then the measly return on a 401k that you’ll see in thirty-five years is far outweighed by your annual finance charges. Fully funding your retirement is important, but only after you’re debt free.

What to do…

  • Pay for what you need in cash. – If you can’t afford it, then you don’t need it.
  • Eliminate debt, and then save. – Saving and building wealth through assets is very important. However, there are very few invesments that will outgrow your debt, and those are very risky. Pay it off, smallest first. If you maintain a list of your debt (liabilities) it’ll be empowering to check those demons off the list. The old saying “money makes money” is true, but mathematically, if money in the black makes more money in the black, money in the red makes more money in the red.
  • Educate yourself.Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and Financial Peace by Dave Ramsey are two wonderful books that will inspire you to buckle down now, and enjoy a wealthy life later.

What gives?

Robert T. Kiyosaki calls it “charity.� Catherine Ryan Hyde calls it “paying it forward.� Christians call it “Love.� The basic principle seems to be this: Give away what you’re good at, what you need or what you hold close to your heart and the eventual reward will be greater than your initial gift.

No matter how you look at this – academically, spiritually, sociologically, or through personal emotions – you’ll see that while the process of giving of yourself is counterintuitive, the logical product of selflessness is self-benefit.

  • Academically, Catherine Ryan Hyde’s novel Pay it Forward shows how, mathematically, if each recipient of your ‘gift’ pays 3 new recipients, statistics are good that you’ll be paid as well.
  • Spiritually, charity and gifts of love offer the greatest reward: unity with God. I won’t go too much into specific theology here, but every world religion I have any knowledge of puts a high priority on how loving and giving can only result in a greater gift.
  • Sociologically, there’s a unified societal psyche, if you will, that benefits from individuals freely giving of themselves. Drawing from the statistical statements above, what if everyone treated each other that way? I’m not calling for utopia here, but why not do what we can?
  • Personally, what brings more joy than the ability to give a gift? I can think of few examples of pure joy that even come close to gift giving. Many wealthy people are criticized for donating wings on hospitals, buildings on university campuses or fancy pipe organs in churches because they want to “show off their wealth and get their name on something.â€? I say “good for them.â€? If they really just want recognition, they can plaster their names on billboards; it would probably more exposure for less money. If you’ve criticized someone for their charity, it might be time for you to make a donation.

Thank you, Jonathan. Your gift was well received.