The strength of our convictions

Reading a post by a speaker I’ve come to admire, I realized how important it is to question what you think you know.  Often.  Very few people even consider the possibility that everything they believe to be true may not be so, or question where it came from.  Our most deep rooted convictions have often seeped in without us even realizing it.  We never stop to question “are they true for me?”.

I began college a little late (20 years old) mostly because I believed my dad when he told me at a very young age that the only degree I would ever get was an MRS degree.  He thought it was hilarious and after I figured out what he meant, I began to believe it. Based on this ill-conceived conviction that had seeped in, I “knew” I wasn’t cut out for college and would probably end up making an OK wife (at best) because I loved to cook, but not really that great because I was also stubborn and independent (which was not a good wife trait according to dad).  This all became a part of my belief system.

Don’t ask me why, but one day I decided to go nuts and give college a try.  So off I went with my very liberal views and belief system firmly in place, ready to finally rebel against my dad and everything he stood for.  Well, everything except for one thing. He was a successful business man with a lot of fancy things and a lot of debt to finance them. So I thought maybe debt should be the one thing I should emulate. I got a head start by getting my first credit card.  It felt wrong instantly, but I ignored my gut and followed what I had been taught to be true instead.  So I got a few more credit cards, a car loan, student loans and why not, a sofa bed loan. My gut instinct was to pay my bills in full as soon as they arrived, to spend only what I had, to know where every penny went.  But I allowed myself to believe that my common sense mattered less than what I saw everyone around me do.  Including my own family.

As I finished my first year in college I was living the dream! I got everything I wanted as long as I could afford the payment.  I lived paycheck to paycheck.  I believed I ruled the world and no one was going to stop me.  I was completely lost, didn’t know it and was having a ball!

The years went by and my choices began to weigh heavy on me (financially and otherwise).  I slowly began to open my mind and heart and became hungry for more information; especially if it wasn’t readily available.  That’s how I eventually came to realize that who I truly was had nothing to do with who I had been convinced to become.  I understood that my core values were actually very conservative and my actions finally began to reflect my new and true convictions more and more.  And this time, it felt right. Swimming against the current is not always fun or easy, but no matter what you believe today, open your heart and mind and see what comes in.  If it feels right (and not just fun) you may finally be headed in the right direction.

Being vulnerable

You never cease to be vulnerable.  You never know when that next huge blow is going to strike.  It’s not about believing that you can never be knocked down.  It’s about believing that you will always get back up.

Despite our blessings and how many positives we’ve enjoyed in recent years, just this past week, our family faced another unexpected, terrifying blow.  Not the financial kind, but pretty darn scary and debilitating nonetheless.  So much so, I literally felt paralyzed (and that doesn’t happen often let me tell you).  It’s been a long time since I’ve questioned my ability to find a way out of a difficult time.  The loss of my babies would have to be the last time I remember feeling like this.

Fear can be so paralyzing it can change the course of your life; if you let it.  In fact, I believe most of us face a time (or two or three) in our lives when we allow fear to determine how the rest of our story plays out.

This latest blow has reminded me of something so important.  It’s OK to be vulnerable.  It’s not OK to let it knock you down.  Vulnerability opens us up to so much beauty in life and so many incredible experiences.  But if you find yourself in an unthinkable moment, acknowledge that you’ve been hit, lick your wounds, take note of what NOT to repeat, put on your armor, and begin your fight to stand up again.  Stand up for what matters to you, stand up for your dreams, stand up for your loved ones and remember that in every noble fight and struggle, God stands up for you.  And when at last that battle ends in victory, give yourself permission to be vulnerable again.

Are you CRAZY?

Absolutely! In more ways than you know.  When you don’t follow the status quo you are crazy; you are officially a weirdo.  I love being a weirdo and so should you.  Granted, I’ve always had a tendency to swim against the current. For as long as I can remember (ask my very frustrated parents) I’ve never liked to follow the rules and yes, I’ve been a weirdo in some “not so good ways”.  But if you’re not a weirdo yet, I strongly suggest you consider giving it a shot.

In America (and sadly in many places around the world at this point) being normal has become a sure-fire way to being completely miserable.  If you have no credit cards; you’re a weirdo.  If you have saved enough to pay for your kids’ college education; you’re a weirdo.  If you started saving for retirement the day you got your first job; you’re a weirdo.  If you tithe (or give any money to any cause for that matter); you’re a weirdo. If you graduated college debt-free; you’re a weirdo, if you live within your means; you guessed it, you’re a weirdo.

Will you please consider joining me?  I would SO love for all of you to be weird.  It’s hard.  It’s not fun….for a while.  It demands that you grow up.  It requires contentment, tough conversations with your kids (no, you do NOT need a cell phone!), becoming one with your spouse (AKA joint accounts) and yes, sometimes it requires driving a VERY ugly car and renting a “not so pretty” home in a not so nice part of town. 

It also requires that you find value in time spent with your 5-year old because she thinks you are the ultimate queen of the planet.  It requires cooking some "simple" dinners because it makes beautiful memories (and saves money).  It requires prayer time with your family every night so that no one forgets to be thankful for every blessing that comes your way.  It requires playing Monopoly and UNO over and over again because it’s cheaper than going to the movies, and camping because it’s cheaper than Legoland. 

Will you give it a try?  I promise less stress, more joy, more peace, a better future, a better legacy and incredibly strong bonds with the ones you love.  If nothing else, I guarantee your kids will thank you for it and you’ll sleep better at night.  Just be crazy; be weird.  I rest my case.

Photo by Nomadsoul1/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by Nomadsoul1/iStock / Getty Images

Don't stop believing

The turmoil that surrounds us can be close to home or thousands of miles away.  How we allow it to influence our decisions and our choices is up to us.  It’s hard to keep this in perspective when you are bombarded by news of terrorism, local senseless deaths and our own personal struggles.

Here’s my advice.  Don’t stop believing. In you. The day you stop believing you might as well give up.  And you’re not allowed to give up.  We keep investing in our families because we love them.  We keep investing in our faith because it feeds our spirit. We keep helping others because it changes our communities. We keep investing for our future because world wars, attacks on our freedom and Brexit have not been able to kill the market that has fluctuated for decades but just this past week hit record highs. DESPITE what others would have you believe.

I grew up in a place where terrorist attacks were a part of our “normal”. Waiting on the bus stop and hearing a bomb go off was sadly not unexpected.  Life went on.  We still celebrated birthdays, Christmas, weddings and everything that made life feel real.  We didn’t allow it to change us.  We never stopped believing. 

The world needs to be reminded of this.  I want to remind you that in the scheme of things, pain, suffering and struggles are temporary.  Allowing them to define us, to take over our every decision and choice is allowing that “thing” to defeat us.  It can be debt, it can be fear of the future, it can be job loss, it can be a broken heart, it can be violence.

As long and God gifts us with another day, another breath, it is our responsibility to honor that gift and be the best version of who we are.  Not perfect, just better.  In any and every way, every day.

The WHY

As I’m blessed with more and more clients and I sit with them to change behaviors and plan for a great future I find myself reminding them about what really matters.  It’s the “WHY” in your life.  Why do you want to get out of debt?  Why do you want to save for retirement?  Why do you want to plan for your kids’ college? Why do you want to build a better business? Why do you work so hard?

We get so busy surviving.  So busy getting the kids from point A to point B. Busy figuring out what bills to pay, what’s for dinner and who’s wedding we need to buy a gift for this weekend that we stop thinking.  When are we supposed to just STOP and decide?  What is my “WHY”?  Don’t wait, make it TODAY!

When Manny and I were struggling to get out of our deep, deep hole, the “WHY” was simply because THIS SUCKS! As the light at the end of the tunnel became brighter and within our reach it made us realize that there was more to this than just getting out of debt, building up the cash, buying fancy things and feeling safe about the future. 

We sat down.  We stopped for a minute and started to dream.  We asked each other what our dream was.  We realized that our dreams don’t necessarily match up, but that in itself was so important.  We found out our differences but most importantly we found out what our dreams had in common. 

We got VERY specific.  We wanted to bless our family.  Beyond paying for our kids’ college education, teaching them about money and God, we came up with this idea that we would take all our children and their children (some day) to Disneyland for a whole week every year, at the nicest hotel, all expenses paid and get everyone matching pajamas and annual passports. 

We would donate to all the charities that matter to us (above and beyond our own church); service men and women, the fight against the disease that killed our son, the fight against teenage suicide, cancer and on and on. We wanted to take time alone and make memories that really mattered.

We would honor the business that we built and all our team members and clients by always putting them first and acknowledging what a crucial part they played in our ability to live our dreams.

To change the lives of others and not just our own.  That is our “WHY”.  The money has now become just a means to an end.  A beautiful, worthy and honorable end.

Contentment....the turtle that always wins the race

Now that is as boring a topic as one can pick.  Oh, but if only you knew how powerful it truly is.

When you are able to find and sustain this elusive discipline, your potential (especially financially speaking) is actually limitless.  Manny and I are fully aware that many of our friends (and family members) not only think we’re crazy, but even feel sorry for us.  Because we are choosing to be content with where we are now.  Only WE can see where we’re headed, for those around us it’s just plain sad.

Linoleum floors, tiny house, ugly carpet and 1950’s cabinets.  Oh the sacrifice!  The shame of renting in a land of homeowners who clearly feel they deserve to own (even if the payments are well over 33% of their take home income) can become overwhelming.  But only if you lose sight of the “WHY” (more on that on my next post).

Our business decisions are ruled by the same guideline and have garnered much the same reaction.  Why wouldn’t you finance the purchase of a much larger practice that would bring in so much more in revenues and profits!? Why limit the size of your purchase to how much cash you have on hand? Because we want slow, steady, DEBT FREE, consistent growth.  We put the safety of our future and the future of our team members before any potential fast pass. And more than anything, we are keenly aware of the fact that our clients, and how we are able to serve them, dictate the future strength of our company.  NOT how fast we start and grow.  Cash on hand and no debt will ensure that our business, our team members, our clients and our family will survive the next economic downturn.  And not just survive, but thrive.

What will be your financial rock bottom?

We got our very own 9/11.  All to ourselves.  That’s the first thing that ran through my mind when the doctor walked in the ultrasound room and just looked at me.  Not a word came out of his mouth.  All I could say was “no, no, no” just like when I watched those towers go down.  This can’t be happening.

And so it was.  The doctor couldn’t say it so I had to ask.  Is he sick?  Yes.  Will he die?  Yes.  When? We don’t know.  How do I tell Manny?  I will.  You just stay here and wait.  So I waited for my husband to be introduced to our new hellish reality.  I used the time to decide how I would tell Alex and Noah that their baby brother would likely not live long enough to learn their names.

But wait, that wasn’t all.  This was 2008.  We were knee-deep in stupidity induced debt of every flavor.  Student loans, family loans, auto loans, 1st mortgage, 2nd mortgage, credit cards, medical bills and now a funeral we simply could not afford.  We planned Isaiah’s funeral during my 7th month of pregnancy.  I remember because while we were waiting for the “funeral planner” there was a pretty hefty earthquake (as if we weren’t shaken up enough already). Picking out your kid’s casket while he’s still alive and kicking inside of you is quite the experience.  But that was nothing compared to the shame I felt.  If rock bottom exists, we had hit it.  Hard.

I didn’t know if there was a way out of the hole we had gotten ourselves into.  But we knew we couldn’t save our son’s life.  We also couldn’t save the little girl we were expecting just a year later, so we worked on fixing the only thing we still had some power over.  We let go of the things we could not control, we placed all our faith in God and we got busy following the only plan that made any sense.  We were getting out of debt.

The house was already in foreclosure so we focused all our energy on paying off everything else we could.  Using the debt snowball, we started to see the power of small wins along the way and finally finding something in our lives we could save.

Fast forward 8 years.  We are completely debt free.  We have not had a credit card in years.  We have paid cash for both our vehicles, our kid’s college savings accounts are done with, our retirement savings are well on their way, we paid cash for our business (which is also debt free), we have emergency funds for both our business and household, we have an estate plan in place, we pay cash for our vacations and we are saving to pay cash for a house (yes, in Los Angeles).  Best of all, I gave birth to a crazy, beautiful, strong little girl in 2010 that is Daddy’s little princess (and mine). 

Nobody owns us anymore.  We own our lives, our jobs, and our freedom.  We take nothing for granted and today, we owe nothing to anyone but God.

I've only just begun

It's been a long time coming.  I've known for years that I wanted to help others through the same type of financial struggles we went through.  I knew that God had not blessed us and taught us what we learned just to benefit ourselves.  When we started to see the light at the end of the tunnel I was anxious to share with anyone and everyone that would listen, how we had done it.

At first, all I could come up with was buying books in bulk so I could give them away whenever someone casually mentioned their stress over money or credit cards they couldn't pay off, or student loans that had been around for decades.  

The second step was deciding to coordinate a Financial Peace University class at our church.  The funny thing is that we hadn't even taken the class ourselves, so it was great to see how this group accountability and support system worked so well to get motivated to make a change.  This class also helped to fill in the gaps and help clarify some details that we hadn't even considered before.

Throughout this process, I realized the importance of reading, listening to podcasts and actively learning more and more about what had become undoubtedly my passion.  I decided to teach a second FPU class and start a class for single moms that would help them like I wish I had been helped many years ago.  

Teaching made me even more curious and I wanted to be better able to answer some of the questions I would get from our students.  We had started RMD by then and our finances continued to improve, so I decided it was time to be trained by the best and I registered for the Master Financial Coach training in Nashville where I would learn from Dave Ramsey's team of coaches how to professionally do what I so badly wanted to do; help others get in the best possible financial shape.

Since completing the training and then a 3 month mentorship program, I have been offered the opportunity to be listed as a local coach on the Dave Ramsey website and now have the designation of Ramsey Solutions Master Financial Coach.  As of May 1st, I will have the opportunity to serve not just our existing clients and anyone looking for help through Dave Ramsey's team.  It's been a long time coming and yet, I have only just begun!

The almighty FICO

I have very strong opinions about the FICO score and what purpose it serves.  If you know anything about me (and you will after this post), you know without a doubt where I stand.  

So, let's look at it objectively then.  A FICO score, as described by Dave Ramsey is an "I love debt" score.  And the sad part is that we are not only teaching, but encouraging our kids to follow the guidelines of a culture that has "lost its mind" in order to raise this score and maximize the opportunity to get further into debt.  

When you've become convinced that telling your kids to get into debt is better than showing them how to live within their means and save for the things they want, something is VERY wrong. Common sense has left the premises.  That's what the FICO score obsession has forced us to do. Loose our minds and encourage our kids to follow along.  

WHAT THE FICO SCORE IS:

The FICO score has become the ultimate measure of financial fitness.  But let's really talk about what this score is based on and what it stands for.  The score is based on 5 things. 1. How well you've payed debt in the past. 2. How much debt you currently have. 3. How long you've been paying on this debt.  4. How much new debt you have and finally 5. What types of debt you have.  

WHAT THE FICO SCORE IS NOT:

The FICO score IS NOT based in any way on your cash position or savings, your income, your net worth, your discipline in living below your means or your investments.  In other words, you could be a millionaire who can write a check for an apartment building but be turned down as a tenant for a 2 bedroom apartment if you've stayed away from debt and have no FICO score. Makes complete sense, right?

BUT I NEED TO BUY A HOUSE!  

The argument always comes up (especially in L.A.) that you MUST have a FICO score to purchase a home because it's impossible to do so without a loan.  The truth is that if you've stayed out of debt and have no FICO score, you can get a loan through something called manual underwriting that actually looks at how well you manage money (not debt).  But most people have NEVER heard of this or considered this as an option and the truth is not every bank does this.  But they do exist and are most definitely an option.

Now I'm not telling you what you should or shouldn't do.  And I know it's hard to be "weird" when everyone around you is not.  I'm just sharing information that I wish I had had access to a long time ago.

In closing, from personal experience, I want to share that a life where FICO no longer rules your world is not a myth and is just so much sweeter.  Not owing anything to anyone, waiting patiently and working your booty off to pay cash for a car, an education or a vacation, living below your means, having an emergency fund and savings for your kids college and your retirement beats the heck out of obsessing over a score that tells the world how well you play kissy face with debt.  And having your kids see that and start their lives that way is truly priceless.

Our second tax season survived!

We made it! This was RMD's second tax season but our first tax season in our new offices.  It feels like we're all grown up! Our move in July 2015 was scary and overwhelming but definitely a great decision. A big THANK YOU to all our clients for making this year's season as successful as it has been.

We feel so blessed to have amazing clients that are not only loyal but have referred us to their friends and family members and there is no greater compliment than that.  Manny has many years experience and truly loves what he does.  When we hear our clients' gratitude and see them come in with a frown at times and leave with a big smile on their face, it makes what we do so worth while. 

Owning your own business has many challenges but the rewards (and not just the monetary ones) far outweigh the costs.  We never take this for granted.  We were very intentional about starting this business debt free to ensure its stability and growth for many decades to come. It hasn't been very long, but we are able to take a few minutes today to reflect on the last 15 months.  

During these short months, we have more than doubled our revenues.  We have cut costs by over 20%.  We have built up retained earnings while keeping our working capital intact.  We have hired 2 new team members and plan to add a full time member later this year.  We started providing financial coaching services, giving the business a new revenue source with unlimited growth potential.  We became a Dave Ramsey Endorsed Local Provider for taxes and became the #1 ranked ELP in California and the U.S.  But above all, we have continued to learn and strive to be the best at what we do. Here's to what made all this possible...YOU!