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BUY BUY BUY… Your Tollbooth to PFTM Wealth

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Buy Buy Buy

I was never terrific at math in high school…

I was OK… yes… but not super gifted. But I did have my style. Or more likely I discovered my style with age and experience like a modern day Marco Polo. (Marco?… POLO!)

I hung out in class with slightly nerdy kids like Jerome and Karen and another Larry (he called me Lawrence so we wouldn’t get confused), kids who grasped and consumed math concepts like they were ambling at ease amidst the orchard trees, snacking on juicy, low hanging cherries, whereas I clumsily had to climb a shaky ladder to reach and reach to find the answers.

More often than not I dropped the fruit or fell off the ladder.

Jerome would lean across the gap between our desks and patiently explain to me the misty concept that our teacher Mr. Warneke had just chalked up all over the blackboard. Regardless, my puzzled expression rarely changed. SOL again.

The abstruse theories and hypotheses were nebulous to me, more flighty feathers than concrete. I couldn’t squint hard enough to make the numeral picture on the canvas clear, not the way my gifted cohorts naturally could.

More importantly, it wasn’t something I enjoyed. It tasted a whole lot more like vinegar than chocolate.

I have a BIG lazy gene and math drew it up to the surface like bubbling oil crude. When it came to tough thought processes, you know, the 10,000 hour rule, even the 1,000 hour rule, well…. I flipped to the other channel seeking alternate fluff… maybe it was “fake fluff”!

fake fluff.jpg

I liked numbers and math, just not THOSE numbers and math. It was too much like masturbation instead of skin-to-skin sex.

I liked “real life” math that could change my life or others’ lives. Still do.

In the here and now, and in the many years since, whenever I deal with real life numbers… numbers that have an actual day-to-day meaning in my world… well… I’m in my element. The water feels so much warmer in this pool.

I like numbers that relate to meaningful things where I can have an obvious impact.

Here’s a couple of examples:

I compiled statistics for 10 years in a laboratory-based diabetes program. I was able to monitor and impact in some style the way in which people treated their own diabetes condition.

Every three months I prepared and mailed an individualized letter to thousands of local diabetics – a letter filled with real life numbers that included their blood test results for A1C (blood sugar test), Blood pressure and Cholesterol (ABC’s).

For those who had been wandering about blindly (often for years), a mechanism now arrived in their mailbox whereby they knew exactly where they stood. They could then make educated lifestyle changes (or choose not to as is sadly so often the case). That’s real world, easy-concept numbers and math.

The other real life math I invest my hours in is for my personal benefit.

It’s my tollbooth math.

Personal Financial Tollbooth Math. (PFTM)

tollbooth.jpg

I’ve talked about the idea behind PFTM before, so I’ll expand on it a bit further here.

Again, an example or two.

Remember how in high school you read JD Salinger’s book, Catcher in the Rye. He wrote that in 1951. Well, today, 66 years later, this book continues to sell a quarter of a million copies each year. For God’s sake, the man has been dead for almost 8 years and he makes more money annually than I do. Tollbooth.

Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, and Michael Jackson are all long gone and yet each still racks up millions and millions of dollars of yearly revenues that pour out of swollen creeks into their estate accounts. Tollbooth.

Each of these people set up a tollbooth based on their strengths, and posthumously continue to feed voraciously from their early labours and talents.

If you have a business idea or some talent that provides a steady, worry-light, form of income, I encourage you to pursue it with gusto. Eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But since I’ll likely never pen a New York Times bestseller 50 Shades of Grey book or produce a song like Thriller, I need to build my own tollbooth in my own way with the tools I have at my disposal; hence Personal Financial Tollbooth Math.

More simply put, it’s about investing in good quality companies that spin off a steady stream of dividends, preferably a stream that increases each and every year. There’s an additional layer to this called DRIP investing that I’ll write about another day.

Ownership of a well-chosen batch of these companies is a ticket to long-term financial success, and fortunately they’re not hard to find in today’s information-laden internet world.

A few choices you ask? I’d be happy to share like the Warren Buffett wannabe that I am.

I have investments in tollbooth businesses like Apple (your iPhone is 2 or 3 years old… buy a new one… Cha-ching for Apple!), or Johnson & Johnson (running low on Tylenol…psssst… J & J will take away that headache!), or Bell Canada Enterprises (BCE) (another month, another $100 to the phone company that connects me to my Apple iPhone!). They all pay quarterly dividends that increase each year. Tollbooth.

AFLAC, CVS Health, TransCanada Pipelines, Royal Bank, Disney, United Technologies, Pizza Pizza Corp. are all good conservative choices that have paid ordinary investors for years and years, and likely will for many years to come. And those are just a few.

FULL DISCLOSURE: If you’re seeking a raging blast of adrenaline rush with your investments, none of these are high flyers with 10-bagger potential (Peter Lynch‘s catchphrase for a stock whose share price increases 10-fold)… but they all offer a steady drizzle of tollbooth money into your bank account every month or every 3 months.

Dividends

Tollbooths and “real life” math go hand-in-hand to bring ease and quality to our lives. You can tell me as often as you like that money doesn’t generate happiness. I’ll grind my teeth together and then quietly remind you that $$ are a cruise ship that carries you a long way in the right direction.

I’ll keep practicing my PFTM tricks and building a stronger repertoire of those businesses that work for me and my family.

I love my investments like little children. I watch them forge ahead and build on their strengths with the occasional scraped knee along the road.

I take pride in their accomplishments, and live in the reflected glow of all they do to enhance my quality of life.

Reflecting back, my bright high school friends who put in the necessary hours mastering math concepts have all likely made millions working in high-tech fields that require a strong understanding of mathematical models and nuance. Maybe theoretical math became their tollbooth. I applaud any successes they’ve had using their own toolkit.

Even though I wasn’t in the top echelon of school math class, I fortunately discovered that life often doesn’t require brilliance or genius to deliver the goods, sometimes you only need to unearth your Personal Financial Tollbooth Math.

Einstein math

Snowball BOOYAH!

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money-snowball

I don’t want to drop names or anything but last weekend Warren Buffett sent me a long letter.

He’s very thoughtful. Warren does this every year at this time. Has for 50 years now. It feels like a grandfather’s warm, reassuring hug.

OK, it’s not only me that Warren loves.

The letter is actually his annual missive to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, freely available to anyone, even non-shareholders like myself.

In its entirety, it’s an encyclopedic message of knowledge and hope to anyone who wants to invest, live, and retire comfortably, spoken in a folksy, left-wing, socialistic kind of way.

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Buffett… Graham… Fisher… Lynch… Cramer… Green????

A world of great 20th (and 21st) century investors. You might want to remember and study the ideas and words of those names (except the last one!) if you crave a life of lessened financial worries.

I was loitering in my former lab workplace this past week while dropping by to pick up a lab buddy to go for a sweat session at the gym.

While waiting and listening to haematology analysers counting red and white blood cells happily in the background, another young former co-worker Trina, shook her head and smiled and said incredulously to me:

Larry, how did you manage to work part-time for 25 years, raise 3 kids, help them out with university costs, retire at 57, and go travelling around the world?”. 

A rush of warm blood flooded my face and I felt the sensation of my head swelling. Doesn’t everyone love a compliment, well deserved or not?

Thoughts rushed through my mind. This was the perfect smartass moment. I latched on for one pleasing drag off the cigarette.

Looking down and thumbing the rough calluses on my fingertips, I mentioned our most recent trip to India. Tongue in cheek, I spoke of how we journeyed to the jungle of humanity that is Mumbai, to try out life in a location where we would actually be raising our standard of living.

Lots of other thoughts flashed through my head. I wanted to smile and gloat about a huge inheritance from my Grandma who owned Bloomingdales, or a monster lottery win, or maybe a clever Bonnie and Clyde-style bank heist… bang bang, but unfortunately (or you might say fortunately) I had none of those stories to offer Trina.

No fake news today!

Bonnie and clyde.jpg

I soberly reflected back on the years of preparation and planning that had brought me to this point in time.

I admitted to Trina that, for sure, I’d had some lucky tailwinds that blew warm fortune my way, but the brutal reality is far more boring. Boring, but I think instructive as well.

Remarkably, she still looked interested so I pushed forward and… blah blah blahed.

First of all, while I’m wealthy in all sorts of non-financial ways, I’m truly not a financially rich man by current North American standards.

I worked in a part-time lab tech job that would have paid a full-time worker somewhere in the $65- 70,000 area with medical and retirement benefits layered on top. My wife did much the same so we finished with a combined income in the $70,000 neighbourhood.

We own a modest home in tiny Summerland, British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley where typical homes sell in the $400,000- $600,000 range, not Vancouver or Toronto’s $1 million plus real estate market.

I reflected that long before The Wealthy Barber made his millions by peddling the notion of saving 10% of each paycheque, we were on board.

The early years… before kids… were the golden opportunity to lay a foundation of savings, a sturdy structure to build the rest of the rise-to-the-heavens skyscraper of hoped-for financial fortune.

money-skyscraper

And this is that time I already mentioned where the “luck” tailwinds were gusting firmly at our backs.

As Jim Cramer says on his wacky CNBC TV show…. “there is always a bull market somewhere“. This is true yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

Opportunity will exist forever, or as it was said to Virginia about Santa: “… A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood”

Our “tailwind”? Ridiculously high mortgage rates of 20+% were terrible for those buying real estate in the early 1980’s. Monthly mortgage payments were absurd based solely on the almost usurious interest rate charged by banks.

But conversely, ridiculously high interest rates of 19.5% paid on Canada Savings Bonds were a crazy incentive to save and invest in bonds. Now there’s a low risk tailwind!

We avoided real estate and plowed our dollars into savings bonds. Cha-ching!

Time passed along and kids mysteriously insinuated their way into our world (I’m better at numbers than I am the birds and the bees). Changing the locks to the house that we finally purchased never seemed to keep them out. The little Olivers and Artful Dodgers always managed to pickpocket us and leave us bordering penniless… foolishly with our seal of approval.

It was a perpetual challenge to squirrel away 10% of our earnings, but it was a priority and when it was taken out automatically, the pain was fairly mild. Thank god I love Kraft Dinner and Friskies cat food…

And, sure as shootin’, the foundation of savings mixed together with decent returns on investing began the SNOWBALL effect.

Perhaps learning as much as I could about investing in quality stocks à la the investors I named at the top of this post helped. I’ve never scored huge gains, but a consistent annual return in the 12% range has made the snowball grow bit-by-bit.

Every snowball by necessity begins as a few grains of sticky white flakes.

But give the tiny snowball some time, and fresh snow to roll it in, and it begins growing larger and larger so that every turn of the snowball collects an ever-increasing amount of momentum-snow…. growing and growing and growing…

I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. I’m never the smartest guy in the room, or on the web.

I’m not telling you to give up all the moments of enjoyment or pleasure you can garner, by squirrelling away every penny. This isn’t intended as a tribute to Scrooge.

Every era has its financial challenges and opportunities.

I’ve spoken with Trina about money matters before. She knows the path to her Money Valhalla. She’s doing the right things that will one day give her flexibility and financial freedom.

In the meantime, hopefully she’ll be receptive and spend a few minutes reading Warren’s wise and cozy letters each year.

Her $$ snowball merely needs some more time and patience.

BOOYAH!!

bull

 

 

 

 

The New Frontier… I Want A World…

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it-was-the-best-of-times

With apologies to Dickens, it’s… A Tale of Two Issues.

I’m repelled by Donald Trump – it’s as if some midnight jokester set a steamy bag of dog shit on my front doorstep – but dammit…

… That A-hole is making me money.

On paper, at least.

It irks me that I rub my hands together joyously in egocentric financial glee.

It’s a conundrum. I feel guilty.

It’s two-faced that I snort happily at the trough of increased wealth as my investments benefit, based almost solely on the market-swelling narcissistic tweets and ramblings of a Bah Humbug man, a man who points and yells out to adoring white-skinned (and white-hooded!) crowds spreading virulent hatred of immigrants and women and parents of dead soldiers.

Since Trump’s election to President last month, my stock holdings have soared skyward like an Olympic pole-vaulter that has finally discovered the tricky technique of gliding over the high bar.

Sure, I did my homework and carefully selected the stocks – the Apples and Aflacs, the L Brands and Royal Banks and 20 others. I chopped the vegetables and set out the spices for the monetary soup, but Trump mixed it together in the pot and magically cooked the soup to an unexpected, unnatural greatness… again, for the mainly white and wealthy.

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…………………

DEAR EDITOR: I am 8 years old.
Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus.
Papa says, ‘If you see it in THE SUN it’s so.’
Please tell me the truth; is there a Santa Claus?

…………………

YES Virginia… we all have personal issues of hypocrisy and confusion that divide us internally. I wrestle and spar with my occult demons regularly.

You see, I want a world filled with leaders who respect and desire peace and accommodation and compassion for others.

…………………

VIRGINIA, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

…………………

I want a world where we hunger for everyone to do well, for all 7+ billion humans to have a standard of living that reflects a similar paycheque for similar work… in the affluent western world, we fret about women making the same wages as a man for the same work, and yet, we live in a world where we selfishly tolerate billions of men, women and children living in poverty despite working laboriously hard and very long hours.

…………………

Yes, VIRGINIA, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus. It would be as dreary as if there were no VIRGINIAS. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished.

…………………

I want a world where the air is comfortably breathable in Boston, Berlin, and Beijing; a world where fish aren’t thoughtlessly killed off by industrial toxins and oil spills, a world where animal habitat is as important as human housing.

…………………

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies! You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas Eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if they did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

…………………

I want a world where women are regarded with the same respect as men in every way, a world that doesn’t victimize and use girls as sexual chattel, prevent them from educating themselves, mere toys for the rich and famous to grab by the pussy.

…………………

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart. Only faith, fancy, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, VIRGINIA, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding.

…………………

I want a world where we can all enjoy the amazing richness of peace and wealth and understanding that a 21st century globe deserves.

Surely we’ve absorbed and learned countless lessons that millennia of missteps and hardships have taught us.

This is our new frontier.

We talk in glowing epithets of Christmas spirit, and births of new hope.

If the true Christmas spirit is what most of us truly long for… I hope… hope looking through my optimistic rose-coloured glasses… that we’ll continue to push and search and work towards a place where we gaze not only inwards, as I do with my investment portfolio – no Virginia, I’ll never be Mother Teresa or Ghandi or Mandela – but outwards too with a generous spirit and a desire of goodness for all.

My sugar-plum dreams are filled with a planet that cries out in unison…

Make The World Great For Everyone“…

… not only America… not only white men… not only Christians, Jews, Muslims, Bahá’ís, Hindus, Buddhists… an aspiration, an inspiration for better…

…………………

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives, and he lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay, ten times ten thousand years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

No Virginia.jpg

 

 

Picture Yourself as a Toll Booth…

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rod serling2.jpg

Bob and Millie Frazier are average young New Yorkers who attended a party in the country last night and on the way home took a detour.

Most of us on waking in the morning know exactly where we are; the rooster or the alarm clock brings us out of sleep into the familiar sights, sounds, aromas of home and the comfort of a routine day ahead.

Not so with our young friends.

This will be a day like none they’ve ever spent – and they’ll spend it in the Twilight Zone.”

 

……………..

Murdering your chosen career is traumatic. A smudged chalky outline around your desk is all that remains of decades of your life.

Leaving the “routine” work world is a bit like entering the Twilight Zone… absent Rod Serling’s monotone voiceover.

Kissing goodbye to a regular bi-weekly magical monetary gift into your bank account takes some thought and planning.

Warren Buffett the great investor – in my Walter Mitty dream life, I’m a young Warren Buffett – says this about investing your money:

Rule No. 1: Never Lose Money.

Rule No. 2: Never Forget Rule No. 1

Buffett Uke

Sing those rules Warren…

I like RULES.

Warren has been my investing mentor for a lot of years now… I’m a slow learner so I’ve mislaid Rule #1 on more than one occasion, but even without a 12-step program I’m slowly getting better.

I’m a Number’s Nerd… a Statistical Sam… and so I spend a fair bit of time passing numbers through my head, batting them back and forth like tennis balls, sifting and sorting ideas on how to make a few dollah’s from smart investing…

The investing world is a challenge when you find yourself on the cliff’s edge of retirement (there’s that R word I hate!) and beyond.

The worry is like being perched in the starting blocks of the 100 m. Olympic race just before the gun goes “BAM!“.

You’re filled with child-like hope and anticipation of the exciting wonders that lie ahead while at the same time brooding intensely over whether if, as you’re nearing life’s finish line, you’ll be smiling Usain Bolt at the front of the field or sad Joe Blowitzky from Upper Slobovia jogging in at the back of the pack.

Investing and building an economic future is a lesson about ourselves… a lesson to be heeded and learned from, and skilfully tracked across into other areas of our lives.

Most of us spend year after year carefully – occasionally recklessly – placing the puzzle pieces of investment that fit together with our lives, measuring out the hunger to enjoy today’s fresh-faced moments with the hazy horizon of our future, more wrinkled, selves.

investment puzzle

Most of the time we make smart, disciplined decisions, but every now and then we just do something stupid.

Stupid like listening to our neighbour’s “hot tip” about that fabulous no-lose stock called BRE-X… or was it ENRON?… in my case was it YBM Magnex? Doesn’t matter, you get my point, right?

It’s often said that most marital difficulties are stirred up by financial discrepancies and arguments.

A woman I met once told me the secret answer to avoiding arguments with anyone.

If you want to stop an argument, just say the word ‘panties’,” she told me. “Everyone stops then. Men become frozen.

I’ve never actually tried this so I can’t tell you if it works but I know it made writing this next paragraph a more distracted challenge… so it obviously has some effect.

Maybe the same effect it had on the dumbstruck woman behind the counter at my bank yesterday when I told her that I wanted to deposit my Male Prostitution money into my “12-string guitar account”. Deer in the headlights.

But back to investing and building a future.

I have a few little mottos or themes that guide me in life… old standards like:

  • I live to eat, not eat to live
  • Ready. Shoot. Aim.
  • It’s better to travel hopefully, than to arrive
  • If it’s to be, it’s up to me
  • To you, I’m an atheist.
    To God, I’m the loyal opposition.

In my investment life, one of the major themes I’ve learned to love when I look at where I’ll put my money to work relates to the idea of a TOLL BOOTH. Easy $$ Cha-Ching…

Being an inherently lazy kind of guy, I want to make as much money as I can with the least amount of work. Shiftless Shekels. Lax Loot. Undemanding Dinero. Toll booth inert.

I’m actively seeking passive ways of collecting regular money like the GO corner on the Monopoly board of life.

So, for me, TOLL BOOTH investing is easily summed up in one word:

DIVIDENDS!

Without exception, every stock holding in my personal portfolio pays ME to be a Sleepy in Summerland owner.

Companies like APPLE and MICROSOFT and LBRANDS (Victoria’s Secret) and AFLAC and DISNEY and ROYAL BANK etc all pay me to go to bed at night and purr away while they stay awake making out cheques to send my way. Toll booth.

How about real estate? Do I own real estate beyond my own home? Sure. But do I ever get irritating phone calls at 2 am about broken water heaters, or tenants making noise or setting up illicit grow-ops? Nope. NEVER.

Owning Real Estate Investment Trusts like RIOCAN and H&R REIT means that I have managers working for me collecting rent cheques, cleaning dirty bathrooms and screening tenants. These are this lazy guy’s answer. Toll booth.

I just love Toll Booths where nice folks pay me to loll naked in my backyard hammock. Just try to get THAT image out of your head.

In the end, everyone seeks and discovers a monetary solution of sorts to their employment exodus (I still can’t use that R word)

There are joys and woes to using company pensions, government pensions, and your own personal guile in accumulating and investing a mini-armoury stockpile of wealth.

Nobody promises us that a life of ease will be easy.

Honestly, I’m still not sure if I’m in the Twilight Zone world of Usain Bolt or Joe Blowitzky in this race to the finish line.

But in the meantime, I think I’ll just lay back, close my eyes and count… shee… er… sweet dollar bills jumping over fences into my arms.

Sheep jumping.jpg

 

 

 

 

YOU Are Your Own Lottery Ticket

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spin bike sweat

Another slow-motion drip of salty sweat falls to the wood floor.

SPLAT!

It’s the small beginning of Lake Lawrence, building, evolving, as heaving, melting bodies revolve on a dozen or more immobile bicycles surrounding me.

During spin class, energetic Sergeant/Instructor Cara plays that bouncy Latino-sonic tune FIREBALL.

It’s a great ear worm song.

I want to stand on the bike pedals and do a gyrating dance, it’s that catchy.

Actually, when I look up, Cara IS doing a pole-dancer gyration on her pedals. No way am I imitating her booty moves.

My distractible mind plays trampoline Olympics with the fiery music and the word Fireball … soon it migrates along the road a bit further until it lands on the word POWERBALL.

POWERBALL – that monstrous American lottery where 3 people shared 1.5 BILLION dollars a few weeks back. 1.5 … BILLION … DOLLARS.

Enough to make 1500 individual millionaires. Numbers. I love ’em.

Powerball

When I was a kid, the only lottery available in Canada was called the Irish Sweepstakes.

At the time of the Sweepstake’s inception, lotteries were generally illegal in the UK, the USA and Canada. In the absence of other readily available lotteries, the Irish Sweeps became popular. Even though tickets were illegal outside Ireland, millions were sold outside the country.

I also remember what an IMMENSE deal it was in Hamilton, Ontario way back in 1971 when they held a lottery to raise money to put Astroturf on the Tiger Cat football field …

The big win? $100,000.

People went mad buying up tickets for the “huge” prize, almost like they were scarce Cabbage Patch dolls.

In today’s world, $100,000 is chump change. Let’s face it, even a “small” 1 million dollar loan is just TRUMP change.

trump change

Lotteries, games of chance, poker, bingo, roulette … Las Vegas, Reno, Monte Carlo, Macau.

Many, if not most of us, want an instantaneous heroin fix to our money concerns, worries. We love the thought of the possibilities, the dream, the unimaginable high.

And there are just enough stories of winners floating out there to keep lineups long, like Moscow bread lines of old, at ubiquitous ticket-selling booths.

Full disclosure. I have bought the occasional lottery ticket. Maybe one every couple of years.

Sometimes I’ll get a birthday or Christmas gift of a scratch-and-win ticket that I enjoy playing the money chase with.

In my workplace, maybe like yours, I used to pony up $10 every month or so for a group lottery purchase.

Can you imagine the disappointment of crawling out of bed one morning and discovering that every one of your colleagues is an overnight Bill Gates? I think I’d just climb some stairs and jump off a building from money-lover’s heartbreak.

But do I really want to walk the sidewalks knowing that my friends and neighbours cast sidelong glances at “Mr. Lucky Rich Bastard”… me, with the innocent, haughty look of easy wealth? A Prosperity Walk of Shame?

NOPE.

Buried under my slight gambler’s intrigue is a very down-to-earth sensible guy who wants to unearth and create his own fortune based on a virtuous self-discipline of saving, followed by a modicum of investing knowledge to take those hard-earned dollars and transform them through the magic of time and compounding.

I’m competitive, sure. I want to win, absolutely YES.  But I want to win on my own terms.

My game, my rules.

Whatever luck I encounter should be at the intersection of  Preparation and Opportunity Streets (actually, it was Roman philosopher Seneca that said “Luck Is What Happens When Preparation Meets Opportunity“, reminding us that we make our own luck.)

  • I want that inner glowing satisfaction of winning the middle-class self-made dream.
  • I want the well-deserved white hair and wrinkles of the man who took the fitness discipline of health, translated it into a saving self-discipline, and mixed it with a dollop of investing ingenuity.
  • I want to feel the little secret pleasure of fatigue and patience from years of setting aside a magical 10% of every paycheque.
  • I want to submerge myself in the gratification of watching the tiny speck of a single snowflake slowly roll forward, slowly, ever so slowly gaining momentum picking up stray flakes along its journey. Despite the occasional slip back upwards on the slope it once again grips the icy surface and pushes its way forward, growing larger and larger so that the initial snowflake is so deeply buried that it’s only a faint memory of a long gone era when I wore bell bottom jeans and a paisley shirt … EWWWW!

bell bottoms

It’s just like grunting and sweating in a spin class.

Each drop of sweat that lands on the gym floor is a minuscule down payment.

The muscles and fitness that come from a long period of effort and good behaviour.

That satisfying tricep ripple I spot in the mirror from long-term effort is the same glow emanating from a work ethic of building a tiny financial personal miracle.

FIREBALL is an energizing tune that gives me a bootylicious kick-start.

It’s got that pulsing beat … a big saxophone burst that inspires me in the gym and also in the world of building my money muscle.

Nobody listens to Pitbull singing FIREBALL while buying a lottery ticket.

 

 

A Blog About Nothing …

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YADA YADA YADA …

Yoda

YADA … not … YODA …

You can nod off to sleep right now if you wish because I’ll be writing a thousand words or so here but I won’t be telling you anything you need to know that’s important other than to ignore the stuff happening that you think might be important, because it’s really not. Got it?

Let’s move on …

I mentioned last week that I’ve been writing this blog stuff for 3 and a half years now …

I also mentioned that I observe and steal from others … people I encounter day-to-day and people and ideas I see in TV and movies…

And if you’ve noticed, there are a few people out there in the artistic and investing community that I admire.

People like:

  • writer Stephen King who blows me away with his prolific writing and amazingly creative imaginary genius, even if I don’t always enjoy his “horror”-genre subject matter.
  • TV and movie writer Aaron Sorkin who concocts the most remarkable rapid-paced dialogue and clever one-liners to come out of actors’ mouths. The Social Network, Moneyball, Charlie Wilson’s War, Steve Jobs, A Few Good Men, The American President, The West Wing, Sports Night, Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, The Newsroom. Just listen to the dialogue and Olympic-level verbal gymnastics that occur in these shows – in his writing.
  • Nora Ephron, the late queen of writing the classic romantic-comedy movie: Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, When Harry Met Sally, Silkwood, Michael. Ephron almost defines the Rom-Com scenario of the late 20th Century.
  • Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha. An ordinary yet truly extraordinary investor guy who acts like a country bumpkin but has the calm wisdom of Solomon.

… and finally,

  • Jerry Seinfeld. Everyone knows Jerry. That guy who made TV shows about nothing. ABSOLUTELY NOTHING! And we all loved him for it. When we were in New York City a couple of years back, we visited the famous Tom’s Restaurant coffee shop where many of the group of 4 (Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer) scenes occurred (in truth, just the exterior of the restaurant was real, the scenes were filmed on a soundstage elsewhere). A few weeks back, we took in a Jerry Seinfeld stand-up comedy “concert” in Vancouver – an hour and 15 minutes of non-stop laughter – yup, he still delivers.

Toms restaurant

So, in perhaps one of the strangest segues ever observed (And BTW? Segue – pronounced “SEGWAY” is one of my favourite words ever), let me take you back to the NOTHING I mentioned earlier…

If you’ve been looking at – or worrying about – all the turmoil and fear in world stock markets this week, try to remember Jerry Seinfeld and that all of this financial worry is just YADA YADA YADA …

A big NOTHING.

Background noise.

Markets go up … markets go down.

The sky isn’t falling and we’re living in a golden age even if we don’t always recognize it that way.

Most of us enjoy lives greatly superior to royal kings and queens of a few centuries back with our:

  • Heated homes and sometimes, indoor heated thrones too.
  • Sumptuous foods from every corner of the world every day.
  • Entertainment of a thousand varieties at the push of a button.
  • A pill to cure or assuage every affliction.
  • Teeth that shine like sparkly diamonds with no decay pain.
  • Our backs bathed in sunny warmth on sandy beaches in February while snowdevils whirl around our frigid northern homes.

I could go on but you get it, right?

I hear you saying I’m an interminable optimist who would have saluted Hitler with a smile. Sure, maybe you’re right.

But one of life’s lessons I think I’ve learned finally is that the things we worry about the most – MOST times never occur.

My mother passed on a minor version of her “worry gene” to me. This used to worry me… but the irony in that is just too silly to contemplate.

Of course, unpleasant things happen to all of us. BUT, to constantly worry about what could happen won’t prevent unpleasant things from happening. Quite the contrary, that’s usually a very efficient way to attract more unpleasant things into our lives.

Yes, unpleasant things happen. But when they happen, we find a way to deal with them, we find a solution and we learn and grow through them. We become bigger, wiser, better…

I used to worry about my financial health every time the stock market took a downdraft.

One Tuesday morning in October 1987 I was sitting in the cafeteria of Penticton Regional Hospital on a coffee break with some of my fellow lab co-workers.

They were talking to me but I didn’t hear a word they were saying.

The New York Stock Exchange had dropped 22.6% a day earlier and my – what I had considered to be substantial – investments took a beautifully elegant swan dive off an Acapulco cliff.

Black-Monday-the-Stock-Market

My bastard inside voices told me the world was ending and life would be terrible and barely livable.

How would I manage? How would I survive the future? My children would be paupers.

In a state of lucky near-panic, I did nothing and rode the waves of worry and weight, while others sold their investments in extreme anxiety.

A couple of years later, it was as if nothing had happened. My stock shares rebounded and grew higher still.

It wasn’t my calm persistence and belief in the positive that carried me through the worry then. It was paralysis.

Since those earlier years, I’ve encountered more heartwretching stock market plummets (2008 was a classic!). I’ve fashioned mistakes of my own making in choosing an investment – where an individual stock price dropped to featherlight nothingness overnight.

The main thing I learned in my own evolution through these and life’s other worries is that the end result is rarely as bad as the thoughts that ran through my head.

Repetition of these distressing life events slowly began to infiltrate and become absorbed.  The lesson I was learning was the belief that I could survive each onslaught and that the final result would be fine. Or close to fine.

The worry – the overwhelming worry? – it wasn’t worth the paper it was written on… OMG, that’s a terrible analogy. Sorry, you can probably think of a better one.

My worry was wasted energy. Looking back it was me running on a treadmill, never getting closer to my desired destination.

If all the physical, health, mental, financial worries that I had imagined countless times had come true, I would have perished years ago, a tangled mess of a train wreck. KA-BANG!!

The answer to life’s worries wasn’t found in the wise words of YODA, the reflections of Buddha or Confucius, the blatherings of Donald Trump.

When it comes to worry – and we all have worries, it’s part of the human condition … the first words I hear now aren’t from green goblins named YODA …

… the words I hear are YADA YADA YADA …

… loosely translated as THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

I’ve written that here before just so you know I’m not delusionally and unknowingly repeating myself.

Some things, like eating a bowl of butterscotch ice cream, bear repeating.

And that is today’s blog post about NOTHING.

YADA YADA YADA …

nothing

 

Build Yourself a Toll Bridge and Find Freedom …

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For Christmas I’d like to give you a gift of 10 million dollars. And Freedom.

Not by winning a lottery or a scratch-and-win prize. Not by falling into a huge inheritance.

Nope … Those are magical tricks I don’t buy into.

I want us to create our own magic.

INVESTING!

Wall street bull

 

My real goal in saving and investing has always been to pursue personal freedom.

The ability to choose my own path and not be at the beck and call of someone else who controls my destiny.

If I didn’t like what I was doing or who I was working with, I always wanted the option of kissing it/them goodbye.

I did just this when I quit a lab job on Vancouver Island that was eating me up inside. The financial returns weren’t worth the stress and burn.

I don’t need a zillion dollars to make my life livable. But I do need a reasonable base of savings and yearly returns that give me cash flow to live on. Cash flowing in like a toll bridge.

I like toll bridges.

toll bridge

Toll bridges don’t do anything, they just sit there collecting $$.

I want to own the toll bridge that pays me for just standing still, doing nothing.

I was fortunate – lucky really – to work only 3 days each week for the past 25 years in a job I enjoyed, working around people I enjoyed working with. THAT is freedom.

While I worked in medical laboratories, dipping swabs in delicately scented stool samples and pouring tubes of straw-coloured urine like fine wine, I quietly built a toll bridge.

I love investing.  I’m always searching for a zillion dollar idea in the stock market.

People like to whisper in my ear how I can make a zillion dollars.

I decided long ago to only listen if they’ve lived their dream and made it happen in their own lives. Otherwise it’s just a puff of cancerous smoke trying to kill me.

Today I’m gonna whisper in your ear. You decide if it’s smoke and mirrors or solid ear wax.

Please understand that my whispers won’t make you a zillionaire overnight.

But let them incubate a few years and these delectable eggs may set you free.

I love reading company financial reports, looking for tiny shiny diamonds in a huge slag pile. My pulse quickens when I find an elusive gem.

I was elated in years past when Slater Steel and Western Star Trucks and Facebook, and more recently Apple and Disney and Aflac landed in my lap at fire-sale prices. Black Friday sales (and CRASHES too!) can happen any day in stock markets.

Famous investor Peter Lynch was always looking for the “10-Bagger”… a stock that multiplied in share price 10 times over. Peter Lynch was a great investor.

One Up on Wall Street cover

Honestly, I’ve never owned a 10-Bagger.

Actually I probably have owned a couple but I’ve yet to find one that I didn’t sell too early and miss the HUGE payoff. Just shoot me now.

I get skittish when I have a stock that’s risen two or three times over, even if it still holds potential for further gains.

The real goal for a true investor (not speculator or gambler) is to better the return of the stock market indices – The DOW. The NASDAQ. The S&P 500. The TSX.

If you can’t beat the stock market averages – and MOST mutual funds return LESS than the stock market averages – then sniff sniff … you’re just … average … and you might just as well stop wasting your time and put your money in an ETF (Exchange Traded Fund)  that follows the ups and downs of the whole market.

Nope. Not for me.

Over the past 10 years if you had socked your hard-earned $$ in the North American markets you would have seen yearly gains of 7.8% (DOW), 7.4% (S&P 500), 8.5% (NASDAQ), 4.7% (TSX)… not too bad when you compare these numbers with long-term GIC returns of about 3.5%.

My own 10 year investment return has been 12.2%. Not bad either, although I set my sights on 15% as a long-term goal.

Maybe I’ve set my sights too low in aiming for a 15% annual return on my overall investment portfolio. Perhaps if I looked higher in the sky, I’d make a better return. There’s something to be said for setting expectations HIGH!

This year has been relatively quiet on stock market fronts … both Toronto and New York markets have bobbed and wavered like an iceberg around the 0% change mark, sometimes slipping a bit above the ocean’s surface, sometimes dipping a bit below.

I can happily report that as of this week, I’m sitting on a 2015 investment return of 10.7%. I know it’s not an eye-popping number – Donald Trump won’t be naming one of his buildings in my honour (hallelujah!!) – but I take some satisfaction in outgunning the stock markets as a whole so far.

And my toll bridge is doing its job of sending me cheques every three months filled with $$ I didn’t have to get out of bed to earn.

But let’s end the narcissism right here.  Enough about me and my year.

What are a few names that might spell FREEDOM for you in today’s stock market world?

I’ll tell you this with one caveat.

As soon as I open my mouth publicly about a great investment, the Money Gods generally take vengeance on me by sending bolts of lightning to crush and sizzle my picks.

Of course this won’t stop me because I have a strong secular faith that markets and stocks that drop today – if well chosen – will rise like Phoenix’s from the fires and ashes and bring a financial smile to my lips.

And in the meantime, every one of these “whispers” pays a toll booth dividend to you, collecting and sending dollars your way while you stand still doing nothing. You can just take your time and breathe.

 

Here goes:

  1. Apple – the 2000’s world exists with an “i” in front of everything. Why fight this amazing colossus with ONLY $200 Billion cash on its balance sheet?
  2. Microsoft – don’t like Apple? Microsoft owns everything else in technology. Office 360 and X-Box anyone?
  3. Disney – Just watch the new Star Wars movie and Let It Go, it’ll make all your dreams come true.
  4. Aflac – the silly daffy duck that keeps on giving bigger dividends every year.
  5. Gilead Sciences – a cure for Hepatitis (HARVONI) at a bargain price of $75,000 per patient – KA-CHING!!!
  6. Alimentation Couche-Tard – the owner of almost every corner store and gas station in North America is migrating a path around the world bringing Mac’s and Circle K to the masses.
  7. Deere – you wanna eat? You ain’t gonna do it without a John Deere tractor pulling the harvester.
  8. Johnson & Johnson – I am stuck on band-aids, and AIDS treatments too. And 10,000 other products you absolutely need.
  9. Royal Bank – hate bank user fees? It hurts a lot less when you get them back in a dividend cheque.
  10. Torchmark Corp – just a quiet little health insurance company that spoon feeds all its profit back to investors.

The world needs more bridges of all kinds to solve its problems. Why not consider constructing yourself a toll booth and enjoy sleeping in late tomorrow?

Freedom. Enjoy this Christmas gift to you.

sleep in

 

 

 

 

Become Your Own Financial Gardener …

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goofy investing

You may already know this, but I love investing in the stock market. I’m a Market Nerd.

But be careful reading this. I like to invest, not speculate.

I’m not loading my ass up to join in any Klondike Gold Rushes for untold wealth.

There’s a lot of fool’s gold out there, and I’ve bought my fair share over the years. Like the $25,000 I “invested” in YBM Magnex (a rare earth magnets company with wonderful financial statements) that turned out to be a front for Russian money launderers… the toilet got to eat those dollars.

Now, I bite into every piece of gold before I plunk my devalued Canadian dollars down.

At the age of 10, I knew I wanted to be a millionaire.

larry-spec-carrier-tiff

For an average guy with an average intellect, I’ve been able to make a reasonable return (12.2% annually over 10 years) on a consistent basis with a modicum of knowledge in reading balance sheets and income statements. It takes a steady hand on the tiller and confidence in the decisions I’ve made.

When so many others bailed out of stock markets in 2008 during the financial crisis and lost a huge whack of $$, I had no hesitation in staying the course.

WHY?

Because I did my own research and analysis of each company and stock that I owned a tiny piece of.

Warren Buffett, the world’s most famous investor taught me well.

A year or two later I was back above where I was prior to the “crash”.

It didn’t matter to me that markets tumbled precipitously day after day after day (OK, I’m human, it hurt a bit… nobody likes to see wealth appear to evaporate like a cloud of steam arising from a kettle).

  • I looked around and I could see that the lineups at Tim Hortons Drive-Thru lanes remained as long as ever.
  • People still stopped at Shell stations to put gas in their car tanks on the way to work.
  • I heard of no one cutting their Shaw cable or Bell phone connections because markets dropped.

Granted, home sales dropped off the cliff and there were small cutbacks in family budgets for fine dining and car purchases.

But in the real world, very little changed other than perception.

Markets are all about perception.

In the stock market world, on any given day, everything is super amazingly fabulous … or … everything is catastrophically terrible. In the short term, rational thought doesn’t find a place on this rollercoaster. It’s screaming fun or vomiting your guts out over the sides.

This is one great thing about experience and aging. For the long term, I’ve learned to just shrug and remain calm. No bull.

Financial-District-Bull

I began investing in the stock market in the 1970’s in my 20’s.

Hot Tips” and broker recommendations were the way I made my investment choices. “This baby will double in 3 months!“… “You can get in on the ground level now, but it will be too late next week“.

When you hear those words anywhere in your life, I suggest you turn and run away as fast as you can. Those guys have stinky armpits and bad breath, but their seductive smile blinds you to the underlying stench.

The good thing about such tutorials at this point in your young life is that the hurt you can inflict on yourself is generally pretty small. These are just small razor nicks, not a nasty slice through the main financial artery.

Once you’ve accumulated a nest egg of a decent size, hopefully you’ve learned sufficient lessons to protect yourself from yourself and irrational decisions.

Just as you should feel more comfortable eating a meal you’ve prepared with ingredients you know, you can swim in warm comfort when you have a bit of understanding and know the reasons and rationale for making an investment.

You read your own financial cookbook if you want the best result.

financial cookbook

Nowadays, I can assess within about a minute and a half if a company has any interest to me whatsoever in terms of investing in it.

9 out of 10 prospectives get tossed quickly, then I can delve more deeply into that 1 possible gem and decide if it has long term potential. Potential and a sensible price to make the purchase.

I love DISNEY as a company, but I can’t make myself buy it right now because it’s selling for a crazy high price. I love APPLE as a company, and it’s selling for a modicum of its true worth (in my evaluation). BUY BUY BUY!!

Once I’ve made the decision to invest, it’s important to be out in the financial garden daily or at least with a regular frequency.

The very best investments occasionally turn south for a myriad of reasons (eg. new management (General Electric), changing technologies (Blackberry)).

Beautiful investment flowers can sadly become unexpectedly infected with a virus or fungus.

My investments are like bonsai trees. I trim a little deadwood here, I let other healthy branches grow.

Mistakes will always happen and need to be pruned.

Other times, a FACEBOOK takes the world by storm, and you just sit back and watch that branch grow and grow. Ka-Ching! Ka-Ching!

Pssst! Here’s my HOT TIP for you if you want to be your own financial gardener.

Start by reading and absorbing what’s worked for the ORACLE of OMAHA… Warren Buffett.

The Warren Buffett Way by Robert G. Hagstrom

Let’s go outside and smell the roses divine.

financial garden

The Non-Oprah Business Boys Book Club …

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Do you follow Oprah’s Book List?

She is HUGE in the book club world.

If I wanted to increase my tiny blog readership by millions overnight, I would just kidnap and drug Oprah and have her make a woozy public statement on Twitter or Facebook about how wonderful my blog is.

Then I could buy a Caribbean island and share evening cocktails with Richard Branson and Kate Upton, ” … I just love the saltiness of this Russian beluga caviar, don’t you Sir Richard?“… “Kate, you were fabulous in that Bartender video with Lady Antebellum!

Just FYI … Oprah’s latest book choice is called RUBY by Cynthia Bond. I haven’t read it so I can’t comment.

oprah-ruby-cynthia-bond

I don’t follow Oprah’s list closely, but I do pay attention to another book list of someone I admire.

But first …

I’m an investor. Not a superstar investor  à la Carl Icahn or Warren Buffett or George Soros, but I do alright.

My largest stock market holdings are Apple and Microsoft, with that daffy featherbrained AFLAC duck holding down 3rd spot in the portfolio.

I have a great deal of respect for the thinking of business/investment leaders like Bill Gates (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), and Warren Buffett (Berkshire Hathaway).

Whether you hate or love business types, they’ve been creative in finding ways to enrich their personal bank accounts while simultaneously helping to create a HUGE group of others who can include themselves in the Millionaire’s Club.

300x300

My own retirement “package” is in no small part thanks to their creative abilities … creation of products that people – myself included – want to buy, and creation of my personal wealth. Every billion iPads you buy means I get an all-expenses paid trip south.

Today though, I’m more interested in talking about how these business boys invest their “spare” time. Reading.

To my advantage over the years, I’ve read a number of investing and business books that Warren Buffett has recommended. Of course I didn’t read or learn enough to avoid losing $25,000 on YBM Magnex, a Canadian company that was actually Russian mob controlled. For real …

If you’re at all interested in stock market investing, you could do far worse than read Buffett’s recommendation of The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham.

And just lately, I’ve begun looking over the annual reading list of Bill Gates … yup, the God of Microsoft… the Master of Mister Softy… the King of … well, you get my point.

Bill Gates is a consummate nerd, a ruthless, but savvy businessman who is now doing some incredibly amazing stuff in Third World countries as a philanthropist.

And because of his financial resources and connections to other wealthy individuals, he’s having as much or more of an impact on the health and welfare of millions than entire governments, including that of Barack Obama.

Somehow, somewhere along the line, Bill has assimilated the skills of time management. He finds a way to read a book each week, mostly non-fiction, with the occasional fiction novel slipping in from time to time.

I pat myself on the back if I can turn away from the absorbing Netflix dramas House of Cards or Orange is the New Black long enough to read one book per month.

So today, let me introduce you to Bill’s Book Club.

Below are 5 of Gates’ favourite reads from 2014, four of them non-fiction and the fifth a quirky, charming fiction novel:

  1. Capital in the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas Piketty.
  2. How Asia Works, by Joe Studwell.
  3. Making the Modern World: Materials and Dematerialization, by Vaclav Smil.
  4. Business Adventures, by John Brooks.

And finally, Bill Gates’ fiction choice and the book that I’ve read most recently. It’s called:

5. The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion.

Rosie and Bill Gates

This is one quirky, sometimes confusing, sometimes hilarious novel because of its nerdy main character Don Tillman.

I don’t watch the popular TV show The Big Bang Theory, but I’ve seen enough previews and interviews from the show to gather that Tillman would be a perfect fit if they were ever seeking new cast members.

Everything genetics professor Tillman pursues in life is given a research folder and a name… eg. The Wife Project, The Father Project, and yes, The Rosie Project. 

Professor Don Tillman is unmarried and his social ineptitude has resulted in a track record of bizarre and unsatisfactory dating experiences.

His interpretation of the statistics leads him to conclude he needs a wife, hence The Wife Project, which eventually morphs into The Rosie Project. This is where he decides to vet applicants for his Wife Project with a 16-page (double-sided) questionnaire, in the interests of efficiency. Yup, he really does have potential dates fill out the questionnaire.

Don is wired differently than most of us – he mentally assesses the age and BMI of everyone he meets – but he has integrity, focus, and determination, and it is pretty hard not to feel empathy with him even while laughing at his missteps.

It’s a slightly odd novel that also made me think about what makes relationships work and how we have to keep investing time and energy to make them better.

Don is out to lunch when it comes to subtle social cues. But if you need to secretly collect DNA samples from 117 people at a party (part of The Father Project), there’s nobody in the world who’s going to do a better job.

What Don allowed me to appreciate is that, just because somebody might not be highly literate in the language of emotions doesn’t mean he doesn’t have emotions, deeply felt emotions. He sees the world in terms of logic, but he feels just as deeply about that world as everybody else.

So, if you’re stuck in a nasty first-of-March blizzard, wind howling down your chimney, after the House of Cards episode ends, you can pick up Oprah’s book choice, RUBY.

Or maybe if you want to make your next read a fun “Project”, try a taste of Bill Gates’ choice in THE ROSIE PROJECT.

Invest in a good story.

Rosie Project

 

 

 

 

2015 The Year To Be Great – Part 1 …

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Life flash

– Gerard Way

OK, I’m not the SuperHero I make myself out to be.

No Oscars, no Emmys, no Grammys. NOPE. No tony international agency will declare 2014 as the year I accomplished everything I set out to do and then some.

But on the other hand, I did do some pretty cool things.

  • I felt blood rushing into my ears as I screamed like a little kid while ziplining a hundred metres above a rock-strewn canyon.
  • I dressed top to bottom in funky, furry green and played a chilly Mr. Grinch for thousands of passersby.
  • I wrote (and sang) songs with joy – sometimes sorrow – and passion in my musical heart.
  • I stood on the grey-clouded shores of north Africa and looked out on the endless Atlantic Ocean as Humphrey Bogart did years ago in Casablanca. And in Marrakesh, I sat naked in a Hammam (Moroccan spa) amongst locals before being propositioned by a male prostitute.
  • I perched on Arizona’s southern edge of the immense Grand Canyon – giant Golden Eagles and Peregrine Falcons soaring overhead and below.
  • I said so long to a 37-year long career as a Medical Lab Technologist and many wonderful co-workers that I enjoyed more than the work itself.

But all joy and cool things must be interspersed with sorrow and, as we all do in various measures, I said a few sad goodbyes to family members and friends who shared their life’s journey with me – giving to me, often without ever knowing.

If you’ve travelled this blog road with me a little – or a lot – you’ll perhaps know that I take stock of my life at the end of each year, reviewing where I’ve been, and charting a course for whatever mild flowing river or ferocious bounding seas that lie ahead.

It’s some instructive fun for me and I hope it gives you pause to think about the direction of your life.

I’ve come to an age and a stage where I know my productive, active years are passing quickly through the sands of time and there’s a touch more sand in the bottom of my hourglass than there is on the top. So, an urgency passes through me to see, do, taste, love, smell, grab a hold of … what I can while I can.

I’m a happy, lucky dude with the amazingly good fortune to live in a time and space that allows me to jump into my passions with fervour … today I’m healthy and alive so what more could I ask for?

Well, to answer my own question, I need to pursue another year’s worth of goals. Goals are what and who I am.

Next week, I’ll pull out my New Year’s Crystal Ball and go through my list of 2015 BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals).

But first, this week, let’s have a look back at the year of 2014 and get a sense of where I held up my end of the bargain I made with myself and where I let myself down. The dark type below is my 2014 goals as I wrote them a year ago, and the blue is the year-end results: positive or negative: pretty, ugly or indifferent.

On Casablanca Atlantic shores...

Playing Air Piano On Casablanca’s Atlantic shores…

2014 GOALS

BHAG’s (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) and LFEG’s (Little Fuzzy Everyday Goals)

1. PHYSICAL/HEALTH

a) 100 burpees including pushups. I’m going at this lung-busting challenge with a few of my co-workers, so we can all DIE together. Most people I know, including me, hate the BURPEE. It’s hard once you get past 3 or 4 of these up/down/pushup/jump contortions, which is exactly why I’m doing it. I’ll enjoy the pain … afterwards!

RESULT? For once, procrastination was put aside and my friend Pam (who I did 100 non-stop pushups with last year) and I conquered this challenge by the end of July, adding 10 Burpees each couple of weeks until we hit the 100. They’re oh-so-tough but oh-so-satisfying. To kick it up a notch we could have pushed further by doing the 100 in less and less time, but instead we chose to move on to other physical challenges for variety. 

b) 2 more New-To-Me Sports (eg. Paintball, Kickboxing …). It’s important to keep refreshed with new things to keep our enthusiasm levels high. If you have any great suggestions for innovative new sports I can try… add your comment at the end, OK? Pole dancing is NOT an acceptable suggestion for this dude.

Sports? Hmmm … how about physical adventures? In one fine August week I joined Irish cousin visitors for a zipline cruise above deep, rocky canyons, then flew skyward overlooking Okanagan Lake with the help of a parachute towed behind a boat. 

c) Run 2 Half Marathons – both in sub-2 Hour time and as a stretch goal, finishing one in sub-1 hr and 55 minutes. Half marathon running is the perfect distance for feeling a sense of accomplishment without having to give over your life to training.

YUP… well … NOPE. I ran through torrential Vancouver spring rains in one half marathon (Time: 1 hr. 58 mins) then began another race in Penticton 2 weeks later but withdrew from the event after 5 kilometres with a painful calf muscle. My spirit is ALWAYS willing, but could someone please talk to the flesh …

d) Lose Enough Weight to See the Subtle Signs of a 6 pack Abs.- I work hard in training. A lot of that work includes the core (ie. Abdominal muscles). Isn’t it fair that I should see even a tiny ripple or two of ripped muscle that says that yes, it’s finally paying off?

Muscle definition is one part health-related stuff to one part ego matter, and my ego needs a teensy little meal to feed on here. I don’t have an actual weight loss goal, just enough to see the small sandbar ripples in the mirror.

Yes and No … I did drop a few pounds over the course of the year which is the ultimate key to a 6 pack, so if I tense my ab muscles REALLY hard I can see subtle signs of ripple if I tilt my head in just the right direction. Alas, the young lads on the beach have little to admire in my 6 pack (unless it’s labelled MOLSON).

2. CHARITABLE

a) 10% Charitable boost – I’m so lucky to have won the life lottery that gives me an unbelievable lifestyle. Supporting charities  (Plan International /UNICEF) that assist in enabling others to proudly develop their own systems and economies to live the way I can is a tiny tiny price to pay.

TOO Easy… this one gets done in the first week of January each year with 2 phone calls … to label this a goal achieved is really an overstatement, but because sharing is so important, it needs to be here. CHECK! 

b) Buy a coffee for the next person in the lineup at Tim Hortons once per month – Coffee is mentioned in the Tim Commandments given Moses:

Thou shalt be provided and drink coffee in healthful abundance“.

Huh, it’s not a commandment? Really? Well it should be.

Oh BOY I’m bad … I forget about this one so often despite it being so simple … maybe it’s the lack of caffeine in my system. Anyway, I can go for 3 or 4 months without doing this, so I have to make up for it by tossing a twoonie ($2 for the non-Canadians out there) through the Tim Hortons drive-thru window on consecutive visits to make up for lost time. I’ve had this happen to me on one or two occasions before and it brought a smile to my face, so I hope others have had the same experience when I leave my $2 behind for them …

3. WRITING

a) 50 Additional Blog Posts + 40 views/day on blog 

I’m not the most stylishly eloquent guy when it comes to verbal communication. In some ways, I suck at the whole talk thing.

That leaves writing as my favoured way of expressing what I have to say. A weekly blog allows me to think about and ponder the things that are meaningful to me, and then allows me to share my thoughts with you.

BIG YES! I love writing my blog posts. All 51 that I wrote in 2014. Fifty-two if you count this one.

I love the challenge of thinking of ideas to share. I love the focus of pulling disparate thoughts together into one cohesive whole. I love it that blog writing helps me to consider my beliefs in a deeper way than I might otherwise. I love exploring and teasing with sometimes naughty thoughts. And I love that many of you take the time to read and respond to what I have to say … thank you!

40 views per day as a goal? I remember a year ago when more than 20 views of my blog posts was a good day. The year 2014 brought me 20,000 readers meaning the daily average for 2014 is… drum roll please…. 54 views. From 149 countries. My most viewed post of the year? Your Castration Awaits: 8 Reasons Women Will Dominate Men in the 21st Century.

b) Take on Writing Another Novel – this past November (2013) I participated in the month long National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), an internet-based 50,000 word novel-writing challenge.

It’s free, it’s motivating, and they give you lots of feedback and encouragement. I wrote about 2/3 of a novel that is really bad, but I loved doing it.

I’m psyched to take it on again and make my own sexy 50 Shades of Green.

WOW… a total MISS. The focus needed to make a novel materialize on a screen or page was directed elsewhere in 2014. As the year moved along, my passions became more intensified in the area of songwriting.

Songwriting takes time, lots of time.

Writing novels takes time, lots of time.

Songwriting was the winner of the battle and National Novel Writing Month was something I merely observed as an outsider. It was a worthwhile sacrifice in my eyes. But I hope to visit and participate in the writing challenge once again in future days.

4.  MUSICAL 

a) Purchase 12-string guitar – The guitar has been one of my best friends in life. It’s been there all through the peaks and valleys. But sometimes, a song just needs a little more depth than 6 strings radiate and a 12-string guitar can add that richness, like a teaspoon of full-fat cream in coffee.

ALMOST! I’ve been on the hunt, doing my research, trying out various 12-string models for the best sound, great projection, soft, easy action on the strings. I think I’m gonna have to pull the trigger on this goal early in 2015, so listen for the strains of Hotel California wafting in the breeze, OK?

b) Purchase a Baby Grand Piano – This is probably not a goal that will be attained this year, but it’s too important in my mind to not at least put it on the list for the next year or two.

Piano is a great late-night instrument that satisfies my spirituality needs. Singing a love ballad on a richly-toned grand in the semi-darkness at 11 pm. …well, it just soothes my savage soul.

I called this one right when I said it likely wouldn’t happen in 2014. It didn’t. But it won’t be coming off my list because the rich tones of a lovely piano are life-enhancing, the musical equivalent of sipping from the Holy Grail.

c) Learn more mandolin – I got a lovely mandolin gift last year. Like a 12-string guitar, the double sets of strings on a mandolin add musical dimensions that lift us dreamily towards the heavens. It’s time to give a bit of quality time and develop at least a minimal skill set.

A big SORTA. I did play the mandolin some. I did improve a little. But really, I do need to spend more “quality time” with this instrument if I ever hope to come close to the picking abilities of my friend Jimmy Ferguson in Oregon. The nice thing about mandolin is that I can pick a few notes in the background as accompaniment to develop some depth when I’m recording songs with my guitar as the prime instrument.

d) Write 6 more Songs and perform original songs publically. Writing songs is hard, but rewarding. For variety I’d like to write 2 country, 2 folk-ballad, 1  jazzy, and 1 rock’ish-style. This should stretch my imagination and creativity skills to the breaking point.

YES. I did write at least 6 songs and had a great time pushing into this underdeveloped area of my creative “me”. I’m so excited about this that I hope to spend even more time trying to get my 1,000 hours (10,000 hours is way too much for this ADHD dude) of practice in. Here’s a little teaser of a song I wrote (and play/sing) about an old songwriting hero of mine, Harry Chapin… Only Half a Lifetime

Performing publically is nervously challenging but fun. But now, finding the steely nerves to take my own songs to a stage and perform them publically is, for me, a huge leap. 2014 is the year for me to brace myself and do this. Besides, why should only my family suffer through hearing my dulcet vocal tones!

NOPE. This didn’t happen but I know I’m ready to climb the stairs to the stage of public performances of my own works. I’m feeling more confident than I ever have and I look forward to the sky-high adrenaline boost when the day arrives.

5. TRAVEL 

a) Visit at least 5 more American States – one of my long term goals is to visit each of the 50 American States – I’ve visited all of the Canadian provinces and territories in previous years. Last year I wandered and added 9 states (Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New York, and DC) to my list that includes 9 others. This year I hope to knock off a bunch of western U.S. States and make it near to the halfway point.

DONE … CHECK! This fall we wandered south for a road trip on the western side of this continent… add Washington, Oregon, California, Arizona, Utah, Montana, Wyoming and Idaho to the finished side of the ledger – I felt the unfettered joy of legally driving at 140 kph in Utah and Idaho. 

IMG_4568

Grand Canyon

 

b) Touch Ground on One More Continent – One more of my long-term goals is to step on each of the continents. Africa, Australia, and Antarctica are out there calling my name like sweet sirens in the mist. See next item…

AGAIN…CHECK! Africa has been breached, although it only counts as a taste. Morocco sits atop the African continent leaving a HUGE land mass beneath to be seen and “tasted”.

c) Buy a Fez Hat in Fez, Morocco + get my hair cut by a “Barber in Seville” – A touchdown in Morocco this year would take me to the African continent, and allow me the opportunity to do a couple of things that are iconic of the area: Visit Casablanca and talk like Humphrey Bogart, buy the Fez hat that Steely Dan sang about in the 1970’s , and while in Spain, be sheared like Rossini’s famed Barber of Seville.

I’m on a roll … CHECK! While in Casablanca, I passed by Rick’s Cafe where Humphrey Bogart hung out, I bought a FEZ hat overlooking the medina of Fez, then crossed the Strait of Gibraltar where I had my locks shorn by a Barber of Sevilla. A trifecta accomplished!

6. MENTAL/EDUCATIONAL

a) Listen to at least 1 TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) Talk per month – I’d be hard-pressed to find a finer source of creative and thought-provoking material than is found in the inspiring TED talks. This is a Lego-block piece of the grey-matter material that makes the internet so great.

The end of that roll… NOPE. I listened to maybe 3 or 4 talks over the year but didn’t prioritize this sufficiently. I love inspirational journeys by those who have lived to talk of their great experiences. Now I need to walk the talk and listen to their talks. Got that?

b) Read at least one new book each month – whether it’s for escape or education or relaxation, books (PAPER or ELECTRONIC) are one of life’s wonders more crucial and dear to most of us than the physical 7 Wonders of the World.

Thanks to KOBO (electronic reader) and their 15%, 20%, 30% discounts, I’ve been sucked in, totally seduced into purchasing and reading books regularly. What is really nice is that I’m reading more fiction than I’ve read in years. Three of my favourite reads (2 fiction, 1 non-fiction) this year have been Jodi Picault’s Nineteen Minutes , Joshilyn Jackson’s gods in Alabama, and Dani Shapiro’s Still Writing – The Perils and Pleasures of A Creative Life.

7. FINANCIAL

a) 15% return – Each year, my goal is to bring home an additional 15% on my investments.

And each year I start out feeling nervous as hell because no matter how well I did the previous year, January 1 is right back to the starting blocks. It’s like the movie Groundhog Day and each year I have to prove my investing chops all over again as if last year never happened.

My 5-year average annual return is looking pretty fair at 22.7%  but then when you cook in the 2008 stock market plunge, my 10-year annual average is only 12.4%.

OK, I can breathe again as the year comes to a close.

The goal? 15% overall return.

The final tally with 3 market days remaining in the year? 15.2% … whew!!

My investing choices this year largely concentrated in the higher tech area, which is unusual for me. However, looking at the financial results for companies such as Apple, Microsoft and Intel made these easy choices given their ability to print huge $$ and Mr. Market not giving them credit for their huge sales. A buyout of Tim Hortons by Burger King late in the year didn’t hurt my results any either, although it did bruise my delicate Canadian psyche.

b) Retire, Debt-Free –  The year 2014 is my “Freedom 57″ year.

I hate the word retirement, it’s kinda like saying “I’m done with life“. We live in a golden age with countless choices of paths to wander.

As Yogi Berra said: “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Retirement is just another fork in the road, and I’m choosing to take it.

I DO hate the word retirement, but for now, let’s just go with it and say that YES, it happened in 2014. I turned 57 on my last day as a paid laboratory technologist… ate some wonderful “BYE BYE PIES” with my wonderful colleagues to celebrate, then walked away after 37 years spent in labs from Ontario, to the Northwest Territories, to B.C. DEBT-FREE.

8. FOOD & EATING

a) Eat at least one box of Kraft Dinner per month – mmmmm. Kraft Dinner. God’s flavourful gift to men. Like the humour of Monty Python, Kraft dinner seems to be favoured by the male set. With or without ketchup, it’s a simple box of orange-hued macaroni ambrosia.

EASY PEASY … CHECK!… Need I say more!! A boy’s KD dream come true …

b) Drink Coffee with Only One Sugar – to counteract the ill effects of all that delicious Kraft Dinner, I’ll resolve this year to scale back my sugar (and/or Splenda) use. A couple of years back I shed my Canadian-ness by cutting back the double cream to a single dose in my coffee. This year will be the year of my sugar assault.

AND finally, one last CHECK! A few stalks of Caribbean sugar cane have lived this past year to tell their sweet story to their GrandCanes because of my daily sacrifice of the white stuff. But the sugar assault ends here … chocolate will never be so lucky to escape my clutches!

………………..

So, there you have a year all balled up like a pair of comfy, favourite socks and gently placed in a time drawer.

Why don’t you come back next week, and we’ll bang our heads together to plan out BHAG’s and LFEG’s for a fantastic 2015, shall we?

 

Well that sucked

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