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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”!

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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)

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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.

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