Tag Archives: personal finances

Lifechanging information sources

The sources I list below have changed many millions of lives for the better (including my own). They contain timeless wisdom that everyone can benefit from – whether the information is new to you or you just need a refresher.

Three categories are presented (also the three cornerstones of this blog): health, personal finances and mental control.

Health

Healthy at 100 – John Robbins. This book convinced me shift to a much more plant-based diet – very impressive considering that I was a born and bred carnivore. It is a bit long, but definitely remains a worthwhile read. The accounts of the lifestyles of the world’s longest living communities were especially interesting.

50 secrets of the world’s longest living people – Sally Beare. Here we have a much more punchy and easy to read version of Healthy at 100. It also has interesting accounts of the lifestyles of communities enjoying extraordinarily long and healthy lives. In particular, this book got me to incorporate lots of nuts, seeds and berries into my diet.

The world’s healthiest foods – George Mateljan. This resource contains a number of interesting healthy recipes, but the most valuable aspect of it is the detailed nutritional information about the world healthiest foods. The information in this book is so powerful that it convinced me to eat spinach every day – something I would have seen as flatly impossible 5 years ago.

Personal finances

The automatic millionaire – David Bach and The millionaire next door – Thomas Stanley. These two books pretty much give the same message: Live within your means and automate your investments. It is very simple advice which clearly illustrates how people can become rich even on a modest income. Everybody knows this stuff, but reading these books will convince you to such a degree that you might actually start doing it.

The richest man in Babylon – George Clason. The message in this classic is much the same as that in the two millionaire books listed above. It is conveyed in a much more entertaining manner though – mostly through interesting stories from Ancient Babylon told in a wonderfully classic linguistic style. If you don’t have millionaire ambitions, but still want healthy personal finances, this is the only book you need to read.

How an economy grows and why it crashes – Peter Schiff. This is another book with a rather obvious message: saving and investment is good, excessive debt is bad. However, the very interesting way in which the message is conveyed makes it a thoroughly entertaining and convincing read. It also gives you a very nice understanding about the workings of a modern economy.

Mental control

Psycho Cybernetics – Maxwell Maltz. Many people call this the only self-help book you ever need to read. It is a true classic that has changed millions of lives for the better through practical teachings on how to control your own mind. Thought habits and self-esteem are key elements in this timeless masterpiece.

177 mental toughness secrets of the world class – Steve Siebolt. Despite the rather corny title, this book is a great quick reference for the best mental control strategies. Each “mental toughness secret” is only one page long and simple to digest. I’d especially recommend the audio version where Siebolt and his co-presenter expand a bit more on each secret in a fun conversational style.

The “21 great ways” series – Brian Tracy. Although I sometimes find Tracy’s approach to mental control a bit too mechanical, his extensive 21 great ways series contains information that anyone can benefit from. The information is communicated in a punchy manner and you can select from a wide range of titles to suit your needs.

Filed under: Consumption patterns – Consume information

PS: Why should you take lifestyle advice from a random guy on the internet? Good question. Take a look at the effects that these guidelines had on my life and decide for yourself.

Personal finances: Overcoming the resistances to financial security

This blog often links most of the grave problems facing our civilization today back to our modern culture of consumerism – that debilitating collective mindset which gets us to destroy our environment, our economy, our society, our health and our personal finances in the hopeless pursuit of happiness-through-consumption. This omniscient force is the primary resistance to financial security and will be dissected a little further in this post.

Consumerism evolved naturally within our modern fossil-fuel-driven debt-based system of perpetual exponential economic expansion. If people continuously want to consume more, there will be a great incentive for people to produce more, thereby steadily increasing overall material affluence. This system worked well for a few decades while we could consume easily accessible planetary resources and heap on more and more debt, but it is becoming increasingly clear that the party is finally over. And yes, after decades of thoughtless indulgence, the developed world is now slowly waking up to reality with a massive debt-hangover. 

So, while consumerism at least made a little bit of sense in decades past, it now makes absolutely zero sense. It is therefore quite obvious that we have to deal with this evil. And yes, no weapon is as effective against consumerism as a solid commitment to building financial security. Let’s take take a the three primary foes this weapon is meant for:

Consumer advertising

The average developed world citizen is exposed to as much as 5000 advertising messages per day, all promising the same thing: consuming this product will make you happy. Well, if this were true, we would be living in heaven right now. But no, unless heaven is filled with fat, sick, broke, stressed and depressed people, we are nowhere near the Pearly Gates. So, next time you see one of those colorful advertisements promising you Utopian happiness with the purchase of some totally unnecessary consumer product, see it for the joke it really is. Advertising actually becomes quite amusing from this viewpoint. Give it a try.

Easy credit

Our entire financial system functions on ever-expanding quantities of debt. This fundamentally unsustainable system has reduced the science of economics to nothing more than a set of mechanisms through which people can be convinced to borrow and spend more and more money. Right at the top of this list is the lowering of interest rates and the loosening of credit right up to the sheer insanity that was the buildup of the 2008 housing bubble. Please don’t add to this already humongous problem. Borrow responsibly.

Convenience

The economies of developed nations have gradually devolved into one big service sector specializing in bringing goods manufactured in developing nations (under conditions that can often qualify as modern day slavery) to debt-laden “rich” people. Indeed, consumption has never been easier than in our modern age with all of its credit cards and shopping malls. Overcoming this threat is quite simple really: cut up your credit cards and stay away from malls. No rocket science.

Curing the madness of our economic system: Restoring accountability

Finally, we get to the final installment of this little series. The first three posts described the sheer madness that is our fiat currency system, the twisted international economic relationships it has created and the gigantic quantities of unproductive debt that has been accumulated in the process of constructing these great imbalances. The previous post then proceeded to describe the potential of using competing gold/silver backed currencies to gradually phase out the madness of fiat money and the gross imbalances it creates. This post will wrap things up with a look at what needs to be done to cure society’s severe debt addiction.

In short, all that needs to be done to achieve this noble aim is to restore accountability within our society. Yes, I know – easy to say, hard to do – but it must be acknowledged that a very large portion of the economic woes we are facing today (and the European sovereign debt crisis featured in the above video is unfortunately just the beginning) is due to the gradual erosion of accountability when it comes to financial matters. This applies right the way through from individuals to banks to government. Let’s take a closer look:

Individuals

The debilitating culture of consumerism and entitlement that has taken over the developed world has led people to come up with a rather impressive collection of scapegoats for their current financial troubles – anything from the government to the “banksters” to the “1%” to capitalism. As a result, people feel entitled to ever increasing quantities of government spending and welfare (even thought the government is even more broke than they are).

Yes, many external factors have played a role in the current economic slowdown and the rapidly rising unemployment figures, but the real root cause of the majority of personal financial tragedies is the self-inflicted combo of massive debt and next-to-zero savings (i.e. a complete lack of financial resilience). Before people assume accountability for their own personal finances, we will continue sliding down this very slippery slope of mounting debt and out-of-control spending. This is essentially the topic of the entire post series on personal finances and I really think that  restoring personal responsibility in this crucial area is a central part of curing the madness of our economic system.

Financial sector

Although the individual accountability for personal finances remains the most important aspect, the increased levels of accountability needed to allow financial institutions to correctly price risk is also a vital factor. As discussed previously, the socialization of mortgage debt through exotic financial instruments played a very big part in the 2008 subprime mortgage crisis and many other such instruments are still in use today (just take a look at this infographic on the size of US banks’ derivatives exposure).

It also does not help when too-big-to-fail banks are continuously being bailed out upon the obvious collapse following years of totally reckless speculation. Irresponsible institutions should be held accountable when the hammer drops so as to re-balance the pricing of risk. The modern financial sector is well known for setting up the game so that they win big if a risk pays off and the taxpayer takes the losses when it doesn’t. These kinds of heads-I-win-tails-you-lose situations must be prohibited by law if we are to cure the madness of our economic system.

Government

Finally, we get to catch up with our current economic crisis at the level of government. Following decades of financial recklessness on the part of individual consumers and financial institutions, the majority of Western governments now face rapidly mounting levels of sovereign debt and widening budget deficits due to dwindling tax revenues and ever increasing demands for state welfare. This is the final level and, due to the socialization of debt discussed previously, it is also the most dangerous because it erodes almost all accountability.

Typical over-optimistic economic projections. The US budget deficit for 2011 was $1.3 trillion and looks to be around $1.11 trillion in 2012 (roughly double the prediction).

Restoring accountability for sovereign debt is therefore essential to curing the madness of our economic system. Instating a tax directly proportional to the interest payments on national debt might be a good way to achieve this. The electorate will certainly be more cautious about voting for ever-increasing quantities of government spending when they see the effects of reckless government borrowing on their tax returns…

Borrowing: Student loans – Part II

The previous post looked at the dangers of the notion of going to college for the primary purpose of simply getting hold of a degree (because it will supposedly make you rich) instead of actually getting an education (so that you can add greater value to society). The point was made that this notion is rapidly diluting the value of a college degree, making the widespread belief that a college degree is the road to riches increasingly untrue. This post will look at another compounding factor: cheap credit. 

As always, the USA provides the best example of the dangers of artificially cheap credit. About two decades ago, the US government started to guarantee student loans, making them available and affordable to practically anyone. This sounds very nice because it gives everyone a fair chance in life, but, just like it was with unrestrained borrowing for housing, the flood of cheap credit created a bubble which has now made education ridiculously expensive. If you then factor in the dilution of the value of a degree discussed in the previous post, this really begins to look like a total rip-off. And yes, like all massive malinvestments (bubbles) this one will also end badly as more and more young people are thrown out into the real world with nothing but a rapidly depreciating piece of paper and a massive debt burden.

So, what should young people do then? Well, there is of course no fixed answer to that question, but here is my advice:

Firstly, if your primary purpose behind getting an education is that magical piece of paper that will make it rain money as soon as you graduate, forget about it. The reason for getting an education should be nothing other than the education itself and, if the type of education you are pursuing does not inspire you, you are definitely on the wrong track. In this case, it would honestly be better to switch to something that really stirs your interest or, if you cannot think of anything right now, even postpone your education for some time while you get to know yourself a little better. Life is long…

Secondly, you should really make the most of this investment. This implies that your aim should be to upgrade your body/mind as efficiently as possible so that you really will be able to add greater value to society once your education is complete. If you spend your days recovering from hangovers and watching all the TV series ever produced by humanity while your classes tick by unused, you really are squandering this very important investment. Yes, it’s good and healthy to occasionally have a few beers with some friends or watch a good movie. You can even be excused for getting completely wasted on one or two special occasions during the year, but it is vital that you keep your purpose in mind (after you have recovered the following day at least).

Thirdly, if you live in a country (like the USA) where tuition really is in a clear bubble, consider getting your education in another country. This is a lot of effort and very far outside the comfort zones of most people, but it can really give you a lot more bang for your buck. And yes, in addition to the education, you will also get some very valuable life experience.

And finally, it is highly advised that you get an education in something where you can add direct value to society (e.g. engineer, farmer, doctor or teacher) and not something where you primarily manipulate the vast streams of paper wealth sloshing around in our economy (anything in the financial sector). The enormous credit bubble we have been blowing over the past three decades has created a massive oversupply of people producing paper wealth and an equally massive undersupply of people producing real wealth. Life really is a lot more fun if your skillset falls in the undersupply category.

As usual, all of these guidelines are simply ways in which you can ensure that your student loan is an investment loan instead of a consumer loan (as discussed in a previous post). Please make sure this is the case.