An opportunity.

As I’ve mentioned many times before, Girl Ninja and I are heavily involved in a high school outreach program called Young Life. We’ve formed some pretty amazing relationships with high school kids over the years. Listening to them sob after they broke up with their most recent boyfriend/girlfriend. Visiting them in the hospital a few hours after they tried to end their life. Or yesterday, attending the funeral for the mother of one of our 16-year-old Junior boys, Tyler.

His mother died unexpectedly two weeks ago. His father, well, he’s never met his father. Tyler is parentless. It breaks my heart to think that his mom wont be there to watch his high school basketball games next season, that he has no parent to cheer him on as he walks across the stage to receive his H.S. diploma. That his future children will never meet their grandma.

My heart is heavy for him. 

While we were attending the memorial service I noticed a piece of paper indicating a trust fund had been set up for Tyler at Bank Of America. Anyone could give money to the fund, which Tyler  (or his legal guardian) would then be able to use to help provide for him.

When Girl Ninja noticed the piece of paper she approached me and asked if we should donate to the fund.

I told her “No.”

You see, I imagine this trust fund will collect a few thousand dollars at most. This money, although generously given, will probably not do much to provide Tyler a sense of security or provision.

The reality is, six-months from now, many of us that were at the memorial service will go about our lives. Numbing ourselves to the reality that Tyler is still parentless. It’s easy to donate to a trust fund today, when your heart hurts for Tyler, but what about next year? Will we be as affected by his loss then, as we are now? Doubtful

I see an opportunity for Girl Ninja and I to do something greater.

Tyler’s best friend is Dante. Custody of Tyler is going to Dante’s single-mom. Dante’s family of two, now becomes a family of three. I imagine this adds a significant amount of financial stress to Dante’s mom. She now has two boys that will want to go to prom. That will play sports that require expensive equipment. That likely will want to go to college. That need new clothes at the start of a school year. The list goes on and on.

So while Girl Ninja and I wont be donating to Tyler’s trust fund, we hope to provide for him in a much more meaningful way. We want to sit down with him and express our desire to help him financially when he needs it. Explain that we understand it would be uncomfortable for him to have to ask his friend’s mom for money to go to the movies with his girlfriend.

Tyler has to grow up a heck of a lot quicker than most sixteen year olds I know, but we still want him to know that he can be a kid. That prom expenses don’t have to be a worry. That if his gas-tank is running on empty, we’re happy to fill it up for him.

Now let me be clear, we don’t want to be Tyler’s parents. We aren’t and could never fill that void. We would just be honored/delighted to provide him some type of financial security that his parents no longer can.

We have been blessed with a healthy income and minimal expenses. What kind of Christians would we be if we pretended the money we have sitting in our bank accounts is ours? Truth is, some of this money is Tyler’s… the big man upstairs just decided to have us be the stewards of it.

DO YOU GET IT!?

This is why I punched debt in the face. This is why we don’t keep up with the Joneses.

This my friends, is financial freedom.

I’m less stupid than I thought

Ladies and gentlemen, I have some fantastic news to share with you…I’m not as dumb as I thought. In fact, I’d argue that I’m quickly approaching average intelligence. Booya for being un-stupid! I’ve been doing a lot of reflecting lately, especially when it comes to my finances. Turns out, I’ve accidentally made some pretty good choices.

Ignorance:

I didn’t know a thing about money all through college. I was actually quite pathetic. I didn’t even have access to my savings account. (Confession: I use to call my mom and ask her to transfer money from my savings in to my checking ’cause I didn’t know how. Embarrassing.) I was ignorant.

Fortunately, this turned out to be a blessing in disguise. I had two credit cards while I was in college. I didn’t know a thing about they worked, so instead of use them, I just let them collect dust in the a drawer. Four years later, I graduated college with no C.C. debt, not realizing that was unusual.

Work:

I graduated in 2007. Luckily, I managed to find gainful employment shortly after. In a matter of months, I went from making $7,000/yr to $37,000. I had more money than I knew what to do with. I tried to spend it. Heck I even bought a motorcycle! It didn’t take me long to realize I’m just not a spender. Frugality is in my blood. I never had to the urge to buy a new car, or a new computer, or a new outfit. Turns out, that’s another huge blessing.

Retirement:

On my first day of work I had a ton of paperwork to fill out: health insurance, life insurance, etc. In the pile was a  401K form. I couldn’t even spell 401K, but for some reason I decided to throw 5% of my gross pay into it each month. Even though my 401K contributions went to a sucky investment vehicle for the first couple months (100% bond funds), I formed the habit of saving for retirement as early as I could.

The big picture:

Avoiding credit card debt, getting a job, and contributing to retirement were all pretty awesome, but the single best move I unknowingly made came from a conversation with a friend about Roth IRAs. Intrigued, I figured I should read up on Roths. That research snowballed in to an obsession with personal finance and the reason this blog exists.

Realizing I already had decent financial habits, I decided it was time to maximize my potential. And I’ve been doing just that for the last five years. It’s an ongoing process and I am definitely not the smartest kid in the room, but I’m excited my eyes were opened to personal finance at 22 and not 52.

Those are the best PF moves I’ve ever made. What have been some of your best PF moves? Maybe they were intentional decisions like never using a credit card. Or perhaps it was dumb luck, like not being able to afford a home at the top of the market which saved you from being upside down on a mortgage today.

p.s. subscribe to my blog already!

Are professional athletes overpaid?

I was riding in the car with a friend a while back when they said something along the lines of “Professional athletes are overpaid.” While I don’t necessarily disagree with that statement (Lebron), I have to disagree with the sentiment.

The odds for John Doe going pro are 22,000 to 1. That works out to about a 0.0045% chance. Did you know you literally have a better chance at marrying a millionaire, being murdered, being audited by Uncle Sam, or developing hemorrhoids than you do becoming a professional athlete?

Professional athletes are the creme de la creme. People that are the best in the world at what they do, typically are paid well for those skills, whether it be dentist, lawyer, contractor, or blogger. Should we say actors salaries should be capped? How about scientists, software developers, and real estate agents salaries should be capped too?

People get all pissy when they hear Kobe is making $17 million a year, but no one seemed to care when three 20-something guys created YouTube, to later sell it to Google for $1.65 billion. Does Kobe make a lot of money? Heck yea, he does, but who am I to tell him his earning potential should be limited?

Ya see, professional athletes get paid what they’re worth. If they make a big salary, they are likely drawing in a large fan base. In virtually all private sector positions, the better you are at your job (compared to everyone else) the better chance you have at getting paid more. Instead of being bitter that A-Rod signed a $250 million contract, be BETTER at what you do.

What do you think peeps? Are professional athletes overpaid? Should there be pay-caps on certain industries?

It all started with a tweet.

I think many of you might be disappointed with today’s announcement. Y’all seemed to set some pretty high expectations ranging from; we’re having a kid or buying a house, to I’m getting a Reality TV series. Sadly, no one has come knocking on my door with a camera, and Girl Ninja is definitely not knocked up. I’m still excited to share today’s post with you, but am now wondering if the hype was built up so much you’re going to be like “Oh, that’s it?” Please pretend to be excited, even if you really aren’t 🙂 Let’s get on with it….

I’ve wanted to do something risky for a long time now, but could never come up with a decent project or idea. I wasn’t about to just start a business for the sake of starting a business. If I was going to create something, it had to be EPIC.

So September 2011 rolls around and I’m hearing from all of Girl Ninja’s friends, “Pinterest this and Pinterest that”. It’s borderline disgusting how addicted some people are to the website. I decided to poke around and see what the hype was all about. If you’re a dude, let me spare you now. Pinterest is about wedding dresses, kittens, cookies, flowers, and shabby chic home decor. Not exactly things I’m interested in.

Pinterest was not the first image bookmarking site to hit the internet, but it’s obviously become the most popular. In fact, I asked GN if she had to give up her Facebook page or her Pinterest page which one she’d toss. Without a second of hesitation she said she’d kick FB to the curb. Homegirl is serious about pinning pretty things.

I started doing some research and learned that 80% of Pinterest users are female. I went to Juxtapost, We Heart It, Piccsy, and a million other image bookmarking sites. They all had the same thing in common; female domination.

So Pinterest is one of the fastest growing websites in internet history, but it’s seriously struggling to represent half of the human race. Looks like I just found my business venture. I bought MANteresting.com for $10 on September 15th and was determined to make something great.

I made some phone calls, spoke with some developers and found out it could take up to a year to build a Pinterest-like site, and would likely cost me upwards of $10,000. HOLY CRAP THAT’S A LOT OF MONEY.

I was discouraged, but over the next few days I couldn’t get the idea out of my head. Reading. Researching. Finding post after post complaining about a lack of male representation on Pinterest. This market was begging for someone to come and fill the void.

I reached out to my friend Jesse Michelsen who has some serious coding skills and pitched the idea (along with the crappy template you see on the left) to him. Fortunately he saw the potential and agreed to partner up with me to make this idea a reality. I was elated.

For the last five months, we’ve put hundreds of hours and THOUSANDS of dollars in to making this thing not suck. We even hired two developers to help us through the process.

We were the first male focused image bookmarking site to hit the internet (went live for alpha testing in November 2011), and today, February 16th, we can finally open our doors to the general public for Beta testing!

I’m so nervous I could fart. Today, I find out if this 5-month journey was one worth taking. I’m convinced there is a marketplace for MANteresting, but you (the users) will ultimately be the judge of that. It’s both scary and exciting to have so little control over the future of it.

Now is the part where I beg you for support…

I try my very best to entertain you all five times a week. Not only with stick figure drawings, but material that will hopefully challenge, inspire, or at least get you thinking about your personal finances. I make sure I don’t waste your time with spammy articles or annoying product reviews. I don’t have pop ups jumping on the page asking you to subscribe to my RSS feed. I typically ask very little of my readers.

But, this week I’m taking a break from my normal posting routine and am asking you to help me get this thing going!

If you are a guy. Sign up. Tell your facebook/twitter friends about us. Start sharing pictures. And enjoy a website that I really do believe will entertain you.

Ladies, I obviously don’t expect this site to win your hearts. I’m not trying to convince you to come to the “dark side”, but I seriously would be so grateful if you could at least poke around a bit, set up an account if you want (yes women are welcome to join), and tell every everyone you’ve ever met about us.

If you have a twitter I would be forever in debt to you (Yes, DEBT. Even though I hate it, I’d gladly be in debt to you) if you could tweet something along the lines of:

Finally, a Pinterest alternative for men. http://bit.ly/yiO0Xi No invite needed! via @MANteresting.

(follow @MANteresting while you’re at it). If you don’t have a twitter, you can like us on Facebook. It takes three seconds and helps spread the word to thousands of people in a matter of minutes

<— click to tweet instantly

If you’re reading this right now and didn’t click both of those buttons above, you are seriously making my heart sad 🙁

If you have any media connections, know any influential people on twitter, if you have a blog, or just a bunch of friends; I would be forever grateful if you could help me promote MANteresting to the world. I’m convinced I have the most loyal readers and commenters of any PF blog out there and I believe you guys/girls have the power to make this project go semi-viral if you just tweet about it, post about it, sign up, and share.

Will you please help me out?!

Thank you so, so, SOOOOOOOO much for your support. I’ll be sure to keep you posted about any successes or setbacks that come as a result of this new venture.

Oh and here’s a quick video about some of the sites features (first and probably only time you’ll ever hear my real voice. I was kind of awkward in the video because I had to do it in a single take. I can assure you I’m only 50% this awkward in real life)…

Hugs Not Drugs 🙂

p.s. remember we are in Beta mode which means there are still a lot of features that are either a little buggy, not implemented yet, or may not be the most intuitive. Over the next few weeks we’ll be rolling out extensive social networking features, additional categories and ways to search for images, and literally 59 other features we have on our to-do list. We would appreciate any feedback you have!!!

p.p.s. If we get 1,000 users by the end of week one I will post a picture of myself WITHOUT the black bar across my eyes. Yes, that is a bribe.

How did we survive?

Was at a group meeting a few months back and an older gentleman shared an email he received from a friend. The email read….

How Did We Make It this Far?

Looking back, it’s hard to believe that we have lived as long as we have…

As children, we would ride in cars with no seat belts or air bags. Riding in the back of a pickup truck on a warm day was always a special treat.

Our baby cribs were covered with bright colored lead-based paint.

We had no childproof lids on medicine bottles, doors, or cabinets, and when we rode our bikes, we had no helmets. (Not to mention hitchhiking to town as a young kid!)

We drank water from the garden hose and not from a bottle.

We would spend hours building our go-carts out of scraps and then rode down the hill, only to find out we forgot the brakes. After running into
the bushes a few times we learned to solve the problem.

We would leave home in the morning and play all day, as long as we were back when the streetlights came on. No one was able to reach us all day. No cell phones. Unthinkable.

We played dodgeball and sometimes the ball would really hurt. We got cut and broke bones and broke teeth and there were no law suits from these
accidents. They were accidents. No one was to blame but us. Remember accidents?

We had fights and punched each other and got black and blue and learned to get over it.

We ate cupcakes, bread and butter, and drank sugar soda but we were never overweight … we were always outside playing.

We shared one grape soda with four friends, from one bottle and no one died from this.

We did not have Playstations, Nintendo 64, X Boxes, video games at all, 99 channels on cable, video tape movies, surround sound, personal cellular phones, Personal Computers, internet chat rooms. Instead we had friends.

We rode bikes or walked to a friend’s home and knocked on the door, or rung the bell or just walked in and talked to them.

We made up games with sticks and tennis balls and ate worms and although we were told it would happen, we did not put out very many eyes, nor did
the worms live inside us forever.

We ate penny candy, swallowed bubblegum, and our intestines did not stick together because of it.

Little League had tryouts and not everyone made the team. Those who didn’t had to learn to deal with disappointment.

Some students weren’t as smart as others so they failed a grade and were held back to repeat the same grade. Tests were not adjusted
for any reason.

Our actions were our own. Consequences were expected. No one to hide behind. The idea of a parent bailing us out if we broke a law was unheard of. They actually sided with the law!

This generation has produced some of the best risk-takers and problem solvers and inventors, ever. The past 50 years has been an explosion of innovation and new ideas. We had freedom, failure, success and responsibility, and we learned how to deal with it all.

Obviously as a twenty something I can’t relate to everything in this letter, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t certain things that stood out to me (I bolded the things I liked).

I mean think about cell phones. Twenty years ago no one had cell phones and people managed to get by just fine. Now, if I reach down to grab my phone and it’s not in front of me, I have a mild panic attack. Funny how priorities change. (p.s. who doesn’t love going on vacation somewhere you know you’re phone wont get service? It’s so liberating!)

What were some of the things in the letter that rubbed ya the wrong way? What were some that resonated with you?

Any other 20-somethings out there willing to admit we are probably the laziest generation to have ever existed? Would love to hear from the 40+ crowd today and get your insights on how you’ve seen things change over the years!

p.s. if Facebook is the biggest “accomplishment” of our generation I’m going to cry.

 

 

Depressing News

I hate to have two “downer” posts in a row, but I just can’t help myself. People suck. Bad. I don’t even know why I bother reading the news anymore as it just reminds me how broken this world really is. Here’s the latest reason (via a CNN article) I’ve lost hope for humanity…

Janitor finds mentally disabled people locked in basement; 3 arrested.

Three people have been arrested and accused of holding the disabled people captive and stealing their Social Security checks.

Authorities believe the four were trapped in the tiny room for up to a week. Ray Evers said they suffered from bed sores and “injuries that are very, very hard to describe.”

Seriously? How messed up do you have to be to kidnap, torture, and steal from a mentally disabled person?

Yesterday an Indy Car driver died while racing, and while that story is sad enough, it’s not as sad as the horrible jokes people made about his death in a YouTube comments thread.

Last week eight people were killed in a Salon in California.

We could even take this depressing news and relate it to personal finance. Big banks are trying to nickel and dime us, Ponzi Schemes are as popular as Justin Bieber’s hair, and a Chase staff member had a customer arrested for trying to cash a legitimate check. Check out the horrific details of that last story….

Njoku was taken to jail on June 24, 2010, which was a Thursday. The next day, Chase Special Investigations, realized it was a mistake. The check was legitimate. The Investigator called Auburn Police and left a message with the detective handling the case, but it was her day off. So Njoku stayed in jail for the entire weekend. Finally, on Monday, he was released.

[Meanwhile]

Njoku’s car had been towed from the bank parking lot and his check seized as evidence. “I had to wait a couple of weeks [for the check]” he said, “and my car got sold/auctioned off.”

Njoku says he didn’t have the money to pay the impound fees and fines to get his car back before it was sold.  He said he also lost his job because he couldn’t show up for work while he was in jail.

One minute you are walking in to your bank to make a deposit. The next minute you are thrown in jail, jobless, and without a vehicle. What is the world coming to?

Can someone give me some happy news (hopefully personal) that will restore my faith in humanity?

What was it like in the good ol days?

I graduated college in May 2007. In November of that same year, I got my current job with Uncle Sam. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the recession began one month later, December 2007. This means that my entire adult life has taken place during a really crappy time to try and do things. Jobs are sparse, creditors are cracking down, people actually have to be able to afford a home before they qualify for a mortgage, and the stock market is, well you know, about as stable as Charlie Sheen is sober.

When the recession is all I’ve ever known, it’s hard for me to truly understand how things have changed. Were people having jobs thrown at them? Could people really buy a house that was twice what they could actually afford? Were people’s investment portfolios making insane returns year after year? Apparently, the answer to each of those questions is “YES!”

Personally, and I don’t mean to make this sound like I’m bragging ’cause I’m really not, the Ninja household has been fortunate to not only survive during the recession, but thrive in it. In 2007, I was an unemployed college graduate with a few thousand dollars in savings and $28,000 in student loan obligations. Over the last four years, I’ve been promoted a handful of times, started this blog (which brings in $10,000-ish a year), gotten married (to a working woman), and managed to stash some serious cash in both our retirement plans and savings accounts. A lot of hard work, and definitely some dumb luck, have helped us continue moving forward

That said, we know our story is not necessarily typical. I obviously have zero real world knowledge prior to 2007, and am aware not everyone is as fortunate as we have been.

I thought it would be interesting to hear from those of you who are 28 years or older. You all experienced the “boom” and the “bust”. I want to hear your perspective on how things have changed. What was it like in the good ol days (2003 to 2007)? Did you buy a home you shouldn’t have been approved for? Could you get a new job at the snap of a finger? Have you been directly impacted by the recession in any way? I’d love some insight from people who experienced this firsthand.

For my younger readers (let’s say 27 or less), what’s your experience been with the recession? Do you feel like life is more difficult than it should be? Or since this is all you’ve ever known have you learned to roll with the punches and make it work?

p.s. like my blog on facebook…NOW!