Use The Sandwich Method To Provide Constructive Criticism

A Reuben, My Favorite!

A Reuben. My Favorite!

There’s a fine line between being a jerk and being constructive.  As a parent, manager, spouse, or friend, most of the time we just want what’s best for others.  The problem is, we’re afraid to offend and we therefore lose any ability to help.

There’s no better reward than advising someone how to improve, and then watch them flourish.  Push the person too far, however, and you’ll engender resentment.  The Sandwich Method is one the best ways for delivering constructive feedback.

SCENARIO: Your friend Sam comes up with a corny idea for a website called “Financial Samurai.”  Sam thinks it will become a Top 25 personal finance site in the world one day and thinks the tagline “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries” is catchy.  He thinks he’ll be able to retire off the advertising revenue and is already thinking about buying the latest Audi S5 and quitting his day job with his expected income.

You know better because there are 50 million active websites out there (200+ million total), and only the top 100,000 (0.2%) sites earn 74% of all the revenue according to Alexa.  As a friend, how do you knock some reality into Sam, without crushing his enthusiasm?

THE SANDWICH METHOD TO HELP SAM FACE REALITY:

The Worst Seat On An Airplane Is The Best Seat In The Office

GTGTTBR

GTGTTBR (Got To Go To....)

For some reason, I generally get stuck in a middle seat close to the bathroom every time I go on a business trip.  It’s probably because I leave so little time between take off and check-in that I usually end up screwed!

The worst is when you’re just about to fall asleep and you get nudged by your neighbor for hogging the arm rest.  Come on neighbor, I’m stuck in the middle, the arm rest is mine!  The second worst thing is inhaling the lovely toilet aromas every time someone walks in and out.  Finally, add a crying baby next to you, and air travel is just lovely.

Despite my constant bad fortune on airplanes, the one thing I do recommend is sitting close to the bathroom at work. We discussed strategic seating in business school one day, and if you think about it, sitting closest to the bathroom, whether you have a cubicle or office is the absolute best place to be.  No matter how senior or junior someone is, they must go to the bathroom and walk by your desk at least a couple times a day!

Unlike the mysterious guy sitting in the corner who everybody thinks is surfing the internet all day, you get a constant stream of opportunities to develop relationships with your colleagues and bosses if you sit near the loo.

“Hey Jim, how about Mark Sanchez of The Jets the other day huh?”

“Hey Pete, so sorry Colt got injured against Alabama.  You still owe me lunch sucker!”

“Nancy, I just love your new hairstyle!  Where you get it done?”

“Susan, want to grab a coffee this afternoon?  I have something to share.”

“Christine, any tax consultant suggestions?  I can’t for the life of me figure these numbers out!”

BINGO!  All easy lines to develop your relationships internally.

The biggest risk for employees during recessions and promotion season is to be out of sight, and therefore out of mind. By sitting near the bathroom, you are unavoidable and everyone must acknowledge your presence.   Just don’t stop folks who have visible pains on their faces!

Readers, how is your work environment set up and can you think of any other strategic, no effort office strategies to keep up your profile?

Keigu,

Sam Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”

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The 30/30/3 Principle – Three Home Buying Rules To Follow

A reader writes in: “Hello Samurai! I like your 1/10th rule for buying automobiles and was wondering if you use some similar sort of calculation when deciding how much one should be spending when buying a home?  Thnx, Brian”

Response: Hi Brian, thanks for your question. For those who are not aware, the 1/10th rule simply states one should spend no more than 1/10th your annual gross income on the purchase price of a car.  Home buying is a tougher one, especially since people get so emotionally crazy and irrational when it comes to property.  There are several key hurdles you need to meet before buying a home.  The rules can be encapsulated in the 30/30/3 principle.

1) Cash flow. Traditionally the industry says to spend no more than 30% of your gross income on your monthly mortgage payment, but I think you can stretch it to 50% if you think you’ll be making more money in the future.  Don’t bank on it though, as this downturn has shown many people, including myself.

50% of your gross income on $50,000/month is much different from 50% on $2,000/month mind you.  You must be able to take care of your basic needs with the money remaining.  Hence, I suggest spending LESS as a percentage of your gross income the more income challenged you are.  I wouldn’t spend more than 30% of gross, if income is $10,000/month or less.

2) Down Payment. You should have at least 30% of the value of the home saved in cash.  20% is for the downpayment to avoid PMI insurance, and the other 8-10% is for a healthy cash buffer.  There are some high-risk people out there who want their home so bad that they put down only 10%, and take another 10% in the form of a maxed out HELOC loan just to get in the home.  If you don’t have at least 30% of the value of the home saved up, then it’s best to start eating only ramen to bolster savings!

3) Value of the home. Cash flow affordability is a function of the price you pay.  If you are able to meet the first two hurdles of cash flow and down payment, then you can tie it all together with a proper multiple of your yearly gross income to see what you can afford.  The MAX multiple I recommend is 5X if you meet the first two conditions, but 3X is better.  In this case, the more you make, riskier it is to go to an upper limit multiple because of  leverage.  5X $500,000 is much more daunting than 5X of a $50,000 salary for example.  You can always refinance your home, but you can never change your initial purchase price!

Good Example: $100,000/yr income, $120,000 in cash saved, $400,000 home no problem!  $320,000 mortgage after putting 20% down, and you still have a $40,000 buffer.  Your monthly payment is $1,918/month PMI at 6%, and is a suitable 23% of your monthly gross income of $8,333.  In case of layoff, you have 21 months of mortgage coverage with your $50,000 buffer.

Donkey Example: $120,000/yr income, $100,000 in cash saved, salivating for a $750,000 home.  10% down leaves $25,000 in cash, and a $675,000 mortgage since you’re doing another $75,000 HELOC to avoid PMI insurance.  Monthly payment $4,000, or 40% of your gross income.  6 month mortgage coverage ratio before you run out of cash is not enough.  Don’t do it!

I highly recommend making sure you pass the 30/30/3 principle before making the biggest purchase of your life.  It’ll be good for you in the long run, and it’ll be great for neighbors and the entire financial system as there will be less of a chance you’ll foreclose.  Best of luck in your house hunt!

Recommendations:

Manage Your Finances In One Place: The best way to become financially independent and protect yourself is to get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and how my net worth is progressing. The best is their Portfolio Fee Analyzer which is saving me $1,700 a year in fees I had no idea I was paying!

For Tenants: Take a moment to check your free credit score through GoFreeCredit.com, a company I trust. If you are in a hot rental market, or really want a particular rental, you should have your credit score as part of your application for your landlord. I am a multi-property landlord and highly value a credit score and report. Those who come to me with their credit score stand out above others who don’t. If you do not want to pay for the credit monitoring, simply cancel within the grace period.

For Homeowners. LendingTree Mortgage Refinance offers some of the lowest refinance rates because they have a huge network of lenders to provide mortgage loans, home equity loans, and home equity lines of credit. If you’re looking to buy a new home, consider using LendingTree to get multiple offer comparisons in a matter of minutes. When banks compete, you win.

Updated: 2Q2014

Losing Your Way To More Money

At the beginning of every year, I tell myself that I’m going to eat better and exercise more. Yet, every December, I look and weigh exactly the same and get frustrated until the New Year, when the cycle starts anew. My theory on weight is simply that we all have a weight range we fluctuate in, and every 5 years that band increases towards the heavier side! That was my excuse for my lack of improvement.

I used to also think that our weight was 70% hereditary and 30% diet and exercise until I saw the show “The Biggest Loser!” Now I think the ratios are the complete opposite. If you really want to get motivated and cry at the same time, you’ve got to watch the show. The show’s concept is simple. After 3 months of boot camp, whoever loses the most weight wins gobs of money! The results are astonishing. Season 7’s winner, Helen lost an amazing 140lbs from her original 255lbs start weight. Go Helen!

The Biggest Loser show demonstrates that with enough motivation and discipline we can lose a lot of undesired weight. In fact, for 7 seasons in a row each of the winners have lost over 100lbs!

FOOD EXPENSE & GOALS

On average, I spend about $20 a weekday for food and $100 per weekend for a total weekly cost of $200 and a total monthly cost of around $800! I had no idea how much I was spending until I decided to write everything down for two weeks and annualize accordingly. $800 was clearly overkill, especially since it accounts for over 65% of my then, discretionary spending.

When the downturn hit, I decided to do an experiment partly to bring down my food expenses by 30%, and partly because I was inspired by The Biggest Loser, to shed 15lbs and get down to my college fighting weight of 160. At 160 lbs, my
Body Mass Index
would be 23 (18.5-24.9 is normal weight) from slightly overweight at 25.5. If Helen can lose 140 pounds, why can’t I lose a lousy 15?!

Go Broke To Win Big HELOC Edition – Maximize Your Home Equity

Some of you have asked me to write about property, a topic still dear to me despite the correction. First and foremost, I believe a property is not so much an investment but a lifestyle decision. When we choose to buy property, we’re choosing to plant roots in a neighborhood we love, and build our lives accordingly. Not to say you can’t do the same renting. When you have a large financial commitment to your abode, you tend to be less transient, all with a heightened sense of awareness that your home brings you great pleasure but also great financial responsibility.

When people get in the mindset of buying a property to flip, things can go seriously wrong due to the illiquid nature of the asset and the high transaction costs. Although the hurt in property has been broadcast everyday in every media outlet for the past year, less than 3% of the housing stock trades a year. In other words, the large majority of property owners shouldn’t be affected unless they just had to sell today. This is not a post about the merits of owning vs. renting, a topic which we can get into later.

Buying property is relatively straightforward. Your high tax bracket is killing you, you have at least 30% of the properties’ value in cash so that you can put 20% down and have a 10% buffer, you believe you’ll live in the place for 5-7 years, the rental yield compares favorably with the current gov’t 10 yr risk free rate, the place is nicer than anything available in the rental stock, and the location is good, so you buy. Let’s assume you own a piece of property, and you’ve got a nice big fat juicy Home Equity Line of Credit (HELOC). You’ve noticed the HELOC rate drop to an outrageously low interest rate equal to Prime, or 3.25%. What do you do with it?

Diamond Engagement Rings Bling Bling!

One of my good friends is getting married, and he asked me, “Sam, what on earth am I supposed to get her for an engagement ring?” What a question, that’s not easily answered.  Generally, the right answer is “whatever she wants“!  However, as we all know, sometimes ladies are harder to read than a children’s book in large print!

Before we begin, if any of you single guys out there want to attract the ladies, bust out the turquoise diamond ring guide book from Tiffany’s in any public space. The white book from Cartier will also do. I take the bus to work everyday, and I remember as soon as I took out the book from my bag, every single lady on the bus looked over. Just think, one of the great pick up lines to a staring woman could be, “Excuse me, but my friend asked me for his advice on this particular design (point to book), what do you think?” Clearly, if you use this line, you should not be proposing!

In the spirit of personal finance, let’s discuss some tips for buying an engagement ring.

Going Broke to Win Big! The Ultimate Way To Budgeting

To err is human and frugal living is a necessary element to building long term wealth. At the very least, one has to spend less than one earns to accumulate savings and give oneself a chance of making profitable investments. The financial community has beaten to death basic financial practice such as: Paying oneself first, saving early and frequently to maximize compounding, and budgeting. Hence, we’ll skip these common sense practices here on Financial Samurai, and go for a new method of building wealth: Going Broke to Win Big.

The concept of Going Broke to Win Big is simple. Essentially, if you see nothing in your bank account, you’re going to do the darndest to try and build some savings and wealth. You’re also not going to be tempted to spend frivolously, either. I don’t literally mean bankrupting yourself, but simply create three separate banking accounts, and not just three separate accounts within one bank.

If you are like me, you’ve blown yourself up through dumb investments and unscrupulous spending in the past. The key is to protect yourself, from yourself, and create that renewed sense of urgency to forge ahead and stay disciplined in your finances. You may laugh at the concept of protecting yourself from yourself, but everyone of us has the means of blowing ourselves up financially every single day. We are bombarded with temptations and we have collectively taken down the economy with overspending in recent years.

Below are the basics of “Going Broke To Win Big.” Create three separate bank accounts as follows:

1) The Go Broke Bank. The first bank account is for working capital needs, namely where your paycheck goes, and where you pay all your bills. This bank is your operationally efficient bank which has the best tools for bill pay with the most branches for accessibility. Citibank is a good example, a ubiquitous bank with good online tools, but provides ridiculously low savings rates and horrible credit card rates. Bank #1 is where you are constantly “Going Broke.” Your paycheck must be managed so that it lasts to cover all your expenses. But before you pay all you expenses, you must pay yourself first by transferring your target savings automatically to a Bank #2.

2) The Freedom Bank. The second bank is strictly for long term savings via money markets and CDs. This bank may not have as big of a footprint, but it doesn’t matter because you don’t need to access money from this bank. That’s what bank #1 is for. Due to lower overhead, Bank #2 provides better long term savings rates. Online banks such as Ally, and boutique banks such as First Republic provide fantastic rates, often 500-100bps higher than the competition. Do not tempt yourself by creating a checking account. You want money to easily come in (ever notice tellers don’t require IDs when depositing?), but very difficult to go out.

3) The Lockdown Bank.
The third and final bank is for your debt, namely mortgages, personal loans, and car loans. By loading the majority of your debt with one bank, you compartmentalize your debt which may relieve you of any mental stress related to this debt. It’s easier to tackle your debt at one bank and employ the “Snowball Method.” Furthermore, from the bank’s point of view, you may get better rates given you are such a good debtor customer. You’re buying debt in bulk from Costco if you will, and in normal times, they want your business and will give you discounts. During crisis times, it’s also good to have all your debt in one place b/c your bank doesn’t want you to cause a default cascade and will do their best to work with you.

For insurance purposes, one should set up a “checking plus” account which serves as an insurance mechanism just in case you go past $0 in your main checking account.  I’ve come close, and have breached zero multiple times over the years, and the $5,000 checking plus account I have has served as a handy buffer.  I’ve never been over by more than $300, and interest on $300 for one day is nothing.  A checking plus account should be free. If it’s not free, ask for it to be free, and if they don’t budge, find some other “go broke bank” to use.

CONCLUSION

All banks strive to cross sell as many products as they can. They try and capture you with rewards points and so forth. The goal is to protect yourself from spending unscrupulously with the commingling of monies through one bank, and to force yourself to actively manage your budget. Humans are weak, and we need to constantly remind ourselves to focus on our finances.

After using the “Go Broke” system for the past 5 years, I know exactly what’s going into and out of my checking account within 10 dollars. When the fuel tank is running low with only $200 left for the month, I should probably go on a nature hike than go play poker with the buddies this weekend. Lavish spending has gone out the window since employing this method as well. I pretend everyday that all I have left in the world is in Bank #1. The dearth of money keeps me motivated to work hard, keep on budgeting, and focus on my finances. Meanwhile, the growth of savings in Bank #2, and the decline in debt in Bank #3 is optimized and automatic.

Recommended Action For Increasing Your Wealth

* Manage Your Finances In One Place: Get a handle on your finances by signing up with Personal Capital. They are a free online platform which aggregates all your financial accounts in one place so you can see where you can optimize. Before Personal Capital, I had to log into eight different systems to track 25+ difference accounts (brokerage, multiple banks, 401K, etc) to manage my finances. Now, I can just log into Personal Capital to see how my stock accounts are doing and when my CDs are expiring. I can also see how much I’m spending every month. If you are interested, they can even provide tailored financial advice for much cheaper than traditional wealth managers.

* Check Your Credit Score: Everybody needs to check their credit score once every six months given the risk of identity theft and the fact that 30% of credit scores have errors. For over a year, I thought I had a 790ish credit score and was fine, until my mortgage refinance bank on day 80 of my refinance told me they could not go through due to a $8 late payment by my tenants from two years ago! My credit score was hit by 110 points to 680 and I could not get the lowest rate! I had to spend an extra 10 days fixing my score by contacting the utility company to write a “Clear Credit Letter” to get the bank to follow through. Check your credit score for free at GoFreeCredit.com and protect yourself. The averaged credit score for a rejected mortgage applicant is 729!

Keigu,

Financial Samurai – “Slicing Through Money’s Mysteries”