Sunday, October 29, 2017

403b Fails During Open Enrollment

What is up my peeps!  It's the most wonderful time of the year.  Yes, I'm talking about open enrollment season for public service employees.  It's the only time you get to elect such things as Dependent Day Care and Section 125 (for all those out of pocket health costs) to be pre-taxed from your paycheck.  The benefit to all those who choose these plans is having less taxable income for the IRS to get their mittens on.  But the tax savings don't stop there.  Oh no they don't!  Many teachers and qualified public service employees will elect for the first time to have a pre-tax portion of their income withdrawn to fund a tax-sheltered annuity or 403b.

If you've been in the biz for some time and are just starting to fund a TSA, because you heard how wonderful they are for retirement savings, I guess it's better late than never.  If you're a rookie teacher or public service employee who set up a 403b understanding the effect of long-term saving, well good for you!  But just because in both cases there is good intent, it doesn't mean the set-up was done correctly.  Case in point.  I have a colleague at school who is on his 15th year of teaching.  Let's call him, Fred.  About two weeks ago, Fred sent me a text message:

"Do you know anything about American Fidelity 403b?"

He knows I blog here at Common Core Money, but has not taken me up on visiting the site.  That's okay, I won't hold that over him.  Most teachers are lousy with their finances and for good reason: they don't take the time to learn personal finance, being "too busy" being teachers.  So I replied:

Of course! I've had one since 2005.  Do u have any questions about it?

Fred: Just if they're going to jack me up w/extraneous fees over the long term, if they're a reliable company n stuff.  If you're happy then I'm happy.

Me: Yes they come with fees.  There are more fees also depending on the interest rate options you choose.  Did u get a fixed rate or variable rate annuity?

Fred: Variable

Me: What funds did you choose?  Did you look at their expense ratios?

Fred: No.  I'd have to get back to you on that.  Thanks

Here's the sad thing.  There are thousands of people like Fred in this country, signing up to 403b or 401k plans without truly understanding their investment choices, and how much in fees they'll be paying annually.  That is a BIG mistake.  For help making sense of your 401k, I suggest you see the fellas at Blooom Inc.  Chris Costello, CEO, was a guest here at CCM.  Below are the four things to make sure you investigate before enrolling in a TSA/403b at work.

1.  Is the company your employer is working with (Fidelity, American Fidelity, etc.) your only option?  There may be a list of companies you can choose from with lower costs and fees to be your custodian.  Find out from your HR department.  Once you have a list of "contenders" so to speak, go to and!

2.  If you choose the fixed annuity option, what interest rate are you getting?  At American Fidelity for example, the guaranteed minimum interest rate is between 1-3%.  In addition to the guaranteed rate, AF may at its discretion, declare a higher "current rate."   These are based on the financial results and operations of the company.  You have to ask the rep: "What is your current declared interest rate?"

3.  If you chose the variable annuity option, what did you get yourself into?  The rep should have presented to you the investing options starting with low risk income funds (money market) to medium risk bond funds, and for more risk tolerant individuals, stock funds.  But just choosing the right investments based on your risk profile would leave you severely exposed.

4.  What are the fund choices within the increasing risk scale offered by the company?  Not all funds are alike.  For example, I chose the variable annuity option with an allocation of 80% stocks and 20% bonds.  Now I had to choose the individual stock funds that would comprise my stock allocation and the individual bond funds that would make up my 20% bond allocation.  I looked through each available type of stock and bond funds AF offered and decided to go with just two funds: Vanguard's Total Stock Market and Vanguard's Total Bond Market.  Why?  They had the cheapest fees and I got all sorts of stock and bond market diversification.

Do you have to wait until open enrollment to change the type of funds you own?

No!  In my case, AF allows me to change the funds I own once a month.  You are not stuck holding expensive stock funds in your portfolio all year long.  You can change these online too at your custodian's website.

Other Questions to Consider:

What allocation percentage of stocks and bonds did you choose?
Did you look over the stock and bond funds you selected for management fees and other costs?
Image result for changes to 401 k laws

Finally, are you contributing enough?  403b's have high contribution limits.  Up to 18K in some cases.  That's $1,500/month.  Contribute as much as you can to have a nice nest egg when you retire; be mindful that you will be taxed for withdrawals during retirement so end up at a lower tax bracket to win, win, win.  President Trump's tax plan may make 401k contributions taxed up front, i.e., take away the tax-deferred status.  This hurts most Americans because the added costs of paying taxes up front may discourage people from ramping up their contributions.  Deferring taxes is a great perk.  One I don't want to lose on my 403b.  Hopefully Republicans leave the 403b alone.

Thanks for reading!  Get three of my eBooks when you subscribe to my blog.  Until next time. 

Friday, October 27, 2017

Boost Your Credit Card Health With The Sift App

How's it going everybody!  Today's post is all about an app I recently discovered called Sift.  With my great credit...yeah I'm braggin' a bit here...I get all of these solicitations in the mail to apply for these super credit cards.  Well, at least that's what they make themselves out to be.  Tell me what credit cards you own and I'll tell you who you are.  That should be a saying or something.

Image result for Sift wallet

Anyhow, I can read what these credit card companies say in their letter, and even go onto their websites and learn more, but I always feel like I don't get the full picture.  I'm a leery credit card consumer, which explains why I haven't opened up a new one in many years.  Do you mistrust credit card company prepared public information?  As you should!  But now you may not have to.  You see Sift wallet will do you a serious favor and go through all of that fine print for you.  The legalese is incredibly difficult to read through.  I'd rather get a root canal to tell you the truth.
Image result for Sift wallet

What will Sift do for you:

1.  It will unearth credit card benefits you may not have been aware of like...Travel protection, access to airport lounges, or FREE roadside assistance!  Hey now!  All you have to do is type in the credit card name (no account number needed at this point) and you'll get a quick rundown on any card's perks.

2.  It may be able to help you recoup the cost of a missed flight.  For you frequent flyers out there, a delay can be costly.  If you miss your flight you may be out of luck.  Sift may be able to help you.

3.  Shoppers.  Sift has something for you too.  When you enter the email address where all your receipts go (sometimes to die without a further look), the app will analyze your purchases and let you know when that pesky return window is about to expire.  If the price of those new kicks drops, Sift will alert you!  Pretty clever, huh?

Your claims will be facilitated with Sift (automatically).  You'll know about any extended warranty coverage.  Sift also supports things like return, theft, and damage protection.  I personally love the price protection.  I hate buying something only to discover it went down in price a few days later.

For more info on Sift, including start-up info, go here:

This is NOT a sponsored post (wish it was though $$$).  Just plain ol' sharing of info for my money conscious peeps.  Hasta la vista, baby! 

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How I Got My First Big Break On My Book's Sales

What's uppers my peeps!  Today's post is all about my first big break on my book's sales.  Selling a self-published title is one of the hardest things anyone can do.  Some would say writing the book itself is a challenge, but these days there are so many ways to get your words and thoughts coherently written.  The famous folks use ghostwriters.  Businesses and the common folk, if they don't write for themselves, use freelance writers on Upwork or other sites.

There are also many ways to get your book exposed and marketed.  Many self-published authors pay for digital and social media marketing (Facebook or Instagram ads e.g.), and promotions on sites like Amazon and Goodreads.  But for me, the number one way of getting book sales has always been via plain ol' hustle.  Emailing people, private messaging, texting, and face to face communication is how I have the most success selling my book: Success: For Minority Teens (& Their Friends).

I self-published, Success..., on June 23, 2017 at Amazon, making both a paperback and eBook format.  I used Amazon's KDP (Beta) to create the paperback version as it was easier for me than going onto CreateSpace.  The process was very intuitive.  When I didn't know how to do something, like convert my Word Doc standard 8 x 11 to 5 x 7, I looked it up on Google.  There is really no excuse for anyone to not do something because they don't know how to do it.  Google can solve all of your problems!

After publishing my book, I started hitting the pavement so to speak.  I blasted all my social media platforms many times looking to entice my target consumers: Parents of teens, teens, and educators who work with teens.  I learned from Gary Vaynerchuk that you have to target your customers where they are.  Teens are not on Facebook.  So I took pictures of my book, of me holding my book smiling, and of anyone I knew who bought my book holding it as if reading, and pumped these out on Instagram with all sorts of hashtags, "success," "teens," "books," "teenagers," you name it.

On Facebook, I target the parents of tweens and teens, and teachers and administrators of course.  I've run a couple of Facebook ads.  They're very cheap by the way considering how many people they can reach for you.  I got a whole bunch of likes on my "sponsored" posts, but it didn't move the sales needle for me.  On my YouTube channel I made several videos telling stories found within my book.  Here's one such YT video.  Stories sell books!  I made two book sales from this video.  Mind you I only have 236 subscribers on my YT channel thus far.  I started the channel during the 2016-17 academic school year to give teens (my students mostly) life advice.

I got the most traction on LinkedIN targeting professionals working with teens, especially administrators (they got the money or access to it).  Posting about my book and which students would benefit the most from reading it wasn't very effective in terms of generating potential future sales.  I probably got less than 3 books sold this way.  I ran a free eBook promotion on Amazon (countdown) for a week and I got over 30 downloads.  But by far the best strategy for me was contacting people via messaging.  Garnering a reply email from all of these professionals I contacted (who I'd never met) was easier than I thought it would be, once I had the perfect email script.

In August, I started reading the book, Rich20Something by Daniel DiPiazza.  In the book, he provides the reader with several examples of how to go about emailing people the right way.  Main point is to offer value to the recipient.  For me, this was offering the recipient a free PDF version of my book.  Here's how I tweaked DiPiazza's template to fit my own needs:

Hello XYZ
I'm the author of a recently self-published title, Success: For Minority Teens (& Their Friends), available at Amazon. I'm messaging you because you're an expert in your field, and have obvious input about personal success. My book presents the principles of success in a manner that relates well with teens of color (and other teens too), offering them strategies as well as exercises to cultivate success regardless of their life challenges. I also include personal life stories that inspire. I'd like to send you a copy of my book for your review. Would you prefer Word or PDF?     

About 5 out of 10 people I hit up with this email script would agree to the free copy and later send me an email address to forward it to.  Following up (after a week or a bit longer) was what I did next.  I'd ask the person if they had read some of the book.  If they had, I then made my "call to action" move.  I asked if they would be willing to do one of two things: 1) Write me a 3-5 sentence testimonial I could publish on my Amazon sales page OR 2) Buy in bulk for a $1 discount per book off the sales price.

Last Saturday I presented at the annual Adelante Young Men's conference at Pasadena City College.  Gave 5 books away.  Here's one lucky kid holding his copy.

Using the LinkedIN messaging method, I was able to get two editorial reviews and one, 100 book order from a school Principal in Burton, Michigan!  She mentioned possibly getting another 100 later in the school year for her underclassmen.  I just fulfilled that order today, and I couldn't be happier.  The thought of my book being read by 100 teenagers in Michigan is incredibly exciting and reaffirming to me.  It makes all the hard work worth it.  This is what the Principal emailed me this morning after I emailed her about the last of the books being shipped to her:

Thank you Carlos. I would be happy to share images and feedback from students about the book. I will begin a book study with seniors since they are leaving us soon. Then 10th graders because they have the most behavior issues according to our data. This is going to be fun watching them transform. 

There is no better reward in life than seeing your hard work pay off.  So to all of you out there that are indie book authors, the lessons here today are:

1) Use the right social media platform for your target consumer
2) Use an email script that offers value when contacting a potential customer, influencer, etc.
3) Keep up the hard work; it will pay off in the end

Thanks for reading! If you liked this post and want to get more like them in your inbox, plus three free eBooks, please subscribe before you leave.   

Monday, October 23, 2017

A Lesson On Buying Stocks: Case of GE

What's up my peeps!  So, GE is the worst performing stock in the DOW.  Does that make it a buy?  Contrarians would tell you, "yes," of course.  More analysis is required for the intelligent investor.  Under Jeff Immelt, the story is that GE's stock declined about 30% in the decade he was at the helm, implying Mr. Immelt was a terrible CEO.  Jim Cramer, CNBC's host of Mad Money and talking head slammed the culture of Immelt's GE.  Prior to starting a position on GE on 10/13/2017, I did some research to uncover the true performance of GE under Immelt.  I found an alternative assessment of the stock's performance under Immelt at Seeking Alpha that really hit on a valuable lesson on investing in stocks:
Image result for Buying stocks

When and how you buy a stock really matters!

Pre-recession buyers of GE are not happy campers right now.  But post recession buyers of GE have a different story to tell.  One that involves actual positive gains in their investment in GE because of compound interest and a dividend.  According to the above linked article, "...the average annualized gain from 2009 through 2014 was 11.1%"!  That's not too shabby.  You don't buy a stock because of its past performance obviously.  You buy it because you have a thesis about its future performance.  My most logical investment thesis for GE is this:

New CEO John Flannery Will Fix GE's Awful Corporate Culture

I heard Mr. Flannery on my way to work last week talking to Carlos Quintanilla on CNBC.  He stated something on the air that further cemented my conviction in the hard work ahead for GE.  He said, "I want to be challenged."  He also said he wanted all of his executives to be comfortable challenging each other's ideas.  That makes for a culture of improvement, don't you think?  I do.  Mr. Flannery isn't the most popular person at GE right now perhaps.  He cut a bunch of perks executives were taking advantage of.  Cutting wasteful executive perks doesn't make a stock a buy.  You know what does?  A dip in the stock after an earning's miss if you have a long-term investment in mind or a 2-3% increase in the stock price in mind to sell for the next day as a trade when late buyers come in.

That's why I bought another block of shares on Friday, as GE was experiencing selling pressure after reporting its first earnings miss in over two years.  I picked up 20 shares at $22.90.  Investors thought like I did and pounced on the stock with GE finishing in the mid $23 range.  I was pretty stoked about this trade and was up 3.7% on the stock.

Let's recap.  I've bought GE at $23.03, and $22.90.  I was feeling pretty good, being up 3.7%.  But then today happened.  GE was pummeled, dropping 6.34% because of being downgraded by several analysts.  I could've done nothing, and looked out like a deer in a headlight, or I could've sold, freaking out about this epic move further low.  Instead I bought even more of the stock; 30 additional shares at $22.23.  My cost basis will be below $22.98 come tomorrow morning when my Brokerage account adjusts and I will have the option of selling GE if and when it breaks the $23 mark again, buy more shares if GE keeps getting sold below today's end price of $22.32 OR hold for the turnaround play.

GE will not be fixed any time soon.  If I decide to invest and not trade, I'll have to wait several months if not more than a year to realize big gains.  I'm pretty confident there will be buyers coming in tomorrow, especially in the morning.  This will give me an opportunity, depending on how much the stock price rises, to sell.  But I probably will take a break and not sell or buy anymore of the stock until some other catalyst changes its price action dramatically.

Image result for cost basis on stock

Speaking of catalysts...GE's dividend is not secure.  When (not IF) the company decides to cut the dividend, this will move the stock down, albeit not as much as today's downgrades.  Mention of the dividend being cut has already been baked into the stock somewhat.  You gotta be a pretty uninformed investor to not know that this dividend cut is on the table for GE.  That being said, if a dividend cut brings out the sellers, I'll buy another small stake in GE and lower my cost basis again.

So is GE a Buy?

Here's something you may not have heard before: A STOCK CAN BE A BUY OR A SELL AT ANY POINT IN TIME.  Deciding what you will do, and when you will do it is what makes all the difference between exiting profitably or at a loss.  I've bought "falling knives," "value traps," "dogs," "contrarian plays," etc. and have exited in the green because I know (most of the time...I do make mistakes) what I'm doing.  GE is a buy for me today because I trust CEO John Flannery will break his back to turn the ship around.  Maybe not this month, or the next, but give him time and provided we don't enter a new recession, GE will be back on track.

Thanks for reading!  

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The Stock Market Is A Small Watering Hole With A Giant Croc

What's up my peeps!  The Dow 30 crossed 23K this week like a meant to be love story.  We're all both enamored and mesmerized by this never say die market.  You're either in it for fear of losing out and making money OR out of it for fear of losing big, not making any money (from equities), and wondering when you can finally yell out, "I told you so!" to your sanguine friends.  I'm still in the market, but like every other investor, have taken precautions to dampen the damage from a market crash.

Crocodile at Africa Watering Hole cam. 06 February 2017 - YouTube

Speaking of crashes, this week also marks the anniversary (Oct. 19, 1987) of "Black Monday," the great 500 point drop in the Dow index that destroyed billions in wealth in one fell swoop.  I was eleven at the time, enjoying 80's sitcoms like Alf, Family Ties, and The Cosby Show.  This Black Monday anniversary was especially eerie, however.  Every major financial media company kept comparing today's long in the tooth bull market to that fateful day in '87.  Will a crash like Black Monday's happen in today's high-speed trading era?  Supposedly there are built-in "market circuit breakers" that are supposed to trigger a stop trading switch.  CNBC explains it all in this article.  Do you trust these kill switches to work?  I don't.

How I'm Trading

I've recently taken to a hit and run type of trading strategy.  It reminds me of a safari watering hole with a giant crocodile (the market) lurking in the water.  The non-institutional investor is like a thirsty impala, risking it all for a life-giving drink of water (making money).  Before putting its mouth in the water (trading) the impala has to look around cautiously for both land and water predators.  It slurps as much water (buying) as its nerves allow it to before running into the safety of the grassland (selling).  The giant crocodile will one day get its meal, consuming all of the tasty impalas (a crash), but this doesn't have to happen tomorrow.  

Image result for impala at the watering hole
Oops, a pre-retirement investor stays long the market!

So what I'm doing is maintaining a mostly cash portfolio while making small trades ($500-$1000 each) lasting less than two weeks before I sell.  If the stock I bought doesn't make a 2-3% price jump within this 1-2 week window, I get out and try another trade.

For example, I took a $909 position in Proctor & Gamble (PG) on 10/10/17 right after the vote on activist investor Nelson Peltz took the stock down, and sold it on 10/16/17 for $931 once the stock normalized.  Quick $22 gain.  Not a whole lot of money I know, but it is in line with my current strategy.  I bought $753 of Comerica Inc (CMA), a regional bank on 10/17/17, and am currently up $20.90 representing a 2.7% gain.  If the stock opens higher tomorrow, I'll execute a sell order.  Again, the theme is little victories here with small quantities of invested cash, keeping most of my cash off the table so that it's ready to be invested in the event of a massive crash.  Feel free to critique me for trying somewhat to time the market.  Hey...I'm 41 not 21!

What Can Derail The Market And What Are The Odds?

Image result for derail

As a stock market investor, you must always be weighing systemic risks.  It's impossible to factor in risks you don't know exist, but that shouldn't stop you from attempting to weigh the odds of certain events happening in the world, economy, etc.  Take the following three possible scenarios into consideration:

1)  War with North Korea.  I'm not a military expert, but a Google search produced a former NATO military chief giving a nuclear war a 10% chance and a conventional war a 20-30% chance of happening.

2)  Congress failing to pass Tax Reform (tax cuts for businesses).  Goldman Sachs gave the likelihood of an agreement on tax reform happening in 2018 a 65% chance.  Meaning the odds of failing are 35%.  Personally, I think the odds of this event happening (a failure to pass tax reform) are much higher, say, between 45 to 70%.  I blame terrible leadership.

3)  Rate hikes from the Fed slowing the economy down.  Yellen seems to think we're in the clear and inflation will rear its ugly head anytime soon...except it isn't.  The Feds fund rate (the interest rate at which the Fed reserve banks lend to non-fed banks) is currently 1.25% and there is a 100% chance the Fed will raise to 1.5% by the end of 2017.  This will take a little juice from corporate earnings (cost of borrowing capital increases) and lower current ratios (current assets/current liabilities), a measure of a company's ability to pay its short and long-term obligations.

If a market crash happens, I therefore bet the culprits will be interest rate hikes followed by a failure on our politicians to do what they said they'd do with taxes.  I also think we make it out of 2017 alive my impala friends.  The croc won't have us for lunch until 2018.  Until then...don't be afraid to drink at the watering hole! 

Thanks for reading!  If you liked this post and want to receive more like them in your inbox, please subscribe above before you leave.      

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

10 Outside the Box Money Saving Tips

What's up everyone!  Today I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.  I've been re-reading the financial masterpiece of Napoleon Hill, Think and Grow Rich.  Chapter 3, where he tells you to picture the amount of money you want to come to you as if it's already in your hands, is so scary and real.  I think most people just get sweaty all over with anxiety from this exercise.  I got excited because things are finally starting to click for me.  I'm getting more cash out of this blog, and I'm getting some traction on my YT Channel, Teacher Homie G, a place where teens can go to get life advice.

Image result for think and grow rich

If you've lost momentum in whatever monetary endeavors you've started, remember how powerful the second part of Hill's visualization exercise from Chapter 3 is.  He says that you shouldn't worry about how the money will materialize because sooner or later if you just keep repeating over and over what monetary quantity you want, and what you're willing to do for it, this FAITH will make your desire come true.  You gotta believe, and keep believing, man!

Image result for Have faith

So I got some more money motivation for ya.  This list of money saving tips is all over the place, but it may inspire you to take action and alter behaviors that could be thinning out your purse or wallet.  Let's get to them. 

1) If you're afraid to open up your water bill each month, chances are you're using too much water.  Go shower at the gym and use theirs.  Use the toilet there while you're at it to save on a flush.

2) My teacher buddy has stopped using Arco.  He claims they "water down" their gas with ethanol.  Apparently, he gets 48 mpg with Shell gas, and only 42 mpg with Arco.  Have you guys noticed this out there?  He's a science teacher like me, and recently drove from Oregon to San Diego so he may be on to something.

3) Instead of buying expensive canned sodas (even in bulk quantities), you should buy a Sodastream for $68.  Carbonate your water at home, throw some lemon juice in it, and bam!...You got yourself a 7-Up or Sprite. 

Image result for sodastream  

4) While on vacation, have one huge meal instead of two.  Find a buffet or all you can eat and pig out.  Get all your calories in one fell swoop and avoid that second outing with your family.  No having to pay for expensive food, or gratuity again.  Snack the rest of the day.

5)  Don't throw away your leftover mayo, ketchup, or mustard packets when you get 'em at fast food restaurants.  The same can be said about any tea honey packs, sugar, or salt you come across.  Napkins too!  The condiment packets I kept have saved me many times at home.  A burger without ketchup is just not a burger.

6)  Japanese style shower (No gym membership required).  Save a ton of water by getting wet, turning off the shower, soap up nice and clean, and then rinse off.

7) Get a Kodi Stream Box instead of paying for cable or an Amazon Firestick.  I have one!  I get to stream American sports with links from Europe.  To access all content without worries of geo-restrictions, you can enhance the service with a VPN for streaming Kodi.  Shhhh.  Don't tell anyone. 

8) Map out everywhere you go with the maximum number of right turns to save gas and time.  Hey, if it works for UPS, it should work for all us.  I don't like waiting at lights to make left turns, do you?

9) Hire day laborers.  This one may be against your political moral ground, and I respect you standing by your principles.  But for those who can use cheap labor for a big or hard job around your home (pulling weeds, pruning a tree, etc.) you'll save money by not hiring a certified professional.

Image result for day laborers   

10) Ask for a 10% discount for buying a returned and taped product at the store.  I do this all the time at Home Depot and Lowes.  This past summer I needed a room air conditioner and I picked a box that showed signs of being taped up, meaning, someone had returned the AC for whatever reason.  I asked for a 10% discount at the cash register and got it!  The AC worked fine by the way.

When it comes to saving money, the only limitation is your imagination.  So go out there and let your creative juices flow before you pull that debit card out of your wallet.  Thanks for reading!  

Sunday, October 15, 2017

How My Little Personal Brand is Leveraging A Shark of A Brand

What's up my peeps!  You know, the Internet is like all the world's oceans combined.  It's this living thing populated by organisms either thriving or just barely surviving within their niches.  For people that are starting to build out a business for the sake of growing their personal brand, the only move they have is to create free content.  Free content in a space like Instagram or Snapchat or whatever platform you wish to target to align with the people you want to pay attention to YOU, is the only game in town for the guppies.

The sharks in the water get all the attention of course.  Something clicked and allowed them to build a massive audience of followers and wannabes.  They may have enamored followers with their looks (Instagram) or their extremely useful/funny/entertaining videos (YouTube).  And now, these sharks make bank leveraging their chosen platform.  They're the standard of social media success for others.  For many sharks, social media wasn't their "attention" springboard or big break, rather it was their already earned reputation for being extremely successful entrepreneurs and business people.

Take the case of Daymond John from the hit ABC TV show, Shark Tank.  He and his fellow sharks (Cuban, Mr. Wonderful, Barbara, Lori) made fortunes starting businesses that sold for millions of dollars.  Then they hit social media, not because they wanted to, but because they had to.  Their personal brand demanded they participate in the shit storm we all tune into daily because we are addicts of our phones.  Just last week I finished reading Daymond John's, The Power of Broke book.  I enjoyed reading all the stories of entrepreneurs who started from broke and carved out successful businesses from often blind opportunity and sheer determination.

One of the three books I read in the last 1.5 months

I think I enjoyed Daymond's power of broke story the most, however.  And I'm not just saying that because I recently became a member of his Rise and Grind Ambassador Program.  Yeah, I got the news via email on Friday.  In The Power of Broke, Daymond shared how he hustled in other entrepreneurial ventures before FUBU, like driving around an 8-seater van on the busiest public transportation roads in New York, picking up passengers and charging them fares comparable to the prevailing bus ride fee.  I enjoyed reading how in the early stages of FUBU, he and his partner had to find unique ways of getting their clothes where they could be seen by their target customer.  This meant leveraging powerful pop culture brands like LL Cool J.  He'd give LL Cool J free shirts for his dancers to use on videos during the hip-hop golden era, when music videos had all the urban and suburban youth eyes fixated on the television.

The email I received from Daymond's people.

He also leveraged the powerful Black Entertainment Television (B.E.T) media brand, buying air time, i.e., commercials at an incredible discount compared to the major television networks.  This brings me to today's lesson.  When you're small and you need the massive attention sharks command, your best strategy is to attempt to leverage a bigger brand.  It's like an accelerator to your own brand's growth.  Nothing else, save you going viral, will bring about as fast a growth. 

It's still too early to tell what my role will be as one of the probably many Rise and Grind brand ambassadors.  What I do know is that I didn't have to pay a penny to join the club.  I was simply scrolling one day on LinkedIN and found my way to one of Daymond's posts requesting people to apply for the program.  Of course I jumped on it.  It was opportunity jumping out at me.  By the way, LinkedIN is the place to be these days.  It's the next frontier.  When you see people like Gary Vaynerchuk (another whopper of a shark) posting regularly on LinkedIn, you know you're in the right spot.

It was important for me to not have to pay anything to be able to leverage a big personal brand.  I've tried to insert my guppy brand for free into the conglomerate that is Brian Tracy International to no avail.  He had this sponsored post on Facebook running for over a month: Co-Author a Book with Brian Tracy.  I clicked on it, signed up for the Webinar and joined it, only to discover at the end that in order to be part of this you had to pay like $8K.  To me, that's just buying your way into attention.  I was hoping there was a merit based process to be part of this opportunity, but alas, not this time.

Why would big personal brands want to help little brands?  Here's the thing, you can't just ask people for help.  You have to offer something in return.  What can you offer the shark you're trying to engage?  If you are lucky enough to get this shark's attention, what will you immediately offer in return for their help?  People are willing to help, but the relationship must be reciprocal.  Many of you underestimate this highly important gesture of back scratching.  I intend to not just be an ordinary brand ambassador for Daymond John.  I intend on being the best one he's got!

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

If I Could Go Back In Time To Give My Teenage Self Advice, It'd Be...

What's up everyone!  So this October, on the 21st to be exact, I'll be a presenter at a youth conference in Pasadena, CA.  Called the Adelante Young Men's Conference, it hosts over two thousand boys/young men with their parents, other relatives, and mentors for a day of workshops given by Latino professionals.  I was super excited to have had my application (to be a presenter) accepted by the organizers.  The topic I'll be presenting: Success for Minority Teens & Their Friends.  That's right, I'll be sharing a few of the lessons that can be found in my book.

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I've also had a list of questions emailed to me.  For this conference, the teen committee came up with several important questions they suggest presenters answer during their session.  The first one on the list was: 

"If you could go back in time and give yourself advice as a teenager, what would it be?"

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Very interesting question, isn't it?  I think as adults we've all wondered about time travel into the past to give our young selves life changing advice.  Too bad Einstein said traveling back is impossible.  Into the future isn't.  Nonetheless, it's a worthwhile thought exercise.  What would you say to YOUR younger, teenage, self?  Below is what I'd tell myself and the applicable lessons this advice still holds for teenagers today.  So if you have a teenage son, daughter, nephew, niece, neighbor, etc. you may recommend they read these insights.

1)  Save 90% of your allowance, or any money you've made doing odd jobs, or as a work-permit employee your early teenage years, and...once you hit 18 years of age, get yourself a Brokerage account and put all of that money in technology stocks.

Specifically, I would go back in time to the early 1990's and tell myself: "There's this company called, Apple not 20 minutes away from here in Cupertino.  You know...Oregon Trail, the Mac.  Well, put all the money you can save in its stock when you turn 18 in 1994, and leave it alone until January 2012!"

Now my younger self may have gotten impatient, not seeing anything really happening to Apple's stock price for over a decade.  My younger self may have also panicked in the early 2000s during the tech bubble crash and sold the Apple shares.  This brings me to tip number two I'd give myself:

2)  Investing requires patience and a long-term approach.

So, the sooner you start and get in the market, the better your odds will be of building a profitable position in a stock, ETF, etc.  Stay in, trade little, and keep buying if you have 30 or more years and a core of excellent company stocks or ETFs.

3) I'd also tell myself: "Embrace technology, don't just consume it."

Change was difficult for me.  As an anxiety sufferer, change always gave me discomfort.  So, despite growing up in Silicon Valley, being there when Google went public, and even having college graduate friends working at Google, it still took me around the same time as the average person to pick up what Google was doing to and for the Internet with its search engine.  Here was a company literally making marketing and advertising incredibly affordable for the hustling entrepreneur, and I didn't see it.  I could've jumped on Google's blogspot in the early 2000s and have been on the front-end of building a massive following.  But alas, I was too busy working my butt off as a professional educator.

The same thing happened to me when all the social media companies began to democratize attention and fame.  I waited over a year to join Facebook.  I didn't have Twitter and a YouTube channel until 2015!  I didn't get on Instagram until 2016!  If you're not first, you're last!  Now everyone and their mother is trying to do the same...blow-up as an "influencer" in order to get sponsorships, speaking gigs, passive income from ads, and so on.

What teenagers these days should be devoting all of their non-school time to is Artificial Intelligence, Virtual Reality, and Voice (Alexa, Podcasts, anything sound).  These two are the next big tech innovations that will make people billionaires.

4.  When you get to college, find entrepreneurial type friends.

I was such a nerd in college.  I spent hours in the library and tutoring center studying for my Bio, Chem, Physics, and other science classes.  I made the Dean's List three times!  And for what?  In the end I got my Bachelor of Science Degree in Bio Sciences and a great education, but I failed to make many friends and connections.  My networking sucked!  People might tell you that you don't go to college to make a bunch of friends.  Oh but you do, you really do, and the more the better, provided you can keep up your grades.

I wish I'd ventured out of my comfort zone, out of the science buildings, and have gone into the areas where the engineers hung out, or where the business and finance majors studied.  If only I'd have looked around for atypical college students doing anything entrepreneurial.  Boy would I have latched on for the ride and the experience.  Every teenager today should have some type of entrepreneurial experience, and I'm not just referring to the senior year Economics class project some teachers give as an assignment.

5.  Stop wasting time and help others gain time.

The one thing we can all agree we did a lot of as teenagers is waste our time.  I spent too much of my time watching television and playing video games as a teen.  I'd tell my teenage self to stop killing hours on the Nintendo game system unless I was set on becoming a video game designer or anything related to the gaming industry.  Whatever you do outside of school, it has to be in alignment with goals that lead you to grow as an individual, have better health, make money, or improve your relationships with close friends and family.

Then I'd tell myself to get creative about helping people save time.  What is Amazon if not a shopping time saver?  Uber saves people time behind the wheel.  Facebook saves people time from having to talk on the phone with their relatives or friends.  People want to save time with anything they can get their hands on, and the major innovations are simply a service or product designed to convenience the consumer.  Nothing is new.  Everything is just an alteration of what has been around for years.  So I'd tell myself to solve the limited time problem all humans have.


I could go on thinking of things I'd advice the teenage me, but you get the gist of it.  To be successful in life, you don't work on today's problems, you work and anticipate the problems that will come around 5-7 years from now.  You'll be first, and though you may have wagered on the wrong future, at least you can live your life regret-free.  Thanks for reading!

Monday, October 9, 2017

The Downside of Home Value Appreciation, More Property Taxes!

Last week I got my latest property tax bill in the mail, just before December's installment.  As a resident of San Diego county, I always look forward to receiving mail from Mr. Dan McAllister, our Treasurer-Tax Collector.  I'm joking, btw.  But it is a very important piece of mail because the inside stubs hold the power to take away my home if not returned paid.  When I opened the envelope and pulled out the stubs I got a nice surprise: my tax bill increased by $327.  I now have to pay $3,326 this December and turn around and do it again by April 10.  How does my $6,652.96 annual property tax bill compare to yours?

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The downsides of owning a home many times outweigh the benefits.  Case in point: You can have all of your mortgage paid off by the time you retire, but do you really ever own your home?  No!  Stop paying property taxes and your home will be taken from you, auctioned off by your county.  I'm a homeowner that chose to not have my mortgage payment include escrow amounts for property taxes.  In retrospect, I wish I had.  Now each month I have to move over money from one account to another, and have the discipline to not touch this money until it's time to write the property tax check.

The stock market's epic run continues to make headlines.  The bull is geriatric by now, but it keeps on charging.  Getting less attention is the equally bubbling real estate market.  CNBC's latest report claims that for many homeowners, property values won't recover fully until 2025.  It states that "only about one-third have surpassed their pre-recession peak value..."  I can attest to that.  Before the recession, my home was valued on Zillow (obviously not an actual appraisal) between $805K and $815K.  Today, Zillow says my home is valued somewhere between $649K and $717K, with a "Zestimate" of $683K and a one year forecast of $689K.

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My home obviously lost a butt load of value during the recession, but did I complain?  No!  Because I was able to ask (challenging my assessment) and get much lower property tax bills from 2009 until 2015.  What determines someone's property tax bill amount?  It's important to understand how they are determined so you don't get screwed.  Paying them, a la happy-go-lucky, isn't always the best course of action.  Also, watch your mail for notification of a potential property tax hike to pay for schools, roads, libraries, and so on.  If you don't want any more taxes levied on your home, vote "NO"!

Property Taxes Are Determined By:

Of course math is involved.  Taxes levied on your home = (mill rate x taxable property value) divided by 1,000. has a great article you can read to learn all about the mill rate.  For our purpose, the main thing you need to know is that you can challenge the yearly estimation, i.e., assessed value of your property.  Prevailing local real estate market conditions are used to decide a reasonable market value for your home.  It's the Assessor's job to look at all of the relevant information with respect to your property to come up with a solid assessment.  What is this information?

1.  What similar properties are selling for
2.  What the replacement costs for your property would be
3.  Maintenance costs for the property owner
4.  If any improvements were completed (ex: adding a Granny Flat or a bedroom)
5.  The amount of income you're making from the property (if any)
6.  The amount of interest charged to purchase or construct a property like yours

When you think about places like the Bay Area, and how wild property values have skyrocketed there, you can't help but also feel sorry for homeowners.  Can you imagine how much in property taxes some of these homeowners are paying within these bubble type markets?  Denver, San Francisco, Seattle, Oklahoma City, Nashville are some metropolitan locations where values have turned up, no doubt unfavorably surprising homeowners with increased property tax bills.

Are there any breaks for homeowners?

Image result for Are all of your property taxes deductible for homeowners?

Seniors, 65 and older at the beginning of the year who have owned and lived in their residence for over 10 years may be eligible for the senior property tax exemption.  Check with your county office.

Landlords who rent the property out can of course fully deduct property tax bills on a dollar for dollar basis against the rental income they collect.

Homeowners who itemize can deduct property taxes but remember not all of it can be excluded from taxation.  How much in property taxes and mortgage interest you can use to offset income taxes is based on your tax bracket.  High earners get to deduct a larger percentage than do lower income earners.  Silver linings...

For most Americans, their home is their number one asset at retirement.  They used it like a bank to save money in the form of equity.  If your property appreciates over time, as most do, you stand to gain even more when and if you sell.  Of course, in the meanwhile, you will be paying more in the form of property taxes.  In many cases, people get priced out of their homes not because they can't afford the mortgage, but rather because the property taxes have become unmanageable.  Make whatever necessary adjustments to your monthly budget ahead of time, meaning, track your property's appreciation and expect an increase in property taxes.  It's the only way you won't be I was.

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Friday, October 6, 2017

Owning Guns Or Saving for Retirement?

It's Friday, and I'm just starting to feel like things are normal in my life once again.  The tragedy in Las Vegas really hit home for me.  I had two co-workers (teachers) that were at the festival.  Both survived thank-God, but the husband of one of them was shot twice in the leg.  My co-workers have yet to return to school, and we miss them, but obviously want them to take as much time as they need to feel ready to come back.  With 500+ people injured by the terrorist who I shall not name, I'm quite sure many of you know of someone affected closely by this tragedy.

CNBC wrote an article in 2015, immediately following the San Bernardino, CA shooting that took 14 lives, and noted that 31% of Americans own guns.  That figure is probably higher today.  Now here is where it gets interesting.  Gun owners don't buy one gun.  In fact, the average number of firearms owned by a gun owner is 5.  The top 3% of gun owners own more that 25 guns!  In other words, they've bought themselves an arsenal at the expense of other things like...saving for retirement, college for the kids, buying wealth building assets, etc.  It could be that alike the Las Vegas terrorist, these people are themselves multi-millionaires, and have money to burn.

But 5 is still an expensive number.  I believe it too.  You see, I've gone to Las Vegas many times.  My father-in-law once lived there.  My brother-in-law lives there still.  He owns guns.  I've shot these guns with him at two gun ranges in Las Vegas.  Seeing regular people like you and me shooting an AR-15 at a target is a real trip.  Target practice is not cheap.  Bullets are expensive!  And there are people who go to the range almost weekly to shoot.  The ammunition and gun store business is a 3.1 billion dollar industry, raking in nearly 500 million in profit every year.  AMERICANS ARE OBSESSED WITH GUNS!  Especially those living in rural counties.  55% of American rural county residents own guns.

Now a firearm purchase makes sense for some people.  I'm not here to be anti-guns.  I'm here to get people to think whether or not they should be cutting back on their visits to the range, or if buying another firearm is the best financial decision right now for them.

How Much Does It Cost To Own A Firearm

Of course the cost to own a firearm all depends on many factors.  The price of firearms vary widely.  So do the cost to permit them.  I found this great article over at that breaks down costs for different states.  I don't own a gun, but if I wanted to own one here in CA, I'd have to shell out money for the following,

$25 Handgun Safety Certificate
$167 to $187 Handgun permit/license fee
$300 Psychological testing (required in some jurisdictions)
2-year Renewal fee: $100 to $250

$369.99 Mossberg 500 8-shot 12-Gauge Security Pump shotgun (What I'd buy for home security)

With rounds and accessories, I'd be looking at over $1000 to be legal and have the shotgun at home ready to be put to use in the event of a home invasion...a very unlikely scenario for me.  How do people do it?  How do they afford multiple weapons, ammunition, accessories, having to pay for certification and permits, without at the same time compromising some other financial goals?  It's all about priorities, I guess, and for some people, gun ownership ranks higher than saving for retirement, or even college for the kids.  They consider their peace of mind to be priceless.

When my brother-in-law needed to cover his first month's deposit at a better apartment, he legally sold a couple of his pistols.  He kept one or two.  So, guns are not as much of a depreciating asset as are cars, for example, especially if they are kept clean and in proper working condition.

Long Term Costs of Owning a Gun?

Over at, Sam Hoober did an excellent job of breaking down the costs of purchasing a gun (one-time expense) and accessories.  He also extrapolated the costs of gun ownership for someone using their gun for 14-years.  Total cost?  $4,268.  Remember, this is just one gun.  The average is 5!

Another cost to be considered when owning guns is where to store them safely.  For really useful information on what to expect and how much it costs, check out the good and very helpful people at

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People who buy more than one weapon are obviously firearm hobbyists.  They enjoy partaking in legal gun related activity just like I enjoy cycling on my expensive road bike.  Only difference is I only own one road bike.  Still, I have friends who own multiple ones.  I cannot help but think how much money they're spending on those bikes, and what that money could mean for them if applied differently.  I maintain the same stance when it comes to gun owners going out of their way monetarily to buy multiple weapons.  Why?

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Monday, October 2, 2017

Samaira Mehta, 9-Year-Old KidPreneur Wants Kids to Learn Coding Playing CoderBunnyz

Today's post is written by an amazing kid, 9-year-old, Samaira M.  Yeah, folks, I just shared a link to her professional LinkedIn profile with all you.  I "met" Samaira on LinkedIn myself.  I can't recall if she invited me or I invited her to "Connect."  No matter, really.  Main thing is that I saw one of her posts while on the site on Friday.  By Saturday morning she had accepted my invitation to guest blog, and by the afternoon she had the piece you're about to read produced and delivered.  Talk about being a go-getter!  When I was her age in 1985, I spent my time watching Transformers and G.I. Joe cartoons, playing outside with my friends, and getting in trouble at school.

I kid you not, Samaira's piece was one of the easiest guest posts I've had to edit prior to publishing on this platform.  As a teacher, I was not only impressed with what she wrote, but also how nearly flawless it was.  So I added a few commas, some quotation marks here and there, and maybe changed a couple of verb tenses.  So what.  She's in 4th grade!  Anyway, enough set-up work here on my part.  With great pleasure, I'd like to now introduce you to Samaira, and her entrepreneurship story: (Please help her win!)  :)

Hi, my name is Samaira Mehta.  I’m an 9-year-old girl who lives in Silicon Valley, California.  I am a Founder, Speaker, Inventor and a Maker.  I created a board game, Coderbunnyz, and a company to teach coding to kids and kids at heart, ages 4 to 104! CoderBunnyz is the most comprehensive coding board game available today.


I started learning to code when I was 6.  I’m interested in learning to code because it’s fun and fascinating to make a computer program do something, all with some series of steps.  That means I’m breaking a big problem into a set of small problems, just like we always do with any problem in day-to-day life.

I still remember when I was 6 and my dad did a prank on me.  He showed me something on his computer screen that had one button and a command that said, “press this if you are beautiful.”  He told me to give it a try, but when my mouse pointer touched the “ are beautiful” command the button disappeared.  I’m like, “How did you do that? Am I not beautiful?  What’s going on here?”  He told me it was all made of something called code, and that left an impression on me.  That’s when coding started for me. Since then I’ve spent so much time learning to code.  Besides coding I am a blogger, song writer, singer, swimmer and an ice skater.

My entrepreneurship story starts out one day in the summer after first grade.  I was playing board games with my family.  I had a huge stack of board games, and I won most of them!  So my parents got bored and stopped playing.  I went to the computer to do some coding.  Immediately I had this weirdly awesome idea! What if I make a board game that teaches kids to code! Wow! That was a big thought!  I told my parents my idea, and they were very surprised.  Their mouths were wide open!  They told me I could do it! I was so happy.  My journey had just begun.  I started to think of the name of my game while looking at my bunny and got the name, Coderbunnyz!  And so with the help of my parents and graphic designers from all over the world, I brought my imaginations to life.  It took many email exchanges with the graphic designers, but we finally did it.

I do workshops at libraries, tech events, corporations, in community and at schools to introduce Coderbunnyz and coding.  Within little time, kids learn basic and advanced programming concepts.  Turns out all computer languages like Scratch, Python, Java and C use these same concepts.  So once a kid learns the fundamentals by playing CoderBunnyz, it makes it that much easier for them to learn any coding language. The idea is easy - play a board game, make code, and learn coding.  All fun!!


My board game, initiative, and all the other work has been an amazing journey.  I have met so many wonderful people.  One thing I have learned, if there is a problem, then there is always a solution. So yes, there have been problems we encountered.  For example, when I got my first prototype I saw a lot of things that we wanted to change to make the game look better, and we had to summarize all the issues. Those are not always easy to work out.  I needed to carefully review the changes so that the game would be nearly perfect before I can get it to market.

There was another time when we were at a workshop and the laptop wouldn’t display on the screen.  We had 15 minutes, and it took some real debugging fast to fix the problem. But it was done in time for the workshop to start.  So yes, problems are great as they bring opportunity to solve them, and by the way, coding is also a problem solving exercise.

Bringing a product to market is a great journey, not an easy one. There is a lot that needs to be done to make a game available for all those who would like to get a copy. But now the game is available at Amazon!

I feel very proud, but at the same time this is just a beginning. I am a 4th grader and am still learning basic math and science.  I have a long way to go. That keeps me grounded and humble.  My dad always tells me, “no matter who you become, never forget the start and stay on ground always.”


How YOU Can Help Me:

I started with a mission of bringing coding and smiles to each and everyone in the world, and to give momentum and visibility to that work.  Here's how you can help. It’s a 6 second process.

Click on this link:

There is a voting button at the end of the page. Coder Bunnyz (Samaira) is the 6th question.  I’m up for Young Inventor Of the Year category.  Can you please vote for me?  Once done let me know in the blog comment section so I can thank you. (Every vote counts).

Thank-you very much!

Samaira Mehta


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