Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Light Switch

By Jim "Gymbeaux" Brown

Light on; light off. Light on; light off. Everyday in our homes and at work, we turn our lights on and we turn our lights off. Whenever we enter a room we automatically and subconsciously reach for the light switch. Don’t believe it, have you ever tried to turn the lights on when the power was off? We all have (well maybe not you).

What would happen if we all put signs on our light switches that read, “Profit LOSS”, or “Profit GAIN” on every light switch? Then every time we turn a light on we could literally see our profits going down. And when we turned the lights off our profits going up. You will notice that there is no “stable” or “holding ground”, they are either increasing or decreasing.

It is impossible to explain to you how valuable I think Joe Tye’s Direction-Deflection-Question (DDQ) is especially during times like we are currently experiencing. Think about this:

Is what I am about to do increasing my profits or decreasing my profits?

If yes, do it; if no, don’t! It is that simple! Americans have been unconsciously doing this ever since the price of gas neared $4.00 a gallon. They have asked, “Is this trip necessary, can I combine purposes, or do I simply put off the trip?” As a result, fewer miles have been logged and prices have declined.

I recently read that if you leave your computer on for an entire year as a great many of us do, it could cost you in excess of $200 a year. Okay let’s say that seems unrealistic, so it is $100 a year. What could you do with $100 more in your bank account? Read the calculation at: http://www.codinghorror.com/blog/archives/000426.html. $200 a month is $16.66 a month.

If you are reading this, odds are that you have both a family budget and a business budget. Let me change that to family expenses and business expenses because few people/families have budgets. Gary Keller in his book Shift suggests that we all look at our expenses, both variable and fixed and realign them. Some expenses we view as “fixed” such as car payment and mortgage payment that may be changed to reduce the monthly expense. For example, if we think outside the box, we could take out a Home Equity Line of Credit. The loan typically has a lower interest rate and can be spread over a longer period of time. This would effectively reduce your monthly costs, consolidate most if not all of your monthly payments except for the mortgage payment or lease payment into one monthly amount. In conjunction with this step, you also cut up all your credit cards and vow never to use them again; the interest is literally destroying America. Want a shocker? For one month, keep track of all the interest you pay on your credit card statements and any bill or loan that has an interest charge along with your regular payment. Multiply that number by 12 months and you may need medical assistance.

It all starts with a light switch and turning our lights off. One light may appear to be insignificant but multiply the number of lights times the number of hours and it begins to add up. What else are we paying for that we may not use to its fullest extent? How about the premium channels on cable television; do you watch them all? What about magazine subscriptions? How many magazines do you receive on a monthly basis? Do you read them? Cell phones have more and more “add-ons” that cost money when all we really need is a phone to either call someone or answer someone. Who reading this still has a land-line telephone in their home while everyone in the family has a cell phone as well? Everyone is entitled to a “date night” and eats out but do we have to eat at the best restaurants and have the appetizers and wine not to mention desert? Look at your soft drink monthly consumption. You do the math. Let’s say a 12 ounce bottle of water costs $1.00 (it usually costs more if you are buying only one like at the golf course where it is $1.50). There are 128 ounces in a gallon. Therefore there are 10.6 bottles of water in a gallon. 10.6 times $1.00 equals $10.60; and you thought $4.00 for a gallon of gasoline was high. We pay between 75 cents to $1.25 for a can of coke; again usually 12 ounces. At $1.25 cents, that is $12.50 a gallon; at .75 it is $7.50. You may want to drink gasoline, it is cheaper; just kidding.

Smokers; this may surprise you and then maybe not. If you smoke just one pack of cigarettes a day at $3.25 a pack (not including tax); you would spend $98.51 a month; $1,182.09 a year. Two packs a day; you would spend $197.02 a month and $2,364.18 a year. You are easily smoking away a monthly mortgage payment, 3 or 4 monthly car payments not to mention increasing the cost of health insurance and remedies for all kinds ailments associated with cigarette smoking. For women who smoke, do you realize that smoking ages the skin? How much more do women spend on skin care products to make their skin look younger when at the same time they are working overtime to make their skin look older by smoking?

Do you know what you spend on smoking. Go to http://www.healthstatus.com/calculate/smc and enter your smoking habit into the online smoking calculator and find out what it is really costing you a year. Caution: it is a shocker!

The real shocker to me is what people spend money on and what they don’t spend money on; specifically self-improvement and education. People will spend thousands of dollars on having fun but nothing on improving their ability to function in their work and relationships both of which would ultimately earn them more money from which they could have more fun. If you became better at whatever it is you do for a living, it stands that you would make more money. To become better you must invest in yourself! It has been my experience both in the Military and in business that people typically invest in only what they are told they are required to, like continuing education, and never go beyond what is required. I have read that fewer than 3% of Americans read a book a year. That means 97% NEVER read a book. What good could possibly come from reading a book? If you are part of the 97% you will never know, will you?

One more thought regarding the present financial crisis that we find our country in; who is to blame? Normally it serves little purpose to find blame instead of solutions but I feel this is important. I believe that our present crisis is the direct result of “keeping up with Jones” by almost every American citizen. Think about it. We tend to buy the biggest fanciest car we think we can afford. Same applies to homes. Real estate agents tend to sell buyers homes that reach their maximum loan limit and the mortgage companies go out of their way to qualify every buyer they can. A great many home buyers have two incomes thinking that both jobs will remain in tack and that a pregnancy would never interfere with a job. Credit companies bombard everyone with instant credit cards to where the average American has at least 3 credit cards not to mention gas company cards. Our current problem starts with each and every consumer’s desire to have the biggest and best of everything. Let’s be honest, do we need a $40,000 or $50,000 automobile? Most tax experts say the best car to buy is a used one with low mileage but used is not as good as new; or at least that is what most of us think.

If all that were not bad enough, I was absolutely shocked while listening to a radio news program regarding the approaching Hurricane Ike when a lady asked, “Where can I get my credit card from the Red Cross?” as if it was an entitlement. Hurricane Ike eventually crossed land in Galveston, Texas yet this woman wanted her $500 Red Cross Credit Card since that is what happened AFTER Hurricane Katrina.

Now taxpayers are being asked to bailout home buyers who made bad loans and are facing foreclosure. I opened a business that eventually had to close and my partner and I lost a considerable amount of money. It was our decision to open and our decision to cut our losses and close. Should we expect a bailout by our government for choices we made? I don’t think so but that is what we are about to do with the various plans being proposed by our government who, by the way, were also responsible for getting us all into this situation in the first place. Is that not like asking the fox to watch the hen house?

The problem started with each and every one of us and the solution must also come from each and very one of us and it all starts with turning off the lights (metaphorically and literally speaking).

This Nugget may not register with anyone who reads it but I can almost guarantee you one thing:


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Dollar Here; A Dollar There

By Jim "Gymbeaux" Brown, September 17, 2008

Neal Boortz, in his book, Somebody’s Gotta Say It, outlined a great way to save money. He suggested that you never spend another dollar bill except for tips and tolls. When you buy a loaf of bread you do not pay for it in dollar bills, you only pay for it with a $5.00 bill or higher. Do what you will with the pennies, nickels, dimes and quarters but put the dollar bills in a jar and do not spend them.

I tried it starting in July of 2008 and by the date of this Nugget, a little more than 2 months; I had put aside over $200.00 in one dollar bills. Enter Hurricane Ike. The devastation caused by Ike is beyond words. Living in Slidell, Louisiana near where Hurricane Katrina came ashore, I can appreciate what the residents of southeast Texas are now experiencing.

I have no idea what other corporations or businesses did during Hurricane Katrina but I can tell you what Keller Williams Realty International did for its associates and market center owners immediately after Katrina. It was announced only days after Katrina that associates who lived and worked in the devastated areas would have access to $5,000 as a grant. Where did the money come from? Approximately one year prior to Katrina, Keller Williams Realty International opened an account that Keller Williams Realty associates could donate to. From this fund grants or no interest loans could be authorized to Keller Williams’ associates who had fallen upon difficult times through no fault of their own such as serious medical situations, illness or natural events such as Hurricane Katrina.

The problem was that there was about $200,000 in the account when Katrina struck and there were over 750 associates in the affected area. Simple math reveals that over $5,000,000 was needed to make that offer of assistance. Within weeks the over 70,000 Keller Williams stepped to the plate by donating directly to the company’s fund, called Keller Cares, to where there was sufficient funds to satisfy the company’s commitment. As a side note, a great many associates also donated or provided assistance directly to individual associates through the affected Gulf Coast. Actions speak volumes about my company.

Now we have Hurricane Ike and Gustav and thousands have been affected. I am confident that Keller Cares will once again step the plate to help those Keller Williams Associates to get over this hurdle. I felt a need to do something and immediately thought of the jar that contained over 200 $1.00 bills. That money will be donated to Keller Cares.

The Keller Cares story is referred to in this Nugget because people other than Keller Williams’ associates read the Nuggets for the Noggin. For those who do, I would strongly recommend that they encourage the businesses they work for to consider establishing a charitable fund within their company to help company employees and associates. I also encourage every individual who reads this Nugget to seriously consider never again spending a $1.00 bill. Save the $1.00 bills, one-at-a-time, and then to use the money for the good of your neighbors who are in need. You do not have to look very far to find someone needing help. And remember, “But for the grace of God, there go I.” The next unforeseen disaster could engulf you and then it will be you that needs the help of your neighbors.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Where Were You When...

by Jim “Gymbeaux” Brown, September 11, 2008

It was 7 years ago today when the Twin Towers, the Pentagon and the crash in Pennsylvania occurred and most everyone remembers exactly where they were and what they were doing when it happened. I was sitting in my Keller Williams Realty office listening to the radio (I was also working). Like others you wanted to believe that striking the first tower was an accident but when the second tower was hit you knew. Everyone in the office at the time was fixed to watching the television as the events unfolded.

Today I sat motionless as I watched a replay of the events of September 11 and could not help but think that a lot of people throughout the world have already forgotten the tragedy of that day because it has been intentionally kept out of sight, out of mind. There has been an agreement by the national media NOT to replay the terrorist attacks of that day. Yet video games, television shows, music, and movies have made violence a way of life in America. I find it very ironic that real death and destruction have been silenced but play-acting violence runs rampant. Today the news broadcast ran the names of those who perished on 9/11 across the bottom of the screen but they were only words. Imagine the impact of displaying actual photographs of those who perished along with their family members and then explaining to our children that this is real; violence hurts and kills and that there is evil in the world that needs to be eradicated.

Some people reading this Nugget were not old enough to remember the assignation of President John F. Kennedy but I was. That is another day that people remember exactly where they were and what they were doing. I was walking across the campus of Bowling Green State University between classes when two students walking in front of me talked about the event.

We consciously remember such events because they were powerful incidents in our lives. The key word is “consciously remember.” Science long ago recognized that we also have a sub-conscious mind and it too remembers. It remembers incidents, history, words, videos, and pictures that we consciously have long forgotten or thought we have forgotten. The sub-conscious mind remembers and remembers well. It also does not define what it sees or hears meaning that it does not judge right or wrong only what is.

Adolph Hitler recognized that it is very difficult to change the minds of the adult German people and knew if he really wanted to effect lasting change, he had to change the minds of children and created the Hitler Youth. Watch the films of that era and you will see where the smallest of children wore the “brown shirts” of the time and marched in unison and repeated the mantras giving homage to Hitler and his ideals. Is it no different today as we see photos and films of youths around the world carrying automatic weapons and having bombs strapped to their bodies? When violence becomes routine, valuing life becomes non-existent.

Today our society is corrupting the minds of our children by exposing them to routine violence via video games, television, movies, music, and especially cartoons.

Tell me I am wrong. We buy our children BB guns and they are excited. They take the paper targets that come with the gun and begin honing their skills. Paper targets become routine and boring so they move on to tin cans. There is not sufficient excitement just seeing a can fall of a shelf so they move to glass bottles and street lights where they can see them shatter. From bottles they move to small animals such as birds, cats and dogs. It is a natural progression and it becomes accelerated by repetition and exposure. Of course MY children would not do this, right? Anyone who watches television can not help but see the senseless violence of the current trend in video games. Who are we kidding that our youngest of children are not being exposed to this garbage yet it continues with increasing frequency. We as adults remind the children that no one is getting hurt in the video games, television and movies – it is all make believe.

While you were growing up, do you recall any incident involving the senseless shooting of students in a high school? Can you remember any drive-by shootings? We are outraged at the death toll in Iraq in January of 2008 but accept without question that there were more murders in the City of Detroit in the same time period than in the entire country of Iraq. I can remember watching the local news several years ago when the total number of murders were announced (they no longer report the total) for the City of New Orleans like someone would keep track of an attempt at breaking an Olympic record. I also recall how people would drive by the Coast Guard Training Center in Petaluma California (almost 1000 acres) that was completely surrounded by a fence and barbed wire (it was once a very secure Army facility) and shoot deer through the fence; they just left them there to die.

It is easier to be negative than positive. It is easier to frown than smile. It is easier to criticize than support. It is easier to ignore than be engaged. It is becoming easier to be violent than non-violent. Instead of working out disagreements, people kill (or sue).

As Dr. John Maxwell so often states, “Hope is not an effective strategy.” If we are going to turn our society around, hoping so won’t make it happen. Each one of us must begin by saying no to violence. It starts with self. We need to boycott violent movies and turn the television off. We need to say no to our children having access to violent video games and graphic musical lyrics. We need to tell advertisers that we will no longer buy their products if they continue to promote and support violent programs.

As an individual, you and I CAN make a difference but to do so we need to do something to move in the right direction. As an example, Pepsi Cola hired a rap artist to promote the Pepsi line of products. That in itself was no problem but this rap artist routinely sang about killing police, sexual acts, abusing women and the like. I wrote to Pepsi advising them that they have a right to select any company spokesperson they desire but that I also have a right to NOT buy their products. I knew that I was only one voice and that my correspondence had no weight on its own. However, within the month Pepsi pulled the advertisements. It was not my letter that made a difference; it was the weight of the thousands of letters and calls to Pepsi that made a difference. What were they thinking?

Are we as committed to protecting our way of life as our enemies (and that includes the entertainment industry as far as I am concerned) are committed to destroying it? At this point in time, I think not! However, one person (that would be you and me) CAN make a difference! We need to be aware! We need to personally take action! We need to be engaged! As Jim Collins says in his book, Good to Great; “don’t accept good when you can have great!”