Career

Just When I Thought I Was So Smart . . .

As a professional, it’s always wise to project a good image of yourself, especially that you are intelligent. However, sometimes or many times we do things that really humble us and hopefully help us to not be so prideful. Here are a few things that I have done recently and not so recently:

GPS: My GPS on my phone showed that it would take about 2 hours to get back home, which I thought was due to traffic and was normal, even though I was about 35 minutes away. For some reason the GPS kept on taking me through side streets with lights, which seemed to appear every 200 feet. Finally, after about 20 minutes I pulled over and took a good look at the directions and realized that I was taking the bike route. Yes, it took me 20 minutes to pull over.  I think that my pride ran away at that moment.

App and phone purchases: If you know anything about children and video games then you know that you can make in-app purchases within the games to obtain more virtual money, coins, or gems. There weren’t the proper safeguards in place on their tablets and in a blink a lot purchases were made. A lot of purchases were made. Did I mention that a lot of purchases were made? We were able to get some refunds, but let’s just say that where this is a will there is a way, especially when your children then ask if they can borrow your phone and decide to go on a shopping spree at Amazon. I really don’t need a PS4.

Per diem: When I started my practice years ago during the recession it took time to acquire clients, which is normal and expected. In the meantime I could have worked per diem at another firm at least for that first year or so. However, I had such a bad experience with the previous firm that I worked for as an employee that I told myself I would never again work for anyone else. The extra cash made working per diem would have been nice and would have made the transition from employee to practitioner easier and less stressful financially.  Eventually, I did work per diem after about a year or so at a few different firms, and I met some really good people.

There are many more that I’ll keep to myself, but we all need to be humbled from time to time.

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Should You Talk About Religion and Politics in a Business Setting?

We are taught that you should not speak about religion and politics because it causes tension, disagreement, and bad feelings. What about in a business setting at work with your boss, employees, co-workers, and clients/customers? The correct answer is . . . .

Maybe. Here are some examples of when and when not to speak about these emotionally charged topics:

When it’s not ok: First, take a look at yourself. If you are unable to speak about religion and politics without letting your emotions take control, without insults (I do not mean being politically correct), and being open to both learning from the other person and teaching the other person, then you need to first work on this before speaking about religion and politics. Similarly, are you able to speak to the other person and have a conversation, or do they just want to spew their beliefs without regard to having an actual discussion? Does the other person disagree with you regarding everything because they do not want to even hear facts or truths? If that is the case, then it is probably futile to speak with them about religion and politics and possibly any other topics as well.

When it’s ok: It’s okay when the exact opposite is true of when it’s not ok. When you are able to speak to people with charity then you are ready. When you are ready to have a dialogue and are open to learning the other’s position, even if you do not fully agree with them, then you are ready.  If you are passionate about your beliefs, then don’t beat people up to get your point across, even when you are 100% correct. Don’t be afraid to speak the truth, but also be sensitive to your timing. Lastly, you can communicate more by the way you live your life then with verbal communication.

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5 Financial Truths

There is a lot of information out there about finances, and it’s hard to figure out what is exactly true or not true. Always seek the truth, especially from someone that is not trying to sell you something. Here are some examples:

College: We are led to believe that all of our children must go to college to be successful and make a lot of money. While I am a big believer in education and college, it is not the only route and it is not for everybody. With the high cost of college, the decision to attend college should not be automatic. There are alternatives, such as becoming a tradesman, learning a special skill that does not require college, starting a business, sales positions, military or government positions that do not require college, stay at home parent (yes, this is a vocation), etc.

Retirement savings: Saving for retirement is a good thing, however, it should be balanced with both short and mid-range needs. For example, if you allocate virtually all of your savings towards retirement accounts and ignore having a cash cushion, then your risk of financial catastrophe increases. If a financial crisis arises or a large purchase needs to be made, then you will have to withdraw from your retirement accounts, which is one of the worst financial decisions to make due to both income taxes and penalties on the withdrawals. Furthermore, if you do not have withholdings taken from your distributions, then you will probably end up with a tax problem once you file your return. The prudent action is to have a cash cushion of 3 to 6 months of expenses for emergencies and to save for mid-range goals, such as a house purchase.

Debts: Debt truly is a double-edged sword. There are some who advocate staying away from debts at all costs and others who encourage you to leverage yourself to make more money. The truth is that debt should be used wisely and sparingly, if necessary and as a last resort, and it should not cripple you. If you are able to avoid debt, then that is excellent, as debts increase your risk and they also encourage risky behavior and increased spending in many cases.  To prove this point, why do you think McDonald’s started to accept credit cards, why do auto loans have 7 year terms, and why can young adults take out massive loans for college?  It is to get you to spend more than you would have otherwise.  As you mature financially you should seek to decrease your debts.

Most people would not be able to afford a house without obtaining a mortgage, and if they waited to purchase a house and rented instead, then they would most likely be worse off financially over the long term. Also, some businesses may need to incur debts to purchase expensive equipment, inventory, or improvements that would not be possible if they did not incur debts. To emphasize, it should be used wisely and sparingly.

Expenses, income and savings: Most likely your expenses are way too high. If you are able to save 15- 20% of your income and have no debts then spend whatever you want. Otherwise, set aside money towards savings to steadily increase the percentage that you save each time you get paid. This way you will spend whatever is left over. If you are not able to do this then you need to take a serious look at decreasing your expenses and increasing your income. The truth is that it is really not that hard, but most people have a hard time doing this. As Yogi Berra said, “Baseball is ninety percent mental. The other half is physical.”

Home and health = wealth: In the quest for success, don’t ignore your most valued relationships or your health. Nothing can cripple your finances as quickly as health or family issues, such as divorce. With either of these issues your expenses increase exponentially while your income suffers at the same time. Make sure to prioritize.

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Where Are all of the Young CPA’s and Why Should You Care?

I was at another continuing professional education seminar recently, which is very often as CPA’s are required to have 120 hours of continuing education every three years. One of the observations that I make each and every time is that I am one of the youngest CPA’s in the entire room. This is true now and was true 10 plus years ago when I became a CPA. Unfortunately, I have been jumped past the young man status, so it has nothing to do with being a “young” CPA. Why does this matter and why should you care?

Some details: When looking around the room this time and every time, It appears that approximately 5% of the CPA’s are younger than 50 years old, with the majority being older than 60. Could it be that older CPA’s attend the seminars that I happen to attend or is this true throughout the profession. When digging deeper, I found out that according to the AICPA, approximately 75% of CPA’s are expected to retire in the next 15 years, so my observation applies throughout the entire profession, and not just Bergen County.

More accountants, less CPA’s and CPA firms: Studies are showing that although there are more accounting graduates, less are becoming CPA’s. There are numerous reasons why including greater education requirements, time requirements, and the expense of taking and studying for the exam. Also, although I do not have a statistic on the age of CPA’s that own small firms, I do not know, even casually, one CPA firm owner that is younger than me. Just to reiterate, I am not a spring chicken anymore.

Negative impact on clients: CPA’s are the main business and tax advisors to small business owners and many individuals, so who will fill this void? I can only make several guesses to the alternatives, which are not very good for clients. Alternatives include: using non-CPA business advisors and preparers (whom generally lack the education, expertise, and training of CPA’s), using larger firms (along with much higher prices and less attention to the “little” guys), and doing everything yourself (ie. QuickBooks, however you need to be an accountant to actually get the numbers correct, along with not receiving guidance that saves business owners more than they actually pay their CPA). Another negative aspect is that there will be less CPA’s to collaborate with as peers. As a side note, the CPA’s that I know have been the most generous, helpful, and supportive people to me professionally.

General trends: There has been a generally trend for less people to start their own businesses, which has been the case for decades, according to a 2017 report by the Kauffman Foundation, titled, “The Entrepreneurship Deficit.” Several reasons are cited, including demographic changes, technology, and geographic changes. It appears that the CPA profession is not immune to these general trends, and as a result there are less small CPA firm owners.

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How to Resolve Conflicts with Less Stress

Conflicts are inevitable and happen in all aspects of your life, including disputes with your customers, disputes as a customer, with family, neighbors, and in any situation. However, there are ways of minimizing conflicts and to also resolve them fairly and quickly. Here’s how:

Resolve at the lowest level: A perfect example is when a customer at the grocery store is not satisfied for some reason and they immediately ask to speak to the store manager. Quite often, the easiest way to have resolved the issue would be to let the cashier know the issue first, then customer service if still not resolved, then finally with the store manager.

Don’t make threats or take drastic action: As soon as you say that you are going to contact your attorney, then you just escalated your issue to a whole level higher, and the relationship will most likely be damaged forever. Ironically, I think that this threat has been overused anyway and nobody really cares all that much. Another example is to demand a raise from your employer and if not given one, then threaten that you will leave. Why not either ask for a raise, if you deserve it, or ask your boss what you can do differently to receive a raise?

Avoiding conflicts: Avoiding conflicts does not mean trying to make everyone happy because that is not possible, and you will make yourself unhappy and exhausted in the process. Do not avoid conflicts just to avoid conflicts or just to be nice as sometimes the truth hurts, although you should make sure that you say it in a charitable way. A good practice is to always strive to determine how to conflict proof your decisions.  For example, if you know that you are going to make a change to your business practices, then let people know ahead of time, when possible. This can involve alerting customers to price increases, billing methods, payment methods, and timing of providing a service. The key is to communicate with people in a smart, proactive, truthful, and thoughtful way.

Put it in perspective: Is the conflict really that important or even worth pursuing? Weigh the pros, cons, and the actual cost of entering a battle.

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Does Money Really Matter? 3 Different Views

People tend to fall into 3 different categories of how they view money, which ultimately impacts how they manage it. How important should it be to you?

Love of money/materialism: Thus is the most extreme view whereas you practically worship money. Earning more and obtaining more just to earn more and have more. It can be a trap that creates a lack of satisfaction. Although it may at first seem hard to digest, poor people can worship money and wealthy people may not because it is not about the amount that you have.

Don’t care: Another extreme view is not to care at all about money, although this doesn’t seem as common. This can cause problems because you may not use your money wisely and will probably be rather reckless.

Balanced approach: Thus is where you view money for what it is; a resource that has been given to us to use wisely. But what exactly is the wise use of money? It is taking care of your family, the poor, investing and saving wisely, spending within your means, and not being too emotionally wrapped up with money. It may mean owning a 5,000 square foot house or it may mean renting a small apartment; shopping at Wal-Mart or Neiman Marcus. Confusing, isn’t it?

Just realize what the purpose of money is and don’t let anyone tell you how much or how little you need. Learn, seek advice, and try not to get stressed out over it.

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Why Everyone Should Start and Run a Business Even if it’s Just Part-Time and Temporary

Why should everyone start a business? Because it will completely change the way you see the world, view people, money, and everything else. Not to mention that it will humble you.

Just to be clear, not everyone should be a business owner full-time or for the long-haul. However, by starting a part-time business or even operating it full-time it will change the following:

Appreciation: You will appreciate the skills of business owners that you know, including friends, family, local restaurants and other business owners, or even your own boss/owner if you work for a small company. There are many, many skills that are required to run a successful business that can only be appreciated if you actually are a small business owner.

Humbling: Nobody likes rejection that I know of, but it is very common in business. A small business owner is usually the head salesman and must learn how to sell their products or services. As with any sales position, you’ll quickly realize that not everyone wants to buy what you’re selling, even if you believe that it is better than chocolate fudge brownies, if that is possible. Even if you are selling your products on the Internet and do not have to sell face to face, you may wonder why nobody is visiting your website or buying your products on Amazon. Don’t take it personally. You will also experience the ups and downs of a business vs. a steady paycheck from an employer.

Direct relationship between results and income: Unless you work as a commission-based sales person, there generally is not a short-term relationship between your income and your results. For a business owner, great results equal greater income. As an employee, compensation increases tend to happen over time and you are highly dependent upon your direct boss and the company’s performance.

Complaining: You will probably laugh when a friend complains how much they have to pay towards their health insurance, retirement benefits, and their company’s paid time-off policies. Guess who fully pays for these benefits when you own your own business?

Commitment: Having a small business means being committed. As with any endeavor that you seek to achieve positive results, a strong commitment will dramatically increase your chance of success. If you can commit to a business then you can commit to other important items.

 

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Don’t Use Your Employees and Employees Don’t Use Your Employers

When I was a kid, sometimes a friend would say, “Don’t be friends with so and so because they are users.” I have to admit that I really did not know what that meant back then, but since I now have the Internet nowadays, I was able to look it up. According to urbandictionary.com, a user is someone who takes advantage of another’s kindness or generosity. They pretend to be a friend but are only in it for what they can get out of it. A user takes and takes, rarely gives. When it comes to employers and employees it can easily happen, but here are 4 ways to avoid using each other:

Be honest: When an employee takes a job there should be honesty on both ends. First, the employer should set expectations about the responsibilities, compensation, work environment, hours, advancement opportunities, etc. Employees should be honest with their employers about their experience, their ability to perform their job functions, their availability, and their own expectations. If you do not tell your employer that you plan on moving out of state in 6 months, especially after your employer has spent time and money on your training, then that is lying by omission. The same holds true for an employer that plans on moving their location in the near future without informing a new employee. Be upfront and honest.

Don’t dawdle or overload: A business makes money when employees are productive and loses money when they dawdle. Keep this in mind as an employee. Alternatively, if an employer overloads their employees then this can lead to burnout.

Give, don’t just take: Employees should not focus solely on their own paychecks, but on the overall success of the business. Think about what you can give to make your job better and for the business that you work for to succeed. Most likely, unless you work for a user, you will be compensated for high achievement. Employers should compensate their employees fairly and reward them when they are helping the business to be more profitable.

Do a good job: Do an excellent job and take pride in what you are doing whether you are an employee or an employer.

Don’t be a user!

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What is the Best Type of Business to Own?

What’s the best type of business to own? One that makes money of course, but let’s dig a little deeper . . .

Simple: The more complex a business is then the harder it is to operate. For example, if your business requires the talents of very technical people, then this complicates the delivery of your products and services. Unfortunately, it also requires more time and expertise of the owner. Such businesses include engineering, law, healthcare, IT consulting, accounting, and other technical fields.

Low capital requirements: If you need to invest heavily in equipment, real estate, or large amounts of inventory, then this can create a drain on your cash. Supposedly, lack of capital is one of the main reasons for business failures.

Repeat business: A perfect example of a business that receives repeat, recurring sales is a subscription based software company. An example of the opposite type of business is a general contractor. There is a wonderful book called, “The Automatic Customer” by John Warrillow that outlines the value of a having a business with predictable, steady, recurring sales. He gives numerous examples on how this can be applied to many businesses, and not just software companies. I’m a big advocate of businesses trying to maximize their recurring sales.

Easily duplicated: Any business that can easily replicate the tasks that the owner performs is a plus. Did you ever notice that many of the chain restaurants do not serve overly complex dishes? If they did, then it would complicate the way the run their business.

If you are thinking of starting a new business, an additional business, or even a side business, then you should strongly consider a business with these traits.

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Cost of College = $1,000,000?

If it costs approximately $30,000 per year to attend college, although that figure can be much higher, then the cost of college for my children will be over $1,000,000 when the time comes, especially as rates keep on rising. In case you are wondering about the math, here it is:

7 children times $120,000 (for 4 years) = $840,000. Multiply that by an average annual tuition increase of 3% over the next 7+ years and the cost is over a million dollars.

When I get asked the question, “How are you going to send your children to college?” I usually reply with a snide remark that I am going to discourage them from attending college. However, there is some truth in that, and here are some alternatives from paying high tuition that we have discussed with our children:

Military: One of my sons wants to be in the Army. This is extremely noble and brave and not for everyone. If he stills wants to be in the Army when he comes of age, then he can also apply to and hopefully get accepted to West Point to accelerate his military career. There is no tuition at West Point.

Entrepreneur: I’m very biased with this one because I work with entrepreneurs all day long. Aside from certain professionals, such as doctors, attorneys, CPA’s, etc., you usually do not need to go to college to start your own business. Some do very well and some don’t, but I would hope that they would receive my guidance to help them to succeed.

Nursing: There are many good local colleges to choose from, which will eliminate the cost of room and board. This will dramatically reduce the cost.

Famous: Who says you can’t get paid to be famous?

Mom: My older daughters say that they want to be moms. Although it is not in vogue to be a stay at home mom nowadays, I believe that it is one of the greatest gifts that can be given to your children.

YouTuber/Gamer: I’m not sure what this one means exactly, but I think that it means recording yourself playing video games while narrating what is going on. Although, I am not sure if you can make a living wage from this or for how long, but if so, then great.

My children are not even teenagers yet, so let’s see what happens. I am definitely keeping an open mind and not taking this too seriously at this point!

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