Black Friday – Winning the Game

With Thanksgiving fast approaching, we each have so many things to be thankful for including living in the greatest nation in the world. The day after Thanksgiving, Black Friday, marks the official kick-off of the holiday shopping season and with a bit of planning you can get great deals on gifts without starting the New Year with new debt! Here are my 5 strategies for (financially) surviving the holidays:
  1. Develop an overall game plan. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Check your savings accounts balances and decide how much you can afford to spend without going into debt. Then either pay cash or, if using a credit card or check, track total spending against your maximum spending goal.
  2. Build a gift list. Make a list of all of the folks that you plan to give a gift then decide a spending range for each person. When you’re done, add up your totals and make sure the total is not far out of line with your spending goal. If it is, review and adjust your budget as appropriate. Our associate, Wendy Weber, said her family reduced the number of ‘family’ gifts by drawing names so that everyone only bought and received one gift…a great savings of time and money!
  3. Focus on the children. If your resources are limited, consider establishing a ‘moratorium’ on gifts between spouses and friends and, instead focus on gifts for your children for they are the people who are most excited and have the greatest expectations during this holiday.
  4. Find the best deals. Today, it’s easier than ever to find the best price on just about any particular item. Major chain stores such as Walmart and Target offer price protection and there are smartphone apps that allow you to ‘swipe’ an item in one store and it’ll give you the best prices from nearby competitors. Often you can use this information to negotiate that best price right where you are shopping. Here are 4 of the top free apps:
·        Price Check by Amazon While you’re at the store, you can either take a photo or scan the bar code using this app and it’ll give you Amazon’s price for the same product.
·        RedLaser With this app you scan the product barcode and it will give you price comparisons of near-by stores plus on-line prices as well.
·        ShopSavvy This app is similar to Red Laser.
·        Coupon Sherpa Fire up this app in the store you’re visiting and it’ll list the current discount coupons. It’s limited to mainly big chain stores.
  1. Reach out and touch someone. While our economy has continued to improve over recent months, there are still literally millions of Americans out of work and in financial pain. Use this season to reach out to help someone less fortunate than you. While donations are always welcome, this doesn’t have to cost you a dime. Consider giving your time to help at a shelter or community kitchen or give away clothing items that you no longer use. If you have young children consider bringing them into this giving activity. Children are great learners and helping others in need is one of life’s greatest lessons.

5 Steps for Success in 2012

Since the Great Recession began in 2008, millions of Americans have been affected by the financial tsunami that has now swept across much of the world. As we consider our fate for the coming year it’s important to differentiate between ‘the’ economy and ‘our’ economy. There is very little that we can do regarding the U.S. or international economies but we can exert great influence on our own personal economy. Here are my 5 steps for making 2012 your best year ever:
  1. Decide what you want. Most people don’t get what they want in life because they never take the time to decide just what they truly want. What is it that you desire so much that you’d be willing to fully commit yourself to achieve? It may have to do with fitness, or finances, or relationships or career but it must be something that rises to the level of ‘a burning desire’. Take a moment and make a list of what you want to achieve in the year and years ahead.
  2. Create clarity. Albert Einstein said, “Imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.” Once you’ve decided what you want, you need to create massive clarity around that intention and this will require that you use your imagination. Begin with a visualization of your end result then take a pen and paper and describe it in as much detail as possible. Research indicates this act of ‘writing it down’ increases the likelihood of success by 200%. Finally, condense your description into a sentence or two on a three by five index card and place it somewhere where you’ll see it every day as a reminder of your commitment. This constant visualization activates your reticular activating system which sets your brain in ‘solution seeking mode’ where it both consciously and unconsciously seeks out solutions and resources to solve the ‘problem’ it has been presented.
  3. Develop your action plan. Don’t expect to know all of the steps needed to accomplish your goal but in most cases, your first few moves should be obvious. If not, find someone to ask. Someone who has already done that which you seek to do. Pull out another index card or start a list on your iPhone of as many of the steps or tasks as you can think of as a starting point.
  4. Find a lever. Accomplishing any worthwhile goal, in my experience, will require a unique amount of effort….let’s call it the price you pay to get the benefits you desire and deserve. Often, we start out enthusiastically fired up ready to jump tall buildings or smash through brick walls. Typically enthusiasm begins to wane quickly as it becomes clear that our success is more like running a double marathon rather than a forty yard sprint. To overcome this, you’ll need leverage. Leverage can come in many forms and one of the best is to have an ‘accountability partner’, someone who will hold you responsible for continuing to take the necessary actions to reach your goal. Choose someone who will support you in a positive way. My recommendation is a weekly check-in with your accountability partner.
  5. Execute your plan! Start now, today, executing your plan of action. Begin by completing steps one through four right now. Then, each Sunday evening outline the action steps you plan to take in the upcoming week and let your accountability partner know of your intentions. Schedule time for taking that action step directly into your calendar so that you’ve blocked out the appropriate amount of time for completion. Make this a Sunday night ritual.
As you move through the year, be sure to monitor your results. If you find that you are off course, which often happens, make a course correction and continue. Also, it’s very helpful to create ‘mini-rewards’ along the way for accomplishing certain predetermined mile-posts. Follow these five steps and there is nothing that you cannot accomplish. I wish you the most prosperous New Year ever!

Who Killed the American Work Ethic?

A restaurateur friend of mine recently opened a new restaurant in North Shelby County.  When I asked him how it was going he was very excited and especially pleased with the friendliness of the customers that frequent his restaurant.  His biggest problem?  “Stewart, it is nearly impossible to find people who are willing to work,” he told me.  “Oh, we get lots of people applying for jobs…and they all say they’re willing to work hard but once they’re hired, they then say they don’t work evenings; don’t work weekends; want to know when they can use their cell phones; want to know when they can take a break.”

So here we are at the tail end of the worst recession since the nineteen thirties with true unemployment topping ten million and there are jobs available but very few job seekers who are willing to do what the job requires.  This is not just a North Shelby County problem but a nationwide epidemic.

I have the good fortune of owning a company full of hard-working associates so I surveyed them on this topic.  What emerged is our thoughts on the causes and cures for restoring work ethic in America.

The Cause: The Entitlement Mentality. It is natural for parents to want the very best for their children.  As we have become a more affluent society we’ve used our increasing resources to benefit our children.  In some ways this can be very positive such as the ability to live in a community with a great school system or allowing for a private school education.  However, in many ways, parents have used financial power to enable their children.  Children growing up in more affluent communities often expect to be given a car when they turn sixteen; expect to have a cell phone paid for by their parents; expect to tap into their parents pocketbook for all matter of spending and aren’t expected to ‘do anything’ in return. Many affluent families are substantially helping their children buy their first home or are buying it outright for them.  I have so many friends that continue to financially support their adult working children, allowing them to live a lifestyle not supported by their income.

At the lower end of the income spectrum, there are now third generation welfare recipients.  These teens and young adults have never seen their parents work and there is an expectation that the government will take care of them as well.

The Cure: The Work Mentality. The common thread of my hard-working associates was that each was expected to work starting at an early age.  One’s first job was a lifeguard at age fifteen.  Another was a stock-boy at a shoe store at age fifteen.  At age twelve, my father dropped me off in a neighborhood with a case of fire extinguishers and said, “Don’t come home until you’ve sold them all!”

Here are our three rules for restoring the work ethic in America:

  1. Chores. At a very young age, children can learn the concept of responsibilities of being a member of a family unit.  One of my associates requires that her four and five year old children keep their bedrooms clean.  She’ll pay them ‘allowance’ for special chores such as sweeping the kitchen floor.  As a youngster, I had to mow the lawn every Saturday before I could go play in the neighborhood.
  2. Work. Once children are old enough to get a summer job, they should be expected to work.  If they can’t find a job, require that they serve as a full-time volunteer.  During summers, I had to either have a job or be in summer school…and sometimes both.
  3. Team. Require that your children be involved in some type of team activity.  Sports are great but there are many other options such as math club, debate team or choral team.  In this age of non-stop texting, our children are losing the ability to communicate and work together as a group.

By the way, if any of you live in North Shelby County and are willing to work hard, email me at and I’ll be happy to pass your name along to my restaurateur friend.  Just put ‘job’ in the subject line.



Make me Think …

“It is one of the most beautiful compensations of life, that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

The Christmas Gift

December is perhaps the craziest month of the year. There are parties to attend, gifts to purchase, thank-you notes to write and year-end deadlines to meet. Sometimes in the hubbub and excitement of this season, we forget the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is one of the most important days of the year for people of the Christian faith as we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ and His ultimate gift of everlasting life. Regardless of your faith, this is an excellent opportunity to take a moment and recognize how blessed we all are. Certainly we live in the greatest country imaginable and enjoy a lifestyle unequaled in most parts of the world. While we’re expressing our gratitude for our many blessings, let’s also take a moment to celebrate our many successes in 2010. Too often we focus on what is imperfect in our lives rather than what is going well. One suggestion for turning the Christmas Day meal into a powerful conversation is to have everyone comment on what they consider were their top two or three accomplishments for the year as well as at least one thing they would like to accomplish in 2011. Take a moment to celebrate with them their successes and encourage them for the coming year.

While we’re on the subject of encouragement, why not consider encouraging some folks outside your normal circle? There are plenty of people who need encouragement this year…people who have lost their jobs, people who are financially disadvantaged, and people who are in poor health. You can give a few hours at one of our local charities; you can donate food, clothing or money to one of our local shelters or you can pay a visit to someone who does not have a large support group.

When you give the gift of encouragement to someone else, you’ll also receive the gift in return. How does this relate to personal finance? When you feel encouraged, you are in a positive state of mind…a positive attitude. Having worked with and studied self-made multimillionaires for the past thirty years, I have found that this elite group has certain characteristics in common. Among these traits is a willingness to reach out and encourage others. How can you maintain a state of encouragement? Ultimately, you can maintain a state of encouragement by focusing on what is going right in your life and expecting the best. As you face your daily challenges, think of how you can turn each challenge into an opportunity. At a minimum, every challenge is an opportunity to grow in experience and knowledge. This “positive attitude” may be an overused and clichéd phrase but it is undoubtedly one of the key elements to the success of self-made multimillionaires. It’s also just a much better way to live your life.

It is impossible to consistently focus your attention on your blessings and encouraging others and not have a positive attitude. Receiving presents is a lot of fun but perhaps the greatest Christmas gift of all is the gift of encouragement. Merry Christmas!


I had planned to start my UFQ on June…but I’m so fired up I decided to start today!
Oops! Already made my first mistep according to my nutritionist Kay Rice….I ate too many fats for breakfast. Seems 2 hardboiled eggs have all I need…so the 3 oz salmon pushed me over the limit! Kay, consider my hand ‘slapped’ and I’ll refocus my efforts!
Looking forward to ‘playing’ with all of you and LEARNING from our Team of Health and Fitness Experts!
We’re already getting some Qs on the blog and we’ll answer them as quickly as possible!
If you have a Q, let us know!
Well, off to the GYM! I intend to ‘hammer’ it!

Make Me Think …

“We succeed only as we identify in life, or in war, or in anything else, a single overriding objective, and make all other considerations bend to that one objective.”

~ General Dwight David Eisenhower (1890-1969)
34th US president 1953-61, Supreme Allied Commander, WW 2, Europe.