After watching Mad Men, your office life was probably pretty droll in comparison. You don’t have a liquor cabinet behind your desk. You might not have a secretary at your beck and call. And you’re certainly not Don Draper (nobody can be Don Draper, not even Pete Campbell, am I right?).
Mad Men was a show unlike any other. One part soap opera, one part historical recreation, once it grabbed your mind (and heart) it wouldn’t let go. But what made Mad Men unique in my estimation was its ability to instill nostalgia for an era most people watching the show never experienced.
The 60’s was a unique time in history that penned an indelible mark on our collective memory. We can blame much of the rapid political and cultural changes of the sixties for this. And today we’re going to learn how to plug into that same nostalgia.
1. If You Don’t Like What’s Being Said, Change the Conversation
There is one thing we certainly learned from Mad Men. Marketing changed during the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s. While the ad market slowed in the 50’s, it garnered a creative revolution.
Suddenly humor, irony, and a shade of irreverence were allowed in marketing. This was an effort to connect with younger consumers. Advertisers were also attempting to overcome a distrust of corporate messages (sound familiar?).
It’s no coincidence that we see large corporations like Coca-cola featured heavily in Mad Men. These were the corporations trying to bolster their brands at a time when large brands were being maligned and anti-establishmentarianism was at an all-time high.
Social activism also began to work its way into the ads of the time. And we can see this clearly in every Mad Men era starting with the campaign against cigarettes.
The US census is the last thing that changed the marketing world for good. Through the 1960 census, marketers suddenly had segmented research at their fingertips. Lifestyles were included in this data and marketers were able to target specific demographics through image campaigns.
Throughout it all, some epic campaigns went down. Let’s look at some of the most iconic campaigns of the 60’s for some inspiration.
2. Think Small
Volkswagen had a problem in the 50’s and 60’s. It was a car company founded by the Third Reich during WW2 and its cars weren’t very pretty. They were small, ugly, and cheap.
None of these facts compete well against the popular USA-made cars rolling out of Detroit at the time. And yet Volkswagen wanted a market share in the U.S. This was a job for the (M)ad men.
What sold the Volkswagen to the American public wasn’t a flashy ad. It was honesty. And Carl Hahn, Volkswagen’s point man in America, chose Bernbach at DDB due to his apparent advertorial honesty.
And the ad that changed advertsing was brutally honest about the Volkswagen Beetle. The tagline was simple. “Think Small.”
Using a minimalist design, Bernbach places a photo of the Volkswagen Beetle in the upper left quadrant at a slight angle as if it were far away and driving toward you. The car looked tiny on the empty white background.
It wasn’t just about the image. The type font was unique, san-serif Futura instead of a typical serif font. And the full-stop at the end of the title forced people to think about what they just read.
Lastly, the Volkswagen logo wasn’t in any typical “professionally placed” location. It sat intruding on the third paragraph like an elephant barging in on a crowd. And contemporary creative agencies recommend this technique even for web design.
Everything about the ad subverted audience expectations. Most car ads at the time appealed to the car’s ability to elevate your status. This ad eschewed this model and focused on the car’s ability to minimize the effect on your pocketbook just by being small in every way.
3. “It’s Toasted”
One iconic ad in the Mad Men series actually has a counterpart in the real world. In fact, many of the ads in Mad Men were inspired by real-life ads.
In the show, Lucky Strike was one of Sterling Cooper’s most important clients. The whole first episode is about the intrusion of campaigns against smoking and how Draper must find a way to distract people from the fact smoking was bad for you.
The men from Lucky Strike stand at the door ready to leave, Don Draper has a realization. He stops them. He asks at one point in the resulting pitch, “How do you make your cigarettes?”
The head man from Lucky Strike explains the process of planting and growing and toasting. Don stops him at “Toasted.” “It’s toasted,” he says and writes it on a chalkboard.
The men don’t get it. Don explains how advertising is happiness and it helps them understand something. If people focus on how Lucky Strike is “toasted,” unlike other tobaccos who don’t claim as much, they won’t focus on the fact it’s poisonous.
The real-life ad does something similar for Lucky Strike. In an era when you couldn’t lie about health benefits, you had to focus on taste or nostalgia.
The ad showed a man in a classic 60’s overcoat holding an overflowing stack of Lucky Strike carton boxes in his arms. Below it said, “Remember all your friends who remember how great cigarettes used to taste. This Christmas give cartons of Luckies.”
The nostalgia of “how great cigarettes used to taste” distracts the audience while subtly telling them that Lucky Strikes still taste just like that.
Change Your Perspective to Change the World
The Mad Men series is full of nods to the real world successes of marketers during the 60s and 70s. And the world in which they lived changed dramatically because of them.
If you’re wondering if your work won’t be remembered, think again. The most influential people are the ones who change their perspective and follow their passion.
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Hey there, GRS fans. Just a quick note to let you know that I’m taking a short break from the blog.
In part, this is because Kim and I (and the dog) are in the middle of a Real Life vacation to the Oregon Coast. It’s been too cold and windy and wet to spend much time outside, but we’ve all enjoyed hunkering down at our AirBNB, watching the Olympics, playing games, and reading books.
But this break is also because I’ve been so focused on the editorial side of the site that I’ve been neglecting the rest of the business. And make no mistake: In the nearly nine years since I sold Get Rich Slowly, it truly has become a business.
Instead of writing about money, for the next week (or two) I’ll be:
Fulfilling requests from my web designers. They’re dutifully working on the GRS redesign, but I’ve become a sticking point. They can’t proceed until I get them some info, and that’s going to take several hours.
Working with my tech guy to reinstate the GRS forums. I was under the mistaken impression that nobody used the forums here any more. I was wrong. There are several die-hard fans who have been pleading with me to bring them back. (I had to kill them when I moved the site to a new server after re-purchasing.) We believe this is a non-difficult task, but it will take some brainwidth.
Monetizing the site in a variety of ways. At the moment, Get Rich Slowly is generating about $1500 per month. That’s fine for a hobby, but not for a business. I can’t hire help at $1500 per month. Fortunately, most sites of this size generate much more income, and I believe GRS can too — without compromising the reader experience. But it’ll take several days of time and energy to get this sorted. My goal isn’t to make a boatload of money but to have enough cashflow to pay people to do the stuff I don’t want to do. (All I really want to do is write.)
And so on.
Plus, there are tons of other unfinished tasks behind the scenes. When I re-purchased this site in October, I should have taken a couple of months to work on the non-editorial stuff before announcing I was back. But I’m impulsive. As soon as I took possession, I went full-bore into writing mode. It’s been fun, don’t get me wrong, but my single-minded pursuit of publishing new material has seriously hampered every other aspect of the site.
I hope to be back publishing full-time by March 1st. If I’m especially productive, that’ll happen sooner. (I really want to be back by next Sunday, February 25th.)
All of that said, I know myself. I can’t possibly keep silent here. Instead of full-fledged articles, expect lots of short tangentially-related material over the next seven to ten days.
It’ll be frustrating for me to keep (relatively) silent for a week or two, but I know that the long-term rewards will be worth it. For now, thanks so much for reading Get Rich Slowly and thank you for your patience.
Long-time readers know how much I love child entrepreneurs. This probably stems from my own experiences having kid-sized businesses when I was young. Whatever the reason, I can’t get enough stories of kids who build their own businesses and learn to take charge of their lives from a young age.
Asia, who must be fourteen by now, has help from her parents but she’s the driving force behind Super Business Girl. Together, they manufacture and sell what their website describes as “the world’s best candles“.
Asia’s poise and entrepreneurial savvy have garnered a lot of attention. The founders of one Detroit start-up incubator believe she has a better understanding of business than most adult entrepreneurs. They’re helping her develop her skills. In return, Asia is teaching what she knows to other kidpreneurs.
“My daddy was a candle salesman,” she says. “He also made candles. He taught me and I loved it, loved it, loved it.” More than making candles, Asia loves selling them. Her enthusiasm is infectious. I wish that when I was a salesman for so many years, I had loved it the way she loves it! I might have been better at the job.
Asia has grand ambitions. She wants to go to college, become a lawyer, become mayor of Detroit, and then become President of the United States. I think she just might meet all of those goals. I wouldn’t bet against her!
Webmasters used to be a complete mystery to me. They seemed like the Wizard of Oz sitting behind his curtain pulling levers and creating a huge visage. I had no idea that the web wasn’t run by geniuses.
Sure, there are plenty of geniuses out there running websites. The geniuses get the most money probably. But the fact that people like me could run a website and make a profit was completely foreign to me.
Now I understand what a website administrator does and I’m not so afraid of the hologram anymore. In fact, I now know that I can be the little man behind the curtain.
Want to know how you can be the little man behind the curtain? Let’s talk about what a website administrator does then.
1. What The Hey is a Website Administrator?
A web administrator isn’t just someone who writes personal narratives on their blog no matter how much we want to be. It’s someone who understands and can fix websites from the bottom up.
An administrator is someone who is in charge of making sure back-ups happen. They’re also in charge of web content, software applications that handle emergencies, and they keep all things internal up to date and running smoothly.
They’re your website mechanic that gets to constantly monitor a website to minimize downtime and data corruption or loss.
In essence, you’re IT on that company or person’s website. But it’s highly specialized compared to most IT positions.
It requires a degree in computer science or some related field of study. And if you’re wondering how much a web administrator will make, it’s enough. Ok, $85k isn’t a bad deal really.
2. But What Do They Really Do?
When you ask someone what they do, you usually get a title. The only time someone actually asks, “But what do you really do?” is when they have no clue what your title describes. As a writer, I get this all the time.
Website administrators are probably one of those classes of people that have to explain their profession to the layman. And if you’re here, you’re probably still curious. Let’s check out the nuts and bolts of this job.
This is the most important aspect of a web administrator’s job. They ensure that the website is absolutely secure from both viruses and malware. They also make sure the website isn’t exploitable by hackers.
If the website administrator fails at this part of their job, not only could a hacker steal client information, they can turn the website into a weapon or a tool for their own use. They could end up spamming and infecting hundreds of people through a website or steal even more information.
A web admin must be vigilant. They can be assured that any hacker who wants access will also be vigilant, waiting for an exploit to open up.
If you’re a web administrator for a new website or a website that changed hands, you can be sure that someone will try and probe that site for weaknesses. A website administrator must know about every kind of bot and malware attack possible and have the tools necessary to combat those attacks.
The only contact most users have with an administrator is when they create an account on the website. And the website admin is involved only because creating a secure website account isn’t as easy as pressing a button.
The web admin’s role in this is basically to enter the information you give them and then create the account. Not all websites use a website admin to create user accounts. Large domains like Facebook use automated software to securely create accounts.
Small websites don’t have the money to build this kind of software. They either have to use a website admin or outsource to other companies to create user accounts.
Some hosting services will supply user accounts and automated setups. But they often charge a higher price for their services.
For a seasoned web admin, it’s a fairly simple yet thankless task. And while you may not interact with a website administrator most of the time, you will eventually need them for something bigger. Don’t treat them like the basement IT crowd.
Traffic Monitoring and Other Web Software
You web admin isn’t going to be your marketing guru. He typically deals with the nuts and bolts. But the nuts and bolts include APIs.
Your web admin will be able to monitor things like web traffic for you. And if you buy web visitors and increase your traffic, your admin will have good news for you each time.
Other server-side software analyses are equally important. Active server pages, database software, JSP, and various coding and HTML tools and software.
If you’ve ever had a problem with your computer, your IT specialist will ask you for a computer log. A website runs on a special kind of computer called a server.
Every action on the server, whether done by a human or the server itself, is recorded in a server log. Data such as download and upload times, network bandwidth, and user habits are all in the log files. A web admin must know how to analyze these files.
What’s the reason? The admin can figure out where any slowdown or glitch is appearing and fix the problem. They essentially increase and improve the website’s performance.
Conclusion: Treat Them Well
Your web administrator is important. Treat them that way. And if you don’t have one, you will probably end up doing half of these things yourself.
This week’s reader question is an example of why I love the “ask the readers” feature here at Get Rich Slowly. I get to write about situations that otherwise would never occur to me!
Karen writes because she’s having trouble with two of her kids:
I keep getting sucked into helping two of our children who can’t seem to get it together. I don’t want to see them on the street but they keep making dumb mistakes. What do you do when faced with a kid going to prison for lack of funds to pay fines? What about a different kid who is at risk of becoming homeless? This is tough to watch. (I really prefer dogs!) When does helping a family member financially become enabling? Or is it always enabling?
I find this situation fascinating because there’s a disconnect between my general advice about giving money to adult children and my specific advice for Karen.
Why You Shouldn’t Give Money to Adult Children
My standard advice is: Don’t help your kids financially. Doing so harms both you and your kids. A decade of reading about money and hundreds of conversations with parents have brought me to this conclusion: Giving adult children financial support is, generally speaking, a bad idea.
Some people don’t want to hear this, especially coming from me. (I have no children, so that disqualifies my advice in the eyes of some folks…as if it’s impossible to recognize that a person has a broken bone if you’ve never had one yourself!)
But it’s not just my opinion. In The Millionaire Next Door [my review], authors Thomas Stanley and William Danko devote two entire chapters — 69 pages! — to “economic outpatient care”, the substantial financial gifts some parents give their adult children (and grandchildren). Their research indicates that “the more dollars adult children receive, the fewer they accumulate, while those who are given fewer dollars accumulate more”.
The authors note that some forms of economic outpatient care, including subsidizing an education and funding business ventures, have a strong positive influence on the recipients. (They teach the children “how to fish”.) But most financial assistance simply creates a cycle of dependence:
What is the effect of cash gifts that are knowingly ear-marked for consumption and the propping up of a certain lifestyle? We find that the giving of such gifts is the single most significant factor that explains lack of productivity among the adult children of the affluent.
Stanley and Danko write about four specific ways in which cash gifts to adult children create problems:
Giving encourages more consumption than saving and investing. In particular, Stanley and Danko warn about gifts of house down payments.
Gift receivers in general never fully distinguish between their wealth and the wealth of their gift-giving parents. They believe they are entitled to the things their parents have, and feel resentment if the wealth is given to somebody else.
Gift receivers are significantly more dependent on credit than are non-receivers. They use credit in order to sustain their lifestyle of consumption between gifts.
Receivers of gifts invest much less money than do non-receivers. The authors claim that gift receivers are “hyperconsumers”, only thinking of now. They have come to expect that their financial needs will be met by their parents, so they don’t plan for the future.
I’ve known people who received financial assistance from their parents or grandparents. Most of these people have struggled with money in some way. They spent too much. They didn’t feel the need to take a job. They put off making financial decisions because there was no need to do so. One time, for instance, I had an affluent friend who received a $25,000 gift from his grandparents. Rather than invest the money, he bought himself a new car. (There was nothing wrong with his old car.)
Obviously, not everyone who receives financial assistance from their parents will fall into this trap. But accepting such gifts often leads to trouble.
Note: There’s another downside too. When parents give money to an adult child, they’re compromising their own financial health. They’re sacrificing saving for retirement (or other goals), which means they’re hurting themselves as well as their kids! In my own life right now, I’m watching as two different sets of parents struggle to make ends meet because they’re giving up money they need for themselves in order to help children who are perfectly capable of providing for themselves — except they were never encouraged to leave the nest.
What If Your Kid Will End Up Homeless?
Now, having said all this, what about Karen’s situation? She has one child who is at risk of going to prison because she (or he) hasn’t paid some fines. The other is at risk of ending up homeless. Should Karen simply sit back and allow her children to suffer?
I’ve had two weeks to think about this question. Some days, I feel as if there’s no way Karen should let her kids go to jail or end up homeless. Other days, I feel like she should absolutely let them experience the consequences of their actions. Most of the time, however, I feel like this is a tough call and not something a stranger can decide.
So, I tried to practice some financial empathy. I ask myself what I would do if I were in Karen’s shoes. What if I did have kids? What if they made some stupid-ass choices? (That’s how Karen described her kids when she wrote to me, which cracks me up.)
Honestly, I don’t know what I’d do. I have no clue what the right decision is in this situation.
What do you think? Is it always a parent’s duty to protect their children, even when they’re adults? If you ended up in jail because you did something dumb with money, would you expect your parents to bail you out? If you were at risk of becoming homeless, would it be your mom and dad’s responsibility to help you? What’s the right choice here? Is there one?
This article is part of relationship month at Get Rich Slowly.
As a dental hygienist, my girlfriend Kim meets lots of interesting people and has lots of interesting conversations. Last week while cleaning a patient’s teeth, the topic turned to pets.
“Two years ago, we didn’t have any animals,” Kim told her patient. “We were on the road in an RV. Today? Today we have three cats and a dog. Honestly, I’d be fine with more animals. We love them.”
“We love our animals too,” her patient said. “We might love them a little too much. Recently, we moved. I’d say 90% of that decision was based around our dog. Is that wrong?”
Kim laughed. “It’s not wrong,” she said. “We did something similar ourselves.”
Pets are expensive, Kim and her patient agreed. Are they worth it? Yes. Yes, they are. But as with most things in life, pet costs can quickly get out of control if you let them. It’s important to find a balance between the needs of your animals and your own financial well-being.
For the past two years, Kim and I have been working to find where that balance is for our family.
Near the end of our 15-month RV trip around the United States, Kim and I stopped to visit my cousin in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. For a week, we left behind modern life to enjoy the slower pace in this isolated 100-acre creek hollow. We enjoyed the communal meals (during which several families dined together at once). We marveled at the light show provided each evening by the fireflies. (There are no fireflies in Oregon.) And we lavished love on all of the animals: the cows, the chickens, the cats, and the dogs.
Especially the dogs.
A few weeks before we arrived, one of the farm dogs had given birth to a litter of puppies. Kim fell in love with them. “I think I want to take one home with us,” she said.
“Maybe on our way back through,” I said, trying to be the voice of reason.
Our plan was to turn east toward Memphis, Mississippi, and Alabama. We’d then drop down to the Gulf Coast, cut over to New Orleans, then make our way into Texas. “Dallas isn’t far from here,” I said. “When we get there, then we can decide whether or not we want a dog.”
For the next month, Kim and I spent our evenings reading about dogs. Both of our families had dogs when we were growing up, but neither of us had owned one as an adult. We learned about different training philosophies. We discussed discipline. We discussed costs. We discussed what adding an animal would mean for our relationship as a couple.
“Do you still want the dog?” I asked Kim a few weeks later as we pulled into Dallas.
“Yes, I do,” she said.
After spending a few days with my pal PT (from PT Money), we returned to my cousin’s farm in Tahlequah. Kim’s puppy was still there. “Hello, Tahlequah,” Kim said as she petted the pup. “How would you feel about moving to Oregon?”
Tahlequah seemed happy about the idea. Kim was even happier. She turned to me and smiled. “With this dog, I thee wed,” she said. And that’s how we entered a new phase in our lives.
We’ve now had Tahlequah (or Tally, as we call her) for 18 months. The experience has been awesome and frustrating at the same time.
Tally is a mutt but she’s 100% hound (a mixture of beagle and mountain cur, the latter of which is the newest registered breed at the AKC). She’s ruled by her nose. If she gets on a scent, her entire brain shuts down and instinct takes over.
Yesterday, for instance, I was walking her off-leash (with permission) through the neighbor’s property. She stumbled upon the spot where the local deer had bedded down the previous night and she was off like a bolt, streaking across other neighbors’ properties (without permission). It took ten minutes to get her back on leash. (Or just now, as I was writing this paragraph, she spotted the squirrel that lives under our house. She’s now barking barking barking incessantly out the window and she will not stop.)
Mostly, though, we love her — and she loves us. Kim and I have become those obnoxious pet parents who take their dog with them everywhere. (We’re not even ashamed of it!)
At first, adding a puppy to our lives seemed like a reasonable financial decision. Before we picked her up, Kim and I spent maybe $100 or $200 on puppy supplies, such as a crate, a collar, a leash, and a variety of toys and tools. After we left my cousin’s house, we stopped for a couple of days in southern Kansas. While there, we took Tally to the vet for a checkup and her first series of shots. That vet visit was under $100. (In retrospect, that’s because we were in southern Kansas.)
“This dog isn’t so expensive,” I said. Hahaha. Little did I know…
Pets Are Expensive
Upon returning to Portland in June 2016, the cost of pet ownership began to mount.
First, vet visits here are more expensive.
Second, once we had settled at home, we began acquiring more dog stuff: toys, treats, and so on.
Third, Tally turned into a destructive force of nature.
In under six months, our puppy probably did a couple thousand dollars worth of damage. This is embarrassing to admit, but it’s true. Tally destroyed shoes — including Kim’s favorite pair of leather boots. (Eventually we realized that if we sacrificed one pair of shoes to her, Tally would leave the other shoes alone.) She ate eyeglasses. She devoured my dental retainer. She gnawed on the furniture. She peed on the carpet. She scratched at the doors.
“This dog is expensive,” I said.
Apparently, Kim and I are gluttons for punishment. One animal was not enough. Within a month of returning to our condo in Portland, we decided to expand the family. We picked up two kittens from a local rescue. And not two ordinary kittens. Two sickly kittens.
Over the next few months, Avery and Bagheera made several vet visits, both to get their initial checkups and booster shots, and to make sure they were recovering from whatever respiratory infection they’d suffered from as babies. Meanwhile, we discovered the cats could be just as destructive as dogs. Our kittens were hell-bent on shredding anything made of cloth or paper. They peed on the bed. They destroyed the blinds.
“These cats are expensive,” I said.
All Creatures Great and Small
Throughout last winter, Kim and I enjoyed bonding with our three beasts. The five of us made do in our condo. We walked the dog through the park next door. The cats got a taste of the outdoors from our balcony — but they wanted more. In the evening, all of us snuggled together while binge-watching All Creatures Great and Small.
“Maybe we should move,” Kim said one day last March.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“It doesn’t feel right to keep these animals trapped in a fourth-floor apartment,” she said. “They’re wild beasts. They want to be outside. They need space to roam.” I agreed with her.
While the animals weren’t the only reason we decided to move last year, they were certainly a major consideration. As we hunted for houses in April, we looked for a lot where we could let the beasts outside to roam. Eventually, we opted for a one-acre lot in a semi-rural neighborhood. It was a good choice.
This place is like dog heaven. We have a large fenced yard that Tally can use whenever she wants. At least once per day — sometimes twice — we take her on a two-mile walk through the neighborhood. She sniffs and sniffs and sniffs, tracking the squirrels and deer and coyotes. She digs in the ditch to uncover mice and moles.
Meanwhile, the cats love it here too. They’re able to hunt whenever they want. (In 45 days this year, they’ve caught twelve critters.) They like going outside to bask in the sun. There are plenty of trees to climb and dark places to hide. With the cats, though, there’s an element of danger. As I said, there are coyotes here, and we lost Bagheera to them at the end of October. (Yes, I’m aware that many people believe cats should remain indoors. Kim and I believe exactly the opposite. We’re aware of the risks faced by outdoor cats, but believe its cruel to keep them confined inside.)
After Bagheera disappeared, Kim and I had a discussion. How many animals should we have here at our country cottage? “You shouldn’t ask me,” Kim said. “If it were my decision, we’d have a whole farm: goats and horses and chickens and cows. Plus, more cats and dogs.”
I’m not willing to turn this place into a full-fledged farm but I was willing to bring home two new kittens. At the end of November, we added Savannah and Bisbee to our menagerie.
We now share our home with one dog, three cats, and a whole lot of chaos.
Enough Is Enough
Because I’ve been carefully logging every penny I spend, I’m able to see how much our animals cost us. Last year, I spent $1763.25 on the pets. Kim — who does not track her spending — spent several hundred dollars too. My best guess is that we’re paying $200 per month (or about $7 per day) to care for our companion animals. They are not cheap.
In the nearly three months we’ve had the new kittens, I’ve spent $1076.83 for their initial examinations and shots. On Monday, we took Tally and Avery for their annual checkups. The dog cost us $376.38 and the cat cost us $404.45.
That’s $1857.66 I’ve paid to the vet in three months. To be fair, I shouldn’t have any additional pet fees this year — barring illness or injuries — but there are still ongoing expenses for food, treats, toys, litter, and petsitting.
“Wow,” Kim said on our drive home from the vet. “That was twice as expensive as I thought it would be.”
“Yeah,” I said. “I hate how much it costs. I mean, I want to make sure our beasts are healthy, but where do you draw the line? How much is too much to spend on a cat? Or on a dog?”
“I’m willing to spend as much as we need to keep the dog healthy,” Kim said. “But we live in the country. Our cats go outside. As much as I love them, we have to be realistic about it. They have great lives, but those lives will probably be short.”
“Well, now that everybody is up-to-date on their basic shots, now that we know everybody is healthy, maybe it’s time to stop doing annual checkups for the cats,” I said. “What do you think about taking them in only if they’re sick or hurt?”
“I think that’s how it should be,” Kim said. “That’s how we did it when I was growing up.”
“Same here,” I said.
Special offer: My brother Tony owns a business that produces animal nutritional supplements, including dog treats. For the rest of 2018, he’s offered to give GRS readers a 20% discount (and free shipping) on orders for dog products totalling over $20! Visit Majesty’s Animal Nutrition and use the promo code tally20 at checkout. (I have zero financial stake in this, by the way.)
Cutting the Cost of Pet Ownership
Kim and I have decided that, in effect, our cats only have catastrophic health care coverage. (Although I’m worried that this could be a false economy. We’ll see.) Meanwhile, we’re discovering ways to cut the cost of pet ownership — especially on the everyday stuff. For example:
We’ve been drying dry dog food and dry cat food from Amazon via their “subscribe and save” program. About once every three months, we need an extra bag of food. When we do, I buy it at Costco.) We also buy treats via Amazon.
We’re buying wet cat food at the local Wal-Mart, which seems to have the best prices.
We’ve learned to buy our pet toys at the thrift store, not the pet store. Two weeks ago, for instance, we bought Tally six or seven stuffed animals (stuffed animals intended for kids, not for dogs) and paid less than $20. Once garage sale season begins, we’ll explore that route too.
When we can remember, we buy cat litter in bulk at a local pet store. It’s way cheaper than buying smaller packages.
When possible, we’re paying people we know to take care of our animals when we’re gone. Not only is this better on our pets, but it’s less expensive for us.
Thankfully, Tally’s destructive nature has diminished as she’s become a teenager, which saves us money. She hasn’t shaken it completely — she ate my best hat a few weeks ago — but mostly she’s learned what she can chew on and what she can’t. (More importantly, Kim and I are very vigilant about leaving stuff where the dog can get to it.)
We would love to hear experiences from other pet owners. Do you have animals? How much do they cost? How much do their annual vet visits cost? Do you have pet insurance? Why or why not? If you do have it, how do you feel about it? What other tips do you have for keeping the cost of pet ownership low?
On a semi-related note, here’s an amazing story about a woman who adopted an older dog — only to discover it’s the same dog that she had to give up when she was a girl.
I don’t ever go to my bank’s actual location unless something drastic happens. I suspect this is true for many people today. With the advent of online banking systems, we do almost every financial thing with our mobile banking apps.
Which begs the question. Why have physical locations at all?
Of course, a bank is more than a money depository. You have to consider mortgages and other forms of banking. But for most transactions, a physical location is not necessary.
Enter the virtual bank. The first virtual bank came into existence in 1995. It wasn’t very successful during its three years, but it proved that a virtual bank was possible.
Today, virtual banks abound. And it’s entirely possible to create your own. Let’s look at how that’s possible as an entrepreneur.
1. Why Are Virtual Banks So Great?
The best part of virtual banks is convenience. You don’t have to drive to a physical location to talk to your bank or open an account. You merely get online.
And these banks are open 24/7 unless the bank is running website maintenance. And if you need to get ahold of a rep, most places also run a 24 hr customer service.
Infrastructure and overhead are a massive part of any business. But online businesses need fewer employees and less office space (if any). So, traditional banks are at a major disadvantage to virtual banks.
Virtual banks can offer perks other banks can’t. They can pass on the savings they make when eschewing expensive office space to the customer.
This means higher interest rates on savings accounts. They can also charge lower rates on mortgages and other loans. And they can allow accounts with no minimum balance.
Online Banking Services are Better
Because a virtual bank is entirely online, their product is essentially their online presence. Thus, unlike traditional banks, their online functions will be broad. And customers can do more remotely with a virtual bank than with a traditional one.
Virtual banks will often include investment analysis tools, financial planning tools, equity trading platforms and more. They will even offer free tax preparation and tax forms. A virtual bank essentially becomes your one-stop money shop.
2. It’s Possible to Start a Bank, but You’d Better be Flush
Banks aren’t just depositories for money. There is no Scrooge McDuck swimming in piles of gold at your local branch.
Banks are borrowing institutions. You give them your money and they lend it out at a higher interest rate than they give you. At any one time, if you had, say, one million dollars in a savings account, that money would not actually be in the bank.
During the Wall Street Crash of 1929, people learned the hard way that their money wasn’t just sitting in the bank. People panicked and tried to pull money out, money that just wasn’t there.
Today, the government backs a certain amount of your money. But it’s not much.
This is why it’s wise to invest in physical property you can later sell. You will at least have some of your assets outside of the bank and could sell if the bank fails.
But the bank’s schtick is exactly why you might want to consider getting into the banking business if you have enough capital lying about.
People need someplace to store their money and because of the benefits stated above, virtual banks are becoming more popular. There is a market and a need for better and more convenient financial institutions. Why not take advantage if you can?
How Flush do You Need to Be?
The first question you need to ask is: where will I start my bank? A virtual bank can be anywhere, so you’ll want to choose the cheapest location.
In the United States, you’ll need at least $500k if not a million dollars to get started, but you will need to show that you can secure at least $10 million to convince the government that you’re worthy.
In essence, it’s extremely difficult to start a bank in the United States (the land of monopolies and over-regulation).
Offshore banks are a different story. You only need one million dollars in capital to create a bank in some countries outside the United States.
Why do you need so much money? Essentially, you’re showing depositors that you can make investments. If you didn’t have capital, you’re not going to be able to ensure the safety of the depositor’s money.
The Board of Directors
Even if you are starting an online-only bank, you want people by your side who have experience. A board of professional bankers will help you create a strategic plan, review policies, and make sure you comply with regulations.
This could be a group as small as five trusted individuals or thirteen people.
Have a Plan
Not only will regulators want to see that you can succeed, your investors will too. Even if you’re using your own startup capital, you’ll want to ensure that your venture has a high chance of success.
This means research. You will need a five-year business plan with solid projections backed up with real data. A bank isn’t a wing-it sort of entrepreneurial pursuit. You’re playing with other people’s money.
Get Legal Backing
The law constantly ties up money. Whether that’s alimony, inheritance, mortgage regulations, you will need legal advice. Get a crack team together.
Yes, this will cost you money now, but it will save you money in the long run. You want your financial institution to be sound on all four corners. And legal is definitely one of those foundational pillars.
When you’re online-only, you won’t have to deal with traditional marketing. Your overhead is much lower even in marketing. But you will need to bring people through your digital doors.
This means setting up online accounts with Google Adwords and Facebook ads. It means hiring writers and SEO agencies to help you with your inbound marketing. You’re starting from scratch, so you’ll need people who know how to navigate the online marketing world.
The Road Ahead Will be Rough but Worth It
Setting up a bank won’t be easy, but it could make you a very rich person. The ROI on lending money is massive. But you’ll need a ton of money to start out.
Figuring out the financial implications of marriage can be a challenge. Do you merge your money completely? Do you keep some or all of the accounts separate? And who takes care of which household financial chores?
As difficult as marriage and money can be, things are even tougher for unmarried couples. There’s a maze of legal, financial, and emotional issues to navigate, but sometimes it’s difficult to get good advice in a society that’s geared toward married partners.
Kim and I have been dating for nearly six years now. We’ve been living together for almost five. For that entire five years, we’ve been slowly negotiating the financial implications. At what point to we designate each other beneficiaries in our wills? On our retirement accounts? What things do we purchase together? How intermingled do we allow our bank accounts to become? Who pays for which utilities? Or do we split the costs equally? What about groceries? Pets? Vacations? Gifts?
In our case, I’ve been using Money Without Matrimony as a resource. This book by Sheryl Garrett and Debra Neiman (both of whom are certified financial planners) provides tons of advice to help unmarried couples plan their financial futures together.
Money Without Matrimony
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, 6.6% of American households contain “unmarried partners”. Of these, 88.4% are opposite-sex partners and 11.6% are same-sex partners. Garrett and Neiman divide these groups into younger heterosexual couples, older (retirement-age) heterosexual couples, and same-sex couples. Each group has specific concerns, and Money Without Matrimony takes care to explore issues unique to each situation. The authors write:
If unmarried couples take the right approach to financial planning, put in place proper legal documentation, and capitalize on existing laws, it’s possible to nearly equalize the inequities of a system geared toward married couples.
Money Without Matrimony covers a broad range of topics, exploring each from the perspective of the unmarried couple. The book covers:
Communication. The book stresses that it’s important to go beyond just discussing who’s going to pay the bills this month. Couples need to discuss their money blueprints, and they need to plan their future together.
Partnership.Money Without Matrimony contains one of the best explorations of the joint or separate finances debate I’ve ever read. The authors discuss a variety of different ways to merge household finances. (This is good info even for married folks.)
Taxes. This is one area where, with proper planning, unmarried couples have an advantage over married couples. The book explains how to exploit this.
Estate planning. If they don’t plan ahead, unmarried couples can face a world of woe when one (or both) partner dies. It’s vital to document things completely and correctly in order for your wishes to be followed. The authors cover wills, trusts, directives, and more.
Other issues.Money Without Matrimony looks at more than just financial issues. The authors also explore the complications of children, legal issues such as domestic partnership agreements, and so on.
The book also covers insurance, retirement planning, children, and more. A lot of these topics may seem boring, I know, but they’re crucial for every couple, married or not.
One of the strengths of this book is that it looks beyond the dry financial planning aspects of living together and addresses some of the psychological and emotional issues that can arise in relationships. Plus, it’s peppered with anecdotes that illustrate challenges faced by unmarried couples.
Drama in Real Life
As a guy who likes stories, my favorite parts Money Without Matrimony are the real-life examples of how couples deal with actual dilemmas. Here’s a prime example of the type of story the book includes (and the issues facing unmarried partners):
Jordan and Betsy shared a home that Jordan initially owned individually. When the couple moved in together, though, they split everything 50-50 and always talked about “their” home and their future together. Betsy just assumed Jordan had changed the deed on the house to include her. It never occurred to either of them, in fact, that the home didn’t belong to both of them. Two years into their relationship, Jordan popped the big question, asking Betsy to marry him. She said yes, but no date was set for the wedding. Jordan’s family still hadn’t warmed to Betsy, so the couple thought it best to wait for a while before tying the knot.
Not long after proposing to Betsy, Jordan died in an automobile accident. Naturally, Betsy was upset and distraught. After the funeral and reception, friends of the couple took her out to dinner. When Betsy finally arrived back at her home, Jordan’s older brother and father were in the process of moving Betsy’s belongings out of the house and into a rented van. Betsy was horrified to learn that her partner had left the house to his brother, according to the terms of his will drafted six years earlier — long before she and Jordan had met. Betsy buried her partner and lost her home in the same day, and she had no recourse.
This story makes my blood boil (and yet it’s unfortunately all too common), but Jordan and Betsy could have avoided this tragedy if they’d planned ahead. That’s what Money Without Matrimony is all about: Making sure that unmarried partners take the steps necessary to share their finances together, both now and in the future.
Money Without Matrimony is a great book. It’s non-judgmental, practical, and packed with advice. Unfortunately, it’s also old and out of print. The book was published in 2005. Its age doesn’t invalidate the relationship advice, but some of the specific financial examples and recommendations are no longer relevant.
For more current money and legal help, I recommend Living Together: A Legal Guide for Unmarried Couples by Frederick Hertz and Lina Guillen. This book from NOLO Press, now in its sixteenth edition, covers many of the same technical topics as Money Without Matrimony, but from a more academic and less personal examples. (Even the examples and anecdotes in Living Together are academic, drawn from actual legal cases instead of from the authors’ experiences.)
This book is adamant that unmarried partners must spell out their financial and property arrangements using a “living together contract”. (If “contract” sounds too formal or stuffy, call it a “living together agreement”.)
Most unmarried couples — and that includes me and Kim — have informal verbal agreements regarding their joined (and unjoined) financial lives. Kim and I bought our current home together, for example. We’re both listed on the deed. I fronted all of the cash, however, and Kim is paying me a “faux mortgage” at the rate of $500 per month. This arrangement is sensible to us, and we both understand it. But it’s not documented anywhere (except this blog post, I guess). (When I was married, I carried a faux mortgage to Kris for a while. The difference in that situation, though, is that we were married.)
Living Together argues — and rightly so — that the kind of agreement that Kim and I have is a recipe for disaster. If we something goes wrong, whether it’s a death or a “divorce”, neither of us has any legal recourse. If we don’t intend to marry, then it’s in our best interests, as individuals and as a couple, to formalize our financial relationship.
“What in the world are you doing?” Kim asked me the other day. We were in line at the grocery store, and I had just placed a magazine in our pile of stuff. “Are you buying a fashion magazine?”
“It’s not a fashion mag,” I said. “Look! It’s awesome! It’s a magazine targeted at teaching teen girls how to become entrepreneurs.”
And that’s how I discovered the wonderful world of Teen Boss.
Last summer in an interview with the blog Fashionista, Teen Boss editor Brittany Galla said that the magazine aims to fill a glaring market gap: “With the influence of Shark Tank and social media, we’re seeing a huge increase of tweens and teens who are looking to create their own business or dream about running their own business one day.”
While the critics are right that the content in Teen Boss skews shallow and superficial, I think they’re wrong to dismiss the magazine entirely. I believe that, on the whole, Teen Boss is exactly the sort of thing we should be encouraging our kids to read. It’s positive. It’s inspirational. It encourages self-reliance.
There’s no doubt that much of the magazine’s content is focused on fashion and social media (which is why some adults have a problem with it). I’m okay with that. Lots of adult entrepreneur publications are focused on social media nowadays too.
My issue of Teen Boss profiles dozens of teen entrepreneurs, including:
The issue of Teen Boss I purchased also includes business advice from adult CEOs, a collection of business lessons from fictional characters, a huge section on creating a vision board, and examples of business ideas that did not work out.
Despite its flaws, I think Teen Boss is awesome. I’m sad that adults have been so quick to dismiss what looks like a positive, inspirational publication. Would they rather have our kids reading Seventeen and People?
A few years ago, I polled my Twitter followers to ask: “What did your parents teach you about money? Anything? Did it work?”
A lot of folks responded to say that their parents were poor examples:
@MoneyMateKate wrote: My parents didn’t teach me — I taught them! I was paying my own dental bills (no insurance) from age 12 onwards with babysitting dollars.
@liberryteacher wrote: My parents never had any money, and life was hard. So they taught me by example that that was not a good way to live.
@mike_strock wrote: My parents gave me money whenever I asked. Needless to say, that wasn’t helpful later in life. I’m learning!
@tcita wrote: My parents taught me absolutely nothing: no chores, allowance, budgeting, spending money, savings — nothing. Though I guess that taught me value of work.
But not all parents fail at training their children about money. Plenty of folks picked up good habits from the Bank of Mom and Dad. Here are some of my favorite anecdotes and tips:
Pam from The Turtle Path (a running blog) told me: In junior high, my parents gave me $400 at the beginning of the year (instead of a weekly allowance). They told me I could do whatever I wanted with it, but they weren’t giving me any more money the rest of the year, so don’t ask.
@Elle_CM wrote: My mom (and grandma) emphasized always saving a chunk of any income you receive. We used to make Saturday deposits at the bank.
Via Facebook, Cynthia wrote: As kids, if we were at the store and saw something we wanted, my dad would say, “Did you bring your money?”
@mattwakefield wrote: My dad taught me about the stock market by using a 1/100 scale model of the [stock] market. Got hooked early!
@EverydayFinance wrote: My father insisted on no credit-card debt and said, “Everything in moderation.” It worked like a charm.
@kingkool68 wrote: My parents printed family checks for my allowance. I could write checks to my parents in first grade! They also gave me monthly statements.
Teaching your children about money is one of the best things you can do to ensure their future success. Financially aware kids become financially aware adults.
How do you teach kids about money — especially if you haven’t yet figured out money for yourself? This is a tough question for me to answer since I have zero experience raising children. That said, I’ve paid close attention to the experiences of my friends and family over the past twenty years. While I don’t have any personal experience with this subject, I’ve observed what has and has not worked for others.
Teaching Kids About Money
Some parents try to shield their kids from the family finances, but this often does more harm than good. From the parents I’ve spoken to, the ones whose kids seem to have the best handle on money are the ones who’ve seen how Mom and Dad deal with money, both the good and the bad. If they see the challenges you face, they can prepare for them in their own lives.
A few years ago, I chatted with New York Times columnist Ron Lieber about his book The Opposite of Spoiled, which is all about “raising kids who are grounded, generous, and smart about money”.
“How do children become spoiled?” I asked.
“They’re not born that way,” he said. “We do it to them. Nobody wants to raise a spoiled child, yet it happens all the time.”
“When we talk about spoiled children,” Lieber told me, “the opposite qualities are modesty, patience, thrift, generosity, perspective, perseverance, courage, grit, bravery, prudence, and so on.”
“The thing is,” he continued, “you can use money as a central tool to teach kids about every single one of these. Instead of shying away from the topic, what if we put money at the center of family conversations? What if we assumed not that money subverts values but contributes to them? Because it does. This is the path to financial literacy and financial education.”
From what I’ve seen, there are four steps parents can take to teach their kids smart financial habits:
Set an example. Model the behavior you want your kids to learn: If you want them to save, save. If you don’t want them to become compulsive shoppers, curb your own compulsive shopping.
Be prepared. Have answers before you need them. Know how you’re going to handle specific situations like allowances or begging for candy in the grocery store. (I know one couple who deflect begging by simply saying, “Sorry, that’s not in the budget.” I love it!)
Be consistent. Kids do best with clear, consistent expectations, so think carefully about your family’s money rules before setting them. Don’t be so rigid that there’s no wiggle room but once you’ve set a policy, apply it consistently and fairly.
Be honest. Share your success and failures. Tell your kids what you did right and what you wish you’d done differently. Explain your thought process each step of the way.
Most of all, make this learning process interactive. Involve your kids in frugal activities that teach them self-sufficiency, such as gardening, baking, home improvement, and so on. Teach them to comparison shop at by having them help at the grocery store. As they get older, make them financial apprentices: Show them how to pay bills, check a credit score, and buy a car. Teach them that managing a household is a team effort.
Providing Hands-On Experience with an Allowance
One of the best ways to teach kids about money is to give them hands-on experience with an allowance. When they have their own cash to manage, kids are better able to learn the value of saving and the difference between wants and needs.
There are two schools of thought about how allowances ought to be provided.
The first says that the money should be tied to grades, chores, and behaviors. This gives kids an incentive to do the right thing. But critics argue that tying an allowance to these actions sends the wrong message. Kids should stive for good grades regardless of what (or whether) they’re paid, say the critics, and doing chores is part of belonging to a family.
The second camp says that you should give the allowance without expecting anything in return. Using this method, kids learn about money even if they don’t make good good grades or do their chores. But some people believe this method leads to an “entitlement mentality” in which the kids expect something for nothing.
Most families are probably best off with some sort of hybrid approach: Provide a minimal base allowance that’s paid no matter what, and then add incentive pay for certain chores and behaviors.
Tip: If you want to incentivize good grades without money, consider rewarding with something else your child values: a later curfew, a trip to a concert or pro sporting event, golf lessons, more time with friends. This should encourage the behavior you want without tying it to money.
Whichever method you choose, use the allowance as a chance to teach your children the value of money. Instead of letting them spend it on whatever they want, consider a system that divides the money for specific goals.
You might, for example, use three jars (or envelopes) labeled:
Save (30%). This money is for long-term goals, such as buying a bike or a baseball mitt. Let the child decide on the goal — with your help.
Share (10%). The money in this jar (or envelope) is for giving to somebody else. Your kid can decide where it goes — whether it’s a charity or just somebody else in need (even a sibling!). The point is to share with others.
Spend (60%). There are no restrictions on the money in this jar. Your child can spend it on comic books or bubble gum — whatever strikes her fancy.
A decade ago, my friend Lisa tried this system. She wrote a guest post here at GRS about how she had her kids divide their allowance into four jars: Spend, Save, “When I’m Old”, and Donate. (If you don’t want to use jars or envelopes, you can now purchase money-savvy piggy banks with slots for Save, Spend, Donate, and Invest.)
Last month, my friend Doug from The Military Guide told me about how he raised his daughter to become a financially capable young woman.
“We got her involved from a young age,” Doug said. “My daughter got to see how my wife and I made financial decisions. But the best thing we did was to start her on an allowance. We gave her money and let her do what she wanted to do with it. She made some mistakes, sure, but we were there to help her. And I’m glad that she made those mistakes when she was thirteen years old instead of 23 or 33.”
I think Doug’s approach was smart. So far, it seems to be paying off. Now that she’s an adult, his daughter is making smart choices and is well on the path to future financial independence.
Many of us were raised with faulty and/or incomplete money blueprints. We entered adulthood not knowing how to handle money responsibly. I believe one your most important jobs as a parent is to give your children accurate, reliable money blueprints that will help them establish a solid financial foundation — then construct a life where they don’t have to worry about money.
Ultimately, the most important thing is to get your children thinking about and interacting with money from an early age. It’s better for them to make money mistakes at thirteen years old than at thirty!