Today, Norm Goldman
Publisher & Editor of Bookpleasures.com is excited to have as our
guest, J. Steve Miller author of Enjoy Your Money! How to
Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It.
In addition to being an author, Steve is an educator, investor, entrepreneur, and speaker. He has taught audiences from Atlanta to Moscow and is known for drawing practical wisdom from serious research and communicating it in accessible, unforgettable ways. In addition he is the founder and president of Legacy Educational Resources.
Good day Steve and thanks for participating in our interview.
What made you become interested in investment education?
I work jobs that fit my passions and positively impact the world. Unfortunately, these jobs have never paid very well. Thus, I had to learn how to get along with often-meagre incomes. Add to this that my first wife died of cancer in her 30’s, leaving me with four boys to raise. So I was always motivated to find out how normal people with normal incomes and life’s inevitable setbacks could succeed financially.
Several years after my wife died, I married Cherie, who was raising three boys of her own. For the math-challenged, that brings the count to seven boys. It occurred to me that if we failed to transition our kids to independence, we were sunk. I always write about what I’m motivated to study at the moment. So there you go.
I notice you wear many hats. How do you balance all of them? As a follow up, what is Legacy Educational Resources all about?
If I were to list what I did in any given week, most would consider my life a three-ring circus. Cherie works as an administrator at a local college, so that I’m the primary homemaker. (Only four of our boys are still at home. The youngest are our 15-year-old twins.) I also help care for my 103-year-old granny next door. I’m writing this interview while granny naps and I field phone calls.
I could talk all day about balance, but one hint I could suggest is that Cherie and I are comfortable with not doing everything “right.” With seven boys, assisting mom and granny, writing books, running Legacy, trying to eat right and get some exercise, we don’t have time to keep the house looking nice. Keep a perfect house if that’s your priority – it’s just not ours. If you want to feel better about your own housekeeping, come for a visit. I’d rather spend my free time playing Scrabble with Cherie or hiking with my kids than mopping the kitchen floor.
Every Spring, we get excited about planting flowers, then we never get around to watering them. This Spring, however, the ferns hanging out front look great. They’re plastic. We’ve decided that our lives are too complicated to water stuff every day.
Still, even with not having to water our plastic plants, I have to accomplish things in small blocks of time. William Carey, the unusually productive missionary, was once asked how he accomplished so much. He replied, “I plod.” I relate to that. Somehow, just pressing forward, even when the steps seem tiny in any given day, allows me produce something of significance over time.
When wearing my Legacy Educational Resources hat, I’m a wisdom-broker – “buying” wisdom in the form of books and other research, and “selling” it in the form of short, motivational stories for educators, parents and writers. So I’ll read a biography of Warren Buffett or Leonardo Da Vinci or Led Zeppelin and write short stories about them that motivate students to pursue positive character traits – like diligence, integrity or persistence. Some I incorporate into lessons. Educators and parents incorporating character or values or life skills training can pay to access my resources via my site: www.character-education.info . If they don’t have the money or a school budget, I give it away. It’s a not-for-profit that people donate to.
Could you tell our readers something about your recent book, Enjoy Your Money! How to Make It, Save It, Invest It and Give It and how did you decide you were ready to write the book?
One film producer called it “the money book for people who hate money books.” I like that. Written with my children (some of whom have learning disabilities) in mind, I took the results of my research and presented it in an entertaining story form. Basically, four diverse high school seniors meet in “In School Suspension,” discovering that they have one thing in common – their parents suck at personal finance and it hurts their families. They want to do better. So they begin meeting with an eccentric teacher for breakfast each week to have no-holds-barred discussions about money.
I see so many people making a mess of their finances and didn’t want my children to experience that kind of anguish. After reading tons of books on the subject, I was ready to write.
What makes your book different from the dozens of others that deal with the same topic and why would we want to purchase your book?
First, it’s well-researched and documented. That separates it out from so much financial literature. I read wheelbarrows full of books – authoritative sources - in preparation. Then, after writing the first draft, I sent copies to thirty people I respected. Some were CPA’s, teachers, financial advisors, and others were just straight-thinking people. This was a great safeguard. I made a lot of revisions based upon their input.
There’s a lot of nonsense being published in the field. I wanted to get the facts straight.
Second, I wrote it in an entertaining story form, so that normal people – those who don’t sit around pining to read the latest financial literature – would actually read it.
Third, I cover more ground than most financial books. One college student told me, “I’ve read books on stocks and on real estate investing, but I wish I’d read yours first.” I provide an overview that helps people evaluate other financial literature more objectively. I cover not only saving and investing, but how to land a dream job, how to excel in the workplace, and what science tells us about finding happiness, which figures into most people’s ultimate goals.
Fourth, my fictional story is layered with stories of real people, like Warren Buffett, Mark Twain, Sam Walton and Thomas Jefferson. Money management is often more about people and personality traits than accounting, so teaching with people stories makes it more understandable and more memorable.
How has your
environment/upbringing colored your writing?
Profoundly. My parents were great with their money – dad was good at making it and mom had no interest in impressing the Joneses. Their approach to expensive cars and expensive clothes was a policy of planned neglect. To this day, although mom has plenty saved for retirement, she shops second-hand shops for her clothes. It’s not a matter of discipline; she simply despises wasting money.
Now don’t get me wrong. They spent money on assets that would grow in value. Our house was large, but filled with practical furnishings that never go out of style. When styles and trends changed, mom never redecorated. They seemed immune to the peer pressure that makes people obsess about outward appearances.
If you’ve ever read the research of Dr. Thomas Stanley (The Millionaire Next Door), he found first generation millionaires living conservative lifestyles way beneath their means. They drove normal cars and lived in normal neighborhoods, allowing them to save and invest the money that others would have spent. My parents taught me, by their values, that materialism is the greatest hurdle to accumulating wealth.
My parents were well balanced. Some people are so frugal that they’re no fun. My parents enjoyed life. They were also generous – giving money to worthy organisations. After mom diligently finds the best value on a breakfast menu, she’ll tip the waitress over 15%. That generosity came, in part, from their religious values. They took us to church. They believed that God wanted us to use our resources to help the less fortunate.
Growing up under mom and dad gave me a great advantage – I could see how wise money managers lived from day to day. I still observe mom (dad passed away a year ago) and learn from her ways.
I also had many discussions with dad about investing. These discussions, plus reading the sane, research-based investing literature he received from The Vanguard Group, guarded me from the irrational behaviour of many investors.
I should also mention granny, my mother’s mom. When her husband retired in his 60’s, they didn’t have much money. But they had retirement income from the post office and from Social Security. Since granny wasn’t a spender, dad helped her invest in stocks and mutual funds, so that now she’s worth a small fortune. She’s a great example of it never being too late to start investing!
What was the most
difficult part of writing your book and did you learn anything from
writing your book? As a follow up, where did you get your information
or ideas for your book?
The most difficult part was deciding what to leave unsaid. If you try to say it all, you end up with an encyclopaedic tome that that nobody will read. My copy of Benjamin Graham’s classic work, The Intelligent Investor, is over 600 pages. It’s a great book, but deals with only one small slice of finances – investing in stocks. So how do you consolidate that advice (and other books I read on stocks) into three brief chapters?
My ideas came from respected works and from my wide reading in biography. Concerning the former, I especially studied Warren Buffett. Anyone who denies he’s one of the world’s greatest investors needs to explain how he got so rich. Buffett recommends his mentor Benjamin Graham on investing and John Bogle (Vanguard’s founder) on mutual funds. Round them out with Jason Zweig, personal finance columnist for the Wall Street Journal and Burton Malkiel of Princeton and you’re understanding the basics. Read these guys and you can see why so much popular advice on buying stocks can be dismissed outright. Read Enjoy Your Money as an introduction to these great thinkers.
But successful money management isn’t just about understanding budgeting and investments. Reading extensively in biography helps me to see other reasons people either do well or flounder in their finances. Mark Twain longed to live as an equal among the very rich. In pursuing riches, he fell for every get-rich-quick scheme imaginable and almost lost everything in his 50’s. Thomas Jefferson had a brilliant mind, but didn’t take his debts seriously enough, spending his later years fretting about the financial mess he was leaving his children. From football coach Joe Gibbs to the manager for Led Zeppelin, we can learn a lot about wise money management.
Yes, I learned so much from writing this book! I suppose one of the most profound things is that little practices can pay off over time. Everyone interested in finances should study Warren Buffett’s growing up years, from ages 5-18. By working regular jobs that anyone can work – finding and selling golf-balls, delivering newspapers, etc. - he accumulated today’s equivalent of about $47,000 by high school graduation! If a 20-year-old starts saving just $20 per week, she’s saved over $1000 in a year. Invest that money each year in a mutual fund and if stocks keep growing at the average of 10% per year, she’s a millionaire in her 60’s. Just $20 a week! If at the end of the week all your money’s spent, go babysit a child or mow a yard. Get that $20 and you’re set!
There is an old adage that says it doesn’t necessarily matter how much you earn that is important but rather the way you manage your money. Do you agree with this and if so, why?
Studies find that people living under the poverty line aren’t as happy people those above it. So you must bring in a certain amount to live. But once you’re above that line and can provide food and shelter for your family, just making $10,000 more doesn’t do much for human happiness.
Financial guru Larry Burkett once counselled three people in the same day, each of which couldn’t make ends meet. (I’m not sure about some of the details of this story.) One was a mill worker who made $12,000 per year, who said he could make it on $3,000 more per year. The second was a merchant who made $30,000 per year. He believed that several thousand more per year would solve his problems. The third was a doctor who made $100,000 per year. He felt he need $25,000 more per year to make ends meet.
It appears that as we make more, we redefine “need,” and simply up our lifestyle to sop up that extra cash. If the merchant could just live the lifestyle of the mill worker, or if the doctor could live the lifestyle of the merchant, couldn’t they make ends meet and have plenty left over to save and invest?
Another money guru, Ron Blue, was once asked to sum up in a sentence what he’d learned in a lifetime of studying and teaching money management. He thought about it and came back with this: “Spend less than you make, and do it for a long time.” Pretty solid advice.
How will you be using the Internet to promote yourself and your book?
I’ll try to get some popular blogs to review it. I have several of my own blogs, but I’m not convinced that I’ll make many sales through my own blogs. They’re mainly to help people and get good information out there, not to sell my products.
My character site and ministry site collectively get about 900 visitors per day, but again, visitors aren’t looking for a money book. I e-mailed the 10,000 or so members of those sites to let them know about the book. Probably five people bought it as a result. Again, I think that sales through my existing sites and blogs will be infrequent and indirect. Hopefully, some educators will discover it on these sites and use it in their classrooms. About 10 educators are looking it over this summer for that reason. Along this line, I want to let home schoolers know about it through the Web. With the book’s discussion questions and assignments, it would be ideal for them to use.
I’ve optimized my Amazon
presence, put in key words, and linked to my Amazon page from
everywhere. I’m amazed that I come up high on a search for
“personal money management,” since there are thousands of books
on Amazon on that subject. (Today it’s #12 out of 3400 results.
It’s been as high as #3.) I must be doing something right.
I actually believe that the service you provide is one of the best services authors can utilize. People believe what others say about our books more than what we say about our own books. As Solomon said three thousand years ago, “Let another praise you, and not your own mouth.” When people like you and your team write great reviews, then disseminate them to the far corners of the Web, authors benefit.
How can readers find out more about you and your endeavors and what are your future projects?
I have about five books at various stages on the back burner, but people are hurting so with their finances that I’m trying to spend this year pushing this book rather than obsessing on my next project. I’m convinced that Enjoy Your Money can help a lot of people.
Here are some places people can keep up with me:
Some of my blogs:
Is there anything else you wish to add that we have not covered?
Some people are buying the book by the case to give away as graduation gifts. Others may give them as gifts to employees. If you’re interested in discounted bulk orders, Wisdom Creek Press.
Also, thanks for your obvious love of reading and your great service to authors! You’re making a difference!
Thanks once again and good
luck with all of your future endeavors.