“The only difference between a taxman and a taxidermist is that the taxidermist leaves the skin.”

-Mark Twain

THE TOOLS AND strategies in this book are simple to follow, and they work. But only if you put forth the effort to apply them and then stick to it. The difference between living a debt-free and wealthy life and continuing to struggle with money problems is you. You must change your behavior, or you’ll never be debt-free and wealthy.

Whether you are up to your eyeballs in debt or abundantly wealthy, money can be a blessing or a curse. It’s all in how you deal with it. I honestly believe that money will make you more of the person you already are. Think about that for a minute.

I’ve seen people who were very selfish and greedy become extremely wealthy after creating a successful business or investing well. Once they had more money than they could ever want to live the lifestyle of their dreams, you would think they wouldn’t be quite so selfish or greedy. The truth is almost always the exact opposite. When these people obtained their wealth, it was never enough. They became obsessed with acquiring more wealth, often at the expense of other people. These people often lie and cheat to get more money. Some push it so far they end up breaking the law and going to jail. When I see that happen, I always wonder why? They had everything they needed for a comfortable, wealthy life, and they gave it all up to get what? It makes no sense, but it happens all the time.

When you are finally debt-free and living the lifestyle of your dreams, I believe you have a responsibility to give something back. If you’re a generous, giving person, you’re likely to be just the same when you become wealthy. With some additional money, you’ll be in a position to have a dramatic impact on the lives of others who are less fortunate. It’s my opinion that attaining a position of wealth comes with a great responsibility attached. As the scriptures teach, “Unto whom much is given, much is required.”

I’ve had the privilege of touching the lives of many others through the wealth I have been blessed with. I honestly believe that wealth is a stewardship and that each of us has some accountability in how we use the wealth we acquire to make our world a better place.

Here’s the dictionary definition of stewardship:

  • 1: the office, duties, and obligations of a steward
  • 2: the conducting, supervising, or managing of something; especially: the careful and responsible management of something entrusted to one’s care <stewardship of our natural resources>

That word “entrusted” really says it all for me. Add to that “careful and responsible management” and you can see that it’s not enough to just coast once we have reached our goal of a debt–free, wealthy life. The stewardship of wealth doesn’t mean we just give money away to worthy causes or people in need. That’s certainly part of it, but there’s more to stewardship than that. Giving money is often the easy way out and not the thing that will have the most positive impact on others—or yourself. The most valuable thing you possess is your time, and once you attain some level of wealth, you’re in a unique position to spend a greater portion of your time helping others progress and advance as they overcome their own individual challenges.

You’ve no doubt heard the saying that if you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day; but if you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime. In a financial sense, you’ve learned to fish. This is a skill that is in short supply in our world today. You should take the opportunity you have to teach that skill to others so they can enjoy the blessing of being debt-free and living a wealthy life just like you. Let me share a few perspectives on what I believe to be the stewardship of wealth.

GIVE TO CHARITY

Giving to charity is one of the unique aspects of our capitalistic society that separates the United States from many other nations of the world. I’m always amazed at the generosity of Americans when there are disasters around the world. We’re usually the first to step up and the ones who give the most. Think about some of the disasters you’ve witnessed in recent years and how much generosity was shown by both rich and not-so-rich Americans. Think about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, Hurricane Katrina, the earthquakes in Chile and Haiti, or the tsunami in Indonesia. It’s inspiring to ponder the outpourings of generosity. Now you are in a much better position to participate and make a difference.

When I give to charity, I always make sure I know to whom I’m giving the money. I want to know I can trust the person or organization to do the good they say they are going to do. I don’t generally answer charitable solicitations I get in the mail or over the phone. I seek out the opportunities to give to the causes that mean the most to me. I honestly believe that by giving part of your wealth to someone less fortunate than yourself, you are showing gratitude for the blessing of wealth you have received.

Unfortunately, there are many unscrupulous people who prey on our generosity and steal our money for personal gain, all under the guise of a worthy cause. Know to whom you’re giving before you give a dime. Make sure they are a registered charity and can provide you with a receipt for your donation you can use to verify your donation for tax purposes.

There are many perks for donors, but you shouldn’t seek out the perks as a reason for giving. I like to support my alma mater for the excellent education I received; and as a benefit, I get to buy tickets for the football games that are a little closer to the field and the 50-yard line. If your contributions lead to some added benefits, think of the perks as another blessing for doing your part. Giving to worthy organizations that are in a position to use your donation to touch the most people in the most direct way will be very rewarding for you, both financially and emotionally.

GIVE OF YOUR TIME

A few years ago, my family and I went to Mexico over one of our Thanksgiving holidays and worked on a humanitarian project building and repairing homes for those who are less fortunate. What a great experience to sacrifice a week of my time and a little bit of my money to provide another person with the basic necessities of a roof over their head and running water. Our week was an eye-opening experience for my children, as they saw how grateful the recipients were for something that could in no way be considered a luxury.  The homes we build were not much more than a large shed by American standards, but the recipients of our efforts expressed thanks as if we had given them a mansion.  It made my children appreciate the good fortune and the comfort we enjoy in our life every single day. That’s an experience money simply can’t buy. It takes an investment of time.

I would encourage you to find a cause you can volunteer your time to. The rewards you will get for investing your time in a worthy cause will far outweigh those of simply giving money away.

Here are a few ideas to get you thinking:

  • Volunteer at the local school – Our schools are in desperate need of assistance for the hard-working teachers who teach our children. Contact the principal and offer to spend an hour or two a week where the school needs the most help.
  • Volunteer with the local scouts – I’ve been involved in Boy Scouts my entire life, as a young boy and as an adult, and I’ve seen the impact this program can have on a young man’s life. The same would apply to the Girl Scouts. Going camping and teaching skills involves a tremendous sacrifice of time, but the rewards can be life changing for everyone.
  • Volunteer at the local senior center – Getting old is part of life, but it’s also a time when loneliness and depression are common. Seek out some senior citizens in your city who could use a little company once in a while. Take them out to lunch or go shopping with them, or just stop by and clean up their home a little bit while you visit with them.
  • Become a mentor at the local university – I’ve done this a few times and found it to be extremely rewarding. I serve as a mentor for young entrepreneurs with visions of business success. I try to help them see the realities of running a business and then keep them grounded so they don’t get discouraged.
  • Volunteer at your church – I’ve been pretty visible over my career, and most of the people at my church know that I’ve been involved in money and finance. So I’ve been asked many times to put on seminars or give talks to groups that need some assistance or just want to learn. It may be how I make my living, but I’m happy to share with others in such settings.
  • Volunteer with a charity – These groups often need more than just your money. My family and I have had the opportunity to put together emergency kits and gather blankets for local charities.  We’ve also canned and served food at the local food banks and homeless shelters. You don’t need to be asked to offer help. Give of your time and your money, and I promise the outcomes will be twice as rewarding.

MONEY ISSUES WITH FAMILY AND FRIENDS

It’s great to be able to bless the lives of the ones you love the most, your family and friends. This can be a very challenging prospect as you balance the needs of your family members with your desire to help. I’ve made a number of loans to friends and family members, and rarely have I ever been paid back. I was happy to help them, but disappointed that no effort was made to show gratitude by repaying the debt. I’ve come to look at such opportunities as gifts rather than loans, and that shift in my point of view has made it easier to deal with the aftermath.

The one piece of advice I would offer is that you should not let money or charity ruin a relationship. It’s not worth it. I get hit up for money all the time from friends and family. There have been many times when I have turned down the request for help, only to be scorned by the person who asked.

Unfortunately, some think that your good fortune and wealth entitles them to a portion because they don’t have as much. Don’t be bullied into giving. I promise you’ll regret it. I still believe that others need to be doing all they can to help themselves, and then I am happy to help them on their way if I feel it will actually do them some good.

The people you can help the most are often the least likely to ask you for assistance. Keep your eyes open and you’ll see them. Spotting a need and then responding will be a blessing to both of you.

STARTING OR INVESTING IN A B

You may wonder how this topic found its way into a chapter on stewardship, but I have a good reason. When you attain a level of wealth, I think you have a responsibility to sustain it and not risk what you have been blessed with. The fastest way to lose a fortune is to start a business that ultimately fails.

I’ve had both successful and failed businesses in my career as an entrepreneur. My first business was a great success and allowed me the opportunity to enhance my lifestyle at a young age. Later, when the business struggled, I experienced some of the biggest financial challenges of my life. It’s an indisputable fact that the odds of success are stacked against you when you start a new business.

I don’t want to sound hypocritical here because much of my personal wealth has come from starting and building successful businesses. I consider my businesses to be part of the diversity of my investment portfolio. But since that early experience of losing almost everything when my business failed, I’ve made a conscious effort to limit my entrepreneurial risks to no more than I would consider risking for a typical investment in the stock market or the real estate market. The emotional and financial risks of a business are often very difficult to estimate when you start out, and our natural desire to avoid failure often pushes us beyond reasonable limits that we would have considered unacceptable at the onset. That’s the way business works. It’s unpredictable, and thus you need to be cautious here.

This can be a very powerful temptation, especially after you’ve experienced a business success. You want to run right out and repeat it again to reinforce that great feeling of accomplishment and reward. Just be careful. The same caution should be used in investing in another person’s business. It may not all be yours, but if you’re the financial backer of it, you’re going to feel some of the same pressures.

I never invest in a business that I don’t understand completely. If the idea sounds good but I don’t understand it, I’ll pass. Make sure the people you invest in are totally committed to the business—emotionally, physically, and financially. They must have everything at risk, or they will seek the easy way out or quit when the going gets tough. It must be their only job so there are no distractions. Just working for free isn’t enough. I’ve worked for free many times in my career while I built a business, but I also had to invest my own money to keep things going. If a business partner/owner isn’t willing to put everything into the endeavor, it’s too risky for you to invest your hard-earned money. They must have no alternative but to succeed, or they will almost always fail.

Keep in mind that business success can also create challenges and stress that you didn’t bargain for. If you’ve never experienced the stress of having to make payroll on Friday when your bank account is empty on Monday, you don’t know stress. I’ve said it many times: “Success is often a liability” and “Be careful what you wish for because you just might get it.”

The challenge of a business can be all consuming, so use good judgment when considering starting a business or investing in a business once you are debt-free and living a comfortable life. Doing so can quickly plunge you back into debt if you’re not careful.

I’m confident that you can live a debt-free and wealthy life if you follow the strategies outlined in this book. You’ll have to make sacrifices, but this is a proven plan for financial success and the happiness that comes with it. There are no short cuts when it comes to financial success. If you pay the price and put forth the effort, I assure you the rewards are worth the sacrifice.