For many of us, New Year’s resolutions are tiresome pests- usually having the half-lives of mayflies and mercifully coming but once a year.
The trouble with resolutions -New Year’s or otherwise- lies in our tendency to turn them into exercises in self-denial rather than treating them as good intentions accompanied by slight behavioral modifications. It’s one thing to resolve to pass up dessert or to start jogging around the local park and quite another to embark on the Still-man Water Diet or train for the White Rock Marathon. Resolutions often die quickly when we expect too much too soon.
“You can eat an entire elephant if you eat it one bite at a time,” says Dallas-based time-management consultant Dan Bellus, one of several citizens we consulted about “resolving” our way into financial prosperity. From these conversations, we have compiled a list of 10 resolutions for 1983- sure-fire touchstones to financial success, provided that they are consumed gradually rather than gulped.
Surprisingly, most of these resolutions are not financial at all-at least, not directly. The explanation for this is that stock and bond markets, precious metals and other commodities, tax shelters and Treasury bills all strike a precarious risk-reward balance between the penthouse and the pits. The behaviors that make and keep millionaires-“The Right Stuff,” as Tom Wolfe might call it -depend little on who’s in the White House or on presidential programs. Nonetheless, in deference to some of our sources, we include a few resolutions whose time is “hot,” “ripe” or “now.”
(1.) Buy a three-minute egg timer. That’s an easy enough start. And the cost is less than a dollar at most area supermarkets and discount/department stores. Take the timer and place it next to your business or office telephone. Already, you’ll be in the company of certified millionaires and rising stars who know that the key to success is effective time management and that the critical threat to time management is the telephone.
Dan Bellus, president of Human Development Unlimited Inc., adheres to the thought that the telephone company wasn’t just playing “Go Fish” when it established three minutes as the base rate time for long-distance phone calls. Most business conversations that can’t be concluded in that time, he says, are the result of poor preparation on the part of the caller.
“A person who tries to outline all his outgoing phone calls and who makes effective termination techniques for incoming phone calls will save time,” Bellus says. “Also, turn as much of the telephone business over to your people as you can. Your policy on screening incoming calls depends on the degree of your burden; but I would say to a chief executive, get an additional phone number at your office and give it out to people you always want to talk to. Let your subordinates screen calls to the other number.”
However, Bellus is mostly opposed to telephone gamesmanship, where an intermediary accepts calls, does some polite fencing to find out who the caller is and what he wants, then redirects his call to some other department or planet. Whether the call is responded to directly or later, however, the three-minute timer should be put into motion to underscore what Steak & Ale chief Norman Brinker indicates is a principle tenet of this resolution: “People who really want to get things done care about pennies and they care about minutes.”
(2.) Clear your desk top of everything except a legal-size pad, a pencil, stationery and stamps. That’s another way of saying, “Get organized,” but resolutions phrased the latter way seldom see January 2nd. The pad and pencil are for lists; the stamps and stationery, for mail.
“I work off of a yellow legal-pad list day-to-day, crossing off events and projects as they are completed,” says Mike Engleman, president of a Dallas financial public-relations firm.
The act of listing goals in writing does two things: It maps a course for the workday and culls “musts” from “druthers,” according to The Engleman Company. The mental separation of trivia from must-dos conveniently carries over to the incoming mail. That’s what the stationery and stamps are for.
Observes Jere Thompson of Southland Corporation: “One of the biggest ways in which my secretary saves my time is in separation of the mail into six presorted stacks: internal correspondence that requires a response; internal correspondence that does not require a response (fact sheets or information bulletins); external correspondence (from suppliers, bankers, stockholders, etc.) of both types; items requiring a signature such as outgoing letters; and reading material such as newspapers, magazines and trade journals.”
(3.) Buy, rent, lease or otherwise appropriate a personal computer. They’re no longer called “home” computers because they’re no longer limited to that dimension by memory capacity, function capability, use application or just about any standard you can cite. Far from being the wave of the future, the personal computer is the established tool of the present. Anyone awaiting the computer’s demise along the lines of the CB radio has only to look at the R&D (research and development) efforts of makers of the top four personal models-Tandy’s TRS-80 (I, II & III), Texas Instruments’TI-99(IA through 4), the Apple II & III and the Atari 400/800-to see that these folks are not just pushing chips and bytes, they’re playing with voice command and four-color displays. In the process, they’re making the computer as forceful a presence as the telephone.
(4.) Shake a leg. This is the “huff and puff” resolution- the physical fitness number. It’s in the regimen of just about everyone we tapped for New Year’s resolutions, so we include it here.
Continuing research at the Aerobics Center, Cooper Clinic and corollary facilities in Dallas suggests a strong relationship between physical exercise and performance in nonphysical tasks -i.e., selling widgets, closing deals, editing newspapers. Moreover, chemical electrolytes produced in the human body through the physical act of running appear to create a feeling of well-being that carries over into non-running efforts. Results of a two-year study using personnel from the commercial real estate division of Henry S. Miller Co., will be published soon, which should provide further data on productivity/ physical exercise relationships. Meanwhile, many executives already pursuing this resolution consider it a foregone conclusion that pounding the pavement helps pad the pocketbook.
(5.) Enroll in a college, community college, extension or private course in a skill area other than your primary occupation. Remember that fork in the road when you could have gone on to become a concert clarinetist instead of a computer programmer? Did you once have a fascination with art, construction, auto mechanics?
John Haynes, a retired military aviator formerly of Dallas, used vacations and evenings to leisurely study computer operations and public relations in civilian-offered courses. The day he stepped out of uniform, he stepped into the executive director’s slot of the chamber of commerce of a small East Coast community and continued to build – full-time – the computer-consulting and computer-supported residential construction and charter-fishing businesses he had initiated several months before retirement.
Perhaps that’s an extreme. But what isn’t extreme is that second skills, or second sources of income, are not just luxuries, they’re necessities, in uncertain economic times. And the gravity of the Social Security crisis suggests that the present working generation would be wise to treat retirement as wishful thinking.
Remember that Dallas-area colleges offer, at any given time, more than 600 evening and weekend courses, on-campus and off, in subjects ranging from fencing to psychology to television repair. “However you cut it, that’s real growth time -time you might otherwise consume in unrewarding ways such as watching TV sitcoms,” Haynes says.
(6.) Start an IRA, Keogh or other self-pensioning retirement plan and serve it first before your other debt obligations. Available for more than a year, the Individual Retirement Account (IRA) is no longer a “hot” resolution but it is still very much “now.” Jane Scott, branch manager of the Mockingbird Lane office of Farm & Home Savings, realizes she’s just “a voice in the choir” as an IRA advocate, “but it’s so easy and worthwhile; 1 think everyone should have it.”
IRAs, of course, are stand-alone retiremerit accounts that can be created or contributed to in the amount of $2,000 or less a year per working individual (up to $4,000 for working couples), regardless of other corporate pension programs in which the person participates. IRA contributions can be deducted from current income for tax purposes and also earn tax-free interest until withdrawals begin after the person reaches age 59.
Keogh’s have been around a little longer, but they’ve become more flexible and attractive, offering higher levels of contribution than ever before. A self-employed person who has no employees is permitted to contribute as much as 15 percent of his or her annual net income, up to $15,000. Keoghs can also be structured under an SEP (Simplified Employee Pension) format to combine IRA and Keogh features for certain non-self-employed people, making it possible for workers to have as much as $17,000 a year set aside for retirement.
IRAs and Keoghs earn the highest interest for the lowest risk (they’re federally insured up to $ 100,000) of any comparable certificates of deposit offered by banks and S&Ls, and they’re not likely to be upstaged by anything coming down the pike from Uncle Sugar during 1983.
Moreover, while the commission studying Social Security reform has not even considered the alternative of allowing people to withdraw from Social Security by showing proof of individual responsibility for self-pensioning, there is a considerable lobbying effort for reduction in Social Security contributions made by self-pen-sioned individuals. Thus, whether the Social Security System turns out to be a boondoggle or simply a poor repayer of its societal underwriters, IRAs stand to become real investments in a less worrisome retirement.
(7.) Join two organizations- one professional and the other civic or social. This resolution is something of a sleeper – until you attend a Rotary or Lion’s Club meeting and see the “old boys” network in action (there are comparable circuits for women). Members of these social/service organizations train each other in leadership and public-speaking skills, and provide each other restaurant services, hostelry, haircuts and legal aid.
Professional affiliation should not have to be underscored but for the fact that it is so often completely ignored. Computers and high-speed communications have already begun to alter the speed of innovation in any given profession – medical, financial, engineering, journalistic. Keeping abreast of one’s peer group is no longer something that can be done by simply reading the magazines lying around the dentist’s office.
“Tribes have always been in vogue,” says a recent initiate of the Specialty Advertising Association International, now headquartered in Dallas. “But as our industry’s conventions, trade shows and information exchanges have become more frequent and volatile, in terms of new products and marketing ideas, you come to realize that to not be in the circle is to not be in business.”
(8.) Consider owning your shelter if you rent or renting your shelter if you own. That piece of double talk means that some people see moderately lower mortgage interest rates and soft home prices as conditions for getting back into residential real estate (i.e., owning your own home or con-do) or getting deeper into real estate by purchasing another nouse and converting your present abode to rental property.
Mike and Gloria McCollum jointly purchased a house in Lakewood six years ago, combining their individually limited resources in a manner now popular among many young professionals, irrespective of marriage.
“We teamed up in a piece of equity and initially just stayed even by getting out of an apartment and into a house,” says Mike, a Dallas attorney. “That house happened to appreciate two or three times what we paid for it.
“But even if it had not, under most conditions you could assume that if I grew income-wise as I should have, five or six years later I should be established and now should be able to afford a second house.”
The McCollums’ not-too-distant goal is to do just that – buy a second house, converting the first house into a rental property. You still have to study to know what you’re looking for, to know what the bargains are and get a good buy; but a good deal now looks like a great deal five years from now.”
(9.) Consider common stocks. Marvin Migdol, a Dallas consultant whose expertise lies more in franchises than in securities, offers a prognosis for business opportunities in general that can also apply to particular categories of common stocks.
Migdol says the present growth of the 25-to-44-year-old age group implies impetus in first-time home purchases, a mini-baby boom (resulting in increased sales for toy manufacturers since the average newborn gets 10 new toys during the first six months of its life) and improved prospects for camera manufacturers and photographic services (baby pictures).
“Naturally, the outlook is good for baby food, baby and children’s furniture, children’s clothing and similar products.
“The increasing educational sophistication of the general population promises an even brighter future for the home electronics and computer industries.
“Leisure-time industries should do especially well in light of the increase in population of the 55 to 64 sector,” Midgol says, and a healthily growing senior-citizen sector implies opportunities in health-related products and services. “This population segment [over 64] is responsible for 25 percent of all hospital costs and 25 percent of eyeware and retail drug purchases.”
(10.) Obtain one or more good term insurance policies, regardless of how muchwhole life insurance you currently own.Next to having a will, which greatly simplifies estate distribution, insurance is anecessary last-ditch protection of wealth- accumulated through all the other resolutions-for sustaining loved ones, educating children and endowing those persons/causes that live after us. Term insurance is simple, inexpensive and of considerable potential worth relative to the investment.
For many of us, New Year’s resolutions are tiresome pests- usually having the half-lives of mayflies and mercifully coming but once a year.