Category Archives: Finances

You’re Probably More Skilled Than You Think You Are

Wouldn’t it be nice to make more money in 2015? Though not an end in itself, money is elemental to being an Intentionalist, enabling you to pursue your goals, whether eating an energizing diet, engaging in diverting play, or educating your children.

You’re Probably More Skilled Than You Think You Are

By Daniel Case (Own work)

The other day I went to a neighborhood market around the corner from my house. Recently remodeled and expanded, now it is clean, brightly lit, and quite a pleasant place to shop. I needed just a couple of things but to my chagrin found only one of them. The owners lost out on additional income because their merchandise was limited.

In today’s market-driven economy, whether you’re an entrepreneur or an employee, you get paid based on the stock of the skills you bring to the table. Are you fully aware of your abilities? I suggest you take an inventory to make sure. In additional to identifying all of your expertise, it will help you determine where you may want to fill in gaps.

Follow these steps:

  1. Make lists of the following:
    1. All the jobs you’ve had, even the seemingly meaningless ones you had as a kid.
    2. Volunteer work you’ve done.
    3. Schooling and training.
    4. Hobbies, social activities, and recreational pursuits.
  2. Go to LinkedIn and view the list of skills that you can post to your profile.
  3. For each item on your lists write down the skills you used and for how many years. For example, suppose you played soccer for ten years and during the last five years led team workouts twice a week. For five years you demonstrated the skills of team leadership and fitness training. If you took your league’s championship three of those years that’s even greater credibility as a leader and coach!
  4. After identifying all your skills add up the number of years associated with each one. This tells you the ones at which you are most experienced. Notice you have evidence to support your assertion of these skills.
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Have someone who knows you well, but who can be objective, review your list of abilities. This might be your mentor or a trusted colleague at work.

Armed with your inventory you can more effectively guide your career. Industries or positions you might have thought were closed to you might now be open. Maybe you uncovered a skill that will lead to an entrepreneurial venture.

Suppose your career objective requires a skill you don’t have. You can pursue additional training or alter your plans. If you want to start a business, find a partner who can augment your team with the missing expertise.

As with any inventory, periodically you need to review and update it, at least once a year.

When employers walk down the aisle of your skills, do you have all of them on display? Or are several of them still boxed away in the back of a storage room waiting to be discovered and set out on a shelf? Given today’s crucial connection between expertise and income, you owe it to yourself and family to conduct an inventory of your skills as soon as possible.

What skill did you uncover

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10 Books that Will Improve Your Life

Every year I read at least 50 books. With so many goods ones even at one per week it seem to make hardly a dent. My reading focuses on personal development, history & biography, business, and literature (my guilty pleasures are detective and historical fiction).

10 Books that Will Improve Your Life

While I generally keep abreast of current works, I also look back to see what older books and classics I have missed. Here are the best:

Personal Development:

The Power of Full Engagement: Managing Energy, Not Time, Is the Key to High Performance and Personal Renewal by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz

While I do not agree with their separation of the mental and emotional spheres, Loehr and Schwartz’s case studies of how they guide people to live more in concert with their values and aspirations is full of ideas for helping you do the same. About a month ago I began following their diet plan to increase energy and it works.

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

Not just for runners, it is an inspiring story of human potential, how to get physically fit, and why conventional wisdom sometimes is wrong. Were it not for Melanie’s concern about family time, it might have motivated me to become an ultra-marathoner.

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

THE CLASSIC BOOK ON FINDING MEANING IN YOUR LIFE. Holocaust survivor Frankl examines the internal struggle that led some people to not only endure the concentration camps but find significance to life beyond physical survival. (For a vividly shocking portrayal of what American and British soldiers found when they liberated the camps read Rick Atkinson’s The Guns at Last Light.)

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

I wrote an entire blog post about this remarkable book. Suffice it to say if you want to be an Intentionalist it is required reading.

Against Fairness by Stephen Asma

Asma’s insightful investigation into the ethic and impact of fairness will cause you to think a second time. If you believe fairness should be a societal principle, you have no better opportunity to exercise and strengthen your values than by trying to refute his argument.

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History and Biography:

In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler's Berlin by Erik Larson

This Don Quixote-like story of the American ambassador to Nazi Germany belies many of the beliefs about the lead up to World War II and societal mores in the pre-war world. It will help you better distinguish between myth and fact throughout your life.

Dreadnought by Robert K. Massie

Ostensibly about the naval arms race in the decades prior to World War I, in reality it is a study in diplomacy. A fascinating illustration of how the good and bad inclinations of individuals can be governed or given free reign so as to mobilize nations and their people to peace or war.

Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics by Jeremy Schaap

Too often knowing the details of a legendary person’s life diminishes his greatness. Jesse Owens’s humanness and authenticity secure his rightfully mythic stature.

Joseph Haydn: His Life and Works by Jeremy Siepmann

Books about composers and musicians are incomplete without illustrative musical accompaniment. This audio books brings to life the splendor of Haydn’s music and his human decency.


Business and Entrepreneurship:

The People's Tycoon: Henry Ford and the American Century by Steven Watts

You cannot understand business without knowing Ford’s impact. He made all the classic entrepreneurial mistakes yet became fabulously wealthy. Neither fawning nor condemnatory, Watts deftly shows genius is no guarantor of success or virtue and populism no assurance of justice.

What books did you read this year that you recommend

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G-d Doesn’t Want You to Be Poor

Parsha Nugget Vayishlach – Genesis 32:4-36:43

The first time I purchased something with my own money, at about six years old, I bought a bat-type kite for $1. During the time I scrimped and saved my allowance, my mother kept telling me, “don’t let money burn a hole in your pocket.” Valuing thrift and appreciation, my mother knew the lesson of Parshas Vayishlach:

“And he took them and caused them to cross the stream. And he brought across what was his. And Jacob was left alone and he wrestled with a man until break of dawn.” (Bereshis/Genesis 32:24-25).

G-d Doesn’t Want You to Be Poor

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In this week’s parsha , Jacob prepares to be attacked by Esau. He struggles with the Angel and is given the name Israel, then reconciles with Esau and settles in Shechem.

Next, in retaliation for Dina’s abduction, Simon and Levi deceive then massacre the Shechemites. Jacob travels to Bethel where Rebecca and her nurse Deborah die. G-d confirms Jacob’s new name and reaffirms that the land of Canaan will be given to his descendants. Benjamin is born and Rachel dies. After reuniting with Jacob, Isaac dies. The parsha ends with a listing of Ishmael’s family and his death, a listing of the lineage of Seir, and the chronology of the Edomite kings.

As Jacob prepares for Esau’s advancing army he takes his wives and sons across the Jabbok. Then he ferries over his possessions. As the above passage notes, he was left alone. Why didn’t he go with his family and property?

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Despite the danger of staying behind Jacob had to retrieve some small jars. He had internalized the principle that everything he had came from G-d. So if the Almighty gave him something it served a vital purpose. Were this not so G-d would not have bothered to give it to him in the first place.

The Almighty does not demand minimalism. He sees no contradiction between serving Him and acquiring wealth. By the same token, don't take material possessions for granted. Most people have far more possessions than they can count. Yet this does not negate the responsibility to properly care for all of them.

Ideally, express deep gratitude for what G-d bestows on you. Be a good custodian of His bounty: human relationships, animals, and belongings.

Question – How do you reconcile service to G-d with affluence? Please leave a comment below.

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

How to Get Out of Debt

When the early 1990s recession hit, only a few years after I started my real estate business, I had six figures of debt. I was personally liable for all of it. Needless to say, it weighed heavily on me. Recovering from the economic downturn was exacerbated by large payments on loans and lines of credit. I struggled for a year before realizing the conventional wisdom on getting out of debt was wrong.

Tied Up with Debt

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Most debt-counselors recommend that either you consolidate your loans so you have just one payment to manage or start by paying off the one with the highest interest rate. Since people laboring under a heavy debt load often have to constantly juggle cash flow, both of these make getting out of debt more difficult.

If your highest interest rate loan is large, initial victory is pushed far down the road. You want a win early in your quest to freedom from debt to give you momentum.

Consider that there are two companion goals to getting out of debt. One is maintaining or repairing your credit score. Late payments and charge-offs fall off your record after seven years and a bankruptcy after 10 years. But, you may want to get a home loan sooner than these time limits. As well, your borrowing cost increases as your credit score drops. (I will discuss the other goal below.)

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Here is how I did it:

  1. Make a list of your debts. I recommend using a spreadsheet in which you enter the lender, the amount of the debt, the interest rate, the current monthly payment, and the approximate number of months to payoff.
  2. Reorder the list. Rank your debts from the one with shortest payoff period to the longest. The exception is any large interest-free loan, which you should pay last.
  3. Work your plan. Pay off the debt with the shortest payoff period as quickly as possible even if you pay the minimum on the others. Once you have done so you have three choices for the money freed up.
    1. Set it aside to build an emergency fund so you won't have to borrow money if something unexpected happens.
    2. Add it to the payment on the next debt on your list so you can pay it off more quickly.
    3. Create a fund to use when negotiating a settlement of another debt.

Any of these are reasonable and depend upon your overall financial situation.

  1. Renegotiate where possible. Speak to your creditors. See if you can reduce the interest rate or get part of the loan waived in exchange for paying it off more quickly. Some lenders will agree to remove derogatory information in your credit file if you arrange a faster payoff plan. If you are in the military, check if the Servicemembers Civil Relief Act applies to you.

The other companion goal is avoiding a future debt crisis. Many advisors on this subject recommend shunning loans. I don't find this to be a reasonable policy. Rather create a debt usage policy. For example, I don't borrow money except to buy a large, hard asset, such as a car or a house. I do not carry any credit card balances. has some great information on dealing with credit cards pre and post-deployment.

I still remember the stress of being overloaded with debt. At times it was debilitating. The telephone became my enemy since I never knew when a creditor was calling to dun me. Now, I recognize that like most financial products debt is a useful tool when used judiciously.

Do you have a debt usage policy? What is it?

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How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

In honor of the 4th yartzheit of my father, Gerald Bemel, may he be remembered for blessing, I am sharing a story from his navy days.

Vivid stories of my father’s navy service help me keep his memory alive. One of my favorites is particularly appropriate to the topics of personal development and entrepreneurship.

How a Collision Boosted My Dad’s Navy Career

Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps afforded my father the opportunity to go to college. So in 1954, his degree complete and newly married, off my dad went to his first ship ported in Charleston, South Carolina. Soon thereafter he headed to the Mediterranean Sea on his first cruise.

Growing up in Wisconsin and Minnesota, the Land of 10,000 Lakes, my father swam, sailed, and lifeguarded his summers away. Comfortable in and on the water, he was at home on the ocean. One day, while off duty, he was lounging on deck when he noticed the ship in imminent danger of running down a buoy.

In those days, France was particular about her buoys (not to mention her gulls, wouldn’t you be?) and knowing this my father sprang into action. Grabbing a couple of sailors they launched one of the ship’s boats intending to remedy the crisis. Motor churning the sea at top speed, boat hook at the ready to move the buoy out of the ship’s course, Ensign Bemel had the situation well in hand.

And then it happened.

Misjudging the distance, dad slammed into the buoy before the boat slowed sufficiently. But the French had little about which to complain. The buoy was undamaged. The boat was not so fortunate. The term my father used was stove in, meaning a gaping hole in its side.

Ignominiously, dad, crew, and disabled boat were rescued. Word was passed. The captain wanted to see Ensign Bemel.

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Standing at attention in the passageway outside the captain’s cabin, me father contemplated his fate. His commanding officer was a mustang, an enlisted sailor who became an officer, in this case for meritorious action during combat operations of World War II. Old salt did not begin to describe his captain. He was harder than 19th century ship’s biscuit, the kind that broke teeth.

The door opened. The Executive Officer ordered my father in, then left, closing the door behind him.

Standing at rigid attention in front of his CO’s deck, my dad presented himself: “Ensign Bemel reporting as ordered, SIR!”

Captain: “Very good Mr. Bemel, have a seat.”

Dad, flummoxed: “Have a seat sir??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, there in that chair.”

Tentatively, my father sat down.

Captain: “Now Mr. Bemel, tell me what happened.”

My father recounted the incident. Then he and the Captain discussed how he might handle a similar situation in the future.

About 30 minutes later the Captain told my father he thought that about covered it and to carry on with his duties.

Flabbergasted, my dad could not refrain from asking: “That’s all Captain??”

Captain: “Yes Mr. Bemel, carry on.”

Dad: “But Captain, I stove in a boat, damaged navy property, embarrassed the ship. What is my punishment?”

Captain: “Mr. Bemel, I’ve just spent a considerable sum training you. I need you to put that training to work right away. Besides, you have demonstrated the one thing I cannot teach. Initiative. You saw a problem and you acted. You could have done so more effectively, but you acted. I need that quality in my officers.”

Only You Can Take Action that Will Change Your Life

No one breaks a habit through inaction. No business ever started spontaneously. You might stave in your boat, but you will learn valuable lessons. As important, you will show yourself and others, you have what it takes to succeed.

What keeps you from taking the first step

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