Taking Steps to Prepare for the WorstIn Sunday school I was taught the parable of the pharaoh of Egypt and his dream of seven fat cows being eaten by seven skinny cows. Deeply disturbed, the pharaoh sought the interpretation of his dream. A young slave boy interpreted the dream to mean Egypt would have seven years of plenty to be followed by seven years of famine. The message: Prepare for the lean years during the years of plenty. The pharaoh prepared Egypt for the lean years and led it into an era of prosperity.
My rich dad used the story of the three little pigs to make a similar point. As you know, one pig built his house out of straw, the other of sticks. Once the first two pigs finished their houses they began to party, taunting and laughing at the third pig who was taking longer, building his house of bricks. After the house of bricks was finished, a big bad wolf appeared and blew down the houses of straw and sticks. If not for the shelter of the house of bricks, the first two pigs would have been pork dinner.
In 2007 a big bad wolf known as the ‘subprime crisis' blew down financial houses made of straw and sticks, houses known as Lehman Brothers, Bear Stearns, AIG, Merrill Lynch, Washington Mutual, Fannie Mae, and Countrywide -- as well as the homes and businesses of people who built their lives on straw and sticks.
Lessons of the Pharaoh
Last month's column was about reasons why people should prepare for the worst. This article is about how to prepare for the worst. Preparation begins with understanding the lessons of the pharaoh and the three little pigs: Prepare for the worst even when times are good.
For me, it was not easy to follow these lessons, especially during the boom years. It was tough preparing for bad times while my friends were enjoying the good times. It was tough not to climb the corporate ladder seeking higher pay and job security or chasing financial fads such as flipping real estate, day trading stocks, gambling on dotcom companies, investing in mutual funds, or using my home as an ATM to pay off my credit cards. Today, many of my fellow baby boomers who enjoyed the boom years are concerned about survival in the lean years.
In 1973, returning from the Vietnam War, I found my dad, in his fifties and in the prime of his life, unemployed. Although a highly educated, honest, hard-working man -- and former superintendent of education for the state of Hawaii and Republican Party candidate for Lt. governor of the state - he was sitting at home, looking for work. My dad's situation, combined with my experience of the war, was my wake-up call. I knew something was wrong, but I did not know what was wrong.
The stories of the pharaoh and the three little pigs danced in my head. I knew I had to prepare, but for what I did not know. I just knew I could not follow my dad's advice, which was to fly for the airlines or go back to school and get my PhD. My instincts, sharpened by the war, knew his advice was not right for me. I decided to follow in my rich dad's footsteps, not my poor dad's.
One Path to Take
The following are some of the steps I took to prepare for the worst. I do not recommend my path; I will simply state why I did what I did and what benefits were gained.
1. I became an entrepreneur, not an employee. This was a tough choice. I did not have the skills, experience, or financial backing to support me through the lean years and my mistakes...and there were many lean years and mistakes. Many of the businesses I started failed.
Thirty-six years later, I own a number of businesses and employ hundreds of people all over the world. Some of the benefits: A) I make more money and pay less in taxes because I provide jobs, and that is what this economy needs -- more jobs. When President Obama speaks about raising taxes on the rich, he speaks about high-income employees and small business owners, not entrepreneurs who build big businesses. As you know today, many big businesses are doing better as small businesses crumble. B) I can start new businesses as the economy changes and new opportunities appear. C) I can start businesses in different countries when new opportunities appear. D) I am not afraid of losing my job. E) My income goes up as my business grows.
The good news is that it is easier to be an entrepreneur today. The Web and new technology offer more opportunities to reach a world market at a lower price. Today a person can start a business at home and reach the world market.
2. I invest for cash flow, not capital gains. Most people invest for capital gains. These are the people who have lost a lot of money or are afraid of losing more money. When a person says, "My house has appreciated in value" or "The stock market is going up," they are investing for capital gains. Investing for capital gains is like building a house of straw or sticks.
In 1973 I took a real estate course to learn how to invest for cash flow. Even though the real estate market crashed in 2007, my rental properties continue to produce cash flow. Even though banks are not lending money to many homeowners, the government continues to loan millions, via the FHA, to investors who provide housing. This means we receive tax breaks and use debt -- other people's money -- to increase income.
The good news is, when prices crash, cash flow investments become more affordable. For example, stocks such as Johnson & Johnson, a company that pays a steady dividend (cash flow), become more affordable. If you want to start your real estate career, now is the time to invest for cash flow.
3. I invest for inflation. In 1971 President Nixon took the world off the gold standard, which means the world's central banks can print as much money as they want. I was in Vietnam in 1972 and saw what happens when people do not trust paper money. Rather than try to live below my means and save money, I invest in gold, silver, and oil -- commodities that go up in price as the government prints more money.
When investing for inflation, I am not investing for cash flow. In this case, I am investing to protect my wealth from the predatory practices of the Federal Reserve Bank, the U.S. Treasury, and the ultra rich manipulating the world economy.
China does not trust the U.S. dollar. Today China is using U.S. dollars to buy commodities such as oil, copper, gold, and silver. The good news is silver is still inexpensive. In 2007 gold was approximately 50 times more expensive than silver. In 2009 the gap is 70 times -- which means silver is a bargain.
Silver is used in the electronics industry and is consumed daily; stock piles of silver are dwindling. On top of that, for the first time in modern history, there is more gold in the world than silver. In other words, silver is more valuable than gold. The good news is, at less than $20 an ounce, almost anyone can afford to start preparing for the worst and building their own house of silver.
In conclusion: My mom and dad lived through the last depression. They knew lean years. The baby boom generation is about to have their fat cows eaten by skinny cows. The good news is, if you can thrive when times are bad, these are the best of times.