Personal Finance Concepts Wrapped in Thrillers

JCM Publishing LogoWhile I enjoy running the blog, last year I began looking for a different way to be more creative and communicate with those interested in personal finance. That idea led to my first novel, Cream City Hustle. The idea behind the book was simple; communicate personal finance concepts and ideas within the framework of a fictional thriller.

The story’s protagonist, 20-year old Marcus, faces the same challenges many other Millennials are now confronting: building and maintaining an emergency fund, controlling debt and starting the process of saving for retirement. Fittingly, those practices and concepts, among others, associated with those objectives are touched on in the book.

My second novel, recently released, is titled Sin City Greed. In this tale, a group of senior citizens hatch a scheme to recover their stolen money. As I describe the book on Amazon, “In the heat of the Las Vegas Valley, American Greed (the CNBC show) meets Ocean’s Eleven.” As one might imagine the personal finance challenges for a 60-year old are different than those of a 20-year old. Among other personal finance concepts and practices, the protagonists in this story discuss the value in developing steady streams of retirement income, the value of entering retirement without a mortgage, the potential advantages of long-term care insurance and as alluded to in the title, greed.

If you are here, I assume you are interested in personal finance. If you are also interested in a good thriller, I hope you will take the time to check out one or both. What follows are excerpts from both novels:

Sin City Greed – Available in Kindle and Paperback Editions at Amazon.com

Sin City Greed_Bowker CoverLas Vegas. Near the intersection of Paradise and East Flamingo Roads. From his second story office Carlton F. Morrison III, the founder and CEO of Blackstone Financial Services Group, watched as the sun set on the mid-June day. Soon the distant lights would shine bright and the world famous strip would come to life.

“Do you require anything else this evening, Mr. Morrison?” Darlene, his administrative assistant, asked as she rapped lightly on his open door and peeked through the doorway.

“No, Dear, nothing else tonight. I just need to tie up a few loose ends and then I will be out of here. Have a good night.”

“Thank you. You too, Mr. Morrison.”

He’d made the decision a few days ago but had put off actually doing it. Now there was no time. He had received the second notification from Bank of Las Vegas earlier today. If he didn’t get a significant infusion of capital soon, the boutique investment advisory firm he had spent 17 years building from nothing would wither and die here in the Nevada desert. He required additional capital and they required proof of liquid assets before they would increase his credit limit. He had three days.

“How did it come to this?” Carl asked the empty room. Predictably, no answer was forthcoming. It seemed like a lifetime ago that BFSG was humming right along. Both Divisions, Equities – where most of his client’s money was invested – and Real Estate – where most of the firm’s money was invested to fund internal operations – were performing spectacularly. That was no longer the case. While the Equities Division continued to post strong returns, the Real Estate Division had been devastated over the last few years as he had increased his real estate holdings, a mistake in hindsight, just as the meltdown in the Las Vegas housing market accelerated.

Cream City Hustle – Available in Kindle and Paperback Editions at Amazon.com

CCH - Paperback CoverNear West Side. Chicago. To the casual observer, not much ever happened near the intersection of South Keeler Avenue and West Roosevelt Road. An abandoned warehouse fills one corner, stretching half a block in either direction. Empty lots littered with trash and empty bottles, long ago abandoned by would be entrepreneurs, occupy two corners opposite one another. The last corner is home to a run-down strip mall populated by a hair salon, a barber shop, a Bar-B-Q joint and a storefront church where the Southern style gospel music that escapes through the entrance is the only source of inspiration in an otherwise grim reality. Near West Side, Chicago is not a Norman Rockwell image of America.

On this sleepy Thursday afternoon however, something did happen. Anyone who had stumbled into the warehouse and back into the room that formerly housed the Human Resources department, would have been witness to justice, as administered on the cold, hard streets of Chicago. He never would have imagined, at 27 years of age, that he would pee himself. But that was exactly what had happened. After binding his hands and feet, Drake had ordered him to his knees as he pulled out a Smith & Wesson 9mm.

“I would never steal from Caine, Drake. You know that!”

“Your lies fall on deaf ears, L.J. We know you’ve stolen and you know the price.”

As the word ‘price’ escaped Drake’s lips, L.J. saw Caine, or more accurately, Caine’s shadow enter the room. On his knees, in the middle of this room and with his head forced down by the barrel of the 9mm, he couldn’t see anything that was higher than two feet off the floor. However, the width and height of the shadow – the sheer girth – combined with the situation that brought him here, told him all that he needed to know. It was Caine. That was when his bladder betrayed him and he peed himself.

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Living Frugally: The Wedding Blues

Wedding Bells BluesDon’t let your failure to manage your green lead to the wedding blues. The wedding industry is booming.

Everything from the bride’s dress, the photographer, and of course – my personal pet peeve – the wedding planner. All are big money. Brides-to-be have been convinced, “It’s the most important day of your life, spare no expense.”

And many a groom, wanting to please their soon to be wife, have fallen for the idea that the engagement ring should cost at least three month’s salary. Seriously, who came up with this stuff?

I’m about to say something that will probably be very unpopular. Both those pieces of advice are very unwise and financially unsound! We have become a society that will spend thousands and thousands of dollars for an occasion that lasts a few hours, tops. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a momentous occasion for both bride and groom; and their families.

It is a day that should be treated with respect. However, so should the actual marriage. You know, all those days that come after the rice is thrown? Yep, they are important also.

Wedding Costs [The Huffington Post]

I have a family member who spent over $10,000 on her wedding. She had food catered, a huge dress, and a dress covering I can’t even begin to describe. There were a few limos involved, a huge bride’s cake, a groom’s cake, a reception at a fancy eatery on the bay, a cruise on a boat and tons of other stuff that still boggles my mind.

Imagine that $10,000 invested wisely for the next thirty years. Compound interest and time are amazing allies. Use them!

My wife and I spent less than $200 on our wedding. The cost of the location was zilch, zero nada. It was held at my oldest sister-in-law’s house. The mayor of Shelly, Idaho performed the ceremony for free in exchange for us donating at least a whopping $5 to a certain charity. We donated $15. The cost of food was minimal. It was a pot luck! Invitations were ordered online and I doubt we spent $100.00.

FrugallyThe number one cause of tension between man and wife, and the eventual cause of many divorces, are money related problems and a couple’s differing perspectives on money. The fact that society encourages such a large expenditure of funds from the very beginning is then more than a little disturbing.

Imagine the positive economic impact if the soon-to-be-joined were encouraged to spend as little as possible so they would have more for their future together. Doesn’t it make more sense to begin the marriage voyage with a healthier money outlook, helping to avoid the one thing that’s proven to end marriages the world over?

Let’s not set up future couples for failure. Teach youth to ignore the advertising ploys of the wedding industry. Teach them to consider their financial futures. Let’s encourage them to treat their marriage with even more respect than the wedding by fueling the marriage with the gift of financial freedom.

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Sin City Greed

Sin City Greed_Bowker CoverBook: Sin City Greed (2015). James C. Molet – This second Personal Finance Thriller follows a group of resilient retirees as they hatch a scheme to recover their stolen money. In the heat of the Las Vegas Valley, American Greed meets Ocean’s Eleven.

THE PROLOGUE

Las Vegas. Near the intersection of Paradise and East Flamingo Roads. From his second story office Carlton F. Morrison III, the founder and CEO of Blackstone Financial Services Group, watched as the sun set on the mid-June day. Soon the distant lights would shine bright and the world famous strip would come to life.

“Do you require anything else this evening, Mr. Morrison?” Darlene, his administrative assistant, asked as she rapped lightly on his open door and peeked through the doorway.

“No, Dear, nothing else tonight. I just need to tie up a few loose ends and then I will be out of here. Have a good night.”

“Thank you. You too, Mr. Morrison.”

He’d made the decision a few days ago but had put off actually doing it. Now there was no time. He had received the second notification from Bank of Las Vegas earlier today. If he didn’t get a significant infusion of capital soon, the boutique investment advisory firm he had spent 17 years building from nothing would wither and die here in the Nevada desert. He required additional capital and they required proof of liquid assets before they would increase his credit limit. He had three days.

“How did it come to this?” Carl asked the empty room. Predictably, no answer was forthcoming. It seemed like a lifetime ago that BFSG was humming right along. Both Divisions, Equities – where most of his client’s money was invested – and Real Estate – where most of the firm’s money was invested to fund internal operations – were performing spectacularly. That was no longer the case. While the Equities Division continued to post strong returns, the Real Estate Division had been devastated over the last few years as he had increased his real estate holdings, a mistake in hindsight, just as the meltdown in the Las Vegas housing market accelerated.

He had three days to increase the balance in his Bank of the West account and submit a statement to Bank of Las Vegas. He only had one source of capital at his disposal … client accounts from the Equities Division. Sitting down at his desk, he awoke his computer from sleep mode and opened the BFSG Client’s Accounts spreadsheet, the document containing all relevant data, including account holdings and balances. The first order of business? Copying the document, creating a shadow spreadsheet.

With the two spreadsheets open on his dual monitor setup, he pulled up the first client account, Jim and Phyllis Abbott, and placed their upcoming quarterly statement on the desktop with the original spreadsheet. With an account balance of $1,784,200.61 at the end of the previous month, they were among his more affluent clients. Next, he opened Photoshop, where it shared the second monitor with the shadow spreadsheet. Seven minutes later he had removed $75,000 from the Abbott’s account and deposited the money into BFSG’s corporate account with Bank of the West. The Abbott’s quarterly statement – the one scheduled to be mailed next Tuesday – was ‘updated’ to show a new balance of $1,892,935.93. That was just about in line with the 6% monthly return he guaranteed his clients.

Next up was Charles Bingman with an account balance of $1,082,369.29. “You’ve done pretty well for yourself at only 58, Charles,” Carl mumbled into the dimly lit room. Forty eight clients later, the Bank of the West account showed an updated balance of $3,831,527.03. A significant difference from the starting balance of $81,527.03. Glancing at the clock, he saw that it was 1:26 a.m. God it was late. He needed to get home. He was absolutely drained. Saving all of his documents, with the shadow documents saved to an external hard drive, he placed his computer in sleep mode and made his way to the kitchenette area. With the external hard drive safely ensconced in the wall safe, he turned off the lights and locked the office door behind him.

Somewhere deep inside, Carl knew this was the beginning of the end.

The Kindle Edition of Sin City Greed is currently available at Amazon. The Paperback Edition is coming soon!

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An Observation

Total FitnessMy job takes me on the road on a regular basis, and as a Marriott member, I always look to stay at a Marriott property; typically a Courtyard, TownePlace Suites or Residence Inn. Occasionally, be it a business or a personal trip, I will stay at a higher end Marriott property such as a Ritz Carlton. That was the case during my most recent trip. And during that trip I observed something that I have observed in the past and was reminded of again.

During a typical week when I am on the road, I will workout at least twice during the three mornings  – I normally fly in on Monday and fly home on Friday – in the middle of the week, splitting my efforts between a run and the hotel’s fitness center. When I do visit the fitness center at a lower end Marriott, more often than not I am the only individual there. Occasionally, there will be one other person there at some point during the period I am there; either leaving soon after I arrive or arriving as I’m preparing to leave. It is the rare occasion where there is more than one other person in the fitness center at the same time.

Smoking = MoneyThat has not been the case when I have stayed at higher end hotels in the past and nor was it the case on this most recent trip. The gym was packed. Additionally, there was a mini refrigerator in the fitness center with complimentary water, fruit juices and VitaminWater; and large baskets of bananas and apples. What is my take away from this observation? It reinforces my belief that there tends to be a relationship between physical and fiscal fitness; a topic I have discussed previously.

Those that are more fiscally fit are more likely to find themselves staying in a hotel such as the Ritz Carlton that provide a better fitness center with perks such as complimentary fresh fruit, water and juices … both of which – the fitness center and the food/drinks – nicely support improving physical fitness.

Wealth Secures Health [American Psychological Association]

Of course my experiences are largely anecdotal. However, there is empirical evidence which indicates that those who are more fiscally fit are in a better position to positively impact their physical well-being. As you conduct activities focused on improving your fiscal well-being I suspect you will find those activities interact in a positive way with activities related to your physical well-being and vice-versa. An example, quitting cigarette smoking. That one action not only saves you money, which you can then save/invest, but by doing so, you positively impact your physical well-being.

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Is Your Financial Planning a Family Affair?

In most families one spouse has assumed the primary responsibility for managing the family finances and planning for retirement. Although there is nothing inherently wrong with one person taking the lead on such matters, Savvy families ensure that although one spouse may be handling the day-to-day management, the other spouse has a say in charting the financial course and most importantly, has access to all pertinent information such as account numbers.

As you might suspect, in my family I have the primary responsibility for the day-to-day management. I use Quicken and maintain an Excel Workbook – comprised of multiple worksheets focused on different aspects of our retirement plan – that contains all the information related to our financial accounts and retirement planning.

Family Spending PlanMy wife and I sit down on a regular basis to review this electronic portfolio. Should something happen to me, she is fully aware of all aspects of our finances (e.g. account numbers, beneficiaries, etc.) and has the requisite access to our various accounts.

With respect to retirement planning, we talk nearly every day. While we don’t necessarily have a detailed discussion and change our plan daily, weekly or monthly, we talk about various studies or reports related to personal finance/retirement planning, the economy and how what is happening around us might impact our plans. After all, we are still 10+ years away from retirement. A number of things can, and will likely, change. A retirement plan is not static. It has to be dynamic, just like the world around us.

Unfortunately, too many couples, even couples in their late 50s and 60s – those rapidly approaching retirement – talk about everything (children, grandchildren, vacations, home improvements, etc.) but their own retirement. Perhaps it is an assumption that they will agree on everything or that things will ‘just work out.’ Of course that simply isn’t true. Like the tag line of this blog notes, you live better through planning…which requires talking!

The best way to avoid potential issues that are sure to arise at some point is simply to talk to each other. Each spouse should speak honestly and openly about their thoughts on how your nest-egg should be built and your individual needs, wants, hopes, fears and dreams for retirement, such as where to live and what to do.

In the event you and your spouse don’t see eye to eye about building a retirement nest-egg and how to spend time in retirement, focus first on the areas in which you agree. Although I am not a huge fan of financial planners, and believe they are generally not worth the expense, you might consider such an individual to help bridge the gap on the areas in which you disagree.

If you are the primary manager of your family’s finances, does your significant other have detailed knowledge of your accounts? Do they have access? Have you and your significant other developed a detailed retirement plan?

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