Giving in the New Year

January 8th, 2010 by admin

As many people know, the country where I was born, South Africa, has a high incidence of AIDS.  There are currently 1.4 million AIDS orphans living there.  The charitable cutback that I’m considering is to an after-school program that teaches dancing and singing to AIDS orphans.   When the children arrive to the program, however, many are too hungry to learn.  Last year, I had been giving $300 each month to pay for a meal upon their arrival to the school.  $300 per month pays for 90 children to eat 5 meals each week.  Is this the cut I should make in 2010?  I can always resume in 2011, I reason, when the economy and my income will be up.

Then I receive this email from the director:

“At the present moment with your funding we are only able to serve about 70-90 children.  We had to explain to the kids that we are on a very tight budget and can’t feed all of them, so it’s first come first serve.  There is a girl of about nine years who is HIV+, she comes to the soup-kitchen when she can walk, she said something that will remain with me forever.

She said: ‘Can you please come closer, I want to tell you something.  Thank you for the food you give to us, it is nice food.  I will grow up to be just like you.  I will feed kids in need. Please don’t stop serving us…’  She smiled and gave me a hug, that is priceless!  I want you to know that hug was for you, Brent, for making that difference, for helping me feed those kids.”

Clearly this is not the year to put my checkbook away.  The need is no less, the hunger continues.  There is much to do.

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 65 Comments »

The Power of Saving $1

November 24th, 2009 by admin

The most impactful variable in your financial plan…

As we head into the holiday season, and let’s face it, the shopping season, it is useful to keep in mind that the biggest determinant of financial success is your level of spending relative to your income and/or assets.

The reason is that you need about $20 saved in an investment portfolio for every $1 you’re going to spend once you stop working and your earned income stops. So if you cut your spending by $1, you’ve actually just lowered your required savings by $20.

For example, if you can reduce your annual spending from $36,000 to $34,800 or by $1,200 ($100 per month), you’ve decreased your required savings by $24,000.  Instead of needing a nest egg of $720,000 (twenty times $36,000), you only need $696,000 (twenty times $34,800).
How do you save $100 per month?

Swap your clothes with friends instead of buying clothes, skip the pricey lattes, give gifts of time this holiday season, use the lending library, and you’ve just made $24,000!  Frugality is starting to look exciting, isn’t it?

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 54 Comments »

Making Change

May 19th, 2009 by admin

It is during times of our greatest stress and anxiety when our money habits become solidified. As our fear increases, we grasp for safety. For me, that means grasping for more savings, liquidity, and conservatism in my investments. Historically, it has also meant that I try to work harder, faster, smarter. My mind is constantly five steps ahead of the present moment, thinking about what else I need to get done to be okay, and trying to slot too many to-do’s into tiny slots of time.The emotional stakes are higher in times like these, when we’re hearing daily of job losses, decimated retirement accounts, and stock market plunges. “When will it turn around?” is a more socially acceptable way of asking “Am I going to survive this?” which is really what we’re feeling at our core.

With such high stakes, our habits are intensified. Without examination, they become a more solid aspect of our personalities, as well as the non-negotiables in our relationships. “Of course I have to work this hard. Have you read the newspapers?” This calcification often leads to irreconcilable conflict in our marriages and professional relationships.

To help us transform these often sticky habits, a writer-colleague of mine, Ariane de Bonvoisin, has just come out with a new book, The First 30 Days: Making Any Change Easier, which can help you transform habits (including money habits) you’ve been trying to loosen for years. Wayne Dyer says “The First 30 Days is essential reading for anyone going through a change. I loved it!”

Loosening the white-knuckled grip of our habits is not easy work. I’ve been very intentionally slowing down and making my well-being in the present moment a much higher priority than simply getting more done. Not surprisingly, I’m also getting more done, because I’m more present to the task at hand rather than thinking about what’s next. And I’m prioritizing my interactions with living things (people & feelings) over non-living things (emails & spreadsheets), which is making me happier and more effective.

Make the change you intuit will most increase your well-being. For support, read Ariane’s book, do the habit-change exercises in the web-based Aliveguide, and attend Spencer’s and my forthcoming workshop on the magical Big Sur cliffs at Esalen Institute.

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South Africa travel blog #1: Jan 24, 2009

January 27th, 2009 by admin

Here’s the first of my writings about my travels back to South Africa, after 16 years away.  I’ve brought my wife of 10 years, my 2 elementary-school sons, and my mom, who moved me and my sister to LA from SA all those years ago.

Just got to Cape Town after 29 hours of (relatively easy) travel from Los Angeles. 

The international terminal at Dulles is cleared out just 3 days after the inauguration. Or perhaps they haven’t left yet, still basking in the glow before traipsing back to Abu Dhabi, Conakri, and Johannesburg.

We arrive at O.R. Tambo International Airport (Johannesburg) and proceed through the green channel – “Nothing to declare.” As we emerge from the sterile customs area, we hear singing & whistling. But not just any singing. Some of the oldest singing known to man, and for sure, the oldest known to my ears and heart.

A group of black South Africans are crowded just outside the glass doorway from which passengers emerge. At first glance, they seem to be overjoyed at the return of a loved one. There are hugs. But there is also the singing.

Tribal. Rhythmic.

But that misses the essence of the thing. I’m virtually certain all 30 or 40 of them have their hearts beating in sync. A metronome couldn’t measure this beat. The intelligence here is older than the Renaissance. Perhaps a parallel to Obama’s intelligence. Grounded in his father’s African roots, but deeply influenced by his mother’s mid-western values, his first-hand relationships with Indonesians in Jakarta, Puerto Ricans in Harlem, and WASP’s in Cambridge.

Then I see the signs. “Yes We Did.” “Go Obama!” They’re dancing and holding them up as they sing in unbelievable unison and harmony at the same time. There are two African men in tribal headdresses that have emerged from our Dulles-Joburg flight. They were clearly at the inauguration. Their loved ones have come to welcome them home. And what a welcome.

My first reaction is to feel tears well up in my eyes at the feeling of my musical home. But why? I was part of the 20% white minority, and I was under 10 years old. We were incredibly segregated. This music couldn’t have been at the Blue Route Center where we shopped, or piped into the Acapulco steakhouse or La Perla Italian restaurant. I don’t remember seeing it on the streets, or hearing it from my beloved maid’s radio. So why is in my bones, the DNA for which has nothing to do with Africa. I’m Dutch, Spanish, Lithuanian, and Russian – not the world’s most noted rhythmic cultures.

But the tears don’t lie. This is home. This is my music. These feel like my people. Even though I’m ashamed to say that. I can’t claim any part of their suffering or hardship as my own. I was a young bystander, and my suburban house, and clean school, and BMW in the driveway were all acquired on the backs of their indenture.

I then imagine being a black South African, and realize that for the very first time in the modern era, a black-skinned man is the king of the world. There have been plenty of empires before the modern American one, but none has had a black-skinned leader. Until now.

I can only begin to imagine the relief. “He understands our suffering.” “He won’t let us be massacred like the rest.” “He won’t let our children die of starvation.”

I want to weep. But I don’t let myself. It’s waayyy too much about me. And I’m not much of a spectacle-maker. So I stand against the marble counter of the Thomas Cook Currency Exchange, and feel my heartbeat, my body moving uncontrollably with their thumping, reeling vocal prayer of thanks and welcome back, the salty water of life encircling my eyes and dripping down some invisible channel to my heart, which is so deeply happy and relieved for us all. 

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 1 Comment »

Lust, hatred and ignorance

January 15th, 2009 by admin

One of my colleagues recently asked everyone in the office to support her son’s school by buying gift cards from them. I didn’t have any pressing need, but knew that with birthdays, the upcoming holidays and the like, I’d probably be able to put some bookstore and department store cards to good use as gifts. So I plunked down $150 and got 3 cards.

Then the holidays arrived, and I was trying to find the cards, and couldn’t. Not in my briefcase. Not in my car. Not in my office drawer. I had been rather frantic during this time period, working extra hours, driving myself hard towards some future, better destination. I was frustrated that my desire to help a colleague’s cause had backfired and cost me $150, and the school wouldn’t even get the benefit of that amount. I wished I’d never bought the cards.

A few days ago I was reading a new book by the Dalai Lama. He recommended that we really check in several times a day to see which of our actions were being motivated by lust, hatred or ignorance.

Now these words seemed a little strong to me. My first reaction was “I don’t feel lust or hatred very often.” Then I remembered that one of Buddhism’s many lists categorizes personality types into the greedy type, the aversive type, and the confused type. These mapped quite well onto lustful, hateful, and ignorant. But by being a bit softer in their admonitions, they sort of excused me from doing the kind of detailed introspection that the Dalai Lama was calling for.

So this past Monday, I decided to try it. I watched many of my behaviors throughout the day to see what was motivating them. The book had also talked about the desire to serve others as being the cornerstone of enlightenment. Just the act of looking at my motivations caused me to seek out ways to serve.

The client call that I wished weren’t scheduled so early became an inquiry: “How can I be of most service while I’m on the phone.” And the day built from there. I was able to see how each action and meeting was an opportunity to ease suffering in another human being. And it became easier and easier to serve throughout the day.

As I arrived home at the end of the day, I realized just how much lighter my whole being had been than the previous few hard-driving days. I was gathering my briefcase from the trunk of my car, and I look down, and there in plain sight is one of the three long-lost gift cards. I couldn’t believe it. I had searched the entire trunk for them twice before. I put my briefcase down and looked for the other two. They were there, just a little deeper in the trunk.

On the days on which my actions had been so unconsciously motivated by lust (greed), hatred (aversion) or ignorance (confusion), I had lost some of my wealth. On this day, when I inquired into my motivations, and sought out ways to serve, my wealth had been magically restored or increased.

It’s on days like this when I feel that money is such a precise and unforgiving teacher. May you too find unique and fresh new ways to serve within your everyday life, and in so doing, be enriched yourself.

Posted in Blogroll, Site | 40 Comments »

Save 80% of your income

December 19th, 2008 by admin

What? Yeah, that was my reaction too. And guess where I heard this? At a homeless shelter. Indeed.


This morning, I gave a talk at a homeless shelter in Santa Monica. A really cool place called Turning Point which helps homeless people get into permanent housing and jobs in  two to nine months. They require that their clients save 80% of their income, given that food and housing is being provided free of charge. I joked that if I could get the average American to save one quarter of that amount, we’d be in a whole lot less trouble than we are now.


Of course, I talked about the eight financial archetypes. And I had them raise their hands for which was most dominant. And guess what, more of them were Savers than any other type. One gentleman told me that he used to own 7 electronics stores, and saved up close to a million dollars before he retired. But post-retirement life left him feeling aimless, and he made a series of financial mistakes which wiped him out within 6 years. “How did I manage to do that?” he asked, plaintively.


It’s all a matter of your attitude towards money, said another of Turning Point’s clients. And that’s what we talked about most of all – what attitude adjustment did each of them need to stay on their feet once they were out of the shelter. It was a moving hour, because I could feel the yearning to be free, and to make lasting changes coming from each of them. We don’t need to save 80% of our income. But if you find yourself with no savings, you do want to start somewhere. Because once you’re saving, no matter how little, you’re re-programming your unconscious mind from “I’ll never have enough.” to “I have more than enough.” And that kind of thinking begets more abundance.

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 42 Comments »

Don’t buy that dog!

December 10th, 2008 by admin

Some friends of mine recently made a pledge to cut out all discretionary spending. We sat in their living room together, and their conviction was palpable. “Nothing. Not another purchase in 2008 unless we can’t live without it.” The week before, they had had to scramble to come up with enough for their mortgage payment, which precipitated this newfound frugality.


But now ten days have passed. The mortgage company gave them a bit of leeway, and just yesterday, I heard that they’re planning to buy a dog. Now don’t get me wrong. Our boxer/lab mix, Inanna, is one of the loves of my life. I love her, and have never regretted the money she costs.


But after seeing clients spend anywhere from $2,000 – 7,000 a year on their pets, I decided to do a few minutes of internet research. I found that the average new dog costs between $730 and $1,500 per year, These were nationwide averages, and we live in California, where everything is 5-10% more costly. But, give them the benefit of the doubt, and call it $1,000 per year. Even assuming this doesn’t cause a missed mortgage payment and its late fees, being able to invest $1,000 per year over the dog’s fifteen year life leads to $27,000 more for retirement or college tuition for the kids.


Again, if we can afford it, having a dog is one of the best things money can buy. But when we’ve made a pledge to cut spending, and then go back on it so quickly, it’s a sign that our old habits and desires are still in control. Perhaps I should rent Inanna out by the hour in this economy!  😉

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 58 Comments »

Last time gold was this high…

December 2nd, 2008 by admin

It was January 1980. I was 12 years old, and about to be bar-mitzvah’d (the coming-of-age ceremony in the Jewish tradition). My stepfather convinced me to put all of the money I’d received in gifts into Krugerrands, the South African 1 oz. gold coins. I vividly recall him saying “Gold’s a great investment. It’s got nowhere to go but up.” So I put $2,000 into the beautiful coins, which got me about 2.5 ounces. By the time I needed to spend the money, to pay for my tuition at UCLA, gold was down to about $300/oz. My $2,000 had become $750.


I was young, but this was my first, and most impactful lesson about how asset classes go in and out of favor. It taught me to always spread the risk around to many different categories of assets. And above all, to avoid thinking the recent past will repeat itself, whether positive or negative. Remember this as you consider bailing out of your 401k or other investments which have just lost most of their value.

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 21 Comments »

Be crash-proof.

October 2nd, 2008 by admin

I wanted to share with you some great tips from a letter we sent out to all our Abacus clients in response to the current maelstrom in the market.   Perhaps these tips will help you to remain financially safe, sane and calm as you navigate this storm.

When experiencing financial distress, our natural inclination is to want to DO SOMETHING. With investing, this usually backfires.  Here are three things we recommend to help cope with these turbulent times:

1.   Consider decreasing your discretionary spending in the short run, and then re-evaluate the need to reduce longer-term spending in January. While the dollars may not seem like a lot, shifting the momentum from “Yes” to “Not right now” has a tremendous psychological effect, and over time, a very positive financial impact as well. Furthermore, if you can afford to trim back your monthly distributions from your Abacus account, now is a great time to do so.

2.   Refinance your mortgage if you have less than two years to go in your fixed rate period (assuming you plan to stay in the home long-term), or if your rate is above today’s rates. Call or email your advisor for a good mortgage broker recommendation if you don’t have one.

3.   If you have more than $100,000 in any one bank, wire the excess into your Abacus account so that we can invest it. As famed investor Sir John Templeton said, “To buy when others are despondently selling and to sell when others are avidly buying takes the greatest fortitude and pays the greatest reward.”  Now is such a time. Even if you’d prefer to have your extra cash in money markets, they will be more secure at TDAmeritrade than in a non FDIC-insured account at your bank.

In summary, this too shall pass. We believe that owning a diversified global mix of over 11,000 equities, along with a healthy dose of real estate, bonds and commodities, is the best way to ensure your financial freedom in the future.
Please feel free to call Abacus with any questions or concerns. We can be your lighthouse, here to help you navigate this storm

I will be leading a Yoga of Money workshop at Yogaphoria, in New Hope, PA the weekend of October 24-26, 2008, and a Business of Yoga session there on Sunday, October 26th at 10:30am. Come join me to learn how to survive this economic crisis and crash-proof your finances.

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 24 Comments »

A Penny Saved…

July 7th, 2008 by admin

I recently had to fly to Boston to speak at the Yoga journal conference and do some TV and radio interviews. I hadn’t booked the flights as of a week before, and when I checked on fares, they were over $800! In addition to that, the conference organizers had held me a $240 room in the Boston Marriott hotel, and I was expected to spend about $150 on tax rides. With LAX parking and gas costs, this was easily going to be a one-day $1,300 trip.


Well, the Saver in me lost his cool a bit. No way was he going to sit around and let me spend $1,300 in one day, no matter what the upside might be to our business or my book’s sales. So my frugal side came out, and we managed to get the air for $105 and some frequent flier miles, cancelled the hotel (which I only could’ve used for a 30 minute nap anyway), rented a car for – get this, $29 – in lieu of the taxis, and got a ride to the airport. All in, the trip ended up costing about $150 instead of $1,300.


This has jumpstarted a new round of Saver archetypal energy in me. Perhaps it’s the economy as a whole. Everywhere I turn, it seems people are tightening their belts, feeling pressured. Cutting back on spending feels really good in times like this, especially when I realize that I’m enjoying life just as much. We’ve been eating more home-cooked meals, and when we do go out, it’s for burritos or cheap Indian food instead of to the $100 per person Italian place. On our recent Hawaiian vacation, we stayed at the Hapuna Prince Hotel on the Big Island, and between a daily rebate due to construction they were doing, and a group rate for my wife’s high school reunion class (part of the reason we were there), we paid $140 a night for a hotel which often goes for $4-500.


Now, it’s hard to say that flying to Boston for a day and having a weeklong Hawaiian vacation are exactly “roughing it”, but nevertheless, trimming my expenditures while still buying the things and experiences I most enjoy in life is filling me with spaciousness and freedom. What can you trim with no loss of enjoyment today?


On a side note, I’m planning to start a series of conference calls and webinars. A maximum of ten people will be on each call for two hours, and the cost will be $99. Each person will get approximately ten minutes of dedicated focus on their question(s), after a ten minute introduction by me. Please email us at if you’re interested in participating. Please subscribe to this blog to stay informed about future workshops and media appearances, and to reflect on your inner relationship to money in the weeks to come.


Brent Kessel is the author of It’s Not About the Money (HarperOne, April 2008) and the co-founder of Abacus, a nationwide financial planning firm with a focus on sustainable investing.

Posted in Blogroll, Brent Kessel | 19 Comments »

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