Guest Columnist Brad Rex: 1,000 E-mails

Written by Brad Rex on October 18, 2012

In today’s post, our frequent guest columnist Brad Rex, weighs in on the importance of communication; specifically, answering e-mails in a timely fashion.

Now I don’t know about you, but it seems like e-mails stack up incessantly in my five (!) e-mail inboxes, not to mention Direct Messages sent via Twitter and Facebook that always seem to demand a quick response.

So 1,000 E-mails, an excerpted chapter from Brad’s recently released book, “The Surpassing! Life: 52 Practical Ways to Achieve Personal Excellence,” is sure to help all of us deal with today’s explosion in communication channels and the many ways we interact with friends, family, and coworkers.

The speed of the boss is the speed of the team.–Lee Iacocca

 But you, Timothy, man of God: . . . Run hard and fast in the faith.–Bible, 1 Timothy 6:11

It bugs me when I call or e-mail someone and don’t get a response. My mind considers the possibilities: Is their voicemail or e-mail not working? Is the person on vacation? Have I offended them and they are refusing to reply because of the offense?

Then, a few days later, I’m forced into new decisions: Do I contact them again? If I called last time, should I use e-mail this time? Should I check with someone else to find out if they are on vacation?

All of this would be unnecessary if people responded within 24 hours to their messages. I have set this as a personal goal, and find that it benefits me and the people who are contacting me, in numerous ways:

• It strengthens my personal and business reputation. People know if they send me an e-mail, I will respond, and respond quickly.

• It requires me to manage my schedule effectively, building in adequate time to reply expediently.

• It forces me to delegate in order to effectively manage the number of messages I receive.

• It prevents issues from escalating, as they are resolved swiftly.

• It reduces stress, as I don’t have e-mails and calls building up over time.

• It is efficient, as I handle the issue immediately rather than putting it off and having to familiarize myself with it again later.

• It keeps me on top of rapidly changing situations, rather than being several days behind others.

When I discuss 24-hour response, the usual retort is “Sounds like a great idea, but there is no way I could ever do that with all the e-mails I get. I must get 1,000 e-mails a day!”

I reply, “If you are getting 1,000 e-mails a day, you are either a significant micro-manager or on every spammers’ address list.”

If the quantity of e-mails you receive is overwhelming, you need to reduce it by critically reviewing every e-mail that you receive and decide:

• Do I absolutely have to handle this, or can I delegate it to someone else?

• Do I need this information on an on-going basis?

• Am I being “over-informed” by a person on my team, with many e-mails telling me everything they are doing in unnecessary detail?

• Is this junk e-mail that I can stop by unsubscribing to it?

With a goal of responding in 24 hours, you can easily monitor your success, and ruthlessly reduce your e-mail to meet the target. You may find your e-mails significantly reduced, as people don’t have to send you multiple follow-up messages, since you are now responding quickly!

Action Points

• Commit to reply to your e-mails and messages within 24 hours.

• Put in place a process to ensure you meet your commitment.

• Reduce the number of e-mails that you get by critically reviewing each one.


Less stress, a strong professional reputation, greater productivity.



Five More Minutes With Guest Columnist Brad Rex: Ask Questions

Written by Brad Rex on September 20, 2012

Here is the sixth excerpt from our frequent guest columnist, Brad Rex’s new book, “The Surpassing Life!.”

This chapter is entitled Ask Questions, and made me question my own behavior when someone asks me about something I do not know about.

Thanks for such stimulating food for thought, Brad!

Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers.


The real object of education is to have a man in the condition of continually asking questions.

Bishop Creighton

Man has made some machines that can answer questions provided the facts are profusely stored in them, but we will never be able to make a machine that will ask questions. The ability to ask the right question is more than half the battle of finding the answer.

Thomas Watson

I reported to my submarine after completing four years at the Naval Academy and another 1½ years of nuclear power training and submarine school. I figured I had all the answers, or at least that I was expected to have all the answers.

All submarine officers have to complete qualifications after they get to their ship. These qualifications are specific to the ship, and require that you learn all the different compartments and operations. You study the material and are then quizzed by Chief Petty Officers (CPO) or Officers, like the Engineer or Navigator, who sign off on your qualifications after you demonstrate adequate knowledge. After you complete all of your qualifications (typically a 1-2 year process), you are allowed to wear the coveted gold dolphins insignia on your uniform.

Early in my time onboard, I was working on qualifying in the torpedo room. The CPO in charge of the torpedo room was very proud of his space and his people. He wanted everyone who qualified in his torpedo room to be well versed. I was struggling with his questions and resorted to making up answers, since I was afraid to display my ignorance. To my relief, he seemed to accept my answers and finally signed my book.

Three years later, as I was leaving the ship, I went to the torpedo room CPO to say goodbye. He said, “Lieutenant Rex, I didn’t respect you very much when you first came to the ship. You pretended to know more than you did. But, during your time onboard, you learned to admit what you didn’t know and ask questions. I respect you for that, and I’m sorry to see you go.”

This was a great learning for me, although I often forgot the lesson and reverted back to my old behavior when I was put in new situations. Over time, I determined a few reasons why other people (and I) often don’t ask questions:

People are afraid to admit that they don’t know something that they are supposed to know.

This was my issue on the submarine. I would like to say that, from that point on, I never tried to fake it and I always asked questions, but I can’t. I’ve had to learn over the last twenty years that it is okay to admit what you don’t know, and people respect you more, not less, when you ask questions. As a leader, the people who follow you particularly like it when you ask them how they do their job. It reverses the power dynamic, with the employee demonstrating his expertise and value.

They don’t have enough knowledge to ask a question.

There are many questions that can be asked in any situation. A great booklet that I have carried and used for years is Asking to Win! by Bobb Biehl. Biehl provides questions for a variety of situations, including getting to know someone better, interviewing, brainstorming, decision-making, organizing, planning and parenting. He presents the most powerful question as Why?. . . Why? . . . Why? . . . Why? and the ideal question as “What is the ideal?” I have particularly used his questions in the section on career change to confirm or reject different job opportunities.

Preparation is also crucial in asking good questions. If you are meeting with someone or interviewing at a company, always do your homework and be prepared to ask specific questions. When I have interviewed with executives at a company, I have prepared one-page sheets for each person that I am meeting. The sheets have specific questions related to their area (e.g., finance, operations, marketing) based on the research I have done on the company. The sheet also has several more general questions that I ask everyone (e.g., “What is the one thing that you would do to make the company better?”). This is an efficient way to capture valuable information and keep everything straight after multiple interviews.

They are hoping someone else will ask the question.

Many people won’t ask questions due to shyness, laziness, insecurity or pride, and are more than happy to “delegate” that responsibility to others. Some are inhibited by childhood memories of parents telling them to “Stop asking so many questions!” Yet, if you can overcome these fears and inhibitions, you can stand out and be remembered as a person who asks great questions and gains useful knowledge.

Surpassing people practice the art of questioning, combining preparation, boldness and humility in a powerful mix to satisfy their curiosity and attain wisdom.

Action Points

• Don’t fake it. Admit what you don’t know and ask questions.

• Learn general questions that apply to many situations.

• Prepare yourself to ask specific questions.

• Recognize and overcome any anxiety you have about asking questions.


Constant learning, greater knowledge, a reputation of curiosity and boldness.

Uniform Races

Written by Brad Rex on August 30, 2012

Here is the fifth offering from one of our frequent guest columnists, Brad Rex. Not only is Brad my beloved brother, but he’s head of The Brad Rex Group, a consultant, noted public speaker, husband for 30 years, and father of three.

I’m proud to report that Brad’s new book, “The Surpassing! Life,” was published in May, so is now available for purchase here.

And I’m also honored to be among the first to excerpt parts of “Surpassing!” in the coming months.

Here’s his chapter entitled, Uniform Races, which gives valuable insights into something many of us struggle with on a daily basis: time management.

Uniform Races speaks to the Five More Minutes With zeitgeist because we should all value every moment, since life is fragile and precious and there are no guarantees. Carpe diem!

There is never enough time, unless you’re serving it.

Malcolm Forbes

He who every morning plans the transactions of the day and follows out that plan, carries a thread that will guide him through the maze of the most busy life. But where no plan is laid, where the disposal of time is surrendered merely to the chance of incidence, chaos will soon reign.

Victor Hugo

All my possessions for a moment of time.

Elizabeth I

How does a project get to be a year behind schedule?

One day at a time.

Fred Brooks


Besides active listening, the second most important skill for successful leaders is time management. A common refrain heard when talking about great leaders is, “How do they manage to do it all?”

The secret is effectively using every minute of every day. There are 525,600 minutes in a year. How well do you use each one?

I learned the value of a minute at the Naval Academy during my first year (Plebe) summer. Plebe summer is an intense training period when you are indoctrinated into the military way of life.

During the two months, you are purposefully required to do much more than can be physically done in the time allotted.

One of the favorite exercises during the summer is “uniform races.” All the plebes are lined up in the hall. An upperclassman yells out a uniform and a time (“Dress Whites. Two minutes. Go.”).

You are required to race back to your room, change into that uniform, and return within the specified time. Sometimes, you are required to take a shower or shave in between changing. Other times, you will be given instructions to put on different combinations of uniforms.

For the first few uniform races, very few plebes make it back in time. But, as the summer progresses, you learn how to optimize and shave seconds off each step in the process.

You start off thinking that you could never change in two minutes, and end up finding out that you can do it with time to spare. You find out just how much you can do in two minutes.

I learned the value of uniform races when the academic year started, and I had to change clothes quickly during the day. I also saw the value when I entered the business world, and often had to race from a late business meeting or flight and change clothes for dinner.

The best use of your time is to take a great time-management course. Lee Cockerell, former EVP of Operations for Walt Disney World, teaches a comprehensive and highly effective time management program. Lee is so passionate about time management that he taught the course to thousands of Cast Members when he was at Disney, and continues to teach the course to business leaders today. I encourage every leader to take this course.

A few of my suggestions regarding time management are:

• Write down your tasks. The strongest mind is no match for the weakest pen and paper. My to-do lists when I led Epcot often had over 150 items. There is no way I could ever remember that many things. By writing them down, I could ensure that nothing slipped through the cracks.

• Prioritize, prioritize, prioritize. Some people use an “A, B, C” system, while others use different symbols or time periods. No matter what you use, you have to make decisions about what needs to be done first.

• Review your items first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening. This gives you a plan for the day, and then feedback about how well you executed on your plan.

• Delegate and “automate.” I’ll talk about delegation in a later section. For “automate,” I am referring to creating habits for the things you do daily. For example, you shouldn’t have to think about working out or where you fit it in your calendar. You should have a daily habit of exercising at a particular time and just do it then. Your exercise time might be 6:30-7:30 a.m. every day. It is in your calendar that way, and you know that is when you work out. Morning and evening routines are not boring—they are a great way to simplify your life.

• Schedule time for the “important” as well as the “urgent.” Oftentimes, urgent items crowd out important items, when the important items are more critical to your long-term career. You should classify tasks into Urgent-Important; Not Urgent-Important; Urgent-Not Important; and, Not Urgent-Not Important. Clearly, the Urgent-Important tasks should have a high priority, while Not Urgent-Not Important tasks can most likely be delegated or not even done.

• Schedule thought and “blank” time. Leaders need thought time to develop strategies and process plans. You also need blank time to take care of the urgent items. One of my leaders, Eddie Carpenter, who was the Chief Financial Officer for Disney Parks and Resorts, would typically schedule the day before and the day after his vacations without any meetings. This allowed him to get everything accomplished before he left, and have a day to catch up when he returned, greatly reducing his stress and increasing his productivity.

• Be ruthless about getting rid of non-productive time. Always have something to read or do with you. With smartphones, you can answer e-mails, read newspapers, and make calls using your handheld device. Time is money, and work time is time that you could be spending with your family. Imagine that you are a lawyer that bills $500 per hour—over $8 per minute. Spending twenty minutes in an examining room waiting for a doctor would cost you $160. Don’t read old magazines—spend your time on your smartphone doing productive work.

• One of the best pieces of advice from Lee’s course is to “do something today that will benefit you in five years.” Many people get so caught up in the moment that they don’t do anything that will help them in the future. This might include taking care of your health, rebalancing your investment portfolio, or contacting someone you haven’t talked to in awhile.

John Lithgow said, “Time sneaks up on you like a windshield on a bug.” His statement is both humorous and accurate. You need to take control of your time, or risk getting squashed by life.

Action Items

• Recognize the value of time. A minute is a long time if you use it well.

• Take a time-management course and use either a paper planner or smartphone software to plan your day.

• Prioritize and review.

• Delegate and automate.

• Use waiting time effectively.

• Do something today that will not benefit you for five to 10 years.


A full, rich, rewarding life with accomplishments beyond measure.


Playing Favorites

Written by Brad Rex on June 25, 2012

Here is the fourth offering from one of our frequent guest columnists, Brad Rex. Not only is Brad my beloved brother, but he’s head of The Brad Rex Group, a consultant, noted public speaker, husband for 30 years, and father of three.

I’m proud to report that Brad’s new book, “The Surpassing! Life,” was published in May, so is now available for purchase here.

And I’m also honored to be among the first to excerpt parts of “Surpassing!” in the coming months.

Here’s his chapter entitled, Playing Favorites, which showcases the idea that every person is important and makes a difference. It speaks to the Five More Minutes With zeitgeist because we should all value and praise the worth of  those around us (especially friends and family members) each and every day. 

Thanks for your wisdom, as always, Brad. And congrats on a job well done with your new book! 

Rejoice in your special talents, and recognize others.

C. S. Lewis

But I also want you to think about how this keeps your significance from getting blown up into self-importance. For no matter how significant you are, it is only because of what you are a part of.

Bible, 1 Corinthians 12: 19

Diversity and inclusion is a significant theme at Disney parks and resorts. The rallying cry used by Disney is R.A.V.E.—Respect, Appreciate and Value Everyone.

I really like this message, as it captures the idea that every person is important and makes a difference.

As you live out the idea of respecting, appreciating, and valuing everyone that you meet, you will develop strong relationships of mutual admiration.

It pains me to watch a person smile and greet a fellow traveler at the airport, but ignore the custodian, as if he was not there. We all have a tendency to judge a person’s value and only interact with people who have an equal or greater “value” than us. And some actually demean people who are perceived as having less value.

I wasn’t supposed to play favorites as the leader of Epcot. But, I have to admit that I did have a favorite group of Cast Members—the Custodial team. This team was very proud of the work that they did every day, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, keeping Epcot spotless.

I tried to attend many Custodial pre-shift meetings. When I did, you could hear a buzz around the room that the VP was there. I would often start the meetings by asking the group, “Who is more important—me or you?”

I would go on to say that, if I were gone for a month, very few Epcot Guests would notice. It might impact our longer-range plans and there may be a few small hits, but, overall, the park would keep running well.

However, if the Custodial team was gone for a day, imagine what would happen—trash bins overflowing, restrooms filthy, kitchens unsanitary. So, who is more important?

In 2004, Richard Branson, the billionaire leader of the Virgin companies, had a reality television show entitled The Rebel Billionaire: Branson’s Quest for the Best. Through a series of business and physical challenges, Branson eliminated contestants, with the final contestant winning the opportunity to lead one of Branson’s companies, Virgin Worldwide.

One episode featured a business presentation that the team had to create and then present to Branson. The team worked on the presentation and was told to go across town by limousine.

One member of the team was the clear leader, and was a favored candidate to win the ultimate prize. When the group arrived at the building exit, the limousine was not there. Finally it arrived. Words were exchanged with the limousine driver, everyone got it, and they arrived at their destination.

Richard Branson was not in the presentation room, and the group was told to present to some of his executives. The favored candidate did a brilliant job presenting and answering questions.

At the end, the door to the conference room opened and Richard Branson walked in, dressed in a chauffeur’s uniform.

He stared directly at the favored candidate and told him he would never run one of his companies. The picture then went to video of the interaction with the limousine driver, and showed the candidate berating the chauffeur, who was Richard Branson in disguise, for being late and stupid.

“If this is how you treat someone who is serving you, you will not serve as a leader in the Virgin organization,” said Branson. Branson saw that this young leader did not respect, appreciate, and value everyone, and his relationships would suffer because of it.

I used to put on a Custodial costume and walk around Epcot, panning and brooming. It was as if I was invisible. I could talk to Guests, watch how managers interacted with Cast Members, and gauge the service of the operation much better than when people knew the VP was in the park.

And, it sent a clear message to the Cast at Epcot that I believed every job and every person was important.

Are you known as a person who respects, appreciates, and values everyone? If so, you will find people will want to know you and build relationships with you.

On the other hand, if you tend to demean and belittle others, you’ll lead a lonely and often bitter life.

The Bible tells us that we should “in humility, consider others better than yourself.” If you approach people this way and express genuine interest in them, you can create strong relationships and a wonderful, surpassing life.

Action Points

• Respect, appreciate, and value everyone, especially those who serve you.

• Get “in costume” and do other people’s roles, to understand their life.

• Consider others better than yourself.


Deeper relationships, greater respect and appreciation of others, a diverse and inclusive work and personal life


More stories from: Featured Story

Brad Rex Tells Us How to Be Thankful!

Written by Brad Rex on April 26, 2012

Here is the second offering from our new guest columnist, Brad Rex. Not only is Brad my beloved brother, but he’s head of The Brad Rex Group, a consultant, noted public speaker, husband for 30 years, and father of three.

I’m proud to report that Brad’s new book, “The Surpassing! Life,” will be published next month. And I’m honored to be among the first to excerpt parts of “Surpassing!” in the coming months.

Here’s his chapter entitled, “Thanks,” which shows us how to be thankful for everything we have in life, very much part of the zeitgeist of Five More Minutes With. At the end, he even includes Action Points and the Payoff if you follow his recommendations.

Thanks for your wisdom, as always, Brad.

Here is his essay entitled, Thanks!

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others.–Cicero


 I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.–G.K. Chesterton


Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good: his love endures forever.–Bible, 1 Chronicles 16: 34


Have you ever been with people who have very little, but seem very happy and satisfied? The lack of material things may make them appear to be unsuccessful by our culture’s definition, yet most millionaires would envy their happiness. They have achieved surpassing success through gratitude.

Our culture teaches us to regret the things we don’t have, rather than be thankful for the things we do. This is a marketing strategy to drive demand. “You’ll be sorry if you don’t buy these shoes.” “You’ll regret not getting the girl if you don’t drink this beer.” “You will miss out on life if you don’t have this car.” The constant barrage of remorseful messages creates fear and anxiety that drains the energy from life, since there will always be things we don’t have.

A thankful person reverses this thinking. She looks at what she has, rather than what she lacks. She actually realizes that she has many things to be thankful for, and the more things she lists, the more than come to mind.

The unthankful person often makes comparisons. “He has more money or a bigger house.” “She is prettier or thinner than I am.” The unthankful person forgets that life is a package deal. The person who is rich may have destroyed his family. The woman who is thin may have an eating disorder or multiple food allergies. The person who is famous has no privacy.

After reading that Bill Gates’ children required bodyguards to go to school, my children told me, “We’re glad you’re a nobody, Dad.” I’m not sure exactly how to take that, but I accepted it as a compliment. No one “has it all”—there are always negatives with positives. As you look at someone and say, “I wish I had their life,” remember what you would have to give up, and the negatives that come with the positives. You will decide that your life is just fine, and be thankful for what you have.

With the adverse pressures of our culture, fostering an “attitude of gratitude” requires effort. Several practices can help. The first is a simple list of the things that you are thankful for. You can start with various headings, such as health, family, food, shelter, and then build on each topic (e.g., for health—life, the ability to walk, sight, taste, etc.; family—spouse, children, parents, siblings).

You can build up a lengthy list quickly, and realize just how fortunate you are. Pull out the list every day, and give thanks for a few things. If you get disappointed in an area, like losing a promotion or ending a relationship, look at the list and realize how good things are going in other areas of your life.

Robert A. Emmons, a professor at the University of California, Davis, and Michael E. McCullough at the University of Miami conducted research showing that listing five things for which you are grateful with a sentence for each once a week had a profound effect within two months. Versus a control group, the “gratitude group” were more optimistic and happy, spent more time exercising and had fewer physical problems. They also fell asleep faster, had a longer sleep and reported waking up feeling more refreshed. Instead of a sleeping pill, try a gratitude journal!

You can also create a personal marker chronology. This shows how the events that have happened to you or the decisions that you made have positively benefited your life. You should start with your birthplace and upbringing. You might have had an idyllic early life that gave you many benefits and a positive outlook.

Or, your early years could have been a struggle that taught you resilience and street smarts. Your choice of college, military or a job after high school sent your life in a particular direction. The places you lived, down to the specific neighborhoods, determined your friends and activities. If you had children, you can see the timing, and how that fit into the rest of your life.

A personal marker chronology provides perspective. When you broke up with your high school or college sweetheart that you thought was “the one,” you were probably devastated. Your chronology, though, will show that the break-up resulted in meeting your future spouse and a much better life. Similarly, the lost job at one point resulted in a much better job or location later. When the next “bad” thing happens to you, you can look at your chronology and be thankful, realizing that what initially looks bad often leads to a future positive outcome.

Success without gratitude is a hollow victory, and often short-lived. With the next challenge or disappointment, the successful ingrate quickly folds, finding that the previous success provides little assurance or comfort. On the other hand, the thankful person enjoys their current success, while recognizing that the situation can change, and has the resilience to give thanks in all circumstances.

Action Points

• Be thankful for what you have, not regretful for what you lack.

• Don’t make comparisons or, if you do, remember the other person’s life is a “package deal”—you have to take their bad with the good.

• Develop an attitude of gratitude.

• Make a list of the things you are thankful for and review it often.

• Gain perspective from a personal marker chronology.


A much happier life, positive outlook and resilience in challenging times.

More stories from: Featured Story

Welcome Brad Rex, Our New Guest Columnist

Written by Brad Rex on March 12, 2012

Today we welcome our newest guest columnist, Brad Rex. If the name sounds familiar, it should, because Brad is my beloved brother!

My younger brother and only sibling has led a exciting and eclectic life. He was a nuclear submarine officer, leader of Disney’s Epcot® theme park for five years, Executive Vice President/Chief Customer Officer for Hilton Grand Vacations, and a distinguished graduate of the United States Naval Academy and Harvard Business School. Today he’s a consultant, noted public speaker, husband for 30 years, and father of three.

I’m proud to report that Brad’s new book, “The Surpassing! Life,” will be published in May. And I’m honored to be among the first to excerpt parts of “Surpassing!” today and in the coming months.

Here’s his chapter entitled, “The 100 Item Club.” It includes tips on reducing the clutter in your life, so that you can enjoy each and every day to the fullest with your loved ones, very much part of the zeitgeist of Five More Minutes With. At the end, he even includes Action Points and the Payoff if you follow his recommendations.

Thanks for your wisdom, as always, Brad!

“We spend money we don’t have, to buy things we don’t need, to impress people we don’t like.”–Will Rogers


I recently read an article about the “100-Item Club.” Members of this club agree to only own a total of 100 items. In this case, an “item” means things like a spoon, cup, plate, toothbrush, belt, shirt, etc. It is not clear if a pair of shoes or socks is one item or two, but in the strictest definition, I assume you would have to count each sock or shoe separately. At first, I thought the concept of limiting yourself to this degree was crazy. But, as I considered it further, there is a simplicity and discipline that is appealing.

We all need to learn how to keep our lifestyles in check. Our marketing and sales driven culture is based on creating unnecessary dissatisfaction and desire. Before watching a television ad, you may have no idea that you “need” a pick-up truck or that you will be able to go out with a beautiful woman if you just drink a particular kind of beer. Advertisements play to particular fears, like having body odor or bad breath, or running out of money in old age. Many are focused on sexuality and being appealing to others. All promise to solve your problems (sometimes real, most often created) if you just buy a particular item or service. People get sucked into the spending cycle—buying something to make them feel better about themselves, getting initial pleasure and then a let down, and then buying something else that ultimately disappoints.

There are several ways to break the cycle. First, you have to differentiate wants from needs. You may want something, but do you really need it? More stuff leads to more hassles. One of the worst purchases I ever made was a waterskiing boat. When I left Disney, I promised to buy my children, who were then teenagers, a boat. After nine years in the Navy, I had had enough of boats to last me for my lifetime. But, I felt a little guilty that they would no longer be able to have Disney experiences (although Hilton stays were a great replacement!). The boat added major complexity to our lives, with trailering, maintenance, storage, insurance, fueling, cleaning, etc. It seemed like every time we planned a lake day, the boat didn’t work. It was an expensive burden.

As I thought about it, most new items that we buy are like the boat. We get the latest electronic gadget, then have to spend time figuring out how to make it work. If it is a computer, we have to do constant software upgrades or download new anti-virus software. Smartphones can be useful, but can also be a time sink and take away from personal interactions. The pleasure vs. stress trade-off is often out of whack, and your “wants” become encumbrances.

Second, if you do need it, think about buying it used. Marketers will tell you one of the most enticing words to put into an advertisement is “New.” People assume new is better and more desirable. Yet, there is often nothing wrong with “used.” I own a BMW and talked to one of their technicians while waiting on my car. I asked him about the most reliable cars, and he said the best strategy is to buy a car that is a few years old. He said, “It’s crazy that owners trade in their cars when they are three years old. That is just when all the bugs have been fixed. BMW is constantly upgrading the software in their vehicles, and the early years are when you have the most upgrades.” He recommended buying a pre-owned car that was a few years old, both for the value and the lowest maintenance requirements.

Third, don’t automatically buy a bigger house when your income increases. You should actually also consider renting rather than buying. We have lived in the same home for over 17 years. We have been very tempted to trade up to a larger home or one on a lake. But, we have also been very thankful as we have watched friends become “house poor” or even lose their homes when the economy and home prices turned down. By living in the same home for a long period, we have withstood real estate market changes and kept our taxes low. With that said, we should have considered renting rather than purchasing our home. Most studies show you should never buy a home unless you are certain to live in it for more than seven years, or you will lose money when compared to renting. As I look back, there is no question that we should have rented our homes instead of buying in the first decade of our marriage. Nancy and I moved 11 times in our first 13 years. We purchased two homes during that time. When we moved to England, we had to rent out our home in Cleveland. Had we not purchased, we likely would have lived in larger homes, simplified our lives significantly, and been better off financially.

If you want to dampen your inclination toward a materialistic lifestyle, work in a homeless shelter or, better yet, travel to a third world country and see how most of the world’s population lives. Most Americans have two homes, and don’t even realize it. An American family adopted a boy who lived in a slum in South America. When they got to their home, the boy put his few belongings in the garage, and started to set up his bed there. His adoptive parents asked him what he was doing, and he said he was putting his things in their “home.” They explained to him that this was the garage, and then opened the door to his home. “So, all Americans have two homes?” he asked, with an amazed look on his face. We don’t often think about having two homes, but to most people in other countries, the idea of storing your cars in an enclosed, covered space is extravagant.

Keeping your lifestyle in check provides simplicity, freedom from debt, an ability to give more to help others, and a fabulous example for your children—all part of a surpassing lifestyle.

Action Points

Before making any purchase, ask:

• Do I really need this, or am I being manipulated to buy it?

• Will this make my life simpler or more complex?

• Should I buy it used?

• Should I rent rather than buy?

Don’t buy a bigger house just because you can afford it.


Financial freedom and a simpler, easier life.

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