Simple Finance and the Government

Our Government continues to be in the news about finances.  This week was another case of the same.  Since my degree and early business career centered on finance, I find it interesting.  But perhaps most interesting is the different way a Government entity looks at finance versus the way the rest of us do.  Allow me to illustrate.

Many school districts are suffering because of government cutbacks in spending.  Being in that space, I understand how screwed up it is.  No one in there right mind would create the crazy school-funding system we have in place.  To top it off, here in Ohio the Ohio State Supreme Court declared our funding mechanism unconstitutional a couple of years ago.  While our State Government continues to dither on the subject, local school districts have been forced to live with flat state spending the past couple years.

But school districts hurt themselves sometimes with their wording.  A huge example came out this week.  School districts pronounce that they have made “such-and-such budget cuts the past two years”.  Sounds good.  They are trying to show their fiscal responsibility.  But it turns out those “cuts” are not real.  Let me explain.  School districts make five-year projections of spending.  If they spend less than they projected, even if they spent more than the prior year, they call that a “cut”.  How does that contrast to the real world?  Let’s say I spent $100 on running shoes last year.  This year I projected (or gave myself an allowance) of $120 dollars.  If I only actually spend $110, I pronounce that a “reduction”.  No it is not!  I spent 10% more than the prior year.

This only hurts the school districts’ credibility with voters.  Be honest.  Be factual.

Then we have the US Government reaching another “cliff” this coming week.

If the Government was like a real business or person, they would anticipate the future and make adjustments now to soften the blow.  Think about it.  If you knew in advance that six months down the road your income was going to drop or you were going to have some major bills coming, you would adjust.  You would cut back on spending now.  You would look for ways to save a little money.  You would figure out how to live on less money, now while you have the chance to think.  Cutting back on spending now would help you adjust to what life will be like in the future.  You could make more adjustments gradually.  You would be more accustomed to living with less.  This would also allow you to save up a little money.  You could use this savings to soften the blow of the loss of income.  That is how a normal person would act.  Or any successful business.

So why can’t the Government do the same?  I know the numbers are massive.  But the thought process is the same.  And wouldn’t some act of savings be better than doing nothing and waiting for the inevitable?

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Hinkle

Hinkle Fieldhouse is the  basketball home of the Butler Bulldogs.  It was built in 1928.   Stephen and I had the chance to go to a game last night.  Butler was playing St. Louis for first place in the A10 Conference.  Hinkle is an amazing place.  Hinkle outside Feb 2013

It is hard to describe how different it is from almost any other major gym.  As you walk around it, there is no concourse.  As Stephen and I walked around, we did not see a lot of concession stands.  We finally walked into the gym part.  We  were not accosted by any ushers.  So we stood courtside right beside the ESPN announcers watching the teams warm up.  We were only a few feet from the court and had fun soaking up the atmosphere.

Steve had a seat in the first row beside the band.  I made my way up to my seat.  Much to my surprise, there were no ushers to lead me to my set.  In fact, there were hardly any signs telling you what section was each section.  So I was wandering around trying to find my set.  Hinkle also has very few aisles so you have to walk up and down the bleacher seats to manuever.  I asked someone what section they were in and realized I was in the wrong place.  So I moved to another spot and asked a person what row they were in.  There were no signs for the row names!  When he told me it was row “AA” I was really confused because I was supposed to be in row 11.  So I moved up further and asked a guy in seat 23 (the seat number I had) what row it was.  He told me “JJ”.  Then the light bulb came on in my head.  My row was not 11, it was “II”.  So I found me seat.  I was only 25 rows off the court and had a great view. Hinkle floor Feb 2013

The game was a great game.  Very intense and hard-fought.  The crowd was loud.  It was a fantastic atmosphere.  Steve and I corresponded by text to talk about the game.  It was a memorable time in a really cool place.  The fact that I got to share it with my son who loves college basketball as much as I do was the icing on the cake.

Dancing with Frankenstein – #2

I wrote a blog post last year about Rose and I taking dance lessons.  I alluded to the fact that dancing with me was like dancing with the Frankenstein monster – stiff, not very coordinated and slow-moving.  Well, we have continued those lessons for the year.  How are we doing?

We’ve learned a lot more.  We now have a few more dances we are able to do.  And we’ve learned at least a half-dozen moves with every dance step that we are familiar with.  We have even gone out dancing in public a dozen times or so.  We figured we might as well use our dancing “skills” in the real world!

Some days Rose is still “dancing with Frankenstein”.  I do not “feel” the beat of the music very well. In dancing, the male is the lead so he is in charge.  Unfortunately because I’m not real great with music I’ll just start us up when I think it is right.  This drives the dance instructor crazy sometimes because we won’t be with the beat.  I also get told to “relax my thighs” all of the time.  I still don’t understand what that means.  And it takes all of my (limited) brain power just to try to remember all of the steps we have learned in each dance. The end result is that sometimes Rose and I look really good and other times we mess up.

But I have come to discover another of life’s little truths.  When you are in love with someone, the dancing is always good.  We have fun dancing together.  Sometimes in my mind (if not in reality) it feels like we are flowing on the dance floor.  We probably mess up at the same time but it looks like we are dancing well.  We laugh and smile a lot.  So I guess the rhythm we have with the everyday things in life carries over onto the dance floor.  The fact that we both know fundamentally where our relationship should be translates over well to the dance floor.  And that is pretty cool.

We will never win any dance contests.  Anyone who is a good dancer won’t stop to pause and watch us dance because we are so elegant.  But that is not the reason why we dance.  It is just fun time together.  And that is more than enough satisfaction for me.

A Great Family

My blog is all about things that I find are interesting or that have me thinking.  Definitely the most interesting thing to me is my family.  When we get together there are always equal parts love, story telling, BS, laughing and competition (well, on second thought, the love part is way more than the rest).  On December 30, we had all six of us together for the only time in 2012.  So our good friend, and phenomenal photographer, Alison Kamper took a bunch of family pictures.   They turned out great.  I had to share them.  You may notice the hugs are especially warm.  Part of that is due to the fact that it was 32 degrees outside and we were without our coats!

family front yard

If you don’t know, left to right we have:

  • Stephen – cost analyst for Booz Allen Hamilton in Dayton; never misses out on a chance for a social event and a big sports fan
  • Courtney – middle school math teacher in The Bronx, New York City; lover of the theatre on Broadway and anything Notre Dame
  • Rose – wife extraordinaire and massage therapist
  • Me – proud father and great husband (hey, this is my blog post so I can say what I want)
  • Luke – junior at Butler University studying psychology; proud member of his fraternity and great guitar player
  • Nate  – sports writer for the Craig Daily Press in Craig, Colorado; a Renaissance man – loves sports, movies, books and is a beer maker

We did have a lot of fun taking the pictures.  family pine tree 1BW

Alison is phenomenal in seeing the right way to take pictures.  This is a family tradition photo  – My mom would make the kids take this picture every year when we went to the beach.  So we had to beg Alison to let us do it.  It turned out great.  There are so many more great pictures but I don’t want to overdo it.  I hope you enjoy these couple.

Family jump 1

Let’s be positive!

Rose and I were talking with Mike Kamper – Alison’s husband – the other day.  It was at the opening of Alison’s new photography studio.  We were asking how Alison and Mike came up with the spot they chose.  The transformation they did is nothing short of miraculous.  They took a small section of an old manufacturing building with plywood walls and a beaten up floor and transformed it into a warm, inviting studio.  How does someone see the beauty in such a broken down place?  How do you decide to build there?

Mike’s answer was pretty simple.  Basically he said that if you think positively, positive things happen.  Alison knew the place would be perfect for a studio – it has the right natural light.  No doubt she has a very creative eye.  But the positive attitude makes the vision a reality.

We talked a bit more about the idea that those people with a positive attitude seem to have more good things happen to them.  Mike told a couple of stories about how things have “fallen into his lap” recently.  It is something I have believed for a while.  There have been many books written about it “The Power of Positive Thinking” being one.  And many behavioral economists have written about it in trying to explain people’s behavior in economics.  But I believe it bears worth repeating.  If you visualize success, you have a much better chance of attaining success.  All of us prefer to be around someone who is positive.  Who likes to be around someone who complains all the time?

A business with a positive feel to it attracts customers.  When we are positive, “luck” seems to come our way.  I know from running that if you think positive things about the run, it tends to be a lot more fun.  Having been on the opposite side of the positive spectrum during some marathons, I know how incredibly taxing that is.  So I choose to be positive most of the time.  It just makes me more pleasant.

How about you?

Am I an “Inspiration” or a “Planter of seeds”?

Rose and I were having a discussion at dinner (one of the small advantages of being “empty nesters”).  I was relating my frustration with my teaching.  The analogy I used was that I am getting to the first level of “inspiration” but I am not getting to the second level.  What do I mean by that?  The first level of inspiration is to be someone who has an impact on others.  For instance, Anne Frank is inspirational.  We find her story compelling and heartwarming.  We admire her courage.  That is the “first level”.  But her simply being Anne Frank does not necessarily inspire us to action.  We are not compelled to do anything based on her story.  That taking of action is the second level of inspiration.

Martin Luther King inspired at both levels.  He brought a situation to light AND drove action.  He made it to the second level of inspiration.

Perhaps you have had a boss or a coach or a friend who inspired you to take action.  But is it really possible to be a “mere mortal” and inspire large numbers of people to take action based on an example you set?  I am not sure.

Rose came up with another analogy.  Is my teaching really more akin to planting seeds?  Might I never really see all of the seeds grow because they take time?  I do not live in the community so I will not have as many chances to see how I changed lives.  Am I being too impatient expecting change in my students (based on my “inspiration”) when I should recognize that I have simply planted seeds that will take time to grow?

Her analogy is an awesome one.  We all know that not ever seed planted grows into the plant we want.  And some seeds take longer because the ground is hard or there is little sunlight or little rain.  We need to keep tending those seeds for longer than our patience would normally allow.

So the question I have to ask myself is “am I willing to be patient?”  Or is it enough to be a role model – someone people look up to?

Managing Life’s Ups and Downs

Don’t we all struggle with the “ups and downs” of life?  I know that is the case with me being a school teacher.  Perhaps part of that has to do with the fact that I have a one hour drive there and back everyday so I have time to reflect on my plan for the day (Am I totally prepared?) and reflect on my day (was what I did what I wanted it to do?).  Maybe it is because I care so much about what I am trying to do.  It  certainly had some element that I know that I have a LOT of improvement to go as a teacher.  Some might argue that it is simply because I am getting old and cranky.  Who knows.

That is one of the reasons I really admire what Coach Brad Stevens of the Butler Bulldogs had to say the other day.  His team had just beaten Gonzaga University on a last-second miracle shot when everyone thought they were doomed to lose.  As the winning shot goes in, there is bedlam as the fans and players rush each other to celebrate the miracle win.  Coach Stevens, on the other hand, can be seen calmly walking to shake the other coach’s hand.  When asked about his ability to keep his composure in such a situation he said:

“It’s not about the shot.  You don’t evaluate your team on whether the shot goes down or not.  You evaluate your team on how well they played, how hard they played, how much they put in to get there.  I’ll let everyone else react or overreact to winning or losing.

We overexagerate winning.  We’ve had a ton of articles written about how great we are.  But we are no better than if that shot would have missed.  It has very little to do with that final shot.

My job’s not to be the guy that jumps around.  My job is to keep this thing moving in the right direction.” (source: Dayton Daily News)

Hmm.  So it is his job to “keep things moving in the right direction”.  Evaluation is on effort, not strictly on the results.  He leaves the overreacting to others.  That is awesome.

Here is a guy being paid a lot of money.  Every move of his is scrutinized every day.  He is dependent on young adults for the ultimate determination of his success.  A college basketball coach at his level is under a great deal of stress. But he has the ability to control his emotions to separate the final result from a discreet event (one play in one game) from the overall goal (have a team that plays with passion and toughness every second of every game).

That seems to me to be a great way to live our lives.  Have a well thought out plan and stick to it.  Know the few most important things you want to accomplish daily and measure your success against those. Be content that you are doing what you planned on doing.  Don’t let the lows be too low or the highs too high.  Pretty cool.