Look up the definition of asset in Webster and it’ll tell you an asset is “anything owned that has value.” But Webster has it wrong. If I put a down payment on a ranch, financing the balance, the full value of the land shows up in the asset column of my balance sheet, but I don’t own the whole ranch. The bank probably owns more of it than I do. No, an asset isn’t necessarily something you own. An asset is something you have. Your net worth (Assets-Liabilities) is what you actually own.
Although your banker would disagree, there is a completely different way to define assets. In his best seller, Rich Dad, Poor Dad, Robert Kiyosaki defines assets as “things that put money in your pocket” and liabilities as “things that take money out of your pocket.” Between monthly principle payments, interest, insurance, maintenance and repairs, most of the things your banker calls assets are, according to Kiyosaki, really liabilities.
Ironically, the fancy cars and homes that we see as the trappings of wealth are actually huge constraints to generating wealth. That doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy the finer things in life, but until we build a wealth generating machine as our foundation, buying “liabilities” will slow, and may block, our ability to create wealth.
There is an even bigger problem with assets.
In the final chapter of his wonderful book, Nourishment,Fred Provenza writes about taking a sabbatical to Australia with his family. To finance the trip he needed to sell their home in Utah. He explains that he didn’t build the house himself, but had done a lot of work on it and had “a lot of skin in the game.” Unfortunately, at the time of the sale the housing market was very depressed and, while they got their investment back, they didn’t get much more. Between the time of the sale and their trip to Australia, they rented a smaller house Fred called “the dump.” At first he was resentful of having to give up owning his “castle.” But after a couple of weeks in the dump he began to realize that he hadn’t owned the house he’d helped build. He explained, “It owned me.” It owned him financially, requiring huge monthly payments. Even after the sale, it owned him emotionally.
Assets can clutter our space and minds, causing distractions and stress. They make it more difficult to clean and organize. They tie us down. The biggest constraint to moving for some of us is the burden of taking all of our stuff with us.
The things we own trap us. I recently had lunch with a couple who’d been ranching for about 10 years. They both worked off-farm to make ends meet. Over the last several years they’d bought a small place, secured several leases, and built up a herd of a couple hundred cows. But now, with a young family, significant debt and the off-farm jobs, they seemed stuck.
After subtracting the liabilities from their “assets” their net worth came to $1,300,000. On the back of a napkin I wrote them a “check” for $1.3 million and asked them, “If you had nothing but this check and the clothes on your back, and still wanted to achieve your dream, would you use this money to recreate the situation you are in? If not, how would you deploy this money to accelerate progress toward your dream?”
Their expression changed almost immediately. While they’d made progress over the last 10 years, the business they created was going to make it difficult if not impossible to achieve their dream. Rather than a stepping stone, their operation had become an obstacle to further progress. They set out to use the wealth they’d created to change their course.
I went through the identical exercise with another couple whose net worth was closer to $3 million. When I asked if they would recreate the situation they were in, they immediately and in unison said, “No.” But, when I met with them again a year later, they hadn’t changed anything and resigned themselves to “staying the course.” Rather than using the assets they owned to create the lives they dreamed of, they were owned by their assets, which they used as an excuse to stay stuck. Chuck Palahniuk, author of Fight Club, described it perfectly when he wrote, “The things you own end up owning you. It’s only after you lose everything that you’re free to do anything.”
Listen to New England Executive Link member, Pat McNiff, explain the cost of keeping assets and the process they used to determine what they needed to keep and what to discard or sell.
Mr Pratt’s most recent blog discusses using debt properly. Now, okay, my mind goes immediately to the song, ‘Neither a borrower, nor a lender be. Do not forget, stay out of debt.’ Which then led me to wonder where that came from. I knew it was from Shakespeare’s ‘Hamlet’ (Polonius counsels his son, Laertes in Act-I, Scene-III of William Shakespeare’s play, Hamlet by saying, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be; / For loan oft loses both itself and friend.” But what about the tune?
Completely surprised when i discovered that it was created and made famous on the TV sitcom, Gilligan’s Island, which i watched religiously when i was young. SO FUNNY! It is sung to the tune of the Toreador Song in Bizet’s Carmen.
The Bible also has advice on debt and teaches us to guard against being in debt, likening it to slavery and bondage. However, debt does not seem to be a sin, but a tool to earn money wisely, but counting the cost before taking on the burden.
May 9, 2018
from the Ranching for Profit School
A lot of people tell me that they want to be “debt free.” They are tired of making big interest payments on land, livestock, machinery and their operating note. They have had too many sleepless nights worrying about making the next payment. They believe that if they didn’t have to borrow money they would be more profitable and financially secure.
But the proper use of debt makes us more profitable, not less. And being debt free doesn’t make us financially secure. In fact, for most of us, short of winning the lottery, the appropriate use of debt is our only realistic path to financial security.
The problem isn’t debt, it’s our misuse of debt. The two most common ways we misuse debt are:
We put finance first and economics a distant second
We use debt on the wrong things.
Using debt effectively begins with understanding the difference between economics and finance. It boils down to this: In economics we ask, “Is this profitable?” In finance we ask, “Can I afford to do it?” If we are going to be smart about our use of debt, economics must come first. If it isn’t profitable you don’t have to worry about how you’ll pay for it, because you shouldn’t do it in the first place.
When RFP grads evaluate the profitability of a livestock enterprise they include opportunity interest on the herd as a direct cost in the calculation. If the enterprise has a healthy gross margin it tells us that borrowing money to expand the herd will increase profit. If we haven’t included opportunity interest in our calculation we can’t be sure if expanding the herd is a good idea.
The other problem is that people use debt on the wrong things. There are two primary places where we put money in our businesses: fixed assets and working capital. Simply put, fixed assets are things we intend to keep (e.g. land, cows, infrastructure, vehicles, equipment). Working capital is the money tied up in things we intend to sell (e.g. calves). Most of us have most of our money invested in fixed assets. This is the biggest financial problem in agriculture. It’s a problem because when most of our money is tied up in things we intend to keep, we have relatively little to sell and generate very little income relative to the value of our assets. Making matters worse, a lot of the income that we do create gets spent maintaining the fixed assets. That’s why most ranchers are wealthy on their balance sheet and broke in their bank account.
Borrowing to buy fixed assets may be a smart long-term investment strategy, but it might cause you to go belly-up in the short term. We’d be better off to use debt to buy assets that directly produce income.
We shouldn’t be afraid to borrow money, provided the economics of our enterprise is rock-solid and we use the borrowed money to buy income producing assets.