Tag Archives: Dallas Mount

ESSENTIALISM – RanCHING FOR PROFIT

Another excellent blog from Dallas Mount who now owns and operates Ranch Management Consultants aka Ranching for Profit. Although i’m most interested in the ranching bent to this business, many of the articles written by Dallas, Dave Pratt, former owner, and Stan Parsons, creator and former owner of Ranching for Profit are easily applied to any business or home life decision making.

You can spend money buying books or shelves or containers to declutter or you can save money by making better decisions. Starting with ‘do i really need this?’ then follow up by selling, giving away, recycling, upcycling, renovating, throwing away the stuff you haven’t used in ‘x’ amount of time. If you don’t do it now, it’s called hoarding and whatever value it might have will be lost to you and to whoever may be able to use the item to start a business or help their lives be better. Before you know it, 40, 50, 60 years have passed, and the item is obsolete and worthless. Now, that’s a waste and selfishness!

Essentialism

by Dallas Mount

closet

Each fall and winter our Executive Link meetings start with a continuing education program. We usually reach for something outside the ranching world that our members would not otherwise be exposed to. Often this is a book from business management circles. This fall our book is Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown. The book challenges us to think about all the things we do in our busyness. Then develop focus by cutting out the trivial and finding the essential.  

In agriculture it is easy to constantly pile on more to our already busy lives. When you step back to really analyze what makes the difference in your life or your business, there are really only a few things at the core of what you do and who you are, that matter. This is the essential. McKeown challenges the reader to think of the things in your life, like you would clothes in the closet. Often, we cull the closet by asking the question “Is there a chance I’ll wear this someday in the future?” When using that broad criterion, we end up with a closet full of Garth Brooks 90’s era neon colored Brush Poppers. McKeown suggests changing the question to “Do I absolutely love this?” allowing us to eliminate the clutter to create space for something better.

I often hear from ranchers that are too “busy” with the daily tasks on the ranch to come to a school, or work on their numbers. What they are saying is that they are too busy to find time to complete the high value work that will make the difference in their businesses long term success or failure. This is a perfect application of McKeown’s assertion that an Essentialist separates and focuses on the vital few from the trivial many.  

In ag, the unspoken culture tends to value work, misery and sacrifice over financial success and healthy work-life balance. I often hear stories being swapped where we are competing over who has the ranch that creates more misery and work then the next. We tend to wear it as a badge of honor, who has to work the longest hours in the harshest weather. Maybe it is long days in the hay field, calving in the winter or feeding our way through the ongoing drought. If you want to get uninvited to the coffee shop pity party ask the question, “Why do you choose to structure your business in a way that creates these challenges?” We need to find the courage to push back on this culture of unsustainable work, coupled with unrewarding results. 

If you want to dive in and examine the essential in your life, here are a few questions to get you started. Take 10 minutes, write down your answers and share them with your spouse or confidant. 

  • What if your business could only do one thing, what would it be?  
  • Where do your passions, purpose, and skill set align? 
  • What specific things will you eliminate to create time to focus on the essential few?

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Starting a Ranch – Is it Viable?

Here’s another great blog by Dallas Mount who owns Ranching Consultants (Ranching for Profit).  He outlines the start up costs of beginning a ranch.  It’s never been easy to ranch or farm – even when US government was giving away land.  Most of that land was harsh and unforgiving and many families were starved off trying to make a living.  However, there have a been a very few years in the last century which might have made purchasing land to farm a viable option.  At today’s land prices, that is not an option.  Prices are way out of whack in regards to its agricultural productivity.

bakingCan’t be done. At least that is what conventional wisdom says. I’d agree that it can’t be done, if you follow the rules of traditional ranching – running cows the way everyone else does and owning everything. If you are willing to break some rules and challenge conventional wisdom maybe you can join the amazing group of people that have done it.

Let’s look at the economics of conventional wisdom for starting a ranch from scratch. You’ll need land. Of course, if you want to be a real rancher (so the thinking goes) you’ll need to own it. If you are going to ranch full time, you’ll need enough cows to support a family so let’s plan to buy a ranch that will run 400 cows. In much of ranching country, the rule of thumb is 35 acres per cow. Let’s push that to 40 and ask those cows to graze year-round.

The value of the land will be driven by things other than its forage producing value. Generally aesthetic value and proximity to a metropolitan center will drive the land values. Let’s say we found a ranch that will sell for $600/acre. We will need 16,000 acres so our purchase will be about 9.6 million. Of course, we need to own the cow herd as well. 400 cows, 16 bulls and 80 heifers will cost us about $700,000 in today’s market and we will need an arsenal of machines so let’s add another $300,000 to make it a round $1 million for livestock and machines.

If we find a bank willing to finance all of this, we will likely need to come up with 20% down at least. So we will need about 2 million for the land and $200,000 for the livestock and machines. It just so happens our great aunt just died leaving us 2.2 million! Now all we have to do is service the remaining debt! Should be easy right? If the bank finances the land at 5% for 20 years and the cows and machines for 5 years at 7% that will leave us with a payment of about $600,000 per year on the land and about $200,000 on the cow/machine note.

If we divide our total payments of $800,000 by our 400 cows then each cow will need to generate $2,000 annually for debt service not to mention covering her bills for feed, vet, trucking, and all the other overheads. We better wean some big calves! Are you ready to buy yet? Maybe we should just sit in the coffee shop and complain about all of this? Oh … I know … it’s the banker’s fault for charging interest!

Hopefully this demonstrates that ranching the conventional way is not a realistic path to ranching from scratch. So what is? Firstly, I think it is important that we make a separation in our minds from operating a ranching business and owning land. After all, you can run 1,000 cows and not own a single acre of land, and you can own a million acres of land and not own one cow! Being in the land investment business and being in the livestock business are two separate businesses. The land investment can be a great place to park money and enjoy appreciation and wealth building over time. It can be a terrible place to park money when you need cash flow.

At the Ranching for Profit School, we teach an economic planning process that requires any livestock you run to pay fair-market rent for the grass they consume. Not including this in your planning essentially subsidizes your livestock enterprises with free grass from your land business. Conversely, asking cows to make your land payment might subsidize your land investment by overcharging your livestock business.  You must do the economics right to know where you are creating value. If you want to buy land, let’s establish a profit target that you will need to achieve to reach your goals and develop a business around that profit target.

Many of our alumni get into ranching from scratch by custom grazing cattle on leased land. This is often a model with a strong cash flow and can allow the operator to build reserves that can be used to invest in livestock or real estate. This certainly isn’t a utopia. There are the challenges of finding leases, managing landowners, developing good grazing infrastructure and many others. The skills necessary to be successful in this path include:

  • People Skills – managing landowners, marketing yourself as a lessee and custom grazer, putting a team together to do the day-to-day.
  • Grazing Skills – planning, implementing and monitoring land health and reporting back to landowners.
  • Economics and Finance – planning for profit, budgeting, and cash flow management.
  • Livestock Handling – leading your team or managing yourself to meet livestock performance objectives.

I’d love to hear from those of you who started from scratch. What advice would you have for someone else looking to do the same?

18 Responses to “Ranching from Scratch”

June 24, 2020 at 3:57 amjames coffelt said:

Excellent discussion

Ranching is a great life style.

Is it a great business? Peter Drucker, the great business writer, suggests every business, every idea, every activity, and every employee, should be on trial for its life, every day.

Can a ranching business succeed? Yes, and there are plenty doing it. However, that is not the right question.

We should ask: How are these assets, efforts, labor, and risk, performing relative to other alternatives?

An S + P 500 index fund has averaged a 12% return for years.

So, is the equity invested in the ranching business, cattle and land, performing better than 12% ? Note, I used the word equity, not assets for the comparison. That is, net assets.

I would suggest the following:

The only management model to consider is a low input management model. Work toward eliminating or reducing, shots, worming, tagging, calf checking, weaning, machine work, hay. Let the cows rehab the land, and produce cattle genetically fit to thrive in the all-natural survival of the fittest, model.

Work from set stocking, to rotational grazing, to mob grazing, as able. Each step is better for the land, and permits an increase in stocking rate. Stocking rate influences profitability more than any other trait, more than performance, milk, growth, marbling, etc..

Find a way to sell into premium markets. A quality animal sold by the piece is 3-4 k retail, $800 at the sale barn. That spread requires sales and marketing effort.

The land is a separate business which can include revenue from gas and oil, hunting, fishing, timber, tourism, etc..

The choice to ranch for love of lifestyle is admirable. However, it is a business which requires economic performance.

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June 24, 2020 at 4:09 am, JOSH LUCAS said:

Learn how to be an effective communicator! (Like they teach at the rfp school) Managing the landowner relationship when leasing can be challenging if you don’t communicate your goals for the property well enough.
Oh and definitely don’t buy equipment!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:07 amShelly Oswald said:

Good points but where is the marketing component where you know the intrinsic value of your products, communicate that to your customers and obtain the premium you need to be profitable without cutting corners?

The other point missed is that your approach conserves capital investment in the land and treats it like the profit center it should be. In order to conserve our farmland and keep it in the hands of our citizens, we need to be paying fair rent to ourselves or our neighbors and not asking them to subsidize the food we produce.

I love the principles you teach!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:15 am, Rebecca Patton said:

My husband and I came back to his family ranch in the hopes of developing a succession plan and being able to take over and run a successful ranching business, however, we were stuck in the paradigm that there is such a huge barrier to entry in ranching that our only opportunity to make money with cattle was to be successors to a debt free ranch. Apparently the older generation had different priorities than ranch transition, so we are now looking to break away with the new perspective that we can do what we want through custom grazing and leasing, and we have never been more excited! Thanks for sharing Profit Tips with us!

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June 24, 2020 at 6:20 am, Clint Hoelting said:

If you are going to take care of other people’s cattle on other people’s land, you might as well get a job on a ranch. Same thing, except with Custom/Lease you will have to pay for overheads a ranch hand wouldn’t.

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June 24, 2020 at 7:42 am, Justin Tollman said:

I was stuck in the “How To Own It” traffic jam for a while, and then was introduced to Ranching For Profit. In 2014, my wife and I had no ranch, and no idea how to step into a ranch, but I knew I wanted to. We went to a RFP School, and that really sparked an idea for me to set up a business plan that I could get people to buy into: Leasing a ranch!
Prior to that shift in paradigm, we were stuck. You see, I grew up on the ranch that we now lease. But, so did my sisters. It’s been in the family for over 120 years, but my parents were stuck in the asset transition trap: How do you be fair to everyone? My wife was extremely scared of going into a huge amount of debt, and quite frankly was scared of what happens if it doesn’t work.
The lease model has opened many doors! It got us unstuck. Has it been perfect? Of course not! I don’t know a ranching family that has everything go perfectly. When the all of the cattle issues go right, people issues may flare, when the people are happy, water issues might pop up, this business has a way of humbling anyone who knows everything. And then, there are always customers to deal with, and luckily almost every “contentious moment” with my customers has been built up worse in my mind than in reality. But, I’ve heard it said that people get paid by the size of the problems they can solve, so if you want paid more, choose bigger problems.
I’ve heard so much “I don’t think you can do that!” Well, my favorite saying now is “You never know what you can do until you have to.”

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June 24, 2020 at 7:44 am, john marble said:

I think the biggest roadblock to starting or maintaining a successful ranching business is the commonly-held belief that ranching is somehow different than other businesses or industries. Loving to work outside, handle livestock, smell the new-mown hay…all of that is fine, but it doesn’t have much to do with running a successful business. People who want to enter the ranching industry need to do the same things that new entrants to the gas station or motel or bowling alley business have to do: market goods and services at a profit. Not very romantic, but clearly true. Successful business people study marketing and logistics. They develop relationships with other progressive, smart operators. They avoid enterprises that lose money.

Sorry to break the new: ranching is just not that special.

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June 24, 2020 at 11:02 am, Marc Cesario said:

John – love it!

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June 24, 2020 at 8:01 am, Davene Finkbeiner said:

I started from scratch at 50 years old. Now I am 62. I followed ranching for profit Allan Nation Joel Salatin Bud Williams.Turing the ranch over to my children. It has been one hell of a ride.

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June 24, 2020 at 8:48 am, Marc Cesario said:

It’s amazing how often you can hear advice, even believe the advice that’s been given, then somehow rationalize why your situation is different. It’s so easy to fall into the trap of machinery, equipment and barns but it’s a dead end more often than not. Grass, appropriate fence and a good water system is really all what most start from scratchers should focus on.
It’s good and necessary to believe in ourselves, but too often we think we can do more than we actually can. At best, I feel we can only do two things well, and more likely it’s probably just one thing. Often multiple enterprises just drain resources from the each other. Stay focused.

The word priority was only ever used in the singular until the 1900’s. There can only be one priority.

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June 24, 2020 at 8:52 am, Marc Cesario said:

Josh- yes, Managing expectations is extremely important. underpromise and over deliver.

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June 24, 2020 at 9:54 am, Ross Macdonald said:

Don’t get caught up in a recipe, what you know today will change/evolve over the next several years.
Let your definition of profit drive your decisions and recognize that it is never perfect but with effort, desire and experience it gets much better.
Soils, grazing, stockmanship, marketing, relationships are get better if you work to make them better but it is a journey not a destination, so your definition of profit had better include happiness.

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June 24, 2020 at 11:49 am, john marble said:

Gosh, Clint, I haven’t found that to be true at all. I’ve rented quite a number of places over the years, and the amount I pay in rent has absolutely nothing to do with land overheads. On occasion, I’ve had land owners express their desire for the rent to cover property taxes or some other irrelevant item. I try to be fair with owners, but in the end I will only pay a rental rate that allows me the opportunity to make a good profit, and that is often based on running “other people’s cattle” on that rental land. Sorry, but negotiating land rentals, signing contracts on custom cattle and designing business plans that result in profit are not “hired hand” jobs. Those are business owner jobs.

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June 25, 2020 at 9:45 am, Justin M Tollman said:

I think John and Clint may be looking at two sides of the same coin. To paraphrase Clint “you’re working for someone else if you custom graze on leased land.” I will say that the thought has crossed my mind over the last 3 years that I would be better off financially if I just worked for someone else. That’s on a cash taken home basis. But, when you look at net worth vs. cash flow, that isn’t the case. To John’s point, working on the business is different than working in the business. If I didn’t want to set direction, plan my own time, work on the big picture stuff, and play the virtual 3-D chess game that is forecasting, contingency planning,etc., then yeah, working as a hired hand on an outfit might be better. But, always know, you are always working for a customer. Whether that customer is someone who writes you a paycheck for labor, or a customer who writes you a paycheck for cattle that you sell, or a customer that writes a paycheck for custom care. But, ranching from scratch, to me it’s about setting the direction, the mission and vision, the building for a brighter and easier tomorrow, and taking ownership of that process. I’m not as excited about the ownership of land or things, but the ownership of happy business partners.

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June 26, 2020 at 6:14 pm, Amber said:

I totally agree. My husband and I and our two kids lead a great life on leased land, with custom grazed cows and building our own cowherd on the side. We work for ourselves, while functioning in a great network of relationships. It is all about how you treat people.

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June 27, 2020 at 12:36 am, Graeme Bear said:

A great topic Dallas. Often the most thought provoking topics are those that challenge traditional thinking and paradigms. Love the collection of views and contributions by everyone on this one. The fundamentals of successful business are the same whether it be a cattle ranch or transport or manufacturing business, exactly the same principle apply.

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June 28, 2020 at 5:12 am, Doug Dillon said:

It can be done! I have done it twice. I purchased my first ranch in 2009 after graduating college. Purchased another ranch in 2014. Sold the first ranch in 2015. I attended two RMC schools and was in the Executive Link from 2010 until 2015. The two biggest things I think any one starting from scratch needs to keep in mind is you have to be passionate about what you are doing, it’s going to be tough. Keep you pencil sharp and make the hard decisions that make you money.

The 2nd is don’t get married to a ranch. In 2015 Mike Hall spoke at the RMC summer meeting in Laramie WY. He talked about “not being married to a ranch.” I realize not all ranches are equal, and its hard to walk away from something you have built. He talked about making your land business profitable by selling land. Its a difficult thing for most people or families to do, but if you are starting from scratch you are going to have to do some of these difficult things to generate cash to get out of debt.

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June 28, 2020 at 7:15 am, Davene Finkbeiner said:

I started from scratch 10 years ago with leased land and share cattle. I agree about selling land. Bought pasture based on its resale value and now have it listed for double the price I paid for it. When cattle prices were at there peak I did not buy more cattle I took share cattle instead and put cash into rental houses.Now they are producing a income of 1200 per month.Biggest problem in our area is I am surrounded by inheritance ranching operations who spend a lot of time trying to derail the start from scratch operations. They are especially hard on young people just getting started.I am looking for a good support group for my 2 Kids just coming into the cattle business.

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Young Ranchers Meet in Wyoming!

Ranch Management Consultants, with an acknowledged huge amount of other support, hosted 48 youth from 17 states in Sheridan, Wyoming for 4 days!  If even half those become true ranchers and not serfs on the land, the livestock industry will be in good shape.  However, given the financial/investment outlook in our country, none (unless they are already incredibly wealth) will be able to build a legacy.  Our economy has been moving in this direction for years, but is now accelerating into something unrecognizable.  Too bad.

young ranchersLast week, in partnership with Wally Olson and the Plank Stewardship Initiative, we hosted the first ever Young Adult Ranching for Profit Workshop. We had 48 youth from 17 states in Sheridan, Wyoming for an incredible four days! The energy, enthusiasm, and passion these young people have for ranching and agriculture was contagious. Several times during the week the instructors and I caught ourselves in awe of the group that was assembled. Just thinking of the amazing things they will accomplish, gets us excited for the future. The format of the days involved morning discussions on topics ranging from economics, grazing, to succession. Then we grabbed a sack lunch and headed for the ranch tour that made up the afternoon. We were able to visit three amazing and welcoming ranches where at each stop, we found hands-on activities and intense discussions with management. The workshop ended with participants having small group meetings where they offered peer advice and developed action plans for moving forward. This multi-day workshop wasn’t something we at RMC could do alone. Enormous thanks goes out to the partners, instructors, and hosting ranches. We anticipate making the Young Adult Ranching for Profit Workshop an annual event.

One thing that became clear to me was that these young people are eager to take on additional responsibility and assume a more prominent role in the businesses they are involved with. It is easy for Junior to say “get out the way…. I’m ready to run this!” but it is significantly more difficult for the seasoned manager with battle scars of past mistakes, to know when and how much control to relinquish. At the Ranching for Profit School, we teach the importance of developing clear expectations for each position in your operation. Stephen Covey in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People expands on that with the DR GRAC acronym of Desired Results, Guidelines, Accountability, and Consequences as a thorough way to delegate important tasks. If Junior is going to take over the grazing planning what are the results and specific targets we need to achieve? It should be written down how and when we are going to measure these. Targets for the grazing manager might be:

  • Every pasture has a monitoring transect by 2022-monitoring report due Nov 1
  • 75% cover by perennial plants- monitoring report due Nov 1
  • Decreasing bare ground- monitoring report due Nov 1
  • SDA/1” precip reported monthly- Monthly WOTB meeting
  • Target rest periods achieved 90% of the time- Grazing Plan reviewed Dec 1

If Junior wants more responsibility, then management should identify where the business is currently failing to produce the desired results. From there you can develop a shared understanding of what a quality result for the business would look like. Junior might need some support on how to be successful in creating these desired results. Maybe there is a neighbor that has this figured out, that Junior can talk with or perhaps there is a class or training on the subject that they can attend. Writing down the guidelines and deadlines for this task on a flip chart and taking a picture of it will help everyone remember the agreements next time the subject comes up.

I don’t buy it when I hear that no young people want to be involved in agriculture. After spending four days with 48 youngsters pulling at the bit, ready for a shot, you wouldn’t either. Those of us in the leadership roles need to create opportunities for them to develop themselves into the people they can become.

One Response to “The Next Generation of Passionate Ranchers”

June 10, 2020 at 2:58 pmMark Hollenbeck said:

You are going to be challenged to meet the demand for this school. There is just nothing for young people that want something real dealing with ranching.

When Assets Become Liabilities

 

When Assets Become Liabilities

 

by Dave Pratt

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.

4 Responses to “When Assets Become Liabilities”

March 27, 2019 at 2:31 amjames coffelt said:

I believe a personal financial statement is the best tool to measure wealth creation. It considers cattle and land appreciation. Update it twice per year, every bank has one. We measure the wealth creation relative to equity. We further measure the wealth creation against the 8% we can average in the stock market, passively.

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March 27, 2019 at 10:11 am, Roger Ingram said:

Excellent article and video. Should be required reading and viewing for all chapters!

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March 28, 2019 at 1:48 pm, Keith said:

Good article, wouldn’t mind to be receiving such every now and then

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March 28, 2019 at 2:03 pm, Richard Smart said:

Please remember to deduct the tax man’s share when calculating what liquidating your assets will yield.

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