Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Investing success (or not) for 6/27/07

The Dow was up 90 points today, and my portfolio blew the doors off with a gain of $1,200.

I love when a gain in the Dow corresponds to a much larger-than-expected gain in my portfolio. It normally does not happen this way. I usually see a commensurable gain in my portfolio when compared to the rise in the Dow, but an oversized drop in my portfolio when compared with a modest drop in the Dow. I don't know why that is - it could have something to do with the small cap stocks I own, which introduce a higher volatility to my portfolio. I could also just be imagining this phenomenon.

Investing successes today:
First off, I had some big gainers today, and I'll highlight them below. But today was unusual in the sheer number of stocks that were up. I had 45 advancers today, next to 10 decliners. That makes for a good portfolio day! I had 18 stocks that were up at least 2% today. Some details:

Inventiv Health (VTIV) - up 7.1%.

Nuance Communications (NUAN) - up 5.7%

Dawson Geophysical (DWSN) - up 4.4%

OYO Geospace (OYOG) - up 4.2%

Volcom (VLCM) - up 4%

Investing failures today:
Peerless Systems (PRLS) - down 5.4%. Big whoop, I own $300 bucks of this - it's the runt of the litter.

A few other decliners, nothing of great significance. It was a great day!

Also, I will soon bring news of a financial transaction that I recently consummated - something I said I would never do! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Robert Kiyosaki - complete moron

Hello all! I am back from my self-imposed baby exile.... and I'm remarkably well-rested. Baby is sleeping well at night, save for the feeding every three hours. Today is my first day back at work (ughh), and judging by my inboxes (both paper and email), I may be in for a rough week!

Thanks for your patience while I was absent. I will be posting at a much more regular clip in the next few weeks.

I ran across this article on Yahoo Finance by our favorite author Robert Kiyosaki. I have opined in the past on how much of an idiot this guy is (see here). I am not even suggesting you read the attached article. If you really want to be entertained, just read the 150+ comments. It's a laugh riot - Yahoo Finance has readers that are practically trained to trash this guy whenever he posts an article.

It's true - this guy is a sub-par author and finance expert.

Just grab a beer and read through all of the comments - good times!

Friday, June 15, 2007

Daughter #2 has arrived

Here's a pic! Our C-section went as planned, and at 10:10am this morning, we were blessed with another beautiful daughter. Everyone is doing well. Talk to everyone soon!


Thursday, June 14, 2007

We're havin' a baby!

Q is going to be MIA for a few days, as we're having a baby tomorrow. My wife is scheduled for a C-section at 9:30am. Our almost 3-year old daughter is excited, and so are we. My wife is super-excited to return to her normal playing weight! We think we're ready to go.

I'll see everyone next week - take care, and thanks for visiting my blog.


Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Silly question - would you buy a year's supply of gasoline at these prices?

There is a gas station directly across the street from my place of work. Many of our employees do alot of driving, so the price of gasoline is a constant topic of conversation, and worry.

However, according to an analyst quoted in this Yahoo Finance article, gas prices have likely peaked for the summer. If we have a bad hurricane season, or if we go to war with Iran, prices could be adversely affected.

And across the street, regular unleaded is now at $2.77/gallon, down from $3.04/gallon a few weeks ago. Our Honda Odyssey (gas hog) cost $49 to fill up recently, so these lower prices are a welcome sight.

That got me thinking - if I had massive underground storage tanks under my house, ones that the neighborhood association either wouldn't know about or would somehow approve of, AND if coming up with the money was not an issue, would I buy a year's worth of gasoline at $2.77/gallon?

For some strange reason, I'm thinking I would. We had a light hurricane season last year, so we're probably due (I am not a meteorologist, nor did I stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night). Also, I am thinking that our war in Iraq is not going to get any better -- the Middle East seems farther and farther away from peace, and the Palestinians are attacking each other and about to start a civil war. Frankly, $2.77/gallon looks great to me right now.

How much is regular unleaded where you live, and if you had the chance to stock up on gas at today's prices, would you?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Use other people’s money - Recap of discussion

I was very glad to see a keen interest in my recent topic of discussion – “Buy a company with debt or with cash?” I hinted that there may be a personal finance lesson to be learned, and I will speak to that below.

The company-buying scenario proffered in my previous post is one that I lived through (of course I changed the names to protect the innocent). I joined a company several years ago that had been purchased by some venture capitalists, and by an individual for whom I had worked previously. I joined as the deal was being consummated, and dealt with a lot of buyer/seller issues. It was awkward at times, as I was clearly pro-buyer (that’s who hired me), but I still had to deal with the sellers at times. The motto “It’s just business” sometimes didn’t seem to fit. Things got nasty – I sometimes wonder why rich people squabble over very small sums of money. Perhaps that’s how they got where they are?

The interesting part of the whole transaction was where the money was coming from.

First off, the two previous owners were forced, through negotiation, to give the new company a 5-year, interest-only loan. This was a very successful business, so they could be reasonably assured that their money was safe. Plus, they were each pulling in a massive interest check each month. It provided more than enough spending money for their months in Florida. : ) Even more interesting was that the buyers made it an interest-only loan. I had previously worked for another company that had an interest-only loan on their building, and quite obviously, they weren’t building much equity in the place, besides a bit of appreciation. When it comes to a transaction like a mortgage on our house, we are told by every expert that an interest-only loan is just unhealthy (and I agree). I know they are used in San Francisco and other red-hot markets, because otherwise young people can’t buy a house. Nevertheless, I feel pain for people that use such loans. And yet, an interest-only loan was used to partially finance this purchase.

Secondly, and much more interestingly, the venture capitalists were handling the money of some extremely wealthy folks about town. These were the “blue bloods” of my hometown – people with net worth’s of $50-600 million. Big, big-time cash. This transaction was rather small for guys like this. This VC firm was put together and funded to buy small to medium-sized companies, with the intent of holding them for awhile. They felt this size of business was not normally targeted by private equity, and they wanted to profit from it. I agree with them – these folks are going to make a lot of money at this.

But then I thought to myself, “Why even bother borrowing here?” I mean, really, what’s the point? One guy in the group had a $600 million net worth. Their combined net worth easily exceeded $1 billion. Why are the VC’s over at the bank borrowing $10-20 million? Why are they negotiating tooth-and-nail with the former owners over a small, interest-only loan? Why don’t they just put up the cash, own it outright, and take in the profits? It’s streamlined, it’s simple, and you’re beholden to no one.

The answer was two-fold: Return on Invested Capital, and taxes. I will speak more extensively on ROIC, but these guys paid a helluva lot of attention to taxes. I don’t have as extensive an understanding of taxes as they and their tax accountants do (as a CPA, I worked in the audit department of my old CPA firm), but I can tell you that they structured this thing to be as tax-efficient as possible. My two scenarios were entirely based on pre-tax calculations, for discussion purposes.

The real reason you borrow in this case is to achieve the highest Return on Invested Capital you can. There is a way to annually make money, and own a business, using less of your capital. You go to the bank and you borrow. By borrowing, you are able to control an asset, and profit from it, using the least amount of up-front cash as possible. As the poor simpletons we are (sorry, it’s hard to match wits with $600 million!!!), we do the exact same thing when we buy a house. Most of us use a mortgage because that’s all we can afford to do. But as I’ve pointed out here, if you absolutely have to have a house, a mortgage could end up being the most profitable way to do it. It allows you to retain more of your cash now, which can be used to invest in stocks and/or rental real estate.

Plonkee nailed it right on the head – when you borrow (option 2), you get a year 1 Return on Invested Capital of 37.8%, before taxes. Option 1 yields a year 1 ROIC of 17%, and is less tax efficient. These ultra-wealthy folks look at this, and the choice is simple – borrow. Use other people’s money to achieve a superior return. For folks like this, emotions do not factor in – they run the numbers, they trust their advisors, and they gun for maximum return.

Full disclosure: company cash flow suffers a bit in option 2, as you’re making a large loan payment ON TIME each month. This business was a cash cow – we had a few struggles, but they were mostly timing issues - nothing we couldn’t handle.

There is another aspect of option 2 that I find very interesting. Each year, as you pay off the 7-year term loan, you own more and more of the company. In year one, you generate a before-tax profit of $3.78 million, but you also build $2.57 million in equity. If you combine those two numbers, you earn a first year return of 64%! I think you have to figure that in. You put in $10 million, and after one year, you now have $16.35 million. It wallops the return of option 1.

My apartment building is much the same way. I put approximately $60,000 down on a $300,000 building, and besides repairs and maintenance (which can admittedly be a bit costly every once in awhile), that’s the last bit of capital I will put in the building. The business itself makes the payments (rents from the tenants). So I put $60,000 in, and in 30 years I will own a building that will probably be worth $400,000. Not to mention the excess cash it generates each month and the big depreciation tax write-off.

When choosing option 2, where you’re investing $10,000,000 instead of $36,000,000, some people wondered if you could earn an equal or greater return with the rest of that unspent $26,000,000. I do not live the lives these people live, but I would have to guess yes. Personally, I would not be concerned with this. My approach would be to invest the right amount of money, in the right places, for the right returns, and at the right time.

That’s the lesson I take from this experience - invest the right amount of money, in the right places, for the right returns, and at the right time. One might argue that middle class folks cannot afford to make financial decisions in the same manner that rich people do. I argue that you cannot afford NOT to emulate them.

Right now I have a 5.5% 30-year mortgage. Due to some previous prepayments, I’m probably ten years along on the amortization schedule. We itemize on our taxes, so I am able to take the mortgage interest deduction, and we are in the 28% tax bracket. That means that any prepayments I make on my mortgage would generate an after-tax return of 3.96%. I CAN BEAT THAT! Let’s be clear - when I have that damn mortgage paid off, it will feel better than watching Paris Hilton return to jail – this will be an emotional day! However, if I run the numbers and keep my emotions out of it, I realize that my excess month-to-month cash can be put to work a lot harder than prepaying on my mortgage. So we stopped prepaying years ago.

Why are people averse to debt? Simply put, debt equals risk. And risk = increased blood pressure. It is better, or it feels better, to owe no one anything. I look forward to the day when all mortgages are paid off – I will probably be a wealthy guy by then, and with no monthly mortgage payment, I will have a myriad of life’s options in front of me. But I cannot be in a rush to pay off a mortgage that in effect produces a 3.96% return for me. There is a better way.

As we invest our cash in the smartest ways I can dream up, I am giving myself the very best chance to be sitting on a big brokerage account 10-15 years from now. And 20 years from now, when the mortgage is finally paid off? Who knows how much we’ll have by then?!?!?

Thanks to everyone that commented in the previous post. It’s great to have you all here as readers. Cheers!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Question for discussion - Buy a company with cash or with debt?

I would like to throw out two scenarios for discussion. Please offer your opinions, run the numbers if you like, and discuss your feelings on each scenario. This may seem a bit off-topic for a personal finance blog, but… … .. .. Hint hint – there may be a personal finance lesson to be learned here.

The discussion involves buying a company. It is not important what the company does, but I will provide you with some monetary details, and you tell me which scenario is preferable and why. If you feel there are details missing, please let me know. I can assure you the details will be overly simple and will not be as all-encompassing as if you were actually purchasing such a company. However, I believe I will provide enough to generate conversation.

I am very anxious to garner different opinions on the subject, and afterwards, I plan on posting another article with a wrap-up of the commentary and my opinion on the subject.


  • You are a wealthy individual. How you got to be wealthy is unimportant, but you are a very savvy investor.
  • The company you wish to buy is for sale at $36,000,000. This is the price you’ll have to pay – no negotiations.
  • The company currently earns, before taxes and interest, $6,000,000 per year. The company currently has no debt and incurs no interest expense. The company’s prospects will not change when you buy it. Earnings, unless mentioned below in the particular scenarios, will remain the same. Expenses, unless mentioned below, will remain equal. Revenues and earnings will remain flat.
  • You intend to purchase and hold the company and do not have an exit strategy – you do not currently plan to “flip” the business.
  • The future worth of the company is undetermined. It will not be lower than your purchase price.

Now, the two purchase scenarios:

Scenario #1:

  • You pay $36,000,000 in cash for the business
  • The business therefore carries no debt from the purchase, and no debt of any other kind, save for the regular accounts payable and such.
  • For argument’s sake, you had the $36,000,000 in cash lying around and did not have to personally borrow to come up with the money. You may also assume that you were able to comfortably afford this, and that this is not even close to “putting all of your eggs in one basket.”
  • You therefore own 100% of the business free and clear.
  • It continues to earn $6,000,000/yr

Scenario #2:
  • You pay $36,000,000 for the business.
  • The purchase price comes from the following sources:
    • You put in $10,000,000 of your own money. Assume that you did not have to personally borrow to come up with the $10 million.
    • You borrow $8,000,000 from the former owner. It’s a five year interest-only loan at 9% per annum, payable monthly at $60,000/month. At the end of 5 years, you will either draw up a new note or pay the former owner off in part or in whole. This is currently undetermined. The owner no longer has any equity in the business – just a loan held against it. Business sales often result in the former owners retaining a small piece of the company, or, in this case, the former owners give a loan to the new company – this is often done to consummate such a transaction, as the buyer gains tacit assurance that the company is on solid footing.
    • You borrow $18,000,000 from a bank. It’s a 7 year level term loan, with an interest rate of 9% per annum. Business purchases are often financed with such a loan. Many times the interest rate is tied to an interest rate benchmark like the 1-month LIBOR + 3 or 4%, but for simplicity’s sake, we’ll just have a 9% non-floating interest rate. Your monthly payment contains the same amount of principal payoff each month, and in this case, you pay interest on the remaining principal. Therefore, interest in the first years is greater. Use this term loan analyzer to assist your calculations. This would leave you with a monthly principal payment of $214,286 and a first year interest bill on this loan of approximately $1.5 million.
    • You therefore incur interest during the first year of ownership of $2.22 million, which lowers your first year profit to $3,780,000.

Which is the better deal, and why?

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

I salute our veterans on D-Day, June 6th

After visiting Normandy in June of 1994, I gained a complete appreciation for what our soldiers went through to secure the freedom of Europe and save the world. Yes, I was actually in Normandy for the 50th anniversary of D-Day. But no, they wouldn't let us anywhere near the beaches - there were obviously thousands of veterans over there, President Clinton was there.... no access to the fabled sites for anyone that wasn't a veteran or the President. So we sat in a bar in Caen and had a few beers and played pool. Then we backpacked around Europe for 6 weeks and returned to Normandy once the hoopla had died down. If you've ever seen Saving Private Ryan, where the old man is crying over Tom Hanks' grave, I've been there. It's an impeccably kept somber cemetary, overlooking Omaha Beach. It knocked me on my ass.

An old man across the street from me, who had recently been constantly taking spills around his house, just moved into a managed care facility. He served in WWII and was part of D-Day. He is incredibly feeble, and will be gone soon. It's just sad.

So today is the 63rd anniversary of D-Day -- 63 is not one of the bigger anniversary numbers, but for some reason, this day is special to me.

Here's a little reading for today - remember their sacrifice.

Saving money for retirement - Part VI

As previously stated, due to an uncertain future of tax rates, health insurance costs, college costs for kids, changing government regulations, and increased life expectancies, I believe it is near impossible to predict how much we'll actually need to save for retirement. Therefore, the amount you need is A WHOLE LOT! That's all you need to know - you need A LOT. And if you need a large pile of money for retirement, you need to start saving now. The sooner you make the pile of money "sorta big," the bigger it will be upon retirement.

Here is the sixth pitfall that I believe you need to avoid on your road to retirement:

6. Failing to take advantage of a.) IRAs, and b.) 401(k) matches

IRAs and 401(k)'s are the preeminent retirement vehicles at our disposal - not taking advantage of them is foolish.

With an IRA, you have a limited amount you can invest each year ($4,000 in 2007, $5,000 in 2008, higher if you're over 50), so it behooves you to max it out each year to the best of your ability. Coupled with the magic of time and compounding, this gives you the best fighting chance to have a sizable retirement nest egg. $4,000 a year doesn't seem like a lot of money when you think about it in retirement terms (you used to only be able to stash $2,000/yr in an IRA). It just doesn't feel like you're going to get there on a mere $4,000/yr. But it adds up. If you start stashing $4,000/yr in an IRA returning 8% per year, you'll have over $450,000 in 30 years. If you are married and your wife does the same, you'll together have $900,000. If you earn 10%, the historical return of the S&P 500, you'd have two accounts worth a grand total of $1,328,000. Now $4,000 doesn't seem so puny!

With a 401(k), if you're lucky enough to work at a place that offers a match, make sure you max out the match! If your place of work matches 25 cents on the dollar up to 5%, be sure that you withhold 5% from your paycheck. If this is too much to withhold from your check, then you're not pinching enough in other areas. You should never be too poor to take FREE MONEY. Most 401(k) plans have vesting schedules, i.e., you do not legally own the match portion of your investment until you work at your employer for a certain number of years. Even if you're not sure if you plan to remain at your current employer, you should still take full advantage of the match. At the very least, you'll be saving for retirement. At the most, you remain at the employer for the entire vesting period and you receive a bunch of additional free compensation that grows tax-free.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

6/5/07 spin on the blog carousel

I haven't shared links to my favorite articles in a while. Here goes:

The Frugal Law Student has compiled a massive, extremely impressive personal finance resource list. I haven't even clicked on 10% of the links yet. Lots here.

Advanced Personal Finance says term insurance is the only kind of insurance you need. I agree - don't overpay for whole life, etc etc. You need to leave money to someone in case you die - do it as cheaply as possible. This guy has two of my favorite articles of all time (because they speak directly to my sensibilities): Only buy term insurance, and Wal-Mart sucks. Cheers!

Get Rich Slowly asked "Is it better to invest or to prepay a mortgage?" I have posted about that here, and you know my answer is INVEST! But there are two sides to every story, and there is a wide-ranging discussion in the comments section there, with 96 comments as of this writing. I posted a few comments.

Money Smart Life has an introduction to exchange-traded funds (ETF's). I own SPY, DVY, RSP, FXI, and VTI. I consider these the anchors of my portfolio. Then I venture out with my other money into the individual small cap stock world.

The Money Mythos offers a way for small-time investors to get a piece of those high-flying hedge funds. Everyone has witnessed the 30% plus annual returns these funds generate for their wealthy investors, so now there's a way for the little guy to get it. Know the risks involved, though.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Investing success (or not) for 6/4/07

The market showed amazing resiliency today. Shanghai had an 8% meltdown yesterday (well, today, but it feels like yesterday to us because we were all sleeping), and this has typically led to similar pullbacks across the world's bourses. But not today. USA! USA! USA!

But seriously, both the Dow and the S&P 500 posted new records (again). The weird thing is that the gains were miniscule, and yet my portfolio was up $504. I love days like that!

Investing successes today:
Dawson Geophysical (DWSN) - up 4.9%.

OYO Geospace (OYOG) - up 4.1%.

I had 12 other stocks that were up at least 1.5% today.

My Chinese stocks - besides Kongzhong, which bears mentioning below in the "failures" section, my Chinese holdings held up rather well. Typically on a day where Shanghai has a huge drop, my Chinese holdings take a bit of a beating. I was just surprised that that did not happen today.

Investing failures today:
Sadia (SDA) - down 2.7%. No big deal, I'm still up 89% on this stock.

Kongzhong (KONG) - down 2.4%. The stock with the coolest ticker symbol is a real pain in my arse. I have two lots - one is down 40%, the other is down 28%. This stock is barking.

Be careful what you eat

Just a little bit of humor for a Monday afternoon. Don't worry, $1 Million to My Name is still a family blog!

NOTE: TV report contained in link does contain drug references, for those of you at work.

Carnival of Personal Finance #103

The 103rd Carnival of Personal Finance is up over at Clever Dude. Check it out - another wonderful collection of personal finance articles. And be sure to check out my submission!

Saving money for retirement - Part V

As previously stated, due to an uncertain future of tax rates, health insurance costs, college costs for kids, changing government regulations, and increased life expectancies, I believe it is near impossible to predict how much we'll actually need to save for retirement. Therefore, the amount you need is A WHOLE LOT! That's all you need to know - you need A LOT. And if you need a large pile of money for retirement, you need to start saving now. The sooner you make the pile of money "sorta big," the bigger it will be upon retirement.

Here is the fifth pitfall that I believe you need to avoid on your road to retirement:

5. Buying more house than you can afford

Purchasing anything that's more than you can afford is obviously a problem! But purchasing a house that's more than you can afford is a real retirement killer. That runs counter to the idea that your house can actually be a vehicle to drive towards retirement. I argue the opposite - that you should buy a house well within your means, or even below your means, while still meeting your day-to-day needs. Then, as previously espoused, pay your monthly payment each month, do not prepay on principal, and stash the remaining money in the market.

I also have an extensive post on this subject here.

Simply put, it is much more difficult to get your retirement money out of a house than it is a retirement fund. For one thing, to get your retirement money out of your house, you yourself might have to get out of your house! Unless you plan on using a reverse mortgage, you'll have to sell your house and downsize, and I don't think many people understand how that's going to make them feel in the future.

Even I am somewhat guilty of this. We bought a lakehouse back in 2005. A small little place, but still so much fun. With our primary residence and our lakehouse, we're still living below our means and are able to save for retirement each month. But, one of the justifications in my head for the purchase was, "I'm young, I should just do this now. If I get to retirement age and I don't have enough saved up, I'll sell the place." Yeah right, I love that house! I love drinking beer by the lakeside, I love canoeing, playing the bimini ring game I set up, playing ping pong, and on and on. It's a blast - I will post some pictures sometime. Needless to say, I'm going to make damn sure I have enough retirement assets such that I'll never have to sell the place.

I have previously advocated buying a house instead of renting, and I still believe that. But I do not recommend "stretching" when purchasing your house. Find the house that's right for you, that you can fall in love with. But don't overpay, and never live beyond your means.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Q's May 2007 Net Worth Report

We're almost halfway through the year - WOW, where is the year going? - and we've seen a very robust stock market. This rising tide has certainly lifted our boat. I've been at my job for a year now, and it pays less than my previous job (by choice, I get to spend alot more time with my family). And my wife is now 2 days a week, so she's earning 40% of what she used to. We therefore are not able to pump as much into savings, or pay down our Home Equity Line of Credit, as fast as we used to.

Still, our net worth continues to climb. We started off the year with $187,000, and with my goal of increasing our net worth by 20%, that left us with a year-end goal of $224,400. Here's where we are at the end of May:

Net worth, excluding primary residence, cars, and all other possessions: $212,700, up $5,548, or up almost 2.7% for the month. So far for the year, we've seen a $25,275 increase in our net worth, or almost a 13.5% increase. We're well over halfway to our goal with 7 months of the year remaining.

What worked this month:
1. Our investments. Most of my small caps are performing great, including BWLD and CTRP. I'm very excited to see where this portfolio is going to stand in a few years. I started investing in small caps one year ago this month, and I have doubled the return of the S&P 500. I don't think I can expect that kind of performance each and every year, but we've been very blessed with how well it's gone this year.

2. The apartment building. I believe I have the troublesome tenant situation under control. I deposited both his May and June rent checks last Saturday, and I have not had either of them bounce yet. He assured me the money would be in his account, and it appears he was a man of his word. Also, no vacancies and the place is looking great. I do have one tenant that may be moving out due to her father's health (long story), but she is still in the apartment. She is the only tenant out of the four that hasn't paid for June, but she usually pays by the 3rd or 4th. She is wonderful and has never been a problem.

What did NOT work this month:
1. Saving money. We just had alot of things to buy this month, with baby #2 coming in two weeks, etc. Actually, it's last month's purchases that are showing up on this month's Discover bill ($1,500). Usually my last paycheck of the month can be almost fully saved and invested, but not this month. Last night I was only able to use $300 of my paycheck to pay down our Home Equity Line of Credit (which effectively increases the equity we have in the lakehouse).

Note: My $212,700 net worth does not include the equity we have in our primary residence, nor our cars, jewelry, or personal belongings. If included, these additional items would bring our total net worth to $364,400. I pay much more attention to the $212,700 number, so that's the one I'll usually refer to.

Saving money for retirement - Part IV

As previously stated, due to an uncertain future of tax rates, health insurance costs, college costs for kids, changing government regulations, and increased life expectancies, I believe it is near impossible to predict how much we'll actually need to save for retirement. Therefore, the amount you need is A WHOLE LOT! That's all you need to know - you need A LOT. And if you need a large pile of money for retirement, you need to start saving now. The sooner you make the pile of money "sorta big," the bigger it will be upon retirement.

Here is the fourth pitfall that I believe you need to avoid on your road to retirement:

4. Accumulating credit card debt/not getting credit card debt paid off.

Every dollar of credit card debt you have means you're paying interest instead of investing for your retirement. Hopefully you at least own nice things as a reward for being in credit card debt! This is probably the most damaging thing you can do to your financial future. If you end up spending several years to get out of credit card debt, that's several years you could have been investing. And as I showed here, every year counts.

If you are in massive credit card debt and are looking for a way to lessen the blow of those interest charges, I would actually recommend procuring some 0% interest balance transfer credit cards. Yes, get more credit cards! But this time, you're doing it for a good reason. Five Cent Nickel and My Money Blog both have extensive sections on 0% balance transfers. Transfer credit card debt to these, and you'll shield yourself from further interest. Use the money you would have been paying to interest to pay down the principal. DO NOT go spend that money elsewhere!

I would also recommend, if possible, opening up a Home Equity Line of Credit. I pay 8.24% on my HELOC right now, and that is not only lower than the interest rate on most credit cards, but the interest is tax deductible (to me, at least, since we itemize). I would recommend this route if you are unable to open up additional lines of credit that offer 0% balance transfers. I would even recommend it if you don't itemize, since the interest rate will likely be lower than your credit card interest rate. But again, if you are successful in applying for new 0% balance transfer credit cards, that would be the more economical route to go.

Finally, if you cannot discipline yourself to avoid spending on your credit card, get rid of that card! Cut them all up. Yes, forgo those free points, cash back, or airline miles your card pays you. Forget those perks - you are spending more money on interest than you're receiving back in rewards. And I'm speaking to the people that eventually get that debt paid down to zero, only to rack it up again. Without serious discipline, you may fall in the same debt trap you just dug yourself out of. Ditch the cards if you can't control yourself.