Gordon Stein, BESc, MBA, CSC, CFEI (Cash Flow Cook Book)
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Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: So today, we have a very special guest, and I'll let him introduce himself. But briefly, he's Gordon Stein, and he's a wealth speaker, and he's the author of the Cashflow Cookbook. And he's going to talk all about finances. Especially why high income professionals need to really focus on their finances, in addition to their careers. So, Gordon, welcome.
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Oh, pleasure to be here, Chris. Thank you very much.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, I know, we were talking backstage and getting introduced. And what I find fascinating is that, especially in the area of financial literacy, a lot of us devote so much time and money to our careers, we never really focus on our finances. So tell us a little bit about yourself, how you got started, what you do, and we'll go from there.
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Alright, sounds terrific. Thank you. Well, I spent about 35 years in the high tech industry, senior executive, sales and marketing and operations, at companies like Dell and Apple. But I've always been very interested in personal finance. And I've often found that I had large numbers of young people reporting to me, and they'd often say lunchtime conversations, hey, tell me what, how do you build wealth? How do you get ahead? all these kinds of things. And so I had that in my mind. And several years ago, I found a way of getting car washes for free that I found kind of intriguing, not that it saved much, $25 a month. And then I found a way to slash the cost of my home alarm monitoring.
And so this whole thing, this whole process got me curious, because here's a couple of ways of freeing up cash, but they were no more difficult than it. Oh, the normal way. And you know, $50, no big deal. But it got me curious. And I started a list of ways to reduce the cost of just about everything. And the whole category was minimal effort, minimal sacrifice. So the list became a spreadsheet. And then I calculated the future value of making these savings, so what it would be worth over time. The numbers were astronomical, so I took it to my accountant to check for errors. And he said, You know what, this would make a great book.
So that was the start of the book, and I was gonna write it as a novel, but it didn't fit as a novel. And under my breath one day, I said, Gee, it's more like a cookbook. It became the Cashflow Cookbook. And the Cashflow Cookbook began in Canada, which is where I'm originally from. And then it became a newspaper column, I had the book out, it became a Kindle edition. And now that I'm living in the United States, I just released the US edition of the Cashflow Cookbook on Amazon, as well as the Kindle edition. So I’ve spent a lot of time speaking on financial freedom in both the United States and in Canada.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, yeah, that's a fantastic story. And we'll get into the central thesis of the book and everything. And so I know, you talk about financial freedom. And so, for the listeners, they're probably wondering how someone who's not in a high income job, or they're kind of getting along living paycheck to paycheck. So how can average people find a path to financial freedom?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Well, I think if you look at the traditional digital books and literature on financial wellness, there's just the same things over and over again. One of them is saving at least 10% of your gross income. Second one is careful budgeting. And the third one is giving up things that you love.
So if we go through the list, most people earning $50,000 a year will say, I just don't have that 10% of my gross. What's interesting is those earning $500,000 a year will also say, I just don't have that 10% of my gross to save. So that's the first insight. Second insight is that budgeting is just not a lot of fun. And particularly if you're half of a couple, the idea of saying to your spouse, hey, let's spend the weekend doing some detailed financial budgeting, tends not to be a big marriage enhancer. And thirdly no one wants to give up things that they love.
So the whole premise, and where I think this is really groundbreaking, is that a Cashflow Cookbook has financial recipes to free up $13,000 of monthly expenses. So it's about reducing costs in every category of spend, including housing, transportation, food, household, lifestyle, and financial, every bill, every expense can be reduced. And you can do it quite dramatically. And what's interesting is there's ways to do it with minimal effort, and minimal sacrifice. So nobody wants to sacrifice anything. And I, personally, don't sacrifice anything. But the whole premise behind the book is, it's kind of book one. It goes in front of every other investment book. It tells you how to free up that temperature, or 15, or 20%. And when you do that, you can start to really accelerate your wealth and move towards financial freedom.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: So what you're talking about is, there's a couple of ways to increase income and then the other is to decrease your expenses. So that is really interesting. And what if the average listener was like, Oh, I love my Starbucks, or I love my movies, or my Netflix. So is there a way to financial wellness without budgeting?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Well, I absolutely think there is. And you know, I'll tell you, if I feel like another guitar, I get myself a really beautiful one. I've got a whole wall behind me. You know, if I want to go kayaking, I get a great kayak, if I want to go see the Eagles in concert, they get great seats. So I think you want to have a fabulous lifestyle, I think you can. But you know what, I would say this, if I cut my electricity bill in my house in half, it doesn't affect my lifestyle one bit. Or if I reduce the costs of my cell phones, my car insurance, my home insurance, all of these things, they're not fun bills. If you reduce them, they don't change your lifestyle, but they just free up a lot of cash. You can take that cash, and invest it. And if you can do that, adding 1000, 2000 or even $3,000 to your monthly investments. That's a massive difference in your wealth. So it is not unusual that people are able to use my Cashflow Cookbook, and add another million, 2 million, 3 million, 4 million to their wealth or retirement.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Nice, I like that, it's kind of like you just sort of put it away. And it's not very noticeable. And then over time, it grows and compounds. And I was reading an article, it was saying that the number one fear of most Americans is running out of money in retirement. And especially after the last two years, a lot of financial stress. And what's, for the listeners, what's the first step to reduce financial stress?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Well again, there's lots of different theories. In the Cashflow Cookbook, it goes through a number of these steps. And we follow this couple, Eric, and Keisha. And they make these financial discoveries one by one, and I list them as kind of power tips. So we're watching them as they make these discoveries. They make some very simple changes to their finances. And over the course of that opening story, which is only a handful of pages, they add an additional million and a half to their wealth. For me, the first step, I call it broiling a bill. So lots of cooking puns in the Cashflow Cookbook.
The idea is, you take one bill, and in the book, I lay out, like a financial recipe, exactly how to lower each and every bill that people face. So you can do it quite simply, often it takes less than a half an hour, you free up 100 or $200 a month. And there's 60 recipes in there. So some of them are as small as $25 a month, simple changes to make, and again, easy to get started. And some of them are 3, 4, 5, 600 a month, but all simple changes to make in the whole premises require minimal effort, minimal sacrifice.
So when you're talking about something like the Starbucks latte, which is a favorite of financial writers, everybody goes after the Starbucks latte. I sometimes joke that it's not just the latte that gets whipped and frothed. So you might look at it, and you may not think much of it I think. I do think it's worthwhile to do a calculation on how much you're spending in total, and what that would be worth to you over 20 or 30 years. And maybe to do that, you might decide you want to give it up, but there's lots of ways to do it without giving up anything that would be meaningful for you. So start with boiling a bill, that's always step one for me.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Okay nice nice. I know you reference the book a lot. And the book will be included in the show notes. For listeners, what is the most important number to track in budgeting and their finances?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Well, I took a bit of a different view. People focus on this idea of a monthly budget. And monthly budgets aren't fun. And inevitably, there's expenses that come up: the cat needs to go to the vet, your child loses all of his hockey or football gear, you gotta replace it, an appliance goes, the roof needs repair. So they're notoriously different to follow. But I also think they have some flaws.
So as an example, if in your budget, you say, I've got a budget of $650 a month for a car payment. Well, if you go to a car dealer and ask what your budget is, and you say, Well, I've got 650 a month, they'll say, Great, I'll get you into a fabulous car. And maybe it's on a 96 month loan, which is not unusual now. But this isn't a great thing for your wealth. It fit into your monthly budget, but it's probably having a really negative impact on your wealth, because the car dealer can just go to a longer and longer loan, or they can put you in a lease where you don't own anything at the end of the lease, but you're not really helping your wealth. So I think a better number to track is your wealth. And if you think about it, if you want to lose weight, what do you measure, you measure your weight? If you want to increase your wealth, the thing to track is your wealth. And what does that mean?
It's the difference of what you own, minus what you owe. So what you own, your home, your vehicles, those kinds of things, your 401K, your Roth IRA, those are all things that you own. Subtracting what you owe credit card debt, mortgages, car loans, all these things. And when you do that subtraction, you end up with your wealth. And I think it's really important, a great number for people to track is this wealth number, and do the math on that every month for a year. And I think if you do that it changes your whole headspace. Because you'll start to say, if I can lower my expenses, I could free up more cash for investment, I could grow that wealth faster. Same thing is true of paying down debt. So if we track our wealth, I think it changes our whole headspace and starts to really increase our wealth.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah, I’ve heard the net worth approach, which is what you're talking about. And I've also heard of the passive income approach, where you're measuring basically your time and your financial freedom through the amount of passive income that you receive. So what are your thoughts? I know, because of personal finances, there's so many ways to go about attacking it. So what about passive income? What are your thoughts on that?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Yeah, there's no question. And I think one is a path to get to the other one. So let's say for example, that you make a change in your spending, one of the examples I can give you, and we'll get into the details in a moment. But let's say that you had, for example, a chronic condition, and you need some prescription drugs. And other you know, you don't have a drug plan, or maybe this runs over the cost of your deductibles, etc. But let's say that you've got an opportunity by shopping a little bit smarter for prescription drugs, minimal effort, minimal sacrifice, and you're able to free up, say $200 a month. And if you take that $200, and you invest that in some securities, or could be real estate, or whatever it is, now that money is working for you. Before, if you're giving it to a drugstore, it's providing no benefit to you whatsoever. But if you could free up that cash, and there's all kinds of different examples, we'll do lots of them in a minute. If you can free up that cash, get that money working for you, it could be a rental property, could be real estate investment, trust, could be dividend paying shares, and lots of different things. That's exactly where you're going, if you have that wealth, you can put it to use, and that is going to give you back that passive income. Now maybe you want to build that up so you're accumulating wealth. And that will be the case if you're investing for the long haul, or maybe you want it in some sort of a vehicle that makes regular disbursements. But either way, you're going to get to that passive income. The key is getting the money for free, which you can do by reducing some of these bills.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: So we're going from savings to investing. We'll talk about interest rates and you know, banks paying less than. You know, for the book, what's really interesting is where you talked about savings and cutting your expenses. And I know you did a lot of research, what was the most interesting thing you learned from the savings area?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: There's so many of them, and they all fall in such different categories. You know, the biggest thing is how simple it is. I'll give you maybe two or three examples, Christopher, if that would be helpful. One is a personal one that just happened to be recently. And you know, I recently moved to the US. And prescription drug prices here are shockingly high, much higher than they are in Canada remarkably, most of the drugs come from the US. So that's another whole story to be solved. But I had to get a statin pill to lower my cholesterol. And so I went to the drugstore, which was directly below my doctor on the ground floor, as they often are. And so I went to get my statin pills, and had the prescription filled for $107 a month. And I have to take these pills for the rest of my life. So not that $107 is a massive sum. But you know what, it's material, if it's an ongoing expense, which it is. So I said to the pharmacist, Gee, that's a little expensive. And she said why don’t you get on our drug plan? So how does that work? It's $20 a year. And your prescription goes from 107 to $63 a month. So I'm thinking to myself, that’s $500 a month savings for $20 - $500 a year savings for just this $20 card.
So I'm quite pleased with myself for just asking this one simple question. And I was telling the story to my brother in law. And he said, Oh, no, he says, you want to get your drugs from one of the online retailers. So I checked that out, entered the data when I got home, to one of the ones he recommended. $13 a month for the prescription. So I've gone from 107 to 63 to 13. So I thought, well, obviously, we're not done. So I did some more research, ended up with an online pharmacy. I get these pills delivered to my home for $7 a month. So, it's a great illustration that was $100. You know, that's not a huge amount of money. But there's dozens of these. And they're all spelled out in detail in a Cashflow Cookbook. And so I really want to do something if you see people lining up at all the major drug stores all across the US people are getting their prescriptions, and they might be paying 10 times as much as they need to be paying for these prescription drugs. So there's a very, very simple change that was surprising.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: I like that. And I really liked the central thesis where you're just like little expenses, if you can save here and there, they'll add up, and we'll shift on to interest rates. And so you know, thanks paying I guess a couple of months ago paying less than 1%. It's still 1%, 2%, nothing compared to what we see at the gas pump or the grocery store. So, how can people earn more interest on their savings when banks are paying these horrible rates?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Well, it's funny, literally, every time I do a speaking engagement, and I'm speaking on a Cashflow Cookbook, in Canada and the US every single time I run through my examples, and I show the growth and wealth, and I use 7% as an investment rate. And I always get the question, people say, how do you get 7%, because my bank only pays half a percent. If you have large sums of money in your bank at half a percent, you're literally falling backwards these days by about seven and a half percent per year. So you know, that's a great place for short term money. But over the long haul, you really need to have it invested in something that's producing assets.
So it could be your own part of a shopping center or apartment building, something like that, some sort of a real estate investment. Or it could be in the stock market, high quality blue chip things over the long haul. And if you look at it, people say how do you get 7%. That's not realistic. If you look at the history of the S&P 500, the largest 500 equities in the US stock market. If you look at its performance, since its inception, it's well over 9%, including the dividends. So the answer is, really, it's a long term thing. You know, if you look at when COVID happened, it plunged by about 30%, which is shocking. But again, over the long term, all those blips get erased. We had a huge plunge during 9/11, a horrible event that it was, but if you look at the chart now, that blip is, you almost can't see it in the chart, even though it was devastating at the time. So the answer is, you need to be investing in long term producing kinds of assets, real estate, equities, bonds, etc. To get a much better rate over the long term, than you would with bank interest.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Yeah. Nice. Yeah. This has been a great discussion. And I know some of the key takeaways for some of the listeners, such as you know, what three changes could our listeners make today to build wealth?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Sure, lots of them. Well, I would start with taking a look at my blog posts that I have on CashflowCookbook.com. But really, I would start by listing all of those recurring monthly bills, and I would start reducing every single one of them, because they can all be reduced. And that's what's surprising for people. As an example, if you take car insurance, you can go online, there's a number of them. I list them all on my website, there's a number of these engines where you can go online and compare your car insurance. And I would say in a typical situation with two or three vehicles, two or three drivers in the home, if you've got older teenagers it would not be unusual to be able to save 2 or $300 a month, just by going back and re shopping your car insurance is a great place to start.
And once you do that, you're going to be really surprised, you're going to see this money. And then right away, I call it Savor the Savings in the book, you want to put that money to work. So as soon as you do something like re-shop your car insurance right away, you want to contact your wealth advisor, increase your monthly payments. If you’re swimming in debt you want to use that money to pay things down. And then you'll see the difference as you track your wealth.
I can give you a couple other examples, if you like, of some savings, things that people don’t really think about. So one of them was really quite surprising. And I missed it for the first few printings of the book. And that is the credit rating. And a lot of people don't know what their credit score is, they don't pay much attention to it. So in that way, it's kind of stealthy. It's not like you're buying Starbucks coffee or something. But there's lots of people who are quite well to do but they don't always pay their bills on time, they let it slide a little bit. Or maybe there's an error on their credit report, which is surprisingly common. But what can happen is, the poor credit score, you can be paying 70% more interest over the course of a loan or mortgage. 70% more. And it can lead to an increase of 30 to 50% on your car insurance, and 30 to 50% on your home insurance. So it's worthwhile to use one of the tools, take a look at your credit score, make sure there's no errors in the report. And make sure you're optimizing it, because it's very stealthy, you might be paying significantly more, it can mean a difference of hundreds of dollars a month that people don't even realize.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Wow, wow. Yeah, you get so many good examples. And a lot of action steps to take. Definitely the book has a lot more. So I know a lot of people are interested in you know, finding out more about you, contacting you, looking at the book and possibly working with you. So how can they do that?
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: Sure. So a great place to start is my website, which is CashflowCookbook.com. There's all kinds of content in there. There's about 60 blog posts that I've got up, with ideas of savings on all kinds of things. Everything is free on the website. There's nothing to buy. There's no spamming, there's nothing. I'd recommend subscribing to the blog posts. So that's one place to get started. You can get a copy of the Cashflow Cookbook on Amazon. There's both a US and a Canadian edition up there, both in paperback and Kindle editions. So that's probably the single best investment you can make in your wealth.
People always say what's the best investment? Knowledge is always the best investment. So you can have a look at the Cashflow Cookbook, the book itself, it's up there. And I also do a lot of speaking. So if you have a group, maybe it's a group of doctors or entrepreneurs, and you want me to come and speak about Cashflow Cookbooks, and how to free up all this cash flow. I usually talk about how to add a million or more to wealth in retirement. So I'm available for speaking engagements, and you can find that on my website.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Awesome. And for all the listeners, Gordon's references and resources will be included in the show notes. Thanks so much for coming on to the show, and we look forward to hearing about your future successes.
Gordon Stein MBA, CFEI: A real pleasure. Thank you so much, Chris. I enjoyed speaking with you.
Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD: Many thanks again for being here. If you’re new, you can find me online at Christopher H. Loo, MD-PhD, where I have links to other episodes or links to online resources that will support you on your financial literacy journey. I’ll see you there in on next week’s show. While I bring you thoroughly vetted information on this show regarding a variety of financial topics, I cannot promise you a one size fits all solution. This is why I caution you to continue to learn. Educate yourself and seek professional advice unique to your situation. If you want to talk to me, I welcome it. Please reach out via my website or email at Chris@drchrisloomdphd.com. I read and personally respond to all of my emails. Talk soon!
Editor's note: This transcript has been edited for brevity and clarity.