August 16, 2011

The Wealth Gap: The False Promise of Home Ownership

The Wealth Gap
source: Nick Bastian

The Pew Study reports a stark contrast in the wealth of households by racial group. The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households. The study very quickly points to differences in home ownership (non-investment real estate) as the main culprit in explaining the differences in wealth. (Because blacks and Hispanics have very similar financial characteristics and those characteristics highly contrast those of whites and Asians, I will use the stats from the black and white populations for these illustrations.) For instance:

  • Only 46% of black households owned their own home, while
  • Among white households, 74% owned a home.

So right off we can see black households far behind in the primary asset that contributes to wealth – a home. Owning a home is a pervasive and deep seeded American dream. It has been promoted as the sure way to wealth, by our government, our financial advisors, our ministers and any number of late night infomercials. And the above statistic seems to support this idea. Own a home, get rich.

But I am here to say this idea is misguided. It represents one of the biggest fallacies of wealth accumulation in existence. Home ownership is not a panacea. In fact, if pursued to the exclusion of other assets, especially financial assets, it can be an albatross.

To explain what I mean, let’s look deeper into the stats and include those from wealthy households regardless of race. For blacks and whites alike, home equity made up the lion’s share of net worth. For blacks however, owning this asset (or not owning it), proved much more contributory to the rise, fall or existence of net worth. For example:

  • For black households that owned a home, home equity made up 56% of its net worth.
  • For white households that owned a home, home equity made up 38% of its net worth.

White households tend to be more diversified than black households. Thus they were able to better withstand the downturn in the real estate market experienced of the last few years. In fact, many black households bought at the peak of the real estate bubble during the days of 110% financing and easy credit. Another study conducted by Pew tells us that 35% of black home owners are under water on their mortgage, meaning they owe more on their mortgage than their home is worth. “Only” 18% of white home owners are in this situation.

Being a little more diversified (not too much) protects wealth. Something the very wealthy, regardless of race, have figured out. According to the latest Survey of Consumer Finances:

  • Of households in the top 5 percent of wealth (usually $1.5 million or more in net worth), 98% own their own home, however, home equity makes up only 15% of their net worth.

Blacks who are financially upwardly mobile, for lack of a better term, have caught on that home ownership is a great tool for wealth accumulation. But somehow, the forest was missed for the trees. Home ownership if all goes well can be a financial benefit, but in comparison to other assets available in the marketplace, real estate falls way way short on delivering functional (read: spendable) wealth. That usually comes in the form of stock, bonds, cash and business ownership. I will explore those differences in a later post. The next post however, I will look at the differences among racial groups in unsecured debts and ownership of other tangible assets like cars.


"Tax My Fortune! Please! Why Warren Buffett Should Volunteer to Pay Higher Taxes" by Daniel Gross, Contrary Indicator; Yahoo! Finance

Paying a few billion dollars in taxes that it isn't required to would allow General Electric, and any other company that follows suit, to do what most Fortune 500 firms haven't been able to do since the 1990s: claim the moral high ground. Just as a self-taxing Buffett would, a self-taxing company would garner a huge amount of publicity and positive reputation-building.

"That market plunge was so last week" by Bloomberg; Pensions and Investments


"Coffee Wars: Is Dunkin’ Donuts More Valuable Than Starbucks?" by Stacy Curtain, Daily Ticker; Yahoo Finance

"Dunkin' Launches K-Cups; Starbucks Soon to Follow" by Karlene Lukovitz; Mediapost

"Starbucks CEO to DC: You've been cut off" by Charles Riley: CNN Money


"7 Tips for Writing E-mails That Won't Get Deleted" by Jill Konrath; Inc Magazine

"How to Talk with Your Children About Sex" by Planned Parenthood

"I ain't talking 'bout rich, I'm talking 'bout wealth. Wealth is passed down from generation to generation. You can't get rid of wealth. Rich is some shit you can lose with a crazy summer and a drug habit." - Chris Rock

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August 15, 2011

The Wealth Gap Continues

A few weeks ago researchers at Pew Research Center released a study on the wealth disparity among racial groups in the U.S. Here are the highlights from the study:

  • The median wealth of white households is 20 times that of black households and 18 times that of Hispanic households.
  • The net worth of Hispanic households decreased from $18,359 in 2005 to $6,325 in 2009. The percentage drop—66%—was the largest among all groups.
  • The net worth of black households fell from $12,124 in 2005 to $5,677 in 2009, a decline of 53%.
  • The drop in the wealth of white households was modest in comparison, falling 16% from $134,992 in 2005 to $113,149 in 2009.

While these statistics are nothing new, they should be of concern to all of us. There is a large portion of our population whose wealth is not substantial enough to participate fully in all our country has to offer. But instead of lamenting the political structure or the legacy of American racism and their role in “the gap”, starting tomorrow I want to take the next few posts to look at things we can control using the Pew study as a guide. For example, I want to examine the differences in the approach to wealth accumulation among ethnic/racial groups. What works, what doesn't. Stay tuned.


Stop Coddling the Super-Rich by Warren E. Buffett; New York Times

While the poor and middle class fight for us in Afghanistan, and while most Americans struggle to make ends meet, we mega-rich continue to get our extraordinary tax breaks.


Supercharging Android: Google to Acquire Motorola Mobility by Larry Page, Google CEO; The Official Google Blog


Wealth Gaps Rise to Record Highs Between Whites, Blacks, Hispanics by Rakesh Kochhar, Richard Fry and Paul Taylor; Pew Research Center

"Back-to-School Special: 5 Tips on Picking a Good School" by Andrew J. Rotherham; Time

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February 18, 2011

In Defense of Frugal: The Happy Home

Fortune cookie: small house, big happy
source: Myra Matos

One bit of financial advice my father gave me when I was younger was, “Son, you can’t drive your house but you can sleep in your car.” I didn’t really get it at the time but I definitely do now. Essentially he was saying don’t spend too much on a home, you’ll be financially better off if you don’t. Without getting too much into my parents’ finances, on a teacher’s and painting contractor’s income, they have been able to save and invest where their capital will kick off enough income in retirement as they earned when they were working. They live modestly but do not need to. They could actually increase their lifestyle substantially if they wanted, but are satisfied making cookies with my daughters, their grandchildren, and going on the occasional vacation.

Originally, as I promised to do in “Are You A Millionaire?”, I was going to post about the second measure of wealth. I talked about the first in “Your Wealth Ratio”. But some conversations recently prompted me to find out if my father’s advice stood up to muster. I went back and skimmed some of Thomas Stanley’s books, including his most recent, Stop Acting Rich. One of the tidbits I found very interesting is that Stanley’s research revealed that most millionaires carry mortgages despite the ability to pay them off in full. I thought it’d be interesting to see, given recent years’ turmoil in the mortgage and real estate markets, if these numbers still held up.

Using the information in Stanley’s recent work and two of Stanley’s earlier works, The Millionaire Mind and The Millionaire Next Door, somewhere between 50% and 60% of the millionaires surveyed hold mortgages on homes purchased 23 years prior. Additionally, the current outstanding mortgage on homes belonging to deca-millionaires (those with $10 million in or more in net worth) is equal to 7% of the home’s current value while the typical millionaire (50% have less than $2 million) has a mortgage balance of just under a third of the home’s market value. Thus, I assumed a mortgage of 15% of the home’s value for milionaires between $3.5 to $10 million and overall of 30% for those under $3.5 million. I used the IRS Personal Wealth Statistics from 2004 (,,id=185880,00.html) The below chart shows that millionaires still have more than enough cash to pay off the mortgages whenever they want. (Please click the table or here for a larger view.)

In other words, according the IRS study and Stanley, millionaires on average hold nearly five times the value of their outstanding mortgage in cash and cash equivalent securities. They can pay off their mortgage at any time.

Continue reading "In Defense of Frugal: The Happy Home" »

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February 11, 2011

Payday Challenge #4: Know Your Number

Ormon calculator by faasdant
source: faasdant

Aren’t you curious about where you stand? Whether you got a B+ on the test? Or maybe this time it was an A. Aren’t you the wee bit interested in knowing if your few weeks on the P90X program has budged the needle on the scale? I bet you can’t wait until the spring when you’ll find out if your tomato garden will grow taller than your neighbor's this year because of the new ingredient you added to your fertilizer the autumn before. Is it not informative to know if your blood pressure is in the high, normal or low zones? Of course it is.

Comparative analysis is a great tool. And when it comes to your finances it is no different. Most of us are, and if we’re not we should be, curious to know if our daily financial happenings are moving us closer to financial independence or further away? Well that’s what Payday Challenge #4 is all about - “Know Your Number”. I posted a PC on Twitter and Facebook a few weeks back of similar ilk,

Payday Challenge #4: Know ur numbers. 3-parts. 1) $$ for financial independence, 2) ur savings rate, 3) the return...

We’ll get to those numbers later, but for now I am remixing that PC. The “Number” we’re concentrating on today is where each of us should stand in terms of wealth given our age and household income. I gave you the formula in the last post, “Your Wealth Ratio”. In case you missed it here it is again:

The Brick Wealth Ratio© = [(Age * Age) / (22 * (100 – Age))] * Income

If you’re math phobic don’t fret. I’ve also provided a calculator that can also be found in the previous post. All you need to do is plug in your age and income and presto, it spits out whether you have been good, bad or just plain ugly (Mom always says, “No one is ugly.”) at accumulating wealth.

But that’s not all I want you to do. The second part of the challenge is to share your results with me. Privately of course. (I am bound by privacy laws.) Are you a BA/PAW? If so, how did you do it? I want to learn from you. Was/is it diligent saving? An unexpected inheritance? What? Maybe you’re an IA/UAW. Even if you are, I still want you to share your results. Let me know why you think you might not be doing as well as you could. Do you have a plan to improve? Let me know what it is. I want to learn from you as well.

And I’d like to share, those of you who allow me, your story with others as well. Anonymously of course (Again, I am bound by privacy laws). Let’s all learn from each other. Just email me at and in your own words let me know about your financial successes and your financial hiccups. I may write a future post, with names, dates and specifics appropriately altered, with lessons learned from what you tell me. Maybe some of you might share one great tip or two which can posted on Twitter or Facebook. My vision is that everyone can be better off financially. What better way to learn from each others’ “goods, bads and uglies”.

But a few ground rules should be presented:

  1. If you do decide to share, all I really need to know is what category on the Brick Wealth Ratio you fall into – IA/UAW, AAW or BA/PAW - and how you got there. Minute details are unnecessary for me or the rest of us to learn from one another.

  2. When calculating your net worth figure, anything inside your house doesn’t count as an asset. No furniture, no jewelry, not even your car. Personal financial assets, business assets and real estate are all that count, however,

  3. ALL your liabilities count. For instance, although your car doesn’t count as an asset, the debt on that car does.

  4. If your income has greatly fluctuated over the last few years, use the average of say the last three.

That’s it. Payday Challenge #4 - Know Your Number and share your story.

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February 09, 2011

In Defense of Frugal: Your Wealth Ratio

The Benz
source: topdeluxe

In this second installment of the “In Defense of Frugal” series or the IDF series I will tackle what I said was the first measure of wealth. In the first post, “Are You A Millionaire?”, I tried to illustrate how frugality lent itself to wealth getting. In other words I tried to show success in building wealth is in large part due to how efficient one is at converting earned dollars into wealth dollars. Further, I said someone who earns a modest income may be much better at income-to-wealth conversion than someone who makes a handsome income. In fact, as I mentioned in the previous post, folks of moderate income tend to become wealthier than high income earners over the long haul. Of course it doesn’t have to be that way. High income earners have an advantage in that they have more funds available to invest. But that’s on a “gross” level. They “net” less of their funds because the majority instead spend those funds on items of little or no lasting value.

The concept that moderate income earners may be better at income-to-wealth converting than high-income earners is hard for most of us to wrap our minds around. Considering the high-income earners are driving luxury autos, live in large homes and spend lavishly on clothing, entertainment and travel. Most of us think, if these folks can buy all that stuff, how are they not rich? Well, they aren’t rich because they buy all that stuff. It is true, you cannot have your cake and eat it too. They’ve traded their potential wealth (and independence) for trinkets. Here are the facts as culled together by Dr. Thomas Stanley and American Express Publishing /Harrison Group:

  • 87% of luxury motor vehicles are driven by non-millionaires. The most popular vehicles among high-income non-millionaires are Mercedes Benz and BMW. Most are leased. The most popular vehicle among millionaires is Toyota followed closely by Ford. Millionaires tend to purchase their cars.

  • 73% of homes valued at over $1,000,000 are occupied by non-millionaires. They are purchased with jumbo mortgages with very little equity in place. In fact, many are under water right now. Millionaires on the other hand live in much more modest homes. 90% of millionaires live in homes valued at less than $1,000,000 and 28% live in homes valued at less than $300,000. Millionaires understand buying a more expensive home is likely to decrease the odds of becoming financially independent.

  • Surveys conducted by Stanley and AmEx/Harrison showed similar results. Each survey focused on millionaires and high income earning non-millionaires on the subject of retailers frequented. Millionaires mentioned Target, Kohl’s, Costco and T.J. Maxx as most frequented. High income non-millionaires most cited stores were Banana Republic, Saks Fifth Ave, Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom.

I hear the boo birds chirping. Many of you reading this are probably saying, "What’s the point in having money if you can’t spend it on the finer things? Can’t I spend on the finer things and still get rich? After all, money is for spending, right?" I have to say I have a hard time arguing against this point. But over the years I’ve come to understand there is a time and a place for everything. Again, it is fine to spend. But not to the point that is sabotages your wealth building. This is where The Brick Wealth Ratio© comes in. It let's us know if our current lifestyle will allow us to become financially independent.

Continue reading "In Defense of Frugal: Your Wealth Ratio" »

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November 05, 2010

Payday Challenge #3: Get Drunk For Cheap

Wine Shop by Paul Goyett
source: Paul Goyette

Most of us get a cash infusion into our bank account every other Friday and promptly do things with our money that are ill-advised. At least for those of us who’d like to be financially independent one day. But so many of us feel to do anything other than spend our money like it will self destruct in seconds if we don’t, makes us the 21st century version of Scrooge. Very few of us realize there is a vast difference between frugal and cheap. Frugal will eventually make you rich. Cheap will have the ghosts of Christmas Past, Present and Future visiting you in the middle of the night.

So few of us understand the power of thrift, saving and investing for the rainy (or even the sunny) day. Having “it” now is the only thing most of us know. Waiting for the proverbial “it” is simply boring and most of us are unwilling to be bored even if in the long (sometimes not so long) run we are far better off. The truth is getting wealthy is not boring. And the art of wealth getting has always been earn, conserve, invest, repeat. Heck, Benjamin Franklin wrote of the same formula in The Way to Wealth about 250 years ago in one issue of Poor Richard’s Almanac:

"If you would be wealthy, says (Poor Richard), think of saving as well as of getting: the Indies have not made Spain rich, because her outgoes are greater than her incomes. Away then with your expensive follies, and you will not have so much cause to complain of hard times, heavy taxes, and chargeable families; for, as Poor Dick says, 'Women and wine, game and deceit, Make the wealth small, and the wants great'."

What Benjamin Franklin, through Poor Richard, espoused was simply living frugally and investing the difference. Does living frugally equate to living like a pauper? Nothing could be further from the truth. Some of us just need a little education, need a little information, for us to understand we can enjoy ourselves without disturbing the “way to wealth” formula. We can actually have a little fun in the process. So a couple of weeks ago I starting posting a Payday Challenge on Twitter (link) with the goal of informing about saving and investing with the hope we might all be able to see the process of wealth getting can be fun along the way.

The first two Payday Challenges on Twitter were:

Continue reading "Payday Challenge #3: Get Drunk For Cheap" »

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April 15, 2008

Charity (Should) Begin at Home


A few years ago the Center on Wealth and Philanthropy conducted a study examining trends on wealth and wealth transfer within the African-American community. What CWP found was not astonishing – African-Americans are generous with their money. This finding in right in line with a 2003 study reported in the Chronicle of Philanthropy that African Americans typically donate up to 25% more of their discretionary income than do whites.

CWP turned up some other some other not-so-surprising but all-to-disappointing statistics as well – African Americans have less money to go around than other racial groups. According to the study (2001 figures), African Americans made up 13.2 million U.S. households, about 12.4% of all households. Yet they only earned 7.1% of aggregate household income and only owned 2.5% of household wealth.

It’s a little self defeating to give more when you have less to give. Altruism has its place. But so does rational selfishness. I am not saying one should not be generous. What I’m saying is charity should start at home. Most millionaires agree. I am in wholehearted agreement with Warren Buffett who said:

“…I always had the idea that philanthropy was important today, but would be equally important in one year, ten years, 20 years, and the future generally. And someone who was compounding money at a high rate, I thought, was the better party to be taking care of the philanthropy that was to be done 20 years out, while the people compounding at a lower rate should logically take care of the current philanthropy.”

The African American community should take note. Invest for the long term in the stock market, accumulate wealth and then give it away. There’ll be more of it to give in the end.

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March 23, 2008

The Lure of the Lottery

Warren E. Buffett

"People would rather be promised a (presumably) winning lottery ticket next week than an opportunity to get rich slowly."

- Warren Buffett




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September 12, 2007

Fear Not

Sean "P. Diddy" Combs"Scared money don't make none."

 - Sean "P. Diddy" Combs




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May 20, 2007

Chris Rock on "Black" Wealth

Chris Rock

''We got no wealthy black people. We got rich people. Shaq is rich. The guy who signs his check is wealthy. Here you go Shaq! Go buy yourself a bouncin' car. Bling Bling!"

"If Bill Gates woke up with Oprah's money, he'd throw himself out the mother-bleeping-ing window.''

"Wealth will set us bleep-ing free, okay? 'Cause wealth is empowering, wealth can uplift communities from poverty, okay? A white man gets wealthy, he builds Wal-Marts and makes other white people have some mother-bleep-ing money. A brother gets rich, he buys some mother-bleep-ing jewelry."

 - Chris Rock

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April 23, 2006

Inside the Budget of a Millionaire

Did you know that for every 100 millionaires who don't "budget", there are about 120 that do. More than half of the nonbudgeters invest first and spend the balance of their income. Many call this the "pay yourself first" strategy. These people invest a minimum of 15 percent of their annual realized income before they pay the sellers of their food, clothers, homes, credit and the like. When asked [of millionaires], "Do you know how much your family spends each year for food, clothing, and shelter?" almost two-thirds of millionaires answer yes. Source: The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas Stanley

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July 15, 2005

Rules of Dumb

Dumb RulesI had a thought about financial "rules-of-thumb". Most don't work. Those that work at all, work in only some situations. What they should call them is financial "Rules-of-DUMB". I can think of a few right off the top of my head. Like:

1. Buy as much house as you can afford.

Now this one is just ridiculous although so many people follow it. Buying a "lot of house" will only serve to make you house rich and cash poor. And usually, what you can afford is determined by some mortgage broker. In my view, that's the last guy you should be listening to. That's like the sheep asking the wolf for advice on how not to get eaten. (No knock against mortgage brokers. I'm just pointing out a conflict of interest there.)

Most of us would be better off buying an easily affordable house. Not "mortgage broker" affordable, but The Millionaire Mind affordable. According to the book's author Thomas Stanley, an easily affordable house is one in which you can afford on HALF your present income for the next FIVE years without disrupting your lifestyle. If this can't be achieved, then consider that you have a house that is not easily affordable.

2. Diversify.

I'll paraphrase Warren Buffett by saying diversification is for the know-nothing investor. The know-something investor should concentrate. Our intent with diversification is to lower our volatility. But what we don't consider is we are also lowering our potential return. If we study our investments a little more and understand them, we'd be better served by concentrating on those investments that offer the highest probability of success. Concentrate to get rich then diversify to stay rich OR stay concentrated to get richer.

3. Save 6 months living expenses for emergencies in cash.

What emergencies are we talking about that would require 6 months worth of expenses? I mean seriously. This is just one of those rules that I think goes too far. If we are properly insured with health, life, disability, home/renter's, auto and the like, most emergencies are taken care of. Most of us, if we were to loose our jobs, will be able to collect unemployment. And if we were to find ourselves in that situation and unemployment doesn't cover our expenses, we certainly wouldn't need that much money in cash (money market fund, savings, under mattress, etc.)!

For most people, having more than say $5,000 in cash is a waste. The rest of your "emergency" funds should be diverted to higher earning liquid assets like stocks. But what if the stock market goes down you ask? Well all I can say is that the stock market is more likely to go UP! In fact, the market goes up about 75% of the time. So it's much more prudent to put your money (your emergency money too) in stocks, though the rule-of-dumb says otherwise.

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July 13, 2005

The Emotional Investor

Emotional InvestorOne of the characteristics Warren Buffett looks for in managers of the companies he owns (read: The Warren Buffet Way by Rob Hagstrom) is rationality. In essence, he's looking for managers that will allocate corporate funds to areas that make the most economic sense. An emotional approach to capital allocation would undoubtedly lead to decisions that would decrease shareholder wealth.

I find that very few financial decisions we make for ourselves are rational. Just the opposite in fact. Almost all of our decisions, especially as they relate to our personal finances, have some emotional component. For example, I'm acquainted with a few single 30-somethings that have recently become homeowners. In every case (except for one), these individuals moved out of a small and inexpensive apartment into a much larger and expensive home. A couple were actually moving out of a rent free situation (they were living with mom). Along the line, each one of them has said to me in one way or another, that they thought they were making a good economic decision. In other words what they were saying is that they thought they were being rational and that they'd be making themselves wealthier by buying a home.

It makes me giggle a little that any of them would actually say that they'd be economically better off. I mean, how much better off can you be economically going from paying next to nothing (small apt/living with mom) to paying a substantial something (buying an expensive home in a historically inflated real estate market). These folks are clearly making emotional economic decisions although they'd like to think otherwise. In no way can a situation in which substantial money is spent be better than a situation in which no money is spent. The only explanation is that judgment was clouded by emotion.

But I'll give these individuals the benefit of the doubt as we all have heard time and time again that homeownership is a sure way to wealth. We've heard it so much that we'll even abide by it when the choice of homeownership is the much more expensive choice for us. We dread doing the wrong things with our money (at least some of us). Our emotions take over and suspend our rational thought. Without rational thought, we wind up making the wrong decisions.

Even in situations when we know better, emotions play a big part in our decisions. As some of you (I'm positive not all of you) may be aware paying down a low interest rate mortgage early is not the best financial decision one can make. One would be far better off putting those extra mortgage payments to work in the stock market (or your own business) where one would probably receive a much higher rate of return. But clearly, this is not simply a financial decision. Emotions play a huge part in personal finance and carrying a mortgage is no exception.

I have a friend and with his and his wife's combined incomes, they will be able to pay off his existing mortgage in a very short time. And they will probably go ahead and do just that. My friend also understands that he'll be better off financially if he never accelerated his payments. When I asked him why he planned on paying the mortgage off early knowing what he knows he simply stated, "Cause debt don't feel good."

"Debt don't feel good" is not rational. It's emotional. In Thomas Stanley's book The Millionaire Mind, he profiled several millionaires and their treatment of their homes and mortgages. It was clear that most millionaires are "less" emotional when approaching their own personal finances. Which is why according to Stanley most millionaires (not all) carry mortgages to full term. When millionaires approach a financial decision, they choose the alternative that puts the odds of being wealthier in their favor. This is why they save instead of spend, buy stocks more than bonds (or real estate for that matter), lead low consumption lifestyles instead of ostentatious spend-thrift lifestyles, run their own business instead of working for "the man". I think most millionaires exhibit some form of economic rationality. Paying down a mortgage early or buying an expensive house isn't economically rational. But like my friend says, debt just don't feel good and neither does living with your mama. And maybe that's more important but it won't help your wallet.

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June 27, 2005

Use Your Head

"Money without brains is always dangerous."
- Napoleon Hill

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About Brick Financial Management, LLC

Blogged by Brick Financial

160 Maplewood Ave, P.O. Box 263
Maplewood, NJ 07040
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Brick Financial Management, LLC specializes in providing investment management services to individuals, families, organizations and institutions. We implement highly focused stock, bond, and balanced portfolios using an investment approach commonly referred to as value investing. Disclosure


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