Take Advantage of Free Education

Do you want free education? I know that there is recurring talk in the political realm about the debate over whether higher education should be free or not, but that’s not what this is about.

This is about the free education that is all around you that you could take advantage of, but that you pass by.

When I was in high school, I was offered the chance to go to a technical school to learn a trade. I planned to go to college, but I saw something good in learning a trade so that I would have employment before I went to college. I went to a vocational technical school while I was in high school, aside from my college prep classes, and learned how to repair computers. That technical training in my junior and senior years gave me a very early start into the computer field. I would eventually complete an undergrad in information technology and then go on to attain an MBA, but I know that I made my career entrance a lot earlier. The vocational education gave me the ability to become a computer technician at the age of 17, and start gaining experience (and income). I did not have to wait until I graduated from college.

Additionally, when I was in high school, I was offered the chance to take college classes at significantly reduced rates (I believe a few were free, and others were nearly free). I chose to take the classes, and they were credits that I did not need to pay so much more for when I went to college.

You might be thinking… “that’s high school. I’m not in high school anymore.”

Well, continue on.

Not long after high school had ended, I was offered the chance to teach a class on computer repair. I wasn’t going to get paid. I was going to have someone help me prepare for the class so that I would know how to format a lesson and teach the content. I decided to do it. It cost me some time, but I learned how to teach in an academic setting. It gave me knowledge and experience for later opportunities when I would teach for local colleges.

Just a few years after high school, I got into real estate investing. As I did so, I found that I needed to learn about wiring receptacles. How did I find out how? I initially got a book from my local library on the basics of home wiring. I read the instructions and looked at the wiring layout and followed what I read.

At another time, when I wanted to learn how to drive a manual vehicle (I needed to buy a truck and I found an affordable one that was not an automatic) I went onto the Internet and looked up “how to drive a manual vehicle.” It might sound ridiculous, but it worked. I bough the vehicle and I knew just enough to get the vehicle home. It wasn’t a pleasant experience, but once it was home I had the ability to get better, and in short order I learned to drive with no issue.

Then, I worked for an employer who offered a very small amount of money for workplace training (it was less than $500 per year) but I figured I would take advantage of it and get a certification in my career field.

At another employer, I was offered a larger annual sum for education. It wasn’t enough that I could go get a degree (I had two degrees, and didn’t really want anymore) but it was enough that I could learn a new skill. Looking around, I realized that one of my biggest challenges and expenses as a real estate investor was HVAC work. Since the EPA requires certifications to be allowed to buy refrigerant, and since HVAC services are expensive, I figured I would dramatically benefit my own investing by getting the certification. My employer was paying, but I would reap significant benefits from it.

Lastly, I will mention that most times I go dancing (many of the dances are free) I find that there is a free lesson taught. If you wanted to learn to dance, you could very likely look for places in your area where dances are held and find out which ones are at no cost and which ones have lessons. While I’m primarily self-taught, I did learn quite a few things from the free lessons before dances.

As you read all of this, consider how much opportunity I would have passed if I never decided to take advantage of the free education that was available.

What kind of education are you passing up? Are you in high school and able to benefit from learning a trade before you go to college? Are you working for an employer who offers tuition or education reimbursement? Is someone else willing to apprentice you?

Free education is all around. You only need to start looking and as time passes you will find more and more opportunities. If you have never thought of how much you could benefit by learning without paying, hopefully this has given you a different perspective.

Investing in Residential Real Estate

“Real Estate has made more wealth for more people than any other investment vehicle.”

That is the claim, anyway. I’ve heard it quoted over and over. I don’t know whether it is true or not, but it doesn’t matter, because the substance here is even better than the sizzle. Real Estate investing is something that is relatively accessible compared to other investments. It requires no specialized education. It does not require advanced skills or talents. It does not have to involve a lot of money and it does not have to involve a lot of time, depending on how you invest. If you are careful and move slowly, you have a good chance of doing well. It is also a favored asset in terms of financing, which means that banks will lend money to you on the easier end of the difficulty scale so that you can buy a house and rehab it for rent or resale. By contrast, banks are less likely to lend to you to start a small business. If you want to engage a bank to lend you money to start to speculate in the stock market, good luck.

Real Estate investing is something that can be done while a person works a full-time job. Just as you can manage to find the time to buy a house to live in while you are employed full-time, you can also find the time to buy a house to invest in. This benefit to real estate investing should not be overlooked, because you can size your investment difficulty to the time and capital (money) requirements that you have. In other words, you don’t have to make your life miserable and work all of the time just to invest in real estate.

I started to invest in real estate when I changed employers. I decided that my 90 minute commute for the former employer was something I would never do again, and started to look for housing next to where I was hired. Admittedly, I was considering renting an apartment. I wasn’t looking to own. When I looked for apartments for rent, there were not very many in the area in which I was searching, and there were zero that I both wanted and could afford. With such limited options, I decided to look for a place that I could purchase.

Ultimately, I decided to buy a two unit duplex where I would live on the top floor and rent the bottom. The top floor was in very poor condition. The bottom floor was acceptable. That made where I wanted to live an easy choice. Renting the superior unit was easier, and by occupying the unit that needed a lot of work, I could pace myself. My investing got off to a rocky start, but it quickly became something that I learned how to do and how to succeed at.

When you think of investing in real estate, you probably think of rent. That was about all I thought about when I started. However, it did not take very long, but real estate investing had more benefits than I originally considered.

Income 

Yes, there was rent. That first rent check was the first time that I collected any significant income that was not a function of my employer. Knowing that I had other income was a great feeling, and it meant that I was less dependent upon my employer. Subsequent properties, each producing rent, would only add to that.

Amortization

Even though I was living in half of the structure, my monthly rent was paying most of the mortgage, and the mortgage was going down by an increasing amount each month. That is called amortization. The loan balance goes down and there is less interest that the bank can charge. Since the mortgage payment stayed the same, there was more and more money going to pay down the loan (principal) each month.

Appreciation

Beyond rent and amortization, I found over time that the property also increased in value year after year, though slowly. This is referred to as appreciation. That first property appreciated modestly, but after 5 years I found it was worth about 11% more than I paid for it. After 10 years, it was about 25%. In reality, it did only slightly better than inflation, but this was just one of the benefits of investing.

Depreciation

Next, there was depreciation. When I did my taxes, I was allowed to write off a percentage of the value of the property. This meant that I paid less in income taxes. What I also discovered is that if the depreciation pushed my rental property to have no profit, on paper, then I would actually be able to take the rental loss (up to $25,000 at that time) off of my income. So, my own wages, in effect, were reduced somewhat for tax purposes. I paid less in taxes because of my real estate, and that was ultimately due to depreciation.

Experience

The next thing that I gained from real estate investing was experience. Before I started to invest, I had never used a table saw. I never snaked a sewer. I did not know how to unlock siding. I gave no though to downspouts and water drainage. I didn’t even really own any tools. Also, I never had applied for a loan, I did not think anything about the value of a credit score and I had never had to itemize on my taxes. By investing in real estate, I learned a lot about home repairs, legal expectations, finances and a lot of other things, too.

Opportunities

Finally, there were opportunities that came from learning so much from over a decade of real estate investment. I got into real estate to make extra income. It accomplished that, and grew slowly over time as I continued to invest. However, beyond everything else just discussed, I started teaching dance for a local college. Then the thought came to me that I could surely also teach real estate, which I did. Furthermore, the writing that you are now reading can be traced back to real estate. While I write about many topics, I got into writing because I initially wanted to write about real estate, since it was so interesting to me. Both teaching and writing are two things that I love to do, and they can be traced back to the experiences that I gained from investing in real estate. Even the dancing that I just mentioned was a function of real estate, but that’s a subject for another time.

Real Estate investing offers a lot of benefits. This was an example of how to buy and hold, but there is also the option of rehabbing and selling, also called flipping. I have also done this, though it is not my preferred method of investing as it is a high intensity activity, which is more like a business than an investment. There are other less common ways to profit from real estate, but between buy and sell and buy and hold you have the majority of what people do in real estate.

If you would like to learn more about real estate investing, keep reading, or check out the videos and books on the topic.

Learning How to Dance

It was by accident that I learned how to dance. I was posting an apartment for rent on Craigslist one evening and feeling really bored. So, I decided to click on the services section just to see if there was anything else out there that would interest me. In doing so, I stumbled upon an ad posted by a woman who was offering dance lessons out of her house. The price was very good, and so I contacted her and setup a first lesson.

When I met my instructor for the first time, she asked me “what do you want to do?” and I replied “I want to learn how to dance.” That sounds simple enough, right? I had never danced before, and I had no perspective on what dancing was. Sure, I had been to weddings and school dances and other places where there was dancing. A few times, I even went out and… did… something. I never watched dancing. I didn’t know anything about dancing. I just “wanted to learn how to dance” because I saw an ad on craigslist.

Background story aside, here is where things become interesting. My new instructor asked me “what do you want to learn?” and I replied “I want to learn how to dance.” That might sound like it is the same thing, but continue on and you will see that it betrays something very useful that tragically frustrates so many people who dance and who attempt to learn.

When I said “I want to learn how to dance” she did not reply “ok, I’ll teach you how to dance.” She said “ok, I will teach you how to dance Bronze Level American Ballroom Style Cha-Cha.” I was excited to begin. I wanted to know how to dance. She showed me a step pattern on the floor and I began to practice it with her. My first and only private instructor was excellent. There are many good instructors out there in my city, but this one was uniquely a perfect fit for me. For the first two or three lessons, she showed me a pattern and I learned it. After that, I found a ballroom dance website with instructions on patterns and I started taking a list of things I wanted to learn. She merely practiced the pattern with me. I ended up learning a massive number of step patterns very quickly.

My lessons were efficient, but they were also unique. I was very clear that I was not interested in doing anything perfectly—a statement that is anathema to most instructors. She knew what I wanted. I didn’t want to waste time doing something “perfect” because “perfect” might not be “perfect” to someone else. I was interested in finding out how much I needed to learn and I was interested in learning enough to make it so that I could understand any step I saw someone else do, so that I could decide if I wanted to learn it and do it myself. I had asked her “how much is there to learn?” and she said “a lot.” It was very clear to me that no one, not even Google, would definitively tell me “how much” there was to learn. I needed to get a feel for it on my own.

I took lessons from this ballroom instructor for somewhere around 12 months, but only had regular lessons for about 6 months. I started social dancing after about 2 months of lessons. I was not good at it, but I was devouring new patterns everywhere. It took only about 6 months, but I realized that what I was learning was “what” to dance. I began to realize that I wasn’t learning “how” to dance.

I took introductory lessons in all of the American ballroom dances. I danced at ballroom events. Everyone told me I was so good. I knew I was terrible. I knew a lot of steps, but I knew I did not know how to dance. Then, I went to a salsa club, and did not know how to dance. Nothing I knew translated to salsa. I did not even know how to dance cha-cha. I had learned to dance American Ballroom cha-cha and I couldn’t even dance cha-cha in a club setting, because it was different. Since I did not know enough to dance, I learned LA style salsa and bachata. I taught myself to dance the club version of cha-cha. Then I saw a couple dancing Argentine Tango. I knew all of these ballroom styles. I knew the patterns for Latin club dances. I still could not dance Argentine Tango. So, I learned Argentine Tango. Then I went to a West Coast Swing dance. I didn’t know how to do that. Don’t even get me started on the country and modern line dancing. The story goes on and on just like this.

After many iterations, I ended up at a nightclub, but not to dance. I was just watching and socializing. It hit me. I didn’t learn “how” to dance. I couldn’t ask anyone at that nightclub to dance. I knew how to dance Argentine Tango, Foxtrot, Salsa, Bachata, Kizomba, Swing and many more dances, but I didn’t know “how” to dance. I only had learned “what” to dance. The “what” of my learning was admittedly deeper, broader, faster and less expensive than a great many who had gone before me, but I found it kind of impressive that it was just dust on the scales.

In future posts, I will share more about how I learned “how” to dance, and in the free videos linked on this site and (if you wish) the paid content on Udemy, you will see how learning to dance from the top down rather from the bottom up will make you a far better dancer than most, and in much less time.