Monday, December 27, 2010
Interview with Author J. Steve Miller
"Had I read this book in my 20’s, I’d be financially independent today. It’s a remarkable blend of fabulous research with clear and lively writing. You’d pay an expert quite a sum for this caliber of counsel. That’s why I say that the best investment you make this year just might be this book. Your second best investment will be the copies you buy for your children." (Dr. Dwight "Ike" Reighard, Former Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer of HomeBanc)
Hello Steve. Wow! Seven sons and no daughters? Now that’s quite an accomplishment. My husband and I did quite the opposite. We had six daughters and no sons. Okay, tell us about yourself and why you wrote this book.
Six daughters? That had to have been more challenging than raising seven sons!
My life circumstances motivated me to write the book. I’m not the guy who worked a big time corporate job all his life and just needed to learn how to choose between the best investments for retirement. I’m the guy who worked high impact, low-paying jobs that were very fulfilling, but didn’t bring in much money. In fact, I worked my way down the corporate ladder from pastor to youth minister to missionary to writer. I’ve had to constantly struggle with how to make it on small salaries.
Then, while we were living in Slovakia training youth workers, my wife was diagnosed with cancer. She died four years later, leaving me with four young boys to raise. I later married Cherie, who was raising three boys on her own. I quickly realized that if we couldn’t get all these boys independent, we would all sink. So I began to study personal finance in depth – reading all the respected gurus of personal money management, plus adding the wisdom I’d gleaned from a lifetime of reading biographies of remarkable people. So I can identify with people who are struggling, both emotionally and financially.
Today I help with my mom and grandmom (104 years-old), who live next door, so I understand some of the challenges of caretaking for the elderly as well.
This sounds like it would help my children in their lives. Where did you get your inspiration for your book? Did you get your ideas from your own experiences?
My parents were huge role models for me in personal finance and life in general. So much of the wisdom of the eccentric mentor, Mrs. Kramer, comes from my parents. My dad worked hard during the week, but didn’t make his vocation his god. My mom was very frugal, but generous with giving.
I think the main thing my parents did right was to resist adult peer pressure – the pressure to wear the right clothes and drive the right cars to show off your success. They were counterculture in that sense, which gave inspiration to calling the group of characters “The Counterculture Club.” To this day, although she retired well, mom buys her clothes from resale stores. It’s not that she’s so disciplined that she can resist the urge to spend; she relishes saving and can’t stand to overpay.
I know how your mother feels. I hate to overpay. A reviewer wrote, “A fast, fun read with practical and often remarkable insights. Should be required reading for every high school senior and every young adult who has landed his or her first full-time job.” (Robert Martin, Lecturer of Accounting, Kennesaw State University) Tell us, how do you make a finance book become a fast and fun read?
Most people hate reading financial books. I mean, who’s waiting with abated breath for their favorite financial author to release his new book so that they can snuggle up with it on a cozy couch for the weekend? For me personal finance is more about people than accounting. People have wildly different personalities, different life goals, different strengths and weaknesses. By telling a story with diverse characters, I could bring out those differences and allow readers to see bits of themselves in the characters. In the process, readers can envision how wise financial principles can apply differently to different people’s lives.
It’s also made interesting by the counterintuitive insights that my research brings out. It’s not just the same old stuff you hear on the radio. Thomas Jefferson was one of our most brilliant presidents, but spent his retirement worrying about his huge debt. The manager of the hugely successful band, Led Zeppelin, ended up their last tour broke. What can we learn from their successes and failures? Often, we find that the answers aren’t what you’d first expect.
What’s the story line?
Four diverse students meet in “In School Suspension.” They’re from different parts of the school culture, so they assume they have nothing in common. But as they talk to avoid studying, they discover that their parents are all hopeless at personal finance and it hurts their families. They want to do better. So they meet Mrs. Kramer each Saturday morning for breakfast. She tells stories of interesting people and encourages wide open discussions with the students.
While it targets 16-30 year-olds, I get great reviews from people in their 50’s and 60’s who love the wisdom and format. Parents read it, then pass it on to their children or give it away for Christmas, New Years’ goals and resolutions, and graduation/weddings.
What does your family think about your writing?
My wife’s a writer as well, so it’s incredibly fun running stuff by each other. She and my mom are my first-line editors. I also run ideas past my children.
Writing has allowed me to be a stay at home dad and caretaker for my grandmom, while Cherie works in a Masters program at Kennesaw State University. I think the kids appreciate having regular meals and having me around. I’ve certainly enjoyed it. Plus, I’ve kept them from burning down the house, which could have happened on more than one occasion.
This was fun getting to know you, Steve. You have a great sense of humor, but then I guess you have to with seven sons! Okay, tell us something about the real you that we’ll never forget.
•I’m scared of heights but I love hiking in the mountains and rappelling. I went zip-lining with the kids last weekend.
•I’m claustrophobic, but I love caving. It’s always an incredible adventure, but I often freak-out at least once on a trip and my kids have to talk me through.
•Our lives got so crazy with seven boys and their friends constantly in and out, that one day I discovered a homeless guy who had been living with us for a couple of weeks. Cherie and I had never noticed. Seriously.
That is sooooo funny! You must have a lot of kids running around your place to not notice a stranger for two weeks. Okay, now we know the real you: The Acrophobic and Claustrophobic Author whom unknowingly houses homeless friends!
Steve's Website: http://jstevemiller.com/blog/?page_id=578
Check out his book at Amazon!