3 Smart Things 20-Somethings Can Do With a Tax Refund

Unless you left with an accounting degree, filing your first tax return after college can be a little deceiving. A couple government checks in the mail this summer might feel like a consolation prize for a dues-paying job, and you deserve to be king for a day, right?

Hold on a minute. We have a few ways you 20-somethings can make the best use of your tax refund.

Perhaps the Most Underrated: Start Saving

If you get your refund deposited directly in your bank account, it’ll just “show up” one day, like someone just dropped a gift card in your lap. Saving isn’t the most appealing option, but it will be the most rewarding when it’s time to rent a new apartment or put a deposit down on a car. Building your current account isn’t always enough incentive, so here are two ways to keep at it:

  • Open a savings account. Already have one? Open another. A hundred dollars buys you a reason to put disposable income aside exclusively for emergencies or other big (but necessary) expenses.
  • U.S. savings bonds are another convenient option, allowing you to redirect your tax return into an account that earns ample interest and is safe from inflation. According to TreasuryDirect, classified Series I bonds opened just four years ago this month, and this route requires a simple request via IRS form 8888.

Invest It in Your Retirement

Start building an investment portfolio now. If you feel you don’t have the know-how to purchase stock, the following two retirement investments are ripe alternatives for someone your age. Planning for retirement should always start as early as possible.Woman and piggy bank

  • Open an IRA, or individual retirement account. This is a personal account you contribute to each year, and the amount you contribute is tax-deductible. While you have more freedom to adjust and personalize investments like stocks, mutual funds and CDs, you can’t make withdrawals. With a Roth IRA, on the other hand, you pay taxes upfront and then you can make tax-free withdrawals.
  • Invest in a company-sponsored 401(k). Don’t miss out on the retirement plan your company offers. Many companies use a safe harbor or match plan. Safe harbor means that if your company contributes to your plan, the funds are yours even if you leave the company a couple months later. A matching plan means the company matches whatever you put into the plan. Some companies will even match up to 6 percent of your salary, according to DailyWorth.com. It’s basically free money.

Pay off Your School Loans

If you owe on student loans, put your refund on that debt. Paying off loans isn’t optional—you have to find a way to pay them anyway—and paying up front and on time is a bigger deal than you might think.

Funding your next bill with a tax return reinforces your credit history, yielding low interest rates on future big-ticket items like a new car, and keeps you paying loan interest at levels that can qualify you for education-based deductions as defined by the IRS later on. Whenever you can contribute a large chunk of money to paying down your student loan debt, do it—whether it comes from your tax refund, an unexpected financial windfall such as lottery winnings or inheritance or selling a structured settlement. The faster you pay them off the more you’ll save on interest, and that’s like money in the bank.

Suing Your Parents for College Money? 5 Reasons I’m All For It

Today in New Jersey an 18 year old is suing her parents for college money. According to USA Today, she says that they issued her an ultimatum (ditch the boyfriend or get out). Dad says they asked her to follow a few house rules.

Whatever. I think this is an awesome exercise.

Partially, I like this lawsuit because I think entertaining me (no matter what it means to the court system) is a great idea. But there are many BETTER reasons:

1) Blaming Someone Else For Your Problems Is Often the Best Solution. This idea of “trying to solve your problems through listening and compromise” is complete baloney. Take a page out of Washington’s book and adopt this slogan: My Way or the Highway.

This plays into any financial decision, doesn’t it? I met with a client during the 2000 market collapse with a young advisor. The client was agitated because the market was collapsing and she wanted someone to blame. The advisor continually tried to reconfirm the strategy that they were using, but the client would hear none of it. “I don’t care what the strategy is. I just want my money back.”

I felt for the woman. Clearly, understanding your strategy is overrated. It isn’t about the world….it’s all about you.

2) Rules Are For Suckers. If you lose money in the stock market you should sue your broker. If McDonalds only gives you one napkin, sue them. I should have sued J Crew for my horrible shopping experience. If your parents won’t pay for college, then tell it to a judge.

I have no sympathy for this guy. Sure, it’s his home, but what about her rights? If she has a boyfriend that dad doesn’t like, why shouldn’t he let her bring him home? In fact, why doesn’t he just pony up for them to live in a hotel? That’s what she SHOULD be suing for….a nice hotel stay.

teen sues parents for college money in New Jersey

I think the judge should throw this giant gavel at the dad. Teach him a lesson!

3) It’s Not Your Fault You’re Young And Smart. This girl, according to sources, has a $20,000 scholarship and wants to go to school out of state to Vermont. Does it really matter that $20,000 probably doesn’t come close to covering out of state tuition costs? Not to me, it doesn’t. I think she’s completely entitled to whatever education level she desires, if only because she wants it. I don’t care if there are less expensive options. I really don’t care if this is a logical choice at all. If the girl wants it, she should have it.

4) Dad Had A College Fund And It’s For Her. Does it really matter that a 529 plan is in a parent’s name? If dad (or in this case let’s just call him “daddy”) set aside money, it should be the girls. Daddy should waive his right to dole this money out as he sees fit. It doesn’t matter that he earned it. It doesn’t really matter that he probably took all the risk in investing the money, does it?

5) Nobody, AND I MEAN NOBODY, Puts Baby in a Corner.

Do we need more reasons this is a great idea?

Photo: Sam Howzit

How the Repo Guy Nearly Took My Car

Repo ManWhen people ask, “What do you really know about the average guy? You manage money for rich people?” I always smile.  I’ve had the privilege of working through my share of wonderfully challenging personal financial situations.  And when I say “challenging” I mean the worst timing and situation imaginable.

Here’s one you’ll love and can learn from:

I’ve been a member of an entrepreneurial coaching group for a long time. Early in my career I was getting ready to head out of town.  My job was to pick up two additional participants and get the heck on the road since we were getting some pretty crappy winter weather.  As I was just finishing loading my bags in the car, my phone rang:

“Hello, is this TheOtherGuy?” (clearly someone who doesn’t know me. They even pronounced TheOtherGuy incorrectly!)

I answered with the affirmative.

“Hi, this is Rick with American Recovery…”

“Hey, Rick, whatcha trying to recover?” I said, half jokingly…and kinda wondering who this guy was.

“Uh, let’s see here…an Acura.  We need to get that picked up today.”

What?  That was my car!

AT this point I’m sure what’s happening: My wife listens to a radio program in the morning where they call people and get them all riled up and then surprise them with the fact that it’s all a big joke.  I’ve listened a couple of times and have told my wife that there was NO WAY I would ever fall for that stuff.

Ever.

So, immediately, I thought it was a joke.  So I sort-of played along.

Then Rick says, “So, ’cause you filed bankruptcy, Acura wants the car back.”

Now it’s getting serious…I’m pretty sure I would remember filing bankruptcy.  I assured Rick I had not ever (and would not ever) file for bankruptcy, and that he must have the wrong number.

Then he said the magic words…

“Who’s Sally?”

Mutha f*$#er.

Sally is my mom.

And here’s why that matters.  Several years earlier, when I’d bought my nicely used car (doing the right thing…Dave Ramsey would be proud), I decided that I was smarter than the people who figure out interest rates.  I was a young, aggressive financial planner and knew a thing or two about leverage.  So, I figured out that if my MOM co-signed the loan, it would save me another 0.5% per year in interest, thus making it worthwhile for me to take the financing (instead of paying cash for the used car) and invest the difference in some investment that would beat the interest rate.

In fact, I distinctly remember thinking how smart I was.

As Julia Roberts said in Pretty Woman, “Big mistake.  Huge.”

I figured that I could clear this whole thing up by calling Acura.  You see, it was true. I’d just found out that my mom HAD filed (long story there, but a good reason) and not me!

Without boring everyone with all the details – I have never been treated worse in my whole life.  The people on the phone at Acura actually said “Well, if you weren’t such a deadbeat and wouldn’t have filed bankruptcy, this wouldn’t be going on.”

It really didn’t matter that I HADN’T filed for anything. They kept repeating what a loser I was.

White. Hot. Burning. Rage.

Finally, I ask for solutions – they offer two:

  • Pay off the balance of $10,680
  • Have car repo’d

Obviously, I’m choosing option 1, so I inquire: Can I just wire you the money?

Their answer: “No.  It must be Western Union.”

For those of you who don’t know, I found out that day that sending money via Western Union is a giant pain in the ass.  Trust me.

Oh, and did I mention the joys of going to the bank to take a withdrawal of $10,700?  The IRS likes those forms they make you fill out…they’re called Currency Transaction Reports.  And, I happen to know that 100% of CTR’s are reviewed by an IRS Criminal Agent.  Lovely.

All because I was too smart to just pay cash.

So, I went on my trip – worried the whole time that the repo dude was going to take my car while I was 800 miles from home. When I returned, I had to drive 4 hours round trip (since we bank online) to get $10,700 withdrawn from my bank account, then I filed out a CTR which basically invites the IRS over for dinner, I enjoyed standing in line at Walmart for 45 minutes…with TEN THOUSAND DOLLARS IN MY POCKET to fill out this long-ass form to Western Union a payment to Acura.

All because I didn’t pay cash.

…and because I thought I was smarter and could make a couple extra bucks on my own.  I guarantee that the time, energy and stress associated with this incident taught me a lesson – it’s not worth the time.

So, yes, I manage money for rich people…and average people. But many of the lessons I’ve learned are because I’ve also been there myself.

The lesson for today? Pay cash for your car and be done with it.

That’s my lesson: What’s a costly lesson you’ve learned?

Photo: David Berkowitz

The 5 Dumbest New Year’s Resolutions of All Time

New Years.

A time of overeating, watching football or old movies, and resolving to do better, maybe a week or two in the future…..

Are we at that point yet? Is anyone “doing better” yet?

Resolving and actually “doing” better are two totally different things, aren’t they? New Year’s resolutions are usually bound to fail….especially if you try any of these silly tactics:

5 Dumbest New Year’s Resolutions Phrases

1)   Losing weight “on your own”: Yeah, I know. You’re going to lose weight or build savings without any help from your friends. This resolution is like putting a bunch of French fries in front of you and saying you won’t eat them. Of course you’ll eat them….willpower is baloney. Don’t count on any goal that you’ll do “without help.”

Who needs to reinvent the wheel?

 

Better solution: find someone who’s done it before and ask them for help.

 

2)   Joining a gym so you’ll work out. Back when I belonged to a gym (before I began working out with friends), my least favorite time of year was the first two weeks of January. The gym was packed with people I’d never seen before….and wouldn’t see again the rest of the year.

Don’t convince yourself that by joining ANYTHING you’ll actually make the commitment to change. Instead, build systems to change. For workouts, force yourself out of bed at a certain time. Join chat groups on working out.  Read magazines. Track your progress.

Create goals that begin with “How can I learn about this now and then spend money when I prove I’ll stick with it?…..”

 

Better solution: create surround sound environment so you succeed in your goals….and spend money later, once you know you’re serious.

 

5 dumbest resolutions ever_FFA

3)   Deciding to save more every month by “writing a check.” Nobody….and I mean nobody…..writes a check toward their goals. If we want to get all 2010 about it, nobody even presses buttons to transfer money from one account to another. Do you know how the ballers do it? They save automatically. If you have to think for only a minute about your goals, you’re toast.

 

Better solution: Set up a system of saving that doesn’t require you to think.

 

4)   “I’ll try and…..” 

Best. Solution. Ever.: Repeat after Yoda. There is no try. Only do.

5)   I’ll cut back on smoking. Making a change halfway is a sign that you really aren’t commited to the goal. Want to achieve something? You can’t be half pregnant. Go for it. Don’t cut back on smoking: stop completely. Don’t save “a little more” toward your goals: find out what they cost and create a plan. Don’t try and budget this year: set up an account at Mint or Yodlee and track every penny automatically.

 

Better solution: Create automatic systems that will change your behavior completely.

Photo: Jeff_Golden

Hi Ho, Hi Ho, it’s off to class you go….3 Smart Money Tips for Back to School

…and we go from watching Snow White to living that famous song.

Just like a little member of the Seven Dwarfs, my oldest son will be marching off in only a couple weeks. For him it’s the first time. For me, because I work with families who go through this every year, it’s old hat. Well, not exactly old hat (it’s always different when it’s your own child heading off…where does the time go?).

Let’s talk about the financial aspects of preparing a youngster for school. As a matter of fact, my wife just emailed me this long note about the various types of backpacks. Ugh.

As a parent of a young child headed to school for the first time, I’m concerned about going overboard on all the expenses – there’s a difference between necessity and would be nice if… so let’s break down Back to School costs into a few categories.

1) Expenses associated with classwork – Markers, paper towels, pens and pencils. These are necessary and thankfully, pretty inexpensive. For my son’s schools, they’ve prepared for us a list of the five to ten things he needs to bring. The key is to not overspend or overbuy. If the teacher says “an 8 pack of crayons” you don’t need to, nor does the teacher want you to, buy the wiz-bang 64 pack with the automatic crayon sharpener. Save the money. Look for tax holidays to buy.

Many states participate in these by making back to school costs tax free. Check this Bankrate post: Sales Tax Holiday to see if your state has a tax holiday.

2) Costs to clothe your child. I recently saw an ad for Walmart regarding their back to school clothing prices and how affordable they are. I remember when I was a kid-I would never be caught dead in non-name branded clothes, and I successfully broke my parents budget every year complaining until I got what I wanted! Don’t fall for this trick! Children, especially younger ones, need quantity, not quality. Spend money on good shoes, but don’t go crazy buying up too-cute name-brand clothing. Consider Costco, Walmart, Sam’s club etc, or thrift stores, discounters or hand-me-downs. Ignore Banana Republic, Neiman Marcus, or Saks.

Even if you don’t subscribe to the newspaper, you may save a ton of back to school money looking for coupons in the Sunday paper advertisements over the next couple of weeks. Consider the cost of the paper a good investment!

3) Finally, there are the “at school costs” like lunches, after school costs, and field trips. These things you need to start budgeting for today. Our school has a hot lunch program that we can pre-pay for substantial discount. The problem is that the food is less than nutritious, so we’ll be skipping that. But for the last 5 years, our son has been getting lunches at his daycare and we have to provide those now. The other “unknown” is the cost of the occasional field trip or afte school activity. Prepare for them now and you won’t be surprised when they show up later!

Ask older parents how much money they spent the prior year on these activities for ideas on exactly how much you should be prepared to spend.

Back to school shopping and planning can be a fun and exciting time for both parents and kids. The key is to not go overboard in your excitement!

Photo: School Bus: Cole 24_

Those are my three favorites. What are your favorite back to school tips?

5 Fees I Hate More Than The New Spirit Airlines B.S. Bag Charge: Our Cuppa Joe Discussion

It’s Thursday! That means we’re grabbin’ a cup of coffee and talking about my opinion on anything I find amusing that particular day (my favorite topic).

Spirit Airlines, who should really just change their name to “We Will Do Anything To Alienate Our Customers,” announced last week that they plan to charge $100 to give you the pleasure of placing a bag in the overhead bin.

If it’ll fit under your seat or on your body, you’re still good.

Now I’ll have to wear six layers of clothing on the plane instead of three.

Like cars, I feel an airplane ride is a way to get from point A to point B. That makes me a low-cost whore. If Spirit’s fees are still less than everyone else when you include the $100 bag fee, you’ll find me on the first flight out of Dodge. I’ll be the guy with the big, fat happy (and because of all the clothing…sweaty) grin on my face.

Spirit’s goal is to keep costs low. I understand that, so I’m taking this one in stride. As the above USA Today article states, other airlines are quietly following behind the Spirit-hatred shield. Other fees fill me with rage FAR more than this particular nuisance, because they make zero sense to me, except “this is an easy way for us to piss you off while we rip money out of your pocket.”

5) Credit card application or annual fees. There may be more on the way. On a recent Consumerism Commentary podcast, Flexo and Matt Schultz interview Jay Frosting of InvestingAnswers.com,about some alarming news around credit card application fees. The executive summary: Watch your credit card statements carefully. Fees might be rising soon.

4) Piled on mortgage fees. Origination charges? Appraisal fee of $350? Ouch. Ask for a complete list of mortgage expenses before signing on the dotted line.

3) Ticketmaster “convenience” charges. This one is awesome in a “you must be joking but you totally aren’t” kind of way. Ticketmaster charges me a CONVENIENCE FEE for printing tickets at my house. I made it more convenient for them (they don’t have to do anything at all) and they charge me more. There’s a bean counter at headquarters giggling to himself while I’m buying tickets.

2) Bank fees. Teller fees. Statement fees. ATM charges. I know. Enough already. We all know that banks don’t get it.

I love this series of Ally Bank commercials and their discussion of fees and bad customer service. These say it all:

Just one example of Ally’s campaign railing on bad customer service, fine print and baloney fees.

 

1) …and my most hated fee of all….hidden financial product fees, like 12b1 fees (mutual funds), mortality and expense charges (annuities), sales loads (funds and variable insurance products).

I know, I know. Mutual fund and insurance companies have to make money somehow. Just be brave like Spirit and tell me upfront how you’re going to skewer me to make a profit.

 

What are your least-favorite bullshit fees?

Being Okay With “I’m Not Okay” Financially: Our Cuppa Joe Discussion

As I chronicled on Erin Shanendoah’s The Dog Ate My Wallet blog, I spent a year without much income (roughly $12,000). This lit a collection agency fire to the huge mound of debt I’d already wracked up, wrecked my credit rating and emptied my savings.

During this period I was renting a house in a nice neighborhood for far less money than I would have paid to own a home.

I hated the house.

It was a leaky, old 800 square foot bungalow and our young family of four was shoehorned in. I enjoy a small house, but this the double feature:  small and unattractive.

When my twins were in kindergarten a friend of my daughter’s came over and said, “I love your house. It reminds me of our cottage. It’s tiny!”

Kids say the cutest things. Yeah, right.

Once my income picked up, I wanted out of the house but I was trapped by those piles of debt. One day at lunch I was flipping through the newspaper and found another option: a house around the corner was up for rent at only $200 per month more than our current house! Better yet, it was 1,200 square feet and a bazillion years newer and more attractive.

I immediately imagined living there. In my mind, that felt like a palace compared to our house. I was motivated. I called the owner and talked it over. Things looked promising. Cheryl, initially worried, became excited too when we walked through the house. The kitchen was brand flippin’ new. There was a basement rec room where the kids could escape (or we could escape from them!) This was a dream come true. We could rent a nice place while we sorted out our debt troubles.

No more cottage. Hello real world.

I’ve been lucky to surround myself with people who aren’t like me. They think differently than I do. I suppose I’ve done this on purpose. I like a good discussion, and I don’t get angry when people disagree, as long as I understand the logic of the argument.

I told a close friend about this, very excitedly, and she didn’t seem as fired up. In fact, she didn’t get excited at all, even though I was flailing arms and explaining just how awesome this house was going to be for us.

I asked her what was going on in her head. Her answer changed my view then and still colors by lens when I approach financial situations today.

She said:

“Do you want to live in a nice place while you’re still buried in mountains of debt or do you want to come home to the reminder of why you need to change?”

She might have well punched me in the gut. I was desperate to change. I wanted to be free from the stomach-clenching thoughts of how long it was going to take to repay my lenders. She knew that the house would be pretend things are a-okay, and under all this enthusiasm, so did I.

Cheryl and I discussed the woman’s concerns. We decided to stay where we were.

Motivating Yourself to Change

 

Popular motivational speaker Anthony Robbins says that change happens because of desperation or perspiration. In most cases, people only change because they aren’t comfortable with their current reality.

That was the case for me. In other areas of my life, such as this blog, it’s still the case today. I’m not happy with where I am now. I need to motivate myself to continually improve and respond.

It may be the case for you now.

Are you living in reality or pretending things are okay?

Are you okay with “everything’s not okay?”

 

Case Studies: Confronting Change

 

When I was a financial advisor, if someone was single, they were coming to see me because they felt something wasn’t working correctly. Unfortunately, with many married couples, they would come in only because one of them wanted to change.

In essence, one saw the true picture and the other was in fantasyland.

You could tell when people didn’t want to change. They’d talk about “baby steps” and “getting comfortable” with one tiny recommendation I’d made before implementing the next one. When you dig to the root of this thinking, it’s easy to see what’s going on in their head:

Change is more scary and difficult than staying the way I am.

To bust through this wall of inactivity, it’s important to ask yourself a few questions. Here are the ones I’d use with myself and with clients:

1) If I stay where I am financially, where will I end up? What will the world look like down the road?

2) If I change, how will my world look down the road?

Often, when people actually analyzed their situation, change was less painful than staying the same. The future looked far, far brighter.

3) What systems can I put in place to automate the change and decrease the pain?

4) How long will the pain of change really last? Will it be hurtful for a long time?

5) If it does end up being more uncomfortable then I wish, can I come back to “the way I’m doing it now”?

Once people realized that they’re better off with the new strategy than the old, they became open to change. They still were understandably worried about the pain of change.

We’d discuss the actual immediate pain. There was never a time that change didn’t come with some pain. It was like ripping off the band-aid. Some hairs under that thing were going to die. We all feel better when we can identify exactly how it will hurt and for how long.

I still believe that if I’d actually moved into that house to dress up the present and pretend things were wonderful, my future wouldn’t have been as bright as it has been since.

I can’t say things aren’t perfect, but I’m glad I became okay with “things aren’t okay“ and faced the short term pain of achieving the freedom I was after.

 

Okay, that’s my story. Do you have a story about people who aren’t okay with “things aren’t okay?” Are you okay with “things aren’t okay?” or do you have some good coping mechanisms?

Unclaimed Money – Your Own Personal Treasure Hunt

As I was rummaging through my golf gear (stored in the basement for the long-harsh winter that never materialized) I went through all the pockets…and guess what?  I found…drum roll please…a $50 dollar bill!!!!!  My wife and kids came running.

They must’ve thought I’d lost an eye the way I was screaming.

Have you ever found money when you didn’t expect it?  Isn’t it a wonderful experience?

Now, since we’re all about honesty over here in Average Joe’s dungeon (yes, sir.  This gruel tastes wonderful.  May I have another?), I must confess I treat all found money as completely discretionary.  
 
Here’s the rule: I can spend every penny without even the slightest ounce of guilt.

If you find money, what do you do?

So, if you want to find money, doesn’t it make sense to search places we’d likely have left some cash?
 

The first place you should look for cash right now

 
First, enter the following phrase into Google: “State of <insert your state> unclaimed property”

That search will turn up your state’s unclaimed property list – which I encourage everyone to check  not just for your state, but for every state you’ve ever lived in.

You’ll be amazed.

Each state has an unclaimed money and property list and if you’ve ever left money somewhere, that’s where it’ll show up.  I know what you’re thinking: I would never misplace a bank account.  I know.

Here’s the thing: you may be entitled to a refund of some kind…maybe you paid home owner’s insurance premiums and they were too high.  Trust me.  I’m willing to bet my next bowl of gruel on the fact that someone who reads this and follows my directions will find money. It’d bring a tear to my eye if you shared it with me.

A couple years ago, I did the search for unclaimed money in our state and looked up relatives – and I was surprised when Aunt Donna’s name came up.  I called her and asked if she ever did business with ABC Insurance Co., to which she replied that she had.  I told her how to get the form to fill out and encouraged her to mail in the request form.  Her response?  “Ah, it’s probably not that much…so I don’t know…”  WHAT THE @#$@?  THIS IS FREE MONEY!

I would understand if the process took 6 hours, but in our state, it was a simple form and a stamp.  Finally, I convinced her to do it…

Her reward? $418. It would still be unclaimed money today if she hadn’t looked.

Not a bad return for seven minutes of exhausting work stamping an envelope and completing a form.
 

The second stop on your treasure hunt

 
Let’s visit the United States Treasury department. Specifically, you should search the database of savings bonds.

Savings bonds aren’t nearly as popular as they used to be, partly because of their paltry rate of return, but that doesn’t mean that Great Aunt Betsie didn’t have a whole lot of ’em…here’s where you can check: Treasury Hunt Website.

When you visit the site, type your SSN or your Great Aunt Betsie’s and it will inform you if that SSN has any savings bonds registered under it.

Again, I know what you’re thinking: I’d never lose a savings bond.

Yes, you would.

You especially would if you were all of 11 days old when that well-meaning Aunt picked up that whopping $25 bond as a gift for you at the local Second National Bank.

Do yourself a favor and check the site for unclaimed money.  Then tell everyone you know to check.

Because, get this: there are $16.5 billion worth of unclaimed bonds out there…that don’t even earn interest any more.  That’s $16,500,000,000 reasons to check it out.

Any success stories?  Post ’em in comments…if no one finds any money, I’ll donate my next bowl of gruel to the first person who wants it…

 

(Photo Credit: ExpertInfantry, Flickr)

(About the photo….BAGRAM AIRFIELD, Afghanistan – U.S. Army Sgt. Benjamin Rudy, a Columbia, S.C. native, looks at a map that will help him find buried treasure while serving as a force protection non-commissioned officer for Combined Joint Task Force-82, at Bagram Airfield, Afghanistan. The mug and the map were sent to him as gifts from his kids, Logan, six, and Taylor, four, who believe he’s on a pirate ship to find treasures for them. His pirate character is a way Rudy bonds with his kids during long periods of separation.)

 

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