Copyright © 2019 Albuquerque Journal
Doug Lynam named his checking account KP, after a beloved cat he once knew while serving at a Benedictine monastery in Santa Fe.
“We’re old friends, KP and I, we take care of each other. I look after KP, and he looks after me,” he writes in his new book, “From Monk to Money Manager.”
It may sound silly, but naming his checking account after the Russian blue house cat he lived with for many years is a mental trick he uses to set the boundaries in his relationship with his checking account.
When KP, the cat, was still alive, he often tried to escape the monastery to go outside. But Lynam knew that wasn’t in KP’s best interest, lest he become a coyote’s snack. So despite his feline friend’s aspirations to explore the outside world, Lynam made sure KP remained indoors.
“I set boundaries and made KP live by them, especially when he didn’t want to,” Lynam writes. “If I didn’t, this extraordinary joy and blessing in my life would either disappear or literally bring in the plague and destroy our family. That’s an excellent analogy for money.”
Lynam’s book is a bit autobiographical, a bit philosophical and a bit instructional, using analogies and anecdotes from his journey through life to deliver advice to people about how to manage finances and keep them on track. Setting boundaries to make sure you live within your means is just one of the tips he offers.
“You can’t let your money run wild,” writes Lynam, who left the small monastery in 2016 to start his own business as a financial advisor. “You must give it love by setting strong boundaries.”
While scripture tells us that the love of money is the root of all evil and that it’s easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, Lyman says he was enlightened to learn that money isn’t necessarily a bad thing – poverty is.
A world with fewer people living in poverty is a better world, he says, so he found his true calling was to help people find the financial footing to live life comfortably and make the world a better place.
“My mission is simple: I don’t want anyone to be poor. Poverty sucks – and though I know what the verse says, I can’t think of anything blessed about being poor,” he states in Chapter 1, referencing Luke 6:20, which reads “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”
The book, published by Thomas Nelson, a division of HarperCollins Christian Publishing in Nashville, is subtitled “A Former Monk’s Financial Guide to Becoming a Little Bit Wealthy – and Why That’s Okay.”
It was released Tuesday and is widely available, including at local bookstores and on his website, www.douglynam.com.
Not an easy road
“It was essentially written for my younger self. What do I wish I had known then?” Lynam said in an interview at the offices of Longview Asset Management in downtown Santa Fe, where he now works as director of educator retirement services.
The first part of the book largely tells the story of his younger life.
Lynam grew up in Napperville, Ill., the son of “rich” parents whose attitudes toward money, for him, were a complete turn off. He describes his then-self in the book as “agnostic and a teenager” who soon grew into an “anti-materialistic wannabe hippie.”
That lifestyle wasn’t working for him, “so then I tried to find selfless service in the military – the perfect egalitarian meritocracy,” he says in his book.
He loved life in the Marine Corps’ Officer Candidate School, but had trouble reconciling the reason he was there.
“Unlike some, I didn’t quit the Marines because I hated soldiering. I quit because I got good at the soldiering and enjoyed it too much,” he writes.
Lyman says that about that time he began to have a religious reawakening and, in search of a higher calling, he contemplated becoming a monk.
“In the monastery, I would have all the structure and discipline I liked about the Marines along with camaraderie, or esprit de corps, but with an even nobler purpose,” he writes. “God comes before country. Best of all, I would take a vow of poverty and be free from the grip of money and materialism forever.”
Lynam was a student at St. John’s College in Santa Fe when he took the leap of faith. But two years into it, he learned that the grip of money had a stranglehold on the monastery. It, and his fellow monks, were deeply in debt and couldn’t afford to pay the bills. So, knowing nothing about money – and having shunned it his entire life – Lyman volunteered to take on the task of resurrecting the monastery from financial peril.
That’s what led Lynam down a new path in life, though it took nearly 20 years to get there. It wasn’t an easy road. He read every book on finances he could find, and he and his brethren worked full-time jobs as teachers at Santa Fe Prep to keep things going. In that time, he also used what he learned to help other people in financial distress and maybe help them become a little bit wealthy.
As a teacher for 18 years, a lot of them were teachers. Much of the work he now does is to help prepare teachers for retirement.
Something for everyone
Now 45, Lynam covers his early life and recognition that money isn’t evil in the first section of his book under such chapter titles as “My Hate Affair with Money” and “Loving Money with the Right Kind of Love.” He then gets into financial strategies that can be employed to grow wealth.
“Start early and use the power of compound interest,” he said when asked the first step in building wealth. “The second thing is to save your money early and often.”
Paying on interest can lead you, or sink you deeper, into debt. But putting money away and investing into the stock market, which historically returns about 10 percent, can make your money grow exponentially.
In order to save money, you need to learn to live below your means. And while most people don’t like to do it, make a budget and track your expenses.
“A lot of it is getting organized,” he said, adding that computer software can help you get organized, and track your money on a weekly and monthly basis.
Getting a raise doesn’t give you license to spend more money, he says. Stick to your budget and put that money away.
This is tax season and Lynam has some tips about how to handle the taxes that are taken out of your check each pay period.
Contrary to what some financial managers recommend, Lynam says that you should have as much taxes taken out of your paycheck as you can. That will lead to a bigger refund later.
“The idea is to gamify taxes. If you can turn taxes into a game with points, the game is to try to get the biggest refund at the end of the year,” he said, adding that about one-third of the money you make goes to the tax man. “If you can save on taxes, that’s just as powerful as what you earned.”
But don’t blow it when you get that refund check. The whole idea is to make good use of that power by reinvesting.
For the socially and environmentally conscious, Lynam has written a whole chapter about investing in sustainability.
“Reducing fossil fuels is one of the easiest ways of investing and still get a competitive return,” he said.
Lynam has many other tips about such topics as insuring against loss, running from credit and estate planning. And it’s not just for people trying to live above the poverty line.
“The book is designed to go to a mass market. There’s something in it for everyone regardless of age or economic status,” he said.
‘A good connection’
Lynam’s book is dedicated to employer Longview Asset Management “for taking a risk on me” and to Ron Lieber, a columnist for the New York Times who writes the “Your Money” column. Lieber was interested in Lynam’s story and last year came to Santa Fe to write it. The story went viral.
“He teased the story out. He told my story better than I could. I couldn’t see the arch of the narrative. Ron was the one who showed me the arch,” he said.
Lynam said he was referred to Longview Asset Management by a fund manager while seeking investors after he left the monastery and started his own business.
“It turned out there was one other shop in town with the same investment philosophy as mine. I initially went to see them to see how they might be able to support me. After we got together, we came to the conclusion that we had a good connection,” he said.
David Cantor, principal at Longview, said Lynam is a good fit for the company.
“Longview is a values-based firm and we practice socially responsible investing,” he said. “Doug comes with an ethical background and in his work was trying to do right by teachers. That was appealing to us.”
Lynam signed a two-book deal with his publisher. Asked what his next book will be about, he smiled, shook his head, and said, “I have no clue. I’ve got 50 ideas in my head, but I don’t know which one I’ll take on next.”