Are You a Financial Olympian?

Did you watch the Olympics? Sadly, I did not see nearly as much as I would have liked, but I popped in here and there. The level of discipline, dedication, single-mindedness, and commitment that these athletes have is so incredible! I saw the ski jumpers who train and train for years, and they get just a minute or two to perform. Years of commitment and sacrifice for 2 minutes on the hill. A split-second on the landing might mean a medal or a face full of snow.
That is a crazy level of dedication for a brief shining moment. I know there are other events during the year, but the input seems much greater than the results on the other side. Yet they do it. Hundreds of athletes, thousands really when you consider all of those who came up a bit short in their quests to make Olympic teams around the world, give their all, pour everything they have into one single goal.
What if we were able to do just a hundredth of what they do? What if we could sacrifice just a bit more for the goals that are really important to us? What if we could stay focused on one really important financial goal and not allow ourselves to be distracted by lots of other competing goals? We might just be financial champions in our own little game of life.
I saw Lindsay Vonn in an interview about her come-back – “it’s all I think about” was her comment. What if paying off that nagging debt was “all we thought about.” It’s not quite as fun as imagining ourselves on the podium getting a gold medal, but it will give the same sense of accomplishment! Sadly, there are no cheering fans, no endorsements or interviews for us non-athletes who are striving for our personal goals, but that doesn’t make them any less important.
So, let’s use that Olympic spirit to create and focus on our own financial goals. Let’s apply that Olympic discipline, perseverance, and single-minded stubbornness to defeating debt or going after that promotion or building that 401k balance. It’s never fun in the trenches, not for athletes during the workouts and drills, and not for us making sacrifices and saying no to things we’d like to do, but the payoff can bring gold to both.

To your financial success!

Tana

 

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg. They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; they may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to taking action so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.

Be Where You Are

2018 is two months behind us and many of our new year’s resolutions have already fallen by the wayside. The luster of the new year and the anticipation of the possibilities in front of us may have been washed away with the rain, snow and gloom of the winter months. The gray days drain away our drive.

Ah, this is where we are as March is underway. The sun is starting to shine, but that cold wind pushes us back inside. And how about your relationship with your money? How is it holding up after the flurry of holiday spending and the arrival of the bills? How are you feeling about the way that 2017 wrapped up? Let’s take a moment and think back through the year and note a couple of things that you wish had gone a bit differently financially. Where do you want a do-over?

List two things that weigh on you from last year. Own them – “ya, wish I hadn’t done that.” Now, list what you wish you would have done differently. That is the lesson learned! The feeling of regret is not there to weigh you down; it is there to guide you to something better. Sure, you had to pay a little tuition to get one of life’s lessons, but that’s ok – this is where you are. Now you know better. Now you can set yourself up for success in 2018! Use that regret to fuel your journey to success.

Now, list two or three or four or more things that you are really proud of. “Ya, I totally rocked that!” Let’s take a minute to bask in the awesomeness of financial control and acuity. Wow, that feels so much better. We definitely want to feel more of this.
So what steps can you take to stand firmly where you are, full of the knowledge of past successes and opportunities for do-overs this year, and plan for your 2018 success?

Ready, set, shake off the gray, embrace your goals and make 2018 your year of financial prowess.
To your financial success!

Tana

Disclaimer: The views expressed herein are the personal views of Tana Gildea and are not to be construed as individual advice or the advice or opinions of Homrich Berg. They should not be considered recommendations as each person’s financial situation is unique to her; they may or may not apply to your situation. If you believe that something communicated may be relevant to your situation, Tana strongly encourages you to consult with your individual tax or financial advisor prior to taking action so that the totality of your unique situation is considered.

‘Tis The Season!

‘Tis the season of magic with Santa and elves and flying reindeer. ‘Tis the season of wonderful smells with the freshly cut Christmas tree, the candles, and the holiday treats. ‘Tis the season of giving and receiving. What a delight! Not so delightfully, it is also the last month of the tax year – your last chance (kind of) to get some tax deductions tucked into 2017.

It is also the season of tax reform, tax proposals in both the House and the Senate, and a big push for Santa to put a shiny new tax package under the tree – talk about the magic of Christmas! Keep an eye out for actions between now and year-end. I can assure you that everyone and their dog will be writing about what, when, why, and how so stick to the reputable websites, understand the key provisions, and consider how it will impact your tax return.

There are a lot of things to think about with taxes and a lot is about the timing – do you want income or deductions in 2017 or 2018? It just depends on your tax situation at the moment.

  • If you had a big income year in 2017, you will likely want to find/create deductions in 2017. That probably means retirement plan contributions or charitable gifts. Those 2 items seem to be safe bets for staying in place regardless of tax reform.
  • If you had a llow-incomeyear but see brighter skies for 2018, you may want to shift those deductions into 2018. The beauty of retirement plan contributions (for the self-employed or for those who don’t have a work plan and instead make IRA contributions) is that you have until April 15th of the following year to deposit those contributions. For the self-employed, you may have until the due date of your extended tax return to make those. That gives you a lot more time for analysis and for saving.

First, perhaps a quick tour of the tax system would be helpful for those who don’t know much about the tax game that we are all playing. You may want to go to irs.gov and pull up Form 1040 to view as we walk through the sections of the return – this will be fun!

Income – the US taxes your worldwide income on a cash basis. That means that if you earned income and received the cash in 2017, it is taxable in 2017. For those of you who own a business that uses the cash basis (you are a sole proprietor or LLC and file a Schedule C), you may have some control over the timing of cash receipts based on when you do your billing. Perhaps it makes sense to push income into 2018. Talk to your tax accountant or run a tax projection to see if that would be beneficial. (Note – simply putting the check into a drawer and holding it until January 1 is technically tax evasion so if you got it, deposit it, and include it in your income.)

 

  • One thing that is possible with respect to income reduction relates to capital gains and losses. If you have “capital” property, the most common of which is investments like stocks and bonds, you might have the opportunity to “tax loss harvest” if any of your investments have lost money.
    • You can take up to $3,000 in losses from Schedule D on your 1040. Losses above $3,000 are carried forward to next year. The markets have performed pretty well this year, but if you do have positions showing a loss (the market value is less than what you originally paid), you could sell those positions to take the loss.
    • As long as you don’t repurchase the same or “substantially the same” security within 30 days, you can take the loss. Note that transactions in tax favored accounts like IRAs and other retirement accounts don’t have a tax impact so you would have to look only to taxable accounts.
    • The losses would first offset any realized gains or capital gain distributions from mutual funds. A reduction of income is a reduction in income so talk to your financial advisor or tax professional to see if this might apply to you.
    • It doesn’t look like tax reform is going to impact investors much, but we obviously won’t know for sure until something becomes law.

 

Adjustments – these are subtractions from income. The more common items are:

  • Educator expenses – teachers of grades K through 12 can use up to $250 of paid expenses to reduce income. Planning to get some supplies for the classroom? Perhaps you want to do it in 2017, save your receipt and take up to $250 off your income. Hey, every little bit helps.
  • Health savings account – if you have a high deductible health insurance plan that qualifies for an HSA, you have until April 15th of 2018 to fully fund that account for 2017. Check all the rules but you want to do everything possible to fully fund the account. See IRS Publication 969 for all of the details.
  • IRA contribution – this is another one where you have until April 15, 2018 to make a contribution for 2017. There are income limits for the deductibility of your contribution, especially if you have a retirement plan through work, so do your research. Irs.gov is actually a really easy site to use and it is the ultimate source – search IRA and you will get all the information that you need.
  • Student loan interest – if you are paying on student loans, consider making your January payment in December so that you slide a bit more interest into 2017. This adjustment “phases out” at higher levels of income so check IRS Publication 970 for details. (This also applies to your home mortgage payment. That interest is a deduction on Schedule A but the same strategy applies: get more deductions into 2017.) Student loan interest is on the chopping block for tax reform so stay tuned. Mortgage interest is NOT. It is explicitly protected, at least today.
  • Others – there are some other adjustments so take a look at the Form 1040 under “Adjustments” and see if those apply to you. The big ones apply to the self-employed so if that’s you, make sure you maximize those items.

 

Deductions – these further reduce your taxable income. There are 2 ways these play:

  1. Standard deduction: you just claim it – no receipts, no fuss. The amount is based on your filing status (single, married filing jointly, etc.) The tax proposals look to dramatically increase the standard deduction. This goes into the “simplify” category.
  2. Itemized: you fill out Schedule A and keep receipts. The only “safe” items under the tax proposals are mortgage interest and charitable deductions. In terms of taking some actions this year to increase deductions here:
    1. Make your January mortgage payment in December.
    2. Make your charitable contributions by year-end. This includes both cash donations and your clothing and household goods donations. As you look at the latter, do make a list of every item you donate (12 men’s dress shirts, 4 men’s t-shirts, etc.), do use a value guide (Goodwill’s website has one) to value each item, do keep your actual receipt from the charity with the list and the calculated value, and do make sure to include it on your Schedule A if you itemize.
  1. If you give more than $500 of items to a single organization, you will have to fill out a separate tax form. If you have a high volume of items, consider splitting up your donations among several organizations to make this easier. Keep good records of exactly what you are giving to which charity.
    1. Pay your state income tax estimated payment in December. For the self-employed who make estimated tax payments, your 4th quarter estimate is due January 15th but if you pay it in December, it will go on the 2017 Schedule A. If you are in this situation, you should consider which year is best. However, under the tax proposals, the deduction for state income taxes is on the chopping block. Keep a close eye on the final package to see if this will be relevant or not.

 

Exemptions – these are fixed amounts that reduce your taxable income and are based on the number of dependents that you have. There is nothing to be done here but I do want to mention that these are on the chopping block under the tax proposals. (The tax rates are proposed to decrease and that in combination with other changes is not supposed to create higher taxes for most. We’ll see.)

 

Alternative minimum tax – this is a (hated) second way to calculate your tax to make sure that “high income” taxpayers pay their fair share. It may or may not apply to you (look at last year’s tax return), but it is definitely on the chopping block under tax reform, and everyone hopes it is finally, after decades of discussion, chopped! (Santa, all I want for Christmas is an end to AMT!)

 

Tax credits – these are dollar-for-dollar reductions in your tax. These are super valuable so check the list of items (page 2 of Form 1040) and make sure you claim any credits that you can. The most common are the child tax credit and the credit for child and dependent care. You either have kids or your don’t so nothing much to be done on these except to be aware of them and make sure you claim them if they are available to you. Two that could be relevant are:

  • Education credits (see publication 970 for details.) This is one where you may be able to pay tuition due for your child’s winter/spring semester in December if you have not already maxed out the amount of eligible tuition paid for you or your dependent. There are a lot of rules, income phase-outs, etc. with respect to these so take a look at the Publication. The IRS also has an Interactive Tax Assistant to help you determine if you are eligible. Tax reform could chop 2 of the 3 credits but the proposal keeps the more valuable one – The American Opportunity Credit – so stay tuned to see how it fares through the debate and compromise.
  • Residential energy credit – if you made (or make in December) certain home improvements that improve energy efficiency (wind, solar, geothermal heat pump) and qualify for the tax credit, you may get some help from Uncle Sam. Watch this closely as the House proposal and Senate proposal differ on these. Who knows what will happen in the final approved version.

 

So that is a not-so-quick overview of the tax items most likely to impact you. If you learned something new and are thinking, “rats, I could have done that on my 2016 return,” fear not! The IRS allows you to amend a prior year’s tax return for up to 3 years in order to correct errors or missed deductions. Talk to your tax return preparer (or get yourself one!) to see if this makes sense for your situation.

 

One last thought on taxes:  Taxes are confusing, contain a lot of rules, a lot of exceptions to the rules, and are just not fun. I get it. Unfortunately, we all have to play the tax game. It is really worth your time and energy to understand, at least at a high level, the rules of this game. It adds up to a lot of your money so it is worth it. Do a bit of research. Ask questions. Read the updates so you know what is happening. Look at last year’s tax return so you can see what may be changing for this year. If you are confused and unsure, the services of a qualified tax preparer could more than pay for the cost of the return so consider getting some help. May the magic of the season be with you whether or not Santa delivers a magical tax package.

 

What’s Your Story?

I just finished reading a lovely book about the magical Waverley women*. If you are a Waverley, you are odd but have a talent that borders on the magical. The Matteson men in the story are prominent business leaders while the Young’s are known for their physical strength. It is a source of pride for some, rebellion for others, but the stories about these families are long-lived and well-known. It makes it easy to know where everyone stands.
Of course, not everyone is ever any one thing all the time and certainly all members of a family aren’t the same. It is interesting the myths that can surround people or families, and it reminded me of a woman who approached me after one of my presentations. She told me how her father always talked about the “Smith family money curse.” The curse being that every time they got a little ahead, something came along to wipe out the reserves. The woman had heard the stories so often that she, and everyone, just believed that their family couldn’t get ahead. (Of course, the other way to view this is that they are fortunate to have extra resources in a time of trouble, but that’s a different blog!)
The interesting thing is the stories. The stories hold the power and can shape our beliefs. What stories are told about your family, both your immediate family and your family of origin? In particular, what money stories surround you and your people? Was grandpa known as someone “with the Midas touch” or maybe someone who had “a hole in his pocket?” Maybe great-grandma was a financial whiz who was ahead of her time (and hopefully handed down this great skill to her kids and grandkids.)
Stories can be powerful because they create beliefs. Those beliefs will take on a life of their own if our faith in them is strong enough. The big question is whether those beliefs are serving you and moving you in a positive direction. If they are, facts don’t really matter. Cling to those stories: “yes, I have grandpa’s Midas touch.” Go with it! If the beliefs are not so great and are holding you back, let’s dig for facts and start dispelling the myth. Even if grandpa had a “hole in his pocket,” you can carefully examine your own pockets and shore up all those seams! It is your choice. Just as the Smith daughter made the choice not to participate in the Smith family money curse, you can choose which part of the family lore you’d like to own and which you can leave to the mists of time.

To your financial stories and the success they may bring,

Tana

*First Frost by Sarah Addison Allen (but read Garden Spells first as you’ll want to meet the Waverley’s properly.) These are perfect books for a cold day when curling up with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a great book are a perfect escape from the drudgery of your to-do list.

Are You Enrolled?

October is open enrollment for most employee benefit plan for employers. Here are some things to think about as you choose your options:

• Health insurance: Does your plan offer a High Deductible with HSA option? These can be a great deal if you are generally healthy and don’t expect to need surgery or high-ticket testing in 2018. The premiums will be lower and you can deposit up to $6,920 into the Health Savings Account (family) for 2018. (plus $1,000 for those over 55). This gives you an adjustment against income on your tax return and you can take withdrawals from the account to pay for your medical and dental expenses. For more information on the tax benefits of these accounts see IRS Publication 969.

o Insurance for your children under age 26 – run the numbers to see if your plan may be cheaper for your adult child than what they can get on their own. ACA increased the age for adult children to remain on their parents’ policies. They can pay you monthly for the cost, and they should begin to build that into their budgets, but save money if you can save money.

• Life insurance: Do you and your spouse have enough life insurance to pay off debt, fund your kids’ education, and provide for your spouse until retirement? Check your existing policies and see if you might need to add some additional insurance. It is usually pretty reasonably priced through the group plan.
• Disability: Do you have the maximum amount of disability insurance?

• 401k plan: Are you at least contributing enough to get the employer match? Are you maximizing your contributions? If not, try to do a 1% increase per year until you are getting the full $18,500/year saved plus the catch-up of $6,000 for those over 55.

• Long-term care: Is this an option in your benefit plan? If so, take a close look at it and see if you can participate. If you are in your 50’s, take a close look at the plan and see if it is something you can afford. Traditional policies can be very expensive so see if the group insurance might meet a need.
This year take a close look at your options rather than just doing “same as last year.” You may find that you can save some money.
As a part of your evaluation, pull out the life insurance policies and note the dates so you are clear on whether you are getting close to the end of the term. We all thought we’d be rich by this point but maybe we still really need that insurance. Be sure you know what you need and for how long so you can take action if needed.

To your financial success!
Tana

Finish Strong!

2017 is flying by! Today as I write this, we enter the 4th quarter of 2017. How is it going? For me, each quarter is a transition point, a signpost to acknowledge that time is passing, and I need to pay attention. As I have written in the past, this has been a year of frenzy for me personally and professionally and seems to be a blur. I am consciously choosing to stop and be aware in this moment, to stop moving and reacting in a frantic way and to consciously choose how I experience the last quarter of this year. I very much want it to be different from the last 3!

I am looking closely at my spending (a lot) and saving (not enough). That, for me, is a symptom of living at too fast a pace – no time to plan or prepare or think ahead – let me just grab it, order it, drive through – frantic, frantic – no time for looking at my spending plan – just get it done. This is the time for me to stop and say “enough.” Settle down, take a breath, align with what is important. Here are some things that I am thinking about for this last quarter:

• What is truly important to me? Does my spending match up to that?
• Where is my money going? Is that supporting and enriching my life?
• Do I feel financially safe? How can I use my money to improve that?
• Have I done everything possible to minimize my tax bill this year?

o Keeping close track of charitable deductions
o Maximizing retirement savings plans
o Keeping my files organized so that tax prep is painless
o Keeping up with all of my business expenses
o Fully funding my health savings account

• Do I have a plan to manage the holidays without debt?

o How can I recognize my family and friends in a way that does not jeopardize my goals and my financial health?
o What will bring joy to my holidays rather than stress?
o What gifts can I give that will be the most meaningful? (Likely that has little to do with money.)

I hope you will join me in a quick time out to think, to plan, and to prepare for this last quarter of the year. Too, too soon I will be writing about 2018! Savor the moment. Seize the day. Finish the year strong and confident in your plans.
To your financial (and 4th quarter) success!

Tana

Savings FAQs

I get asked a lot of questions about savings so I thought I would answer them for everyone.
The number one question I am asked when I speak to groups – both from the group and as people come up to me afterward is “how much should I be saving?” My stock answer of “it depends” still applies! Everything always depends on your situation but here are some ideas.
Think about the 50/30/20 plan.

• 50% of your take-home pay goes toward your living expenses.
• 30% goes to wants, and
• 20% goes to savings. (I would break that up to 10% long-term financial freedom (aka your 401k) and 10% to short-term savings).

You can also think about reversing those numbers and doing 20% to wants and 30% to savings. In this model, the other 10% may be going toward a longer-term goal like buying a house, saving for children’s college, or starting a business. Of course, if you are making a very minimal salary, your living cost may be eating up more than 50% of your take-home pay. In that case, you really need to keep your wants small and make sure you are hitting that savings number. One of the best ways to create financial stability is through saving and that takes some short-term sacrifices.

As your income increases, try increasing your percentage to move from 20% to savings up to 30% to savings. Inch the percentage going to your 401k until you are maxing out the contribution. For 2017, it is $18,000 for those under 50 and an additional $6,000 catch-up for those over 50.
How much of my savings should I keep in cash (money market)? A lot of this depends on the number that makes you feel safe. At a minimum, you should keep 3 months of your living expenses in a money market savings account. If you want to take the other 3 months of expenses and put it in a 3 month CD, you can earn a bit more interest but you cannot take investment risk with this part of your savings. Once you have 6 months, you can start a fund for investing the savings above the 6-month level.

Should I pay off debt instead of saving? Generally, I would say no. Saving really needs to be a part of your cash flow plan both for the long-term (401k/IRA) and short-term. This is the area where you can think about that “30% to wants” category and cut that down in the short-term to focus on debt if you have credit cards or student loans. You can never get the time back for missed savings, though, so make savings priority one.

What if I don’t have the ability to save 20% right now? Make a plan! Often the cost of living increases faster than our income. My cell phone bill is more than my first car payment! Insurance is through the roof for everything. Kids are expensive! Look for small ways to save. Small amounts add up. Every time you are ready to click buy or throw something in the cart, ask yourself if you can do without that and put the money in savings instead. (It’s super easy on your bank app!) Five dollars at a time will add up and it’s better than nothing. Go through your expenses and look for ways to trim – can you cut that TV package back one level and send that money to savings? Gym membership? All the little 1.99/mo apps? Even moving the coupon savings from the grocery store each week to your savings is something. Do it right when you leave the store so you make it happen.

I hope these FAQs help answer some of your questions about savings.

To your financial success!

Tana

Insurance

This is not a catchy title nor an exciting blog but it is an important one and perhaps it will save you some money. If you have not gotten your annual renew for your home and auto insurance yet this year, you may want to brace yourself for pain when you open that envelope. Rates in Georgia are going up 25% to 50%! My car insurance went up 53%! I already had an atrocious premium given 3 teenage boys driving, so wow, was that a jolt when I saw the new number.

According to an agent friend of mine, Meredith Murray, gone are the days of parking yourself with one company and staying there for 30 years. She told a group that she spoke to recently that the mindset needs to shift to requoting every 2 or 3 years. She helped me save almost $2,000 on my home, auto, and umbrella policies. That is big money in my budget!

If you want to be prepared, do this:

  1. Pull out the most recent policies and check your renewal dates (really, in a perfect world, you have all of your insurance information in a nice spreadsheet with all of the relevant information so that you can see it at a glance). This might be a good time to set that up if you don’t have it.
  2. About 6 weeks prior to the renewal date, reach out to an agent who is not “captive.” (A captive agent can only sell for one company.) You can reach Meredith at https://www.conciergeinsurancegroup.com/ if you need someone, but there are many who have the ability to quote from different companies.
    1. Note: you can switch companies in the middle of your year. If you prepaid the entire annual premium, you will get a refund.
  3. Have the agent review your coverages, your deductibles, and your current risks to be sure that you have the insurance that you need. Higher deductibles mean lower premiums but also more out-of-pocket if you have a claim.
  4. As soon as you get your renewal information, do a comparison on the rates.
  5. Consider paying the whole premium up-front. It saved me quite a bit on the total cost of the policy but it was a bit bite that I was not really planning for.
    1. If you do this, set up a monthly transfer for the first month of the policy to save 1/12th of the policy cost to your savings account so that you are ready for it next year.
  6. Auto-debits will be cheaper than pay-by-check premiums so review all of your options and find what will work for you.
  7. If you plan to switch, make sure that you contact the new agent and get the coverage in place, with the correct effective date, before you cancel the old insurance.
  8. When you cancel, be sure to use the correct effective date.
  9. If you do not have an umbrella policy (provides extra liability coverage on top of your home and auto liability coverage), you really should have one that is at least 1 times your net worth. This is critical coverage if you have teen drivers!
  10. If you have children in college, make sure that your homeowner’s policy extends to the dorm room/apartment. It should cover both belongings and liability in the event they start a fire/cause water damage, etc. to the building. I have seen policies where I had to specifically add the apartment and pay a small add-on premium and policies where it “extends” without specifically noting it so confirm this with your agent.
  11. Don’t put this off. It is a pain, you don’t have time to do it, it is a hassle and you may save yourself a significant amount of money!

Insurance is not a fun topic, not a fun payment to make, and it can save your world if you have the worst thing happen. Schedule some time today to take care of this important task.

To your financial success,

Tana

Lighten Your Load

“It’s difficult to clearly see what needs to be done when your environment is burdened with half-completed projects, unfinished to-do lists, old files, clothes that don’t fit, and equipment that no longer works or serves any purpose.”  Debbie Ford – excerpt from The Best Year of Your Life

I am coming through perhaps the busiest and “mentally heaviest” season of my life. I didn’t handle it especially well. Ok, I completely dropped the ball on “life management 101.” I didn’t stick to my solid, I-feel-great workout and healthy eating plan. I didn’t stick to my systems to touch once, clean out my email daily, and take time to stop and clear my thoughts. I didn’t rest enough, and I did run in chase-my-tail, fight or flight mode. I didn’t stick to my money goals. “No time to make my lunch; I’ll just buy it.” Yuck. It was awful and I don’t want to go there ever again.

I saw this “lighten your load” quote and felt that she was talking to me. It is mentally heavy to have a bunch of things partially done; stacks of papers, magazines, bills calling out to us. “Mental residue” is how Brian Johnson describes it from some author that he was quoting. Every glance at the stack is a taunt, a failure, and an energy drain, constantly weighing us down.

This also applies to your money. Do you have accounts scattered here and there? Do you have small balances on credit here and there? Do you have bills coming in through paper, email, or hanging from your front door?

We all need a solid, one system way to manage our work, our lives, and our money. Here are a few questions to get us all (4 fingers pointed at me!) moving in the right direction:

  • Where can we “lighten the load” and create a good system for staying on top of our money, our bills and our accounts?
  • Can we focus on the smallest dollar value credit card and just knock out that balance while making sure that we don’t add to it?
  • Can we give up the multiple store brand credit cards in favor of one all-purpose (high reward) credit card as one way of lightening the load?
  • Can we consolidate accounts, synchronize bill due dates, automate payments?
  • Can we automate savings so that it “just happens” and we don’t have to think about it?
  • Can we find a good tracking software (Quicken, mint.com, etc.) so that everything shows up in one place?
  • Can we list out every bill that we have monthly, quarterly, annually and list out how it comes to us, when it is due and the average amount payable?
  • Can we get in place a system that we document and follow and schedule so that your money management is not a bunch of “half-completed projects, unfinished to-do lists, old files” and haphazardness?
  • Can we create and follow a system to clear out old documents, scan and shred so that everything we need is at our fingertips?

I am trying to view my recent “quarter of chaos” as a chance to see how bad the “don’t” picture is and purposefully create a “do” picture that keeps me out of such a chaotic situation in the future. I am trying to use this experience to batten down the hatches, refocus on the systems that work, rework those that don’t, and clear out the partially completed “stuff” that is stressing me out. I am trying to reflect on what I learned by being in over-drive for the last several months so that I cling harder to structure and systems, say “no” and “good enough” a bit more, and insist on time to rejuvenate and regroup. I am trying to dig in, finish things, clean up the mess, put away, throw away, and eliminate one source of mental fatigue at a time.

Where can you lighten the financial load so that you are not feeling stressed and chaotic? Pick one little thing and do it today. You will feel so much more in control, powerful, and competent! Getting better every day….

To your financial success (and “lightness!”) ~ Tana

Freedom Isn’t Free….

As we celebrate Memorial Day this week, I am thinking of all those who have sacrificed so much for me to have the freedom to pursue the American dream. I am so thankful to all of our military families, past and present, for being willing to live a life that seems impossibly hard, filled with discomfort, fear, and danger. They live in unfamiliar parts of the world, in conditions that can be primitive, facing profound danger, doing work that calls on every skill that they have – whose lives depend on using those skills successfully. I know that I could not do what they do. I could not face those weeks, months, and years away from family enduring hardship after hardship. I could not make the split-second decisions, under pressure, that they must make dozens of times a day. Thank you to everyone who bravely goes where most will not; who bravely go where I do not want to go.

It seems ridiculous to make a comparison between the sacrifices our military families face to the sacrifices that we must make to achieve financial freedom. They sacrifice their lives and we have to give up a daily mocha-chino-latte? They live in a tent in the freezing cold/blistering heat for years on end and we cut back our cable package to 100 channels? We. Have. It. So. Easy! They make gigantic sacrifices to secure our individual freedoms and we make teeny tiny sacrifices (can they even be called sacrifices?) to create our financial freedom.

It is easy in comparison. It is easy to go without a shiny object, to wait on the latest and greatest gadget, to drive our amazing driving machine for another year or two. It is easy to pass on eating out in favor of cooking our plentiful supply of food in our fabulous, safe, well-equipped, bomb-free, air-conditioned kitchens. What hardships do we face in the pursuit of our financial freedom?

The next time we are faced with a “sacrifice” to meet our savings goal, let’s let the word sacrifice pierce our hearts and think about those who truly sacrifice. I know it will not feel hard in the least in comparison.

To your financial success (and freedom),

Tana