Spring Forward

I was honored to speak at Lori’s WOYN Breakfast Series on April 28 and so enjoyed my time at the Commerce Club with all of the ladies who were able to attend. (If you have not attended one, take a look at the upcoming schedule and see if you can get it on your calendar!)
While I don’t have the space to go through everything that I presented to them, I did want to share my approach for springing forward with your finances. Think about an area of your financial life that you are dissatisfied with. Take a moment and write it down. Now let’s SPRING forward to improve that situation:

See the situation – view the situation objectively. If emotions are coming up, explore the what, when, why, and how to become clear about why it is emotional for you. Then view it with your actual mind – get rid of the “always,” “never,” and “can’t” statements. List out the facts of the situation and how you would like it to change.
Plan a new approach – what specific action step could you take today to move you from where you are to where you want to be? Continue to list the actions necessary to take another small step.

o     Get the swirling thoughts and ideas out of your head and write it down;
o     Bullet points are best – 1, 2, 3, 4 – that objectifies it, breaks it into smaller pieces, and gives you a specific action step to focus on.
o      Nothing is more empowering than making a plan;
o      Nothing kills fear, guilt, and shame like a plan!

Recruit a positive emotion to feel the way you want to feel
o      Grab hold of the feeling that you want to embody:
o      Confident,
o      Capable,
o      Competent, (we often avoid when we feel incompetent!)
o       In control;
o       Use emotion to power you forward rather than drag you down!

Invest the time
o      This is not going to change overnight;
o       Let go of frustration;
o       Try, try again;
o       It’s a process.
Narrow your focus
o     Pick your biggest battle, the thing/area that is most important to you or is the source of the most frustration,
o     You can’t change everything at once,
o      It is a process,
o      Sometimes you fall a little backward before you spring forward.
Give yourself credit
o      Little victories are cause for big recognition and celebration;
o      You didn’t create the bad habits in a day and you won’t change them that quickly either.
o      Understand that under stress, it all falls apart; it’s ok – just pick yourself up and start anew.

Put some spring in your step by taking one issue that is weighing you down and springing forward to a better place. It may take some time but small steps can take you around the world if you just keep on stepping.

To your financial success,

Tana

When is the last time you checked your Integrity?

It describes a person who is integrated, blended into a whole, as opposed to a person of many parts, many faces, many disconnects. James Stockdale from Thoughts of a Philosophical Fighter Pilot

I love this description of integrity. We (or maybe it’s just me) tend to think of character or honesty when we hear the word integrity, but James gives us a different spin on it that really makes me think of integrity more in terms of “integrated” and the connotation of wholeness and connectedness. Are we dealing with our financial lives in an integrated way? Just because we don’t cheat on our taxes, do pay our fair share, and don’t steal the post-its from the office doesn’t mean that we are dealing with our financial lives in an “integrated, blended into a whole” way.

Prioritizing Financial Life

Do you have conflicts in your financial lives? Duh – of course. Other than Bill Gates and Oprah, most of us have conflicting pulls on our money – pay down the debt, save for college, save for retirement, fix the leaky roof, get new tires, braces for the kids, take a vacation. The list of needs goes on and on and the paycheck runs out much too quickly. This is a life that does have conflicting parts.

It is much too easy to prioritize what is right in front of us (braces, leaky roof) and kick the can down the road on things like college savings and retirement. I do it all the time – “I’ll just get a few things for the house and next month, I will be able to focus on debt/college/retirement.” Next month will bring more leaks, more chipped paint, and more broken stuff that needs to be replaced. The circle of life has moved from the law of the jungle to Murphy’s law – if it can go wrong, it will.

Areas of financial focus

When this is life, we are not really living in integrity; we are living in a dis-integrated, pieces and parts way. It doesn’t feel good to be pulled in so many directions at the same time. It is hard to ignore those “squeaky wheels” that stare us in the face every day and keep our focus off the long-term. To be “living in integrity” does require a vision of wholeness, though. It isn’t easy (again, maybe it’s just me), but I think it is worthwhile for our mental wholeness and integrity (maybe integratedness.) Here are a few things that I am trying to think about as I work (always) on making my financial life “integrated” with what is truly important:

  • Is this use of money in alignment with what is really a priority for me or is it a momentary distraction – (healthy cooking is in alignment with my priorities, but really, is another cookbook necessary when I can get 10 million free recipes with two clicks?)
  • Is this use of money in alignment with my partner’s goals? (Do I really know my partner’s goals or do I just impose them on him? Let’s not ask him as the answer is likely to be embarrassing to me.)
  • Will this make me feel better about myself and my goals a week or a month from now? (Honestly, the $200 that I spent updating my laundry room (ok! $300) makes me so happy every single time that I walk in there – like 5-times-a-day kind of happy. That was worth it. The Kombucha brewing kit is stabbing me with guilt every time I walk by the barely-opened box.)
  • Where do I feel financially disconnected or dis-integrated – not falling apart disintegrated but not integrated, not connected, disjointed? Make a list, really. Writing it down gets it out of your head and into the light of day so that you can do something about it. Take the stuff you feel yucky about and write it down. The act of being honest is one of integrity (character kind of integrity) that will make you feel great about yourself. It is also one of honesty and wholeness. Embracing your greedy spoiled brat is an honest (if not particularly attractive) quality. Most of us have one so admitting it is the first step. Mine is super materialistic and demanding, ever-present, and quite vocal. I wish I could cultivate the minimalist mother-earth part of me that I know is in there, but she is quiet, shy, and probably off meditating somewhere while my spoiled brat is surfing amazon.com with my credit card. (Sigh – this is a never-ending inner battle).

 

True Confessions

When we live with integrity we are an integrated, complete whole rather than a dis-integrated, crumbling array of conflicting parts. Brian Johnson (aside – if you don’t know Brian, go to optimize.me – you are in for a treat! The quote above is from one of his Philosopher’s Notes ~ awesome!!)

  • Where do you feel like a “crumbling array of conflicting parts”? Just admit it. Write it down and stay honest.

Now that you have ‘fessed up, just stay present with how you feel about this. It is really ok and completely human to be a bit of mess in some areas (or so I tell myself.) We are pretty on top of it most of the time so allow yourself to have a few areas that you are working on. If you do feel a bit dis-integrated and disjointed, ponder it. Ask yourself, “what is one thing that I can do right now to become more integrated, more whole, more connected to my truth?” Now. Do. It. Do that one thing. You will feel so good, so happy, so proud of yourself, that maybe, tomorrow, you will do one more thing. Yep, you know – just do it.

To your financial success (and integrity)!

Tana

The Tax Man Cometh

I like to pay taxes. With them, I buy civilization.”  ~ Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.

I can’t say that I like to pay taxes, but I hope his conclusion is accurate! Perhaps taxes do buy civilization but regardless, they do buy our freedom. Freedom from jail for tax evasion, that is! I guess they buy our freedom in the greater sense as well since they pay for our military. That part I can get behind and perhaps feel less horrible about the large dollars that go out of my house every year in taxes.

But this is not about how you feel about paying taxes. It is your reminder that it is almost April and April brings the tax deadline. Here are a few reminders for you:

This year, you actually have until April 18th to file and pay your taxes because of Emancipation Day falling on Monday and the 15th falling on Saturday. However, don’t wait around for the 18th to get your taxes going.

The April deadline also marks the deadline for making IRA contributions as well as Health Savings Account contributions for those who had a high deductible/HSA health insurance plan in 2016. Extending your tax return does not extend the deadline for making these contributions; however.

If you do file an extension, remember that filing the extension only extends the time to file the return; it does not extend the time to pay so you must make an estimate of your tax liability and pay in 100% of it or be subject to interest and possibly penalties.

If you cannot pay taxes due, don’t ignore it! You can request installment payments of the taxes due. Discuss your options with your tax accountant so that you can take action rather than face additional penalties. The IRS loves to impose penalties so make sure you are on top of your options to minimize the money you will have to pay in.

Make sure you gather up all of your charitable contribution receipts and include everything –$10 here and $20 there adds up. For your noncash donations, keep a list of all of the items donated and use a site like: https://www.goodwill.org/wp-content/uploads/2010/12/Donation_Valuation_Guide.pdf to come up with the value per item. You should keep this list with your tax records.

I am often asked by clients how long to keep tax records. The answer, like answers to most financial questions, is “it depends.” Here is how the IRS responds to that question: https://www.irs.gov/businesses/small-businesses-self-employed/how-long-should-i-keep-records

(Although the reference says small business, it is the same for employees.) It is a good practice to clean out your records each year after you file this year’s return. Go through the old records and be sure that you don’t need the record for some other purpose besides taxes. And definitely, make sure you shred all documents when it is time to get rid of them! If you don’t have a shredder, many organizations host shredding events (frequently for charities) around tax time so search for locations where you can shred.

Taxes are never fun but round up those records and get it done. You’ll feel better once you have tackled the task. And maybe you can be like Oliver and enjoy the fact that you are supporting civilization.

To your financial (and tax!) success,

Tana

What are you are passionate about?

Last week, I talked about a different definition of generosity which involved having a giving plan which is “premeditated, calculated and designated.” So, I am moving in the direction of premeditation as a first step to creating a formal giving plan.

Another question that Andy Stanley asked to help move people forward in their generosity plan was: “What are the organizations that you are most passionate about?” Good question and as really good questions will tend to be, this one was thought-provoking. As my kids launch into their own independent lives, the organizations that have received my passion (and my time, talent, and treasure) are no longer relevant – their schools, their activities, their passions. So what are mine? Where do I want to make an impact?

I certainly care about many things and there are certainly more problems to be solved in the world than I can tackle here, but creating a focus does take some consideration. One place to get the juices flowing is at volunteermatch.org. This is a great place to browse by area and find your own areas of interest. You can find organizations that need volunteers (of course, they all need money) and get insights into what is being done locally, nationally, and internationally in your area of interest.

I like the idea of “hand up” versus “hand out” and helping to create opportunities for others. I’ve written about Kiva.org before so you can look back at old blogs on that if you are interested in finding out more. I want to keep that going with more consistent donations. If that is an interest for you, search for team Graduate’s Guide and start lending today. You can pick from a variety of regions and specialty groups. It is not giving per se (unless you donate to Kiva.org directly), but it is providing capital for those in need of it and I keep the funds flowing back out as repayments are made. See if that might be a good place for you to start (with as little as $25).

I also really like organizations like Heifer International and Habitat for Humanity as well, and perhaps I will look to find an organization in Atlanta with a similar mission. Anyway, you get the idea of finding what you are passionate about and making a commitment to consistently do more. Many people look to their church or synagogue and that is great if you feel that doing so meets your need for the “generosity challenge.” I have given to my church out of habit more than anything else, and I think I want to expand my charitable interests a bit further.

What about you? Does Andy Stanley’s challenge about generosity make you a little uncomfortable? Does it shake up your ideas about yourself and what you do to support the organizations that you are passionate about? I do know that we all get into habits and sometimes it is good to shake up those habits, especially our money habits, and make sure they are still right for us, especially as our lives go through different stages and priorities and interests change.

Give it some thought and see if you want to take the “generosity challenge” and if you do, what will that look like for you and your community?

To your financial (and community) success!

 

Tana

 

Generosity Is Not a Feeling

That is a quote from Andy Stanley who is a pastor, writer, and speaker in Alpharetta. I recently attended a conference for financial planners, and he was one of the speakers. That statement really hit me because my acts of generosity are definitely inspired by the feeling I have in that moment: the child at the door raising money for band/sports/schools, the plea for funds at the charity dinner, the pictures of the starving animals on TV. Certainly I can be pushed into generosity, but is that really generosity? Andy would say, “absolutely not;” it’s a response to good marketing.

Andy describes generosity as the “premeditated, calculated, designated emancipation of personal assets.” Under that definition, I am not generous in the least!

Let’s look at that:

  1. Premeditated – planned in advance; an action and not a reaction (the child knocking on the door)
  2. Calculated – you know the amount
  3. Designated – you know where it is going
  4. Emancipation – you set your money free to do good in the world (how inspiring is the word emancipation!)

One thing that has always bothered me about my random acts of giving is that I am scattering seeds to the wind rather than purposely planting them where they will grow in a direction that is important and meaningful to me. That “designated” part was the initial source of unease for me but certainly premeditated and calculated are just as much an issue.

How do you rate under Andy’s definition of generosity? Is that definition meaningful for you? Maybe you have your own that makes sense in your life. Mine was based on responding to a need from someone else but did not ever really belong to me. What is my desire to share my blessings in a direction that touches my heart, and how do I go about doing that with some forethought?

This directly ties to Andy’s question: “what is your plan for supporting organizations and causes that you are passionate about?” Gulp. I am a major planner (uh, it’s actually part of my job title!), but I don’t have a plan in this area. I am as random and un-premeditated as you can get. Oh, good, another area of my financial world that needs work! What’s new?

So, I am moving in the direction of premeditation as a first step. What are the organizations that I am most passionate about? As my kids launch into their own independent lives, the organizations that have received my passion (and my time, talent, and treasure) are no longer relevant – their schools, their activities, their passions. So what are mine? Where do I want to make an impact?

Think about your own premeditation in this area. Is that meeting your heart’s desire? If not, take the step with me and start “meditating” on your own passion for changing the world.

To your financial success (and generosity),

Tana

Adversity and Opportunity

In every adversity there lies the seed of an equivalent advantage. In every defeat is a lesson showing you how to win the victory next time. ~ Robert Collier
This is another great quote to remind us that all of life is a dichotomy. Nothing (or very few things or events) are all bad or all good. The good has the seeds of disaster (look at most lottery winners) and every bad has the “seed of an equivalent advantage.” The critical factor is the choice you make mentally when it occurs, the way you frame the experience, and the resulting actions that you take.

There are always some financial ups and downs, good years and bad, months that run out of money before they run out of month. We are faced with the choice of how to deal with these issues. Option 1 is to complain, rail against the world, and curse our bad luck. To use phrases like, “I can never get ahead,” “just when I think I will have some extra, this happens,” and “if it weren’t for bad luck, I would have no luck at all.” We continue to feed and water the idea that it is us against the world. When we take this approach, we keep seeing the bad things, the things that cost more or wear out or need to be replaced. This aspect of our lives becomes bigger and bigger. Lack, need, and worry rule the day.

Option 2 is to look for the seed of opportunity. Rather than lament the broken water pipe (like I did last summer!), look for the opportunity it brings. Perhaps you have been meaning to re-examine your budget and spending, and the need for a lot of repair cash brings this goal into sharp focus. You are meaning to get new insurance quotes, re-examine your deductibles, and try to save some money. Boom – now is the time to jump into that. When the emergency fund gets hit, it is a great time to re-examine how much you have in there and how much would really make you comfortable. Opportunity! Right now!

You can also look around and see all the things that are going right. I noticed my ceiling fan the other day (ok, first I noticed the dust on my ceiling fan, but then eventually I came around to noticing the actual fan.) I have had that fan since I bought the house almost 13 years ago, and it runs 24 hours a day for half the year. That is a hard-working fan. I have definitely gotten my money’s worth out of that fan. That appreciation made me look around at all the other things in my house that are working. This is purely a matter of where to put my focus and attention, but I went through a spell of paying attention to things that didn’t work and that was no fun at all.

I am trying every day to seek out that “equivalent advantage” in every area of my life where things seem to be going in a different direction than I had planned. The advantage or opportunity is always there if I look hard enough, move myself into action, and pay more attention to all the good that is happening around me than to one small bad.

What is your financial challenge right now? What is the “seed of equivalent advantage?” There is certainly some opportunity there, and I challenge you to grab hold of it and run with it. Who knows what could happen or what that might lead.

To your financial success (and opportunities)!

 

 

Picture Your Vision

Vision – It reaches beyond the thing that is, into the conception of what can be. Imagination gives you the picture. Vision gives you the impulse to make the picture your own. ~ Robert Collier

The conception of what can be” is such an inspiring, freeing thought. We each have the freedom to conceive of what might be for ourselves – the possibilities are endless! To create a vision of your life as you want it to be must be the first step to creating that life. Whether you are envisioning a bigger bank account, a higher net worth, more income, or debt-freedom, the vision is the destination. Without the vision, you are just waiting to see what happens!

I was in a workshop yesterday (thanks Diana Murphy and Wendy Watkins!) where we wrote a letter to our best friend dated a year from now. The letter was one of those that had prompts supplied by Wendy, and we filled in the details, the vision of what we would be talking about a year from now. It was so fun! There was absolutely no time or room for explaining “how;” we only discussed the vision. Wendy referenced the famous Stephen Covey habit, “begin with the end in mind” which is another way of saying, “create a vision.”

The beauty and fun of this exercise was that we were freed from the skeptic (“that could never happen”), the pragmatist (“how in the world will you ever make that much money?”) and the dream-basher (“who do you think you are?”). Those 3 rascals can occupy a lot of my mental space if I allow them to. Add in the critic, the doubting Thomas (or Tana as the case may be), and the worry wart and you have a recipe for curling up in bed with the covers over your head! Frequently, we let all of those other voices chime in. Party crashers!

When you are thinking about the vision, “the conception of what can be,” you leave all those sad sacks behind. Drown them out with the clarity, emotion, and detail of what you clearly picture as your heart’s desire. Put yourself a year into the future where you have become the person that you admire, where you have achieved the lofty goals that you have set, and where you are living the life that you most desire.

So, to borrow from Wendy, here is my version of the letter for you to complete:

Date February ____, 2018

Dear ______________,

You will not believe the year I have had! It was the most amazing, incredible year ever. And when I think about how my financial situation has changed, I have goose bumps! Last year, I earned ______________ and my savings increased by ________________. Besides that, I reduced my debt by _______________! I know it seems odd to talk about my money so openly but I know that you will understand how amazing and exciting this is for me. I also finally ________________________________________________ which is such a weight off my mind to complete that I feel light as a feather now. The best thing that I did for myself financially was _______________________________ and I am so glad that I did because now __________________________________________________.

I hope that you too had an amazing year, but if you didn’t, take time right now to create your own vision of what next year will be like for you.

Happily,

[your name]

I invite you to expand your letter to include relationships, health, spirituality, career, and personal growth (sounds a lot like what WOYN is all about!). Put it all in there – create such a beautiful, exciting, compelling vision that you jump out of bed every day to start running toward that vision. And when any of those other voices start to squawk, politely thank them for their concern, and drown them out with more details about your vision.

Give yourself the gift of exploring all of your possibilities, dreams, goals, and deepest desires. You don’t have to know how you get from here to there. You just have to visualize what “there” looks like. Go. Start creating the vision.

To your financial success (and vision),

Tana

 

The Value of Persistence

Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. ~ Calvin Coolidge

This is one of my all-time favorite quotes. I think the reason that I love it so much is that it clearly tells us that success is in our hands. It is possible for all because you don’t need talent, genius, education, or anything “special” to achieve any goal. It is the great equalizer! All you have to do is keep at it. Try, try again.

For anyone trying to make any changes in their lives (can we talk about those New Year’s Resolutions), persistence is your best friend and your most valuable weapon. It doesn’t matter if the diet has been sketchy, the exercise train has left you at the station, or the spending plan is heavier on the spending than on the planning. Tomorrow is a new day and all you need to arm yourself with is the desire to start anew.

I also love the universality of this quote (and many that I feature). This applies to every area of your life: relationships, overcoming addictions, losing weight, getting in shape, and of course, meeting financial goals. Persistence pays. So, whatever New Year’s Resolutions you started with on January 1, dust them off, learn from the last 29 days and try, try again. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. What power!

To your financial success (and persistence!),

Tana

Balance or Fall off!

A balanced lifestyle is simply a state of being in which one has time and energy for obligations and pleasures.  ~ Madisyn Taylor

A balanced financial life is one in which you have the money for obligations and pleasures. This is the never-ending dance of what we want versus what we need; what is right-now-in-the-moment versus what is my biggest, most important goal. I tend to slip too far on one end of the “teeter-totter” or the other too frequently. The problem with locking into too much austerity is that the caged animal (me!) eventually goes completely berserk and unleashes in a wild spree of mindless spending. “I want, I want, I want” becomes overwhelming and the spoiled brat takes charge.

The key is balance. Oh, that is a word that I am just not great at applying in my life – anywhere. I seem to love being at one end of the teeter-totter or the other. So, my behind is either in the mud or dangling precariously off the end of the board. Fine when you are 7 but less great at 50-something!

This year, I want to sit in the middle of the teeter-totter by building in the small pleasures (a monthly facial – what a treat!) and adding in just a bit more toward the obligations. I am going for a bit of this and a bit of that rather than all or nothing. I am programming myself to think of my monthly facial every time the brat in me wants, wants, wants. “Do you want this or that, little 4-year-old self? Pick one and go skipping off happy and satisfied.”

Yes, I want my financial state of being to be one in which my spoiled brat and my task-master are both co-existing together, quietly, maybe on a blanket, under a nice tree, far, far away from the teeter-totter.

To your financial success (and balance),

Freedom

Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom.  ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

On MLK day, I wanted to find some words of wisdom from the great man himself. Obviously, he was talking about a different kind of freedom back in the 60’s when he said these words, but they actually apply to any kind of freedom that we are seeking. Debt-freedom requires continuous struggle as we balance long-term goals with the excitement of the moment. Financial freedom (defined as not needing to work in order to support yourself and your family) requires a struggle to save and to spend less than we make. Freedom from financial worry and stress requires our constant vigilance to stay on top of bills and expenses, track our spending, and try to live within our means.

Freedom of any kind requires us to stay vigilant and focused on the long-term rather than the short-term. It is always easier in the short-term to do nothing, to worry about it later, and to take the easy road as we go along with friends to eat out rather than cooking at home or pay for conveniences rather than do it ourselves.

As you think about the kind of freedom that you desire, what struggles do you need to overcome? How can you straighten your back and work to overcome those difficulties? For most of us, our financial difficulties are but a drop in the bucket compared to the freedom that King fought for so let’s not let these struggles weigh us down. Let’s face them head on and do what we need to do to shrug them off forever and get on with the more pressing things that the world needs.

As I think about the incredible impact that Martin Luther King, Jr. had on the world, I am eternally grateful that he struggled through his adversity and brought about change that betters all of us. We have come a long way from where he started and we still can do better. Much has been achieved but there are still struggles for too many. We all need to work harder for our freedom in whatever form that takes and face whatever struggles must be overcome.

Thank you, Dr. King, for all that you gave, for the wisdom that you left with the world, and for your vision of how it could be. May we all continue to see that vision and work to free ourselves from whatever holds us back.

To your financial freedom,

Tana