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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

 

Prosperity

Prosperity is the alignment of your beliefs, values, and actions.

Lorri Palko & Beth Egan

This is a unique way to look at the word prosperity. It puts a different spin on it and makes prosperity that much more attainable and controllable. “Alignment” is a great word to reflect what we truly want in our lives – for everything to be synched up, moving in the same direction, and flowing. We talk about the “stars aligning” or “everything falling in to place” as a nod to order and consistency.

As I was reflecting on that quote, I have a strong sense of the power that is inherent in aligning my beliefs, my values and my actions. The power of taking control, of being in charge, and of making things happen. We don’t wait around for prosperity to find us, we create it! So, to begin creating, consider:

  • What are your beliefs about your financial abilities? Your ability to make money, use it appropriately, and accumulate wealth.
  • What are your values around your financial life? What is the most important aspect of living authentically for yourself in this area?
  • What actions can you take today, tomorrow and going forward to make sure that you are living in prosperity by aligning what you belief, what you value, and what you do?

It is rarely the “big bang,” the grand gesture, or the sudden action that brings prosperity. It is the daily activities, the million small decisions, and the commitment to align your actions completely with what you believe and value.

To your financial prosperity!

Tana

What’s Your Dragon?

As you have probably guessed if you have read many of my blog posts, I love quotes. Love, love, love quotes. The right quote can hit you right between the eyes, pierce your heart, or stoke your internal fires. Here’s one that I love from The Best of Success:

Overcoming the negative is the price of achievement – the price of greatness.

In a world where “the negative” sells, this is a very applicable quote! All around us (and within us), we see and hear the negative. Right about now is when the credit card bills from the holidays may be rolling in. The tax return documents are showing up in the mail box. The luster of our New Year’s resolutions is getting a bit faded and our jeans may still be a little too tight from those holiday indulgences. Bluck!

Ah, but now the gauntlet has been thrown down – overcoming those negatives is the price of greatness! Wow. Greatness! I can achieve anything; aspire to greatness if I just hack my way through the grit and grime of all that negative.

Where is your financial negative? Is it the credit card bills or the thought of slogging through the tax return? Is it getting your financial life organized or devising a plan to fund that IRA by April? Is it figuring out how (finally) to get your 401k invested? Whatever it is, see that as the dragon that you and you alone can slay. We all love the hero’s journey so paint yourself the hero of your own financial journey. See that negative as the dragon standing between you and your financial greatness.

You get to write the story of how you overcame that dragon, stood tall in the face of fear, uncertainty, and negativity, and came out victorious on the other side. Yes, it’s just a tax return, but that isn’t what’s important about the story; what’s important is that it was your personal dragon and you fought through and found achievement and greatness in this moment.

For this week, when you see negative, picture the dragon and then see yourself, sword in hand, fighting through it, overcoming it, and standing in your greatness.

To your financial GREATNESS!

Want to know about Tana?

visit  www. graduatesguidetomoney.com

Follow her on twitter @Grad_Guide

Think Small

I know, I know – the saying is “think big,” but I am coming to believe that it is the small things that will make the

biggest difference in our lives. I always talk about “5 bucks matters whether it is draining out of your wallet,

paying down your debt or building up your savings,” but I wasn’t really, truly applying that philosophy to all

aspects of my life. Five calories matter. Five minutes of mediation or prayer matters. Five push-ups matter.

Before Thanksgiving, I asked you to start preparing for 2016. I asked you to think about goals and about things

that you want to be different next year. If you have done that, perhaps you are creating your goals, identifying

your action steps, preparing yourself for success, and identifying challenges to your success. Awesome – keep

preparing. To help you achieve big goals, plan for small actions, take small steps, do little things but do them

daily.

I am the queen of the grand gesture. I can easily get excited, make plans, buy equipment, block out hours and do

something grandiose one or two times. Consistency is what is hard for me because I am so quickly caught up in

the next new idea or big plan and it is nearly impossible to maintain the “big bang.” For me to succeed at

something, I have to take turtle steps. I talked about Martha Beck’s turtle steps in part II of Creating Better

Money Stories: A turtle step is an action that is so ridiculously easy as to be laughable. It is such a little nothing of

a thing that it hardly seems like it would matter, but it does! It really, really matters because it helps overcome

the hardest part – starting!

Make your action steps be turtle steps so that you know you will do it. It’s so easy, why not? Then come up with

another turtle step for tomorrow. Consistent turtle steps will move you faster and further than thinking that you

are going to “block out 6 hours to tackle this.” Ha! That is never going to happen for so many reasons.

As you make you plan for 2016, identify the turtle steps that can help you creep your way to accomplishing big

goals. In the book, The Compound Effect, Darren Hardy talks about the power of compounding the impact by

doing small things consistently. That compounding can be positive or negative. Take the example of spending

just $4/day on coffee versus saving $4 per day: “The real cost of a four-dollar-a-day coffee habit over 20 years is

$51,833.79. That’s the power of the Compound Effect.”1 So, the difference between spending that $4/day and

putting that $4/day into your savings account is really $103,667.58!

Think of the difference between cutting out 125 calories per day and adding 125 calories – it’s a 67 lb difference

after 31 months.2 There are so many examples of little things which when done consistently create massive

impact. The critical part of that is done consistently. What will you do consistently in 2016 that will inch you

toward success?

“Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies.”

Mother Teresa

1 Hardy, Darren, The Compound Effect, 2010 by Success Media, page 41.

2Hardy, Darren, The Compound Effect, 2010 by Success Media, page 13.

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Finish Strong!

We are well into the final lap of 2015 so it’s a good time to see where you are on meeting your goals and make a last push this month to achieve some things, wrap up some things, and get some things done before 2015 fades away. Here is a quick checklist of things that it may be helpful to review:

  1. Savings goals:

  • Did you fully fund any retirement plans at work? If not, can you up that contribution to get a bit more in there before year-end?
    • As you plan for the new “open enrollment” period, can you increase the contribution a bit to stash away more in 2016?
  • Have you got 6 months of income saved in a savings account or other low risk investment?
    • If not, organize yourself now to start putting away a bit more until you get there. You don’t want holiday spending to put you further away.
  • Have you contributed savings toward college savings accounts if you have children?
    • Are you encouraging your children to save for their own education?
  • How about funding Health Savings Accounts or IRAs? You do have until April 15th to get those accounts funded but you have to have the cash to do it so be sure that you are on target to meet those goals.
  1. Reducing spending:

  • Health care enrollment is upon us. Take a close look at your plan options and make sure you are maximizing your plan.
    • If you did not meet your deductible this year, consider raising it for 2016. A higher deductible will result in lower premiums. Take a little time and analyze what you spent on medical costs during the year and what your plan covered. Compare that to other options out there.
    • Speaking of health care, have you gotten your annual physical, pap test, mammogram and other health screenings? (oops, I need to schedule my mammogram!) Take the time to take care of your health. You can’t take care of your family or your job if you are sick.
  • Take a look through your credit card statements for auto-debit items. Do you read those magazines that you are subscribed to? Could you reduce your TV package? Do you go to the gym? What is lurking that you may have cooled on? I am going to cancel a membership that I am just not using. Even $16/month adds up over a year’s time.
  • Have you looked at your home and auto insurance lately? Are your coverages appropriate? Could you raise the deductible in order to reduce the premium?
  1. Status check:

  • Life insurance – do you know when your term expires on any term policies? Buying a 20 or 30 year term policy back in your 20’s means that those term expirations are creeping closer. You will want to get new coverage in place as that date starts to get near (I would investigate it at least 6 months prior to an expiration if you still need insurance coverage.) You can also ask about conversions to permanent insurance if your policy allows it. This is a consideration if you may not qualify for new insurance due to health considerations.
  • Do you have credit card points accumulating somewhere? Last year at this time, I realized I had a lot of “points” stacked up on my card. “I don’t want to buy a bunch of over-priced stuff,” I thought. Whoa – I found out I could also buy cash back to my checking account or as payment on my credit card. I got a hook-up by using those points at holiday spending time and I now watch them like a hawk to redeem as soon as I can.
  • Have you completed any charitable giving that you plan to do? That deadline is 12/31 so you will want to make your donations now. Look for coat drives, blanket drives, clothing drives or just round up your household items for donation to any of several great organization. Keep an accurate list of what you donated and find the “thrift shop” value in order to get your tax deduction. You DO need a receipt from the organization.

With the holidays coming up, now is the time to check in on a few of these areas so that you can finish 2015 with goals met, plans made, and ducks in a row. Nothing says Happy New Year like finishing this year strong.

To your financial success

Changes and Rearrangements

Last week, we looked at your balance sheet and found out exactly where you are financially.  Now it’s time to think about how you feel about your situation and what changes you might like to see in your net worth.

Assets:

How comfortable (or not) do you feel about the amount of cash and money market savings that you have? How many months of expenses could you cover if something happened to your income? How safe do you feel with the amount of cash you have available?

If you have less than 6 months of expenses, you might want to consider creating a plan to bump that up. There is always something going on that gobbles up our excess cash – this time of year, it is graduation and end of school events. Then comes vacation time, and back to school and the holidays. Always something. Is there one thing that you could cut back on to squirrel away a bit extra each week to put toward savings? For example, if you usually get $60 in cash each week, could you just get $40 and move $20 to savings? That is a small thing but probably doable. The point is, nothing changes unless you have a firm action that you can change, in this case, the amount of your weekly ATM draw. What could you change to increase this area?

If you have well more than 6 months of expenses, perhaps you should consider converting that to an investment so that you have the potential for some investment growth. What is holding you back from putting some of your excess cash to work?  If having more available cash makes you feel better or if you feel that your income may be at risk, then holding on to cash makes sense. The point is to have a plan for how much you need and why.

As you look at the other assets on your balance sheet, the main question is how you feel about what you have. If you are heavy into illiquid investments, be sure that this is your intention and that you are comfortable with that situation. How about retirement accounts? Do you feel that you are on track?

Regardless of your answers, ask the questions and think about what changes you would like to see in the composition of your assets and the growth of your assets and make a plan to move in that direction.

Liabilities:

Take a look at your short-term liabilities – credit cards mostly. How do those numbers make you feel? Are there balances there that you would like to be rid of? I don’t like having debt but when I get interest-free financing on things like furniture, appliances or car repairs, I take it. I make sure I pay it off well within the defined period but seeing that balance still makes me uneasy. How does seeing a debt number make you feel? Would you be willing to “rearrange” some of your monthly spending to pay more on the outstanding balance?

Do you know how much that debt is costing you annually? Take a look back at your statements and see the amount of interest that you are paying. Could you make a plan to get that debt paid off? Again, “a plan” means a specific action, (“I will not eat out on Friday nights anymore and instead put what I usually spend toward this debt”) that you can perform weekly or monthly. You have to change your behavior to make your balance sheet change.

What about long-term liabilities?  How does that make you feel? How important is it to you to be debt-free? It can become a reality if you make a plan for it to happen.

Net worth:

This is just the difference between assets and liabilities and indicates basically how much of a safety net you have created for yourself. The point of looking at this, and at the individual components that make it up, is to empower you to consider where you would like to be, what makes you comfortable, and take action to implement changes. By changing a few habits and making a few changes, you can make a change to increase your assets, reduce your liabilities, and increase net worth.

It is always within your control to move in the direction you want to go. Make a decision to create change and you will!