Posts Tagged ‘living in the moment’

Financial Advice for the Ages

October 12, 2010

There are some personal finance rules of thumb that are set in stone across the board, no matter who you are, how much money you have or what your financial goals are. For example, whether you make $1,000 per month or are worth $10 million, you should have an emergency fund that equals a minimum of three months expenses.

But then there are also rules and suggestions that change as you age and (hopefully) earn more money. Depending on your situation, here are a few age-based tips to maximize your financial well-being.

At this age you’re probably still single, no kids, making pretty decent money, traveling a bit, pretty career-focused and not thinking too much about retirement. What essential steps should you be taking?

  1. Get debt-free and stay that way. Pay off your credit cards, student loans and car loan to get your credit score in tip-top shape for when you will inevitably want to qualify for the best mortgage rates.
  2. Take advantage of your employer’s 401k benefit. If you’re offered a match, put at LEAST the amount in there to maximize the match. Aim to defer at least 6% of your salary, 10% if you can afford it.
  3. Get your emergency fund in place ASAP. Start with only $25 per paycheck if you have to, but make it automatic, and once the money is in there it stays. You’ll be glad you have it if you lose your job or have an accident.

If you’re a typical American, by this time you own a home, have 2.3 kids and are settled into a career that provides a solid income. You probably spend a lot of time at your kids’ events and have a couple of nice cars in the garage. Make sure you’re staying financial healthy by also doing the following:

  1. Keep socking that money into your 401k. Do NOT sacrifice retirement savings to pay for your kids’ education. They don’t give retirement scholarships or loans.
  2. But you should be saving for college if you can. Decide how much you do want to help (some people want their kids to pay for some to make sure they value the opportunity) then open a 529 account for each child with monthly automatic contributions. Also, make sure you’re matching any expensive extracurricular activity costs with college savings. If you can’t afford to save for college AND pay for select soccer or elite gymnastics, reconsider the high-end program. Chances are your child won’t be making a career out of it and while it might be a tough pill to swallow to drop down to a more affordable league, it will be a lesson in sacrifices and choices that won’t be forgotten.
  3. Make sure your emergency fund balance has been adjusted to cover increases in your expenses over time. Once you’ve reached the goal, keep up with the automatic monthly savings into a Roth IRA or money market savings account.

You survived toddlers and are now enjoying the final teen years with your kids, who are hopefully college-bound overachievers. You may be considering a second act career or wondering what the heck you’re going to do with your time once the last of your brood flies the nest. What else should you be thinking about?

  1. It’s probably time to really think about what retirement means to you, then putting that story into numbers. Most people these days aren’t really planning to live out their days on a golf course, but would like the flexibility to hit the links when they like while also staying engaged and active. Think about how the cost of your lifestyle will change and make sure you can weather that.
  2. Take a look at how your 401k (you’re still contributing, right?) is allocated. At this point you should only have about 50% of your funds in stocks, so make any updates to put the other 50% in solid bond funds or other fixed income instruments.
  3. Try to get your house paid off sooner rather than later. Your goal should be to retire completely debt-free.

As with all personal finance tips, these are simply general ideas based on what the “average” American deals with through life. Of course your situation is going to be different and you’ll make adjustments as needed according to what’s important to you. Above all, remember that the purpose of all of this is to simply allow you to enjoy life without having money as a barrier to pursuing your calling.


How’s Your Attitude?

September 9, 2010

Do you ever have one of those days when everything just seems to click? Like the stars have aligned perfectly and everything you touch is golden? For example, you’re on your way home from running morning errands when you notice a parking meter open right in front of the coffee shop. Perfect!

You decide to take your chances by not paying and run in to grab a quick cup. When you swipe your loyalty card you learn you’ve earned a free coffee so you don’t owe a dime, and you glimpse the meter maid approaching just as you pull away…a close call! Lucky day! Suddenly it seems you only have green lights and no traffic and you don’t forget anything at the grocery store and you wonder what else you can accomplish on this great day!

The thing is, you probably still sat at a couple red lights. And you might not have forgotten anything, but Trader Joe’s doesn’t sell frozen garlic bread or your special brand of soymilk, so you’re still going to have to go to the “normal” grocery store later. But these things don’t bother you like they might because you have the attitude that, “This is MY day.” Other days you might grump about having to shop at two stores, or notice how many pedestrians walk into traffic without looking, or become annoyed when your coffee drips on the seat of your car. But not today. Hakuna matata!

Sound familiar? Ever have those days? Did you ever examine it just a little more closely and realize that there wasn’t that much special about that day, it was really that you just happened to notice the good stuff? It turns out my mom was right. It really is all about your perspective or your ATTITUDE. It reminds me of the paragraph that hangs on the wall in her office by Charles R. Swindoll:

“The longer I live, the more I realize the impact of attitude on life. Attitude, to me, is more important than facts. It is more important than the past, the education, the money, than circumstances, than failure, than successes, than what other people think or say or do. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill. It will make or break a company… a church… a home. The remarkable thing is we have a choice everyday regarding the attitude we will embrace for that day. We cannot change our past… we cannot change the fact that people will act in a certain way. We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it. And so it is with you… we are in charge of our Attitudes.”

So how’s your attitude today? I know I’m keeping mine on cue to notice the good stuff and try not to dwell on the bad stuff.

Reflections on Achieving Goals

May 11, 2010

These days I am constantly reflecting on the time in my life about three years ago when I began to lose 30 pounds, which put me in the best shape of my life. Not only did I look great, but I felt fabulous and it showed in all areas of my life: personal, professional and spiritual.

I was able to maintain my weight (and the resulting “glow”) for at least 2 years, so no one can blame it on stress, life changes, a fad diet, etc. In fact, I like to think that I returned to a state of equilibrium because of the things I was doing and I can’t think of a healthier time in my life.

But somewhere along the road in the last year or so, I stopped doing some of the things that got me so healthy and I find myself digging out my “fat clothes” to get through it. This reminds me of one of the best lessons I took away from my weekend at Life Success Seminars two years ago.

That lesson had to do with achieving goals in life and sustaining the results. There are specific things we do that get us to our goals; they might include journaling to get through a tough time, exercising to achieve a body-image goal or counting pennies to pay down debt.

Whatever it is that we do, we often stop doing those things once our goal is achieved. But what I learned at Life Success is that we need to keep doing the things that got us there in order to sustain the desirable result. So I am asking myself, what did I STOP doing that derailed my healthy look, outlook and lifestyle?

Too often when we find ourselves in a place we’d rather not be, we think of restrictions to get us back on track. Cutting out cookies to lose weight, trimming back on shoe-shopping to get out of debt, avoiding painful subjects that have us feeling low.

I’d like to propose the opposite: instead of thinking of what you can stop doing to get yourself back on track, think of what you can start. For me and getting back into my skinny jeans, I will start taking long walks and practicing yoga again. Journaling about whatever is floating around in my head. Taking time to check out and “just be” every once in awhile. These are all things that I was doing when I lost all that weight that have been crowded out lately by other activities.

How about you? What is it that you may have stopped doing that you could start again that would get you back to where you want to be?

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Priceless Time With Your Girlfriends

February 15, 2010

Female relationships have played an important role in the lives of women since the beginning of time. As far back as historians have documented, women depended on each other for basic survival needs as well as a social outlet. As our society has evolved, we’ve become less dependent on our neighbors and family members for fulfillment of basic needs, but the social aspect of girlfriends has not diminished in the least. In fact, I would argue that they have become even more important as technological advances lead to social isolation on a grander scale. As a result, we must be more deliberate in maintaining these sometimes life-saving relationships.

The trouble is, too often when we think of hanging out with our girlfriends, we automatically think we have to go out for an expensive meal or spend the day shopping at the mall. This can often cause us to skip those important social times due to budget restrictions, forgetting that the renewal and comfort we receive from our girlfriends is priceless. I know that I have had this struggle lately, as have many of my wonderful girlfriends.

Recently, I had one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time with girlfriends — and it cost me less than $10, including gasoline. It didn’t start out as a cheap night though. As the three of us made our initial plan, the first suggestion was dinner and drinks somewhere nice in Covington or Crestview Hills Town Center , which would have cost at least $30, if not twice as much.

Luckily, my girlfriend Heather pled for a more low-key night and Tasha suggested making dinner at her place as an alternative. We divvied up the menu (I was assigned the easy appetizer and rolls), met in our PJ’s, and had a relaxing evening of laughter, support and a hearty and delicious homemade meal. Not only was it inexpensive, but the evening was actually more pleasurable and refreshing without the outside “noise” of a public setting.

There were no waiters interrupting our conversation to check in with us, no overly eager bachelors trying their luck with a table of pretty ladies, and no need to dig out the Spanx and eye shadow to put our best look forward. Sometimes all we need is a quiet evening in our slippers with healthy, delicious food and a willing ear and shoulder to share with a girlfriend.

So next time you and your girlfriends find the stars aligned and you’re all available at the same time for a rendezvous, rather than heading to the ATM for an expensive night of cocktails and dancing, get creative and have a BYOB dance party in someone’s living room. I guarantee you’ll feel better about the shape of your wallet, and I bet you also have some good laughs as you exhibit your best dance moves for each other without the self-consciousness of looking goofy in public.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on February 15, 2010.

Goal: Affording Your Dream Vacation!

February 1, 2010

Too many people go to their graves having never taken that one trip they always dreamed of solely because the total cost of the trip was too daunting. Follow these steps to “find” the money and set sail within just a couple years.

Financial goals are rarely about dollars in the bank — they are about realizing a dream that requires financial backing. So rather than using the word “goal,” which can sound restrictive or negative, I like to use the word “dream” when helping clients set up a savings plan. And “dream” doesn’t mean unattainable or far-reaching. In fact, if you’ve stopped dreaming, I bet you often find yourself asking, “What’s it all for?”

Therefore the first step in setting and achieving financial goals or dreams is to re-start your dreaming. Do you have a trip, home or purchase that you’ve always passed off as pie-in-the-sky or “someday?” When you look at the total price of such a dream, do you sigh and think to yourself, “Maybe when I win the lottery?” Well, today is the day that I challenge you to turn someday into an actual date, no lottery ticket required. With a smidge of discipline and a little time, you can take that trip or have that house.

Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of taking an Alaskan cruise. With flight and cruise packages, this fantastic trip can cost upwards of $5,000 for two people. (This figure is based on a room with a balcony, departing out of Seattle for a 7-day roundtrip cruise) That amount can seem daunting and impossible if you are a typical American who struggles to keep $5,000 in the bank for emergency purposes. I’m here to tell you that it is entirely possible with a little planning. Here’s how:

Let’s say you and your beloved are preparing to celebrate your 38th wedding anniversary. (Congratulations!) Wouldn’t it be a treat to embark on an Alaskan cruise to celebrate your 40th? If you start saving today, you can get there without even breaking out a credit card. This year, rather than giving your sweetie a store-bought gift for your anniversary, head down to the bank or credit union and set up a 40th anniversary trip savings account.

Start your account with an initial deposit of $100 — remember you don’t have to buy an anniversary gift this year, so stretch a little to start saving toward your dream. You then need an additional $4,900 to realize your dream. Since you have two years, or 24 months until the big day, you’ll need to put away about $200 per month.

If you are paid every other week, that equals $100 per paycheck. When you split the amount with your beloved (after all, your gift to him is STARTING the account, but he should help you get there), it’s just $50 each per pay.

Make your savings automatic via payroll deduction or automatic transfer, and without any pain at all, you will be setting sail for glaciers, polar bears and Eskimos. Bon voyage!

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on February 1, 2010.

Money-Saving Travel Tips

January 18, 2010

The first weeks of January are typically not too rough for me. While basking in the afterglow of holidays with family and the promise of a new year ahead, I embark on those days with a sense of discipline, purpose and optimism. It feels good to get back into a routine that includes healthy eating and physical activity. But if you’re like me, by the time Martin Luther King Day rolls around I’m ready for spring. The combination of cold, gray days and early sunsets has me yearning for the oppressive humidity of July, while finding it a supreme challenge to keep up with the vigorous routine that sounded so satisfying just two weeks earlier.

When the winter doldrums trump my desire to get in shape, I’ve found a way to trick myself into staying with the program: vacation! OK, so I’m not the first person to think of this idea. But hopefully some of my ideas for saving money while still enjoying a dream vacation will be new to you. Read on for tips on planning the perfect getaway without straying from the budget I know you’ve set for 2010. (if you haven’t yet, refer to my Money Makeover column from December)

Once you’ve figured out your destination, the first step is finding a place to stay. If you’re open to a little adventure, consider renting a house through sites like Vacation Rentals by Owner or Home Away. These sites make it easy to sort by property types, dates of availability and preferences. Because some of the properties may have standard check-in/check-out days, it’s important to book this before your flight.

If hotels are more your style, try to find out what is available. I recommend going ahead and booking a refundable/cancelable room as soon as possible directly through the hotel’s site. You can always change your mind — just don’t forget what reservations you’ve made! Then as your departure dates draws near, look for lower prices knowing that you already have a place in case you don’t find a last-minute deal. A trick that has worked for me several times is to wait until one week from the date of my trip, then using Priceline to try an absurdly low rate. I’ve ended up staying in the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver for only $50 per night using Priceline. Just keep in mind that once your price is accepted, you are locked in and your card will be charged. Don’t forget to cancel your original reservation!

Once you know where you’re staying, it’s time to figure out how to get there. If possible, use the credit card points or frequent flyer miles you’ve been saving for something special. Booking early gives you a greater chance of being able to pick the dates you travel. Try traveling on “off” days like Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for greater availability. If you don’t have points to use, I still like for finding the cheapest flight. Once you find the airline, Kayak takes you directly to the airline’s site for booking, which saves you any fees incurred through third-party sites.

Finally, as you begin to pack for your dream vacation, you’ll have to deal with the latest airline restrictions on luggage and liquids. Most airlines charge a fee to check a bag, forcing travelers on a budget to try and fit everything in a carry-on sized suitcase. With the restrictions on liquids, this can become impossible if you’re going away for a week. Unless you’re heading for a remote destination that won’t have a Walgreen’s or grocery store nearby, think about buying travel size toiletries at your destination. This will save you room, hassle and hopefully enable you to carry your bag on without paying the baggage fees.

Regardless of where you end up for your getaway, having something to look forward to in the near future will help you stick to your guns and realize your dreams of a beautiful beach bod.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on January 18, 2010.

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

January 4, 2010

I entered the West Chester Conference Center on April 3, 2008, for the first time filled with anticipation and not having a clue what to expect. I had finally taken the plunge and signed up for Life Success Seminars’ Basic workshop after months of prodding from a friend. Everyone who had been through Basic promised me that the weekend would change my life. And considering where I was at that point in my life: bored and frustrated with my career and feeling like I needed to embrace a new start, I was ready for it!

LSS uses the tagline, “If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always got!” It is upon this idea that a weekend of self-exploration and new beginnings is built. The purpose of Basic is to have participants shift the direction of their lives just one degree. Like a ship on a course across the sea, one degree doesn’t seem too far off when the shift is first made. But as time passes and the ship continues on its new path, it eventually ends up far from its original destination, perhaps even on a different continent.

During my weekend at LSS, I had some pretty powerful realizations. One was the fact that despite a high level of achievement in my life, I was actually coasting and taking the easy road with my career. But what I didn’t know was what I should do next. I was impatient to figure it out.

Eventually I would come to realize that I had gained the skills and self-awareness at Life Success to find the answers in time. While my career at that point was one that was financially lucrative, I knew in my heart that I could be doing more to feel fulfilled, but I just didn’t know how. I did know for sure that it was not about money. I had played it safe for the first years of my career and was financially secure for someone in my situation. I knew by then that a cushy salary did not equal fulfillment. But what did?

A progression of small steps and risks eventually led to the answer and the launch of my financial coaching practice. Two years ago I would not have dreamed of doing such a thing — putting my life savings on the line and quitting the rat race to depend solely on myself for my next meal seemed scary and absurd. I certainly didn’t wake up one morning after Basic and say, “That’s what I’ll do!” What Basic did was open my mind to the possibilities within me, which allowed me to think a little bit outside the box.

Once I took one step out and survived, it gave me the courage to take the next step. Then the next step and so on. By the time I was officially announcing the launch of my business, it simply felt like the next natural thing for me to do. As Christopher Reeve is known for saying, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and … they soon become inevitable.”

What Life Success helped me discover over time is that life is not about the safety of the balance in your savings account, it is about the purpose you are saving toward. For me it turned out to be discovering and following my dream of helping everyday career-people gain a grasp on their money. If it hadn’t been for that one degree shift, I could still be coasting along on the easy road, agonizing over that deep down intuition that told me there was more to life than a salary.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on January 4, 2010.

Giving Thanks for What $$$ Can’t Buy

November 23, 2009

As I sit down to write this post, I can’t believe it is already time to embark on the annual holiday rush. Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE this time of year, particularly the festive atmosphere and time spent with family and friends, sharing age-old traditions. But it is easy to get swept up in the madness of parties, shopping and obligations, leaving us breathless and exhausted on New Year’s Day.

Before the chaos kicks off with Black Friday (which is the earliest I will consider putting up a sprig of mistletoe or snowflake ornament), I’d like to share a tradition that helps me enjoy this special time of year even more. It’s really quite simple, and you may already practice a variation of it yourself. I call it my “reasons for gratitude that money can’t buy.”

I propose performing this exercise close to Thanksgiving, before the holiday hubbub kicks into full gear. Give yourself an hour or so and find a place that is quiet and comfortable. Grab a pen and journal, perhaps a mug of hot cider and play relaxing music.

Now you’re ready.

Make a list of everything in your life for which you are grateful. Don’t filter, and make sure to cover all aspects of your life: people, career, travel, pets, possessions, activities, health, etc. My list includes such things as my parents, a beautiful home, dependable transportation, darling cats and nearby places to enjoy a refreshing hike.

Next, review the past year of your life. Make note of what may have changed and what is still the same. Revisit significant events and contemplate whether they enhanced your life. Perhaps you traveled somewhere exotic, met that special someone or earned a promotion at work. Or maybe you gained a couple pounds, lost a loved one or lost your job. Write these things down too.

Now go back over the list.This time, mark which aspects of each you might change. Again, don’t filter. For example, I would change the fact that my parents live eight hours away or the rate of rent I pay. And despite having driven it for more than six years now, I am not a big fan of my car, so I would modify that. Other alterations: Less cat hair and more hikes. My cats have this annoying habit of shedding on every surface of my home, and there never seems to be enough time to hike.

Finally, start a new list from the work you’ve done so far. Think about each blessing you listed and what you would change about it, then see how none of it really has to do with money. My parents may be a day’s drive away, but they know I am happy living in Cincinnati. Also, phone calls and e-mails keep us close. I’m simply grateful for the loving relationships in my life that sustain me even through the rough patches.

And sure it’s cool to live in the heart of a city undergoing a renaissance despite the high rent, but I’m just grateful to have the means to earn money to maintain the roof over my head.

Of course I wish my jeans fit as well as they did last November, but at least I have the physical ability to work out and eventually fit back into them. Or if my car broke down, I could walk many places or at least to the bus stop. Ultimately, I’m grateful for my health.

One of the most influential people in my life often says, “The stuff you own ends up owning you,” and I couldn’t agree more. It’s not about the stuff, it’s about relationships, experiences and living in the moment. Keep that in mind this holiday season. I hope you’ll find this year that you derive even more meaning from the things that money can’t buy.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on November 23, 2009.

Welcome to Financial Coaching

June 13, 2009

I believe money is just one tool in our life toolbox, and that our ultimate purpose in life is to find our passion, pursue it doggedly and enjoy each second on this Earth. As far as I know, we only get one ride! Money helps, but it is not the end-all, be-all route to happiness and fulfillment.

Like Dave Matthews so eloquently put it, “Is it not enough, this blessed sip of life? Is it not enough?” Yes, we all have a tendency to let day-to-day life get us “all assed up,” but I make my best effort to keep it all in perspective and live in the moment. And I think the ultimate purpose of my little life is to help others learn this attitude as well. Using the knowledge and experience I’ve collected through my years in public accounting, tax preparation, trust officership and financial advising, I am pairing the two together as a Financial Coach, seeking to remove the confusion surrounding financial planning while empowering others to live their best life.

Stay tuned to this blog for information relevant to budgeting, saving, financial planning, estate planning and other topics affecting your financial health. Please let me know any specific topics you’d like to have covered – I’m here to serve the people!