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How to Reset Your Money After a Life Event

Sometimes you just need to pause and turn inwards.

After months of silence on this platform I’m happy to return and explain that my husband and I are now anxiously awaiting the arrival of our first child later this year – and we’ve taken a few months to sit back, digest what’s happening with our lives, and to take a long hard look at how this will affect our finances.

Prior to pregnancy, my husband and I were well on our way to paying off our $282,874.50 in debt (in 6 months we’d eliminated two credit cards, a family loan and started in on our high-interest student loan – about $13,000 in debt) – but by mid-March we both had to stop and reflect if putting every penny of our disposable income towards debt repayment was the most logical use for our money with a child on the way.

After many months of talking and planning, we’re back with a modified debt repayment plan that will allow us (first time parents) to adequately prepare for the arrival of our child in a way that’s fiscally responsible and aligns with our values. 

You, too, may experience a life event that totally upends the way your money needs to be utilized. It’s overwhelming and it’s deserving of a pause and of space to reflect on how to move forward. That life event could be the expectation of a new child, a divorce, a sudden windfall, the death of a loved one, an unexpected job change, your child leaving the nest, or more.

If something like the above happens to you, it’s ok to change course without guilt. Here are 4 simple steps to a money reset after a major life event occurs:

Give yourself some grace

We’re only human, after all. The shock of a major life change deserves time to be processed. Take the time needed to acknowledge your feelings and work through them accordingly. Give yourself permission to pause on any aggressive money goals, and let the dollars sit with you as you sit with your emotions – after all, your money goals aren’t going anywhere and, if desired, you can pick up right where you left off if that’s the right choice for you. You may discover, like my husband and I did, that suddenly your money goals don’t fit with the reality of your new life stage – and that takes time to come to and develop a plan for. Take care of yourself and your loved ones first.

Reflect on and reassess how your money is working for you

After you’ve taken time to sit with your emotions and work through them, it’s time to turn your focus back towards your money goals. Envision what your ideal state under your new circumstances looks like and shape your money goals to support that.

For my husband and I, having a child means…

  • Creating a line item in our household budget for infant necessities
  • Spending on quality pieces of furniture where necessary (crib, car seat, etc) and looking around of gently used items where it’s not (clothing, burp rags, receiving blankets, toys that can be cleaned and disinfected, etc)
  • Reducing aggressive debt payments and saving for our insurance deductible and out-of-pocket minimums
  • Saving funds for the reduced payment and non-payment portions of my maternity leave
  • Evaluating daycare options and working payments into our monthly budget
  • Maintaining minimum payments for student loans, mortgage and our car loan – and after the child arrives and we have a better idea of our monthly finances, putting back into place our debt reduction plan at new levels
  • Considering early savings for college
  • Reprioritizing a larger emergency fund to ensure job loss doesn’t mean a reduction in quality of care for the child
  • And a more serious consideration of increasing our savings rate post-debt to achieve some form of lean FI/RE to allow us time to focus on family and living

For you and your new life needs, it may look totally different. If you’re comfortable, I’d love to hear in the comments from others who’ve gone through a life event and how spending and/or savings came into play.

Make a plan

This should be the easiest step after 1 & 2 – once you know what you want, you now need to go back through your budget and reconfigure your income and expenses to identify where you have money left over to work for you on goal achievement. 

goal-guide-cta

Do the work

After your plan is in place – it’s time to reform habits and hustle.

Doing the work is arguably the longest and most boring part of achieving your money goals. Paying off debt, saving up money, seeing returns on investments…they all take a long time and provide delayed gratification (something you need to learn if you, like me, were drunk on the instant gratification that social media, online shopping and more provided!).

Find ways to self-motivate and stay focused – good things come to those who wait. A few to consider…

  • Look back to see how far you’ve come
    • Keep a log of payments or your shrinking amounts so you can look back and get a reminder of the work you’ve already put in
    • Create a visual representation of your shrinking debts (or increasing savings) – at a glance you’ll get the satisfaction that progress brings
  • Stay motivated in the moment
    • An easy tool to utilize is a habit tracker to help build daily, weekly or monthly habits and build your mental muscle memory
  • Look forward towards what you’re working for
    • Create a vision board and put it up on your fridge, your mirror, your cube wall, or some other place you regularly are to look on what you’re hustling for

How to Set Achievable Financial Goals – Plus a Free, Printable Guide

At the start of a new year, we often find ourselves setting goals and seeking fresh starts. It isn’t coincidence. It’s something called a ‘temporal landmark.’ Humans seek out ways to improve on ourselves, and one of the popular ones (behind getting fit, losing weight, and enjoying life) is getting our finances in order.

Maybe that’s you! And if you’ve committed to getting money-savvy this year I want to commend you. It’s never too late to start getting right with your finances.

So today let’s capitalize on that momentum and excitement by talking about financial goal setting and positive habit formation.

Why set financial goals?

Setting great goals isn’t about creating a laundry list of everything you want to achieve (although that is part of it). It’s about getting really clear on what you want and how you will achieve it. As the late and great Lewis Carroll said, ‘If you don’t know where you are going, any road will get you there.’

Goals provide focus.

And when it comes to getting your finances in order, focus is of the utmost importance. Without understanding what you’re trying to get your money to do for you, prioritizing how you’re spending and saving is next to impossible.

How to create and write great goals

Brainstorm Your Wants

First, get really clear about what the heck you even want. Grab some scrap paper, make a cup of your favorite warm beverage, and just start writing.

Do you want to have a fully funded Emergency Fund? Do you want to learn how to invest? Do you want to retire early? Do you just want to stop spending so dang much?

Don’t judge your wants – just write them all down.

Prioritize Your Wants

At this point you’ve probably got a list of all kinds of things with no rhyme or reason. Take a moment to read through them and on a clean sheet of paper, begin the work of prioritizing them in order of importance to you.

After you’ve got them all in a row – identify the few you feel you can reasonably work towards at the same time (and if you can only do one at a time – that’s absolutely OK).

Turn Your Wants into Action Plans

There are about as many ways to write goals as there are stars in the sky. My personal preference is to use the S.M.A.R.T. model of goal setting because it provides clarity, direction, and finality. As you’ve probably guessed…S.M.A.R.T is an acronym, and it goes a little something like this:

S – Specific: The goal you’re setting must be clear and specific in defining the area you’re trying to improve.

M – Measurable: You must be able to quantify progress so you know, without a doubt, when the goal is achieved.

A – Assignable: Be clear about who is doing the work (in most cases it’ll be You, but in some it may involve your partner, roommate, etc)

R – Realistic: It doesn’t do you any good to set a hugely unreachable goal right off the bat. Break huge goals down into smaller, more realistic pieces.

T – Time-Related: Set a date for when you want to achieve the goal by. Simple as that.

So if I were to write a S.M.A.R.T. goal for building an Emergency Fund, it would look a little like:

I will save 3 month’s worth of expenses ($3,600) in my savings account by December 31, 2017.

Or a S.M.A.R.T. goal for paying down debt(s):

I will have my credit card debt ($3,600) paid off by March 15, 2017.

Or a S.M.A.R.T. goal for you and your partner to fund your retirement:

My partner and I will research and open (Roth) IRAs with a credible institution and fund them to our personal limits ($5,500 ea.) by September 30, 2017.

Devise the Tactics to Support Your Financial Goals

The last part of this process is to sit with your S.M.A.R.T. goal and think about the tactics and changes you’ll need to undertake to achieve it. In many cases the changes are going to require you to really be mindful of how you’re using your money as you rebuild your money habits or form new ones.

Devising your tactics could be a laundry list of changes you need to make (put the credit card away, put $50 extra towards your student loans each month, make an additional mortgage payment each month, sign up for some investing classes), but it could also require some deeper introspection.

One way I like to explore this section is through the idea of trade-offs. Trade-offs are a necessary part of everyday life…including our personal finances. Often we live and interact with our money on ‘default,’ but by creating space to reflect about the choices we’re making we can approach our money from a place of power.

How to stay accountable while you work towards a goal

You’ve thought about it, identified what you want to achieve and devised a plan.

Now it’s time to do the work.

Staying accountable after setting a goal is just as important as the act of creating the goal itself. It’s about keeping the expectations of others – and yourself.

Here are just a few of the ways you can stay accountable:

  • Work for Yourself – for some people, keeping goals quiet works better than making a public commitment. For the lone worker bee I recommend accountability tools such as daily journaling or habit tracking.
  • Work with a Buddy – grab a partner, friend or family member and keep each other accountable. Have regularly scheduled check-ins over cocktails or grab a pizza and have planning parties where you work on your tactics. Ask the tough questions of your buddy and ask them to do the same to you. Best of all – celebrate together when you both achieve!
  • Talk with a Pro – sometimes you either want or need to work with an expert in their field. This can be a personal development coach, a counselor, a financial planner or other money-wiz. Work with them to create your action plan and use your regular appointments to stay accountable.
  • Find a Group – the more the merrier! Find a newbie investing club (or start your own) where you come together on a regular basis and share your learnings and follies. Or grab your closest (competitive) girlfriends and push each other with different savings challenges.

What to do after you’ve achieved a goal

First of all – that’s incredible and you should feel very proud!

And if you’re anything like me, you’re feeling a surge of motivation and accomplishment. Take that energy and focus it on a moment of reflection. Look back and write down what worked, what didn’t, and what you could improve in your approach.

Then…look forward.

Think about the logical next step in what you’re trying to do with your money:

  • If you’ve just hit a small emergency fund goal, go bigger! Try and save up 3 months worth expenses…6 months worth of expenses…etc.
  • If you’ve paid off your credit card debt but have other types of debt looming, steer your focus and funds toward the next largest (either in interest rate or amount owed).
  • If you’ve successfully completed a short time-frame ‘No-Buy’ – go longer! Try 30 days, 3 months or even a year without over-consumption.

When I achieve a goal of mine, I think back to this great quote by Casey Neistat:

‘With each success should come a bigger and more ambitious goal.’

Write it down. Devise a plan. Do the work. Repeat.

Looking for a little guidance? This free, printable guide can help.

I’ve created this free, printable goal setting guide! This 7-page guide walks you through each of the exercises discussed in this article – and it covers your health and happiness in addition to your wealth. Humans are complex creatures and often these areas of our lives are intertwined.

It’s PDF format and 8.5” x 11” – so it’ll print on most home printers.

Free Printable Wealth, Health, and Happiness Goal Setting Guide | Enough.

Print one for you. Print one for your best friend. Print one for your Aunt Judy. Print some for your accountability group. It’s all free and easy-to-follow.

DOWNLOAD 8.5″ x 11″ GUIDE


In the comments: What financial goals have you set or are you thinking about setting?

Free Printable Habit Tracker

Part of my morning ritual at work is marking off the previous day’s box in my habit tracker. There’s something incredibly satisfying about being able to color it in. It’s a reflection of positive change, and humans are notoriously awful at being able to recognize progress in this way. I’ve got a handful of items I’m working on this year, so I made this tidy, easy-to-use habit tracker to keep myself accountable and now I’m sharing it with you.

The Freebies

I’ve made two separate trackers for you to grab; both are in PDF format.

Here’s a year-long spread with a focus on a single habit:

printable-habit-tracker

Download and Print (8.5″ x 11″)

Or if you’re tracking multiple habits and looking for something with a bit more flexibility, try this spread:

printable-habit-tracker-multiple

Download and Print (8.5″ x 11″)


In the comments: What small changes and habits are you trying to make and form this year?

15 Small Changes For Better Health, Wealth, and Happiness

I recently shared my personal vision for the year. I recognize that progress and success comes by taking a series of small steps. In order to achieve my vision for my future self, here are the 15 small changes I’m planning to make this year:

Stop Purchasing Books/Audiobooks, Use the Library Instead

I pay for my local library through taxes, so I will begin utilizing it much more. Libraries played an incredibly important part of my childhood and teen years, offering me a place to go and be alone with my interests unfettered. It is an invaluable community resource and is something I’ll be frequenting much more.

Drink the (Strong) Coffee at Work 

I’ve always avoided the coffee pot at work because, for some reason, the coffee here is some of the strongest I’ve ever tasted. It’s a bitter, black brew. But it’s free and convenient, and I’ll learn to drink it and save a few dollars every day.

Quit the Gym 

There’s a gym only a few block away that I’ve paid dues to for years only to use the walking track. I can walk around my neighborhood for free, and I’m focusing on bodyweight strength training this year which I can do in my home.

Quit the Least Used Online Video Player(s)

At last inventory, I subscribe to Netflix, Amazon Prime, Seeso, HBO Now, Hulu and Crunchyroll. Uh…I don’t need that many paid subscriptions for my nightly TV fix. I’ll keep Netflix and Amazon Prime as paid subscriptions, and once Game of Thrones comes back to TV I’ll re-up my subscription to HBO Go. The others can go!

Cook Every Day

My husband and I have fallen into a new groove of scouring our favorite cookbooks together and picking out a handful or recipes to try. It’s been fun bonding time and this year we’re setting a challenge to cook every single day.

Mend Clothing

I own a sewing machine, I know how to repair fallen hems and torn seams, I even know how to darn socks and denim. I don’t have an excuse, and since I’m undertaking a Shopping Ban this year, I’ll need to put these skills to use!

Take Lunch 

this is one of those obvious ones, but it’s so important to realize that your wealth isn’t built by monitoring the huge purchases, it’s built by being aware of the sneaky $5 or $10 purchases throughout the week. Taking lunch will save both my wallet and my waistline.

Be a Better Local Sleuth for Free Entertainment and Events

I live in a smaller city, but it’s on that is full of great local events, food festivals and celebrations.My husband and I are committing to exploring our city this year instead of falling back on the same (paid) date ideas.

Be a Better Grocery Shopper

Even though we’re going to be cooking every day, we still need to watch our grocery bill. That means buying staple in bulk, clipping coupons for our regular purchases, picking up the store brand when available and setting a meal plan that utilizes similar ingredients to make the most of our trip.

Pay Off Debts Rapidly

The whole reason this blog exists is so I can hold myself accountable to paying off my debts. I’m tired of having over half my take home pay tied up in paying off my debts and I want to decide how my money will work for me. It’s been a long road to get here, but I’m energized and will pay off as much as I can each month.

Listen to Grandma

When I started college my grandmother wrote me a letter telling me how excited and proud she was of me and wrote a little list on how I can start taking care of my first ‘adult’ home. I love it and wish I would’ve listened at the start. Here are the little things she recommended:

  • Put everything back in its home;
  • Do the dishes every night before bed;
  • Don’t let laundry pile up, do it multiple times a week; and
  • Take note of the highs and lows of your day. Relish the highs and let go of the lows.

Take a Lunch Break

I’m not a total workaholic, but I find myself compulsively working through my lunches. I’m going to get away from my desk for at least 20 minutes and…just do something that isn’t work. Read a book, take a walk, listen to a little bit of a podcast. Something that will refresh and reset my brain.

Maintain a Gratitude Jar 

I’ve mentioned this little tradition before, but it’s worth bringing up again. Instead of a BuJo log or other device, I like to write down on slips of paper good memories or things that happen all year long. Then on New Years’ Eve my husband and I pour ourselves low balls of good whiskey and take turns reading the slips. It’s a fun journey down memory lane and reminds us of all the good things that have happened to us!

Meditate

Besides being a nice little break from the daily hub-bub, meditating has been shown to help lower your stress level, which can lead to better mental and physical health. I’m going to start small, just 5 minutes a day for now. But I’m setting a goal that by June, I’ll be up to a full 30 minute meditation practice. Share your favorite app recommendations below if you have them!

Take the Stairs

I work on a lower level floor of my building, yet every morning I just get on the elevator without a thought. I’m going to start sucking it up and climbing the handful of flights up and hope that no one tries to have a conversation with me as I emerge on my floor panting and out-of-breath.


In the comments: What small changes will you be making this year?

A Vision of 2017

Happy (almost) New Years Eve! It’s that time of year again where we turn our eyes to the upcoming year and envision ourselves anew. I’ve never been one for hard and fast resolutions. Instead, for the past few years I’ve been making myself vision boards so I can work hard for my future self. Each board tackles the three areas of my life I care about the most: my health, my wealth, and my happiness.

Here’s 2017 in all its glory:

2017-vision

Health

Drink Water: Pretty straightforward! I just want to up my water intake (and reduce my spending on soda, coffee, and other beverages).

Cook Everyday: This is a commitment my husband and I have decided to make together. Last year we spent thousands on going out to eat at restaurants. In 2017 we see ourselves spending more and more time in our newly remodeled kitchen. Doing so will help us save, will help us spend more time together and may help us lose a few pounds.

Bodyweight Fit: I want to sprinkle in some strength exercises to my current, yoga-centric workout routine. I discovered the subreddit r/bodyweightfitness and am going to try out their recommended routine (and cancel my gym membership).

Lunch Walks: This could really go under both Health and Happiness. I want to create space in the middle of my day, so I’ll be physically removing myself from my desk for 20 minutes at lunch to talk a walk around my city and give myself a breather.

Wealth

Pay Off Debt: If you haven’t yet, you can learn about my debt repayment goals here. I’m setting a really aggressive goal for myself in 2017 to get 85% of my student loans paid off, my car paid off, my credit card paid off and the loan from my family paid off by the end of 2017. It’s going to require even more discipline than the last few months, but I’m feeling confident and motivated that’s it’s possible.

Shopping Ban: Inspired by Cait Flanders, I’m going to embark on my own year-long shopping ban in order to support my vision to be (nearly) debt-free by the end of 2017. I’ll have an approved shopping list and other details to share at the start of the year.

Emergency Fund: Right now I’m holding onto just $1,000 in my savings. As I get some more of my high interest debts paid off, I’m going to turn my attention to building up a money buffer. As first-time homeowners who in the last 6 months have had roof tiles fall off, a heavy snowfall knock off a ton of dead branches on our giant trees, a fridge unexpectedly die, and advice from multiple people to get a water softener or else our water will corrode our old pipes…an emergency fund is a must.

Reduce ‘Stuff’: I want to radically change my relationship with physical objects. Part of that is taking the time to address the possessions I currently own and reevaluate their purpose. I’m not sure how I’ll tackle this, possibly with KonMari or some other tool, but it’s on the board because I see a healthier and wealthier me when I don’t seek to hold onto or possess non-useful items in my home.

Happiness

Say ‘No’ More: One of the things I find about myself, especially with social events, is I am unable to really say ‘no’ and I attend these events and I feel resentful or annoyed. That’s not fair or fun for anyone. So I’m going to work on saying ‘no’ more to things I truly don’t want or am unable to attend rather than hem or haw and be flaky. As the Royal family of Britain say ‘Never complain. Never explain.’

Inbox Zero: For me, a tidy space is a tidy mind. And that goes for my inboxes, too. I’ve only achieved Inbox Zero a handful of times – and I love it when I do. Every Monday I want to get my inboxes filed, sorted and cleaned out so I can start my week fresh and with clear direction.

Read More: Another straightforward one! I used to be a prolific reader in my teens and early twenties, but over the last decade I’ve slowed my reading and find myself only tackling one or two a year. For 2017, I’d like to speed that up to one a month (so if you have any recommendations, leave them below!).

Less, But Better: One of the few books I did read this year was a book called ‘Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less.’ It really struck a lot of the right chords with me and I’m trying to adopt some of its philosophies. The one I really want to weave into my everyday life is the idea of ‘less, but better.’ So pursuing fewer opportunities, but making sure their the best ones. Writing less blog posts, but making them better and better. Agreeing to less social engagements, but focusing on creating better experiences.

Mantra

For 2017, I’m drawing on the paraphrased wisdom of my favorite Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius, from his writings ‘Meditations’:

Confine yourself to the present.

As I face down my 30s, I want to live my life intentionally and with gratitude. And I want to savor each day in a life that seems to be speeding by at a greater pace.

I’m excited for another year and can’t wait to tackle it all.


In the comments: What are you looking to achieve in 2017?

Your Three Selves: Past, Present, and Future

One of the things that is so important when you’re trying to make huge changes in your life (weight loss, money goals, etc) – is this…

You have to be able to forgive your past self for its mistakes and put in the work for your future self with clarity. Tweet This

We are all plagued by voices telling us ‘we failed before, so why would now be any different?’ With reflection, you can come to understand that your past doesn’t have to define your future and that you are, in this very moment, completely in control of what your future will look like. 

Forgive Your Past Self

More than likely, you’ve made a boatload of cringe worthy mistakes along the way to now. Moments that still stop you in your tracks and make you grimace 10 years later. I can certainly think of a few money mistakes…

  • I purchased a $440 pair of Frye boots on impulse only to spend the next 20 minutes running around frantically to other departments trying to find someone who would allow me to return them. All so I wouldn’t have to face the embarrassment of returning them to the man who just sold them to me.
  • When I failed out of college (I later graduated, another story for another time) I salved my wounds with a whirlwind trip to the local Maurice’s. I can still remember exactly how the $38 ill-fitting, mustard-yellow, ruffle-front shirt looked on me – but I didn’t care, I was emotional and I needed relief. That shirt was worn twice and it stayed in my closet for years after that out of sheer regret.
  • When I left my first ‘real job’ I didn’t have enough money in my 401(k) to maintain the account, so I opted to cash out. Rather than the responsible choice of then putting that into an IRA or other retirement account, 25-year-old me instead cashed out and spent it on rent, groceries and a new winter coat. I face-palm to this day, but the growth in my financial literacy over the last 5 years is astonishing.

There’s more – but these sort of stick out to me as endemic of my issues with how I use money: I’m impulsive, I’m emotional and I used to be ignorant about responsible money habits.

Here’s the important bit, though: I forgive my past self.

Dwelling on these mistakes will only hold me back. I’ve worked hard at being able to reflect on my mistakes and learn from them rather than let them stall me out each time I try to achieve a financial goal. You should to.

Work Hard for Your Future Self

How many times have you looked back and thought – I should have just gone for it. Be it weight loss, a savings goal, getting in shape, going back to school…all of it. You have to forgive yourself for those mistakes. And you have to do the work to get in touch with your goals and values in order to understand what you need to do for your future self.

For me, I’m doing all kinds of things for my future self:

  • I want to be debt free in the future, so I’ve cut my extraneous spending and am focused on paying my debts down faster than ever.
  • I want to be in a good state of mental health, so I’m practicing meditation and mindfulness every day.
  • I want to be in good physical health, so I make small changes like taking the stairs, spending 20 minutes of my lunch to walk, and eschewing soda for water each day.

Your future self is the person who will reap the rewards of your work in the now. Think of who you want to be, what you want to look like, the life you want to be living and start hustling. Keep the idea that everything you’re doing now you’re doing for your future self at the top of your mind.

Be Your Best Present Self

I’m not gonna lie to you – learning the new money habits that will help me pay off my debt has been incredibly difficult. Not that going without takeout coffee has been a travesty – the difficulty lies in coming face-to-face with my impulses and having to redirect myself. Realizing how often you make these rote choices is eye-opening, frustrating sometimes a little defeating.

But I’m doing the best self-work I’ve ever done. I’m actively changing my habits, I’m more aware of my money, I have clearly defined goals and am doing everything I can to meet them. I’ve internalized the idea that life is full of trade-offs, and that I am empowered with choices that can either draw me closer to or push me farther away from my end goals.

That’s me being the best present self I can be right now. It may need to look different as new challenges crop up, but for what I want for myself in the future – I’m doing the right stuff.


In the comments: How are you interacting with your three selves? What have you forgiven your past self for and what are you trying to achieve for your future self?

The Necessary Nature of Trade-Offs in Personal Finance

After November’s mediocre showing, I’ve been reflecting on my actions over the past month. It’s clear that I was overzealous in my first debt payment, and in doing so I had to rely on my credit card to cover other expenses, which only succeeded in putting me in another bad spot.

What I was lacking was the mindfulness of the full picture of my finances and I was failing to create space between impulse and payment. I wasn’t asking myself the right questions or taking the time to make sure the math checks out. I gave in to the excitement and adrenaline rush of paying off a huge amount of debt without considering if it was the ‘right’ choice for that time.

Lesson learned.

Everyday we’re faced with making decisions. We ask ourselves things like:

Should I do X?
Should I buy Y?
Should I get rid of Z?

But I believe what we should be asking ourselves are things like:

Would I rather do X, or would I rather do Y?
Should I buy Y, or should I use the money for Z?
Should I get rid of Z, or should I do A?

Life is a delicate dance of trade-offs. For every X, there is a Y we could pursue instead. Taking the time to create space for these decisions can save you from emotional, financial mistakes.

Understand your motivation, your goals, and your values

If you don’t know why you’re doing something, then you lack the criteria to evaluate choices that are presented to you. You’ll be restricted to relying on impulse, on what feels right, instead of an objective eye. Keep your goals and values at the center of everything you do and you give yourself criteria to judge choices presented to you. 

Shift from living on default to living intentionally

Living on default means living without mindfulness, without intentionality. It means following your impulses as defined by years of habit formation, for better or for worse. When you live on default you live without considering the trade-offs.

Trade-offs aren’t a punishment, they are necessary and unavoidable. With every choice you must consider the opportunity cost of your options and choose the option that best serves what you’re trying to accomplish. Create the space between choice and action to do this and you’ll slowly build new habits, new ways of living, and new ways of looking at ‘stuff’ and money.

Empower yourself with choice

One of the great things about understanding and accepting the reality of trade-offs, is that you get to empower yourself with choice. Wielding choice is a powerful way to live. The ability to confidently say ‘No’ to those things that don’t serve your goals and values, and being picky and intentional about the things you say ‘Yes’ to sets up a way of living that leaves you in total control. As my mother, who is a very smart lady, always says, “No one is obligated to your time, your money or your attention.”

Another exercise I love is the Yes/No Trade-Offs Charts. Download these printable worksheets to begin.

SAY YES: Write down on the left the things you want to say ‘Yes’ to – and directly across from it start thinking and noting the things you’ll need to say ‘No’ to in order to achieve that.

SAY NO: Write down on the left the things you want to say ‘No’ to – and directly across from it start thinking and noting the things you’ll need to say ‘Yes’ to in order to achieve that.

Trade-offs and personal finance

This has a powerful application in personal finance. When you’re trying to achieve money goals, be it debt freedom or a savings goal, it’s going to require discipline and mindfulness, it’s going to challenge you to not live on default.

Understanding trade-offs in your spending (for example, spending a few bucks here and there on take out coffee, but failing to recognize that those dollars add up and can be put toward your debt in their sum) can help you start to take control of your finances. With each opportunity to spend your money, you’re faced with choice. Choose the path that will lead you toward your goals.


In the comments: What trade-offs have you discovered in your life, your spending?

Saying Goodbye to Black Friday and My New Shopping Rules

Today is Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving in the United States.

Since the 1930s, this day has traditionally marked the beginning of the Holiday shopping season. It’s popularity comes from the happy coincidence of Thanksgiving being the last major holiday before Christmas and that employers often give workers the Friday after Thanksgiving off as part of a holiday weekend.

The name ‘Black Friday’ references stores accounting coming out of the ‘red’ (negative numbers) and into the ‘black’ (positive numbers. (citation needed) It’s a day that retailers employ some of marketing’s best tactics to increase sales: entice with doorbusters to get customers in the door, create a sense of urgency by limiting sales to a single day, and utilize the power of the hype train in all communication channels.

Black Friday: Then and Now

Over the past decades, the allure and madness of Black Friday has grown. Every year news outlets report on larger and larger crowds pushing, screaming and fighting over limited, out-of-stock or one-time only items. We see viral videos from inside stores of people physically assaulting one another over toys, home goods and more. All of this media only adds to an ever-growing FOMO (fear of missing out) machine.

In 2015, “…more than 151 million people said they shopped either in stores and/or online over the weekend.” (1) The National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that, on average, consumers spend $952.58 (2). This year, in 2016, the NRF is projecting sales to increase 3.6%, reaching as high as $655.8 billion in sales with single-consumer purchases averaging nearly $935. (2)

A Countermovement: Buy Nothing Day

Over the past few decades there’s been a slowly growing reaction to the world’s rampant consumerism. ‘Buy Nothing Day’ first found its way to the US in the mid- to late-90s. Today, the movement has spread to nearly 60 countries. (3)

Participants do everything from staying home and refusing to participate in the sales, to cutting up credit cards and other small forms of protest, to heading out to shopping centers and staging larger, more public demonstrations.(3)

My Personal Consumerism Protest: Staying Home

In years past I would venture out, usually later in the day after the large crowds had passed, and would scour what was left for a few deals here and there. And while I remember the experience of going out, I can’t remember a single thing that I’ve purchased.

The single most important thing to achieving personal finance success is prioritizing your spending in a way that’s commensurate with your values.

By reflecting on what I want to achieve with my money, I’ve crafted a few rules for myself when it comes to shopping and consuming.

My New Shopping Rules

  1. Go slowly
    • Chances are the thing you’re lusting after will still be there (or something new will have taken its place). Be aware of trends influencing your decision and take time to truly evaluate what you need.
  2. Learn to appreciate beauty, not to possess it
    • Each time I hop online or head out to a shopping center I’m faced with beautiful or enticing items: the beautiful but impractical velvet bootie, the amazing window treatment, the kitchen gadget, the festive holiday decor…Learn to listen for the hints that you love the item because it’s beautiful and not because it’ll serve a purpose in your wardrobe or home, and be OK with walking away from it.
  3. It’s better to mend, than end
    • Learn to fix a blown out seam. Learn to put a button back on. Learn to darn a sock or two. Learn to appreciate weird iron-on patches to hide or repair rips and holes.  Or find someone who can and ply them with homemade treats (or money).
  4. Try to buy responsibly, make the best choice you can
    • This can mean many things to many people. As you dive into the world of ‘responsible manufacturing’ you’re going to find flaws at every link in the chain – it could be anything from labor standards and factory conditions, to how the raw materials were produced, to how the parent company markets and perpetuates ‘FOMO’ and destructive consumerism. Make the best choice you can with the information you have available.
  5. Don’t buy it on sale if you wouldn’t buy it at full price
    • The allure of goods at discounted prices can help justify imperfections you wouldn’t accept if it was priced at it’s full retail price point. Small dings, ill-fitting clothing, poor silhouettes, snags, buttons missing, unflattering colors, etc. Keep your eye on finding items that serve your needs and are beautiful first, and address the price point second.

In the comments: How are you spending Black Friday? What are your shopping rules?

Sources
(1) https://nrf.com/media/press-releases/thanksgiving-weekend-shopping-brings-big-store-and-online-crowds-according-nrf
(2) https://nrf.com/resources/consumer-data/holiday-headquarters
(3) http://www.adbusters.org/bnd/

 

Find Your Values and Prioritize Your Spending

One of the most important factors in personal finance success is prioritizing your spending in a way that is commensurate with your values.

But what if you’re not sure what your values are?

What are values?

Values are those building-blocks that make each of us who we are. They are the things that you use to make decisions whether you’re aware of them or not. It’s important to call out that values are separate from morals. While culture and society may shape your morals, you, and you alone, define your values.

How to Gain Clarity and Define Your Values

By working to discover and name your values, you begin to build out explicit and strict criteria that can be used to make decisions in all areas of your life.

My favorite value exploration exercise goes as follows:

  1. Grab some paper and something to write with
  2. Down the left side of the paper write down careers or jobs that you think you would enjoy
    1. Example: Historian, Author, Park Ranger
  3. On the right hand side write down 3-5 things about that job that speaks to you
    1. Historian: Research, History, Lifelong Learnings
    2. Author: Storytelling, Creativity, Set My Own Schedule
    3. Park Ranger: Outdoors, Preservation, Exploration
  4. Repeat steps 2 & 3 for a few other categories:
    1. Events & Entertainment (concerts, sporting events, movies, etc)
    2. Hobbies & Activities (hiking, running, knitting, etc)
    3. Role Models & Mentors
    4. Family & Community (attending church, volunteering, family dinners, etc)
  5. As a final exercise to further identity values you may not be immediately aware of, repeat steps 2 & 3
    1. This time, however, down the left you’re going to write down things that bother you, annoyances or things that make you upset
    2. On the right side, now take some time to reflect and recognize what it is about these annoyances that bothers you
      1. Example: people being late may bump up against having your time respected. People who interrupt may upset you because it feels like you’re not being heard.
  6. Take all of the items in the right column and sort them into groupings of like words
  7. All you have to do now, is name them

Making Your Values Yours

Words have power. And one of the ways you can truly come to embrace your values is to name them in a way that is truly you.

Let’s say you’ve identified that you value ‘time outdoors.’ Find a way to name it that resonates with you, maybe something straightforward like ‘Green Thumb’ or something a little more colorful like ‘Trailwalker.’ Both have a different feeling even though they reflect the same core value. Go with your gut and don’t judge what bubbles to the top as you think about your value groupings. Spend some time with your list of values and give them a clear and unique name.

I call my personal values ‘My Big 6’. They are:

  1. Woman About Town: Spending time with my family and friends and experiencing new things with them
  2. Back to Nature: Find ways to spend time outdoors and to realign with nature through food (eating seasonally, making whole and local food choices when available, and gardening)
  3. Playtime: Making space and time to play and create in order to spark new ideas and reconnect with my inner child
  4. Land of Nod: Getting my full 8-10 hours of good sleep each night helps me perform at my best
  5. Kindness: I will exercise kindness in as many ways as I can, including my actions and my purchases.
  6. Freedom: I choose and determine how my time and money should be spent. No one is obligated to my time, attention or money.

And while I have several other values, including a set of values for my career, these are the core group that I find myself looking back to when I need to make a conscious decision.

All of this may seem unnecessary, but understand that once you take the time to get really clear about what you value, you’ll find a path to contentedness laid before you. When you live a life commensurate with your values, you live a life that’s fulfilled.

Values as Criteria for Decision Making

When you’re looking to lead a value-based life, understanding and being clear about what things you value can play an important role in identifying the ‘vital few’ activities and needs, or what I like to think of as ‘enough,’ for your life.

My values shape decisions I make, whether I want them to or not. They also inform my satisfaction with my decision.

Let’s say I’m invited out to a new jazz club, but the event doesn’t start until 10 p.m. and it’s a work night. I go to the office around 7:30 a.m., so going out to this club would leave me well under my sleep quota I try to get each night. More often than not, I’m going to say ‘No’ to going out. And it’s not because I’m a fun hater – it simply bumps up against a value of mine.

Or, let’s look at a few hours spent at a ballpark with colleagues or a few hours spent at a new ping-pong club with a single close friend. Because I value a) new experiences with people I care about and b) play, it’s always going to be the ping pong club for me.

Another example, this time with money. I’m given the option of either purchasing my friend’s local veggie co-op produce or passing on it. The cost is about $60 over what I had budgeted for groceries. Now we’re entering more complex territory because I value great, local food so this should be a no-brainer – and while the opportunity sounds great, ultimately my ‘Freedom’ is going to win over. I choose how my money will be spent through budgeting and I know I can get local, fresh veggies (that will be used up with no waste) from my grocer. So, I pass.

The great thing about understanding the role values play in your life, is it opens you up to understanding others’ action in a whole new light.

Maybe Barbara didn’t bail on after work drinks because she doesn’t like you – maybe she just values dinner time with her children.

Or Frank choosing to stay home and read instead of day-tripping to the lake with you – maybe he preferred to spend his weekend time reflecting and reading as he values introspection.

How Values Play a Role in Personal Finance

I’ve touched a little bit on how values can and do inform decisions you make on a daily basis. But they can also play an important role in your finances. Using your values to prioritize your spending can help you live within your means and use your funds in a way that helps you achieve satisfaction.

If you want to achieve early retirement, for instance, focusing what income you have on paying down debts and finding investments that can help achieve that goal. If, like me, you’re simply trying to get a handle on your debts, you may prioritize you money to go entirely towards your debts (meaning your funds no longer go towards things like coffee or clothing).

Getting clear on what you want and why you want it can help make the changes that come with personal financial success a bit easier.


In the comments: What are some of your values? How do they show up in your daily life? Your finances?

Reflecting on Role Models and Thankfulness

This undertaking – committing to rapid debt reduction and writing about it – has given me lots of opportunity for reflection. To look back at how I got here and what has influenced me along the way. Each time I sit down to write a new post it becomes a rare opportunity to do nothing but reflect and think.

And with Thanksgiving just a few days away in the United States – what better time of year to reflect on the journey here and say thank you. A small recognition of influence for people who have already achieved the success I’m working towards.

For years – literally, years – I’ve followed blogs and websites, eating up every word and with each new post saying to myself ‘I’m gonna do it, too! Yeah!’ – only to log off, let negative self-talk creep in, default on what was comfortable, and live my life deep in debt.

It’s easy to make excuses, to look at writers and think to yourself ‘My situation is different.’To look around you and think ‘Nah – this is normal, I guess.’ as others drive new cars every few years, go shopping on the regular and eat out every day at lunch. Generally just going about their lives without any clue there’s any urgency to their financial situations.

I was one of those people for the entirety of my 20s. I was a prisoner of my debt, making excuses and refusing to believe that my financial situation was an emergency. After all – I was making great money! And could afford to go out! And to buy new things! And…(the list goes on).

But debt is an emergency.

Debt is a barrier to your ability to choose how your money works for you, for your family, and for your financial goals. 

The hardest part about all of this has been getting started.

Last week I was able to put nearly 77% of my monthly take home pay towards paying off my debts. This wouldn’t have been possible without the help, guidance and motivation of other inspirational individuals who have come before me.

Thanks, Financial Role Models!

  • Cait Flanders (formerly BlondeOnABudget)
    • Cait is far and away my strongest inspiration. She paid of $75,000 of debt and then went on a 2-year shopping ban. She is an excellent writer and her essays on consumption, mindfulness and money are compelling and motivational. She showed me that commitment to a large goal doesn’t have to be a struggle, and for that I’m thankful.
  • Mr. Money Mustache
    • MMM writes on the topic of financial independence with clarity and conviction. He posts at a slower pace these days, but the archives are full of articles ready to be devoured (and you will devour them!). His site also hosts a great forum, which is wonderful for interacting with others on their own financial journey to ‘badassity.’ I’m grateful for the community he’s built to show me I’m not alone and that living in debt is not the ‘new normal.’
  • The Financial Diet
    • This site is a daily read for me. They posts some of the most thoughtful essays from women on everything from finance, money, conscious consumerism, career advice, self-care and more. I love that there’s a space on the web that’s female-focused and am thankful they are adding their voices to the conversation. If you’re looking for depth and nuance, this is a site to check out. 
  • Millennial Money Man
    • Another fun and energetic read, this site focuses on offering advice specifically to Millennials, although a lot of the advice he expounds is relevant to folks of all generations. The author was a teacher who paid of $40,000 in student loan debt – then he quit his job. Like Mr. Money Mustache – his writing style will light a fire in your belly and I’m thankful there are voices on the internet that carry the same urgency that being buried in debt deserve.

In the comments: Who are you saying ‘Thanks!’ to this week – money role models or otherwise?