15 Minutes to Financial Freedom

The email message contained a single-word subject: Help! The sender, I’ll call her Emily, had been asked by her community group leader to give a 15-minute presentation on how to achieve financial freedom. She was honored to have been asked, excited to do it but also panicked by the thought. She asked if I would help.

25042320_m

My first thought was I can’t even introduce myself in 15 minutes. How could I, Emily or anyone else tackle that subject in just 15 minutes? But then I got to thinking: If money management is, as I believe, not that difficult, why couldn’t she do it? Why couldn’t I do it? I decided to give it a try.

Save. Do not confuse saving money with spending less, as in “I save money when I buy things on sale.” You are not saving at all, you are spending less. Saving money means that you actually put money into a safe place for some future time. Do that. Starting right now and forevermore, make it a rule that you will put some amount of your paycheck into a savings account before you spend any of it. Make it automatic and you won’t miss what you don’t see. Goal: 10-percent of all you receive goes straight into savings.

Your Consumer Behavior is Keeping You Broke

You know what I love? Walking into my supermarket the day after Thanksgiving and hearing the best Christmas music ever. Yeah! And if I wasn’t in the mood to bake Christmas cookies before I got there, just hearing that lovely music changes everything. Right there, that proves I am a quintessential, typical consumer. That retailer’s got my number.

092314image

While I don’t want to stop loving music (I swoon to the Beach Boys during the summer months because this store has an uncanny way of knowing what I like) what I have changed is the way I hear it while loading up on groceries. They’re doing this on purpose, by design because retailers have irrefutable evidence that the right music can result in increased sales of targeted products. It’s like tasty bait on the end of a sharp hook.

Playing the right music isn’t all that retailers do to manipulate us into dropping more money than we’d ever intended to spend before walking in their store.

Financial Planners and Other Mysteries of Life

I am noticing a growing trend in my mailbox—readers in search of financial planners or advisors. Or assistants. The problem is that when taken in the message’s context it’s pretty clear that not everyone means the same thing when they refer to a financial “planneradvisorassistanthelper”

older couple counselor financial planner computer

One reader wanted to know where to find a “financial planner” who would just take her paycheck, pay all of her bills, invest for her retirement, give her an allowance, balance her checkbook and not charge her very much. (We’d all like one of those, right?)

Then, there are times when the context lets me know that a desperate reader looking for a “financial planner” really needs a reputable credit counseling organization that offers debt management.

And so, in an effort to clarify and perhaps educate, here’s the low down on financial planners.

General. Anyone can call himself or herself a financial planner. If you are ready to seek the services of a financial planner, and to avoid an amateur, you want one who has earned the special credentials of Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC) or Certified Financial Planner (CFP).

Keep Your Money and Your Attitude in the Black

When I am not writing about personal finance and consumer debt, I knit. Something about the gentle rhythm of yarn and needle calms my spirit and unwinds my brain.

091514image

I have managed to finish a few projects, not because I’m a great knitter but because I can tink almost as well as I knit (knit spelled backwards is tearing out). Because all knitters make mistakes, tinking is a required skill for those who take the craft seriously. It doesn’t take too many oversized sweaters or undersized hats to figure out that the smallest error at the beginning of a project can produce disastrous results if not found and corrected.

Money is a lot like knitting. By some miracle, all knitting consists of just two stitches: knit and purl. Likewise, with money you have two options: spend or save. And who among us can say they have never made a financial error? We all make mistakes but the secret to staying out of the red is correcting the little mistakes before they lead to disastrous results.

The Kid With a 60-Page Christmas List

I’ll never forget the day I asked one of my young piano students what he wanted for Christmas. It was a generic question, a pleasantry. I wasn’t looking for make, model, and serial number, but that’s what I got. He whipped out a 60-page list from his book bag. I gulped, checked to see if this child was serious (he was), and quickly proceeded with his music lesson. 

22501466_m

I don’t know how many toys, electronics, and gadgets he had on that list, but at five things per page that would be three hundred entries. I’ll admit to participating in a few overly indulged Christmases in my foolish past, but even I cannot imagine what that child’s dream Christmas would look like. 

Four Steps to Financial Confidence

For a good deal of my life I lived under a dark cloud of worry that I would end up financially destitute—a bag lady.

21781728_m

A survey conducted by Harris Interactive for Allianz Insurance Group reveals that I’m not the only one. In fact, most of us have felt that way at some point in our lives, not because we’re broke, but because we don’t have confidence that we know how to hang onto our money. And that makes us timid, worried and financially insecure.

Financial confidence is a choice. It’s a matter of changing bad habits and choosing to learn simple financial principles. Then by consciously applying them over and over those principles will become automatic responses—financial habits. 

Here are four simple things you can do starting today to improve your financial confidence—and take control of your money.

In Love, It’s Not Easy to Talk About Money

Money is the most difficult subject to discuss between two people in love. Why? Several reasons:

couple counting money bills

It’s personal. We’re taught as children to never ask how much people earn, what things cost or how much money people have. It’s rude, it’s poor manners and it is just not done. 

We spend the first two decades of our lives keeping anything related to money hush-hush. We learn to skirt the truth in the interest of personal decorum.
We grow up, enter a relationship and find that it’s not easy to suddenly talk about such personal information. 

It’s not flattering. We wear clothes that flatter our good points and downplay our flaws. We snap a “selfie,” then retake as many times as necessary to get it just right.

We take great pains to present ourselves in the very best light. And when forced to talk about financial issues, well, we do the same thing. We bend the truth or we omit certain details that don’t make us look that great. 

My Secret War with Procrastination

One of the toughest things I battle in my life is procrastination. My natural response is I’ll do it later. And there’s a part of me that despises that procrastinator and wages a daily war to defeat it. That’s how I’ve come to rely on the power of habits and routines. If I can avoid having to make a decision, I lose the choice to put it off until later.

13564365_s

Habits are those things we do so often, they become automatic. Take my MacBook computer. You’d be shocked to know just how many hours a day I am on this thing. The keyboard is part of me. My muscles have totally memorized every stroke, the location of every key.  Until something changes. 

Due to a series of complications (Mavericks plus multiple monitors), I was forced to move my dock  from the bottom of my screen to the left side. We’re talking about a 90-degree relocation from horizontal to vertical. And I’m ready to be committed. 

Everything in me wants that dock at the bottom. Every muscle recalls exactly where each tool should be. For nearly three weeks I have battled this annoying change and it is driving me to the brink of insanity.  My routines are disrupted, my old habit is screaming in torment. My brain, muscles and fingers are  trained to reach effortlessly to get what I need. It was so automatic I didn’t have to think about it.