Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Resolutions vs. Goals: Setting Yourself Up for Success

Goal reminder: me at my ideal weight. 

I love to eat! I live to eat.

When I was younger, my love of eating wasn’t as much of an issue because my metabolism could keep up…well, most years…that being said, my weight has always been an issue.

Back in the day, when I used to make New Year’s resolutions, my go-to was something along the lines of “eat less” or “lose weight.” I never achieved my resolutions. So, I stopped making resolutions, but I never stopped trying to control my eating and my weight.

It’s been more years than I can count since I gave New Year’s resolutions a second thought, but this year, I’m surrounded by people talking about New Year’s goals...Amazing how one little word can make all the difference in the world.

“Goals” I get!

I set and achieve goals for every aspect of my life, except my weight. Why is it common sense for me to set financial goals galore, but rocket science that I should set goals for my weight?

Of course, I’ve set short-term goals for my weight in the past, such as “I need to lose 20 pounds before bikini season/my wedding/vacation/family reunion…” Sometimes I’m successful, sometimes I’m not. But these don’t help me with my long-term goals.

New Year’s resolutions are supposed to be long-term goals that create a new healthy habit for an entire year, which turns that healthy habit into second nature for the rest of our lives.

If I were to make a resolution today, it would be “lose 25 pounds and learn portion control.” I can already tell you that that resolution is doomed to fail.

So, instead I’ve set measurable goals with action plans, including milestones, rewards, support and accountability:

  • Lose 25lbs by June 1, 2014. 
  • Then maintain a healthy weight of 135lbs till December 31, 2014.
Action Plan: 
  • I will track my daily calorie intake on a mobile app for the entire year. 
  • I will consume the recommended 1,200 calories per day to lose 5lbs every month for 5 months. 
  • On June 1, I will increase my daily intake to 1,600 calories per a day to maintain my weight. 
  • I will continue to eat healthy and exercise regularly. 
  • I have set monthly milestone reminders in my calendar. 
  • At the end of each month, I will reward myself with a $25 non-food related splurge if I reach my monthly goal. 
  • If I reach my overall goals on June 1 and Dec 31, I will reward myself with a $100 non-food related splurge for each.
  • My husband is my accountability partner. 
  • At the end of every month, I will tell him whether or not I met my goal. If I don’t achieve my monthly goal, I have to tell him why I didn’t.

I’ve been creating this plan for a couple of weeks, but it’s the first time I’ve written it down – this is totally doable! :) 

What goals are you going to set for 2014?

If you’re ready to turn your “spend less and save more” resolution into an achievable goal – We can help!  

-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Holiday Money Hangover and New Year's Resolutions

What would our lives look like if we could all accomplish what we manage to accomplish the month before December 25th all year long? With seemingly little additional effort we squeeze in shopping, baking, holiday parties, gift wrapping, deliveries, visiting, correspondence and a whole lot of extra spending. Oh, and a few favorite movies as well. (Mine’s The Grinch That Stole Christmas, what’s yours?)

And on December 26th, many of us wake up from the flurry of activity and excitement of it all and our bank accounts (or credit cards) have a bit of a hangover. Even those of us with supportive budgets and normally good adherence to them can get carried away. “Oh, I really should just pick up a couple of more things for the kids.”

Do you know who doesn’t have a hangover? Anyone who still uses the old-fashioned “Santa Saver” accounts of yesteryear. Those people have been putting $100, $200 or even more into their account all year long, and then voila, they magically have a nice little sum of money to fund not just gifts, but all of the other expenses that pop up during the month of December.

If you’re someone who has been challenged by getting into the savings habit, Santa Saver accounts are a great way to experience the wonders of setting money aside for what I call “predictable, but non-monthly expenditures.” It will not only make a wonderful positive impact on your 2014 holidays, it might also inspire you to start your own “silo” accounts where you save for other priorities that you know you need to, but just haven’t found the willpower.

There no better time that the beginning of a fresh new year to implement some fresh new healthy habits. Log into your bank and see if they have holiday savings accounts. Most credit unions do, while most banks have done away with them (yet one more reason I prefer credit unions over banks; they have services that support your financial growth, not just theirs.) If your bank doesn’t have one, another option is to set up an account at an online bank with an automatic transfer feature. I like ING Direct’s (now Capital One) feature that allows you to name your own accounts.

You might just want to name your account “My No Holiday Hangover in 2014” account, and resolve to do 2014 a little bit differently.

Happy Holidays!

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Simple and Smart Year End Decisions to Reduce Your Taxes

This is the time of year I start getting questions like “Is there anything I can do to reduce my tax bill?” My answer is an emphatic “Yes!” Especially if you are a business owner. Even wage earners have a number of opportunities.

When I was planning this blog I decided to find a couple of really good sources to link to. After all, I’m not a tax accountant so surely there are some tax accountants out there with excellent lists. There are. And if you want some nighttime sleepy reading, just google “year end tax planning for businesses.” I couldn’t find one single source that I felt was simple and to the point. They were all ridiculously lengthy, highly technical and focused on mostly obscure expiring tax credits. Need I say more?

For your personal finances, I did find an excellent straightforward list at Kiplinger. Basically, maximize your retirement and other tax savings accounts, finalize your charitable contributions and buy health insurance on the exchanges prior to December 23rd.

And for the business owners out there, I made my own simple straightforward list. I think the most important thing to think about is that for every $1,000 you spend before December 31st, your final tax bill will be about $333 less. Conversely, for every $1,000 you don’t collect from your clients, your final tax bill will be about $333 less.

Now, there are all kinds of caveats on those statements. They only apply if you’re a cash-basis reporting business; it doesn’t actually save you money, it just defers it until 2015; and you have to balance your desire to hit 2013 goals with your desire to save money. Most importantly, you can only do this kind of tax planning if you have excess cash in your business. If your business is “living invoice to invoice,” you likely don’t have any cash sitting around with which to plan. But if you do, here are some simple recommendations:

  1. If you have any need for equipment or furniture in the next 3-6 months, buy it now. Section 179 deductions will allow you to write off the total cost of most purchases.
  2. Paying your estimated state income taxes before December 31st will allow you to deduct them on your 2013 federal return if you itemize your deductions.
  3. Pay every accounts payable you have due over the next month. If you really want to make an impact, reach out to a few vendors that you think might appreciate the cash flow and ask if you can prepay in exchange for a discount. You’ll save on your bill, and you’ll defer your taxes.
  4. Take your foot off the gas on any collection activities. It’s counterintuitive to good business practice, but now is no time to be hitting your accounts receivable hard. Every dollar you put in the bank over the next couple of weeks you will have to pay taxes on by April 15th. If those same dollars aren’t deposited until early January, you won’t have to pay tax on them until April 15, 2015. That sounds a little better, doesn’t it?
  5. Maximize your retirement contributions if you haven’t already. Just do it.
And, speaking of April 15th, there’s no time like the present than to do a rough calculation of what your tax bill is going to be. Those of you with rock star accountants already know the general range that will be due. For everyone else, pick up the phone and ask your tax accountant to estimate it for you. Or, roll up your sleeves, get your calculator out and use your algebra skills. [2012 Tax Bill/2012 Net Profit = x/2013 Net Profit] Solve for x.

Tax planning, short, smart and simple style.

[Big huge disclaimer: Everyone’s tax situation is different. To make the best tax planning decisions, talk to your tax accountant and CFO. Tax planning from a blog is just that; tax planning from a blog. But I hope I gave you some food for financial thought.}

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Happy Everything!

I love the holidays! Billions of little lights twinkle, fireplaces are roaring, snow blankets the mountains, strangers joyously greet each other in the streets, and the world, as we know it, will seemingly shutdown for the next couple of weeks.

This week is all about getting everything done before next week. Next week is all about family, friends, and food. Then BAM! It’s New Year’s. Nope. I’m not ready to think about that yet.

I’d like to savor next week: I will be sleeping in, playing in the snow with four-legged (and two-legged) loved ones, sipping apple cider next to a toasty wood burning stove, enjoying lively dinner conversations with my beloved family, and eating more than my fill.

Ahhhh…I can’t wait!

I’m not going to write about money this week or next week. Because no matter where we all are financially, this is the time of year to be grateful for the things we have and the people we love; to enjoy the wonderful things in life; and wish for joy, happiness, and peace for all. 

Happy Everything! To Everyone!
-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Reflecting on 2013

It's that time of year where somehow, in the midst of the holiday parties, preparations and bustle, we also somehow manage to find time to reflect on the past year and start thinking ahead to the New Year.

When it comes to our money, one of the most valuable actions we can take is to set annual goals and then take the time to reflect upon them. To ask ourselves not just the quantitative "did I go over budget this year" or "how much did I pay down debt," but also the qualitative "do I feel good about the financial movement I made this year" and "what is the most important thing to me about my money moving into the new year."

I believe that when we treat our personal finances a little more like a business' finances, we get the clarity that comes from having well defined financial goals and a system put in place to review them. Any business that is smart and mindful about its growth has already developed their 2014 budget, and they've reviewed "how is 2013 going" every month this year. They'll be doing one final review in January and then forge ahead working on 2014.

What is your plan for reviewing your 2013 numbers and launching your 2014 budget and goals? In the Finance Boot Camps, we often ask the question "what would your hero do?" One of my financial heroes is a friend of mine who has a system that on January 1st of every year he carves out a portion of his day to look at his numbers for the year. For many of us, this would take all day long. For him, I suspect it’s fairly quick as he has the same routine as each month ends. Having that level of systematic approach to your personal finances keeps you from straying too far from your target and leaves you with the peace of mind of know where you are.

What should you look at? I encourage people to keep it simple. It's far more meaningful to look at your big picture numbers:
  1. How much did you earn?
  2. How much did you spend?
  3. How much did you increase your savings overall, and then in each category (retirement, reserves, other special savings accounts)
  4. How much did you decrease your debt?
  5. In each of those categories, did you do what you said you'd do? If not, why?
  6. What do you aspire to do differently (or the same) next year?
I've slated the morning of January 4th to answer these questions for myself. When would be a good time for you to answer these questions? 

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Talking About Money is Difficult

My dad read my last blog and asked me, “Why would you write these things for the whole world to see?” And then he pointed out, “it doesn’t make you sound good.”  

He has valid points.

The truth, especially the truth about money, isn't always pretty. I write about my money because:

I hope that my thoughts, experiences, successes, and mistakes will help others with their money.

I hope that my honesty, as unflattering as it may be, will make some people feel like they aren’t alone. And as one friend pointed out, will make others feel grateful for what they have.

I hope that it will get people to talk openly about their money, because it’s the best way to find a solution to their financial concern or simply find a better way of doing things.

I hope that people will chime in and give me advice or suggestions. Which happened this weekend and was super helpful.

He also said that the last one was too long. So, I’m keeping this one short and sweet. 

-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Holiday Cheer

How would you like to experience cheer and joy with your finances during the holiday season?

Entertaining, stocking stuffers, extra travel expenses, cookies for the neighbors, decorations, office holiday party gifts, holiday grocery shopping and of course, presents… these are just a smattering of expenses that are about to edge their way into your spending plan over the next several weeks.

Whether you’ve been saving all year, plan to squeeze it into your regular monthly spending, plan to not partake in any of it, or have a credit card you use for the holidays, now is a good time to make a plan. Even if you don’t stick to your plan completely, just spending the time to fill out this handy holiday plan will provide you a road map for the trip you are about to take.

  • What are your priorities? 
  • What are your limits? 
  • What are your expectations? 
  • How do you feel about the money you’ve spent during past holidays? 
  • What could you do differently? 
  • And a favorite question from our Financial Boot Camps, what would your hero do?

This is my favorite Holiday Spending Plan: “Manage Your Holiday Spending” guide from the AFSA Education Foundation. It’s easy, just print it, take a walk, think it over, journal the above questions if you’d like, then get a pencil and a calculator and make your plan!

Enjoy the season!

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Journey of a Spender and Saver: How to Stop the Nagging

I hate nagging my husband. I try so hard not to. But sometimes it's unavoidable. Especially when it comes to our money. 

My husband’s spending has decreased so dramatically over the past nine years that I feel bad when I bring up little expenses that pop up. But I know, that if I don’t say something, he won’t know, then I’m even more frustrated if they happen again, and we all know what happens when something is left to stew and brew inside. So, I’m a firm believer in talking about it before it becomes a bigger issue.  

I’m fully aware that the examples I’m about to list will seem like nothing to some of you. I also know that I’m going to sound crazy cheap, but…that’s probably because I am (compared to some). But I absolutely hate wasting money on little things that fly under the radar that I don’t get any pleasure from. So, here goes:

$1 fee for using his ATM card to buy something. Fees are unacceptable! It infuriates me that banks want to charge me to use my money, when they are making money off my money. We don’t incur late fees, usage fees, monthly fees, or interest. Period. 

$4.99 for a large pack of gum at the convenient store around the corner from his work that we could buy for $2.29 at Target, if he planned ahead. 

$200 a month spent on random out and about stuff, food, things, etc...We know what some of the expenses are and I nag because I disagree with his choice to spend money on them, he gives me the husbandly “uh huh” and then does as he pleases, because after all, it is his money. 

Yes, I heard the tone in that last sentence. The wifely tone and husbandly response is exactly why we have decided to start managing our money separately. After six years of me managing our money, my husband feels restricted and slightly resentful. I can’t blame him. 

So, we’ve separated our income into personal accounts. We split up our household budget 50/50. We each agreed to put 15% into our joint long-term savings per month. In addition, each of us is responsible for funding our own savings for a trip to Europe this summer for a friend’s wedding. If one of us doesn’t save enough, then that person doesn’t get go. Guidelines established. 

When we were discussing our new plan, my husband was confident that this was going to be a piece of cake. After all, his not-spending skills have come so far. But his saving skills… 

One day, he was daydreaming about how he was going to spend his savings on after Europe. He's always wanted a motorcycle, but it's never fit into our budget. Now, it’s his budget. After a bit of online window shopping, he realizes that if he spends his savings on a motorcycle, he won't have any savings left. Which means he won't have anything saved for our next trip, because there’s always a next trip. 

He just talked himself out of something in minutes that I’ve been trying to rationalize out of him for years.

Next step, he creates his very first budget. 

(Income) – [(50% of household expenses) – (long-term savings) – (his personal miscellaneous expenses)] = (Europe savings)

Realization: He can’t have his cake and eat it to. 

At this rate, he’ll only have enough for the flight and nothing for the trip. So, he heads straight for the “miscellaneous” expenses, because it’s the one category he has most control over. If he cuts it to $0, he’s solid. But that’s not realistic. So, first things first, he identifies exactly what ends up in this category, prioritizes, then cuts and trims. 

Once again, he’s just figured out in an hour, what I’ve been talking (sometimes nagging) about for months. 

I can’t wait to see what happens next. 

Oh, I forgot, I had realizations about myself and my budget too. Next time. 

Want more stories about our journey with money as a couple? Check out my other blogs “Finding Common Ground" and "A Bumpy Ride."

-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We motivate. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Budget for the Life You Want

Budgets have a bad rap. They aren’t all about denying oneself or cutting back on everything. Budgets are there to ensure that you have money set aside to do the things you love.

My budget is based on my “if I had a million dollars in savings” life. I’ve found that this is the best way to determine what I really want, because it removes my perceived restrictions due to limited funds. So, if I were financially secure/wealthy, I would travel often, go to the spa at least once a week, and eat the finest foods. There’s more to it, but those are biggies right now.

So, our household budget allows us to spend more on food than most families, even though we are only two people. We save like crazy for travel, to ensure that we can afford a trip to the other side of the world at the drop of a hat and weekend trips to Tahoe. We get a massage and chiropractic adjustment every week for our personal well-being.

Since we don’t have a million dollars sitting around, we make huge adjustments to make these things fit into our current budget.

Food budget: We don’t eat out much and when we do, we make it count. Whether it’s a food truck or a four-star restaurant, we go intentionally and within our budget. If we want caviar, we buy it at the store and enjoy it at home, rather than at a fancy restaurant. And we do our best to buy organic, but not always because it’s expensive. We shop at Costco and Trader Joe’s instead of Whole Foods or specialty shops.

Travel budget: We travel no-stars cheap. We travel by local bus, sleep in the cheapest of the cheap, and eat from street stalls. That being said, I love it because the experiences are rich and everything is an adventure. I chose longer no-frills travel often, over traveling less often, for shorter periods of time, but in-style.

Personal well-being budget: We get a weekly Chinese foot massage for $16 per hour and a weekly chiropractic adjustment at The Joint for $12.25 (with their four per month package). That’s only $28.25 a week in full body care per person. Is it a day at a four-star spa? No, but it’s better than nothing. It’s also better than one four-star massage every two months.

That being said, cutting back in other parts of our lives is also necessary to afford the things that we truly want. But we cut back or completely cut the things that don’t contribute to our long-term happiness (that’s a whole other blog). 

When we don’t have a budget, we end up spending more on the things we need, that don’t bring us joy, then we feel deprived, so we spend more on instant gratification purchases that are fleeting at best, and then we feel depressed when we have to go into debt to pay for the things that we truly want to do. 

Ignoring your money won’t make more appear, it won’t make you think about it less, it’ll just make you spend more and feel worse. When you know exactly where your money is going, you can consciously spend less on things that you don’t want to spend money on and spend more on the things that bring you happiness.  

Want more tips to get what you want? Check out my other blog “Getting the Life You Want.”

-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Gratitude for Milestones

I got an email from a past Boot Camp member the other day. She wanted to let me know she’s passed the milestone of accumulating over $100,000 between her reserves and retirement, and that she was grateful. 

That’s a huge number. Who wouldn’t be grateful to be staring at that number on a piece of paper? 

It made me wonder, though, if she experienced gratitude along the way, with every deposit into her savings and retirement account. When people start trying to figure out what's wrong with their money, they dive into the details. They pour through their credit card statements, utility bills and examine how much they’re eating out. They look at the amount they’re putting away every month. Details are important, but they can also keep you from seeing what is most important: the big picture. 

It’s hard, month in and month out, to get excited when you’ve paid just a portion of a debt off, or put just a little away in savings. That singular action you take by sending money to your 401k or IRA or emergency reserves account is one thread of your overall safety net. We should find a way to be just as grateful for that one thread, as we are for the whole net. It’s all of those threads that help us weave the entire net.

Experiencing the gratitude propels us forward as well. There isn’t much better in life than the feeling of deep gratitude. It’s the kind of feeling that you want to recreate. Connecting that level of deep gratitude of caring for yourself via your savings, and for reaching such an important milestone makes us want to do it again, build more, and hit the next milestone.

I have a debt that I’ve been working on paying off. It’s a large debt that I want gone. Sometimes I’m not all that happy about sending that check off every month. Sometimes I’m annoyed at myself for having the debt. But when I was looking at my own big picture numbers this month, I realized that I’m at the one-third of the way to the milestone of it being gone, and that I’ve made a huge dent in the overall debt. Deep gratitude swept over me, and when I sent the check this month, I smiled to see it go. 

I hope I can remember every time I send that check off to keep smiling. I hope I can remember that sense of gratitude.

What one little thing do you do every month that you should be grateful for?

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013


My Sunday Best.

Our current home is a fixer upper with loads of potential in a great neighborhood. But for the past 20 years, it was inhabited by a heavy smoker, who loved cats, hated cleaning, and nailed all the windows shut. To say the least, cleaning is a big job. 

Last week we had the ducts professionally cleaned so that we could turn the heat on. The work was done by a well-known company, with a good reputation, and the service was reasonably priced. As most companies do, they offer a complimentary check of our heating system with the cleaning. This is my favorite part. 

They go into the attic to check our ducts. When they emerge, they inform us that our ducting is leaking in these 5 places, plus these 10 other places, and another 7 places. It all seems very serious. They can fix all the leaks for just $1,400. And they inform us that if we don’t fix the leaks, the warranty of the cleaning is only 30 days instead of one year. 

Here’s how I think they come up with the price: count the things (x) price (+) the likelihood that the owners won’t go into the dark dirty place to look (+) the perceived lack of owner’s knowledge regarding problem = cha ching! 

Unfortunate for them, they misread us. We’ve spent more time in our attic than I care to admit and my husband was in HVAC for a while, so this is work we knew would could do ourselves. We bought a bucket of mastic and a roll of duct tape for $20. 

I went into the attic expecting leaks galore. What did I find? The servicemen hadn’t even moved the insulation to look at half of the 22 things that they claimed were leaking. The other half were exposed and only a couple had visible pinholes where heat could leak out. I sealed the visible holes and slapped on an extra layer of sealant on the 22 spots they had suggested, just in case. 

I'm not going to lie, it wasn’t pleasant work. Two hours later, I was covered in sweat, insulation, dust, spider webs, and probably some rodent feces – but nothing I couldn’t wash off. I didn’t even need the duct tape, so it only cost us $15. 

I'll admit that I didn’t do a professional job, but this wasn’t a job that needed a pro, and I can guarantee that what I did is better than it was. Oh, and my husband the ex-pro didn’t do it because he was busy mudding the bathroom walls and I hate mudding. So, he told me what to do and where. Easy peasy. 

$15 versus $1,400. DIY wins hands down. 

And when neither of us knows what we're supposed to do? Google and YouTube. 

-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Growing Your Business Through Practicing Gratitude

Gratitude , The Tall Ships' Races, Szczecin 2007

It’s the time of year we all give thanks for our many blessings. It’s a good practice in our personal lives, and an equally good practice in our business lives.

On the Wednesday of Thanksgiving week it is my tradition to spend the day calling clients, past clients, colleagues who refer business to me and anyone else who has impacted my business over the past year. The calls aren’t sales calls, they’re gratitude calls. My intention is to thank those that have positively impacted my business’ growth as well my own personal happiness.

I’d like to say that I started this practice because I’m such a good person. But the truth is that I started it some years ago when I was scared to death to make sales and marketing calls. Picking up the phone and asking someone to become a client or refer business to me was terrifying. This gratitude concept that I began was a kinder, gentler (or perhaps spineless) approach.

The first year of the tradition I landed a big client. It was someone who I knew desperately needed my help. I hadn’t heard from him in months, and he was thrilled to hear from me. He was finally ready to face his financial issue and I called on just the right day. What I realized for the first time that day was that he needed my service more than I needed his money. The calls I was making weren’t about generating business, they were about serving others. After that experience, sales and marketing calls became much easier.

That was just the beginning of understanding of the role of gratitude and service in business. The more I began to weave it into my business, the more I recognized how gratitude was impacting other successful businesses I worked with.

  • One very successful colleague writes her thank you notes every morning at the breakfast table with her husband. It’s a sweet practice, and I believe a cornerstone of her success.

  • Another successful entrepreneur I know keeps a gratitude journal, writing in it each day that which she is grateful for.

  • Sandra Yancey, the phenomenally successful entrepreneur who began eWomen Network says that behind her company’s motto “Give first, share always” is a sense of gratitude. She ensures from the top down in her company that gratitude is practiced amongst the members and with not-for-profit causes.

One of the business coaches that has most influenced my happiness as a business owner had me start our work together with a gratitude practice. I’m an accountant. Not a curmudgeonly one, but definitely not the first person to be open to the kind of advice that goes like this:

“Stacey, I want you to write down 25 things you’re grateful for every day.”


“Yes, 25.”

I thought to myself….”that’s stupid.”

But I was unhappy at the time, and thus willing to try new things. 25 was a lot. After the obvious:
  • my daughter,
  • my cat,
  • sunshine,
  • my health.

I had no idea what the other 21 should be. But kept thinking and eventually I’d get the 25 down, and every day it got easier, and eventually I realized that the gratitude practice was helping me on a daily basis assess what it was I LOVED about my business, and what it was I dreaded.

Focusing on gratitude brought to the surface that I had been burning myself out spending time doing tasks and taking care of clients that I didn’t have a passion to serve. Focusing on gratitude, and really noticing on a daily basis which clients I was grateful for helped me become very clear about the mission of my business, and it was then I renamed the business Creating Answers and made a bold decision: I was only going to do work I loved, and I was only going to work with clients that I loved; ones that I felt grateful for.

I’m not always successful; I suppose no one is. But what I am is happy. Almost every day when I go to work, I am happy. And I attribute my business’ growth to that happiness, which grew from the gratitude practice.

What are you grateful for?
-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

To Gift, or Not to Gift?

I love the holidays! I love all the family, food and cold weather! But I’m a bit of a scrooge because I don’t do gifts. 

This isn’t an issue throughout the year because my husband jumped on the no-gifting rule the second I brought it up. I mean really, a guy just finds out that he’s off the hook for shopping on all major holidays – jackpot! (I’m pretty sure he married me because of this and my cooking.)

But just because we don’t do gifts doesn’t mean we don’t celebrate. We celebrate with shared experiences. We eat. We travel. We do something we love or something we’ve always wanted to do, like skydive or fly a plane. We do things we that we’ll remember. 

Back to the holidays. It’s harder around this time of the year for obvious reasons. My friends and family have added my no-gifting rule to my list of quirks, but since the Great Recession, people seem to be embracing the no-gifting idea. 

This year, my aunt and uncle invited us to theirs for Christmas and it has been agreed upon by everyone that it will be about family, food and fun, no gifts allowed. 

In my experience, no-gifting actually adds to the holidays because it eliminates the stress of trying to find the perfect gift, that’s within your budget, that expresses exactly how much you love and appreciate that person, that they don’t already have. 

It also eliminates the awkward moment when everyone opens their presents and the gift that you spent so much effort, time and money on, receives a polite smile because for one reason or another, it isn’t exactly what they wanted or vice versa. Either way, you're both left unfulfilled and/or unhappy, because of something that was supposed to bring joy. 

And of course, no-gifting reduces your budget during these high spending months, well unless you self-gift, which I do believe in. This is a great time of the year to get screaming deals on the things that you’ve wanted all year long. And the best part is that get exactly what you want. 

In my experience, no-gifting takes some getting used to, but overall it makes the holidays less stressful and it puts the focus back on spending quality time with loved ones. 

How do you feel about holiday gifts?  
-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

The Ever Expanding Gratitude Season

Every year, the stores fill the shelves and the radio fills the airways earlier and earlier with Christmas, a practice I find annoying. But there’s a new expansion of the holidays that I’m happy about. Over the past few years Thanksgiving has expanded to the entire month of November. Beginning on November 1st, social media feeds fill with posts and tweets of gratitude, thankfulness and general positivity. 30 days of gratitude rather than one day of Thanksgiving that is often more food-centered than thanks-centered. Fabulous!

And what does gratitude and money have to do with each other? Everything. Feeling grateful and feeling rich are simply perspectives we each carry with us. Spending time each day focusing on that for which we are grateful expands our feelings of gratitude. Experiencing our friend’s gratitude reminds us of our own, and hopefully brings joy to our hearts for them.

Having those same thoughts of gratitude for the wealth we have in our lives can be just as expansive. I once had a friend who carried a $100 bill in her wallet. She said it made her feel wealthy. Over the years, I’ve heard many others have amounts in their wallets, in their checking accounts, or in their savings accounts that triggered feelings of wealth, worry or simple security.

From a financial perspective, I’m a big fan of quantitative levels. We should all have target goals for our monthly cash flow and savings that provides security.

But from a feelings perspective, I’m a big fan of being grateful for what you have. If you are on a mission to accumulate 3 months of reserves, but currently only have 1 week’s worth, be grateful for that week’s worth. It’s likely more than you had before. It’s certainly more than many people have. And, the simple act of being grateful for the financial wealth you have will reap more.

What about your financial life are you grateful for?

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Resolutions: Pre-Holiday

This is a funny time of the year where it feels like things go on hold and “after the holidays...” becomes common place in daily conversations.

I find myself in this place about my current weight. I’m carrying an extra 20 pounds on me right now. And with the holidays coming up, I know there will be lots and lots of eating in my near future. My brain gives me two options:

Lose the extra weight now. Accept that there will be weight gain over the holidays. But know that starting now will make it easier later, because I’ll only have to lose holiday weight and I’ll have an established exercise plan in place.

Say screw it. Call it the beginning of the holidays now and deal with all the extra weight later. Knowing that it’s going to be that much harder to lose my extra 20 plus my holiday weight.

Anyone else doing this? Possibly with their money?

I have a friend that is up to her eyeballs in debt, she’s been paying it off, but the holidays are coming. So she’s taking a “break” from paying off her debt and she has come to terms with adding to her debt because “it’s the holidays.” And she’ll deal with it “after the holidays…”

We all know that it’s going to be that much harder after the holidays, right?

Why wait till the New Year? Why not resolve to change now?  

-Leah Schonlank

Want to lose a little extra weight? I'm going for a run tonight. Anyone with me? 

Want to take control of your money? We're filling a Finance Boot Camp right now. Only 3 spots left! 

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Halloween FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real

I love Halloween; how we collectively suspend disbelief, embrace being jumped at in haunted houses and let ourselves be subjected to the scary, gross and silliness that abounds on this day. None of it is truly fearful, its, as the saying goes, “False Evidence Appearing Real.”
Everyone knows fear. It’s a natural response to physical danger. But it is also a manufactured response to the “what-if’s” that our minds create around future worries. When it comes to money, it can be what if I run out of money, what if I have no where to live, what if I my car breaks down, what if they won’t pay me what I’m worth, what if they cheat me out of money, what if I’m never able to get out of debt. This self-generated fear doesn’t spark the same kind of immediate fight-or-flight response that true danger does, but our bodies experience the same chemical reaction. It’s not as immediate; its more constant and taxing, and it impacts our ability to make good decisions where money is concerned.
Most of our money worries, though, are simply F.E.A.R, False Evidence Appearing Real. I have countless examples culled from my years of financial coaching.
FEAR example #1: If I lose that big client my business will fail.
FEAR example #2: If I leave my spouse who I’ve been unhappy with, I’ll not have enough money to live on my own.
FEAR example #3: If I don’t keep up on my overwhelming credit card payments, I’ll never be able to buy anything again.
We get so stuck in the worry and the future outcomes that we shut down and don’t take action. But for all of these examples, and so many more, the what-if’s aren’t real. They’re false. There is no way you know the future outcome of any worry, and when it comes to monetary worries, we tend to just dig ourselves into inaction.
What if your money fears were like Halloween? What if you knew that that vampire on your doorstep just wanted some candy? What if you knew that whatever happened to you, it would be alright? That there was no reason to allow your brain to go into the flight-or-fight response that it does when we worry?
What if for FEAR #1 you lost that big client and you immediately got three better ones?
What if for FEAR #2 you left your spouse, moved into a friend’s spare room and sparked a new passion for a hugely profitable career?
What if for FEAR #3 you stopped paying your credit card debt, because it was truly so overwhelming you would never be able overcome it, drew a line the sand and committed to never  borrowing again, allowing you to live worry free and eventually paid off all of your old debt?

Over and over I’ve seen people’s money fears turn into money wins. Often, it’s the thing someone is the most worried about that is the thing that sets them free. What in your life could you suspend disbelief about, and trust that something wonderful will happen, rather than something scary?
-Stacey Powell
Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Death and Taxes

We all die. It’s the one certainty in life. But, I don’t want to think about it. Especially not when it comes to my loved ones. If I don’t want to think about it, then I don’t want to talk about it, and I definitely don’t want to plan for it. 

But just like all things, the more we ignore it, the worse it gets. 

So here goes… 

First, I hope that all of us and all of our loved ones live long and happy lives. 

Turns out that thinking, talking, and planning for my death is easier than thinking of my loved ones passing. So, I’ll start there. I suppose the only reason I care to plan, is because I want my loved ones to be taken care of, as much as possible, if I’m no longer here. The best way I can do this is to have my affairs in order. 

Daily Stuff 

I manage the household finances. My husband knows where everything is, but not like I do. And if I’m no longer here, I want to make sure that he still has electricity and internet; which means he needs to know exactly what bills we have, who to pay, and when they’re due. So, we have a spreadsheet that lists all accounts and relevant information. The idea is that he could just go down the list and everything would get paid. But if we both die, no one else knows…

           I will share my account list with our parents. 

Big Stuff 

I don’t have much, but I have something, and I want that something to go to my loved ones. I don’t want the courts to decide for me and I don’t want it to go to the government. I have a will…but it was written on an Indian train on very little sleep…Time to rewrite. 

A couple of years ago, my husband and I went through all of our accounts to ensure that we’re both on all of them and that beneficiaries are listed where appropriate. Except there’s that one account… 

My husband has mentioned creating a trust…We should look into that. 

The other big thing is my health care directive. It isn’t money related, but it’s important to make sure I get the quality of life that I want when I can’t speak for myself. Apparently a new and improved form just came out. Whoopee (written with sarcastic font). 

           I will write a proper will and share with my husband and parents. 
           I will add husband to that account. 
           My husband and I will research creating a trust. 
           I will update my health care directive. 

Now I need to make sure that I do the things that I’ve said I’ll do… 

           I will send this blog to my husband and parents. 
           I will finish these in 30 days. Due November 29, 2013. 

I know that this is a basic estate plan, but better than nothing. Want to know what the experts recommend? CNN Money 101 - Lesson 21: Estate Planning

Next, I need to talk with my loved ones about their plans...make sure I know everything I need to know to ensure that they get what they want. 

-Leah Schonlank

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Happiness or Fear?

I’ve been listening to a podcast series on happiness by Tara Brach, a psychologist and teacher of Buddhist meditation and spiritual awakening. One of her points is that because of the way our minds fixate, and thus create patterns in our minds, we can actually make an impactful difference in how we feel simply by paying attention differently to our thoughts. The more you have fear-based thoughts or worry, the more likely your mind is to keep generating fear. By shifting our focus, we can cultivate a capacity for our own happiness. 

How does this relate to money? Well, many of us walk around worrying about money, but not taking action. It is our default to worry, and with money, that means walking around worrying about not having enough money in our checking account, or enough at the end of the month, or enough for the holidays, or enough for retirement. For many, these are constant fixations or tapes that loop in our minds. We might not be actively worrying about it, but under the surface, it’s constant. 

She makes the point that the more we focus on the things in our life that aren’t working, the bigger they become. I’ve worked with many a person with financial struggles that proudly tell me “I check my bank balance every day.” To them, it is proof that they are trying to be responsible and overcome their issues. 

I’ve decided that checking your bank account balance every day is rarely a healthy practice, especially for those who are experiencing financial challenges or trauma, precisely because of the point Tara Brach makes. By fixating on the worry of it all, we scare ourselves into inaction and overwhelm. My advice to those who are “daily balance checkers” is to choose a specific day and time each week to check their balances, ground themselves in their money plan for the week, and then let fixation go. 

There is nothing positive that comes from the daily checking of your balance. It’s actually not changing your financial position for the positive. You would be far better off spending that time earning more money. Or, from Tara’s perspective, you would be far better off simply focusing on something positive. 

What would happen if you spent those two minutes every day:
  • writing down five things you were grateful for about your money, or 
  • transferring $1 into a special savings account, or 
  • looking at how much you’ve paid off on a credit card you’ve been focusing on, or 
  • reading two pages of an inspirational book on prosperity, abundance or even happiness? 
What could you do to replace the anxiety and worry that you carry around with you about money? Is there an area of your financial life that is positive that you can focus on instead? Sometimes it takes some work to identify those areas, but almost everyone has at least one area of their financial life that they excel at, whether that’s the ability to earn money, or the ability to live frugally, or being a natural saver, or simply being good with numbers. Most of us don’t excel in all areas, but almost all of us excel in at least one area. 

 Are you willing to cultivate a sense of happiness around your money?

-Stacey Powell

Finance Gym offers personal finance coaching in professionally facilitated peer-advisory groups. 
We teach. We inspire. We support. We help people change their lives by improving their finances.