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.