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5 Steps to Celebrate a Conflict-free (Shopping) Holiday

2 Dec

Is (holiday shopping) credit card debt the kiss of death under the mistletoe?

Do your finances spin out of control while shopping for 8 nights of Chanukah gifts?

Money stress is as normal as holiday lights twinkling before Halloween these days.  A recent LearnVest post discussed couple conflict about over-indulgent holiday spending – and debt.   I started thinking about present’ expectations and how the anticipation of those wrapped packages uncover surprising presence about gifting and celebration.  Especially since I have more good cheer than money these days.

As Black Friday started before the Thanksgivannukah Turkey is cleared from the table this year, I wondered: How special are gifts these days?  While I’m not quite old enough to have received an orange or (more likely) a lump of coal for Chanukah, I remember when shopping the day after Thanksgiving was a rare and special occasion.  In fact, every gift was a BIG DEAL “back in that day” because shopping and “the biggest sale of the season” wasn’t a weekly occurrence.  Back then we walked in parks – not malls.  It’s impossible to turn back time (though I’d love an eye cream that delivers on that promise), but environmentally and economically it makes sense to rethink how and what we spend and consume.  Seems to me celebration should focus on keeping bank balances in the black, while maintaining green, to prevent seeing red credit card bills.

So I thought I’d share my financial gift: 5 steps to work through and talk about money – by yourself, with your partner, or your whole family.

1.  Write out a plan and check it twice (to make sure it will really work for you).  Start and end with how much you can – or want to spend to stay festive.  Most of all be honest with yourself, family, partner, and friends.  If you don’t have money to spend, tell them what’s important to you and why (i.e. not going into debt or spending money you don’t have).  Come up with a list of fun and FREE things to do.   When you find yourself beginning 2014 with a balanced budget and sanity, be sure to write a thank you note to friends and family who helped you celebrate in a financially and emotionally balanced way.

2.  Ho-ho-hmmmm….:  Does your current level of glitz equal fun or frustrating?  Define your meaningful glitz by writing down what you love and not so much about holiday ‘celebrations’ and gifting.  For each, identify what you give and what you get emotionally and monetarily.  Is there a pattern about your spending of good cheer and money?    I love getting little things that are hand-made – what about you?

3.  Gelt:  got it or not…  Gelt, wrapped chocolate coins gambled during a Chanukah game of drivel may be symbolic and insightful about what pot you’re throwing money into.  I used to LOVE buying (what I thought) was the perfect gift – but that was when I spent gelt like I ate chocolate – freely.  Now gifting is laden with guilt over gelt:  how do I explain the low-level glitz to the niece who has everything and whispers in my ear:  “what did you buy me?  Bring me a gift next time.”?    If a relationship is defined by the cost of a gift, is it really a relationship?  Honestly assess your gelt –  and check your guilt at the door: do NOT apologize – spend only what you can afford.

4.  Reframe spending traditions….  Extended family celebration’s at Thanksgiving have filled me with amusement and horror as “the kids” rip off wrapping paper without thanks and seemingly without meaning.   I like my friend Kevin’s family gifting tradition:   Everyone is assigned one person to gift.  On Christmas Day, after the lutefisk, they line up, holding received presents, opening them one by one , starting with 80 year-old Grandma.  Somehow the kids wait till everyone else’s gift had been oohed and aahhed over till they open their own.  Start your own meaningful gifting tradition – or borrow or adapt from these 8 families http://www.learnvest.com/2013/11/8-ways-to-give-holiday-gifts/?gallery=731&pid=#pid-8472_aint-0.  A few years ago I started gifting my nieces with a donation in their name to a charity or cause of their choice.  It hasn’t won me any popularity contests, but I hope it helps them understand the meaning of giving.

4.  Experience the love by spending on experiences, not “stuff”.  Years ago I convinced friends to forego gifts for doing something together.  Sure we might have planned these outings anyway, but they feel so much more special because they force us to be present to celebrate.  I don’t miss the gifts, but I would absolutely miss spending quality time together.  What special outings can you plan that would feel luxurious on the cheap?

5.  Share gratitude.  I don’t know about you but even though I don’t give to get thanks, I love being thanked.  For me, it is a show of love, of gratefulness for the relationship more than the “stuff” given.  If you’re like me and wonder if thank you notes are as endangered as polar bears, give others (especially young people) a gift that will last a lifetime:  a reminder to write thank you notes (or at least thank you texts).  After all, where will they learn if we don’t teach?  And what can be more meaningful and gratifying than being thanked for an act of kindness, time spent together, or a token of friendship?  Now that I’m writing this, I think this might be the place to start your planning with your partner or family.  Most of all, share self-gratitude – try writing yourself a thank you note for being a good soul.

Here’s wishing you a financially balanced and emotionally fulfilling holiday season.  And thank you for reading  – and  hopefully sharing these ideas with those you love.

The Red Handbag’s 5 stepping stones to ‘there’

24 Sep

I was introduced to the fabulous term ‘financial meddler’ on LearnVest.com.    Mostly because that’s ME.  Though I prefer to be called a  financial Yenta:  I meddle in your finances (I also take friends bra shopping), telling you what you should or shouldn’t spend.   Or more like, why and how you should save.

Last month, I had great fun ‘Yenta-ing’ into your closet, urging you to search for your own ‘red handbag’ (https://communicationessentials.wordpress.com/2013/08/20/6-steps-to-com…-to-retirement).   Uncovering those somewhat pricey, forgotten, items huddling in your closet and are horrified to find.

Did you look?  Think of it as your own early Halloween scary house exploration.

What extra money is lurking in your closet?  Like this Pottery Barn jan-o-lantern?

What extra money is lurking in your closet? Like this Pottery Barn jan-o-lantern?

Are you working toward saving your $1000 to open (or contribute to) your Roth IRA?   My friend J. was ‘Yenta-ed’ into saving $80 last month for her existing fund.  How are you doing?

Not convinced?  

Look at all those 60+ folks who don’t have the funds to retire – even if they want to.   Sadly, they had no financial Yenta.   And btw, while I’ve suffered through embarrassing explanations of  why a red handbag is my iPhone screen saver, my credit card is now gathering dust and I’ve saved $50.

Fall is the perfect time to begin saving.  Nature is spewing seeds for spring blooms.  We can invest money for retirement blooms.

So read and take action as I walk you through  (last month’s) 5 steps to get from ‘here’ to retirement ‘there’:

1.  Create a long-term dream:  Let’s face it, the only reason to save for an unknown future is because your dream is more enticing than that ‘red handbag’.   Hopefully you love what you do now (if not, you are due for a change).   The next phase of your life should be equally thrilling.  Let  your imagination go wild as you play over fantasies about ‘what you would do if…’.     I plan on running a middle-aged hostel in Eastern Europe;  my friend M. wants to retire to Central America to use the Spanish she’s been learning for the last ten years;  G. and A. have moved to be close to their grandkids.   Create that vision, then tell people about it.  Talking makes it real.  When they ask how you will fund your dream, proudly tell them about your Roth.
2.  Identify your values fulfilled by your long-term dream:  As a Yenta, I can tell you your values direct every aspect your life from finances to love.  If you haven’t identified them, do it NOW! https://communicationessentials.wordpress.com/values-activity.   Here’s why your values must match your dream: without interest in saving –  no interest will accrue to make that dream come true.  And accrued interest, aka compounded interest is how saving helps your money grow.
3.  How much will it cost?  Let’s assume a lot.  Keep in mind:  Starting when you’re 25 and saving $5500/year at 6% interest you could save approximately $902,000.    (Check out LearnVest.com to learn more about compounded interest – which grows beanstalks like magic beans)   If you don’t have that much, if you’re older, that’s no excuse to not save.  Do what you can.   But do it NOW to get you on your way.   For my dream, even if I can’t own my hostel, I confidently have the financial freedom to manage one.
4.  Get to ‘there’ starting with YOUR red handbag:  No excuses.  There’s money in your budget somewhere.  Take an afternoon and go through your closet, your bank and credit card statements.  Stay focused on that long-term dream and what you want.  Get rid of ‘crap’ literally and figuratively.  And find yourself a financial Yenta to put her hands on her hips and ruthlessly support your saving.

5.  Open (or contribute) an account:  Remember you have till April 15th.  $1000 will open an account with Vanguard, Fidelity, and T.Rowe Price, or a local bank.  I admit to liking a brick and mortar place.  Remember you can always change where you keep your money so don’t get hung up on finding the perfect place now.  Some banks or brokerage houses will offer money to open an IRA as tax day approaches.  (Take it – why not!)   After you’ve saved it gets easier:  Write your check for the $1000;  Walk into the bank or brokerage house (i.e. Fidelity);   Fill out a form and hand over the check;  If you don’t know which fund to invest your money, ask to speak with someone and in ten minutes they will advise you.

It’s that easy to get to ‘there’ from here.  If it still feels overwhelming, start saving anyway.  And I’m always available to be your financial Yenta!

Dream big!  Many say life gets even better in your 60’s.  I’m looking forward to the experience and want you to join me!

What’s your dream?

6 steps to commit: ‘red handbag’ to retirement

20 Aug

I’ve spent years searching for the perfect handbag.  You know, the bag that will hold a ton, sit comfortably on my shoulder, and look beautiful with everything I wear.  Yes, I am the eternal optimist.  So when I recently uncovered the pictured red handbag, bundled away  in my closet since last winter, I shouldn’t have been totally surprised.  But I was not thrilled.  I felt exhausted by one more ‘not quite right’ thing cluttering my closet – and my life.

Yes, this is really my screen saver now.  A reminder to not spend money on what I don't really want and definitely don't need.  Ca-ching!  Money saved!

Yes, this is really my screen saver now. A reminder to not spend money on what I don’t really want and definitely don’t need. Ca-ching! Money saved!

But I live by the motto: Spend/Learn/Coach.  A recent communication coaching session  with my client ‘C’, aged 42 uncovered her financial conflict with saving for retirement.    She looked like she was going to whack me with her beautiful blue and green wedge sandals:  “I don’t have $1000 to open a Roth IRA.  I can barely afford what I need to live now.   It’s too overwhelming to think about how to save for retirement.”

Magically transforming from coach to financial therapist,  I reminded her that like managing any conflict, getting from our financial ‘here’ to ‘there’ retirement plan is understanding the ‘red handbags’.   It is uncluttering to focus on what we really need and want.

I’m working with ‘C’ to create her dream future using 5 steps which I’ll talk about next month:

  1. Create a long-term dream.
  2. Identify which values will be met by your long-term dream:
  3. Determine the dollar amount you’ll need to live your dream.
  4. Find the money to get ‘there’ starting with YOUR red handbag
  5. Open an account

This month let’s talk about the real savings killer: emotion.  I’ve heard from ‘C’ and many others:

“I can’t save for the future while living for today.”

I get it: Things are tight for many of us, so where do we skimp?  The future is uncertain.  Who knows what will happen or what life will be like 20, 30, or 40 years from now.

Because this is true it’s more important to prepare our finances.

Saving is a mindset.  Finding the perfect saving strategy is like finding the perfect handbag – and even more important.  To begin, you have to commit to saving.  Right now, you have to acknowledge it’s important to learn to save.  6 steps to focus your mindset:

1. Clear the information clutter:  We’re bombarded with facts and statistics about retirement savings, especially for women:  How over 60% of us have less than $50,000 saved.  Women, who live longer than men and will need more, have less saved and are less knowledgeable about how much they will need.  Women are hesitant to jump into the stock market and handle accounts.  Worst of all, the shouted message we’ll need a million dollars saved for a comfortable future.  ‘C’  said she’ll never make that cool mil, so for her it’s a ‘why bother.’

Saving is worth the bother.

2. Compounded interest: Save early save often:  Every little bit you save helps, whether you’re 42 or 22.  Though honestly starting at 22 is best.   It’s all about compounded interest, which is like using sunscreen or anti-aging products: the younger you start the greater the benefit.   An over-simplified example:  if you invested $500 a year for 30 years – compounded interest would turn that $15,000 into $61,172.00.      Imagine the dreams come true if you invested $2000 every year!

There is so much information out there, how does ‘C’ know where to begin?

3. Start small.  When a problem seems too overwhelming to tackle, focus on baby steps.    Although ‘C’ has a small 401K from a former employer, I recommended she open a Roth IRA.    (see Learnvest.com for more)   Roth IRA’s are recommended.  The taxes are already paid on the money, so you aren’t taxed when you pull money out for retirement,  to buy a house or for an emergency.  You only need $1,000 to begin.

4. Identify your ‘red handbag’:  It’s August and ‘C’ has till April 15th to open her Roth IRA.  That’s nine months  to save $1,000 to secure her future.  That’s about $110 per month or one ‘red handbag’, or whatever your ‘it’ is.  It’s  that simple.   Saving for the future will realign your current spending on your values.   *Start by looking through your closet for your ‘red handbag’.   Identify what’s eating up your space, and money and not enriching your life.   Pull the ‘it'(s) out and lay them on your bed.   Commit to security and satisfaction.  My pictured ‘red handbag’ above) is  my screen saver and painful reminder when I want to shop.

Do you have a Roth IRA?  If you don’t, plan now to open one by April.  If you do, plan to add money by April.

5. Understand your investment phobia:   Emotionally, ‘C’ moaned about the 2008 market crash, and, how she doesn’t want to lose her money.  Yes, most people lost half  their portfolio’s value then.  It was terrifying.  Today, people have recovered their money, and more thanks to  compounded interest.    Will the market crash again?  Probably?  Will it still be beneficial to invest your money?  Absolutely.  Adopt an investing mindset with the stock app on your smartphone.    Start checking out the 2 year changes in stocks and the market.   You’ll notice they (and your money) like a roller coaster, fluctuate, though you’ll end up on top.

6. Talk ‘investments’ with others:    I recommended ‘C’ begin talking about retirement saving with friends, family, and co-workers.  Talking will increase her comfort level and ease her into action.     BUT, she said, she couldn’t decide which bank or brokerage company to go with.  She  has nine months to decide.  Even better:  she can’t make a mistake – accounts can easily be moved at no penalty.

Now is the time to think and commit.  Till next month.

Tell me about your ‘red handbag’!

What will it take to make that commitment to save $110/month for 9 months to open your IRA?

How would your finances benefit from a financial therapist?  Share your concerns and find out!

This blog also appears on: blogger.com as part of ‘Diary of a Professional Single Woman

Heart, Mind, and Sole: 3 Steps to 3D Luxurious Living

14 May

(this blog originally appeared on  http://www.blogher.com/three-steps-luxurious-living

How do you define luxury?

5 star vacation?  Cashmere?  Jimmy Choo’s?  For me it’s flea market jewelry.  Chances are, we all have something.  The question is:

Can you afford your defined luxury?

I know luxury is typically defined as an extravagance or indulgence.   Yet all this ‘stuff’, including a great pair of shoes, doesn’t add to happiness.  The thing is we may want luxury, and we need financial security.  Especially for the long term.

Gold:  fools or real?

Gold: fools or real?

Here’s a fact: 

Luxury is NOT about money.

Here’s another fact:

Size (of your paycheck) does NOT matter.

Hmm.  Maybe we just need to redefine luxury.  Imagine having all your needs met.  How does that feel?  Imagine this life as the ‘new normal’.    Your life filled with what is most important to you focuses on values.  This is luxury you can afford.

What's growing on your money tree these days?

What’s growing on your money tree these days?

Talking about money is personal – and uncomfortable.  But money is important for security and comfort.  It helps you be your best.  You have to believe you deserve that.

Current statistics about single women and finances show we are not at our best.  For starters, only 35% of single women have a retirement account.  And of those who do, 57% have less than $20,000 saved.  The ‘new normal’ means we learn to be financially independent regardless of where we are and our relationship status.

Is your financial relationship where you want it to be?

I’ve come up with 3 ways to view luxury for building a healthy financial relationship:

  • Heart luxury is all about quality relationships, including with money.
  • Mind luxury is using your skills and talents in work and play.
  • ‘Sole’ luxury is having only quality ‘stuff’ you can touch, feel, or walk in.
Luxury should keep your heart pumping!

Luxury should keep your heart pumping!

These 3 types of luxuries are meant to guide you personally, professionally and financially and lead you to action.

Grab a notebook and apply them in these 3 steps for luxurious living:

1.  Take inventory of your assets. 

  • Start with ‘sole’, and take stock of all your ‘stuff’, daunting as that may be.
  • For heart, make a list of the types of interactions you have with others.  Don’t list out names of people.
  • For mind, write out the types of actions and tasks you do regularly in your job and your life.

2.  Evaluate your ROI (Return on Investment)

Everything has a value or cost, not just ‘sole’ luxuries.

  • Go through your lists, and highlight each item, interaction, or task that feels good and adds indulgence to your life.
  • Put a red line through all items or interactions that drain you or makes you feel bad.

3.  Cut your losses, Bolster your gains

  • ‘Stuff’ that weighs you down makes you feel poor.  This is not the ‘new normal’.  Starting with your ‘sole’ items, get rid of things that don’t feel extravagant or luxurious – regardless of the cost.  Take a picture of things you get rid of.  It will remind you of what you don’t need.
  • Now look at your heart and mind lists.   The plusses are true luxuries.   These add value to your life.  These are what you want more of.

Over the next month, keep track of what adds to your heart, mind and ‘sole’ through these 3 steps.  Take note of what makes you smile.  These are the things that will keep you on track financially.

Keep track of heart, mind, and sole luxuries for success and focus.  www.123rf.com

Keep track of heart, mind, and sole luxuries for success and focus. http://www.123rf.com

In months to come I’ll share specific strategies to balance your heart, mind, and ‘sole’ with your money.   You’ll identify your values and communication style and learn how these can help you decrease debt, save money for retirement and other goals.  They will also help you talk with partners about money.

What is your greatest money concern?

 

How does your finances affect your personal and professional life?

 

What would you like to learn to be financially independent?

 

Share specific questions or concerns about your finances and I’ll address them here.