Smart Money in Hard Times
As we all try to navigate the Age of COVID, many of us are finding finances to be one of our toughest challenges. Are you one of the millions who have been laid off, let go, had your hours cut, or been forced out of business? Or maybe you have a great job or business but you just don’t seem to be able to get ahead? Regardless of your current financial circumstances, you can likely set yourself up for a better future by using some of the following strategies:
1. Decide on Your Top 3 Financial Goals
If you asked me what my top three financial goals are, I would tell you that the first is to carry no debt - other than a mortgage - that I can’t pay off monthly (we have already achieved this goal); second is to own a home outright; third is to be able to comfortably retire when I’m 60. Do you see how the first two goals directly impact the third? Now, what are the three things you want to achieve financially? Give it some in-depth thought. Talk it over with your spouse or partner if you have one. Brainstorm and get your ideas on paper. This step is number one because it will drive all of your key financial decisions in the future. See where this is going? Excited yet?
2. Get a Handle on Debt
Loan interest never takes a day off. If you have any typical brand of debt, the interest on that debt is compounding every single day no matter what. That is your money working against you in the worst kind of way. And what is your interest rate on that debt? If you have a $25,000.00 car loan at the “good” rate of 3% over 5 years, you’ll pay nearly $2000.00 in interest. Some might say, “no big deal,” but I can think of a whole bunch of better ways to spend 2 grand, can’t you? And that’s small potatoes compared to consumer debt! Consider the following scenario: Let’s say you have maxed out your $10,000.00 limit card with a rate of 21%. Determined to mend your ways, you decide to quit charging money on that card and to start paying $245.00 against the balance each month until it is paid off. What’s the result? After six long years your balance is paid off. Hurray! And along the way you’ve paid nearly $7700.00 in interest. Ouch! Was all that stuff you bought with the card worth it? And how about opportunity cost? How much would you have earned by putting that $245.00 in a simple index fund for 6 years? At an average rate of return of 7% you would be holding nearly $21,700.00 in that investment. Can you see what a killer debt can be?
3. Be Selective When You Spend
Have you ever heard the saying, “Penny wise and pound foolish?” That has described me when I have been so careful about shopping for deals on little items at the market, only to turn around and make a really big stupid purchase. Here’s an example that may resonate with some of you. Let’s say you need a car to commute to work. You could buy your neighbor’s used Honda Accord for $8000, but you see that your co-worker just got a brand new blacked-out F-350 to tow his boat and which also doubles as his commuter truck. He drives you to lunch in the truck and you fall in love with the comfort, the room, the leather seats, and the idea of looking as cool as the Marlboro man when the ladies see you driving it. So, throwing caution to the wind, you go down to the dealership and finance a nicely-optioned Super Duty for $69,000.00 at 3% for 60 months. You don’t haul hay or own a boat but you are going to drop $1240.00 a month to channel your inner Toby Keith. And let’s not forget about Cost-of-Ownership concerns like depreciation, fuel consumption, insurance, repairs, taxes and fees. Not including the price of the truck, your 5 year COO @ 15k miles per year totals about $75000.00. That means you incurred liabilities totaling $144,000.00 to get you back and forth to work over those 5 years. The Accord, on the other hand, with COO costs included, would have only set you back about $18,000.00 or so. Can you think of some alternative uses for the $122,000 difference? Always consider what your decision means when it comes to your top 3 big financial goals. If it takes you further away from your objectives, go back to the drawing board!
Wrap up -
Your financial goals and strategy are completely in your control! Wherever you’re at, just take stock of the situation and start taking baby steps based on your top 3 goals. As far as other suggestions go, I would take a hard look at setting up automatic monthly transfers into investments and tax sheltered financial instruments beyond your 401k, such as an HSA, a Roth IRA, etc. I would try to set aside a minimum of 10% of your salary for investing and more if you are able. Another thing that some people find quite beneficial and freeing is practicing some degree of minimalism. In a nutshell, the idea is less stuff = less worries, stress and problems. You might do a quick evaluation of the things that bring you true joy and the things that don’t. Then get rid of the things that don’t. Lastly, there is tons of great financial advice and info to be found online. Do a little research and see what resonates with you. You can do this!
In today’s world we are bombarded with messages designed to make us believe fulfillment and happiness come from outside of us – a car, a trip, a diet plan, shoes, golf clubs, or a host of other I-gotta-have-it things. Is this really what life is all about – acquiring more stuff to fill our homes, finding more excitement or entertainment? I think we know the answer to that question.
The truth is that fulfillment expresses itself from the inside out – when you are learning, growing, mindful, compassionate, grateful, purposeful and passionate. Check out these 3 ways to help you find greater fulfillment in your life.
1. Live in the Present – Dwelling on the past, worrying about the future, focusing on things we can’t control, are all sure ways to miss out on the little miracles that today holds for us. It’s like when our phones act up because there are too many apps running in the background. Sometimes we need to shut it off, just like when we take a few minutes to breathe deeply, relax, and feel the joy of simply being. Look around, see with fresh eyes all the amazing things we take for granted each day, plants and people, sun and sky, This very moment can be filled with beauty, love, and peace, if we allow it to be.
2. Help Others Along Their Journey – An old Hindu proverb says: Help another’s boat across and lo! thine own has reached the shore! It’s true that when we bless another’s life, we bless our own as well. Contributing to someone’s happiness, filling someone’s desperate need, giving encouragement to someone who’s down, providing an opportunity to better someone’s financial position are a few of the ways we can make a difference. Then Karma kicks in and it all comes back to us in heaping measures! As many a successful business person will profess, things didn’t REALLY take off for them until traded a self-centered approach for a focus on helping partners, clients, and customers get their “boats across!”
3. Be Willing to Grow – In business today continuous improvement, or Kaizen, is an almost universal theme. A company unwilling to grow, satisfied with today’s staus quo, is tomorrow’s boarded-up business casualty, which clearly illustrates that if we stand still we are really moving backwards. Give yourself challenges, be hungry to learn, anxious to try new things, to bet on yourself and your ability to adapt and change. You are a force to be reckoned with when you take ACTION!
HAVE you ever looked at your behavior toward yourself and wondered if you were, at times, your own worst enemy? If so, you are not alone. Many people struggle with feelings of self doubt, a diminished sense of self worth, constant comparisons with others, or an unrealistic ideal concerning who they are and who they should be.
Sometimes we need to ask ourselves: Would a friend place on your shoulders all the burdens, mentally, emotionally and spiritually, that you place on yourself? If the answer is no, then it may be time to learn how to make friends with yourself. Here are 4 ways to help you cultivate self-kindness:
1. Understand Your Identity – We are unique threads in a divine tapestry. One religious leader said, in effect, that the very least soul among us is in reality “worth worlds.” Consider the miracle of your existence – your intellect, your capacity to love, to feel, to learn, to grow, to give. You are truly an expression of divine love and being. As such, we need to honor and respect not only those around us, but ourselves in particular. Remember, you really are worth worlds!!
2. Be Your Own Inner Advocate – What is your self-talk like? Does that voice in your head sound more like an unrelenting critic than a loving friend or a kind counselor? Remember the principle of inputs and outputs. Negative in, negative out, garbage in, garbage out. And on the other hand, if you feed yourself positivity, the results will be positive as well!
Try this experiment: Pick a day where you typically have fewer distractions – a Sunday may work well – to listen closely to, and control, your own self-talk. This is the time to be your own best friend, to remind yourself of all your good qualities, of your value as a person. Consciously feed yourself all that positive self-talk. Consciously monitor your words and your actions and try to make them as positive as possible, then review the result.
Did you feel in control of your emotions and situations? Did people around you notice a difference? It’s amazing when you realize you really do have control of your moods and the trajectory of your day!
3. Forgive Yourself – Do you readily forgive others’ faults, but struggle to forgive yourself? Do you berate yourself for all the ill-advised things you said and did or all the important things you left undone? Are you holding yourself to a standard that you wouldn’t dream of holding anyone else to? If so, you’ve got lots of company! Yes, we know we’re human and fallible and all that, but somehow we, as individuals, think we are different from everyone else, that our screw-ups are so much worse because we KNOW better and can DO better – or we SHOULD HAVE known and done better.
Now it’s time to give yourself a figurative get-out-of-jail-free card, mentally, and spiritually. Whatever it is or was, let it go. Completely! The thing you did or didn’t do is not YOU. It in no way determines your value as a human being. Choose to let go, to love who you are right now and who you’re becoming and move on!
4. Stop Comparing and Believe In Yourself – Isn’t it interesting the way we see other people as having such enviable lives while we sit and wonder, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why can’t my life be like theirs?”
Remember this – you are doing better than you think! There are high-powered executives, doctors, lawyers, and athletes who superficially appear to have it all together while underneath their worlds are falling apart at the seams. The thing is, we know all our own problems and faults and failures intimately and I’m pretty sure if we knew those intimate things about our idols, there’s no way we would trade places with them! We not only compare ourselves with our idols, but with our relatives, friends, co-workers, neighbors and everyone on social media too. We think they are more fun, more attractive, more talented, so much happier than we are, right? And while you waste time focusing on what you interpret to be your lack, you are ignoring all the wonderful, beautiful, special things you ARE, right now today!
Here’s a fun assignment: Make a list of all of your best qualities and all your finest accomplishments. Put it on your mirror, read it every day, affirm that you believe that you can do whatever you put your mind to. Then when you’re ready, decide what new life adventure you’re going to take on. Will it be developing a neglected talent, starting a business, planning a trip to Africa? Whatever it is, do it with gusto and the belief that you can make it happen!
Please comment and let me know if this article was helpful to you, if you have any suggestions, or if you just want to share an expression of love and encouragement!