Your credit history can have an impact on your eligibility for rental leases, raise (or lower) your auto insurance rates, or even affect your eligibility for certain jobs (although in many cases the authorized credit reports available to third parties don’t contain your credit score if you aren’t requesting credit). Because credit history affects so many aspects of financial life, it’s important to begin building a solid credit history as early as possible.
So, where do you start?
Store credit cards are a common starting point for teens and young adults, as it often can be easier to get approved for a store card than for a major credit card. As a caveat though, store card interest rates are often higher than for a standard credit card. Credit limits are also typically low – but that might not be a bad thing when you’re just getting started building your credit. A lower limit helps ensure you’ll be able to keep up with payments. Because you’re trying to build a positive history and because interest rates are often higher with a store card, it’s important to pay on time – or ideally, to pay the entire balance when you receive the statement.
Another common way to begin building credit is to become an authorized user on a parent’s credit card. Ultimately, the credit card account isn’t yours, so your parents would be responsible for paying the balance. (Because of this, your credit score won’t benefit as much as if you are approved for a credit card in your own name.) Another thing to keep in mind is that some credit card providers don’t report authorized users’ activity to credit bureaus.* Additionally, even if you’re only an authorized user, any missed or late payments on the card can affect your credit history negatively.
A secured credit card is another way to begin building credit. To secure the card, you make an initial deposit. The amount of that deposit is your credit line. If you miss a payment, the bank uses your collateral – the deposit – to pay the balance. Don’t let that make you too comfortable though. Your goal is to build a positive credit history, so if you miss payments – even though you have a prepaid deposit to fall back on – you’re still going to get a ding on your credit history. Instead, it’s best to use a small amount of your available credit each month and to pay in full when you get the statement. This will help you look like a credit superstar due to your consistently timely payments and low credit utilization.
As you build your credit history, you’ll be able to apply for credit in larger amounts, and you may even start receiving pre-approved offers. But beware. Having credit available is useful for certain emergencies and for demonstrating responsible use of credit – but you don’t need to apply for every offer you receive.
“Will Authorized User Status Help You Build Credit?” NerdWallet, Sep 24, 2021, https://discvr.co/2lAzSgt.
That’s because you’ve done it—you’re going to be earning a lot more money with that raise. The first thing that pops in your head? All the fancy new things you can afford.
Dates. Your apartment. Vacation. They’re all going to be better now that you’ve got that extra money coming in.
And to be fair, all of those things CAN get substantially fancier after your income increases.
Why? Because your lifestyle became more extravagant as your income increased. Instead of using the boost in cash flow to build wealth, it all went to new toys.
This phenomenon is called “lifestyle inflation”. It’s why you might know people who earn plenty of money and have nice houses, but still seem to struggle with their finances. The greater the income, the higher the stress. As Biggie put it, “Mo’ Money, Mo’ Problems.”
The takeaway? The next time you get a raise, do nothing. Act like nothing has changed. Go celebrate at your favorite restaurant. Keep saving for your new treat. But you’ll thank yourself if you devote the lion’s share of your new income to either reducing debt or building wealth.
Rest assured, there will be plenty of time to enjoy the fruits of your labor in the future. But for now, keep your eyes on the most important prize—building wealth for you and your family’s future.
Almost no one will tell you that you should care what others think. Instead, you hear platitudes like “marching to the beat of your own drum”, or “just do you.”
You might even hear something counterintuitive like, “People will like you more if you don’t care about their opinions.”
What? You should stop caring about what others think so they’ll like you more? It’s a bald-faced contradiction at best, deceptively manipulative at worst.
The simple fact is that, unless you’re a diagnosed psychopath, you’ll care what others think about you. And that’s a good thing. It can stop you from alienating people in your life with bizarre decisions or unnecessary antagonism.
But is there such a thing as an unhealthy obsession with the opinions of others? Yes! Analysis paralysis, social anxiety, and unmeasured decisions can all result.
But that shouldn’t lead to a fluffy kitchen countertop quote about “one’s own sweet way.”
Instead of jettisoning all your social concerns, try this—prioritize your values over all.
Let’s say that one of your values is maintaining healthy relationships. That requires care about what someone else thinks of you—without their love and respect, the relationship is doomed to fail.
But you may discover other values, like protecting the well-being of the ones you love. That might mean making hard decisions that, in the short-term, lower the opinions of others.
This isn’t just advice for your personal life—it can benefit your career as well.
For instance, if you’re an employee, you should care about your boss’s opinion of you. That doesn’t mean being a doormat or suck-up. It simply means that you would do well to pay attention to their instruction, make sure you’re on top of things, and show them you’re honest, responsible, and a hard worker. This may lead to a promotion, a raise, and being known as a reliable team member.
The same is true for entrepreneurs. It’s hard to land and keep clients if you’re oblivious to their feelings toward you.
That’s not an excuse for tolerating mistreatment by customers, which is common among new entrepreneurs. Instead, it’s a call to know your own worth, to discover what you value, and then actually serve your clients.
The takeaway? “Don’t care about what others think” is short-sighted, selfish advice.
Instead, explore your values. Discover what matters most. And build your life around those principles. They’ll bring far greater cohesion—and happiness—than ignoring other people and running head-long into the void.
This isn’t to talk bad about your brain—it’s like a supercomputer ceaselessly working to make sense of the world and keep you safe. The trouble is, sometimes it does this by coming up with shortcuts that feel like they should make sense, but can lead to serious errors.
These mistakes are sometimes called mind traps. They can derail logical thinking and lead you astray. And they can have a big impact on your money.
Here are some of the most common money mind traps, and how you can avoid them!
1. All or nothing thinking. This is a classic example of the “great” being an enemy of the “good”. You might feel that unless you can go all out on saving and building wealth, you might as well do nothing. Go big or go home, right?
It’s an obviously flawed line of thinking. Saving even a little is always better than saving nothing. But the temptation not to is still very, very powerful. Why? It might be because of anxious or perfectionist tendencies. Anything short of perfection seems like failure. And that sense of failure is so uncomfortable that it seems safer to not even start.
But here’s the truth—you’ll never go big unless you start small. Waiting for the stars to align, or even to get all your ducks in a row, will result in permanent inaction.
The solution? Commit to save $20 per month (or whatever amount works with your budget). Read one blog article about money. Follow just one money influencer. You might be surprised by the difference that even just a little change can make!
2. Magical thinking. For example: “I’ll start saving when I get a raise.” Spoiler—you won’t.
Why? Because you didn’t start saving after your last raise. What would make this time any different?
This is magical thinking. This time is going to be different, even if you do nothing different. It’s the hope that circumstances will change on their own, and with them, your behavior.
The solution is to be proactive. If you want to save more money, you have to take action. That might mean reworking your budget or setting up automated transfers into savings. It might mean looking for ways to make more money. But whatever it is, do it now. If the “present you” won’t do it, neither will the “future you”.
3. Catastrophizing & personalizing. Have you ever opened your bank account and thought “This is the end of the world?” It’s happened to everyone at least once. Suddenly, you realize you’re far closer to zero than you realized. Worst of all, you’re not sure why.
To be clear, that’s NOT the end of the world. There could be plenty of good reasons why you’ve spent more this month, and there are plenty of ways to get your financial house back in order.
But that’s not how it feels. It feels like defcon 3. Surely this means that you’ll default on the mortgage, lose the car, and ruin your future.
And that catastrophizing almost always leads to personalization. You start blaming yourself. How could you let this happen again? What’s wrong with you? Those negative voices are off to the races, and it can feel impossible to get them under control. And it’s all because you’re looking at your bank balance with no plan.
The solution is to step back, take a breath, and remember that it’s just a number. It does not define you. Sure, you need to take responsibility for your actions. But follow your train of thought. Where are you jumping to conclusions? What are you assuming? If you can catch yourself in the moment, it’s a lot easier to calm those anxious thoughts before they get out of control.
Mind traps are dangerous because they’re so believable. They seem like rational thoughts, but they’re really just faulty logic that can lead to costly mistakes.
The good news is, once you’re aware of them, you can start to catch yourself in the act. And with practice, it gets easier and easier. So next time you find yourself thinking you have to go big or go home, or that your finances will magically fix themselves, or that you’re a failure, take a moment. Write down your thoughts. And then ask yourself—is this really true? Or is it just a mind trap?
That’s the question that divides intrinsic motivation from extrinsic motivation. And learning the difference could salvage your career from disaster.
Why? Because different motivation types are useful in different circumstances.
Intrinsic motivation is process focused. It comes from the sense of satisfaction from a job well done. It’s why you keep coming back to hobbies you love, or why you’re compelled to work on that project even when it’s not required. You do it for the love of the game.
Extrinsic motivation is reward focused. It comes from the anticipation or acquisition of something tangible, like a trophy, a raise, praise, or a bonus. It’s the reason you put up with a high paying job you hate, or why you grind out those extra reps at the gym. You do it for the payoff.
Intrinsic motivation is internal, while extrinsic motivation is external.
Here’s the strategic difference—intrinsic motivation is powerful long-term, extrinsic motivation is powerful short-term.
Think about it. How long can you really tolerate that awful job? Eventually, it’ll wear you down, no matter the pay. It will tax your mental health, your relationships, and your quality of life. Trying to leverage reward motivation over the long-term is a recipe for burnout.
That being said, it’s excellent if you need a burst of energy. “Just a few more months, and then I’ll be debt free. I can make it.” Extrinsic motivation is often what we rely on to push through short-term challenges.
By contrast, intrinsic motivation can provide powerful groundwork for planning long-term goals. What are the hobbies and activities you find inherently rewarding? Are they career oriented? Family focused? That’s where you should focus your long-term energy.
If you want to maintain a budget and save money, then you need a plan. The first step is understanding the basics—what is a budget? How does it work? What are the benefits of having one?
To effectively manage your monthly budget, you must take certain steps from day one. This article will provide some helpful tips and tricks on how to get started and keep going strong until payday rolls around!
What is a budget?
A budget is a plan. It helps you set limits for your spending, so that you can track your income and expenses. Maintaining a budget keeps you aware of when you are spending too much or if there are areas where your money could be saved.
It can also help you understand your spending habits as well as identify problems, such as giving in to too many sales or buying expensive lattes every day. With a clear understanding of how you spend money every month, you may be able to reduce expenses and even start saving for luxuries or emergencies. You can’t have a goal of saving for your next summer vacation if you don’t know how much money you’re spending now.
How to create your budget
The first step is to set goals for yourself for income and spending. When it comes to income, you need to consider all the ways you get paid. What is your salary—after taxes and any other contributions you make, like to a 401(k)? Is your employer cutting back your hours? Do you have another source of income such as a side job or freelance work?
Be completely honest with yourself about how much money you have coming in. Once this figure is known, you can assess your spending and determine how much of your income goes towards them every month.
Next, make a list of all fixed monthly bills, such as rent or loan repayments. Then make a list of variable expenses, such as groceries or gas. Lastly, make a list of all your monthly discretionary spending, or ‘fun money’.
If you struggle with this last step, look at your bank statements. It’s the easiest way to find a complete record of your spending. This will help you pinpoint the areas that you could cut down on or even eliminate.
Leverage your budget
Now that you have your budget, you can take action. You can save money by leveraging your budget to meet your monthly goals.
The first way is to leverage your income. If you have a job, talk to your employer about working extra hours, or ask for a raise. This will give you more money right out of the gate.
Beyond the extra income from a job, there are many other ways to add to your budget.
You can start small and pick up some side work—babysitting, dog walking, delivering pizzas, etc. If you can turn your free time into money, go for it! This all depends on your financial situation and what you feel comfortable with, so take the time to plan accordingly.
You can also think about reducing your expenses. Cutting back on luxury items can save money every month without having to work an extra job. Just think of all the things you could do with the money that’s currently going towards cable TV or eating out every day for lunch!
Don’t forget to have some fun every once in a while. Just find creative ways to have it on a budget. Plan more outings with friends like playing tennis or frisbee in the park, rather than going to the club every evening. Your community is bound to have some free local events going on, especially in warmer weather.
A budget is a way for you to track your expenses and income each month. You can leverage your budget in a number of ways, by increasing income or decreasing expenses—or both! With this knowledge, you’ll be able to save more and plan for the future.
It’s a concept pioneered by Robert Kiyosaki of Rich Dad Poor Dad fame. And it’s one of the best explanations of creating income around.
Here’s what it looks like…
Employee | Entrepreneur
Freelancer | Investor
The employee and freelancer trade their time for money.
The entrepreneur and investor create or purchase income generating assets.
Think about what an employee does. They show up, punch in, and work for a set number of hours. In exchange, they either get paid by the hour or a set annual salary.
If they’re extra conscientious and prove their worth to their employer, they may get a raise or bonus as a reward. But their income is entirely dependent on the good graces and success of their boss. They never directly enjoy the fruits of their labor.
The same is true for the freelancer. Sure, they may enjoy greater independence than an employee, but they’re still trading their time for money. Think of them as a mercenary rather than a soldier.
Compare that with the entrepreneur. The difference is that the entrepreneur creates a system for delivering a service that’s duplicatable.
Let’s say you start a lemonade stand. You put up a few bucks to buy some lemons, sugar, cups, a cooler, and stand. It’s a risk—there’s no guarantee you’ll have any customers.
Fortunately, it’s a hit—the neighbors line up to enjoy your refreshing beverage!
After a few days, you’re swimming in cash. In fact, you earn enough to open another lemonade stand. So you buy the same supplies, and hire a friend to run the new location. Just like that, you’ve scaled your lemonade business.
Eventually, you have so many lemonade stands that you don’t have to manage one yourself. Instead, through initiative and upfront commitment, you’ve created an income stream. That’s how entrepreneurship works.
But now suppose that a friend comes along. She’s been eyeing your success and wants in. She’ll put up the cash to open another ten lemonade stands across the neighborhood (it’s a BIG neighborhood).
In exchange, she gets a slice of the profits from all the stands. She takes on some risk by giving you money in exchange for some income. In other words, she’s an investor. She’s using her money to earn more money.
There are two critical points to notice about the entrepreneur and the investor.
1. They take risks. Being an employee is relatively predictable—if your employer continues to do well, you’ll give X amount of time, and you’ll get X amount of money. But starting a business is a risk. Giving money to an entrepreneur is a risk. Entrepreneurs and investors commit resources to projects with no guarantee of success.
2. They have far greater potential. There are only so many hours you can trade for money. When successful, entrepreneurs and investors have far more resources at their disposal to trade for money.
Simply put, entrepreneurs and investors face greater risks, and greater potential rewards.
Which quadrant generates most of your income? Is there a quadrant you would like to explore further?
You’re done with the 9-to-5, and ready to transition from employee to entrepreneur.
But there’s one last hurdle—how will you pay for it?
Starting a business requires resources. Whether it’s a laptop, store front, circular saw, or musical instrument, you’ll need tools to ply your trade. You’ll also need to consider the cost of hiring employees as your business grows!
There are three common strategies entrepreneurs leverage to raise money for starting a business…
1. Raise capital. Trade ownership of your business for money.
2. Borrow money. Pay interest for money.
3. Self-fund. Cover business expenses yourself.
There’s no right way to fund your business. But there are clear pros and cons to each approach. Let’s explore them further so you can have a better idea of which may be best for you!
1. Raise capital. This strategy involves scouting out wealthy individuals and institutions to give you money to fund your business. But it’s no free lunch. In exchange for funding, investors want a slice of your company. As your business grows, so does their profit.
That gives them a powerful say in the management of your business. If you raise capital this way, you may find these stakeholders calling the shots and pulling the strings instead of you.
Plus, raising capital simply is out of reach for most entrepreneurs. Unless you’re disrupting a major industry and have extensive experience, the risk-reward situation may not make sense for potential investors.
2. Borrow money. It’s straightforward—you ask a lending institution or friend for money that you’ll pay back with interest. Both parties take a calculated risk that your business will increase its value enough to repay the loan. It’s a simple, time-tested strategy for funding a new business.
The advantage of getting a business loan is that it keeps you in full control of your business. No board of directors or controlling shareholders!
But business loans require planning to manage. Your business will need to consistently make payments, meaning you’ll need to consistently earn profit. That’s rarely a surefire proposition when you’re first starting out.
So while debt can help your business expand and hire new talent, it’s typically wise to hold off on borrowing until later.
3. Self-fund. This is far and away the most realistic strategy for most entrepreneurs. It’s exactly what it sounds like—pay the upfront costs of starting a business yourself.
No debt. No working for someone else. You’re completely free to run your business. You’re also completely financially responsible for the outcome.
Will you be able to buy a storefront outright? Or start a competitive car manufacturer? Probably not. But there are dozens, if not hundreds, of opportunities that require far less capital.
Look around. You may have the tools you need to start a business at your fingertips! In fact, if you’re reading this article on a laptop or desktop, you’re positioned to start an online business right now. All you need is a service to provide clients.
The takeaway? The funding your business needs will depend on your situation. Challenging an established industry with a revolutionary approach? Then you may need outside funding. But if you’re like many, you have all the tools and resources you need to start your business.
That’s not just your morning alarm, set for 6:15am each and every darn weekday.
It’s a starter’s pistol. The rat race has begun.
The rat race is a behavior experiment. Scientists condition rats to run races, solve puzzles, complete mazes, do tricks, reproduce, not reproduce, and a host of other feats.
How? By dangling a treat in front of them. Perform the tasks. Get the reward.
Many are caught in a human rat race. They’re told that to be an adult they need a credit card, a car, a mortgage, and a 9 to 5 job.
So they jump through the hoops, solve the puzzles, and perform the tasks to get that treat—their paycheck.
That paycheck gets consumed by their basic needs, their payment plans, and their lifestyle.
And the cycle continues. Jump through hoops. Get paid. Spend. Jump through more hoops. Ad infinitum.
Bigger “treats” help—like a bonus or a raise—but only for a little while. Eventually, they get consumed by increasingly extravagant spending. It’s why people with high incomes stay trapped in the rat race.
The result? You keep running a pointless and repetitive race that leads nowhere.
Is it any surprise, then, that there’s a “great resignation” happening? Or that businesses can’t find employees?
Maybe it’s because people are finally waking up to the truth—they’ve been playing someone else’s game. They’ve been making someone else rich. And now they’re ready for a new and better opportunity.
It was no 2020, thank goodness. But there were enough ups, downs, and head scratchers to warrant a retrospective.
These are the top financial literacy stories of 2021.
Memes rocked the financial industry. You read that correctly—memes.
It began with struggling companies like Gamestop and AMC soaring in value. The cause? Rabid speculation fueled primarily by Reddit. There was little rhyme and even less reason to the frenzy, with devastating results—the boom became a bust that wiped out $167 billion of wealth.¹
And notice, that’s not even counting the rollercoaster year that cryptocurrency enthusiasts have “enjoyed.”
Memes also literally became hot commodities in the form of NFTs (Non-Fungible Tokens).
What’s an NFT? In short, it’s an image that’s modified with blockchain. The blockchain makes the image a one-of-a-kind collector’s item since it’s possible to verify the image’s identity. Think of it as a mix of cryptocurrency and trading cards.
That means almost any digital image has the potential to become incredibly valuable. For instance, one NFT sold in 2021 for $69.3 million.²
And it makes sense why people have turned en masse to memes to build wealth. They don’t know how money works. They’ve never been taught how to build a financial legacy. And deep down, they know it. So when something, anything, comes along that looks like an opportunity to stick it to the man, they take it. The results are predictable… and often tragic.
The housing market caught on fire. Speaking of extravagant pricing, the housing market boomed in 2021. The numbers speak for themselves. Rent increased 16.4% from January to October.³ More dramatically, home prices surged almost 20% between August 2020 and August 2021.⁴
The housing market serves as a window into other forces impacting consumers. Inflation raised the cost of almost everything in the last half of 2021. And with the supply chain in chaos, it seems possible that prices will continue to rise in 2022.
That makes financial literacy more critical than ever. Families have less and less margin for error, and common milestones seem harder to reach. Without the right knowledge and strategies, building wealth may be increasingly difficult.
Financial illiteracy cost Americans billions. An annual survey by the National Financial Educators Council revealed that financial illiteracy cost the average American $1,634 in 2021.⁵ That’s a total of $415 billion.
Worst of all, that’s likely an underestimate. Think of what $1,634 could do if it were put to work building wealth in a business or retirement account. That’s the true cost of financial illiteracy—both in the short-term AND building wealth long-term.
What are your top financial literacy stories from 2021? Do you foresee any exciting changes in 2022?
¹ “Meme Stocks Lose $167 Billion as Reddit Crowd Preaches Defiance,” Sarah Ponczek, Katharine Gemmell, and Charlie Wells, Bloomberg Wealth, Feb 2, 2021, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2021-02-02/moonshot-stocks-lose-167-billion-as-crowd-preaches-defiance
² “Top 5 Non-Fungible Tokens (NFTs) of 2021,” Rakesh Sharma, Investopedia, Dec 15, 2021, https://www.investopedia.com/most-expensive-nfts-2021-5211768
³ “Biden’s next inflation threat: The rent is too damn high,” Katy O’Donnell and Victoria Guida, Politico, Nov 10, 2021, https://www.politico.com/news/2021/11/10/rent-inflation-biden-520642#:~:text=The%20Apartment%20List%20annual%20National,expected%20to%20continue%20for%20years
⁴ “Home price growth is finally decelerating—and it’s just the start,” Lance Lambert, Fortune, Dec 6, 2021, https://fortune.com/2021/12/06/housing-market-slowing-heading-into-2022/
If your family’s quality of life were suddenly threatened, you’d step in, wouldn’t you? Of course you would!
Having a well-thought-out, tailored-to-you life insurance policy is a way to preemptively and proactively protect your family’s quality of life.
Here’s an eyebrow raiser: 36% of people surveyed intended to buy life insurance at some point, but only 54% actually have coverage!¹ Despite people’s good intentions, ownership is actually decreasing.
Here’s an eyebrow lowerer: Life insurance can be thought of as a financial safety net. One that gives your family the time and space to recover and rebuild in the event of trying financial circumstances.
Odds are, you already think life insurance is a good idea. But waiting until tragedy or a sudden loss of income strikes is waiting too long to consider the benefits of life insurance.
Give me a call or shoot me an email, and together we can take your unique circumstances into consideration and put together a life insurance policy that fits your needs.
“2020 Insurance Barometer Study Reveals a Significant Decline in Life Insurance Ownership Over the Past Decade,” LIMRA, Jun 2, 2020, https://www.limra.com/en/newsroom/news-releases/2020/2020-insurance-barometer-study-reveals-a-significant-decline-in-life-insurance-ownership-over-the-past-decade/
If you’re like many, that sounds exactly like what you and your family need! Who wouldn’t want some extra money coming in? It might seem like pie in the sky, but it’s not a fantasy.
Earning a passive income is more achievable than you might realize. Read on to discover how passive incomes work, what makes them so advantageous, and common ways to create them.
In general, a passive income is cash flow that requires little to no regular effort to create and maintain.
That’s not to say that they don’t require work. But the labor involved in opening a passive income stream is normally upfront—you spend time and/or money in the beginning to set up the income stream, then sit back and reap the rewards as time goes on.
It’s an advantageous model because it can potentially free up your time—which is the most valuable resource you have.
But be warned—not all opportunities to create passive income are created equal. Here are a few proven strategies for you to consider!
Create digital products. EBooks, online courses, stock photos, and stock music are all passive income generators. They require initial time investments to create and publish, but then earn you money as users buy them over time.
Rent out property. Renting is a classic source of passive income. It requires money upfront to buy the property—and maybe time and more money for renovations. But once rent starts coming in, they’re income sources that don’t require your daily attention. (Note: Becoming a landlord may have other costs involved, like repairs or replacing old equipment or appliances.)
Build a team of sales professionals. This is the hidden gem of passive income. There’s a starting commitment of time to learn about your market and how to close sales. Then you’ll need to create a team of salespeople. Every time they make a sale, you earn a portion of the profit. Once you’ve mastered the basics, the sky’s the limit for how much passive income you can potentially earn!
If having a passive income stirs your interest, let me know. We can review your financial position, skills, and the opportunities available and see which one might work best for you!
But not all goals are created equal. Planning to win the lottery is a foolish objective that won’t help you fulfill your dreams. Spending hours clipping coupons worth a few dollars is probably a waste of time.
Fortunately, establishing proper goals is actually incredibly straightforward. You want to pursue objectives that are SMART—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. Formulating these types of goals can radically focus your energy and increase your ability to get things done. Let’s start with the first criteria!
Specific. The more specific your goal, the more clearly you’ll understand exactly what you need to do to achieve it. It’s the difference between a vague daydream and a solid plan.
When writing out your financial goals, be crystal clear on exactly what you want to accomplish and why. Outline the steps and people needed to bring about your vision. Something like “I want to make more money” becomes “I want to earn a raise at work by taking on more responsibility.”
Measurable. How will you know if you’ve accomplished, exceeded, or failed your goal? Including a clear metric gives you insight into how close or far you are from completing your objective.
Decide on a clear numeric goal you can shoot for. Take a vague notion like “I want to save more money” and transform it into “I want to save 15% of my income this year for retirement.” You’ll have a clearer idea of what steps you need to take to meet that benchmark and feel a deep sense of reward once you hit the target.
Achievable. Trying to attain an ill-defined, pie-in-the-sky goal will only lead to crazy behavior, incredible discouragement, or both. If you’re aiming for something huge (which is admirable), break it down into mini goals and focus on one at a time. Achieving a goal like “I want to start a multi-million dollar business” takes careful planning, a lot of research, and loads of help, but there are many, many people in the world who have done just that. How do you eat an elephant? (One bite at a time!)
Relevant. Are your goals appropriate? That seems like an obvious question, but it’s a critical one to ask when establishing objectives. For instance, saving up $1,000 so you can buy your new niece a Swarovski crystal, gold-plated baby rattle (yes, that’s a real thing) might be really memorable, but do you have an emergency fund in place? Make sure you’re meeting those practical, basic financial goals before you start aiming for the non-essential ones.
Time-sensitive. Knowing that the clock is ticking is one of the most powerful motivators on the planet. You’ll want to establish a realistic time-frame, but deciding that you want to buy a house in two years or be debt free in six months can increase your intensity, narrow your focus, and inspire you to start working on your goals as soon as possible!
Do your financial goals meet these criteria? If not, don’t sweat it! Spend 15 minutes reviewing your objectives and work in specific details or break down some of your more ambitious targets. Remember, I’m here to help if you hit a financial goal roadblock and need some professional insight and clarity!
Operating at your full potential consistently sounds too good to be true. We all want to accomplish more at our jobs and around the house. But a million little distractions always seem to throw us off course. Sure, we all have flashes of inspiration, but many of us settle for a fraction of our true capabilities.
But there’s a better way.
Researchers have discovered that high productivity doesn’t have to be limited to short bursts. There’s actually a very specific state of mind that results in stunning levels of output that’s triggered by certain psychological factors. It’s called flow, and understanding how it works may change your life.
What is flow? Technically speaking, “Flow is a cognitive state where one is completely immersed in an activity… It involves intense focus, creative engagement, and the loss of awareness of the self.”¹ Think of it like this: what’s your favorite quarterback thinking about when he’s making a game winning play? Almost nothing else besides what he’s doing in the moment. That state of total concentration on the task at hand is what defines flow. Other sensations follow. Decisions seem to make themselves. You lose awareness of what’s going on around you. Time either seems to fly by or you see things in slow motion. And, most importantly, you feel awesome. You’re “in the zone.”
Achieving flow. You’ve almost certainly achieved this flow state at least once in your life. But it probably doesn’t seem replicable. You were just on during that highschool football championship game or playing that local show with your buddies or giving that presentation. Fortunately, research hasn’t just described flow; it’s discovered a few factors that contribute to achieving peak performance.
The first flow key is to establish goals. Your brain loves objectives. It loves feeling like it’s accomplishing things. Having a clear outcome in mind will help you tune out the distractions that don’t matter and hone in on what does. Identify your desired goal, outline in detail how you’ll accomplish it, and then proceed to the second flow key.
The second flow key is the balance between challenge and boredom. Very often, facing a difficult task doesn’t naturally induce deep focus. It actually can make us feel anxious, scared, and avoidant. However, a mundane and simple activity, like washing dishes, doesn’t require the brainpower to trigger intense concentration. Flow lives in the happy medium between those extremes of crushing anxiety and mind-melting boredom. You have to have the confidence that you can actually crush the challenge at hand, but also not find it too easy or boring. Dial in your ideal difficulty level before you start a project. Expect more from your mundane responsibilities and get help for the daunting ones. Raise the stakes for your performance but make sure you don’t drown in the process!
The third flow key is immediate feedback. Let’s say you’ve hired a coach to help you master a skill. Would you prefer them to write up an annual review on your progress or give you tips, critiques, and advice as often as possible? Think about all the bad habits and practices you would develop without their regular oversight. You might discover you’ve been doing things wrong for a whole year if you’re only getting an annual checkup! Instant feedback allows you to constantly refine your process and execution while also setting up micro goals for you to accomplish. It’s a simple way to add a dash of challenge to your daily routine that locks you in and helps you achieve peak performance. Seek out frequent feedback. Ask your boss or co-workers or coach to give you critiques as often as possible. That constant stream of input will either make you feel good about what you’ve accomplished or give you new obstacles to overcome!
Achieving this state of peak performance isn’t always easy. There’s a cycle to entering flow that includes a difficult first phase. It’s hard work for our brain to enter into total focus and concentration. This first barrier is where most of us quit because intense concentration doesn’t feel great at first. But overcoming that initial resistance can open up a whole new world of productivity and performance. Use the three flow keys, push past the opening waves of discomfort and get into your zone!
¹ “Flow,” Psychology Today, accessed Sept. 24, 2020, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/flow
It’s a surprisingly difficult question to answer. Teaching your kids how to handle money is important. But how you go about giving them cash can set precedents that last a lifetime. Here are a few different takes on giving your kids money.
Not giving your kids money. There’s a lot to not love about this system at a glance, especially if you’re the kid. It seems like a way to simultaneously prevent your children from having fun and learn nothing about handling money. But it has some silver linings. Not paying your kids to do chores can be a way to teach them about the value of work without tying it to a monetary reward. That’s an important life lesson that can be applied to volunteer work and responsibilities with their future family. You also may be on a tight budget and handing out an allowance is just not part of your financial strategy right now.
Giving your kids an allowance (no work required). This is a system where you give your kids a set amount of money each week or month. This is a straightforward way to get your kids some cash that they can spend, save, and use to learn about money.
But just giving your kids an allowance without requiring something in return, like doing chores, has some potential drawbacks. Most people will eventually have to get a job so they can earn money. Giving cash to your kids without tying it in some way to work may create a sense of entitlement that simply isn’t realistic.
Paying your kids commission. In this system, you pay your kids as they complete tasks. You would set up a job posting with different payments for different chores. Pay your kids when they’ve completed the work. If they get the job done quickly with a good attitude and some extra flourish? Give them a raise! It’s a great way of rewarding excellence and teaching children the monetary value of their time and hard work.
But this system also has flaws. Some of the most rewarding work we do can be for family or friends, or to serve our communities—with no reward other than appreciation and pride in a job well done. Giving the impression that one should only put in hard work or help out with the family for cash isn’t something every parent is comfortable with.
Fortunately, there are many ways to combine each of these systems. You could have non-paying chores that are duties simply because the kids are members of the family and then extra paid jobs. Or maybe offer a base allowance to teach your kids about saving, giving, and spending, and then paid chores added on. These systems can evolve over time as your kids grow. Let the needs of your family and what you want to instill in your children guide you.
“Who thinks this jar is full?” she asked. Almost half of her students raised their hands. Next, she began to pour sand from the bucket into the jar full of large rocks emptying the entire bucket into the jar.
“Who thinks this jar is full now?” she asked again. Almost all of her students now had their hands up. To her student’s surprise, she emptied the glass of water into the seemingly full jar of rocks and sand.
“What do you think I’m trying to show you?” She inquired.
One eager student answered: “That things may appear full, but there is always room left to put more stuff in.”
The teacher smiled and shook her head.
“Good try, but the point of this illustration is that if I didn’t put in the large rocks first, I would not be able to fit them in afterwards.”
This concept can be applied to the idea of a constant struggle between priorities that are urgent versus those that are important. When you have limited resources, priorities must be in place since there isn’t enough to go around. Take your money, for example. Unless you have an unlimited amount of funds (we’re still trying to find that source), you can’t have an unlimited amount of important financial goals.
Back to the teacher’s illustration. Let’s say the big rocks are your important goals. Things like buying a home, helping your children pay for college, retirement at 60, etc. They’re all important –but not urgent. These things may happen 10, 20, or 30 years from now.
Urgent things are the sand and water. A monthly payment like your mortgage payment or your monthly utility and internet bills. The urgent things must be paid and paid on time. If you don’t pay your mortgage on time… Well, you might end up retiring homeless.
Even though these monthly obligations might be in mind more often than your retirement or your toddler’s freshman year in college, if all you focus on are urgent things, then the important goals fall by the wayside. And in some cases, they stay there long after they can realistically be rescued. Saving up for a down payment for a home, funding a college education, or having enough to retire on is nearly impossible to come up with overnight (still looking for that source of unlimited funds!). In most cases, it takes time and discipline to save up and plan well to achieve these important goals.
What are the big rocks in your life? If you’ve never considered them, spend some time thinking about it. When you have a few in mind, place them in the priority queue of your life. Otherwise, if those important goals are ignored for too long, they might become one of the urgent goals - and perhaps ultimately unrealized if they weren’t put in your plan early on.
Sometimes, a lot of money. They have the potential to throw a monkey wrench into your savings strategy, especially if you have to resort to using credit to get through an emergency. In many households, a budget covers everyday spending, including clothes, eating out, groceries, utilities, electronics, online games, and a myriad of odds and ends we need.
Sometimes, though, there may be something on the horizon that you want to purchase (like that all-inclusive trip to Cancun for your second honeymoon), or something you may need to purchase (like that 10-years-overdue bathroom remodel).
How do you get there if you have a budget for the everyday things you need, you’re setting aside money in your emergency fund, and you’re saving for retirement?
Make a goal
The way to get there is to make a plan. Let’s say you’ve got a teenager who’s going to be driving soon. Maybe you’d like to purchase a new (to him) car for his 16th birthday. You’ve done the math and decided you can put $3,000 towards the best vehicle you can find for the price (at least it will get him to his job and around town, right?). You have 1 year to save but the planning starts now.
There are 52 weeks in a year, which makes the math simple. As an estimate, you’ll need to put aside about $60 per week. (The actual number is $57.69 – $3,000 divided by 52). If you get paid weekly, put this amount aside before you buy that $6 latte or spend the $10 for extra lives in that new phone game. The last thing you want to do is create debt with small things piling up, while you’re trying to save for something bigger.
Make your savings goal realistic
You might surprise yourself by how much you can save when you have a goal in mind. Saving isn’t a magic trick, however, it’s based on discipline and math. There may be goals that seem out of reach – at least in the short-term – so you may have to adjust your goal. Let’s say you decide you want to spend a little more on the car, maybe $4,000, since your son has been working hard and making good grades. You’ve crunched the numbers but all you can really spare is the original $60 per week. You’d need to find only another $17 per week to make the more expensive car happen. If you don’t want to add to your debt, you might need to put that purchase off unless you can find a way to raise more money, like having a garage sale or picking up some overtime hours.
Hide the money from yourself
It might sound silly but it works. Money “saved” in your regular savings or checking account may be in harm’s way. Unless you’re extremely careful, it’s almost guaranteed to disappear – but not like what happens in a magic show, where the magician can always bring the volunteer back. Instead, find a safe place for your savings – a place where it can’t be spent “accidentally”, whether it’s a cookie jar or a special savings account you open specifically to fund your goal.
Pay yourself first
When you get paid, fund your savings account set up for your goal purchase first. After you’ve put this money aside, go ahead and pay some bills and buy yourself that latte if you really want to, although you may have to get by with a small rather than an extra large.
Saving up instead of piling on more credit card debt may be a much less costly way (by avoiding credit card interest) to enjoy the things you want, even if it means you’ll have to wait a bit.
Keeping your credit in tip top shape may actually help save you money in some cases. With that in mind, how do you know if it’s a good idea to open a new credit card or to close some credit card accounts? Let’s find out!
Opening Credit Card Accounts
Opening a new credit card isn’t necessarily detrimental to your credit score in the long term, although there may be some potential negatives in the short term. As you might expect, opening a new credit card account will place a new inquiry on your credit report, which could cause a drop in your credit score. Any negative effect due to the inquiry is often temporary, but the long-term effect depends on how you use the account after that (not making minimum payments, carrying a high balance, etc.).
Opening a new credit card account can affect your credit rating in two other ways. The average age of your credit accounts can be lowered since you’ve added a credit account that’s brand new (i.e., the older the account, the better it is for your score). On the plus side, opening a new credit card account can reduce your credit utilization. For example, if you had $5000 in available credit with $2500 in credit card balances, your credit utilization is 50%. Adding another card with $2500 in available credit with the same balance total of $2500 drops your credit utilization to 33%. A lower credit utilization can help your score.
Closing Credit Card Accounts
Closing a credit card account can also affect your credit score, largely due to some of the same considerations for opening new credit card accounts. Generally speaking, closing a credit card account likely won’t help boost your credit score, and doing so could possibly lower your credit score for the same reasons above (lowering the average age of your accounts, increasing your credit utilization, etc.).
First, the positive reasons to close the account: This might be obvious, but closing a credit card account will prevent you from using it. If discipline has been a challenge, instead of closing the account, you might consider simply cutting up the card or placing it in a lockbox.
Second, the negative reasons to close the account: Closing a credit card account when you have outstanding balances on other credit card accounts will raise your credit utilization. A higher credit utilization can cause your credit rating to fall. You’ll also want to consider the average age of all of your accounts, which can play a big role in your credit score. A longer history is better. Closing a credit account that was established long ago can impact your credit score negatively by lowering your average account age.
Fair Isaac, the company responsible for assigning FICO scores, recommends not closing credit card accounts if your goal is to raise or preserve your credit score.[i]
Would opening or closing a bank account have any effect on my score?\ Closing a bank account has no effect on your credit rating and normally doesn’t appear on your credit report at all. When you open a bank account, however, your bank may perform a credit inquiry, particularly if you apply for overdraft protection. A hard inquiry (such as an overdraft protection application) can cause a temporary drop in your credit score. Soft inquiries – which are also common for banks – will appear on your credit report but do not affect your credit rating. Banks may also check your report from ChexSystems[ii], a company that reports on consumer bank accounts, including overdraft history and any unresolved balances on closed accounts.[iii]
Ideally, you’ve been putting away money in your IRA, 401k, or other savings accounts. But are you overlooking ways to save money now so you can free up more for your financial strategy or help build your cash stash for a rainy day?
1. Pay Yourself First.
If you’re making contributions to your 401k plan at work, you’re already paying yourself first. But you can also apply the same principle to saving. (If you open a separate account just for this, it’s easier to do.) If you prefer, you can accomplish the same thing on paper by keeping a ledger. Just be aware that paper makes it easier to cheat (yourself). With a separate account, you can schedule an automatic transfer to make the process painless and fuhgettaboutit.
Here’s how it works. Whenever you get paid, transfer a fixed dollar amount into your special account – before you do anything else. If you don’t pay yourself first, you might guess what will happen. (Be honest.) If you’re like most people, you’ll probably spend it, and if you’re like most people, you might not really know where it went. It’s just gone, like magic.
Paying yourself first helps to avoid the “disappearing money” trick. Hang in there! After a while, as the money starts adding up, you’ll impress yourself with your savings prowess.
2. Got A Bonus From Work? Great! Keep it.
What do you think most people are tempted to do if they get a bonus or a raise? What are YOU most tempted to do if you get a bonus or a raise? Probably spend it. Why? It’s easy to think of 100 things you could use that extra cash for right now. Home repairs or upgrades, a night out on the town, that new handbag you’ve been coveting for months… Maybe your bonus is enough for you to consider trading in your car for a nicer one, or getting that new addition to your house.
Receiving an unexpected windfall is fun. It’s exciting! But here is where some caution is wise. Pause for a moment. If you had everything you needed on Friday and then get a raise on Monday, you’ll still have everything you need, right? Nothing has changed but the calendar. If you hadn’t gotten that bonus, would your life and your current financial strategy still be the same as it was last week? Consider putting (most of) that extra money away for later, and using some of it for fun!
3. Pay Down That Debt.
By now you’ve probably heard a financial guru or two talking about “good” debt and “bad” debt. Debt IS debt, but some types of debt really are worse than others.
Credit cards and any high-interest loans are the first priority when retiring debt – so that you can retire too, someday. Do you really know how much you’re paying in interest each month? Go ahead and look. I’ll wait… Once you know this number, you can’t “unknow” it. But take heart! Use this as a powerful incentive to pay those balances off as fast as you can.
The cost of credit isn’t just the interest. That part is spelled out in black and white on your credit card statement (which you just looked at, right)? The other costs of credit are less obvious. Did you know your credit score affects your insurance rates? Keeping those cards maxed out can cost more than just the interest charges.
Every month you chip away at the balances, you’ll owe less and pay less in interest. (You’ll feel better, too.) And you know what to do with the leftover money since you knocked out that debt. Hint: Save it.
But keep this in mind – life is about balance. It’s okay to treat yourself once in awhile. Just make sure to pay yourself first now, so you can treat yourself later in retirement.
But there’s no need to panic over your life insurance medical exam (yes, you’re probably going to have one). I’ve got some steps you can take before the “big day” to help prevent readings which may skew your test results or create unnecessary confusion.
One important thing to keep in mind is that the exam’s purpose isn’t to pass or fail you based on your health. Your insurer just needs to understand the big picture so they can assign an accurate rating. Oftentimes, the news can be better than expected, and generally good health is rewarded with a lower rate. Alternatively, the exam might uncover something that needs attention, like high cholesterol. That might be something good to know so you can make necessary lifestyle changes.
Think of your exam as a big-picture view. Your insurer will measure several key aspects of your health. These areas help determine your life insurance class, which is simply a group of people with similar overall health characteristics.
Your insurer will most likely look at:
Tests can indicate glucose levels, blood pressure levels, and the presence of nicotine or other substances. Body Mass Index (BMI) – a measurement of overall fitness in regard to weight – may also be measured as part of your life insurance exam.
So let’s find out what you can do to prepare for your exam!
The most obvious cause that could affect your results is medications you’ve taken recently. These will probably show up in your blood tests. Bring a list of any prescription medications you’re taking so your insurer can match those to the blood analysis.
Over the counter meds can interfere with test results and create inaccurate readings too, so it might be best to avoid them for 24 hours prior to your medical exam if possible. Caffeine can cause spikes in blood pressure.¹ Limit your caffeine intake or avoid it altogether, if possible, for 48 hours prior to your exam. Smoking can elevate blood pressure as well.²
Alcohol has a similar effect on blood pressure.³ Try to avoid alcohol for 48 hours prior to taking your life insurance medical exam. Some types of exercise can also spike blood pressure readings temporarily.⁴ If you can, avoid strenuous exercise for 24 hours before your medical exam.
Some types of foods can create false readings or temporarily raise cholesterol levels.⁵ It’s best to avoid eating for 12 hours prior to your exam, giving your body time to clear temporary effects. Scheduling your exam for the morning makes this easier.
Stress can affect blood pressure readings.⁶ (Surprise, surprise.) Try to schedule your life insurance medical exam for a time when you’ll be less stressed. After work might not be the best time, but maybe after a good night’s rest would be better.
Have any further questions on how you can prepare for your exam? I’m here to help!
¹ Sheps, Dr. Sheldon G. “Caffeine: How does it affect blood pressure?” Mayo Clinic, 10.19.17, https://mayocl.in/2DB4pSt.
² “Smoking, High Blood Pressure and Your Health.” American Heart Association, 1.10.2018, https://bit.ly/2pSR2HE.
³ “Short-term Negative Effects of Alcohol Consumption.” BACtrack, 2018, https://bit.ly/2E5iOFX.
⁴ Barlowe, Barrett. “Does Exercise Raise Blood Pressure?” Livestrong, 8.14.2017, https://bit.ly/2GGKd6K.
⁵ Hetzler, Lynn. “What Not to Eat Before Cholesterol Check.” Livestrong, 8.14.2017, https://bit.ly/2J01mq9.
⁶ “Managing Stress to Control High Blood Pressure.” American Heart Association, 1.29.2018, https://bit.ly/2Ghc11T.