Category Archives: Preparation

To Spend or Not to Spend? Is that Really the Question?

By now, most of the people who are going to get the $1,200 COVID-19 stimulus check, and who had direct deposit, have received it already. And those waiting on the paper check should get theirs in coming weeks.

So the question I’ve seen from a lot of people on social media is what they should do with their check. It’s been interesting, but not completely surprising to hear how some people are talking about spending their money; from taking a vacation to throwing themselves a huge party, or going out on the town, once the social distancing orders are lifted.

But there are many people where that question never crossed their minds. The thought of using that money for anything other than life’s necessities, isn’t a luxury for them. They are past-due on their rent or mortgage; have a car payment coming up; are dreading their next utility bill, and just trying to keep food on the table for their kids. 

I’m one of the lucky ones because I’m fortunate enough to still have my job, with a monthly paycheck that covers all of my bills. So I put my check into my savings account to continue solidifying my emergency funds.  I realize there are many people who can’t do that. But then there are others who won’t do that. 

I recently read a Facebook post from a woman who asked if she should use the money to pay off one of her credit cards, or if she should save the money. She went on to give additional information including the fact that she did not already have a savings account, her hours at work had recently been cut, and her boss said they would re-evaluate the future in a couple of months. After reading the additional information, I was honestly dumbfounded as to why she even needed to ask the question about whether or not she should save the money. I mean, why on earth would you spend money (even to pay off a credit card) when you’re already working fewer hours, and you’ve been put on notice that things might change again — loss of even more hours or possibly the job itself?

I do understand someone’s desire to pay have debt. But a little common sense should also come in to play. First, she admitted that she had no savings, then so she has nothing to fall back on in case of an emergency. That’s never a good place to be in. It’s actually one of the reasons many people continue to have rotating debt — something minor comes up (say a flat tire) but the person has no emergency funds, so they use a credit card; oftentimes paying hundreds of dollars more than what the item cost by the time they pay it off. If they had put money aside, they could have purchased the tires with cash.

Second, she had already experienced a cut in numbers of hours at work; which means she’s making less money now than she was a few months ago. How can anyone even be contemplating what to do with their money when they see the economic impact of COVID-19 and the Stay at Home orders across the country. And in these uncertain times, pay cuts aren’t just happening to hourly employees. My former workplace (I’ve been gone for over 10 years) had an across the board pay cut to all salaried employees making over a certain amount. Had I still been working there, I would have fallen into that cut off and therefore, have experienced a 5-10% pay cut. Even if the cuts are temporary, they still impact you in the moment, and for however long they last. I’ve often said that it doesn’t matter how much money you make, if you’re living right up to the amount of your paycheck (or over it), then even a small change can quickly turn into something worse .

And third, she’d also already noted that her company had indicated other actions may be taken at a later time. The nature of those actions, I’m sure, might include another pay cut, or layoffs, as we’re seeing around the country. That should have been enough for anyone to heed the yellow flag and proceed with caution. What good is it to pay off a credit card, in lieu of saving money, only to lose your job, and end up having to run your card back up again to pay bills, with no income. Few people realize that even payouts for unemployment benefits are far below what someone’s monthly income would normally have been.

So what’s this all about? 

In the U.S. most stimulus plans are designed to get money into citizens’ hands, so that they can in turn go spend and help jump start the economy. In this case, the economy was doing fine, until the U.S. found itself a little behind in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The US went from barely a dozen cases at the end of February to several hundreds of thousands of cases just four weeks later. Somewhere in the middle of all of that, sporting events stopped, music tours were rescheduled, festivals and business conferences cancelled; students were sent home for online learning, “non-essential” businesses were closed, people stopped flying, and social distancing prevented even small coffee shops, restaurants, and boutique retail from remaining open. As of mid-April, there are almost 750,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the U.S., and over 22 million Americans have filed for unemployment.

This is not normal. And we may not see normal for many months to come; if ever. So we need to stop treating our finances as if we have any guarantees for what happens next. Not that we ever did.

So, to spend or not to spend?

Given the uncertainty of our future life without a vaccine for this virus happening before 2021 — with or without lifted stay at home orders — it doesn’t seem plausible that the economy and American life, in general, will return to the pre-Coronavirus, pre-March time period. So any level of careless spending, even spending for something that might otherwise seem sensible (i.e. paying off credit card debt) to me seems to be a little risky in this environment.

There are people waiting for their unemployment check today who may have had a very different view of those benefits when they had a job and never thought they would need it. Small business owners may never be able to reopen their businesses. Live events may be sidelined for another year. And some entrepreneurs and contract workers are visiting their local food banks for the first in their lives.

It’s our new normal. Even if it is temporary. And adjusting your life to your new normal will require some work, planning, and discipline. But it can be accomplished.

If you’re one of the fortunate ones who still has a paycheck, then why not try to accomplish both things — continue paying off your credit card, while at the same time, open up a savings account and start putting money away. I would go one step further. Look at your spending habits and see if there are other ways you might be able to save money. Ask yourself, are there things you can give up for a few months — cable television, movie and/or music streaming services, Amazon prime, etc.? Can you put off replacing that sofa, do you really need those new shoes, are you still ordering out more than you’re cooking in? 

And what about your grocery bill? Are you utilizing coupons and reward programs, making a shopping list in advance, and resisting those impulse purchase buys that can raise your grocery bill by 5, 10, 15 or more dollars that you weren’t expecting to spend?

There are lots of ways and places where most of us can save money, if we try. If you haven’t taken this area of your life seriously in the past, now might be a good time to create new habits to get through what might be ahead now, or even what could happen later, regardless of a virus.

 

Preparation is not a Sign of Fear. It’s a Sign of Readiness

As I slathered more lotion on my hands, having lost track of just how many times I’ve washed them, I took stock of what was left of my soap and lotion, surprised by just how much I’d gone through over the past four weeks. 

I can’t believe just how many times I’ve lathered on the soap, smoothed on the hand lotion, and the number of candles I’ve lit in just one month’s time; since the start of the Safer at Home mandate where I live. When you’ve spent most of your waking hours away from home five days a week, most of your hand washing takes place at work or occasionally a restaurant. But thank goodness I took advantage of my favorite store’s semi-annual sale back in January, and had already stocked up on some of my favorite scents. Back in December I received several candles as gifts, and have been burning through them during this extended time at home.

With the heighten awareness — perhaps even fear — of not infecting myself with an uber contagious and nasty virus while doing anything from a quick run to the grocery store (if I remove my gloves before I open the car door to avoid cross-contamination, then what about having to touch the grocery bags to put them in the car? But wait, now the virus may have transferred on to my car seats; and I still have to get the bags out of the car and into the house!); to a trip the mailbox (use a paper towel to open the mailbox; grab the mail; toss it on the floor by the door; throw away paper towel, wait a full 24-hours before opening mail; dump contents onto the chair;  immediately discard the envelopes and wash hands. Go through the actual contents of the mail. Wash hands again “just in case!”). 

person-washing-his-hand-545014I’ve always been a pretty good hand washer. One need only to be in a public restroom, at work and otherwise, to soon learn that not everyone apparently takes personal hygiene as personal as you do. So the old grab a paper towel to use on the door handle exiting the restroom is nothing new for me. What IS new for me is noting how many times I touch my face after touching something else that was handled by someone else. Before the COVID-19 “quarantine” as we like to call it, that was everything from opening the door to enter and exit my classrooms, working on the shared computers in each classroom, using the copier in the faculty room; picking up an ink pen to sign paperwork in the Chair’s office, and even opening or discarding my mail that had traveled from wherever it came, to the campus post office, to the on-campus postal carrier, to the Department office, into the hands of the student worker or secretary who placed it into my mailbox.

Isn’t it weird how we never really thought about some of the things like that; even during cold and flu season?

We were on spring break when the “stop everything and re-do all your curriculum to transition from the brick and mortar classroom, to an online community,” directive came down from our university president. The wording was much softer than that, but it nonetheless, came with a firm deadline. The students would receive an extra week of spring break; while faculty would have that week to completely shift everything, including projects and deadlines, and what would have been hands on student-to-student assignments, from the on-the-ground school system to remote access learning.

In the middle of all that, one of the first things I thought about was the “What Ifs?” My “what ifs” were not built on fear, but rather learned from the history of what happens when people are prepared versus when people are not prepared when emergencies happen.

Watch for the signs!

photo-of-road-signage-2994331Before there was NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) or the Weather Channel, people relied on warning signs from nature (wildlife, plants, and the ocean), to prepare for what might be coming weeks or even months later (a bad winter, a dry spring, etc.). Except for perhaps many farmers, most of us wait to be told what to do.

Twice a year, when we change our clocks for Daylight Savings Time, there are a number of public service announcements reminding people to change the batteries in our home smoke detectors. Why? Because most people will forget or ignore the need. And the time to find out that the batteries are dead is not in the middle of a fire, when they don’t go off while you and your family are sleeping.

During our earlier than usual spring break, I had time to watch more television than normal. As I did, I started not just hearing about, but seeing images from other countries, of what this coronavirus was doing; people it was impacting; the way it was spreading, and some of the drastic ways some countries were trying to deal with it. And I thought, “what if that happens over here? What if the virus starts to spread in certain parts of the country at such an alarming rate like what I was seeing?”

So when I got the university email, I thought, what is it that the school systems know that we’re not hearing yet? It was a bold and costly move for most colleges to switch to online learning; supported by the purchase of licenses and software the schools had not been prepared to financially invest in. And what did those western state Governors see that we hadn’t yet; knowing that their actions would result in a huge economic hit to their state?

Turns out their quick response may have saved hundreds or even thousands of lives.

There wasn’t an answer. And certainly nothing I could do about whether or not the U.S. would experience the fate of Asia, and at that time, a growing part of Europe. But reading the signs, I decided to take inventory of what was in my house (pantry, cabinets, refrigerator) and started shopping for necessities. Having just gotten over a really bad cold less than two weeks earlier, my first thought was buying cleaning and sanitizing  items. I originally purchased a large can of Lysol and disinfecting wipes to use in my office and classrooms, even before spring break. But once the dynamics started to change, I knew there were additional items I needed to make sure I had. And so I shopped! Bleach, Clorox wipes, non-perishable pantry and freezer items; fresh produce, and yes, toilet paper! While at an already scheduled doctor’s appointment, I asked my doctor to write my medicine refill for 90-days instead of the 30.

In other words. I started preparing. Days before the first wave of panic buying, and over a week before the president declared a National Emergency, I had already stocked up on the items I predicted I would need in an emergency that had an undetermined length of stay. Unlike a blizzard that passes in hours or a hurricane that moves on a day or two later, we had (and still have) no idea how long and to what extent this COVID-19 would impact us. And in a case like that, I would rather over-prepare and not need, than to under prepare and not have something I need.

To be clear, stocking up to prepare for an emergency is not the same thing as hoarding items you neither need, nor plan to use (especially evil hoarders whose entire intent from the beginning is to resale for profit). Stocking your house of the essentials needed is smart, and what everyone should do regardless of whether there’s a severe winter storm or a superbug headed your way. 

As I watched and listened to some people on social media a week and two later, complaining about not being able to find basic items like eggs, meat, and of course, toilet paper, some of their posts were angry rants about how inconsiderate other people were that they couldn’t get what they wanted/needed now. And I thought, yes, there were definitely people over buying, and perhaps a number of hoarders as well. But the other truth of the matter is that we all had access to the same information; the same sighs (some would say warning bells) were visible and audibly to everyone. Yet, some waited. Some dismissed it. While others chose to heed it.

I definitely understand that not everyone has the luxury of being able to shop early (ahead of a paycheck) or shop for extras (even after a pay day). I have been one of those people more than once; including in the midst of the last recession 10+ years ago. They are the ones who have every right to feel frustrated.

But for many others, their unwillingness to act (like a coastal shop owner refusing to board up their business, in spite of the hurricane warnings that come days in advance of making landfall), they need to ask themselves how might they do things differently the next time. Because by all scientific accounts, there will be a next time; perhaps a lot sooner than any of us would like.

How prepared will you be?

How the Last Recession Prepared Me for the One that’s Coming

It’s been a while since I’ve had the time to check in. To say that this Spring has been among the strangest, and one of the most unexpected time in our lives, would be an understatement.

It’s been about eight years since I started this blog; just a few years after being forced to adjust my life to a new normal. Like so many people who are dealing with that today, the recession of 12 years sent the economy tanking, the housing market tumbling, small businesses closing, and corporations downsizing. Massive layoffs, unemployment, company bankruptcies, house foreclosures, and lots of uncertainty. And even as we slowly came out of it, thousands of people remained underemployed for years after; having to learn how to live with their new career and smaller salaries.

Millennials graduated into a shaky economy, where they struggled to find jobs, or accepted ones far less than the salary they expected their college degrees to help secure. Some of their Baby Boomer parents never found new employment (ageism), while many Generation Xers had to transition into positions far less than their expertise, prior experience, and career positions had previously demanded. We were all in this together; trying to figure things out, move forward, stabilize the economy, and get back to as close to normal as possible. 

And we did. We succeeded.

It was painful, and a lot of what was, would never be again. But the economy came back. Jobs came back. New small businesses emerged. Entrepreneurship grew. We survived.

But here we are again. This time dealing with something much bigger than the loss of a job or home. We’re being thrust into a new normal where we must deal with that and the ever increasing, globally impacted, loss of life in this pandemic they call COVID-19.

There is an old saying that Handsight’s 20/20. But I think Foresight can be as well; especially when you start to see familiar signs; warning bells.

One of the things my four years in the last recession taught me was the importance of planning and preparation.

Planning is creating a type of road map that outlines what you will do in an emergency, or when you see a catastrophe (natural or financial) heading your way. It’s what children learn in school from the fire department when they ask every to create a fire escape plan at home. In Public Relations, we call them crisis management plans which outlines what a company or organization should do in the event of a crisis. If they follow the plan, it usually helps them get through the crisis without stumbling and causing more harm.

Preparation is putting into action your plan, and collecting the resources needed. If the forecast is for a foot of snow in a place that barely receives an inch, then ask yourself, what do you need to do if you end up being “snowed in,” schools out, and you know you will be unable to get to work due to road conditions? A prepared person would probably grab the folders and files they need from their office so they can work from home; encourage their kids to bring their books home from school that day; and by all means, stop at the grocery store to pick up any items they have on the monthly shopping list, that they weren’t planning to do for another week. At home, someone preparing for a major snow storm might also take the time to check the batteries in their flashlights, pull out their candles or secondary light sources, and make sure all of the important devices are fully charged.

It’s too late to check for batteries once your power goes out. Or to realize your pantry is mostly empty, after the roads have closed. And yes, if you only have one pack of toilet paper in a house of four people, you should probably be mindful to pick up another one “just in case.”

About 10 million people applied for unemployment benefits, in the wake of the Coronavirus related layoffs, business closings, cancelled public events, and a volatile stock market. While a number of companies have instituted pay cuts to keep their employees. Rent, mortgages, groceries, medicines, utilities, and other bills are coming due, with many people lacking the funds to cover them.

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According to Bankrate’s Financial Security Index, nearly three in 10 (28 percent) U.S. adults have no emergency savings. One in four have a rainy day fund, but not enough money to cover three months’ worth of living expenses.

Sadly, there are a lot of Americans, literally working paycheck to paycheck, with no room in the month for emergencies or unexpected hits to their finances. This is a particularly difficult time for millions of people. But for many others; especially those who have always had a steady income, your habits, your lifestyle, and planning, or lack of planning, does still matter. What you have today doesn’t guarantee your tomorrow.

I’ve watched an industry I thought was invincible, screech to a grinding halt. And related companies institute pay cuts across the company. 

So what can you do now if you’re one of the people whose rainy day funds are not sufficient to cover you in the event you’re next to lose your job?

  • Stop spending frivolously.
  • Start saving immediately.
  • If you’re not already a coupon user, start shopping with them now.
  • Utilize rewards programs for groceries and gas to get extra savings.
  • If you don’t need it, don’t buy it!
  • Even as you desire to support local restaurants, limit how often you’re eating out.
  • Go through your bank statements searching for automatic withdraws, and stop the ones you don’t need/use. If your gym is closed right now, are they still charging you a monthly fee?
  • Get rid of duplicate services (do you really need both Hulu and Amazon movies; Spotify and Apple Music?). 

If you do not have a personal financial crisis plan, consider developing one now.

If the last recession taught us anything, it’s that what may have taken only months to get in to, took the majority of people and various industries years to climb back out. How are you preparing yourself now for the long-term?

 

 

Time to Keep What’s Worth Saving?

“Bam. Bam. Bam!” That’s the sound of the police officer banging on my door. Our apartments didn’t have doorbells, so knocking, or in this case, banging, was the only way to announce oneself.

The sound of urgency in the banging startled me awake; especially since I didn’t know at the time it was a police officer at my door. It was the middle of the night and I’d only lived in that complex for a few months. As is my way, I spoke through the door, trying to verify who was there and why. Once I learned it was law enforcement, I opened the door to a female officer who was demanding that I exit the apartment right away. There was a car on fire right in front of my building, and they needed us to evacuate in case the fire got out of control and jumped to the building.

The officer wanted me to vacate immediately, but I refused to leave without going back into my bedroom to grab my purse and something to cover up with, and put on some shoes.

The car fire ended up being contained and we were allowed back into our apartments about an hour later.

As a child, I’d been through several real emergencies and only drills, especially when we  lived in Kansas. Whenever there was a tornado warning while we were home, we went down into our basement. I never had to worry about anything because my mom had taken care of everything. We had blankets, flashlights, candles and matches; snacks and water already in place. All we had to do was get downstairs, and then we’d listen to the transistor radio and wait for the all clear. Our basement was also the game room, so there were couches and chairs, and stuff to do as we waited it out.

As an adult, there have been plenty of potential emergencies — severe storms, flooding, ice storms. And watching things unfold on television, like the wildfires out west, and hurricanes in the south, made me start thinking, what if I only had moments to prepare to evacuate my home, what would I have the time to gather and what would be worth saving?

We don’t like to think about things like that; natural disasters or man-made catastrophes. But there’s a reason they call them “emergencies!” We don’t expect them or invite them, but you never know when something may happen. So when it does…how prepared are you for it?

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We have watched this play out in real time in the news. A forest fire gets out of control destroying everything in its path,. Mudslides, flash flooding, hurricanes heading straight for your community.

Or maybe it’s an unexpected doorbell ring from the police after a 911 phone call from a (possibly) mentally disturbed man, claiming to have sat on a bomb in his house.

That happened recently in a small community outside my town. The neighborhood was evacuated with no notice. Parents barely having the time to grab their children and leave. Fortunately, it was a false alarm, but what if it wasn’t. What if after you vacated, the block really did blow up, and everything in your home with it? 

So if you had only five minutes to load your car before having to escape out of town, aside from family members and pets, what would you put inside?

What if you only had 60 seconds? What would you grab?

Most people would panic, because most people don’t have a plan in place in case something happens. They are trying to make that decision at the time of the emergency, instead of being prepared for that decision in advance. Sadly, most of us want to live with the “what are the chances that will ever happen to me” syndrome. So when it happens to them, they exit the home with the clothes on their backs and little else.

I’m not suggesting in any way that anyone should risk their lives or those of their family going back into a home when flood waters at at the steps, a wildfire is in the backyard, or theirs the possibility of a bomb going off. What I am suggesting is this. Make a plan. Share that plan with your family. Be prepared to follow it.

Recently, part of New York City had a power outage that last over five hours. I watched as one family who was visiting the city was being interviewed. They were in good spirits, however, they had no way to reach two of their kids who were off touring apart from the rest of the family. Why? Because ever single family member left the hotel without taking a phone charger with them, and then from a full day’s use, had allowed their batteries to die! Certainly, as they left for the day, no one could have predicted the city would experience a blackout. But then, why would you plan a full day of touring, and not plan for how you would power your devices, even IF there wasn’t an emergency.

Firemen speaking at schools often encourage kids to go home and ask their parents to not only put together an escape plan for the family, in the event of a house fire, but to also practice it. I know one mother who discussed with her daughter about the plan, but never practiced it with her. I asked once why they had not physically gone through the steps of what to do when exiting the home. She really didn’t have an answer, though I chalked it up to being lazy, not wanting to be inconvenienced, and again, the old, “this is’t never going to happen to us,” mindset. But at least they had a plan, because many families do not.

So what can you stop and think about doing right now to prepare for that possible knock on the door or phone call? Make a list. Create a plan. Communicate with your family. If you live alone, decide which neighbor or friend you’re going to reach out to so they know what’s going on.

Here are a few other things.

  • Make a copy of important papers and documents and keep them somewhere safe, like a fireproof safe, or a safety deposit box away from your home. You can also scan the documents and email a copy to yourself that way if your computer gets destroyed, you can access them from any other computer.
  • I recommend also scanning your sentimental photos (family events like weddings, graduations, baby pictures). There are numerous cloud based services you can back your photos up to as well. The originals may get destroyed but at least you’ll have a saved copy. 
  • Always keep your car keys and purse or wallet somewhere you can find and grab quickly.
  • Keep cash at the ready. Remember, you can’t get to the ATM if the town loses electricity.
  • Know where your phone chargers are located.
  • Decide in advance what items you would pack if you have more time — like 5-10 minutes versus seconds to vacate. If you have a day or more notice, like an incoming hurricane, go ahead and pack the bags and leave by the door. Wouldn’t you’d rather spend time unpacking suitcases you didn’t need to flee with than fleeing your home without any extra clothes or shoes?
  • Keep an emergency bag of non-perishables, water, first-aid, and other emergency items somewhere you can grab on the way out the door. 
  • Watch the news and keep up with the weather report. Don’t wait until the last minute to pack your car if you’re leaving.
  • Keep gas in your car. Never park it in garage or driveway near empty.
  • Decide in advance how and where all family members will meet up or check in with each other in the event of an emergency.

No one wants to think that something tragic might happen to them. But every month, there’s some type of disaster or emergency somewhere, with news footage of someone talking about how they didn’t think this or that was going to happen. We can’t predict or in some cases can’t avoid many of the emergencies that might happen to us. But we can at least try to be prepared for them, if they do.

Being Prepared for the Aftershocks

Yesterday, on Independence Day, Southern California experienced a 6.4 magnitude earthquake. The USGS describes an Intensity 6 as being “Strong.” The epicenter of the quake was in Ridgecrest, CA, a small city described as a “desert town.” Fortunately, as of this writing there’s been no reported deaths, and the destructive damage was relatively low. Several people attribute that to the strengthening of the building codes in California, understanding that living there means being prepared for when, not if there will be another earthquake.

One of the things I also heard many emergency personnel and members of the media refer to was a reminder to everyone about the importance of having their “earthquake preparedness packs,” since there is an expectation of potential strong aftershocks. The contents of the earthquake packs aren’t that different from a general survival kit ready for any emergency — tornadoes, hurricanes, city-wide power outage, or even an economic downturn. It’s better to be adequately prepared for any kind of emergency, even if you never end up having one, than to not have anything, and then experience an emergency and not have the basic means to survive.

That reminder got me thinking about a post I’d made several years ago talking about the theme of Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, and why everyone should have personal water buckets.

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Your water buckets are those things you use to catch the “rain” of blessings that you’ll need to sustain you, not for today, but be at the ready in the future. While you can’t know every possible scenario that could happen in your life, you can have a plan to prepare yourself for how to deal with most circumstances as they come.

Maybe it’s learning how to turn your hobby into an income stream for your family, or starting a second business for your retirement. Perhaps as a single adult, you take in a roommate so that you can put the extra funds away. Water buckets are basically ways to save money and resources today so that you have them to use later when you might unexpectedly need them.

If you’ve been through a divorce, and suddenly found yourself dealing with the shock of returning to just one income — perhaps your spouse carried you on their insurance, and now you’re having to pay for your own, along with the mortgage, and that new car that at the time seemed like a good idea — then you understand the concept of having the benefit of having something in those buckets.

Maybe you’re single, just lost your job, and now there’s no second income to fall back on; no one else to help pay those bills or provide for the health benefits that you just lost. 

Perhaps you still have your job, but with the cost of everything increasing, you’re just barely making enough to cover your monthly expenses. But then the brakes go out on your car — out of warranty, of course.

If any of these scenarios sound familiar in your life or someone you know, then you understand that life is full of surprises and unplanned stops in the middle of places you never imagined yourself ending up. And while we can’t control some of the circumstances that may happen to us, we can control how well prepared we are to take on those events when they happen.

Being prepared for life’s unexpected turns means being willing to create a plan now, so that you are where you need to be, have what you need to have, or are on your way to accomplishing steps to help you when a crisis enters your life.

So when it’s raining outside, the grass looks green, the flowers are colorful, and all the trees are thick with foliage, don’t worry about your neighbors or friends looking at you strangely because you’ve placed your water buckets outside the house to fill them up. Maybe they haven’t checked the forecast to know that there’s a drought coming. Be thankful that you’re going to be ready when it hits.

Why Just Setting Goals Isn’t Enough

So you’re putting together a plan for 2019? You’ve outlined some goals you’d like to accomplish. Let’s talk about why just setting goals isn’t enough.

Creating goals is actually the easy part. Reaching them is much harder! Even if we’re not one to make a list of resolutions, or journal a year’s worth of goals, most people have things they strive to do better; a level of success they want to attain; bad habits they vow to break, or good ones they want to make. And many people re-evaluate where they are with all of that at least once or twice a year.

No matter how you set your goals, they are little more than mere dreams if you don’t provide ways in which you plan to accomplish them; outline the things you need to do to make them happen. Which is one of the reasons why goals should be specific. 

I share this idea a lot with my students. I tell them, if their goal is to graduate college, and they do little else other than state those goals, or even write them down, then they’re not likely going to accomplish them without many hurdles. Why? Because if all we do is to state what we want to do, and don’t outline a plan, or create strategies on how we’re going to get it, then one day we wake up from that dream, still struggling to reached that goal.

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For instance, it’s not enough for students to say, when asked, that they want to graduate from college. They need to go a step further and outline what strategies they plan to put in place to help make that goal a reality. They must know which courses in their major they need to register for. They must strategize their study habits, class attendance, and know what they need to do to have success on their assignments so that they receive passing grades in each class.

If a woman lists among her goals that she’d like to run a marathon, but doesn’t outline a running plan; doesn’t research and follow an eating plan; doesn’t make a point of purchasing the right kind of running shoes to train in, she will likely not succeed with that goal. Another year will pass and she’ll simply tell herself that she wasn’t able to do it, when in reality it wasn’t that she couldn’t do to, but that she didn’t make a plan to do it!

What is the saying? “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

So how do you avoid letting time pass you by — again — staring at the same old list of goals you didn’t reach — again?

First, write your goals down. Be detailed with them. Don’t say you want to lose weight in 2019. Because if you only lose one pound, then you technically accomplished your goal to lose weight. Say instead how much weight you plan to lose. But keep your goals realistic.

Second, create strategies for each goal. Again, if your goal is to lose weight, then one strategy might be to find a diet plan you like and start following it. Another strategy for that same goal might be to start exercising. You might have a strategy to join a gym, or hire a personal trainer, or purchase home gym equipment.

And third, it’s not enough to write your goals down, or create strategies for them. You need to also establish a timeline.

Let’s go back to the graduation goal. Most students don’t come in as freshmen and say “I want to take at least 10 years to complete my undergraduate degree.” The majority of them start off with the four-year plan in mind. If you say your goal is simply to graduate college, and it takes you 20 years to do so, then, again, technically you’ve accomplished your goal. But perhaps not in the time period that was part of the original plan. If your goal, instead, is to graduate college in four years, then your strategies would be built around what it takes to reach that goal within your timeline. So you would set the specific strategies based upon when you want to accomplish it. Your strategies might involve taking the right courses, attending class, keeping up with the assignments, studying for tests, and anything else that’s involved with successfully passing each class and moving on to the next level each year so that you are finished within your four year plan.

So if you want to run a marathon, that’s great! Write down when? Determine where? Ask yourself is what you’re wanting to do realistic? If you’ve never run before, trying to train for a marathon that’s four weeks away would be seen by most as unrealistic. Whereas starting to train in January for an October race might be a more realistic goal. With a timeline in place, your strategies should be designed to support getting you to that goal.

But even strategies need a help. They require tactics, your specific “to-do” list, to help keep you on track.

Seven Things to Do Now to Save for the Holidays Next Year

According to the National Retail Federation, the average American will spend approximately $700 on Christmas gifts and goodies this year. For some people, maybe that doesn’t seem like a lot of money. But these days, I don’t have that kind of extra money to spend in one month. And I prefer not adding to my debt just to add to someone else’s material possessions.

My parents had to buy for six children plus each other. But I don’t remember so many “other people” expecting something simply because they happen to be in your life. I remember my mom putting something in a card for the mailman, and my dad would always get a bottle of whiskey or some other liquor for the guys who picked up trash. But even with all that, I can’t imagine they spent anywhere near $700! Of course those were different times. It seems now, we’re expected to give something to our kids’ teachers, coaches, babysitters, and our own co-workers, neighbors, hair stylist or barber; not to mention friends, and family members.

I’m single. I don’t have to buy for kids, and all but one of my 19 nieces and nephews are young adults; some starting families of their own. We live in six different states so I don’t feel the pressure to try to buy something for everyone. But when you add buying food for the parties, gas for traveling; gifts, wrappings, and decorations, the spending can still creep up on you, especially if you have a growing list of friends, business associates, coworkers, and church community groups.

So how do you make and keep a budget and still find ways to have fun and enjoy being with friends and family over the holidays? Planning!

 “Failing to plan is planning to fail!” 

So here are seven things you can do to save for the holidays now, and plan for the holidays next year!

1.  Join a Rewards Program. Better Yet, Join Several of Them!

I know some people don’t like reward programs. I’ve never really understood why. Maybe they think the business is tracking them. Newsflash. If you’re online. If you have an email, or are on social media. If you have a cell phone. You are being tracked. Joining reward programs now gives you coupons later. Not only do many businesses give free treats, discounts, savings on gas, or money to spend for things like your anniversary date and birthdays, but many have special higher discounts and giveaways during Christmastime. silver ornament

I got this ornament from World Market this year, just for being a rewards member. No purchase necessary! 

2.  Buy Hostess, Teacher, and Coaches Gifts Throughout the Year.

Nothing says you have to wait until Black Friday to start shopping for Christmas. When you see sales or drastic discounts on items that would make a good gift, go ahead and buy it — in March; in July; in whatever month you discover it. The person receiving the first isn’t going to ask if you got it at the Labor Day sale! Spend time during the year also looking for store closing sales. With the right timing, you can find items for as much as 75-90 percent off!

3.  Host an Ornament and Decorations Exchange Party.

This one can be fun. You know how every few years you decide your tree looks boring or you want to change up the way you’ve been decorating the house over the years? Well, have some friends over with the directive for them to go through their Christmas boxes and collect the ornaments, wreaths, decorations — anything they no longer use year-to-year. Everyone brings the items they’re interested in getting rid of, and spreads them out across the table. Then everyone goes around and picks through things that the other person no longer wants. At the end of the night, not only have you managed to squeeze in another girls’ night, but all of you go home with new ornaments, different decorations, and fresh ideas to deck your halls!

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4.  Have a Pot-Luck Dinner Party.

Instead of taking on the burden of planning and paying for a dinner party yourself, make it a potluck. Pick a theme, have everyone bring a dish that works with the theme, and you provide the Christmas atmosphere of music, lights, and smells. Don’t worry about buying a candle; just boil some cinnamon and cloves on the stove! By sharing the parts of the meal, no one person is footing the entire bill. And that also means less time in the kitchen cooking and baking.

5.  Save Christmas Gift Bags to Use Again.

Okay, I know most of you are probably already doing this, but if you’re not, you need to start! There’s no shame to reusing gift bags. Just remember to remove the name card from it. I actually save colorful tissue papers as well. Again, when you’re packaging it up for someone, they aren’t going to know or even care when or if you bought the bag that their gift is in. I think I’ve even returned the same bag to someone the following year. It was perfect for their gift. So why not? 

6.  Buy Christmas Cards, Wrappings, and Ribbons at the End of the Season.

The best deals on holiday items is right before the holidays (when they’re trying to get rid of last year’s inventory), and right after the holidays, (when they don’t want to store any remains of this year’s inventory). Make room in your attic, closet, or garage, and pick up items that are drastically marked down. That will be one less thing to worry about the following year, and you would have saved yourself a lot of money.

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7.  Make a List. Check it Twice!

Create a list and put people’s names in the order of priority. Stick with your list of who you’re buying a gift for, and in what price range you’re spending. That way you don’t end up leaving anyone out, but also, controlled discipline of not adding more people to your gift list later. Budget even what you’re willing to spend on food items for those parties, and which events (movies, theater, light shows) you’re spending money on. Then try to find things to do with your friends and family that are free.

Cutting back and spending less, doesn’t have to mean not having a great time over the holidays. I think it forces creativity and thoughtfulness. But remember that the first step to not over spending is planning. The next step is sticking to your plan. Look for other ways to save money and still have a wonderful Christmastime!

 

The Cost of Higher Education

I was recently talking with two parents whose children are heading off to college.  One was dealing with financial aid issues and was concerned about the amount of debt his son might have to deal with after graduation. He acknowledge that he and his wife would be helping out, but that the costs of school exceeded what they’d be able to outright pay for. And since his son didn’t make high enough grades for any academic scholarships or grants, they would need to rely on various financial aid packages.

The other one expressed how happy he was to be dodging that bullet since his oldest had chosen to take advantage of a relatively new program in the state of Tennessee called the Tennessee Promise. With this program it provides FREE education at a community or technical college for two years, with the student graduating with an Associate degree. The advantage of this program is in not only allowing students a free education, but since most of the courses are General Studies classes, those wanting to go beyond an Associate to get their Bachelor’s degree, can apply to an in-state 4-year university to take the remaining two years of course work. This means they have two years longer to save up enough money to continue their education, if they’d like, or seek employment in the area of their two-year studies, and not have the burden of student loans to pay back.

To me, any parent living in this state, who doesn’t have $80,000 to pay for their student’s 4-year college tuition is kinda crazy for not to taking advantage of their kid receiving free higher education for two years; and cutting that financial commitment almost in half, should they choose to continue!

I understand a parents desire for their child to be able to choose where they want to attend school, just as much as they should be allowed to choose what it is they want to major in. But if the alternative is cleaning out your retirement funds, or having to prolong retirement for many years beyond your original plan, then I think looking at other resources needs to be on the table. 

The first guy was also struggling with the notion of his son declaring himself as independent. It seemed to bother him that a student could do that, or worst, that parents would want their kids to do that so that they don’t have to pay for their college education. So I interjected.

“You do know that there’s no law in this state that mandates a parent having to pay for their child’s college education?” I asked. 

Higher Education is a privilege not a mandate or a right. 

While I wish everyone who wanted to attend college could do so, and I wish our country could figure out a way to make it more affordable, if not free, it is still not a parent’s responsibility to empty their 401K, take out huge loans, or take on a second job just so they can pay for their kid’s education. Not only is it not their responsibility, but it can be dangerous for someone in their mid-50s, as was the case for him, to risk their financial future, especially being that close to retirement, in order to pay for their child’s education.

I went on to remind him that while some people can, and do pay for their children’s college; many parents don’t even have the luxury of choice in ever having had an education fund for their child, and they don’t make enough money even now to pay the tens of thousands of dollars tuition has grown to; even at state schools.

The other guy said his family fell into that group. “As sad as I am that I can’t, I just told my daughter that there was no way her mom and I could afford to pay for her college tuition. The money just wasn’t there. But fortunately for us, she was actually interested in attending a community college first any way. We were lucky.”

Sadly, I’ve heard too many accounts (and know of some personally) of parents trying to find money anywhere they can to pay for their student’s education, only for that student to not do well in school — either from not being ready for the demands of higher learning, or being away at school, or from just not caring or taking school seriously enough to try.

At the end of our conversation the first guy recounted a story of someone he knew who paid for her son’s first year of college, and after he managed to fail both semesters, she put the financial burden on him to continue forward and participate in the cost of his own education. The last time he checked, his friend’s son was doing quite well in school; even talking about the lessons he learned after blowing his first year, and the difference it’s making being responsible for it all himself.

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I think if parents have the means, and the desire to pay for their children’s college education, then they should do so. For some friends of mine, it’s almost like an insult to them not to provide that for their kids. At the same time, I don’t think other parents who can’t afford it, should be made to feel bad about needing financial assistance, or having their student declare independence, in order to qualify for the various grants and loans they would have access to apart from their parents. 

It does come down to money, planning, and sometimes, just being able to adjust to a new normal, and being alright with it.

 

 

Yep, It’s Time to Go Back to School

It’s that time of year — again. While many families in the northeast, midwest, and the west coast are celebrating the midpoint of their summertime, with backyard cookouts, trips to the lake, and the kids being gone for another week or two away at camp, many southern state families are spending these final days of July shopping to replace the clothes and shoes their kids grew out of since last fall, and hectically going through the school district’s mandatory shopping list, in preparation for a return back to school soon.

In Tennessee, as with most southern states, students return to school before the end of August. In the Middle Tennessee area, which includes Nashville, students will be back to school by the first week of the month! Can you even imagine?

For one of the neighboring counties of Nashville, the busses will start rolling out this Wednesday, August 1. And almost all of the other area counties will follow less than a week later, with returns on August 6, 7, and 8! So if you sense a little panic from your southern Facebook and Instagram friends with kids, now you know why.

Fortunately, this is also Tax-free weekend (July 27-29) for the state of Tennessee. For those whose states may not offer this, it is a weekend once a year when parents can stock up for the school year, buying clothes, shoes, school supplies, and even computers, and pay no sales tax. In a state where the sales tax is 9.75%, that shopping bill can add up really fast. But so does the savings, if you plan ahead and do most, if not all, of your shopping during this time period. I mean, imagine a college student being able to save almost $100 for that $1,000 computer they need, by just choosing to purchase it this weekend versus next!

And now that parents are tasked with buying supplies for more than just their own child, planning your shopping adventure is even more important.

This is an actual list of school supplies for one of the local elementary schools:
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Crayons – 24 Count
  • #2 Yellow/Wood Pencils Sharpened with Erasers, 24 Pack
  • Glue Sticks
  • Scissors
  • Ruler 12″ Standard/Metric
  • Protractor
  • Pocket Folders
  • Pens
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Spiral Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Package(s) of Sticky Notes
  • Box(es) of Facial Tissues
  • Clorox Disinfecting Wipes, Canister(s)
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled

A Middle school list in the same district looks like this:

  • Pens, Blue
  • Pens, Black
  • Pens, Red
  • Pencils, #2
  • Package(s) of Cap Erasers
  • Package(s) of Filler Paper, Wide Ruled
  • Notebook paper
  • Package(s) of Graph Paper
  • 1″ Binders
  • Write On Dividers
  • Composition Notebook Wide Ruled
  • Highlighters
  • Dry Erase Markers
  • Colored Pencils – Box(es)
  • Hand Sanitizer – Bottle(s)
  • Canister(s) of Disinfecting Wipes
  • Box(es) of Kleenex Facial Tissues
  • Paper Towels – Roll(s)
  • Duct Tape
  • Hot Glue Gun Glue Sticks
  • Package(s) of Index Cards
  • Box(es) of Reclosable Storage Bags
  • Package(s) of Printer/Copier Paper – Colored
  • Masking Tape
  • Package(s) of Plastic Cups
  • Box(es) of Plastic Forks

So don’t just shop. Shop wisely.

  • Shop at the right stores.  Find the ones that have the lowest price on the things you need.
  • Use coupons. As you see, the school supply lists have grown way beyond pencils and paper. Look for store or manufacture coupons for those paper towels, toilet paper, disinfecting wipes, and Purell that many schools now require.
  • For your student heading off to college, check out yard sales and online sites where you can find inexpensive desks, chairs, bookcases, and other things for their dorm room and apartment.
  • And don’t be too embarrassed to shop at discount stores and places like Goodwill, where they also offer special discounts on top of their lower prices, including a 10% Student Discount on Sundays; a 10% Senior Adult Discount on Tuesdays; and 10% Military discount on Wednesday. Again, every little bit helps!

When it comes down to it, making the most of your time and saving the most of your money, requires some planning and preparation. But your bank account will thank you for all of the dollars you save. And you’ll thank yourself when that money comes in handy later; usually unexpectedly.

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Not Another Women’s Conference!?

As we close out another important month — National Women’s History Month — I couldn’t help but take the timing of the ending of March to announce the kickoff plans of Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets “house events” later this year!

My “adjusted lifestyle,” hasn’t just been about journaling and starting a website. It has been about making some real changes in my life that impact how I am living. Our finances are a big part of the way we live. There are financial issues you control (spending, utility usage, entertainment and luxury items, etc.), and there are financial issues you can’t control (the economy’s impact on your 401K, increase in property taxes or insurance, loss of a spouse or loss of a job, and many other things.). Regardless of the source, when something impacts your financial life in a negative way, you’re the one who suffers the financial consequences. Those consequences can be huge and long-lasting if you don’t face the reality of your new normal and make some adjustments.

The impact can be even harder on those who only have one income. Whether it’s a married couple with a stay-at-home spouse, a single person with no family or roommate, or an older couple in retirement, when your “normal” changes, you have to change with it, or get caught up in the financial repercussions.

One of the things I learned through the process of going through my last nine years of change, along with decades of watching my own mom figure out how to make ends meet during trying times; especially with a large family, is that planning is key.

People plan to finish school; plan to go to college; and plan to get a “good” job. But most people don’t plan, financially, for what happens when one of those other “plans” get interrupted. Ignoring the possibility that it can happen doesn’t change the reality when it does. So why not be ready.

Notebook mockup

 

The Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets conference is designed to Inform, Educate, Encourage, and Challenge women of all ages on how to plan for a successful adjustment when life throws unexpected surprises at them. 

INFORM attendees on ways to save money, stretch dollars, and invest wisely simply by planning ahead.

EDUCATE attendees on resources available to offer assistance during their adjustment period.

ENCOURAGE attendees to try new things; be creative in finding or creating secondary sources of revenue.

CHALLENGE attendees to step out of their comfort zone; start a new business; turn a hobby or a passion into extra income.

While we can’t control many of the circumstances that may happen to us, we can have some control over how well prepared we are to handle those stops, detours, and many times life-altering events when they happen.

We’ll be kicking off the larger conference (launching in 2019) starting first with doing small group house events. 

Ultimately, the conference is designed for women to meet, network, learn, feel encouraged, and for some, to come to the realization that they need to stop trying to live the lifestyle they used to know, and start learning how to live a changed life, adjusting to their new normal

Stay tuned!