Tag Archives: planning

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.

 

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?

 

 

Stop Stressing and Be More Confident with Your Life in 2020!

New Year’s Day, and I can’t believe it took me most of the day just to get the drawers and cabinets in my bathroom cleaned out and organized. Sure, I took a few texting and email breaks, and spent over an hour on the phone catching up with one of my BFFs! But I still did not expect it to take so long. Nor did I anticipate how much junk – outdated, expired, and almost empty containers of junk that was just shoved in the back of my cabinets and drawers.

I know I’m not the only one. I also know that one of the reasons people like me, and most likely you, put off taking on the chore of cleaning and organizing our homes, and even our lives, is because it all just seems so overwhelming.  This time of year often makes it even more daunting. So many “experts” on morning talk shows, columnists in newspapers, magazine articles, all talking about the many things we should be doing – personally and professionally — in order to be a “better person” and have a better year.

woman-lifting-two-dumbells-on-both-hands-in-front-of-mirror-1886487Get physically fit. Get healthier. Get financially secure. Get the house cleaned and organized. Travel more. Read the Bible in a year. Join a book club. Plant an organic garden. Raise chickens. And on and on and on. I mean who wouldn’t feel overwhelmed a bit; and confused about where to get started, and how to make most of it happen?!

When my sister shared a social media post titled 30 Challenges for 30 Days, asking me to join her in it, I replied within a split second — “NOPE!” The subtext of the headline noted: “That Will Make You a Better Person.” That extra message probably set me off more than the title. I don’t need to compete with someone, trying to accomplish so many things at the same time, all within some arbitrary time period, to prove I’m a better person! And I think that’s the trap we often fall into every year.

I am definitely a believer in doing things to make your life, your family, your home, and yourself better. But what those things are will be different for each person. And the priority of what’s most important to you now, versus what can wait, will differ. I mean I love pulling open my top bathroom drawer now and seeing how neat everything looks. I love finding what I need on sight; not having to shuffle a bunch of junk around, or getting ready to use some medical or cosmetic cream, only to find out that it expired six months earlier. But maybe your drawers are already organized the way you want them.

I decided early on that rather than trying to take a lot of things on at once, as if it wouldgold-ipad-beside-stylus-768473 even be possible to complete all of the things I need to do, while shopping better, eating better, working out every day, going to bed on time, and getting my budget in order, etc. etc. – you know the drill – I would instead choose tiny projects, like the bathroom cabinets, and just work on it until it was done (no pressured time limits) before moving on to the next one.

So, in preparing for and thinking about my life in 2020, I broke things down into four major areas:

  1. Personal Life
  2. Home Life
  3. Financial Life
  4. Professional Life

It feels much better to think about changes and improvements I can make to FOUR areas in my life, rather than trying to work on 30 or 40 different things at the same time! Obviously, each one of the areas have subparts to them. But keeping my focus on the big picture helps me to plan better on how to attack something in each one.

For the next few weeks, I’m going to be sharing some of the things I’ve done, and how I’m choosing to tackle them in my own life, project by project – baby steps to success. Some may be things you’re already doing, or there might be some things that inspire you to try to accomplish. Other things may be of no interest to you whatsoever. But the cool thing about a new year, and our efforts to make a new start, is that we each should start with looking at our own lives, and apply only those things that impact you directly. If it’s not something that’s at the top of your list; don’t do it.

By the way, on day two of the new year, I spent time tackling the desk in my bedroom. It’s not an “office” desk, where I do work. It’s a desk that I use to write notes, letters, journal, read, and occasionally, work on my blog. The problem was, like an unused piece of exercise equipment, my desk had become the place to toss things I didn’t want to deal with, file away; a convenient landing site for whatever! Getting through all of the desk drawers and cleaning off the top of the desk really made my day. No one’s going to see it except for me. But that’s the whole reason I did it. For me! And that should be your motivation as well.

What will make you and your life easier, happier, and more convenient? Go for it!

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.

It’s Another New Year. Now What?

Many of you stayed up late on New Year’s Eve, reflecting back over 2018, thinking about some of the things that you said you wouldn’t do, but found yourself at some point over the last 12 months doing it. Or perhaps you were taking note of all the things you said you were going to do in 2018, but now realize how many of them you didn’t take the time to follow through on.

Others of you woke up early New Years Day, grabbed your journal, and started outlining your resolutions for yet another new year; making promises to yourself to check off each one of the items as an accomplished success over the next 364 days. You had the same good intentions last year, and the year before that, and before that.

For most of us, it’s so much easier making resolutions than it is fulfilling them. There are many reasons for this. Sometimes we’re on our way to success, and LIFE gets in the way. We may resolve to save more money this year, and then end up in a car-totally accident, forced to purchase another vehicle, gaining monthly car payments, because that insurance company you’ve been paying premiums to will only give you about half the cost of another reliable vehicle. Maybe you resolved to look for a new job, and before you land that dream position, you lost your old one. Now, you’re just trying to figure out how to pay the bills, while searching for any new job to provide a paycheck.

Yes, unexpected things come into our lives. Some times we have to change our plans of doing more traveling this year; or put off registering for that foreign language course you’ve been promising yourself; or we may be forced to spend from our savings account to cover medical expenses we didn’t see coming. Life definitely happens.

But many of us fail to reach our goals because we don’t put a plan in place for how to accomplish them. We start talking about all of the things we want to accomplish and think that just writing them down is enough to keep us motivated and focused. In reality, writing resolutions or even setting goals, without including a list of strategies on how you plan to accomplish each goal, is little more than just dreaming. And strategies alone won’t do it, unless you’re willing to follow through with your plan.

If you desire to get out of debt this year, but you don’t do anything to change your current spending habits, then it’s unlikely that you will accomplish your goal.

A couple of weeks ago, I was astonished after reading a post by a woman who was asking advice in one of those social media forums where the focus of the group was on sharing ways people become more financially responsible; how they’d gotten their finances, credit scores, budgets, and other things under control. After reading what she posted, I saw MANY things that was obviously out of balance with her thought process and actions, beyond what she intended to be the main focus of her question.

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This woman was writing for advice on whether or not she should ignore her phone bill (amount in the several hundreds of dollars) until after she got back from an international vacation she had planned because she didn’t have enough money to do both — pay her bill AND keep her plans for the trip. Her reasons were both humorous and sad to read. She had already paid for the actual trip and had saved up money to use for spending (presumably for meals, tips, excursions, etc.). A couple of weeks before she was suppose to leave, she gave her sister that money to get her car out from repossession. Then she talked about how her phone bill, now due, was so high because her sister and a cousin were also on her plan, and that neither one of them had paid their portion of the bill. She went on to mention that her sister said she didn’t have the money to repay her for the car or her part of the phone bill; etc. etc. You know where this is going.

Perhaps traveling outside the country was a dream of hers that she’d planned for all year. She did the right thing paying for it throughout the year, and then saving up for spending money. But the other things she was doing with her finances is what’s baffling. Having other adults on your phone plan is risky. I seriously doubt that the December bill was the first time one or both of those family members failed to pay their part of the bill. I could write five more blogs on the dangers of extending too much financial grace to grown adults. The title of the first one would be “Stop Being an Enabler!

Then there’s the question of giving up your hard earned and saved money to help someone get a car out from repossession. Is it unfortunate that her sister won’t have access to her car for a few days or weeks? Yes. Is that an emergency worth spending her money on? No. There are other ways for the sister to get around, including getting rides with friends, family, and other forms of transportation. Is it her responsibility to bail her sister out of a situation like this? NO. If you’re ever considering doing something like this, first ask yourself how did that person get to the point that their car got repossessed. And then ask yourself, can you afford to go without ever seeing your money again, since it’s likely that they’re not going to have the financial resources to pay you back anytime soon, if ever. 

What disturbed me the most about this scenario was how many respondents on the page actually told her to go on her trip on not to worry about the phone bill; someone suggesting she just cancel the service. Their advice was that the phone bill could wait, and that she “deserved” to do something fun. One respondent even said (when challenged by someone else who felt otherwise), that people “can’t just work all the time;” that paying bills wasn’t everything in life; and that everyone deserved some time to have some fun and enjoy themselves.

Even as I write this, I’m still baffled by a response as financially ignorant as this one. You’re not only messing with your credit score when you fail to pay your bills, but the bill will still be waiting on you to pay when you return, only it’ll be higher. And depending on how much time lapses, there’s also the possibility that the phone company turns your account over to a collection agency.  Then there’s the reality that if your family members can’t afford to pay you back, AND you just left to go out of the country for vacation, spending the rest of the money you have, how are you going to make good on that bill when you do get back?

Unless your financial planning includes putting aside money each paycheck to use to bail other people out of their financial problems, then don’t do it; at least don’t unless it’s a real emergency. This is especially important if your attempts to help someone else with their financial crisis then creates a financial crisis of your own.

If you want to make changes to how you approach your resolutions, then start by creating a Plan. Don’t just journal thoughts in a book. Write down your Goals. List your strategies. Create a timeline. And outline the tactics to keep you on  point.

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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.

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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!

What is Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets?

As we approach the sixth year anniversary of the start of Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets, I want to revisit its beginning. It’s interesting how things seem to work in a cycle. Once again, we’re watching the stock market, as it plunges one day and then regains points one or two days later. While the unemployment numbers look good, people are still underemployed, working jobs for less money today than they were 10 years ago. The rising cost of housing and the new mortgage laws have kept some people from attaining that American Dream, while struggling to find reasonable cost of rent in many markets.  And while the interest rates are rising, and the cost of living is higher, most people haven’t seen a significant increase in their paycheck since before the economic crash a decade ago.

I started Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets first as a writing assignment for myself. I used journaling as a way to process the massive changes that were happening in my life, particularly the time period following my change in jobs. Change, itself, was new to me. I had many other jobs before, having started working part-time as a young teenager, and full-time right out of college. But all of my positions were “upwardly mobile.” They weren’t all financially mobile, but each one prepared and positioned me for something that built upon the next level – until reaching that level where the financial rewards started paying off.

I was brought up to always live within whatever means I was in at any particular time in my life. Whether I was saving money for high school band trips; or to pay my own college tuition; or buying my first car after only a year at my first job, I learned how to practice discipline, patience, and planning in order to take care of the things I needed to take care of. And while I wasn’t perfect at it, I worked hard to be smart with my finances. I opted to live at home during college. I had three roommates when I finally got into my first rental house after Graduate school. And my first car was safe, boring, and inexpensive!

But in December, 2008, things changed. And those changes didn’t line up with my plans. They were a shift away from my otherwise, upwardly mobile status in life. And it was playing out in a non-temporary way.

There I was, along with hundreds of thousands of other people around the country, trying to deal with the impact of a Recession that few people saw coming, and most people had no idea how much it would personally impact them. I woke up one morning, and realized that the “normal” life I’d built for myself had been uprooted. So the only sanity I could hold on to was through writing. It was my means of processing the entire episode. Through that, I realized I was going to have to change some things; not just for this moment, but forever.

book with coffee cupAs I was going through my own world of “adjustments,” I watched others trying to make it through theirs. Not every life adjustment had to do with a job loss – but all of them impacted financial stability in some way. Friends going through divorces; neighbors impacted by a spouse’s inability to work; loss of income after the loss of a spouse; people dealing with unexpected medical diagnosis amidst inadequate medical insurance; unexpected legal issues that were emptying bank accounts; and a host of other issues, including people working fewer hours, or dealing with a cut in pay to prevent layoffs.

There were people around me who were trying to just “deal” with the things happening to them. Not all of them seem to understand that part of dealing would need to include an adjusted mindset. It was what I learned through journaling. I realized I couldn’t continue to focus on what was “normal” in my life prior to the major changes that had just happened. That normal didn’t exist anymore. I couldn’t keep doing the same things; at least not in the same way. I had to adjust to the new situation I found myself in. And I wanted to help other people; namely women, to do the same.

That’s why I took Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets off the pages of my personal journal and onto the Internet with this blog site and Facebook group page to share information and to encourage peer-to-peer participation. Women helping women work through issues and situations that they may not be ready for, or could use an extra perspective in dealing with.

Catching Raindrops in Water Buckets focuses on teaching, sharing, and learning how to use what you have today to help plan for what may not be there tomorrow. I hope there are some of you willing to share your story too!

Adjusting Your Life to Your New Normal.

Spring Break at the Beach

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Isn’t it beautiful?! There’s nothing quite like spending some vacation time at the beach, sitting on the warm sands, watching the sunrise in the morning. And then returning that evening, after  full day of doing nothing, to watch it set. One of the things I’ve missed about leaving South Carolina for Tennessee is that the once two-and-a-half hour drive to the Atlantic ocean now takes over ten!

I invited myself to the beach with them once I learned their spring break was the same week as mine! It’s the first time it’s happened since I started teaching, and my schedule became dictated by semesters instead of calendar years. I knew they wouldn’t mind, and after the last six months, I needed a real break; not the kind you take over the holidays, where most of your time is spent decorating the house, visiting people, attending events, and hosting family and friends. I wanted, no needed a REAL break! I needed to see the ocean again, feel the warm sunshine on my face while digging in to the sand between my toes. I wanted to not set an alarm clock, wake up to the sounds of the waves, and listen to the high pitched screech of the water birds, drowned out only by the laughter of young children running from the water’s edge. I didn’t want to wait until summer. I needed it now!

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But somewhere along the way, what I wanted; what I needed; and what actually happened didn’t line up!

Okay, yes, I agree. It was the grown-up thing to do to call and UNinvite myself from a week in (almost) paradise. But that was the point. I didn’t want to act like a grown up. I wanted some ME time. Sure there were papers to be graded, which I knew would be a challenge to do sitting pool side, most likely distracted by the splash of the swimmers, and the lure of the lazy river that meandered beside the swimming pool. And while taking long walks down the beach would have been just the kind of medicine I needed to help destress and refocus my mind, and de-tense my body, I probably would have been thinking about all of the other stuff that needed doing at my house — like sorting through stacks of papers, preparing my taxes, cleaning my den and home office, and picking up all those twigs and small branches that keep falling over into my backyard from my neighbor’s overgrown and unkept trees that line our border!

But none of those things are the real reason why I’m sitting back here in Nashville instead of chilling out there, in North Myrtle Beach this week! The real reason for my grown up decision came down to the most basic of things — money! I was forced to count the cost of engaging in this “free” vacation, in light of something more significant that I’m saving for  happening later in the year.

Under normal circumstances, I would not have thought twice about spending the money in gas (for the 1400-mile round trip journey), snacks, meals on the road, and sharing in the costs of food and entertainment once I got there. But that’s just it. Most people don’t think about all of the extra money it takes to take advantage of something that’s FREE. If you’re on a budget, or just watching your spending, you can’t just count the things you want. Money spent is money spent. What goes out today isn’t going to be there tomorrow.

When I talk about budgets in class, I start by having my students write down the amount for everything they currently spend in a month. I think it’s important to have a visual of your habits so that reality sets in before you make out a budget. I remind my students that they have to include everything — every cup of coffee, pack of gum, bottle of water, smartphone upgrade, oil change, new shoes, hair cut, mani-pedi, and pair of sunglasses they just couldn’t resist. For me, that would have meant adding about $200 in gas and probably another $100 for food; not including money for going out.

So while I would rather be curled up in a chair on the balcony of the condo right now, reading a good book and taking in all of the fresh salty smells of the coast, I know that putting off instant gratification today means being able to do something bigger and better later; like maybe this summer, when I’ll have  an entire month to chill!

What about you? When’s the last time you’ve taken a visual of your spending habits? Why not do it now, instead of waiting until you’re ready to take off for somewhere.

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