Thursday, March 14, 2019

The Elephant in the Room

When there’s an elephant in the room, we tend to carry on as though the elephant doesn’t exist.  We walk with him. We walk around him.  We make adjustments to accommodate him.  Often we never bother to do anything about him when he stands in the way of reaching our goals, dreams, and aspirations.

The elephant in the room is our addiction.  The list is long.  The website, Healthy Place, provides extensive articles on all addictions, from alcoholism and drug addictions to gaming disorders, and yes, even shopping.  The website’s purpose is to help us learn about addiction symptoms, causes, treatments and the struggles of living with an addiction.

The conversation is a tough one.  “What stops you from doing what you want to do?”  Often the reasons are anything but the real problem. People don’t realize the hold that the addictions have on them and the money it sucks from their bank accounts.   Their joy has been stolen.  The fun of living has vanished. Where’s the hope?  Let’s find out.

Asking for help is not a weakness. In actuality, it is a sign of strength and courage to want to improve your situation.  Seeing your money wasted on far lesser things than you would like may be a turning point. This is when progress can be made.   

If you think your life can’t change, then you are encouraged to read Johnnetta McSwain’s story in her book, Rising Above the Scars.  She had a traumatic childhood.  She dropped out of high school in eleventh grade and lived on the streets.  After years of barely getting by, she woke up on her thirtieth birthday, looked in the mirror, and didn’t like what she saw.  She writes,

“That day I woke up and realized I had absolutely nothing to celebrate–no money, no full-time job, no home, no husband, and no clue, not even the will to do better.  At last I knew it was time to make some changes.”

Her first step was to obtain her GED.  From there, she had a burning desire to go to college.  She attributed her success to her positive outlook.  “I realized I didn’t have to be smart,” Johnnetta explains, “I just had to be determined, motivated, and focused.  This came with a high price tag for me.  I had to exchange my thinking.  I had to think like a smart person.” And she did.  What about you? 

Living pay cheque to pay cheque because of an addiction or resorting to other means to support an addiction needs to end.  The elephant in your home needs to be acknowledged and talked about…

I first heard about Johnnetta’s story in John C. Maxwell’s book, The 15 Invaluable Laws of Growth.  In his book, a specific chapter is written about the Law of the Mirror, which reflects on the value you must see in yourself before you can add value to yourself.  The whole principle about change rests on our shoulders.  We must have the desire to want to change.  No one can make us change against our will.   If addictions stop us from reaching our potential, then this is the very reason we should latch onto someone who will inspire us to seek help.

Johnnetta was motivated by a profound thought:  “I get a chance to be anyone I want to be.” And she discovered a way.  

Randy Pausch, author of The Last Lecture, offers this solution, “When there’s an elephant in the room introduce him.”

Do you have encouragement to share with others?  Please feel free to provide your perspective in the comment section below.

Thursday, February 28, 2019

Leading Yourself Successfully

“If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more, and become more, you are a leader.”  John Quincy Adams

In his book, Leadership Gold, John C. Maxwell addresses a complex topic. He dedicated a chapter to The Toughest Person to Lead Is Yourself”.   You can imagine the joy that comes with the freedom of truly being on your own after graduation.  But along with the joy comes some fear and apprehension.  You have to lead yourself well through challenges you have never had to deal with before.  Expenses like groceries, rent, and gas were not your responsibility.  Suddenly they are now yours.

Do you ever wonder what it’s like for someone experiencing such huge changes?   I was curious. Two post-secondary students willingly shared their time and their perspective of life after high school.  I am grateful to Abbey and Karina, two young women who explained their challenges.   They walked out of the doors of high school for the last time and left the security of their parents’ home to venture on their own.   My main question, as students, how did they manage their money? These young women were an inspiration to me; and I know their stories will be to you.

Abbey shared, “Leaving high school was exciting but it was also an awakening. It’s like jumping right into the deep end (of a swimming pool).  And you aren’t fully prepared.”

The greatest challenge is accepting the responsibility of managing the expenses. The desire to do “stuff” is always in the back of your mind when you are out and about with your friends.  The advantage is the peer pressure is not a factor when your friends are also students.  Their situations are similar.  Their budgets are similar.  Students simply understand and feel the same about their inability to spend freely.  They tell it like it is: “I can’t afford to…”

Abbey confirmed she is an avid goal-setter.  She plans her day. Scheduling her school assignments encourages her to complete them well in advance.  Her progress pays off.   This skill carries forward in the way she manages her finances over the school term.  When she works during the summer months, she saves money, knowing she will need it down the road.

The most effective way Abbey deals with buying impulses is picturing herself five years from now.  She tells herself I only want to pay for the things I need today to get me through my studies. She considers her purchases very seriously and fully understands that if she buys furniture and text books, she does so because she needs to use them now.   Her willingness to forfeit a new pair of jeans shows that her priorities are crystal clear.

Karina also confirmed that being friends with students certainly imposes less pressure on their fun activities.  As a university student, her advice is to find that personal balance between fun and study/work.  Having hard conversations with yourself are tough but necessary.  She asks herself, “Is this actually necessary?” Karina finds she analyzes the difference between a “need” and “want” all the time.  She appreciates having a bank app on her phone.  Karina strategizes, “My bank account can make the decision for me.”   

On occasion Karina has been known to self-diagnose herself with “buyer’s guilt”.   After a mini-shopping spree, she has a sickly feeling for spending more than she has given herself permission.  Obviously, this is a warning signal to tread with caution.

One significant change Karina noticed was items magically appear when she lived at home but didn’t when she was on her own.  The obvious, everyday household items like toilet paper and Q-tips were now musts on her shopping list.     

Karina works part-time while she attends university.  When she is working, she finds she is more relaxed with her money. But when her income is irregular, she finds this to be quite disturbing.

Both women attribute their money habits to the values instilled by their parents.   During Abbey’s high school years, she worked at numerous jobs.  Her father’s advice was to take part of what she earned and put it away for the future.  She was free to do what she wanted with the rest. 

Karina also shared that her parents always reminded her to live within her means.  This advice resonates with her.  Karina ensures the money is in place before making a purchase.  And when she does, the purchase is based upon quality and usefulness over the long term.  This is smart shopping on her part.

They both attested that they are getting close to the end of their studies. Abbey will soon complete her dental assistant program and Karina will have acquired her Bachelor of Education and Arts degrees. They hope to be earning a steady income. No matter which way you look at it, whether there’s a light at the end of a tunnel or they’re running their victory lap, this part of their journey is in sight.    Living as a student certainly means living on a tight budget when the income is limited.  So the question is whether these sound money management skills continue into their futures?  Abbey wasn’t certain.  Right now she admits students’ situations are so similar.  Later when everyone is employed, they may not be as transparent about their finances.  

Of course, my concern is the more money we make the more we will be prone to spend and borrow. Then we begin to see our regular pay cheques as oil wells which will never go dry.  On the other hand, I wouldn’t expect everyone to live like “a student”… but I hope we would remember what the feeling was like so we never want to live under that kind of pressure again.   

In the chapter previously mentioned, Mr. Maxwell refers to leading ourselves as the biggest challenge simply because we tend to be our own enemies. Leading ourselves well applies to every area of our lives.  These young women’s stories are impressive.  They took their first year away from home in stride to figure things out on their own; and once they did, they settled into a new way of life.   Their life jackets, their support from family and friends, were always nearby but their solid values were their mainstay.   They have obviously used their solid values to successfully leading themselves.   

Are you a student pursuing a post-secondary education with some words of wisdom to share?  You may do so here in the comments below.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Going to the Chapel

Is this your song or maybe your children’s? 

Valentine’s Day, February 14th, is known for creating sparks of love and affection between couples and also for being one of the most popular days of the year for marriage proposals.

The excitement of, “Yes, I will marry you,” is followed with the wedding plans. The flurry of excitement suddenly becomes overweighed with decisions about the guest list, venue, food, music, flowers, photographer, and so much more.  (Oh dear, I forgot the wedding dress!)  When considering all the details, the most vital question which needs to be in the forefront, “How much do we want to spend on the most important day of our lives?” Or rather, “How much can we afford to spend?”

One quick search on the Internet reveals hundreds and hundreds of checklists and ideas on how to craft the perfect wedding. First, couples should share their thoughts about what their perfect day looks like before hunting for information.  Making this first decision as a couple, whether to be frugal, extravagant, or meet somewhere in the middle, is the prelude to a lifetime of decisions about money as a married couple.  It’s not a secret that the leading cause of divorce is arguments over money.  For all we know, the way a couple handles the costs of their wedding could be the real test and testimony to their life choices about money.

Nothing speaks louder and clearer about, “What will the wedding cost?” than a calculator and pencil with an eraser.  The formula is simple. Add all the associated costs.

This + That + These + Those = $$.$$

We want to know the total cost commitment for our dream wedding.  Only then can we decide whether we want to cut corners or where we have to cut corners.

When we know how much the wedding will cost, the next step will be easy. We know how much money we have to save.  We have a goal to work towards our big splurge.  This is far better than the alternative, relying on credit to pay for the wedding.  If anyone thinks saving money before the wedding will be difficult, imagine borrowing the money and making payments (with interest charges) after the wedding.

Quite often, parents may be willing to share some of the wedding costs.  Parents should know in advance the cost of their commitment.  Making a verbal agreement beforehand might become quite a shock if specific details are not shared in advance. The same question asked previously, also applies to parents, “How much can we afford?”  Rather than share the costs, parents may opt to give a specific amount of money towards the wedding expenses, so they don’t destroy their piggy bank.  


Some key takeaways for the soon-to-be newlyweds.

q Do your homework in advance.

q Determine your options and the cost of the important must-have details. 

q Take appropriate steps to set limits on the wedding expenditures.

q Understand who is involved in sharing the costs and their commitment.

q Lastly and most importantly, have fun on the most memorable day of your life.

q Enjoy every moment.

If anyone has previously planned a wedding and has any advice to offer, please share in the comments below.

Thursday, January 31, 2019

It Doesn’t Have To Be this Way

You’ve heard it. I've heard it. Or have we?

 “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

I’ve walked down this path countless times.  I expected things to be different without a shift in my focus, a change in my attitude, or the use of a different approach.  Honestly, all I had was a whole lot of “nothing” and a heck of a lot of “frustration”.

Has that ever happened to you?

We know something has to change but what we sometimes don’t realize is that it begins with us.  This theory applies to everything and anything we need fixed: our health, relationships, or finances; and even the simple things in life, like an Internet connection that has a frequency of its own. 

One current problem is the way personal finances are handled. The latest survey indicates that that 46% of Canadians are $200 or less away from financial insolvency at month-end.  This statistic jumped from 40% in the previous quarter.  Apparently, this news is better than the 2017 numbers when MNP said more than half of Canadians were living within $200 per month of not being able to pay all their bills.

Those numbers are staggering. As I read, I feel the anguish and frustration in the responses.  If the poll is accurate, nearly half of Canadians are on the brink of a financial disaster.  It isn’t only frustration in these numbers; the fear is real, describing a financial situation at its worst. 

In a Global News interview, Kelley Keehn, a personal financial educator, shared tips for changing behaviour to attack the money problems. As I listened, I nodded in agreement.  I have written about these strategies in my blog posts as well.  

Any Certified Financial Planner® Professional or credit counsellor will tell us the same thing.  The only way to attack our fears and money problems is with action.  Doing the things we are encouraged to do is the way to fight back and gain control.

Honestly, I sometimes feel no one listens.  Like Kelley, I feel people get discouraged, say “Whatever!”, and walk away defeated.  But I believe it doesn’t have to be this way. Everyone can start with small steps and walk away encouraged. 

If we can’t increase our income, then the only thing we can do is decrease our spending.  When we tap into other useful resources, Gail Vaz-Oxlade has a list of tips to put into action. Below is one we can borrow and apply in our lives. Like she points out, “What do you have to lose?”  

Gail writes:
Figure out what it takes to live modestly for a month.  You’ll need to cover your regular bills like mortgage or rent, utilities, car payment, gas for work, food.  Once you think you’ve got the bare bones covered, look at how much cash you think you’ll have to spend.  Planning to spend $600 this month on everything from groceries to gas to your sister’s birthday present? Cut that in half and challenge yourself to live on less.

Before you throw your hands up and say, “Ridiculous,” just try it.  There’s no failure here.  It’s an experiment.  It’s to see whether it can be done.  After all, even if you miss by $150, you’ve still spend much less than you thought was possible.  Hit the mark and you’ve experienced living modestly and saving money at the same time.  Double whammy!

Frankly, even if we aren’t in financial difficulty, a couple of wrong turns between now and then can place us unintentionally in a mess of financial doo-doo. So perhaps we need to pay attention and listen to the advice handed out. There is nothing wrong in learning new skills in money management from the experts.  And there are plenty of skills to learn! We only need the desire to make the necessary changes so we are not included in any future grim statistics.

Everyone should consider doing Gail’s homework assignment.  If you happened to be the one who does, feel free to share the results of your experiment in the comments below.        

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Turning Your Finances in the Right Direction

Dear Younger Me. 

The premise of the song, “Dear Younger Me”, written by the band, MercyMe, is to provide advice to a younger self.   I love the idea of writing a letter to myself filled with advice of what to do and not to do in life and with life.  My mature perspective would come from grounded experiences that taught me valuable lessons. 

Of course, my letter would be written with the anticipation that I would listen to myself.  But who am I trying to fool?  We all know when we are young we feel invincible. We have our whole lives in front of us filled with opportunities we hoped we would and could achieve.  Yet somehow life turns in the completely opposition direction than we predicted.

…Of course, we will make mistakes.  Sometimes, the worst mistake is mismanaging our finances.  Painful and sometimes devastating mistakes may destroy our credit and dreams.

I wished there was a magic fix to make our financial woes go away.  Unfortunately, there isn’t one.  Sheer determination and a solid commitment are the tried and true ingredients.  Let’s not forget…education is a requirement to turn your finances in the right direction.

When we desire to learn something foreign, a couple of basic examples instantly come to mind. To properly handle a gun, we would take a gun safety course.  If we were interested in quilting, we would sign up for a sewing class.  Naturally, when we are fine tuning our finances, we would look for suitable venues.

Three Options to Improve Your Financial Outlook.

1.  Dive into a book written about finances.  

Any one of these three might be of interest.  Remember to take the ideas which fit your situation best.  Not everything written is applicable to your needs. 

Moolala, Why Smart People Do Dumb Things with Their Money (and What You Can Do About It) by Bruce Sellery.

Smart Couples Finish Rich, Steps to Creating a Rich Future for You and Your Partner, authored David Bach.

How to Eat an Elephant, One Day a Month to Financial Success, written by Frank Wiginton.

2. Follow-up on helpful articles found at websites. 

The key is to find information which interests and applies to you and is easily understood and applicable.   Money matters do not have to be complicated. 

When we need advice, the best place to find helpful solutions is from a professional.   You need to be assured your financial plan fits your goals and dreams.  When you are not certain whether you are headed in the right direction, you may check with a CFP® professional.

The Tools.

Napoleon Hill wrote, “Do not wait; the time will never be ‘just right’.  Start where you stand, and work with whatever tools you may have at your command, and better tools will be found as you go along.”

This quote seems to fit with anything new we may try. We can’t expect perfection with our first attempt.  This is especially true about financial roadblocks. The language may be difficult.  Our understanding of the method may be awkward.  And even fear may hold us hostage, pushing us to talk ourselves out of turning things around with our finances.  Our willingness to try is the first step.  With some encouragement, know-how, and stamina anything is possible.  I believe our attempts will be worthwhile.
What is your roadblock stopping you from turning your finances in the right direction?  Please share your concerns.   

Thursday, January 3, 2019

Don’t Look Back; Don’t Give Up; Don’t Give In!

Inspiration can come from any place.  I was flipping through a book which sat on my shelf for many years deciding whether or not to keep it.  I stumbled onto a page with the heading, “Harness the Power of Positive Pressure”.

You have to read this:  

I’ve noticed that many people who begin their transformations with full force end up losing their drive after a few weeks.  One way I help them overcome that setback is to teach them how to harness the power of positive pressure.

My observation is this:  Most people in America have been conditioned (that means someone or some system has taught them) to believe they should “coast” through life as much as possible – they should avoid “pressure situations” and gravitate toward circumstances where no one is demanding anything from them.  This is not good.  It’s not good at all, especially if you’ve decided to change your body and life.  You see, contrary to popular belief, deep down inside, you want pressure; in fact, you need pressure to feel excited and passionate about life.

Real-life examples of people performing heroically under pressure can be seen everywhere:  the fireman who rescues a child from a burning building, without a moment to spare; the quarterback who scores the winning touchdown, with time running out on the clock; the doctor who saves a dying patient’s life.

The fact of the matter is, we are all capable of so much more than we might believe we are, but our ultimate potential is often smothered by what society teaches us – that pressure is a bad thing, that it hurts rather than helps our efforts to improve and become successful.  Eventually, after years of conditioning, most people see pressure as an obstacle, not the powerful, driving force it really is.

You see, the truth of the matter is that it’s through pressure or “stress” that we evolve—that we grow. 

This insight, the power of positive pressure, amazed me. 

As we venture into a new year, we could all use a fresh perspective. This simple but effective philosophy delivers encouragement as people vow to do better with their finances, health, relationships, and job performances.   

We often compare physical wellness with financial wellness.  These two are similar in terms of measuring health in both areas.  So it should not be surprising that the inspiration just shared was from Bill Phillips’ book, Body for Life.  We could have just as well read this from a book titled Money for Life.   This advice is applicable to all areas of our lives.

Let’s continue.

Think about it:  The fundamental principle of building a stronger body is the process of overcoming stress, or “resistance”.  We force our muscles to work, and this effort in turn forces our muscles to adapt.  If we put no pressure at all on those muscles, if we present them with no resistance whatsoever, what happens?  They atrophy. They dissipate. They weaken.

The same equation applies to our growth in the areas of our careers, our relationships, and our knowledge.  It is only through the right amount of pressure that we continue to move beyond the level of mere existence or “comfort”.

To harness the power of positive pressure, start with regularly subjecting your muscles to a healthy dose of stress by working out.  Then, invite other challenges back into your life.  Rather than run from pressure situations, or pretend they don’t exist, face them.  Seek them out.  In doing so, you’ll find that positive pressure brings out your best.  You’ll be raising it to a new, higher level.

And that, in every aspect of our lives, is what we should do.

That is what positive pressure can do.  

Improving our finances can be as challenging as improving our physical bodies.  No pain, no gain.  This is why persistence is important when we meet resistance.  We can so easily look back at our previous attempts to stay on track with our budgets.  In frustration, we give up and give in to our desire to escape the hard road and opt for the easy road and simply coast. 

When we heed the advice to harness the power of positive pressure, we vow to work harder at improving our financial muscles.  When we force ourselves to make changes to our spending and saving regimes, we are forcing our financial muscles to adapt.  Yes, we are putting pressure on ourselves in an attempt to become financially stronger. That’s a good practise to adopt for the beginning of a new year.

“Don’t look back! Don’t give up! Don’t give in!”

That’s your prescription for this new year. Repeat as required.

Do you have a prescription you would like to share for everyone’s benefit? Please post your comments below.

Thursday, December 20, 2018

It’s NOT About the Money

It’s a strange thing to say!  “It’s not about the money.”  But you have to believe me when I say this.  It’s all about “The Plan”.  More specifically it’s all about “Your Plan”.

As we wrap up this year, a review of some key financial points is in order.   I have often repeated myself saying, “You can have anything you want in life.  You just can’t have everything.” All we have to do is figure out the things we most want to have and to do. This step in making choices is critical.  

A client told me, “I chase squirrels.  The minute I get an idea in my head, I run after it.”  In his situation, he was talking about spending money on the “latest thing” he wanted to purchase.  His attention easily becomes diverted from his true list of goals and dreams on his family’s must-do and must-have list.  And he is not alone. 

A financial plan is freshly written, designed with specific goals and dreams. Quite often, an unexpected and unintentional change occurs. There’s a new vehicle parked in the clients’ driveway which was not included in the plan. My question is always the same. “How did that happen?”   

Two culprits which often steal our dreams are fixation and distraction.  These culprits can appear on the scene whether we have a financial plan or not.


Have you ever said, “I can’t afford it!” whatever “it” may be?  When we are fixated on the lack of money, then we need to shift our eyes onto a plan. We don’t want to rob ourselves of any worthwhile dream just because we don’t have a plan.   I said at the beginning, “it’s not about the money.” The plan is what helps us to focus on our desires.  When we have a plan, we are likely to chase after the things we want rather than the things we only think we should have.


Distractions come in different shapes and forms. We often have to resist the power of influence which distracts us from achieving our goals and dreams.  To prove my point, examine your bank and credit card statements for the past year.  Find those pesky financial transactions -- the purchases you didn’t intend to make at the beginning of the year.  With a financial plan, money is funneled in the direction of our genuine intentions: holidays, home renovations, and education and retirement funds.   


Incidentally, my thoughts turned to a childhood story about a little blue train engine who had a big mountain to scale to the other side.  The goal was to deliver packages of toys and food to the people.  Although the trek up the mountain was hard slugging, she kept repeating four magical words, “I think I can!” “I think I can!”  And she reached the top. 

Slugging away at our goals and dreams, fixated on the plan and determined to avoid distractions requires every ounce of our energy and financial resources.  When we give up too easily, we face the risk of disappointing ourselves.   When we repeatedly tell ourselves, “I think I can! I think I can!” we instill belief in ourselves and our goals and dreams.

This story of The Little Engine That Could is filled with inspiration.  Positive self-talk can override our skepticism in our ability to achieve seemingly impossible goals.  The real power kicks in when we believe in our financial plan.

Do you still have doubts about where your focus rests? Please share your skepticism and comments with me.