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.           

Thursday, December 6, 2018

K.I.S.S. Keep it Super Simple -- A List of Eleven Do’s and Don’ts for the Christmas Season

Were you ever involved in a pilot study or project to evaluate whether something was worth putting into practice?

Most businesses or governments will conduct a feasibility study or short-term experimental trial on a small scale to determine the feasibility, time, cost, and adverse events prior to implementing a project on a large scale. 

Think of it this way.  We may need to implement a pilot project for our Christmas practices.

I often hear how stressed people are during this festive season.  Year after year we identify where we go wrong but the problem is we forget our errors until it’s too late.  We’re in the month of January staring at our plummeted bank balance in horror and attesting to the fact, “We overspent on Christmas again!”  

The last thing Christmas should be is s-t-r-e-s-s-f-u-l! 

So what if we conducted a pilot project to determine what we need to keep doing, stop doing, and start doing so Christmas can be enjoyable.

A Do’s and Don’ts guide may help keep our plans in perspective during the holiday activities and the Christmas giving season. By sharing our thoughts and ideas, we can help each other spread a little more joy and happiness.  

The Do's

To begin on a positive note, let’s focus on the Do’s.

1.  Do keep the enthusiasm going.

We are coming off the month of November which promoted smart financial planning techniques and ideas.  We are revved up! “Rah! Rah! Rah! Go after what you really want!”  And then what happens?  We run smack into December and fall into a slump of repeating old habits. But this year will be different! We have a guide to prevent us from falling into those small old traps. I, too, am guilty of being lured into these same traps.

2. Do be aware of what you can and cannot afford. 

Be brave and honest with family members about the money you can reasonably afford to spend on Christmas.   Hiding the fact that you can’t afford to be generous is a hindrance. Having a heart-to-heart family meeting and setting limits on your Christmas gift exchange is a wise step. Coming together to discuss suggestions like a recycled gift exchange may alleviate the financial stress. There’s an old wise adage, “One person’s junk is another person’s treasure.”   This may serve two purposes:  scaling down on items you no longer use and passing on an inexpensive gift. 

3. Do keep in mind as people get older, the last thing they need is more “stuff” they don’t need.

A common theme seems to exist.  We can all look around our homes and garages and notice our accumulation of “stuff” we no longer need or use.  We may also have received gifts which sit on our shelves or are packed in the back of our closets. Be conscious of wasting money on gifts your family and friends won’t use. Many times people say, “Whatever I need I go and buy for myself.”  This may lead to family and friends negotiating whether gifts should bought for anyone over eighteen.
4. Do keep a list of useful gifts. 

If in doubt, buy socks!  That’s what my elderly neighbor Caroline always did.  She had a generous heart with a limited budget.  Her heart was always in the right place.  She gave socks as a Christmas gift because she knew they would be used and not stuffed in a corner or be a dust collector for someone. If socks are not your “thing”, then you can always give a plate of homemade goodies.  No one says “No!” to food unless of course it’s January 1st.   There’s no straight answer for the ideal gift.  If the gift comes from your heart, then the recipient will feel the love which comes with the gift. 
5.  Do be conscious of a child’s toy collection. 

Our grandson has way too many toys.  I refused to buy another tractor for him to add to his accumulated collection of five.  My ideal gift is a book but even books can easily become dust collectors. Recently, I stumbled upon the ‘four-gift’ rule which is a custom where you buy only four gifts for your children: what they want, what they need, something to wear, and something to read. I realize some will scoff at the idea of downsizing the number and the cost of their gifts to their children.    We all have choices. That’s understandable.  We earn our money and we have a right to spend it how we choose. The word of caution is to watch for being “excessive” with our Christmas purchases.  We might use this season of giving as a teaching moment for children to share with others who are less fortunate.

6.  Do look out for the craziness in the cost of some items. 

Lately, I became aware of one increasingly popular “toy”, Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty.  The jaw-dropping price of a small can of just putty may amuse or dumbfound you. If there ever is a time to attract people to pay good money for entertaining stuff, it certainly would be Christmas.  The proof is in the pudding (or in this case the putty!)

The  Don'ts
Now our attention turns to the Don’ts.  Just nod as you read through the list when you catch yourself saying, “I do that!”  Our focus is to stop and think about what we are doing.  These may be our greatest Christmas money-wasters.

1. Don’t overstock on groceries.
With the additional company between Christmas and New Year’s, we seem to be brainwashed into believing we will run out of food.  We have a tendency to prepare more than we will ever eat. 

We tend to be overly cognizant of our needs for chocolate and nuts. These Christmas cravings lead us to overspend on these luxury treats.  We justify the need for extra boxes as Christmas gifts or a kind gift offering to the hostess for inviting us for a meal. What happens? We find ourselves still eating these leftover chocolates in June. There is nothing wrong with eating chocolates any time of the year but stockpiling beyond our limit at Christmas is silly. 

2. Don’t prepare too much food.   

The extra baking and casseroles tend to go into the freezer and later have to be tossed. Hands up if you do that?  Mine is the first!  Do you know what happens when you try to give food away?  When New Year’s Day comes, no one wants it because (surprise!) everyone is dieting. It’s their New Year’s resolution. 

3. Don’t leave your Christmas shopping until the last possible day.

When we have a tendency to delay our Christmas shopping, we find ourselves rushing through purchases which results in the wrong and costly choices.  We may miss possible sale prices on items and we are forced to pay full price.  

4. Don’t shop to impress. 

Generous hearts lead to generous gifts when we lavishly want to spoil our loved ones.  Our love should not be reflected in the price we pay for any gift.  If it is, I must stress that we need to be prepared for the financial consequences. One article I read tells it like it is, Enjoy the Holiday Season without paying for it in January.  And I might add, in all the months which follow.   

5. Don’t be swayed by marketing schemes.  

When you are shopping for Christmas d├ęcor, the fanciest tree, the brightest and prettiest lights, and the most beautiful wreath all come with a price. The best time to shop for these items is on Boxing Day.  For some, our wallets won’t allow it because we have exceeded our Christmas budget by that time.   So as we pack away the decorations this year, the infamous line, “preparation relieves (financial) pressure” tells us to start planning for next year.  I can hear the rant. “We don’t have the same selection at the end of the season as we do at the beginning.” I believe the compromise is tucking money aside in a savings account in advance for the things you want.   

The Bonus   

This bonus list is a must in our guide to a “Merry Christmas!” 

  • Take time to appreciate what you have. 
  • Take time to slow down even for a minute. 
  • Take time to determine what you really want. 
  • Take time to remember the people who are less fortunate.

Just “nod” as you read through this list when you catch yourself saying, “I do that!” and your Christmas is sure to be merry and bright. 

If you have any improvements to add to our Christmas pilot study, please pass along any advice on what to stop, start, or keep doing so that you can K.I.S.S. and have a Merry Christmas. Leave me a comment below!