Thursday, April 11, 2019

Making Your Wishes Known

Have you had any tough conversations lately? If you haven’t, maybe you should.

Think about someone telling you:

“If I were ever at a point when I no longer have any control over who I am and no hope of having any quality of life, then I want to be allowed to die and not be kept alive by machines.”

Although these words may be difficult to hear, we at least know what someone else is thinking. The dangerous side of not sharing our intentions is asking our loved ones to read our minds in a life and death situation.  No one should have to make that kind of call to help determine the outcome.

Much emphasis is placed on our Last Will and Testament; however, we also need to look at the potential circumstances leading up to our death. Without any advance warning, our lives could dramatically change.  An unexpected accident. An unanticipated heart attack or stroke.  An unsuccessful surgery.  When our wishes are not made known to our families, we will compound the anxiety, fear, and grief.   Our family may be confused about making the right choices when our medical treatment is on line.

A personal care and health care directive steps in and serves an important purpose in our overall estate plan.  This document, often referred to as a “living will”, provides specific directions to a trusted individual to speak on our behalf and represent our wishes when we are incapable of speaking for ourselves.

The power of attorney for personal care begins like this,  

“I appoint my daughter to be my attorney for personal care, and I authorize my attorney to make decisions on my behalf with respect to my personal care if I am incapable of personal care, and any conditions and restrictions or specific instructions contained therein.” 

Our advanced health care directive addresses two aspects, our health care and personal care. Health care decisions primarily focus on the medical methods and procedures while personal care decisions relate to our daily lives, such as housing, nutrition, hygiene, clothing, and safety.  When we don’t have a voice, this directive will be our substitute advising both our families and medical professionals. We can be crystal-clear about our intentions if we do not wish heroic measures to be taken to prolong our lives or be kept alive by life-support machines when there is no hope of recovery.  Everyone will know without a doubt our wishes. The best outcome from any unfortunate incident is taking the pressure off our families from making difficult decisions.

In her book, You Can’t Take It With You, Sandra E. Foster stresses this document’s importance for two reasons.

In the event that you become incapacitated some day, I believe it is important to prepare a document regarding your future personal medical and personal care 1) so that you have legally chosen someone you trust to make these decisions on your behalf, and 2) so that you have provided surviving family with guidance to help them carry out your wishes. 

When we appoint someone to make decisions on our behalf, we should respectfully ask them if they want the “job”.  If we choose more than one attorney, they can make decisions on our behalf together unless we specifically state that they may act jointly or separately. 

When we hire someone for the job as our attorney, they must match the job’s criteria. We wholeheartedly declare, “I choose you because…”

“I trust you.”

“You understand my personal values.”

“You will follow my instructions.”

“You will make decisions in my best interest.”

“And most importantly, you will stand up for my wishes.”

On our birthday or Christmas, everyone asks “What are you wishing for?”  This is generally an easy conversation.  The most important, yet often difficult, conversation is sharing your wishes about our health care.  Your thoughts in writing can be the best gift you can give someone.  You’re revealing your plans in case something unexpectedly happens to you.  Let’s consider taking the burden upon ourselves to write our health care directives rather than casting the burden onto our families.

Please share in the comments below if you have made your wishes known to your family.  If not, why not?  Do you have any valid reasons? 

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Don’t Let Anything Stand in Your Way

The Heartache

Her sobs revealed the obvious; her heart was breaking. She was dealing with the unimaginable.  Her son died unexpectedly. No explanation. No advance warning. Because he had no spouse, no children, and no will, his widowed mother stood in line to inherit his large farm operation. She never anticipated this happening at her age.  Her decision could have been easy--sell everything--but it wasn’t.  Other farming children were involved. 
The Unknown

We’ll never know with certainty her son’s reasons for not having the discussions with his family or creating an estate plan.  We can only make assumptions.  He may have thought he was young, healthy, and possibly invincible.  He may have felt he had plenty of time to make his intentions known.  Or perhaps he found the decisions were too difficult and needed more time to make the “right ones”.

Let his story compel us to take action.  Let our story have a different ending.  Estate planning for a farming family will not always be “a walk in the park”. Tough decisions require meaningful conversations with family and farm advisors. Realistically, some decisions may be met with opposition from family but the opportunity must be taken to iron out the crinkles. Valid reasons may stop the process but shouldn’t stop us from crossing the finish line.   Here’s what we need to know.

Pushback from family about our decisions shouldn’t stand in the way of making our intentions known in writing. We may need to negotiate or compromise but ultimately, the final decisions will always be ours. 

Our sincere wishes are to protect and care for our loved ones and make known our charitable bequests. When we don’t honor our wishes, we cheat ourselves of our desires; and will only invite heartache, hurt feelings, and bickering into our families. Satisfying everyone may be impossible. Perseverance and courage will help fight our fears of not pleasing everyone. But when we are honest, our loved ones will know the reasons for our decisions and never be left to wonder “why”.   

The Reality

Assets alone do not determine wealth. Assets, such as investments, inventory, land, machinery and equipment may be offset against mountains of outstanding debt. Without a Net Worth Statement we clearly don’t know whether we have any wealth to distribute.    An encompassing estate plan looks at everything from insurance needs to tax planning strategies.   Only when we do our homework will we see what we own and owe.  Any potential dangers of eroding the value of our estate can be fixed with appropriate strategies to create the ideal plan.   

The Promise

Someone pointed out that anyone who doesn’t have an estate plan and a will is selfish.  Their focus happens to be only on their needs without any consideration for their loved ones.  The reasonable question is, “What would stop anyone from designing an estate plan so their family could remain united?” 

Peace and harmony, although not always achievable, should be the main objective.  When we build an empire, we have a say in how the empire is divided and shared among our beneficiaries.  An estate plan is designed to survey the accumulated wealth and decide the appropriate way to divide it.   

Although the task is daunting, we must fulfill our promises to ourselves and our loved ones. We keep our promises by revealing our intentions in writing.  When we don’t follow through with our promises, we miss the reward. 

The Reward

 Difficult tasks, like estate planning, are often shoved to the end of our to-do lists.  William James, one of the founders of modern psychology said, “Procrastination is attitude’s natural assassin. There’s nothing so fatiguing as an uncompleted task.” 

Every time we hear about someone’s unexpected injury, illness, or death, we think about our unfinished tasks. We feel a weight on our minds. Our Estate Plan which Power of Attorney, Health Care Directive, and Will, all hang in limbo because we haven’t made the time to complete it.   Once we commit and see this task to the end, our minds will be free of this burden. 

William James also said, “It is our attitude at the beginning of a difficult task which, more than anything else, will affect its successful outcome.” 

When our attitude is aligned with our motivation, we will achieve our goal.  Our intentions must be driven by our love for our families.  We will do everything in our power to have them avoid any hardships or discord…and for us, to have the comfort and satisfaction knowing our wishes will be carried out when we die.   Simply knowing this makes all the effort we put into getting it done worth it.   

If you haven’t completed your estate plan, what reason is holding you hostage?  You are welcome to share your comment below.    

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.