Category Archives: Blog

The Power of Patience

Patience is the only path to immediate results.  Book of Miracles

Let’s be honest, patience isn’t in vogue. Results must come immediately, now!  Contrary to the “Just Do It” messages we are bombarded with, patience requires that we do the exact opposite. A good moto for patience might be “Just Leave It”.  Perhaps that’s why patience gets overlooked.  It feels so passive.  Notwithstanding, in any growth process, including improving our relationship with money, patience is vital. 

Here’s an example of how impatience kills progress. Imagine you want to grow a carrot in your garden.   You follow the instructions by creating a little hole in the soil then drop in and cover a seed. Let’s assume the garden has good sunlight and occasional rain…. all the right ingredients for growing carrots! The instructions say it will take about 70 days for the carrot to fully grow.

With only 20 days gone you start to feel impatient. Anxious to know your carrot’s progress, you dig it up. Much to your disappointment, no growth is evident.  In truth growth has occurred – a carrot seed takes as long as 3 weeks to germinate – it just isn’t visible to the naked eye.   By digging the seed up, the growth process is interrupted.  Belief in the process lost, we declare defeat and toss the seed. 

I use the carrot analogy for two reasons:

Firstly, the carrot is a universal symbol for incentive.  We’ve all heard the phrase about motivation coming from either the carrot or the stick.  BTW, I’m 100% in favour of the carrot method.

Secondly, in my coaching programs, 70 days (10 weeks) is a realistic timeframe to see “immediate” results to emerge. Change however is not the starting place.   I’ve found that conversations about change in the early stages of coaching are misplaced. They stress people out and turn people off.  Talk of change has caused many a fledgling coaching candidate to bolt! The truth is, early on most people aren’t ready to change.  They don’t have the incentive.  Not any incentive will do – it must be one we define for ourselves.  

Like a seed germinating, this is inner-work that can’t be side stepped.  Essential elements include self-examination and reflection.  Outcomes include insights that can be used to inform later action. The process is all natural and the results are home grown.  During this period of inner-work, the idea is to resist the urge to rush or to fix anything.  To do otherwise would be akin to uprooting the carrot prematurely.   

In my coaching programs, some find this period of “inactivity” uncomfortable. Of course, there is outer-work i.e. exercises to complete and new information to absorb, but the ingredient needed most at this stage? You guessed it – patience.   It may feel passive, but believe me:

Patience is progress

If the idea of patience doesn’t feel active enough for you, feel free to replace it with more heroic sounding words like persistence or endurance.  Each references the capacity to tolerate delay and each has sustained humankind’s most epic advancements. 

Confessions of a Money Coach: How Money Clarity Transformed Our Lives – Part 2

Recall from Part I of Confessions of a Money Coach, my wife and I were pondering some life changes.

We resolved that before making any major moves we would first get a better handle on our money.  I experimented with every cash management system or approach I could find.  I hated all of them. They were frustrating, laborious and intrusive.  Instead of helping us get more connected to our money they seemed to widen the separation.

Ultimately, I developed a system, The Cash Flow Cascade (more on that in future posts) that I hoped would deliver the outcomes we were looking for.   For 6 months we became the first guinea pigs of this new approach.  We stuck with it through some bumps and hiccups but in time we could see how it was going to make our lives better!  One of the things we liked was how it helped organize spending in a way that fostered insight which we could use to make more informed decisions. Progressively, that led to our making three resolutions, which I’ll share next.

First:  Replenish the “Three Scarcities”

A lack of money is often blamed for blocking us from realizing our desires.  I’ve found things are more complex than that.  When my clients describe the things that constrain their lives, three words come up again and again – money, time and energy, what I call the “Three Scarcities”. Interestingly, time and energy scarcity are mentioned almost as often as money.  The Three Scarcities are inter-related.  Spend a moment and you’ll see how they connect.

  • We need money to fund our lifestyles
  • To earn that money, we work
  • Work uses up a big part of our time
  • Our energy is zapped keeping it all rolling

My wife and I concluded all three scarcities were operating in our lives.  We agreed that no matter what changes we made, replenishing the three scarcities had to be part of the deal.  

Second:  Less House, More Life

What we thought was our dream home had become an anchor. It anchored us to a lifestyle that was evolving.   While more changes would come, a change in residence was our starting point.  Our credo had become “Less house, more life”, so it came as no surprise when that’s exactly what we got!

Within a year the old house was gone, replaced by a cozy condominium townhouse.  Its previous owner had recently renovated the unit and it suited us perfectly! We bought it the day we first saw it.  The best part was our new home was less than half the price of our old one!

The townhouse was two blocks to our town’s lakeside park, the site of countless events scheduled each summer. In a different direction we could walk to the town’s main street to enjoy its restaurants, cafés and shops. 

Enjoying a night out at one of our favourite restaurants.

One of the first things we noticed in our new life was how much freedom we had gained; no responsibility for yard care meant we had time and energy we could repurpose for other things.  Our first taste of more life!  Since I’m a Money Coach, this all needed to make financial sense as well. It did.  Our mortgage was gone, our retirement fund got a welcome boost and our discretionary cash flow increased substantially. 

My buddy Spoggles and I.

Third:  Renew Our Passions

With the big changes behind us, we were free to pursue our passions.  Dorothy became more involved in riding and fulfilled her lifelong dream of having a horse. I started playing more golf and watched my handicap drop.

Taking in the beauty of the golf course.

I also found a great deal on a used motorcycle that ticked all my ”must-have” boxes.

About to hit the road.

Conclusion:  Know Your Why

It’s curious that the path to money clarity can begin from almost anywhere.  For some it’s a life transition, for others a financial calamity.  Ours began on a vacation, triggered by the simple act of reflection that gradually led to an awakening.  We awakened to the need for an updated life vision.  We believed that if we put our hearts into it, we’d be motivated to get clear on our money too.  We felt like we were entering a new season of our lives and we wanted our changes to stick.

A new life of adventure and fulfillment.

My coaching clients are often surprised when the first thing I ask is for them to clarify what they really want.  Many had sidestepped this question out of fear, guilt or any number of other reasons. I call this clarifying process “Knowing Your Why” i.e. why you want to take control of money.

In my upcoming eLearning course, Beyond Budgets – 7 Insights to Money Clarity, Knowing Your Why is the first insight.  It changed our lives.  In the next few weeks, you’ll be given access to this lesson as my gift to you!

Steve Demaray is the founder of the Personal Money Coach Money and an advocate for money clarity.  Steve guides growth-minded people through a money life shift that transforms stress and frustration into simplicity and freedom. He has successfully coached people from Vancouver, Canada to Sydney, Australia and countless places in between.

Confessions of a Money Coach: How Money Clarity Transformed Our Lives – Part 1

Much of the writing by “money experts” starts off with a story about how they had fallen deep in debt, hit rock bottom, experienced some kind of epiphany and through a radical shift in behavior, managed to un-dig their financial hole.  This entire experience becomes their motivation to show others how they can dig out of their holes too.  

But what about all those people who are just kind of hanging in there?  For these types, the problem is more about being muddled, frustrated or stuck, but they aren’t on the verge of bankruptcy.  With no major external shock to upend them, life just kind of drifts along.  In these situations, we often need some kind of “nudge” to wake up and pay attention to what we’re missing or, should I say, missing out on.  

My story is an example of this. I offer it to you because the method my wife and I used to become unstuck not only improved our money lives but also enriched the quality of our lives.

In the fall of 2008, my wife, Dorothy, and I had had just moved into a beautiful new home on a large, tree-filled lot in southwest Burlington, Ontario.  The financial system in the USA was on the verge of collapse and we, along with everyone else in the developed world, were holding our breath.    A good part of our income and net worth was tied to the financial markets. We sat by and watched both plummet. Welcome to your new home indeed!

In Canada, the effects of 2008 were fairly short-lived. By the spring of 2009 the Canadian real estate market was growing again, our banks were all profitable and for most, life went back to normal. For Dorothy and me though, something had shifted inside us.  The calamity of 2008 made us feel very vulnerable but for the moment nothing changed. Still something didn’t feel quite right, something we couldn’t put our fingers on.

In retrospect, it was a number of things that had stirred an awakening in us:  the 2008 shock to our incomes, a house that seemed to have an insatiable appetite for money, the crazy amount of time we spent tending to yard work and what seemed like a huge amount of effort required to manage the money pieces of our lives.  

At the same time some important things were missing in our lives. I loved golf and riding motorcycles but wasn’t doing enough of either.  Dorothy had just rediscovered her passion for horses and wanted to go deeper into the sport.  We longed to bring more of these things into our lives but felt financially strained and conflicted. After all, there was still a mortgage to repay and a retirement fund to build!  

It was on a winter vacation, briefly separated from the daily grind, that we began to ask a series of “why” questions:

  • Why do we want this house we live in?
  • Why do we want to live in the suburbs where we can’t go anywhere without a car?  
  • Why do we spend so much time involved in things we don’t enjoy?
  • Why do we throw money into the things that don’t fulfill us while those things that do go unfunded?
  • Why do we, two bright finance people, find it such a struggle to get our money under control?
  • Why have we allowed ourselves to drift off course the way we have?

By the end of that vacation we resolved to make some changes. Over the next few months we did some self-coaching to clarify our values, craft a new vision and set new goals. Even before we made any changes, our emerging clarity had boosted our energy and brought us closer together.  

So, the first step of our revitalization wasn’t a catastrophe it was an awakening.  I’m going to stop here and throw out a little challenge. Nothing too difficult, just some questions and a request that you spend some time in reflection.  First the questions:

  • Are your personal finances adrift? 
  • How long have they been that way?  
  • What about the quality of your life? Are you doing the things you want to do?  
  • What are the places your money’s going that don’t (or no longer) provide fulfillment?
  • If nothing changes, what’s the outlook?

As you ponder these questions about how things are now, reflect on what your “ideal scene” would look like. Consider: 

  • What new things would you be doing?
  • What things would you stop doing?
  • What new things would you have?
  • What old things would you get rid of?  
  • Where would you be? 
  • Who would you be with? 
  • How would you feel?  

There’s no risk, so don’t be afraid to let your imagination run!

In Part 2 of this post I’ll describe the changes we made to revitalize our finances and our lives.      

Want a Brighter Financial Future? See How This Woman Found Hers

Those who have a why to live can bear almost any how- Victor Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning

 It was in the middle of a conversation during our fourth coaching session a client, I’ll call Roberta, paused for a moment and said “I want peace of mind”.  Roberta, I’d learned, was a remarkable woman.   She and her husband had just come through a decade of personal and financial fluctuations.   Along this journey she successfully fought cancer and survived the failure of a business start-up.   Through it all Roberta had never stopped being a supportive mother to her two children.  Roberta had become an inspiration to me.

Now in her mid-40s, Roberta had reached out to me because she knew her relationship with money had to change.  She understood that she and her husband Jeff had made mistakes in the past. She also knew these couldn’t be repeated if there was any hope of achieving a measure of financial independence in the second half of their lives.  

Roberta is a savvy, educated, energetic and growth-minded woman.  She is also, and this is key when it comes to taking control of money, reflective.   Coaches love to work with people like Roberta because she’s coachable.  By that I mean she welcomes and responds to a life coaching approach.  She doesn’t want or expect to be told what to do.  Instead she wants to be challenged. She wants assistance finding her blind spots so she can map a pathway to a brighter future.  That’s exactly what she and I do, over the telephone, for one hour every Wednesday at 10am.

 

A coach has to be responsive to the nature of his/her client.   In Roberta’s case, it was evident
that she needed to retrace the events of the last decade; partly to aid my understanding but more so her own. This was her reflective nature in operation.  At this stage of coaching one of my rolls was to ask the questions that would lead her to greater awareness.   

I recall an exploratory phone call prior to working together when I asked Roberta what she hoped to accomplish.  She mentioned she needed to pay down debt and build savings but said she didn’t know how to do those things.  Goals like these are what I call Outer Why.  Not that these aren’t worthy objectives, but I know that something bigger and more powerful lies beneath, something I call the Deeper Why. Getting to this often requires a bit more patience, more questions, more reflection.   It’s not a thing we will to the surface, it’s something that arises.

It was in the middle of our fourth session when it arose for Roberta.  Seemingly out of nowhere came her Deeper Why – I want peace of mind.  She’d had insights in earlier conversations but this was breakthrough and we both knew it.  Since making this declaration, a lightness is evident in our conversations which wasn’t there before.  Clarity has replaced murkiness.  

Our Deeper Why has an elegance to it.  It’s something that can’t be further divided.  It’s our heart talking.  It’s what we really want.  What Roberta really wanted was less drama and more meaning in her life. That started with a healthier money relationship.  Using peace of mind as her lens, she rapidly gained perspective about things she previously agonized over.   She once thought those things would lead to peace of mind. Now she saw they actually blocked it. 

Simplifying the complications we construct in our lives takes time and Roberta still has work left ahead.  Still, in places where she previously resisted changing, change is now occurring.  It’s natural for people who want to take control of money to wrestle with thoughts of how.  How is an important step, but it’s not the first step.  Like Roberta, I invite anyone who wants a brighter financial future to plumb your depths for the Deepest Why you can uncover.  Once you’ve gained that, the “hows” will appear all around you!

The One Financial Question Everyone Must Answer

The single most important question all of us must answer in our money lives is “How can I build and maintain financial reserve?”  This one ability is the dividing line between money mastery or misery, here’s why.

Those with financial reserve are able to experience a freedom and lightness about their finances that so many search for. Those that don’t remain in the grip of money scarcity and anxiety, always looking over their shoulders for the next financial sideswipe.   Although it’s not obvious on the surface, answering the question of how to build financial reserve by its nature requires that we master our greatest money roadblocks, including:

  1. Managing cash
  2. Paying off consumer debt
  3. Learning to save
  4. Determining what our lives really costs

Managing cash

Managing cash is about having a system in place so that money decisions are mindful and informed.  The benefits of using a system include (i) paying off debt, (ii) saving money, (iii) keeping us connected to what our lives cost, (iv) reducing stress and (iv) better alignment/fewer arguments with partners.

Paying off consumer debt

Debt boot camps, real time credit scores and all the related industries that have developed around debt repayment give the impression that being debt free is the pinnacle of financial wellness.  Wrong! Paying off debt is not our financial endgame.  It is, however, a necessary step along the path to building financial reserve (and by extension net worth).  

Learning to save

The ability to accumulate money is the drive engine of building financial reserve and financial independence.  It’s also a lost skill.  Whether it’s retirement savings (what I call your “Freedom Fund”), an emergency reserve or paying for your summer vacation, the method is the same.  People I’ve encountered with long term money problems were only able to turn the corner in their money lives when they developed a savings ethic.   The most financially content people I’ve met, not surprisingly, are serial savers!

Determining what your life really costs

As any business owner will tell you, You can’t manage what you don’t measure.  Still, many of us are blind to what our lives really cost (about 80% of us in my experience).  This leads to our being blindsided by what we perceive as “unexpected” events.  In most cases, the things we consider unexpected, are more accurately termed – unplanned for.

Taking control of money doesn’t require good math skills (there are calculators for that).  What it does require is looking at things in new ways, trying new behaviours and (surprisingly) creativity!  This work is the sweet spot of coaching which explains why working with a money coach can accelerate breakthrough. 

The 7 Insight System (you can learn more about this here) I developed over the last decade was derived through my interaction with countless households which struggle with the things mentioned above.  It breaks managing money down into bite-sized pieces so users are able to build momentum and quickly make financial progress.   Not surprisingly, the heart of the system is built around answering the question – How do I build and maintain financial reserve? 

Money, Meaning and the Story of Life’s Two Halves

What is a normal goal to a young person becomes a neurotic hindrance in old age. – Carl Jung

This post draws from the book – Falling Upwards – A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr. I came across the book by chance. To be clear, this book has nothing to do with money. At least that’s what I initially thought. As I got deeper into it, what captured my attention was how the idea of life being divided into “two halves” actually had direct parallels in our money lives. More about that in a moment.

Condensing the book’s main message is a bit tricky, but I’ll do my best. Life is divided into two halves (not related directly to age). Each half has specific traits and tasks. Here’s a summary for each:

First-Half
Traits: Kids, careers, competence, consuming. This is the outbound stage of life
Task: Building a strong “container”. By container the author means identity. We build an identity in the first-half to support our deeper journey in the second-half. To quote the book When you get your “Who am I?” question right, all the “What should I do?” questions tend to take care of themselves.

The author’s point is that building the “container” is not life’s end game. We invest so much in doing this work that we may not think anything important could exist beyond it. As stated in the book the two halves are cumulative and sequential.  If the first-half is about the tangible, the second-half moves beyond the tangible to embrace life’s mystery. Here’s more about the second-half:

Second-Half
Traits: Simplicity, completeness, meaning, being. This is the coming home stage of life
Task: “Filling” the container we built in the first-half. By filling the container, the author is referring to our quest for deeper meaning.

A central idea of the book is that for many of us, the way up starts by going down (hence the title of the book). Going down simply means letting go of first-half pursuits. One of the author’s key messages is this – we can’t move into life’s second-half until we complete our first-half work. This is where we struggle. Part of the problem as he points out is we live in a first-half of life culture.

On this point there’s a direct personal finance parallel. My realization in reading this book was that the first-half/second-half arc of life has a corresponding one in our financial lives. I’ll lay out what I see as the financial traits/task of the two halves:

First-Half
Traits: Cars, houses, income, accumulation
Task: Building our financial “container” i.e. our financial foundation

Second-Half
Traits: Living on the financial foundation we created in the first-half
Task: Pursuing deeper meaning, free of financial worries

A first-half/second-half perspective provides insight for our financial lives. A few examples come to mind:

Dealing with debt. For most, the lifetime supply of money is limited. People in the first-half may not feel this limitation but as we move towards the second-half, money starts to take on a more finite quality. Access to easy credit has helped to dull this realization. Escaping the debt trap is a first-half task yet we see the opposite happening. Statistics show that one of the fastest growing cohort of debtors is people over 55

The “Financial Fall”: Some who get stuck in first-half pursuits are only “freed” by a financial setback. For example, job loss, illness, insolvency or divorce. Surprisingly, this is often a good thing. Some of the most contented people I know are the ones who were forced to re-evaluate their lives due to financial limitation! Minus the non-essential, their lives are now filled by the things that matter most

The Active Path: The voluntary approach to preparing for the second-half is always the preferred one. Drawing from my experience as a Money Coach, some of the worst suffering I witness arises in two situations, both of which occur on the eve of the second-half:

Those who realize they have not completed their first-half work
Those who risk second-half wellbeing by refusing to let go of first-half pursuits

The second-half of life is the most fulfilling (sorry first-halfers). Ask everyone in the second-half who’s done their first-half work and he/she will agree. This assertion is captured in this Native American aphorism – No wise man ever wanted to be younger. For first-halfers, the message regarding money and meaning is clear – start building your containers now.
For those in the second-half, a question. Whether you call it arc, stages or seasons, things are about to change. Are there corresponding shifts you should make in your financial life?

Steve Demaray is the founder of the Personal Money Coach Money and an advocate for money clarity.  Steve guides growth-minded people through a money life shift that transforms stress and frustration into simplicity and freedom. He has successfully coached people from Vancouver, Canada to Sydney, Australia and countless places in between.

The secret to abundance in your Money Life.

I want to let you in on an important secret.  If you want to feel more financial abundance, try taking control of your money.  Wait, before you bounce, hear me out….

To explain, I’ll use the analogy of water in place of money.  Imagine how difficult managing water would be if we didn’t have something to put it in, for example a container.  It would constantly run through our fingers.  We couldn’t work with it or manage it.  It would simply leak and drain away.

Switching back to money, when money leaks and drains away, the tendency is to plug the gaps with debt.  Truth be told, at some level, we know that debt isn’t the real solution.  We think the real solution is to make more money!

This is a convenient rational but it’s flawed.  Switching back to water, if I were to pour water into your cupped hands, together we’d watch most of it slip away. Would pouring on more water solve the problem?

Yet, for money troubled folks, more money is often the first solution that comes to mind.  I’m totally in favour of increased income, but in practice, it’s a difficult thing to produce. There are a number of reasons for that:

  • It’s not entirely within our control
  • There’s often a lag between effort in and money received
  • The government will take their share in the form of income tax
  • For “side gigs” there can be initial investments needed for things like inventory, subscription fees, training costs, etc. In other words, we have to put our scarce dollars in before there’s any prospect of money out. Ugh
  • Related to the last point…there’s no guarantee we’ll earn a return on our investment

I’ve learned from my coaching clients, money is not the only scarcity in their lives. It’s very common for them to report being time challenged and energy drained as well.  Under those circumstances, is starting a new income-earning enterprise feasible? How about a second job or putting in more hours at the current one?

I’m not sensing abundance here.

Before going too far down the “earn more money road”, is it worth considering whether existing income could be managed more thoughtfully?  If nothing else it:

  • Is entirely within our control
  • Pays “dividends” immediately
  • Requires little or no investment
  • Is tax free! (Is there anything more satisfying than beating the tax collector?).
  • Is completely legal!

Here’ the paradox:  People resist taking control of money, because they believe it will involve shrinking their standard of living.  For those who push through their resistance, there’s a surprise in store – they find the opposite to be true.   Bringing attention to their money instead of leading to constraint leads to abundance!  It’s what I call – The Money Clarity Paradox.

It seems then that if we build a suitable container for our money (i.e. take control), some mysterious force fills it for us.   This shouldn’t be a mystery though. It’s no secret that what we bring our attention to expands.  Whether it’s school work, raising children or athletic performance, we’ve all experienced the benefits of focused attention.  Why should it be different when it comes to money?  By contrast, the places we deny attention (Note – by attention I don’t mean worry) shrink. This too applies to money.

 

Steve Demaray is the founder of the Personal Money Coach Money and an advocate for money clarity.  Steve guides growth-minded people through a money life shift that transforms stress and frustration into simplicity and freedom. He has successfully coached people from Vancouver, Canada to Sydney, Australia and countless places in between.

Money Does Buy Happiness* Conditions apply….

I’ve been wrestling with the “does money buy happiness” question for some time in part because it seems I could successfully argue both sides of the debate.  Over the holidays, I decided to do a deep reflection on this to resolve it once and for all.  My conclusion –  Money does buy happiness but certain conditions apply.

If your life could use more happiness, see if any of these are getting in the way.

  1. You can’t buy happiness on credit

I hate to be the bearer of bad news.  This is the dirty secret the credit card companies and banks fail to reveal.  In the mounds of disclosure that accompany borrowing arrangements, there is no mention of the simple fact “Debt does not buy happiness”.   The reality seems just the opposite. In my experience, over-indebted people are stressed and unhappy.  These folks may have been searching for happiness but what they got was indenture.  Now they’d settle for relief.

I considered the question – Does the presence of money guarantee happiness?  My conclusion?   Absolutely not.  We all know, or know of, people who have oodles of money and are miserable.   This must be a real puzzler for those who are moneyless. The explanation comes in the next condition.

   2. You need to know what makes you happy

Here’s a little exercise:  Look back at the happy experiences in your life and reflect on:

  • The people you were with
  • The work you were doing
  • The growth you were undergoing
  • The excitement you were feeling
  • The purpose you were fulfilling
  • The mystery you were contemplating
  • The contribution you were making
  • The spirit you were awakening
  • The magic you were experiencing

How central was money to each/any of these?   Yes, we need money to provide for the basics of life and for useful stuff and interesting experiences.  At some point though, we start to ask too much of it and our unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment.  Reflecting on my life, I’ve lived in dumpy dwellings and driven crappy cars while being ecstatically happy (and vice versa).  The source of my happiness likely traced back to one or more of the occasions shown above.   What about you?

   3.  Happiness requires balancing pleasure with meaning

OK, money may buy pleasurable things and experiences which in turn can lead to happiness (at least in the short run).   Does this mean our path to happiness is limitless, self-indulged pleasure (aka hedonism)?  This may sound seductive but I suspect few would permanently choose this life.  Evidence of this can be found in our own childhoods. After a summer of fun, we become bored and eager for a return to school. Another example comes from vacationing at a Caribbean all-inclusive.  By the end of two weeks, we’re done.  Even if we had the money, a life of pure pleasure isn’t our happiness endgame.  This is where we have to read the money/happiness fine print.

It’s easy to get confused about this.  Mythologist Joseph Campbell famously said we should “follow our bliss”.   Many (myself included) have mistaken Campbell’s use of the word bliss to mean pleasure.   A deeper reading of his material shows what he actually meant by bliss was more akin to purpose.   His full quote Follow your bliss and the universe will open doors for you where there were only walls

Campbell was urging us to follow the path that was uniquely our own (what he referred to as the Hero’s Journey).   The Hero’s Journey is all about the pursuit of meaning as a path to happiness/bliss. You can’t book it using credit card points.

That’s enough deep thinking for now.  It’s time to go have some fun! 

 

My New Christmas Tradition….

This is the year I’ll act on something that’s disturbed me for some time. It has to do with the Christmas gift giving ritual in my family (which is probably similar to the ritual in many western households). More about that in a moment. So, why am I changing this now?

Maybe because:

  • I’m turning 60 next year and using the opportunity to re-evaluate my life
  • I realize how fortunate I am compared to much of the world’s population
  • I still have gifts from last year that were never opened. (On this point I want to stress, this wasn’t the gift giver’s fault – I’m hard to buy for.)

My wife Dorothy and I are simplifying our lives. This started with a downsize 5 years ago. At that time we gave away, donated or discarded much of our surplus stuff. We now have a strict “No new stuff” policy. I’m pleased to report its mostly held.

My family’s annual Christmas gift exchange hasn’t changed. Ever. As I mentioned, I’ll be 60 next year. There have been occasional musings about shaking up the old tradition but we couldn’t agree on a new one. So, on it went. By taking independent action, I’ve gotten around the whole consensus problem.

Here’s my new Christmas Gift Tradition: I ask family members to donate my gift (the cash equivalent) to a charity. I know this is not an uncommon preference but it’s new to me. This year my charity of choice is the local animal rescue. That selection came to me spontaneously when gazing into the face of our dog, Spoggles (pronounced Spa-gulls). I’m so happy (and relieved) with my new tradition. I don’t anticipate any family push back either. There’s only upside, what I like to call an elegant solution.

Gift giving is stressful. So much effort goes into agonizing over what some might truly need or want. Also, there are so many things to choose from. Apparently, this is not a good thing. In his book, The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha describes research which shows when we’re overwhelmed with choices we do one of two things (i) make no choice or, (ii) make a bad choice. Since we see gift giving as compulsory the first option is off the table. That means a lot of gift giving results in bad choices.

When gift giving, we’re looking for evidence of joy and appreciation on the receiver’s face. They know we’re looking for it too, which makes things that much more uncomfortable. A gift giving faux pas means both giver and receiver feel, for lack of a better word, yucky. In extreme cases it can actually trigger feelings of resentment. Receiver to him/her: “How could you think I’d ever want this?” Giver to him/hers: Do you know what that thing cost?” How many times will that happen in living rooms across North America this Christmas? Merry Christmas indeed.

Christmas gift giving has become laden with expectation which is what sows the seeds of disappointment. We try to circumvent this by giving more. As a person whose done my share of last minute shopping, I’ll describe what this looks like. It’s evident on the face of a haggard Christmas Eve shopper who staggers from store to store looking for one more trinket. The empty look in their eyes tells us they’re trying to resolve the “Is this enough?” question. Unsure, they stagger on.

By asking for donations vs gifts, all of this is avoided. The double-sided guilt trap is replaced with three gifts being given: the giver to the receiver, the receiver to the charity and the charity to its beneficiaries. I’m so happy I finally clued in!

Readers with young children or grandchildren might be thinking, “Christmas is a magical time for kids. I love seeing the look of joy on the face of a child who’s just received my gift. It brings me joy too”. I completely understand. My question is, when does that magic wear off? Or better yet, when is it time to shake up this tradition with a fresher form of holiday magic? For me, it will be on my 59th Christmas.

I wish you all a magical Holiday Season and a brilliant 2018!

Step 1 for Out of Control Finances – Disconnect the Autopilot!

I started my private pilot’s license in my 30’s at a small air park north of my home. The thing I loved about learning to fly was, from the start, the student is the one doing the flying. Yes, there is an instructor right beside you in the early stages, but you’re the one in the “right seat”. Guided by the instructor, the student takes the controls and works through a list of skills needed to pilot a plane: take-offs, landings, level flight, turns, stall and spin recovery, etc. etc. To earn a pilot’s wings, the student must ultimately demonstrate his/her proficiency in each of these areas with a flight examiner.
Even though the small planes I flew had a basic autopilot system, learning how to use it wasn’t part of the curriculum. To include it would have defeated the principles being taught i.e. basic aircraft control. A plane knows how to fly itself straight and level but a junior pilot does not. When learning to fly it’s all about the student giving the plane his/her direct attention.

fly

Sadly, autopilot systems have led to many air disasters. Not necessarily because they failed, but because they were misunderstood or used improperly. In times of severe stress, the autopilot can actually lead to cockpit confusion. The lesson from this is that autopilot systems are not a replacement for human intelligence.

The same holds true with money clarity.

I’m often asked if I can recommend a helpful money app. My answer is always the same. No. There are some very creative and interesting apps available. Some are even available for free! If a free app was the solution to our money ills, financial contentment would be the norm in our households. Of course, that’s far from the case. In a May 2017 New York Times article Household Debt Makes a Comeback, it was reported that, in the 1st quarter of 2017, household debt in America surpassed its Q3 2008 level i.e. the beginning of the great recession.

Two-years prior, in a 2015 survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, it was found that worries about debt repayment were the leading cause of money stress for Americans. Apparently, even though debt stresses us out, it doesn’t stop us from ramping up the borrowing. A free app isn’t likely to solve this problem. So, what will?

In my experience, people whose money lives are on “autopilot” have out of control spending, stress-inducing debts and deficient savings. My recommendation has nothing to do with an app. It is just the opposite actually – it’s to be like a student pilot and pay attention!

In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron writes attention is an act of connection. When it comes to managing household finances, this observation is right on the money (pun intended). My coaching clients bring attention to, and build connection with, their money lives by learning to think in new ways, by learning new skills and by taking new actions.

So, if you’re struggling with managing money, take my word for it – you can’t outsource money clarity to an app. Instead, direct your attention to learning the basic skills of money management. Then, if you still feel you need an app, go for it. My bet is, you won’t!