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10.29.2013
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Remembering Black Tuesday

Remembering Black Tuesday

Summary of the Dow Jones Industrial Average on Black Tuesday and the closing numbers for October 29, 2013.

Does anyone remember Black Tuesday? It was the day that marked the beginning of the Wall Street Crash of 1929.

Eighty-four years ago today, we were on the brink of the Great Depression. We call it the Great Depression – not because it was good but because of the scope and duration of this event. Today we are entering into unprecedented territory once again as the market reaches new highs. Reflecting on the last eighty-four years, what lessons have we learned and how can we use that information going forward?

Manage risk properly.

Speculative trading magnifies profits AND losses. Understand the risks going in and develop an appropriate risk strategy. If you are emotionally involved, consider working with a professional to give perspective. You can still make the final decision. I remember a time shortly after 9/11 when the markets were particularly uncertain. I spoke to an investor who sold all of their holdings because they feared losing money. They succeeding in locking in losses and when they finally felt safe enough to buy back in, they purchased at a higher price. Instead of paper losses they realized capital losses. Ouch! They were upset with their decision and in hindsight wished they had not sold at a loss. Tough lesson on the price of allowing your emotions to make your investment decisions.

No one has a crystal ball.

If you had asked someone in 1929 to predict where the stock market would be in 2013, they would have been hard pressed to imagine it would be in the 15,000 range.  The truth is that the market will continue to do three things – rise, fall and stay flat. It is possible to make money in each environment and understanding which strategies work best in different market conditions will make you a more successful investor.

Knowledge is power.

Understanding your values, goals, time horizon and risk tolerance pays big dividends. Most people distract themselves with market movements and are looking at those numbers to check their performance. That is useful information however, it is more important to measure your progress towards your goals. The market may be down but if you are on track with your goals, you sleep better at night and it is less scary to open up your quarterly statements. Conversely, the market may be up and if you are not on track to meet your goals, you are feeling a false sense of security and it is time to reevaluate your plan and get back on track. Up, down or sideways – it is important to measure YOUR progress against YOUR goals.

Remember these lessons and learn from Black Tuesday.

 

 

 

 

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10.11.2013
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How to Accept a Compliment

 

I can take criticisms but not compliments
– James Taylor
 

Someone compliments you for the outfit you are wearing or a job well done. Your typical response is:

a) “Thank you for noticing.”
b) “Oh it was nothing – anyone with a pulse could figure it out…”
c) “It wasn’t me it was….” (when it really WAS you)
d) “This old thing?”
e) to ignore the compliment and quickly change the subject
 

If you answered anything but “a”  AND want more money, it is time to exercise your receiving muscle. Accepting compliments not only exercises your receiving muscle but it also helps you stay more connected with your inherent goodness. When someone pays you a sincere compliment they are giving you a gift. If you reject the gift, you are robbing them of the opportunity to give and yourself of the opportunity to receive.

So how do you accept compliments?

If you doubt the sincerity or veracity of the person delivering the compliment, consider (just for the sake of this exercise) to suspend your judgement and pretend it is true. You are now ready to start the exercise.

Step 1 of How to Accept a Compliment

Breathe. Nice clean inhale. Feel it slide through your nostrils and travel to your lungs. Let the sweetness of the compliment fill your lungs and soak into the core of your being. Let it flow as the oxygenation process engages and allows that compliment to travel to every cell of your body until you are immersed in the experience and feel a spontaneous tug at the corners of your mouth that indicates the beginning of a smile.

Step 2 of How to Accept a Compliment

Smile. Let that smile grow unrestrained and unfettered. Beam your happiness at receiving the gift of a much appreciated compliment. Smile like you have never smiled before. Feel the stretch as your cheek muscles shift to take the smile even bigger. Feel your vocal cords warm up as they prepare to engage.

Step 3 of How to Accept a Compliment

You may be tempted to deflect or return the compliment. Resist that urge and allow yourself to voice the words, “Thank you for noticing.” and notice how the words slide off of your tongue with natural grace and ease. Traveling through the air to the ears of the person who has delivered the gift. Feel the reverberations of the words ring in your ears like the sweetest notes of a favorite song.

And that is how you accept a compliment. It is perfectly okay to do this EVERY time you receive a compliment. If you have concerns about an overdeveloped receiving muscle, you can exercise your giving muscle by delivering compliments to family, friends, co-workers, clients, or strangers. You need to keep a healthy balance of receiving and giving and when you feel out of alignment, you can exercise your way back into balance.

Can you receive compliments?

A handy guide to help you remember the three steps to receiving compliments

 

 

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10.10.2013
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Goal Setting 101 (Part 2 of 2)

Can you guess what is in the secret sauce?

The secret is in the sauce for Goal Setting 101…

In our last post, we talked about the first three steps to creat clear financial goals. Today, we are going to reveal the last three steps AND the secret sauce ingredient….

Step 4 of  Goal Setting 101 – Add the secret sauce.

Imagine that it is the date that you established in Step 2. You have the amount from Step 3 for your fund named in Step 1. You have achieved YOUR goal. What are three words that describe how you are thinking and feeling? Stop and consider this question carefully. Really get into that vibe. Own it! This is powerful stuff. No room for doubts here.

Step 5 of Goal Setting 101 – Make it visible.

Now that you have all the required elements, write it down and make it visible.

  • I, <your name>, have saved <$$$> by <mm/dd/yy> for my <sexy goal name> Fund. I feel <word #1>, <word #2>, and <word #3> to have achieved my goal.
  • I, Betsy Biggoals, have saved $1,000,000 by 12/31/2055 for my Hasta La Vista Corporate America Fund. I feel proud, grateful and excited to have achieved my goal!

Step 6  of Goal Setting 101 – Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

Congratulations! You have created your first financial goal. Ask yourself if there are any other goals that you want to meet. It is possible to have more than one goal at a time. Once you have created all of your goals, you are ready to crunch the numbers and make any necessary adjustments. For now bask in the sunshine of your success and give yourself a big pat on the back! Well done. Bravo. Hooray!

What? You need a link to do the math? Okay no problem.

Here is one for a spreadsheet.

Here is one for an online calculator.

One other handy tool I’d like to recommend is goalgami. They have a household balance sheet that simplifies the big picture. You can run various what-if scenarios and check on your goal affordability. There is a timeline to show you how your goals stack up and you get a clear picture of your financial future.

Interested in specific tips for specialty goals like college savings and retirement planning? Stay tuned for future posts on these and many other financial topics. Have a burning question? Leave a comment or use the contact page if you prefer not to share your question publicly.

 

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10.09.2013
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Goal Setting 101 (Part 1 of 2)

You know about SMART Goals.

Are your goals SMART?

Goal Setting 101

You even know about SMARTER Goals.

Have you created a SMARTER goal?

Goal Setting 101 v2.0

But do you know how to create clear financial goals?

<cue drum roll>

GOAL SETTING 101 Formula

Can you guess what is in the secret sauce?

Goal Setting 101 v3.0

I am about to show you the secret to creating clear financial goals. Are you ready?

 

Step 1 of Goal Setting 101 – Give your goal a sexy name.

It is not a retirement fund. It is a “Work Optional Fund.” Think “Future Longhorn Fund” for the kid’s college savings. Make it personal – something that resonates with you. Which sounds better to you? “Home Improvement Fund” or “Feather My Nest Fund”?

Step 2 of Goal Setting 101 – Pick the specific date you want to meet your goal.

This is your first draft. You can crunch the numbers later and adjust. Milestone birthdays work particularly well. Special anniversaries are another favorite. Planning for college?Remember to pick a date that lines up with tuition deadlines.

  • 11/12/2013
  • 1/1/2015
  • 12/31/2030

Step 3 of Goal Setting 101 – Quantify your goal.

Again, this is your first draft. In an ideal world, what do you want? Be precise. Add the bell and whistle options. For instance – if you are saving for a home – include the extras like moving expenses and a monies to decorate your new living space. Go big or go home.

  • $1,333 a month for 4 years
  • a lump sum of $128,125.19
  • $100,000 a year for 30 years

We are halfway there. Ready for the secret sauce? Stay tuned for tomorrow’s post where I reveal the secret ingredient and the last three steps…

Be sure and comment below. I would love to hear what names you create for your goals. Have fun with this!

Need one-on-one coaching on this topic? Schedule a complimentary session with Money Mentor Coach, Dedra Murchison.

 

 

 

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10.08.2013
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5 Reasons to Use a Spending Diary

Have you ever used a spending diary?

Dear Spending Diary…

Reason #1 to use a spending diary

You have more month at the end of your money. Spending diaries are a tool to help you track your spending.

Reason #2 to use a spending diary

You have a high debt to income ratio. Studies show that when people pay with cash, they spend less on purchases then when they pay by credit card.  When you track your spending, you are forcing yourself to pay more attention to your spending habits.

Reason #3 to use a spending diary

You are an impulse shopper and find you are buying more than you need. If you write what you are thinking and feeling about your purchases, you can start to look for patterns. For example – you notice that when you shop hungry, you spend more at the grocery store. Once you notice the pattern, you can make different choices and avoid situations that trigger spending sprees.

Reason #4 to use a spending diary

You need to fine tune your budget or spending plan. A spending diary will give you clues about areas that you can cut or increase spending. If you are looking to increase savings, a spending diary focuses on tracking spending so you can spot savings opportunities.

Reason #5 to use a spending diary

You want to check that your spending habits align with your values. When your values and spending are in alignment, you feel better about our choices. For example if you value eating healthy and you are spending all of your food budget on fast food – then you begin to think about your habits and choices and strategize ways to bring your spending back into alignment with your values.

Your comments and questions are always welcome. Need help getting your own financial house in order? Schedule a complimentary session with Money Mentor Coach, Dedra Murchison for one-on-one coaching.

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10.04.2013
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Living in the Past Lane

Living in the past?

Are you living in the past, present or future?

 

Past performance is not indicative of future results…

This standard disclaimer applies to many investment vehicles. It typically does not apply to human behavior. We are creatures of habit and tend to do the same thing – even when it becomes painfully obvious that it is not working.

The past often provides clues about our present.  If we seek change, it is fruitful to spend a few moments sifting through the past. What were our financial circumstances growing up? Were we raised with an abundance or scarcity mindset? How was money talked about (if at all)? What are our beliefs about money? As children we adopt the belief system of our parental units or caregivers. These beliefs become part of our operating system when we grow up. Unless we look at our beliefs, we hold on to some ideas that are not consistent with our current reality. Those beliefs limit our future reality.  When we continue to believe that money does not grow on trees, we miss out on the opportunity to become an orchard owners or to enjoy the fruits of our labor.

There is a deep-seated fear in our culture about having limited financial resources. That fear paralyzes us and keeps us on the sidelines when we could take action.

A few years ago, I talked with someone who had $1,000,000 in idle cash. They were terrified of losing money. They had enough assets to cover their living expenses until age 100 and beyond. It was not about the money. It was this deep-seated fear about something that was not true at the present moment in time. We often blame money. Money is only a tool. Consider fear as a road sign alerting you to slow down and look at your beliefs.  Ask yourself – is this happening now or am I reacting to something from my past?

We cling to the old and familiar long after it quits serving us.  The road feels bumpy as you blaze new trails and create new habits. It often helps to have support as you travel along this brave new path.

Are you stuck in the past? Schedule your complimentary initial consult today!

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10.03.2013
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How healthy is your emergency fund?

Are you saving for a rainy day?

Are you saving for a rainy day?

How much is enough when it comes to building an emergency fund?

Back in the day 3-6 months was standard fare. If your family is growing, you are adding more dependents, or starting your own business, you may want to consider having an extra cushion. There are several factors to consider as you decide how much is enough.

  • How long are the elimination periods on your disability or long-term-care policies?
  • Are you living paycheck to paycheck or do you have some financial stability?
  • Is there a high likelihood of unemployment in your horizon?
  • Are you working in an industry that is becoming obsolete?
  • What is your personal comfort zone?

Having a budget is a pre-requisite to figuring out how much you need for an emergency fund. Multiply your monthly expenses by the amount of months you want to cover and you have your number. The next step is to look at your resources. If you have that amount in savings, congratulations! If not, find the gap and start saving to fill the gap. You want to keep your emergency funds liquid.

Use a savings account, high-yield savings account or money market fund to park your funds. You are giving up yield for security. This is not money that you invest aggressively.  Savings accounts and high-yield savings accounts offer FDIC insurance. Money market funds are not FDIC insured and although they are designed to maintain a net asset value of one dollar, there are market conditions where money market funds may “break the buck” and you can lose value. Read the fine print and understand the risks, fees and expenses associated with each investment vehicle.

Certificates of deposit are another option. They offer a slightly higher yield than a savings account in exchange for restricted access to funds. They typically are sold in fixed time periods and accessing those funds before the term ends will cost you in penalties. If you are using Certificates of Deposit, you might want to consider a laddering strategy. This involves purchasing at fixed intervals so that you always have access to a pool of money without penalty.

Once you have established your fund, you want to make sure that you are using it for emergencies only. Make plans to replenish the fund if you have to dip into it for an emergency. Having an emergency fund provides peace of mind that you can handle minor hiccups in the road of life.

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10.02.2013
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The Road to Financial Literacy

via Unsplash by Simon Waelti

Have you mapped out your path to financial literacy?

It has been a long day at work. You are busy. You have things to do, places to go and people to see. You open the mail and read your 401(k) statement. You look at the charts and graphs and numbers and wonder what it all means. Are you saving enough? When can you retire? Are you making the right investment choices? The phone rings and you put away the statement and resolve to do something about it next week.

Sound familiar?

Most people continue to put off planning for retirement. They are too busy. Too confused by all the choices. Intimidated by the technical aspects of planning. Afraid to make a mistake. Wanna know a secret? There is hope and there is help. Today there are a host of tools available online and offline to help you get the knowledge you need to bridge the gaps in your financial education. Armed with information, you can make smarter choices about your money. If you invest the time, you will feel more confident and you can increase your skills.

The first step is to carve time out of your schedule to devote to learning. Decide how much time you can spare. In as little as 15 minutes a day you can make progress. Look at your schedule and block that time out. NOW. Stop reading this article and get out your calendar. I can wait….

Okay – so now you have decided how much time you are going to devote to learning. The next step is to define what it is that you want to learn. I am a huge fan of lists. Create a list of all the things you do not know. Include all the questions you have about anything related to your finances  (even the ones you are too scared to admit to not knowing). Once you have a good list going, you can sort through the list and rank in order of priority.

Now you are ready for some learning tools and resources. There are all sorts of classes available online and offline.

The FDIC offers a series called Money Smart that covers the basics of financial management. There are also modules available for youth, older adults and small business owners. In as little as 30 minutes per module you can increase your knowledge base on a variety of topics from how to track your money to understanding how credit works.  Another option developed by Texas AgriLife Extension Service under contract with  the U.S. Department of Labor Women’s Bureau is WiseUp. WiseUp educates Generation X and Y women and offers modules on money basics, record-keeping, insurance and risk management, investing and achieving financial security. Money Smart and WiseUp are free and require registration to get access to the learning modules.

Prefer your learning online with ed2go?  With a course catalog that includes courses on everything from accounting and finance to writing and publishing, you can take classes on a variety of topics to increase your skills and knowledge base. There are now about 9 courses on personal finance and investments.  Each course provides details, a syllabus, requirements and reviews. Most courses typically last 6 weeks and you have access to interactive student forums where you can post and discuss your questions. The pricing varies and discounts may be available through your college, university or local library.

If you are serious about your learning quest, you may want to consider taking educational courses designed for Certified Financial Planners(CFP®). Courses include general principles of financial planning, insurance, investments, income tax, retirement, estate, and financial plan development. You can take the courses without committing to taking the exam. I took the tax class with a woman who was not on the certification track and she discovered an error in her tax return and was able to recoup the cost of the class by amending her tax return and requesting a refund. Knowledge is powerful stuff. For more information about the CFP® program you can visit the CFP Board online.

These are only a few of the many options that are available to increase your financial knowledge base. Investing your time pays big dividends and increases your confidence. Regardless of whether you are working alone or with a financial professional, the more you know, the easier it is to make smarter choices about your money.

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10.01.2013
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The “B” Word

The B Word

Is budget a four letter word?

In case you are wondering if I am about to go PG-13 with this post, let me reassure you that the word in question is BUDGET. If that word makes your eyes twitch and you feel like you should stop reading this post and start dusting the coils on your refrigerator, reading “War and Peace” or alphabetizing your spice rack – let me ask you one question. Ever wonder why there is more month than money? If that is the case for you, I highly recommend that you give this BUDGET idea some serious consideration.

Budgets do not have to be complicated. A basic budget helps you get on track and stay on track. I like to think of my budget as a spending plan. It is an accounting of income and expenses over a specific time period. There are many tools available to help you get started and to monitor your plan.

Here are a few of my favorite tools:

Mint.com is a great tool for tracking your net worth and spending. Mint does a lot of the heavy lifting by organizing and categorizing your spending. This site allows you to pool together all your financial data in one place so that you have a snapshot of YOUR big financial picture. You can sign up for alerts to help keep you on track so that you do not overspend in a given category.  This is an ideal solution for people who are too busy to maintain and update data. You can be up and running relatively quickly depending on the number of accounts that you have established. Squeamish about security or privacy? Mint is a read-only and offers bank level security. I encourage you to read the FAQ’s and make sure you are comfortable before signing up for your free account.

Free budget templates – If you perform a basic Internet search, you can find a host of templates. One of my favorites is Vertex42. There are simple versions and a more robust household version. There is even a version for college students. Got debt? They also offer an amazing debt reduction calculator that allows you to look at various scenarios and options for eliminating your debt.

The Happiness Spreadsheet by Cathy Curtis – I always recommend that you factor in a bit of fun to your budget. The amount will vary with your income and expenses but I find that if you do not allow for this – it is hard to stay on track long-term. Curtis links spending, values and happiness. When you create a budget that is aligned with your values and income level – you have a greater likelihood of achieving financial success. The book contains exercises to easily guide you through this process. I am a huge believer in a values based approach to financial planning and this is a great tool to help you build a better budget.

These are just a few suggestions. The important thing is to get started TODAY.  Once you have created a budget, then you can move into the monitoring and adjusting period. You will start to build up data and see where maybe you left off a category or you need to increase or decrease spending based on actual expenses.  It is important to track projected versus actual spending. This will keep you focused and on track.

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09.11.2012
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Is Happiness Expensive?

Happiness is Expensive

Is happiness really expensive?

This message has haunted me these last few days. I believe that UNhappiness is expensive. If you are unhappy and use money to chase happiness, it leads to more unhappiness. So you spend more money and the cycle repeats until you are broke or wake up and realize that something has to change.

Happiness is a choice. It is a decision we make. It has nothing to do with the amount of toys we have or the number of zeroes in our bank accounts. Every day we are bombarded with messages that feed this myth. We believe that if we buy that new shiny/pretty, we will be happy. Been there done that and believe me folks, it does not work.

I used to postpone my happiness. I would set goals and when I reached them, I felt hollow. So I set more goals. The more “successful” I became, the less happy I felt. I believed that more money was the answer. I finally decided to stop chasing happy. I gave up the illusion that more money or any other shiny/pretty would make me happy. I decided to be happy NOW.  I sat myself down an looked at my values. I examined my wants and needs and realized that some of my needs were frozen needs. I started thawing them out. At first, I had to fake happy. Then I started to notice that I was not faking it anymore. I was pleasantly surprised at how much peace came with that decision.

There were a few things that helped me along this path and I wanted to share them with you.

1. Turn off the television.

I went hardcore and got rid of mine completely. You may want to start with going a day, week or month without television. Notice what happens and how you spend your time. This gives you some space from marketing messages.

2. Connect with like-minded happy people.

They say birds of a feather flock together. Notice the people around you. Are they always complaining or are they positive people? How do you contribute? Can you decide to be happy together? We cannot control others, however we can make choices about how we spend our time. Do you need to expand your circle and find new friends? Be kind and compassionate with yourself and others as you work this out.

3. Learn to distinguish between wants, needs and frozen needs.

As humans, we all  have basic needs – food, clothing and shelter. We also have emotional needs. Some of our needs were not met as children and so those needs are frozen in time. We can never go back and change the fact that there was a lack. If we try to fill those needs in the present time, we find that we are never satisfied.  Ask yourself what you are hoping to accomplish with a particular want or need. What expectations do you have and are they being met? Are your expectations realistic? Are they based on old hurts? Journaling is a great tool to start sorting this out. If appropriate, seek professional help and guidance if you decide that you do not want to work on this alone.

If you find yourself caught in the spiral of using money to chase happiness, I invite you to sign up for my blog updates and to stay tuned for more tips and suggestions on this topic and others.

 

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