Wednesday, May 13, 2015

The Poverty Mindset

There has been a lot of talk on the You Need A Budget (YNAB) forums recently about a "poverty mindset", and how it affects how people handle money. The general consensus seems to be that some people in rough situations get so used to having little money that, when they get more, they automatically squander it.

Another side of the debate points to people who abuse social care systems, making no effort to lift themselves out of the state of poverty. Instead of trying to do better, they settle into the rut of receiving handouts and build their life around them.

For me, I have been blessed to never know poverty. I have never been hungry; I have always had a place to lay my head. I have been clothed and I could get to school. I realise how fortunate my upbringing was in that regard. Even so, there were times when I felt my inability to afford the extras in life and, at the time, that felt monumental. Since then, I have grown enough to know that the extras aren't that important after all. I have my Father to thank for a good bit of my financial sensibility. He told me in my teen years about my responsibility to support the household I was in, and also cautioned against spending money frivolously.

This is not to say that I have not had my moments of completely going against some parts of his advice, but eventually I returned back to the basics.

One of the other things which has affected me positively over the years is embracing minimalism. It was like waking up from a stupor of reckless spending and hoarding and realising that I was drowning in 'stuff'. What followed was a massive purging of things in my surroundings.  Even more profound and far reaching, however, was the mental shift that took place; my mind decluttered as well as my environment.

I realised that most things in this material world are completely unnecessary. Despite what society is claiming to be the basic standard of living - which generally includes a car, a house, many gadgets and toys, plus the latest fashions - the basic needs of life have not changed.

Food, shelter, clean water and clothing remain the basic needs of life. In a forward society one could add education, health care and employment opportunities; these assist you in securing the first set of basics I mentioned.

From this starting point, I realised with a thundering clap of awareness that I was extremely fortunate. Despite being nowhere near a millionaire, I have more than enough to sustain an extremely comfortable life and, further, when compared with most of the other humans on the planet, I am rich.

I see the poverty mindset in people who are just as fortunate as I am but, because their frame of reference is different, they feel like they are constantly in a rat race. There is never 'enough' money and so, instead of being prudent, they take that as an excuse to 'live it up' and not worry about the future.

Some people genuinely don't know where their next dollar is going to come from and have neither family nor government assistance to fill in the gap. Their dreams start at a hot plate of food and their stretch goal might to be able to eat in a fast food chain one day.

I remind myself of my good fortune regularly to keep myself from feeling bogged down by the expectations of other people, especially when I get caught up in the hype over something that, at the end of the day, is only an extra.  I remind myself that extras won't significantly improve my quality of life.

Most of all, this allows me to be more generous and to help others who are truly in need of support. Knowing that I can furnish someone with a need instead of simply buying something I want lifts my spirits.

I do my best to help my friends and family to see that they are one of the privileged few and not part of the struggling many but I also know it is a hard sell. When you compare yourself to celebrities and upper-middle class examples of wealth, you will never feel as if you match up.

We all need to step outside of our self-imposed poverty mindsets by taking a very hard look at what is necessary in life and what is simply 'good to have'.

Friday, April 3, 2015

My Trip to Dominica: The Flight In

I decided to go to Dominica on a whim.

It had been on my list of places to go since a good friend of mine had relocated there and had given me an open invitation to come up to visit her. It all came together very quickly due to a combination of another vacation plan falling through and finding a cheap ticket on LIAT.

The real challenge for me was that I hate flying. Yes, I am an ATC but I am actually frightened of flying - especially the phases of take off and landing. I was pretty happy and excited about my trip, up until the day in question when I started to think about the fact that I was about to get on a plane.

I felt something like this...
As time ticked on, my panic ratcheted up higher and higher. I usually try to joke away my fears and so I sat down and penned a will. It was written in a hilarious fashion, and although it was still a bit morbid, it kept my panic at bay on the drive to the airport, checking in and heading through to immigration.

This level mood prevailed until I was through the security check and realised that I had forgotten to write down my friend's address in my journal so that I could fill it out on the immigration form for entry into Dominica. Worse yet, I couldn't access the internet to pull it up in my email.

Yea... I feel yuh kid.
Thankfully, my friend L came to see me off and I was able to use her phone to access the information. I was doubly glad to see her because having her to talk to really calmed my inner panic.

She left me after a while and I sat in the departure lounge trying to eat my snack. All was going well when I heard the TV in the lounge area broadcasting breaking news about a plane that had run off a runway in the US.

I whipped out my earbuds at the speed of lightning while simultaneously wondering whose bright idea it was to share information about an aircraft accident to people that were waiting to board a freaking plane!

Despite my best efforts, my panic was back, and even the strains of my favourite music seemed to be doing little to calm me down.

Luckily I didn't have long to sit in my state of barely contained mania for too long; my flight number was called just as I finished eating.

I was next caught up in the flurry of getting my ticket stub torn off and hustling out to the plane. As I walked out on the ramp and past the control tower where I usually worked, I was struck by how easily I dismissed the wonder and beauty that was air travel as I lost myself in the day to day grind of my job.

In the here and now I was feeling like an ant about to go on a great adventure by hitching a ride on a giant bird.

I stowed away my carry-on and took my seat, staring at the window at the engine that was right across from me. A vivid image of the propeller spinning off and flying at me came readily to my mind but I shoved it aside and called my friend in Dominica to let her know that amazingly, instead of Leaving Island Any-time Time, LIAT was leaving on time today. 

Then I watched the flight attendant demonstrate all of the motions of how to save yourself in the unlikely event that the plane crashed and you didn't die on impact. I fidgeted in my seat and tried not to let my mind dream up all the scenarios in which the information that was being broadcast would be useful to me. 

When we finally started to taxi, I amused myself by miming what the pilot had probably been told by my colleague in the tower:

"LIA364 taxi to holding point taxiway bravo via taxi alpha, time 43."

I was breathing deep and calming breaths as we made our way down the taxiway.

As we turned into Bravo, I saw another LIAT airborne just before us and my heart started to race. When it turned I knew that we would be given take off, so I was bracing myself even before the pilots told the cabin crew to prepare for departure.

In my head I heard:

 "LIA364  Runway Zero Niner Cleared for Take Off,  Winds 090 Degrees One Two Knots."

Now I was thinking with an ever increasing heart rate:

"This Sh_t is really happening... we're going...oh God we're... going..."

And we did. And it was flawless. The instant we were airborne, as always happens, my panic was replaced with awe and exhilaration. I watched Barbados spill out before me from a bird's eye view, and then marvelled at the clouds that we were suddenly touching. Palaces in the sky...

Now that the scary part was over, I was happily journalling, knitting and watching the clouds. I was so engrossed in my activities that when I noticed we were descending, I was actually shocked that we had gotten to our destination so quickly. It dawned on me then that it took longer to drive from Bridgetown to St. Lucy than it did to fly from Barbados to Dominica.

I was lost again in the amazing wonder that was modern air travel until we began a series of sharp turns and noticeable manoeuvres as we prepared to land.

The fear though was counterbalanced and then eclipsed when Dominica came into view. Mile upon miles of lush green rain forest, covering hill and mountains. I was so enthralled with how different it looked than Barbados, that my fear took a back seat. 

We landed with the slightest of impacts and rolled into the gate a few moments after.

I had a simple and hassle free time with immigration and since I didn't have any checked luggage I was soon stepping out of the arrivals hall and into the arms of my friend. My trip to Dominica had begun!

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Asha Lets it Go

I logged on to check my income tax today and noticed that my PAYE (Pay As You Earn) information had been filed by my department. This was of particular interest to me as I had been overpaid in 2013 and they had repaid the substantial amount in one lump sum in 2014. 

My expectation was that my earnings would be significantly less than normal - well that didn't materialize. In fact when I added up my pay checks they came up to be less than what was filed by about one thousand dollars.

I called one of the accountants twice, and each time netted me information but nothing I could really work on. I pointed out that the overage was probably overtime but I was pretty sure I had not worked enough doubles in that period to account for the thousands of dollars I paid back, as well as the thousand dollars extra.

The accountant succinctly told me that I should have kept better track of my overtime with a finality that said me that she certainly wasn't concerned with whether or not the time had been logged correctly. I acknowledge that my problem is not her problem and that any bitter feelings I have really stem from a feeling of helplessness in the situation.

There have been instances recently where persons have spoken quite tenaciously about making sure that they are given what is due to them and not being 'unfaired' by entities or authority. Within myself I feel the stirrings of wanting to dig down and get to the bottom of this to make sure that I am given what I deserve - in the end I would want my tax return to be such that I get back some of the money I paid in taxes in 2013 for money that I ultimately did not get to keep.

The feeling of 'fighting' for what is mine, or in the very least digging into the situation until it was fully understood by me was accompanied by a sinking feeling. I was not inspired or uplifted by the prospect of going on this hunt for information, and, if need be, the quest for justice.

I looked at it, and I wondered if I was just a coward; maybe I was 'too passive' as one of my good friends likes to say in reference to Bajans in general. I consider that I don't like to cause strife or to rock the boat; I prefer peace and quiet - and there is no peace and quiet to had when it comes to pursuing the threads of an administrative debacle.

In fact, I was not even 100% sure that there was an wrong-doing and I was already upset. This didn't bode well for how I would fare as the situation developer. Although it seemed cowardly to prefer to simply let it go, I also felt that my soul would be much better served if I did.

But why, you ask? It is not because it is 'just' money. It is because right now in this moment as I sat there, solving it wouldn't add anything to my life beyond soothing out a wrinkle. In fact the wrinkle was being caused by my own emotional reaction to the idea that 'something' was wrong. 

But what if I choose to believe that the PAYE info was correct? 

My peace of mind, happiness and well-being right in this moment was not hinged on a hypothetical tax return being the correct figure. My happiness right now depends on me embracing my current situation and making the absolute most of it.

In choosing to believe that the PAYE information filed is correct, I refund myself hours of worrying: back and forth on the telephone or even in person, and there is nothing more I hate than having to converse with virtual strangers on potentially upsetting topics. 

Even if the end result netted me a thousand dollars(which it wouldn't), I would no doubt end up having to spend it all on self care to help to combat the stress that I put myself under trying to unravel the situation. And even after it happened, I could see myself feel bitter and jaded that I even had to go through all of that trouble in the first place.

But more to the point am I a coward? Yes. I don't like confrontation and I avoid it. There, I said it. 

Anyone that reads my blog would know the story of the centipede ~ taking on a situation like this with admin, feels like trying to face down a centipede with one thousand giraffe-sized legs. I simply don't want to.

And you know what? I won't. 

What will I do? Let it go.

Why? Because I was happy and I want to be again.

You don't really believe you can just magic it away? Yes and No. But still.

But still what? I choose to be happy right now over being richer or righter later. 


The End.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Stamp Out Money Worries


If you find yourself regularly stressed and upset over money it is a clear indication that you need to to shift your mindset.

Numbers are beautiful; simple addition and subtraction does not lie. If you do not have enough money to pay your bills, it will be set out clearly in front of you. There is nowhere to hide from the dreaded red numbers that declare that you owe debt to someone or some entity.

Worry is not a mathematical function. It will not improve or change the sum total of your situation and so it is best left out of the equation.

I have often said before to replace worry with hope, neither may have an impact on the answer to your problem, but one is remarkably healthier than the other.

The ill effects of constant worrying on a body have been stated several times, but even more dramatic is the negative effect that it brings to bear on your productivity.

It is only through producing a more abundant situation for yourself that you can begin to bring your money equations back into the black. For some this may be achieved by getting a second job, while others cut their expenses. Some may face the tough decision of downgrading their living standards or in extreme cases filing for bankruptcy.

In each stage of the process, worry can plague you like an unwelcome house guest and rob you of any peace of mind or personal well being.

It is best to make the decision today to set it aside and to fill your life to the brim with gratitude and positive thinking.

When next you start to worry, stop and ask yourself what you can do to improve your situation even a little. Go do that thing. Rinse and repeat.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

First Create a Vision

Knowing where you are going helps you to make important decisions about your preparation. I struggled with vision for a long period of my life and it caused me to feel as if I was getting nowhere; and I wasn't far wrong.

From 2009 to 2012 I saved about 16000 dollars however, by then end of 2012 I only had 5000 dollars left. Of the things I spent the money on, most are gone. Dim to my memory and hardly leaving behind anything tangible that I can say still brings value to my life today.

Back then I was saving money just because I thought I should. The problem came after I saved the money and didn't have any plans for how to spend. This resulted in a free-for-all type of spending with no forethought.

This short term sight followed me from my teen-age years when the traditional path through school didn't appeal to me. I felt depressed instead of energized by the thought of going to college and I had no clear talent in any area that I could focus on.

I was drifting like a log on the river completely at the mercy of the pull of the water. I was ageing but not growing and headed nowhere fast.

Even when I got a grown up job, which had morphed into a respectable career as an Air Traffic Controller, I still suffered from a fundamental lack of vision. I knew quite staunchly what I did not want: a husband, a car, a mortgage but I found it difficult to express what I did want.

When I became interested in personal finance, I tried to take my life plan from the examples of people like Mr. Money Moustache, and other finance gurus preaching the doctrine of early retirement. What he and others have said, and continue to say, makes a lot of sense but it didn't fire me up. I had no passion for it.

And there was the rub; just because something makes logical sense doesn't mean that it is part of your vision. A vision is something that should come from a gut feeling. It should fill you with hope, and drive you to put in the necessary work, to achieve your goal.

I spoke about working with a life coach, and my initial difficultly in coming up with a vision. It continues to be something that I occasionally struggle with but I am getting better and reaping the benefits. There is a satisfaction that cannot be otherwise duplicated, which arises from seeing your hopes and dreams manifested into reality, and knowing that you put in the work to make it so.

Here are some of the tools I use to come up with a vision for myself:

(1) Create a vision board. It is basically a collection of images that you connect with.

(2) Meditate and allow yourself to envision yourself in the future. Be open to whatever images may come up.

(3) Define your core value and then extrapolate from them what changes you could make in your life to live by those values more so than you are doing now.

(4) Above all be open and flexible. As you grow your vision will grow with you. It may change, or it may simply become more refined but refrain from holding on to an old goal that no longer serves you.

The above statement is very true, if you don't make a concerted effort to change your life, the patterns of before continue. It takes first knowing what you want to change to get the ball rolling in that direction.

What is your vision? And what can you do today to get your one step further?

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Harnessing Inspiration

Too often in the journey things that we used to enjoy start to lose their sparkle and suddenly they are seen as just another chore on the to-do list. When motivation wanes, it is most often because we lack the spark of inspiration which makes the mundane interesting and enticing.

In her book the '8 Pillars of Motivation", Farnoosh Brock writes that once she discovered her true passion that her motivation became unfailing. It even spread from her main task to all areas of her life leading her to total fulfilment.

Knowing your passions has become the corner stone of the methods I use for coaching clients to master their money; my philosophy is that when you use your abundance to fuel what brings you to life, you will begin to adjust your money habits to ones that make you happier.

I have seen this in action in my own life and so I am happy to show others how to do the same. My passion for writing has grounded me into a reality that is now filled with productivity and contentment.

A passion without inspiration however, is like a light-bulb with no electricity. In order to connect the circuit and make it work, you need to harness your creativity by way of inspiration and bring your passions to life.

Knowing what inspires you to create, can help to top up your energy when you are feeling low. Overcoming writer's block or solving a problem that has you stuck, are hurdles that can be surmounted by strategic action.

I am inspired by portraits, music, comfort and my dreams. Additionally I am inspired by landscapes, flowers, budgeting and good food. I utilize these as my muses, to help me to birth into being new ideas, concepts or simply to bring a smile to my face or in the case of music, a rhythm to my body.

For each person this list will be different, so I implore you to take some time to investigate what causes the gears in your mind to turn. It could be reading poetry, making art, taking a walk or having a soak in the tub; climbing a mountain or watching your favourite movies.

Once you have compiled a list of the things that get your creative juices flowing, set an intention to mindfully do one or more of those things when you are stuck in a rut.

If I am trying to write a scene in my romance novel and struggling, I turn on my playlist and head-bang through the rest of my word count. The work may often needs a bit of polishing, but is filled with raw potential and many times a brilliant new facet of one of the characters is revealed.

In trying to keep my blog populated with posts, I have taken to brainstorming articles and keeping a list of possible topics. I find that I get this done well if I am in my favourite sweater and sipping peppermint tea. Setting the scene to be one that fills me with good feeling, translates to increased productivity.

Take a few moments out of your day today to find your muses and do all you can to keep them nearby. You next great creation is ready to be showcased, so get to it!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Know Your Financial Baseline

In tennis the baseline is the edge of the court. Being aware of the limitation of the playing area is a skill that for a seasoned tennis player will become a natural instinct. They will know how to hit the ball to keep it in play and also they will 'feel' when they have hit it out of play.

This visceral knowing comes from the practice of the sport: a concerted effort towards perfecting your craft as a tennis player comes not only from keeping your body in tip-top shape but also from mastering the court.

In the same way, mastering your finances not only requires mastering the generation of income but also in being fully cognisant of the way in which that money is spent. The spending of money in this scenario is the tennis court. To continue this scenario, a financial baseline is the least amount of money you need to furnish your needs on a monthly basis.

This number represents what you would keep paying if you found yourself in a reduced income situation and needed to drastically cut expenses. This number is derived by looking at your current list of obligations and highlighting which bills and activities you would maintain even if you found yourself in the worse case scenario.

For a starter a baseline would include housing and the associated utilities, food, transportation and a cell phone or the internet for communication. Maintaining other things such as health and life insurance would be additional on top of this. If possible making minimum payments on debt would also be considered part of your baseline costs, as you would want to do whatever possible to stop those obligations from going into collections. 

Knowing your baseline helps you to make gauge your how much risk you can tolerate when making investments. It also helps you to plan for retirement, as you would have a good idea of how much money you would need to comfortably maintain your current life style. 

It is also key when looking at how much of your income you are utilizing. This percentage ideally would be low enough that you can comfortably meet your living needs and still have plenty left over for your wants and to put into savings, investments and retirement vehicles.

Even if your financial situation is not ideal and knowing this information can assist you to avoid taking on any-more than you can handle. It can also pave the way to turning around your current situation; awareness is the first step in implementing lasting change.

Our consumerist society driven by mass media marketing encourages the individual to get whatever they want immediately and promises that the problems that they are facing (depression, low self-esteem etc) will be solved by purchasing the items being advertised. These false promises often lead people into living a lifestyle which is propped up by debt. Knowing your baseline is your first protection against such a trap, as you become acutely aware of your own financial situation and how such purchases will effect your ability to maintain a healthy balance.

The key to a life free of money worries to keep your ball active at all times, even if you chose to sometimes take a risky shot, you do so knowing how you will recover from any potential double faults. 

Too many people try to constantly increase their income without learning to master the court; which is akin to a tennis player spending a lot of time in gym but not enough time actually playing. While the tennis player is stronger and can now hit the ball farther, their skill in playing the game has only marginally improved.

In finances this type of thinking leads to dead-end as one begin to realise the truth in the adage more money, more problems or succinctly: the more you earn, the more you spend. In order to keep yourself from falling into this trap one must keep your baseline from exploding as your income increases, and when your income decreases, drop your baseline accordingly so that you always maintain a level of breathing room. 

To  put it in a different way, you can win at the game of personal finance by keeping your ball well within the confines of the tennis court. Overtime as you practice it will become second nature and you begin enjoy the victories that will ensue as you master the ratio between your income and your obligations. You will then be able to fully enjoy the abundance that you have left over after your have satisfied the balance between the two.

Game. Set. Match.
Raphael Nadal