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

Saturday, February 14, 2015

A Morning Routine

I have spoken before about habits and how they can change your quality of life. This post is to further that discussion somewhat. I have found that when I string certain habits together the result is powerful chain of healthy activity that leaves me feeling grounded and ready to take on the day.

A morning routine is a series of actions that you decide to adopt as part of your schedule. It often begins upon waking and will carry you through until you are ready to transition into your first major task of the day. This routine can consist of almost anything, and I will list some of the typical habits you can put together to create your own morning routine a little later.

For now I will speak of the most important part of any morning routine: Sleep. In order to ensure that you have enough time to implement any habits upon waking, you need to have gone to bed at a time which allows you to get enough sleep so that you can get up early.

This is a greater challenge than it may seem as many of us struggle with poor bedtime habits, and so falling to sleep very difficult. This difficulty translates into poor rest, and often we wake up grumpy at the behest of an alarm or a loved one, wishing we didn't have to get out of bed.

In order to make sure that you can flow seamlessly from sleep to wakefulness it is important to get to bed at a reasonable time, and turn off any distractions such as the cell phone, tablet, laptop or television and fully prepare for sleep.

Once you have set yourself up with a sleeping habit that you can rely on, you then can decide on how you would like you morning to start. Your routine may be only thirty minutes or you may want an hour to yourself before you let the rest of the world in. The key is to try different habits that appeal to you and adjust the timing where necessary until you are satisfied with the outcome.

The point of a morning routine is to put you both in a mental and physical state which helps you have a productive and balanced day. How we start out can decide how we continue and ultimately how we finish. Carving out time for yourself in the morning will ensure that you never 'wake up on the wrong side the bed' and stay there.

Now that my mornings are structured, the rest of my day feels off balanced when I don't do all or any of my key habits.  I look forward to the feeling that I have already achieved a great deal. Checking off various activities on my list, is an instant boost and that momentum rolls forward into my other tasks for the day.

If you feel off-balanced or rushed in the morning, consider cobbling together a routine for yourself and seeing if it helps you to feel more a peace.

Now here is that list I promised you:

  • Meditation
  • Yoga/Stretching
  • Exercise
  • Journalling
  • Walking or Running
  • Drinking a Cup or Tea/Coffee
  • Making the Bed
  • Reading
  • Writing a To-Do-List
  • Setting Intentions
  • Prayer 
  • Reflection
  • Gratitude
  • Visualisation
  • Affirmations
  • Mirror Work
  • Drawing
  • Knitting/Handicraft
  • Connecting with a loved one
  • Playing with pets
  • Tending your Garden
  • Cooking/Baking
  • Having breakfast
  • Lighting Candles/Incense

Thursday, February 12, 2015

How much should you spend on Vacation?

There is no hard and fast rule on how much money you should spend on vacation in my book; the only rule concerning vacations is that you should take them as often as you need them.

I use my vacation category for day-trips, workshops and short stay-cations, all of which help me to rest and rejuvenate my energy. A vacation doesn't always have to entail travel to a far away place, the whole point of it is to allow yourself time to be grounded and unwind.

In this regard, the importance of vacation cannot be understated, and therefore funding a vacation category even when you are in debt should come under your necessities. See my point above that it need not be a trip to Paris to constitute a vacation.

Some financial gurus are against this, seeing vacations as a 'treat' that you can easily defer until you have gotten yourself out of debt. This mentality worries me, because it makes it seem as if you were terribly naughty to get yourself into debt and now must undertake a period of penance before you are allowed to 'enjoy' life again.

While I acknowledge that taking frequent trips is why some people are in so much consumer debt, and that there needs to be a measure of self-control added to that equation to halt the creation of more debt; it is detrimental to the mind and body, not to specifically set aside some of your time and your energy (both physical and monetary) to giving yourself space to recharge.

If you are carrying a lot of debt, I would recommend keeping your vacation to 5% of your Net Salary where possible and doing short weekend getaways or day trips.

If you are not carrying any debt then you can fund your vacation category at 10-15% as a good starting average.

If however travel is an extremely important part of your life, you may raise this percentage much higher to allow for more frequent trips. On the other hand if you are quite happy with short day trips or spending family time camping, you may be able to reduce this percentage.

When I apply the 10-15% rule to my net salary, it works out to between 2600 and 4044. This is more than enough money to both take a staycation or two and a modest trip overseas to visit family or close friends. If I want to do a trip to Paris however, it would require saving a bit more on top of this, or making it my only trip that year.

For some their work involves a lot of travel and so they seldom find that relaxing. Simply unwinding at home is an invaluable experience for them.

I have often heard the adage if you need a vacation form your work, you're in the wrong field. While this has some merit, even when I am doing work that I love, I need time away from it to honour the natural ebb and flow of my motivation and creativity.

If you are self-employed you often work harder for yourself than most wage-earners, and so I dare say that setting up a period of downtime for yourself is crucial to maintaining a high level of overall mental health. Set up you vacation well in advance, taking into account any tasks you need to delegate in order to make sure that your business does not suffer from your absence. You may need to save more for vacation as you may not be earning your full wage while you are on the break, and it is important to factor in any loss of revenue into your plans.

This need to account for the loss of revenue is also necessary if  you do not have a paid vacation and will need to cover your expenses as well as foot the bill for whatever trip you have planned.

In all scenarios careful planning can assist you in having a fabulous trip within the budget that you have set out.

When making  vacation budget it may be helpful to look back on your past trips and break down the various costs under headings such as airfare, accommodation, food, activities and general spending. Once you have these figures this will allow you to produce a reasonable savings goal for your next trip.

Whatever you decide will be your next getaway, start planning today and you will be able to reap the benefits without any financial fallout.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Power of Reflection

Reflection is the practice is looking back on a period of time in your life and giving it serious consideration. You look at the situation from several different angles, asking yourself key questions to decide if you are fully satisfied with the outcome.

Once you have discerned your level of satisfaction you can then make key step in taking a new direction in your life; reflection empowers you to make positive changes based on solid information.

Sitting with yourself is difficult because it requires you to rehash some unpleasant events. Disappointments or failures may be as bitter a pill to swallow as they were the first time you experienced them, however, as is the usual way of being human, we tend to remember events as more dramatic than they have been.

Often an argument with a friend in which I may have felt quite justified at the time, can suddenly seem terribly petty when I honestly evaluate both sides of the story.

 Reflection proves time and time again to be an invaluable tool for seeing past events in an unbiased manner.

Additionally, when we review a month or a quarter of the year our summation of the events is often heavily influenced by what can most readily be remembered. Other lesser, but perhaps even more meaningful events are eclipsed by the more emotionally charged experiences. Careful consideration can being this back to balance.

Further, it is far too easy to lean either to the extremes of blaming everyone for your misfortunes or harshly criticizing yourself for your mistakes.

Building up the practice of reflection allows one to break an incident down to the bare bones and when you are able to see the cause and effect of each action you can then have each party or event carry its true weight.

It is prudent to note that the point of reflection is not always to make a change. In some cases reflection leads you to the conclusion that everything is working fine and that you can keep it as is. This is an equally important thing to know, as you can give yourself a much needed 'pat on the back' for the good job that you have been doing.

I apply the habit of reflection in five main areas of my life: Finances, Work, Relationships, Personal Growth and Spirituality.

The questions I ask myself in each situation are not the same but the underlying answer I am hoping to get is that I am contented with how I am doing in each area or that I  have a plan on how to reach that contentment which is unfolding.

For each person the process will be different. I will try to get you started by listing some questions that have helped me to get down to the root of the issue:

  • What went right today (this month etc) ?
  • How would I rate this event from 1-10?
  • What am I responsible for in this situation?
  • How can I improve in this skill (area)?
  • If I had a chance to do it again, what would I change?
  • Am I feeling fulfilled?
  • Have I given the best of myself?
  • I am being fair to him or her?
  • If I put myself in the other person's shoes, what would I have done?
  • Did I achieve what I set out to do?
  • What is my tolerance for setbacks and obstacles?
  • What can I learn from this event (person)?
  • Am I happy with how I am spending my time (money, resources)?
  • Is this situation adding to me or draining me?
  • What can I do to make me feel more empowered and less swept up in the tide?
  • Did my planning work out, or did I miss a key step?
  • What is no longer serving my purpose?
  • How did I not show up for myself in this situation?
  • Why did I end up feeling overwhelmed (bored, out of energy etc)?
  • Who do I need to thank for their help?
  • What things can I be grateful for?
  • What skills did I use to help resolve this situation?

Here are a few habits that pair well with reflection and on their own can help you to shift your life into a better place. Used together, they create a formidable tool box of self-mastery:

1) Journalling

This is a useful form of not only clearing the clutter from your mind, but also in helping you to organize your thoughts and put together plans. It is an essential stage in turning dreams into reality. Journalling helps with reflection by providing data to be analysed; this is invaluable as we often forget nuances of an event and journalling can help in that area.

2) Meditation

Meditation can help you to clear your mind and allow your thoughts to settle themselves. I have found that some of my best ideas have come to me after a period of meditation. The quietness of my mind afterwards allows me to be able to put aside excess emotion and view things in an unbiased way. 

3) Planner or Diary

Keeping a planner or diary is great for keeping you organized. It will also provide a form of record keeping of what happened over the course of the week or time period under review. It will be even more useful if you update the planner with what actually occurred in a day, versus what had been the plan.
You will be able to notice what appointments ran over time and where you can allow increased flexibility in the future. You can also notice if you need to schedule time for self-care and rest.

4)To-Do Lists

Most people do a to-do list and then throw it away. However keeping your to-do lists will help you to see what tasks you are simply moving forward and which ones you do in a timely manner.
Making a to-do list can keep you from feeling lost in the middle of the day when you have a lot to do, but no clear idea on how to get started. 

5) Gratitude Round-Up

Taking time out to note what you are grateful for can lift your mood. Often we lose sight of the things that we have now that enrich our life, and also of the people around us who offer constant support and love.
This practice is especially excellent at the end of a monthly review; I feel very abundant when I look back on all of the great things that happened me and the ways that my loved ones made me feel special.

Lastly, if you make a habit of starting your day by setting out the most important task you need to get done and making sure that you do it,  a brief reflection on how that task unfolded at the end of the day will do wonders in improving your productivity over time.

Reflection is no quick fix to the problems of sustaining motivation, but gradually it can transform several key areas of your life.

Friday, January 23, 2015

No One Size Fits All in Finance

I have been ruminating lately on all of the different struggles that some of my clients face with their finances. What has been coming through for me time and time again, is that while there is some advice that is considered universal, there is no one approach to mastering money that will work for everyone.

Each individual will be faced with unique challenges and have, in contrast, their own unique advantages as well. In order for each person to fully benefit from an increased awareness of their financial state they have to first accept that they are trying to create their own mould and not fit into one.

While having certain financial foundations in place, such as a good relationship with credit, emergency savings and budgeting habits are hard to argue against, they may not fit in with your current situation. In the latter cases it may even be something that does not suit your style of living.

You may be perfectly happy operating without a budget or a cash cushion and until such changes you should continue to do what makes you feel most comfortable. While some gurus may consider this disastrous financial advice, I find that altering your behaviour is most successful when you are genuinely motivated by a want to change.

Change in itself works best when it is done in a deliberate manner, and it will stick when you are fully engaged in the process. Being engaged means that the changes that you are making have to resonate with you on a base level.

This is why it is important to not only take the advice of a guide, but to make sure that this advice sits well with you. If you give something an honest try and it leaves you feeling drained and uncomfortable, this could be a sign that you need to direct your energy to improving in another area.

I have learned from experience that trying to enforce a habit change before you are truly ready to do it, is not much more useful than banging your head against a brick wall.

What is needed is that you have a firm sense of what works for you and what does not. It is never too late to take a look at your finances and see if there is anything that you are overlooking or under-doing. Today is always soon enough to make a positive change.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Being Positive in the Face Turmoil

I'll admit it: I spent most of my teen years and early twenties in a haze of negativity and apathy. While this certainly makes me a pot coming to preach to a kettle on the matter of being positive, I think it also makes me amply qualified to speak about how turmoil, both inner and outer, drags a person down.

When you are facing challenges, and for each person this would be different things, it is sometimes impossible to see past the current woes to any possibility of a better tomorrow. In fact, it always seems much easier to be 'realistic' and accept that life is against you for some mystical reason that is out of your control.

The pit falls of this type of thinking are vast.

First and foremost, it leaves you cynical and depressed which robs your life of any joy and often prompts you to rain on others people as well because misery truly loves company. When you are unable to be positive, your motivation suffers and as a result your productivity in all areas of your life will state to decline.

Further the quality of your relationships will also decline because your constant down state will worry those that care about you the most. Constantly having to prop you up, only to be faced by your dismal outlook may well cost you a few friends.

Changing this habit of embracing turmoil with a shroud of dismalness takes coming to a decision to take another path. Choosing to believe that something good can come your way, even in the lowest part of your life, will require a lot more effort than sticking with a belief in the worse.

It is harder because it is worth it.

If you have spent years brandishing the negativity hammer, disarming yourself will prove to be one of the hardest habits to break. Even without help from you, your mind will continue to generate multiple sad endings to your life and counteracting them will take deliberate intention.

The key is stubborn consistency; it is now necessary for you to cling to the positive in the same manner in which you brandished the negative. Counter all of your thoughts with a more positive alternative and even when you find yourself wallowing a bit in self pity, firmly change that channel to one that bespeaks of a more wholesome outcome.

Know that you may find opposition from anyone who used gladly join you in your daily recounting of woe. As you move away from that bad habit, ground it within yourself and make it personal. Breaking a pervasively bad habit like negativity will take a long time and you will fumble along the way. The key is to not let anyone else get you down with their predictions, continue to work on keeping your thoughts at a high vibration.

Thoughts are only one part of the equation but I think it is the most important. When you disarm your negative thinking you empower yourself to start looking for solutions. As you continue to focus on the solutions and not the issue, you gain momentum which will spur you into taking action to change your circumstances.

I know from experience that much of my negative whining never lead me to changing anything. It only served to keep me in the same position which I was complaining so strongly about.

Having seen the power of being positive put into action in my life, I know that there comes a time when you do need to vent. I believe that this is good, and has its place, but that time should be kept to a minimum. The best use of ones energy is focusing on what good remains or can come from a situation and focusing all attention there.

When in doubt, be positive. And if that doesn't work, keep trying.

Monday, January 19, 2015

A Look at the Emotions and Food

I have mentioned briefly before that I had a real struggle with my food budget over the years. While I am doing much better, I still find myself facing challenges in this area. In the not too distant past I would spend nearly a thousand dollars in food a month all told, between eating out and groceries, but my health was suffering.

When I first got into budgeting and started to pare down this category, I came face to face with my poor eating habits. A lot of my purchases were driven by laziness, but then another set of them came from an emotional pull.

The laziness was easy to correct as I became motivated to save money, but the emotional spending on food continued on. Each time I felt low or even in contrast, when I felt I needed to celebrate something, I would indulge.

I began to notice that I was looking for excuses to eat out, but very seldom did I actually fully enjoy the meal. I even at times tried to rationalize it by buying enough food to be left over for another meal, but deep inside I knew that my habit was completely out of hand.

I think that we as humans put a lot of emotions into food. We elevate it to a high regard because it is one of the chief things that we use to assist with socialization, from dating, to family get-togethers, to celebrating major life events. We also tend to use it as a crutch when we feel down, turning to ice-cream or other treats as a way of picking up our mood.

The social aspect of eating can be a factor in persons who have a need for a restricted diet, constantly straying from that regime much to the detriment of their body in the long run. This occurs when the the other person not on the diet orders food that the other cannot eat; in that moment resolve is often weakened.

Seeing much of my own behaviour highlighted as I ruminated on this topic was admittedly a very uncomfortable feeling. I felt like I was in a constant tug of war with my taste-buds, my emotions and my good sense. Throwing my love of budgeting into the mix created a friction that saw me losing the battle more often than I care to admit.

I had settled into an odd pattern of binging. I would eat well for a month or two then have a few weeks of going completely off of the rails. The downside is that each time this happened my body's reaction to the allergies were more intense.

Despite knowing that food is just a fuel for the body and that all of the additional emotional and social aspects are the least important part of the process, I get very caught up in the latter and lost sight of the first.

One deterrent to tackling how to change my diet is that everyone has opinions of how you should eat. Vegetarian, Pescetarian, Paleo and Clean Eating; it is enough to drive one batty. I can't say that I have hit on an exact formula yet, but I know myself well enough to know that it has to be something that I have figured out for myself; I don't do well following other people's doctrines.

My biggest challenge will be successfully separating my emotions from my need to fuel my body and that is an challenge that I have taking up for the rest the month. The first part of this is to increase my food budget and use the most of it to purchase fruit, vegetables and protein.

I will come back and report on how it is going and what my observations were.

Friday, January 16, 2015

The Twice-Again Centipede: Part 2

When we last left our unlucky heroes they had been on a triumphant high following the beast having some modicum of decency and exiting itself from the scene. That was short lived however, the foul beast changed his mind and decided to re-enter the story and once again threaten the lives of our protagonists.

Let's get back to it.

My decision to continue to preside over my kingdom of safe haven in the armchair had proven to be wise. The beast was back. I watched with a detached humour as he wriggled from under the baseboard and started to make a circuit around my room, passing with uncanny frequency past my door, then under my bed before disappearing out of sight.

My brave friend took this time to arm herself with a rusty hammer from her room. She also popped into the now cleared minefield of my parent's room and dual-wielded the spray can.

As luck would have it, the spray can was almost empty.

"Tonight is just not our night," she said woefully, "It hardly has in anything,"

My eyes were glued on my doorway as the creature scuttled past once more. When I lifted my eyes and beheld my friend I laughed. Her face held a grim expression as she stood poised and ready to do battle with the beast that lurked within my room.

Girded in a towel with her weapons held aloft, she seemed to be doing her best to channel her warrior ancestors of old. All she was missing I thought was a theme song.

"Well here goes nothing," she stated and I got a sudden flash of inspiration. A battle was about to be fought and all great wars should be documented. I whipped out my cellphone and engaged the voice memo function.

In that moment I transitioned from being a participant in the drama, to the reporter, risking as little life and limb as possible while adding flavour to the scene with my narration.

"Here we have a caricature of humanity," I started, my friend's look of concentration on the task at hand was broken when she turned to stare at me instead, "There comes time when a a battle must be fought and you see the real mettle of a man,"

"You recording that for truth?" she asked me, looking incredulous and a good bit amused.

"Here we have the valiant warrior ready to do battle, and I ask of myself, why are you not also joining her in her fight. And I come to the conclusion that in a war there are the fighters and there are the people in the kitchens."

She continued to give me an ever deepening look of wonder as I rattled on.

"I say to you all, that I am not the one to be in the trenches, I am the one in the kitchen peeling the potatoes."

My friend began to laugh at me but I was unphased. I was quite beginning to get into my roll as a story teller.

"And this is good. For the warriors need to eat to fight the war. I may be  a coward, but I'm proud to be the potato peeler,"

"Uh.. okay. All right, it's time to do this," she said, "He's obviously not just going to go away,"

"Rock on!" I cheered, "The warrior is ready to do battle," I narrated.

She shook her head and then sprang into action as the beast rounded the corner. She sprang nimbly into the room and unleashed a blast of spray upon him with the harrowing battle cry.

"Die you little bitch!"

She sprang backwards giving the beast room to writhe in its now enraged frenzy. When it made its way back into view she dashed forward again to administer another blast of poison.

"Shit!" she proclaimed, "I'm out of juice,"

I was too captivated by the intensity of her fight to remember that I was to be narrating. My heart was pounding in my chest.

"I just need one more blast," she muttered, shaking the spray can and then trying her best to squeeze out every last ounce of her ammunition.

"Is it dead..." I queried after this last volley.

"It's dying," she reported, now hovering outside of the room, "I just need something else to finish it off."

She looked at her hammer and then at me and we both looked dubious. Hero though she may be, her using the Hammer of Rusted Destruction had always been a long shot.

"Ah I know,"

She disappeared into the kitchen and emerged with bottle of white vinegar. it was my turn to look at her as if she was mad, or at very least a mad scientist.

"This will do the trick," she said and then I heard the splash of the liquid hitting the floor, where the dying beast lay just out of view.

Minutes ticked by. I started to narrate again.

"The beast is almost at its end," I said in a voice which I hoped conveyed the gravity of the situation, "The warrior is standing now, waiting for it to truly die."

At length, the beast wriggled its last and lay dead. Or so I was told by my friend for I had no intention of moving from my spot. I didn't even want to see its foul carcass.

In time it was disposed of, and eventually I returned to my room. I won't lie dear readers, I stayed in my kingdom long after the vinegar had soaked into floorboards.. just in case the centipede had a irate cousin lurking...

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

The Twice-Again Centipede Part 1

Picture this if you will:. a woman about five feet six inches tall, wrapped in a towel armed with a spray can and a rusty old hammer steeling herself for the battle with the enemy. Who is this brave warrior princess of the Bop Clan and who is the enemy that would dare some against someone armed with The Hammer of Rusted Destruction?

Stay tuned to find out but before we jump in let's just add in one more character the mix. I want to introduce you to the Bajan Coward, the Queen of Elevation and Sovereign Ruler of the safety of the twenty square inch dining room chair. That monarch of meekness my readers is none other that yours truly.

Let's dive in to the scene:

I was laying down in my cot enjoying the quiet of the night and a good book when I was moved to go to the bathroom. On my return I was struck dumb by the sight of a behemoth centipede, in my estimation at least eleven inches long wriggling its way from my room into my parent's bedroom.

"Oh no!" I exclaimed, glued to my spot in the corridor.

In the ensuing moments, my best friend emerged from her room and asked me in a fervent tone of concern what was the matter.

"It's another one," I bemoaned.

"Not another centipede!" she queried, peering around the corner but holding safe distance, "This simply isn't funny, you just had one of those a couple weeks ago."

"I know," I moaned, "But it's another one and it seemed even bigger than the last one."

"Oh no," she said echoing my previous state of disbelief.

"Exactly!" I added feeling that she was finally understanding of my plight.

She forged forward in her bravery to look into my parent's room to try to espy the villain. She commented that she didn't see it but I assured her that it was indeed there. We heard an ominous scratching sound but yet nothing was in evidence.

She mentioned again that she didn't see it and then noticing that I had not moved from my spot in the corridor:

"I don't see it, maybe it left, you can move."

"No way," I said vehemently, shaking my head, "I am only sure about the safety of these ten square inches and I refused to move."

She thought I was joking, but as the moments ticked on she realised I was quite serious. Then another scratching noise and then I heard her cry out.

"Oh my god, it is bigger than the last one...where's the spray,"

 We both looked at each other as a horrible truth dawned, the spray was in my parent's bedroom with the beast.

"Well isn't that lovely!" she said with a voice loaded with sarcasm. I could only agree. I was recounting to myself that moments like this really separated out the cowards from the brave. I knew which camp I was in, and in my kingdom of the corridor, I presided without shame.

Suddenly she shrieked and like a scout giving warning said:

"It's coming out and heading your way."

I took flight with a fair amount of expressive ambient noise (ergo shrieking) as I relocated myself from the corridor up into the nearest chair. My best friend similarly joined me in the land of the above, planting her feet firmly in a chair across the table from me,

The beast seemingly sensing our frenzy made a bee line for the chair where my best friend was perched and she hopped from the chair to the table. Even in my terror I was able to laugh at how terribly absurd we were both being at that moment.

"It's heading for the door," my best friend noted, and she bravely hopped down to open the door. Then the silliness took a turn for the ridiculous as we urged with great urging for the beast to use the door and go outside.

"Leave! Go!" she urged.

"Yes!!" I cried, pumping my hands triumphantly as the foul best wriggled its way out the door.

"Shut the damn door!" I hollered and my best friend did so.

In the aftermath, I was still in an armchair, as we nervously laughed and talked about how lucky we were that it took itself out of the house. Having worked up quite the sweat, my best friend said she was off to take a bath and changed into her towel.

She noted again that I was still rooted to my armchair.

"You can move now," she urged but I shook my head. I had the feeling that it would come back but I didn't share that with her. She tried to coax me to go back to reading some more but eventually gave up heading for the bath.

Just as she went to shut the door, I heard an scritching noise...

"Is that you?" I queried hopefully.

"Me that ..what?" she asked, stepping back out the bathroom and easing down the corridor.

"Shh.. listen.." I urged her...

She did and I did and we did hear something again.

"You have to joking," she murmured.

I was hoping too but then I saw the black creature snake it way across my bedroom floor and disappear under one of the baseboards.

"No, it's back..." I said, sounding far calmer than I was feeling. The centipede had returned...

Will our heroes survive a second encounter with the many-legged beast? Stay tuned to find out.

Monday, January 12, 2015

A Closer Look at My Life Coaching Journey

When I first started to want to hire a life coach for myself I wasn't quite sure what to expect so I am not surprised that one of my readers asked me to go a little bit more in-depth into my experience.

Life coaching may be presented differently by various coaches but the premise is that coaches guide you to where you want to go. For me this statement has two key parts, the first being that they are guiding you and the second that you have to pick your destination.

To this end my very first session was one focused on me choosing my destination. My life coach from My Empowerment My Way, Ayesha Nura let me pour my heart out about what were my major worries at the time. It felt good to be able to admit to someone that my job was not fulfilling me and that I had truly hit a wall in my life and I couldn't see beyond it.

Once I had gotten all of that off of my chest, Ayesha lead me through a guided meditation during which I allowed myself to see my perfect future. She prompted me to think on various areas of my future life such as what job I was doing, where did I live, how I dressed and more importantly how I felt. I mentioned briefly before that my ability to envision my future was a bit stunted so the images took a while to start to form in mind but I was eventually able to relax and make the most of the exercise..

After this meditation, I shared it with her, as I will now share it with you so you can get an idea of what was the destination I was choosing to go to.

"I saw myself happy and smiling, I had a motorcycle and I lived in a place that made me feel comfortable. I saw myself counselling people financially but I also saw that I was still wearing my ATC uniform at times but even then I was also happy. The had a strong sense of having everything that I needed or wanted at the time. I also felt completely safe."

From this meditation Ayesha drew two of my most powerful and comforting personal affirmations:

"I am my refuge."

"In this place I have everything."

Ayesha also asked me to believe that I has all of the knowledge I needed to start counselling people right away, instead of waiting for a vague tomorrow. To aid me with this she added another affirmation.

"I move forward with confidence knowing that I have sage wisdom behind me,"

In addition to prescribing the above affirmations, she asked me to repeat the meditation on my own and a daily basis and to write out what came to be in the visions.

I left that session with my homework and with a challenge. She asked me to believe in myself and to put some actions behind my thoughts. I was to recite the affirmations everyday and at first they felt silly but as I did them they became ingrained into my thought patterns. When I had a negative thought or feeling, I would shift it with one of these positive statements.

As I got more comfortable doing the meditation I was able to expanded my vision of my future, I started to ask myself what was holding me back from making some of these things I was seeing a reality now. This I believe is the real magic in the exploration phase of a life rebuilding journey. It came sharply into focus for me that was the main thing holding myself back for having the experiences, emotions and feelings that I craved.

This was the foundation of my journey from feeling depressed and lost, to being in control of my destiny. By replacing my negative thoughts with positive ones and by gradually taking note of the things I could implement in my life right away I grew in confidence.

I started to de-clutter my home and make it into a place were I felt comfortable and safe. I rearranged my furniture and moved into a different room and set up my bedroom there. I started to take on demo coaching clients and I found that I really enjoyed helping people put their finances in order.

Other changes I made was that I started to spend more time at the beach, subsequently I taught myself to swim and snorkel, and I made my vision of spending time with my friends at the beach a reality. As each of these things happened, it gave me to confidence to implement the more and more changes.

I believe that the experience of Life Coaching came to me at the right time. I was eager for a change and so I put in the needed work. The tools that Ayesha gave me are powerless without having the courage to take the initiative.


Friday, January 9, 2015

Hating your Debt is Counter-Productive

As I discussed in my last post, debt comes in several different forms and guises and each person takes on debt for different reasons and in different ways. Each person's debt story is different and because of that there is no one universal approach to debt management that can be prescribed.

One thing however that should never be part of your debt repayment strategy is nurturing a feeling of hatred towards the debt. Many times I have seen people get very passionate about debt, often expressing emotions which vary from despair to disgust.

All emotions in this spectrum are natural, especially when you are first waking up to the magnitude of the hole which you have dug with bad financial practices. In some cases, you were doing well until an emergency or job loss caused you to fall behind on your payments. However you come to that place when you feel the heavy burden of your debts, stop yourself from giving into the emotions of hate and disgust. These emotions are counter-productive and can be quite damaging to your self-worth.

In all cases, the debt which you carry is a representation of the choices which you made in the past. To hate the debt, is to in part hate yourself for making those decisions. While there is a benefit to looking back at these decisions and being able to admit that they were not the best you could have made in the circumstances, beating yourself up does not assist you to move forward.

Making peace with your past decisions without casting blame heavily on yourself, allows you to have a clear mind. With this clear mind you are able to see the lessons in your past and make a plan for the future that would allow you to improve your situation.

Forgiving yourself for the debt, is a key step in separating your bad decisions from your innate ability to handle your finances efficiently and effectively. Often persons consider themselves to be bad with money although they simply lack the basic tools to turn their financial story around,

It is important to give yourself a clean slate to start with which allows to create a fresh paradigm for your money story.

Consider working some of these positive money affirmations into your self-care routine.

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Getting a Better Understanding of Debt

Most people come to the point of realising they need a change in their financial habits only when they are suddenly faced with a mountain of debt that they are struggling to repay. For the most part, we have as a society become comfortable with carrying various amounts of debts once the repayments are small enough.

The problem with this outlook is that it leads people to take on several debts which on their own are manageable but when compiled together, the total minimum payments far exceed what the person can afford to pay.

This slippery debt slope is often compounded by regular monthly bills and you may end up having to chose between keeping the lights on in the house, or putting gas in the car. 

It goes without saying that being in debt comes with various stresses and problems when it reaches the stage were you are robbing Peter to pay Paul. If you or a loved one is in this situation, you know that it is an unhealthy state and you should be working pro-actively to turn this situation around. 

When looking at your specific debts or if you are not in any debt yet and considering taking on some, it is important to understand different types of debt.

Some experts talk about the concept of good debt and bad debt. While I don't fully agree with this, I will still discuss the general theory behind this classification as I think it is a great starting point. 

What is Good Debt?

In short good debt is something that will appreciate in value or act as an investment. This would be a house, an education or starting a business. The caution here is that depending on the market in which you bought your home, or how your business pans out, you may end up losing money instead of gaining any benefit. You should also consider how you will make a return on your education when you take out a loan for it;be wary of studying an obscure subject area with few job opportunities. 

What is Bad Debt?

Bad debt is known as consumer debt which is credit card debt, personal loans and car loans. These also spans line of credit or family loans to cover things that are not necessities. In general going into debt should not be a way to satisfy your desire for something new, saving should be the go to way.
This requires disconnecting from the modern idea that your needs should be instantly gratified.

Other Situations

You may find yourself having to go into debt to for emergency reasons. Such as a sudden illness, or an unfortunate series of events that leave you with your back against the wall financially. These situations are rare and usually come at intervals in your life. This does not discount the ability for you to have a very unlucky set of weeks.

General Rules of Thumb

1) Avoid all Debt like the Plague.

Do not except for an emergency, spend money you do not have on things that you don't really need. Refrain from using debt to inflate your quality of life, it will at some point catch up with you. Contentment and stress-free living hinges a lot on living with-in you means. 

2) If You are in Debt, Prioritize Getting Out of It

This one is straight forward. If you find you have a lot of consumer debt, you should be paying as much of your disposable income towards this debt as you can manage. Tackle your debts one by one, being consistent with your payments. Care should be taken not to put so much money towards your debt that you end up going into more debt to meet your basic needs.

3) Save 

Even if you are deep in debt, it is necessary to have some savings which you can utilize in emergencies. If you can save at least five hundred dollars as a cushion, this will give you more financial security. Ideally you should have at least a month's worth of expenses saved.

4) Design your Ideal Life

One way to stay motivated while paying off debt, but also to avoid taking on debt recklessly, is to have a clear picture of the life you are trying to build. When you have a destination in mind, you will be able to decide if you really need to buying a new coat, if you should send that money to debt or save it. Making big decisions like buying a home, paying for a child's education or buying a vehicle, should not be made without weighing not only your current needs but what you want for you future.

I will continue to speak on the topic of debt in upcoming posts, focusing on having a good relationship with your debt and staying motivated while paying down your debt. Feel free to leave a comment, if you have a specific question you want answers about debt and I will answer it in my next post.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Setting Goals

I feel this topic leads naturally on from my posts about making decisions and paying attention to your passions. Once you uncover and prioritize your passions then you need to crystallise your plan of action.

Goal setting is best used for short term, and traceable plans. A good goal would be saving 1000 dollars. A weak goal is simply deciding that you are going to save something out of every pay-check.

The main difference is that in the first case, your goal has a clear ending point and it is quantified, which allows you to know how far along you are. In the latter instance, there is no clear finish line and as you didn't set a target, you could be saving anywhere from 10c to 50 dollars and technically still be meeting your goal.

It is important that goals are clear so that you do not feel uncertain as to whether or not that goal has been reached. Equally key, is to set goals that are reachable, even if it is a bit of a stretch. If the only conceivable way you have to reach the end result is for your to win the lottery, that is an intention not a goal.

When setting goals, especially those that are financial, it is very important to know how you intend to achieve them. Goals should be broken down into a step by step process. Setting a goal but not determining how it will be met, can leave you feeling lost and even discouraged along the way.

It is all right to build in a challenge into a goal. For example, in order to save 100 dollars a month you may decide to buy fewer books to make saving easier. If this is something that will be difficult, you should acknowledge this challenge as a separate part of the process.

Meeting challenges takes a different type of energy and its own motivation. You need to honour that, so that your failing at this additional challenge, does not completely derail your goal.

Using a clear format will also prevent you having too many goals at the same time. A long list of goals is demoralizing and can lower your productivity. If you clearly define each goal, you will be less likely to take on more than you handle.

Here is an example of how to break your goals down, so that they meet the above criteria.

Goal: I want to save 100 dollars every month in 2015.
How: I will transfer the money to an account when I get paid and then live on the rest.
Why: I need 1000 for a trip next year, and 200 for my yearly term insurance.
Challenge: Buy only 1 book a month. Use extra funds for my goal.
Why: I find I buy books but don't read them all before buying more.

Setting goals is a wonderful way to steer your ship in the right direction; use them wisely and they will bring clarity and focus to your plans.

Friday, January 2, 2015

5 Quick Tips for Making Decisions

Making decisions is an inevitable part of our lives. We are called upon constantly to give an opinion, to make choices and to pick a plan of action. Indecisiveness and worry can make decision-making a very painful process; this can lead to missed opportunities or hastily made choices that lead to regrets.

Ideally we want to master making decisions that we are completely happy with. This includes being fully engaged with the outcome and following through with our choices.

I was motivated to write this post because it is the start of  a New Year, and that represents endless opportunities and possibilities. Being sure that you make the best decisions can put you the driver's seat instead of feeling like you are playing catch up.

Here we go:

1) Give yourself space.

Don't allow yourself to make a decision when you feel rushed. Take a deep breath and calm yourself down so that you have a clear mind.

2) Think but Don't Over-think

Weigh the pros and cons of the situation but be succinct. Keep your thoughts streamlined and don't allow yourself to be side tracked. You can jot down the pros and cons in a notebook if you are struggling with over-thinking.

3) Tune in to your Gut

If a situation feels off to you and you find yourself hesitating on a decision, it could be that your intuition is telling you to take deeper look. Trusting you gut reaction is a great way to cut through to the heart of the issue. If you don't feel that the situation is okay, then it probably isn't.

4)Push Pass Worry

If you want to say yes but you are feeling bogged down by your fears and doubts, this the time to check in with yourself. If you find that you are coming up with lots of baseless or far-fetched reasons why you shouldn't go ahead, put them aside and mindfully take the next step. Do not let worry hold you back, unless it is founded in a real concern.

5) No Buts, Ifs or Maybes, only Yes or No.

When you find yourself half in instead of all in. You should have said no. It pays to be fully present in a situation; don't say yes to keep someone from feeling hurt. You will hurt them more if they pick up on your apathy or disinterest. Honour yourself and the other party, and say no to thing that you don't truly want.