The Retirement Answer? A Blank Stare

blank stare emoji

The Retirement Answer? A Blank Stare

I had just asked a 59-year-old, “You said you can retire in 3 years. How will you spend your time after that?” Expressionless, all he gave was a blank stare.

“I never thought about it,” he replied.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t the first 59-year-old with that answer. “I don’t know” is a more common answer than most think. 

More To Retirement Life Than Money 

According to a study by United Capital, when asked about their financial life stories, most people talked about working and spending, not saving and investing.

Over the decades of our working lives, we tend to follow a formula: Work. Spend. (Save). Repeat. We do this knowing one day those (savings we try not to think about or touch) should equal a nice sum, hopefully enough to reach the nirvana of “financial independence.”

Along the way, we can get trapped into planning meals and vacations, but not a potential 25-year chapter of our life. If nothing trips up the formula (divorce, premature death, disability), then a milestone birthday, the loss of a parent, or the arrival of a new boss may cause one to someday dial up a financial planner and ask, “Am I there yet?”  

Are You “There” Yet?

To which the answer is usually, “That depends.”

That depends…on where “there” is. “There” = how, with whom, and where you will find purpose, meaning, and happiness in life after Work-Spend-(Save)-Repeat.

Once that’s known, “there” can be translated into real financial goals. If you don’t know what “there” looks like, then attempts to answer the question are merely rough guesses. More importantly, if you don’t know, you’re not likely to enjoy that supposed nirvana time nearly as much.  

There are many thought leaders contributing to discoveries about the time of life past “Working” and before “Old.” That time of life, which will be 25 or 30 years for a lucky few, goes by many names: Your Third Age. The Third Stage. The Encore Years. Your Life’s Next Chapter.

Examples of such leaders include Dori Mintzer and Mitch Anthony.

According to experts like these, retirement planned well has the potential to be a time of peak fulfillment and meaning. Not planned well or planned at all, potential paths lead to boredom and, in the worst cases, clinical depression.

Real Retirement Planning 

Many people think “retirement planning” means “IRA investments” or “401K rollovers” or “pension options.” Those are certainly part of it. But the best, yet sometimes the most difficult, kind of retirement planning is not found on your retirement account statements. It’s found inside of you. 

Begin with a blank stare, and build your “There.”

Not sure where to begin? Check out this free download: https://www.hollydonaldsonfinancialplanner.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/Beyond-the-Numbers-Whats-Retirement-Money-For.pdf for a questionnaire about what kind of retirement lifestyle choices are ideal for you.  

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Death By A Thousand Indecisions

indecisions

“Then indecision brings its own delays, And days are lost lamenting over lost days. Are you in earnest? Seize this very minute; What you can do, or dream you can do, begin it; Boldness has genius, power and magic in it.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Faust

Death by a thousand indecisions. As Goethe asked, are you “in earnest”? When it comes to decisionmaking, sometimes it’s quick: Ready-Fire-Aim. With other decisions, we take our sweet time. How much is indecision costing you?

Like death from a thousand cuts, indecisions can slowly deplete our energy, leaving little behind for ourselves or others.

Decisions are Draining

That’s because decisions are draining. Neuropsychologists like Dr. Moira Somers tell us that decisionmaking depletes our mental energy. According to Dr. Somers, every day we wake up with a finite amount of mental energy. As the day goes by, the more decisions we make, the less energy we have. And the bigger they are, the more energy they use.

Think about life’s transitions. One reason transition times, good or sad, are so stressful and exhausting – a move, a death, retirement, a child, a divorce – is the many seemingly small, plus a few momentous, decisions.

Further, lack of sleep, hunger, grief or even excitement can start the whole day off depleted.

Then, every indecision we “make” is a decision. In fact, a pattern of indecisions can take physical form, and stress us out every time we see it.

What does not-deciding look like? A pile of unfiled papers. Empty boxes stacked in the garage. The “miscellaneous drawer” in the kitchen. The “junk room.” Scattered financial accounts in too many places. Unfinished projects.

With a finite amount of mental energy at hand, who can blame any of us for having some kind of to-be-decided pile/stack/assortment hanging over us all the time?

Dealing with Indecision

What to do about it?

  • Make big decisions in the morning, before depletion sets in.
  • Automate it: Use a system to take care of small decisions automatically
  • Eliminate it: Ask often, “How important is it?”
  • Date-Activate it: Calendar the decision to deal with and be done
  • Delegate it: Ask for help

Automate It

An automation example I love and have yet to implement is the decision of what to wear. Michael Kitces, a noted financial expert, famously has a closet full of the same blue shirts, pants, and shoes. One less decision each day for a busy guy.

Another example is cooking. Thanks to Cassy Joy Garcia’s book, Cook Once: Eat All Week, our household now pre-preps ingredients on Sunday. Then, each work night is 15-30 minutes to assemble and cook the ingredients with pre-planned healthy recipes. The meals are delicious, but the best part is not having to make the decision of what’s for dinner. Hallelujah.

Eliminate It

In the summer of 2021 I began thinking about a new car. My financial plan called for me to sell my would-be 7 year old car in January 2022 and buy another one. I couldn’t decide what kind of car to buy.

Aware that the indecision was draining me, I wondered why I was having such a hard time deciding. Then it hit me. I didn’t need a new car. In fact, I didn’t need a car at all. My husband and I had both switched to working from home. Why did I need a shiny hunk of metal to sit in the garage? We had my husband’s car, which was only 2 years old. We ran a 6 week experiment without using my car to see if it caused any problems.

When we saw that it didn’t, I felt immense relief. This told me I was making the right decision. Besides, it was a good time to sell a used car. $15,000 later, we are both very happy about eliminating that decision!

Date-Activate It

My calendar rules my life. It tells me what to do, where, and when. If this is not you, then this tip might not work.

One decision that goes on the calendar every year is whether to take a ski trip and if so, where. The local ski clubs publish their trips around August/September. Ski season pass discounts usually end on Labor Day. So I have the calendar marked for that timeframe to do my research, poll my skiing girlfriends, and make the decision. While it feels sooner in the season than I would like to make a commitment, if I did not give myself a deadline, I would dilly dally into December as all of the good trips filled up. And in the meantime, I would be spending a huge amount of mental energy on something that’s supposed to be fun.

Delegate It

Part of my indecision problem has been the flawed belief that I should be able to do everything myself (and perfectly, which is a topic for another blog post).

However, after a divorce, when my brain was extra foggy, I had significant success with hiring a friend to help organize. At the same time, I had estate planning documents updated with a local attorney. With my friend’s insight, coordination, and diligence, I quickly had an uber-organized office AND an updated “emergency box.” I felt the fog lifting as things came together.

It turns out that hiring help accelerated my decision making and used less energy. Perhaps this is what Goethe meant by the boldness in beginning. Delegating to others can be bold.

Getting Better and Better

Goethe said in that boldness to begin the decision we find genius, power, and magic. Further, there is a spiraling effect – the fewer decisions left to make, the more time to do what we do best. This is far better than a daily slog through indecision-infused mud.

At some point, with excess energy, I felt ready to give back. Someone close to me suddenly lost her husband and her mother within a three month period. She had an overwhelming number of decisions to make about seemingly small stuff, and was in a grief-stricken state to be doing so. I feIt the capacity to help her. I could not have made that statement before I had my own house in order. I don’t know if that counts as genius, power, and magic, but it felt really good to do.

What About You?

What if you took an indecision pile and automated, eliminated, date-activated, or delegated?

Who might you then be able to help?

Genius, power, and magic are waiting, if we have the boldness to begin.

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The ABCs of Behavioral Economics

The ABCs of Behavioral Economics: This article was originally published in NAPFA Advisor magazine.

Behavioral economics, with its long lexicon of “biases,” has enjoyed great popularity for a couple of decades. However, it’s also one area where financial planning students feel the least prepared. Experienced advisors, too, find this relatively new field fascinating, but yearn for practical ways to apply it, especially amid the market volatility of the past couple of years.

Sometimes it’s helpful to boil things down to basics. At the risk of oversimplifying, here are three reminders, A-B-C style, of what behavioral economics is about, how it works, and how advisors can use it.

A—What is behavioral economics about? A: Actors (economic ones) are not always rational.

Economists used to assume that actors (people and companies) always act rationally to increase their profit, wealth, or “utility.” The father of behavioral economics, Daniel Kahneman, won a 2002 Nobel Prize for proving they actually don’t. However, even today, both clients and advisors still tend to assume finance is about facts, not feelings.

Throughout my early banking career, I made this assumption. For example, when the estate tax exemption was $675,000, I reveled in suggesting ways that nearly every client could save on estate taxes. One husband, whom I knew liked to argue, pushed back when I brought this up. “Why do you automatically assume I want to save taxes?” he blurted.

His wife looked at my jaw hanging open. I answered, meekly, “Because nearly everyone I talk to wants to save taxes?”

“Well, maybe I don’t!” he said. “The government has a lot of good programs.”

Before that day, I had never asked how anyone felt about paying taxes (who would ask such a stupid question?), or what the idea of legacy meant to someone (too personal, I might upset them). My job, before that day, was like Sergeant Joe Friday, “Nothin’ but the facts, ma’am.”

Now I know all facts, especially anything with the word “estate” in it, for goodness’ sake, come with feelings. It’s far better to get to the feelings first if we want any chance of rational decision making.

B- Why Does This Happen? B: Brains have powerful primitive parts.

In his 2011 best seller, Thinking: Fast and Slow, Kahneman divides the brain into two systems: System 1 and System 2. To oversimplify, System 1 is the older, primitive part, and it generates emotional responses. System 2 is the newer, intellectual part.

Most of the time we’re quite aware of what’s going on with System 2 (intellectual), and quite unaware of System 1 (emotional). We fail to remember how much more powerful System 1 is than System 2. To make matters worse, System 2 falsely believes it can override System 1 anytime it wants.

For example, have you ever been sitting at a traffic light and suddenly heard a honk from the car behind you? My System 1’s initial thought is, “Who the !@#$ is honking?” as I glare in the rear-view mirror. A fraction of a second later, it occurs to System 2 to, duh, see if the light turned green. System 1’s embarrassment kicks in with a little wave in the mirror, “Sorry!”

One of the signs of a true professional is the ability to override System 1 through experience and practice. Kahneman uses firefighters as an example. After many fires, they learn that fear doesn’t go away. They accept it as part of the job, then, with experience, use it to make split-second but measured decisions.

In the last couple of years, have you not been a little scared, at least once? A study from the Journal of Behavioral Finance showed financial professionals are just as prone to emotional errors as retail investors. Knowing and accepting this should make us even more cautious. Younger advisors know from their training not to act irrationally based on fear. Senior advisors know from experience not to act irrationally after seeing advisors who did.

Our System 2 can try saying, “I won’t be scared the next time the market falls 10%,” but your System 1 will decide that involuntarily, not you.

System 1 beats System 2 to the punch nearly every time because System 2 is wired to conserve energy. So, it allows System 1 to do most of the work, which mainly involves scanning for threats. Fear isn’t wrong. It’s unavoidable. Whether and how we handle it is our hallmark.

C—What can we do about it? C: Curiosity can help.

How do we foster conversations in which System 2 creates a measured response to System 1 impulses? One way is to concentrate on being curious. This means to expect our own emotional response but not react to it. Accept whatever the client brings up. Focus on better understanding the client’s responses.

Here is an example:

Client: “I think we should buy/sell/do something different than what we’ve been doing.”

Advisors’ thoughts under the influence of System 1:
Fear: “Are you leaving?”
Guilt: “I should have called you sooner.”
Contempt: “You stupid idiot!”
Impatience: “No. You are acting irrationally. I don’t have time for this. Here’s my advice. Take it or leave it.”

Advisors under System 2 (with System 1 emotions in the background):
“I understand, and I would like to hear more about what you’re thinking.” (Fear: Yikes! No! You might blame me for this.)

“It sounds like you are really concerned. Tell me more.” (Contempt: After all our meetings, why can’t you just be calm?)

“I’d be happy to talk about that further. Help me understand how you are feeling.” (Impatience: Do I really have to listen to this?)

We can help the client discover their emotions themselves, simply by creating a safe space for it. Upon reaching that point of self-discovery, ironically, they feel more understood by us. Once someone feels understood, only then will System 1 sometimes step aside and make them ready for System 2-based factual advice.

Sometimes Advisors Need to Hold the Advice

In a 2016 article for The Journal of Financial Planning, Brad Klontz wrote,


The secret is this: when we are doing our best work, we are bringing little or nothing new to the exchange. We are asking no questions. We are offering no advice. We are making no recommendations. We are providing no analysis or insights. We are abandoning our goals and agendas and are just bringing ourselves. Sure, we are facilitating a process, but we have learned that our effectiveness grows as our ability to be present grows. In our best moments, we are engaged in exquisite listening, which is the best therapy.

Klontz, Van Sutphen, and Fries, “Financial Planner as Healer: the Role of Financial Health Physician,” Journal of Financial Planning, December 2016

Behavioral economics can feel counterintuitive: Expect irrational responses, and accept that feelings are more powerful than facts. By not immediately reacting with advice, we become the best advisors.

For more on applying behavioral economics principles to real-life financial planning, see The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

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Guest Rap Song Post: It Won’t Go To Zero

Guest rap song post: It Won’t Go To Zero. In early 2010, Ken Robinson, JD and Certified Financial Planner in Ohio, produced a funny rap video with a serious educational message: “It Won’t Go to Zero.” Whenever markets start back on their once-in-a-while roller coaster ride, it’s a good time to resurrect Ken’s lyrics and rap-star antics. Thank you Ken!

In 2007, the stock market began falling and didn’t hit bottom until 2009. Although it recovered throughout 2009 and 2010, it took several months to 2 years for the investing public to actually believe it. Who could blame them after the traumatic crash – a 50% drop in the S&P 500 – in the fall of 2008? Ken’s video in early 2010 occurred during a recovery many didn’t yet recognize.

During those couple of years, people and pundits asked, “Is this time different?” “Will it ever come back?” “Is this the New Normal?” “What if it goes to zero?” In times like these, it is usually confusing and difficult to separate reality-based facts from emotional actions.

Get to the Chorus

The chorus of Ken’s song goes,

“The markets are resilient, and although they may bend, they won’t break, the stock downturn will come to an end. I can’t say what might finally make things turn around, but eventually we will get back on solid ground. I’m not here to be some investment hero, I’m just letting you know; the markets won’t go to zero.”

The lyrics are just as relevant today, in a different decade, under a different New Normal. I wouldn’t change a thing he’s saying. In fact, yesterday I had nearly this exact conversation. I just wish I’d had the talent to say it in a rap song.

Check it out: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C3GtxtWSZxE

Choose Composure

Ken’s message is to keep our composure. After a recent NBA playoff win over the Memphis Grizzlies, Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors was asked by the reporter, “You were down 13 points. How did your team come back to win?”

His answer: “Composure.”

Fortunately for the Warriors they did not have pundits on the sidelines screaming, “You’re finished!” “A comeback is impossible!” “This time it’s different!” Unfortunately for the investing public, scary messages are way too available on nearly any media source we choose. And the primitive part of our brains is hard-wired to look for danger, whether or not it might truly exist.

Choose media messages wisely. When things get scary, no matter what you are hearing and reading, choose composure.

For more on the ways our brains mix up our money messages, see chapters 6 and 7 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or any of the books on our Recommendations page.

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Honey, Ain’t Money Funny? 4 Ideas For Couples’ Money Convos

Couples and money

Honey, ain’t money funny? Sometimes, not so much. As Valentine’s Day came and went, a couple struggled with questions about consumerism, the meaning behind gifts, and how money affected their relationship. Whether it was financial inequality, overspending, or miserliness (a la Scrooge), humor was hard to find at a time when they were surrounded by hearts-and-happiness messages.

What can couples do to have a better relationship with money? Following are 4 ideas. For each one, it’s a good idea to plan a special fun reward or celebration at the end. The more you practice at these, the easier the conversations will get. You may find your differences become predictable, manageable, and even laughable.

Idea 1: Try a Monthly Money Date

For monthly money dates, quickies are best. These are for checking the “dashboard indicators” in your household finances. Agree to limit these conversations to about 15 minutes. A 2 1/2 minute video on 3-Part Money Dates can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7TWFKfF0vRQ.

Build in fun and humor by focusing on your progress, positive wins, and gratitude for what you’ve got so far. For big ideas and thorny issues, make a separate date to discuss those using one of the following 3 formats. Then move on to the “real” date part!

Idea 2: Try a 2-Day Relationship Conference

No you don’t have to talk about money for 2 days. What a buzzkill! Instead, in a Relationship Conference, each partner takes a turn being a pure listener to the other partner’s issues. Being the listener in a relationship conference means saying nothing while your partner talks. You can decide on the timeframe, but make it somewhere between 15 and 45 minutes. You can take notes. Take a break for 24 to 48 hours and allow thoughts and feelings to arise to reflect on what you heard. Share those with your partner by reversing roles – it’s their turn to simply listen and reflect for whatever timeframe you decide – 24 to 48 hours. Summarize how you both felt about the Conference. Then celebrate your ability to tackle tough stuff.

Idea 3: Take Turns Active Listening

Another option is to take turns all in one setting being the active listener. This means being fully present to your partner’s issues and emotions without bringing up your own responses or emotions. (Tip: This is really hard for most people who have never done it before.) You do this by repeating back what you heard, checking with them to make sure you got it all (“Did I get it all?”), and asking to hear more about the emotions underlying each statement (“You said you felt excluded. Tell me more about that.”) Once your partner agrees they feel completely heard and understood, then it’s your turn. Remember to celebrate and give yourselves credit for your progress with active listening.

Idea 4: Ask For Practice Help

Are there some money issues in your relationship that sound too difficult to talk about on your own? Sometimes each of these exercises work best if practiced with a counselor first. And that’s ok; sometimes we need training wheels before we’re ready to ride the conversation bicycle on our own. Give yourselves the gift of an enhanced relationship by getting some tips on how to have a healthy conversation about money.

Remember when you learned to ride and then let go of the handlebars? Imagine feeling that free in your relationship with money and each other. One’s Scrooge to the other’s spending might actually be something you learn to laugh about for years to come. You know you’ve arrived when you find yourselves saying, “Honey, ain’t money funny?”

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to our award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn.

For an online course on couples and retirement readiness, see the Simple Finance page at: https://my-simple-finance.thinkific.com/courses/retirement-readiness-signature

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Decision Fatigue and Shopping

retail shopping fatigue

Decision fatigue is a real thing. I discovered this poignantly on a recent shopping trip. The mission was simple: Buy a spice rack. I figured the best shot was at Bed Bath Beyond (BBB); a store I had not entered in over a year, much less at the holidays. I had a specific size and type in mind, so there was no doubt BBB would provide all the choices I needed. Little did I know that trip would be the beginning of the end of my day’s productivity.

Upon entering, I scanned quickly, bypassing a cart to stay focused on the single item I wanted. Smugly, I glided past the holiday specials to the kitchen department. Lo and behold, there were spice racks. And all kinds of other racks. An embarrassment of choices.

Because I like choices (or thought I did until this day), before long, I was nose to nose with shelves and shelves of plastic, rubber, wood, aluminum, and chrome gadgets, and doodads for kitchen storage problems I didn’t even know I had. It was an assault on my single-mindedness. More than once, something other than a spice rack caught my eye. At first, I had the mental wherewithal to ignore them.

Decision Fatigue Begins

As the minutes wore on, my brain was presented with dozens of items for which a decision had to be made. Does it look like what I came for? If yes, is it the right size and type? If no, move to next item. As this process continued, some strangely gleeful part of my brain, a la Martha Stewart, said, “It’s not the spice rack, but….is it something I COULD use? Hmmmm…it looks very handy. And sleek, too! After all….maybe it could make even more room in the cabinet?” The cabinet, of course, had nothing to do with the spice rack.

“STOP IT,” another Jean-Chatzky-part of my brain, said. “You are here to get the spice rack. Move on.”

Next doodad. Does this look like the spice rack? No, not quite. Yet, the label showed the entire matching doodad set in a fantasy-organized kitchen. Then that Martha Stewart voice again, “Oh, wouldn’t it be cool if my whole kitchen looked like this doodad’s label?”

“STOP IT,” Jean intervened. “You would have to buy every doodad like it in here, which is a) exactly what you did not come here to do and b) doesn’t even include a spice rack. Next item!”

And so it went….back and forth over a dozen items for fifteen minutes. My mental wherewithal was waning.

Finally, I found exactly what I was looking for and grabbed it.

Decision Fatigue Leads to Aimless Shopping

By then, Martha and Jean had gone 144 rounds. I felt drained. So why did I feel like, oh, taking a look around? Just to see if there was something I couldn’t live without? I got to the bath side and wondered what got into me.

To check out, I had to walk the gauntlet of holiday specials again. I actually pondered chocolates. That’s how beaten-down my willpower was.

When I left the store only $8.35 poorer, I felt like Rocky – beat up, but victorious.

I needed a nap.

Emptying the Decisionmaking Fuel Tank

Dr. Moira Somers, a decision fatigue expert, talks about the mental energy required to make decisions, particularly ones avoiding temptation. It seems we wake up each day with a finite amount of mental decisionmaking energy, like a full tank of fuel. After exhausting our tank, it’s free-for-all shopping, chocolate, smoking, sleeping, nagging, drinking, or whatever your personal favorite fallback behavior happens to be. That devilish irrational voice, (“it’s ok to have it this time” “I won’t do it again” “I can make it up later”) is most powerful when we’re depleted.

To make it more challenging, now we have online shopping. Savvy retailers are perfecting the presentation of temptations on our phones as well as they do in stores. It’s devilishly easy (and I confess, enjoyable) to click and shop.

Finally, stress of any kind (had a little bit of that the last 2 years?) burns fuel in the tank too. When we worry, we erode the ability to resist spontaneous decisions we later regret.

How To Keep the Tank Full

Some solutions? Plenty of sleep. Meditation and mindfulness. Frequent rest breaks. Having someone with whom you can share your struggles.

Also, put fewer decisions into every day by asking whether they can be:

  • automated
  • delegated
  • eliminated or
  • date-activated (meaning putting it on the calendar so it doesn’t take up space in your head).

For more on decision fatigue, see Dr. Somers’ work at http://moneymindandmeaning.com, or Chapter 6 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

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Letting Go of Money Self-Doubt

Letting go of money self-doubt is one of the best gifts you can give yourself. Sometimes these messages operate in the background, quietly driving decisions when we don’t realize it. Other times they’re front and center.

What does money self-doubt sound like? “I knew I’d screw it up.” “I’ll never be good with money.” “If I can’t manage my own finances, I’m a failure.”  “Why am I so stupid with money?”

Painful statements, these are. While sometimes spoken out loud, they are spoken silently far more often.

Money Self-Doubt Origins

Where does money self-doubt come from?  It could be one traumatic event or a repetition of harmful moments that lead to flawed beliefs about our financial capabilities. Without counterbalancing mantras like, “You’re still good. You just made a mistake,” or “You can do this,” the message delivered can be, “You’re a screwup. You’re a failure. You will never get it.”

Sondra (not her real name) is a highly educated and accomplished professional. Her parents came from Depression-era families where money was tight in their younger years. Money was never talked about in Sondra’s home, although she was given everything she needed. She grew up with the belief that her parents didn’t discuss it with her because they believed money was something she was not capable of handling.

Money Self-Doubt Results

Without realizing these beliefs exist, we allow th to influence what actions we take or fail to take. It can affect who we allow into our lives, and who we don’t. It can affect our choice of career. Or how we spend, or choose not to, on our own needs, wants, and wishes. Ironically, money self-doubt can lead to overspending with some people, and deprivation with others.

Sondra chose a career where she was assured a salary and the chance of a bonus if she worked hard enough. She worked longer hours than she wanted to. She lived minimally, foregoing many comforts and rewards of her hard work. Her dreams of having more work-life balance were put on hold because she never felt financially secure. In her personal life, she chose friends and partners who also didn’t talk about money, leaving a gap in her closest relationships.

Letting Go of the Messages

If you’ve been operating under flawed assumptions, and now you know it, you’ve taken the first step to reset your relationship with money.

What else can you do? Here are two suggestions to start:

1) Be aware of those who are too willing to reinforce doubt-based messages – family members, partners, friends, or even (especially) financial professionals. Instead, seek the company of those who say, “I am confident you can handle this,” and will work alongside you, not put themselves ahead or above you.

2) Be aware of body messages. Self-doubt, sometimes manifesting as shame, has a feeling to it – it might be tightness in the chest, nausea or butterflies. Breathe through the feeling and redirect your thoughts to positive truths. You are smart. This is something you can do. You got this, even if you have to ask for help to get started. Call someone supportive to talk about it.

After talking with a friend, Sondra decided to educate herself about money. She began to read books that explained things simply, and take online courses that took a simple approach. Patiently, she interviewed many financial professionals. The more she talked about money, the more confident she became. In the end, she found someone who prioritized her financial education and independence. She began to feel more secure, and consider a daring career move.

The Gift of Letting Go

Letting go of money self-doubt can be one of the greatest gifts we give ourselves to reach peace and security about our financial future.

For more on unspoken money messages see Chapters 2 and 3 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or this 5-minute video with mental health counselor Ken Donaldson on Money Shame.

For a short online course on how to speak “finance” about retirement readiness, see Simple Finance Retirement Readiness: https://bit.ly/3p3BkXE

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Straight Talk: How I Faced the Money Taboo

“I HATE dealing with money,” my professor said.

My original piggy bank

A relationship therapist I follow has a tagline: “The top two causes of divorce are sex and money, and I’m no accountant.” Could it be a coincidence that the top two causes of divorce are also the most taboo topics? I am often asked, “How long have you been doing this?” My half-funny, half-serious answer is, “I made my first budget when I was 9.” Money has been important to me as long as I can remember. I still have the same piggy bank from my childhood.

Despite my passion, when it came to talking about money with other people, I used to struggle. The rational part of me would think, “Money is like air, isn’t it? We all need it, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with talking about it, right?” On the other hand, one of my first boyfriends broke my heart when he said money was too important to me. I got the societal message loud and clear then: much like with sex, it’s not polite to talk about money, and you shouldn’t dare tell other people that you actually like talking about it.

Getting Over Money Shame

It wasn’t until my senior year in college during a semester abroad in India, that my money skills emerged as a source of self-esteem. Our group numbered twelve students from Davidson College and Duke University, led by a Davidson religion professor. The professor had to manage all the group’s expenses; our lodging, our meals and our transportation, while we went all over the country having the time of our lives. Of course, this trip came before much of India had credit card capability, meaning our professor had to organize the budget by keeping track of the piles of rupees and traveler’s checks he would go through.

Towards the end of the trip we were talking about our career aspirations when we got back to the US. I was majoring in economics and bashfully shared that I hoped to help people or businesses with their money. The professor said, “What? I could have used your help all this time with the budget for the trip!” I was flabbergasted and honored. No authority figure had ever said they would trust me to help with their money until that point.

“I would have loved to do that,” I replied.

“I HATE dealing with money,” he said.

It was then I realized two things:

  1. My passion for money help was not something everyone shared.
  2. In fact, there were some people who hated money so much they would rather I handle it for them.

How to Break the Money Taboo

However, just because I gained a level of comfort talking about money at that moment didn’t mean others automatically would too. I needed to learn how to talk about money in a way that was approachable, accepting, and simple.

Years later, when I was starting my own practice, I was glad when one of my former banking clients suggested I call it “Straight Talk Financial Planning.” Although I didn’t take his suggestion, it told me I had made progress toward my goal. I’m proud to say that I got over my own money taboo, and have helped others do the same.

As far as that other unmentionable topic mentioned by the relationship therapist, well, …I’ll leave that one for her.

How about you? What’s your comfort level with talking about money? Drop us a line, comment here, or schedule a call if you’d like to talk more.

Continue ReadingStraight Talk: How I Faced the Money Taboo

Monthly Money Date?  How’s That Workin’ For Ya’?

Due to favorable responses we received on couples and money last year, we are using this Valentine’s Day month to revisit this important topic.

It’s said that money and sex are the two biggest reasons for divorce. Could it be only a coincidence they are also the most difficult topics for couples to discuss? A money date might not sound like the most romantic idea, but taking regular time, say, monthly, to talk about money can be like glue that holds a relationship together.

A money date doesn’t have to last that long, probably at most 15 minutes. My suggestion for a money date has 3 parts:

“Here’s what I made this month.”

“Here’s what I see for major expenditures next month.”

“How are we doing on our goals?”

First, telling what you made starts the conversation with recognition for your household contribution, no matter how big or small. If one partner stays home or is out of work, find a way to recognize other ways you contribute – whether it’s nurturing the kids or finding that next great job.

Second, talking about what’s coming up leaves little room for unpleasant surprises. While this may be the hardest part of the conversation, it’s placed here for a reason. Psychological studies show that thinking about how much we spend or have spent induces the same emotions that lead to depression, while counting what we have induces the same emotions that lead to happiness and fulfillment. That’s why the spending question is sandwiched between the other two.

Third, what goals are worth tracking? Like a dashboard or cockpit, try the following four indicators: Retirement contributions, savings levels, debt levels, and charitable giving. Rather than constantly comparing to an ideal number, find a way to be proud of how far you have both come from where you were. No matter where you might see room for improvement, walk away with at least one thing here you can point to and be glad about.

If you follow this formula successfully, you might find you’re both more interested in working on that-other-part-of-your-relationship-that’s-hard-to-talk-about. (And hopefully, that date will last a lot longer than 15 minutes.?)

Continue ReadingMonthly Money Date?  How’s That Workin’ For Ya’?

Are You More “I” Or “We” With Money?

Patrick (not his real name) and I had been on an introductory phone conversation for nearly 20 minutes. He said things like, “I’ve been doing all this research and I’m more confused than ever,” “I want to retire but I’m not sure I have enough,” and “When I think about inflation, taxes, and Social Security, it’s more complicated than I feel like I can handle.” He had told me about his 30-year career, and the great money he was making, but how the stress was taking its toll on him. Some days, he said, he was ready to be done with working all together. 

“I get that,” I said, then asked, “Is there anyone else who might care about your concerns?”  

“Oh, well, my wife,” he said. I was surprised, as I couldn’t recall the last time I had an initial conversation with a married person where the word “we” didn’t come up for the first 20 minutes. So I asked, “How involved is your wife in the financial matters in your household?” 

“Not. At all.” This was not a huge surprise, given the first 20 minutes of “I” statements he had made.  

Many couples I meet lead successful, busy lives. They have had great careers, raised children, participated in their community, and led their social circles. When two people have that much going on, a natural evolution of household duty-sharing comes about. Many times, one person gets the finances, whether it’s paying bills or making the 401(k) decisions. Some households split the bill-paying and the investing. Regardless, without communication, over time, one partner is edged totally out of the loop. The partner in charge might feel it’s all up to them, and they might have messed it up, but they don’t know. 

Some couples readily admit they might have fallen off track and are seeking professional help because it has become more complicated than they both expect they can manage. They have both been talking about it for a while, and they come in with understanding of their own and their partner’s limitations. 

Others couples haven’t talked about it much at all. There might be some expectations/blaming/resentment going on as a result, because, like other taboo subjects, money and money issues have not been openly discussed.  

So I asked, “What will she do if you were suddenly not around anymore?” 

Silence. Then, “Well, I guess she would call my brother.” Hmmm.​ 

When was the last time you had a conversation with your significant other about money? If it’s been a while, what do you think the reason is? Stay tuned for next week’s column on having a 15-minute monthly Money Date. It only takes a little time now to save a lot of potential heartache later.

Continue ReadingAre You More “I” Or “We” With Money?