Holiday Spending Hangovers

holiday hangovers

Holiday spending hangovers: What do holiday overdrinking, overeating, and overspending have in common? We can get stuffed in over our heads before we know it, leading to regret later. The holidays can test our temptation to overcelebrate. While holiday alcohol- or food-induced hangovers are commonly discussed, spending hangovers can bring about equal regret.

Thinking Ahead

To avoid regret, it helps to think ahead. You might call it an “awareness strategy.” What events are coming up that might bring about a temptation to overspend?

Nowadays, that strategy might start in October. Halloween is now the second biggest holiday for consumer spending after Christmas. What used to be a couple hours of candy collection with a homemade costume and a paper grocery bag is now practically a national holiday. Multi day trunk-or-treating. Elaborate costumes. Yard decorations needing extensions upon extension cords. On November 1, where does all the Halloween stuff go? In the attic, the garage, the storage unit, or the garbage? And what about the candy? Halloween often leads to sugar, spending, and stuff hangovers.

Next comes Thanksgiving, where we stuff ourselves with, literally, stuffing. Some then stuff our brains with football and TV. Some families stuff all the important conversations for the past year into a few hours at the table. The air is stuffed with emotions. And spending can often be a coping mechanism for difficult emotions. It seems all the Thanksgiving hangovers – food, football, TV, and feelings – start with stuffing.

And finally if you celebrate it, Christmas, the king of holiday hangover potential. Must-have new decorations, the tallest tree, fancy food, family gatherings, parties, gotta-get gifts, candy, cake, and alcohol all stuffed into a few short weeks. Moderation choices might start out strong. But decision fatigue can quickly take over. Come January, depleted bank statements and depleted emotions can bring on the same headaches as too much cookies and eggnog.

Thinking ahead to all of the opportunities to spend gives you a head start on avoiding regret later. Ask

  • What is coming up where I will want or need to spend on a holiday?
  • What does the spending event entail?
  • What are alternative ways to achieve my goal for the spending event?
  • Imagine it’s January. When you look at your bank and/or credit card balances, what’s a reasonable figure for you to be at then? Start with that as your goal.

Release Self-Judgment

Before launching into ways to criticize decisions before you have even made them, remember that it’s ok to splurge. It just takes a little thinking ahead, strategy, self-care and balance. Deprivation generally doesn’t work.

Mindful Spending Strategies

For some people, simply having a January bank balance goal is enough to help them stay focused throughout the season.

Others need more concrete ideas. Here are a couple:

  • Plan most or all of your shopping at one or two stores. Buy yourself a gift card for that store with the total amount you can spend that allows you to make your January goal. Ask for your remaining balance with each purchase. When the gift card is spent, you have made your goal.
  • The old-fashioned envelope approach. Withdraw the amount of cash that allows you to make your January goal. Put it in one or more envelopes, organizing by spending category. For some people, watching the physical cash dwindle is the best way to stay focused.

Keep Track

The gift card and envelope approaches are one way to keep physical track of how you are doing on your spending goal.

If you find yourself resisting or unsure about the idea of having a January goal, simply keeping track of your spending as you go can work, too, as a reminder to rein in overspending.

Weight Watchers has used this approach for decades. The best tool of the program for me was the daily journal. Logging what I ate every day had more impact on my diet decision making than any other single factor.

Similarly, when a group of experimental homeowners were given an electric meter next to their thermostat, they used 7% to 19% less electricity than those with outside meters.

So writing down what you spent each day can take the form of a note on your phone, or a physical notepad or journal.

Every bit of awareness can help.

Credit Cards and Overspending

What if you must use credit cards, or really like getting the points? (Although the points rarely work as well as cash back, but that’s another blog post.)

Using a credit card is like having the electric meter on the outside of the house. You never get to compare what you have spent to a predetermined goal. Additionally, psychology studies show that when used in stores, as the credit card is handed back to us it reduces the feeling that we have spent anything. Our wallet looks the same afterward.

To build spending awareness and still use credit cards, sign up for a daily or weekly reminder of your charges and the current balance. (Not all companies will do this, tragically.) Each day or week, transfer your charges for that period from your bank account. At the extreme, you might make 30 payments on your credit card over the holidays, but so what? It’s helping you avoid the hangover.

Public Service Announcement

And a final Public Service Announcement: if you’re concerned about hangovers of a different kind, you’re not alone. There is help. AA.org helps with all kinds of addiction. Al-anon.org is for friends and families of alcoholics or addicts. Or, call a local Certified Addiction Professional for more one-on-one advice.

See our Resources page for recommended books on the psychology of money.

Imagine getting through January with no hangovers!

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Money: Values, Behaviors, Habits and Change

saving money

Money values, behaviors, habits, and change: Perhaps there is something about middle age, or a pandemic, that creates the urge to examine values, behaviors, habits, and change.

At my 25th college reunion, I had breakfast with a college friend who worked for our alma mater, Davidson College. She had attended lots of reunions.

I asked about her observations of reunion attendees. She said something like, “At the 10-year mark, everyone’s comparing notes – who has how many kids, who has graduate degrees, what they did for vacations, what kind of home they live in, etc.”

In other words, their money values tended to be focused on status.

“By the 25th, nearly everyone has experienced some kind of life event, and they are a lot more mellow. The other stuff must not seem as important.”

So, values shift as life unfolds.

Values drive behaviors, which become habits. When we begin to question the behaviors and habits, we become ready for change. And that’s how growth happens. Eventually this process can work its way into finances.

Beginning to Examine Behaviors – Eating Habits

My own path to behavior change didn’t start with money. It started with eating.

One of my first experiences with behavior change was through Weight Watchers. I was 35 years old, 5’3″ and 15 pounds overweight. I decided that I valued being healthy more than enjoying unhealthy food. I lost 20 pounds and gained 5 back, but kept it off.

How did I do it? Tracking and accountability. Whenever my clothes got tight, I would write down everything I ate. This helped me track and change my eating behaviors permanently.

Ironically, tracking and accountability had come naturally to me with money. I wrote my first budget at age 9, and had tracked my money ever since. This made me a good saver, but later I learned it didn’t necessarily mean I had a good relationship with money.

Conversational Habits

Next I moved to healthier conversation habits.

The values of listening well and feeling heard became more important. I learned that “listening” does not mean, “Wait until the other person is finished talking so I can say what I want to say.”

Listening means to suspend all noise and chatter in my head; and reflect on what I am hearing. To eliminate the noise and chatter, I acquired a rule: Anything that I want to say while someone else is talking, I am not allowed to say.

Like any other habit change, it took conscious effort at first. When I think of something I want to say, I let it go, stay present, and listen. I found that, if I truly wanted to understand someone then what I wanted to say would have gotten in the way of that.

My conversational habits, and relationships, improved.

Money Values, Behavior, Habits and Change

My money habits needed improvement too.

I used to overtrack my spending and worry unnecessarily about it. This led to a habit of denying myself some things that would have been convenient, or just enjoyable. Then, like binge eating, I would splurge on something silly or outrageously expensive. Even though the splurges never exceeded the savings, it created big regret and self-criticism.

This roller coaster of emotions tied to money was one of the hardest habits to break. The shift came indirectly through other personal changes wrought through a divorce. Working structured programs with friends who shared similar struggles helped me identify emotions sooner and do something more constructive with them.

This education helped me write The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future, for people who have difficulty spending their savings in ways that bring joy and happiness.

Examining is Easy; Change is Hard

It is easy to underestimate how difficult behavior change can be.

It’s normal to believe we can simply tell ourselves to act differently. We can “just say no” to cookies after dinner, to quit interrupting, or to quit worrying about financial things we cannot control.

Instead, it helps to have a nudge – a program, a structure, a new discipline, or an accountability partner – to complete the transformation from old habits to new ones.

Before you know it, with new habits, a lot of good physical, relational, mental, and financial growth will happen.

Enough good stuff to share at the next college reunion.

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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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Monthly Money Dates

couples and money

Monthly money dates sure don’t sound very romantic. However, it’s said that money and sex are the two biggest reasons for divorce*. Could it be just a coincidence they are also two of the most difficult topics for couples to discuss? So perhaps it might make sense to figure out how to talk about them. Making regular times to talk about a difficult topic can often break down walls within other relationship areas.

In fact, a money date doesn’t have to last that long. Probably at most 15 minutes. (Unlike that other difficult topic, quicker is better.) One suggested format for a money date has 3 parts, with each partner taking turns:

For Part 1: “Here’s what I contributed this month.”

And Part 2: “Here’s what I see for major expenditures coming up.”

Then Part 3: “How are we doing?”

Money Date Part 1: What You Contributed

First, telling what you contributed, no matter how big or small, starts the conversation with recognition for your efforts. 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 searching for that next great job.

Money Date Part 2: Upcoming Expenditures

Second, talking about what’s coming up, or could come 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 can induce the same emotions that lead to depression. On the other hand, 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.

Money Date Part 3: How Are We Doing?

Third, how well you are doing? Ask, what goals are worth tracking? If you are unsure where to start, try the following four indicators: retirement accounts; savings levels; debt levels; and charitable giving. Rather than constantly comparing to an ideal number, find a way to recognize progress from where you were at some point in the past. No matter where you might see room for improvement, walk away with at least one thing you can both point to and be glad or hopeful about.

Money Date Wrap-up: What Next?

Sharing your hopes and working through challenges about money decisions, even for 15 minutes, can be an intimate couples exercise. If you follow this formula successfully, you might find you’re a little more interested in that other intimate topic that’s hard to talk about. (And feel free to take longer than 15 minutes for that one.)

For more tips on the psychology of money, subscribe to the award-winning monthly e-letter, “The View From the Porch,” at https://bit.ly/3t2uwfn, check out Holly’s book, The Mindful Money Mentality: How To Find Balance in Your Financial Future, or sign up for the online Retirement Readiness course.

*see Dr. Dae Sheridan’s Tedx Talk, “Real Talk about ‘The Talk'”

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What’s a Holiday Spending Style?

what's a holiday spending style

What’s a holiday spending style? It’s the approach you take to spending money on others.

How do you decide what to spend at the holidays, and on whom? In her program, Money Habitudes http://www.moneyhabitudes.com, Dr. Syble Solomon breaks down our money habits and attitudes into several different styles. Here are how a few of those styles might apply to holiday spending.

Spending Style: Status

After earning my first real money at 15, I made a list and a budget for each person on it. A few years later, at age 20, I looked at the list of names, each with a dollar sign beside them, and thought “Yikes!” It could appear as if each person had a price tag.

At the time, I didn’t know it, but I was operating under one of Dr. Solomon’s six spending styles, the one involving “status.” In other words, I was too concerned what other people would think about my spending decisions, and as a result, I spent too much.

So next,  I made a “total” budget, and tried to keep track as I went along on how I was doing. Yet that didn’t work very well, since I could always find an excuse to break the budget on something to keep it “fair.”

Spending Style: Security

If you spend very little on others, and on yourself, because you are concerned you may need it for an emergency, you might have the “security” spending style. You might do the bare minimum necessary to get invited back to next year’s turkey dinner. Or you might find ways to celebrate other than spending money.

Spending Style: Idealist

Idealist – If you reject the materialism of the holidays, then you might give everyone something home-made, like cookies, or your own artistic creation. You have the hardest time of all styles making a spending plan, because you despise handling money matters.

Spending Style: Spontaneous

This style can’t wait to see what great ideas are presented each year by retailers. Perhaps you make a spending plan, but you have a tough time sticking to it because of all the fun temptations and opportunities to purchase the perfect gifts presented to you right before checking out.

Spending Style: Caretaker

Caretakers see gift-giving as a way to show how much you care about people. Your spending plan might be more generous than other spending styles (but hopefully not more generous than is financially wise).

Spending Style: Goal-Oriented

Your most important concern is staying within your spending plan. It may take you longer to get your shopping done in order to find the right gift-cost combinations.

What’s Your Style?

If you exhibit more than one holiday spending style, that is a good thing. The key is not to take any one style to an extreme. If you can make a spending plan that is wise for your situation, shows your love and affection for others, and still allows for some guilt-free spontaneity, you have probably found the combination that will bring you, and those you care about, lots of joy this holiday season.

For more on the psychology of money, see The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.

Or to schedule a call to talk about money matters on your mind, click here.

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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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How Do You Balance Savings and Splurging?

“I’d really like that, but I don’t deserve it.”

“It would be wonderful to visit there, but I can’t do it in the foreseeable future.”

“That will be really fun when I’m retired, if I have enough money then.”

Delayed gratification. It’s the mantra of the Puritan work ethic. Sacrifice today so there will be enough tomorrow. (And if you don’t, there won’t.)

Our culture rewards those who sacrifice – to extreme. It seems like our jeans can’t be too skinny and our accounts can’t be too fat.

These messages, ingrained in some childhoods and reinforced by media in adulthood, leave little room for good, old-fashioned splurging. What’s your definition of a splurge? For too many people I meet, it’s the extra week of summer camp for their child. It’s the flight to visit the grandparents, or grandchildren. It’s a toy or exotic trip they’ve dreamed about for decades. It’s the alternative and mental health treatments that nourish their soul.

If these messages are speaking to you, then the message I am hoping you will consider alongside them is, “Trust yourself.” If you don’t have a history of racking up unmanageable credit card debt, chances are one trip or toy is not going to send you there. If you don’t regularly run out of month before money, the occasional treats or therapy for yourself have little danger of becoming your new uncontrollable habit.

In a media world filled with messages about Americans’ overspending and undersaving, there are more than a few who have the opposite problem. And as admirable as it may seem, it has costs – in regret, in relationships with others, and in integrity with ourselves.

How can we know? Ask someone over the age of 90, or who has been given a limited time to live. Our focus on what mattered most to us sharpens considerably when we are told our time and health are now more precious resources than our money.

So if you haven’t taken care of your current self lately because you think your future self will be “poor,”  lighten up and strike some spontaneity in your budget.

I, Holly P. Thomas, Certified Financial Planner(TM), and recovering obsessive compulsive money addict, hereby give all Puritans permission to live more than a little.

And for more on “mindful splurging,” check out this recent article by Susan Johnston Taylor, https://www.headspace.com/blog/2016/05/20/how-to-splurge-mindfully/.

 

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Scared of Financial Success?

At one point in my banking career I was in line for a big promotion that involved a panel interview, and I blew it. People who served on the panel couldn’t believe the same person showed up for the interview who showed up for work every day. Instead of feeling pride and confidence when I first heard about the opportunity, I remember feeling discomfort and anxiety with the new title and bonus potential. It made no sense. Because I thought I might be given the opportunity again, I spent the following year working on the internal and external sources of my fear of success. I improved my inner confidence by joining Toastmasters (see that story here); and I improved my external messages by consciously surrounding myself with people who gave me joy and support. It worked: the next year, I aced it, and got the promotion.

Research on our messages about money has uncovered that some people may have an inner upper limit they have set on financial success. Past that limit, they become uncomfortable. Unknowingly, they will begin to sabotage themselves.  According to Ken Donaldson, LMHC, an emotional intelligence expert in Seminole Florida and author of Marry Yourself First , the upper limit is set by “history, events, programming, parents, institutions and cultural messages.”

Financial professionals often see this with windfalls. When someone has been handed a great deal more money than they have had before, and are uncomfortable with their new position, they may spend it or give it away until they are back in the financial position where they first started. Still others allow the windfall to sit in an account, untouched, unwilling to acknowledge its presence. For some people, the windfall can represent a real or imagined radical change in lifestyle and in relationships. It may give them a new self-identity, and they need time to grieve their old one. Meanwhile, some in their circles will accept them as they are, while others try to drag them down.

To address fear of success, self-made or not, work needs to be done on both inside and outside factors. Two steps in this direction: First, write your feelings about your new position today, then imagine how you would like to be spending your life three years from now. Second, surround yourself only with people who bring you joy and support. This may mean saying “no” to people whom you previously said “yes” to, detaching from them in a loving way.

Keep the messages of confidence flowing – from the inside and out – to embrace success, rather than ruin it.

Continue ReadingScared of Financial Success?

To Be Or Not To Be….A Halloween Scrooge

Retailers want to know – Are you ready? Got enough candy? Bought your pre-carved pumpkin? How about costumes for Lucky and Whiskers? When it comes to Halloween spending, it seems they’ve thought of a million different ways to get Americans to celebrate.
And what’s wrong with it? Compared to the other big consumer holidays, Halloween comes with the least sense of duty and obligation. It’s, more simply, pure discretionary fun. Add to the mix that this year it falls on a Saturday, and retailers will likely get even more of our wallets.
So what if we spend money on corn-syrup candy and pet costumes? Which is it – unnecessary, irresponsible spending (as a Halloween Scrooge might say) or necessary, letting-off-steam, fun?
To answer for yourself, think about these 3 questions:
1) Do you have a play-money account or amount set aside in your cash flow plan to spend however you like?
2) Have you ever tracked your discretionary spending?
3) Do you ever have spending “hangovers,” and suspect you may spend too much on spontaneity?
Financial planners ourselves may be the most guilty bunch of failing to appreciate money as a tool for bringing spontaneous fun to our lives. We don’t want to be the unwitting Scrooge to anyone – not our clients, nor our families, yet our analytical nature can sometimes come across that way. Spending with healthy enjoyment is one of the greatest balancing acts we can all learn.
Whether you plan it all out ahead of time, or see who comes knocking on October 31, make your Halloween hangover-free. Enjoy the holiday in the way that seems right for you. And if you’re still not sure, you could call your financial planner….or just ask Lucky and Whiskers.
Continue ReadingTo Be Or Not To Be….A Halloween Scrooge