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How to Assess and Improve Your Level of Financial Health

When I first started working as a financial coach, many people would mistake me for a financial advisor or financial planner.  They thought I was someone who would help them learn how to invest their money for retirement.

And while financial advisors and financial planners are dear colleagues of mine and are very talented professionals, my work is very clearly in a different space where I’m helping people with their budgeting and money management skills so that they can focus on getting out of debt and saving money with the hope of building a financial plan to support their goals.

So in order to help people better understand what I did (and what I didn’t do), I created what I like to call “The Financial Health Spectrum™” which includes the 3 phases of Build, Protect, and Grow your financial assets.  These 3 phases simply reflect different levels of financial health, and while none of the phases are “bad” there is an increasing level of financial health as you move from the “Build” phase through to the “Grow” phase.  In helping people to understand what type of financial support they need, I encourage people to take a few minutes to assess where they fall on this spectrum so that they can properly identify which financial expert can help them with their goals and with improving their level of financial health.

In order to help you determine where you might fall on the Financial Health Spectrum™, let me explain each phase a bit further along with the respective professionals that you might want to connect with:

1)    Build phaseThis phase is typically where the 70% of people living paycheck to paycheck who are feeling out of control when it comes to their finances will land.  When building your financial assets, you’ll be looking to do such things as establish a budget (or what I like to call a “savings and spending plan” because budget is such a restrictive word), develop more proactive money management skills, get out of debt, and save more money.  To me, this phase is about improving your financial stability and strengthening and repairing your financial foundation so that in the future you can grow your financial assets. In this phase, you might look to work with someone who can help you increase your income, decrease your expenses, or perhaps do both!  This is the phase where I work with my clients, and some other colleagues who can help you in this phase include CPAs, money mindset coaches (to help you understand if you have money beliefs that are holding you back in some way), and salary negotiation coaches (so that you can maximize your earnings).

2)    Protect phaseThis phase is generally exemplified by wanting to either insure assets (property and casualty insurance, life insurance, health insurance, disability insurance, or long-term care insurance) or planning to have your wishes known about what to do with your assets in case anything happens to you.  Experts in this phase include licensed insurance professionals who can help you determine the right type and amount of insurance that you need and estate planning attorneys who can help you with drafting all necessary legal documents such as wills, trusts, family planning/guardianship paperwork, health care directives and proxies, and also Medicare/Medicaid paperwork.

3)    Grow phaseAt the end of the spectrum, once you’ve strengthened your financial foundation and protected the financial assets that you do have, you’ll also want to think about putting your money to work for you and growing it through investments and other financial vehicles (i.e. annuities, etc.).  The financial professional you’ll want to consider in this phase is a financial advisor or financial planner who will take the time to understand your future financial objectives and design a plan customized just for you to grow your money over time to achieve your goals.

As mentioned before, there is no “right” or “wrong” phase to be in, these phases are simply an opportunity for you to recognize where you’re at right now and determine the next steps that you’d like to take for yourselves to improve your financial health.  I also encourage people to think about moving along the spectrum as a longer-term process since strengthening your financial foundation and building financial independence is often a multi-faceted journey that takes place over time and with attention to progress (and not perfection).  It is also important to note that you may be in more than one phase at the same time (i.e. saving for retirement while looking to more proactively manage your monthly cash flow and put the proper legal paperwork in place).

So if you’re ready to get more information on how you can assess your financial health, make sure to stay tuned for more details coming soon on “The Financial Health Telesummit” coming in January 2014.  It’s a free event that you can attend from the comfort of your home phone, computer, or your favorite listening device (iPod, iPhone, etc.) with some of my favorite colleagues and financial experts who will help you to decide on the next steps to take in improving your financial health!

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Redefining Success on Your Own Terms

There’s an underground epidemic going on in our society, and I’d like to talk about it since it’s impacting many people’s ability to see money for what it truly is – a tool to support your life.

Too many people are working too hard to chase success and in the end, they are still miserable.  As we run the proverbial rat race and try to keep up with the elusive “Jones’ ” we have a tendency to define our success based on how much money we earn and even worse than that, we compare what we earn to what other people earn.  The end result?  We never feel good enough about where we are in our life or who we are.  This is happening to many people, including people who are earning 6-figures and are therefore in the top 10% of income earners.  I know because I see it in almost every one of my clients and in the “money confessionals” I hear very often.

It’s time to start redefining success in our culture and on our own individual terms.  Why bother to work so hard if the outcome of that work is making you miserable?  Life’s too short, it’s time to reevaluate and get off the hamster wheel of life.

How do I know all of this?  I used to be running at the front of the rat race, working a job that paid me well but I was miserable doing it.  And bless their hearts, I have a lot of extremely talented friends and colleagues who work hard every day to move themselves forward and they come home empty, exhausted and miserable every day after trying to work harder and earn more money in roles that don’t suit them well at all.  For me, this felt like I was a square peg trying to shove myself in a round hole – I didn’t fit and deep down I knew it.  I was meant to do something else, and each day I chose not to seek that “something else” I was losing a part of my soulI felt stuck though because how could I ever leave my high-paying job and a career I had invested almost 12 years in?

Many people say that they have no choice but to stay in their jobs given “the economy.”  To me, that’s a bunch of crap.  Yes, it’s not easy right now in the job market and I wouldn’t suggest that you give caution to the wind and just quit your job.  But I will suggest that you consider making a huge mental shift from reactively accepting what’s in front of you (what I call living life by default) and instead become more proactive in moving yourself toward greater happiness (what I call living life by design).  If you truly hate your job and/or simply want to be doing something different, what are you doing right now to take a step toward fixing that (even if it’s a small step)?

Start with what you can control.  You can make it a priority to set aside time to gain control of your finances to build a strong financial foundation that gives you freedom and choice in the event that another role that’s better suited to you comes along (but that perhaps pays a bit less).  You can set aside time to think about what you do want instead of spending so much time on what you don’t want.  Because when you keep thinking about what’s wrong with your life, all you’re doing is attracting more of the bad stuff toward you – remember the basic principle of “like attracts like”?

As I’ve done my own work on redefining success, I’ve done 3 key things that have helped to fundamentally shift how I view my own success. My hope is that by sharing them with you that you’ll find at least one way that will be helpful for you to start seeing success as being more than about your paycheck!

1)     Find or create a definition of success that makes YOU happy:  According to my trusty dictionary, “success” and “successful” can be officially defined in a few ways:

Success (noun): 1. The achievement of something desired, planned, or attempted. 2.a. The gaining of fame or prosperity. B. The extent of such gain. 3. One that is successful.

Successful (adjective): 1. Having a favorable outcome. 2. Having obtained something desired or intended. 3. Having achieved wealth or eminence.

Now I tend to like the definition of success as “the achievement of something desired, planned or attempted”.  Setting goals is healthy and can help to keep you focused on learning and growing.  However, sadly enough society tends to lean heavily on the more financially-oriented definitions of “gaining fame or prosperity” and “having achieved wealth or eminence.”

For me, I’ve considered many different definitions of success over the last few years, and I’ve concluded that success for me is really a state of mind and that I get to decide what my goals are and how I’ll work to achieve them.  That’s one way I think of success, and yes – sometimes I am financially rewarded for working toward a goal and I enjoy that.  However, my favorite all time definition of success comes from Paulo Coehlo:

“What is success? It is being able to wake up every morning with your soul at peace.”

It’s taken a really long time to get there and a lot of personal work, but I can finally say that each morning I wake up at peace.  I’m no longer a square peg in a round hole whose spirit feels dampened – I’m one of few who get to do what I love for a living.  A lot of that has to do with the fact that I was brave enough to realize I am more than my paycheck.

2)     List 50 ways that you are successful that have nothing to do with money: This is an awesome exercise that I just recently completed for myself after a colleague suggested it.  I’ve got to be honest, I struggled after the first 10-15 ways but I stuck with it and ended up with a big smile on my face.  It was peaceful and liberating to see the other ways that I evaluated my success – I am authentic and real; I am an AWESOME aunt to my two adorable nephews; I am well-spoken and communicate effectively and efficiently; I use my skills and abilities to help others build a strong financial foundation and begin to create their own personal economies; I live in (and with) integrity.

3)     Get your financial affairs in order to stop the fear:  Ultimately, we are all human and need to know that we are safe and secure before we can consider making any major changes in our lives.  One of the ways that my clients and people I talk with feel unsafe is that they feel financially unstable and/or financially misaligned with how they are using their money.  However, I typically find that once people have a financial plan that helps them to align how they use their money with what matters to them that the financial chaos and resulting fear in their lives disappears.  They’ve taken control back of their lives, and they have a complete understanding of their resources and opportunities to start moving forward.

In the end, redefining success on your own terms can have a tremendous impact on how healthy your relationship is with money.  You are not just how much you earn, you’re more than your paycheck and you’re a divine creation who was put on earth to contribute in your own way like no one else can.  Your only job is to reflect on how it is that you’re meant to contribute with your unique skills and abilities, and to break through your barriers to true success!

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My “Top Ten List”: Money Management and Personal Development Books

As an avid reader, I am continually sharing my favorite books with friends, family, and clients alike.  As I relax into some good books myself this week while on vacation, I thought I’d share some of my favorite books with you on the topic of money and self-development.  (Note: the books below aren’t in any particular order, they’re simply some of my favorites.)  I’ve also shared a note or two on the topic of the book as well as why I typically recommend the book so that you can more easily determine if it’s something you might be interested in yourself.

1)  Secrets of the Millionaire Mind (T. Harv Eker) – This is one of my “go to” books for clients as it focuses on understanding the difference in habits between rich and poor people.  Focused almost exclusively on money mindset and understanding your personal financial blueprint, this book can help you to identify what subconscious money beliefs and habits might be standing in your way so that you can start attracting more money into your life.

2)  The Soul of Money (Lynne Twist) – This book is a more spiritual look at how we view money and our money consciousness.  Many people talk about scarcity and abundance when it comes to money, however few talk about the concept of “sufficiency” and living with a certain level of money that simply makes us happy (and taking the time to determine what that level looks like).   One of my favorite all time quotes about money comes from this book: “Know the flow – take responsibility for the way your money moves in the world.

3)  Smart Women Finish Rich / Smart Couples Finish Rich (David Bach) – Both of these books offer tremendous insights into the practical day-to-day aspects of money management as well as a longer-term focus on investing and growing your net worth (i.e. concepts like time value of money are explained).  If you’re just starting out, or looking for a book to give to a young woman as a graduation gift this would be a great choice.

4)  The Law of Divine Compensation (Marianne Williamson) – This book focuses heavily on the spiritual principles of faith and money, and how money and abundance can be attracted by strengthening one’s faith.  This book isn’t for everyone, however if you’re a person of faith (religious or spiritual) this book may interest you…it’s one of my all-time favorites and my clients love it too!

5)  The Big Leap (Gay Hendricks) – This book isn’t specifically about money, however it focuses on how to recognize the signs when you’re pushing the edges of your comfort zone and the world seems to just go crazy! If you’re at a point in your life where you’re growing in leaps and bounds (or you would like to be), this is a great resource and read for you.

6)  The Slight Edge (Jeff Olson) – Sometimes in life, it’s all about the simple steps we take little by little to move us forward.  Unfortunately, we often forget that simple steps, when accumulated, can have a tremendous impact on how far we go.  If things feel overwhelming sometimes and you’re looking for some motivation to learn how to start moving things forward in your life, then this book is a great place to start inching forward and gaining your “slight edge.”

7)  The Success Principles (Jack Canfield) – This book is like a “success Bible,” giving you many steps that you can take to move toward the most successful version of yourself.  It’s a long read (over 500 pages), but it’s easily digestible in short chapters focused on different aspects of successful behavior.

8)  The Art of Extreme Self-Care (Cheryl Richardson) – While the topic of self-care may not seem like it has anything to do with money or the topic I work on with my clients, it’s often one of the first hurdles that we need to acknowledge and address – busy people forget to take care of themselves and then run the risk of injuring themselves either in the short term or the long term, which could ultimately impact their earning capacity (i.e. disability, stress, underperformance at work, etc.).  If you’re looking to crack the code on how maximize your ability to perform in your life and at work, start with this book to learn how to take care of yourself.

9)  The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown) – Often times we get caught up in who society and others tell us we should be.  When we chase other people’s dreams, we end up being unhappy.   This book is about the journey from “what will people to think?” to “I am enough.

10)  Daring Greatly (Brene Brown) – This book’s premise is that when we acknowledge our fear, embrace vulnerability, and adopt courage in our lives that we, too, can live a whole-hearted life full of happiness and joy.  (Note: it doesn’t claim it’s easy, it simply claims it’s possible if you’re willing to do the work and dare greatly!!)

I hope that at least one of these books piques your interest and helps you grow in some way – enjoy!

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Making Finances Friendly, Fun and Fearless!

OK, so first things first. Yes, I’m totally serious that your finances can be friendly and fun.  No, I am not taking any special medication that helps me to think that way.  (Sorry – I just had to get that out of the way since most people ask if I’m serious and if I’m taking any drugs when I talk about finances being friendly and fun!)

With the right approach, finances can indeed be friendly and fun which helps to relieve a lot of the fear surrounding money.  In fact, my business tagline is “Making Finances Friendly and Fun” so I’m even putting it out there loud and proud.   I believe every word of my tagline.  I live it, I breathe it, and I teach it to my clients (and pretty much just about anyone else who will listen).

I can hear the chatter in your mind right now – she’s got to be joking. I’m so stressed out right now about money that the idea that it could actually be “friendly and fun” is pure insanity.

Call me insane, call me whatever you want to.  In fact you can call me an orange hippopotamus if it helps you to consider changing your financial perspective for the better, I could care less!  But I have proof that it can happen – my clients all tell me in the end that they see money more positively and aren’t weighed down by fear.

With a few simple shifts in perspective, you can start seeing things differently for yourself and decrease the amount of financial fear in your life while increasing the amount of financial fun and friendliness.  There are 3 simple steps I suggest to get started on viewing your finances in this new and exciting way.

1)      Think of money as a game – One of the main ways I tell people to shift their perspective about money to a more fun and friendly approach is to think about money as a game.  In essence, money is a tool and a resource to get you where you want to go and to allow you to do the things that you want to do, so the more money that you keep the more that you can do the things that excite you.  With that in mind, start to think of yourself as the gatekeeper of your money – it comes in, and YOU are in charge of what goes out!  Take a stance that every bill that you pay is a money-making opportunity in and of itself.  Do you know how many times I’ve found an error on a bill that I’ve reviewed and called the company about it to have my bill adjusted? I can assure you it has been LOTS of times and it has likely added up to thousands of dollars over the years. Another great idea is to involve other family members in helping you to manage the money.  In fact, I have a client who plans her family’s food for the week and creates the grocery list for her husband and he then takes their young daughter to the grocery store where she adds up their bill in the store with a calculator so they can make sure to stay within their planned amount!  By making a simple shift to empower yourself as the gatekeeper of your money and begin looking for ways to involve others and ask for help you’re well on your way to making money more manageable. 

2)      Redistribute and realign how you’re using your money – I find that most people talk about the things that they “should” do with their money.  And while there are certain smart things that you can be doing with your money (saving and living within your means come to mind),  I would encourage you to spend less time thinking about what you “have to do” and more time thinking about what you “love to do” when it comes to your money.  Yes, we all have responsibilities and I completely get that.  However, from the information I see when I look at how my clients choose to use their money before we put together a new plan I see a lot of unconscious spending.  That isn’t a judgment on my part it’s just a fact from where I stand.  It’s very likely that there is space for you to have more experiences in your life that you would “love to do” if you simply took the time to redistribute and realign how you’re using your money right now! 

3)      Allow yourself to dream again – For me, this step is the most important one in making the shift to view finances as friendly and fun.  For many people, money is full of a heavy energy and responsibility.  Many people have simply forgotten how to dream and think of money only as something to pay the bills.  If you want only enough money to pay the bills, then that’s exactly what you’ll attract and not much more.    What are the reasons why you’d like to have more money in your life?  For me, I love to travel and learn, and I want to contribute toward the futures of my 2 adorable nephews, Jack and Ryan.  I enjoy taking care of my mind, body, and soul as well which for me means lots of Pilates classes and regular massages, manicures and pedicures too.  In the future, I’m looking forward to being married and being a mom, so I know I’ll have lots of reasons to dream big then too!  So ask yourself, what do you dream about doing and is it even reflected in your financial life at all?  Where can you be fearless and dream about doing something bigger than you ever thought you could to inspire yourself and others? You’ll be able to attract more money and financial stability into your life if you have a specific reason to enjoy it.

In the end, viewing finances as friendly and fun requires a purposeful decision to want to see things differently.  There’s an old quote that “every master was once a disaster” and this is true for your finances as well.  Perhaps things aren’t going well now, however that doesn’t mean that you can’t decide today to shift things around and view your finances in a more positive manner.  The choice is yours, are you ready to believe that finances can be friendly and fun?

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3 Steps to Reclaiming Your Money Power

Standing in your power with money is both an art and a science.

What do I mean by that exactly?  Well, it’s a science in the sense that there is a method to the madness, a systematic way to manage your money that will keep you well-informed and ahead of the proverbial 8-ball.  However, standing in your power with money is also an art because beyond the systematic processes of money management it’s also about how you energetically put yourself out into the world when it comes to money.

Let me explain a little further.  When I think of people who are powerful with their money, I think of people who have lots of “money mojo” – they set boundaries, they stand up for themselves with class and grace, and they are not afraid to handle what needs to be handled when it comes to financial matters.  However, many people don’t have solid “money mojo” because they don’t even realize that they are often giving away their money power.

So how do people give away their money power? It happens in 5 key ways, mainly because people are:

  • Afraid of conflict;
  • Afraid of facing responsibility and being a financial “grown-up”;
  • Afraid of what others will think (embarrassed that people will talk about them or that people will be angry with them);
  • Afraid of looking like/being a failure (usually further aggravated by comparing oneself to others);
  • Afraid of disempowering someone else (i.e. with their success, etc.).

Do any of these ways resonate with you? Could you be paving a more powerful path to financial freedom just by plugging up one of these power leaks in your life?

Claiming your money power starts with one thing – a commitment to understanding where you’re giving away your power so that you can then understand where you would like to set a new standard in your financial life.  A bit of a heads-up and warning here though as often when people shift to a new standard of power with money, it can (and has often been known to) cause an unpleasant reaction in others as you shift toward that new standard.  You change the dance steps in an old routine that someone else is comfortable with (and where they can potentially take advantage of you), and they tend to get a little testy!

Start with these 3 steps to take back your money power today:

  1. Identify your money power leaks – This may be the toughest step of all of them and that is to honestly own up to those situations where you give away your power with money!  Review the 5 ways noted above that most people give away their power with money, and see which one of the five is most applicable to you (hint: it’s usually the one where you read it and want to immediately pretend you didn’t see it J ).  It might be ugly at first, however try to have compassion for yourself that you’re doing your best to be honest and step forward to improve your financial future.  It may also be helpful to review the list with a loved one that you trust; often we can’t see for ourselves what others more easily and objectively can see.
  2. Decide what boundaries you will put in place going forward – Usually when money power leaks exist, it has a lot to do with boundaries that have either lapsed or were never there in the first place.  It’s time to strengthen the boundaries around your power leak, so brainstorm on what boundary you will put into place to prevent any future leaks.
  3. Take action immediately – Now that you’ve identified what you’d like to work on, and you’re clear about the boundaries you’re putting in place, it’s time to be proactive.  Complete the following sentence, “The action I will take is _______ by _____ (set a date within a reasonably short timeframe).” It doesn’t have to be a big step; it can be a very basic step that’s intended to get you moving forward.  If you’d like extra credit, come up with several steps that will get you blasting through to setting a new standard for yourself in no time!

It takes practice and courage to claim your money power, and at first it can feel really uncomfortable.  Also, as you’re figuring out where you’re not being powerful with your money, there can be a tendency to feel ashamed or embarrassed.  Do yourself a favor and don’t stay at the “pity party” long though, ok?  Envision each situation as a gift that is sent to teach you something about yourself and your life and work through the issues one step at a time to stand in your full money power!

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