How To Save More (Part 1)

Welcome to the New Year – things are definitely going to be different this time, right? You’re going to get back into the gym, start spending less and saving more and overall be the person 2.0 you know you can be. Great! Here’s a few ideas for how to help yourself be successful.

First, if you haven’t established a baseline for how you spend (for whatever reason – it doesn’t matter); start passively tracking using a tool like Mint. In apps like this you will link your bank accounts and they will work in the background, keeping track of your spending. Your bank may have something very similar; it’s less about which you use and more about just using one. Here’s the first tough part – you need to be patient and allow these programs to gather at least (3) months of history. Why? Because we want to understand where you are spending, and you may find some easy “wins” – things like the random convenience store purchase or just how often Amazon is charging your account.

It’s become super simple to link credit cards to online stores, which leads to almost unconscious spending. Unconscious, because we don’t have any time to process what we are purchasing. Instead of a “cool down” period while you get up and get the card, you just click through and it’s done. Removing the card data and not allowing the sites to remember could be a great first start.

But wait until you have at least (3) months of historical data. This is important for all the tips I will be sharing, because the baseline is going to be what shows you your success. Without a history, it’s easy to become discouraged and feel like you’re not accomplishing anything – which can lead to a regression to old habits. The history showing how much you’re not spending on a monthly basis, in comparison to previous months, reflects the work you’re putting in to better yourself.

Note I said “not spending”, I didn’t say “saving”. That’s the second part of the equation. Once you’ve identified where you can get a few “easy” wins, you want to earmark that money for a specific goal. Set up an account just for this goal, and move the money into it – immediately (when you are reviewing your account). If you wait until the end of the month, or some other arbitrary date, you run the risk of spending it on something else. Stay tuned for additional ways to not spend so much.

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Medicaid Work Requirements

In an article I came across by David Frank, AARP (https://www.aarp.org/politics-society/advocacy/info-2017/medicaid-work-requirements-fd.html); I discovered Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Maine, New Hampshire, Utah and Wisconsin are trying to make employment a condition of receiving Medicaid. On the surface, this may seem pretty reasonable – especially if you’re not too familiar with the program itself.

“Medicaid is a jointly funded, Federal-State health insurance program for low-income and needy people. It covers children, the aged, blind, and/or disabled and other people who are eligible to receive federally assisted income maintenance payments.” (https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityresearch/wi/medicaid.htm). I added the emphasis in red, because from what I’ve personally experienced the focus is on “other people”. This focus is usually followed by an assertion about how they should be able to get a job (I’m stopping here, but almost invariably there will also be some condescending or insulting remarks as well).

I’m all for everyone working, but this is a free-country and the government can’t tell businesses who to hire. Sure, it can prevent discrimination, and there are laws in place; but at the end of the day a business is going to hire the best fit for the positions they need filled. And with increased automation, there is less and less need for unskilled labor. Schools are getting better at developing skills, but the curve is steep – and in my experience the focus is still centered around food, filth and flowers; because historically these were the job types assumed to be best suited.

Companies are recognizing those with disabilities have more to offer, and several (AT&, Prudential Financial and IBM – source DiversityInc) are leading the pack – but it’s going to take time. From what I have personally experienced, most people want to be independent – and working goes a long way towards fostering this. Families can help by focusing on what their children CAN do, rather than what their challenges are. Easier said than done; but setting the foundation is key.

From there, schools and employers can, and should, build the necessary skills. Bring back journeyman programs and focus less on college; the need for trades (plumbing, electrical, HVAC, etc) aren’t going away. But none of this needs the State governments to legislate a demand to work for Medicaid.

 

The Learning Community International

For my last non-profit spotlight in 2017, I want to introduce you to The Learning Community International School (TLCI). It’s a unique way to approach education, offering a home-school feel (because students’ classroom is their home) with accredited diplomas. Each student’s course of learning is mapped out through collaboration between the student, parents and TLCI’s professional advisor.

Who They Are 

The Learning Community International website says they are the “perfect marriage of private and home school”; and when you talk with the Executive Director or look at their program it’s easy to see why. They bring in subject matter experts, who may include (but aren’t limited to): College professors, college/career counselors, as well as special education and child psychologists. This range of professionals is included in the tuition, providing resources many who home school struggle to find or fund.

What They Do 

TLCI take the time to understand what the prospective student and family are looking for, and if it’s not a good fit, acknowledge this right in the beginning – before the student is enrolled. They’re not trying to serve everyone, but those who fit they serve very well. TLCI can, and does, accommodate those with different learning needs; providing an IEP. Additionally, they use the Myers Briggs and Rockport Institue Strengths and Talents tests to help the student pick the path allowing them the most opportunity to succeed

TLCI has a standardized curriculum, after all they are a school. But they also offer customized courses, and will offer concierge services as requested/required. Custom courses include travel, experiential learning, and OpenCourseWare (link provides an example I found, may not be the student’s experience).

Concierge services are meant to enhance the students’ programs effectiveness, not every student will require/desire them. Some of these services are tutors who have been vetted – test prep (ACT, SAT, etc); Specialists (ABA therapists, differentiated instruction, etc); and college/career coaching.

 

What Else Should I Know

As I mentioned above, The Learning Community International isn’t for everyone. If you have a child whose school doesn’t seem to “get” him or her; you move frequently and want to maintain continuity; you really like the home school model but are not necessarily interested in being the teacher; or you are just curious I encourage you to check them out. The preadmission discussion is free of charge, and in my experience they have been completely transparent and readily answered the questions I asked (even those which were no doubt silly given my lack of experience in the education field).

To be completely clear – although they are a non-profit, they are not a 501(c)3; no charitable deduction is available nor do they seek charitable contributions.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of The Learning School International and any errors noted are my own. The links to Myers Brigg, Rockport Institute and OpenCourseWare were researched by me; I encourage anyone interested to talk to TLCI to confirm the references I provided are accurate. If I have misrepresented, or misstated anything please provide constructive feedback so I may make the appropriate change(s). All opinions and views are my own.

Be Realistic, Please

There have been times when I’ve felt like a wet blanket – throwing cold water on one’s dreams and seeming to be the only dissenting voice. I don’t mean to be a downer, I sincerely try to support one’s dreams and visions; but I think it’s important for those who dream to take the additional steps of working to understand how to make the dreams a reality (if that’s what they really want). More often than not this means exploring the “how” something will happen – and from my experience/point of view this is seldom well thought out.

Many seem to want to retire early, which (to me) isn’t the same thing as achieving financial independence at a young age – at least not the way it’s been described. For one thing, few of those who want to retire seem to have done the work necessary (saving) or have a lifestyle which can be supported by what they have put away. I can understand feeling burned out, or not wanting to work in the job you’re in – I’ve been there on more than one occasion. But make the most of it while you’re there, and that may include sacrificing your lifestyle to save more aggressively – allowing you to leave the situation sooner.

It may also mean doing some soul-searching about what type of work you want to do, or who your “dream” boss would be. Spell it out on paper, and then set it aside for a day or two. When you read it again, how does it feel? Does everything resonate, or do you find yourself making changes? The times I’ve done this exercise, I’ve had 4 or 5 revisions before what I was reading really felt right. Of course I didn’t do this when I first started looking for a job, I jumped right into what I thought I should be doing (and don’t even get me started about how I picked my rate in the Navy).

If your dream job doesn’t pay a lot of money, and you want to retire young, consider your lifestyle. Do you “need” all the bells and whistles? What are those things doing for you and your quality of life? For some, it really does make a difference in how they feel, having granite or marble counters and stainless steel appliances; but perhaps they’re less concerned about what they drive – so they get a used car with low or no payments. This is one example.

Another option – take a job you’re less enamored with, but pays more. Here’s the catch, you still owe an honest day’s work to whoever hired you. If you discover you don’t like the job after you started, but don’t want to leave; suck it up. It’s your choice to stay there. Change what you can, by working within the system, and accept everything else. Remember “why” you’re here – you have a goal (or goals) and this going to allow you to accomplish it (them).

Life is not “fair”. None of us are owed anything, and contrary to popular fiction what we want isn’t going to happen just because we wish or affirm it. We have to be honest with ourselves. It’s okay to dream, but recognize where the line is between wishful thinking and realistic opportunities. You can move this line pretty far if you’re willing to do the work and make sacrifices; this is not me telling you not to have hope or think big. But, and this is HUGE, there is a give and take with every choice you make. Not sure of what possible consequences are, ask a trusted friend or advisor. Getting the outside perspective can often help.

Give Yourself A Head Start

We have one week left in 2017, and some of us may already be thinking of how to get ahead in 2018; heck a few may even be taking the necessary steps. I think it’s a shame, how commercialized holidays have become – and I feel for those not of the Catholic/Christian faith because Christmas seems to monopolize the airways this time of year.

Stores are packed with shoppers looking for the “perfect” gifts – leading to “Black Friday”, “Cyber Monday” and lately, “Giving Tuesday”. What has happened to us? How did we let ourselves become so driven by words like “Clearance” and “One Day Sales” that we seem to have become mindless wallets and credit cards?

Most of us don’t exhibit these behaviors at any other time of the year, it’s almost like there is a switch in our brain that’s turned off after Halloween and doesn’t come back on until the week after New Year’s.

What if, instead of trying to “out-gift” each other, we took some time to ensure our lives were in order? Doing “boring” things like verifying our beneficiary forms, ensuring our estate plans are up to date and even, maybe, increasing the contribution to our retirement plans by 1 – 2%.

No – it probably won’t release the same endorphins gift giving does; but I’m willing to bet another thing it WON’T do is make you feel bad after the holiday has come and gone. Take the time you have with your friends and family to have real conversations – they don’t have to be dark and gloomy. Celebrate them, by being with them and giving them the gift of your time and attention (real attention, i.e. without a device present).

Ensuring your estate plans are in order are, in my opinion, one of the BEST gifts you can leave someone. I cannot imagine anything more tragic than not knowing what to do to honor you when you’re gone; or worse, family and friends fighting over who gets what (which I’ve seen all too much of).

So please, as this year draws to a close, take a look at what you have in place for when your time is up. Give yourself a head start going into the New Year, before vacations end and the mad dash towards new goals/resolutions kick in. Take the next few days and reflect on where you are and where you’re going. You’ll be glad you did, and so will those you treasure most.

Be Present, Not Perfect

December is the month for holidays, and it seems like many of us get all wrapped up (pardon the pun) in the festivities and moments. We just have to give the “perfect” gift, host the “perfect” party, etc – you get the idea. And in the midst of all this somehow we lose sight of what the holidays are for (or as I understand it – I don’t celebrate them so I could be missing something).

I see so many of those around me stressing out, almost making themselves physically ill from worry they won’t live up to the expectations they think others have of them. The focus becomes almost materialistic, driving people to spend more than they ordinarily would; followed by feelings of regret and shame in when the holidays are over.

What makes this time of year any different than the other 11 months? What would happen if, instead of trying outspend the Joneses, we spent more time focusing on those we would be buying the gifts for. Give them the gift of your attention, focusing on who they are instead of what they want (or what you think they want). It’ll cost less, and I’m willing to bet everyone will remember this gift much better than those they would have received.

Walk Before You Run

The end of the year is just around the corner, and many of us fall into the trap of looking back and thinking about all the things we were going to do; but for one reason or another never got around to. This isn’t constructive, if you didn’t accomplish what you desired then instead of self-flagellation, instead focus on what you can do different. Below are a few ideas, from one parent to another.

Don’t try to do too much. It sounds great when you’re telling everyone how much you’re going to get done this year, and how it’s going to be SO different from last year. It may also give you a sense of accomplishment and hope, setting high expectations. Although this isn’t unheard of, you’re not doing yourself any favors.

It may have been a long time since you’ve actively sought to develop new habits; so focusing on one thing to improve is a great way to start. Determine what you really want to accomplish, more than anything else – and it will help if that one thing addresses a couple challenges in your life. For example, this year (2017) my focus was on improving how I communicate – because I saw challenges in both my personal & professional life.

Take the next couple weeks to draft what you’re going to work on, and I recommend breaking it down into quarters. Identify the big item, and then break it down into smaller chunks. It takes time to build a habit, it’s not something we can create overnight. Give yourself 6 – 8 weeks, at a minimum.

I like stretching it through the quarter, because by the end of it you’re not even thinking about it. Then it’s easy to build upon it, allowing you to focus your energy on developing the subsequent tools to accomplish your commitment. Don’t make it about pass/fail; understand these types of things take time and there may (almost certainly will) be hiccups along the road.

Next year can, and should be, your year – but it doesn’t have to stop there. Once you’ve got the formula down, use it to improve anything else you’d like to work on – be it personal, professional or financial. You’ve got this; here’s to 2018 and beyond!