Beware – You’ll Find What You’re Looking For

Have you ever met someone who, it seemed, could find the negative in ANYTHING? I’m not sure I was ever this negative, but I definitely struggled with keeping a positive outlook when I was younger. It felt like I could always justify my feelings, because it was so easy to point out how things didn’t go as I expected/wanted.

Over the years I’ve since learned it’s more about the lens you look through than what is happening. Yes, there are still horrible life events – my wife’s sudden illness and death being the most obvious case to me; but although these can (and likely will) be defining moments in your life they do NOT need to be the case study for how the world is, and always will be, a messed up place.

YOU control your narrative. We can, and should, control how we react. When I was younger I didn’t think I could – it was not uncommon of me to fly off the handle in reaction to something, regardless of how petty (in hindsight). My son’s disabilities have helped me change my perspective, because it has shown me crystal clear examples of what is beyond my control to change, yet absolutely within my control to moderate my reactions to.

I’ve taught (and continue to teach) myself to think before following through on my reactions. I still get the fight/flight/freeze responses, but now I have an inner timer where I’m counting down from 15 before I allow myself to react. There are times where I must (and do) react much faster, and conversely times when 15 wasn’t cutting it – I’m a work in progress. But I will not allow myself to fester in the depths of self-pity and anger that I gave control over in my teens, 20’s and 30’s.

What do you want from life? Do you enjoy being you? If the answer is “no”, what can you do to change? More importantly, what outside forces can you invite in to help you change? After all, if you could change on your own you likely wouldn’t be where you are now (IMHO).

Life is too short not to be enjoyed, and you spend too much time at work not to have fun. With this in mind I challenge you to think about how you can do both.

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Home Equity Loan or HELOC? What’s the Difference?

Let’s start with when you should, and shouldn’t use either or both. If you are drowning in credit card debt and think this is a great way to get out – don’t (general rule). If you don’t change habits you’ll be right back where you are now in short order. This is a good general rule to follow for any debts, don’t pay them off through leveraging your house – it puts too much at risk. If, however, you want to update, renovate or other major home projects – either could be a great way to do so.

Home equity loans are lump sums of cash lent to the borrower based upon the value of the home when the loan is applied for. Generally this will not exceed 85% of the home’s value, which gives a little buffer in the event valuations drop and your home loses value – you may not immediately find yourself underwater. You and the lender will agree on a fixed interest rate (won’t change over the life of the loan) and the number of years to pay it back. The payment schedule is fixed, you need to make every loan payment on time or risk penalties.

A HELOC is a home equity line of credit – it works similar to a credit card. A credit card has a fixed limit you can use, so does a HELOC. You can borrow as little or as much as you need to up to this limit, although you’ll be charged interest on any outstanding balance. There is a key difference between a HELOC and credit card though – with HELOCs you will only have this line of credit available for a fixed period of time (usually 10 years). When this expires you will need to pay it back, plus interest – and you may not be able to get another HELOC until it’s paid off (will depend on the lender).

HELOCs have variable interest rates, so your payments may increase – especially when interest rates are rising. It’s important to know which benchmark the line of credit is tied to, this will give you a heads up if interest rates are coming. Each lender will have their own rules and/or minimums – for example you may need to use at least $5k when you first open it and at least $2,500 every time you access it going forward (values made up for illustrative purposes).

These are NOT “free” money! When borrowing against your house, you are giving the lender permission to take the house from you if you don’t pay your bills (loan payments). You are also required to pay these back in full if you sell your house – so if you have a mortgage and one of these, think about how you will put a down payment on a new home.

They do have a place, the interest is still tax deductible (2018) if used for home improvements. And if you’re a responsible lender a HELOC could be a great back-up to your emergency fund (not a replacement); or a place-holder while you save towards your emergency fund. If you’re considering one take into consideration what the payments will be and if you can reasonably afford them, especially HELOCs – interest rates won’t stay low forever and you don’t want to get caught off guard. Consider working with an Financial Advisor/Planner, get an impartial opinion about the impact on your financial wellness and ability to accomplish goals.

Freedom Service Dogs of America

Freedom Service Dogs is a Charity who rescues dogs from shelters, trains them to be service animals and then places them (at no cost) with individuals who have disabilities. The dogs they place serve veterans, Active Duty personnel, children and adults – pretty much anyone with a need the dogs they train can help.

Who They Are 

Freedom Service Dogs was founded by Michael and PJ Roche in 1987, and has graduated over 350 client/dog teams and rescue over 100 dogs every year. Not every animal rescued makes the grade to be a service animal, and those that do not are adopted to their forever homes (not euthanized).

What They Do 

Freedom Service Dogs have several programs, listed below, and full details of each may be found by clicking here.

Client-dog teams (several types of dogs available)

Disco’s dogs (primarily supporting Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disabilities)

Operation Freedom (military transitioning from active duty)

Operation Full Circle (veterans)

Pawsitive Connection (troubled and at-risk youth)

Professional Therapy Dogs (partnership with University of Denver)

What Else Should I Know

They are a non-profit, funding comes from corporate and individual donors; but there are other ways to have a significant impact. Their Volunteer Program has a wide variety of opportunities – from on-site to fostering opportunities. The website also has a link to apply for a Service Dog – although if approved you will be expected to travel to Englewood, Colorado (which is a small price to pay if this will help change your life).

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Freedom Service Dogs of America and any errors noted are my own.  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.

Let’s Change the Conversation

I call myself a Special Needs Planner, because I don’t like the terms “life coach”, “financial advisor” or “financial planner”. What I do has aspects of each, but in my opinion none of these terms really fit. When I hear “life coach” I think hippy or guru, I have a hard time reconciling this term with something people are looking for or willing to work with (speaking in generalities). Financial planner/advisor seem to be used interchangeably and both evoke images of someone trying to sell a product or manage investments. There are fee-only planners out there, but even they are looking to manage assets (it creates a recurring income stream).

So what’s my point? I believe in the core of my being everyone needs help establishing a broad outline of how to set and accomplish their goals. No, not everyone can afford to do this, but there are organizations, like 1 Life Fully Lived, offering insight and ideas. For those who can afford the help, push the issue. Don’t be satisfied with reports on how your investments are doing or buying the proper amount of insurance – industries respond to demand.

Investments are one way to fund your long-term goals, and insurance is how you protect yourself and your family when bad things happen (deliberately oversimplifying). But few of us live our lives by strictly these metrics. We have things we want to do, for ourselves and others. We have questions Google can’t answer, at least not satisfactorily. We don’t need more broad ranging ideas of what we COULD do, but rather ideas on HOW to do things.

This is why I do what I do – because I don’t think I’m the only person who feels this way. The majority of this country does not fall into the category “wealthy”, according to the balance America’s median (better indicator than an “average”) is $68,828 (https://www.thebalance.com/american-net-worth-by-state-metropolitan-4135839). So why aren’t more professionals seeking to help?

I think part of the reason is apathy – I believe many people aren’t even asking for help because they don’t think they have enough money. It can be a vicious circle, don’t feel there is enough money so don’t ask; don’t ask so don’t receive help to make progress and save more money. Let’s work on changing this dynamic. Take advantage of seminars, even if there is a cost. Listen to podcasts like Afford Anything, HerMoney with Jean Chatzky, or Clark Howard (to give just a few examples). The key is to do something you’re not doing, change your paradigm.

Another part is people are correct, it seems many who give advice or plan require “x” amount of assets. So look for those who don’t. Resources like NAPFA, CFP Board and FPA may help you find someone. Be open to maybe working remotely (via internet/phone) if you can’t find one in your neighborhood – experience and ability to relate are more important (in my opinion) than proximity.

These are a few ideas, I’m sure I’ve overlooked many more. Let’s see what you can accomplish and become the best you.

Give Professionals A Chance

Do you find yourself asking your dentist, doctor or “insert other professional here” if they have specific experience with your child’s disability? I was this parent, and what I’ve found is I don’t always have to be. Yes, there will be specific incidents when treatment required is directly related to the disability; however more often it’s not.

What IS required is a physician with great bedside manner who will really listen (IMHO and experience). Yes, as parents we want our children to get the best possible care, and I was dreading my son’s dentist and orthodontist appt’s. But what I found was professionals who treated him as a person (not a person with a disability), and this is exactly what I want for him.

I’m afraid we’re artificially limiting our options by vowing to “only” work with those who have experience. How do we expect physicians (or anyone else) to get the experience. Take the time to educate the professional. Again – this is not meant as a blanket statement; for example, a therapist with a background and knowledge of specific disabilities would be my first choice. But I don’t necessarily feel the same way about a pediatrician or optometrist (depends on the nature of the disability).

I acknowledge I have specialized in working with families with disabilities and I do make this distinction when talking to potential clients. However, if you have a Planner/Advisor and it’s a great relationship; you can (and should) help them understand what’s different in your situation – you’re planning for multiple generations. I don’t have a “secret formula”, other than my ability to relate with families in similar positions to mine.

I believe the same is true for many other professions. Yes, it’s “easier” to work with someone who “gets” you (at least to me); but given most of us have finite resources and are coping with daily stress, why add unnecessarily to the mix? Rather than set a hard and fast rule, keep an open mind (and a healthy dose of caution, not  paranoia). It will not only help your child, it could pave the road for many families behind you.

Do You Have A Parachute?

As I prepare for a talk I’m going to give next month, I wonder how many of us have truly thought about what will happen to our children/loved ones when we’re gone. Yes, I will admit this has been a theme lately, because to me it’s a REALLY, REALLY BIG DEAL.

I don’t have a “support” group of family and friends I trust enough to rely on when I’m gone – I have one or two people, but they are a little older than I am so not necessarily that much help. Therefore I have spent a LOT of time focusing on helping my son develop the skills he will need to live alone; and setting enough money aside to hire to the skills he cannot master.

Unfortunately when I look around I see many families ignoring the fact their children may be on their own. Everyone needs an exit strategy, not just business owners. Start small – list what you’re currently paying for (if you’re child is an adult) that they will need to provide when you’re gone. Then see what resources are available – not everything will require money from you; nor will much of it come from the government.

Estimate how much Social Security your child will receive. If they are receiving SSI they may be eligible for the adult disabled child benefit (Adult Disabled Child Benefit (Social Security). This will be their primary income stream. They can supplement this with food stamps (Oh SNAP!) – this is the foundation.

Next steps are determining what, if anything, else you want them to have. Only AFTER you do this should you be thinking about what you can afford; because the objective is to build a support system, not put everything on your shoulders. Starting from a place of “what can I afford” becomes very defensive, many will start making trade-offs in their minds and adding to an already stressful existence – don’t do it.

I’m a planner, I believe in the value of planning – so it shouldn’t be a surprise when I encourage everyone to sit down with a professional and get an outside perspective. When you jump from an airplane, the parachute you use will have been checked by at least one other person. The stakes are higher than just your life, isn’t it worth getting help?

“I Can’t Die”

Watching season 2 of Ozark, and the lead character said these three words, and it resonated with me because sometimes it has felt like a never-ending chant in my head. Maybe other parents feel similarly, especially those of you whose child has a disability.

Having lost my wife, I was hit full frontal with what would happen when I’m gone – at the time I didn’t have much of a support network at all and my son was completely dependent. Over the last six years I’ve gone outside my comfort zone and I’ve added a few people I trust and believe will help him; and, more importantly, he’s learned (and continues to learn) skills enabling him to become more self-sufficient. Unfortunately, given current technology, I don’t believe he’s capable of living on his own – yet. But as rapidly as technology is advancing I have faith it will be there in his lifetime.

Part of being a parent is not wanting to outlive your child, part of being a parent of a child with a disability is adding the fear of your child outliving you. Too many of us retreat into our own little worlds, believing (rightly or wrongly) no-one else would understand, or there’s nothing anyone can do.

I’m about as jaded as they come, but I KNOW I cannot be the only resource my son has. The reality is I will likely die many years before he does, and I want him to have the best quality of life possible. I think this is what we all want; and we need to ask ourselves are we providing this if we keep them at home with us instead of looking for Residential solutions, or do things for them because they “can’t” or it’s just “easier”.

I hear, and echo, the fear many have about death and leaving our child(ren) alone in this world. We don’t have much control over when our time is up, but we have absolute control over what we proactively do with the time we have. Not every result is going to be what we want, and there will be dead-ends, work-arounds and incredible frustration – that’s life; and in my opinion we owe it to our child(ren).

Each and every one of us has had help over the years, before we had children. Why should now be any different. No – people will probably not know what to do, or what you need. And,  yes, they will likely not always be able to provide what you’re looking for. But something is better than nothing; and there is NO reason for you to travel on this journey alone. Build a tribe, look for people who aren’t like you – because they will bring a perspective to the table you never could have imagined; and it may just be the answer you didn’t have. Good luck, you’ve got one life so get out there and live it.