Child Turning 18, Don’t Forget These:

This will be a quicky, for all of us who have a child turning 18 – whether they are in school til age 21 or not.

Men – register for the Selective Service. Having a disability, regardless of how significant, does NOT waive this requirement. The website lists (5) reasons to register, most importantly (IMHO) is retaining eligibility for Federal & State services – college loans, job training, etc. Register here – https://www.sss.gov/.

Everyone – register to vote. Having a disability does NOT mean you cannot make a decision, nor does it mean you shouldn’t have a say. Admittedly, some individuals may have cognitive challenges and this may not apply to them. Unfortunately, it’s been my experience parents do not help their child(ren) register or encourage them to exercise their right. And this is not just limited to families with disabilities. Here is a good starting point – https://www.usa.gov/register-to-vote.

Determine level of impact the disability has. For I/DD, there is a gap in service between the ages of 18 and 21, unless the individual remains in school. I was hell-bent on having my son graduate, but thankfully his teachers and an advocate I hired all told me I was wrong – it would be in HIS best interest to remain in school until 21 b/c of his academic skills. This isn’t for everyone, so do your best to maintain an open mind (or get an impartial opinion).

File for SSI. Again, not a blanket statement because not everyone will qualify. However, if there is any chance your son/daughter’s disability will limit their capability to find gainful employment consider applying. When in doubt seek out a Disability attorney, the ones I’ve met have been very willing to provide straight-forward advice about whether there was a good case to receive SSI or not. Your child does NOT need to be out of school.

If filing for, or considering, SSI – make sure you get all assets out of your child’s name. This includes, but is not limited to – savings/checking accounts; savings bonds; cash value life insurance; coin (or other) collections; etc. They are allowed to own (1) car and (1) home. ABLE accounts and Special Needs Trusts are also allowed and will not impact your child’s ability to receive SSI.

This is a quick overview of things to consider, there may be additional items given your particular circumstances. It’s easy to get into “auto-pilot” when they are in school, but the game changes significantly when they age out or graduate.

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We’re Not Atlas

In Greek mythology, Atlas was tasked with holding up the heavens on his shoulders (Atlas, 17 Dec 2016); and as parents of children with challenges (emotional, physical, neurological, etc) I believe it’s easy to feel the same way sometimes. It can be so easy to get caught up in our own world, believing no-one else can understand or relate. And unfortunately, this may very well be true as it pertains to your current circle of friends and family.

But you’re not chained to these circumstances – no matter how overwhelming it may seem. As I’ve stated in past posts, it takes just one step forward to start overcoming inertia. Make the time to go to a resource fair, or read (listen to an audiobook); anything to get you out of your own head.

I’m biased, I don’t want to hang around with people who acknowledge how hard I have it – this isn’t helpful to me. Yes, I’m a single father of a child with a disability, and I happen to have some of my own challenges as a legacy from my time in the service (don’t we all?). But none of these define me. I have the same 24 hours in a day as everyone else, and although I may get less sleep (not by choice), ultimately it’s up to me to decide how to use my time.

We’re powerful, all of us – not just those of us who have challenges or family members with different needs. Each of us has different strengths, and weaknesses, so although it may feel really great to share how “hard” things are, nothing is going to get “easier” unless/until you do something to change your circumstances. If you “can’t”, then look for someone who can. Find someone who has overcome a similar challenge – I will guarantee you they are out there; although you may not hear them shouting from the mountains.

In my experience those who get things done, just do them. They don’t spend much time bemoaning their current situation with a “woe is me” attitude. Sure, there are probably pity parties – life sucks sometimes. But you can either wallow in it, or you can get help to pull yourself out. Notice I did NOT say you can pull yourself out ALONE. If you could do this alone it would already be done.

As much as it may feel like we are alone in this world, and we’re shouldering more than our fair share of problems, understand this – there is someone, somewhere who has it much worse than you and is getting it done. I think all of us are stronger than we give ourselves credit for; but I also think we allow ourselves to believe we’re beaten or overwhelmed because it’s often the easier road.

You’re not alone. There are people out there who have overcome some incredible disadvantages and challenges – what can you learn from them? How can you ask them for a hand-up (not a hand-out)? Who do you know who has overcome their own challenges?

Better yet, who do you know who is in the midst of challenges, and you think to yourself “man, they’re lucky that’s all they’re dealing with”? Go to them, offer your help. And while you’re helping open your mind to possibilities. What can you take from this experience to help in your own situation? Is there anything they can do to lighten your load? There are a LOT of people in the world, there is absolutely NO reason you should solve problems by yourself.

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.

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.

Glass Balls/Rubber Balls

Our lives can be chaotic, especially as parents of children with differing needs. As we go through our day it’s easy to become overwhelmed or feel like you’re being pulled into a million different directions. So some of us avoid doing things, not wanting to add anything else.

I’ve adopted a philosophy of glass ball & rubber balls. Glass balls are fragile, if you drop them they can break. These are items I can’t lose sight of; things like my son’s doctor appointment(s), work deadlines, etc.

Rubber balls are less critical, if I lose track of something it may not be comfortable but it’s not going to be a critical failure. If I forget something on the grocery list or I have work items with further due dates and have to make a decision about what to complete because something else comes up during the day.

What are your glass and rubber balls? Once you’ve identified them, focus on the glass ones. Make sure you do whatever needs to be done so you don’t drop them. Accept the fact you may drop something from time to time, we’re only human. Do your best to just drop the rubber balls.

Like anything else this takes time. Start with listing your glass balls, everything else will be a rubber ball by default. The first few times you perform this exercise you may find you have a LOT of glass balls; it doesn’t hurt to revisit the list – weeding out items until you have a small core list of things you absolutely cannot let drop. Not sure what should be important at work, ask your supervisor/manager. They’ll let you know what they want, although be ready because their priorities may be changed by those above them.

 

Nothing Wrong with Simplicity

I think we make our lives more difficult than we need to – in all aspects. Almost like we think we’re doing something wrong if we can explain ourselves in one sentence. But in my opinion, this is what we should be striving for. Life is complicated enough, I don’t feel like it needs any help from me.

More often than not I’ve found the mantra “keep it simple” has steered me in the right direction – even (or especially) when I’m working with clients. To be clear, you must absolutely do your due diligence when considering alternatives, but I’ve found those that you can easily understand and require the least amount of effort will often work.

This shouldn’t necessarily be applied when pursuing a degree or picking a home to live in for the rest of your life – because there is usually a lot of other things to take into consideration. But how you pay for school, or the home, shouldn’t be that complicated or fancy.

Call me boring, but I like to set things in place and then forget about them – secure in the knowledge that it’s doing what it’s supposed to do. Saving for college in a 529 plan – why not pick a target date fund with the year closest to when you’ll need the money? The same goes for your current employer sponsored retirement plan. Both of these will likely have a bunch of other options available, and not necessarily anyone available to help select what works best for you.

Alternatively you could hire someone to take care of it for you; my only input being make sure you understand what they are doing. This can apply to having a housekeeper, landscaper or financial advisor – in each case you’ll want to be very clear of your expectations, and understand what they will be delivering. Once the ground rules are laid, you can shift your focus to other things – circling back periodically to check on things.

Don’t Let the Tail Wag the Dog

I enjoy coaching business owners, helping them determine where they can increase efficiency and dial in their focus running the business – as opposed to the business running them. Over the years I’ve found some very common themes – “not enough time” and “too much to do”; both of which can be addressed by stepping outside the business and looking at it as a perspective buyer, rather than the owner. Buyers look for opportunities and weaknesses (so they can bid the price down), they’re not emotionally invested in the company and won’t make excuses about why something is happening.

Unfortunately, many of us get so wrapped up in the day-to-day operations we lose sight of the bigger picture – where we want our company to be in 5, 10 or 20 years; and what is the core service or product our business provides. If you don’t have a vision for your company, or if you can’t put your finger on the core service/product, then ask yourself why you’re a business owner. Sure, there’s a lot of hype right now encouraging people to be entrepreneurs and chase their passion; but that passion may be met through hobbies or volunteering at much less cost than starting a business.

Same goes for “side hustles”. Unless you’re working part-time for someone else, you should be treating your hustle like a business. If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, or you rent room(s) on Airbnb, then understand what your expenses are – please don’t delude yourself into thinking what you earn is “all profit”. I would also like to encourage those of you with side hustles to ask yourself “why”. Why do you have the hustle, what is the money going to help you do? Take this answer and make sure you’re taking the steps necessary to follow through.

Perhaps you’re saying “sure, this all sounds like a great idea; but you just don’t understand how busy I am”. Again, I challenge you to think as a buyer. Do you care how busy someone is, do you let them off the hook for a poorly delivered service or product? No, of course you don’t – so why are you treating yourself any different?

Make the time. Set at least one day each month aside for your business. Instead of arguing how much business  you’re going to lose (cost); think of it as an investment which will increase your profits by improving efficiency and honing your focus. Create an agenda for your day, and follow it. It’s going to feel weird at first, and maybe you’re not super productive right away – it’s a new skill and it’s going to take time to get good at it. Don’t give up, push through. If you’re not sure how to start find a mentor or hire a coach.

I need to stay busy, but I don’t like to waste my time. Think back to why you started your business or side-hustle; I’m willing to bet it wasn’t so you filled your every waking moment with work. Be honest with yourself, do you really want to run a business? Be okay with the answer, whatever it is, and take the necessary steps to be successful. Just do something.