The Price of Convenience

I’m alarmed by a trend in the use (abuse) of debt I’ve seen over the years, and I believe it’s only going to get worse. Vendors are making it easier and easier to pay electronically – now you just have to swipe your phone. The accounts are typically linked to a credit card, allowing consumers to get instant gratification and delay facing the full cost “indefinitely” (assuming they only make minimum payments). I have a few issues with this.

First – the impact it is having on families’ financial health. The majority of households I come across are leveraged to some degree – car loans, mortgages, credit card debt, etc. And while I will be the first to admit the benefits to borrowing, it should not be forgotten you are using someone else’s money and ultimately they have control. Families are paying more in interest and service fees than they are saving for goals, like retirement, leaving nothing to show for the money spent.

Second – what is the next generation learning? Balancing a checkbook is becoming a lost art, as less and less people use checks. Instead, consumers are encouraged to automate their payments – so they don’t have to pay any attention, ever. Add to this the simplicity of subscription services and “free trials”; and before you know it you’re living paycheck to paycheck but don’t know where your money is going.

I’m not sure what schools are teaching children in traditional classes, but my son was taught how to count dollars and coins in his learning for independence classes. I will admit this could be important and help him get a job; however I think it’s equally important to teach about responsible use of credit, and the impact it has on your life.

It’s “painless”, people no longer have to ask themselves “can I afford this”? Instead, it seems to be “which card should I use, to get the best rewards”? Unless you’re paying the balance EVERY month, the only people being rewarded are the credit card companies. Credit scores are being considered in more facets of life, including in some cases auto insurance and utility bills – yet how many of us not only know our score, but understand how it’s calculated?

I worry for my son, because credit is so abstract. To help him be successful, I’ve resorted to purchasing gift cards, and tracking the spending using Google Sheets. It’s not perfect, and I think he’s a long way from mastering it – but it’s a start. Obviously this isn’t the solution for everyone, but I would encourage people NOT to automate their bills – because it doesn’t take that long to pay them; and, in my opinion, it’s worth the time spent to understand where your money is going.

If you’re not paying your credit card balance in full each month, ask yourself what you’re spending on. You’re living outside your means (or you did at one time). Focus on getting your spending below 90% what you bring home each month – start building yourself a buffer. Go through your statements, what recurring charges surprise you? Finally, look at what your credit cards are charging each month as interest – this is money you owe them and you will have NOTHING to show for it. Imagine if you’d put this money into an account for you?!

 

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Upcounty Community Resources

Upcounty Community Resources (UCR) is a small non-profit with a HUGE mission and impact. Located in upper Montgomery County, they provide weekend enrichment programs –  “guys night out”, “girls on the town” and “TGIF – Totally Great Inclusive Fun” to name just a few. The intent is to help reduce the stigma sometimes associated with having an intellectual or developmental disability, and help those with disabilities integrate seamlessly into their community.

Who They Are

UCR is a private, non-profit organization who believes we are enriched by all persons in our community. They promote the full inclusion of persons with developmental and intellectual differences into every aspect of community life.

They offer innovative programs, events, and social opportunities for adults with developmental and intellectual differences; promoting healthy lifestyles, friendships, self-awareness, and personal-development.

What They Do 

UCR offers innovative programs, events, and social opportunities for adults with developmental and intellectual differences. These opportunities promote healthy lifestyles, friendships, self-awareness, and personal-development. For a complete list of ALL the opportunities – please click on the “PROGRAMS” tab when you get to their homepage (click here).

What Else Should I Know

UCR’s program leaders are experienced professionals who work with our staff to ensure each member’s experience is a success. Some programs run as drop-in and some run for several-sessions over consecutive months. Some activities are perfect for anyone; others require a particular interest or skill.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Upcounty Community Resources 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.

One Thing

Recently I’ve found myself focusing on the wrong things – what is not going well instead of what is. To me, this is the wrong thing to focus on because it becomes what I see – once it’s front of mind it morphs into the lens I look at everything through. I don’t think I’m unique or unusual, I’m betting more people than not have similar experiences.

But it’s SO easy to fall into this trap. It often starts with a “vent” to someone, or listening to someone else and then commiserating. Gradually, so slowly I don’t think many of us even know it’s happening, it becomes the centerpiece of our conversations. We’re sharing what is going wrong, how f’d up the world is and how we can’t seem to get ahead. And it feels like things continue to stack up against us. Does any of this sound familiar?

You can break this cycle. I’m not saying bad stuff will never happen to you, sadly this is part of life. But you can control the narrative. You can control what you focus on, and what you share with others. I’m certainly not suggesting you don’t ask for help when it’s required. Rather this – if you find yourself wanting to “vent”, ask yourself if there is anything constructive. It may be you need to share to process what you’re feeling and put it to bed; then do so.

But don’t fixate on it. Instead, think of at least (3) other, positive, things happening in your life – and share those as well. This will start to break the cycle, and open your eyes to all the amazing and good things in your life. And we all have them – no matter how dark things may appear.

It’s hard to get perspective when you’re living through tragedy or stress. Having a family member with a disability can be overwhelming; as can other situations like caring for a sick relative, looking for a new job, etc. But there are always opportunities to give thanks and acknowledge what is going right. There is a Cherokee parable about 2 wolves – I think it’s the best analogy for what I’m trying to convey. You can find the parable here.

It’s addicting to “vent”, share your problems with others. But when you’re not solving them you may be giving them power over you. Allowing them to control how you feel, casting yourself into a feeling of sadness or hopelessness. Break the cycle by starting to share what is going well. Even if the only thing you can think of is you woke up (this was my starting point after my wife died). Eventually, you’ll be happier and it will become almost second nature to focus on the positives rather than the negatives.

Keep working on it. I have let my guard down, and slipped into old (bad) habits. But now I’m aware, and I can (and will) do something about it. So can you. You deserve happiness, but it’s on you to allow yourself to feel it.

Modern States

I’m deviating a little bit in my monthly non-profit highlight, because although Modern States’ focus isn’t strictly on veterans or those with disabilities; the services they offer can have (in my opinion) a significant impact on those households. Many families have children who are thinking of college, and I don’t think anyone would disagree – college can be expensive! Modern States provides a way to offset some of this expense.

Who They Are 

I came across Modern States while looking up resources for a client planning for (2) children’s college educations. What immediately caught my eye is how they are trying to lower barriers to entry, working towards making a college degree more accessible to those who want one. I copied the blurb below directly from their website, because I think their undiluted message is much more powerful than anything I could come up with.

Modern States Education Alliance is a non-profit dedicated to making a high quality college education free of cost and accessible to any person who seeks one. Its founding principle is that access to affordable education is fundamental to any philosophy that respects all individuals, and fundamental to the American dream.

What They Do 

 

Modern States offers a path to complete the first year (Freshman) of college for free. They do by providing the funding for online courses taught by college professors. After taking the course students can apply for a CLEP payment voucher from Modern States and take the exam.

I’ve written about CLEPs in the past, I took several when pursuing my undergrad – but I had to teach myself the material. I think having college professors review the material will significantly increase the odds of passing.Additionally – if you’re active duty you don’t need to worry about the cost of the exams, they’re free.

What Else Should I Know

“There are no prerequisites for the 32 courses that will be offered, and all of them are self-paced. Some of the courses stem from a partnership between Modern States and edX, the online education platform created by Harvard and MIT” (source Modern States).

Modern States has a comprehensive list of colleges that’ll accept AP and CLEP for credit, they’ve done the work for you. My recommendation, find a school that’ll accept the credits and offers the major you’re looking for – it’s not a short list, you should be able to find one. Click HERE for the link.

Disclaimer

I am not an employee of Modern States 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.

Mysterious Things People With Autism Do – and Possible Reasons Why

Very insightful!

Guiding Exceptional Parents

people-with-autism-do-why-guiding-exceptional-parents-sarah-waylandThis post was originally published on Parenting ADHD & Autism on October 12th, 2016.

Kids with autism have a unique way of thinking about the world that can be both fascinating and baffling. Often their intentions are misunderstood because they behave in ways that are unexpected.

This chart can help demystify some of those behaviors.  

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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!