Be Accountable

If you’re being 100% honest with yourself, when was the last time you made an excuse for not doing something? In my opinion we’re all guilty of it, although the frequency varies. It’s something I’ve personally been focusing heavily on since losing my wife – that was the wake-up call I needed. Not that I was quick to avoid ownership when I messed up, but I could certainly have done a better job acknowledging my role.

It’s tough, admitting our fallibility – and it’s very uncomfortable (to me at least). There is a flip side, there are those who seem to take a perverse pleasure taking ownership of everything – almost martyr-like. This isn’t what I’m advocating, I just want more of us to acknowledge the influence we exert (consciously and unconsciously).

It seems like “it’s not my fault” or “it wasn’t me” has become almost a reflex – something I think most of us learned as children. When called on it we may even dig our heels in, becoming more defensive – so unwilling to lose face (if we’re at fault). With this in mind, what can be done?

I think there are (2) things all of us can do. First, knowing people’s propensity to go on the defensive, approach others understanding they likely didn’t do whatever it was maliciously. Try to understand where they were or what they were thinking. This doesn’t mean letting them get away with it, they need to be held accountable; but use an approach where they are more likely to be open and receptive (not an approach I was very successful with while on Active Duty).

The other thing is we need to be receptive to feedback. We’re not perfect, we’re going to make mistakes. We may be lazy, and need a push from time to time – understand we all have flaws and things to improve upon. If you don’t feel the feedback is relevant, after considering it, then don’t act on it. This is more constructive than arguing or being defiant. Stand up for yourself, but stick to the facts. Reacting emotionally will often escalate the situation, and seldom helps your cause (speaking from personal experience).

Like anything else this takes time and self-awareness. I believe you’ll be happier for it, and can incorporate this into all aspects of your life – from spending habits to being a partner in an intimate relationship.

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Adversity – Furnace or Forge

Life can be difficult and is often unfair. I don’t think anyone would argue, and I’m willing to bet many of us have felt like throwing our hands in the air and saying “enough is enough – I quit”. The difference is what happens at this point – do you actually give up, consumed by the fires; or do you push through, overcoming the situation/circumstance with new tools and beliefs?

I’ve done both, it’s taken me many years to recognize there is always another side to adversity – it’s just how long it’s going to take you to get through. The more you do to help yourself when things are going well, the shorter (generally) the impact will last. The trick, in my opinion, is understanding (1) you’re not alone, and (2) you have more tools than you may be giving yourself credit for.

Develop habits when things are going well, so you don’t need to think about “how” to do something when life throws you a curve ball. Commit to sitting down with the most positive person you know at least twice a month, when you are at the bottom of a hole they can extend a rope; and if it’s a habit/routine they will know may be up if you miss one or two appointments.

Financially, commit to setting aside at least $25 each week in an online savings account – where you don’t have ready access. This creates the habit of spending, but it also gives you a lifeline when those “oh craps” occur. If you can afford to do more, then build up gradually to what you’re comfortable setting aside – but don’t start too big. The intent is to not notice it, so you will continue.

When bad things happen look for correlations to how you are feeling. At some point in the past you more than likely felt very similar, even if it was to a lesser degree. How did you overcome it then? Use those tools, adapting as necessary to fit your current circumstance.

Some changes cannot be undone. I will never get my wife back, nor will my son’s Autism go away. That doesn’t mean we can’t, or shouldn’t, live our lives to the fullest. We’ve adapted, and so can you. Do your best to never let circumstances identify who you are. Continue to grow, seek new experiences and don’t fear failure. And as I’ve said so often before – quit trying to be a one-person show. Instead be the conductor and surround yourself with people who have achieved what you’re aiming for and have similar values and ethics.

The Right Time is NOW

It’s so easy to justify putting something off, something else always seems to come up or there’s just no time. This is BULL, and if we’re honest with ourselves we all know it. There is never going to be a better time than right now to take action. “Need” to lose weight or save more? What does waiting until tomorrow get you?

Since I left the Navy and started my journey into the disability world with my son, I’ve seen (and been guilty of) entirely too much inaction. People will come to Resource Fairs and walk away with great information, but I can only wonder how many follow-up. Talking to some of my fellow vendors the number is nowhere near as large as we’d like.

I think this is because we let life get in the way – at least it was for me. I’d come home on a Saturday, with several folders of information, put them down and forget about them. It was information I needed, and I knew I needed, but I told myself I would get to it on Monday. Unfortunately by the time Monday got here I had not only forgotten about them, I was already overwhelmed with what the week was bringing – I wouldn’t have been willing to do anything even if I had remembered.

I broke this cycle by forcing myself to take 10 – 15 minutes when I got home, reviewing the materials and sending an e-mail to those I wanted to follow up with. This got the ball rolling, and when Monday came the responses I received ensured I followed through.

Sure, I put my name on the mailing lists; but more often than not I would just ignore the e-mails – not even replying to state I wasn’t interested because I felt like it took too much bandwidth. If this sounds familiar, I can tell you it’s not going to get any better on its own – all that will happen is time will continue passing you by, until some crisis doesn’t allow you to ignore it any longer.

So if there is something you’re thinking of doing, then do it. Don’t set it aside, because life doesn’t get any less busy (at least not in my experience). Frequently letting something sit will cause it to morph into something much bigger than it needs to be; making it even more likely you won’t take action. At some point YOU need to make a change, it requires an act on your part – well, probably several, because it takes time to make this into a habit.

So take a look at your situation and take action on the first thing you think of. Don’t spend time considering which item on a laundry list you should address, this puts you at risk of being overwhelmed by choices. Just pick the first thing that comes to mind, knock it out, rinse and repeat. Find an accountability partner, someone who will help you follow through – we all need one; it’s too easy for us to accept our own excuses. I encourage everyone to check out Mel Robbins’ 5 Second Rule; it helped put things in perspective for me.

Make Inertia Work For You

I chose the image for this blog because I think it’s what most people think of when they hear the word “inertia”. Sadly, this is only half the story. Inertia means something is going to maintain its current state until acted upon by an outside force. So yes – if the object is at rest, it will remain at rest. BUT, and this is IMPORTANT, it also means if an object is in motion it will remain in motion.

I’m passionate about helping people become successful, and often the first step is overcoming their current state of inertia. When you’re not doing something it becomes much easier to identify ALL the reasons not to change – it’s the wrong time, it will cost too much, etc. Let’s assume all of these are valid concerns; when are they going to change? The truth is most of them will not. The universe isn’t going to line up the stars, moons & planets for your convenience; and products/services are going to continue rising in cost (or fade away).

So instead of focusing on reasons not to do something, identify WHY you want to make the change. Something had to drive you to this point, and if it’s truly important to you do take action – any action, no matter how small.

Taking action overcomes your current state of inertia – it’s the force necessary to start momentum in a different direction. The longer you’ve been in your current mode, the more effort you are going to need to exert to enact the change. Don’t give up if you don’t see results right away; things take time.

Think of any changes you’ve made recently – be it weight loss, changing jobs, or going back to school (to list a few examples). When you first started it probably sucked, it was uncomfortable and you had to get into a new routine. Eventually you stopped noticing, and it just became a habit; inertia has set in.

Understanding this is important, because you can use it to help yourself become more successful. Let’s use networking for example, because I think most (if not all) of us need to network to some degree; and many of us have an immense dislike for it. Start by introducing yourself to at least one new person everyday, and make small talk. As you become more comfortable with this expand it; get to know everyone in your company – not just those you interact with every day. Before you know it, it will have become second nature and you’re on your way to mastering a new skill which (in my opinion) will go a long way to aiding your success.

Inertia is difficult to overcome, so don’t be afraid to seek assistance. Use an accountability partner, someone who will call you on your excuses and offer encouragement. They will also help you maintain perspective, because it’s often difficult to notice change within yourself – especially when it’s occurring gradually.

So what are you waiting for? September is just around the corner, let’s end 2017 with a BANG. Pick one thing you’ve been “meaning to do”; find yourself an accountability partner (friend, trusted advisor, family, etc); and put inertia to work. Let’s get your constant velocity angled upwards – 2018 look out, because here we come!

Side Hustle, What?!

When I was younger if you had a second job, it was just that – a job. It wasn’t anything to celebrate, because often you were working to help pay your bills. I’m not sure what’s changed, and I fully admit I’m not 100% in touch with current lingo – but as I understand what I’ve been hearing, a “side hustle” is something people SHOULD have.

I can think of many instances when this is a good idea; for example if you have a hobby  you’re trying to become better at, in the hopes you can make it into a career (i.e. wood carver). After all, assuming the following:

1) Malcolm Gladwell’s theory it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill is accurate

2) We work and sleep on average (8) hours per day

3) We can spend (4) hours of each day (Monday – Sunday) working on our skill

It would still take us almost (7) years to become a “master” (6.85 years). That’s a long time to work on something for no reward (other than the satisfaction of becoming better). So getting paid to practice could be a great way to both stay motivated to learning and put a little extra cash in your pocket.

However, I question if this is why most people have a side hustle – I think for many it’s a way to increase their income. Nothing wrong with this, if you’re honest with yourself and you know what you want the money for. If it’s being used to cover monthly expenses, then I encourage you to revisit your spending habits. On the other hand, if you’re using it to save for a specific goal; just to have some extra cash; or as I postulated above, to get better at a skill more power to you!

Here’s where I become an old fuddy duddy (as proven by using the words “fuddy duddy”). When you consider a side hustle, and are determining how much money you’re going to make – please consider the associated expenses. This means if you’re driving for one of the ride share apps consider the increased frequency of required maintenance (oil changes, detailing, brakes, etc); the same goes if you’re renting a room or your house – typically there are additional expenses, including insurance, that often go overlooked.

If you’re “earning” $500 per month, but spending an extra $300/mth doing so evaluate if it’s really worth it. Many of the side hustles I’ve seen people do have the potential to be very lucrative; but like anything if you don’t know what it’s costing you you cannot be sure you’re really making a profit.

If you’re not sure how much you’re really making, track your cash flow. This is nothing more than the money coming in vs the money going out. You can set up a tracker in basic tracker in excel or talk to a financial advisor.  I like to see my clients saving at least 20% of money coming in for goals (not just retirement, things like trips to Disney & new cars as well). If you can’t, even with the side hustle, I would encourage you to evaluate where your money is going – and not just take on something else. And remember, although I’ve only talked about money; there’s another cost to be considered – time. Use it wisely, I don’t know of anyone who died wishing they’d spent more time working.

The Catch-22 of Taxes and Social Security

I don’t think anybody likes taxes – in fact I think it’s safe to say we would all prefer not to pay them. To that end, we do whatever we can to reduce what Uncle Sam sees as our taxable income; and why not – after all we work hard for what we earn! Unfortunately, not very many companies offer pensions, so it’s up to the individual to save for his or her retirement. Add a child with a disability, and you’re saving for at least two generations; and this is where the catch-22 comes into play.

If you reduce your taxable income your reducing the amount you pay into social security. Social Security considers the average of 35 years of wage history, with any years not reported counted as $0 income. This average is used to determine what they will pay you, the worker, in the event you become disabled or retire. The lower the amount you pay in, the lower the amount you receive. This will be even further reduced by taking social security before your full retirement age (FRA).

So what,  you may be saying. Well, remember what I said in the first paragraph about most of us not receiving a pension. Without Social Security, 2 in 5 elderly Americans would have incomes below the poverty line – that’s 40% of people aged 65 and up (source Center of Budget and Policy Priorities). If you decrease the amount you “earn”, without saving for your retirement, you’re also reducing your retirement income; not to mention what you’ll leave behind for your spouse or disabled child.

Disabled adult children become eligible to receive SSDI, provided they were disabled before the age of 22, paid on their parent’s Social Security earnings record. There are additional requirements (found here); but the point I want to make is YOU control what your child will receive. In 2017 the maximum earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax is $127,200. This means if you’re married or head of household you’d be in the 25% federal tax bracket.

In my opinion it’s worth it (to me) for my son to receive the highest amount of SSDI possible. I’m not a fan of paying taxes, but I do want to ensure my son’s quality of life doesn’t drop when I’m gone. I’m not counting just on social security, I have life insurance and I’m fortunate to transfer some of my military pension to him as well. Each of us needs to make our own decisions, there is no right or wrong answer. However ensure you are making an informed decision. Weigh the pros/cons of taxes, and consider what you’re doing to help yourself, and if applicable, your disabled child.

This, like many financial decisions, doesn’t have to be made in a vacuum. Talk to your advisor and/or accountant; get their input. The solution is not necessarily always reducing your taxable income, especially if you’re a self-employed business owner and you’re reinvesting everything you make back into the business (not saving for retirement).

Walk before you Run

I don’t think very many of us step foot into the gym after a prolonged absence and decide to push yourself as hard and as fast as you can – at least not more than once, especially if you’re older than 40. We know, or at least have a fair idea, if we did it would not be pleasant (to put it mildly). Yet many of us are so quick to think other aspects of our lives, specifically financial, would be any different.

I get it, I hear many of the same “experts” telling us we need to save more and spend less – and we do! But, and this is a very big but, you should not think you can suddenly do a complete shift and sustain it. You need to train yourself, just as you would if you were going to run a marathon.

Saving/spending are just as much habits as smoking or making coffee every morning (my personal vice). Yes, in a perfect world all of us would be saving at least 20% of every check towards clearly defined goals (retirement being just one of them); but this isn’t a perfect world – we all have other “stuff” going on that can distract us. So rather than try to make a drastic change, and then quit because it’s too hard, start smaller.

Although transportation and housing make up a significant portion of our spending, many of you reading this are probably not in the market at this time – so there probably isn’t much opportunity to reduce your spending here. However, if you are in the market, or if you haven’t looked into refinancing and you’re mortgage rate is over 5%; here are a few things you can do to help yourself.

Aim at keeping the house and auto payment down. If you have to finance a car for 60 or 72 months, consider a less expensive option. Cars are depreciating assets – meaning you will never get the money you put into it back. Refinancing your mortgage could free up some cash – and since you’re used to not having it go ahead and put it directly into a savings/investment account; don’t spend it.

For the rest of us, track how often you buy something every day/week. For now, don’t worry about how much you’re spending, this is to determine your purchasing habits. For everything you buy make a note of “need” or “want”. What drives your purchases? Are there certain times of the day you are buying more frequently, is it just super easy because your card info is saved on the website? These are the types of questions you should be asking yourself.

From here, pick one thing to change and commit. Maybe it’s deleting your card info from Amazon Prime, or you don’t hop on the computer right after work because it leads to retail therapy. Whatever it is, just make (1) small change and stick with it for at least (3) months. Easy way to track – Federal holidays. If you start something around the 4th of July, next step is reevaluate around Labor Day or Thanksgiving. No reason to make it super complicated, the easier it is the more likely you’ll follow through.

What you shouldn’t do: don’t suddenly increase your 401(k) from 2% to 15%; that’s too much of a shock to your system. Don’t tell yourself “I’m just not going to shop anymore”. That’s a punishment, not a constructive realignment of your attitude and behaviors (fancy talk for making yourself miserable). If you’re in a committed relationship with joint finances – don’t make any changes on your own. Have an open dialogue, and if necessary, use an impartial 3rd party to help steer it. Pick a pace that leaves you a little uncomfortable and get started. There’s no better time than now.