Lesson From the Slopes

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During our Christmas holidays, we spent a week in the French Alps skiing. We are a ski family and I have been skiing for the last 20 years, on and off. I learned to ski from my husband, who is a good skier. He was patient enough to teach me and stayed with me on the bunny slopes until I improved enough to go on the more advanced slopes with him. A bit spoiled with personal attention, I never felt a need to take a real lesson. Something I missed back then was that while my husband was a good skier himself, he wasn’t a trained professional ski instructor. The end result? I got stuck at the “advanced intermediate” level, never quite got to ski like an expert.

Four years ago, I had a ski accident where I tore my ACL. A knee operation followed and it took me a couple of years of re-building my knee and leg muscles before getting back on the slopes. The accident had reset my skiing back to being a beginner again, so this time, I decided that maybe I should take a lesson, to help me not only get back to “normal”, but also to possibly break through the plateau that I had been in.

What an awakening experience I had during that 1.5 hours of lesson! I was shocked to learn that for all those years of skiing, I had been doing it all wrong in terms of how I shift my body weight when making turns. I was completely doing the opposite of what I was supposed to do. Funny how I used to keep wondering how come I couldn’t seem to improve further, but never actually did anything about it. The kicker was it only took less than 5 minutes of a professional instructor watching me skiing to identify my problem. I didn’t think I had any fundamental issue because I was able to “wing” it shaving the mountains. So, for my lesson this time on the slopes, it was 1.5 hours of UNLEARNing my old bad habits, which felt very counter-intuitive, uncomfortable and unnatural.

Afterwards, I kept thinking how awkward it felt when I tried to make the right moves, and while reflecting on this, I couldn’t help but to notice the analogy between my skiing experience and how some people handle their personal finances. For some, they “wing” it at dealing with their money, and as long as there is no crisis (like my accident), then there is “no problems”. For others, they may wonder why they feel stuck with their financial situations no matter what they do, the same way that I wondered about why I plateaued for so many years.

I’m thinking if I didn’t have the accident, nothing would have changed. I would still be skiing along my merry way in my incorrect forms, and certainly I wouldn’t be improving because I would not have thought to take a lesson. There was no “real need”, or so I thought.

So, here’re my questions to my readers: “how are you managing your personal finances currently?” Do you feel like you have been “winging” it, or have you been intentional and methodical in managing and growing your assets?” If you find yourself in the 2nd group, congratulations, keep up the good work. But if you see yourself in the 1st group, then maybe it’s time to take an assessment and make a decision on whether you choose to be proactive or reactive. Are you going to wait for a crisis to happen to force you into taking charge of your finances?

The choice is yours, today!

The Illusion of Savings

So I just finished a 10-day Mediterranean cruise with my family. A great time was had by all, and along the way, I’ve observed and learned a couple of things about human behaviours, including my own.

The biggest myth about vacationing on a cruise is that it’s “all inclusive”. That’s how they are being advertised. I have cruised before, so I knew we would still be spending money on the ship, such as alcoholic beverages, land excursions, etc. What fascinated me though was the way the cruise company entices you to over spend while thanking them for “saving you money”!

RCL_soda-packageUpon arrival and throughout the first couple of days, we were greeted with endless “money-saving packages”. For example: All-Inclusive Beverage Packages that range from $20/pp/day with unlimited soda, juice, tea, coffee, water to $65/pp/day with unlimited soda, juice, beer, wine (up to $12 value), cocktails (up to $10), etc. Really?! Yes, I’m on vacation, so I may be in the mood for a couple of mojitos ($6.50 if bought individually) and a couple of glasses of wine, but to spend $65 a day on beverage per person! I would really need to get myself drunk to make the package “worthwhile”.

RCL-winepackageAt dinner time, we were once again presented with Wine Packages: $199 for 5 bottles, which isn’t too bad strictly speaking. But my husband and I decided to do a test to see if the packages would actually save us money. We opted to not take the package, and just order whatever wine we felt like having. At the end, what we consumed came out to be about the same as the package price. The big difference though is without the bondage of a package deal, we were free to choose whatever we felt like having, meaning we were consuming at our “normal” spending level. It also means we would need to over-spend to make the package deal worthwhile.

And then, there was more with Spa Packages, Photo Packages, the offerings were just never-ending. It was amazing to see how many people signed up for those beverage packages! Clearly, they are playing on the psychology of when people are on vacation, most people don’t want to be bothered with counting their money nor entertain the idea of doing break-even analysis.

There was a second element in the marketing psychology which we eventually fell for after 9 days of fending-off temptations, and that is the logic of “if I spend just a little more, I can get it all”. On the last day, we opted for the All-Photos Package! Alas, even with the vigilance of a money coach, we still became the willing prey.

I must say, “The Force Is Strong”! Lesson learned? We shall be vigilant and keep the guard up to avoid those sneaky money traps At All Times!

What’s My Problem?

Beach View Restaurant by Marcolm

I have been reading a book titled “Think Like A Freak” by Steven D. Levitt & Stephen J. Dubner, and something they said in the book has been twirling in my head: “Easy problems evaporate; it is the hard ones that linger.”

So, why did this particular quote caught my attention? Who knows! But, the effect is that I have been trying to apply this quote to how I’m building my business.  Two questions came to mind:

  1. As a Personal Finance Coach, what problem am I trying to solve?
  2. How would I characterize THE problem?

I’ll tackle the first question first. As I go through the repetitions of refining my marketing messages for my coaching business, I, like many others, sometimes get stucked on what “I” can offer. Here’s a simple example: when people ask me: “what do you do as a Personal Finance Coach?” My typical answers have been: “I help women acquire knowledge and tools to better manage their personal finances; I help women expand their financial potential by removing money-related emotional and mental blocks; I help women achieve financial independence by raising financial literacy.”

Now, these two authors had just reminded me that it’s not really about me. It’s about the clients. So, if I were to shift my thinking, and look from my clients’ perspective, what problem am I trying to solve for them? This is the question I have been chewing on for the last couple of days. After much brain digging, soul searching, angel calling (ok, just kidding), here’s my crack at the problem statement:

In this day and age, many people lead stressful lives, and some of the stress stem from money-related issues, whether they realize it or not. This is true for people with money in the bank or without.  

This is quite an interesting revelation because while on the tactically level, I help women with managing their finances and dealing with money-related emotional issues, at the end of the day, IT’S NOT ABOUT THE MONEY! It’s about alleviating stress. It’s about getting back emotional freedom.

Now, onto the second question: how would I characterize the problem stated above? Is it an easy problem that evaporates or a hard problem that lingers? Well, judging from the fact that there are hundreds of books out there on the topic of personal finances and “how to be rich”, yet, I believe more than 50% of the population still struggle with money-related challenges and issues everyday, I would consider this problem to be a tough one.

So, how do I tackle this hard problem? I don’t have a simple solution, but I do know that one of the main reasons why many people struggle with money is the social & cultural conditioning they have been brought up with. Therefore, education in financial literacy for children is a must! Teach kids early on the concept of money, the “real value” of money (it’s not evil, it’s not good, it’s nothing more than a tool), help them build a positive relationship with money without fear or judgement, so that they will lead an adult life with at least one less stress-inducer.

I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me! One woman, one child at a time!

It’s time to break free from the taboo!

I just had an epiphany! (and thank goodness I immediately dashed over to my laptop and started writing because my maturing brain is running on a rather sluggish CPU these days. BTW, I’m in the market for an upgrade if anyone knows good source).

Anyway, for the last few months, I’ve been working hard to start my new business as a Personal Finance Coach. Part of that “kicking off” process had been coming up with a business name. (Sorry for a little Oscar moment, but…) I want to thank those of you who have been standing by me through this painstaking process! For the most part, we’ve been playing with words that are closely related to the nature of what I do today – coaching, centered around money! (I know, you are probably thinking: “you mean like a money shrink?” Ha, I like that name actually, but I’m not crazy enough to use it as the “official” business name.)

I’m going to be holding a workshop called “What’s Your Number?” next week, trying to poke at a question that either very few people have asked themselves or have been avoiding the question altogether. In my efforts to promote the workshop, I’ve created a FB page, a new Meetup group called “Women & Money”, and an Eventbrite page. Through all of these activities, one thing keeps circling around in my head – the Name! What should I name the Meetup group? What should I name the FB page? The same dilemma I have been having with coming up with a business name. I’m literally paralyzed!

So, I did a little soul searching this morning. (Hey, gotta practice my coaching skills on myself sometimes). I finally realized that there is heavy sense of guilt about using the word “Money”. I feel a little embarrassed about talking about money all the time. “Is it a good or bad thing to have the word Money in a name?” “Are people going to think I’m a total money freak?” (Ironically, for someone like me who is in the “money business”, various personality tests have shown that I’m actually a Money Monk! Messege me if you don’t know what that means). Wow, that realization was a Ding-Dong moment for me! I just self-diagnosed with a negative thought about “money”. While I have a healthy relationship with money when dealing with my own finances, I still feel conscientious talking to others about it, in public. It underscores the power of social conditioning! (The force is strong!)

Recently, while net surfing, I stumbled onto a “Women’s website”. Naturally I looked for finance related information. There were so many tabs on the main menu, with topics ranging from Beauty (hair, nail, body), Career, Love, etc… literally anything you can think of to cater to women, they have it, EXCEPT Finance & Money! Sorry, but I found that appalling! In the name of self empowerment, how exactly are you going to achieve all that without discussing one of the key ingredients in life? Oh yes, that’s minor detail… sure!

But seriously, an entirely new vision just unfolded in front of me this morning. What I truly want to do is way beyond individual coaching. It’s about creating a new movement to being unapologetic about talking about money, especially for women! It’s about time that women take the driver seat in managing personal finances, with or without a male partner. Let me be very clear, I have nothing against the man being the one who manages the household finance. But the woman needs to stay involved and be part of every decision making process. With that revelation, my company name just became so clear! “Project M”, M stands for Mind & Money (and Mimi, my dear friend who came up with this during one of our brainstorming sesions).

If you are reading this, you are in the know as I haven’t announced it anywhere else! As a token of my appreciation for you taking the time to read my blah blah, I will send a free movie ticket to the 1st 5 readers and the 1st person who respond by asking “what is it” or (something along those lines). Please go to my FB page and post on my wall: “I know your business name. I’m in the know”. Please do not respond to the person who asks “what is it” right away, because I want to honor the 1st readers as promised.

Let’s get the game started!

Budget, such a dirty word!

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Photo: by imagerymajestic

 

“Who wants to budget anyway?”

“Urgh, it’s so boring, and frankly, I don’t want to live my life that way, counting every penny.”

“Budgets don’t work. So what if I know how much I spend on everything. It’s not going to change my financial situation.”

These are the typical answers I hear when I ask people whether they do budgets on the regular basis. I can totally relate since by nature, I’m not one who gravitates toward routines, and budgeting sounds like a boring routine to me. I confess that every one of those thoughts came through my mind before, and when I looked deep inside myself, I realized that the concept of budgeting evokes emotions of deprivation and inprisonment for me. (What emotions does the word “budget” bring to you?)

It’s taken me years to overcome my aversion to budgeting. I want to share what finally got me to make that mental shift, which I think is the most crucial first step, because once you’ve made the mental shift, you stop fighting.

When I was working in real estate as a mortgage banker, I had a business coach for almost 5 years through Buffini & Company. I had learned many valuable things, and one of them was on budgeting. Brian Buffini said: ” Budget doesn’t restrain you. Budget gives you freedom.” That counter-intuitive statement caught my attention, and as someone who likes challenges, I wanted to see for myself how that would be true for me. So, I followed the steps outlined for us, tracking every $ I spent. I even carried around a paper-based booklet to write down all the expenses at the point of sale. He called it “the moment of choice”. When I took out my wallet to pay and having to write it in my booklet, I had to ask myself the question: “do I really need this? Or do I want it?” So, how does this give me more freedom?


Let’s look at why budgeting is important.

  • if you want to improve your financial situation, how do you improve if you don’t know where you are starting?
  • Budgeting is a necessary tool for creating buffer for the rainy day. Let’s say if you want to have enough savings to last you for a year (in case you lose your job/income), how do you calculate a reliable number if you don’t know your true spending? Most people who don’t budget under-estimate their spending. So, you may find yourself in a situation where you think you have enough to last a year, but maybe in reality, you’ve only got 6 months.
  • Without a budget, people tend to spend on impulse or self-justification for why the expenses are necessary. This constant act of story making and self justification creates internal stress without us even noticing it. However, if you conscientiously design a spending allocation that is in alignment with your true values, and stick with it, you will all of a sudden feel the freedom that comes from the knowledge that you can spend without having to make up stories or feeling guilty. This is very powerful and liberating!
I can go on with more reasons, but for now, I would also like to offer some tips to overcome the mental resistence and start taking charge of your finances:
  1. Remember the ultimate goal of budgeting is to avoid emergency disasters and drama in your life. Who wants more drama?
  2. A budget can help you sort out priorities in life. It’s about getting the most out of what you have on things that matter to you the most.
  3. Budgeting is a dynamic process which can be altered and adjusted along the way, and you are in control of that.

There are many ways and tools to track expenses and manage your budget, ranging from pen and paper, to spreadsheets, to online software. Try a few and see what works for you. Once you get used to the habit, you may be surprised that “Budget” may just become your next best friend.

Is money in your 2014 new year resolution?

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It’s that time of the year again when many people are making new year resolutions, dreams and goals that they envision for themselves. Just two days ago, I asked my 10 year old son what his new year resolutions would be for 2014. He said: “I don’t know. What’s the point, don’t most people make all these resolutions and then only to break them anyway?”

That was not an answer I was expecting from a 10 year old, and it’s very sobering! “I’ve got to nip that negativity in the butt”, I said to myself. It was a such vivid example of how us human beings, as we grow, we tend to “settle” into mediocrity based on either past personal experiences and/or social conditioning.

So, the question is “Why?” Why don’t most people keep their resolutions? Personally, I think sometimes, when we are in a state of excitement (as in the beginning of a new year, bound by all the festivities, and the holiday spirits), we make lofty goals and visions, because envisioning that perfect future is a sweet and empowering process, but we stop short of outlining the specific steps to get there. Lacking the clarity of those intermediate steps, those lofty goals become insurmountable after the holiday adrenaline is gone and then we give up.

So, I want to try something slightly different this year, both for myself and my children. Instead of having a long list of goals, I’m only going to have 2 main goals, but for each goal, I will list the specific steps to get there, as the “mini goals”. For example, one of the goals could be “I want to make more money this year”. Most of the time, we relate this phrase to something like getting a new job with a higher pay, or starting a new business that will generate more income. These are all good, but how about “do a better job in managing what you already have”? How much time do you allocate to managing your finances? If you have a financial advisor who does the investments for you, how actively are you involved in working with him/her? The answer to this question says a lot about your overall relationship with money.

This is a time of self reflection, for me. And if this resonates with you, then I welcome you to join me on this journey.