Hate Budgeting? Take Step 4: A Personal Inventory

Step 4 of the 12 step program prompts us to take “a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.”

Many years ago, a boss gave me a “SWOT” (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) style performance review. It was the first time I’d ever experienced this format and I suspect someone from HR told him to do it this way.

Side note: I have come a long way but I still don’t accept criticism well.
This format (the SWOT) softened the edges of the performance review,
making the critique more palatable. A spoonful of sugar and all that.

Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way and since I’m in the business of giving people financial advice, I often include a SWOT analysis in the financial plan to remind my clients what they’re already doing well and nurture hope for their financial future.

Since we’re using the steps to overcome an addiction to poor money habits and to improve the peace and abundance measures in our financial lives, let me shine some light on how to work through this step (with the help, as always, from my I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money) support group participants).

    • Knowing yourself is your best tool. If you’re trying to simply replicate the actions of others, you will undoubtedly become frustrated. You have to find what works for you because only you know the back story.
    • Strength is recognized when we feel content, aware, unafraid.
    • Weaknesses can be due to a lack of boundaries; the inability to say “NO.”
    • Turn your weaknesses into strengths. One member, Annette, explained that she is disorganized by nature but has created healthy habits to keep herself from being overwhelmed by clutter. Most people assume she’s just organized.
    • Opportunities abound but it’s important you recognize when you need help. Harkening back to Step 2: Acknowledge a Higher Power and Ask for Help, if you are feeling overwhelmed, ashamed, burdened and afraid, you probably don’t have enough energy left over for finding solutions! Join a support group, find a counselor, or simply talk to a friend you trust.
    • Threats: Take some time to put certain measures in place to safeguard your financial foundations before life gets out of control (and it will). One idea that was shared is setting up an automatic credit card minimum payment with your bank.

From Symmetry Counseling’s blog post,” The Power of a Personal Inventory: “Without a continuous practice of self-reflection, life becomes an unconscious pattern of re-enacting childhood trauma, misdirected anger, and harmful bias. We cannot change what we do not acknowledge..”

The Church of Jesus Christ for Latter-Day Saints’ blog Addiction Recovery Program posts about Step 4: Truth: “One way to do an inventory is to list memories of people; institutions or organizations; principles, ideas, or beliefs; and events, situations, or circumstances that trigger positive and negative feelings (including sadness, regret, anger, resentment, fear, bitterness)…As you do your inventory, look beyond your past behaviors and examine the thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that led to your behavior…  examine all your tendencies toward fear, pride, resentment, anger, self-will, and self-pity…”

Serenity Matters offers another angle to view your personal inventory by looking at what seems out of balance, what represents a source of conflict. “Bringing the imbalances out of hiding or denial and into conscious awareness is enlightening… The entire process assists the conscious mind to get involved, which is important because the conscious mind is the gatekeeper to change.”

Wishing you a peaceful and powerful experience of self-relection for this important step in your financial well-being. ~Amy Jo

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Hate Budgeting? Your Higher Power wants to help

If you’re new to this blog, let me bring you up to speed: I run a support group for people who hate budgeting (so, everyone) called – pointedly – “I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money).”

We meet monthly (coming on 7 years in January 2019!) and since September 2018 have chosen to use the famous 12 step program used by other support groups to apply to budgeting (i.e. making decisions with money).

November’s meeting was lead by one of our long-time members, Laura, who did an excellent job. It covered Step 3: Turn your will and life over to the Higher Power of your understanding.

Here are the notes from the meeting, in hopes they will provide you with the strength and peace to feel confident about your financial choices.

One of the first questions I had about this step was,
“What is my Will and what is the Will of my Higher Power?”

    • Kathy shared that her view of her Higher Power is One who wants to care for her because He/It loves her and wants what’s best for her.” (Then I thought, “Well, what’s best?“) Almost instictively Kathy added, “From self-love all our choices come.”
    • Debbie: “I learn the ‘right’ things by God’s grace, despite what it looks like, even though it may not be what I feel.”
    • Sue responded, “It’s not second-guessing myself.” (I’d call that operating from a place of trust/love instead of a place of distrust/fear.)
    • Merridy: “It’s hard for people to know the love of God, which is so empowering. Be open to learning (about Him).”

From the blog post “Self Will Run Riot”:

Step Three is about exploring how we have tried to arrange
people and situations to meet our needs.
How we have placed self reliance above humility;
above reliance on relating with our Higher Power and with others.
And the results followed.

We tried so hard to control and manipulate people, places, and things, because we did not know H.O.W. to change ourselves.

Now we are learning how: by being Honest, Open Minded, and Willing.

What does step 3 mean to you?

  • Debbie: Self will versus free will means being open to receive help, to collaboration. “Doing everything for-and-by myself keeps me habitually stuck, harboring shame and feeling isolated.”

In my experience as a financial planner, many people struggle with their past financial decisions, doing exactly what Debbie mentions – harboring shame and becoming isolated – and that keeps them from making peace with those decisions and moving forward.

  • Terry spoke honestly when she said, “Step 3 is a bitch, humility is hard! What does ‘turning my life over’ look like? How do I trust?”

Indeed, where does one start with something like this? Perhaps with one small step. Ask youself the following questions and you might find an area of your (financial) life that you are willing to turn over to your HP for just an hour, start with that.

  • What am I trying too hard to control?
  • Why do I want to control this?
  • What outcome do I fear?
  • Is this fear serving me and my higher purpose in life?
  • What is this fear saying about me, my values and my goals?
  • If my Higher Power Loves Me, what – exactly – should I fear?
  • Am I giving the source of this fear too much power in my life?

When was your self-reliance detrimental to your well-being?

  • TSH: Bailing out children instead of letting them manage on their own.

Again, in my work I see a LOT of parents who are financially supporting adult children and there is a tremendous amount of anguish involved. This situation could be a result of The Great Recession, the rise of opioid use, the economy in general, Millenials still making the world a better place in their eyes or something else. I think it’s very difficult for parents (and their advisors) to know what is the “right” way to respond.

  • Me: Personally, relying on my self to purchase rental property with a boyfriend when I was very young, going against every grain of financial wisdom, my parents’ advice and my own truth proved very detrimental. It didn’t destroy me, but it was negative in every way (financially, personally, mentally).

How might your life change if you turned it over to your Higher Power?

  • Freeing
  • Serene
  • Give up worry
  • Connected
  • Trusting
  • Guided
  • Me: Make decisions from a place of love, not from a place of fear.
  • Bill: “It’s about joining forces with The Force.”

What specific actions and decisions relate to these questions?

  • Sue: “I have to make a decision to turn things over; it’s an action.”
  • Debbie: “Be willing to live in the ‘I don’t know;’ be aware of my Higher Power.”
  • Bill: “Instead of saying, ‘I can’t do this anymore,” say, “I can do this but I choose not to.”
  • Annette: “I like learning, figuring myself out. I need to understand so I see it as a partnership (with my Higher Power).”
  • Sue: “Buying stuff to fill a hole…I’m not sure what will fill it.”

If you need more than a blog post, join us!

Peace & abundance,
Amy Jo

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Hate Budgeting? Take Step 2: Acknowledge a Higher Power & Ask for Help

Over this past summer I decided that the I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money) support group would use the 12 steps used by other support groups.

The 12 steps were designed for those struggling with addiction. In applying the steps to money, you may take some time to determine what areas of your life represent a money addiction. Aside from shopping or gambling, it could manifest as addiction to checking your balances, constantly worrying about money, avoiding dealing with money, nagging your spouse/partner, giving too much to others or some other troubling behavior which may not be wrong, but may not be healthy. 

How can you tell if it’s an addiction?

Is it helping you? Does it offer a benefit?
If not, why do it?
Can you stop it?

I’ve often wondered, as a person of faith, how atheists and agnostics navigate the 12 steps, many of which have strong “Higher Power” components.

Several participants in the last meeting shared that your “Higher Power” (HP going forward) could be represented by any number of ideals, not necessarily a god figure.

It could be your higher self (from a spiritual/metaphysical standpoint), your super ego (from Freudian psychology), positive energy, a community of respectful companions, your Guardian Angel, a sense of pure love and so on.

With the definition of HP open ended, our discussion about acknowledging what energy or force may be available, willing and able to help us manage our finances took off.

Some of the agenda items included questions such as: Do you believe your HP can and will help you? Why and how?

Many responded that your HP can and will help you if you listen to it. Meditation or simply moments of solitude can help you turn your ear to the HP of your understanding. These practices prepare you to welcome your HP because it will not enter where it is not invited.

Our HP may let us struggle if struggle may offer some benefit, so we must be careful not to get discouraged if things aren’t super easy. In fact, struggle brings our attention to the importance of accepting imperfection and prompts us to nurture forgiveness, patience and loving kindness (towards ourselves and others); after all, we all make mistakes with money.

Some of us shared experiences of asking (praying to) our HP for help managing our money including asking for help finding a job/clients, keeping free from temptation, and learning how to forgive, let go, and move forward.

Acknowledging a HP seems to help bring a sense of calm and increase focus. We may ask for clarity, hope, patience, peace, guidance, wisdom, truth, tools, people/connections/relationships, and healthy boundaries (to know the difference between helping and enabling, so we can share our financial resources but not give to the point where it threatens our financial security).

But once you’ve asked for help, listened for guidance, it’s important to actually do something or you risk staying stuck in fear, ambivalence or what I call “wandering and squandering.”

We’re all busy, but we can be busy not really doing anything. Once you take even one small step towards the financial situation you desire, you’ll feel so much better!

The next meeting is Saturday, November 3 10:30am when we’ll discuss Step 3: Turn over your will and life to the Higher Power of your understanding.

I also offer the 12 Steps as a year-long personal financial coaching program called Financial Freedom Makeover. If interested, let’s talk!

Posted in Budgeting, Faith & Finances, Goals, Money & Spirituality, Personal Finance with a twist, Psychology of Money, Saving, Tackling debt | Tagged , , , | 1 Comment

Hate Budgeting? Take Step 1: Admit Powerlessness

The “I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” support group was started because I realized there were support groups for some people to help with some challenging aspects of life (alcohol, drugs, overeating, gambling) but there really wasn’t anything for money, and that’s something we all have to deal with, every day.

The group has committed to the 12 steps made famous by Bill Wilson, the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous. They include:

  1. Admit powerlessness.
  2. Acknowledge a Higher Power, ask for help.
  3. Turn over your will and life to the Higher Power of your understanding.
  4. Personal inventory (SWOT).
  5. Admit wrongs to your Higher Power, self and another human being.
  6. Ask your Higher Power to remove your defects of character.
  7. Ask your Higher Power to remove your shortcomings.
  8. List all people we’ve harmed & be willing to make amends.
  9. Make amends directly whenever possible.
  10. Another personal inventory, admit wrongs promptly.
  11. Become disciplined with your prayer & meditation, acknowledge & seek your Higher Power’s will & communication.
  12. Carry these principles to others, live them in all aspects of life.

We focused on Step 1 (“Admit Powerlessness”) at the September kick-off meeting.

I admit, I struggled with this concept of powerlessness
when so much of my work is to help people feel empowered about their finances (my tag line, blog and book feature this word).

But I went into the meeting with an open mind
and an agenda, knowing the participants would lead the way.
And they did.

The Meaning of Powerlessness: The group identified a couple major themes with this step including surrendering (because you won’t seek or ask for help until you do) and knowing what you can and cannot control (along the lines of the Serenity Prayer). We cannot control:

  • The constant barrage of “buy” and “do”  and ” you’re not good enough” messages in the media/advertising.
  • How we were raised.
  • What happened in the past.
  • What was done to us.
  • Other people’s materialism.
  • Other people’s social media posts.
  • Other people’s opinions.
  • Our culture.
  • The system.

Surrender Versus Passivity: We discussed how purchasing can be self-medicating; a means to bury issues until we can/want to deal with them. We busy ourselves, too, with activities; denial can be protective.

Powerlessness doesn’t mean avoidance or obsession: It is my observation that when people feel powerless with money they either obsess and become super controlling or they avoid it altogether (i.e. don’t open bills/statements); “all-or-nothing”-ness. Of course neither response is healthy or balanced.

We talked about admitting powerlessness with statements such as, “This is where I’m at right now. Where do I want to go from here?” and “I’m powerless against what is making my life unmanageable,” (again, this was tough for me).

Some tactics for surrendering/admitting powerlessness and moving forward:

  • Get present – Focusing on the past fosters anger, regret, and resentment and focusing on the future can foster worry (which is an addictive behavior). Reframing and  cultivating hope, self-awareness, self-love, gentleness, mindfulness/intentionality all help you be in the present (and, not surprisingly, will help you in the future). Go outside. Take some deep breaths. Count to ten.


  • Make a Reality Sandwich – You start by stating what’s working well, then consider what needs work, then finish up with positive next steps towards a better outcome next time.


  • Ask yourself, “What itch am I trying to scratch?” –  I talk a lot about the importance of acknowledging your needs in order to be fully content with your financial decisions. If you ignore your true, core needs, you’ll end up buying everything in sight to try to get that need met. You are powerless when you don’t know yourself. Approach every decision based on who you are. Increased self-awareness leads to increased discipline, will power, and contentment.


  • Do The Tens – Based on Suzy Welch’s book 10-10-10, ask yourself “How will I feel about this decision ten minutes from now? Ten hours from now? Ten days from now? Ten weeks from now? Ten years from now?”


  • Meaning –  One participant shared how the book, The Geometry of Wealth helped her focus on her ability to use wealth to “create a meaningful life.” One participant shared this pearl of wisdom, “I’m powerless against everything except how I respond to it.”

Want to join the conversation?

Peace & abundance,
Amy Jo

Posted in Personal Finance with a twist | Leave a comment

Did You Get a Flat Tire on the Road to Financial Wellness?

I met with a client the other day who was simply trying to pull up his most recent 401(k) statement for me to review and, forgetting his password, got sucked into Log-In-Reset- Password-Hell.

I have another client who was supposed to follow up with me
for more financial coaching sessions (which she already paid for)
but since her divorce she has fallen into a “I don’t care about anything” place.

Another client is mourning the loss of her Mom (the anniversary of her passing was looming in her calendar) and, despite her desire to implement my financial recommendations, cannot seem to focus her mind on those kinds of tasks.

A friend who regularly responds to my emails for the
“I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” support group
is somehow never able to attend,
something always comes up, usually that morning.

Just now I was going to include an excerpt from a favorite poem. I have it attributed to one author (Jeremy Taylor, a clergyman from the 1600s) but a Google Search has it attributed to someone quite different (Ann Landers). Do I post it anyway?

This is daily life for most of us.

I’m presenting a seminar this week on budgeting and how most people think it is a matter of mathematics and discipline.

That’s so cute. Adorable, really.

The truth is, our lives are complex recipes and the ingredients are relationships,
and relationships involve dozens of different emotions or feelings all on the
<– love –> -> -> -> ->-<- <- <- <- <–fear –>
spectrum (attention, affection, appreciation, commitment, care,
responsibility, duty, expectations, conflict, inadequacy, resentment, avoidance etc.).

Let’s call a spade a spade: We make most decisions, especially financial decisions, largely based on – or influenced by – our emotions. That vacuum cleaner you’re eyeing up has emotional fingerprints all over it (did you ever see the “Everybody Loves Raymond” episode with the vacuum cleaner?), as does the TV, couch, dishes, artwork, letter from a charity, college education… Don’t even get me started on holiday shopping.

If you find yourself stuck, it’s most likely because an emotion is not being recognized and addressed. You must be wondering, “Well, how do I get back on track?” I don’t know how you’re wired but I tell you what seems to work for me and many of my clients:

  • Think about the priority of the issue. If it isn’t that important (and sometimes it’s hard to know if it is important, or “right,” or “true” or “best”), trust me, you will find every excuse not to do it.


  • Think about the urgency of the issue. If it can wait (and, of course, it most likely can), you’ll find a million things to do to ensure that it gets put on the back burner.


  • Be aware that, if you feel at all ashamed or that you’re being judged, you’ll stay stuck on the side of the proverbial road. A mental exercise regimen of self forgiveness, self-confidence  and setting and maintaining boundaries may be needed, perhaps with the help of a licensed mental health professional.


  • The most important step is to think about what you really need right now; be that a good cup of coffee, an afternoon off, some good music, a great joke, to find a new job etc.

Taking time to identify what you need and what is at that need’s core  (a sense of order, to simplify things, to feel appreciated, to feel cared for, to feel connected etc.) helps you become unstuck; it’s like finding the right tool for the job. If you don’t identify what you need, you will fill your life/house/mind with stuff trying to get that need met. You’ll “wander and squander” your time, money and energy.

If you’re on the road to financial wellness, let your emotional needs be your GPS and treat them with the importance and urgency they deserve. If you happen to get a flat tire, think of your spare tire as your Plan B; which is constructed with the same core needs and values as Plan A.

Peace & abundance,
Amy Jo

Posted in Personal Finance with a twist, Psychology of Money | Tagged | 4 Comments

104 Ways to Feel Better About Your Financial Situation

In a nod to a wonderful post titled 101 Ways to Feel Better About Your Recent Weight Gain I am offering my 104 ways to feel better about your finances.

  1. This too shall pass.
  2. Even if it takes a long time, you will get to the other side of this.
  3. You are not alone, even though it feels that way. Lots of people struggle, you just don’t know because people don’t talk about money.
  4. “Money is only a tool.  It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” – Ayn Rand
  5. You are capable of making good decisions.
  6. You have many options, including doing nothing at all.
  7. You can get quiet and realize you have all you need to choose the path that’s right for you.
  8. The world may tell you that you’re wrong but you don’t have to believe it.
  9. You may doubt yourself but the fact that doubt makes you feel yucky means it’s a lie.
  10. If you are vacillating it means you’re listening to conflicting voices/opinions. Find your own and follow it.
  11. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed, it happens to everyone. It doesn’t mean anything.
  12. Sleep on it.
  13. Talk to someone you trust.
  14. As my Mom would say, “Pray for guidance and go accordingly.”
  15. If you’re normally pessimistic (even if you prefer to think of it as being “realistic”), try on optimism for a half an hour today.
  16. Worry gives you the illusion that you’re controlling things but really it’s the worry that’s controlling you and is keeping you stuck.
  17. If you’re a worrier by nature, set a time limit (such as 15 minutes) for your worry time for the day. Once the time is up, so is your commitment to worrying.
  18. Did those 15 minutes change anything?
  19. Since they did not, realize that the difference between worrying about money and thinking about money is that thinking about money results in a decision.
  20. A decision is an off-ramp from the worry highway.
  21. Every incremental decision you make to become more whole, more at peace, makes you more whole and at peace.
  22. When faced with a financial decision, realize the emotion backing it. Name it. Then it won’t have power over you.
  23. If the emotion is fear-based, identify the worst case scenario or outcome and then ask yourself, “What is the probability of this outcome?”
  24. If the probability’s less than 100% move on. It’s just a distraction.
  25. Sometimes we create obstacles to give us time to process a decision.
  26. Acknowledge that you need time and perspective so you don’t have to rely on the obstacle(s).
  27. Anything can happen.
  28. Including the incredibly easy, joy-filled, good stuff.
  29. Just because it isn’t easy doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
  30. Just because it is easy doesn’t mean you’re doing anything wrong.
  31. Everyone is on their own journey.
  32. All your best decisions are those made in love.
  33. Ask yourself what love-based decisions look like so you’ll recognize when you’re making them.
  34. Have you noticed that most of these can be applied to other areas of life?
  35. Find an area of your life that’s going well and duplicate those behaviors in your financial life.
  36. “He who is not contented with what he has, would not be contented with what he would like to have.” – Socrates
  37. If you can be impulsive, get to know yourself so well so that when you do act on impulse, you can trust that it’s the right move to make.
  38. If you don’t know what is important to you you’ll continue to wander and squander.
  39. You can always choose a different path.
  40. “To accomplish great things, we must not only act, but also dream; not only plan, but also believe.” ~ Anatole France
  41. Your ego will always tell you that you are not good enough, that you don’t have enough, and that you’re not doing enough.
  42. Your ego is a liar.
  43. Since your ego does not like being called a liar, it will continue to try to make you believe it. Prepare for battle. Cross examine this false witness.
  44. “Happiness is not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.” Franklin D. Roosevelt
  45. If financial security is your goal, what does financial security look like? Is it a certain amount in savings? Not having debt?
  46. If you’re on a mission to increase your savings, keep a little note in your wallet or on your phone that has a reminder. You’ll look at it every time you open your wallet or phone for something else.
  47. If you’re on a mission to decrease your debt, keep a little note in your wallet or on your phone that has a reminder. You’ll look at it every time you open your wallet or phone for something else.
  48. “Our beliefs are the invisible ingredients in all our activities.” ~Wayne Dyer
  49. Regret is the most expensive emotion. It is a bill you’ll pay the longest.
  50. Decide when your bill-of-regret is paid-in-full.
  51. Practice forgiveness (towards yourself and others) for financial mishaps.
  52. Practice again.
  53. Practice some more.
  54. Where you are now financially isn’t where you’ll be forever unless you choose to remain there.
  55. It’s typical to choose to remain in your current situation because it feels familiar and the unknown is scary.
  56. But how scary can it be, really?
  57. Imagine how your life, your relationships, your health, your perspective, etc. might change if your financial situation were to improve.
  58. Even if your financial situation didn’t improve, how might those things change?
  59. Don’t fear the numbers. The more you know, the more you can control.
  60. The more you know, the more you can choose.
  61. The thought of having to choose (and possibly choosing “wrongly”) is why most people procrastinate or avoid thinking about money.
  62. Procrastination will leave you feeling frustrated. Don’t put up with it.
  63. Avoidance lies to you by saying that it will protect you.
  64. Don’t fall for its lies.
  65. Avoidance really keeps you stuck and can lead to despair.
  66. Success is purely subjective.
  67. I don’t have to replicate someone else’s results to consider mine successful.
  68. Define what “success” means to you.
  69. Progress is positive.
  70. Lack of progress is a lesson in patience.
  71. And patience is a virtue.
  72. Just look how virtuous you are!
  73. Is there any proof that you’re financially messed up?
  74. Even if there is proof, is there any proof that you can’t straighten things out?
  75. You will be motivated by what you most value in the deepest part of you. Look at it.
  76. If you value freedom, what choices can you make financially that will help you be free?
  77. If you value comfort, what choices can you make financially that will help you feel comfortable?
  78. If you value security, what choices can you make financially that will help you feel secure?
  79. If you value _________what choices can you make financially that will help you feel _____________?
  80. As Joel Osteen says, “Speak victory over your life.” Instead of saying “I’m a financial mess,” say, “I used to be a mess financially but now things are starting to improve.”
  81. Give yourself a break.
  82. “Be grateful…. It’s the only totally reliable get-rich-quick scheme.” —Ben Stein,
  83. Before tackling a financial task (balancing your checkbook, paying bills, researching your retirement plan) create a pleasant environment. Read Money “Mise en Place.”
  84. Learn how to say “no” without guilt.
  85. Learn how to say “yes” with courage and confidence.
  86. Don’t make any impactful financial decisions when you’re under stress.
  87. To avoid #81, create financial policies for yourself.
  88. When you or anyone else feel afraid, it usually comes out as anger. Once you know this, you’re less likely to respond with anger.
  89. Some of your money must be for your enjoyment or you will become bitter and resentful. Allow yourself some treats.
  90. Judging yourself or anyone else doesn’t offer any benefit and changes nothing.
  91. You can do everything you believe you’re “supposed” to do with your money and still not have the results you desire.
  92. Determine what actions make sense to you.
  93. “Make all decisions based on the person you would like to become.” – Paul Homoly
  94. Emotions can distort our vision, especially when it comes to money. Take a breath and return when you’re calmer and clearer.
  95. Give up your addiction to comparing yourself to others.
  96. “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Theodore Roosevelt
  97. Your credit score doesn’t define you as a person.
  98. Almost everyone is weird about money, it’s not just you.
  99. Try to determine who is in your head as you think or worry about money. Did you inherit thoughts from a parent? Who is influencing you?
  100. Reading about personal finance can be a very clever form of procrastination if you don’t act on anything.
  101. It’s okay if you can’t afford it.
  102. Generosity is always a good choice.
  103. “Empty pockets never held anyone back.  Only empty heads and empty hearts can do that.”  ~Norman Vincent Peale
  104. What one small step might you take this minute that could set you on a more positive path financially? Leave your ideas in the comments!

Peace and abundance,
Amy Jo

Posted in Goals, Living the life of your dreams, Personal Finance with a twist, Psychology of Money, Saving, Tackling debt | Leave a comment

Budgeting with Irregular Income & The Basics of the 3 Budget System

The 20th century saw great advances in manufacturing and, therefore, employment, especially after WWII. Reliable, steady employment created a foundation of financial security from which many benefitted, around which an economic system was built.

The 21st century, not so much.

With the rise of the gig economy, more people are trying to understand and yield to the rhythms of irregular cash flow.

Career to retirement coach Saundra Loffredo and I agree that we see many people in both our practices who have created a “portfolio career,” one that includes many components (such as freelance work, business income, perhaps part-time employment etc.) and, as a result, can have multiple sources of income…it’s just irregular income.

I’ve blogged about budgeting with irregular income previously, but there was a need for a refresher course. There are lots of other sources including:

While most of us are saying the same thing (identify your core expenditures, budget around that and save the rest), there might be a sentence that resonates and could make all the difference to you.

As my dear friend Nancy Rizzo says, “Mindset first.” Therefore, we started our discussion at the “I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” support group by talking about mindset.

We talked about:

Tackling fear: Once you have researched and considered all the variables, one of the best things you could do for your own peace of mind is to commit to your chosen course of action.

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back.
Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth that ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred.
A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.
Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” 
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Excitement versus fear: They are almost identical physiological responses. Ask yourself, “Do I feel excited?” The possibilities of making bold life choices can feel exhilirating…or like a panic attack.

Making Ends Meet & Managing Social Settings & Obligations: Get creative & resourceful. What is a less expensive way of doing/having something? As one participant who is recently retired said, “I can do a lot of fun stuff for free.”

As a regular participant said, “It does matter who you’re around.” Indeed! Not everyone will understand or support your life choices let alone your financial ones; best to accept that and find a tribe you can trust and lean on.

Do your friends want to go out to dinner? Suggest going for lunch or coffee instead. Better yet, offer to make them lunch or coffee at your place.

Another support group regular uses the phrase, “It doesn’t make financial sense to me,” when confronted by a well-meaning loved one who has different financial ideas and strategies. That’s good because it asserts your own position without casting judgment on another’s.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can also go overboard bragging about your frugality!

The monthly payment lifestyle: This can be a problem because someone with irregular income cannot always make regular monthly payments (not to mention the problem of focusing on monthly payments rather than calculating the true cost of a product or service). Stated monthly payments can provide regularity for an otherwise chaotic budget, but they also reduce your ability to control (read: reduce) your payment.

The problem with many budgets
is that they don’t address
the unexpected expenses that come up
such as a fender bender for which you have to
pay your insurance deductible,
a pet situation (tests, veterinary care),
or my-in-laws-are-coming-to-stay-and-I-need-to-hire-a-cleaner.

For this you need to constantly fund your financial stress reduction account
(savings account for the lay person, emergency fund for the pessimist).
If it’s not funded adequately (as it may not be yet), you’ll have to rely on credit
and make the payments a priority as you also fund your financial stress reduction account.

If you’re going to live with irregular income, you’ve chosen a very special adventure. In the words of attorney Heidi Jones, “Pack light for the journey.” This means, identify what’s really important to you; what’s worth your money? What isn’t?

The basics of my 3-Budget System: Most people with irregular income have some “average” months, some “flush” months and some “lean” months. This could be due to seasonal work/demand for work (such as landscapers and tax preparers), business cycles, lack of sufficient invoicing/payment models or other reasons.

What I help people do is identify each of these months and align the income with the expenses they face. The first thing the client must do, however, is identify their core expenses. This takes a few weeks to track and become aware of spending. Once we have that core budget, we can develop the client’s 3-budget system.

1. The Essential Budget Month(s) – This is for months when income is lower than normal. Live within the core budget constructs, drawing from savings (which is funded through deposits made during average or flush months) if needed.

2. The Average Budget Month(s)– This is for average months. Additional income over essentials goes towards saving, enjoyment, additional debt payments, or all.

3. The Flush Budget Month(s) – This is for when you’re super busy and you’re more likely to require more products and services because you’re not able to manage them with your time devoted to work (such as take-out food, additional child care, or housecleaning). So your essential budget will be increased to reasonably account for that fact. Then, additional money is allocated towards saving, additional debt payments, enjoyment or all.

As our recently retired participant shared, “I want to be free to be the master of my time.” And I might add, the master of her money, too.

Want more than a blog post? Pick up one or both of my books, join us at a meeting, book me to speak to your group, or check out my services.

Peace be with you!
Amy Jo

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