How Women Navigate The Belief That “Money Means Security”

“Our beliefs are the invisible ingredients in all our activities.”
~Wayne Dyer

I have a few women business friends who gather monthly to discuss goals, struggles and achievements. We serve as each other’s cheerleaders, coaches, and/or accountability partners.

Two of the women set goals a few weeks ago, so I texted them both to remind them and provide some moral support. They did the same for me, which meant I had to tackle a pile of random papers (you know what I’m talking about, business cards from networking events, notes from seminars, articles I meant to read 5 years ago, promotional notepads from expos, thank you cards received).

This pile resides in my office closet and haunts me every time I hang up my coat, which is regularly now that it’s January in Buffalo.

One of the file folders contains my enneagram; my personality profile created by Joan Graci of APA Solutions. I am “The Helper,” my primary motivation is social (I am a people pleaser, there, I said it), but my secondary motivation is economic.

They also included my DISC profile and I’m considered a person of “Steadiness” but have adapted to being an “Influencer.” My style of financial planning (a combination of economics, holistic wellness, spirituality and sociology) is a reflection of how I’m wired to love people and understand that they need money.

Another file folder contains a multitude of articles and references regarding pay inequality and related issues (such as maternity leave & divorce settlements) faced by women around the world. It is the one file I simply do not want to go through. There it sits, underneath the bag of Dove dark “office chocolates.”

  • I’ve blogged about my feelings regarding equal pay, both as a women and as a financial planner.
  • I wrote an article several years ago proposing that enforcing the Equal Pay Act would help Social Security, since Social Security is funded by payroll taxes (6.20% of earnings up to $128,400 in 2018). If someone earns more income, they pay more Social Security taxes. That would help Social Security stay afloat longer, right? I sent it to then-Senator Hilary Clinton.
  • I started writing a book about women and money years ago, but put it on the back burner because I am too busy helping my clients navigate their financial lives.

Many of you reading this know that I perform this little survey when I’m presenting somewhere. I invite people to “vote” with a penny for the cup that represents what they think money means.

  • When I’m at a business event (both genders), most of the pennies go into the “money means freedom” cup.
  • Curiously, at a senior apartment complex, the cup with the most pennies was “money means greed.”
  • Often, when I’m at a spiritual event, I hear, “None of the above. Money means nothing.”
  • When I’m at a women-related event, most of the pennies end up in the “money means security” cup.

I just started reading A Course in Miracles. The first lesson instructs you to look around and name everything you see and say that it doesn’t mean anything.

This was an easy task with,

  • “My bed does not mean anything,”
  • “The window does not mean anything,”
  • and “This pen does not mean anything.”
    But the task became more challenging with “This nail polish doesn’t mean anything,” because my nails are currently painted red in memory of my Mom who always had lovely red nails. This nail polish does mean something, it’s a symbol; it communicates something meaningful about me and about someone I loved. Money can be a symbol, too, and that’s where we can get into trouble if we’re not careful.

My husband was driving us to lunch at our favorite Indian restaurant yesterday when it dawned on me:

Most women need a sense of security
and, for women, money typically means security.

Because of this, some women may accept lower salaries because they may believe they’re safer doing so.

Stick with me.

In the event their employer had to cut staff,
if they earn less,
they’re less likely to lose their job and more likely to have some financial security.

Plus many women fear negative judgment; asking for more money (they believe) makes them look greedy. They will err on the side of caution because (they believe) that’s where security lives.

Income inequality is a complex issue because most people are really weird about money; having it and not having it. Money means different things to different people. We assign meaning in an attempt to understand patterns in life and to justify a system of rewards or consequences. We develop opinions of what should be done with money based on what money means to us; not always realizing that it means something different to others. I once overheard a conversation that went something like this: “I don’t know why she even works, her husband has a good job.” Well, maybe that women wants to be in control of her own income for any number of reasons and you know what, she doesn’t need our permission or approval.

Because everyone views money differently, no solution to pay inequality, welfare, or taxes will work for or make sense to everyone. I ask that we all please stop making pay inequality about women’s inability to negotiate higher salaries and understand that they may be making financial decisions based on their need for some level of financial security. Most women are overwhelmed as it is and don’t need one more thing to feel inadequate about.

Need more than a blog post to navigate your finances? Let’s talk!

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What People are REALLY Thinking About the New Tax Bill

I’m surrounded by conversations about the new tax bill. In between “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and a remix of Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluja,” my day is sprinkled with tax bill news.

Colleagues, clients, friends and even strangers talk to me about it. It’s all over radio, TV and social media. I’d provide a link but, honestly, I don’t need to. I can almost guarantee that, within the next 10 minutes, you will hear or read something about the new tax bill.

What my colleagues and collaborative advisors (CPAs, tax attorneys) are saying:

Do your charitable giving this year while you can still itemize your tax deductions. (Note: You can still itemize your deductions and charitable contributions are still deductible, but the standard deduction is doubling, therefore, it’s less likely you’ll have enough deductions (meaning more than the standard deduction) to itemize them.)

Don’t bother paying your January 2018 estimated state tax payment this year, thinking you can still deduct it an itemized deduction (April’s, July’s and October’s are “safe,” I’m told). (Note: The new tax bill either limits or does away with the state and local tax deduction.)

Will people complain about my fee? This is because miscellaneous itemized deductions are going away, which include tax preparation fees and investment advisory/financial planning fees. These also include un-reimbursed employee expenses (including uniforms, union dues, and employment-related travel, for example). Possibly, with lower corporate taxes, the company can reimburse these expenses themselves.

What my friends are saying:
Our close friends have six children. I know another family who has 10. With the personal exemptions going away ($4000 per person), even doubling the standard deduction can’t offset the loss of the personal exemptions. I believe the Child Tax Credit being increased is meant to help in this regard. Remember, a credit can be more valuable because it’s a dollar offset against your tax bill. Deductions are like getting something on sale, a credit is like a coupon!

Single or married people who don’t itemize will potentially see a benefit because their standard deduction is increasing by more than their personal exemption(s). This includes people who are low income.

What real people are saying (or thinking):

I’m worried about how this will affect me and my family.

I don’t really understand taxes. What will this mean to me, really? 

Will my Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits get cut?

I feel like my life is in someone else’s control.

This isn’t fair!

It’s the same old, same old: The Rich Get Richer.

I’m not saying anyone is wrong for thinking or saying these things.

What I’m saying:

  • A tax bill does not rule my life, nor does it rule yours. Yes, we have to follow the law, but that doesn’t mean our ability to make decisions goes away.
  • Get informed, get professional advice, and move on with your life!
  • If you want to give to charity, give to charity. If you can reduce your tax bill in the process that’s a bonus, but it’s not the driving reason for generosity. If you really want to focus on how you can reduce your income or estate taxes by giving to charity, you’re probably in a higher tax bracket which means you probably have a higher level of income and/or wealth and that means you can probably make a large donation and  benefit from itemizing your charitable deductions.

To the thoughts listed above, I offer the following responses:

I’m worried/scared how this will affect me and my family.

Understandable. Allow yourself just five minutes per day to worry and then move on. Worry is addictive, be careful.

I don’t understand taxes. What will this mean to me, really?

Sit down with a professional CPA. Buy some time with someone who knows what they’re talking about, who can look at your unique situation and explain it to you clearly. I know some of the best CPAs, smart and funny; let me know if you need a referral.

Will my Social Security, Medicare or Medicaid benefits get cut?

Probably not today or tomorrow but, potentially, yes. Start to look at your cash flow (income and expenses) and take control over those areas you can control, get creative finding solutions to your needs. This will require your time, energy and attention but it’s a good investment of all three.

I feel like my life is in someone else’s control.

Don’t fall for it. All civilizations have required some form of taxes. All citizens complain about taxes. There are many ways to get involved, make changes, or make peace with yourself. Determine what would make you feel more in control of at least your finances.

This isn’t fair!

That may be true. Fair is very subjective.

It’s the same old, same old: The rich get richer.

Probably. If you’re “rich,” hooray for you! If you’re not “rich,” you can still have a good life.

If you want to think of something besides the new tax bill, head on over to my Facebook page and watch a video of baby goats.

Be well,
Amy Jo

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Budgeting for Art

I smiled at this Tweet from Pope Francis:

May artists spread the beauty of the faith and proclaim the grandeur of God’s creation and His boundless love for all.

The “I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” support group met to discuss budgeting for collecting art. It’s the first time in the six years we’ve run the group that we covered this topic, it was clearly overdue!

As the child of an artist, I have a somewhat biased opinion on the matter.
As a financial planner and budgeting guru, I feel that it’s my duty to give people permission to have beautiful things in their lives.

The wonderful Karen Eckert lead our discussion. A high school English teacher, she shared that most of her artistic purchases were made at TJ Maxx  (not that we’re knocking TJ Maxx) and simply were selected to match her sofa.

Imagine her anxiety when her date (AJ Fries, a professional artist)
invited her to attend an art opening.
What should she wear?
What should she say?
What should she do?

The date must’ve gone okay because not only did she eventually marry him, the two of them created Collect Art Now,  a way for people to start their own art collection by commissioning their favorite artists on the site to make a small piece for them. Ingenious! Karen’s advice, “Don’t fear art.”

Be it a painting, like one of the lovelies by Heidi Zanelli, (I know one of my readers will especially appreciate this),

a piece of jewelry (perhaps by the amazing jewelry designer Sarah Blackman ),

a poem (such as those written by Page Nolker about serving as a caregiver to her Mother who suffered from dementia)

a photograph (like this flower bud one by Gail Denny or the Gallagher Beach pier by Tom Burns’),

a pillow (like this from Back of the Moon Watercolors,

an illustration (this is by Sydney Hafner who explains, “The splatters on the Luna Moth print represent a population map. The gray represents the historic range of the moth and the yellow represents its range. This allows you to get a sense of what once was and what is its current population. If you were to overlay a map of the United States you could see where more exactly they have vanished from and where they may still be found.”),

a hand painted teapot by MacKenzie Childs,

or any form of art (including music and dance), our participants explained that art:

  • has a narrative, an emotional connection,
  • it serves as an escape; it can take us away from other thoughts or cares and, ironically, at the same time,
  • allows us to be present, in the moment, in this moment.

An investment in something that could help you both ESCAPE and BE FULLY HERE is unique indeed. What could I possibly compare it to? Certainly not an index fund!

How is art priced?
Art is priced using a unique combination of subjectivity and market forces: how much does the artist believe it’s worth and how much will a customer pay? And while some people may bristle at the price of some art work (abstracts in particular), bear in mind that most artists needed training, which someone had to pay for, they may work on a piece for hours, days, weeks, even months and require the necessities of life just like the rest of us. They needn’t starve to be artists.

Karen shared that, once an artist sells a piece at a certain price point (be it $15 or $500,000), s/he prices all other pieces accordingly (aka, not less than) because the artist wants her/his customers to feel that they made a good (read: appreciating) investment.

And yet one of my all-time favorite songs is Tom Paxton’s Talking Pop Art:

What would the world be like without artists?

What would your world be without art?

If there’s one thing I know for sure about effective budgeting is that there has to be money for enjoyment.  If there isn’t, you risk becoming resentful, and resenetful budgeters will not thrive.

One of our group members purchases art regularly, partially to provide financial support to artists. She’s kind of a modern Medici; the art patron next door.

The best way to support artists is to visit their studios first and foremost, festivals and shows second. When you visit their studios you get an opportunity to talk with the artists (remember, “Don’t fear art!” – or artists!) and learn about their inspiration, their methods, their passion. Simply ask them about these aspects of their work.

WNYers may enjoy a  wonderful weekend specifically designed for this called “Routes to Art” organized by the Cattaragus County Arts Council). I bought my very first painting on one of these open studio tours. It’s by Nance Jackson, it’s titled “Skeleton Leaf” and I love it. Between you and me, she should’ve charged me more.

At festivals, while you’re browsing, if you like an artist’s work, tell them. It can get kind of lonely, you know. And if you can reasonably afford to purchase some of their work, do so! If you can’t afford a purchase at that point, take the artist’s card and contact her/him when you can.

If you don’t care for their work, at least smile and thank the artist for being there, hauling their stuff out and sharing it with the public. It takes a lot of guts (and tarp, and patience) to do a show.

One of our regulars in the group explained that she saves up a little money each month in preparation for the Elmwood Festival of the Arts so that she has financial permission to purchase items that bring her joy.
Another has a special account at her credit union titled, “DREAMS.” I bet that makes saving money more enjoyable!

Maybe, instead of setting aside money for specific categories of your life, you may thrive by simply saving as much as you possibly can …and living on the rest. Then, if an opportunity presents itself, when time stands still as you gaze upon a piece of artwork, you can confidently say, “I’ll take it!”

When you start to collect art, you’ll have to be mindful of protecting, storing and even insuring pieces. Karen suggests videotaping your items and getting appraisals.

I hope you enjoyed this visually enhanced post, I certainly enjoyed creating it. If you need more than just a blog post to get your financial peace on,

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Plugging the Leaks in Your Financial Boat

Some years ago I heard Dr. Wayne Dyer talk about the children’s song, “Row, row, row your boat.” He went on to explain that the song provides a succinct and sweet guide to life:

Row, row, row (don’t try to do anything other than row) your boat (not anyone else’s), gently (take it easy!) down (not up) the stream, merrily (be cheerful), merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream (don’t get too hung up on it, it’s all an illusion).”

The “I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” support group met to discuss how money leaks out of our financial boats when we’re not looking, when we’re not paying close attention.

Instead of “leaks,” think how money “sneaks” out. It’s kind of like assuming your three-year old tot will continue quietly playing with her toys while you go into the kitchen to grab a much-needed cup of coffee. You blissfully combine the right amount of cream and sugar, take a sip and, oh, no, where did she go?!

Our support group members frequently discuss using money to purchase experiences (adventures, learning, travel, and even hiring people to help you so that you can have time for experiences) rather than stuff, but that may be a reflection of the demographic of the group which tends to be early 40s through mid 70s, when you’re pretty much done accumulating things and in fact are in the process of hiring a professional organizer to help you get rid of the stuff you’ve accumulated. I recognize that many people are still in the accumulative phase of their lives, there’s no judgment here.

Whether you are in the life phase of accumulating things or the one when you’re decluttering, you’re most likely wanting your financial boat to stay afloat with a measure of peace and security, right?

As one of our regulars, sales coach Bill Knoche, says, “It’s amazing what you can learn when you get calm.” Want to plug the leaks in your financial boat? Get calm and be vigilant.

Get calm:

  • Don’t fear the numbers like they’re some kind of financial monster lurking under your bed. One of our regulars, jazz singer Mari McNeil frequently talks about how scary it was to look at her budget after her divorce. To her delight she could afford to have her hair done the way she liked!

Bill advises, “Look at what’s there, rather than what’s not there, the latter has a negative charge to it.” Look at the numbers, what you have coming in, what’s going out and why; you may be very surprised, relieved, or, at the very least, informed. Then you can go from there.

  • Drop the “shoulds,” we can beat ourselves up trying to be perfect with our money. Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good, just merrily row your boat.

Be vigilant:

  • How do you know what’s “best?” Identify your key values (such as faith, kindness, justice etc.) and your needs (financial as well as mental, such as “I need to reduce my debt” and “I need a sense of order to be at my best.”).
    Does this purchase help you meet a need? Does it align with your values?
    If yes to both = YES, do it!
    If yes to only one = WAIT and check your motivations.
    If no to both = that’s easy: NO, don’t do it.


  • Put on some blinders: Even well-meaning family members and friends will have opinions about what you are doing with your money. The only effective way to combat their commentary is to be aware of what strategies would most benefit you and row your boat merrily and confidently in that direction.

Need more than a blog post? Let’s talk!

Posted in Budgeting, Goals, Living the life of your dreams, Personal Finance with a twist, Psychology of Money, Saving, Tackling debt | Tagged , | 2 Comments

Don’t Trip Over The Thin Line Between Thrift and Greed

My Mom had beautiful, long nails that she frequently painted a deep red but I don’t think she ever had a a proper manicure at a salon; that would be too much of a luxury. Every year, on the day she passed, we gather to celebrate her life by painting our nails red.

I still remember my first professional manicure. I was 21 and it was in a mall in San Jose. I, of course, had them done in deep red.

It was a splurge for sure and I felt happy, excited, glamorous, and just a little guilty because of the indulgence but, heck, it’s not like I had a family to feed.



Many years later I got a tattoo and my God Mother remarked, “Gosh when we were your age we’d be concerned about making rent.” As you can see, messages about money and what we do with it surround us and influence our decisions – sometimes without us being aware of them.

Both of my parents were raised during The Great Depression and both learned frugality and resourcefulness as a way of life. I’m grateful to have learned those skills.
They lived by the adage: “Use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” It helped that most everyone else was in the same boat. Now, I think people falsely believe they’re the only ones struggling to make ends meet and they feel a sense of shame about it.

An example of thrift: My Mom once painted a rug…and later a chair. This activity met the need for something “new” while giving her creativity a useful outlet (she was, afterall an artist). She also sewed drapery weights into the hem of her (polyester, it was the 70s) Mother-of-the-bride gown to keep it hanging straight and from having static cling.

Back to thrift vs. greed.
Thrift allows your inner creativity and resourcefulness to manifest a life of abundance; to make, in essence, “stone soup.”

Greed, on the other hand, is driven by pride which, at its core, means fear; fear that you won’t have enough, fear that others are judging you harshly, fear that you’ll be a failure, fear that you’ll make the “wrong” decision. Pride is an expensive vice and I tell you, no matter what your diet, humble pie is always on the menu.

Greed keeps you from having a manicure not because you don’t have the money but because you’re not willing to give your money to someone else so that they may pay their own bills, maybe get their own manicure.

Greed tells you that your money and values are worth more than anyone else’s.

Greed tells you that you’re not good enough, and then sends you conflicted messages about buying things to show that you’re “good enough” versus “foolishly” spending the money to buy those things. Sneaky bastard!

Quite simply: Greed steals your joy.

That’s why the members of the I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money) support group and my clients spend time researching thier values and needs to determine when they’re making a decision out of joy/love or out of fear/greed.

Want some coaching on how to stay on the “Joy Road” ? Contact life coach Nancy Rizzo, that’s her specialty.

Need more than a blog post? Contact me.

Posted in Budgeting, Living the life of your dreams, Personal Finance with a twist, Psychology of Money | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drop the Judgment, Nurture Discernment

Raise your hand if you’re tired of trying to please people only to barely survive their judgments of you. Keep that hand up if you’re tired of using your precious energy to judge yourself and others.

There are few areas of life people are more concerned about being judged than how they earn, invest, save and spend their money. Maybe what they eat is a close second. (Note: Do NOT, I repeat, Do NOT suggest that you forgo group snacks at your child’s soccer game. I’m still stinging from that social media thread from 2010.)

The “I HATE Budgeting (But I Like Having Money)” support group met to discuss this topic.

My thought for this discussion was this: We humans have a tendency (some more than others) to form opinions about what is “right” and then proceed to condemn people (maybe even ourselves!) who do not live their lives according to our idea of what is “right.”

For example, we may believe that it is “right” to avoid credit card debt. Perhaps we know someone who has found themselves in this financial predicament and think, “Well, she shouldn’t have done thus-and-so. I don’t do thus-and-so and therefore I am right and safe from such a predicament.”

What good does this kind of judgment do? What benefit does it offer?
Answer: NOTHING, it merely keeps us stuck in a thought pattern.
And, just so you know, humble pie is always on the menu.

We had a great discussion about this topic of judgment and how it affects our decisions with money. Janine, one of our regulars, remarked how judgment is essential to navigate life, to make decisions. I don’t disagree, but I think she is saying poTAto and I am saying potato.

You will always be faced with decisions and will need to consult your inner wisdom to guide you to a choice that aligns with your values and priorities.
It helps if you have identified your values and priorities.
Others’ values & priorities may be different
and that must be okay with you if you hope to have peace.

Another regular, Mari McNeil, clarified that the kind of judgment we’re trying to avoid is not the one that assesses but, rather, the one that condemns (self or others). Precisely! Discernment, on the other hand, is seeking to know more and be guided by wisdom, patience and love.

Mari also shared that it is our job to love our family members and friends and that means allowing them to make mistakes – even disastrous ones – and be there to love them anyway. (Did I mention that buying rental property with a boyfriend isn’t a great idea? The fact that my parents and eventually my beloved husband love me despite that choice is huge.)

I work with a lot of people who avoid making any financial decisions because they’re afraid of making a mistake (read: lose money and be judged/pitied). Do you know what happens if you avoid making financial decisions? You’ll be left “wandering and squandering” and PEOPLE WILL JUDGE YOU ANYWAY!!!!

If we can learn to practice discernment to guide our financial decisions and also practice loving kindness with ourselves and our loved ones, we can then apply it to the broader world around us and lead lives of hope, peace and contentment.

I’m grateful to have received an email from one of my favorite (okay, they’re all my favorite) client’s today that included the sentence, “And for beginners (at whatever stage of life), you explain things clearly, without judgment.” I couldn’t ask for a more beautiful compliment! That indicates that I am doing my job: Creating a safe space for you to learn about money so you can make good decisions (as uniquely defined by you).

Need more than a blog post? Check out my new website and go to the “Let’s Talk” tab.

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Can Financial Planning Keep You From Sinning?

“She’s really writing that? Who does she think she is?!”

I am a financial planner who is trying to make the world a better place, that’s who I am.

And for the world to be a better place, we all need to behave in ways that support what “better” looks like. And while that is open for interpretation, in general most people want to be loved, respected, accepted and valued.

We become upset when we are not loved, respected, accepted and valued.
When we are upset, we can do things that aren’t so nice (i.e. be jealous, steal, lie, etc. = sins), causing others to feel unloved, disrespected, not acceptable (not good enough) and not valuable. And on it goes. Yuck!
Therefore, I have a lot of work to do with the medium I know best: money.

Since I also study faith and belief systems as a hobby, I can easily find the common denominator present in all faith (and non-faith) belief systems: The Golden Rule.

The Golden RuleI think you’d agree that most of us want world peace. But we can and will only have world peace when we actively choose it- every second of the day – over our pride and desires in our corner of the world. That’s where financial planning can help. Stick with me here.

I came across this at a networking meeting, a Danielle LaPorte “truthbomb:”Danielle LaPorte truthbomb_114

I pondered this thought for days after the event. What did I desire so much that it felt greedy? Result: I wanted certain family members and friends to acknowledge the value of the work I do, and I thought producing a certain amount of income (I have no idea how much) from the work I do would prove my work’s value; my value.


But there it is. I can now better understand myself and my motives and can extend that understanding to others through the work I do as a financial planner.

Desire, that’s a big part of the equation. Our desire for material things increases exponentially when our needs for love, respect, acceptance and being valued aren’t being met.

If we do not have the resources to purchase what we believe will help us feel loved, respected, accepted and valued, we may resort to theft, gambling, debt and other ways of obtaining what we believe we need…and down the less-virtuous rabbit hole we go.

Financial planning, when done in a compassionate atmosphere, has the ability to shine a light on your life and what you would have it to be and then look to your resources and how you can make decisions with them in order to have the life you envision, to be your authentic self, without the need for outside validation. This leads to self preservation and self-growth; the two beautifully illustrated elements in my company’s logo (the shield and the flower, respectively).

Financial planning will help make clear what resources you actually need and how to obtain them to have a fulfilling life, to feel secure, and to be generous, loving and respectful towards others.

You know the truth, that money won’t buy you happiness or love
but you might be afraid to live by it.

I think it’s because you would have to abandon
what you’ve learned about money, people and life
and that may feel like a betrayal of your own thoughts.

I invite you to just try this truth on like you would a pair of shoes
and see where those new shoes lead you.
“Lead us not into temptation…”

Want more than just a blog post? I help people of all levels of income and wealth (or no wealth, yet) take control of their finances, make good decisions and experience peace & abundance.

Posted in Charitable giving, Faith & Finances, Living the life of your dreams, Marriage and Money, Money & Spirituality, Money in relationships, Personal Finance with a twist | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment