Month: May 2012

Time to Trim

About two years ago, I went “public”, so-to-speak, about my financial difficulties.  I chose to share my story because I knew there had to be others out there just like me, only maybe too ashamed to say anything.  I also knew that I had survived my struggles through persistent navigation through the nearly impossible procedures of mortgage loan modification, bankruptcy, and credit card nonsense….but that not everyone would be so persistent, or even know where to begin.  I have been fortunate.  I was one of the lucky ones.

While I do not claim to know all there is to know about the hullabaloo and fine print of this financial crisis, I do feel that I have learned a great deal, and my learnings may help someone else get through their struggle.  In fact, I have already had a handful of people ask “how did you do it?” since I went public with my struggles.  Please know that each situation is unique, and ultimately you should consult with a legitimate credit/debt counseling service or attorney.  However, here are some tips for beginning to trim those things that are ultimately causing you to feel like you are drowning:

1.  Sit down and write out all expenses for every month, as well as your income for each month.
Be honest.  “Fluffing” numbers will only cheat you.  Once you have written down income and expenses, compare what you have listed with three months worth of checking account and credit card statements.  If you are like me, you may think that you have trimmed extras and are living on the bare minimum…but in reality, you are still overspending.  When I really looked into my bank statements, I was amazed at the amount I was spending on eating out and having social drinks with friends.  (Once you have your list, hold onto it, as you will need it later when you begin calling to negotiate rates and fees with credit cards, etc.) 

2.  Trim excesses. (And when you think you have, trim again.)
Stop eating out.  Turn off those premium cable channels.  Stop buying clothes just because they are on sale.  Stop going to movies.  And when you’ve done all of that, take a look again at those financial statements to see where else you can trim.  You will be amazed at the amount of money you’ve been flushing down the toilet on things that aren’t important in the grand scheme of things.  I’m talking hundreds of dollars spent on nonsense – there’s your car payment right there.

3.  Stop using credit cards – period.
Now, if you are like me, the thought of that sends chills down your spine and sends you into panic mode.  But you just have to do it – cold turkey.  Stop using them TODAY, or you will never end this vicious cycle.

4.  Call your credit card companies.
Set aside a couple of hours, because this step will be a process all by itself.  Grab that list that we created in #1, call each company one-by-one, and explain that you are experiencing financial hardship due to _____________ (pick your reason: loss of job, underemployment, pay cut, medical bills – whatever it was that was the straw to break your proverbial back).  Most companies will work with you to lower your rate and put you on a fixed (and many times, lower) payment each month.  However, be prepared that, in order to do so, they will end your spending privileges (again, I refer you back up to #3).  In some cases, your privileges are only revoked temporarily while you are on the payment plan, and once you have fulfilled the terms of the payment plan and/or get back on your feet, they will extend those privileges once again.  Other companies will close the account altogether.  In the latter case, ignore those who tell you this will hurt your credit.  In the long run, you will be better off that you are paying down a debt instead of incurring more.  The benefits you will reap from paying it down will far outweigh any temporary bumps to your credit score.

5.  Call your utility companies and anyone else to whom you pay money each month.
Believe it or not, even your phone and cable companies may have a special payment plan that they can put you on for a limited time while you are working through your financial difficulties – especially if you threaten to leave or turn off the service altogether.  Call them, explain your financial hardship, and see how they may be willing to work with you.  
By the time I talked to all of my credit card and utility companies, I had trimmed another $100-$150 off of my expenses – there’s your electric bill.  Add to that the “extras” of eating out, socializing with friends, and impulse shopping, and I found about $500 to put towards things that were much more important, such as house and car payments, gas, and groceries.  The fact that you have downsized your expenses will counterbalance the fact that you are no longer using your credit cards, especially when most of what you were probably using the credit cards on has now been trimmed from your life.

No one said this process would be easy, but I promise the hard work pays off.  You will have to make sacrifices for a little while, but the dedication and diligence will provide you with more breathing room and more control over your finances (and in the grand scheme, more control over your LIFE).  

Once going through this process of trimming, I found that – even though I was making nearly half the salary I had been making before losing my job in the downfall of the economy – I felt like I had more.  For the first time in my life, I was following a true budget – and it made all the difference in the world between drowning and living.  And now, I am WINNING MY LIFE!

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Take Action with a SMART Action Plan

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE “TAKE ACTION” WORKSHEET

During a recent coaching session, a client told me that she feels she is being called to help people.  She was reading and soaking up information like a sponge, but really had no direction or focus for how she was going to help people.  During our session, I uncovered that she is passionate about growing herbs and herbal healing.  As she talked about this passion, her eyes lit up, and she was very animated and excited as she went on to tell me that a great grandmother had actually been known in her community as a natural and herbal healing specialist.  By the time we finished her session, we had mapped out an action plan that had specific focus, a time frame to complete a knowledge path for said focus, and her next steps for getting involved in community groups with this focus.

The hardest part of reaching your goals is getting started.  People are often so overwhelmed with the idea of the process that they often just never start.  In order to be successful with any action plan – business or personal – your plan must be S.M.A.R.T. :

S – Specific
M – Measureable
A – Achieveable/Actionable
R – Revise for Relevance
T – Timely

SPECIFIC
A goal must be specific in order to measure success.  If you just say, “I want to lose weight”, your expectation is so broad that you will never know if you reached the finish line.  However, if your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you can set up smaller goals along the way until you reach the 20 pounds.  Now you have focus to your goal and can ultimately measure success.  In the example above, my client started out wanting to “help people”, but by the time we were finished with her session, she had focused her passion into a specific goal of helping others learn about herbal healing.

MEASUREABLE
How will you measure success of your goal?  You should be able to break down your goal into smaller steps along the way by which you can measure continuous achievement.  If your goal is to lose 20 pounds, you may decide that you are going to work for losing one pound per week until that goal is achieved.  In the case of my client, we set some milestones for knowledge of her focus area: attending workshops, going to community classes, and ultimately getting a nationally-recognized certification.

ATTAINABLE/ACTIONABLE
Have you made your goal specific and measureable enough to actually carry it out?  Do you have the resources, including both skill and will, to achieve the goal?  Some people miss the first two steps, and by doing so, set themselves up for failure before they’ve even begun.  Any goal worth achieving is worth having a plan to achieve that goal.  You can’t just jump into it and think you are going to get somewhere.  Take the time to map it out – you will thank yourself later.  Without deciding first that you will strive to lose “x” amount of weight per week by “ABC” actions, you will never reach that 20-pound mark for weight loss.  In the case of my client wanting to help others, she had no end result for which she was working and probably would have floundered about trying to find her place in this world of helping/healing.  By sitting down and talking through the steps of a SMART Action Plan, we were able to give her measureable and achieveable pieces for which to strive and by which to measure success once completed.

REVISE FOR RELEVANCE
You may find along your journey a new direction or insight that takes you on a different path than originally planned – and THAT IS OK.  It doesn’t mean you have failed the original goal.  It just means that the original goal is no longer relevant to where you are at this point in your life.  How many people do you know that are still working in the career field of their college major ten or fifteen years later?  My guess is not many.  We all go to college with one passion or idea of where we want to go in life, but as we experience all that life has to offer, we can often be pulled in another direction.  Such is the case with any goal, so stay open and flexible so that you can revise your plan along the way to stay relevant.  My client may find along her journey to becoming a specialist on herbal healing that she has another passion that is even stronger than her one for herbal healing – and that is OK.  She will just need to revise her plan a little to accommodate the new focus in her life.

TIMELY
Without a time-bound point of completion, how will you ever know if you’ve crossed the finish line?  Choose a realistic time frame by which you would like to complete your goal, which is ultimately just another aspect of measurement.  By choosing a time frame, you are holding yourself accountable to actually getting the goal completed – even if you realize the time frame you have set for yourself needs to be revised along the way (in either direction – shorter or longer).  Choose a time that is relatively soon so that you will have a sense of urgency and motivation to actually get the job done, but that is far enough away that it gives you a realistic time frame for completion.  You will not lose 20 pounds safely in one month, but maybe you can lose 20 pounds in 3-5 months.  Again, stay open and flexible to revise your time along the way if need be, and don’t consider yourself a failure if it looks like it might take a little longer than originally planned.  As long as you are making progress in the right direction, you are successful.

I have a worksheet that I use with my clients in our initial consultation that walks them through a SMART Action Plan.  This “Take Action” worksheet aids in taking a large, non-specific goal that may seem overwhelming to tackle and breaks it down into a Specific, Measureable, Actionable, Relevant, and Timely Action Plan.

CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD A COPY OF THE “TAKE ACTION” WORKSHEET

The Flood

I was recently reminded of a fable/joke involving a man in a flood…

Once upon a time, a man was trapped in a flood. In an effort to be rescued, he climed to his rooftop and began praying for the Lord to save him. Along comes a boat, and the people on the boat cry, “Jump in! We’re heading for shore!” The man replies, “No thanks – I’m waiting for the Lord to save me!” The boat leaves. A few minutes later, a helicopter comes by and throws down a ladder. “Climb in,” they shout. The man replies, “That’s OK – I’m waiting for the Lord to save me.” The helicopter flies away. The man eventually drowns, and when he gets to heaven, he says to the Lord, “What happened? I was your faithful servant and I prayed for you to save me!?” The Lord replies, “I sent a boat and a helicopter – what more did you want?”


The point of the story is that sometimes we stand in our own way. The Lord might be trying to throw us a lifeline, but because it’s not in the dramatic, miraculous way that we envision, we let the opportunity pass us by.

I was reminded of this story recently when I was faced with a crossroads in my career path. To quickly fill you in on the backstory, I left my former position as a regional manager with a local chain of fitness centers in September. I hadn’t been happy for several months, and when the economy went sour and I no longer agreed with their principles (or lack thereof), our relationship quickly ended. Given that the economy had depleted the job market substantially, I went back to work with a retail chain for which I had worked previously as a seasonal associate (I knew they were hiring for the Holidays). As luck would have it, within two weeks of being there as a seasonal associate, an Assistant Manager position became available, and I was asked to step in.

I very much enjoyed my position, as well as the team, and I was very thankful to have such a great job – if only through the Holidays. However, my pride was slightly hurt at having to go back to retail (something I left behind years ago as I began to climb the “Corporate ladder”), and my selfish side was inconvenienced by the retail schedule (working weekends, some holidays, late nights, etc). So I continued to search for other opportunities – managerial positions in a “normal” office environment. I even accepted another position with another company – one that promised all the things I was looking for. Meanwhile, my store manager at the retail chain began networking on my behalf within the company, in hopes of finding a position that might keep me with the company.

I hated the new position with the new company, and I realized very quickly that the promises made to me were empty if not outright lies. As I confided my frustrations with my store manager, she began to inform me of upcoming openings and opportunities within the company that would not only provide me with the personal career growth I was seeking, but also with the financial comfort I needed. Once again, my selfish side took over, and I actually considered staying with the awful new position just to have the Mon-Fri schedule I desired versus a position with a company I loved and would, in the long run, provide better stability and growth.

And that’s when I was reminded of the story of the man in the flood. Here I was, praying every night that the Lord would take care of me and provide me with a job that would pay my bills and that I would enjoy…and yet, when I was offered those opportunities, I dismissed them because I was waiting for some dramatic miracle. And then I had a WIZARD OF OZ moment where I realized that I didn’t need to look any further than my own backyard to find happiness.

So I accepted a terrific growth opportunity with this retail chain. And once I let the decision sink in and paperwork and the like made the decision final, I immediately felt a sense of peace. I knew now that that is where the Lord intended for me to be, and now that I had gotten out of my own way and surrendered to the Lord’s Will, I could see the possibilities that were awaiting me….

So get out of your own way, people, and listen to your gut (which often is the Lord trying to tell you something). And if you follow His Will, everything else will work itself out.

Have Faith!