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The Butler Project

3 Simple Ideas for Cultivating Gratitude

single tree landscape

Your relationship with money is a choice. You can choose to use money gratefully or you can choose to do it grudgingly, either way you pay, but only with gratitude do you recognize abundance and dissipate fear.

Gratitude is a vaccine, an antitoxin, and an antiseptic.

John Henry Jowett

Do you want to feel abundance?

Friday I posted about the blessings of feeling gratitude and it’s amazing ability to chase fear away. If you have not yet experienced the benefits of gratitude, try these three exercises. They don’t cost anything, nor do they take more than a few moments of your time, yet you will find the power of gratitude to lift your mood and change your day amazing!

1. The next time you buy something, stop and consider the many hands and systems that were required to bring the product in its current form to you.
Feel gratitude that those systems are in place.

apple

Image credit: ๑۩۞۩๑~OTH~๑۩۞۩๑

2. As you go about your daily work, whether it be housekeeping, delivering pizza, or making high commission sales, stop and consider the people and machines that make your work possible. (I personally pat my washing machine and tell it “thank you” each time I do laundry. I mean really, how much better is a washing machine in my basement than a rock in a river?)

3. When you start to feel you don’t have enough, or you will never have enough, allow those feelings to be for a moment, and then replace the fear with gratitude for what you have and the experiences you are gaining.

Gratitude is the sign of noble souls.

Aesop

It may take a few tries before you can really feel grateful for hard things, but allow yourself some practice! You will get better, gratitude will come easier, and your life will be lighter.

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With Gratitude, Fear Disappears

grocery cart

Image credit: Topato

What purchases did you make today? What stores did you go to? Perhaps you bought food at the grocery store. Think about your feelings as you shopped and paid for that food. Was your mind filled with thoughts such as these?

  • Ugh, the price of milk just keeps going up. Somebody has got to do something about this; it’s just milk!
  • Why does organic food have to cost so much? These organic carrots look just like those regular carrots.
  • I’ll never be able to afford T-bone steak.
  • Why do I always have to wait in line? Can’t they figure out how to get people out of here more efficiently?

How did it make you feel? Was it a happy experience??

Pay Your Bills With Gratitude

Many years ago I read some financial advice that changed me. It was a simple, seemingly inconsequential suggestion from Suze Orman that I “pay my bills with gratitude”. It sounded crazy. At that point, paying bills meant feeling like I didn’t have enough money and never would, that I could never do anything fun because I had to spend all my money just for basic survival. So, I took the advice, figuring things couldn’t get any worse and it didn’t cost anything or even take any extra time.

The next time I paid my bills I dutifully thought “I’m glad I have electricity in my home to run my air conditioner and dishwasher.” “Thank you for providing me with TV service so that I can learn and be entertained.” “Thank you for picking up my trash so it doesn’t pile up around my home.”

While the thoughts I was forcing were just that–forced (and somewhat laced with sarcasm), they did begin to change my feelings as I paid bills. I began to be grateful for money– for the money I had coming in as well as the money I exchanged for the services I was enjoying. This gratitude spilled over into my everyday life as I began to notice the blessings in my life that I had taken for granted: when I came in from the hot outdoors into my cool air conditioned house, I was grateful. When I toted my heavy trash can out to the curb, I was grateful. When my old car got me to and from the places I wanted to be, I was grateful I didn’t have to walk. I began to see abundance in my life that I had never noticed before.

It’s counter intuitive, but if you’ve experienced living with gratitude compared with living with indifference or anger, you understand the difference I am writing about. I am a happier and better person with gratitude. You can be too.

Fear Disappears

“When you are grateful fear disappears and abundance appears.”

-Tony Robbins

For so many of us, dealing with money means dealing with emotions such as guilt, shame, anger, and fear. Think about the shopping trip mentioned earlier and the negative feelings associated with it. How would your experience have changed if you replaced those feelings with thoughts like these?

  • I’m so grateful I have a cart and don’t have to carry all this stuff.
  • It is so convenient for me to buy produce, dairy products, meat, and household items all at the same store.
  • I am so glad we have people who are willing to take the risk of farming, putting in long hours and depending on the mercy of the weather to bring in a good crop and provide us with fruits and vegetables and grains.
  • Wow, these grapes came all the way from Chile. A lot of coordination went on to get them here, in this nice little bag, basically clean and ready to eat.

Can you see where I’m going with this? Does it change your perspective on grocery shopping?

bbq sauce

Image credit:phototram

Fear simply cannot coexist when gratitude is introduced. Your mind cannot simultaneously have thoughts of never being able to afford T-bones and gratitude for farmers and ranchers. The negative emotions you associate with money are actually banished with gratitude.

You can feel gratitude all day long when dealing with money. If you’re picking up a newspaper, buying a new car or filling your car with gasoline, stop and consider how many people and how many systems are necessary to get products from their raw form to the state in which you purchase them. It’s a bit awe inspiring.

How do you feel now?

Are you convinced you’d like to try to experience more gratitude in your life? Perhaps you don’t believe it can make that big of a difference. Maybe you think your relationship with money is fine–your financial life is not plagued by negative emotions. Wherever your feelings fall in this spectrum, I have some exercises that will make a difference in your life. Tune in Monday for some simple ideas that cost nothing and take only a few moments of your time, but will return a life where “fear disappears and abundance appears.”

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We Saved Like Bandits, and Invested in Businesses

More from my interview with a millionaire, MR.

Central Park

On Tuesday we posted an excerpts from my interview with MR, a furniture store owner in Salt Lake City. As I re-read the transcript of my conversation with him yesterday, I realized MR had a lot more to say about wealth creation. Here is the second installment; it focuses almost entirely on MR’s investing philosophy.

I’ll say at the outset that his specific approach may not work for everyone, but everyone would be better off if we applied the underlying principles. Look for ways you could apply his approach to your particular situation as you read.

During the conversation risk and investing came up several times. Although MR doesn’t seek out risk, he was still willing to take calculated risks under the right conditions:

MR: I take risks, and they’re all very calculated…I’ve [even] developed real estate along the way.

Mark: What kind of real estate have you done?

MR: I’ve done some retail subdivisions. We bought…600 acres…and did a development up there when everyone said we couldn’t. We put one together and sold it out in a couple weeks, and made a couple million dollars on that deal.

And that was scary, actually, because it was out of my control. You’re at the whim of city councils and county councils. And that was a closed county. They didn’t like development. But I was just very tenacious and stayed after it - took me two years of meetings to get it done, but once we got it done and built we sold it out quickly. There was a huge demand.

[I found this story about real estate investing especially interesting because MR always talks about maintaining control of your money and your investments, so I’m sure it was nerve-wracking for him to have to rely on these elected officials in a small county.

The interesting part is that since he felt that he couldn’t completely control the outcome of the investment, he did everything in his power to influence the outcome by going to “two years of meetings to get it done.” What a great lesson in investing.]

Mark: You’ve told me that all the wealthy people you know did it “a brick at a time”. How has that been true in your life?

MR: [We got completely out of debt] and then we saved like bandits, and invested in businesses. I didn’t make any…I’ve never made a dime in the stock market. I don’t do equities because I can’t control them. To me, it’s gambling; I’m lousy at it. I do what I can control. I do a deal every day at the store, we do deals every day and we make money on every deal, and it compounds. It’s not rocket science. It’s really not.

I don’t let anybody handle my money. No brokers, no advisers. For me, that’s all a shot in the dark, and I don’t understand it. And I’m horrible at trying to guess where to put my dough.

Mark: What is the one piece of financial advice you’d give? [Yes, I know I published part of the answer to this question on Tuesday. Here’s the rest of it.]

MR: Don’t do anything that you don’t understand, that keeps you up at night. And personally, don’t give your money to other people to handle. Do it yourself.

I personally don’t go after equities. I don’t do anything like that, but I do go after solid things I can control, solid investments. I buy land free and clear. I know it’s pretty much a done deal when I develop it. I sell it or I know the market’s there.

[Think back to the real estate development he did. Interesting that he paid cash for the land? It was just one more way he minimized his risk.]

MR: Take every dime you have and get out of debt, and then go look at what’s out there. Because there’s a ton of opportunity anywhere you look; there are ways to make money.

Mark: So you sleep pretty well at night.

MR: Yeah, you’re exactly right. I know exactly what my return is on money that’s not in the business, because it’s all in fixed instruments, and you know when you’re getting a small return on a whole lot of money, at least you know what that return is and it’s okay. You know, you can live.

So I’m not trying to make millions in the market. I’m just trying to preserve, at my stage (I’m 55), just preserve what I have and enjoy life. But yeah, we don’t borrow money. Not business, not anything. In retail if the market turns, generally, and people stop buying, if you’re [buying] your goods with a bank, you’ve got more problems than just your mortgage or just the lease on the buildings.

Mark: You obviously have no interest in the market.

MR: Yeah, it’s scary for me. And I’ve got some great friends that are brokers that are multi-millionaires that seem to understand it, but I sleep better at night. I really do.

You know for me to fail now my bank would have to collapse and take my money with it. Other than that, there’s no exposure anywhere. Which is a great feeling, when you’ve still got two kids at home. You’re not trying to build a kingdom anymore; you’re just trying to enjoy your life.

What are the lessons learned from MR’s experience? Many of you will say “I can’t pay cash for land,” or “I can’t afford to keep all my money out of the stock market. It’s the only vehicle available to me.”

All of that may be true. And I’m not a stock-market hater. Neither is MR. His only point is that he’s not going to put his money into the market when he doesn’t have the skill or experience to make his money work for him there.

The principles that stick with me from this conversation are:

1. Accountability: YOU are responsible for your wealth. Don’t blame the market or your broker, or the administrator of your 401k if your nest egg isn’t growing as fast as you think it should be. Take ownership of your financial future.

2. Control: If you can’t directly control the outcome of your investments, do everything you can to influence the result by educating yourself and making decisions that absolutely minimize your exposure, while still positioning you for a reasonable return on your money.

What did you get from these interviews? We’d love to hear your comments on the insights from MR!

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Interview with a Millionaire: M.R., a Furniture Store Owner

Arched Gate

As an interesting follow-up to the questions I asked you yesterday, I wanted to post some excerpts from my interview with MR, a furniture store owner in Salt Lake City. He was good enough to spend about half an hour on the phone with me, and gave me great insight into what it takes to be a successful person, and his thoughts on becoming financially independent.

First a little background on him. As a young man, MR spent two years in North Carolina, and during some of his spare time he toured the furniture factories and other industries in the area.

He says he was “fascinated by the furniture thing”, so when he moved back to Utah in his early 20s he went to work in a furniture store, and became one of their most “prolific salesmen.”

The store he was selling for was struggling though, and he saw that they would soon be closing their doors. Around that time a major furniture manufacturer approached him about the opportunity to become one of their first franchisees.

The thought of striking out on his own was scary, and he had to borrow $50,000 to get the business off the ground. For him, borrowing that money and facing the task of opening a successful store and paying off that debt was, as he put it, “gut wrenching.”

But he did do it, and in his words “We really haven’t had, other than the initial fear, [any] setbacks. It’s been solid since the year we opened. It’s just grown every year since then.”

MR is a great example of someone whose primary goal has been to limit risk by avoiding debt and making only sure money investments. That strategy has paid off in a big way for him. He’s now a multi-millionaire, with not a penny of debt to anyone, and no exposure to the risks of the markets.

Our conversation started with a look at what it takes to be successful:

Mark: The word tenacious keeps coming up in my millionaire interviews. What single attribute of yours would you say has contributed most to the success you’ve had?

MR: [T]hat word, tenacious. It’s a sticktoitiveness.

I’ve never met anyone who it was a flash in the pan that made him a ton of dough instantly and life was good. The guys that I run with have been tenacious, have done it a brick at a time, till they built the wall over a long period of time.

The get rich quick thing you always hear about usually doesn’t happen. It’s always hard work, and almost exclusively, all entrepreneurs. They did their own thing; they weren’t working for anyone, or [at least] for very long. They did their own business, their own thing.

I don’t know anybody who inherited wealth, personally. I don’t know anybody who got rich quick. I know a lot of millionaires in my circle of friends, and all of them have done it, you know, a year at a time, a month at a time over their careers.

Building wealth is not a big deal once you get a little bit of dough under your belt, and you’re smart about it, and you clear all debt – and that was crucial.

My wife and I, we worked two jobs when we were first married, each, so that we could pay off our huge mortgage of thirty thousand bucks. And we did that in a couple years and then we saved like bandits, and invested in businesses.

Mark: What is the one piece of financial advice you’d give?

MR: First, clear all debt, at any sacrifice. Clear your mortgage. Don’t borrow money for cars. If you can’t pay for it, don’t buy it. And that takes discipline, and that takes tenacity, and that takes guts. And once you’ve cleared debt, then you’ve got a little money that you can invest in a business without putting your family at risk, without putting your own financial well-being at risk.

Mark: You know, there are a lot of people out there who say, “Don’t pay off your house. Leverage your house.”

MR: Nonsense.

MB: So, why is it so important to clear ALL the debt before anything else?

MR: Because it’s a personal triumph. You’re not in bondage to anybody. You’ve cleared every debt you owe. Nobody’s coming after you; nobody’s looking at you for money, and you control what you do with your money. The leveraging your house thing is the biggest bunch of nonsense in the history of the planet, and you’re seeing the results of that right now in the collapse of the market, the real estate market.

[I]f you mortgage a solid asset like that, and if you take the money and you gamble with the money, odds are you’re going to lose. So that’s an asset you don’t fool with. You just don’t. You clear it out so your family’s secure, you’re secure. And then you go after businesses.

Clear all your dough – any debt you have and you’ll be surprised what an inner strength that gives you if you’ve had the discipline to do that. Don’t drive a Lexus; don’t drive a BMW, don’t do any of that until all of those debts are gone, then you can start doing some of that other stuff.

So what do you think? How can you implement some of these philosophies into your own personal financial plan? My conversation with MR made a big impact on me. The day after he and I spoke I paid off a car and 3 credit cards.

Sure, the car and the credit cards were all at super-low interest rates, and the payments were very manageable for me, but MR inspired me to get out of debt, so I did what I could that day and made a plan to get rid of the rest of my debt as quickly as possible.

You know the best part? By paying off that car and those credit cards I effectively gave myself a five-figure raise in my annual net income! Maybe that would make a good article for this site…

Image Credit: Kenn Chaplin

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What Would You Do With $1,000,000?

Snowy Mountain

Let’s say you have a rich uncle. You probably don’t, but let’s say you do. And let’s say your rich uncle dies, and since you’re the favorite niece/nephew of your rich uncle, he lives you $1 Million in his will. No, let me rephrase that - he leaves you enough money in his will that you have $1 Million left over even after you pay taxes. Incredible, right?

I know this is a stretch, but stick with me. This is a mental exercise that will help you learn something about yourself and your financial personality. And hey, it’s not a bad fantasy.

So you have the money, but there’s one problem…what are you going to do with it? I’d say most people don’t have any idea what they’d do with a million dollars if they had it. Work through this exercise with me. You’ll learn something about yourself, I guarantee it.

Discover Your Financial Personality

I’m not going to answer any of the questions below for you today. In a series of future posts we’ll take them on one at a time, but at this point I want you to do the work yourself. Sit down with a piece of paper and a pen and do your best to answer each of the questions above. Think of it as the beginning of your financial autobiography. After you’ve answered them, you need to justify your answers to yourself.

Here are a few questions to think about as you decide what to do with your million:

1. Would you pay off your mortgage and all other debt?

What would be the upside of paying off all debt? What would be the downside? Could there ever be a downside to paying off your debt?

2. Even if you paid off all your debt, you’d probably have some money left over (I hope!). What would you do with the remainder?

Would you buy a new car? Would you buy some toys?

Would you invest some or all of the remainder?

3. If you decided to invest the money, how would you invest it?

Would you buy stocks, mutual funds, or real estate? What about bonds? Do you know the difference?

If you were going to buy real estate, what kind of real estate would you buy? Rental property? Commercial or residential? Raw land?

Make Decisions According to Your Values

I’m guessing a lot of you won’t be able to answer the questions with any confidence. You may be able to answer the questions, but could your decisions stand up to direct attack? They’d better be able to, because your financial choices will be attacked every day - directly by the media and indirectly by the decisions you see other people make.

A big key to becoming financially independent is the ability to identify your financial values, make decisions according to your values, and then stick to those decisions no matter what you see your neighbors do or what the media tells you.

Take an hour to write down your answers to these questions. If you don’t write your answers down, you’ll forget your thoughts within minutes, and they’ll be of no value you to you. By writing them down, you make them concrete in your mind. This will pay off!

*Image credit: g.naharro

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Funding Your Life: part 2

The Hard Work

Yesterday’s post was the warm up, today comes the hard work. Putting your budget on paper is difficult. Not only is it detail work that requires time, the process of putting your income and expense on paper dredges up a lot of emotions. There are two things you can do about that:
1. Keep reading this blog and find some books to help you work through the emotions of money.
2. Dive in and get to work.

Putting together a budget is not something that can be completed in one evening. Not even a long weekend, for most people. It’s going to take a good two weeks to a month to really get an accurate budget, and you will find it will still need some tinkering. That’s OK. Set aside some time to get started, and then work on it as the data becomes available.

Income

Sit down with a pencil and paper or an Excell spreadsheet and start with your income; I always list income before expenses to remind me the money needs to come in before I can spend it. Here you include your salary/wages, dividends, interest, rent, pensions, gifts, and any other income you take in. Total your income.

Expenses

To make your budget realistic, you need good data on your spending habits. Write down the categories where you spend money. Dig into your checkbook register and credit card statements and pull your expenses from there; if you have all of last year’s spending data, great. If you only have 3 months or even just 1, that’s a start. If you use a lot of cash, you’ll be looking through receipts or estimating. Be as accurate as you can be, and remember expenses that come less frequently, such as registering your car, trips to the dentist, insurance payments, and Christmas shopping. Take the next two-four weeks to keep track of every income and expense. For lists of possible expenses, scroll down on this page. Finally, total your expenses.

Money

The Results are In

Now, hopefully your expenses are less than your income. Or, they are the same because you have already included your savings and investments in your expense categories. If you are spending more than comes in, you definitely need to start adjusting your expenses and think about increasing your income. Spending more than you make is absolutely unacceptable.

As you look at your budget, are you surprised by any categories? Did you know you spent that much on clothes or eating out? Can you believe how much you are spending on fuel or rent compared to the amount of your income? Are you saving as much as you could be?

This is where budgeting becomes so powerful! Right in front of you you can see where all your money goes each year. Do you like how those numbers look?

This is probably the part that people hate about budgets. Because the “happy/fun” things they spend their money on each day are the things that they think they “should” cut back on. If there are things, “creature comforts” perhaps, that you want to cut back on, be reasonable, know thyself, and act accordingly. Don’t cut back so drastically that you feel completely deprived and end up going on a spending spree and spending more than you would have before the budget.

It’s OK to include expenses in your budget that make you feel good. Budgeting is not about depriving yourself; it’s about using your money to give yourself the life you want, now and later.

The important thing right now is that you have your budget and you are not spending more than you are earning. as you keep learning, particularly about topics such as budgeting, investing, goals, retirement planning, saving, and making more, your budget will change as your priorities change. So get your budget on paper, and make some judgments about if your spending and earning is consistent with who you want to be.

Summary

1. Budgets are good things. Use your budget to make sure you are using your money to create the life you want to live.
2. Don’t listen to the “shoulds.” It’s your life and your money. Make it work for you.
3. Sit down and do the hard work of budgeting. This includes
recording all your income.
recording all your expenses.
making sure you are not spending more than you are bringing in.
making sure your expenses match your values and your goals in life.

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Funding Your Life: part 1

Budget. There I said it. If we had a “report inappropriate content button,” would you use it? Do you hate the word “budget” or do you just hate the idea of living by one?

easy budget

Why do people hate budgets?

If you think of a budget as financial shackles or the proverbial ball and chain, think again! A budget is one of the essential tools of personal economic growth. Unfortunately, the term “budget” has so many bad connotations because people don’t understand and aren’t willing to face the emotions that come with budgets. I’m here to tell you I have a budget, I use a budget, and budgets are good things!If you are the one who makes up your budget, you can allocate your money wherever you want. It’s all about funding your life. And by life, I am not talking about you getting up and going to work, getting through the day, and then grabbing take out on the way home. I’m talking about you deciding who and where you want to be and making sure your spending lines up with those goals.

Control, Freedom and Peace

Your personal budget is your plan for how to use your money. It helps you make sure you reach your goals instead of frittering away your hard earned cash on things and experiences that don’t take you closer to your goals. A budget is a huge part of being financially responsible and it allows you to TAKE CONTROL.

Freedom, control and peace

Ironically, you will actually find freedom in using a budget. The freedom comes from the fact that in following your budget, you are actually working towards your goals instead of just hoping you’ll achieve them.

In using a budget you will find peace. The peace comes from knowing everything is taken care of. Depending on your situation, this peace may take a little bit of work to find, but setting forth a budget is the first step on the road to taking responsibility and controlling your financial future. The Peace will come.

The Shoulds

The problem comes in then if you don’t know your goals or where you want to be. If you’re not confident and passionate about your goals, then you start listening to the “shoulds,” The “shoulds” are what other people tell you you ought to do with your money.

“You should have a college account for each of your children.”

“You should be saving 10% of your income.”

“You shouldn’t have spent that much on your house.”

I hate the word “should” and I’ve just about removed it from my vocabulary. You could do the same. (Doesn’t that sound better than “You should do the same”?) Your budget is not about what other people, even experts tell you “should” do with your money. Your budget is about how you want to use your money for your life. Of course, once you learn more about financial planning and decide where you want your life to go, you may take a lot of the expert advice, but it won’t be because you think you “should,” it will be because you’ve decided it’s the right thing for you.

Take Action Today

Today, start to come to terms with the idea that a budget is an essential tool for creating wealth and directing your life. Your budget, if you stick to it, can take you where you want to go. Think about where you’re going to start spending your money. Think about how you are going to start funding your LIFE.Tomorrow, we’ll look at the steps involved in putting it all on paper.*Be sure to check out the other great posts at the Carnival of Personal Finance

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Shut the Stuff Up!

Would you be happier with a new car? How about a new house? Do you like yourself more when you buy new clothing? Does your new furniture make other people respect you? Do you feel joy when you look at your massive DVD collection? Are you a bigger man because of the beer you drink?

I think I’m pretty enlightened when it comes to being materialistic, but lately I’ve noticed sometimes I let my Stuff stand in for my true identity (meaning I want others to see my cool new running shoes or my mac computer because of the assumptions those people will make about me when they see these things). I’m guessing most Americans do this, and it’s mostly subconscious. One of the effects of this thinking is that we fill our lives and our homes with meaningless Stuff.

Sure, it may be beautiful Stuff. It may be expensive Stuff. But studies are now showing excess Stuff actually bolsters low self esteem, and is related to self-doubt. So, while you think others are thinking more of you because of your Stuff, you are actually thinking less of yourself and feeling down about it.

Clutter

Practicers of Fung Shui believe everything you own is energetically connected to your spirit. The more Stuff you have, the more tied down your spirit is, and the less freedom you have to become who you really want to be.

From a more practical stand point, the more Stuff you own, the more costs you have in cleaning, maintaining and storing you Stuff.

So, how do we quit our love affair with Stuff? How do we quit letting stuff speak to us about other people, or quit buying stuff that we want to speak to other people about us? How do we Shut the Stuff Up?

1. Stop watching so much TV

There’s a reason big ad agencies make so much money: they are good at what they do. Very good. And what they do is convince people to buy Stuff. Mostly they try to convince you that you can be better/smarter/more attractive if you buy their product.
They are lying.

So, avoid TV if you can, and when you do watch it, use your DVR to fast forward through the commercials.

2. Read fewer magazines

Magazine publishers actually make more money selling ad space than they do subscriptions. Home magazines are designed for advertisers of appliances and flooring. Car magazines are designed for advertisers of performance parts and garage “essentials.” Travel magazines are designed for advertisers of luggage, vacation packages, and travel clothing. Print advertisers are just as good at their jobs as TV advertisers. Read fewer magazines. Same goes for billboards.

3. De-junk your spaces

Have you looked around at the clutter you’re keeping? Are there clothes in your closet you don’t wear? Is your junk drawer overflowing? Has your garage become a big storage room instead of a place for your car?

All the unnecessary Stuff you are hanging onto is trapping you in your past. It weighs on you as it clutters your space. Some of your Stuff may be from past relationships, or other phases of your life that you are through now. Some of the items may be from impulse purchases you now regret, or they may represent the debt you’re carrying around.

Can you see how this stuff weighs on you?

My personal code of de-junking

When I am cleaning up and deciding if I want to keep a particular item or not, I ask my self these questions:
1. Do I feel happy/peaceful when I look at this object?
2. Have I really needed to use this object in the last year?

If neither of these is a resounding “yes,” then the object needs to go to a new home. I happily throw the trash away and take those things I no longer need to the thrift store. You might want to hold a garage sale. Whatever works for you to clear out your clutter is a good thing.

By the way, don’t forget your office or car; any space you use can be de-junked.

4. Shop smarter; Shop less

Have you ever noticed that when you run to the store to just pick up some diapers and a gallon of milk, you come out with those two things, plus a bag of chips, 2 12 packs of coke (because they were “buy one, get one free), and a newly released DVD?

It doesn’t matter if it’s the grocery store, a clothing boutique or the giant sports center . . . stores want to sell you things. When you go there, you will be bombarded with messages: “buy me.” “buy me now.” “you will look good in me.” “I taste delicious.” These messages are hard to overcome, especially when “it’s just one!”

You can actually shop smarter by planning your shopping trips. If you keep a running list of things you need, shop once a week, and buy only what’s on the list, you will save money, save time, and cut down drastically on impulse buys.

Shopping smarter will be easier as you de-junk your spaces because you will really like living without clutter. As you live with less clutter, you think twice before making purchases–”How often will I use this? Where am I going to put it? Do I really need it?”

5. Set a buying waiting period

Predetermine a waiting period from when you decide you want to buy something to when you allow yourself to actually make that purchase. When you do find something you really want, put it on a list; the “Waiting List,” with a date. When your waiting period is up, reevaluate and decide if you still need the item. If so, go get it. If not, scratch it off the list.

How long should you wait? It’s up to you, but take the size of the purchase and your personal spending habits into consideration. You might choose to wait a week, a month, or even six months; the length of time can be different for each object on the list. Whatever the amount of time is, it should be longer than you think you can really wait. You can do it.

Think of past purchases that you now regret. Why did you buy those items? How did you buy them (is pulling out your credit card just too easy for you? Or was your cash burning a hole in your pocket?) Did they bring the joy you thought they would? How long did it take before you regretted your purchase? Use past experience to guide you in setting up your waiting period. Leave your credit cards at home if you need to.

6. Fill yourself up with other things

So often we are buying Stuff to change who we are or how we feel. And it usually works, but only for a minute. The next time you feel the need to buy something you don’t really need, try one of these activities instead; they will help you feel better, and they are great habits to get in to.
• exercise
• get in touch with nature
• play with kids at the park
• volunteer to help with a cause that’s meaningful to you
• take time to write down what you’re grateful for
• do something spiritual

Each of these 6 suggestions requires you to take control of the direction of your life and be smarter with how you spend your money. As you take responsibility and guide yourself into smarter purchases, you will feel powerful as you Shut the Stuff up!

gulls in flight

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What Does a Millionaire Sound Like?

My job is to talk to broke people on the phone. After talking with a couple thousand people who are cash-poor, frustrated, and embarrassed, I know what they sound like, and I know how they feel.

Money Questions

On the other hand, each week I interview three or four millionaires about their financial situation - the two groups sound nothing alike at all.

Why am I so preoccupied with how people sound? It comes from spending hundreds of hours talking to them on the phone. Let me explain.

The Power of Tone

In any interaction between two people, meaning and feeling are conveyed in three ways: body language, tone of voice, and syntax (the words you use). But the three are not equally important in expressing yourself. Here’s how they break down:

38% of a person’s meaning is conveyed through the tone of their voice.

55% is expressed through body language.

Only 7% of communication takes place through your choice of words (syntax).

Do the math. Body language is eight times more important than syntax, and tone is a little over five times as important. What you say isn’t nearly as important as how you say it. Now what does this all have to do with anything?

The Sound of Broke

When I’m talking to a person on the phone, I can’t read their body language, so I’m left with their tone and words.

black phone

How can I explain the tone of ‘broke’? You know how someone looks after a twelve hour road trip where they had a flat tire and got caught in a snowstorm? Or maybe you’ve been in an airport during the holidays and you saw two parents with three little kids, one of them a screaming toddler (as you hear the announcement of the flight being delayed)?

Well, the way those people look is how most of the people I talk to sound. I think that gives you pretty clear picture. These people are just exhausted and ready to have something go right.

So if that’s how broke people sound, what difference do I hear in a millionaire’s tone of voice?

The Voice of Independence

I can sum it up in a single word: Calm. There is a sureness and confidence in the voices of the millionaires I’ve interviewed over the last few weeks. Not many sentences have to leave their mouths before I have the thought “This person sleeps well at night.” And why wouldn’t they? Contrast some of their statements with those from my conversations with the financially frustrated:

  • Broke: “I have debt I’ll never pay off.”
  • Millionaire: “I paid off my mortgage in two years and I’ve never owed on a home, car, or anything else since then.”
  • Broke: “I don’t have any college funds set up for my kids.”
  • Millionaire: “When some tough family circumstances came up that required a lot of cash, I had it on hand.”
  • Broke: “I can barely keep up with the minimum payments on my credit cards, let alone pay down the balance.”
  • Millionaire: “I’ve never paid interest on a credit card.”
  • Broke: “My retirement funds aren’t anywhere near where they need to be.”
  • Millionaire: “If I sold my business tomorrow I could maintain my lifestyle forever just living off the interest.”
  • Broke: “I hate my job.”
  • Millionaire: “At a certain point I decided enough was enough when it came to money, and it was time to move on to more important things.”

Not bad huh? And let me point something out - when I was listening to these guys talk there was something I was not hearing; arrogance. They’re almost embarrassed to admit how successful they are.

I interviewed one man who had spent over twenty years as one of the top financial advisers in a major firm. He hesitated to talk about his accomplishments, saying he felt too boastful. Trust me, he wasn’t boastful.

There’s a Big Difference Between High Income and Wealth

Many of my conversations with people I’d call broke are high earners that love to talk a big game - doctors, lawyers, sales professionals. They’ve got six figure incomes and seven figure debt, and the reality is if they missed a few paychecks they’d be facing foreclosure.

What I hear in the high-income Broke is bravado, laced with fear. Nothing like the millionaires. The truly wealthy men I’ve talked to are completely at ease with money.

The world at large is pretty frantic about money right now, with all this talk of mortgage crisis and recession. The millionaires I’ve talked with don’t have much fear about it. One of them, whose job it is to buy public equities (stocks) to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, was actually almost giddy about the current state of affairs.

That’s the reward for a lifetime of good decisions. When the economy turns down, the wealthy don’t panic. They get out their checkbooks. Whether it’s real estate or stocks, everything goes on ’sale’. Smart people increase their wealth much more quickly in down markets.

Money Ideas

Million Dollar Decision Making

So what are the decisions my millionaires make? Some you could probably guess; others may surprise you because they go so contrary to what you hear in the media. Stick around and you’ll find out what millionaires really have to say about their success.

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You Really Live Here?

Last spring my husband and I were working in our front yard when an acquaintance happened by. We said Hello and chatted for a minute, and then he looked up at our house and said to my husband, “So, Mike, you live here?!”

“Yes,” was the obvious answer, but the question (and my insecurity about it) got me thinking: why was he so surprised Mike lived here? Is our house too big? Is it too small? Is the courtyard too much? Do we have the front lights wrong?

What is it about our house that didn’t match up with what our new friend’s impression of my husband? And why was he judging us based on something as materialistic as our house?

Other peoples’ Stuff

The short answer is: we all do it. We all look at other peoples’ Stuff and make assumptions about who those people are.

Think about how it feels to walk into a business conference where you don’t know anyone. Where do your eyes go? What do you focus on? How do you size up the room? Admit it: within 5 seconds, you have noted first, the gender, ages, and good looks of the other participants, but then your eyes went to watches, jewelry, clothing, brief cases, purses, laptops, planners, whatever people are carrying to this particular gathering. You’ve instantly compared their “Stuff” with your “Stuff” and determined your status, and the status of many in the group, just by looking at and comparing the things you are carrying.

Status

Status is a necessary thing. We all feel a lot more comfortable relating to each other when we know our status in the group. In fact, we humans automatically position ourselves in relation to others, and we’ve been doing it for thousands of years. When our ancestors lived in caves, they positioned themselves under (or tried to become) the alpha male–the best hunter and protector, the one everyone relied on for survival.

We still see that kind of positioning today. When our “survival” is at stake (think “Survivor” or “Lost”), our status in a group is determined by our skills and abilities as they relate to keeping the group alive. But rarely are we in the 21st century concerned with basic survival in our day to day lives. The things we seek, (such as success and happiness) are much less easily defined. So, to position ourselves in a group, we look to material goods: who has the most expensive car, the biggest ring, the largest house, the most toys? The reason we do this is because we want to make instant judgments about our status in a group and material goods offer the easiest measurement.

If you think about it, this is ridiculous, and we are lucky our cave dwelling ancestors were a lot smarter in determining status, or the human race might not still be here. Consider for a moment if our ancestors had chosen to follow the member of their group who found the biggest rock, or the one who could pile dirt the highest. What if the group decided that whoever had the longest hair should be the leader? Those examples sound silly now, but are they any more silly than us determining a person’s status according to the brand of jeans he is wearing or the number of diamonds on her Rolex? Is it not ridiculous to allow Stuff to be the deciding factor as to how we stack up among our fellow humans?

Who spent the most?

Remember, exterior materialistic symbols tell us only who spent the most money. They say nothing of success, happiness, fulfillment, or longevity, all things we say we want. Do you really care who has spent the most money? Do you want to be the person who has spent the most money? No! No one cares who has spent the most. The problem is we make the unconscious assumption that the person who has spent the most money must have the most money to spend, and money, like it or not, is a sign of happiness and success in our culture.

Don’t make that mistake. Don’t burden your psyche with that mistake. In this day of oversize mortgages, home equity lines of credit, skyrocketing credit card debt, and a pay day loan store on every corner, the person who has spent the most money is probably the person with the most debt.

Freedom

You don’t want to measure your worth against someone else’s debt. You don’t even want to measure your worth against someone else’s assets. We all know in our heads that happiness, fulfillment, freedom and peace do not come in a Nordstrom bag. You can’t pick them up at the Mercedes dealership. We need to get that understanding down into our hearts, down where it really matters to who we are. Then, and only then are we each free to pursue the things that really do matter to each of us individually. Then we can measure ourselves as people and not as collectors of Stuff.

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