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My husband and I – we know debt. Married for just about 18 years, but together for 23, we know what its like to live check to check. We know what its like to have an unscrupulous employer not pay for a job well done, we know what its like to owe Uncle Sam (I don’t recommend it). Over the years, I’ve listened to lots of people talk, watched what other people did with their money, read a little, and tried to accumulate all those bits and pieces into a financial philosophy that works for us. Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

Find a pro you trust. In 2008, just before the economy tanked, we started seeing a financial planner recommended by a trusted friend. I can’t speak strongly enough that you should get your advice from a trusted financial professional, not the internet or your Uncle Louie. Your financial professional will look at your entire financial picture, including things you never thought of as “financial”, and help you reach your goals. It’s been great to have an objective opinion on where we are, if our gut feelings have been right, and where to go from here.

Buy with your head, not your emotions. Once again, I remind you that emotions kill our ability to think clearly. I’m proud of the fact that back in 2007 when my Saturn, which I loved, started to show signs of age, I listened to the taps on my shoulder that told me it was the beginning of a long string of small repairs that would eventually add up to thousands of dollars. There were lots of cars out there that I liked because they fit my internal image of “me”. But I began my hunt for a new(er) car by Googling “best used cars”. Out of the top ten, 9 were either Hondas or Toyotas. That told me something right there, and I limited my search to those brands. As I was surfing around the used car lots, a little car I’d never heard of popped up – Toyota’s Yaris. Turns out, I could buy a brand-new Yaris cheaper than a used anything else. And I’d get all the benefits of a new car like a zero odometer and a warranty. It may look like an egg (mine is white) and sometimes I feel like a college student, but it gets 36 mpg and when gasoline was $4 a gallon, I was smiling.

Think ahead. When we bought our house, it was just before the real estate bubble started. It’s fairly small and we paid $105,000 for it in 1995. When our son was about four (2001ish), we thought about moving to a larger space in a better area. Talking to a real estate friend, we learned that we really couldn’t do better than what we had – it might be bigger, but not better. We chose to stay and put money into various remodel/repair jobs, figuring if things changed we could sell later. Now that the real estate bubble has popped, we’re not stuck paying for more house than we really need.

Don’t be swayed by fancy talk. Relating to the home story above… because of what we paid for our house, we’ve done well with three refinances. Our interest rate is very reasonable, and we still owe less than what it would cost to buy a house now. Here’s the key: we always went with a boring 30-year fixed-rate loan. We’re not sophisticated about money and figured if it worked for our parents, it was good enough for us. We’re very pleased that for once our lack of savvy saved us from getting suckered into some weird interest-only, pay-every-month-that-ends-in-Y kind of mortgage product. This goes for all forms of financial product.

Credit cards are a necessary evil. But they are evil. Pay in cash or debit card as much as you can. Use credit cards only for things that require a card, like EZ Pass and Jazzercise. And promise yourself that you will pay it off in full every month. Then do it.

Have a cash reserve. Have a cash reserve, have a cash reserve, have a cash reserve! This is the number one reason we kept sliding back into debt: no money to pay for emergencies. Whenever a car or house repair came up, it would go on a card. You can only do that so often before the whole caboodle spirals out of control. Our financial planner suggested we do a refi to get a cash reserve, and it’s been one of the best things we could have done (and something I never would have thought to do). Now when the dishwasher croaks, we have some money to replace it.

Store brands and eating in. One last category: food. My husband and I both prefer restaurants and take-out to cooking our own meals. Cutting out the eating out (some of it, at least), has been a challenge but it saves a ton of cash. I find it depressing when I run out of allowance and realize it’s because we ate it! As for store brands, these are definitely worth checking out. I’m a regular ShopRite shopper, and aside from peanut butter I would buy just about anything in their label. The quality is that good. I’d venture that most stores have some good store-brand items, so it’s worth experimenting.

What have you learned about money? Got any good tips?


I was just reading a blog post by Hazel at In Her Closet, and while her blog isn’t specifically about self-improvement, she seems to be going through some tough times and I give her props for putting it out there for all to read. Doing that will often help to clarify your emotions and focus yourself on moving forward.

Anyway, Hazel writes about how “the rain won’t last forever”. That is a great line! When life is pouring down, one thing after another, it’s easy to feel like you’re drowning. Another friend of mine likes to say, “This too shall pass.” Same concept: the world is all about balance, so for as much as you might be down now, there will be a time when you’re up.

Change is the only thing that doesn’t change! Which is why it’s great to remember the rain won’t last forever.

There are lots of people living in your head.

Don’t believe me? Try turning off the radio in the car and listen to all the people chattering in there! Lets see who is my head right now: Well, there’s good ‘ol Ego, always worried about me-me-me. Intellect is yapping away, always thinking she’s so smart. The Basher is in there, but she’s no fun – telling me I’m fat, lazy, and stupid. Rude and obnoxious BossLady can’t understand why everyone wants it their way instead of my way, while Ms. Confident knows that whatever we attempt will work out just fine. Those are a few of the people in my head; I guarantee you have your various personality traits chattering away in yours.

When you really stop to listen, there is more talk happening up there than in prime time on Fox. Some voices shout, some whisper. Some are helpful, like Ms. Confident, while others are definitely destructive like The Basher whose specialty is self-inflicted mental violence. And, unfortunately, because they’re all living in our head, we believe they are all speaking the truth. It doesn’t make life easier when The Basher is the loudest voice and we believe every word.

Here is the challenge: For a week, listen to what is going on up there. Whenever you are in a quiet place – the car, a waiting room, late in the evening when the kids are in bed – pay attention to what is said. Do you hear positive thoughts or negative ones? Sounds of contentment, or voices of discontent? Why?

I had to jot this down because it’s happened to me so many times.

I have a long commute – 90 minutes each way, five days a week on mostly two-lane secondary roads where the speed limit rarely cracks 45. There have been many, many times when I find myself stuck behind a large truck or a slow driver, unable to pass for miles. It is very frustrating when I feel time pressing down on me. But the times that I really, really want (my mind will tell me “need”, but I know that isn’t true), to pass this guy are inevitably the times that the Universe is purposely telling me to slow it down.

How do I know the Universe is talking to me? Because very often it’s when I’m in those situations that I find slowing down helped me avoid a speed trap or an accident. I can’t count how many times I’ve spoken to the driver ahead of me in my head – usually suggesting which pedal they should be stepping on – when out of the blue I crest a hill and there is a cop sitting with his radar on. Worse, I crest that hill to find a fresh or nearly fresh accident, and realize that had I been driving more aggressively it might have been me T-boned in the middle of an intersection when someone ran the red light.

God works in mysterious ways, and we have to pick up on very subtle clues to get the message. Miracles don’t have to be big – “Six Saved in Fire”, or even cute – “baby’s first smile”. Look for the miracles in your everyday life: a string of green lights where you usually catch all reds, a busy coworker stops by to tell you something that makes you laugh, stumbling into a sale on something you were going to buy anyway. There are countless tiny miracles every day if we just open our eyes to them.

For one week, jot down every little miracle you see. Think about how you classify something as a miracle – are your guidelines too narrow? How many things did you see that happened to you when you were alone, and how many were part of an interaction with someone else?

I’m not sure what I was reading when I saw the phrase “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”, but I grabbed the closest things at hand – a purple marker and a torn-out sheet of recycled drawing paper – and immediately scribbled it down. It’s been hanging on my fridge for probably 2 years now. So simple, yet so powerful! A friend saw my little sign and laughed, telling me it was not true. Ah, but she was so wrong.

Life teaches us through pain; “Life Lessons” are rarely pleasurable. Pain will come to all of us, we have absolutely no choice. Physical, mental, or emotional; it might be mild or deep, but when it comes we can’t tell it to stop. Pain causes indelible  impressions to form in our brains, in Sanskrit these are called samskara. Like a rivulet of water digging a trough in sand, mild impressions might take several times they become strong enough to change your habits, while a deep impression might cause you to change your ways immediately.

Suffering is a different animal entirely. Suffering is all about choice. We choose how we react to the pain. Now, I’m not saying it’s easy, and I’m not saying we can always make that choice. Emotion destroys your ability to make clear choices so of course we suffer when we’re under duress. However, we choose to make our lives hell in so many little ways, I sometimes wonder how some people have the energy to get through their day!

Here’s an example: It’s been a long day at work and you have to stop at the food store on the way home to pick something up. The parking lot is busy, and as you’re eyeballing a spot someone else zooms in to take it. You could take this as a sign – maybe you weren’t meant to park there, who knows? – and choose to let it go, but you give in to the little burst of anger and now you’re grumbling about crowded parking lots and rude drivers. You find a spot and head into the store only to find long lines. Grabbing your item, you head for the line, with a continuous rant going in your head. And it’s not ranting anything positive, especially about your line mates, the cashier, the store, or anything else that dares cross your mind. Arriving home, you are in such a funk that you’re snapping at your family and even the dog won’t come near you.

Do you see how there were choices in that story? Many opportunities to take a deep breath, accept the circumstances, and let the negative energy go. I could have written about a jerky boss, a health issue, a financial turn. All the same story with the same moral: the way you choose to deal with your pain directly relates to the amount of suffering you will face.

Choices are all around us. We may not like either option, but the options are there. Accept pain as the teacher it is – learn that lesson and you won’t have to face that particular pain again. Suffering is optional, so don’t sweat the small stuff and take a step towards more peace in your life.

It was in Sutra class back in the spring of 2008, the class was discussing the topic of the world coming to an end.

Sparked by all the talk about 2012, our teacher had assigned us an essay describing how we thought the end would come. There were many variations on the theme: meteors, flu epidemics, evil dictators. All possibilities, our teacher said, but we didn’t quite hit the nail on the head. We never found out what she was thinking, because the class ended for the summer and we let it drop.

Flash ahead to fall 2008 and the US economy crashing through the floor of the Stock Exchange. I’m sitting at my desk in Corporate America, watching a CNN feed showing the staff of Lehman Brothers leaving their NYC building. The light bulb went off as I watched the “worker bees”, the level that I can relate to, with their belongings in cardboard boxes heading for the subway station. I realized… their world just came to an end. I would think that landing a job at Lehman, a Wall Street staple for 158 years, would come with a certain feeling of security and now that security had not only been an illusion, that illusion left them unemployed at the beginning of one of the worst financial downturns in US history.

Since then, I’ve thought more about people and the situations they find themselves in. Parents of  missing children; victims of natural disasters; people in health crisis. The list goes on and on – just read the newspaper. Their world has ended, their reality has changed in such a fundamental way that it changes their core.

What will the next big world-ending thing be? Part of me doesn’t even want to find out  (ignorance is bliss!). However, I believe that what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger; indeed, it’s the reason your world ends.

I touched on lazy language in my earlier post about the word hate. Here are a few more:

Love. Probably tied with “hate”, I think this is a horribly overused word. What exactly does love mean to you? Would you risk your life for love? I know there are many, many things I like very much, but very few people who I Love (with a capital L). So, as with hate, when you catch yourself using this word, think about what you really feel. Do you really love your car, that big-box store, the sandwiches from the local deli? Like my mantra for hate, when I catch myself saying I love something, I have to say the odd-sounding, “I hate that I love!”

Good/Bad. These are judgement words. They have no meaning except when the measurement is clearly understood by all. It’s better than what, exactly?

Never/Always. Think about this one. What would you never do? Whenever I ask this question the immediate answer is, “I’d never kill someone!” What if someone you really loved was kidnapped and you had the power to save them but only by killing? The old saw, “Never say never” is more accurate than you’d like to believe. Always works the same way. You always do that? Every single time, without fail? I always brush my teeth in the morning. Until I’m sick to my stomach and the thought of a minty toothbrush in my mouth makes me gag.

We live in a world of illusions, and our language is a small window into that illusion. It’s definitely the hardest part of my current practice, but being aware of what comes out of my mouth (and when I’m opening it) is one of the things that has made a noticeable difference in my life.

I really try not to sweat the small stuff. But here’s a peeve:

I leave for work very early in the morning, apparently along with lots of other working stiffs. Now, I’m a Dunkin’ person, but lots of folks get their coffee at the same places they purchase gasoline. And often at that early hour there are limited pumps open.

Folks, it takes more time to get the coffee than it does to pump the gas. Please don’t run in for coffee while you’re filling up, because you block the pump and I’m sitting there waiting with a sheepish-looking gas attendant. And while I can use the few extra minutes to nap, contemplate my navel, or otherwise enjoy living in that moment, it’s not appreciated as an excuse for being late to work.

What are some of your pet peeves?

We are all perfect as we are. You’ve heard that before and didn’t buy it, right? But have you ever really thought about it?

Your body and brain are perfect for how you use them now.  Think about your body. How do you use it? Do you sit at a desk all day, or do you teach aerobics? A truck driver’s muscles are ready to help him sit all day. A cashier’s legs have gotten strong to keep him on his feet. A marathoner has built up her heart and lungs for extreme endurance. Your brain works the same way: the neural connections you use get stronger, and the ones you don’t use get weak. Can the average person do calculus in their head? Probably not. But you can make change for a dollar and balance your checkbook (well, most of us can. I’m definitely not perfect in that regard!).

You are absolutely perfect right now for what you need your body and brain to do in your reality. So what do you do if you’re not happy with your current perfection? Change your reality.

Lets say you’re a couch potato, but you’re inspired to run a marathon. You’re not going to go run that marathon the next day, you’re going to begin a dedicated, well-designed training schedule. On day one, your body is perfect for being a couch potato. Two months into training, your body still isn’t ready to marathon, but might be perfect to run three miles. Four months later, perhaps you can run 8 miles, and eventually you will finish that marathon with your perfect runner’s body. You’ve changed your reality by starting with a goal and sticking to a plan. By changing your reality, you’ve changed what you’re body and mind are perfect for.

Try redefining what “perfect” means. Instead of  holding it up as some golden state that you think you’ll never get to, stop judging yourself and accept yourself for how you are right this very minute – warts and all. Because we are all perfect, and will always be perfect,  for where we are on our path.

What are you perfect for now? What do you want to be perfect for, and how will you get there?

Whenever you blurt out, “I hate __(whatever)__!” Stop yourself. That is lazy language.

Immediately tell yourself, “I hate that I hate!” and rephrase your original statement using exact words. What do you really feel? For example, instead of saying you hate traffic, say “Traffic makes me frustrated!”, “Traffic makes me angry!”, “Traffic makes me want to get out of my car and scream in that guy’s face!”.

Hate is a very strong word. Don’t waste it.

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