Sign Seeing

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Over the past couple of weeks three themes have kept popping up everywhere I look!  I’ve had lots of time to sit and reflect on where I am in my life, how I got here and what I need to do to move forward .  The universe seems to be in agreement with me as the same ideas have popped out at me in scripture, social media posts and even Sunday service.  On social media I have commented that the collective unconscious is working overtime right now.  I’m not the only one to notice.  Having a break from “busy”ness has allowed my mind to rest and me to get more centered and focused.    Below are the three ideas that have resonating around me.  The first two I touched on in last week’s blog post.

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  1. Missed Opportunities.  There’s nothing worse than a missed opportunity.  Hindsight is 20/20 As I look back (which I do very carefully!) I can see many of the opportunities I missed either by not grabbing them when I had the chance or not putting myself in the position to create them.  I acknowledge the self-doubt this was rooted in.  Looking back is only useful if you gain lesson to apply to future decisions.  It is an opportunity to fine-tune one’s intuition, ability to reason, and make better life choices.  journeytolaunch_1561592622500438037
  2. Preparation.  Last week I wrote that in business an elevator pitch is valuable tool that will allow the business person to be prepared for a chance encounter with someone who could in some way be instrumental in achieving their business goals.  The meme above was posted on Instagram by a financial coach; it was a post about being prepared financially for life’s emergencies.  This of course ties in to missing opportunities.  Some opportunities come with a cost.  I saw in my past opportunities I missed out on because I was not ready financially – and I could have been.
  3. FOMO.  When I read about the concept of FOMO, a light bulb went off.  When I read it a few days later in the intro to the verses assigned for one day’s bible study, it was like my mind was blown after being struck by lightening!  It perfectly pinpoints something I have sensed about myself while taking an honest look at the past three years.  FOMO is the Fear Of Missing Out.  Patrick McGinnis, who coined the term, describes FOMO in the Disrupt Yourself Podcast, Episode 21.

“an inward struggle and it impedes you from disrupting yourself because I think you lack focus. There is a positive side to FOMO in that it can tell you what your hidden dreams and desires are. If you feel FOMO when you see somebody start playing the piano maybe you should go out and take piano lessons….But I find that it is a great way to distract yourself from doing the hard things in your life you need to do. Rather than sitting down…and dealing with that big challenge that you need to deal with, you spend a bunch of time running around doing other things to stay busy.”  

I’ve been reading the book The Power of Focus by Jack Canfield, Mark Mansen and Les Hewitt.  In one of the first chapters they write about not being distracted by the next shiny new thing.  But the question is ‘why’ do we do that?  The answer is FOMO.  FOMO will eat up lots of opportunity, ironically, because when you’re chasing all you will catch none.  It is futile.

So once the signs are acknowledged the next step is to apply what they teach.  These signs have reiterated a nagging feeling that I need to be doing less, not more.  Being busy isn’t the same as being productive.  I’ve been noticing that the more busy I have become the less satisfied I have been feeling with the results of my efforts.  So now, mid-2017, is a good time to assess my priorities, strategies and activities, make sure they are in line with my goals.

Have you noticed any signs instructive this summer?

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How To Graduate with Less or No Debt

Keys_29082It’s quite the conundrum. We are told that a college education is the key to achieving our full potential and the American dream.  The story tells us it is the way out of poverty.  Access to higher education was a major priority for the last White House administration and affordability was central to that message.  President Obama even introduced the America’s College Promise Act 2015 to make the two years of community college free.

Over the past decade or so the number of Americans earning college degrees has skyrocketed.  And so has the tuition, and the debt that follows.  For many, what was supposed to be a roadmap to the American Dream turned out to be a money pit into a uniquely American nightmare.  Graduates now face enormously burdensome debt that many will never be able to pay off in their lifetime.  We’ve all heard reports about the student loan default crisis, where the struggle to keep up with unaffordable loan payments becomes so discouraging that people stop paying altogether.

Women are particularly vulnerable.  I recently read that women own two-thirds of student loan debt.  Yet a female graduate will earn only 79 cents for every dollar that a male graduate will, on average, in a similar position.  Hmm…wouldn’t it be nice if that was reflected in the tuition we pay?!  Blacks and Latinas tend to take on more debt, and the fact that they tend to make even less than their White counterparts makes it especially harder for them to repay.

But alas, there’s hope!  There are several ways to graduate with less or no debt.  At the root of decreasing the need to take on debt to advance one’s education are planning, time and diligence.  Here are some things to consider:

  1. Take your required courses at a community college.  It is not necessary to spend tens of thousands of dollars on coursework that isn’t directly relevant to your major; better yet, if you don’t even know what you want to study or career path you want to take right now, community college is a great place to sort that out.  Aside from the money, it can help you to grow in maturity and be more focused at a four-year college. Advantages:
    1. Cheaper
    2. Potentially pay tuition as you go
    3. The 4-year college transcript is what will be seen on your resume and what you will talk about at parties!  If you started at Community but ended up at Harvard no one really has to know.stundet-loan4
  2. Prepare!  There are literally thousands of grants and scholarships.  Take the time to do the research necessary to meet all of the deadlines and gather all of the information required to complete each application.
    1. Attend events at schools and community organizations of all sorts; read books and articles on free money for college. Get to know people who do this every day and keep in touch.
    2. It would be wise to start researching 18 months out from when you will begin school.  This way you can target your time and energy towards the most lucrative scholarships and grants that you qualify for and are interested in.
    3. Give yourself and your recommenders enough time to craft thoughtful, well-written essays and recommendations.
  3. Consider the potential salary expectations for your desired career.  Will your potential future income allow you to afford your student loan debt along with your realistic cost of living?  Your grades, location, network and caliber of your school are all factors in the salary level that may be available to you.
    1. This is the business of your life.  Do a cost/benefit analysis on your educational goals.  Does the pay scale for the career you intend to go into justify the cost of the degree required for the field?  For example, if you want to be a social worker, would it be worth it to go $60,000 into debt, considering what your salary is likely to be over the long run?
    2. Following the example in number 1, there are student loan forgiveness programs for certain careers.
      1. Usually when you go into one of these careers and apply for loan forgiveness there are requirements such as length of time to work in the field.
      2. Careers in public service (ex., The Peace Corps), medicine, the law and military service are all examples.
      3. For more information go here, here, here and here.splash
    3. An often overlooked yet critical advantage of going to college is the alumni network.
      1. I wrote in a previous blog, No Man Is An Island.  No one gets to where they want to be in life solely on their own effort.  Everyone needs a team to achieve their goals and dreams.
      2. As I asserted in my post about opportunity, connections are key.  That is the value of going to a top-tier school.  College isn’t just about academics; it’s the people with whom you will build lifetime personal relationships and professional connections. Further, the higher up on that U.S. News & World Report list, the higher your earning potential will be as soon as your graduate.
      3. Going to a top school matters most in the beginning of your career.  Afterward your professional record is what will really matter.  Of course top school alums will always have bragging rights, whatever it’s worth. 🙂
    4. Get a job at a company that offers tuition reimbursement.  Consider that there is more than one way to obtain an “education.”  Working in your field of interest while saving and investing as much as you can, kills two birds with one stone.  Being reimbursed for the tuition you pay is icing on the cake!
      1.  I benefited enormously by this incentive when I worked at Ernst & Young.  I was able to grow my professional competence through continuing education classes.  But they would also have paid for graduate school.
      2. Usually companies will require that you study courses either related to your specific position or the company’s industry. Length of time employed is another typical requirement. Either way if it’s your field of choice, it’s a win.
      3. The bigger the company the more likely that this opportunity will be available and the more generous.

These are just a few suggestions to get you started.  There are other personal finance possibilities that I will cover in another blog.  Have you been working on getting the money together to pay for college?  What has or has not worked for you so far?  Do you have any ideas you could add to this list?  Comment below!

 

Read more on the advantages of community college here.

Tennessee Makes Community College Free For All Adults

Detroit Is Making First Two Years of College Free

Two Tuition-Free Years in Rhode Island

Should Students Get Grades ’13 and 14′ Free of Charge?

Paying off debt with 401K

8 Reasons To Never Borrow From Your 401K

First 2 Years of College Free

Debt & Delay

cbbfb2a7It is not hard to find advice on managing money.  There are print publications, websites, gurus, apps, non-profits, licensed professionals and people we know who give us their ideas on money: saving it, investing it, making more of it and how to spend it.

One of the biggest concerns Americans have about money is debt.  In our consumer-centric culture we rely on interest-bearing credit cards and loans to finance non-essential wants, in the process racking up mountains of debt that we end up struggling to pay.  We are bombarded with ads while checking e-mail, on social media and elsewhere designed to trigger our impulse to purchase on a whim.  Temptation to consume is everywhere.  But for the small business owner, being mindful of discretionary spending is especially important; the consequences of personal finance habits can have a big impact on their business aspirations.

Debt & Delay

According to the 50/30/20 rule, 30% of your income should be allotted for discretionary spending.

098689848723_2A disheartening consequence of having unmanageable “bad” debt is delay in attaining goals and dreams.  Bad debt is debt acquired for things that have no real value.  (Good debt is that which is acquired for things that we can use to increase our net worth today that could also continue to provide resources in the future; for example, a home mortgage.)  Money diverted toward paying the monthly interest on balances carried forward on credit cards represents an opportunity cost both in the moment and the near future.  This is especially true for entrepreneurs.  Access to capital is essential to start and grow a business.  Many entrepreneurs will apply for a bank loan and solicit investors for this purpose.  After loan officers and investors read the business plan, they will want to assess the owner’s financial credibility.  They may look at the credit report and bank accounts among other things, and usually require that the owner have some “skin in the game” to share in the risk (a certain percentage of the loan amount.)  The amount of his/her own cash and/or assets that the owner is expected to have invested in the business could be sizable.  Besides that, business owners always need a cushion for unforeseen hits to their budgets.   Even the most motivated entrepreneur with the best ideas can have trouble getting their business off the ground due to perpetual financial constraints.  An entrepreneur can spin his wheels for years and years, missing out on opportunities and delaying plans, due to large amounts of avoidable debt.

Unmanageable, avoidable, high-interest debt can cause delay in living as well.  We probably all have a wish list of things we’d like to do and things we’d like to see.  Travel pages on Instagram are some of the most popular on the platform.  They portray idyllic destinations both abroad and at home and we can just picture ourselves on that beach or walking those shop-lined streets.  A nice trip to Morocco, Tanzania, Singapore or Brazil can cost thousands.  But most Americans have less than $500 in their savings account.  People put off weddings until enough money is saved to have the kind of wedding they would like.  In so many areas we delay living our lives to work for money to pay debt.

Or as soon as we pay debt off or down we begin the cycle again.  When we don’t have the cash to do and have the things we want we often turn back to our credit cards.  When we in the habit of using credit there is always something else for which to use it.  If we cannot save or save less than we should, we remain cash-poor and resort to credit once again.

2017 is the year to end this vicious cycle of debt and delay!  It will require discipline, planning and keeping our long-term vision in focus.

There are behaviors to void and behaviors to embrace:

  AVOID                                                                  EMBRACE

Impulse buying/Giving in to temptation                     Delayed gratification

Using credit cards                                                                 Paying with cash

Lending money you can’t afford to not get back      Paying Yourself First

Scrambling for money in an emergency                       Building an Emergency Fund

Spending Every Penny                                                      Saving 10-20% of Income

Redundancy                                                                          Reusing/Recycling/Repurposing

Spending for unnecessary things                                  Spending for experiences

Expensive outings with friends & family                    Free to low-cost events

Delayed Gratification:  Do you have a closet full of clothes that you hardly ever wear?  A house full of belongings you hardly ever use?  You were probably excited to buy them.  But you got over it quickly.  If we choose to take the time to save the cash for a purchase instead of whipping out the credit card, after a while that item may not seem as desirable.

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Credit Cards:  Take a look at the interest payment you make on each card every month.  Have you ever added them up? Get a monthly total of interest you pay to make it viscerally clear how much your debt is actually costing you; money that you are not able to invest into your future. Remember this feeling every time you consider using a credit card to buy something you don’t need or could put off until you have the cash.

And have $1,000 saved before attacking your debt.

Lending Money You Can’t Afford to Get Back:  Judge Judy would be out of business if people would say “no” to friends and family who ask them to borrow money that they cannot afford to lend.  Such a loan is really a gift by another name.  A generous spirit is beautiful, but it should not cause you stress and damage your relationships.  Part of becoming successful is knowing when to say “no.”

Scrambling For Money In An Emergency:  On the other hand, it doesn’t feel good when you have to resort to asking family and friends for money to bail you out in a pinch.  Things happen.  There’s no shame in needing and asking for help.  Sometimes it’s unavoidable.  The best thing to do is save as much as possible when times are good, not spend it all.  An emergency fund should be at least three, but ideally six, months of living expenses.  Start where you are towards a specific target based on a realistic idea of how much you live on every month.  But strive to consistently save 20% of your net income (after taxes), before spending or paying bills. Visit www.bankrate.com to compare savings account interest rates.  I like Barclay’s.

Don’t neglect to invest – and I don’t mean CD’s!

200520930-001Redundancy:  As stated above, many of us have lots of stuff we don’t use and eventually forget about.  It is good to take an inventory of those junk drawers and crowded basements to avoid re-purchasing items we need down the road for a project or errand that pops us.  Otherwise try to sell excess belongings, especially duplicates, on auction sites like ebay, apps like 5miles, or sites like craigslist.

Spending On Unnecessary Things:  A lot of times when we shop, especially women, it can feed a need for satisfaction, accomplishment or escapism.  How about putting that money and effort toward investing in experiences?  Concerts, art shows, international travel, charity, lessons to learn a skill or develop a talent.  Good experiences that allow us to de-stress, meet new people, learn new things and really LIVE can satisfy the same needs while also allowing us to grow as individuals.

Expensive Outings:  I have a small group of girlfriends that I love spending time with.  We schedule regular outings to eat, go to cultural events and hang out.  I found myself spending much more than I would intend to and promising myself that the next time I will stick to a budget.  In 2017 I am going to be more disciplined about this.  Being honest with my friends about my need to reign in spending will help me to keep focused.  I have a specific saving and investing goal for the year and I am going to be ruthless in achieving it.

It can be challenging for entrepreneurs to remain motivated and inspired.  The things of life can distract us and make our dreams seem farther and farther out of reach.  Controlling spending and debt can help to secure some peace of mind and allow us to leap forward when the right opportunity comes about.