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On Frugality and Money

The Essential Money Survival Skill

By Rick Kahler CFP®

Someone recently asked me to share my number-one financial tip that would make the greatest impact on a person’s financial well-being. For someone who can speak for hours on the topic, that’s a daunting task. I wanted to quote the late Dick Wagner’s advice to “Spend less, save more, and don’t do anything stupid,” but that sentence contains three tips.

I had to pick one and chose “spend less.” The greatest common denominator of financial success is not talent, IQ, career choices, income, inheritance, investment choices, being in the right place at the right time, or luck. It’s frugality.

Someone who has mastered the art of frugality has an essential survival skill. Their ability to save, to squirrel away money in times of prosperity, enables them to roll with almost any financial calamity. They tend to master their money rather than let money master them.

Frugal people find saving somewhat of a game. They get high off of building savings and finding bargains. They clip coupons, shop sales, and buy generic store brands. They buy used everything whenever possible, especially large ticket items like cars, appliances, and furniture. They do as much home maintenance themselves as is prudent. They rent things they won’t use much rather than buy. They don’t smoke, drink in excess, or do recreational drugs. They cook at home a lot. They pay off credit cards monthly, take on debt carefully, and pay down debt ahead of time, if possible. They find affordable ways to do the things they enjoy.

As frugal people accumulate wealth, they don’t give up their thrifty habits. As an example, I have a client who chose to vacation in Ireland this year. Why? It was a bargain. He got $700 roundtrip tickets by snagging a one-day sale on American Airlines.

Even though the external trappings of frugality are easy to spot, becoming frugal is really an inside job. If you aren’t naturally a saver, it’s not easy to just decide to become frugal. Changing to thrifty habits because you know you “should” doesn’t work any better than just deciding to lose 20 or 60 pounds does. Lifestyle shifts like this take something more than cognition.

To develop frugality you need to change your mindset about and your relationship with money. How do you do that? With intention, persistence, humility, patience, and curiosity.

There are many ways to begin changing your money mindset. I recommend starting with discovering the subconscious beliefs you have about money and how it works. I call these money scripts and have written about them in my books and blog.

Next, you may want to uncover the roots of those money scripts. This involves taking a look at how money was viewed in your family growing up and chronicling the positive and negative life events that have happened in your life. We help clients do this with two exercises called the Money Atom and the Money Egg. Slowly you will see themes emerge that completely explain why frugality is not your strong suit. This understanding is the foundation for change.

It is also valuable to find an accountability partner, someone who is frugal themselves, to be a mentor. This is similar to the Alcoholics Anonymous program’s recommendation to find a sponsor. It’s a tried and true model that produces results. Another option is to look for a financial coach or therapist (check at financialtherapyassociation.org) in your area or available to meet with you online.

Assessment

Becoming frugal doesn’t mean becoming a miser or depriving yourself. It means using your money thoughtfully to support the life you want to live. And it is a mindset you can learn.

Conclusion

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The Dating and Money Conversation for Medical Students

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Honey, We Need to Talk … About Finances!

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® http://www.KahlerFinancial.com

Rick Kahler CFPWe are al aware of the student debt load crisis in this country.

But, one of the challenges at the beginning of a romantic relationship is having “the conversation” about an equally important issue for any couple: money.

Even more so for medical students, interns, residents, nurses, young doctors and medical professionals!

For example:

  1. What is okay to ask a potential partner about money, and when?
  2. How do you bring the subject up without seeming like a braggart, a coldhearted miser, or someone looking for a meal ticket?

There really ought to be some rules of etiquette for exploring this essential topic; something like, “by the sixth date, it’s appropriate to start undressing financially.” Unfortunately, we don’t have such guidelines.

The Money Minefield

Money is a topic fraught with emotional richness. In other words, it’s a minefield. Money is one of the top sources of conflict for couples, so if you’re dating, it’s crucial to learn a potential partner’s earnings, net worth, money habits, and financial beliefs. At the same time, talking specifically about money is so forbidden in our culture that we have no idea how to initiate a conversation about it.

Here are a few suggestions that might help:

1. Figure out your own money beliefs first. Before you even sign up with a dating site or accept your friend’s offer to set you up with her brother-in-law’s second cousin, think about what you want and need financially from a partner. Do you care if someone’s net worth is much higher or lower than yours? Is a certain level of debt a deal-breaker? What lifestyle are you comfortable with?

2. Tell before you ask. Begin with appropriate self-disclosure, in small steps, about your earnings, your long-term financial goals, or your beliefs about debt or spending. See how potential partners react. If they don’t disclose in turn, seem very uncomfortable with the conversation, or have beliefs or money habits much different from yours, you may be seeing red flags.

3. Observe. Watch how people handle money. Are there any patterns around spending or the use of credit cards that seem to indicate either overspending or excessive frugality? Do they throw cash around, or do they leave restaurant tips that Ebenezer Scrooge would be proud of?

Does someone’s home show signs of hoarding or stinginess? (A candlelight dinner of takeout Chinese at a card table is one thing for college students, but quite another for middle-aged professionals.) Do their cars or houses seem poorly maintained? Does their lifestyle seem more lavish than the typical earnings in their career field would support?

4. Listen. Despite the taboo on talking directly about money, we indirectly reveal a lot about our money beliefs by what we say. Notice how dates talk about saving or spending. Do they seem worried about money or reluctant to spend it even on basic needs? Do they seem angry about money or resentful of successful people? Do they boast about financial successes, things they own, or get-rich-quick schemes?

5. Ask. Even if everything else is all moonlight and roses. When you meet someone who seems like “the one,” don’t set aside everything that matters to you about money. Instead, remember how important this issue is to the long-term health of a relationship. Even if you can’t do it gracefully, ask the money questions. Talk frankly about debt, spending, saving for retirement, and each other’s expectations around lifestyles and careers.

Dating Currency

Assessment

Being the one to initiate that difficult money conversation doesn’t mean you’re coldhearted, unromantic, or greedy. It simply means you recognize that money is too important a topic to ignore. When we enter into a romantic relationship, it’s tempting to think that love means not having to talk about money. In truth, love means having the courage to talk about money.

Conclusion

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Developing the Millionaire’s Mindset [Part 2]

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Three More Components

By Rick Kahler MS CFP® http://www.KahlerFinancial.com

Rick Kahler CFPIn a previous ME-P, we looked at the first three components of a millionaire mindset: how to spend like a millionaire by living frugally, budget like a millionaire by putting essentials and savings first, and work like a millionaire by loving what you do and investing in your career.

All three of these are vital habits for anyone wanting to build financial independence and lead a satisfying life. But the millionaire mindset doesn’t stop there. Here are three more aspects of it.

4. Fail like a millionaire

The classic book, The Millionaire Next Door, by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, points out a statistic that initially seems backwards. The average millionaire makes 3.1 major financial, career, or business mishaps in a lifetime. The average non-millionaire makes 1.6 such mistakes.

Why do successful people fail so much more often? They don’t give up. They try again, and again, and again. As Steve Jobs, who had his own failures, said, “I’m convinced that about half of what separates successful entrepreneurs from the non-successful ones is pure perseverance.”

My own observation is that those who succeed also learn from their failures. A millionaire mindset means being willing to take risks, but also being smart enough not to keep making the same mistakes.

5. Network like a millionaire.

Those who succeed in starting businesses, building careers, and accumulating wealth aren’t afraid to ask for help. Millionaires know better than to rely solely on their own expertise. They are experts at building an expansive network of friends and acquaintances that they can turn to for help and advice. They understand that the more people you know, the more access you have to people you can learn from.

This, of course, is only one aspect of networking. Contrary to the projections of “greed” and “selfishness” often thrust upon them by public opinion and the media, successful people are also generous in giving back. The millionaire mindset includes an awareness that no one becomes successful in a vacuum. Millionaires are typically quick to acknowledge those who have helped them. They tend to pay it forward by mentoring, helping others to succeed, and sharing both their money and their wisdom.

6. Think like a millionaire

Having a millionaire mindset does not mean having a life goal of being rich. Millionaires think of money as a tool, not a goal. They don’t value wealth for its own sake. In fact, for many successful people, becoming rich is almost incidental. Their primary focus is succeeding at work they are passionate about.

A millionaire mindset is based on an attitude of gratitude, not one of entitlement. It includes the awareness that experiences and relationships are more valuable than things when it comes to creating sustainable happiness.

Successful millionaires understand that money itself will never give you meaning or make you happy. Yet they also understand that money is important. It is inseparable from our quest for meaning and happiness, because it touches everything we do. Financial planner Dick Wagner calls money “the most powerful and pervasive secular force on the planet.”

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If you are struggling to pay the bills on a meager income, overwhelmed by debt, or living in chronic financial chaos, it’s highly unlikely that you’ll feel fulfilled and satisfied with your life. Money is an essential tool in today’s world, and learning to use that tool wisely is as important as learning the skills required for your career.

Assessment

No matter what direction your life or medical specialty takes you, developing a millionaire mindset will serve you well. It’s a crucial set of values to help you achieve your goals and realize your dreams.

PART ONE: Developing the Millionaire’s Mindset [Part 1]

Conclusion

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What is a Zero-Based Budget?

A Most Cruel – but Needed – Endeavor

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A zero-based budget means you start with the absolute essential expenses and then add-back expenses from there until you run out of money. This is an extremely effective, yet rigorous, exercise for most doctors and medical professionals; and can be used personally or at the office.

Triage and Prioritize

Your first personal financial item should be retirement plan contributions, then your mortgage and other debt payments, and then other required fixed expenses. From the office perspective, the first budget item should be salary expenses for both you and your staff. Operating assets and other big ticket items come next, followed by the more significant items on your net income statement. Some doctors even review their P&L statements quarterly, line by line, in an effort to reduce expenses. Then, you add discretionary personal or business expenses that you have some control over.

More Month than Money

Now, do you run out of money before you reach the end of the month, quarter, or year? Then you better cut back on entertainment at home or that fancy new, but unproven piece of office or medical equipment. This sounds Draconian until you remind yourself that your choice is either (1) entertainment now but no money later or; (2) living a simpler lifestyle now as you invest so you’re able to enjoy yourself at retirement.

Assessment

When you were a young doctor, budgeting may have seemed a task needed far into the future; but at midlife, you are staring retirement right in the face.

Conclusion

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