Stop to Smell the Roses and to Take Stock

One of the things that we hear every now and then is the term Stop to smell the roses, I’m not sure if this term is one that is universal or if there are local versions but needless to say the meaning of the term as I understand it is you need to stop every now and then and look at the world around you. We all have such incredibly busy lives that sometimes we go for weeks before we truly realize how much time has past.

This is the time of year when a lot of students go back to school, some for the first time, some to new schools, others just off for another year of schooling. It’s a time that reminds us of the fact that summer (in the Northern Hemisphere) is slowly coming to an end and that fall will be coming. It’s a time of change and its also a time to realize just how much time has past since the summer began. Personally for me the summer has just flown by and it seems like it just started. A lot of time has past and a lot has changed in that time.

In this time of change its really time to stop and smell the roses, to take stock in what’s around me rather than just go through the motions of day to day life. You can very easily fall into a rut with our busy lives. We get up, go to work, come home, eat, relax a little, and often start the process over again. In all of that time do you stop to look at all of the things around you? Did you notice the flock of birds that skittered away as you were walking past them?

Most people, in my opinion, go through live very oblivious to what is around them. They go through the motions of living their lives and they simply don’t notice the time pass. They just keep doing the things they’re doing regardless of their impact, ignoring the changes in the world around them.

If you’ve gotten to this point you’re probably wondering what does this have to do with personal finance? Yes this is a personal finance blog and stopping and taking stock, noticing the changes around you and just seeing the beauty in the world around us is very important. You need to know what’s happening in your finances just as much as you need to know what’s going on everywhere else. If you just go through the motions doing the same things all the time you might not notice the fact that your cashflow is out of whack and you’re spending $1000 a month more than you’re making. This example is something that I’ve recently noticed in my own finances.

Without taking the time to stop and take stock you might not notice something like this. Another thing to consider from taking stock is you can reprioritize your goals and adjust them to fit your current reality rather than when you originally set them. If your goal was to make more money but you’re still doing everything the same way as before and making the same amount as before you need to figure out what changes need to be made.

Finally by stopping to look around you can see how the world is changing; the things that you saw before might be different now, you’ll have a different perspective. Another thing is that the world might have simply changed. Look at the housing market for example, mortgage rates in the US are dropping and the housing market is something that is weighing on the overall economy. If you just did your routine you might miss out on the fact that the housing market is very good if you’re in a position to make an investment.

Knowing your world around you is very important, it helps in all aspects of our lives from our environment, to our work, to our home lives. Unfortunately we are often overloaded with information. Stopping to smell the roses you’ll see what’s important, what’s right, and what impacts you. Slowing down can remove a little of that information overload to help you refocus yourself. And who knows you might actually stop to smell the roses and realize you like something new.

Lack of Motivation and getting it back

Over the past few weeks I’ve suffered from a serious case of writers block. It wasn’t the variety of writer’s block that prevented me from writing entirely but it prevented me from writing really good quality posts. I’ve already indicated I don’t want to post up sub-standard posts and this is exactly the position I found myself in. So the net result was that I wasn’t writing very much. I’m still suffering from this writers block but it’s slowly starting to lift.

Along with the writer’s block I was completely mentally drained and lacking anything that resembled motivation. We all go through these periods of time where we find ourselves just slogging through the day to day of our lives in a bit of a haze. This was August for me. I have managed to eke out a little more get up and go out of myself but I’m not at the state I was at just after our honeymoon. I’m still a bit drained and I could use a vacation (which unfortunately isn’t going to happen just now). Unfortunately this lack of motivation translated into my personal finances as well; I didn’t write down all of my spending at the end of the day but just collected recpits which means the accuracy has gone down a bit.

Thankfully I did start pulling myself out of this funk, I recognized the fact that I was falling into a rut where I really didn’t want to be. I saw things that were just left unattended and not looked at for days where I would have simply just done them. So what did I do? Here are a few things I did:

  1. Came up with a 101 list
  2. Blocked my creative time at the office into chunks
  3. Kept my attitude in check
  4. Looked back at what my goals were
  5. Change up the routine

What the Hell is a 101 list?

Well a few years back I read a book on procrastination and in that book there was a great suggestion on keeping yourself busy, Come up with a list of 101 things that you need to do. The list is supposed to contain both the every day mundane items such as wash the dishes as well as those larger long term goals like visit Japan. I’ve modified this exercise slightly in that I keep it as a running list and I don’t stop at 101. When I’ve completed a task I cross it off the list and as things come up I keep adding them to the list. I’ve been keeping this list on my work laptop so I can access it most of the time and I’ve been trying to keep it update daily.

Blocking Creative time at the OfficeI’m not a creative person in the artistic sense, at least not at the office. But that doesn’t mean that my work isn’t creative. I come up with proposals and architectures to problems which is equally mentally draining in my opinion. So I’ve started blocking time to work on these items, there’s no point in attempting to work on something important with small tasks jumping in and disrupting you. This way I’ve tried to remove the stress of unfinished work.

Keeping your Attitude in Check

This is something that is always important, regardless of your current productivity levels and mood. There will be times when you aren’t really up for something or you don’t agree with what needs to be done. You have to keep your attitude in check or those items will weigh heavily on you stressing you out. Stress is not a good factor when you’re busy and mentally drained. Keeping your attitude in check and yourself upbeat will only help the situation.

Maintained Focus on Goals

Because I’ve been mentally drained and suffering from writers block I didn’t want to stop working on the things that have kept me going (especially on this site). If you’ve been coming here I’ve added a few things and made some minor modifications to the overall site. This isn’t the best use of my time but they are things that I’ve wanted to do for a while. Looking back at the things I wanted to accomplish reminds me what I wanted to do and why I wanted to do those things. It’s a form of motiviating myself. For example when I saw the pile of recipts in my wallet instead of waiting till I got home to put them into my tracking sheet I simply did it on the subway to work. This isn’t the time I normally did something like this but I knew that the evenings weren’t good for me lately.

Change up the Routine

I find that when I’m starting to get into a rut its because I’m doing the same things over and over and over again without any real reason why. Noticing these small routines that keeping me in the rut is a very easy thing that I can do to get out of the funk. If you take the same route to work each day, take a different one. If you eat the same meals at lunch change it up. Hell, take a day off even! Just changing things up can give you that extra perspective that you need.

Overall getting into a funk happens to all of us and we all know our ways out of them. Every person is different and every person will react differently to it. If you fall into a rut you have to recognize it for what it is and do the little things that will slowly get you out of if. You didn’t fall into the rut all at once and chances are you won’t fall back out at once either, the little things matter.

Carnivals to Check out this week

This week I have two of my posts that have been included in Carnivals:

The 114th Carnival of Personal Finance hosted by Trent from The Simple Dollar includes a great intro to the carnival. There’s a lot of great articles this week so definitely go check it out.

The 101st Carnival of Debt Reduction is hosted by Paid Twice; again lots of great articles – I was even chosen as an Editors Pick!.

The Emotional Impact of Debt

Many people ignore the emotional impact of debt but its very real and very powerful. Not knowing how you’re going to pay off all the bills that are due during the course of the month while at the same time finding the money for food and gas. Living paycheck to paycheck for a couple months isn’t the end of the world and happens to most people when they first start out but imaging trying to do it for years and decades at a time, struggling to make ends meet. This has a very profound impact; at least it did on me.

Knowing that you have to juggle payments just to make everything work is never a fun task, you stress about which bills to pay when, which ones you can short pay to leave you enough money for gas so you can keep your job. The job becomes almost like a prison, you can’t leave it regardless of what’s happening. Uncertainty and fear really start to plague you; frustration at the whole situation sets in and if you aren’t careful you can fall into depression. Now it’s not that bad on a regular basis but the long term emotional impact of debt isn’t something that we can just ignore either.

When you’re just out of school, typically you have a few debts and flexibility in your life, but as we get older we inevitably settle down and take on more responsibility such as buying a house, starting and raising a family, or getting married. All of these are examples of the on goings of regular daily life; having to deal with the stress of debt and juggling everything just isn’t fun. If you’re there keep the stress in check because it can consume you and further impact your life.

Another thing about debt and getting out of it slowly is the fact that the light at the end of the tunnel can seem so far away that it makes you wonder why even bother doing anything about it. Knowing that you’re going to be paying off a credit card for 2 or 3 years not being able to spend money on yourself is definitely a motivational killer. The debt drags you down you have to fight to keep yourself above it and moving forward. Every step forward means you’re that much closer to your end goal even if it might be very far away. Taking a step back will often mean you’ll need to take 2 or 3 forward to get back to where you are now.

Struggling with debt is something that many people do every day, they don’t think about the emotional impact it has on them and they just blindly blunder through life (unfortunately too many people do this in general). With no motivation and frustration setting in people just fall into the status quo and just keep at it, shells of what they could have achieved and become. I’m still in debt and slowly getting out of it but I’ve been further in debt where it sapped me of all motivation and backed me into a corner, a shell of what I could have become because of the fear and confinement of my debts. Keep the emotional impact of debt in mind; if you’re aware of it you can build a support structure to make sure it doesn’t drag you down further. Your family and friends have probably been in a similar situation at some point in their lives or might even be there now. Your friends won’t be upset with you if you don’t want to go out because you have no spare money and if they do then really are they friends? Lean on these people when you need a little extra support and remember each step forward is one in the right direction.

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Great Post over at Money, Matter and More Musings

Every morning I skim through my RSS feeds to see if there are any articles that catch my interest. Normally I have about 10-15 posts that have caught my attention and I want to read them. I leave comments on those that I feel I have something to say about but every so often I read a post that really catches my attention. This morning that happened when I read Life is Like A Game of Chess over at Money, Matter, and More Musings. Golbguru compares life to a game of chess and he’s dead on the money! Go Check it out.

Financial Decisions with the Right Information

Since I’ve started this blog and working in general one of the things that I really noticed as an important part of decision making is having all of the necessary information. Without any information you can’t make a good decision and if you’re forced to making a decision you’re guessing more than deciding. With limited information you can at least make a logical guess at the best course of action. This is why I prefer to have as much information as possible before making a decision, especially one with potential financial repercussions.

One of the exercises that I decided to do when I was looking at my cash flow last month was to track each and every expense. This way I can see where my money is going and for what. This experiment was designed to get me as much information about my spending as possible. I knew before I started that I was spending more than I was making and I was living beyond my means. Writing down my expenses in a high level sense confirmed this and could have been used as a starting point to making decisions. Instead of jumping right in, I just tracked my spending for the month. Needless to say I was a little surprised by how far off some of my numbers were.

Now that I have more accurate numbers I can make corrections in my spending that are more likely to take hold than if I were to just guess. Guessing would be a good place to start if you were planning on collecting the expense information and needed to make some cuts right away. Unfortunately this is only part of the story. For example if you think you only spend $500 a month on eating out and you cut back a but hoping to get down to $400 this is a valiant effort, but this effort can be very misleading if in reality you’re spending $800 on eating out. Without a solid informational basis for your starting point you can end up discouraged by the results, I know I have been in the past.

For most people they are either over estimating or underestimating their spending, in both cases the spending picture is inaccurate and can lead to poor budgeting. The good thing is that if you’re at the point where you are trying to accurately tabulate your spending and cash flow you can probably float along for a month doing things the way you were doing before. Use this month to discover exactly where your money is going. Most of the people I know at least pay some attention to their spending, but not very many of them are extremely detailed in where every penny goes. The small expenses for things like soft drinks, bank fees, and things like newspapers really add up quickly. If you were to buy a coffee for $1.50 every day of the month (notice I stayed away from the tastier and more expensive versions of the beverage) you’ll end up spending $45 which is all of a sudden nothing to scoff at. Add a few things like this daily coffee and your budget can very quickly get thrown off its tracks.

With a month of collecting information you might learn that you have a predisposition for that morning coffee or like in my case for eating out for lunch. When I was in school I never really had a love of statistics but I’ve learnt in the working and personal finance world that this data paints a picture of what’s really happening rather than what you think is happening. Rather unfortunately reality and your perception of reality can differ very greatly as I found out last month. Armed with more accurate information you can make adjustments to your spending to bring your back to living within your means or trim your spending to increase your savings.

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Disclosure – How much to reveal

How much information do you willingly give out about yourself? This is a very valid question that changes from person to person. Some people are very open and very comfortable passing out everything and anything about their lives. As you can see on this blog I’ve only created a user account by the name of Matt rather than my full name, which should let you, know I’m holding something back.

Personally I don’t want to divulge everything about my finances and myself but I do want the benefit of sharing my experiences honestly. I believe that I can accomplish this without divulging everything though I am a bit torn about the subject. I was perfectly content putting out my net worth because it doesn’t reflect the details of my spending nor my vices. For example I like to have a drink most nights of the week but I rarely do it to get drunk or as a form of escapism; I simply like having a couple glasses of wine when I get home. Unfortunately with certain behaviors come stigmas that can damage your credibility and your image…. Should I be worried about this? I don’t know but one thing that I do know is for as much as I’m not nearly as concerned about my image specifically I do have to consider my wife who can be impacted by my writing. She might not read the site but if her colleagues or potential employers do then this might have a considerable impact.

Which brings me back to the question of how much information do you share? I’m still in a bit of a mix about this. Every blogger out there has to find their own balance and I think I’m still trying to find mine out though I am a lot closer than I was when I started this blog almost a year ago.

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A Call for Suggestions

Over the past couple days I’ve been puttering around on the blog and I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to make some changes to this blog. I’ve had it pretty much this way since I started writing about a year ago and I think its about time to make some changes and freshen a few things up. And I wanted to get some input from the readers as to what changes and additions you’d like to see on this blog?

I was thinking about changing the design a bit, and restructuring what sections appear where but aside from that what would you as readers like to see? Are there topics that you would like to see covered?

Also I’ll be updating my blogroll so if you’re interested in getting yourself added please let me know! If you have any suggestions leave a comment or send me an email at:

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August Goals

Since my goals for last month turned out quite well and I was happy with the results I think this month I need to make them a little more aggressive. But I have to make sure not to make them too aggressive or risk falling into the trap of guaranteed failure that I’ve hit in the past.

August Goals:

  • Reduce my overall negative cashflow by 10%
  • Increase my net worth by $250
  • Do the research I need to conduct about alternate business idea #1
  • Write a business plan for idea #2
  • Continue to track all of my spending
  • Adjust my budget for September with my spending tracking at the end of the month

All of the goals for this month are very achievable and as you can tell I really want to work on setting up the alternate streams of income. I have two ideas and I need to investigate them before I dive headlong into them. I’d like to achieve both with as little investment on my part as possible.

Is decreasing my negative cashflow by 10% too little or too much? To be perfectly honest with you that is something I’m not sure about. This month is my test to see how much I can cut without impacting my life drastically after which I’ll know what I need to do to bring the cashflow back in line. I know there are more drastic steps I can take to bring everything into line but I want to enjoy my life if I can. I’m not being swallowed by my debt at the moment though if I’m not careful I might be, to that end some drastic measures might be needed. The goal of 10% is a good starting point in my opinion and if it ends up being easy I’ll continue the trend as much as possible. If it turns out to be harder than it looks then I’ll adjust appropriately and look more aggressively for alternate income.

[tags]monthly goals, cashflow, alternate streams of income[/tags]

July Assessment

As I do each month I set some goals for myself in July and I then proceeded to try fulfilling those goals as best I could. Overall I’m quite happy with the goals that I set for myself this month because I managed to look at them all and achieve most of them. The biggest thing that I’m happy with is the fact that I was able to look at my cashflow, create a estimated cashflow for myself and then keep track of all of my spending over the course of the month.

As I write this I haven’t yet completed a budget for next month but I’ve got all the necessary tools to accomplish this and I’ve started assessing my spending numbers from July. I’m taking a new approach to my budgeting in that I’m using actual spending numbers to adjust what I am going to do next month.

The net worth component of my goals was not reached but this is because all the monthly interest charges were added to my balances which brought the overall liabilities total higher by around $300. The other impact to this is the fact that I don’t have a stockpile of cash like I did at the beginning of the month. My liabilities dropped by over $600 which I’m happy with even if my net worth dropped by $689.62 to $14,225.42

The one aspect that I’m not completely satisfied with is the fact that I only started looking and thinking about additional income generating businesses. I’m still planning on doing this but I haven’t made nearly as much headway as I would have liked. I’ve got a couple ideas one of which will need some research and another that will require more planning and an actual business plan. I’m going out of town this weekend and I’m going to take some time to work on the second of these then.

[tags]monthly planning, goals, assessment, spending, cashflow[/tags]