Sunday, July 20, 2014

5 Experiments for Money Management

We're in a series @ The Park Church called "Wipeout: the things that wipe out our relationships." Topics have included conflict, sex, selfishness and, yes, money. Money is the #1 source of conflict in marriages. It can destroy any relationship if not handled well or it can be a tool to help feed the relationship of necessary nutrients.

One of the ways we grow as human beings is to try experiments. A short-term mission trip is a great experiment that everyone should do at least once in life. It takes you out of your comfort zone, which opens your heart to things you would not otherwise notice. I've done experiments with prayer to grow my prayer life. I've experimented with Facebook, cutting it off for months at a time, only then realizing how much time I spent on it.

Without experiments we end up in a rut and can mistake the edge of the rut for the horizon. If we do that with money it will too late by the time we realize it and our relationships will wipe out.

Here are 5 experiments in the realm of money that can help any individual or family with to manage money better.

1 Stop all credit cards for one month. Credit card debt is a killer for managing money well. Statements are excellent tools for tracking expenses but to not pay it off each month is a waste of money. With credit cards we buy things we cannot afford and then keep paying on them so they cost twice as much.

If you have issues with credit cards, I would recommend cutting them up.

2 Give 10% to your church for one month. If you're not already tithing (giving 10%) - the beginning point of generosity - then do an experiment for one month. Debt is a symptom of the heart, it is not a function of cash flow. Change the heart and you'll change your approach to money. I've never met a generous person who had issues with money, barring something like medical bills that could swallow any one's life.

3 Cut out Christmas presents one year. It's a radical experiment in our culture that has turned Christmas into a material holiday. The average family pays for Christmas through the first quarter of the following year. Cut off buying presents, instead send a nice email note with pictures and a message. Or give 25 or 50% of your usual Christmas budget to something like the Live Simply Project and send some cards to loved ones with a message: "This year I gave to the poorest of the poor in your name."

Not only will this experiment help you with money management but it might also help you re-capture the real meaning of the season.

4 Go on a Serve-cation. We've heard of Stay-cations. I'm suggesting using your vacation dollars to serve others, while also having some vacation yourself. Go to the Black Hills of South Dakota for a week, then spend a week serving on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation. Fly to the Grand Canyon and then serve on the Four Corners Reservation. Plan a trip to a great city like Chicago or New York, then connect with a ministry that serves in a soup kitchen. There are hundreds of ways to accomplish this. You might even combine a Serve & Stay-cation by serving meals to the homeless on Thanksgiving Day instead of over-eating on a lavish meal at home.

5 Talk with a trusted friend or a financial advisor and ask this question: "Would you take a look at what I spend money on and suggest ways to trim expenses?" God did not design us to do life on our own. We need people. We thrive in community. There is no way to come up with every way to save on our own. By ourselves we're myopic. Community is God's corrective lenses.

The point of all this is: DO SOMETHING. An inability to control money will mean disaster for relationships. These experiments will open your eyes to new thoughts, new ways and especially it will change your heart. It's the heart that is at the heart of how to handle money.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

5 Questions for a 5-year plan

Compass v. Calendar. It's an image that helps keep me focused. Knowing where I'm going is far more important than how fast I'm are getting there. While the calendar helps with checkpoints and deadlines, if what I'm pushing toward isn't connected to my ultimate goal, then it's only busyness and won't lead to impact.

After a job and location change was announced in my life, I took time to develop a 5-year plan with my accountability partners plus some others I gathered with during that time frame. I wanted to make sure I was thinking well about both present and future. Hopefully you have a financial plan, i.e. at least 3 months savings for emergency, saving for bills like car insurance and repairs, retirement, etc…..

A 5-year plan is no different except it deals with more than just money. For me it helped create focus for my mind, my abilities, my calling and my passions.

I asked 5 key questions that helped me develop my 5-year plan.

1. When am I at my best? Scott Eblin (follow the link for other insights I've noted from him) wrote about this in his book The Next Level. When my life is full of the things that fill my life, it's then that I'm at my best. Only then am I able to perform at the top level, be fully present for others and think most clearly about life. So I developed my list which included: teaching, missions and serving, swim officiating, exercising and reading.

If I'm not spending my time in these activities, I'm not going to have my full energy and I won't be able to be fully present for my family or people I serve.

2. In 5 years I want to be _____________________________. This has to be precise, personal and possible. Paint a clear picture of what that looks like and ask some close friends for an honest opinion whether it's really possible. If you want to be the CEO of a company in 5 years but you don't yet work for that company, well, that's probably not realistic.

From there list out what has to happen to make this a reality. Be detailed about it. I listed out the things I wanted to do, eliminated the unrealistic ones and made the others more precise. For instance, in my exercise portion, one thing I'd like to do is swim in a Master's swim meet and do a 100 free in :55 seconds. 55 @ 55! (Swimming a 100 in :50 while I'm 50 years old is simply not realistic, so I found a goal that will push me but is reachable assuming the body and joints hold together). But I realized, what I really wanted to do was make it back to finals, so I made it more specific, which also means I don't to wait or push for 5 more years. I might be able to do that THIS year.

3. Ask: What do you think I should a) consider doing and b) stop doing or not consider? 
This is a great question that leads to some of the deep change that needs to happen to achieve anything of significance. Having people in your life who will give you this honest feedback is essential. I was fortunate to have 5 of them who loved me and shot straight. They still do today and I'm better for it.

All of us think we're better at some things than we really are. And all of us have dreams and buried thoughts that should be brushed off and pursued. If you don't have these people in your life, then there's part of your 5-year plan.

4. What commitments do I need to keep? This creates the boundaries for the plan. What are my commitments to family? If I've committed to marriage, for instance, then I can't just take a year off to create a new career with the possibility of living with my mom! There are commitments I've already made that limit what I can do or at least the time frame or way I can accomplish a dream.

5. What am I afraid of? In other words, what is keeping me or might keep me from pursuing this plan? Am I afraid to fail? Then ask: What's that all about? I found that naming the fears lessened their power over me. Unspoken fears lurk in the shadows of our lives, playing with our minds and hearts. Looking them in the face spooks them more than us and frees us to pursue our dreams.

What will be happening in your life in 5 years? How will your life be different in 5 years? What needs to change in order for you to accomplish some of your dreams? Maybe start with a bucket list, just a simple list of things you'd like to do. I've got mine and it's fun to check them off.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Passive-Aggressive - spells trouble!

Early last year I was accused or in some ways diagnosed, by a person not qualified or educated to draw such a conclusion, as being passive-aggressive. I had learned enough about receiving feedback that I took note of it.

In that time I came across an article titled 10 Common Passive Aggressive Phrases to Avoid (Psychology Today blog). The authors borrowed a definition that reads this way: "passive aggression is defined as a deliberate and masked way of expressing covert feelings of anger." It involves a range of behaviors designed to get back at another person without him recognizing the underlying anger.

Here is the list and some thoughts I've thought.

1. "I'm Not Mad."

2. "Fine." "Whatever."

3. "I'm Coming!" (as in, I say it but delay the action)

4. "I Didn't Know You Meant Now."

5. "You Just Want Everything to be Perfect."

6. "I Thought You Knew."

7. "Sure, I'd be Happy To." (this is the angry smile)

8. "You've Done so Well for Someone with Your Education Level."

9. "I Was Only Joking"

10. "Why Are You Getting So Upset?"

If you've said many of these, as I have, it doesn't mean you're passive aggressive. Every human being has some tendency in that direction. Most get ahold of it and mature through it. If they become part of our nature, then we really do have a problem. Passive aggression can work in the short-term but long-term it will wipe out relationships. "Passive aggressive leadership" is an oxymoron and a recipe for trouble because it undermines the foundation of human interaction.

If you find yourself saying too many of these phrases too often, what can you do to reduce them? If you find yourself in almost all of them almost all the time, let me just say, you need therapy! Here are two simple thoughts for going beyond your own passive aggressive tendencies that can haunt us all.

1. Be aware of when this happens. I use an acronym, H.A.L.T. It's something addicts find helpful to identify their most troubling situations. Hungry - Angry - Lonely - Tired. Those circumstances will tend to bring out the worst in anyone. I try to stay aware in my own life, realizing that if I'm not well I won't be much help to those I'm seeking to help. Self-care is the first step to being available to others, effective at work and in this case, avoiding passive aggression.

2. Stop taking things personally. This has been a tough one for me and something I'll always need to keep an eye on. The best tool ever shared with me was a Q-TIP which stands for "Quit Taking It Personally." I've shared in-depth about it here: "Q-TIP Posts."

Do you take things personally? Answer this: How are you at receiving feedback that says you need to make some changes? Nobody likes to be told something they did wasn't up to par. Everyone, however, needs to hear about the things that need to step up to a new level both at work and at home. The best response to feedback is, "Thank you."

How do you get beyond passive aggression in your life?

By the way: I asked a neuro-psychologist to look with me into my own passive aggressive tendencies. At the end of that journey he assured me I'm not passive aggressive by diagnosis but I could always be less.