How To Revolutionize Your Spending Habits

For some, buying with credit is akin to paying with funny-money. You want something, you pull out a plastic card and shazam, you own it. At least that’s what you think… But money, whether earned yesterday or tomorrow, is something we trade our life energy for.

Do you want financial freedom? Then it’s necessary to keep your credit cards (and cash) out of merchant’s hands. Today, I’m sharing a trick that can completely revolutionize your spending habits by changing the way you see the cost of the goodies that merchants want to sell to you.

Here’s the trick: Translate the number of dollars you see printed on a price tag into the number of hours the purchase will require you to work for it. By doing so, you’ll make well-informed decisions regarding what you’re willing to pay for with your irreplaceable life energy.

Do you know how much your net pay is per hour — after all work-related expenses are subtracted? Here’s a cool tool you can use to determine your bottom line: Time Value Calculator.

One of my coaching clients (Sue) earns $60,000 annually. She’s thinking about buying a new car. She’s considering taking on a $400 monthly car payment. Should she do it?

It’s not my place to answer that question for her. But I CAN help her come to her own conclusion by turning dollars into the time she’ll need to work to pay for it. Using the Time Value Calculator, we find that after taxes, commuting, daycare and other work-related expenses are subtracted, Sue’s net pay per hour is $16.07.

Now we take the $400 monthly car payment she’s considering and divide it by $16.07 to find that buying a new car would cost her almost 25 hours of time working EACH MONTH for the next five years.

Translating dollars into time made it easy for Sue to come to her own conclusion. She decided to have her current car professionally cleaned and detailed instead.

I suggested that she write her true hourly wage on a piece of paper and affix it to her credit card and checkbook. Before making any purchase, she would be reminded to divide the sales price by her true hourly wage. Is the item or service worth the hours of work required to pay for it? If so, buy it. If not, walk away.

Let’s look at some other time-price tag examples:

Apple iPod: $250 divided by $16.07 = 16 working hours.
Monthly supply of cigarettes and chewing gum: $200 divided by $16.07 = 12 working hours every month… until you quit!
House payment (PITI and maintenance) = $1600 divided by $16.07 = 100 working hours every month for 30 years.

What’s YOUR number?

Do it – convert your dollars into time. Then spend your money AND your time in accordance with your own personal values and priorities.

CNN Inspire Summit

CNN honored me with an invitation to participate as a featured guest panelist at their Inspire Summit: Women’s Empowerment Conference held at the Turner – Time Warner building in Manhattan last week. The program was moderated by Kyra Phillips, anchor of “CNN Newsroom”, and opened with special guest Whoopi Goldberg.

Eight women (including me) followed Whoopi’s down-to-earth, humorous and entertaining opening to share our stories and humanitarian projects that evening. Our panelist interviews concluded with the L’Oreal Paris Women Of Worth Awards.

Meeting all of these amazing women was such a thrill! Everyone’s dedication towards their special projects and causes was incredibly inspirational. The experience served as a reminder that when we follow our passion, anything is possible.

Here are abbreviated introductions of the women Kyra Phillips (CNN anchor) interviewed in front of a live audience:

Whoopi Goldberg

Whoopi Goldberg, multiple award-winning actress, comedienne, producer and television host, is also well-known for her humanitarian efforts on behalf of children, the homeless, human rights, education, substance abuse and the battle against AIDS. Whoopi is a Goodwill Ambassador to the United Nations.

Incidentally, wearing jeans, a baggy shirt and bright yellow rubber shoes, Whoopi shared why she dresses for comfort rather than high style. In a nutshell, feeling comfortable makes her happy, and when she’s happy, the people around her, in turn, feel more comfortable and happy. Makes perfect sense to me! What else makes Whoopi happy? Toto toilets. I guess you had to be there…

Molly and Carly Houlahan, Hives for Lives

Molly and Carly Houlahan, ages 16 and 14, launched Hives for Lives four years ago when their beloved grandfather died of cancer. These sisters wanted to honor his memory by raising money to find a cure. They raise bees, harvest the honey, then spin, filter and bottle it by hand. Their honey is now being distributed by nine Whole Foods regions and they’ve raised $150,000 towards a cure so far. Way to go, girls!

Patricia Hall, H2O for Life

Patricia Hall, after participating in a variety of volunteer service projects in Africa and witnessing the plight of women and girls caused by lack of water and sanitation, was compelled to bring water projects to schools in third world countries. Patricia is a teacher in Minnesota. H2O for Life was formed in 2007 after overwhelming student response to the first service learning project she initiated in her school. H2O for Life has now grown to over 80 school projects during the current 2008-2009 school year.

Majora Carter, The Majora Carter Group

Majora Carter, a South Bronx native, pursues resources and ideas to improve the quality of life in environmentally challenged communities. She founded Sustainable South Bronx and implemented the Bronx Environmental Stewardship Training program — a green-collar job training and placement system – seeding communities with a skilled workforce that has both a personal and economic stake in their urban environment.

Jessica Flannery, Kiva.org

Jessica Flannery is co-founder of Kiva.org, the world’s first peer-to-peer online microlending website. Kiva makes it possible for internet users to lend money to specific entrepreneurs in developing countries, empowering these individuals to lift themselves out of poverty. Since I pledge my blogging profits as loans to the women I find on Kiva’s website, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to meet one of the masterminds behind this brilliant online organization!

Jen Smith, Millionaire Mommy Next Door

Jen Smith learned to make, save and spend money in ways that she and her family find rewarding. Now financially-free, she’s on a mission to inspire and empower other families through financial education so they too can enjoy the life they want to live. She freely shares her recipe for success, happiness and wealth on her blog. As part of her commitment to our world-wide community, Jen pledges her blogging revenue as 0% microloans, through Kiva.org, to small businesses operated by working, impoverished women in developing countries.

Eve Ensler, Vagina Monologues

Eve Ensler, playwright, performer, feminist and activist, is best known for her play The Vagina Monologues. In 1998, Ensler launched V-Day, a global non profit that has raised over $60 million for women’s anti-violence groups.

Doris “Granny D” Haddock, Political Activist

“Granny D”, at the age of 90, walked across America to rally against the influence of big money in elections. At 94, she ran for U.S. Senate. Since then, she’s given speeches around the country to promote campaign finance reform; specifically, public funding of elections. May I live as long and as strong!

After the Summit event, my family and I stayed in New York City for three additional days to sight-see. I was in NYC during the same week last year when I appeared as a guest on The Montel Williams Show, but this was the first visit for my husband and daughter. Coming from a small western city, Manhattan is an eyeful –- especially for a three-year-old during the holiday season. We rode the (free) ferry past the Statue of Liberty, navigated the subways, ate dim sum in Chinatown, strolled around the historic Seaport Village and enjoyed views of the Brooklyn Bridge, weaved between the tall buildings and narrow streets around Wall St and the NY Stock Exchange, visited the Museum Of The City Of New York, checked email from the magnificent NY public library on Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street (marble, stately columns, European-like painted ceilings, amazing two-story carved wood bookcases), gawked at the ostentatious Christmas display windows and mega-caret diamonds along 5th Ave, stomped on the Big Piano at FAO Schwartz toy store, watched kids get their American Girl dolls dolled up at the store’s “Doll Hair Salon”, dropped in on a Santa convention, rode the carousel at Bryant Park, and saw disturbing pictures of dead people at the International Center of Photography.

What a marvelous trip!

110 Financial Calculators: Fast Answers to Your Money Questions

Have you ever wondered how your salary compares with others in your profession? Do you want to know if it’s better to prepay your mortgage or to invest instead? Are you confused about how to accelerate your debt payoff? Curious what it will take to save your first million dollars?

Today is your lucky day! It doesn’t matter if you flunked math class; you won’t need a graphing calculator, abacus or legal pad. You don’t even need to count your fingers and toes. Simply click on your financial question, enter your numbers, and receive an accurate answer, fast!

I’ve compiled a comprehensive collection — organized by category — of 110 personal finance calculators and helpful tools. They’re free, found online and designed to help you find fast answers to your financial questions.

As they say, knowledge is power so please share this resource page with others and bookmark it to keep it handy!

AUTOS

What is the true cost of car ownership?
This calculator reveals the hidden costs — depreciation, interest on your loan, taxes, fees, insurance premiums, fuel costs, maintenance and repairs — associated with buying, owning and operating a car over a five-year-period.

Your next car, new or used: Which is right for you?
The average used car costs less than half the average new car. It’s no surprise that used cars outsell new cars 3-to-1.

Should I lease or buy my car?
Calculate your monthly payments and your total net cost. By comparing, you can determine which is the better value for you.

How much will the auto lease really cost?
Calculate your payment and more.

Should I get a auto loan or a home equity loan?
Two good reasons to take a look at home equity loans to finance your automobile purchase: Home equity loans often have lower interest rates than auto loans and the interest may be tax deductible.

How long should I keep a vehicle?

Should I finance or pay cash for a vehicle?

What term of vehicle loan should I choose?

Which is better: a rebate or special dealer financing?

Will driving to a cheaper gas station save me money?

BUDGETS, INCOME and SPENDING

How much would my budget reductions be worth if I were to invest them?
Reducing your spending can be worth more than you might think.

How will payroll adjustments affect my take-home pay?
Contributions to a retirement plan, participation in a company-sponsored flexible spending account, change in filing status, or number of allowances claimed could have a direct impact on take-home pay. Use this calculator to help compare your current situation to what-if scenarios.

What is my current cash flow?
Evaluate your personal income and expenses and see if you are running in the red or the black each month.

If I move, how much income will I need to maintain my current standard of living?
Use this cost of living comparison calculator to compare the cost of living between U.S. cities. The information is updated quarterly.

How does my budget compare to others?
Compiled with information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this worksheet tells you how much you’re spending relative to people in the same income bracket.

Where does my money go?
See where your money is being spent and how much you have left to save. Compare your expenditures to targets, which can help identify areas for improvement.

Should my spouse work, too? (View an additional calculation here.)
Are two paychecks worth it? Child-care costs, transportation, work clothes and take-out meals all add up. See what makes sense for you and your family.

How much does it cost to raise a child?
Children are worth their weight in gold — that is, when you add up all the costs. Use this calculator to figure out Junior’s bottom line.

How much allowance might I pay my child?
Find out what your childhood allowance is worth in today’s dollars. Or compute what your kid’s allowance would be worth in any year back to 1913.

BUSINESS

How many and what price must I sell my product at to make a profit?
The breakeven analysis calculator is designed to demonstrate how many units of your product must be sold to make a profit.

What is my business worth?
This Business Valuation Calculator creates a possible market valuation for your business and determines how much your future cash flow is worth today.

Should I lease or buy my business equipment?
The Equipment Buy vs. Lease Calculator evaluates monthly payments and your total net cost. By comparing these amounts, you can determine which is the better value for you.

What is my operating profit percentage?
Operating profit is what’s left from your sales dollar after you’ve deducted your cost of goods sold and your ordinary operating costs. Your operating profit percentage tells you the percentage of your sales that turn into profit.

What are my business financial ratios?
This calculator is designed to show you ten different financial ratios. Financial ratios are used as indicators that allow you to zero in on areas of your business that may need attention such as solvency, liquidity, operational efficiency and profitability.

Should I be a landlord?
Buying a house or duplex to rent isn’t at all like investing in stocks or mutual funds. This is hands-on work that starts with finding a property capable of generating enough rental income to make the transaction pay off. See if the numbers work.

What is the maximum self-employed retirement plan contribution I can make? Determine your maximum contribution amount for a Self-Employed 401(k), SIMPLE IRA and SEP based on the assumptions you input.

COLLEGE

What will it take to save for my child’s college education?
Higher education carries a high price tag. If you want to send your child to college, now is the time to start saving.

How do I calculate my budget as a full-time student?
This calculator is specifically designed to help students understand their expenses and income while attending a university, college or other full-time educational institution. It allows you to input your expenses and income for an eight-month school year.

How much financial aid can I expect for college?
If finances are tight, chances are you’re going to have to rely on some combination of savings, financial aid and student loans.

How do I choose and evaluate my 529 College Savings Plan?
The question isn’t should you invest in a 529 College Savings Plan, but rather, which one?

Should I live on campus, off campus or at home?

Should I go to grad school?
A graduate degree can be the ticket to a better career or the stepping stone to advancement in your current job. But by the time you factor in lost income and the inevitable student loans, is it really worth it? Weigh the actual costs versus the fiscal benefits.

What is the value of higher education?
This calculator takes into effect any increase in expected earnings after you graduate, your estimated education expenses, and any lost earnings during the time you are in school.

COMPARE YOURSELF WITH OTHERS

How does class work? Where do I fit in?
Four commonly used criteria for evaluating a person’s position in society (class) are education, income, occupation and wealth. This interactive graphic tool allows you to access your social class and examines how economic mobility has changed in recent decades.

How does my salary compare with others in my profession?
A free basic report shows national average salaries adjusted by location.

How does my income stack up? What portion of the tax burden do I pay?
Find out how your income stacks up against your fellow citizens.

How does my net worth compare with others?
See where you rank based on your age and income.

How does my budget compare to others?
Compiled with information from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, this worksheet tells you how much you’re spending relative to people in the same income bracket.

How does my savings compare with the national average?
See how much you will have accumulated when you reach age 65 and the national average of 401(k) savings in your age group.

CREDIT CARDS and DEBT MANAGEMENT

Should I consolidate my debt?
The Debt Consolidation Calculator is designed to help determine if debt consolidation is right for you.

How can I accelerate my debt payoff?
Consolidating your debt is only half of the battle. You still need a plan to get your debt paid off.

How do I roll-down my credit card debt?
The Credit Card Roll-down Calculator applies two simple principles to paying off your credit card debt: 1) Payoff your highest interest rate first; 2) When a card balance is paid in full, apply its monthly payment to the card with the next highest interest rate. See how these principles can be applied to your debt to become debt-free.

Is my debt load too high for my income? Am I in financial trouble?
Find out how much you’re paying each month and whether your ratio of debt to income puts you at risk.

Do I have a spending problem?
The ideal spender saves money off the top, covers basic needs, stays out of debt, gives generously to charity and gets real pleasure from planned, prudent purchases. The Savvy Spending Quiz is designed to get you thinking about how you spend money and, perhaps, to bring you closer to the ideal.

What is my credit score?
See your potential credit score range by answering this credit survey.

What is my estimated range of FICO scores?
Answer these ten easy questions and they’ll give you a free estimated range for your three FICO® scores.

How do I find a credit card deal based on the criteria I care about most?
Try the Credit Card Analyzer.

Which is better for me: rebate card or low rate card?

How might a consolidated loan increase my investment balance?
Getting a consolidation loan can do more than payoff your debt. Use this Consolidation Loan Investment Calculator to see the results of paying off your debt and investing your payment savings.

How long will it take to pay off my credit cards if I only make the minimum payments?
Use the Credit Card Minimum Payment Calculator to calculate your debt pay off date.

ESTATE PLANNING

Should I prepare my own will?
This quiz will help you assess your estate planning knowledge so you will have an idea of how much help you need to make sure what actually happens at your death is what you want to happen.

What is my life expectancy?
Your life expectancy is influenced by a number of factors including family history and your personal lifestyle.

What is my estimated estate tax liability?
Estimate your estate tax liability and project the value of your estate, and the associated estate tax, for the next ten years.

GOALS

What goal is most important to me?
The Prioritizer helps you rank a series of goals or options which are most attractive to you.

What will it take to reach my savings goal?
Find out when you’ll reach your goal.

What will it take to save one million dollars?
Find out when your savings plan will make you a millionaire!

HOUSING (RENT and MORTGAGE)

Should I prepay my mortgage? Or should I invest instead?
Compare what would happen if you took one of two choices with some extra cash you have — prepaying your mortgage each month, or investing it instead.

How much home equity will I have?
Estimate your current and future home equity by subtracting the balance on your mortgage from the projected value of your home.

Should I rent or should I buy a home?
Weed through the fees, taxes, monthly payments, home appreciation rates, inflation, future sales commissions, dues and maintenance costs to help you make a wise financial decision. (Note: I calculate 1.5% of the total home value, divide it by 12, and add it to the maintenance field.)

Am I paying too much for rent? Am I charging too little for rent?
Your rent is compared to comparable rental listings by proximity.

Should I be a landlord?
Buying a house or duplex to rent isn’t at all like investing in stocks or mutual funds. This is hands-on work that starts with finding a property capable of generating enough rental income to make the transaction pay off. See if the numbers work.

How much mortgage can I qualify for?
This calculator steps you through the process of finding out how much you can borrow.

What type of mortgage loan is best for me?
Compare mortgage payments and other monthly costs for different mortgage loan types. Get an estimate of the potential tax credit if you itemize and deduct interest on the loan.

Which mortgage loan is the best value?
Use this Loan Comparison Calculator to sort through the monthly payments, fees and other costs associated with getting a new loan. By comparing these important variables side by side, this calculator can help you pick the loan that works best for you.

How do I generate an amortization schedule for my current mortgage?
The Mortgage Loan Calculator calculates your monthly mortgage principal, interest, taxes and insurance payment (PITI) and amortization schedule.

What happens when my adjustable rate mortgage adjusts?
This calculator will help you find your new payment.

Should I refinance my mortgage?
Determine when you would break-even with a mortgage refinance.

Should I pay discount points for a lower interest rate?
You may decide to “buy down the interest rate” by paying extra money up front in the form of discount points. Determine if this might make sense for you.

What is my home’s rate of return?

What is the return on my real estate investment?
Purchase price, loan terms, appreciation rate, taxes, expenses and other factors are considerations when evaluating a real estate investment. Determine your potential IRR (internal rate of return) on a property.

INSURANCE

Do I have the right kind of insurance?
The Insurance Planner evaluates you and your auto, home, health, life and career to make a personalized assessment of your insurance needs.

How much life insurance should I have?
Try the Life Insurance Needs Estimator to find out.

What are my disability insurance needs?
One of the most common causes of income loss is through a disability. While most disabilities cause only temporary loss of income, any income loss can be devastating if you are not financially prepared.

INVESTING

How Much Risk Can I Handle?
This quiz gets you thinking about your attitude toward, and capacity for, risk. It suggests typical investment portfolios based on your answers.

How should I mix stocks, bonds and cash in my investment portfolio?
The Asset Allocator is designed to help you create a balanced portfolio of investments using your age, ability to tolerate risk, and several other factors.

How much will my investment return?
Meeting your long-term investment goal is dependent on your investment capital, rate of return, inflation, taxes and your time horizon. Sort through these factors to determine your bottom line.

What was the Compound Annual Growth Rate (Annualized Return) of the S&P 500 over various time spans?
This calculator lets you find the annualized growth rate of the S&P 500 over the date range you specify; you’ll find that the CAGR is usually about a percent or two less than the simple average.

How can different investment fees impact my investment strategy?
Even a small difference in the fees you are pay on your investments can add up over time.

What will it take to reach my investment goal?
Determine how much your investment might grow before taxes, after taxes, and after taxes and inflation. It also provides suggestions on what to change if your plan doesn’t look like it will meet your investment goal.

How might I use debt to magnify my investment returns?
This Investment Loan calculator helps illustrate the effect of using a loan to purchase an investment or appreciable asset. Using debt as leverage to purchase investments can magnify your return. The downside is that you also increase your risk. For example, if your investment were to lose all of its value you would not only have lost your investment but you would still owe the balance on the loan.

How do I estimate the tax-equivalent yield for a municipal bond?
Income generated from municipal bond coupon payments are not subject to Federal income tax. In addition, if the bond was issued in your state of residence, you can also avoid state income taxes. Use this Municipal Bond Tax Equivalent Yield calculator to determine the yield required by a fully taxable bond to earn the same after tax income as a municipal bond.

How do taxes affect investments?
This Taxable vs. Tax Advantaged Investments calculator is designed to help compare a normal taxable investment, a tax deferred investment and tax-free investment.

Should I invest? Or should I prepay my mortgage instead?
This calculator allows you to compare what would happen if you took one of two choices with some extra cash you have — prepaying your mortgage each month, or investing it instead.

Which online broker is best for me?
How do you choose an online broker? The answer comes down to your priorities and what type of investor you are.

Should I be a landlord?
Buying a house or duplex to rent isn’t at all like investing in stocks or mutual funds. This is hands-on work that starts with finding a property capable of generating enough rental income to make the transaction pay off. See if the numbers work.

LOANS

How much loan can I qualify for?
Use this Loan Prequalification Calculator as your first step in determining your ability to qualify for a loan.

How much will my loan payment be?
This simple tool calculates a mortgage, car loan, or any other simple interest amortization over a fixed time with fixed monthly payments.

NET WORTH

How much am I worth?
Your net worth is the value of all of your assets, minus the total of all of your liabilities. This calculator helps you determine your net worth and estimates how your net worth could change over the next ten years.

According to The Millionaire Next Door, how wealthy am I?
In the book titled The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko, there is an interesting wealth calculation. See where you stand.

How does my net worth compare with others?
See where you rank based on your age and income.

RETIREMENT

How much will it take to create a secure retirement?
Use this Retirement Nestegg Calculator to help determine what size your retirement nest-egg should be.

How much should I plan to save for retirement?
The charts and calculations will change as you go along, so try a few different numbers and see how different scenarios might play out for you.

Should I convert my regular IRA into a Roth IRA? Which type of IRA is the best choice for me? How much annual income might I have at retirement?

How much retirement income will my savings produce?
Annual savings, expected rate of return and current age impact monthly income during retirement. Will you have enough?

Do I know enough to plan my retirement?
Take this quiz to determine if you’re ready to tackle the task of planning your own retirement.

How might my expenses change after retirement?
The retirement expenses calculator will help you determine how your annual living expenses are likely to change after retirement.

How much might I receive in Social Security?
Use this calculator to help you estimate your Social Security benefits.

How will retirement affect my expenses?

Which savings should be used first?
Determine which accounts you should withdraw from first for income needed during your retirement.

How much money can I save in my 401(k) plan?

401(k): Should I spend it or save it?
Depending on your age and tax bracket, making the wrong decision can cost you thousands of dollars both in taxes and lost earnings. This calculator helps illustrate the difference.

What is the maximum self-employed retirement plan contribution I can make? Determine your maximum contribution amount for a Self-Employed 401(k), SIMPLE IRA and SEP based on the assumptions you input.

SAVINGS

How much money should I stash for emergencies?
Having adequate emergency savings can make unforeseen unemployment, auto repairs, medical emergencies, property damage and legal issues more manageable.

How much can I save by packing my lunch instead of dining out?
Use this calculator to see how a simple change such as bringing a bagged lunch to work can really add up.

What will it take to reach my savings goal?
Find out when you’ll reach your goal.

What will it take to save one million dollars?
Find out when your savings plan may make you a millionaire!

How much would postponing my savings plan cost me?
Waiting to begin your savings plan can have a huge impact on your results. A delay of even a few years could cost you thousands of dollars.

OTHER

What is my time worth?
Most people value their work time in relation to their gross pay, but several expenses should be subtracted. You’ll need some basic information about your spending habits to complete this worksheet.

This basic financial calculator works just like a pocket financial calculator. In addition to the normal calculator arithmetic it can also calculate present value, future value, payments or number or periods.

Currency Converter

Happy People Make More Money

I like to view Thanksgiving as a national celebration of gratitude. Three years ago on Thanksgiving Day, I started a new family tradition: I asked everyone present at the dinner table to share a few things they’re most grateful for and write them down on a colorful leaf cutout. Each year, I ask my friends and family to add another leaf. I adorn our Christmas tree with this colorful gratitude garland. Last Thanksgiving when I asked my then two-year-old daughter to decorate her leaf, she added sparkles and glittery gems. When it came time to help her write her message of gratitude on the back, I asked her, “what makes you happy?”. She replied, “Purple!”. It truly is all of the little things that make life so beautiful.

Since then, our family shares “happy things” during dinner, year ’round. It’s so cool – our daughter looks forward to our evening tradition and usually initiates the daily gratitude conversation.

Over time, I’ve learned something that is so ridiculously simple: that happiness is a choice. Even during intensely difficult times (caring for my mom during her long, debilitating illness and mourning her resulting death, for instance), I realized that I could be happy anyway. It isn’t circumstance that dictates whether I live a happy life — rather, it is a matter of choice. I can succumb to sadness and overwhelm or I can choose to focus on gratitude, love and happiness. I’ve witnessed that by focusing my thoughts on the happy things, rather than those that sadden me or stress me out, I attract more positive circumstances and contentment to my life. This simple act of gratitude literally transforms my experiences.

How do I change my focus? I make it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile widen. I actively search for things to add to my list. By doing so, my focus changes and in turn, so does my mood. It doesn’t always come easy– I’m genetically predisposed to clinical depression. I’ve learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I develop a HABIT of feeling happy.

“In our daily lives, we must see that it is not happiness that makes us grateful, but the gratefulness that makes us happy.”
— Albert Clarke

For the skeptics in the bunch, I’d like to point out that the power of gratitude is PROVEN. Two psychologists say their Research Project on Gratitude and Thanksgiving indicates that gratitude plays a significant role in a person’s sense of well-being:

“The study required several hundred people in three different groups to keep daily diaries. The first group kept a diary of the events that occurred during the day, while the second group recorded their unpleasant experiences. The last group made a daily list of things for which they were grateful.

The results of the study indicated that daily gratitude exercises resulted in higher reported levels of alertness, enthusiasm, determination, optimism and energy. Additionally, the gratitude group experienced less depression and stress, was more likely to help others, exercised more regularly and made more progress toward personal goals. According to the findings, people who feel grateful are also more likely to feel loved. McCollough and Emmons also noted that gratitude encouraged a positive cycle of reciprocal kindness among people since one act of gratitude encourages another.”

Furthermore, happy people MAKE MORE MONEY! Newsweek reports, “although money doesn’t buy happiness, happiness can buy money. Young people who describe themselves as happy typically earn higher incomes, years later, than those who said they were unhappy. It seems that a sense of well-being can make you more productive and more likely to show initiative and other traits that lead to a higher income. Contented people are also more likely to marry and stay married, as well as to be healthy, both of which increase happiness.”

So dear readers, enjoy a HAPPY Thanksgiving! Please share your gratitude for the “happy things” in your life by leaving a comment. Here are a few of mine for today:

tickling my daughter awake
my husband’s laid back attitude
my sister and I putting aside our differences and enjoying the holiday– and one another
my book club friends
learning to play the Marimba
my massage therapist
watching the birds congregate at my birdfeeder
spiced apple cider
you, my reader, for sharing your thoughts with me

Is Your But Too Big?

Do you have a big but problem? You’ll never be successful, happy and wealthy if your but is too big.

Here, let me show you why…

photo credit: flickr.com/photos/86954993@N00/429461958/

“But I have so little to offer.”

“But I’m too scared.”

“But I don’t have anything worthy to offer.”

“But everyone in my life keeps bursting my bubble.”

“But I’m not pretty or skinny enough.”

“But I’m broken.”

“But no one believes in me anymore.”

But I’m a victim

“But I’m a victim.”

“But everyone tells me I can’t do it.”

“But no one loves me.”

“But I’m the ugly one.”

“But I’m too old.”

“But I can’t keep up with all this new-fangled technology.”

“But my life is too complicated and I’m too entangled.”

“But it’s a dog-eat-dog world and I’m terrified of dogs.”

“But my wishes never come true.”

“But I don’t have anything unique to offer.”

“But I’m stuck (in a boring job; in my marriage; in this godforsaken town).”

“But I don’t know where to find what I need.’

“But it takes too much work.”

“But I’m broke.”

“But no one wants to help me.”

“But there’s not enough time.”

“But it’s too complicated.”

BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT BUT !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Please, already…. Shut your big but up!

The next time you hear the “big but” voice in your head, confront it. Put up your dukes and pound it to pieces. Shove those poisonous buts into your garbage disposal and pulverize them. Wash the toxic remains away and watch as they swirl down the drain and become one with the rest of the sewage.

Kick your big but’s a$$.

Until you conquer your “big but” problem, it’ll hold you back and prevent you from achieving success.

Our lives are nothing but the stories we tell ourselves. If you don’t like the story your life has become — tell yourself a better one. Think about all of the things you can do instead of the things you can’t. Start a different internal conversation and you’ll become wealthy in more ways than one.

Imagine the kind of person you want to be and think the thoughts that person would think. Act the way that person would act. Once you start behaving like this person, others will start treating you like that person. You’ll start to believe it. Then it will be true. Then you’ll be open to learn. Open to change. Open to grow. You’ll be ready to allow success, wealth and happiness into your life. Researchers find that an optimistic personal outlook is more than just seeing the bright side of things. Believing in yourself actually produces increases in good health, motivation, and achievement in most people. (Schulman, P. 1999. “Applying Learned Optimism to Increase Sales Productivity”)

Make no excuses. Allow it to happen. If it works for me, then why not you? Your new life will astound you.

(Hey now, I said no more buts!)

How to Find Your Zingers

I attended a writers’ retreat at a scenic guest ranch last weekend and had two days of blissful solitude to dedicate to writing. As the twelve other writers in attendance furiously tapped out world-record word counts, I barely managed to scribble one hundred incomplete sentences.

If it sounds like a serious case of writer’s block, you’d be only partially correct. (I can blame this bout on the grief I experienced recently when I my website was hacked and I realized I would need to start over.) But more importantly, I discovered that I needed the solitude to reflect on more than just my writing.

The ranch was a gorgeous, inspiring place to move in and out of my head. I walked along the river, hiked up into the hills, exchanged warm greetings with the resident furry beings and admired the tranquil beauty of the place. I sat upon a gigantic pancake-flat rock along the river’s edge to watch the birds bathe and preen for so long that my butt froze. My camera accompanied me everywhere and it seemed that everywhere I turned, a picture was begging to be taken. If it’s true that a picture says a thousand words, than I suppose I “wrote” plenty.

Truth is, I’m feeling restless. Early winter always puts me in a bit of a funk. I know that I need a new, engaging project, especially this time of year. My intention is to wake each morning eager to do something that grabs hold of my attention with such vigor that time becomes a non-issue. My life, by intentional design, is open to endless opportunities. And with this blessing comes a seemingly impossible list of options from which to choose. Sometimes the enormity of choice feels overwhelming and I’m tempted to respond with apathy.

When I was a working stiff (meaning that my job wasn’t a good fit for me), I’d hit the snooze button on my alarm clock at least a half dozen times, then make my grumpy commute. At work, I’d watch the wall clock all day, urging the arms to tick forward faster so that I could punch out and make my escape. That was hell. I wasn’t making a living — I was earning a slow death. Once that realization hit, I was no longer willing to participate in that kind of “life”.

One introspective day, I asked myself what I wanted to do when I woke up. “Toss the alarm clock, sleep until I’m done and work at something I love to do, from home, in my pajamas.” the little voice said. I figured out how to make it happen. And I lived. This shift happened only after I could identify what it was I wanted to do.

And this is where I tell you about zingers and the 100 incomplete sentences that I wrote during the retreat this weekend.

My spare words came as a result of a simple ten minute writing exercise. Here’s how it works:

  1. Number the left side of your paper from 1-100.
  2. Write as fast as you can on one topic (see below for topic ideas)
  3. You don’t have to write in complete sentences. Just get it down, even if some of it doesn’t make sense.
  4. Repeats are okay.
  5. Write the list in one sitting. It is the sheer volume of entries that dredges up the information from your subconscious mind.
  6. When you are finished, look for patterns. Usually the first thirty items are pretty obvious to you. The second third often contains repeats, and somewhere in the last 10-20 answers, you’ll find a zinger that surprises you.

Some Ideas for Lists of 100:

100 marketing ideas for my business
100 ways I can make money
100 things I want to do
100 things I’m good at
100 things I’d do if I had the time
100 things I’m grateful for

I chose to write a list of 100 things I want to do. Many of my responses were predictable for me (places to see, ways to be creative, nature appreciation) and some took me completely by surprise (ride a zip line, attend a sand castle contest, stay with a host family in an African tribal village). And then, just as predicted in the instructions, the last dozen were my zingers:

89. hit the road and go wherever we want to go
90. settle in and snuggle
91. see the world
92. wonder
93. feel
94. experience
95. live
96. be awake
97. be amazed
98. feel content
99. find the story
100. tell it.

As soon as these items were out, I knew what I wanted: I envision hitting the road with my family in a cozy, snuggly home-on-wheels and letting curiosity lead our way. I want to experience amazing places and meet amazing people. With a camera in one hand and a pen in the other, I want to find the stories and share them.

Try it. Find your zingers. Live life your way.

How To Increase Your Financial Bliss

Everyone needs food, shelter and clothing. But beyond basic survival needs, there is an endless array of money-hungry possibilities that can consume disposable income. Many let money slip through their fingers without giving much thought to the big picture. We often buy the latest and greatest stuff simply because our neighbors do; so we can keep up with the infamous Jones family. Advertisers, the media and society influence how we spend.

But living according to your own personal values is the key to happiness and financial well-being. Once you’ve mindfully identified what truly makes you tick, your financial decisions can be guided into alignment with your value system. When you live (and spend) true to your values, you are bound to feel fulfilled, content, peaceful and happy.

You may value a beautiful home — so you spend generously on a home purchase and decorating, remodeling and furnishings. I may value freedom, travel and recreation above all else — so I don’t mind living in a more simple home. Perhaps you feel strongly that it’s important to protect the environment — so you’re willing to fork out more moola to purchase a vehicle that operates on alternative fuel. Your neighbor’s priority might be safety — so they drive a large SUV.

On the other hand, perhaps you are unconsciously investing in things that are not as important to you as others are. Financial happiness occurs once you figure out what is important to you and spend accordingly. Evaluating your key priorities provides a beginning structure for your spending plan– a budget that you’ll be enthusiastically motivated and happy to adhere to. Not sure what your top priorities are? Take a good look at your Treasure Map to a Rich Life — it will reveal important clues.

For purposes of illustration, I’m sharing my own list of priorities and values today. It’s been my experience that the ways in which we choose to think directly influences our actual behavior and in turn, our behavior powers our outcome. Therefore, note my choice of words that serve as affirmations such as “I choose to…” rather than “I wish…”.

My List of Priorities and Personal Values:

1. Family Relationships: I value spending quality time with my family each and every day. I choose to spend more time with my family than on any other endeavor, including my career. Therefore, I accept less income in exchange for more free time.

2. Friendships: I choose to have enough free time to nurture, maintain, and enjoy my friends. Again, I choose to trade income for free time.

3. Health: I value strength, energy, and longevity. I choose to take care of my physical self so that I am better equipped to do all of the things that I love to do. Therefore, I gladly trade money for organic foods and weekly massage therapy.

4. Fun: Life is a precious gift meant to be enjoyed. I choose to live an enthusiastic life; to enjoy my relationships, hobbies and interests; to laugh, smile and acknowledge my gratitude daily. Therefore, I choose to be a do-er, not a have-er.

5. Freedom: Freedom from money worries, serious health problems, stress, and time restrictions. I choose to be able to do what I want, when I want, where I want; and to be free from shoulda-coulda-can’t types of thinking. I choose to be free from the need to wake in the morning by the obnoxious bleeping of an alarm clock. Therefore, I choose to be my own boss and set my own hours.

6. Curiosity-Led Learning: I value a lifetime love of learning. I choose to pursue my own interests, and I facilitate the same curiosity-led learning opportunities for my daughter.

7. Environment and Sustainability: I believe that everyone has an individual responsibility to protect our natural resources. I choose a lifestyle that emphasizes sustainability over wasteful consumption. Besides, by owning less stuff, I have more money – and time – to spend on the activities that matter most to me.

8. Community and Compassion: I believe that each individual is an important and integral part of our world-wide community. I choose to feel and act compassionately towards others. Therefore, I am willing to work sans pay (volunteer) for the benefit of others.

When you review and revise your annual spending plan (aka budget), ignore the Joneses. Make sure that your plan reflects your personal values. By mindfully doing so, you’ll likely find that money can buy you happiness!