What Stands Between YOU And The MONEY You Want?

What stands between you and your financial success? In my experience, big life changes happen when you are willing to identify these two things:

1) What do you want money to do for you? Try this: Imagine that your fairy godmother sprinkles magic dust upon you while you sleep tonight. Her magic removes all obstacles from your path and makes everything possible for you. When you wake tomorrow morning, what will you do? Where will you be? Who will be with you? How will you spend your day? How will you spend your money? Describe your ideal day — from the moment you wake up until the moment you go to sleep at night. Include your five senses — what do you see, hear, smell, taste, touch?

2) What is holding you back from having your ideal day; your ideal life. Is it money? If so, what is keeping you from having enough? This is very important to pinpoint because you can’t change what you don’t acknowledge. Following is a sampling of the things I hear from my coaching clients and readers. I’ve placed the often heard statements into a readers’ poll. I plan to address the most common obstacles in the future, so please help me by selecting as many options as ring true for you and your situation. (Note: Email and RSS feed subscribers, you’ll need to click through to this blog post to use the embedded poll.) Please add any obstacles, habits, excuses or emotions that I missed into the comments section. Feel free to elaborate about your reactions to this exercise as well. I think this could be a very interesting conversation — thanks for participating!

[poll id=”4″]

What Science Says About Debt and Obesity

This is a guest post written by Matthew Papa, PhD.

The current economic state worldwide has led to an increase in the number of people living in high-income countries who can be considered over-indebted — owing more money than they can repay. While there are many negative factors associated with indebtedness, a new study by Eva Munster and colleagues of Germany, published online in the journal BMC Public Health, found that over-indebtedness is associated with obesity – in fact, people who are over-indebted are more than twice as likely to be obese and almost twice as likely to be overweight as their more financially successful counterparts.

The Study

Traditionally, socioeconomic factors such as education and income, as well as other factors like sex, age, depression, and smoking habits, have been found to have a relationship with weight. This new study was unique in that it specifically examined the relationship between weight and indebtedness, a characteristic rarely used to describe socioeconomic status. Over-indebtedness is defined by the study’s authors as “lack of possible debt redemption in due time due to the relation of income and cost of living after a remarkable cutback in standard of living.”

To conduct the study, Dr. Munster and her colleagues compared the results of two surveys: a study designed to measure the health of 949 over-indebted individuals, and a previous telephone health survey of 8318 individuals representative of the German adult population. Both surveys asked questions about age, sex, income, education, Body Mass Index (BMI – a measure of obesity calculated based on height and weight), smoking, and depression.

The study found a number of interesting relationships with indebtedness. When compared to the general population, the average over-indebted study participant was younger, had less education and income, and a higher incidence of depression, smoking, overweight (BMI ≥ 25), and obesity (BMI ≥ 30). Both men and women were equally likely to be over-indebted.

Aspects other than indebtedness that were found to be related to an increased likelihood of being overweight or obese include being male, being over 40 years old, and suffering from depression. Smokers and those with higher education and income were found to have a decreased likelihood of overweight or obesity.

Over-indebtedness and Obesity

The study found that indebtedness was associated with an increased likelihood of overweight and obesity, even when examined independently of other factors. This means that people who are over-indebted are more likely to be overweight or obese regardless of factors such as income, education, sex, or age – suggesting that over-indebtedness alone can cause obesity.

Why might this be the case? The study’s authors present several possibilities for this relationship between over-indebtedness and obesity. One potential reason is that over-indebted people may be less able to afford healthy food. It is known that, internationally, food that is energy-dense (meaning high in fat, sugar, and calories), is less expensive and more filling than less energy-dense (and healthier) food. For example, for the amount you would spend on a bag of carrots, you can buy a more filling and higher-calorie snack like a Snickers bar.

Another possible reason is the psychological distress faced by those who are over-indebted. Being unable to afford all one’s debts can be stressful and depressing, things that can lead to increased eating for compensation and enjoyment. A number of studies have shown that the majority of people change feeding behaviors when facing stress. Around 40% or more increase and 40% or less decrease their caloric intake during stressful periods, while 20% do not change feeding behavior. Stress also induces secretion of glucocorticoids, which increase motivation for food, and insulin, which promotes food intake and obesity, as mentioned in a recent study by Dr Dellman MF.

Is this a German phenomenon?

Since this study was conducted on a German population, there has been some discussion in the United States’ medical community about whether the results can be generalized to other countries. It is possible that this relationship between over-indebtedness and BMI is a uniquely German phenomenon, but there are also excellent reasons to believe that the study has relevance to other countries such as the United States.

Dr. Emanuela Taioli, a physician at SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York, said of the study: “This result is even more applicable to the U.S., where unhealthy food is currently much cheaper and more affordable than healthy food, and so is water in comparison to sugary drinks. This will have a large impact on the current U.S. obesity problem, now that the proportion of people with debts is increasing.”

On the other hand, Dr. Lewis Kuller of the University of Pittsburgh noted that the findings would be more impressive had the data been collected over time, rather than all at once, asking “Did the individuals gain weight when they lost [their] income [or] job over indebtedness? Or were they already obese, overweight before their economic problems?”

One thing is certain: this carefully conducted scientific study uncovered a significant association between indebtedness and overweight and obesity. The startling finding – that being over-indebted increases a person’s risk of being overweight by almost 100%, and increases their risk of being obese by more than 150% – definitely suggests that over-indebtedness should be considered when looking at risk factors for overweight and obesity.

About the Author: Matt Papa is a postdoctoral fellow and medical researcher at Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO. Concerned about the increasing rate of obesity in the United States and other countries, Matt is interested in sharing the latest relevant scientific information. He is the owner of a WeightLossTriumph, where he provides information on best weight loss programs and offers a Medifast coupon.

Want To Be Rich And Happy? You NEED To Know This…

I’m going to share something with you today that you really need to understand – on a gut level – before you can be rich and happy. Are you ready? Here it is:

Even if you learn ALL there is to know about money (how to make it, save it, invest it), if your relationships with others OR YOURSELF are dysfunctional, you will NEVER reach your full abundance potential.

Years ago, I used to bitch, moan and complain with certain people because it seemed to bring us closer together. Misery likes company, so I sometimes feigned misery so these people would like me. I didn’t want to make anyone feel jealous or envious either, so I talked myself down. It seemed so PC (politically correct).

I learned the hard way that this didn’t do anyone any favors. I curbed this behavior… and I grew wealthy and happy.

I hear from these certain individuals now only when something difficult is occurring in my life. When I’m all smiles and gratitude, I rarely hear a peep from them.

Similarly, a reader suggested that I make some people feel depressed by expressing my satisfaction, gratitude and happiness. He/she said that I should express more humility instead.

Perhaps my blog’s traffic would increase if I discussed the mess my past bookkeeper made of our financial records (and the subsequent late report penalties), the slow down of our construction business during the Great Recession, the exhaustion I feel after two back-to-back colds, or the disturbing mystery behind a missing in-law. We all know that bad news sells. The media is full of tragedy, fear and despair because it works to increase circulation and readership.

But I don’t want to write about bad things, even if it would drive my blog’s traffic to new heights. Sure, bad news sells, but I don’t want to invite that kind of attention. If I focused on hardships, I’d feel like a car wreck on the side of the highway – the type that drivers can’t help but slow down to gawk at (even though we know we’ll get grossed out). I’d be attracting negative thoughts into my mind and people that choose to focus on negativity into my life. No, thanks!

I write to express myself and to share the steps I take to live a fuller, richer, happier life. By doing so, I actively practice my intentions and keep aligned on what is important to me. It brings a higher caliber of relationships into my life, and it gives me the strength to deal with the occasional curve ball thrown my way.

Here are some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned through the University of Hard Knocks:

We become the company we keep. Like attracts like. Be negative and you’ll attract negativity; be positive and you will attract positive relationships into your life.

Limit your exposure to toxic people. We all have them – friends, family or co-workers – that seem hell-bent on bringing us down to their level.  Immunize yourself from their poison by maintaining healthy personal boundaries. Don’t be a martyr, learn to say no. When someone near you behaves badly, don’t engage with them — walk away if you must. Be a positive role model instead. Perhaps you’ll inspire them (when they are personally ready) by modeling a different, healthier attitude.

Envy and jealousy will get you exactly what you don’t want. Acknowledge these feelings, then release them and let go. Compare yourself not to others, but only to your best self.

Don’t be pressured into humility. Definitions of humble include:

  • cause to feel shame; hurt the pride of
  • low or inferior in station or quality
  • marked by meekness or modesty

These definitions don’t fit with a healthy, positive self-esteem, do they?

Choose to use different language. The language you use directs your actions and therefore the path your life takes.

  • Avoid three dirty little words: try, can’t, and but.
  • When someone asks, “how are you?” don’t whine back, “I stepped in dog puke getting out of bed this morning, then I burned my toast, and now I gotta suffer through a dentist appointment…”. Instead, respond with something that is joyfully perfect in your world like, “I just had thee best grilled cheese sandwich for lunch!”

Limit your exposure to mass media. Pull the plug on bad news. Be selective – record uplifting, humorous and educational programs and keep the boob-tube turned off otherwise. I don’t know who was murdered, what poor child was abducted and from where, and who blew up how many people today, and you know what? I don’t want to know!

Focus on the bright side of life. I promise – there is always a bright side! What you think about is what you will get. Practice this skill by keeping a gratitude journal.

Stop looking in the rear view mirror. Live your life from this day forward.

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New Year’s Task List

Yesterday I encouraged you to use the New Year to reflect and proactively plan ahead. Today I’m presenting a list of specific tasks that I refer to this time of year. I keep track of these tasks (and all others throughout the year as well) with a neat online application called Remember The Milk. This application is flexible, customizable, easy to use, and it’s free! Make sure you take advantage of the repeating event feature and the reminders.

Below, I’ve included the items I find relevant for the New Year:


  • Schedule reoccurring family finance meetings and put them on the calendar
  • Reconcile year-end account statements (bank, credit cards, investments)
  • List debt liabilities with current balances, interest rates, minimum repayments, terms, credit limits
  • Check your credit profile and report. Important! AnnualCreditReport.com is the ONLY website you want to use to order your free annual report! Dispute any errors online through each credit bureau.
  • Ask for an interest rate reduction on your credit cards. Be sure to mention if you received a credit card offer in the mail with a lower rate, and threaten to transfer if they won’t negotiate.
  • Compare 2009 actual expenditures with 2009 spending plan
  • Reevaluate your priorities and modify your spending plan accordingly for 2010
  • Update net worth statement: list all assets and all liabilities, subtract liabilities from assets = net worth
  • Fund retirement accounts and HSA (health savings) accounts
  • Rebalance investment allocations
  • Set up automatic bank transfers and automatic bill payments
  • Pursue outstanding credits promised
  • Purge file cabinet: set aside 2009 tax papers, box up 2009 files (label box)
  • Prepare for annual tax return and schedule an appointment with accountant
  • Evaluate and price-compare insurance policies: auto, home, medical, personal liability, disability, term life. (If you have a suitable emergency fund, raise deductibles to save money on premiums.)
  • Evaluate and price-compare services (phone, cable/satellite, banks, credit cards, etc.)
  • Update Will and Medical Directives
  • Take computer data back-ups to off-site safety deposit box
  • Change all passwords (online and off)


  • Install fresh batteries in smoke and CO2 detectors
  • Change furnace filter
  • Clean carpets and furniture coverings
  • Touch up wall paint


  • Purge each room of things you didn’t use in 2009. Sell (I use Craigslist), consign, or donate these items.
  • Sort and label 2009 photos
  • Recycle magazines, newspapers, catalogs and other paper clutter


  • Update 2010 calendar: add birthdays, anniversaries, due dates and reminders. (I use google.com/calendar and set up the reminder feature for each event.)
  • Schedule routine annual exams: wellness, dentist, optometrist


  • Update contact list
  • If you didn’t send a holiday letter, connect with your family and friends by phone, or send an email newsletter and a few photos.
  • Schedule reoccurring date nights with your sweetie and/or kids

Readers. if you notice something I’ve missed — or have an additional suggestion — please include it in the comments section below. I will update this list accordingly. Thanks!

Putting 2009 To Bed and Making New Plans

I love this time of year when the calendar provides a fresh clean slate. Snow falls softly outside my window, the house is quiet, and I am in a reflective mood. I take a look backward at the previous year and evaluate how I spent my time, focus and energy. Then I “archive” it. After putting the past year to bed, I imagine forward into the new year and make note of sparkling new intentions and plans.

You may have noted that I haven’t mentioned the word “resolutions”. For me, that word feels too absolute, confining and final. I like flexibility. I relish the freedom to change my mind about things, and I do change my mind, often. This said, I do like brainstorming, analyzing my options, and setting a course. Without a roadmap, I feel wishy-washy and ineffective. But I need the freedom to detour because I know that if I DON’T WANT to do something, I will procrastinate endlessly, it won’t get done, and I’ll feel crappy about it. On the flip side, when I DO want to do something, I jump in with both feet and get ‘er done. I’ve learned to set my course with intention, then go with the flow.

Here are some questions I like to address this time of year:

What were the highlights of 2009? Create a collage to celebrate and remember. These are the memories you want to carry forward into the new year. Use them as momentum for more.

Lowlights? If this list feels like a dark cloud or is full of disappointments, ceremoniously burn the list after it’s done. You are encouraged to start the new year without this baggage!

Did I accomplish what I intended? If no, why not? Be wary of excuses that hide the truth. For me, excuses usually mean I changed my mind, or didn’t want to do it bad enough. Sometimes it’s because I feared I wouldn’t do it good enough.

What would make me happier? Be concrete and start small: “I want to save money” isn’t nearly as effective as “I will set up an automatic bank transfer from my checking to savings account, every payday, for $100.”

What established habits do I want to keep? Stop?

What do I want to do each and every day for the next 30 days? This time period allows me the opportunity to establish a new habit without feeling confined by it. If I still value this new habit after 30 days, I renew my commitment.

What items do I want to cross off my task list this year?

What would my ideal day look like? Imagine anything is possible. Address every moment: from waking through bedtime, the environment, your relationships, the activities, your emotions.

What news do I want to share in next year’s holiday letter? This is where I address the specific accomplishments I hope to achieve by year’s end. Be specific, and write the letter in present tense, as if it were already true.

Readers, do you make New Year’s Resolutions? Why or why not?

Note: One of my new “each and every day for the next 30 days I will…” commitments is to write for my blog or book every day for at least 20 minutes. Please help me with this endeavor by letting me know (via the comments section or private email) what you’d like me to address. I welcome specific questions.

How To Track Your Expenses

Money flows like water. It can gush like a raging river or drip like an annoying leaky faucet at midnight. If we use this precious resource mindlessly, we face drought. However, if we first observe the ebbs and flows, effective management becomes a simple matter of design. In other words, you NEED to know where your money goes in order to manage the flow. Once you know where your money flows, you can design a realistic budget plan and start making conscious spending choices for your hard-earned dollars.

Create an expense tracking system and establish a routine. January is the perfect month to start. I’ve tracked my expenses for over 15 years. It really doesn’t require a lot of time (~5 to 15 minutes a week). I pay my bookkeeper to do this task for me now and at about $1.25 to $3.75 a week, it’s worth it. If you have kids, this can be an educational task to delegate to them.

Expense tracking options include:

  • save all receipts and file them into large envelopes labeled by expense category
  • write each expenditure under a category column in a ledger book
  • write each expenditure in a pocket-sized spiral-bound notebook (carry it with you when you leave home)
  • use a software spreadsheet like Microsoft Excel or Open Office Calc
  • use a personal finance software program such as Microsoft Money Plus Premium or Quicken.
  • sign up for an online application such as Mint.

While all of the above methods work, I use personal finance software (specifically Microsoft Money Plus Premium because I like their Lifetime Planner tool). Both Microsoft Money and Quicken include a wide range of helpful tools to make personal money management tasks easy. Specific to this particular task of tracking expenses, Microsoft Money Plus Premium and Quicken personal finance software:

  • connect to thousands of banks and update your expense transactions automatically
  • automatically categorize your transactions and compare them to your budget
  • show you exactly where your money is flowing using charts, graphs and reports
  • let you see the big picture or drill down to the details

Four Tips:

  1. Make the most of on-line banking. To make tracking your expenses easy and accurate, pay for everything with a check, debit, or credit card. Check your account often and set up as many automated transactions as possible. (Important Note: If you pay routine expenses by credit card, pay off your account balance in full each month!)
  2. If you must use cash, keep your receipts and enter each transaction into your expense tracking system.
  3. Make it a habit to track your expense transactions regularly. Designate a time weekly for this task and at the end of each month, total the amounts spent by category. In my case, it only takes about 10-20 minutes per week to confirm my automatically downloaded expense transactions and to reconcile my downloaded bank account statements.
  4. Here is a comprehensive list of expense category suggestions. Modify my list to fit your own needs and lifestyle:

    Auto -repairs, gas, insurance, registration, tolls…
    Auto Payments
    Bank Account Fees
    Beauty -hair cuts, manicures, makeup…
    Child Care
    Debt/Loan Payments -create a different account/category for each loan
    Dining Out
    Finance Fees
    Home Improvements/Maintenance/Repairs
    Household Furnishings
    Insurance (Disability)
    Insurance (Health)
    Insurance (Homeowner/Renter)
    Insurance (Life)
    Insurance (Medical)
    Insurance (Personal Liability)
    Liquor/Tobacco -if applicable
    Mass Transportation -bus, train, light rail…
    Medical -everything except health insurance premiums
    Misc -avoid this category as much as possible!
    Mortgage Payments/Rent
    Savings (Education)
    Savings (Emergency Fund)
    Savings (Retirement)
    Savings (Specify Purpose)
    Storage Unit
    Subscriptions, Books, Software
    Taxes (Federal, State, Local)
    Tax Preparation Fees
    Toys (purchase, repair, insure) -includes boats, electronics, bikes, jewelry…
    Utilities (Electric)
    Utilities (Gas)
    Utilities (Internet)
    Utilities (Misc)
    Utilities (Telephone)
    Utilities (Trash)
    Utilities (TV Programing)
    Utilities (Water)

Questions for readers: Where does most of your money go? If you currently track your expenditures, what method do you use?

Seriously, If You Don’t Have The Money, Don’t Buy It!

‘Tis the season for buying, buying, buying. And then, if you’re like the typical consumer, you’ll spend the better part of next year paying, paying, paying for it! My suggestion? If you don’t have the cash set aside specifically for purchasing holiday gifts, then don’t do it. It really is that simple.

I know you worry about what your family and friends will think if you show up empty handed, and I know that your kids might whine for a few minutes on Christmas morning. But there are plenty of ways to enjoy the holiday without expensive gifts. Instead of shopping, spend time together caroling, baking cookies, and spreading good cheer. A cheerful attitude is easier to come by when you aren’t stressed out by spending money you don’t have.

But you say you’ve bought the gifts already? And wrapped them? It’s not too late — unwrap them, return them to the store, and have the cashier put the credit back onto your card. This year, try giving your love instead.

Happy Holidays!

Video: How To Stay Out Of Debt, a funny Saturday Night Live piece starring Steve Martin.
(Email subscribers, you’ll need to visit my website to view the embedded video.)