Wednesday, April 23, 2014

healthy financial habits for a happier life

I recently wrote about how money links us to happiness. I explained how it is the common thread that runs throughout all of the components of happiness. It's a hard pill to swallow for some. Yet, once you accept it and learn how to use it to your advantage, your life will feel happier, lighter and more intentional.

Healthy financial habits are a KEY component to happiness. I'm not saying you need to make boatloads of money to be happy. I'm saying that by exercising a few simple, yet powerful tools, your life will open up and be more than just about survival and stress.

When your personal financial life is in order, your stress level reduces, your access to better quality food increases (organic, well-made food is more expensive), your health benefits, you sleep better (no worries of late bills or that huge sum of credit card debt waking you up at night), you don't have to work as much OR you are able to do something you love based on the love of the work and not the pay check. If you don't have to work as much, time is freed up for spending with your family, exercising, leisure, creativity, cooking healthy meals, travel, you name it. And let's not forget, if mama's happy, everyone is happy.

This is what getting your personal financial life in order, looks like:
  1. Make a budget (read "cut costs")
  2. Pay off debt (credit cards, car loans, student loans, even your house).
  3. Save a 12 month emergency fund.
  4. Save for things like travel, activities for the kids, holidays, or simply a rainy day fund.
  5. Fund retirement accounts.
  6. Fund college savings accounts for the kids.
  7. Invest, if you can.
You may be gawking at the screen right now. Simple? These aren't simple! They are once you make them a habit, when you change your thinking about money. When you've made them second nature, it becomes simple to make financial decisions that will only benefit you and your family.

These take time, commitment and courage to face. These take making hard decisions and sacrifice. They can be painful and uncomfortable at first, but believe me, it pays off sooner than you think and your family's happiness will reach a level you never thought possible.

In honor of financial literacy month, I'll be posting more detailed information about getting your financial life in shape, wherever you are in life.

Monday, April 21, 2014

money buys happiness

No one likes to come out and say it. No one wants to look the monster in the face. But not us, not anymore. We are ready to face it and accept it. Let's get into it.

Yup. Of course, you can't walk into Target and grab a box of happiness off the shelf, walk up to the register, hand over your money and take your happiness home. (Although, it does feel like that sometimes, doesn't it?)

More specifically, money is the link between us and happiness.

Today I'd like to break it down for us, so we can better understand the relationship between money and our happiness and the happiness of our families, in celebration of financial literacy month.

Happiness is different for everyone but is made up of largely the same components, in varying proportions.
  • Personal Finance
  • Health (both physical and mental)
  • Relationships (friends and family)
  • Career
  • Education
  • Leisure
  • Home
  • Autonomy
  • Time
  • Spirituality
  • Creative Outlet
I put personal finance at the top because it controls (benefits/prevents) most every item in the list. Let's think about it a little deeper.

You have a boatload of debt, stress levels sky rocket, you stress eat, gain weight and have no time to workout or grab healthy food because you have to work more to pay down that debt. The poor choices made racking up that debt is now affecting your health, time with your family and even relationships. Maybe you have to live in cheaper housing and your kids aren't getting the best education. Maybe you desperately want to stay home with your little ones and your guilt is adding more stress. Maybe your blood pressure is too high and now your on medication. Maybe you simply want to take a vacation with your family but you think it's just not in the cards for you, no matter how hard you work. 

The situations are endless, spread for and wide. Money effects most everything in your life. This also means the choices you make, the financial habits that you form, control the ultimate level of happiness in your life. Set up healthy financial habits, get your financial life in order, there is no better time to start than now.

Stay tuned for a plan to set these goals in motion. 

Monday, April 14, 2014

where i come from: a lesson in appreciation.

Sheets for curtains, dirty toys litter the sidewalk, a faint smell of smoke blowing by, walls as thin as paper, doors slamming at 2am. Mold and rust gather around the tub, remember to keep the door locked, locked good and tight at all times and don't answer if someone knocks, hide and keep quiet. Rooms sparsely furnished with hand me downs and donations. It's a good day if there's milk in the yellowing refrigerator, if the lights are still on. Waiting for the mail, I hope it arrives today so we can eat. I lay awake at night worrying. I'm 8 years old.

Last week I drove through a neighborhood that reminded me. It brought chills down my spine. I slowed and stared and remembered. My breath caught in my throat, tears just beneath my eyes. Memory after heart breaking memory swept through me. I could hear my mother's voice, smell the smells and feel the tense muscles in my stomach. I remembered the fear.

It was an accident. I took a wrong turn.

Or maybe it was on purpose. Remembering where I came from helped me realize something important. I have lost sight of being thankful and appreciative. I have become so wrapped up in my own world, building my problems up to be something bigger than they really are.

A lot of my stress, complaints and frustrations, well, they are superficial. They pale in comparison to the people living in the neighborhood I stumbled upon or the millions of neighborhoods across the country, across the world just like it. Some can't feed their families or even keep a steady roof over their heads. I sit here frustrated because, oh I don't know, meal planning is so annoying or how I just can't stay on top of laundry and dishes or the 3 year old never makes it into the toilet or how I just don't feel like cooking tonight or my hairstyle is so plain or, gosh, how Pinterest is down.

The experience, driving through that neighborhood, took me roughly by the shoulders, shook me and lifted my chin, telling me to remember where I came from. Remember how I use to cherish that brand new pair of shoes and I'd clean them each evening to keep them looking new because new shoes don't come around very often. To eat slowly and soak in the taste of spaghetti or hamburger helper. Or. Or! That book I found at a garage sale and my mom said I could spend a dollar on it.

My appreciation has been lost on modern annoyances and swept up in the madness of busy schedules. The enjoyment of small achievements and moments lost in the grumble of dirty dishes and sticky floors.

It's time to step back. Step back and let the chaos float on without us. To be appreciative and thankful and gracious. To teach these things to our children. To see, really see, how good we have it.

So what if there is not a mountain of gifts under the tree at Christmas? So what if birthday's aren't celebrated each year with events that swallow up the moment? So what if our homes are modestly furnished and our cars are last decade's models covered in cookie crumbs and finger prints?

I come from a place where hope is sometimes the only thing a person has to hold on to. A place where food is cherished and appreciation is placed on people and moments, not things.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

10 ways to inspire the love reading

The written word is an amazing thing. From a very young age, one of my favorite pastimes is reading. A sequence of letters has the ability to whisk me to a far away place, to see the world through someone else's lens, to learn a lesson, to learn about the past or where the future could go....all through my imagination.

Equally important, reading fosters a love of learning. Sparking the imagination and waking up the thirst for knowledge is a welcomed side effect of loving to read. This thirst will drive them through their studies and into adulthood.

It has been my mission to grow the love of reading in my children.
Here are 10 ideas to inspire the love of reading in your children:
  1. Put sturdy board books in his crib at around 6 months. My son would flip through books before falling asleep and then again when he woke up. It relaxed him for bedtime and then let him slowly transition from a sleepy state to being awake.

  2. Make reading part of your bedtime routine. It is a rare thing for us to skip reading before bed.  We all look forward to it and enjoy the snuggling as much as the stories. Start this at a young age. It doesn't matter if she doesn't finish a story or wants to skip ahead, make it part of the routine and as she develops so will her attention span.

  3. Visit the library often. Make a trip to the library part of your weekly outings. Fill up a laundry basket or bag with books. Have reading marathons where you snuggle up together with all your books and read, read, read.

  4. Make stories come to life. Incorporate an activity, a craft, a game or even a food to go along with a book. Act out their favorite parts. Have fun with it and exercise his imagination.

  5. Let him see you read for fun. They want to be like us, they want to do what we do. I think it's important that they see us read from real paper books and not just from our e-readers because they don't know if we are playing games, paying bills or checking Facebook. It's easier to make the connection of true reading when we are holding paper books.

  6.  Build a library at home. I want my kids to live surrounded by books. Gather good books (more educational and thought provoking than not) and store them in a place where kids can reach them whenever they want AND preferably, in the main room so they are always nearby. For me, a home stocked with books feels comforting, inviting, creative and open-ended.

  7. Give books as gifts. Birthdays, Christmas, Hanukkah, Easter, Halloween or just because. I'd rather have books lying around than toys, anyway!

  8. Have books nearby. In the car, at the grocery store, at the doctor's office, on the airplane, on the potty, anywhere, have a book on hand for entertainment and conversation.

  9. Go to story time. Many bookstores have them and the library has them. They are typically free and a lot of fun. The kids get to listen to someone else read a story, with their props and animation, then they get to sing songs and dance. My boy is always in the front row.

  10.  Read my post "How to Read to a Toddler". It provides ideas for how to interact throughout a story and keep their attention. You can read the same story 100 times and do it differently each time. Get creative!
It absolutely warms my heart when I discover my 3 year old in his room surrounded by a sea of books or in the living room, sitting right next to the book shelf, immersed in a book.

It's a gift we can all give our kids.

Happy reading!

Monday, March 10, 2014

wear, read, watch

wear: this watch, this watch! It's a tad bit pricey but worth every penny. It goes with everything and looks so classic. I often use it as my only accessory. Watch perfection.

read: it's a must, must, must that you read this. It's making me think in ways I never, ever considered. Opening my brain up to possibilities and reminding me that limits are self inflicted. It's pure adventure with intention.
watch: I am on a TED talk kick right now, devouring a talk every time I get in the car.  This one struck me particularly deep. Something that I experience EVERY DAY. Something that keeps me from making connections or showing my true self.