The Shame of Debt

Money doesn’t make you happy. That’s how the saying goes, and you can’t deny that there’s some truth to it. However, while having lots of money won’t make you happy, having very little is more likely to make you stressed and depressed.  The less you have, the more likely you are to stress over the […]

The Shame of Debt is a post from Pocket Your Dollars.

How to Make Professional Resolutions for 2021 that You'll Actually Keep

New Year's resolutions. According to Inc. Magazine, 60% of us make them. But many of us know that when it comes to actually keeping New Year's resolutions, the odds aren't exactly in our favor. Research shows that, despite our best intentions, only 8% of us accomplish those annual goals we set for ourselves.

If you're anything like me, 2020 has left you hungrier than ever for fresh starts and clean slates.

What keeps us coming back every year? Well, as PsychCentral tells us, it’s partly tradition (we are creatures of habit!) and partly the allure of a fresh start, a clean slate. And let’s be honest, if you're anything like me, 2020 has left you hungrier than ever for fresh starts and clean slates.

That fresh start can apply to your professional life just as easily as it applies to dropping a few pounds, quitting your Starbucks habit, or taking up hot yoga. So, let's talk about some strategies to help you set career resolutions and, most importantly, actually keep them.

Goals versus resolutions

Every year I hear people say “My New Year’s resolution is to lose 20 pounds.” But technically speaking, that’s not a resolution, it’s a goal. It’s an outcome that you either do or don’t achieve.

A New Year's resolution is “a promise that you make to yourself to start doing something good or stop doing something bad on the first day of the year” according to the Cambridge English Dictionary.

Two things I love most about resolutions are that I have a chance to win every day, and I have complete control over my success.

A goal might be to achieve a revenue target, land an interview with someone you admire, or strike up a coveted partnership.

A resolution defines the experience you want to have. It’s about the how not the what. When I think of resolutions, I think of habits that will bring out the best version of myself—something like a promise to plan my day the night before so I'm ready to jump in fresh first thing in the morning.

The two things I love most about resolutions are that I have a chance to win every day, and I have complete control over my success.

4 strategies to help you set (and keep!) professional resolutions

1. Reflect on what you’d like to change

Resolutions begin with an honest look at the year closing behind you. For me, 2020 has had some highs, but on balance, it wasn’t my cutest. There’s a lot I’d love to change next year. And my resolutions focus on a few key areas that live within my locus of control.

There is no shame or blame here; there is only space for reflection.

So where am I choosing to focus? For me, there are three distinct experiences I had this year that I plan not to repeat in the one upcoming.

Overwhelm. That not-so-adorable feeling that the world is sitting on my shoulders—that my clients’ success and my kids’ education and my aging parents’ welfare are all relying on me. Can’t do it again next year.

Reacting from a place of fear. Holding my breath, taking on more work than I know I should because what if the economy doesn’t bounce back? Will not repeat this one in ’21.

Loneliness. Hi, I’m Rachel, and I’m an extrovert! (Here's where all you fellow extroverts respond with, "Hi, Rachel!") If travel and face-to-face meetings won’t be an option for a beat, then I’ve got to be intentional about finding ways to bring more connection into my life.

These three experiences put a damper on my 2020. Note there is no shame or blame here; there is only space for reflection.

Be thoughtful about what aspects of the year felt heavy for you and commit to changing your experience next year.

Maybe your experience of 2020 was grounded in anxiety, or you’ve felt job-insecurity, or maybe just boredom. There are no wrong answers, so be thoughtful about what aspects of the year felt heavy for you and commit to changing your experience next year.

2. Project what "better" would look and feel like

Ask yourself: If these are the experiences I don’t want to have again, what would it feel like to be on the other side?

Here’s what I came up with.

Shedding overwhelm would mean having a clear plan of attack each day. Rather than scrambling and juggling, I’d have a set of daily priorities ensuring clients, kids, mental health, and all significant constituents have what they need from me. The most critical things get done each day, and if nothing else gets done, I’ve still won.

Not feeling reactive and fearful? That will mean a shift in mindset from “What if the market doesn’t need what I offer?” to “How am I evolving my products and solutions to meet the changing needs of the market?”

And finally (sigh …) the loneliness. I talked about this in a quick video on my Modern Mentor page on LinkedIn. I miss the energy I take, the creativity I see triggered by moments of collaboration and brainstorming. It’s that very sense of ideas building on ideas that I want to recreate in 2021.

Now it’s your turn. What would your “better” look like in 2021?

If you’re job-insecure, maybe "better" means adding skills or certifications to your resume. If it’s anxiety you're wrestling with, maybe your “better” includes more self-care and relaxation.

The only wrong answers here are the ones that don’t resonate with you. You’re less likely to stick with a resolution that isn’t personally meaningful.

3.  Define sustainable practices that will move you there

The words “sustainable” and “practices” are key here.

“Lose 20 pounds” doesn’t qualify as a resolution because it’s an outcome you can’t fully control. What you can control are the habits designed to get you there, like eating better or exercising. And if exercising every day feels unsustainable, then shoot for twice a week to start. Make it an easy win for yourself!

I’ll take the three experiences I want to have and translate those into habits and practices I can control.

So how does this translate into the professional realm? I’ll take the three experiences I want to have and translate those into habits and practices I can control. Here’s my working list.

In 2021 I will:

Choose my One Thing

I'll begin each day by identifying the one thing I need to achieve in service of:

  • My kids (Example: Check my 6th grader’s math homework)
  • An existing client (Example: Develop slides for next week’s leadership workshop)
  • My health (Example: Yep, it's a workout!)
  • My business growth (Example: Pitch an article to a big publication)

Once I get all that done, whatever else I do that day is gravy.

Make weekly client connections

I will schedule one call per week with a past or current client for the sole purpose of listening. I won't be there to sell or help, but just to hear what’s on their minds, and what needs they've anticipated for the near future. This will allow me to be more planful and proactive in designing my offerings.

Set up virtual office hours

I will host bi-weekly office hours. I’ll share a Zoom link with a dozen of my friends and colleagues and invite people to pop in … or not. No agenda, no one in charge, just an open space for sharing ideas, challenges, and even some occasional gossip.

Pay attention to the fact that all of these resolutions are within my control. I’m not waiting for circumstances to change, and I’m not holding myself accountable to an outcome, I'm just committing to doing these things.

4. Track and celebrate

And finally, the fun part. Each resolution gets a page of its own in my Bullet Journal, which means lots of colorful checks and boxes! I keep track of how many days or weeks per month I stick with my resolutions. I set small goals for myself, and I give myself little rewards for hitting milestones. My reward might be an afternoon off, an extra hour of Netflix (do not tell the kids!), or an outdoor, socially distanced coffee with a friend. Celebration is so important. It motivates me to repeat the habit and have a better experience.

So there you have my secrets to setting and keeping my resolutions. I would be so grateful if you’d share yours with me on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn. I’d be delighted to be your accountability buddy!

8 Essential Rules for Surviving Financial Hardship

At some point, most people experience an unexpected crisis that shakes their financial world. It could be losing a job, receiving a huge medical bill, or having a car break down at the worst possible time. But surviving a pandemic is a situation you probably never thought you would face.

No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first.

Along with the public health toll, the COVID crisis has put millions of people out of work. For those struggling financially, here are eight critical rules to help you manage money wisely, stretch your resources, and bounce back from this unprecedented health and economic disaster.

8 rules for managing a financial hardship

Here are the details about each rule to manage a financial setback during the coronavirus crisis.

Rule #1: Accept your situation and use your resources to seek help

The key to successfully navigating a financial setback is to be realistic. If you’re in denial and don’t face money troubles head-on, you can quickly compound the damage.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions. Start talking about your challenges with people and professionals you trust, such as a money-savvy family member, financial advisor, legitimate credit counselor, or an attorney.

Instead of focusing on the problem, getting angry, or letting stress overwhelm you, channel your emotions into finding solutions.

The following financial associations have certified volunteers who can offer free help and advice:

  • National Association of Personal Financial Advisors
  • The Financial Planning Association
  • Association for Financial Counseling & Planning Education

Rule #2: Get a bird’s eye view of your finances

To fully understand your situation, create a list of what you own and owe; this is called a net worth statement. Compiling your data in one place helps you evaluate your financial resources, make decisions more efficiently, and have essential information at your fingertips if creditors or advisors ask for it.

First, list your assets: 

  • Cash
  • Investments
  • Retirement accounts
  • Real estate
  • Vehicles 

Then list your liabilities:

  • Mortgage
  • Car loans
  • Student loans
  • Credit card debt

Include the estimated values of your assets, the balances on your debts, and the interest rates you pay for each liability. You could jot down this information on paper, enter it in a computer spreadsheet, or create a report using money management software.

When you subtract your total liabilities from your total assets, you’ve calculated your net worth, which is an indicator of your financial health. It’s not uncommon to have a low or negative net worth when you’re in financial trouble.

RELATED: 10 Things Student Loan Borrowers Should Know About Coronavirus Relief  

Rule #3: Understand your cash flow

An essential part of bouncing back from a financial crisis is keeping an eye on your monthly income and expenses. Create a cash flow statement that lists your expected income and typical expenses, such as rent, utilities, food, prescriptions, transportation, and insurance. Again, you can create this report manually or by using budgeting features in a financial program.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending.

Understanding where your money goes is the only way to prioritize expenses and cut all non-essential spending. Making temporary sacrifices will help you recover as quickly as possible with less long-term damage to your finances.

Rule #4: Shop your essential expenses

As you review your spending, it’s an excellent time to comparison-shop your essential expenses. Evaluate your highest costs first, such as housing, vehicles, and insurance, since they offer the most significant potential savings.

For instance, you may be able to move into a less expensive home, purchase or lease a cheaper vehicle, and shop your auto insurance to find better deals. Ask your utility provider about assistance programs that offer energy-saving improvements at no charge.

Rule #5: Communicate with your creditors

If you haven’t been in contact with your creditors, start a dialog with each one immediately. You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles. Ask them for solutions, such as deferring payments for several months, setting up a reduced payment plan, or refinancing a loan to reduce your financial burden.

You’ll come out ahead and get favorable treatment from creditors if you are proactive and honest about your financial troubles.

Creditors are likely to ask about details regarding your financial situation, so have your net worth and cash flow statements on hand when you speak to them. Be ready to complete any required assistance applications quickly.

Rule #6: Prioritize your debts carefully

Based on guidance from creditors and finance professionals, prioritize your bills and debts carefully. Your goal should be to conserve as much cash as possible without skipping essential payments. Always pay for necessities first: food, prescription drugs, and auto insurance.

Debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized

Use your net worth statement to rank your liabilities from highest to lowest priority. For instance, debts related to child support and legal judgments have severe consequences and should be prioritized. Keeping up with an auto loan is a high priority if you rely on your vehicle for transportation. Federal student loans are in automatic forbearance through September 30, and the relief may get extended through 2020.

Your unsecured debts—medical bills, credit cards, and private student loans—are lower priorities. Never pay these debts ahead of rent, a mortgage, or utilities when you have a cash shortage.

Rule #7: Don’t let collectors force you to make bad decisions

Prioritizing your debts means some may be paid late or not at all. If a debt collector contacts you about a low-priority debt, such as a medical bill or credit card, don’t allow them to persuade you to pay it before your highest priority bills.

Collectors may try various aggressive tactics, such as threatening to sue you or ruin your credit. A lawsuit could take years, and a creditor is more likely to negotiate a settlement with you. Remember that a creditor or collector can’t send you to jail for civil debts.

If you are behind on bills, that fact is likely already reflected on your credit reports. By the time a collector contacts you, the damage is already done, and paying the bill won’t improve your credit in the short-term.

Rule #8: Take advantage of local and federal benefits

If your income and savings have entirely dried up, use these resources to learn more about local and federal benefits.

  • FeedingAmerica.org has a map showing local food banks
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the federal food program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • MakingHomeAffordable.gov can help you find a housing counselor or see if your mortgage is backed by the federal government and qualifies for forbearance
  • Benefits.gov has a questionnaire that helps you discover the benefits you’re eligible for
  • Medicaid.gov is the federal health insurance program you may qualify for based on where you live, your income, and family size
  • Healthcare.gov is the federal health insurance marketplace where you may find plans with substantial subsidies if you earn too much to qualify for Medicaid

Financial challenges can cause you and your family to experience a flood of emotions, including anger, fear, and embarrassment. As difficult as it might be to put a financial crisis into perspective, it’s critical. No matter what challenge you’re facing, you’re not the first. There are millions of people who are dealing with COVID-related financial hardships.

Face the fact that your recovery could take a while. Do everything in your power to manage your budget wisely by getting organized, seeking ways to earn more, and spending less. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from creditors, seek free advice from professionals, and take advantage of every local and federal benefit possible.