Thursday, October 22, 2020

Using Surrender to Move Forward

In last week's article, we discussed accepting the circumstances surrounding our current situation while
maintaining our identities as being separate from those circumstances.  We explored how to recognize the feelings of "being stuck" and how to utilize inspired action to mobilize from that place.  There is so much happening in our current environment lending itself to that feeling that it warrants further exploration.

In my daily life, there are practices that I maintain in order to take care of my being: exercise, meditation, reading, and reflecting.  While I may not complete all four of these items each day, I find that when I do most of these things, I find myself in a state of flow more easily.  Recently, I've been reading a couple of books, one of which is The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.  I am in the final pages of the book, and he is talking about the idea of surrender.  He states that "Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life."  There are words in this sentence that stand out to me: surrender, yielding, and opposing.  The word surrender seems a bit misunderstood at times.  It seems that we perhaps misinterpret it to mean that we are simply giving up on moving forward with something, and yet when I look this word up in the dictionary, it provides a definition as being "to cease resistance."  Generally, if we are in a state of resistance to some circumstance, we are giving entirely too much of our life's energy to something in which we do not want.  To use a popular Abraham Hicks metaphor, that sounds a lot like "swimming upstream."  Eckhart Tolle goes on to suggest that "to surrender is to accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation." One word that stands out to me is "moment."  Again, we've discussed this idea before, but it bears repeating.  A moment is literally the circumstance that is happening in the now.  If we guard our thoughts carefully, we can take care not to give that circumstance a past or a future, and thus we avoid wrapping our identity in something that is simply one tiny blip on the timeline of our lives.  Perhaps the great question is, how can we surrender to our current financial circumstance and allow that to flow into an inspired action that fulfills our desires for the future?

Identify the Financial Condition

There is a financial condition that we've been experiencing over the past several months (the span of Covid-19).  The condition is that our tenants have been unable to pay the rent roughly half of the months since March.  

How to Surrender to the Condition

This isn't the most pleasant condition to be experiencing.  I mean, no one gets into the rental real estate business to not receive payments.  It's okay to allow yourself a moment to recognize that this condition exists in this moment, and that it's not pleasant.  Watch your feelings.  It's okay to notice them.  Do not allow the mind to identify with the feelings that popped up in that moment.  The moment you allow your mind to connect your identity to the emotion you felt temporarily, you have given power to that emotion and to the condition itself; in doing this you give it a future.  If surrendering means to "accept the present moment unconditionally and without reservation," then we must accept that we experience both the situation and the emotion in that exact moment.  Notice, how it doesn't say that you accept the current situation as being from now until forever. That last line was peculiar, wasn't it?  But that's often the way that we operate.  A situation arises at this moment and it is easy to identify with it and a negative emotion and then allow the mind to stew on it, and chew on it, and imagine it into the future.  Tell your mind to stop.  This is counterproductive, and there is a much better use of your brilliant mind than that!  When received the first of several emails about our tenants struggling with the rent, I acknowledged it, discussed it very briefly with my partner, accepted that this circumstance was happening in this moment, and then thought very little about it.

Ask: What are the things that come along with this temporary condition?  

In other words, are there more conditions that automatically flow from the first one?  Remember, part of Eckhart Tolle's description of surrender is "yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life."  So, what else (if anything) is flowing from this situation?  When I considered this, I understood that two more things were true in this moment:  I would have to pay the mortgage myself; also, my income will be lower this year. 

This is where it might pay to peel back the layers of the onion.  There were two things that flowed from the initial condition of my renters not being able to pay the rent: lower income this year and needing to pay the mortgage myself.  If I ask the same question about each of those conditions, "What flows from that?" and add "Is there any potential opportunity buried in there?"  Then I am transitioning from to the initial low feeling place into a higher one.   Raising my vibration with regards to this situation seems like a better way to emerge from it, doesn't it?  There is something inherently more hopeful about looking for a hidden nugget of gold among what appears to be a simple pile of trash.  So, let's see...

Analysis: What flows from paying the mortgage myself?

Well, the first thing that feels really good is that I have the money to make those mortgage payments.  That already lifts my overall emotional state.  But what flows beyond that?  These renters have lived in my property for a few years now, and prior to Covid-19, they'd only ever been late once, and never fully missed a payment.  Furthermore, based on the last inspection the management company performed, they take pretty good care of the place.  This all makes me think they're pretty likely to pay the back rent as per our agreement.  Also, I'm current on the mortgage and everything else.  So, as they increase their monthly rent payments in order to catch up, we'll start experiencing a bit of a windfall.  Money will feel like it's coming through the door more rapidly with nowhere it needs to be applied.  So, we'll have more cash and lots of options!  How great is that?  There seems to be an opportunity here!

Analysis:  What flows from having a lower income this year?

My renters are unlikely to pay this rent all back before the end of this tax year.  So, I can expect a lower tax bill this year as a direct result.  What flows from that?  Most years, I am making estimated quarterly tax payments because of that added rental income.  This year's loss of income means that I don't have to do that (as per the CPA).  I have also been splitting my retirement contributions in two different directions, in part because of the added rental income.

Quick Traditional Personal Finance Lesson:  At my place of employment I have some retirement account options that are traditional: 401k, TDA (tax-deferred annuity), and 457.  These are funded using pre-tax dollars.  If I fund one of these accounts it lowers my taxable income this year, which in turn lowers my tax bill this year.  So, a lot of people like to use this in order to help minimize their tax bills in the current year.  I also have Roth options: Roth 401k and Roth 457.  These are funded with money that I have already paid taxes on.  This means that they will grow tax-free.  Since the taxes were already paid, I won't be taxed when I pull the money out in retirement.  It's kind of like I prepaid the taxes for 70-something-year-old me.  I get super excited about my Roth accounts because they're such an incredible deal!

Currently, 20% of my income goes to retirement accounts at work: 13% into my Roth 401k and 7% into my TDA.  I greatly prefer the Roth 401k, but typically always have a tax bill as a result of the rental property.  So, one of the things I do to minimize it is to put use a traditional retirement account (my TDA) to make my taxable income lower, thus also lowering my tax bill a little.  This year, my tax bill will already be lower because of this situation with my renters.

Side Note:  I often refer to the mind as a drama queen, and suggest pushing it off to the side so as not to allow it to stew on things that you don't want to call into your experience.  I want to take a time out to point out to you that THIS is exactly the place to invite the mind back into the conversation.  This traditional personal finance information is exactly what the mind is designed for.  Your mind can learn it, organize it, sort it, and finally put it to really good use by helping you to apply the applicable parts to your current situation.  

Ask:  Do any of these things breed an internal desire?

This is where you get to the inspired action part!  Your mind did its part, and now you return to your intuition.  What do you feel inspired to do?

Paying the mortgage payment myself has greatly increased my desire to pay it off very quickly.  The urge is becoming tremendous!  I feel as though this is something that we will do within the next few years.  Furthermore, when this financial windfall comes (from the renters making larger payments to reconcile their balance), I have options:  throw it at the mortgage, further pad our savings account, max out our Roth IRAs, or possibly some bridge investing.  I will sit with these options until my intuition kicks in and I feel a sense of peace or inspiration hit me.  With regards to my income being lower this year, I feel really inspired to dial down the contributions on my traditional account (TDA) and ramp up the contributions on my Roth 401k while there's still time this tax year.

So, it seems that I have moved from a place of surrendering to a financial condition in my life to a place where I've found two inspired actions to take and am sitting with a few other options. What financial conditions are you experiencing in this moment?  Can you peel back the layers to find an inspired action that will propel you forward?

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Inspired Action & Becoming Unstuck

The year 2020 has been filled with terror and heartbreak.  It's been wild because it appears that almost everyone is constantly surrounded by it in some form or another.  It's not even just the select few.  It's everywhere.  I know people that have been struggling to pay their rent; lost their jobs; been hospitalized with COVID.  They're feeling paralyzed because of the resistance they're experiencing.

This temporary paralysis is normal.  It's a reaction to fear and confusion.  When things go wrong, resistance will automatically pop up.  Eckhart Tolle stated simply that "Resistance is the mind."  The mind has a tendency to identify with the thing that went wrong.  If we lose a job, it tells us that we "are" jobless.  If it causes us to deplete our savings account or charge up a credit card, it says that we "are" broke.

Stop the Racing Mind

The first step is to stop and recognize the racing mind.  Watch it.  It's very difficult for the mind to keep going if you call attention to what it's doing.  

Accept the Moment

Despite what rhetoric your mind is feeding you, you are not a broken person.  You may not like the current state of your credit card debt.  You might not like the size of your bank account.  You might have been furloughed or even lost your job entirely.  This situation is temporary.  It's like wearing a sweater.  At this moment you are wearing a sweater.  The sweater is not your identity.  If you can somehow manage to accept that this situation is a momentary blip within the span of your life you can accomplish something powerful.  You can disassociate from it; remove it from your identity.  Some people spend their whole lives identifying as "poor" or "broke" or "indebted."  The moment you separate these things from your identity is the moment you regain your power.  

In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle uses an example about a person being stuck in the mud.  He goes on to point out that you wouldn't just resign yourself to being stuck in the mud.  Now what you would do, is recognize that you are temporarily stuck in the mud.  You would also probably recognize that you don't really want to be there.  Where are you now?  Are you somewhere that you'd rather not be?  Have you found yourself running from a mountain of debt?  Working in job that you don't like?  Just recognize that you are in this place at this moment in time.  Don't judge it.  If you judge it you create resistance.  It is only from accepting the fact that you are in this place can you make a plan to get out of it.

Inspired Action

Once you recognize where you are currently; accept that it is your temporary truth, and cease to judge it, you should feel much freer.  Once this feeling of liberation comes, it will open the door of inspiration.  You likely will find yourself have little ideas coming into your mind; little inspirations if you will.  They will poke at you and prod you until you find yourself compelled to act on them.  It won't even really feel like hard work because you will really want to be doing the action.  There will be something that inspires you to do it.  This is inspired action.

I have historically had a tumultuous relationship with full-time employment.  Until the age of 28, I had only had part-time positions.  I would have multiple jobs at once, but none of them were full time.  I loved the variety and freedom.  At the age of 28, I became inspired to apply for (and accept) a full-time job.  Literally one month later, in 2008, the stock market crashed.  I was so grateful to myself because I listened to this little voice that inspired me to become employed on a full-time basis.  In fact, while I've changed companies, states, and positions, I have worked full time pretty much ever since.  In recent years, I've really started longing for the freedom I felt when I worked on a more part-time basis.  When you notice these kinds of feelings, you are standing at a fork in the road.  One path leads to misery.  That is the path of judgment and identification with the situation.  The other path is the one I choose.  I watch the feeling.  By recognizing it, I stop the mind from racing.  I accept that in this season of life, this is what I am doing.  It is not who I am.  It is my current circumstance, and it is what is happening now.  In doing this, I have already set myself free.  I can literally enjoy every day because I know that I am here temporarily.  It's like my life is a cruise vacation.  I am at this port for a time, and then I will float on.  How wonderful is that?  Once, I moved myself into this mental space, such wonderful things started to happen for me.  

I have been finding myself inspired to take a number of actions over the past few years.  I felt inspired to use the Roth 401K plan offered by my employer.  Every few months, I felt inspired to inch up my contribution rate.  I started at 5% and have wiggled it up to 20%.  I felt inspired to save money.  That one was so simple, but I just liked transferring money into our joint savings account as well as my solo account.  So, we keep doing that.  Now, we're prepared to go shopping for a Condo/Coop whenever we feel inspired to do so (haven't felt that quite yet, but we're prepared for it).  I felt inspired to create a plan to pay off our rental, and start my own business.  Both of these plans are underway.

When I step back and look at what my inspired actions have lead to, I realize that they lead me to hitting my CoastFI number in just over two years.  At that point, if I want to work part-time only again, I will.  What's even more beautiful is that I really love my life, even the parts that are difficult because I recognize that they are all temporary components.  Eckhart Tolle spoke about realizing that you're stuck in the mud.  I can't help but wonder if we might really come to appreciate the mud once we realize that it's only temporary.

The real question is: Where are you right now?  Can you work through this process to find your ultimate freedom?


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Couples and Money: Building a Joint Relationship with Money

Part of using Law of Attraction to improve our financial lives lies in the act of evaluating how individual actions make us feel. I utilize an emotional scale, like a thermometer that takes my emotional temperature upon completion of certain activities.  This tool provides me with insight as to which actions are flowing for me, and which ones cause resistance.  This analysis establishes a baseline from which growth can occur.  Only upon establishing this baseline can we begin the journey of enhancing our own relationship with money, allowing abundance to flow more freely into our experience.  But how does this work when operating as a couple?

Establish A Baseline:

Managing finances as a couple is complicated because we each come to the table with our own money story, which results in a variety of strengths and resistances.  The first step is to establish a baseline as an individual.  Both individuals should use the emotional scale to track how they feel when performing certain tasks of a financial nature.  Some examples might include paying a bill, purchasing groceries, paying the mortgage or rent, transferring money into a savings or investment account, reading a statement, or buying something recreationally.  Ideally, each person in the partnership tracks a similar (if not identical) activity.  Only once each person has taken the time to track their feelings individually, should they discuss their findings.  


It's important to realize that a discussion about how individuals feel when they track certain financial activities requires vulnerability and simultaneously compassion.  No one is right.  No one is wrong.  The goal is to move both individuals up the emotional scale, into positive territory, where financial activities are concerned.  Going down the list of activities you tracked, compare, and contrast experiences with your partner.  Are there certain things that you feel similarly about? 

My partner and I both have positive experiences with saving money.  When she transfers money into either our joint savings or her individual one, she experiences empowerment.  When I perform the same action, I experience joy.  While these are two different emotions, they are relatively close, and both have a high and positive rating on the emotion scale.  They are both "north of neutral" so to speak.  In places where we are both having positive feelings about a financial activity, there is no real action that needs to be taken.  It is important, however, to note these things because they can be used as leverage to help in other areas. 

Look for places where you experience the same (or similar) action differently.  Is there a place where one of you has a positive emotion, but one of you has a negative one?  Zoom in on those items.  Remember, right and wrong don't live here.  

In doing this work, my partner and I realized some time ago that we had very different experiences when it came to paying bills.  When I pay bills, I feel empowered.  This is a really high ranking emotion on the emotional scale (side note: if you type "emotional scale" into any search engine you will find a plethora of beautiful visual images that can help you).  As soon as I get paid, I want to immediately pay the bills because it makes me feel empowered to have them taken care of and paid in full.  

At this point, my partner has a positive association with bill paying, but that wasn't always the case.  For her, the act of paying bills used to trigger the feeling of insecurity.  This insecurity relates to her money story.  Historically, in the past, she did not have credit or savings.  If she paid all of the bills immediately, leaving her only $10 sitting in her checking account, she might not have the money to deal with something that pops up. The residue of that previous experience caused a behavior pattern.  She felt more secure with the money literally sitting there until as close to the next payday as possible.  

Now, where does this difference create relational issues?  If the same action (paying bills) that makes me feel empowered, makes her feel insecure, that's a problem.  I'm rushing to get the bills paid so that I can feel empowered, and literally setting her up to feel insecure.  Looking at it from the opposing angle is interesting as well.  If she delays paying bills in order to be on the positive side of the emotional scale (because it makes her feel serene), then I feel a slew of negative emotions: judgmental, insecure, and impatient.  Then I look at her and wonder "why is she dragging her feet on this?"  Next stop?  Conflict.  What's even worse?  It's a lose-lose situation because we weren't on the same page.  Nobody was right, and everyone loses!  Sounds like a terrible game to play, right?

Analysis into Action:

How do we get on the same page?  Logic would suggest that we just pay the bills right away.  If we choose that action, is there some way we can use the information that we collected to move her up the emotional scale when that action is taken?  It turns out, that there is a way!  Two ways in fact!

1.  Eliminate the source of the negative feeling.

If we really dig into this, we can see that it isn't really the bill payments that created her feeling of insecurity.  This feeling came from not having money in her checking account.  After some discussion, we discovered that she always felt safe when there was at least $100 in her checking account.  It seemed mind-blowingly simple.  If we literally pad our checking account by an extra $100 that literally just sits there, my partner avoids a whole slew of negative emotions.  For the low, low cost of $100, we just eliminated the source of the negative emotion in the first place.

2.  Use a feel-good action as leverage.

Do you remember how at the beginning I described for you one of the financial actions that created really high-level positive emotions for both of us?  We both felt really good about transferring money into savings.  She felt empowered.  I felt joy. We decided to borrow some of the high-vibes from this feel-good activity and lend it to the act of paying bills.  At our money meeting, after payday, we immediately take care of any bills that are not on autopayment. After we've done that, we get to push our favorite button, the one to transfer money into the savings account!  Then we both look at the new balance and marvel about how it's never been that high before.  Frankly, we're both too busy feeling good to be bothered about the fact that the electric company just got a share of our paychecks.

It might seem like the solution to an issue we had in the past was ridiculously simple.  In fact, it is simple, but I don't believe we were going to find our way out of it using purely logic.  By using the emotional scale and caring enough about each other's ability to feel good when interacting with our finances, we have not only been able to get on the same page, but also to avoid conflict, and most importantly, build and enhance our joint relationship with our finances.

Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Couples and Money: The Law of Fellowship & Getting on Board

There's a 1950's Americana perspective of personal finance that highlights an image of Dad going out to "bring home the bacon," while Mom stayed home, tending to all things related to children and the home.  Dad was seen as the person that handled the family finances, taking charge of debt repayments, savings, investing, and the like.  Mom's contribution would entail frugality and matters of "home economics."  From this era sprung generations of adults with disconnected views of how money should operate within their relationships. Perhaps in some cases, the roles have reversed with Mom being the clever one with money, and Dad staying out of her way.  Regardless, the theme remains one of disconnection.

I've been with my partner for more than 13 years, and our relationship with money started off in a similar boat.  I was knowledgeable, focused, and determined when it came to our finances, and she was happy to stay out of my way.  In all actuality, she was much less committed to our finances, with the saving grace being that she was at least mildly afraid of doing something with our finances that would upset me. Unfortunately, "being afraid of making a mistake" was also a poor setup, as it already established a pattern of resistance that had taken hold inside of her own relationship with money.  As much as we'd like to, we can't force our partners to be willing to work on their relationship with money.  This has to be something they come to on their own.  What we can do is help them to get there.  We can play a critical role in discovering the "why."

The Law of Fellowship suggests that when two or more people of a similar vibration come together for a shared purpose, their combined energy will be doubled, tripled, or even quadrupled when directed at the attainment of that shared goal. This universal law is used in covens, churches, meditation groups, and yes, even personal finance.  I'm sure you've read stories about how some family of four paid off some insane amount of debt in a super short period of time, or how a couple in their thirties somehow managed to quit their job and travel full time. This didn't happen by accident.  This is a prime example of the power of the Law of Fellowship.  These examples show the power of having a unified vision.

Now, I'm sure a number of you are ready to run into the other room and yell at your partner that they need to "get on the same page" with you about money!  Don't do that!  It doesn't work, I've tried!  But all joking aside, naggings someone isn't an effective strategy if the goal is to get unified.  In fact, it's likely to cause more resistance to the idea than anything.  So what do you do?

Create A Shared Purpose:

I'm probably the only person I know that finds organizing debt payoff strategies, fun.   Most likely, your partner will not be enticed by the idea of simply eliminating a debt or have a savings account.  Those are the actions you want to inspire, but they aren't the inspiration itself if that makes sense.  You need something bigger.  You need a "why" that you both care enough about.  The first step to creating the sense of unity you desire, is to set up a "Dreaming Date."  We have dream dates periodically.  Often times, we have a "living room happy hour" where we pour a glass of wine, have no television on, nothing to distract us, and just talk.  We talk about our dreams.  No limits.  No plan.  This isn't the time for that.  There is no dream too big or too small.  You should plan to go first.  This is the moment to share your dreams fearlessly.  No judgment.  Don't stop yourself midway and announce to the room that you "know it isn't practical."  Just let it flow.  Let your partner jump in if they want to add to your dream.  This often happens; it's co-creating at it's finest.  Ask your partner what they would do if they had no limitations.  I can tell you that at ours we say things like "I want to own a van, and use it to travel across the U.S. and Canada." We might also say "I want to be able to work from anywhere, so we can travel the world."  Everything is fair game. You see, the "Dreaming Date" isn't the place to talk strategy or to develop an action plan.  It's the place to co-create a vision for your future.  The action plan will come later.  

Inspired Action:

The "Dreaming Date" should have you both feeling really good, and that's a good time to say "How can we make some of this happen?"  You may be inspired to start working on one or two of these ideas immediately, or you might find yourselves drawn to several smaller actions that build in the direction of something you discussed.  If you are both drawn to the larger purpose, you will find yourselves inspired to do certain things that build toward it.  The truth is I'm not entirely sure I can tell you the precise moment my partner "got on board," but she did.  I started to notice that I was no longer working alone somewhere after we decided that we wanted to buy our own house.  Something that had come from our dreaming together was a shared desire to live in a home that we owned.  That shared desire inspired her to want to be a part of creating that situation for us.

The Monthly Money Meeting:

Once or twice a month, we have a "Money Meeting."  We make it really nice.  Sometimes we have coffee or tea, some mellow music, but no distractions.  My partner pulls out the pretty little book she uses to document her financial life.  It really is beautiful, and I think somehow that adds to the feeling that this meeting is a time for us to co-create our financial lives for the month.  We have joint accounts, as well as separate ones.  Having her very own savings account that was all hers was instrumental in her transformation into someone that has a positive relationship with money. Her resolve grew as she was able to see small successes along the way, and these Monthly Money Meetings can help with that.  These money meetings are used to give us permission to do things with our money that we really want.  That makes this an exciting time, not "the dreaded bill payday."  Most of our bills are on autopilot, so there's not much to say about that.  

She might say "I went through my credit card.  We put $500 on it for the car rental, gas, and food for that little trip we took.  We also put $200 in grocery delivery on it.  So, I'm transferring $200 from our joint checking to take care of the grocery portion.  I also transferred $50 into the savings for health expenses."

Then, I will add "Okay, I am transferring $500 from the vacation account into joint checking.  You can take that for your credit card too.  I've already transferred our usual amount into the joint savings."

We both get to speak in the manner in which we use our money.  She might suggest that we save even more this month toward a goal, or we might discuss that I've been seriously craving Thai food and that we want to plan for take-out this weekend.  My partner and I have both reached new highs in our individual savings accounts as well as our joint one.  In part, this is due to our ability to work together in organizing our finances at these meetings.  

I must say, my relationship with my partner has probably never been stronger, and her relationship with money has never been stronger.  When I spoke to her about writing this piece, I wanted to know what changed for her. She told me "I had to have a vision, and I had to see my progress."

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

Fear and Money

Since I received word about the passing of one of my heroes, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, I've bounced between denial, devastation, and fear.  I'm a woman that believes in having the right to choose my own path. I am a bisexual that believes I am beautiful just the way I am and that I have the right to be just like everyone else.  That's where the fear creeps in.  My mind likes to play tricks on me, whispering things like "There go your choices... one by one they'll be stripped away."  I chase away the thought, knowing that it doesn't lead to anywhere I want to be.  

This isn't the first time I've experienced fear recently.  I really didn't expect to be forced to teach inside of an actual classroom in the middle of a pandemic.  Frankly, if I really stop and think about it, I experience fear in that scenario as well.  Again, I chase the thought out of my mind.  Allowing myself to stay in a state of fear doesn't attract anything good into my life.  

How do I deal with fear?

Step 1:  Observe your own fear(s)

Rather than allowing my thoughts to keep bringing fear into my experience, it seems like I could put my mind to better use in evaluating the fear itself.  Eckhart Tolle talks a lot about being the ultimate observer of our own feelings as to temper their ability to run wild and cause us unnecessary problems. It feels as if you're outside of yourself, simply watching.  As I observe my own fear, I can't help but notice that the common denominator is the feeling that I will be somehow unsafe in my current environment.

Step 2: Identify any Common Denominators/Sources of Resistance

Upon observing my own feelings, and realizing that "feeling safe/unsafe in my environment" is the common theme and source of resistance that I'm experiencing, I consider, what is the path of least resistance?  In other words, what can I imagine doing that makes me feel better than that?  

Step 3: Consider Actions that Could Move Up the Emotional Scale

With regards to work, I could quit.  I could continue to report to the building and work with other activists to promote a return to remote learning until it's safe.  Lastly, I could apply for a remote accommodation.  Regarding my concerns about the future of the society in which I live, I could stay and fight, or I could move.  Honestly, all of those choices feel considerably better than wallowing in fear.  It also seems like I will bring more light into my life by focusing on the things I might want to choose, and the beautiful thing is that I do get to choose. I might not stay in the building where I work, and I might not continue to live where I always expected I would.

How can my financial plan help maximize my ability to make these choices?

We're just over two years away from being CoastFI, a monumental stop on the journey toward Financial Independence (Full FI).  In two and a half years, I will be vested (meaning I will have secured a pension), and we plan to have our rental property paid off.  These two things, plus the additional 401k, 457, and Roth IRA savings we have will be enough to modestly support us in our traditional retirement, and that assumes that we don't put any more money in retirement accounts (which is unlikely).  The paid off rental property generates enough income to replace almost 50% of my take-home pay.  This could allow me to work part-time if we stay here.  It could also be enough income to allow us entry into another country under a variation of a "pensioner visa" in a number of places.  Will we choose that path?  I don't know, but I do know that I feel powerful having the choice.

I am also in the process of launching a business that will allow us a lot of location freedom, making us at least in part "digital nomads" if we so choose.  A very conservative estimation of the first year of that business suggests that it could replace another 25% of my current take-home pay, with unlimited growth potential once, I am able to take it from "side business" to "primary focus."

Am I grappling with the fear of going back into a physical school building on Monday?  Absolutely.  I am going to focus on moving myself up the emotional scale by doing everything in my own power to advocate for myself, my colleagues, and my students not being in that situation.  Am I legitimately concerned about the direction my country could take? Yes.  The best case scenario is that it all turns out well (by my definition).  If it doesn't turn out well, it'll take a bit of time for those changes to take effect.  So, it is apparent to me that my immediate future plan doesn't really need to change.  We can just keep our eye on the ball.  

As for the distant future?  I always suspected that my partner and I would remain in New York City to retire, or potentially end up on the West Coast again.  While this fear has diminished a bit, it has taught me that we might want to open our minds to other locational possibilities, and in the meantime, continue to pave our own paths to the freedom we desire.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Experiencing Contrast and Coasting to Coast-FI

Everything happening with the reopening of schools has created some serious internal conflict in my life.  Let's be fair, it has created some serious conflict in the lives of many.  In Law of Attraction terms, this inner conflict is also known as resistance.  I am experiencing some resistance.  I have been contractually obligated to return to the building to teach in person.  I care very deeply about my students, colleagues, and administrators, but I also feel that returning to in-person instruction is unsafe.  This is the essence of my conflict, and I am realizing that it is a very important source of contrast in my life.

What is contrast?

In its simplest terms, it's internal conflict.  The term "contrast" is perhaps a bit more specific though because contrast is the distance between where I am, and where I would prefer to be.

Why is contrast important?

The most beautiful thing about contrast is that it highlights that which we truly want.  If everything always felt smooth, we wouldn't have reason to change direction or become inspired to take a new action.  When I look around, and see something that I am unhappy with or feel conflicted over, I understand that it is something that I need to look at further.  It might be indicating to me that there is something I want to do.

Where I am currently: I am obligated to perform my work in a way that doesn't feel good to me because, under this very specific circumstance (not pre-pandemic), it feels unsafe to me.

Where I want to be:  I want to have more freedom of choice.  Simple as that.  

What does this mean?

I would love to move my instruction to virtual space right now, rather than physical.  That might be a temporary desire on my part, but the point is that I would like to have a freedom that doesn't exist in the current circumstance.  Since there is such a distance between where I am currently, and where I would like to be, it begs the question:  How do I get to a place where I have that kind of freedom?

As I've explored this contrast, I've realized that I will probably learn more things about what I really want, and what it is showing me over the coming weeks.  As of right now, it keeps making me think about my finances and an article I read that was written by my friend, Jess of the Fioneers.  

In short, Jess was talking about the concept of Coast-FI, and how it is not only a stop along the journey toward full FI, but also fits in with the Slow-FI movement.  

Let's pause for a quick tutorial.  In case you don't recall, FI stands for "financial independence."  This is the point at which you are no longer required to earn money from working because you have enough income from passive sources to sustain yourself.  Slow-FI, refers to people that are pursuing FI, but also taking their time and using incremental gains in order to improve upon some aspects of their life along the way.  Once you've achieved Coast-FI, it means that you have secured enough money to fund a traditional retirement, and no longer need to be saving toward that goal. At that point, you only need to earn enough money to support your current needs.  

As I read her post and started playing with her groovy little Coast-FI calculator, I realized that we're only a bit over two years away from achieving Coast-FI.  The truth is that this information wasn't really news to me, but somehow the combination of the piece she'd written (and calculator) opened my mind into seeing it a different way.  I realized that as soon as I am confident that 70-year-old me is financially secure, I can stop splitting my focus between "retirement me" and "current me."  The realization that I was such a short period of time away from having my retirement locked in, made a wave of peace and inspiration wash over me.  It's that feeling that helps me to know that I am on the right track.  We don't really have to change our plan of action all that much to become Coast-FI in a couple of years.  Essentially, we can just coast our way there, and focus our attention on developing our lives in the way that we want them along the way.

There may be more to glean from the contrast I am currently experiencing, and it hasn't just suddenly disappeared, but I feel confident that it's directing me on my Slow-FI journey as we coast into Coast-FI.  

Monday, September 7, 2020

Fear of the Unknown

Summertime is one of the many perks of being at teacher.  For a glorious two months, we have no schedule except for the one we set for ourselves.  Most summers, my partner and I would take a family-oriented trip and one just for ourselves while doing our best to sneak in 1-2 camping trips.  This summer is different.  We're in the middle of a pandemic, and have no plans to be getting on an airplane!  In fact, I'm even avoiding public transportation.  That being said, tomorrow, I am supposed to be returning to work.

In New York City, the plan is to offer a hybrid model to any student whose parents request it.  This means that in most cases the student will attend classes in person roughly twice per week, and learn online at home the rest of the time. This doesn't alleviate parent's 5 days/week childcare need and requires me to report to work  Monday through Friday, week in and week out.  For many reasons, I don't feel safe.  I also don't feel that the city can finance the opening of the buildings due to the recent budget cuts.  Plus, without more federal funding flowing to the state, we'll be facing layoffs as well.  Now, this isn't a "state of the schools" blog post, so I am not going to get into the ins and outs of why I believe reopening at this time to be a catastrophe.  We'll save that for the newspapers.

The truth of the matter is that I really do expect us to be fully remote at some point, though I don't know how we'll get there since currently an agreement has been reached.  At one point the teacher's union was even threatening job actions if necessary to prevent unsafe school reopening.  This could have even involved a strike.  I have to admit that would have felt like a total bad-ass if I had participated in a teacher's strike!  All jokes aside, a strike is a very serious matter.  In New York, we have this crazy little thing called the "Taylor Law" which makes it illegal to strike.  The ramifications can be very severe.  Our Union President could have faced jail time, and we could have lost two days of pay for every one day labor is withheld.  There are other sticky bits involved with striking because of the Taylor Law, but the loss of pay alone places a lot of pressure on the teachers involved.  

A recent Federal Reserve survey suggests that roughly 40% of American adults cannot cover a $400 emergency. If there was a strike accompanied by the above indicated financial penalty, there could be real problems for some educators that were simply doing what they felt was right for the safety of their students, colleagues, and themselves.  Each individual must do what's right for themselves.  Fear for lack of money shouldn't be prohibitive, and yet it frequently is.  Fear is caused by resistance.  If we're experiencing resistance, we aren't in flow.  As a Law of Attraction girl, I fully believe in the flow of money.  I do feel that there is a certain amount of flow happening for me within this situation.  I feel relatively calm.  I feel as though the safety of my students, colleagues, and myself will be protected.  I will take action as it arises.  The money will be there for me.  My partner and I are both teachers, so if this strike had actually happened, we could both lose pay.  I felt complete peace about the financial aspects of this possibility.  We've been piling up money for a long time because that's the action we've been inspired to take for the last year or so.  In fact, we're saving the majority of my take-home pay. While it wouldn't be my first choice to use that income to offset a loss of income due to the Taylor Law, we were prepared to do just that.  I have peace about it.

While I find the process of saving money to be really, very exciting, I realize there are those that do not.  I would challenge you all to search yourselves to answer the question "What would make me feel at peace if there was potentially a disruption in my income stream?"  For me, this loss of income could be a potential teacher strike, for others, it is a COVID-related furlough or even layoff.   Having a pile of money saved has always served me well.  While I enter into the unknown, I will continue to save.  This isn't a sophisticated strategy.  It's really simple.  Right now my need is simple, and it makes me feel peaceful.  If you haven't started yet, now is the time. If you have already experienced a loss of income, search yourself.  What would make you feel more at peace financially? How can you pick up some income or reduce some expenses to get there?  There's no time like the present.   

Friday, August 14, 2020

The Purpose of Money: Part 1

On Sunday, December 8th, 2019, I found myself boarding an airplane unexpectedly.  I had just learned that my grandmother had experienced a sudden decline.  No one was saying it, but I could tell everyone feared that we were near the end.  Monday late in the afternoon, I arrived by her side... We lost her the next day.

Five years ago, I wouldn't have had the money for the airline ticket.

Today, I didn't even consider the price of an airline ticket.  It literally didn't matter.  I had the money.

Honestly, I was still stressed out about missing work.  I'm a teacher, and we were still in session for another two weeks.  Not being there for a week is very difficult, and stressful.  That being said, my school leadership had no hesitation.  They told me that family needed to come first and not to worry about it.  My co-teachers took over so instruction could continue as "normal" as possible.  I'm incredibly grateful for all of them.

In the world of personal finance, we spend a lot of time talking about the purpose of an emergency fund, why people need to save money, etc.  They're all valid, and all worth listening to and taking into consideration.  What I'm here to tell you is that the purpose of money is to literally be able to make yourself available when you know it's the end, to be able to drop everything and just go.  Responsibilities may still be falling upon you, but when you've got money, you've got options.  I was with my grandmother the day that she died.  I could afford the airline ticket; I could afford to feed myself; had I needed a hotel, that would've been fine.  Had I been met with resistance from my employer, I could have gone anyway without fear of the consequences, because my emergency fund is large enough to cover several months worth of our expenses (not to mention my partner is also working).

I talk about the Law of Attraction where finance is concerned; diving into how our emotions relate directly to our wealth.  While this was a difficult trip for me to make, I must tell you, I felt amazingly good about making it.  I felt peaceful about the financial aspects of the situation and incredibly grateful for my ability to purchase the airline ticket, feed myself, house myself if needed, and pay all of my bills when I returned.  How can you create for yourself a financial situation where you can feel this kind of peace?  There's a certain feeling of power knowing that you can take care of that which is unexpected, but completely necessary.

If you got "the call," like I did, what would you do?  Would you have the money to drop everything?  If the answer is "no," that can't feel good.  You need to make a plan right away.  My grandmother's decline felt really sudden.  I didn't exactly see it coming as quickly as it did.  Sometimes life gives us a 72-hour notice or less.  When it does, you need to be ready.  If you're not ready, skip a dinner out, dial down your cell phone plan, tighten up your budget.  It's so important that you create a savings account.  It could be a matter of life and death.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Adventures in Landloring: 120 Days into COVID-19

Today, I would like to discuss with you some adventures in landlording during COVID-19...  This subject seems important because of the desire many people have to get into rental real estate, and also the concerns that many are having with regards to eviction moratoriums, and the like...

The individuals that rent our property in Oregon have been relatively consistent pre-COVID.  They have only had one late payment, and keep the management updated about repair needs, which we greatly appreciate.  In March of 2020, they paid full rent.  When my management company learned about local shut-downs, they reached out to tenants to make arrangements, etc.  Unfortunately, despite an agreement to pay, they were not able to pay April's rent.  They were also not able to pay May's rent.  In June, they made a partial payment.  Finally, in July, we received a full rent payment again.

During this time, my mortgage payment was still due each month on the first.  So, what did I do?

I paid it.

That's it.  Nothing fancy; no magic wand.  I just paid it...and the truth of the matter is that I wasn't particularly stressed out about it.  Why?  Because we've chosen to live off one full-time income rather than two.  Since we're both working, we just paid it.  Of course, we would have preferred to save that money or invest it, but it was fine.

There are some really important takeaways when evaluating this situation:

  • Real Estate is not for the faint of heart.  Don't get into it before you're ready.  It can be an absolute blessing, but only if you have positioned yourself to weather any possible storms.
  • Budget to one income.  I know this can be difficult, but if you are a two-income household, and you can whittle down your expenses so that it can be covered by one income, a disaster such as this one isn't nearly as stressful.  If you are a one-income household, consider, what percentage of that money do you really need to use to meet your expenses?  Can you trim expenses so that you are capable of living on a smaller percentage of it?
  • The property needs it's own emergency savings account!  We didn't even need to dip into it, but we had it.  Our strategy is to allow the direct deposit from the rent to come into a savings account specifically set up for the rental property.  The mortgage can be automatically pulled from there, and the remainder used to build it's only emergency savings (for us it's about 6 months of the mortgage payment).  Once an appropriate amount is stacked up, use the funds in another way.

The Law of Attraction Perspective:

People that have been reading my work for a while know that I am a believer in the Law of Attraction.  When I consider the situation that came about with our rental property, I am very aware that my emotional state remained steady.  I didn't feel anxious or stressed out.  I never had any negative feelings about the renters.  I love our rental property.  That is not to say that there was no "contrast" within this situation.  I noticed that there was one thing that I didn't feel good about.  It was the mortgage loan itself.  I am very appreciative of this negative feeling where the mortgage loan is concerned. Though mild, the emotion provided me with the contrast needed to highlight what I really do want.  I want to let go of that loan.

For some time, we've been piling up cash so as to move out of our NYC rental into a condo/coop that we own.  That is still our intention; we both feel really good about the idea of moving.  But money is a bit like a chess game to me.  I am always thinking a few moves ahead.  Once my partner and I complete something, we are already aware of what we're going to do next.  Until just recently, I honestly didn't know what our next major move would be (we could go a couple of different directions).  I feel as though the contrast provided by this experience has lead me to an inspired action.  I definitely feel inspired to eliminate that mortgage.  So, after we move out of our rental, I suspect we'll focus our attention on letting go of that loan.  Even the phrase "letting go" of the loan feels very freeing to me.  

Sometimes, an unpleasant experience can highlight things that we need to let go of such as a loan or burden, other times, it might highlight something we would like to draw into our experience.  With all of the harsh experiences during the past few months, is there anything that you've become inspired to either release or draw into your experience?

Wednesday, July 22, 2020

Lessons from Quarantine: Part 1

There's nothing like a pandemic to make you want to avoid the grocery store like the plague...Literally!  In the past 90 days of quarantine we've gone to the grocery store once, Target once, and the pharmacy twice.  When I say we're avoiding the grocery store, I mean it.  We stocked up on staples before the "stay at home" order went into effect.  We focused on frozen vegetables, canned food, dried beans, grains, flour, etc.  Furthermore, I've realized that I really dislike that store.  It's not where I do the bulk of my shopping anyway, but a convenient place for staples...  But this Coronavirus...  It has somehow managed to draw into focus my priorities.  If I don't like that place, why do I go there?  Because it's convenient?  But is it?  Is it really convenient?  It seems pretty inconvenient to go consistently to a place I dislike to give them my money.  It didn't use to be quite like that.  It crept up on us both...  We used to do more than 50% of our grocery shopping at the local farmer's market, often up to 75%, and just used the grocery store to fill in with things like coffee, toilet paper, tofu, tempeh, and the like.  As busyness set in, there were more quick trips to the neighborhood grocery store.  You might try to defend me by suggesting that we were probably saving money.  We weren't.  The grocery store in my neighborhood doesn't have great sales or stellar quality.  It's really pretty average, didn't save me money, and doesn't have the "world's best organics."  So, what gives?

Being forced into quarantine, we've all been forced to decide where we spend the effort going.  It's
because we're limited.  It's also because we know we're going to wait in lines that are completely insane only to find out that we can't even get what we really want anyway.  Plus we will have risked contaminating ourselves with an illness that is claiming more lives every day!  All that for a place I actually don't really like?  In my neighborhood, Inwood, there's a farmer's market every Saturday...even in the winter.  Come rain, shine, or pandemic, my farmer's market is there...And so am I.  I love it there.  I feel good about supporting local farmers just upstate of me.  I also feel really good about what I am putting into my body.  I feel good literally walking there and placing my body in that physical space.  This highlights a realization for me that I think I've been coming to in other areas of my life...  I really don't care to place my physical body into spaces that don't feel good.  How simple is that?  Why wasn't I able to conceive that in such a simple way before now?  Perhaps I wasn't ready for the idea.

Last week on Saturday, we went to the farmer's market where we could easily purchase produce, eggs, bread, meat, and cheese (for anyone that consumes those things).  We bought what we needed, and went home.  Later, I realized that I needed an ingredient and decided to walk down the street to a local shop that is a gourmet grocery, independently owned.  I supported them and visited a little shop that I really enjoy.  I avoided a place that I do not enjoy.  Simple.

When we emerge from this crazy, alternate universe we've been spewed into, there are some businesses that will not be there.  Some will literally never open the door again.  My neighborhood grocery store is pretty safe, I think.  The teeny, gourmet grocery in my neighborhood?  I doubt they're safe.  It would break my heart if they closed.  Likewise, if my local farmer's market shut down, I would be devastated.

Show me your money, I'll show you your values.

Sounds harsh, doesn't it?  Sometimes reality stinks.  If I really look at myself, I have to be honest that outwardly, it looks like I value a dimly light place with a tiny organics section and too much shelf space devoted to a brand I literally refuse to buy...  WHAT?!   Well, it seems pretty clear to me that I either need to make peace with becoming someone I don't really appreciate and adopting a new set of values that I also don't like, OR  put my money where my values are...

I choose the latter.

Our Quarantine: The First 90 Days

We're about 90 days into quarantine at the writing of this piece.

My partner and I just completed our school year, which was quite an adventure, though I have learned this about myself:  I like working at home. I have the discipline to be successful at it.  I also feel like just the act of losing the commute has given me custody of more of my time: the most precious commodity to me.  The time gained has allowed us to exercise more, sleep more, and eat better.  In fact, my partner has finally perfected a cookie recipe she's been working on, in addition to hand-rolled pasta: linguine, ravioli, etc.

This unplanned slow down has had several side effects in my life.

This first is lost income.When "in the building," teachers have the ability to earn extra money by running after school programs, clubs, coaching, directing, or scoring exams.  All of those things were cancelled when school went remote.  I lost hours at my seasonal side job due to lack of people coming in due to the pandemic.  We've also lost rental income.  We've both kept our regular paychecks, and I realize how lucky that makes us.  We're still able to save money, although at a diminished rate compared to what it was before.  Many people aren't as lucky as we've been.  I completely recognize that.  Sometimes I feel completely redundant, but the fact that our lives are budgeted more or less to one income means that we have a significant amount of wiggle room if something crazy like this happens.

I've also realized that paying the extra fee for grocery delivery is worth it.  Amazon finally gave us "permission to shop" at both Amazon Fresh and Whole Foods.  We pay a delivery fee plus tip for the service, but honestly, it's worth it.  We only order every two weeks or so for items we cannot find at our local farmer's market or our local tiny gourmet grocery.  I don't think we're paying any more or less than before, but we're being more deliberate.  While I realize we're contributing to the huge corporation that is Amazon, we're also focusing the bulk of our shopping on the farmer's market, and I value the higher quality I receive from Whole Foods versus my local chain grocery.  I also value organics and not needing to physically go to the store.  I used to physically go to two separate stores EVERY weekend plus the farmer's market run.  That's a lot of running around that I don't miss.  I think this is a habit that will remain in our lives.

I am lucky enough to do some acting every Spring in a play festival, which I truly love.  I was very nervous that it had been cancelled this year, but the directorial staff of the production company was brilliant enough to re-imagine it as a series of radio plays that would be published via podcast.  While the stipend for this work was modest, the creation of art itself brought tremendous joy to me.  This is tremendously different from how I felt with the loss of my side job.  After my seasonal side job came to an end, I realized that I was thrilled to have my time back, and that it was costing me way more hours that the money was worth.  I think that's something the Covid quarantine has done for me.  It has make me realize how much I value my time.  I find myself evaluating things in my life according to a very different currency.  How much of my time will this task take me?  Do I value the task enough to spend my time doing it?  During the past 90 days, I have spent really very little time doing things I simply don't like.  I have been back to the basics.  For me, those things are: healthy living, learning, art, and relationships.

I've been going on hikes every day.  We've always cooked at home, but we've been taking our time, and really enjoying the creation of home cooked meals.  I've had more virtual happy hours and phone calls with loved ones that I had before.  We're not in person, but connecting more deliberately.  I want to carry those habits forward.  Also, I need more art in my life, and I'm willing to evict a few things in order to make that happen.

Have you been finding yourself evaluating life through the lens of this currency called "time?"  What habits or changes are you likely to carry into your future as a result of your experience during Covid? What have you learned about what you value?

Friday, July 10, 2020

Being a Landlord During COVID-19

This post was originally written on April 16, 2020.  While I don't always specify that information, it seems important given the rapidly changing face of COVID in our country.

We own a rental property on the west coast.  Pre-COVID-19, our tenants were going to pay for items that needed repair due to their own negligence.  We had already paid for the repair, and they were going to pay us back for it the following month.  It honestly was a really minor issue, no big deal to either party.  Then, the coronavirus struck.  Out of concern for our tenants, we reached out to the management company and offered to allow them to spread out or defer this charge-back as needed.  I have no idea what industry they work in and to what degree their finances have been impacted. We have no direct contact, it's all via the management company.

Apparently, the tenants were happy with that and deferred the charge-back.  Additionally, they requested to pay their rent in two installments, which was fine.  So far things in that arena are working out alright for me, but I am very much aware that as these "stay at home" orders continue, things could get increasingly stickier for everyone involved in rental real estate.  Right now there are orders in place all over the country that prevent evictions for a certain amount of time.  They also allow renters to avoid late fees for nonpayment.  The problem is that these rent payments stack up.  Who wants to have a several thousand dollars past due rent bill hanging over their head?  That sounds like a huge mountain to climb, and I don't wish it on anyone.  There are some proposals out there that suggest paying rent simply be suspended for a certain duration of time. This proposal operates under the idea that property owners will be able to place their mortgage loans into forbearance for that same duration of time.  Meanwhile, interest and fees stack up for them.  With no money coming into pay such fees, they just keep growing.  Forbearance is expensive even if you can get one!  If you can't get one, you run the risk of falling behind on the mortgage.  If things don't clear up soon enough, you lose the property.  That's a way down the pipeline, and hopefully, it doesn't go that far, but it could.  If the home is foreclosed upon, the tenant's world also gets turned upside down.

Additionally, if there's no rent, management companies won't get paid, and will no longer be able to pay their staff.  What about repairs?  I have paid for three different (small) repairs since the beginning of 2020, which is fine.  If no rent gets paid, there is no money to make repairs, so they'll probably be put off.  This is not good for living conditions. It's also not good for the small business owners and repair people that count on that income.

At the same time, you can't expect people to pay rent with no money, right?  This is where individual states need to come up with solutions that stand a chance of helping the most people.  Individual states have the ability to direct the manner in which funding from the CARES Act gets used in their state to a certain extent.  I've read about proposals being made by various rental real estate organizations.  They are appealing to states to utilize CARES Act funds to issue rent vouchers to individuals that have been financially impacted by COVID-19.  These vouchers would prevent renters from ending up with a backlog of rent payments due at some later date.  It would also provide some much-needed relief to a renter's wallet.  Meanwhile, management companies keep operating, owner mortgages keep getting paid, and repair people keep servicing homes as needed.  Personally, I appreciated this proposal.

This is a huge problem, and I am very interested in hearing some of the proposals that are out there.  I just hope that they serve everyone.  While some landlords are huge corporations, others are just individual people like me...  People that have a regular job, one rental property, and a mortgage on that property that needs to get paid.  Our governors have a big job to do.  I do not envy them.  I just hope in the process they protect as many people's interests as possible.

What are your thoughts?  How could individual states protect renters, property owners, and the incomes of those contractors involved in rental real estate in the fairest way possible?

Thursday, May 28, 2020

Our Quarantine: The first 30 days

My partner and I are both teachers, which some of you may already know.  So, we're among those still receiving a paycheck during the crisis of COVID-19.  That is not to say we haven't experienced a loss of income.

In the middle of March, we were given notice that the school building would be closed until at least the end of Spring Break (a full month away), a deadline that has been extended to April 29th, and then again by the Mayor of NYC to the end of the school year.  We had three days to put all of our classes online and learn a completely new platform, not to mention, rearrange our already too small NYC apartments to include a "virtual classroom" for two teachers of completely separate schools, grades, and content areas.  Making these adjustments would ensure our students could still collect the credit they needed despite the growing public health crisis.

What could not be ensured is the additional income many teachers have come to rely upon.  We all know teachers in this country are not paid the best and may have taken on numerous side-gigs to fill in the gaps.  What does that look like in our household?  We both take on additional responsibilities at our schools which generate additional income.  This might be running clubs, after-school tutoring or test prep, scoring state exams...  We are also both certified tax preparers that work during tax season in local tax offices.  Needless to say, all of these sources of additional income have dried up, including tax preparation!  Once COVID-19's extensive reach became apparent, the government pushed back the tax deadline, and people were entirely more concerned with their safety than with their taxes.  Rightfully so!  Of course, this caused the tax offices to reduce the number of hours given to employees because of a change in demand...  More income lost.

Because we use a management company, there's a fairly large buffer between our renters and us.  We don't know what they do for a living but imagine their lives have been touched by the Coronavirus as well.  We've been notified by our management company that they plan to pay April rent.  We hope that they're among those who are able to work remotely and that this trend continues.  If not, we'll still be able to pay our mortgage.

Lucky, right?  While some of it might be luck, the money moves we've made to ensure our safety was anything but luck.  We deliberately choose to live mostly off of my partner's income, leaving mine to be used for savings and/or other financial goals.  So, we've been focusing our attention on building liquid savings for the past couple of years with the goal in mind of saving for a 20% downpayment plus a fully-funded emergency savings.  Also, every dollar of profit from our rental property goes into its own savings.  In fact, our rental property has it's own 6-month emergency savings.  Losing the majority of our side-gig income feels like it drastically reduces our monthly savings rate.  The truth is that we might be slowed down, but not devastated, and that's key!

I remind myself that if this experience teaches me nothing, it was worthless.  I can't have all of this time be wasted; so, what have I learned in this first 30 days?

I have learned not to take for granted my ability to hop on an airplane and see family members.  I lost a family member during this time (non covid-related). With everything that's going on, my only choice was to stay put.  Even if I had tried to fly to this person, I wouldn't have been allowed into the facility where he was staying because I was coming from New York State, the epicenter of the pandemic.  Fortunately, I went to see this family member just before the outbreak, and I feel really good about that.  Regardless, the ability to mobilize during a family emergency is really important and shouldn't be taken for granted.

It's also become clear to me that we need to pay off the mortgage on our rental property.  No matter what happens, we'll be able to make the payment.  However, when I think about the idea of the loan being paid in full, I feel very peaceful.  That seems to be my inner guidance system telling me what my next money move should be.  I tend to wait for that.  I let my brain do the homework so that I fully understand my choices, but then I wait for one to feel like the right one for me.  Paying off the mortgage feels like one that is rising to the surface as being the right choice.  Of course, I'll sit with it for a while.

I've also learned that our choice to learn to live on one income rather than both of our incomes was incredibly wise.  It has kept us safe within this situation.  It feels like something that we should continue to carry into the future.

Additionally, my career field is fairly stable.  Despite teachers being wildly underpaid, we can count on having our positions.

Have you learned anything about your financial situation from your time in quarantine?  Has it inspired you to set any particular goals or take any actions?

Friday, January 3, 2020

Why Slow FI?

Although I've been pursuing financial independence (FI) for some time, there are ways in which I have never fully fit into the mainstream FI community.  While I like to crunch the numbers, eliminate debt, invest, and can geek out about a variety of financial strategies with the best of them, there are areas where I absolutely march to the beat of my own drum.  I believe in the Law of Attraction, that listening to my inner self, and emotions, as well as mindset,  is important, as it heavily impacts my financial life.  I also believe in enjoying the journey.  In other words, Slow FI.

First, What is Slow FI? 

A recent post by The Fioneers defines Slow-FI as being "when someone uses incremental gains along the journey to financial independence to live happier and healthier lives, do better work, and build stronger relationships."  I've been going on for a seemingly long time about how important it is to feel good in connection with our money.  Feeling good breeds inspiration.  Inspiration leads to inspired action.  Inspired actions create the positive outcomes we desire.  Slow FI does exactly that!

What's really interesting to me is that many people in the FI community are focused on a destination.  A place in the future where they've reached the so-called "golden number," and ride happily off into the sunset with freedom in hand.  Actually, it sounds great!  I don't have any problem with it, as I too have a destination in mind.  But this is where my path diverges with theirs.  Many of the FI focused have cut pretty much all of the excess and diverted all of their additional funds to fueling their investments and eliminating excess financial baggage (debt).  In the process, much of life seems to be on pause.

I am very mindful of my spending, and pretty much every dollar has a job.  That being said, some of those dollars have the specified job of keeping the journey wonderful.  I need a little magic in my life and I am not willing to eliminate it in order to reach a destination faster.  I want the journey to be every bit as beautiful as the destination.  I believe that Slow-FI provides that.

Let me tell you a secret:

I still have federal student loan debt, AND I traveled to Italy last year.  How dare I!?  I'm not supposed to go anywhere until I've eliminated those student loans and reached the golden number (note: dripping sarcasm)!  But really, in all actuality, I think that's a move that would get mixed reviews in the personal finance community.  There are two parts to that choice.  Regarding the student loan debt, I am a teacher and eligible for some loan forgiveness.  I've been trying to make a decision about which forgiveness program to utilize, and have been waiting for the action to be inspired.  I won't pull the trigger on that until it feels right.  In the meantime, I can keep saving money.  Also, I don't know how many years of overseas travel are in the cards for me. I have a beautiful sister with Cerebral Palsy, and she may eventually come to live with me.  Now, this might be in twenty years; it might be never.  If that situation does come about, at that point traveling long distances by airplane becomes more difficult. I can't afford for my life to pass me by while I'm white-knuckling my finances.  While unlikely, it is possible that in ten years my sister could live with me.  If I spent the next ten years focusing on achieving the number (dollar amount to reaching financial independence) to the exclusion of everything else, I might never see Thailand, Australia, or Japan.  I am actively working with my partner in pursuit of full financial independence, but we're absolutely Slow FI because the journey is worth enjoying.

The Key to Slow FI:

I think one of the keys to success with Slow FI is being mindful.  Be deliberate with the choices being made with incremental financial gains.  Making choices that bring joy into the journey will increase mental and emotional well-being.  To me, that is not only the key to Slow FI, but also to Law of Attraction Finance.