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.