Thursday, October 29, 2020

Escaping the Past and Avoiding the Future

I've received a smattering of correspondences lately from individuals that are either terrified of their future or angry about their past.  It's an irresistible trap, but a trap nonetheless.   All these thoughts are good for is to serve the egoic mind, creating fuel for an illusion.

"To be identified with your mind is to be trapped in time: the compulsion to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation."

         - Eckhart Tolle, Practicing The Power of Now

Being trapped in time...  That's a huge issue where personal finance is concerned.  It's a trap that not only damages our relationship with money but also prevents us from living our best lives because we aren't paying any attention to it.  Our lives are happening right now.  While that might sound obvious, it's a thought worthy of attention.  Our lives are happening right now and we need to be present for it.

One woman expressed to me that she was experiencing a lot of negative emotions around a choice she had recently made with her money.  She allowed herself to spend a large sum of money, in a nonrefundable manner and was plagued with guilt, remorse, and self-loathing over the situation.  There was a moment when she realized what the result of her past behavior had created, and she very quickly reached out to me.  I could feel the emotion pouring from her as though we were sharing a moment in a confessional.  I'm still uncertain as to whether she was looking to be absolved or punished, neither of which I had the power to offer her.  She knew she never wanted to feel that way again. So, I invited her to consider "What does this inspire you to do?" She told me that this situation made her want to save money.  I asked her if there was anything else.  She offered that she wanted to open a CD (certificate of deposit) for a chunk of her savings so that it would be "locked up" so to speak.  She wanted to make it a little more difficult for herself to get at, but not impossible in a true emergency.  

This is what it looks like to reach for the better feeling, while simultaneously getting out of the mind-time trap.  This woman's mind was tricking her into living and reliving through memory, but that moment is gone.  The money was already spent.  The only value in reliving this memory was extremely temporary; the value lied in allowing her the opportunity to identify that she didn't care to repeat that feeling, nor the action that leads her to it.  From that moment of recognition, it is absolutely imperative to re-engage with the present moment.  Asking yourself  "What does this inspire me to do right now?" feels significantly better and more empowering.  There's no power in living in the past because we cannot take action there.  We cannot alter those past moments.  We can only use them to inspire our current actions.

The second person that I encountered this week had a related but opposing issue.  She is very much concerned with her future.  She is riddled with anxiety over her future retirement, as she is certain that she doesn't have enough.  The scarcity mindset that she is suffering from has left her all but paralyzed.  It is as if she's been zapped by a taser and rendered unable to move.  Furthermore, she is unhappy with where life is currently, and has projected this misery upon her future.  It seems that she has allowed her mind to trap her into a cycle of projection into the future, as she anticipates unhappiness from now until always.

It can be incredibly powerful to allow the mind to wander a bit to the future in order to try on the idea of an experience we might want.  In this way, it could inspire a current action, which can set us in alignment with that desired outcome.  However, it is dangerous to spend our present moment living in anticipation of the future, especially when it leads to ignoring the present.  This woman is largely unwilling to act.  It seems as though she is petrified of the outcome being exactly as she expects it (and she expects it to be miserable), but in the process of taking no action, it seems that she has taken an action.  No action is action, and it is an action that is unlikely to yield a desirable result.  You see, every day that she wakes up unhappy, and takes no action, is a day she continues in the flow of misery.  Now, why would you do that?  Well, the answer is that you wouldn't.  Not intentionally anyway.  She doesn't realize that she's playing into the mind's little trap.  

So, how do we get out of it?  There are a couple of different things happening here.  First, she's living largely in anticipation of the future (negatively at that).  Secondly, she is unhappy with the present (her employment actually).  Finally, she's afraid to take action.  As we've discussed, no action is action.  The reason someone would take no action is largely fear-based.  If the expectation is that the outcome of said action would be equal to or greater than the current level of misery, then the mind tells us not to bother.  The first thing that needs to happen is we need to delete the file in our brain that is labeled "the future."  The mind has assigned a series of fears to this file called "future" and is replaying that file over and over again.  Just delete it.  What we have is now.  

Now let's visit that now.  In the present moment, she is unhappy with work and concerned with her financial picture, feeling ill-prepared for retirement.  In these instances, I like to play "I would feel really good if."  She would feel really good if her work-life felt pleasant.  She would also feel really good if she was able to save a certain amount of money on a monthly basis."  So, how can we make those things flow?  What can she do that will make work more pleasant?  Are there some adjustments in this current job that would make it a positive situation?  Would it feel better to be employed elsewhere?  This is where the individual emotional compass comes it.  She might need to "try on" these ideas to determine what action feels inspired (or another option).  

The second desire was "it would feel really good to be able to save a certain dollar amount each month."  The word "able" jumped out at me.  What would make that situation flow?  Is there something that makes her "unable" to do this?  As it turns out her expenses are too high compared to her income to hit the saving target she has in mind.  Does this relate to the previous employment issue?  A different job perhaps?  A side gig?  Start a business?  On the expense side, are there a series of small expenses that could be trimmed that really add up?  Downsize to a smaller home?  Downsize from two cars to one?  It's important to brainstorm ideas that could actually be done in the present moment, and then "try them on" waiting for one of them to feel inspired.  You will know!  We always know when we're inspired to take an action.

There can be value in glancing at the past or to the future, as they can help us to determine what we want.  However, our best lives are built on a foundation we're inspired to lay right now.

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.