Designing Financial Security


Is there really such a thing? I imagine it depends on who you ask (and then ask yourself if you buy the response).

Should we be saving for a rainy day, or at a minimum, retirement?...that's what Susie Orman screams at us through the TV. It certainly sounds like a solid plan, but what if we don't make it to our "golden years?"

Caveat -- I'm not promoting a rash Armeggedon-like movement of people running to the banks, withdrawing all their cash and going Vegas-style, hog wild. However, the best-laid plans don't always pan out as expected (as a matter of fact, not much does). What is that saying...we make plans and God laughs?

I recently viewed a commercial on TV for a financial planning institution that cleverly takes us through the life story of a man, told in picture. At first we see him standing in his home office as he ponders writing the great American novel. Flash forward: the office is now painted in a soft pink hue, transformed to a nursery as he joyously holds his baby girl in his arms. The story rolls on, we see a childhood room and then a teenager's room as she embraces her father, bidding him adieu, about to depart for college. The final scene -- the room now fully restored to the original office we first glanced. A gray-haired father reclaims his long lost man-cave and settles in to reconnect to a dream that was sidestepped by life's beautiful distractions. The voiceover tells us because of his prudent financial planning, he can finally hunker down to write that great American novel. It hits like a Hallmark greeting card -- a bit saccharine, yet leaves us wanting to drink the Kool-Aid. What's the message -- nose to the grindstone, save for the future and cross your fingers that you have one? Does responsible financial stewardship mean -- shelve your passion and dreams for a few decades and circle back around later? What happened to the Be Here Now, Now Be Here school of thought? Perhaps the answer lies somewhere in between.

There are many things we are "supposed" to do, especially when it comes to savings and building a solid financial future -- save for a rainy day, plan for tomorrow, create investment strategies, pay off liabilities, eliminate debt etc. It all sounds perfectly reasonable, not to mention desirable, until something else gets in the way -- divorce, illness, unexpected repairs etc. I don't think anyone sets out to create debt or tells themselves, Hey, let's jump on that perpetual treadmill of financial debt, never to escape. The truth is, once on the bandwagon, it is enormously difficult to escape its clutches. But let's face it, unless we are survivalists posturing for extraordinary events around each corner, we might just get caught with our proverbial financial pants down at some point or another.

We want what we want. And in this country, it's practically a birthright, a part of the American lenders whisper in our ears telling us, you can have whatever you want, when you want -- just like the guy next door, even if you cannot afford it. While the media has brought some recent awareness to this premise as with the sub-prime mortgage scandal that nearly brought the economy to its knees, institutions responsible were merely hand-slapped. And sadly, we are all back to our spending beyond-our-means-ways. There is just too much money to be made, for some.

So we live with this push-pull of ingrained economic polarities. Where does that leave us? We need to individually draw a line in the sand and get real about our relationship to our money -- declaring what we want it to look like. We all have theories surrounding money steeped in childhood experience. For some they manifest in behaviors like hoarding and stockpiling (whether it's stocks or soup cans in the pantry), the result of being brought up with a less than mentality. It manifests by falsely believing there is never enough in the bank. For others, perhaps a bit too dismissive and sloppily thinking it will always be there (while simultaneously shoving bills in the drawer unopened -- out of sight out of mind), they somehow believe that spending money is a God-given entitlement -- the result of growing up fat and happy. Whatever your experience or end of the spectrum you are on, when we uncover the theories that reside within us about money, we can become accountable for what we want to design going forward.

And while we are being a bit confessional here...I have been at all points of the spectrum. I've used the excuse that money is meant to flow. Well, it has certainly flowed right in and out of my bank account like a torrent at times -- never a dull financial moment around here.

At the risk of sounding contrite, money can't buy happiness (though it can do a pretty good job of self-medicating). Understanding your theories about money, excavating and revealing their lineage will help you understand your experience with it throughout your adult life.

I think my mother may be the only person in the world (OK, maybe not the only person) who still has a Christmas Club at the bank. Each month between October and October, she deposits a certain amount so that when Christmas is around the corner and she is about to embark upon her shopping, she is armed with an envelope of cash in hand (what a novel concept). The wise-cracking, smarty pants in me used to roll her eyes at the notion...not so much anymore, as I scramble to pay mounting holiday credit card bills.

The reality is -- cash is king. Don't let the lenders tell you differently. Let's get real about our finances and our dreams; they are not mutually exclusive and can co-exist. Question your relationship to your money, identify your current financial situation and create a plan. Simultaneously, call out your dreams, short and long-term. Then figure out how to meld the two and don't let your own inner demons tell you, you can't. You might have to make some adjustments, and it may even be painful at first, but I assure you it is worth it in the long run. It isn't rocket science. You don't need anyone to tell you what you already know. Just look in the mirror. Do you love what you are doing now...or are you caught in the spin cycle of planning for the future? Are you present within today or living for tomorrow? Are you willing to let go of all of your preconceived notions? You see, you get to choose...what you spend your money on and how you live your days. Choose fulfillment, not just squirreling away for the future on autopilot. You can start anytime, anywhere, any amount. Don't give up on your abundant self.

Financial responsibility can look different for all of us, but I just don't believe we have to sidestep our present dreams and expressing who we are until we have amassed a certain amount. Not to sound morose...tomorrow may never come. Be here now.

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