Friday, December 12, 2008

Great News Despite Economic Downturns

Many of my readers have been after me to write something during these times of economic uncertainty and crazy media blitzes on money (or the lack thereof). I have resisted because I knew that things would eventually settle down after all the panic subsided and people started thinking again rather than just reacting to what the media was feeding them.

Yes, groceries are still costly, but wow, look at the gas prices! Amazing, no? Also, I have received email after email from students of mine that describe how their economic situation though tight is positive despite all the rantings of the media that a depression is nigh! Here is just one example that I had in my inbox this past week. It is fairly average considering the diversity of lifestyle and location of my readers.

Dear Janine,

I just wanted to update you on the great success Donald and I have been experiencing since completing our mentoring sessions with you.

  • Our long-term savings have gone from 5% to 10%,

  • tithing stayed at 10%,

  • short –term savings and philanthropy have gone from next to nothing to 6-10% monthly.

  • Also, my husband’s salary increased 6%

  • I followed your advice and raised my piano lesson rates 43%. I went from teaching 10 students making $350 a month, to teaching 10 students making $500 a month. The interesting thing is that out of the 10 students, only 3 are repeats. 5 were unhappy with the price increase and 2 moved.

We’re still working on finding a system that works for both of us to keep track of all of our spending, but we’re both moving forward in accomplishing our goals and have had meaningful, touching experiences with our family working together on philanthropy projects. Thank you for teaching us about money!

Once you decide that you are going to control your money and will find a way to achieve financial independence it is amazing to me how people accomplish it no matter what the economy may be doing! I encourage all of you to do what you do best during the holidays! Celebrate. Yes, I know there is a lot of negative press about EVERYTHING these days, but I see so much opportunity and hope with our current economic situation. Remember the keys to success and you'll weather this stormy season just fine:

  1. Know what you want out of life

  2. Set goals for your expenditure of time as well as money

  3. Track your expenses and income

  4. Review your expenses and income on a monthly basis

  5. 2009 is on the way. What will your differently this year to increase your financial stability?

Keep your focus, work on a balanced life, forgive yourself for your past mistakes and decide that it is time for you to become rich!

I wish you all a very Happy Holiday Season and New Year!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

When Visualizing Your Dreams Use String!

by Janine Bolon

This rather imposing wall was an effort on my part to show my children how animals, plants and minerals fit into the world by using taxonomy. (The science of classifying all living things by arranging them in groups according the relationship of each to the others.)

Since I am an ultra-geek and a highly visual learner, my kids get the treat of having the couches moved, pictures taken off walls, and string unraveled as we clear space to put up, "a big mess" as my 5-year-old says with hands-on-hips gawking at the creation.

What does this have to do with money? Many of my clients tell me of having difficulty getting a handle on their financial situations. Here is a simple, yet powerful three-fold solution:

  • Figure out to the penny how much debt you have to everyone. This may include, but is not limited to: mortgages, car loans, student loans, boat loans, credit card debt, loans from family (love loans), and medical bills.
  • Starting today, track your expenses. Yep, as you go about your normal day, start writing down in an itty, bitty notebook all the money that leaves your hands. It will stun you into dropping your consumeristic (is that a word?) tendencies when you see just how much you pay a month for those vending machine runs! (That was my habit when I worked in corporate life, I loved those M&Ms in the machine down the hall.)
  • Determine your Vision. Why are you here on this planet? What is it that you want out of life? I mean, there is absolutely zero reason for saving money and working to get out of debt if you don't know where you are going, right? Otherwise you're saving money for money's sake. Ugh! That's not enough motivation for me, so I'm sure you may want a bit more out of life as well!
As you work on these three exercises, you may want to clear a wall and start using various colored papers (sticky notes are GREAT for this!) to visualize your debt load, your income opportunities and your goals for the next 20, 10, 5 and 2 years. Right? I highly recommend this practice of working on your dreams using paper, wall and string. It is a system that I have used for over 18 years. I learned this visual process from the late Walt Disney. (Not directly, but from an employee of his named Mike Vance. He gave a workshop while I worked at Glaxo Pharmaceuticals.) Disney used this system to determine connections of what may seem like unrelated objects at first blush.

It is sort of weird to see your financial life up on a wall, but one of the results of this work is the response of your brain. It creatively comes up with novel ways to fix many of problems that pop up and hope suddenly springs from your heart as you stare your situation in the face and realize, "Hey, I can do this!"

If you don't have a wall large enough, then use colored washable markers on a bay window. The kids love it when mom starts scrawling stuff on the windows. (You can tell I was a chemist...we see a piece of glass and we think, "Just as good as paper! Scribble, scribble, scribble.) Not only do they get to join in, but we tape string all over the place too!!! Fun, fun, fun.

Give this process a try and then email me on how it works out for you. Wishing you abundance.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Financial Survival Skills in Today's Economy

by Mark Kohler & Janine Bolon

Today's post was an inspiration of Mark Kohler who is not only a dear friend of mine, fellow author (Lawyers are Liars, the Truth about Protecting Our Assets!), and business owner, he also happens to be my attorney! He has a radio show based in Chicago and I was thrilled that he asked me to be on it as a guest. Not only do we have a criminal amount of fun chatting about money, business ventures and goal setting, but we enjoy being able to take phone calls and help folks become financially stable in these crazy economic times.

The title of today's post: Financial Survival Skills in Today's Economy, is the brainchild of Mark. He gives 10 action items that one can implement to guide you through the market turns and changing business climate. I was lucky enough to get the list last night before the show and I've added my own 2 Cents to the list as well. Thanks for letting me work with your stuff, Mark!

  • Reassess Your Goals: When times become uncertain and you don't know what you should do from moment to moment, that is the time to break out your goals and look them over. Are you still on track with your 1, 5, and 10 years goals? Have you allowed the excitement of the current economy to drive you away from your primary vision? Who do you need in your life to help you? What do you want out of life that isn't happening now?

  • Make the Tough Decisions: Time to look at your pet projects, business plans, properties, or assets and see if they are more of a drain on your time and money then they should be. This is the point where if an asset or idea is not pulling it's financial weight, it is time to drop it, sell it and purge it from your life. This includes people in your life. Are there partners, consultants, employees, or so-called-friends who are not helping you get where you need to go? This may sound overly harsh, but when you look with a critical eye at your current financial situation, you may want to evaluate the contributions these people are making. They may be dead weights that keep the rest of the team from rising to their full potential.

  • Get Financially Fit: Make the necessary changes in habits and lifestyle to model the new "you." Now is the perfect time to become the person you wish you could be. You know the steps you need to take, so take them. Such as, figuring out your exact debt load, starting that savings account for a new car and getting that IRA donation up to the full, allowable amount!

  • Back to the Basics with Your Personal Budget: Mark calls this budgeting, I call this "Tracking your expenses." We're both saying the same thing here and that is, know where your money is going. Impose spending limits if you have to and keep good records of money entering and exiting your life. Don't get discouraged by this. Knowledge is power and when you give yourself this kind of data, you can then make informed decisions on the way your money is being managed.

  • Start a Small Business or Venture on the Side: Whatever you do, don't quit your day job, just yet! What you are looking to do here is have a revenue stream that you can fall back on. It is also very advantageous tax wise to have your own business. This is where Mark's expertise really shines. Oh, did I tell you, not only is he an attorney, he is also a CPA!

  • Re-evaluate Your Business Model: If the market changes, so should your business. This is true whether you are self-employed or work for someone else. Add valued to your position, product or service. This is when you take a cold, hard look at the quality of your service and product that you are selling and then make the necessary changes to upgrade.

  • Re-evaluate your portfolio: Where are your assets invested? Are they in the best structure? How are ALL of your assets performing? No more hands off approach.

  • Consolidate and Eliminate Debt and Improve Your Credit: If you can't do this yourself any longer, then now is the time for you to call a credit counseling center in your city and get some professional help consolidating your bad credit cards. Take responsibility for the financial situation you find yourself in and go out and get help. It is there. You just have to ask.

  • Get Additional Education: Obtaining new ideas and learning new ways of doing things always benefits you. It doesn't matter if some folks have learned these ideas 20 years ago, the fact that you now have it in your brain means that you own it. And that, my friends, is true power.

  • Pay It Forward: If you are stressed because you lost your job, this is the time to volunteer. If you are freaking out because you don't have any money, now is the time to give $5 away to someone you don't know. By putting your faith in others through the use of philanthropy and service, what you need will come back to you in marvelous ways. It is an ancient principle and it still works even in these so-called modern times!
I hope this little list has helped you realign your focus and guides you on the next step of your financial journey.

Mark is hosting a free-one hour webinar on August 13th and will gladly answer any questions you have on these 10 points. So, email comments and questions you want Mark to expand on during the broadcast.

You can sign up for the Webinar on Mark Kohler's web site ( and email him questions.
Or you can email me questions for the show by going to my website (SmartCents, Inc.).

Have a great day, folks! We wish you much abundance.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Dealing with those Emotional High's and Low's

Over the weekend my sister and I were busy clearing out our houses and offices since we are both moving. (She to North Carolina and me to Colorado.) I am always amazed at how our lives run so parallel even though we live on opposite sides of the continental divide! We were talking on the phone and taking a break from all the cleaning fumes when she mentioned an email I sent to her two years before.

The email was about handling your different negative emotional states. How to identify what it is you need to change in your life depending on the emotion you are feeling at the time. I got this list as a compilation of many resources the primary one being,
Resonant Leadership: Renewing Yourself and Connecting with Others Through Mindfulness, Hope and Compassion, by Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee.

This was a handy book for me to read since I was changing my business model and knew there were areas of my own personality that needed some renewal if I was to increase my effectiveness as a president of an organization.

First evaluate where you may be in theses 5 emotional states:

1. Frustrated
2. Bored
3. Unfulfilled
4. Burned-out
5. Stressed, Anxious, Depressed

Depending on your state, work on the following:
1. Frustrated (Deal with the Manager Self) Capitalize on your Uniqueness
2. Bored (Deal with the Leadership Self) Work harder on your vision then implement changes
3. Unfulfilled (Deal with Romantic Self) Work on your love life and romance needs
4. Burnout (Work on Personal Self) Stop doing what you don't like! Create change!
5. Stressed (Work on Mission Self) What is the one thing only you can do in the whole world?

But what do you do if you are unsure exactly what you want, what your mission is?

Answer the following questions to the best of your ability.

1. What do I want?
2. What do I need to learn?
3. Who do I need to help me?
4. What do I need to feel?
5. What do I need to do?
6. What do I want most right now?
7. What do I NOT want?

By answering these questions and understanding the area of your life that needs help to pull you out of your negative state, you will feel better immediately. I have used this exercise five times in the past three years to pull me out of a negative state of mind. Once I was feeling depressed, another time I was burned-out and this past exercise I used these questions because I was extremely frustrated. Every time I use these questions to center my thinking and refocus my energies, I come away a much better person and my attitude is 100% lighter than when I started the work.

I do hope that you find it as useful as I have. Good luck!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Holding onto the Inner Happiness

I was reading an inspirational article this morning and had to share some of the insights I received from the author with you. The article was about keeping your peace or inner happiness despite the emotional and physical chaos around us. Here were the main points:
  • Never find fault with others-look instead for their good points
  • Learn to blame and correct your own flaws so you continually grow and improve
  • Be sincere with everyone
  • Express kindness and love to each person in your life
Those are four simple, little points, but boy do they pack a punch when it come to one's daily life. Basically it all boils down to a simple phrase. Learn to Behave!

As a mom of four I busted out laughing as I put the article down. Here I am at the age of 44 still working hard at learning to behave. It is a daily battle to make sure that I don't find fault with others. I mean, I just mopped the floor! Do the kids HAVE to track all that mud in?

No kidding that happened to me today. I remembered the article I had just read and I spent 5 seconds calming down the sharp retort that was on the edge of my lips waiting to jump out. Instead of screaming about muddy footprints and clean floors, I was actually able to keep my mouth shut, walk over to the cabinet with the linen rags and throw a few on the floor near the rest of the herd that was about ready to pounce through the back door. I even managed a pleasant, "Please wipe your feet!" Wow. Some days I'm better at this then others.

The point of today's post is to be a cheerleader for you. I realize that I usually talk about money, but in order to keep to our financial goals we have to be happy and in order to be happy we have to behave in ways that make the world a better place.

I know that times can be really tough on you and that daily you are doing battle with being "good." (Can you tell I'm talking to myself here as well?) It is so much easier to be sharp, harsh, quick-to-anger, and tell-off those that make our lives challenging. However, if we take a deep breath and remember to be in that selfless consciousness we will learn quicker how to:
  • physically help people through service
  • mentally help people by kindness and encouragement
  • spiritually help others by radiating the joy we feel by learning to behave!
By implementing these behaviors our own lives will become happier. I have always found it so crazy that happiness is based on how you aid others. It is such an incredible reward for not thinking about yourself.

With that said, I guess I'd better go downstairs and wipe out the tub from all the dirt that got washed off those little bodies before bed and see where the muddy clothes have been kicked off .

Hang in there, dear ones. Keep tracking your expenses, stick to your financial goals and continue in the knowledge that you know what you want out of life. In very short order, you will find that you are happy.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

What is Financial Maturity?

Many of my young adult (and adult!) students have the wrong idea about what it means to become financially mature. When I ask young adults in my seminars to define how to know whether or not a person has reached financial maturity, their top three answers are:

  1. When you get your first paying job,
  2. When you have graduated from college, or
  3. When you get married.

Being financially mature has nothing to do with these life events. Instead, it has everything to do with your mindset regarding the making, keeping, and spending of money. Your money.

A financially mature person (this means you!) will habitually exhibit five key behaviors. Together these traits will make you content now, and capable of real financial independence for the rest of your life. The five habits that all financially mature individuals possess are:

  1. You save money. You save because you understand the power of compound interest. A small amount of money set aside now and allowed to grow will produce a large bonus down the road.
  2. You mind your money matters. You make your own money rather than using the "First Local Bank of Mom and Dad" as your preferred banking institution. Mom and Dad are not your personal ATM.
  3. You do your own work. You are your own best financial advisor. Sure, you take advice from others, but deep down you know that you have to do your own research about how best to handle your hard-earned cash. Don't take the word of someone else. Study it for yourself.
  4. You keep going. Every day you need to make decisions about your money, and some of them will be flat out wrong. Need to hear that again? You will make mistakes with your money; to not do so is impossible! But you will make the effort to correct them, and to not repeat them. Making mistakes is how we learn. By trying a short cut to riches and getting burned, you learn not to make that same error again! Don't avoid making a decision just because you're afraid of making a bad one. All financial decisions come with some degree of risk. The key is to watch what happens after you make a decision, and learn. Resilience in the face of mistakes is maturity.
  5. Keep it simple. You understand way down deep the old adage that "less is more." By knowing exactly what you want out of life, you will choose to spend your cash only on those needs and wants that bring you true pleasure. In this case, such simple pleasures mean more happiness and all obtained for a lot less money!

These steps are the beginning to a lifetime journey on how to efficiently handle your money as it comes to you. By working for your own cash, you allow yourself the freedom to make necessary mistakes that will teach you the skills required for becoming financially mature.

To learn more about being frugal, saving money and still having a wonderful lifestyle, please visit my friends at the Dollar Stretcher! Thanks, Gary, for posting my stuff!

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Seeing the Forest then the Trees, How to Invest Your Money!

by Janine Bolon

I was busy baking cookies and washing up dishes when the phone rang. As I juggled dish towels, phone cord and running children the voice on the other end told me that she was a client from over a year ago and promptly started updating me on the financial status of their family. It was lots of great news on how they were out of debt, they had only their house to pay off and they were steadily working on increasing their savings.

I was congratulating her and her husband for their diligence and hard work when we got to the reason for her call. They had just found out about a “Wonderful” investment opportunity and they wanted my opinion of the company and the situation. Normally, I totally revolt at telling people what to do with THEIR money. First off, I’m not a trained financial professional and always defer to such people in these sorts of situations. Secondly, I don’t know all the hopes, dreams and goals you have as a person for your money, so why should I give you direction on what to do with YOUR money?

However, since I had coached this family before I listened politely as she breathlessly told me of this incredible financial opportunity and how they were seriously considering taking the $5,000 they had worked to save for over a year and invest it with this one company. I then calmly asked, “Okay, but have you and your husband maxed out your IRA contributions for this year?” There was a pregnant pause on the other end before she meekly said, “Um. No.” “Well, before I would spend dime one on any investment, I would make sure that I had made use of the maximum allowable contributions to all the tax advantaged accounts the federal government gives us.” I then asked her to call her accountant about what sorts of retirement accounts were available to them and verify what the allowable amounts were and to contribute to those first before launching all their savings into this other organization.

This is the point, my frugal friend. I know it isn’t sexy. Nor bold. Nor exciting, but the accounts that are IRAs, 401k’s and 403b’s are a wonderful and steady way to invest in your future. Before you go for riskier investments, go with what works first! Go with the OBVIOUS! Are you doing the obvious? Are you investing with accounts that are tax advantaged for you? If you don’t even have a retirement account open, then make your first investment goal that you open one this year. If you’re married make sure you have one open in both spouses names. Don’t jump at the quick buck with all your hard earned money. Go with the safer and less-sexy investments first. Once those have been maxed out, then look around with the extra money you have to invest in other things. But, of course, you’ll chat with your accountant or financial planner about this before leaping into anything, right?

As further evidence for the less-than-sexy investment strategies, I was reading an article in “Money” magazine (January 2007). In it there was an interview with multi-millionaire and financial planner Charles Schwab. He was asked this rather simple question: “If you could give one bit of financial advice to someone who’s just starting out, what would you say?”

Mr. Schwab answered, “Buy index funds and ETFs. That might not seem like enough action for a 25-year old, but it’s the smartest thing to do. Put most of your energy into your work and learn to communicate. I think the people who become really successful are those who sense what others are feeling and how to make them comfortable.” The idea is to go with the conservative, familiar, and steady investments first. Why? Because they are proven and they work.

Good luck on your road to wealth accumulation. Now, I'm going to go get on my bike and head to the grocery store. I tell you if these gas prices stay high, I'm going to end up in great shape!

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Book Review: Overcoming Underearning by Barbara Stanny

review by Janine Bolon

Since I received this book I have read it four times. Each time I went through it I highlighted different principles and found a new gem between the covers. I was so blown away by Barbara's approach to money that I bought 10 more copies and passed it out to friends and clients. It is called “Overcoming Underearning: Overcome Your Money Fears and Earn What You Deserve”. Barbara Stanny is the author and I contacted her as soon as I finished reading it to get the inside scoop on her purpose/mission in life and how I could help others with her philosophy.

There are two paths to becoming financially independent. The first is becoming a habitual saver and not spending more than you earn. The second is making more money! Well, since you’ve been reading this blog you’ve been getting lots of good stuff on debt-free living, frugality and saving. What Barbara can do for you is get you earning more money! Now if you think this is a get-rich-quick-scheme then you need to find yourself another blog. That is NOT what the Money Muse is all about.

What Barbara’s book entails is a bunch of questions and journaling exercises to help you break down your personal barriers to wealth. Mainly, dealing with your fear and/or anger toward money. Barbara writes in a very easy-to-read style and walks you through many of the emotional pitfalls people have when working for money. She discusses how you think about money seriously determines your income level. That many of us walk around thinking we can only make a certain amount of money and no more. We actually limit our ability to earn income based on bad mental habits or emotional baggage from growing up in a home where money was seen as evil.

After reading Barbara's book I formed a telephone book club where several clients of mine read the book chapter by chapter and then we would all conference into a call and discuss the changes we had made in our outlook on money or where we surprised ourselves with barriers that we didn't know existed!

I highly recommend this book to anyone who has problems asking for a raise at work or who has difficulty getting what they feel they deserve for their work. If you are self-employed this book is a must. Some of Barbara's advice, if you're not getting enough clients, raise your rates! She explains why you need to do this as well as how to overcome your internal barriers to earning more.

Stop by her website and sign up for her free newsletter to keep your motivation going while you learn to break down your barriers to increased income. You can also read Barbara's 10 Traits of Underearners that will guide you on whether this book is appropriate for you to read.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Saving Money at the Grocery Store isn’t Really Saving!

by Janine Bolon

Last week I was visiting southern California and I stopped by a grocery store. As the cashier finished ringing up the sales she took the receipt out with a flourish, circled an item at the bottom and said to me, “You’ve saved $12.16 with us today!” I answered, “Yes, but I spent $25.63.” She looked at me with her smile fading and rebutted, “But you saved almost half that amount.” I thanked her for her time and took my groceries out to the car.

As I fumbled for keys, balanced milk jugs, and corralled children into car seats, I realized why I was so vexed. I didn’t save anything at that grocery store. I spent money. Not a penny was “saved.” I don’t care what the cashier has been told to say by her management. It is a lie to say I “saved” money.

No wonder so many of my clients have a hard time understanding the concept of savings and what to do with it. All around them businesses, friends and family are using the term “savings” and it has nothing to do with money that is conserved. It mostly states how much money wasn’t spent that could have been spent. This is not savings. This is spending. As I was ruminating over this latest incident my son pipes up from the back seat, “Mom, did we really save money back there?” I started laughing. A ten minute discussion ensued where I pointed out what savings meant to me versus what savings meant to the cashier. Stay with me, I know some of this is rather basic, but I figure if my children and that sweet cashier were getting conflicting messages on savings, I’m sure other people are too. This is what it means to save.

1- If you spend money, that isn’t saving! Forgive me, dear reader, for stating the obvious. But with the latest marketing techniques you may end up confusing what it means to save. If you have money leaving your bank account instead of earning interest, then you can rest assured you are not saving. I don’t care how pleasant the person behind the counter is when he/she circles a figure at the bottom of your receipt.

2- If you resist the urge to buy something and walk away, that is saving money. Many times we buy things that we simply don’t need. We want to treat ourselves after a hard day at the office or an argument with our spouse. If we are emotionally upset, many people spend money to feel better. To resist this urge means you are saving money. Find an activity that is free and stop the spending spree.

3- If you maintain a piece of equipment over the years so you don’t have to purchase a new one, this is saving resources. My husband and I take our vehicles in every time they are in need of an oil change. With the amount of driving we do, this is a frequent event! However, by maintaining our vehicles we can usually get 10-15 years of service out of them before we start to have major issues. That is saving money!

4- If you get your bank statement in the mail and you see that your savings account has increased rather then decreased, guess what? You’re saving money! You actually are in the habit of putting money aside and conserving your resources. You are a member of a minority by doing this. Only 1% of Americans save. By having a savings account where you consistently put money aside you are in the top echelon of our society. Cool, no?

I realize this is basic stuff. However, I also know how many folks are using language that says they “saved” money on a sale today when they actually SPENT money on an item! You either wanted that item or not. Don’t justify yourself using the marketing babble that you’ve heard. That ends up amplifying the problem. Be part of the solution and when you say you are saving money, make sure you mean that it is money in your account!

Thank you so much for letting me get that out of my system. I had no idea how much that trip to the grocery store riled me up!!! Happy Abundance to you.