12 Steps to a Comprehensive Financial Strategy

KQWMZQ7W1C (**Disclaimer**: nothing in this post should be construed as financial or legal advice or endorsement of any financial or other product or company. Consult a certified financial adviser or planner for professional advice. Regardless, you should always do your research and avoid biased sources. All opinions herein are solely my own.)

The trouble with financial advice is that it comes from all over the place - your parents, your siblings, your friends, your bank, your landlord, your super, ten different apps, you name it. How do you know whom to trust?

First of all, don't (readily) trust those people who 1) don't know your full financial picture and/or who 2) are motivated by profit from you, not your true financial well-being. That would mean developing skepticism at what's offered by almost every financial institution you deal with, including banks, financial advisers, mutual funds, etc. They all generally profit through fees, regardless of whether your money grows or shrinks while in their hands.

Ok, but who's left to trust, then? Trust those people who have their finances together and have applied the appropriate strategy for them and their family to effectively protect against risk in a world of complex financial instruments, wild market swings, rising expenses and uncertainty.

That would mean educating yourself about what works best for someone in your particular situation, reading the work of people who are not selling you specific products, but a strategy that makes sense for you, given your current financial circumstances.

The key to creating a comprehensive and well-calibrated financial strategy is A) diagnosing the full picture, 2) appropriately gauging the risk of certain events relevant to your age, family situation, standard of living and 3) counteracting that set of risks by covering yourself with the appropriate types of insurance, reserves and creating a plan of action in case of certain emergency scenarios.

Without further ado, here's how it's done:

A) Open your eyes. Get your head out of the sand. Money is a painful and difficult subject for most people. 

BUT, know that worrying about money kills your health and far too many marriages and relationships. Let it sink in that you can't "just get by."

Stop avoiding the subject. Bite the bullet. Start with baby steps.

Go to Mint.com (or another, similar money management tool that you can use easily and often) and set up an account, if you haven't already. Set up all your bank accounts to feed information to Mint. Set up all your student loans, credit cards and other debt to feed information there.

Don't become obsessed with your Net Worth figure. It can be dispiriting or illusionary, depending on whether it looks good or bad to you.

Once you have a clear picture of your assets and your liabilities, you can move on to crafting a strategy that makes sense for you. This includes doing careful research (avoiding biased sources) and asking for advice and help from professionals that have no stake in selling you certain products and just want to help you create a sustainable, well-calibrated plan.

Map out your monthly cash flows (ex: $10K salary in, $3K for rent, utilities and internet, $2K for student loan payments, $1K groceries and restaurants, $500 entertainment, $1000 credit card bill, $2500 to savings, etc.) Now you have what you need to start budgeting in order to reach your goals. Diagram how much exactly you take in, from where and at what time in the month / year, as well as what bills you pay and when and how much money you spend on specific categories. Software like Mint will help you categorize your purchases and other spending more carefully and consistently.

B) Start Saving and Investing ASAP, if you haven't started already. Timing is everything if you want your money to grow and work for you. The earlier you start, the more your money will accrue in a shorter time. 

For example, starting to save and invest at 22 for 10 years will earn you more interest than if you start at 32 and invest for 30 years. Let that sink in. Timing is everything. Start ASAP.

C) Create a list of goals for the next year, 2 years, 3, 5 and 10, as well as 20-30 down the road, for retirement. Do you plan to save for a long-awaited vacation? Are you planning to get married in 2 years? Do you want to buy a house in 5 and need 20% down payment? Do you want to send your kids to college in 15 years? Do you want to retire at 55 and travel around the world?

**Write down your goals** and place them in a visible place (fridge / work desk, etc.) It helps to remind yourself what you're working for on a daily basis.

Be as specific as possible with your goals - as in, here is exactly how much I need to save (ex: for my wedding by March of next year (6 months left)). Only when you set specific amounts and time frames will the goal become concrete and will it be easier to automate saving and put it out of mind (and stop worrying).

D) Create a monthly budget that takes into account all your incoming cash and outgoing bill payments and spending.

Be as specific and accurate as possible with categorizing your spending and amounts. It may take a bit of time to perfect this, but start ASAP.

The idea here is NOT to automatically cut down on everything you spend, but at least to see where you can save real money (ex: by buying in bulk, taking your own lunch to work, shifting how much you spend on going out to saving for your dream vacation, etc.)

Optimize your purchases by always 1) price comparing online and 2) finding ways to get what you need for free or less on Craigslist or otherwise on forums, Moms' groups, Facebook groups, church groups, among your friends, etc. There is always a ton of stuff that people want to get rid of because they've grown out of it, it doesn't fit their interior design criteria, they're moving or just getting rid of stuff. Oh yeah, and ALWAYS NEGOTIATE (see item G below).

E) Reduce the number of decisions about money you have to take each month - AUTOMATE! 

For example, set your salary to put the minimum amount into your company's 401(k) plan each month to get the maximum matching amount (FREE MONEY!). Set your checking account to transfer 5% of each paycheck to savings. Open a Roth IRA and automate your contribution from checking each month. If you have kids, open a 529 plan for them and contribute each month.

F) Hedge against the risks most relevant to you.

For example, if you have a family and/or kids, buy life insurance. Consider Identity Theft Protection (a common affliction these days). If you have a medical history of cancer, consider cancer insurance. Look into Short-Term and Long-Term Disability (many employers pay for or subsidize this). If you have a pet, look into pet insurance (yet, that exists).

Look into putting some money into an FSA (flexible spending account) or HSA (health savings account) if you know you'll need the money (tax-free) to pay for things like day care, your commute or expected health expenses throughout the year.

G) Always Negotiate (because everything is always negotiable)! Negotiate on major and minor purchases. Know the best times to make major purchases throughout the year. Negotiate on monthly expenses like car insurance, credit card rates, cell phones and other things by presenting competitor pricing and your leverage as a long-time customer (here's a great run-down of techniques that work for this). Always negotiate to have fees taken off your bill.

H) Monitor Your Credit Regularly to Check for Mistakes and Fraud. My recommendation for a free (yet robust) credit monitoring app is CreditKarma.com. Use it!

I) Pay off your Highest-Interest Debt First, before investing a lot of money (other than 401(k) free money, that is). 

For example, if you have student debt at 8.5% (or credit card debt at 29%), it would take a rather phenomenal (a.k.a. impossible) return on investment before you would be able to beat the interest collecting on your student loans. Use either the Snowball Method or Avalanche Method (here's a good primer on both). Either way, find a way to pay as much as possible per month to eliminate the debt ASAP and to save on interest payments.

Negotiate with your credit card provider to lower your rate or to pay off a lower balance up front. They can be quite flexible sometimes.

Look into refinancing your student debt, but beware losing any deferment/forbearance benefits you may have accrued.

J) Create at least a 6-12 month cushion in savings to maintain your lifestyle at a similar level in case of job loss or major financial loss elsewhere.

K) Once you have your credit card and student (and/or personal) debt on a plan to be repaid ASAP, then consider investing your money in low-fee financial instruments, such as ETFs and index funds. Reduce (or eliminate) the fees you pay a financial adviser by considering using a robo-adviser like Hedgeable, Wealthfront or Betterment. Your involvement should depend on what you can reasonable. Your level of risk should depend on both your financial goals, age and risk appetite, as well as how easily you are willing to part with the money, given your overall financial picture.

L) EARN MORE MONEY! 

Negotiate a raise, bonus or other extra perks / compensation using these excellent techniques from Ramit Sethi (trust me, they work).

Do you know a foreign language or two? Translate.

Do you write well? Do copywriting.

Do you freelance as a house painter, baby or dog sitter, consult startups on product strategy, love making jewelry or have another awesome hobby? Offer your services to people you know and online to companies and people willing to pay you for your talents. Then raise your rates.

Perhaps you should even start a business, if you're meeting demand that you know exists for your product and/or knowledge.

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Are there other important strategies you’ve used to get your finances in order and thriving? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

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Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

 

How to Kill All Your Sacred Cows and Really Start Living

RQQMTMI7Z1 "Living is easy with eyes closed, misunderstanding all you see. It's getting hard to be someone, but it all works out. It doesn't matter much to me." - The Beatles

"Fool me once, shame on me. Fool me twice, shame on you." - Proverb

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Most of us, regardless of our family's finances or background, grew up with certain people and concepts that remained untouched and untouchable - our sacred cows.

"Grandpa is a saint because he survived the Holocaust."

"My life is so hard because my parents messed me up in childhood." 

"I'm not good with money because I'm an artist." 

For example. when you grow up as a "really smart kid" but financially (and psychologically) insecure, you always worry about the next calamity and bill to pay. You start associating wealth with happiness and blame "circumstances" for your problems. As an adult, you find yourself unable to plan your finances - well, no one taught you.

You let others exploit your insecurity and take your precious time and money for themselves, make you feel guilty and obligated to them. You give of your time and resources selflessly not just because it's the right thing to do - but because you expect your "smarts" and accumulated "good karma" to bring you financial comfort and the company of good people.

When this doesn't magically materialize, you double down on your frustration and guilt, even as you double your hope that something, someone - hell, anything, anyone - will come to "save you." It doesn't happen. After enough vicious cycles, you begin to understand that the world is unfair and that you have to work just as hard as everyone else, despite your intelligence and good deeds. You're starting late, but pick up many lessons along the way, as you deflate your self-importance and start working like no tomorrow to get ahead.

Through all the many upheavals in my life over the years - whether in the ups and downs of romantic relationships and friendships, career trajectory, paying off enormous student loans while surviving in New York, becoming religiously observant, starting a family, learning to live with my flaws and warts (just as much as appreciating myself for the good things) and unpacking all the baggage from childhood as I raise my own daughter - I have learned that killing the sacred cows of my childhood and upbringing is both the most difficult / painful and also most liberating and rewarding process I have ever undertaken.

Here are the lessons I've learned that have helped to set me free:

1) Meaning trumps happiness. When you chase happiness as the end goal, you stunt your growth through painful or difficult experiences. Happiness is going through the process, not the goal. It is often ephemeral and doesn't last. When you seek meaning in life by asking hard questions of yourself and of others (Why am I here? What is my mission in life? How do I achieve it?), you are seeking a framework by which to live and that's with you every moment of the day, not just when you finish something you start or win a prize or reach a goal.

There is no rainbow with bliss at the end when you reach a certain stage in life or income or when you get to live in an amazing place or to meet celebrities or people you admire. You still have your mission in life to accomplish, your problems to solve and your potential to achieve. Get moving!

2) Your sh*t stinks just as much as everyone else's. Be slow to anger; be slow to rebuke your fellow by casting the first stone. The failure or character flaw you see in someone else is often the failure or flaw you have in yourself. But this doesn't mean you should lie down and let others trample all over you, either.

3) You're not a special butterfly. Don't treat yourself like one. You're neither an idiot nor genius, immune to mistakes or to disease, bad judgment or stubbornness. You have no special exemptions in life for being an introvert or sensitive or an artist or a billionaire or famous. Light is the best disinfectant (-L. Brandeis).

You have to play by the same rules as everyone else, even if some people you know may not be playing by all the rules.

Do things correctly and well, then meaning and money and respect (and other blessings) will come to you. Treat others well. Have a plan for your career and finances. Research carefully all big decisions and do due diligence on all people you deal with. Take small bites and chew slowly.

4) Even extraordinary people and people you greatly admire are still living the breathing the same air and are fallible and mortal and sometimes annoying and impossible. Mentors, celebrities, parents, siblings - they all fit into this category, no matter how much wiser, older, smarter, more experienced they may be. Don't replay the gospel they've taught you without questioning it critically. You have your own story and your own potential to guide you and inform your decisions. Understand why your parents or grandparents want you to become something particular in life - and then follow your own drummer (but you better learn to drum, first!) They might be compensating for something they lacked as kids or adults. Make your own path, regardless of whether it coincides with what they want or not.

5) You are not exempt from the rules of life - whether physical or moral, spiritual, financial, legal or otherwise. So learn all the rules and live by them. Don't take shortcuts on substance (it never works). Health (physical and mental) has to be constantly maintained and doesn't maintain itself. You have to practice what you preach and be the same inside and out (or you'll implode with hypocrisy). You need to understand who you are, why you're here and what you're meant to do in order to make it far in life. You have to organize your finances and maintain them actively or they will overshadow everything else in your life. You're not immune to the law, just because you're smart and know your way around the system. You must have all the relevant information to make decisions effectively. When you take risks, do it in a calculated and intelligent way (but do take them!). When you do act impulsively, at least have the good taste and the sense to stop with diminishing returns.

6) No one owes you a damned thing in life (unless by law or contract), regardless of what you've done for them. Learn to be grateful and self-sufficient to what degree you can. Don't rely on people completely; if you do, you'll always be disappointed.

7) When you assume, you make an a$$ of you and me. An oldie, but a goodie. Always do your research and due diligence, especially when it comes to your housing, schooling, potential mates, finances and all other big and important decisions. Again, don't rely on others completely to inform or advise you correctly. Always have your own opinion and data to back it up. Always have a backup plan. Oh, and nobody owes you a damned thing except by law or contract (see #6).

8) Your mate may be the greatest person in the world and the love of your life. But he or she is very much human and fallible and makes mistakes and sometimes misunderstands the world - just like you. That's fine and perfectly normal and you love him or her despite - or perhaps because - of it. That's why you two are complements to each other. Pick your battles. Learn to communicate well. Solve problems together. But don't put your mate on a pedestal where she or he's unreachable, un-reproachable and inaccessible. That's a recipe for resentment of the other, self-destruction and a broken relationship.

9) Beyond the basics, money brings you no extra happiness. Don't live life saying to yourself, "I'll do X only when I reach $Y per year in salary." Do what you can now (while you're young and unattached) without taking out irresponsible debt to do it. Travel, meet people; seek experiences, not things.

10) Your superstitions and scripts from childhood hold you back. Get rid of all your lucky rabbit's feet, four-leaf clovers, omens, talismans. Stop thinking every fourth year will bring you luck. Stop avoiding the cracks in the sidewalk. OCD and superstitions are weak-minded "remedies" to deal with uncertainty that only lead you to act irrationally and avoid evidence / data when making decisions. Superstitions lead you down lots of dark alleys with no good end. Dig deep to find these and how they negatively affect your life.

11) Align your religious beliefs with rational / practical life lessons. Your religious beliefs should not hold you back from common sense and practical considerations for how to organize and live your life. The two should be complementary in that religion should give you a wider perspective for who you are, why you're here, what lifestyle you want to live and how you want to raise a family and achieve your life goals.

12) Every person and circumstance you meet in life (no matter how annoying or enchanting, difficult or delightful) is there to teach you life lessons (sometimes positive, sometimes negative), to help you improve as a human being and professional and to help you move forward. Be kind to others; you don't know what the other person's going through. It's likely just as difficult for him or her as it is for you. Make the best of each encounter and circumstance. Don't dwell too much on disappointments or difficulties. Solve your problems as best and as quickly as you can and move on.

By following these principles, I have managed to rid myself of often-debilitating fatalism and a sense of hopelessness defined by circumstances - whether financial, professional, inter-personal or otherwise. This doesn't magically solve all problems, but it makes them more manageable.

The most difficult part is recognizing that there are many such scripts running in one's head that prevent making decisions effectively, planning effectively and implementing one's decisions. Years go by before one gets sick of one's own nonsense and resolves to change and clean out the junk from one's mind.

I hope this will help you to acknowledge all of the scripts attaching themselves to the decisions you make every day. Once you do, you can start the process of unwinding the weeds from your flowers, so you can continue growing.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Now go forth and uncover it for yourself!

Do you have other sacred cows you've killed to transform your life? Please share them with the Community in Comments below. We’d love to hear from you!

– –

Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

18 Pro Tips to Manage Stress (Sustainably, For Life)

P1000458 It's Monday yet again. You are behind at work, already stressed. The weekend was amazing, but now this. You're sick and tired of being this anxious, with the growling stomach and the sweats, the jumpiness and lack of focus. What to do?

I've been a worrier since I could worry, probably at 5. Here's how I've learned to deal with it. Throughout the day, I:

1) Walk briskly and a lot - regularly and throughout the day. I walk my daughter to her daycare, to the subway. After I'm in the office, I walk at mid-morning, then at lunch and then mid-afternoon. Ideally, it is the same time every day, but even if impossible, I make a point to walk. Even inside the office, I would rather get up and walk over to ask questions that to email. Brisk walking is just as effective as most exercise, without the impact or the risk of injury.

2) Put on my favorite music. The Mozart channel on Pandora helps me focus. Choose your own. It should be music that can put you at your ease and yet excite you just enough to power through the morning work. Toward the end of the day, around 3 (when circadian rhythms are generally low and you need a pickup), I put on jazz (Red Garland channel on Pandora). Again, whatever helps you to improve your mood and power through. Music is very powerful to improve your mood (or mess it up completely, if you don't choose well).

3) Meditate or pray. After I'm up and clean and dressed, I meditate and pray. Sometimes it's by myself and other times, in synagogue with others. I practice gratitude and pray for family and friends, for sustenance, for health and bodily integrity, for life itself, for guidance and for strength. This helps align my purpose and my mission with whatever comes that day, throughout the week, no matter what. This way, I always know why I am doing what I'm doing, even if it's stressful, boring or annoying.

4) Take breaks to stretch every 45 minutes to an hour, max. Sitting's slow death. Your muscles start to lost their tone. Your posture sags. Your resting heart rate goes down. I stand with my legs out, arms stretched and move side to side to stretch the arms and back. I stand up on my calves, back down, handful of reps. I move my neck around from side to side and front to back several times.

5) Filter my information flows effectively throughout the day. In order to stay sane when faced with hoses of emails and requests and articles and data, I organize my email and set up filter rules to know where I can find any message on any subject, from any person. I filter feeds on LinkedIN and on FB so that when I take my break at lunch and check them, I am looking at the news from sources that I want and useful articles from Harvard Business Review, Fast Company, Entrepreneur, Forbes, EurekAlert, etc. I regularly prune the feeds, unfollowing the people and the information sources that are wasteful. You set yours up whatever way you like. Unfollow people that contribute only photos of vacations or cat videos or other junk. Focus your information feeds for only things you need and move you forward in life. Cut down your email to a minimum. Unsubscribe from shopping emails and newsletters you don't need. Cut out the fat and junk.

6) Avoid negative people. These are the gossipers, the jealous, Debbie Downers, people that talk too much and about nothing useful, waste my time and drain my energy. Life is too short. My time's too valuable. There are too many things to do. Move on.

7) Keep a running journal. Whether by email, on paper or a post-It, I always write down my ideas for writing, business, things to do, agendas, goals and things to work on. Not only is this helpful as a record of your thoughts and history, but it's a useful means to move you through great stress and changes, scary thoughts. It helps you organize your thoughts, calm down, refine and craft a strategy for moving forward. It's great therapy.

8) Always organize my things. Aside from information flows, my work space is well-organized, my files easily accessible. The house is reasonably clean, the dishes washed, the trash is taken out. The mind gets cluttered easily and stressed if things can't be found with ease, if there's frustration around cleanliness and order. You don't need butlers, even maids for this. Just keep your things in order and clean up right after meals. Schedule cleanings every week.

9) Always prepare and optimize your time and things. Make lunch and pack it before bed. Go through my notes before the meeting. Check LinkedIN to remind myself about the guys or girls I'm meeting. Make an agenda. Write a project plan. Fill in the details. Do my research. Practice speaking. Always be mindful.

10) Prioritize experiences ahead of things. Experiences are what makes life interesting and fun and meaningful, not clothes or cars or real estate. I stop and smell the roses with my daughter, go out with my wife, sit down to write each day. I spend the Jewish Sabbath with good friends and neighbors. I go for coffee with entrepreneurs to hear ideas and give my own. I get the greatest value from relationships and books. This doesn't take much of a budget or of planning, just my motivation to live life.

11) Don't compare myself with anyone. Not because I'm so special, but because my mission in this life is totally unique, just like yours is and every other person's, equally. G-d and my parents gave me certain traits, some things I'm good at and some others that I'm awful at. Each person is this way. The only thing that matters in the end is what you do with what you have been given. What does it matter that your friend has better shoes or that your sister's smarter? Make the best of what you have. Each person has his path in life.

12) Try hard not judging others harshly; judge them favorably. I have no clue what they have been through in their lives and why they are the way they are. The less I judge, the less I am frustrated with the world and ultimately, my own failings. Each person has his ups and downs, his merits and his failings. Live and let live. Life will be easier for you.

13) Forgive myself. I may be far from perfect, but I'm not a useless shmuck. I push myself, I try my best. I have my highs and lows. Of course I fail a lot, but I have learned to live with it without debilitating doubts about myself. This may be the single hardest thing to practice daily, but it's critical.

14) Don't stress about the things I can't control. Whether it's getting sick, a tax assessment, water damage, hurricanes or terrorism, I've learned to live and focus on the things I can control. There is no point wringing your hands, being superstitious, trying to control your fate. Either your faith will carry you if you believe in G-d or if you don't, you'll think it's arbitrary and all meaningless. Live life as best you can; the rest is up to the Creator.

15) Do the hardest tasks in the morning, when I have the most energy and focus. Small (or even big) wins set me up well for the day to accomplish what I need to do. Motivation is everything. Never waste the day, especially the first half, which is the most valuable. Otherwise, you'll be frustrated and that will snowball into further stress.

16) Take time off from devices. No phone, computer, nothing before leaving home. No phone, computer, tablet, TV screen after 7 PM. There's nothing like abstaining from the constant onslaught of updates and information coming through devices. And most importantly, I take (an actual) and digital Sabbath every Friday night to Saturday night. This is time completely free of devices and is used to catch up with family time, friends and neighbors, plus to reflect on life and what's really important and meaningful in it, what I need to do to improve as a human being.

17) Sleep well and regularly, every single day. There's simply nothing better for bad stress than a good night of sleep. See what I've written on the subject.

18) Maintain a stable and sustainable routine, with room for variation, new experiences. Life is a crazy up-and-down. Because I've crafted and continue tweaking my routine, I always have a structure to the day and week that keeps me going through whatever stress, surprises, unexpected news. Without this, I would become jello, shrink away from life, depressed and miserable.

Now go chill out, you crazy anxious and hot mess! I'll see you on that walk around the park :)

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Do you have other strategies for beating stress, anxiety? Please share with the Community in Comments below. We'd love to hear from you!

– –

Like what you see? Visit BlueprintToThrive.com for more great strategies and tips for better health and wealth, plus improved productivity.

Follow us @Blueprint2Thriv

Yuri Kruman is a Healthcare Product Manager, published author, blogger at BlueprintToThrive.com and health tech entrepreneur based in New York.

*The views expressed herein are his own*

4 Important Things About Mindfulness You Didn't Realize

http://m.fastcompany.com/3020373/leadership-now/4-important-things-about-mindfulness-you-didnt-realize?utm_source=facebook