Monday, September 12, 2011

The First Steps in Learning to Take Care of Yourself - Start Where You Are

In an ideal world we all would have started as children and teens to begin to learn how to take care of ourselves. There are a dozens and dozens of magazines for young women that teach us how to dress well, find the best cut for our hair, line our eyes and blush our cheeks. But I don’t know of a single magazine for young people (girls and boys) that talks about how to take care of yourself financially.( I’ll share what I have done with my children in another blog.)

So now that we are grownups we find various ways to deal with our money, but many of them don’t really include the thought “I am responsible for myself”.

Many people live paycheck to paycheck. I don’t just mean not earning enough, I mean not looking at your paycheck as a part of your whole life. It’s the person who pays all their bills and then when there is something left over, “rewards” herself (or himself) with something she may want but not need (and that’s a whole other blog!). Consequently, the paycheck is gone till the next one comes around.

The idea is that our money should be part of a plan that we have developed to reach specific goals. You have all heard the pay yourself first strategy.

This is true if you are married, single, divorced or widowed. A paycheck can be household income from a partner’s salary, income from a career, a pension. Whatever, you need to take care of yourself by developing a life plan.

I hear you. But I’m in my 40’s, 50’s – how can I do that now?

As in yoga, take a deep breath, concentrate on that breath, let your mind become centered and focused and follow the words of one of my favorite authors on life and meditation, Pema Chodron. “Start where you are.”

Starting where you are if you are married or in a committed relationship but have opted out of your financial life it means sitting down with your partner and saying that it is time the two of you figure out where you are going financially and what has been done to date. That it is time to be an active partner.

If you are not in a relationship, it means sitting down with yourself and being very honest about your situation.

So here is where you begin, with a conversation with yourself.

Ask yourself what it is you want in your future? The answer is not just “a comfortable retirement”. Ask what that retirement looks like. Where are you living? Are you traveling, playing golf or tennis? Taking up yoga, painting dancing? Doing charitable work in your community? Pursuing a second career? Living in a different country? The possibilities are endless. Ask your significant other the same questions, it is important to take your partners plans into consideration.

Then ask yourself, “What do I have to do to get there? Back up a bit. It’s not just about retirement goals; it’s about the next 5 years or 10 years too. It’s about your health ~ physically, spiritually and financially.

Here’s the hard part – you have to look at your income; now and in the future. You may have to adjust your goals or your income situation. If you are only going to earn $50,000 annually, you are not retiring to the south of France and making wine. That's probably not what you really want to do anyhow.

Don’t panic! The reward here is that when you start to be true to yourself, take care of yourself, be honest with yourself, you become empowered and can do anything!

This is a lot to digest, so more in the next blog.

Note: I really want to hear from you, but because I am a financial planner and what we say and the things we write are highly regulated, I may not be able to fully reply to your comments or questions. I have to submit my responses through my compliance department, so I plan to respond to broad inquiries and comments rather than personal questions. I can be reached at