June 2010 - Posts - The Dollar Stretcher
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The Dollar Stretcher

The Dollar Stretcher blog will explore people and money.

June 2010 - Posts

  • Jealousy

    Have you ever been jealous? I suspect that all of us have at one time or another.

    Typically when we think of jealousy we think of someone who can't stand to see their beloved pay any attention to another person. Hollywood has churned out hundreds of movies that revolved around jealousy.

    Another type of jealousy is for position or possessions. Often we describe that as envy. I could be envious of my neighbor's new ride or a co-worker's promotion. Most of us have probably experienced this. At least momentarily.

    How we respond can make a big difference in our personal finances and our happiness.

    On the one hand we can choose to 'keep up with the Joneses' and buy a new car that will make us feel equal to or better than our neighbors. Of course that will either require a big withdrawal from our savings or agreeing to make payments for years. In other words, a reduction in our net worth. A step back from our personal financial independence.

    Another possible response is to want to see the other person lose what they have. Hope that they fail in that new job or that someone backs into their new car. In short, if I can't have it, I don't want them to have it either.

    It occurs to me that response hurts me in two ways. First, I become hardened and hateful. Very selfish. Certainly not a healthy and happy place for my mind to be.

    I think that jealousy also hurts me financially. Instead of trying to build myself up financially, my mind is working overtime dreaming of ways that the other person could be brought down. My mental energy isn't being used to create wealth (mine), but to destroy wealth (other person's). No matter how you look at it, that's not a formula for making myself or my world better.

    So anytime that I catch myself being jealous of possessions or position I try to quickly get off of it. Knowing that I'm only hurting myself makes it a little easier.

    What's been your experience with jealousy? Am I missing something? Is there a situation where jealousy has actually been helpful to you? Or do you agree and have techniques that you use to identify when you're beginning to fall into a jealous mindset? What do you think?

    Keep on Stretching those Dollars!


  • Use It Up

    This week we have a video that I think you'll find interesting. It's from a 90-something grandmother telling what cooking was like back during the depression.

    Part of the interest for me is that I like to learn from our past. They say that the difference between man and animals is that adult humans can teach their children what they've learned. So, at least in theory, the children don't need to learn the same things all over again. We're able to live better by learning from those who have walked the earth before us.

    In the video Clara Cannucciara demonstrates a recipe what she explains what cooking was like during some tough times. Perhaps you're already doing the things that she suggests, but I admit that watching her gave me a renewed desire to avoid waste in my kitchen. So take a look and let us know what you think. Can we learn from those times? Or is that just too far in the past to have any relevance today?

  • The Root of Self-Respect

    "Self-respect is the root of discipline: The sense of dignity grows
    with the ability to say no to oneself."

    - Abraham Joshua Heschel 1907-1972

    Abraham Heschel, who authored today's quote, might be unknown to you. He was to me until I Googled him. He was a leading Jewish philosopher and theologian of the last century. And, while I'm sure that the quote is consistent with his religious philosophy, you don't need to be religious at all to see the merit in the quote.

    It would be difficult, if not impossible, to have self-respect without having self-discipline. And, an obvious indicator of self-discipline is the ability to say 'no' to yourself.

    What's this mean for our finances? The more often that we control the urge to splurge, the better we'll feel about ourselves. That each time we refuse to spend money needlessly, we actually build our self-respect.

    Perhaps that's why so many of us seek Financial Indpendence. We don't want to be dependent upon others. We want something better. A self-respect that's rooted on our own actions.

    I'm not a psychologist or sociologist, but I suspect that's a little different than the world view that predominates today. I get the feeling that from childhood on people are taught that self-respect is based on other people praising you. That a steady stream of teachers tell you that you're special. Later teens look to their friends for validation. And, as adults we want others to respect us based on our jobs or the value of our possessions (think homes, cars, clothes, vacations, etc). A prescription for overspending, debt and ultimately a loss of self-respect.

    Don't get me wrong. I believe that every person is valuable. And, they should know it. But, none of us can have self-respect based on what others think of us. Self-respect is just that - respect for ourself. And, that means that it must come from us.

    Today's quote is a reminder that the ability to say 'no' to yourself is vital to a feeling of self-respect. That's something that we all can do if we really want to. Building a solid self-respect on sound footing.

    So what do you think? Am I making a big deal out of nothing? Or does much of our view of ourselves stem from our ability to control our desires?

  • A Father's Day Blessing

    Sunday is Father's Day. My best wishes to all you dads out there. And, while it's nice to receive cards, gifts and congratulations, it's also a good time to think about what it means to be a father.

    My kids are largely grown up. Late teens, early twenties. Looking at them sometimes I'm able to see the things that I tried to teach them growing up. And, that's generally a pretty good feeling. Especially if those things help make their lives better.

    But, I've also noticed that they display the things that they saw me do while they were growing up. And, being very human some of the things that I modeled for them were good. But, some were not so good. Looking back, I can see places where I might have done a better job for them. Naturally I hope that the sins of the father don't cause too much trouble in their lives.

    What's this have to do with your Financial Independence? Perhaps more than you think. If you know that your kids will be imitating what you see that's another reason to do the things that are best for your life. In other words, when your kids see you avoiding unnecessary purchases they'll learn how to do it for themselves. So you've been a good parent. But, you'll also benefit because you'll be that much closer to your own Financial Independence.

    So I share a Father's Day wish for all you dads. May the financial behaviors you model not only be a guide for your children, but may those behaviors bring you closer to your own Financial Independence.

    What financial behaviors have you noticed your kids imitating you? Not just the little kids, but your teens and even grown children? I'd love to hear your stories.

  • Scheduling for Tomorrow's Success

     I've found that there's a danger to my job. I can spend the whole day meeting deadlines. Doing the things that need to be done. But at the end of the day I haven't done any of the important things that will make a real difference tomorrow.

    The same is true of my finances. If I'm not careful, the chores of the day consume all of my time. I don't get to do any of the important things that will make a big difference in the years to come.

    I know that some efficiency experts suggest that you leave a couple of blocks of unscheduled time in your day. They suggest that so you will have space for when unplanned events drop into your day. But, I think that I might start blocking off some time specifically to think about my goals and plans. Not leaving it to chance.

    So what do you think? Should each of us schedule some time for thinking about and setting goals? Is that something you do? Something that people you respect do?

  • A Series of Little Things

    Don't be afraid to give your best to what seemingly are small jobs. Every time you conquer one it makes you that much stronger. If you do the little jobs well, the big ones will tend to take care of themselves.
    - Dale Carnegie

    This quote from Dale Carnegie really strikes home for me. You see, I'm not terrific at any one thing. Except maybe determination. Early on I learned that if I did the small things right, over and over, that things would often turn out OK. So much of my life has been about doing the little things right and watching the results build over time.

    Doing that has taught me something else. That just about anyone can do the same thing. You don't need any special talent to put together a meal plan each week or to caulk your windows each year. Nothing special about cleaning or replacing air conditioner filters. But if you do those little things right over and over, it will make a difference. Try it. You might not notice the difference at first, but if you stick with it you'll see big results over time.

    What do you think? Can little things add up over time? Or is this just more positive thinking that doesn't work out in real life? I'd lover to hear your thoughts on the subject.

  • Home Cooking

    Like many families, we've cut down on restraurants in the last few years. And, it's made a big difference on our bottom line (financial, not pants size).

    I took over most of the family cooking last fall. I had done it before, but my better half had been responsible for cooking for the last 8 or 9 years. It can be a chore. Especially if I wait until the end of the day to decide what's for dinner. Not only does it hang in the back of my mind during the day, it feels like I'm backed into a corner when it gets near 5pm and still don't have a plan. Having someone else do the cooking begins to look real good.

    So I find that planning a week at a time works well for us. I can plan easy/quick things or leftovers for nights that I'll be home late or someone needs to leave the house right after dinner. Like tonight. Simple leftover spaghetti from last Sunday.

    On nights where there's a little more time I can experiment a bit. We like Philly cheese steak sandwiches. Took me awhile, but I finally got that down. I'm still trying to figure out how to do a good chicken fried steak. As I learn these dishes it reduces the urge to go out to eat.

    I'm also learning that it's easy to combine some meat/fish with just about any vegetable and some rice. In about a half hour I can serve everyone a reasonably healthy meal that's low cost. Plus, different seasoning can make each time a whole new experience.

    Finally, I've become real friendly with my slow cooker and freezer. One works quietly for me all day while I'm at work. The other allows me to make enough for an extra meal to stash for a night that I really don't want to cook at all.

    Just in case you were wondering, I didn't discover all this by myself (just not that smart). Others have taught me much. So I really enjoyed the article by Donna Cook on making your own convenience foods. I wouldn't be surprised if you found it helpful, too.

     Keep on Stretching those Dollars!


  • At The Improv

    A number of months ago I was reading about ways for businesses to 'brainstorm' new ideas. One of the things that was emphasized was to encourage people to volunteer ideas no matter how good or bad they might seem. The article pointed out that if the leader allowed others to immediately reject ideas that soon no one would be willing to risk putting out an idea for fear of rejection. Having participated in various brainstorming sessions I can tell you that's exactly true.

    To help illustrate their point, they explained how actors are trained in the art of improvisational comedy. Improv comics are told to go along with whatever their sketch partners say. For instance, if one comments that the sun is blue today, the next player will go along and say something like "that's the bluest the sun has been for weeks". Like our brainstormers, the improv actors know that the best time to kill an idea is when it's brand new and has very little support. So to keep their sketch moving they encourage every idea presented. Their goal is to take the idea, no matter how silly, one step further. And, if you've ever watched improv comedy, you know that sometimes the results can be very funny.

    So how does this relate to our finances? Two ways. The first is that new ideas are the easiest to squash. For instance, if everyone at work goes out for lunch each day, it's going to be hard to stay in and eat last night's leftovers. Most of us have a hard time defending a new idea against immediate opposition. It'll be easy for your co-workers to belittle your idea and make it seem foolish. But, that doesn't make it a bad idea. In fact, it could be a very good idea especially if you find that you're spending too much on food. Still if you're the only one with a new idea it's easy to be talked out of it. Recognizing that could be enough to same some valuable ideas for you.

    The second way it relates is that we probably want to be careful about following any idea presented like they do in improv comedy. Going along with someone who says that the sun is blue could lead to a hilarious comedy sketch. But it might be dangerous to follow someone's bad financial moves. Just because a friend buys a car they can't afford doesn't mean that you should buy one that's even more expensive. The results will not be funny.

    My guess is that most of us have participated in one of the two situations. Either we've been talked out of a good idea because it was new to us or we've played follow the leader even though the leader didn't know where they were going. I suppose that the real answer is to become more familiar with myself. Understand when I need to dig in and pursue my plans because they're best for me. And, also to know when I'm being overly influenced by someone who really doesn't know what they're doing.

    Keep on Stretching those Dollars!


  • Smiling Your Way to Success

    Sometimes two different things come together unexpectedly. I just had that happen to me. It was two separate ideas that seeminly had nothing in common.

    The first was a news article. 46% of Americans report that they're suffering from debt related stress according to a poll cited by The Associated Press. Not surprising given current debt levels and a lack of job security for many.

    The second piece of the puzzle came via Netflix. It was in a 4 part mini-series put out by the BBC called "The Human Face" starring John Cleese. In the first part was a section that talked about a study that used yearbook pictures of girls from 1960. They graded the girls pictures for happiness based on how big and natural their smiles were (they actually have a scientific measurement for this). Then they contacted those women now - some 40 years later (the show was from 2001) and asked them to report how happy their lives had been. Turns out there was a correlation between the smile in their yearbook photos and what they reported years later. The bigger the smile in 1960, the more likely that life was happy since then.

    What's the tie in? Although we need to recognize our financial situation for what it is, you can't help but wonder if being stressed today is going to cause long-lasting effects on many people. We've always said that poor financial management could cause pain, but it appears that the pain could become chronic.

    Now I'm not suggesting that smiling today will make your life happy for the next 40 years. But, it's probably not too much of a stretch to say that happiness becomes a habit. That we fall into a pattern over time. In other words, happiness leads to more happiness.

    And, it's also not to say that the pattern can't be changed. In fact, knowing that there's a pattern is just the knowledge we need if we want to change an unhappy patch of life. Recognizing it is the first step to changing that pattern to a happier one.

    So meet your daily financial goal (whether it's saving $2 or paying extra on your credit card bill). And be happy when you do. Because you're one step closer to Financial Independence!

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Gary is a former financial planner and purchasing manager who edits The Dollar Stretcher website <www.stretcher.com> and newsletters. You can follow Gary on Twitter.com/gary_foreman
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