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Small Changes – Big Impact

Isn’t it funny the path that ideas can take to reach us?

Recently, I read a great article from Connor Neill that referenced an article from Derek Sivers which referenced an excerpt from the book Art and Fear.

The ceramics teacher announced he was dividing his class into two groups. All those on the left side of the studio would be graded solely on the quantity of work they produced, all those on the rightgraded solely on its quality.

His procedure was simple: on the final day of class he would weigh the work of the “quantity” group: 50 pounds of pots rated an A, 40 pounds a B, and so on. Those being graded on “quality”, however, needed to produce only one pot – albeit a perfect one – to get an A.

Well, come grading time and a curious fact emerged: the works of highest quality were all produced by the group being graded for quantity!

It seems that while the “quantity” group was busily churning out piles of work – and learning from their mistakes – the “quality” group had sat theorizing about perfection, and in the end had little more to show for their efforts than grandiose theories and a pile of dead clay.

I think this is great, and it reinforces the importance of making experiments.  The more experiments we make, the better.  We won’t be successful with each experiment, but we will learn from them.

Yet we are afraid to make “mistakes” when it comes to our money.  We continue making the same choices over and over and nothing changes.  We figure that one day we will make a big change when that raise comes through, when we pay off that loan, or when that long-lost relative is raptured and leaves us a fortune.

Are you making small changes to your spending habits, or looking for the one big thing that will make a breakthrough?

Small changes to your spending habits can have the big impact that you’re looking for.  You can find $200 per month in your budget, or you can find $50 per week.  Which sounds easier?

Start experimenting. You don’t have to swear an oath to never eat lunch out again. Commit to bringing lunch once a week.  You don’t have to save a huge amount.  Save 1% more than you’re saving now.  It may not allow you to retire tomorrow, but you’ll be in a better spot than you were yesterday.

I wrote previously about Thomas Edison’s quote “All our mistakes are burned up.  Thank God, we can start anew.

Give yourself permission to experiment and make some mistakes.  Learn from them, and start anew.

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6 Books for College Grads

I just wrapped up my first semester teaching at Loyola University New Orleans.  It was a wonderful experience, and I’m really excited to see what my students go on to achieve.  One of them asked me about books that I’d recommend, so I figured I’d sit down and make a list.

1.  Live Your Life on Purpose – 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. You’ve got to choose the course for your life, and this book was a great eye-opener for me.  I’ve read it 7 or 8 times.  I buy a copy when it’s time to re-read it, and then pass it on to somebody that I think could use it.

2.  Stay Organized – Making Ideas Happen by Scott Belsky. I teach Music Finance, so all of my students are creatives at heart.  The problem isn’t having ideas, it is executing on them.  Making Ideas Happen is a great system for making more of those creative ideas a reality.  Getting Things Done by David Allen would also be an excellent choice, but I think that Belsky’s book is more useful for the masses.

3.  Lead Us – Tribes by Seth Godin. It’s never been easier to find a community than it is today.  There’s no lack of followers, but there is a lack of leaders.  Tribes is a short, inspirational book about the modern journey of leading a tribe.

4.  Handle your Money – Get a Financial Life by Beth Kobliner. I don’t know that there is a perfect financial book, but this book is pretty good.   It covers the basics with enough detail to give you a foundation.

5.  Write Better – Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott. The biggest area of improvement for my students was in their writing.  Bird by Bird gives practical, actionable advice that can help make anybody a better writer.  The future belongs to the communicators and if your writing isn’t up to par you’re missing a huge opportunity.

6.  Write – Blank.  As my friend Eric Kies once told me, “Anybody can read a book, you need to see if you can write one.”  He didn’t mean an actual book, but more importantly, a personal journal.  Capturing your personal ideas, in your own handwriting, on a regular basis is a huge challenge and a wonderful gift to your future self.  Get a blank book and start writing in it.

That’s my list.  What would you recommend for new grads?

(note – none of the above links are affiliate links.  I only get paid by my clients.  If you’d like to talk about becoming a client, contact me and let’s chat).

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Before I Die…

My wife recently ran across some amazing photos of a house here in New Orleans that Candy Chang has turned into a huge chalkboard.  Stenciled out on the chalkboard is one question and we’re all invited to fill in the blank.

Before I die I want to ________________

That’s the big question for all of us, isn’t it?

I really encourage you to click on over to her site and take a look at some of the responses they’ve received.  I’m moved as I read through them, and have one big takeaway.

Nobody wrote that they wanted a bigger TV or a new car.  Nobody wrote that they want a second home or a faster computer.   The common threads that I see are about people and experiences.

People – Raise my children, tell my mother I love her, Be a Daddy

Experiences – Visit all 50 states, See Rome, Play the piano

In my work with clients, I often lead them through an exercise developed by George Kinder of the Kinder Institute.  One part of that exercise invites them to imagine that they’ve got 24 hours left on this earth.  What emotions are they experiencing? What is left undone?

Now some of you may be asking, what in the hell does all of this have to do with financial planning?

Everything.

If your plan doesn’t help you connect with what is most important to you in life, then what good is it?  You could have the greatest retirement income plan in the world, but if you have no vision for what you plan to do with that retirement, then we have missed the mark.

So today, take a few minutes to think about your answer.

Before I die I want to ______________

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Top Posts for April 2011

In case you missed them, here are my top ten posts for April 2011.

Graphic courtesy Wordle.net

  1. Financial Planning is not all about Investments
  2. Why You Should Work With a Small Financial Planning Firm
  3. A Financial Plan in 140 Characters
  4. Withdraw, but don’t Deposit
  5. “Our Mistakes are Burned Up”
  6. Memory Insurance
  7. 7 Financial Tips for Newlyweds
  8. Preparing for Disaster
  9. What is your Personal Debt Ceiling?
  10. Is Cash Really King?

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Fighting Poverty in America – Grameen Bank

From the moment I heard about Muhammad Yunus, I was blown away.  A professor of economics in Bangladesh, he started with $42 and made loans to women entrepreneurs in his local community.  By giving some of the poorest of the poor access to capital, he gave them the ability to take control of their financial future.

He ultimately founded Grameen Bank.  Grameen translates to community in Bengali, and the bank truly supports the community.  Loans are made to “solidarity groups”, which are small informal groups that apply for loans together.  They guarantee each other’s repayment thus adding incentive for the community to support each other’s success.

I’m asking you today to support Grameen Bank’s efforts in America.

There have been some efforts to bring microfinance to America, but none on this level.  I once heard Jonothan Kozol say that if he were dropped in any city in America, he could find where the poor people lived with no problem.  All he’d have to do is drive the main streets and eventually you’d stop seeing banks and you’d start seeing check cashing businesses.

Lack of access to financial services and education about how to properly use money is the great opportunity we have to help the generations to come.

Make a pledge to improve your financial future, and help Grameen America build their first branch

For the simple act of clicking on a button and pledging to improve your financial life, the Allstate Foundation will make a donation of a dollar to Grameen America and their work in supporting Microfinance in America.  This can range from passing up unnecessary purchases, saving money, or the one I chose: to teach friends and family about financial literacy.

Click on this link: (http://www.tocatchadollar.com/promise/) to make your promise and to learn more about Grameen America.

If you’re in New Orleans, I’m working on bringing the film To Catch A Dollar to a local university or theater.  Please let me know if you’d like to be involved in that effort.

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Financial Planning is not all about Investments

I regularly meet people and hear from them that they would love to work with a financial planner, but they don’t really have any money to invest.

That’s just plain wrong.

Financial planning isn’t all about investing.

Investing is part of financial planning, but it’s not even the most important part.  The Certified Financial Plannerâ„¢ Certification Exam shows that 19% of the exam is about Investment Planning, and just 1 of the 7 major topic areas of the exam.

I believe financial planning is about helping you figure out how to make all of the pieces of your financial life work together to meet your goals.  Investing may be a part of that, but things like figuring out what you really want to do with your money and your life, that your spending is in line with your values, making sure you have enough and the right kinds of insurance, and planning for your family in the event that you’re not there to take care of them are all important parts too.

It’s our fault, really.

As an industry, we have taught you that we are here to sell you product.  Whether that product is mutual funds, managed accounts, or insurance, that’s what you’ve come to expect from us.  And for good reason.  I’m guessing that 90% of the advisers you run across would like to sell you one product or another.

It doesn’t have to be that way.

A new model is emerging in our business.  One that focuses on our client’s values.  One that asks challenging questions that require some reflection and committment from clients.  One that doesn’t start by asking you about your money and then pushes you to squeeze your life into your money.  One that starts with your life, and helps you fit your money into your life.

I think you want objective, professional counsel, and not a product salesman.  I’ve bet my future and my family’s financial well-being on it.

Am I right?

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Withdraw, but don’t deposit.

I snapped this picture earlier this week when walking to teach my class.  A bank of ATMs are set up.  What do they all have in common?

That’s right.  You can withdraw funds from all of them, but you can’t make a deposit at a single one.

I realize that on some level, this is a business decision.  Maybe students don’t make deposits often, or they use direct deposit, or their parents deposit money directly into their accounts.

But I think there is a subtle message here.  I hear all of the talk about the need to improve the financial literacy and financial management skills of our students.  It’s time our financial institutions step forward too and encourage our students to save money too.

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Top Posts for March 2011

In case you missed them, I have listed my top ten posts for March 2011.

Graphic courtesy Wordle.net

  1. “Our Mistakes Are Burned Up”
  2. A Financial Plan in 140 Characters
  3. Handcrafted Financial Planning
  4. Using Technology for an Efficient Practice
  5. What Do You Do When Your Mortgage is Underwater
  6. Is Cash Really King?
  7. 7 Financial Tips for Newlyweds
  8. Do I Need a Planner?
  9. 6 Secrets to Help Sweethearts Overcome Cash Conflicts

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Memory Insurance

I’m guessing you may have never heard the term “Memory Insurance.”  It’s not really a product, or at least we don’t think about it that way.  Today is National Backup Day, and while you might not see a greeting card (yet) for this holiday at your local stores, it is probably worth focusing on at least once a year.

When I talk to clients about their most cherished possessions, often they talk about time with their family, and in particular, travel.  Photos taken with family and friends at special events and on vacation are truly treasures.  Nothing can destroy those treasures faster than a hard drive failure on your computer.  A solid backup program is great “Memory Insurance.”  Here are a few strategies to protect those priceless pictures, along with other important information.

1.  If you only need to backup pictures, consider uploading them to a service like KodakGallery or PicasaWeb.  By loading the photos onto one of these services, you’ve at least got a copy in cyberspace that can be downloaded or where you can purchase prints.  Some of these sites may reduce the quality or file size of the photos, so be sure to read the terms and conditions to be sure the service meets your needs.

2.  If you don’t have much to backup, look at DropBox.  I use DropBox to save files that I may want to access on different computers.  DropBox automatically saves the files online, and through the desktop program it can automatically sync those files to be sure I have the latest version on any computer.  The free account has a storage limit of 2GB, so if you don’t have a lot of data to backup this may work for you.

3.  If you have large amounts of data, look at unlimited plans through any number of vendors (Carbonite, Mozy,  CrashPlan, iBackup, you get the picture.)  If you’ve had a digital camera for a while, or have digital videos that you would like to have backed up, this is probably your best bet.

This is a very simple introduction to the world of backups but I hope it encourages you to think about your backup plan.  Once those files are lost, they are usually gone forever so take a small step now to protect them well into the future.

(For a more extensive discussion of your options, check out this article at CNet.com)

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A Financial Plan in 140 Characters?

I was having a recent conversation on Twitter with my good friend Michael Kitces (@MichaelKitces).  We were discussing the benefit of distilling points to 140 characters, and he raised the question of what’s the best financial plan we could come up with using just 140 characters?  We started to work on it and passed it around through some other practitioners for their input.  Michael wrote a great post on his blog that compiled the answers received.

The best I could do was: Know your goal. Save 10% of pay min. Insure life, health, disability. Track exps. Learn from mistakes. 3 mos of exps in cash

My favorite fun answer from my friend Matt (@EatPizza) was “Drink only High Life and Jameson. Invest in rare vinyl. Habitually lose your ATM card. No such thing as too many sandwiches.”

Follow me (@HJudeBoudreaux) for other tips like this.  Please also add your 140 character financial plan in the comments below!

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