Comfort Zone

When we first get fired up about doing well with our finances or our marriage or any other area of our life we are willing to do crazy stuff to make it happen.  We are willing to really stretch our comfort zone.  We will go to counseling, do crazy stuff to save or earn money, eat like a rabbit to lose weight and do crazy exercises to get fit.

The problem with comfort zones is they shrink back to the old ways if we don’t continue to set new goals and do the crazy stuff it takes to reach them.  Before we know it we’re eating our savings again, we’re not communicating well in our marriage, and we’re not making it to the gym nearly as often.  The habits have drifted back towards where we started.

Goals and accountability make the difference – written goals that are in front of us somewhere so we see them all the time, and someone to nudge us to say, “How are you doing reaching that goal?”.  Sometimes the accountability is a spouse but sometimes it’s better for there to be some outside accountability as well.

I’m planning to start being more transparent with my goals on this site.  I’ve seen how my friend Joe has done it with his house payoff goal, and how the guy at MyMoneyBlog has done it to build net worth.  There are some things that are not even financial that I have ways to track and measure that maybe I should be more transparent about and that stuff will start showing up on here.

What are some things you could start doing and tracking to get out of your comfort zone and work harder towards your goals?

5 Big Things Couples Fight About

It would be impossible to list ALL the things couples fight about, so here is a quick rundown of 5 big ones that can cause tremendous strain on a marriage:

  1. Money – It is an every day part of life that affects everything whether we want it to or not.  Each spouse approaches money differently – different attitudes, experiences, personalities, habits, knowledge, ability, this list could go on and on.  Those differences in how money is managed can create daily conflict.
  2. Sex – It should be a frequent part of married life that affects pretty much everything because of the intimacy it is supposed to create between us.  So the conflict arises over frequency and satisfaction. (that needs a whole lot of explanation I’m not going in to with this post)
  3. Kids – If you’re doing the above I can tell you from experience that kids are highly likely to happen.  Then each spouse approaches raising them differently, how to love, discipline, provide, and teach them.
  4. Family – Each spouse has differences on their “side” of the family, and that affects the marriage.  How involved the extended family is, where holidays and special occasions are spent, and how to prioritize the needs of the immediate family and extended family so that neither ends up totally neglected.
  5. Career – The type of work we do, the amount of time we work, where we have to live or move to do that work, the people we work with, the opportunity it creates or passes by, the financial return for the work.  Each spouse sees these things differently and the career decisions we make affect each other no matter how “independently awesome” we think we are.

Does this list look pretty accurate as 5 biggies that affect marriage greatly?  Just because I listed them in that order doesn’t mean that is the order you’re experiencing them in.  But I strongly believe it makes sense for most couples to deal with them in that order.  The key is turning these points of friction in to productive opportunities to communicate and cooperate with one another in a way that strengthens our relationship rather than weaken it.

Some Simple Thoughts on Respect and Love

Read Ephesians 5 where it talks about wives respect and husbands love…

Today I just had some quick thoughts that put the respect and love dynamic in to some simple modern day marriage situations, so I thought I’d jot them down real quick.

Wives – don’t expect him to come home from work and do more work at home than you’re willing to do.

Husbands – don’t expect to come home from work and plop down in front of the TV while she does all the work.

Wives – don’t expect him to spend less time watching football than you do watching Facebook and TLC.

Husbands – don’t expect sex from her if there is a pile of laundry and dishes to do and you didn’t even help put the kids to bed.

Wives – don’t expect him to put the kids to bed and do the laundry and dishes and mow the lawn and clean the floor and toilets and give you a mani-pedi and a back rub in order for you to be in the mood.

Husbands – don’t expect her to respect you if you are never showing love to her.  You don’t do date night – she don’t do sexy time.  You don’t do dishes – she don’t wash your nasty underwear.  You don’t do deep, open, honest, meaningful conversations – she don’t do uplifting and encouraging affirmation of your leadership of the family. (bad use of “don’t” for emphasis)   But wives!  Just because I wrote those things doesn’t mean that’s how it has to go.  Try doing your side of all those statements even if he doesn’t do his side of all those statements and see what happens.

Wives – don’t expect him to love you if you are never showing respect to him. You don’t do sexy time – he don’t do dishes.  You don’t affirm his leadership of the family – he don’t do deep conversation.  You don’t do football watching – he don’t do chick flick watching.  (bad use of “don’t” for emphasis)   But husbands!  Just because I wrote those things doesn’t mean that’s how it has to go.  Try doing your side of all those statements even if she doesn’t do her side of all those statements and see what happens.

Do you see the pattern of give and take?  It’s called compromise.  It’s never fair, but it works.  Shawna always says “Fair” is a place people ride rides.  Stop expecting life to be fair.  Give and see what your spouse will give in return.  Then don’t be afraid to take it.  If this dynamic gets too one sided have a healthy heart to heart to get to the bottom of it and try to improve.

Lead In Building Relationship

Husbands should lead, and that includes building relationship with our wives.  Dude, when is the last time you had a date night?  If we’re not spending time developing the relationship we have with our wife then it is pretty much impossible for us to be the trusted leader of our family.

What is getting in the way?  Are you giving her the cold shoulder because she was mean or disrespectful about something to you?  I understand – I’ve been there.  But you gotta get over it and lead her to a place where you can work through that and work on the relationship anyway.  If she continues to treat you wrong that is on her and she will have to answer to God.  You’ve gotta do what you’re called to do.  Lead whether she likes it or not.  How do you even know she’s not already wishing you would?

Daddy’s, we should lead in building relationship with our kids.  It isn’t easy.  It’s even awkward at times.  But they need to know us.  They need our love and influence in their life.  They aren’t going to lead us in building that relationship.  Our wives shouldn’t have to force us to build that relationship.  We should seek and build that relationship as the leader of our family.

It’s so easy for us to become complacent with those who love us most, which makes it easy for those relationships to suffer.  I have to pray all the time that God will show me ways to be intentional in leading the relationships in my life that are most important to me.  All men should do that – even men who are not married or have kids yet because one day you hopefully will.

Bottom line – the man is supposed to be the leader so the man should take the lead in building relationships, knowing that it will help the marriage and family accomplish more in so many ways spiritually, relationally, and financially.

Husbands Should Lead

That statement offends feminists but I don’t care.  God’s design is for husbands to lead the marriage.  It’s how he wired male and female and commanded husbands to lead the family spiritually.  Part of that is prayer, reading the word, and making decisions about life that honor God.  That decision part is where we get our panties in a wad.  Ladies don’t want to be in a position of dependence or submission to a man – they want to be independent and make their own decisions.  I understand that and I’m not suggesting ladies don’t have a say.  Good leaders (husbands) listen to others before making a decision, especially their wife (hopefully they’re a Godly wife).

I’m also not suggesting ladies can’t be leaders.  They can lead lots of things.  Just not their husband spiritually.  God’s design is for husbands to lead.

Here are some of the general reasons I believe husbands who aren’t leading aren’t doing so:

* their wife won’t let them
* their wife doesn’t respect them
* they’re lazy
* they don’t have accountability
* they don’t even have a relationship with Jesus or the Biblical guidance to start with

When I’m coaching couples I know he’s not leading if:

* He has no clue about the financials because she handles it all
* They indicate that they never go on date night
* Either of them has a hobby that dominates their time and/or money
* The kids dominate their time and/or money
* They can’t remember the last time they prayed together or read anything Biblical together

Some are thinking “we’re different” or “we’re the exception” or something along those lines.  No you’re not.  There’s a lady reading this who thinks their husband is just not the leader type or it’s just not his personality.  This isn’t a personality thing and I’m not talking about the perception all the leadership guru crap of our culture has created.  That husband is called to lead.  They may have been beat down for years with unreasonable expectations, lack of patience, and general disrespect by you or other family, friends, or bosses.  But there is a man inside there somewhere that is called to lead his family.

Be Careful When You Cheat

It’s not what you think.  The context I’m talking about “cheating” in is not one we normally think of.  I’m not referring to cheating on a relationship, in a game, or ay other type of contest.  I’m talking about cheating on plans.

How’s that diet and exercise plan going right now?  How’s that spend more time doing things you love plan going?  How’s that financial plan going?  Have you cheated on any of these lately?  It’s ok – really!  I’m not beating anyone up for cheating.  I can cheat on diet and exercise with the best of them (not to mention other things).  But the problem we all have to be careful of is cheating on plans without planning to compensate.

For example – ideally if I eat something that wasn’t part of my diet plan I’ll add something to the exercise plan to compensate for it.  When I use my time for something other than I planned to use it for ideally I can make up that time somewhere else so that I still accomplish the things important to me.  When we cheat on our budget and use funds intended for one category for another category, we should make up for that in another category.

It’s no secret that most people lack the discipline to stick to every plan perfectly.  Our minds change.  We lose focus.  Our motivation wavers in moments of weakness.  But we must accept that when we don’t follow the plan something is going to compensate whether we want it to or not.  If I blow up the diet I’m going to have to exercise more or fall short of the fitness goal I want to accomplish (or let it take more time).  If I skip quality time with my family I have to make time available to replace that or miss out on those moments forever.  If I spend money on eating out that wasn’t in the plan I won’t have as much money as I wanted to have for vacation (or it will take longer to save it).

The common denominator in any of those scenarios is time – the great equalizer.  All plans require time.  We can either stick to the plan, compensate, or accept that the goal will take more time.  The easiest option is to avoid the discipline of sticking to a plan and simply accept that reaching goals will take more time.  Why rush goals when I can eat what I want now, make urgent what seems urgent now, and buy whatever I want now?  Just accepting that goals will take more time enables us to cheat on plans without compensating.  It enables us to lack discipline.

It is the lack of discipline to stick to plans or compensate and adjust to changed plans appropriately that makes so many people fall short of their hopes, plans and dreams.  A little cheat here and a little cheat there never hurt anybody…until it adds up over time into a mountain of lost opportunities.  So be careful when you cheat – it could cost you something you can’t get back, time.

“I” Is Selfish

For some reason the past couple of months I haven’t been able to shake thoughts about selfishness and greed, so I’m gonna get some of these thoughts out in the open in case they somehow offer perspective someone needs to read.

We all have a selfish nature.  It can take a very intentional effort to not let that selfish nature define who we are and how we interact or relate to others.  It gets on my nerves to hear people use the word “I” so much – especially when they begin every sentence with it.  Using the word I so much is a sign of selfishness.  Just listen to how it sounds.  “I did…”, “I got…”, “I have…”, “I accomplished…”, “I earned…”, and in summary “I am awesome in my own not so humble opinion”.  That’s basically how some people sound to me, and it’s just ridiculous.

A business communication class in college taught me to avoid using “I” so much, particularly as the first word in a sentence – probably because it sounds so self-centered.  My parents had a very good one-line tough-love statement they used to teach me about selfishness.  Any time I would selfishly fight to get my way my parents would simply remind me, “The world doesn’t revolve around you son.”  Now I find myself using that line sometimes with my own children.  It’s a very good lesson!

This general use of selfish language and mentality might be the problem in a lot of our relationships and marriages.  Our friends might be annoyed by our constant focus on ourself, particularly through how we speak “I” constantly.  There might be a communication disconnect between spouses that neither is even aware of, and it could be because one or both are constantly using the word “I” and “me”.  Just think about that for a second.  In the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman one of the love languages is words of affirmation.  It’s kinda hard to be affirming to someone else with words when all we ever talk about is “I” and “me”.

Try this:

  1. Take the focus off yourself for two seconds and think about someone else. I mean really THINK about them.
  2. Now think of a sentence that starts with “you” and ends with something good to say about that person.
  3. Now look at them and say the sentence you’re thinking.  Yes – say it out loud.

Doesn’t that feel nice?

I’m Ok With Expensive Divorce

There’s this saying I’ve borrowed many times that goes like this, “Marriage is grand, but divorce is a hundred grand.”  Well, I’m sad to come to the realization that statement not really true.

I’ve always been under the impression that by the time you go through the legal process, divide up everything, and pay any alimony or child support that might be involved that divorce would cost many thousands of dollars.  But billboards along the highway have now educated me differently.  Several months ago I saw one that advertised divorce for like $299.  It was in a very small country town so my initial thought seriously was that’s either a broke lawyer or dumb lawyer that for whatever reason chose to be a lawyer here rather than somewhere with more people.

But then just the other day I saw another billboard that advertised divorce for $499 with an added keyword in the message – “uncontested”.  Now it all began to make sense to me.  Couples are filing for divorce and as long as it is uncontested the lawyers can just churn through them at a rate that justifies paying for large billboards (not cheap) to advertise those cheap prices.

A few years ago I read an article about how couples were holding off filing for divorce because they either couldn’t afford it while the economy was bad or because they were waiting for the value of their assets to bounce back so that they’d be worth more in divorce.  I suppose now that housing is on the rise again and the stock market is moving up again that couples are making their move and calling it quits thus increasing demand for divorce lawyers.

So, if you’re tracking what all I’ve said so far here are…

Three Divorce Business Dynamics Destroying The Institution of Marriage

  1. Demand for divorce seems to be increasing.
  2. Lawyers are conducting divorces for very cheap, even incentivizing couples for making it easy.
  3. Couples are just giving up, not contesting, not fighting for their marriage.

What is going on?  Why aren’t couples fighting to save their marriage?  Why are lawyers willing to take such low fees for divorce filing?  Please lawyers – I’m ok with the cost of divorce being very high.  Please raise it!  There will still be some divorce cases and fewer cases will actually make the job easier, and if the fee is high enough it will offset the lost opportunity of all the cases that will become saved marriages.  There will still be a way to become the stereotypical dirty and greedy lawyer, just without taking down so many peoples lives in the process.  Try being the “good” lawyer that gives people an incentive to save their marriage.

Fight people!  Marriage is not something you just pay a few hundred bucks to dispose of.  Why don’t couples spend a few hundred bucks on counseling first?  In fact, I bet most people know someone that loves them enough and wants them to save their marriage that they will pay for the $499 divorce if the couple will try $499 for counseling first.  Try something, try ANYTHING before going down to the nearest drive through divorce lawyer.

Please DON’T GIVE UP!  Marriage is worth fighting for.

What To Do When A Budget Category Doesn’t Get Spent

Have you ever faced this challenge?  You get to the end of the month and there is a budget category or two that didn’t get all spent.  That’s a good challenge to have because it means there is actually money left over at the end of the month.

Keep in mind I’m a saver so my biased opinion is to put extra money towards a savings goal or debt payment.  If you don’t have an emergency fund in place that’s probably the best thing you could do with any extra money, but that’s the saver in me talking.  If all the debt is payed off except the house then I might even do something crazy like put extra towards the house payment.  Those are saver-minded ideas.

The spenders are revolting as they read those ideas.  They want to spend it on something, anything other than holding it in an account or putting it towards debt that could always wait another month to get paid down (the procrastispender – I just made that up – trademark).  They would rather blow it all at a single expensive restaurant than see it put behind bars in a bank.

See how this could cause a problem?  Everyone is going to choose a little differently what they do with any budgeted funds that are not yet spent at the end of the month.

Shawna and I did the dining out thing with leftover funds for a while, as long as it wasn’t a ridiculous amount of money.  One couple we know actually started transferring the extra discretionary funds into a separate account for the spender to do whatever they want with it.  Another approach might be to roll the extra funds into the next month to spend more on whatever the particular budget category is the following month (this is still a lot like saving but might be a good compromise for discretionary categories).  Maybe you have a shared plan, hope, or dream that can be contributed to with the extra funds (like a giving goal or a Disney Vacation).

Whatever you choose to do with the extra I would challenge you to consider whether or not adjustments are needed in the budget.  If the extra funds are from a fixed category then that needs to be adjusted on the budget.  If the extra funds are from a discretionary category challenge yourselves to reduce that category to what you really intend to spend.

How do you manage extra money at the end of a budget?

How Many Gold Stars Do You Have?

gold-star“Am I gonna get like a gold star or something?”  That’s what someone recently said to me after they had made some progress towards some of the goals I helped them plan for.  I didn’t have any gold stars but I did give a pat on the back and an atta-boy

Shawna and I love Starbucks stars.  We go there more often than we used to now that we have one in Anderson, SC (don’t worry – we fit it in our budget and it’s probably not as much as you think).

Recently I took notice of some of the details of the star program.  One star is earned per transaction.  The stars expire each year on the anniversary of the date the card was registered, and with 30 stars comes gold status.  So if you let too much time pass you lose your stars.

We’d probably consider it childish or insulting for our spouse to literally give us gold stars, but whether we admit it or not that’s what we do – give each other stars.  For every act of love there’s a star awarded, and accumulating a certain amount of them gives us happy status.  The biggest challenge is doing enough acts of love to keep the stars from expiring so we don’t lose the happy status.

So – how many gold stars do you have?  Are you happy status right now?