The Good-Enough Budget

"You have excellent math skills and
you deserve good things!"
I have a half-developed pet concept I keep turning over called the "good-enough budget." The term is a take-off on that classic Winnicott term, the good-enough mother. Without getting into a whole history of Object Relations, the basic idea of the good-enough mother is a departure from the Freudian and Kleinian "good mother/bad mother" dichotomy. The good-enough mother is less of an abstract, but is seen as a real person dealing with the real world, doing the best she can to respond to the developing needs of her infant, and for her efforts and responses to be sufficient to the child's needs. (The history of modern psychotherapy is basically written on the backs of "bad mothers," so the idea that something short of perfect parenting is still considered "good enough" should be met with cheers.)

The good-enough mother does a few crucial things consistently well:
- She sees her child for who he is and doesn't project her own fantasy;
- She accepts and responds to her child's needs without shaming or rejecting;
- She provides a "holding environment" with her attention, love, and physical care that supports her child's development from a dependent infant to a mature, authentic adult.

So how does this relate to money? How can a budget be good-enough?

First of all, the good-enough budget is concerned with boots-on-the-ground financial management (meeting your real life, day-to-day financial needs) and not an abstract concept of financial perfection. Do you account for every penny? Do you religiously reconcile your accounts every month? Probably not. And the good-enough budget doesn't require you to. As long as you have a basic framework for what you earn and spend, you're still in better shape than "failing" at the ideal.

The good-enough budget reflects who you really are. Do you eat take-out for every single meal? Then your good-enough budget shows a higher number in Take Out than in Groceries. Same thing for all of those other "naughty" financial behaviors that people consistently omit or under-report in their budgets: buying clothes, liquor, taking taxis, etc.

Not quite ready to accurately account for those expenditures? The good-enough budget doesn't judge. Figure out all of those committed expenses -- things like housing payment, car payment, student loan, cell phone, internet, insurance -- and everything else can be "discretionary" for now. Practice simply staying within your means (so that "committed" plus "discretionary" is still less than "income) and the good-enough budget will accept that for now.

The good-enough budget gives you room to work on your financial awareness and behavior without requiring perfection. It is a low-pressure but consistent connection with your money where you give yourself structure, but still enough wiggle room for this to be a work in progress.

Because you, my darling, are a beautiful snowflake and you deserve to have your money be a source of happiness instead of shame. Mama loves you.
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Women and Money: The Sky Is Falling

Hey, girl. I know that money and investing topics are "intimidating" and "boring" to you, so you "tune out" when your advisor tries in vain to show you a PowerPoint on market returns. But you need to get it together, because according to USA Today, "Women's financial responsibility grows faster than knowledge."

And ladies, we all need to care about this "lack of knowledge" because everyone, not just women, "will have to bear the burden" of the repercussions of our ignorance. Don't believe me? This warning comes straight from "personal finance experts." Says one:

I can't even understand Post-Its! How
can I possibly read a quarterly statement?
"If we find ourselves in a position 15 years from now where the husbands start to pass away and the wife doesn't know what to do in terms of managing money, there's going to be a lot of bad decisions made, a lot of economic waste and a lot of scared people," says Justin Reckers, a certified financial planner who runs weath management and divorce management practices in San Diego.

We'd better get on this, before we collectively crash the economy.

Just a couple of things to consider, though, before you run sobbing to your husband and beg his forgiveness for not rushing to open the brokerage statement every month:

1) Women are not bad investors. When it comes to making decisions about investment holdings, women consistently outperform men* over the long term. Some experts think this is because we are more risk-averse, others think it's our understanding of our own emotions that allow us to process feelings before acting on them. Whichever the case, we generally have a much more critical assessment of our skills than the results would bear out.

2) Every article of this type that I read laments the fact that women feel intimidated by jargon. We feel concerned about being bag ladies in our old age. We want to feel confident in meetings with our financial planner. We have got to stop being so distracted by how we feel about situations and pay more attention to the facts. How much are you saving, where are you investing it, how are those investments performing, and what future considerations do you need to keep in mind? Period. You can have all kinds of feelings about it, but don't make those feelings your focus.

3) That said, there is something valuable in what your gut is telling you -- as long as you turn that feeling into action instead of a whole narrative about how terrible you are with money. If you don't have a good rapport with your financial planner, find a better one. If you can't read the latest personal finance best seller without slipping into a coma, join an investment group or take a class. We have got to stop complaining that we don't like the way the financial services industry is currently set up, and start supporting -- with our attention, dollars, and voices -- those types of financial services that do work for us.

The bottom line is that women are great with money. What we do poorly is interface with a system that wasn't originally set up to engage us. But that doesn't give us a bye to just sit on the sidelines and complain about it, or wait for some man to show up and serve as our liaison to money world. Stop thinking the problem is you, your inability, and your ignorance. And by all means, don't take articles like this too seriously.

* This finding only relates when comparing decision-to-decision, not balance-to-balance. According to the Employee Benefit Research Institute, though roughly the same number of full-time employed men and women participate in retirement plans, men on average have a balance of $31,388 where women on average have a balance of $20,877. Men contribute more to their plans.

ETA: For a much more helpful take on this topic, check out Geraldine Sealey's article in the September issue of Real Simple titled, "Women & Money: Why You Need to Take Control Now." I can't find a digital version, but it's on newsstands now, and I am quoted in it along with Amanda Steinberg of DailyWorth, Galia Gichon of Down-to-Earth Finance, and Laura Vanderkam, author of All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know About Getting and Spending.

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"The Talk" About Money

I will admit that when I first saw a post about this PSA campaign from The National Financial Educators Council, I just about blew a gasket. But since this campaign is supposed to "elicit an emotional response that encourages parents to talk with their kids about money," I guess that's sort of the point. My reaction was less about the appropriateness of the images, though, and more utter amazement that financial literacy is being pitched as "a talk," emphasis on the "a."

Teaching your kids about money is not a one time event. It's not a conversation, a booklet, or even an all-day seminar where you play Tony Robbins and motivate your kids to unleash the power of their bank account. Teaching your kids about money involves being a full-time, round-the-clock role model for financial behavior. And if you think your kids aren't paying attention, think again.

Children, especially young children, are incredibly sensitive to parents' emotions. When your entire security depends on the stability of the two (or one) central adults in your life, it pays to pick up on cues as to whether mom is overwhelmed or dad is prone to lash out. So what children are constantly picking up with their little kid antennae are the emotional signals you send out when you handle money tasks.

When you get agitated watching the cash register number creep up at the grocery store, little Suzy registers your stress level creeping up, too. Or when you go on a spending spree only to collapse later in guilt (or get in an argument with your spouse), little Billy might choose to play outside and stay out of the way. Of course, one or two or a few instances of these behaviors isn't a big deal -- it's the overall pattern that makes an indelible imprint on your child.

Which is not to say that I don't think you should talk about money with your kids. You should. You should do it often. By all means talk to them about compound interest and how to open a 401(k) and warn them about high-interest debt. But in my experience it's not a lack of information that gets people in serious trouble, it's a lack of emotional regulation. It's difficulty paying attention to stressful tasks. It's putting money in the place of love, or self-esteem, or self-care.

As a parent and role model, you don't have to be perfect. Even your money mistakes can be constructive, if you communicate about your struggles in an age-appropriate way and demonstrate sincere efforts to improve your behavior. It's healthy for children to see adults dealing with the consequences of their mistakes.

I appreciate that this PSA campaign is trying to get parents to associate financial literacy with other forms of keeping their kids safe. But I wish there were more tools to help parents deal with the truly hard parts of "The Talk," like why it's hard to keep on a budget, how to talk finances with a partner without arguing, and how to translate personal values into financial goals. Sigh, if I only had the money to create my own PSA campaign (or was even remotely savvy with Photoshop).
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It's Hard Out Here for the Rich

I settled down this morning with U.S. Trust's 2012 Insights on Wealth and Worth as a little light beach reading (sigh... if only. I'm still at the office). Some of the findings knocked me out of my chair. Among them: 
  • Six in 10 HNW parents are not fully confident their children will be well-prepared to handle a financial inheritance.
  • The younger generation is more likely to have full confidence in their children's preparedness.
  • Nearly four in 10 parents strongly agree their children would benefit from discussions with a financial professional.
  • Just over one-third of wealthy parents have fully disclosed their wealth to children, while half report having disclosed just a little regarding their financial status.
  • Nearly half (48 percent) of people over age 67 said, "I was taught never to discuss wealth."
Are you kidding me? Read between the lines here. Parents (and "parents" here can be any age between 18 and 67+, so we're talking in most cases about parents of adult children) don't think that their children are prepared to handle the wealth that will be coming their way. But the majority of them don't disclose the facts of the situation, and almost half of the older cohort don't seem comfortable discussing it at all. The younger generation thinks, "Of course I will handle this better than my parents did and will make sure my own kids are prepared," but these are the same people the older genation thinks are not well-prepared to begin with. Finally there is the wish that some financial services professional will just step in and set it all to right. Give Junior the Facts of Wealth talk and suddenly he'll morph into an upright steward of the family fortune. Oy.

Responsibly handling money (whether it's a thousand dollars or a hundred million) has a good deal to do with information, but even more to do with intangibles like maturity, the ability to moderate impulses, and the formulation of meaningful goals. To successfully pass wealth from one generation to the next the tasks of money management must be imbued with positive associations, but these bullet points indicate strife, discord, and intergenerational blame.

I know that it's not a popular past-time to bemoan how hard it is to cultivate new generations of rich people, but it always makes me sad to see money as a source of emotional constipation in families. In all of the wealthy families that I know and have worked with, money is the dark matter that exerts a gravitational pull on all involved. The healthiest way to deal with this is to bring it out of the darkness and acknowledge it's influence on relationships and behavior. Money can do great good in the world and can be a source of positive family identity. But unhealthy families create unhealthy financial behavior again and again and again.
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Thank You to My Parents, for Letting Me Be Stupidly Naive with Money (Seriously)


For two years, I lived in a Brooklyn building built illegally on a commercially zoned block, wedged between two factories. Four of us lived in an apartment designed for two, with railroad-style bedrooms. We often barged in on each other while sleeping, reading, having sex. The post office refused to recognize our address or deliver mail. Crack deals sometimes took place on our stoop.

Ah, the glamor of New York City for the young, ambitious, and broke. For Lilit Marcus it was a crack-tastic Brooklyn share where she couldn't even get her mail. For me, it was a sixth-floor walk-up with no windows in the living room. But at least mine was in Chelsea.

I love this article about How I Made it in New York City Without Parental Help. I especially love how this is now a thing, I guess, in the era of Boomerang Kids and whole employment sectors dependent on unpaid interns. When I moved to New York in 1996 it wouldn't have occurred to either my parents or me that they should be financially supporting my choice of where to live. They didn't especially like that I wanted to move here after I graduated (like this writer, it was a wonderfully impulsive, capricious choice to be sure), but I was an adult and therefore I don't think that they considered it to be much of their business.

Lilit was much more conscious and disciplined about money than I was. For years I was baffled by my ever-growing credit card debt. It seemed like everyone here was effortlessly fabulous, and even though I was by no means extravagant I certainly spent more than I should have just trying to go with the economic flow.

When I eventually "hit bottom" financially, I actually did get crucial help from my parents. Some of that was monetary (they caught me up with my past-due bills totalling just under $2,000 as I recall), but the most important forms of help I received from them were instruction and support. My mother sat down with me and together we drew up a monthly budget, and over the next two years as I attacked and paid off $19,000 in credit card debt, my parents cheered me every step of the way.

We are all on a journey with our money. I don't regret a single step of mine, because each peak and valley has taught me something meaningful. In fact, the valleys have been -- if you'll pardon the pun -- the richest experiences of all. I was amazed to discover how safe and secure it felt to know where my money was going, and that I could say no to a purchase or proposed adventure without self-combusting.

I give my folks huge kudos for the constructive way in which they helped me. They did a parent's ultimate job: helping their child develop the skills and capacities to be a competent, independent adult. That's more valuable than paying my rent for a lifetime.
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How to Spend Your Savings

It's time for Katie to liquidate her Moving Fund and head to her new place. The only problem? She fell in love:

This is not Katie.
Over the past few months, my aggressive savings has become a source of pride. I've watched the balance grow and I feel accomplished. Responsible. Safe.

But soon, I'll be back to zero. And even though that's way better than, you know, not having the cash at all, my inner Scrooge McDuck doesn't want to let go of all those pretty green bills. Ever.

Katie, I hear you. (Sidebar: I'm not stalking you. I know I blogged about your last piece, too, but that's because you have such great insight about this topic!)

People are well acquainted with the challenges of saving money, but we give short shrift to how hard it can be to appropriately use that savings. In other words, to spend it! In my Managing Cash Flow for Artists workshop (now in its sixth year), we have a whole session on operating a cushion, or Contingency Fund. This workshop is designed especially for people who have variable income and who often use credit cards for "lifestyle continuity" (also known as "eating and having a roof over your head even in months when your cash flow is negative"). Having a financial cushion is necessary for all of us, but for those who have particularly... dynamic... financial lives, being able to draw upon that Contingency Fund is a critical step toward breaking the cycle of debt.

But my advice on the topic has more to do with the difficulty of the behaviors associated with operating a Contingency Fund than with the concrete aspects of how much to put aside, when to take it out, and how to replenish it. Because the biggest obstacle to appropriately utilizing your Contingency Fund (or in Katie's case, her Moving Fund) is emotional.

We have a tendency to fall in looooooove with our money. The harder we've worked to put it aside, the longer we've held it and the bigger the balance, the more attached we get (the same is true for investments, by the way). It is always easier to spend someone else's money (i.e., credit), which is why we override our own natural aversion to debt in order to hold on to our precious saved pennies.

So in Cash Flow, I teach Contingency Fund 101 as a behavior instead of a desired balance. And it helps to learn to walk before you run. My advice is to start with $1,000 -- a significant amount but not enough to get head-over-heels about -- and practice using it to cover expenses that are not part of your regular monthly budget or to plug holes when your income dips. The more confident you get about your ability to take out money and replace it, the less bereft and anxious you'll feel when you part with it for its intended uses. In the mental health profession, we would say you'd developed a secure attachment to your Contingency Fund. You learned that "Mommy always comes back," (or in this case, Money always comes back). Once you get the hang of properly operating that $1,000, it becomes easier to build a more robust Contingency Fund, as well as saving for other meaningful short-term goals.

Katie is doing a great job of coaching herself through the tough goodbye to her Moving Fund. In this similar article today on LearnVest, Sadia does the same with her Vacation Fund. Today is a good day for ladies rocking the Save-to-Spend technique. Yay!

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Yes to the Dress! (No to the Entrees, Flowers, and Fireworks.)

Weddings are wonderful, but not if they create a financial burden and start your married life out on the wrong track.

Even the most financially sane people can sway to the pressure of outside expectations and the desire to make everything perfect. Add to that the challenges inherent to the tasks of planning (How often do you spend thousands on a party? Negotiate with vendors?). Unfamiliar budget plus unfamiliar tasks, turned up to an emotional simmer... the whole thing can get very out of control.

Read this inspiring story of one couple who kept their focus on what was important: sharing an important milestone with the people they loved, and being financially authentic in the process. What a great way to express love and a commitment to a happy life together. I have a great feeling about Abigail and her DH!

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Fixing Education Debt: Too Much of a "Good" Thing

I work with a lot of artists and freelancers, which makes me particularly sensitive to people's issues with educational debt. Unless you can afford to attend college without borrowing, it is increasingly difficult to pursue any field that doesn't offer immediate and sustained financial success. A writer or designer whose income swings wildly from month to month and year to year is going to be crippled trying to come up with $500/month to send to Sallie Mae. And with no hope of restructuring the loan or having it discharged in bankruptcy, for many folks there's a good chance they'll be paying until they die.

Listen, I get it. I totally understand the argument about fraud and why there should be a high bar preventing people from getting the education and then sticking taxpayers with the bill. But I also see how broken the system is. While I do want to talk solutions, I find it impossible to get to that without two minutes of diatribe first. Here, in no particular order, are the issues that make me get a little mouth-foamy when talking about student loans:

Available money today errodes value sensitivity.
You visit a campus and it's beautiful. All the students look so happy, and they're talking about such interesting things. You think, "This is where I belong." To a teenager about to leave his/her parents' house for the first time, that feeling of fit is supremely seductive. Or maybe the allure is a particular program (I hope it's Engineering) or the status and cache of the school. But whatever it is, on some level you think that if you just get there then the rest of it will all work out.  And because lenders are generally tripping over themselves to lend to you (there's very little risk to them, since discharge is difficult), it's just so easy to get the money to go to school. So you go with your gut. After all, repayment is so very far in the future...

It also obscures the skyrocketing price of education.
Depending on which data you use, the cost of a four-year college is going up somewhere between 7% and 8.3% a year. There are a number of contributing factors, as federal and state funding gets cut and institutions fight to attract students by offering more amenities, but the fact is that costs are going up like crazy and until recently nobody seemed to be too concerned about it.

Loans are given each semester, and not seen in their aggregated total until all the money has been borrowed.
Here $7,000, there $7,000, everywhere a $6- or $7,0000, so grows $100,000 of debt before you even know it. I have heard terrible stories of graduates having panic attacks when they FINALLY get presented with the entire amount of their debt right before graduation. To say nothing of the shock of seeing how fast that debt can grow when you put it in forbearance for a few years while you're trying to find your feet professionally. Oh, and remember: the private loan you took out the first semester has also been growing for the three and a half years you've been in school, too. Interest on interest on interest.

"Good debt."
This makes me insane. Yes, it's better to borrow money to get a Bachelor of Arts vs. spending the same amount on shoes and handbags -- no doubt about it. But for crying out loud, as if that's a real comparison! All debt should be considered carefully, deliberately, even gravely. To give it a blanket "good" moniker belies the seriousness of the situation. Getting a university degree can increase your earning power by a million dollars over the course of your lifetime. But saying that educational debt is "good" side-steps our natural conservativism about borrowing and errodes our ability to think critically about value. 

You're not playing with a full deck, so to speak.
Sorry, 18-year-olds. I know you're a National Merit Scholar and all, but the truth is that your brain isn't quite done forming yet. In fact, the "executive suite" that is your prefrontal cortex, whose functions include "calibration of risk and reward, problem-solving, prioritizing, thinking ahead, self-evaluation, long-term planning, and regulation of emotion" isn't fully formed until your mid-20s. You are an expert on Chaucer and you can recite Pi to 50 digits, I grant you, but you're making a permanent financial commitment that your future self is going to have to deliver on, and you don't even have the part of your brain that can do that yet!

Education debt has a ripple effect over the entire economy.
Young adults can't save for a down payment because that money is going toward their student loans, which means the housing market is slower to recover. Retirement savings starts later for the same reason. People delay having children, and struggle to save for their children's education, and the cycle is in danger of repeating ad infinitum.

Okay, now I'm freaking out and totally mad. What's next?
For the forseeable future, college is going to cost money -- a lot of money. We can spend forever gnashing our teeth and tearing out our hair about it, but at some point we need to take a deep breath and deal with the most important consequences, namely the pressure on borrowers and the drag on the economy.

There are several  groups working on constructive solutions from various angles. Some focus on making repayment more affordable, others on blanket forgiveness for a nation of debtors. I really liked this article that I saw today via LearnVest on Why Student Loan Forgiveness May Not Be as Helpful as You Think. The author suggests a compromise that would act as an economic stimulus: subsidizing existing student loan debt by paying the interest, combined with creating an economic incentive to universities to lower tuition and make school more affordable. This could conceivably enable young people past and future to pump money into the broader economy instead of to the banks.

I think this is a coherent and well-reasoned argument that doesn't get lost in emotion, moral outrage, or good-vs.-evil debates -- which I totally respect, since I had to get on a 500-word soapbox before I was even ready to talk about the article that was ostensibly my reason for this post! Oy vey...

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Anxiety calling! Do you pick up?

I was giving a presentation with my colleague, Annette Lieberman, yesterday when she said the most amazing thing:

"The way people manage their anxiety usually reflects how they manage their money, and vice versa."

Can this be true? We often think about how money gets managed, but we don't often think of emotions the same way. Feelings are assumed to be automatic, almost as if they happen to us. Saying that we "manage" an emotion implies that we're somehow responsible for it.

Whether or not you believe we're responsible for creating our own emotional state, the truth is that we are always responsible for how we respond to it.

Anxiety is the herald that demands our attention. It's purpose is to get us to wake up and pay attention to something. If it feels uncomfortable that's because it's supposed to! We need to be motivated to take action to remove those circumstances that make us anxious.

So think about it: when you feel anxious, do you mobilize to address the cause of your anxiety? Or do you withdraw, ruminate, fret, and get depressed? Can you see a parallel with your money? When financial problems arise, how do you respond -- with action or avoidance? 
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Are your finances a mess? That's curious.

When it comes to money, most of us have a problem-solution mentality. Got debt? You need a plan to get out of it. No savings? Here's a way to budget your way to a fatter balance. Hate to review your accounts? Try the butt-in-chair method.

The limitation with this approach is that most financial goals involve a significant amount of behavioral change, and slapping that "problem" label on yourself means you are probably going to overlook the very insight and information you need in order to change.

Instead of problem solving, try to cultivate an attitude of benign curiosity about you and your money. I say benign curiosity, because when we first start to simply pay attention to money it can bring up a flood of negative emotions and beliefs. We need to be conscientiously gentle and kind to ourselves, or the practice of self-examination feels overwhelming.

Benign curiosity begins with two important premises:

All financial behavior has meaning.

All financial behavior serves a purpose.

So if, when you start paying attention to money, you notice that you've been making a lot of impulsive purchases, try to step back from the self-recrimination for a moment and remind yourself:

I may feel regret about these purchases now, but at the time there was a reason why I felt I had to buy X. What was I trying to do, change, or fix? In what way did that work? In what way did it not?

Benign curiosity allows you to identify the true cause of the behavior and find positive, affirming ways to meet that need that aren't financially destructive. This way when the moment comes again you A) recognize it, and B) have an alternative response ready.

As someone said in one of my groups last night, "It's easier to change a habit than to eliminate it."

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Treating is Fundamental

This morning I gave a talk to the graduating seniors of a prestigious arts college. One of the questions I got asked was how to deal with wanting to treat yourself. "I work so hard," the young man said, "and I feel like I deserve to spend money on something nice for myself once in awhile, even though money is tight."

As far as I'm concerned, you should be spending money on nice things for yourself all the time. I am not the treat police. Completely the opposite, in fact. I feel like meaningful treats** should be part of EVERYONE'S regular spending plan. But treating yourself has little to nothing to do with how hard you work, and everything to do with whether or not you have the money to afford your treat of preference.

When you try to buy yourself a treat that you can't afford just because you "deserve" it, you end up in a mental spiral:

Prosecution: "Do not buy those shoes! You will just go into more debt!"

Defense: "I deserve these shoes! Wait, I NEED these shoes. My other shoes are worn out and scuffed, the heel is broken, and I never have any nice shoes to wear when I have to go out."

Prosecution: "When you have to go out? Really? That's your defense? Maybe you want to try again."

Defense: "Whatever. Work has been making me crazy. I hardly ever buy myself anything. I should get myself something nice once in awhile. Besides -- these are on sale. It would be a waste of money not to buy them!

Prosecution: "Your Honor, the Defense should recuse herself because she is starting to sound insane."

Defense: "Ha! While you were talking to the judge I snuck up to the register and paid for them! Too late!"

And later... the "Defense" is nowhere to be found as you mope about, feeling ashamed that you spent money on shoes that you meant to put toward paying down debt. You're still tired, anxious, and overworked, but now you get to feel guilty and regretful on top of it. How is that a treat?

Buying something on impulse that you can't afford and telling yourself you deserve it is a self-esteem grenade.

A real treat starts with a plan. You think about what would be a meaningful, enjoyable way to spend money on yourself. If it's shoes, great. Or it could be going to the movies, meeting a friend for dinner, or buying fancy bath salts. When you know what it is you want to spend money on, revisit your monthly spending plan. Put said treat item into the plan. If you need to, pare back other expenses that are not as valuable in order be able to afford it. If things are really lean, see if you can identify what it is about your preferred treat that makes it so meaningful, and then try to find a lower-cost alternative (for movies, see if you can set a date with yourself to watch a movie at home with a favorite snack and no interruptions, or for fancy bath salts try mixing your own).

When you consciously and deliberately give yoursef a treat you get to enjoy every part of it: the dreaming, the planning, the selecting, purchasing, and using. Using money as a means of self-care can be an amazingly empowering experience. And THAT can be the real treat!

**For our discussion here, when I say "treat" I specifically mean SPENDING MONEY on something fun, indulgent, or frivolous. I don't just mean doing something nice for yourself.
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National Teacher Appreciation Day

I was always a geeky kid who loved school, so it's no surprise that I can name ten teachers off the top of my head to whom I feel grateful and who I think about with great affection. But hands down, the teacher who had the most significant impact on my life was never my teacher in any particular class, but the teacher who ran our drama and forensics department. She was my mentor, coach, director, and friend.

Kathy Mulay was a perfectionist. And she could be tough. When she cast me in our senior year production of The King and I, I went through a period of rehearsals where I was intimidated to sing in front of the girls playing the King's wives because I thought they had better voices than me. Kathy (Mrs. Mulay then) took me aside and didn't reassure me. She didn't give me a pep talk. She told me that the part was mine and I needed to "get it together." She was the director, she knew what she was doing, and she had given the part to me. It was time to deliver. I remember my blood turning to ice when she dropped this on me. But in the next second I knew I had to deliver. So I delivered.

My decent-but-not-fantastically-exceptional performance as Mrs. Anna aside, the area where Kathy really changed my life was as my forensics coach. Forensics, or competitive public speaking, is not the coolest way to spend Saturday mornings when you're in high school. But for some reason I loved it. I loved to write, edit, and endlessly rehearse my pieces in hopes of winning a trophy. And Kathy would work with me for hours into the evening, choreographing each cross of the room, each hand gesture. Under Kathy's direction I went to the state finals two years in a row, competing my junior year in Informative and senior year in Oratory.

Can you think of a better gift to give someone than the ability to craft and deliver a message that others can understand, and believe? I use these skills every day when I teach classes, lead workshops, and speak at events. I feel so lucky that I can take my passion for helping people bring money into balance and communicate it to as many listeners as I can muster. I never feel nervous in front of a room full of people. I get excited! I know that what I have to say can make lives better, and I don't have to worry about my ability to say it. When I consider that public speaking is one of the most common phobias, I cannot even express my gratitude for what Kathy Mulay has given me. But still I will take this opportunity to say it: Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mrs. Mulay.
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