I was frustrated watching the blinking cursor on my frozen computer screen seemingly taunt me. I called my computer technician for help. He ported in remotely to see if he could spot the problem and after twenty minutes, he called.
“I don’t know what the problem is by looking at it this way, I’ll come by later and go to the next step.”
When he came in, he asked me a list of questions:
1. Did I download any new software?
2. Did I inadvertently click on a link in an email?
3. Was there a power surge or outage?
4. Had I noticed anything different about the screen or the computer’s functioning?
5. Did I run a virus scan recently independently of the program installed on the system?
In other words, he asked about anything I might have done that could have created the problem or if I noticed any outside influence that might have been impactful.
Asking questions of ourselves and others leads to clarity and understanding. The practice of asking questions can lead to a path of finding the best solutions.
When it comes to your money life, there are areas in which you have comfort and areas which cause stress or anxiety.
In order to find the best solutions for you, here are some questions that might help lead to your best money life.
1. What do I really want money to do?
This is a question that many do not ask themselves. We live in an autopilot world where we focus on life activities (work and family obligations tend to crowd out the other areas that might be outside of our comfort zone). It’s a serious question that requires serious consideration. Here’s a tip if you’re having difficulty articulating a concise answer: Begin with what you don’t want. For example, “I don’t want credit card debt,” or, “I don’t want to be vulnerable in case of an unexpected life transition,” (job loss, divorce, death or disability, to name a few). This can help you create what you do care most about.
2. In what areas of my finances do I feel competent and capable and in what areas do I feel insecure?
Knowing what you know and what you don’t know is a very important realization. For example, you might have a fairly good understanding of your retirement plan choices, but when it comes to the areas of risk management (insurance) or estate planning, social security benefits, or college cost planning, you might be uncomfortable or lack objective knowledge. Being generally aware of the areas which call to your strengths – and weaknesses – helps you progress forward.
3. What did I learn about money growing up and what money messages do I carry with me?
There is a direct line between the messages we accrued in our formative years and our behavior today. Understanding what your skill sets are and what they’re not is vitally important in figuring out what you need to move forward productively. Does your knowledge, ability, skills and habits extend beyond the basics? What messages do you carry and what are you truly equipped to do? It’s crucial to know where you stand on the scale of financial knowledge and mindset.
4. Do the money messages I carry with me support what I really want my money to do for me?
If you grew up in a household where money was used to help others, then chances are this is normal behavior to you and you very likely would follow the same track. On the other hand, if you grew up where money was used to show success despite a struggle behind the scenes, this is also behavior that is likely normal to you (just not helpful). It’s important to understand how you and your partner view money, and how your collaborative money mindset impacts financial decisions. Is it working fine or are adjustments and improvements necessary?
5. Who can help fill in the blanks around money issues and what should I avoid?
The financial services industry encompasses a lot. The title “financial advisor” can be used by people selling insurance and annuity products who only earn money if you buy, it can be used by stock brokers who will sell you stocks, bonds, and mutual funds on a commission and/or fee basis, or it can be used by fee-only financial planners who charge a fee for planning and/or investment management services. It is your job to ask the right questions of financial service representatives as to how they work, how they earn their income, and whether or not they act as fiduciaries (in your best interest). It is a challenge for those without a great deal of financial understanding to navigate through the minefield of choices and possibilities. Someone working as a fiduciary is ethically and legally bound to work in your best interest, while others are not.
6. How do I prevent falling back into old habits that don’t promote my success?
Creating new habits is a challenge but important. It’s easy to stay in a comfortable default. There are many studies that show people who have suffered heart attacks initially changing their behavior (exercise, change of diet, taking prescribed medications) but eventually falling back into old bad habits. The same is true for most areas in life, unless you install desire, purpose, accountability, and a well-conceived plan that outlines the possibility of your preferred future. If you are coupled, then both parties need to be on board and if you are working with a planner who is actively engaged in helping you make adjustments for unexpected life events or changes in goals, you have a much better chance of success.
Finding the bugs in your financial life by asking good questions and enhancing your purpose and behaviors are great ways to achieve the most effective and well-functioning financial life.
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