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Life Happens, Change Is Good

I’ll be honest. The idea that “change is good” will always be a work in progress for me.leaves

It’s been 6 months since my last blog post and I’m feeling rather disappointed in myself for leaving my readers hanging.

Let me explain…

 

Life Happens

After a fabulous 5 week holiday in Costa Rica earlier this year, I returned home to find a rather upsetting scenario with my elderly mother. Mom has always been healthy (or so we thought), fiercely independent, full of common sense and never wanting/accepting help from anyone. Now, at 89 years old, some things MUST change!

I guess it shouldn’t have caught my sisters and I by surprise. You see, longevity runs in our family. We discovered that Mom had been alone in her home without ANY heat for almost 2 weeks during the coldest part of the winter. And that was just the beginning. I jumped into action and at the same time realized the deteriorating state of Mom’s health & decision-making abilities.

Why didn’t she reach out to us for help? Why was she ever so determined to insist that nothing was wrong? The last few months have been a whirlwind of hospital and specialist visits, new medications and planning for the inevitable (but not wanted) move to a seniors residence.

During this time, I’ve also done some soul-searching, reflecting on my own priorities, passions and even my mortality.

 

Change Is Good

Moving forward, it’s time to refocus on my financial coaching practice (my greatest passion) at the expense of my blog.

Life really is short and I want to spend my time interacting with real people and real challenges (not my computer keyboard).

I’m committed, as ever, to bringing financial education to everyday people and hope to do some volunteering in that arena. I’ll leave my blog in place for new readers/learners and those looking for a personal finance coach.  The content is mostly timeless and finance education is still sadly lacking in our schools and workplaces. It never hurts to revisit ways to get motivated, curb debt, increase savings, control spending or grow wealth.

Financial independence is definitely a goal worth shooting for.

Thanks for being a regular reader! I hope I’ve inspired you, in some small way, to take action and better care of your financial health .

 

If you or someone you know is looking for help with their personal finances, please consider contacting me. I’d love to help!

 

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Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

 

My Annual Money Routine, Part 1

Happy New Year Readers and Clients!

I’ve procrastinated long enough and am finally putting my brain back to work. FreeColorfulPuzzlePieces

Do you have a year-end money routine? If not, maybe you should?

It’s one of the first things I like to do once I toast in the new year with a glass of champagne. I know, I should “get a life”, but I can’t help myself.

I’ve always loved to dive deep into numbers…it’s not the data that intrigues me but, rather, what it means to my life and choices. Can my husband and I afford to travel to a more exotic destination this year? What about replacing our second car or the front porch? Reviewing lessons learned from the prior year helps set us up for success.

Over the next few weeks, I’ll be revealing my “accountant-like” behaviour and thought processes with my own finances.

Whether you like it (or not), I hope it helps you understand the value of taking time to debrief your financial life. If you can’t/won’t do it yourself, get help from a professional- it’s time and money well spent.

Getting a handle on our money makes a real difference to our happiness and relationships. Money is one of the biggest stressors in our lives. Yet, so many of us procrastinate when it comes to improving our financial health (it’s just not that much FUN or URGENT!). Far easier to ignore it than face it. We tell ourselves that things will improve once we get that long-deserved raise or new job.

Here are a few financial tasks I do religiously each year…

1) Update our net worth statement (i.e. assets less liabilities)- In theory, it should be growing each year. In reality, it doesn’t always happen that way!

2) Review our overall 2015 spending/savings vs. plan– What “surprises” did we encounter and how did they impact our spending? Did we do a great job, fail miserably or hit somewhere in between?

3) Revisit our life & spending goals– What’s new? What’s changed or needs to change? Does the timeline make sense? Are we on track to achieving our most important priorities or is the gap getting bigger?

4) Review our investment portfolio – Ok, this is really a job for our investment advisor but I like to do my own high level analysis too (I told you I like numbers)! Another set of eyes never hurts. How did our portfolio do vs. the overall market or other benchmarks?

5) Build our 2016 spending/savings plan– This is a pretty easy exercise for us (as we have a good base to start from). I’m very aware of the nature & amount of our fixed expenses. While I don’t get hung up on the details of our discretionary spending, I DO pay close attention to the total amount available.

6) Minimize (or optimize) taxes– Income taxes are a substantial expense (and often neglected by many). Am I doing what I can to reduce our taxes (now & in the future)? Starting to prepare our 2015 tax returns now helps me identify some planning opportunities that I don’t want to miss out on.

For you “non-financial” types, this exercise might sound overwhelming?

It doesn’t need to be.

Tackle it bit by bit. Review the areas where you think you have the biggest gaps. Target the actions that will make the biggest difference to your financial future. Even tiny steps, over a long period of time, can make a real impact on your financial situation. Perfection or precision isn’t mandatory- it’s the thinking and action that matters.

Make 2016 the year you make progress (large or small) on improving your financial health

P.S.- I’m always here to help!

 

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Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

 

A Handy (& Funny) List To Make You Smarter With Money

During the madness of the holiday season, I would never survive without my lists.todo-list

One for gifts for my kids/husband, another for the in-laws, yet another for next week’s holiday dinner (we won’t go into the rest). It feels SO GOOD to finally cross items off, one by one (or two or five), until there’s nothing left. Now, let the REAL holidays begin!

Thought you might appreciate yet another list at this time of year…one that you don’t need to “cross off”. Just a handy little reference guide for your money that will never go out of style or season.

Written by Morgan Housel (from The Motley Fool), this list is a quick, easy read that’s witty and full of wisdom. Skim it or keep it for future reference. If you don’t have time now, pull it out in the new year. It’s a common sense reminder to make you smarter with money- what a priceless gift for the holidays!

 

61 One-Sentence Rules That Will Make You Better With Money

 

Enjoy and have a wonderful holiday season!

 

(Note- this post was originally published December 2014)

 

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Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest

Image courtesy of lifehack.org

‘Tis The Season For Giving (and Learning)

As Financial Literacy Month in Canada draws to a close, remember that the gift of knowledgelearning should never stop.

 

With the holiday season upon us, why not treat yourself to some financial smarts BEFORE hitting the stores? Do you (or your loved ones) really need more “stuff” this year? Or is it your presence (not presents) that matters most?

Here are a few quick and easy quizzes (originally published earlier this year) to test your money knowledge.

Give them a try (or re-try) and see how you do. They might even help keep your behaviour in check as you search for the perfect gifts for your favourite people?

Giving is a wonderful thing! Just make sure you can afford it. Don’t let the magic of the season play havoc with your finances!

Quiz #1- Credit & Debt

Quiz #2- Saving & Investing

Quiz #3- Spending & Budgeting

Quiz #4- Planning For A Financially Healthy Retirement

 

Enjoy the holiday season!

 

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Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

Photo courtesy of giftofknowledge.co.nz

Reflections On The Tragedy In Paris

I’ll say it- I can’t even THINK about money as I watch the traumatic events of the last 6 days unfold in Paris (and beyond).champs elesyee

A good friend returned from her Paris getaway just a few days before the despicable acts of terror. What is she thinking? Was she close to the stadium, concert hall or cafes affected?

How does one move forward after experiencing or witnessing such a tragedy and loss of life? I can only hope that money is the last thing on the minds of the citizens of Paris and their loved ones. If it isn’t, it should be.

Life unfolds in ways that are hard to imagine

Tragic events remind of us of what’s really important (and it definitely isn’t money). It’s the many things we take for granted day in and day out. A beautiful sunny day, a walk in the park, children laughing and playing, a visit with an old friend. I want to remember these words next time I fret about my own, seemingly small problems.

Hope For The Best, Plan For The Worst

You can bet the citizens of Paris never thought in their wildest dreams that such unspeakable things could happen to them. Who would?

Obviously, planning for horrific events is neither feasible nor imaginable. However, taking care of the “basics” in advance can make a difference in our ability to cope and bounce back from adversity when it strikes.

For me, the “basics” are things like paying attention to my mental/physical health, family/relationships, managing risks and yes, even my financial resources. Having my finances in “good working order” allows me to sleep better, worry less and focus on things (expected or unexpected) that matter most!

My heart (and head) is with Paris this week and I think it will be for quite some time.

 

Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

Photo: One of my own, favourite paintings- Artist Rendition of The Champs Elysees

Improving Financial Literacy Is Easier Said Than Done

Getting smarter with money is amazingly difficult. That’s why Canada has dedicated an entire month (November is Financial Literacy month) to help us all do better with money. money and laundry quote

Why is financial literacy such common sense yet VERY difficult to practice?

Because we need to get (at least) 3 things right;

knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions

Let me add a 4th; motivation.

Without the motivation to act, even the best knowledge, skills and confidence are wasted!

In my experience, it’s confidence and motivation that trip people up the most.

The “soft” skills not the “hard” ones. Why save for retirement now when it’s 30 years away? Why not buy a bigger house or start the reno today while my family’s still young? A little more debt isn’t going to hurt us, right? Why bother investing when my income is so small? There are too many investments to choose from so I’ll just leave my money in the bank.

Valid points (but poor excuses).

It’s much easier to dig ourselves INTO a financial hole than out of it. Ask anyone who’s been there and they’ll tell you the initial fun was not worth the ultimate pain.

The simple act of talking about money can make a positive difference.

Sure, money is a touchy subject but we can discuss it in appropriate ways. Sharing the highs and lows of our own money stories really helps- we’ve all made our share of money mistakes! Learning how attitudes and emotions impact our behaviour towards money can shed light on why we do what we do with money (even when it doesn’t make sense). Do I spend money to cheer myself up after a bad day? Do I spend on things that matter to me (or do I even pay attention)? Do I have the right balance between spending today and investing for tomorrow? Does my upbringing affect the way I handle money?

Here’s yet another dilemma…

When it comes to personal finance, sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know.

Tough to ask for help if we don’t know we need it!?

Consider an investment in education- read, learn or tap into the many available resources out there. Just make sure the source is respected and objective.

Alternatively, Professionals can fill the knowledge/behaviour gap but WE must be ready to listen and act. For example, simple strategies to save tax can increase our wealth over time. Reducing our annual investment and debt costs (or tapping into “free” money) will do the same. Many of these actions feel painless once we start and get used to them.

Can you relate to any of these ideas?

Most people can, myself included. There’s always more to learn or do differently in the world of personal finance. But don’t mistake learning for complexity. We can all improve our finances AND still keep things simple. Strategies, like making the most of compound interest, are easy and timeless.

If you think you can take better care of your finances, please start NOW. Read, learn, think, review or enlist help. Wouldn’t it be great to stop worrying about money?

Keep your questions coming!

As mentioned in last week’s post, I’m answering all your personal finance questions this month. Please drop me a note and I’ll respond.

Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

Now’s The Time To Learn MORE About Money

Want to get smarter with money? There’s no time like the present!questions-and-answers

November Is Financial Literacy Month In Canada (& I couldn’t be happier)!

Financial Literacy is all about

having the knowledge, skills and confidence to make responsible financial decisions.

Funny how we need an actual month to put the spotlight on personal finances. Shouldn’t we be watching our money all year long? I suppose November makes good sense…if we get smarter this month, maybe we’ll spend less for the holidays? Or, find ways to save tax before year-end? If we reduce our mortgages now while interest rates are low, we might find extra cash for our RRSP contribution in February. Maybe we can afford the winter vacation this year after all? One can always hope.

The great news in the world of financial literacy is that people are paying more attention to their finances than ever before. There are many organizations to thank for that- media, governments, non-profits, schools, the financial industry and more. The not so great news is that most of us can still do better at improving our financial health.

Achieving financial freedom or independence is a worthwhile goal at any age. Life is better and less stressful when we build enough wealth to live the way we want. More options and choices become available when we no longer need to work like a slave for our paycheque. How nice would it be to pursue your real passion without regard to it’s income-earning potential?

My Promise To You… 

Q&A All Month Long, Starting NOW!

To celebrate Financial Literacy Month again this year, I’m answering all your personal finance questions. I DO promise to share my knowledge, experience and objectivity (I don’t promise that you’ll always like my answer?!). If I don’t know the answer, I’ll tell you (not fake it).

There aren’t many of us who can say that helping people learn about money is our passion!

Send me your questions using the Contact Page of this blog or email me at pgass@rogers.com. All Q&A’s will be kept strictly confidential (unless otherwise instructed).

Hope I can help you learn more about money and make a positive difference in your financial lives!

 

Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, pinterest or twitter.

What I Learned From Getting A Second Opinion On My Family’s Finances

As I patiently wait with my husband in the sleek, new boardroom, I can’t help but wonder what I’m about to hear. Hand-holding-gift-001Will I be surprised, upset, thrilled, scared or somewhere in between?

Does it seem strange that a finance professional is getting a second opinion on her own financial situation?

Finally, I convinced myself that it’s “normal”; not a sign of weakness. Why not? What’s there to lose (other than my husband’s praise or my confidence in my own abilities)? Would a doctor actually treat herself for her own health problems?

In comes our very competent advisor and 2 of his professional colleagues that we’ve never met before. As we smile, greet, sit, and chat, we are handed a beautifully bound and tabbed 44 page document called Our Wealth Plan.

Wow, very impressive but what does it actually say?! The geek inside me can’t wait to dive into the details.

The Conclusion

Thank goodness for the Executive Summary!

As the professionals walk us through the summary, assumptions and major findings, I start to relax and feel better. I discover my own (reems of)  analysis is rather consistent with their viewpoint- whew!

Our advisors do a superb job of addressing the key question that I asked of them; Given our level of wealth, how much can we safely spend in retirement? They also present ideas on estate planning that we have not considered (and definitely neglected)- food for thought. All in all, a useful & positive experience that gives peace of mind to the “money expert” in our family. Thankfully, my husband is happy too- he does NOT have to go back to work!

Random Thoughts On Our Plan And The Process

1) Would a typical person know if their plan made sense?

Without some depth of financial knowledge, I’m not convinced that someone could assess the true quality of the plan. Are the assumptions reasonable taken together? The graphs are pretty but are the numbers that they’re based on realistic? Where are the risks? Do we have a back-up plan? Please, if you’re having a plan prepared, use a reputable, experienced and knowledgeable professional!

2) Value for money

Our plan was “free”- talk about great value for money! It’s part of the service provided by our commission-based investment advisory firm. I’m certainly not complaining but I think this helps to devalue the effort involved in real financial planning services while overvaluing that of investment advisory services. Who knows? When fees become more transparent, people will better understand why/what they are paying for and the value inherent in those services.

3)  Assumptions Drive The Plan- Be Sure They’re Reasonable

After the meeting, I couldn’t wait to comb through the details like a true analytical-type would do. I have fun picking apart the assumptions and notice that changing any of them (investment returns, lifespan, inflation, spending etc) will have a big impact on our wealth over time. We MUST make sure they’re conservative if we don’t want to run out of money in retirement! And, don’t forget a “cushion” for the unexpected events.

4) What Now?

It would be very EASY to let this newly created plan collect dust and do nothing. In reality, it’s up to us to take action on the next steps presented in our plan. This takes effort and motivation (especially hard if you’re not financially inclined). I hope I/we can make it happen? Time flies and we’re not getting any younger!

5) Annual Reviews Are A MUST!

Life is full of surprises and the best laid plans may not transpire as we think. Our goals/needs could easily change. It’s critical to review our plan at least annually to see how we’re doing and how we might need to adjust (especially the “spending” part). The great thing is that the work effort will be less (as we’ve already got a good plan to start from). I’ve said it before- running out of money in retirement is NOT an option!

Related Posts:

Might Another Set Of Eyes Be Your Ticket To Financial Success?

Quiz #4- Do You Know What You Don’t Know About Planning For A Financially Healthy Retirement?

Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

Photo courtesy of theguardian.com

How To Jump Start A Great Money Talk

Let’s face it; money talks with our families are never fun but always necessary.

kangaroos jumping

Unless, of course, your supply of cash is endless (in which case, I’d love to know your secret).

Talking about money DOES get easier with practice. And, there are tricks to make these conversations run even smoother and be more productive.

One simple strategy is to kick-off the conversation with your goals and dreams. Hard not to get excited when talking about the things we love and want for the future! Then (building on this excitement), segway into what needs to happen to achieve your goals. Money is just 1 tool (of many) to create the life we really want.

Below, are a few more tips that I’m sharing from a previous post on how to start a money conversation. Because, I’m a great believer in recycling timeless content (and reminders too)!

1) Tell Stories

Many of our attitudes and behaviours around money were learned as a child. Often, people aren’t aware of how different their experiences were growing up. Tell stories- they are enlightening and entertaining. Sharing your own story first is a great way to get your spouse to open up too. You might have a good laugh when you discover the impact today!

When I was growing up, my own parents were incredibly thrifty. Today, I still struggle with spending money on “fun stuff”. I remember being totally embarassed at Christmas each year when my mother would unwrap her gifts carefully and diligently fold/save the paper for next year! This was many years before environmental awareness became popular and my friends thought she was crazy! To this day, I catch myself being reluctant to throw things away (i.e. old clothes, university textbooks) that someday might be useful!

Have some fun replaying your background, family behaviour and what you learned about money as a kid. It’s a lot easier to appreciate your differences when you understand where they came from.

2) Introduce the need/desire

It may feel uncomfortable or awkward the first few times you initiate a money talk but DO IT ANYWAYS! Be calm, positive, non-judgemental and choose your language carefully. Below are two examples of tough subjects that married couples might procrastinate on and possible conversation starters.

Scenario #1- How much should we save for retirement if we’re not sure when to retire or how we’ll keep busy?

Conversation Starter- “After reading an article about retirement planning, it got me thinking about our own dreams for the future. We’ve never really talked about them before. What are your thoughts?”

Result- Working through options with your spouse will clarify what is doable and where you need to adjust today to make your dreams happen.

Scenario #2- Our debts are making me anxious and keeping me awake at night

Conversation Starter- “I really need to stop worrying about our debt. What can we do to accelerate the payments and still have some fun today?”

Result- Confiding in your spouse might feel good and help you both create a more aggressive repayment plan.

3) Create the right environment for success

If you’ve had a bad night’s sleep and your kids are screaming in the background, its not the right time to talk about money. But, don’t give up on it being a priority. Put it in your schedule for another time (soon). Better yet, make it a regular event (like date night) to help you stay on track.

4) Seize opportunties when they arise

You’ve just finished watching a funny episode of Modern Family where Gloria and Jay have been disagreeing about money. Use this opportunity to lighten the mood and start a talk about your own money challenges.

When my daughter was a pre-teen, we watched many episodes of “The Shopping Bags” together. I remember having great debates on whether higher priced products outperform their lower priced equivalents. Now, as a young adult, I see this positive influence on her own shopping behaviour.

Do you like Dragon’s Den or Shark’s Tank? These shows can inspire a family chat about money and investing. My husband, kids and I love challenging each other’s ideas about what makes a great investment.

5) Ask a great question and keep it positive

Examples…

i) “I’ve been thinking about some new ways to save money so that we can afford our trip to Florida next year. What are your thoughts?”

ii) “Before we decide to put Jamie in private school, let’s talk about how we can adjust our other priorities.”

iii) “I know you’ve got your heart set on the new flat screen TV. What can we do differently to be able to afford it sooner?”

6) Understand Each Other’s Expectations

Are your life/money goals similar to or different from your spouse’s? How can you create a plan to satisfy both of you? What compromises must you make?

 

What are your own tips for broaching the subject of money? Would love to hear them!

 

Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

Might Another Set Of Eyes Be Your Ticket To Financial Success?

I have a little voice in my head sometimes that I wish would keep quiet!racoon eyes

It reminds me about the things I don’t know or I’m not very good at; cooking, fixing almost anything that’s broken around my house or navigating driving directions in a new city.

It’s hard to accept and admit what we don’t know (or aren’t good at). Especially when everyone else already knows what we don’t! Or we think they do so we feel even worse that this knowledge has somehow escaped us. Better to just keep quiet and carry on, right? WRONG – I know I don’t need to tell you that!

Many people feel this way about their personal finances and I’d really like to change that. One family at a time. I get it; it’s not easy but I won’t stop trying.

I’m passionate and pretty good with personal finances (sorry for the bragging)! But I’m also the first to admit that there’s plenty I don’t know too. Learning about money is a lifelong job.

Isn’t it easier to give advice rather than take it? Have I really covered off my own “financial blind spots” (and managed my own emotions) as well as I could have? Just like the pieces of a puzzle, the components of my own plan (and your’s too) must fit together properly to be the best they can be.

I’m FINALLY taking my own advice to heart (that which I seem to give so easily to others).

I’m getting a second opinion on my own finances and I couldn’t be happier! I won’t lie- it’s also incredibly scary. What if I find out I’m not doing as well as I think I am? Will I need to change my lifestyle – the one I’ve become so accustomed to?

Stay tuned for an update. I promise to tell you the real bottom line (good, bad & ugly) and what I learn about my own finances during the process. Learning from others is the BEST– especially if you can avoid their expensive mistakes!

Special thanks to Amy Jo Lauber, a fellow finance professional, for the inspiration for today’s post. Her blog is fabulous- have a look whenever you have a chance; LIFE: Live Inspired, Financially Empowered

Related Posts:

How A Wave Of Emotions Can Derail The Best Laid Plans

Tackling Personal Finance- Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

Is Financial Advice What A Client Really Wants?

Proud founder of this blog Let’s Talk About Money, Patricia Gass, CPA, CA, provides personal finance coaching and education to improve your money skills. Follow her on linkedin, twitter or pinterest.

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