A guide and a companion

I’m not all the fond of the word expert. It’s never been a hat that fits for me.

I like the word expertise… because it’s something you have, rather than something you are.

But I think my favourite qualifier when it comes to my job as a financial support is: guide.

A guide doesn’t know exactly what you’ll meet on your journey, but they have an arsenal of tools to help with whatever comes up.

A guide can describe the likely upcoming terrain, and how you can be ready for it.

A guide can help you buy the right gear (and steer you away from the stuff that you’ll never use and just weighs you down).

And most of all, a guide is a companion. Sometimes there is nothing to do. This is something I’ve been struggling with as I look for ways to support my community. I can not restart industries. I cannot replace the income people have lost. Sometimes all I can do is be with them in it, to talk about ideas or commiserate. To remind them that they are doing everything that is possible. Not to say everything will be okay, because I don’t know if it will. But to simply be there.

We all have to raise our prices?

It’s something I’ve struggled with since day one, and I know I’m not alone.

Artists may think that other folks have it easier, I have not found that to be true. Turns out it’s hard to price yourself and ‘get paid what you’re worth’ in lots of fields.

I’m a big fan of people getting paid what they’re worth. I’m a big fan of artists getting paid what they’re worth. Let the record show I am a big fan of this.

But I also struggle when I hear:

‘You have to raise your prices’.
“You’ll find people who CAN afford you”

Because that means leaving people behind.

And in finance, that means that the same groups of people always get left behind. This is hard to live with.

There are no solutions here. I work with people every day to better understand their expenses and what income goals they need to support them. Sometimes increasing income is absolutely necessary, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t come without a cost. Let’s not pretend that we can have it all.

If we are worth thousands of dollars for our services, some people will struggle to gain access to those services. This is part of the equation for many of us, not just the very present imposter syndrome at the heart of a low ball offer.

Raising prices IS complex, and deserves careful thought about what you’re trying to do, what you can afford, and what is the best option when balancing your own care and the care of those you serve.

Certified Financial Planner

Last fall, I passed my exams for the certified financial planner designation. This month, I was approved to start using those letters behind my name.

For most of you, this will not seem like a big deal. In truth, it probably isn’t. It’s one of many financial acronyms that people in the finance industry carry around.

But I’m quite proud of it.

I’m proud of it because it was not easy for me. Passing those exams and coursework was difficult. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to pretend like it was easy. But it wasn’t, and I won’t… and I think that’s an important thing to say.

I continually find myself needing to translate the language of finance into something I can more readily understand. It’s why I write in metaphors and indirect language so often. That’s not for other people, it’s for me.

Being good at spreadsheets and reading the tax code is not why I’m a good financial coach and planner. It’s a thing I have learned (and am continuing to learn) so that I can become a better coach and planner.

The same is true for all of you.

If you don’t feel at home in financial language, that’s okay. You’re not alone. Remember that the real complexity of figuring out your money is in the big questions of ‘what do I want to do’ and ‘how do I decide what’s most important’. Remember that you can learn things that don’t come naturally to you.

… and remember that once you do, it will feel all the more satisfying.

Saving is not a real thing

Now, let me preface this thought by telling all those who are good at saving that they should probably just stop reading this now. You’re good. No need to change or reframe anything.

But for people who have always struggled to save anything…. guess what?

Saving isn’t a real thing. It’s all spending! All money is meant to be spent… the real question is WHEN do you want to spend it.

Is this money meant to be spent this month?
Is it for something next month?
Do you want to spend it at Christmas?
Do you want to spend it on a new car in a couple of years?
Is it for spending when you’re 80 years old and you no longer want to take bullshit gigs to make rent?
Or is it for your kids to spend long after you’re gone?

We need to stop treating saving like a super power. We need to stop letting it be a virtuous act that those who are good with their money have, and we don’t have.

It’s not a different thing. It’s just a different way of looking at the same thing.

The habit to practice (no matter how much money you make) is to stretch out your spending over a longer timeline. Introduce the thought that some of your money is for spending later down the road.

Don’t ask yourself: is this money for spending or saving?
Instead ask yourself: when do I want to spend this money?

And see if that starts shifting what seems possible.

Stewardship vs Ownership

My wife and I bought an old house (at least it’s old for Canada).

Before we moved we thought a lot about how nice it would be to have ownership over a space. Finally we would be able to make choices on painting and knocking down walls.

And that’s true.

But more than that I think about the history of this place. That we are just a part of its history, and if we do a good job… we’ll send it off towards a bright future with other families.

This is our house. But it’s also a house that belonged to many people before us. I would love it to belong to many people after us.

It’s a shift between seeing something individually and seeing something collectively, and I think it’s an important one. It’s a thought that I’d like to take into all other areas of ‘ownership’.

What happens when we expand our thinking around our assets and incomes past ownership and into stewardship? How does that affect that way we look at our portfolios and our tax returns?

I don’t know, but it’s something that I’ll be thinking of a lot in the coming months.

Non-Essential

As things begin to open up, there is an ever growing conversation about what is ‘essential’ and what is not. It’s something those of us connected to the arts sphere have been feeling acutely.

Although there is a lot that people disagree on these days, a general consensus (outside the arts world) seems to be that the easiest thing to dub non-essential is art.

It’s a hard thing to hear, when the thing at the core of your life, the thing that has been truly essential to basic functioning is the first thing the world seems to throw out.

And so we argue. We yell about the importance of art in people’s lives. We tell them that they would miss us if we were gone. We insist that they’re wrong, whether they know it or not.

On a micro level, it’s a fight that I see happen quite a lot. As someone that gets to be part of people’s spending conversations, the argument over what is ‘essential’ is one that dominates, and the thing that I’ve learned is that there are no hard and fast rules.

For some people, spending on clothing is essential. There are lots of reasons this can be true, none of which I feel the need to justify to anyone. It is essential in their lives.

For others, it is the last thing they spend money on. They are happy in the same old shorts every day. It is non-essential. I have to fight for them to acknowledge that one day they will have to replace those shorts, and maybe they should put a few dollars aside for it.

This comes up in every category: food, travel, business, subscriptions.

Something that is non-essential to us seems like a frivolous thing to even think of buying.

…turns out …people are different.

So, to the arts world I say…to some people, art is not essential. I’m sorry, but it’s true. It’s just not a big part of their lives, and they don’t really miss it when it’s gone. Maybe they’re not really thinking it through, or maybe it’s just not a thing for them.

To the rest of you I say…please be gentle on the arts world right now.

For many of us we are nowhere near to getting back to work. The side jobs that we held to diversify income and provide stability in down times, they’ve also dissolved. We are not only dealing with an anvil blow to our industry, but the questions of identity that come with it.

I know we’re not the only ones, but many of us (particularly those in live theatre) are just starting to process what the next 2 years of our lives may be.

I know you need to make decisions about what’s essential and what is not.

But understand that art has been essential to us. It has been essential to our identities and to our work. It has been essential to our families and our homes. it has been essential to our friends and our communities.

To us, it is not debatable. We have lived its essential-ness, and it has changed…and we’re struggling.

Taking a Walk Helps

I had a lot of resistance to cutting expenses when I first sat down to look at my financial picture at the start of the pandemic.

There was a lot of:

“I couldn’t possibly cut that!”

and

“I need this to run my business.”

In that first session I found it helpful to get up and go for a long walk. When I came back, it was a bit easier.

Now, I’m finding another level to that ease. Looking at what I spend, it’s easier to imagine lowering costs that were ‘uncuttable’ in the beginning.

For me, the failure (if you can call it that) was that of imagination. Now that I have some more emotional capacity, I can more easily imagine what some alternatives to certain business subscriptions might be. Or how I can cut my grocery budget back a bit more. Plus, I’ve realized I never need to cut my hair again (LIFE HACK!).

Maybe that will be true for you too. And if it’s not… walks help.

4 Dimensions of Financial Goals

Sometimes I get bummed out when I think about ‘goal planning’. It just feels like another thing I should really be doing. Another thing that I can use to feel like I’m failing.

But… I also really believe in it. I make all my clients do it. I think it’s the heart of making a space that matters in your money. It just needs some more depth to it.

Here’s how I think about goal setting and financial planning….

In my work, financial coaching is about making 3 dimensional goals, and financial planning is about adding time to that equation and seeing how they stretch out over the years.

Those who do not grow old

One of the big problems we try to solve in financial planning is… how much money do you need in your life?

We talk about expenses, potential costs, investments, savings but one big piece of the puzzle is missing. When will you die?

Tomorrow? Or at age104?

It’s a pretty major factor that we have no clue about.

We “solve” that problem by making a reasonable guess. By looking at actuarial tables we say – what’s the % chance that you at age ____ will live to age _____.

The financial planning standards are to plan until you have a 25% chance of living past a certain age.

Isn’t that simple? Not really.

The hard question at the core of this problem is not the math of “how much do I need to live to 95”. That can be estimated with a few formulas and a financial calculator.

The hard question is how do we balance your need to live and enjoy your life now with the fear of running out of money in the future.

My dad died at age 72. His chart said he should be planning for another 20 years.

I’m so glad he didn’t. I’m so glad he focused more on enjoying his life than worrying about age 95.

That’s easy for me to say now, because I know the answer to the when–will-he-die question. And his death has called into question the true complexity at the heart of retirement planning.

It must be balanced. Some of you are excellent, intentional, in-the-moment spenders. Some of you are great in-the-future savers. But you need to talk. Learn from each other. We need both of these skills to have a shot at the right balance.

This is really hard, but it’s an area in which planning can really help. Not because it’ll show you what will happen, clearly we have no idea. But what it can do is guide you through the process of fully considering what you want, both now and later. What do you want your impact to be? Where do you want resources to go after you’re gone? How do you want to live now, and how can you build meaningful spending towards those values now, while balancing potential futures?

Never let anyone convince you that saving is all there is to solving your later life planning. It’s only a piece of the puzzle.

Illiterate doesn’t mean unskilled

Just because someone is financially “illiterate” with the conventional financial system does not mean they are unskilled at managing the base problems that the system was built to solve

We must never forget how much can be learned from those who do things differently. How important it is for those of us who teach, to also listen and learn… not just about the latest tax law, but from those who have never heard of it.

This belief is built off of my firm stance that finance’s true complexity is not based in formulas and opaquely constructed instruments. It’s complex because at its heart are the fundamental questions of:

What do I want? What is enough? And how do I take one step forward in a world full of uncertainty?

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