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If one of the top issues couples fight about is money, then a worldwide pandemic where uncertainty fills the air is certain to magnify financial disagreements. It’s to be expected.

Stimulus checks

Job uncertainty

Job layoffs and unemployment

Food and grocery shortages

Kids at home 24/7

Whether you were in a financial rhythm or not, the changes or potential changes can cause significant conflict. And it’s not because there’s too much or not enough money. It’s because you both have an opinion on what should or shouldn’t be done with the money. And there’s a good chance that you’re both certain that you’re right. 

There’s some frivolous things that people can spend money on that are not helpful for the current situation. However, that’s not what I’m trying to address. The question is: How can we come together and make financial decisions for our family in the midst of the changes brought on by COVID-19?

Have Priorities Changed?

There’s an old saying, “If you want to know what’s important to someone, look at their bank statement.” It may be time for a discussion between the two of you regarding what is most important during this time of change and uncertainty. Prior to this quarantine, education, being debt-free, creating memorable experiences and family togetherness were tops on our list. We often tried to take advantage of several educational opportunities, feverishly paid down debts and would go all out to celebrate birthdays and holidays to create memorable experiences.

That’s changed—at least temporarily. Financial security, home improvement and family togetherness are top priorities now. We’re saving as much as possible and working on repairs as if we’re preparing to sell our home. 

Family togetherness is in both lists, but it’s interesting how they look different when you are trying to save money instead of focusing on creating memorable experiences. 

Couples that can come to an agreement on the current priorities take a huge step into making financial decisions together. Before deciding what to do with money, first agree with what’s important to the family.

As a Team, Assess Where You Are. 

Basic questions to answer: 

  • Do we have enough money for all of our current and necessary expenses? 
  • Do we need to cut spending? 
  • Is it possible to increase our income? 

The ability to answer these questions together helps couples lay a framework for working together. Notice, we haven’t made any financial decisions or judgments yet about what those changes should be. We’ve simply identified our priorities and our current situation.

We’re Not Making Enough Money. What Needs to Change?

First, look at each other and agree that you’re going to make it through this together. There may not be enough money because of a pay cut, a layoff, increased medical expenses or you’re subjected to a natural disaster. This may be the first time that one or both of you has ever been in this situation. Fear, panic and anxiety can begin to grab hold. Being in a marriage means being on the same TEAM. Not having to face new challenges alone. Hugs, Kisses, and Affirmation are priceless when the money is tight. Turn toward one another, not away from one another.

Looking at your bank statement and financial decisions for the last month or two is really helpful in knowing where the money went—especially when trying to eliminate spending on things that aren’t priorities. Discussing payment options and deferments is something that many companies are willing to do during this time of quarantine. Check out this great blog my colleague wrote about getting help when the money isn’t there.

The key is to look at all options with an open mind and be creative. It’s easy to be attached to certain practices. We can get trapped in the mentality that if we don’t do this thing we do every year, then we’ll ruin little Johnny’s life. Is that really true?

Phrases to Avoid When Working Together to Cut Spending

  • We can’t cut that. This statement stifles creativity. You may ultimately land on some things that can’t be cut, but before using this phrase, you must exhaust all options.
  • That’ll make them so mad. Changes often evoke emotional responses that we must learn to deal with.
  • There’s nowhere to cut. This statement also stifles creativity. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. 

Have an Open Mind. Be Creative. Work Together. Be Willing to Compromise. 

Your preferences can’t always be more important than your partner’s preferences. If you’re constantly fighting about what to cut, you may choose to focus on increasing your income. You also may develop a system to alternate who chooses what to cut. This is probably going to be painful for all involved. But that’s OK, you’re doing it together.

Is Increasing Income an Option?

You may be surprised at all the industries that are hiring during this season: cleaning services, delivery services (both food and packages), grocery stores, and landscaping, just to name a few. You may be good at tutoring or making specialty items of value. This may be the time to market your services. They may not fully replace your income. However, it may be better than nothing. 

Agreeing on the Assistance You Receive

Whether it’s the stimulus check, unemployment or any other infusion of cash, it’s important that the two of you agree about it before you spend it. You may likely have two different opinions on what to do with the money. Do we catch up on bills? Save it? Fix the car? Resubscribe to Netflix? 

Don’t feel like you have to make the decision the moment you get the money. Just be sure to work together. My wife and I have made an agreement that any infusion of cash cannot be spent until we come to an agreement together. Look at your necessities and priorities and work from there. 

Work Together—Communicate, Communicate, Communicate.

This can be an anxious time. We can be susceptible to scams, quick fix payday loans, predatory loan sharks, and addictions. Committing to connect with one another to talk about money, to talk about life and to talk about your emotions can heighten your emotional security and peace when you’re not sure if you can pay the light bill this month. 

However, with the right attitude toward one another and a commitment to working together as a team, the two of you can navigate through anything and be stronger for it.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

It is fair to say that we are all thinking about money at the moment. Let’s be honest – most of us do not have 6 months, 6 weeks, heck, not even 6 days saved up in our emergency fund.  

These are unprecedented times that we are facing and there is not a great road map out there for how to deal with all these pressures hitting at once. To help you get through this with some financial peace of mind, make sure you and your significant other are on the same page (no hidden accounts or, oops, forgot to tell you about that credit card), everything needs to literally be out on the table.

Start by figuring out what you have coming in and what you have going out. Once you have this down, then start looking at where you might need help.  

I am going to start making some generalizations the rest of the way, but please reach out and communicate your individual situation with all of your financial life connections.

On the banking front, think mortgage, car loans, personal loans, credit cards (yep, all of them) and student loans. Definitely call them before you miss a payment if you can. They also might be able to defer payments – you will still have to make them, but not today. Think about bills that might be auto-drafting and decide if you want to cancel the payment. Your bank is there to help you. Call each and every credit card you have and ask them about how they are helping people during this time.  

A lot of utilities (think about your water, electric, cell phone, internet) want to help but you have to reach out to them. Ask about assistance programs, ask if they will defer a payment or two. Will they provide a wifi hotspot so you can get online access to work from home? Most utilities have suspended cutoffs for the next 30 – 60 days, but still, call them if you are having a hard time making the payment.  

Also please be aware of scams during this time. Please avoid any pay-day or cash advance loans. Call your bank first – they are there to help you. Be careful with “offers” that come in the mail. If it sounds too good to be true, it is!  If YOU can’t figure out a so-called debt relief “program” on a napkin then run for the hills.

If you get laid off or have already lost your job during this time, go file for unemployment. It won’t replace all of your income but it may be just enough to help you stay afloat.  

During these uncertain financial times, please know you are not alone. Reach out to your bank, credit card issuers and utilities early and let them know your concerns. Make sure they know your financial situation so they can help you. Reach out to your friends so they can help and hook you up with other resources. You will get through this – you just might need a little help.

Buying a house is one of the most stressful things that you can go through as human beings, especially if you’re newlyweds. Yes, it’s even more stressful than planning a wedding.

Read more

A few months ago, I asked my Facebook friends what brought them happiness. Although their answers varied, people said things like family, friends, being in nature, their faith, pets, their spouse and more made them happy. 

Here’s what I found interesting: Nobody listed money as something that brings them happiness, yet it is the thing many of us devote our lives to getting more of in the pursuit of happiness.

Gary Kunath, author of Life…Don’t Miss It. I Almost Did, worked in corporate America and bought into the idea that the more money you make, the happier you will be. The only problem was, he wasn’t happy and he was working long hours away from his family. Through a series of events, Gary did some tough soul-searching and decided to leave his corporate job and do something different.

He learned that the quest for net worth at the cost of life worth is not a good trade-off.

“A truly rich person is not the one who has the most, but the one who needs the least. The only reason to focus on net worth is to underwrite life worth,” said Kunath. “I promise you that in the end no one will care what kind of car you drove when you were 35 or the square footage of the largest home you ever owned. What will count and what does matter is what people remember about you.”

While heredity and other things affect happiness levels to a certain point, studies indicate that we can do certain things to impact our happiness levels. Kunath shared these keys to happiness: 

  • Money doesn’t make you rich. How you think about money really sets the tone for your priorities in life. Do you value things or experiences with others? Do you spend your money impulsively or are you thoughtful about expenditures?
  • Help other people with no expectation of anything in return. Kunath shared a story about a college intern for a baseball team who noticed a little boy at one of their events sitting on a bench crying his eyes out. The intern went over to see if he could help and showed great kindness to the little boy. Three months after his internship ended, an executive with the baseball team called to request his presence at a meeting. When the young man showed up, he learned that the little boy had lost his mom earlier that year and the kind gesture of the intern was not lost on the father of the little boy who happened to be working on a corporate sponsorship with the team. The father requested that the intern be given 100 percent of the commission from that deal. 
  • Practice the art of savoring. Kunath suggests that happiness comes from savoring moments versus being focused on the next thing. He shared that the three greatest gifts you can give your family are time (small things matter), memories and traditions.
  • Perspective is powerful. Don’t major on the minors. Irritating things happen to people all the time such as being cut off in traffic, being lied to by a co-worker or being taken advantage of. Consider how you will allow these things to impact your happiness quotient. The truth is, these incidents are moments in time and will only rob you of your joy and happiness if you allow them to. 
  • Life is fun and fun is good. Kunath quoted Dr. Gerold Jampolsky, saying, “We can only be happy now, and there will never be a time when it is not now.” In other words, fun matters. Don’t take yourself too seriously. You don’t have to have a lot of money to have fun. Fun enhances relationships, decreases stress and creates great memories.
  • Refine your relationships, or as Kunath puts it, thin the herd. It matters who you surround yourself with as you go through life. Kunath suggests that we take a look at who we have allowed in our inner circle. If there are people who are sucking the life right out of you or who are constant takers, some pruning might be in order. It isn’t that those people shouldn’t be in our lives at all – we just shouldn’t be spending most of our time with them. 

So, if you’ve been looking for happiness in all the wrong places, incorporate these keys into your life. Remember unconditional love, making a difference for someone else, giving without any expectation of getting anything in return, appreciating the beauty of family and true friends, slowing down and savoring life, and having fun are important components of happy experiences for yourself and the ones you care about. 

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on October 12, 2019.

There’s been a steady decline in marriage rates over the past few decades. While some studies blame the decline on gender ratio discrepancies and millennials just not being interested in marriage, a 2019 Cornell University study published in the Journal of Marriage and Family (JMF) says the root cause might be that there aren’t as many men who are economically stable and therefore are not attractive to women looking for a mate.

The study notes that ethnic minorities, especially African American women, are dealing with very low numbers of economically attractive potential mates.

Researchers found that attractive potential husbands had an average income approximately 58% higher than the current unmarried men.

“Most American women hope to marry but current shortages of marriageable men—men with a stable job and a good income—make this increasingly difficult, especially in the current gig economy of unstable low-paying service jobs,” said lead author Daniel T. Lichter, Ph.D., of Cornell University in their media release. “Marriage is still based on love, but it also is fundamentally an economic transaction. Many young men today have little to bring to the marriage bargain, especially as young women’s educational levels on average now exceed their male suitors.”

A 2016 study, also published in the JMF, found that women have made greater educational gains than men during the past few decades in the U.S. Among newlyweds:

  • The percentage of couples in which the husband had more education than the wife declined from 24 percent in 1980 to 15 percent in 2008–2012.
  • The share of couples in which the wife had more education than the husband increased from 22 percent to 29 percent during the same period.
  • If two spouses differed in their level of education, in 1980 the husband was more likely be more educated, but from 2008 to 2012, the wife was more likely to have more education.

Less than a decade ago, Stanford psychology professor Philip Zimbardo and Kay Hymowitz, fellow at the Manhattan Institute, expressed their concerns about what is happening to boys. Each made comments similar to “pre-adult men often seem like children, filling their leisure time with video games, Adam Sandler movies, indie bands, beer pong and the company of inebriated women.”

Along with them, others were raising voices of concern, stating these 2011 statistics:

  • Boys are 30 percent more likely to drop out or flunk out of school than girls.
  • Girls now outperform guys at every level from elementary to graduate school.
  • Two-thirds of all students in special education are boys.
  • Boys are five times more likely to be labeled ADHD.
  • By the time boys are 21, they have played more than 10,000 video games, mostly in isolation.
  • The average boy watches 50 porn clips a week.

Zimbardo noted that one of the most interesting things he was seeing in his research is what he refers to as the “social intensity syndrome” where guys prefer the asynchronistic internet world over the spontaneous interaction in social relationships.

Many studies show that boys continue to lag behind girls. Additional studies show that the gap is widening as women continue to make educational and financial gains and are seeking to marry men who are also educated and financially secure. Both of these studies published in the JMF indicate that women want to marry, but can’t find a partner they consider to at least be their educational and financial equal.

None of this means that a woman (or a man) should marry for money instead of love or that they should believe that who makes the money or how much each person makes won’t impact their relationship. There is plenty of research indicating that money impacts marital stability and is often the source of much stress in marriage, especially when expectations around money go unspoken, which isn’t helpful to the relationship. It is important for couples to be on the same page when it comes to money, education and expectations.

Instead, the question for us is, “Why are boys lagging behind?” and what can we do about it? What will we do about it? We will continue to fail our boys and our girls if we sit back and do nothing, but the results of that would seemingly be disastrous for men, women and children.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on September 27, 2019.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

The average college student will graduate with about $37,000 in student loans, but few students really think about repaying that money after graduating. In fact, many new college students haven’t thought much at all about money management, much less paying off student loans at the end of their four years.

Results from a survey of 455 college students by LendEdu found that:

  • 58% indicated they are not saving anything.
  • 30% indicated their parents taught them nothing about managing money.
  • 51% received no financial education in high school.
  • 43% are not tracking their spending.

Bryan Bulmer, Coordinator for Financial Wellness at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, knows this all too well. He has worked with college students to help them learn financial literacy.

“There are two kinds of students I typically see in my office: students who have been taught about money management and have grasped the concepts and those who really have never been shown the impact of money or lack thereof,” says Bulmer. 

In his student presentations, Bulmer uses a giant Jenga game to show the impact of frivolous spending. For example, buying that cup of coffee each day Monday through Friday is about $100 a month. After four years, the student will have spent $5,000 on coffee alone.

“That usually gets their attention because nobody ever thinks about how much that small amount adds up to over time,” Bulmer says. “Our goal is to help them know how to be wise with their money.”

When Bulmer asks students how many of them want to move back home after college, he says not a single hand goes up. However, 60% of them do move back home. Plus, a whopping 39% of them will still be living at home into their mid to late-20s.

Studies show that annual take-home pay for the average recent college graduate is around $36,000. Bulmer breaks this down for his students this way: If you have a car, college and credit card payments, that will probably take about $1,000. That leaves you $2,000 for everything else including rent, which is usually another $1,000.  So that leaves you only $1,000 for groceries, car insurance, internet and such.

“Pretty quickly the students begin to realize that while it sounds like a lot of money, it really isn’t if you don’t learn how to manage it well,” Bulmer says.

If you want to help your college student be financially literate, Bulmer suggests that you:

  • Involve the student in the family finances. Let them see what it takes to keep the lights and water on, the cost of Wi-Fi and keeping the refrigerator filled with food.
  • Talk with them about how credit works. Credit card companies are notorious for stalking freshmen and older college students with deals that are too good to be true, and plenty of them fall for it only to find themselves in debt way over their heads. They often have no idea how to get out.
  • Teach them the basics of money management (e.g. banking, paying bills, safe use of debit cards, MobilePay, ID theft and such).
  • Address student loan requirements. If your student is taking out student loans, make sure they know what this means in four years. Some students are not aware that they have student loans. This should not be a surprise to them when they graduate.

Having a college degree gives many people an advantage. According to the National Financial Educators Council, studies show college graduates will earn almost a half-million dollars more over their lifetime than someone who has not received their college degree. But, if they have no concept of personal finances and how to manage the money they are earning, it will be of no benefit to them. 

“All of our students who come into our office that are financial literate give credit to their parents for helping them be literate,” Bulmer says. “Statistical information says 34 percent of students feel financially literate and that 37 percent of parents share financial literacy skills with their students. I believe those numbers show parents are the number one provider of financial literacy skills in the lives of their children.”

Give your kids the edge they need for future success by teaching them how to manage money wisely now, regardless of their age. 

This article was originally published
in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on July 21, 2019.

Many college graduates will soon be joining the workforce, some for the first time. The transition can be a real shocker as they face their new reality of 8-hour days, specific start times, no more spring breaks and a limited amount of time for lunch. Plus, some workplaces expect employees to work at a rigorous pace that is foreign to many college students.

In the adjustment phase, young adults may complain to their parents about workplace practices, demanding bosses, irritating co-workers and deadlines, just to name a few issues. This is nothing new for sure. 

Anybody who has held a job can probably relate, but here’s where things get interesting. In an effort to be helpful, many parents jump right in to deal with the issue at hand. In fact, you might be surprised at just how many parents are quick to take the reins and deal with the issue themselves.

In a recent survey of parents of children ages 18-28 conducted by Morning Consult, 11 percent of the parents surveyed said they would contact an employer if their child was having issues at work. Of the parents surveyed:

  • 76% reminded their adult children of deadlines they need to meet, including for schoolwork. 
  • 74% made appointments for them, including doctor’s appointments. 
  • 42% offered them advice on relationships and romantic life. 
  • 16% helped write all or part of a job or internship application. 
  • 15% told them which career to pursue.
  • 14% helped them get jobs or internships through professional network.
  • 14% gave more than $500 per month for rent or daily expenses.

With the possible exception of giving romantic advice, none of these behaviors on the part of the parent are helpful in preparing a young adult for the real world.

Instead of jumping in to rescue them, it would be helpful to assist them in being prepared to deal with real-life work situations. Here’s how you can start:

  • When they encounter a difficult professor, process with them potential ways to approach the professor and have a conversation. 
  • Teach them how to make their own doctor’s appointments. 
  • If they have internship possibilities, rehearse with them how to make the initial phone call or introduction and talk with them about potential interview questions. 

If they believe they are being treated unfairly or inappropriately at work, get a good understanding of what is happening. Then:

  • Attempt to walk through the situation with them, but realize the situation is not yours to handle. 
  • Ask them what they think they need to do besides quit, which sometimes ends up being an option if nothing else works, and then help them figure out an action plan they can execute by discussing the pros and cons of all viable options. 
  • If you don’t think you have the knowledge or skill set required to help them decide how to move forward, connect them with someone you believe has the knowledge to do so. Avoid the temptation to make the call yourself. 

It can be painful to watch your young adult deal with difficult and sometimes very complicated circumstances, especially if they are a hard worker and what they are walking through seems unjust. However, it is not healthy or helpful to jump into circumstances they need to learn how to handle themselves. Life is for sure not fair, and this will likely not be the last time they have to navigate dealing with a difficult situation. 

Whether your adult child is still in college or in the workforce, writing papers for them, calling them to make sure they are awake, reminding them of deadlines or interfering at work does not prepare your child for the reality of living an independent, productive life. Doing these things will make them more dependent on you and less prepared for dealing with what life hands them on their own.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on March 31, 2019.

Looking for more resources? Watch this episode of JulieB TV for an in-depth look on this topic!

How do you know if love will last? Some say you don’t, that it’s just luck of the draw if your love lasts over time. Many believe that the more a couple has in common, the more likely they are to be compatible over time. Others say, not so fast.

With more than 40 years of love and relationship research under their belt, The Gottman Institute says that whether love will last is more about how couples address their differences and support one another’s needs and dreams.

In studying successful couple relationships and couples whose relationships fail to thrive over time, The Gottman Institute found that people connect and fall in love by talking. John and Julie Gottman and their co-authors, Doug Abrams and Rachel Carlton Abrams, MD, discovered eight crucial conversations that couples need to have. These conversations can either help couples know that love will last or help rekindle love that has become lukewarm. The authors made the crucial conversations for couples into dates in the book, Eight Dates: Essential Conversations for a Lifetime of Love.

These conversation-based dates have the potential to help couples increase understanding and commitment regardless of how long they have been together. The topics for discussion include:

  • Trust and Commitment. Trust is cherishing each other and showing your partner you are reliable. Choosing commitment means accepting your partner exactly as he or she is, despite their flaws.
  • Conflict. Conflict is a part of every healthy relationship. There is purpose behind it and it is an opportunity to take your relationship to a deeper level.
  • Sex and Intimacy. Romantic, intimate rituals of connection keep a relationship happy and passionate. Couples who talk about sex have more sex.
  • Work and Money. Money issues usually aren’t about money at all. Instead, they are about what money means to each person. Learning what money means to each person can help take your relationship to a totally different place.
  • Family. It is not unusual for relationship satisfaction to decrease after the birth of a child. The decrease often continues with each subsequent child. Couples who maintain their sexual relationship and learn how to manage conflict in a way that builds up their relationship can avoid this drop in relationship happiness.
  • Fun and Adventure. People are often so busy “adulting” that they underestimate the importance of play and adventure in their relationship. They actually are vital components to a successful and joyful relationship. While couples may not necessarily agree on what constitutes play and adventure, learning more about the one you love can be part of the fun.
  • Growth and Spirituality. The only constant in a relationship is change, and how each person in the relationship accommodates the growth of the other partner is key. Relationships can be more than just two individuals coming together; they can be stories of transformation and great contribution and meaning to the world.
  • Dreams. Honoring each other’s dreams is the secret ingredient to creating love for a lifetime. When dreams are honored, everything else in the relationship gets easier.

The Gottmans contend that every strong relationship is a result of a never-ending conversation between partners. This book will guide you through how to talk and how to listen in a way that will benefit you as an individual and as a couple.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 10, 2019.

***If you or someone you know is in an abusive relationship, contact the National Hotline for Domestic Abuse. At this link, you can access a private chat with someone who can help you 24/7. If you fear your computer or device is being monitored, call the hotline 24/7 at: 1−800−799−7233. For a clear understanding of what defines an abusive relationship, click here.***

“I was excited about going away to college,” said Grace Hopkins. “I have basically done everything my entire life with my sister. This will be the first time for both of us to be on our own for an extended period of time.”

As excited and prepared as Grace thought she was, she experienced some rude awakenings as a freshman.

“My parents made it a point to teach us how to do laundry, clean our rooms and manage money. I thought I was totally prepared for being on my own,” Grace said.

“It was kind of a shock when things like time management and budgeting got the best of me. I have always been good about managing my time, BUT I was with friends who were also excited about the newness of college and wanted to have fun first. They encouraged me to have fun and I let some things fall behind.”

Even though Grace budgeted her money before she went to college, she wasn’t used to having to pay for everything herself.

“It was just so tempting when your friends wanted to go grab something to eat,” Grace shared. “I figured out pretty quickly that if I kept spending money like this,I was going to be broke before we made it to midterms.”

Grace is in good company. Many college freshmen have struggled with exactly the same issues. Here are Grace’s thoughts on what she would say to her freshman self:

  • Time management is key. “As a freshman, you will want to do it all and experience as much as you can but you have to consider your responsibilities first. You don’t want to wake up at exam time and realize that you are really behind.”
  • Get involved. “I joined a couple of clubs. That was a good way to meet people outside of the people you meet at orientation. It’s a great way to get to know some upperclassmen.”
  • Be prepared for the “roommate thing.” “I had not shared a room with someone in many years so it took some getting used to,” said Grace. “We put together a roommate contract the first day about things like expectations concerning bedtime, who could be in the room and when. Even with the written agreement, there were still challenges.”
  • Beware of the little expenditures. “Everything adds up real quick.”
  • Getting enough sleep makes a huge difference. “Staying up with friends until 2 a.m. and having to get up for a 9 a.m. class did not work out real well for me.”

Many teens are anxious to transition to this new phase of life. On the outside, they act confident but on the inside they are wondering: Am I really prepared?

Encourage your teen to take Grace’s advice. Help them with strategies for balancing their newfound freedom and responsibility.

Discuss potential risks and the difficult choices they may have to make. Mistakes are inevitable, but you can prepare and empower your teen to enter into their freshman year with confidence. In the end, experience will be their best teacher.