Strengthening Our Financial Foundation: 13 Ideas to Explore Now for a Bright & Secure 2021
Wednesday December 16, 2020

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It is easy to not be concerned about money when we have it, but not having it is an entirely different story. The winds of change come seemingly out of nowhere, bringing windfalls or downfalls. The key to withstanding any financial weather is to build a strong, knowledgeable foundation which prepares us to handle whatever the economies of the future may bring.

Readers have requested recently I write more Money posts, and while I have quite a few in the Archives, I wanted to share with you new and updated tips to consider as we step into a new year, having weathered a year, that is 2020, that is unlike any other most, if not at all, of us have lived through.

Let’s take a look at 13 Financial Ideas to explore for a brighter, and dare I say bright new year in 2021. 🙂

1.Be clear and honest about your True needs

Open just about any traditional financial How-To book, and the mandatory expenses enumerated include rent/mortgage, utilities (water, electricity, gas, garbage, etc.), insurance, retirement/college savings investment and food.

Our True needs (with a capital “T”) are what we need to Thrive, not just survive.

If 2020 has taught me anything, it has underscored the vital importance of a healthy mental and emotional well-being. Yes, I can work two full-time jobs and have a healthy income, but what is the quality of my health? What is the quality of my social life?

Being forced to slow down has revealed many beautiful answers that I am now beginning to permanently embrace.

Yes, we absolutely need to make sure we have enough for the traditional necessities. Fundamental to reaching the pinnacle, which is Self-Actualization, of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is to have our physiological and safety needs met first. Once we’ve established and secured our foundation, not only do we become clear about what actually needs to be part of our fundamental foundation, we also become clear about emotional and self-care needs that need to be included for each of us as individuals to thrive.

Examples of True needs, not traditional needs, are shared here in episode #28 – a Modern Woman’s Lifestyle Grocery List, and there are many others as well. For example, now that I know the best way to have a deep night’s sleep and to be able to sleep through the entire night regardless of the season is when I sleep on linen sheets. This is a necessity to elevate the quality of my life – a good sleep. I will sacrifice other details, but not the type of sheet I sleep on when it comes to my home linens.

At the core, in order to determine if something is a True need is whether it is contributing to our ability to take care of our physical, mental or emotional health. Of course, we need to be honest with ourselves. Case-in-point, looking our best in the clothes we have to wear is crucial, but we can’t break the bank to wear certain items if they exceed our budget. In such cases, we are inspired to be creative, to examine other parts of our budget to see if we truly need to pay for so many streaming services (for example).

In other words, this is where the true tailoring of our finances takes shape, and if we are good tailor, one who truly knows the person for whom they are dressing, the fit will be sublime, and the quality of life superb.

~Read/Listen to episode #25, Why Not . . . Become Self-Actualized?

2. Refinance your mortgage (even if you think you can’t afford it)

If you own your residence – house, apartment, etc. – now (late 2020) is a wonderful time to refinance. Many areas throughout the country are seeing home values rise at the same time mortgage rates are dropping to historic lows (lower than during the Great Recession).

Initially, you may think you cannot afford to refinance; however, let me encourage you to at least explore your options. I share from experience as I am currently refinancing, you may not have to pay a penny out of your pocket. Yes, I know that rolling up the expenses into your loan is adding money to the loan amount you have to pay off, but unless you are going to stay in your home for the entire duration of the loan, reducing your monthly mortgage by 20% or more (yes, that is not an exaggeration as it is possible with these low rates) is a serious financial must-do. Often the appraisal can be waived depending upon the neighborhood you live in and the appraisal of homes in your area, so be sure to check with your lender as the appraisal is often the only out-of-pocket you would have.

3. Reach out to your landlord and have an honest conversation

Every landlord will be different, but building and maintaining a respectful and congenial relationship with them whether through words or actions (paying the rent on time, abiding by the contract, etc.) will go a long way when difficult times present themselves. As a renter for the past four years prior to purchasing my home, I tended to the yard and garden more than was required. As well, I tried to handle most maintenance that was affordable, on my own (yep, I dealt with the mice without saying a word :)). In doing so, my rates rarely went up with each lease renewal, and upon moving out, I received my full deposit. Similarly, if you want to stay in your rental, and you fall on temporary hard times, communicating with them about a loss of income may make them more amenable to a temporary reduction of your monthly rate until you can pay back the difference owed. Anything is possible especially during these times when new laws have been put in place. Both the owner of the rental and the renters need money to pay their bills, so start with communicating from a place of understanding the other side’s situation as well as your own.

4. Reach out regarding your routine bills to inquire about a lower rate

Some bills are set in stone and will not change – water, garbage, etc.. However, there are many bills that simply need to be explored, and a quick phone call can save you significantly for months to come.

  • home/renter’s insurance premium
  • car insurance premium (often you can bundle your car and home/renter’s and save money)
  • phone plan
  • television/cable package
  • internet
  • credit card interest rates

Similarly, due to the financial hardship many are experiencing, banks are being more generous than they may be typically. If you made a late payment on a bill or credit card and incurred a fee; if you have an overdraft fee charged when you NEVER or RARELY overdraw your bank account, call up the bank and be honest and simply ask for a waived fee. Your credit score will thank you and that one bill that could be easily paid with the fee amount they removed will be worth it.

5. Reduce the time and frequency of commuting as possible with your job

With WFH (work from home) becoming a way of life for many of us, because it was forced upon us, it may be initially difficult to embrace willingly. However, speaking from experience, the perks of a small portion of my budget needed for gas and transport decreasing has been quite nice. While I still will drive to the school building from time to time, I am finding I teach from home more often as I become more clear about what I need my office to have/be/do and how to create a more private space when I turn my screen on during class.

As we step into life post-pandemic, some businesses and jobs will return to as they were prior; however, many lessons and ahas were learned as well as to when and how quality work can be done. Assess for yourself what works best, and if you can, negotiate for flexibility to stay home and work from time to time if that is something that works for you. You will save money (and time) and perhaps welcome more peace of mind into your life.

6. Automate payments for a reduced price

Many regular monthly bills can be reduced in price simply when you choose to automate the payment. Now, this isn’t the case with everything, but I know when I automated my cell phone payment, my monthly bill was reduced by $5/month. Certainly something to explore for the regular bills you pay each month as more and more companies are shifting to online payment to reduce the paper they use and ensure bills are paid on time and in full.

7. Invest in energy efficient appliances and equipment

From dishwashers to lightbulbs, being thoughtful about the long-term benefits not only for ourselves and our budget, but also the planet, is a smart decision. One of the reasons I was drawn to my home is that it was designed as a Net-Zero house. More and more builders and home-owners are gravitating toward such design as mandatory as we move forward into the 21st century wiser and better informed about the carbon footprint we live behind. From insulating well the walls, putting in a smart thermostat, installing outdoor solar panels if a south facing roof receives ample sunlight, all of these ideas and more will reduce your overall monthly utilities cost and increase your investment as more and more buyers are looking for such a home.

8. Sell & Shop consignment and second-hand

I don’t know about you, but being in my home more frequently, gave me a clear picture about how I want to live in my home and what furniture actually works for me and what items are excessive. Selling four pieces of furniture to a local consignment shop and donating many smaller items, I not only have a bit more cash in hand, but also a house furnished better for how I enjoy relaxing in my sanctuary.

On the flip side, shopping at consignment shops is a great idea to save money and find wonderful unique pieces. For furniture, for clothes and gear for any sport or hobby, often what we need can be found for far less than the retail price AND sometimes we find treasures. Recently, I stepped into a consignment shop and found an original oil painting by a French painter from the mid 20th century. What a treasure indeed. 🙂

9. Schedule one week each month to be a No-Spending Week

Whenever I lapse on taking a week off each month from spending, upon reflection, it is a week full of stress and poor planning. With that said, living well, involves being conscious about where and how we spend our money.

While we cannot plan for every expense, if we feel we cannot get ahead of our expenses and it feels as though the wave of vendors and utilities needing our payment is constantly knocking at our door, perhaps we need to more closely examine how many expenses we have so we can catch our breath. The week off from spending is a built-in breath to catch. Be sure to check out the post linked below to discover how yes, you too can have a week off each month and still enjoy every single week of the year in comfort and ease.

~Read One Week of No Spending Each Month: 8 Ways to Make It Happen

10. Plan your bills’ deduction dates to rhyme with your paycheck deposit

One change I made to a couple of my monthly business expenses was to have them automatically deducted at the first of the month. Granted, whenever they were deducted, it worked fine, but as my paychecks are regular deposited on the final day of the month, knowing the mandatory bills would be paid when my account was most flush with funds eased my mind.

Whenever you want your bills to automatically deducted, do it wisely and plan it on your terms.

11. Be willing to invest in quality in items that are necessary for security and everyday comfort

From a quality appliance which will run dependably for tens of years to furniture, investing significant amounts upfront may feel painful initially, but the headache and stress you have eliminated down the road when a cheaper version would have worn out or broken down is reason for investment. Each of us will identify different items which are worth the investment. For example, some of us will not invest in our mode of transportation as simply being able to go short distances is all we need. A nice, well-made dining room table and chairs might be a must if you regularly have dinners at home and also enjoy hosting dinner parties. Space as well – how large our homes are is dependent upon how we and those we share out homes with live. Once you know your priorities, what you invest in will become clear.

For me, I spend an abundance of my time at home (even pre-pandemic :)), and so much of my investments have been in my home decor – quality furniture, a stove that will last my lifetime, etc.. However, I didn’t want a large home, so it was easier for me to find a well-built small house at a price I could afford. The smaller the house, the less to clean when I am home and care for if I travel (which I look forward to doing much of after the pandemic :).

~Read Why Not . . . Live in a Smaller Home? 10 Reason to Consider

12. Find your Financial Team and hold them close

With more years under my belt with both my business and my personal finances, I am learning the importance of taking risks, investing well and becoming more comfortable with the unknowns (within reason). Surround yourself with wise and dependable experts – financial advisor, accountant, loan officer, realtor, etc. – and search until you do find individuals who have demonstrated to you with you they have your best interest at heart (sometimes this takes time, so become comfortable with letting go and moving on).

Having your “financial team” in place enables you to ask the questions about opportunities you want to learn more about and potentially explore. While there are endless financial lists and how-to books and videos available, until an individual expert in their field has your actual finances and your housing market in front of them, it is only general advice they can give. For example, one of the best recent pieces of advice I received from my financial advisor was to take the money from my Roth IRA (which I no longer had as an option) and invest it in paying down the principle of my house before investing additional funds into my 401K (which I already had). Why? The quicker I could eliminate my mortgage interest, the quicker I would be paying a smaller mortgage payment to keep more money in my pocket in the long run.

And here’s the best news, none of these people make money until YOU make money. So if you had the worry that you could not afford such people, toss that thought. I once thought this as well. Such thinking is what keeps us in the dark and delayed in building a sound financial future. Let me give you an example of investing in my future: my realtor here in Bend. It took us six+ years to find the house I would finally buy. And it was a relationship not without its bumps due to my ignorance of thinking I could go it alone (that did not work out in a market like Bend – lesson learned!). After apologizing for my ignorance and becoming more aware of how fortunate I was to have found someone of his knowledge and experience about the market, he graciously kept working with me, and three years later, we found my house. The relationship building, the courage to ask many questions, the willingness to be honest about what you need and changing course to find a new expert in that particular field are key to building the right Financial Team for you. It will take time, but it will pay off in the long run as less time will be needed when an opportunity presents itself for you to swiftly act instead of worry and doubt if you are making the right decision. If you trust your people, you will know what the right decision will be for you.

13. Give how and when you can

The world finds itself in the middle of another recession. Each of us has our own financial well-being to think about, which understandably is at the forefront of our minds. In many ways, it is the tale of two worlds – certain professions are in dire need of workers while others cannot keep their workers paid. The living situations for some are untenable due to job insecurity and health, while others find their home investments increasing in value and the stock market soaring.

Acknowledging the realities helps us to explore the fecklessness of the economy, the benefit of our privilege or the pain of a society in need of reform. When we can give, whether it be our time, attention or financial support, doing so is what builds a community of kindness, interconnectedness and compassion. Regardless of the tax write-off, and even if there isn’t one, simply acknowledging, appreciating and building relationships well prior to any anticipated or unanticipated hardship is the key to making it through said hardships for ourselves and for others. How we navigate through tough times whether for ourselves or those we love, builds or destroys a foundation which builds upon itself. Build the foundation you want not only for yourself, but the community.

Money provides the transportation and foundation for us to live the lives we want. Some may call it a necessary evil, some may say it is unnecessary for a contented life. All opinions are valid, but before you hold fast to any opinion, understand how money works, let it work for you in whichever way you use it, and then let the money decisions, because you now can trust them, be in the background of your life. We have living to do after all! And money is simply the fuel to enable us to live without unnecessary stress. Manage money well, and doing just that is indeed possible.

To search for “money saving tips” online can deliver the same, albeit helpful advice, yet again, redundant. I have covered many Money topics in more detail in TSLL’s Archives as well in my first book. As we grow through our relationship with money and our expenses change and our priorities shift, we become better adept at knowing what is worth spending on and what we honestly can do away with. Wishing you a brighter, more peace-filled new year.

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4 thoughts on “Strengthening Our Financial Foundation: 13 Ideas to Explore Now for a Bright & Secure 2021

  1. This is a great post! Talking and thinking about money can be so daunting, that we (maybe just me?) tend to avoid it, but I really enjoyed this gentle and sensible take on personal finances. I especially loved number thirteen – so important!

    1. Thank you for stopping by Kristin. To ease your mind, I don’t think you are alone. I do think, the more we step forward and answering the unknowns, learn more about money and how to enable it to work in our favor, the less daunting it can be. 🙂

  2. Thank you for this post Shannon. I always really enjoy your advice and guidance for the practicalities of life. I have read of the no spend week before here on the blog and also in your first book. However, it being about to become a new year, I’m feeling motivated to get my “House” in order. I’ve planned in my no spend week for January. Fortunately my father is a financial advisor so I’m lucky to have someone I know for certain has my financial interests at heart.
    Thanks again for this advice.

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