If you’ve never heard of the “Things I Didn’t Buy” list, then you’re in for a real treat. The “Things I Didn’t Buy” list is a way to keep track of all of the things you didn’t spend money on and reward yourself with something worthwhile for your efforts.

IT’s is a simple strategy anyone can use to help curb their spending and save money.

All it takes is three easy steps.

Step 1: Cut out non-essential purchases

The first step is to identify what “non-essential” spending you want to monitor/eliminate. For example, you could choose things like clothing, dining out, and all online shopping. If you really want to go for it and see how much money you can put back in your pocket, then cut out everything except your normal bills and groceries.

It’s up to you to decide how challenging (beneficial) you want this to be. The more you’re willing to give up, the more money you’ll save.

Additionally, you need to decide on a timeframe. Commit to no less than one week and no more than 3 months to start. Personally, I think one month is ideal but that’s just me.



Step 2: Create your “Things I Didn’t Buy” list

When you feel the urge to spend money on something you’ve deemed as “non-essential,” write it on your “Things I Didn’t Buy” list. Include the name of the item or service as well as the price.

If you’re up to collecting some additional information, record where you found the item (online vs. in-store), what triggered you to want to make the purchase (window shopping, online shopping, email marketing, social media, etc.), and how you were feeling at that moment (bored, anxious, happy, or too much wine). You can also track how hard it was for you not to make that particular purchase.

Gathering this extra information doesn’t take much time and is immensely beneficial. It can help you to identify what environments or feelings trigger you to want to buy something. Once you’ve identified your triggers, you can take appropriate steps to avoid or even eliminate them in the future.

For instance, you may discover you do most of your online shopping while sitting in your car while waiting to pick up your daughter after soccer practice. Once you know this, you can take steps to eliminate the behavior by reading a magazine, calling a girlfriend, or *gasp* leaving your phone at home.

Chances are you’ll start to see other patterns emerge and be in a better position to fight the urge to spend or eliminate the trigger altogether.



Step 3: Review and feel proud

At the end of the “month,” or whatever timeframe you’ve set for yourself, it’s time to pull out your list and review it.

Go through each item and tally up everything you didn’t buy. You might be surprised by the total amount. All those “little things” you didn’t buy can really add up. Seeing this sum of money you saved instead of spent will make you feel proud and accomplished. Not only did you save a ton of money but you also proved to yourself you’re capable of resisting your spending urges and make the smart financial decision even when you didn’t want to.

Now for the best part!

It’s time to take all of the money you saved by not making silly impulse purchases and put it toward a more meaningful and well-thought-out purpose. It could be toward your retirement, college for the kiddos, or to bolster your emergency fund. Or, perhaps now you can afford to buy that new chair for your work-from-home office or take your sweetie out for a well-deserved night out.

The point of this exercise is not to deprive yourself. Instead, it’s a way to become more conscious in the moment about how you spend your money.


Why it works

This simple strategy can be highly effective in breaking bad financial habits and helping you form new ones for a few important reasons:

  • It’s simple. There are only three steps. And all you need is a piece of paper and a pen, or your mobile device to make a list. You are more likely to form a new habit (not spending on non-essentials) if it’s super easy to do.
  • It’s revealing. You may not think you make a lot of frivolous or unnecessary purchases, but this exercise is often quite revealing. Most people are shocked by the number of items on their list, as well as the final dollar amount. If you want to change a habit, you first need to be clear about what you’re up against. Your “Things I Didn’t Buy” list helps you know how big of a battle your in for.
  • It helps you learn about your spending habits. If you collect data on how you feel when you want to spend, it can be an eye-opening experience. Our emotions are often the biggest triggers of our spending habits. There’s a reason people often find themselves at the mall after a stressful week at work.Another powerful, but less obvious, trigger is our environment. When you’re at the mall trying to “spend the stress out of you,” do you find you’re always buying something delicious but terrible for you whenever you walk by the Food Court? Talk about a double-whammy! Not only do you spend more money but you’re wreaking havoc on your diet.

    Knowing these things about yourself may provide just enough motivation to avoid the mall entirely or at least the Food Court!

  • It gives you something to work toward. If you want to form better habits, rewards help. Knowing there is something special waiting for you at the end (money in your pocket, a personal sense of accomplishment) and you get to do something positive/fun/exciting with it, is motivating and makes it that much easier to do it again and again and again (hopefully).


You may be familiar with the term “cleanse.” It’s often associated with eating habits.

For example, many use a cleansing strategy from time to time to clean up their diet. Maybe they’ve gotten out of control with their eating habits (which often happens during the holidays) and they need a little something extra to reign it in.

Going on an uber-strict cleanse for a short period of time can be an effective strategy for breaking bad eating habits. It allows us to hit the reset button and start making healthier eating decisions.

The reason a strict cleanse works is you have well-defined terms of engagement and only have to commit for a short period of time. It’s a way to narrow the guardrails of your food choices so you can realign them (less chocolate and more veggies) with your goals of living a healthy lifestyle. You know you won’t be eating this way for long so your ability to stick with it is higher than traditional diets.

The same cleansing concept can be applied to your spending. When you feel like your spending is out of control, a spending cleanse can help you to hit the reset button so you can eliminate your bad money habits.

Three ways to cleanse your spending

If you’re ready for a financial reset, here are three simple strategies to cleanse your spending and get your finances back on track.

1. Go cold turkey

Going on a spending cleanse is a simple concept but it can be difficult especially if you go “cold turkey.” With the “cold turkey” method, you halt all spending for the next 30 days. It’s the simplest (and most effective) method because it’s black and white – no spending on anything outside of mandatory payments. Mandatory payments include things like your mortgage, utilities, and car payments.

If you’re wondering, “what about groceries?” Yes, you still need to eat, but there are different rules of engagement.

The first and most important rule is to eat the food you already have on hand.

If you’re like most American households, you have enough food in your fridge and pantry to feed you and your family for at least two weeks, if not the entire 30 days. Yes, you will need to get creative. You’ll need to eat in a different way especially as you work your way through the pantry. Beans on toast or plain pasta with butter, salt, and pepper might not sound appealing, but they’ll fill your belly.

The point of the 30-day cleanse is to save you money. If you’re doing it right, then it should feel uncomfortable and challenging. But remember, it won’t last forever. It’s just 30 days!

Pro tip: To help ease the pain, you can also do a little stocking-up before your 30-day cleanse starts. Buy lots of fresh or frozen fruit and veggies as well as milk or any other perishables that will allow you to maintain a balanced diet.



2. Only spend on key categories

If the cold turkey method sounds too intimidating, you can opt for the middle-ground option. With option two you stop spending on everything outside of a few key categories. It’s up to you to decide what these categories are before you get started.

For instance, if you can’t stomach the idea of eating beans on toast or buttered pasta for the last week of your cleanse then choose fresh groceries as one of your key categories. Another example might be your gym membership. If this is something that keeps you active and feeling physically and mentally strong then you can deem it as one of your key categories.

When deciding what should be included as a “key category,” remember these should be things that are necessary for your physical or mental well-being. You should not be making exceptions for discretionary spending like buying new clothes or finally deciding to go “exclusively organic” on your grocery shopping.

Once you’ve set these key categories there is no deviating. You are locked in for the next 30 days with no spending on anything outside of your mandatory bills and your few, pre-established key categories.


3. Cut out frivolous spending

For those who are unsure of whether or not they want to participate in a spending cleanse or those who are new to the whole “cleanse” concept, option three offers a mild introduction.

With this option, you simply cut out all frivolous spending for the next 30 days. This is the least strict of the three strategies.

Before your 30-day cleanse, you decide which frivolous expenses you are willing to do without. Maybe no spending on clothes, beauty products, or toys for your kids or pets. Perhaps, you also take all food delivery services off the table or scrap one/two/three of your subscription services. You could “just say no” to all online shopping and force yourself to kick it old school and go to the store. There are many ways to curb your spending without going to extremes.

With option three, you have more leniency in terms of what you cut but once you make a decision, it’s set-in stone. No exceptions for 30 days. With this option, you won’t save as much money as you would with the other two strategies, but it’s a good start and worth doing.


Are you ready to cleanse your spending?

Going on a 30-day spending cleanse is a great way to shake things up and eliminate some of your bad money habits. Because it’s a commitment for a pre-determined and short amount of time, it’s doable. You’re not committing yourself to a year or lifetime of restricted spending, just 30 little days.

Additionally, because you’ve already set predetermined boundaries for what you can and cannot buy, you greatly reduce the chances for the dreaded impulse buy or the opportunity to convince yourself you “need it.” If it’s not on the list, you can’t buy it. End of discussion.

So, what do you think? Are you ready to go cold turkey or will you ease yourself into the process by removing all of your frivolous spending for the next month? In all honesty, it matters less which option you choose just as long as you choose.

“What happens if you don’t choose,” you ask? Well, most likely … nothing. But, if you’ve read all the way to this point, that’s probably not a good thing.



Parenting children is complicated. We love our kids and we want to help them in any way we can. We want them to feel happy and carefree, but we also want them to be self-sufficient and humble. As parents, we give and give and give, and we hope that one day our kids will acknowledge and appreciate this fact (haha, yeah right). So, how do we provide for our children in the best way we can without raising them to be entitled?

7 ways to avoid raising entitled children


  1. Say no. And mean it. Saying “no” is a way to teach children that things don’t always go their way. Sure, they might want something – a toy, candy, a pair of shoes, or even a new car, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to get it. The word “no” is only effective if you say it and mean it. Even if your kids take you saying “no” as a challenge to ask until you change your mind, you have to stick to your guns and don’t give in. The short-term pain you endure will more than pay off by having children who understand the meaning of the word “no.”


  2. Make them work for it. Children have a hard time appreciating the value of a dollar if they’ve never had to work for it. If you have teenagers at home, they should be working. They don’t need to find a full-time job and start paying rent but they’re old enough to find a part-time gig or a side hustle to earn some spending money. Kids need to understand where money comes from and it comes from work.



  3. Make them pay. Once your kids are working, make them pay for things. Their clothes, cell phone, or gas for the car. This is a way for them to start connecting the dots between time and money. Sure, you can have that $200 pair of shoes but are they worth 20 hours of work? If you have young children, you can achieve the same end by having them use their birthday or “Christmas” money to purchase that shiny, new object rather than just buying it for them. The experience of having to part with their own money is a critical component to helping them understand the value of a buck.


  4. Expose them to diversity. If your kids go to private school and see all of their friends driving up in BMWs, returning from family vacations in the Maldives, and wearing $300 jeans, this will become their normal. How could it not be? It’s what they see day in and day out.

    If you want your kids to have a more realistic vision of the world around them, show it to them. Set up opportunities for them to volunteer and help the less fortunate, have straight-forward conversations about how most other people live. Better yet, lead by example. Forgo the designer jeans and stop buying the newest iPhone every time it comes out. Show them success in life isn’t defined by the toys you possess.


  5. Teach empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in another person’s shoes. To be able to feel what it’s like to be in another person’s position. If you don’t want to raise entitled children, teach them empathy. Help them feel what it’s like to struggle with money. Talk to your children about how their friends may feel if they’re bragging about their cool new $200 earbuds while their family is struggling to just pay the bills at home. Don’t rely on them to connect the dots. Help them.



  6. Teach gratitude. “Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.” – Epictetus. If only we could instill this mindset in all of our children. Not to mention all adults.

    Teach your children to be grateful for what they have, to never take for granted their good fortune. Research shows that an attitude of gratitude leads to more positive emotions, improved health, the ability to deal with adversity, and the ability to develop strong relationships. Grateful people also make better friends, spouses, employees, and co-workers. So, do yourself and your children the great service of teaching gratitude.

    An easy way to get started is to teach your children to say “thank you.” I know that sounds obvious but have you encountered young people lately? There’s a serious lack of “thank you’s” being offered these days. That’s not the fault of the children, it’s our fault as parents. Good manners – and a grateful heart – are distilled down from parents to our children. Another way is to teach gratitude is to go around the dinner table before eating and have everyone share one thing in their life they are grateful for. It’s a simple but powerful habit that can have a positive, lifelong impact.


  7. Teach them money is a tool. At it’s most fundamental level, money is simply a tool to help accomplish goals and meet life ambitions. It’s a means to an end, not the end itself. It’s important to teach our children money is not something to be worshiped or hoarded. It’s perfectly fine to want to “make a lot of money,” but we must always keep in mind what money’s role in our life should be. There’s nothing wrong with “being good with money” as a source of confidence in our lives but it should never be a measure of our self-worth.



Despite your best intentions, every time you hang out with Stella, you end up spending way too much money. She loves to eat at the trendiest (and often most expensive) restaurants and you almost always find yourself at the wrong financial end of her love for shopping.

How do you learn to stand your ground and tell her no?

And, why is it so hard to say no in the first place?

We’ve all encountered a friend like Stella. Someone who encourages us, prods us, or peer pressures us to make bad financial decisions. Decisions we would not normally make.

Whether it’s a desire to not disappoint or a need to try to keep up with your more well-to-do friends, there are a variety of reasons we engage in behaviors we know to be financially irresponsible.

Common ways our friends influence our spending


Keeping up

It’s totally normal to want to keep up with your friends.

In fact, psychologists explain why we do this using the theory of social comparison. This theory suggests we determine our own self-worth by comparing ourselves to others. We want our friends to think we are just as worthy as they are, so we try to keep up.

If you see your friends buying the big houses, the nice cars, and the fancy vacations, it can leave you feeling less-than and wanting more.

In an effort to keep up, we spend outside of what we can afford. Our desire to appear worthy, to see ourselves as equal or enough, can lead to unhealthy amounts of debt and other serious financial issues.


How to stop trying to keep up

  • Talk to your friends. Your friends love you for who you are, not the size of your bank account. And, if this isn’t the case, then perhaps it’s time to find new friends. Be honest and tell your friends when you can’t afford something. True friends will understand. Sometimes they’ll make alternate plans, sometimes not. That’s okay. We can’t do everything and throwing our financial lives into chaos trying to keep up only makes things worse.


  • Assess your values. Have you ever thought deeply as to why you want a big house or an expensive luxury car? Do your true values align with such purchases or are you being overly influenced by what your friends have? It’s easy to fall down this rabbit-hole, especially in today’s Instagram, look-at-me-and how-wonderful-my-life-is society. Take some time to assess what you value and then align your spending accordingly.


  • Looks can be deceiving. Just because your friends are constantly buying new things doesn’t mean they can afford them. You see the perfectly curated picture of their vacation in Hawaii but you’re not privy to the massive credit card debt they’ve wracked up. Same is true of big houses and fancy cars. Those big houses usually come with big mortgages and it can take years, even decades for the house of cards to crumble.




The “cover me” friend

A cover me friend is always in a tight financial spot and can never pay her bill when you go out together. Every time they see the check coming, they ask, “can you cover me?” This kind of exchange can take a toll on your finances and your relationship.

While we all want to be there for our friends and help them when they’re struggling, a pattern of one-sided giving that is never reciprocated can lead to frustration, resentment, and sometimes the demise of a friendship.


How to stop covering your friends

Establish boundaries. Have an honest conversation. Tell them you can’t afford to keep paying their bill and if they can’t start paying their own way, you’ll have to stop going out with them. It won’t be a pleasant conversation to be sure, but it’s a necessary one.


Help them. Rather than continuing to give your friends money, help them to get their finances back on track. If you are financially savvy, you can give them some advice. If you’re not, then you can help them to contact a financial professional or other financial resources.




The enabler

Are you a natural spender? Are you always fighting the urge to splurge? Then be careful of the enabler.

The enabler is the friend who is always pushing you to get another drink or buy those pants you can’t afford because, “it’s been a long week and you totally deserve it.”

You feel weak around the enabler and constantly cave to peer pressure. You buy that second drink or splurge on the pair of pants because you buy into your friend’s rhetoric. You think to yourself, “I really did have a long week and, I really do deserve to treat myself.”

Our willpower is a limited resource and by the end of a long day or long week, it can be difficult to find the self-control to stick to your budget and say no. The simple suggestion from your enabler friend can help to bulldoze any remaining willpower that you may have left.


How to stop being enabled

Leave your credit card at home. If you know you will be tempted to spend too much money when you’re out with your enabler friend, make it easier on yourself. Instead of relying on willpower, leave your credit and debit cards at home and only bring the amount of cash you want to spend. It’s simple but super-effective.

Stay home. If you feel exhausted or stressed and you know your willpower and self-control are low, that’s a good sign to stay in for the night. You know yourself best. If you feel like you won’t have control over your spending, then eliminate the possibility entirely and remove yourself from the situation.




Are your friends causing you to be financially irresponsible?

While we can’t blame our friends for all (most) of our financial indiscretions, we are influenced by the people we hang out with the most — for better, or for worse.

If you find you’re constantly making poor financial decisions in the presence of certain friends, then it’s time to make a change. This doesn’t mean you have to forgo the friendship, you just need to find a different way to engage in it. There are plenty of other things you can do together that don’t sabotage your financial life.

Despite our fears, an honest conversation is usually all it takes to get on the same page. For those rare cases where it requires more, you may have to take a friend break or only plan to do things that don’t involve spending money like going for a walk or a hike. If you find you have no willpower or self-control in certain situations, then put barriers in place to limit your spending. Decide not to go out or leave your credit cards at home in an effort to behave more responsibly.

You can have a positive relationship with your spendthrift friends. You don’t judge them for their free-spending ways, right? Well, the same courtesy should be provided to you. Fortunately, that’s how it usually goes.



You Only Live Once, So Plan Well

Since the end of January, #YOLO has been a rallying cry on internet message boards where amateur investors drove up stock prices for video game retailer GameStop and movie theatre chain AMC. While everyone should have opportunities to build wealth via the markets, we believe this particular group of rebels are only half-right about their investment strategy.

It’s true “you only live once,” and you need to make the most of the financial opportunities available to you. But that’s exactly why we prefer measured, long-term financial planning to short-term speculation.

How much could you earn? How much could you lose?

Setting aside the larger implications of #YOLO for our financial system, let’s focus on the individual.

Yes, some GameStop and AMC investors cashed out large multiples of their initial investments. But many others let their investments ride hoping for even greater returns and lost big. Still, others came late to the party and bought in at much higher prices than the original investors did. When these original investors decided to cash out quickly, prices fell dramatically resulting in catastrophic losses for some investors.

While we generally support folks getting more interested in investing, managing your financial affairs using apps and message boards isn’t the soundest of strategies. Case-in-point: a second wave of investors who thought they were joining the movement to boost AMC Theatres mistakenly purchased stock in the AMC television network. Seriously. You can’t make this stuff up.



Short-term gains or long-term prosperity?

While making a couple thousand bucks overnight sounds exciting, that ROI is no match for the wealth-building power of a balanced, diversified financial plan.

The small investments many of the #YOLO crowd cashed out could potentially be compounding by 10% annually had they invested in the S&P 500 rather than the hot stock of the moment. Hopefully, some #YOLO investors will reinvest their earnings in plans that will help them create a more secure financial future.

But that leads to another problem with #YOLO: creating secure financial futures wasn’t really part of the plan.

Some folks wanted to make a quick buck. Others, nostalgic for the pre-COVID days of shopping at the mall and going to movies, wanted to support struggling companies they love. And still, others just wanted to “stick it” to Wall Street firms who were betting GameStop and AMC would continue to struggle; they thought it would be fun to shake up a system they perceived as rigged against them.



What’s your plan?

Rather than debate the merits of these motivations, let’s think about the things that aren’t on this list of reasons to #YOLO:

  • Buying a new house
  • Sending kids to college
  • Paying down debt
  • Topping off an IRA or 401(k)
  • Starting a small business
  • Supporting an infirmed parent
  • Saving for a dream family vacation
  • Moving to the ideal retirement destination

There are many reasons to invest your money. For most of us, it should be to accomplish goals that require money like the list above. Seems obvious, but people often lose sight of the most obvious things especially when it comes to money.

As for the other reasons – “make a quick buck,” “stick it to Wall Street,” or “I love that company” – leave that to those with money to burn as that’s the most likely outcome.



Most personal finance advice is focused on spending less and saving more. The financial gurus love to target the overspenders and those who are living beyond their means. While saving and frugality are central tenants to a successful financial plan, there’s another side to the personal finance coin.

I’m talking about the super savers. The people who are hyper-focused on making money and socking it away for a rainy day. The frugal fundamentalists who go to extreme lengths just to save a buck. You probably know someone like this or maybe I’m describing you.

Being overly frugal and tight with your money isn’t necessarily a good thing. How much fun can life really be if you aren’t willing to part with some of your money to live that life? These obsessive savers are the ones who are hunkered down living in a money prison of their own creation instead of getting out and enjoying the world around them.


Healthy personal finance is about balance

A healthy life is about balance. It’s okay to enjoy a piece of cake as long as you’re also eating your vegetables. It’s okay to have a few lazy evenings curled up watching an endless stream of Netflix but you can’t do this every day.

The same is true for your finances.



You shouldn’t stop yourself from spending money once you’ve taken care of your bills, savings, and investments. Money isn’t meant to be hoarded. You don’t want to leave this earth with a full bank account and a life devoid of pleasure and experiences. You don’t want to cling to every dollar when you could be sharing your wealth and giving to the people or the charities you believe in.

And giving at death doesn’t count. You’re dead. You’re not doing anything much less giving. Besides, it’s much more fulfilling to give with warm hands than cold ones.


Money is a tool to maximize living a meaningful and fun life.


You should aim to strike a healthy balance between spending on today while also saving for tomorrow. Too often people put things off until later and miss the opportunity to live now.


“I’ll travel when I’m retired.”

“I’ll stop working so hard when I have three years of savings in my emergency fund.”

“I’ll start taking care of myself and treating myself when the house is paid off.”


No, no, no.


Stop waiting and start now. You never know how your life will change or what surprises are around the corner. What if you’d put off traveling until you were retired only to retire during a global pandemic that resulted in closed borders and grounded planes?

Give yourself permission to enjoy your money now and in the future. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing. Find your financial balance.


How to escape your money prison and find financial balance

If the thought of spending money makes you feel anxious, you are probably an (obsessive) oversaver. And, you are likely living in a money prison. A frugal fortress that has you trapped even if it doesn’t feel like it.



If you’re ready to escape your money prison and start enjoying your money now instead of saving for the future, here are some simple strategies.

  1. Discover your “Why.” Why do you feel the need to save so much money or refuse to spend it even when you know you have enough? Many people suffer from a scarcity mindset and it’s often passed down from generation to generation. If your parents or their parents grew up in extreme poverty or financial uncertainty, they can pass along their money habits and behaviors. Even if you are financially secure, you might still feel like you have to hold on to every cent because this is what you were taught.
  2. Make spending mandatory. This might sound counterintuitive to all of the other money advice you’ve ever read but hear me out. If you suffer from excessive frugality and it pains you to spend money then you need to give yourself permission to spend. Set aside a certain amount of money each month and spend it on something that makes you happy. Treat yourself to a meal from your favorite restaurant, get your hair done, or give to your favorite charity.
  3. Practice values-based spending. Values-based spending is when you consciously spend on the things that are most important to you. It’s about aligning your finances with what you value most. Since it’s difficult for people who are extremely frugal or have a scarcity mentality to spend, a values-based strategy can be a good way to dip your toes into the spending pool. This is because you are unlikely to regret making a purchase based on your values.


It’s time to start enjoying your life

Don’t live your life as a (miserable) miser. You’re not taking your money to the grave.

This isn’t an invitation to be irresponsible and senseless with your spending but instead a reminder to find your financial balance. Save for the future, have an appropriate retirement nest egg, but also remember to live your life and enjoy it today.


In Part 1 of this series, Dr. Kurland and Commander Sears shared three habits they believe will help us build momentum as we – hopefully – move towards the end of quarantine and back to life as we knew it. By focusing on the present, embracing the positive, and leveraging our relationships and routines, we’ll be better equipped to manage short-term stress and start progressing towards big picture goals.


Part 2: Growth Through Adversity


Utilizing those habits could also help us to readily absorb the most meaningful lessons from the quarantine experience. Here are four ways to continue learning and growing to make our communities, jobs, and lives better after Covid-19.



1. Appreciate the small things

“One of the things I’m hearing from a lot of people is there’s a greater appreciation for things that they may have taken for granted,” says Dr. Kurland. “Appreciating family, appreciating acts of kindness and noticing those things more. I think another thing is just a slowing down of lifestyle, being home more, and more time spent with family members.”

If you can relate to what Dr. Kurland is reporting, you’ve probably started to think about how to take some of the grind out of your days once the country reopens. As many companies consider more permanent working from home arrangements, you might still get to enjoy those extra daily meals with your kids. You might keep up the weekly video chats that have brought you closer to your extended family. And you might make those simple moments of quiet that allow you to think, de-stress, and reflect a permanent part of your daily routine.


2. Valuing social bonds

Zoom, Slack, and social media have helped bridge the gaps between us, our friends, and colleagues. But they’ve also reminded us of all the things virtual communication can’t replicate.

“You rely on other people more than you think,” says Commander Sears. “You bounce ideas off them, you receive feedback from them. Social media is an illusion of social interaction that allows people to hide behind a barrier. About 90% of communication is nonverbal. When you’re with other people, you’re picking up different cues. Those are giving you approval or disapproval. They’re giving you a sense of belonging to a group. I think people miss that and are realizing how important it is.”

It’s likely workspaces and recreational facilities are going to look very different after quarantine. But considering how much we’ve been able to accomplish virtually, sharing physical space with co-workers, friends, and family again could give our productivity a big boost.



3. Finding your limits and growing your empathy


Although the pandemic has been defined, in large part, by the things we can’t do, we’ve all learned a lot about what we can do as well. From big accomplishments like managing a revised household budget to little joys like learning to bake or play an instrument, we’ve adapted to these challenging circumstances and, in many cases, found ways to thrive.

But even though we experienced the pandemic together, you probably noticed people were processing quarantine in very different ways. As we’ve bumped up against and often surpassed our own limits, we’ve gained a better understanding of how others are coping.

“Through my experience in the SEAL teams, I learned there is no absolute volume that people can take of stress,” says Commander Sears. “Everybody has their own-sized cup that they can take. It helps you develop empathy towards others. What doesn’t stress me out at all may not have the exact same relative impact to somebody else. That doesn’t mean they’re experiencing something different than me, it means that their cup can only handle so much. Encouraging empathy and not expecting the mirror imaging of what you can take is something that I’ve really learned. Remember everybody has their own capacity, neither good nor bad, for taking stress in and dealing with it.”

Adds Dr. Kurland, “I think there’s an opportunity for each of us to really look at, in what way can we contribute? Who’s one person I can serve or reach out to or help or support? And not undervalue the impact for both people. We know from the research that, when we help others, it also feeds back in a positive direction to us. But also that being the recipient of even one person reaching out to you can make a huge difference in one’s well-being.”



4. Improving your Return on Life

The Covid-19 pandemic will be a “before and after” moment for this generation, not unlike 9/11 or the Great Depression. Our government leaders and health care experts will have a challenging time determining the safest ways for us to get back to living and working in public.

But privately, we have an unprecedented opportunity to make some major changes in our lives as well.

Commander Sears says, “Some of my colleagues in the military and on Wall Street, they had a chance to get off the hamster wheel, and so now they’re telling me, ‘Holy cow, what was I doing? All this busy work was overwhelming my life. I wasn’t taking part in life or enjoying it. I was just running after the cheese nonstop.’ Now that they’ve had a chance to get off the wheel a lot of people are reevaluating some of the priorities in their life, and I think it’s for the better.”

Dr. Kurland agrees. “I think that there is an opportunity to really evaluate and think about how to take this as an opportunity,” she says. “To ask ourselves, ‘How do I want my life to look as I move forward? What is it that I most value? What are the things that are really important to me?’”

As we all transition through this challenging time, remember that we’re here to help you answer those questions and work with you on a plan for a greater Return on Life.
We understand transitioning back to living and working outside of your home is going to present its own set of challenges. We hope the expert strategies discussed here will help you approach those challenges from a more positive place.



Part 1: Better Habits for a Healthier Mind


Since the Covid-19 outbreak, we’ve all had to make adjustments so we can cover our basic needs, care for our loved ones, and remain productive while quarantined. No matter how well you’ve adapted, there’s probably a part of you that feels like you’re just trying to get through to the next day.

And, to your credit, you have.

Despite the extraordinary steps taken to reduce the spread, and even with multiple vaccines hitting the public, it’s clear COVID isn’t going away anytime soon. At least not as fast as we’d like.

When we stop thinking in terms like “getting by,” and start approaching our lives and work with the same vigor we had before the pandemic, is a personal choice. And when we do, regaining our old momentum won’t be as easy as flipping a switch. So, we asked some leading experts on behavior and peak performance what mental strategies they recommend to help us build personal momentum and a pathway forward.



1. Live in your “Present Box”

Licensed clinical psychologist, Dr. Beth Kurland, says evolution instilled a “wandering mind” in humans as a survival mechanism. We’re never totally in the present because our survival instinct is constantly reminding us of things we overcame in the past and alerting us to potential future dangers. Dr. Kurland says, “In this pandemic of uncertainty, these kinds of mental ruminations can really increase a lot of the anxiety people are experiencing.

The more we focus on the here and now, the less anxious we are, and the more motivated we feel to tackle immediate problems. To help achieve this mental shift, Dr. Kurland recommends drawing two large boxes on a sheet of paper. Label one “The Present,” and label the other “What If?” Then, write the things that occupy your mind in the appropriate box.

According to Dr. Kurland, separating what’s happening right now from what could happen helps us “to think about what is in our sphere of influence, what we have personal agency and control over.”

Yes, eventually, you may have to move some of those “What If’s?” into your “Present” box. But for the moment, try to imagine putting a lid on your “What If’s?” and structure your time around what you can do today.



2. More Teflon, less Velcro

Psychologist Rick Hanson says, “The mind is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones.” The anxiety and worry we’ve experienced only enhances our tendency to dwell on the negative and overlook the many good things we have in our lives.

An added benefit of the Two Boxes exercise listed above is the more present we are, the more likely we are to notice and appreciate the positive. For example, many of us feel closer to our extended friends and families thanks to Zoom calls and care packages. Other folks have used the working from home experience to chart new career paths.

However, a Teflon mindset doesn’t mean boxing away the real emotional hardships you’ve experienced during the pandemic. Instead, Dr. Kurland encourages us to find a healthy balance between letting our feelings in and not letting them keep us down.

“I think it’s really important to acknowledge and have an opportunity to process those emotions,” Dr. Kurland says. “To hold a space for the grief, the sadness that may be there, and also find ways to notice the moments where we can appreciate the positive things we take in. The warm glance from a family member or a kind word from a coworker. These kinds of things, as we take them in, can help us to get through a difficult day, a difficult moment.”



3. Separate good stress from bad stress

“Stress is good to a certain extent,” says Commander David Sears, who served for 20 years in active duty as a U.S. Navy SEAL officer. In Commander Sears’ experience, stress can be a catalyst for growth and improvement. Right now stress is instilling new habits in you, such as wearing a mask when you go shopping or retooling your monthly “budget” to adjust for changes in your work and living conditions.

But Commander Sears cautions, “You can get overwhelmed by stress and then it starts to become chronic, debilitating and turns into a sort of pain.” To manage his own stress response, Commander Sears leans on lessons from his military service, including the importance of having a support system around you and finding order in a personal routine.

“This whole idea of social distancing that we have is wrong,” says Commander Sears. “It’s physical distancing. We still need that social interaction, you need to have those communications. And you have to add in structure to put some sanity back into your life.

Maybe develop your own schedule in the morning: I’m going to get up, I’m going to work out, I’m still going to put on my pants and get out of my pajamas. I’m going to then go to my first project of the day, then I’m going to go to the second. You might even need to implement a little more structure and discipline in your life in these times so you don’t feel like you’re wandering.”



Life is a constant stream of decisions, most of which come and go with little impact or fanfare. Then there are the big ones, the decisions of the life-changing variety. You know the ones: whether or not to marry and to who, to have children and how many, to quit your safe, comfortable corporate job to start your own business.

Given how far-reaching the impact, it’s critical we get these life-changing decisions right. We inherently understand this when it comes to marriage or having children but it’s a foreign concept when it comes to our money.

As in our personal lives, some financial decisions have a disproportionate impact on our financial lives. We’ve identified the “Big 3” spending decisions that have a disproportionate impact on our financial lives. These decisions are capable of restricting our financial flexibility, and with it, our ability to live the lives we dream of.

The Big 3 – Home, Car, College

Let’s talk about why home ownership, car ownership, and an expensive degree can be such a drag on our ability to live life.

Buying a house

Society tells us that to be a successful adult, we must buy a house. That’s what responsible grown-ups do, they become homeowners.

While I am a big proponent of homeownership, it’s not the right choice for everyone. Buying a house is the largest financial decision most people ever make. And, while it can be a good investment, it’s not guaranteed.



Before diving into homeownership, here are two questions to consider:

  1. At this point in time, is buying a home the right financial and lifestyle decision for you and your family?
  2. If you choose to buy, how much house can you afford?

The answer to question number one can be as simple as comparing the cost of renting versus buying. However, it’s also worth assessing the impact on your lifestyle. Do you value flexibility or consistency? Do you like to move around or change jobs frequently? Are you interested in taking on the responsibilities required when owning a home?

Buying inherently restricts your flexibility – financial and otherwise. This doesn’t make it a deal-breaker, you just need to understand how far-reaching the trade-offs go.

How much house can you really afford?

There’s a difference between how big a mortgage you qualify for and what you can afford.

Mortgage lenders look at factors like your credit history, salary, and debt. However, they don’t consider how many kids you have to put through college, what your retirement dreams are, or the cost of health insurance.

When determining how much mortgage you can afford, think about the lifestyle you want to maintain. The intention is to avoid being house rich and cash poor.

“House rich, cash poor,” is when a substantial part of your paycheck goes towards your “house.” It’s not just your mortgage, but also includes home insurance, property taxes, utilities, and home maintenance.

While we all want a home we love, a house that’s too expensive will quickly lose its luster when it impedes your ability to travel or even go out for dinner.

There’s also the risk purchasing too much home will push you into debt. All too often people don’t cut back their spending. Instead, they go into massive credit card debt trying to live a lifestyle that matches the big, new house.

This isn’t to scare you away from homeownership. Again, I’m a huge proponent of home ownership. Rather, it’s to encourage greater awareness before you commit to that big payment.

Homeownership can be great, but having a house that eats up all your income means you’ll little money left to do anything else.

Buying a car

I always shake my head when someone purchases a new car and calls it an investment.

When you invest in something, like the stock market, you expect it will be worth more in the future. That’s an investment. A car is not an investment because, unless it becomes a collector’s item, it will never be worth more than when you purchased it. Just because it retains some of its value doesn’t mean it’s an investment.



Buying brand new vs. new to you

According to Carfax.com, as soon as you drive your new car off the lot it depreciates by 10%. By the end of the first year, it drops by 20% and after five years, 60%.

Such massive losses in value over a short period of time makes buying “brand new” a less than ideal financial move. It’s also what makes buying a slightly used car, say 2-3 years old with low miles, such a good deal. You get a quality car, in great condition, for a fraction of the cost.

The primary objection I hear for not buying used centers around higher repair costs. But if you buy slightly used with low miles, this concern is more imaginary than real. Today’s cars are built better than ever before and require less maintenance to boot.

Now, there are a lot of personal reasons for buying a brand new car and they matter. Just don’t fool yourself into thinking “having more money” or “it’s a good investment” is one of them.

The bottom line: it costs you more to buy brand new. Which is perfectly fine if you can afford it.

If you can’t, the same lack of financial flexibility issues you run into with buying too much home apply to buying too much car. What good is it to have a shiny, new ride but you can’t afford to drive it anywhere?

Going to college

If you’re reading this, chances are it’s already too late for you, personally. You’re out of college and there’s no way to turn back the clock and unwind things. Hopefully, you’re not behind the eight-ball with student loans.

But, it’s not too late for your children. Or your grandchildren, nieces, or nephews.

I know there’s a lot of talk on Capitol Hill about student loan forgiveness and the like. Who knows where that will go, but it doesn’t change anything for those who don’t already have student loans on the books.

If we don’t make different choices for our children and grandchildren, we’re going to have the same problems we face today. And the real problem is far too many people are buying too much college.



Future student loan crises can be avoided if we did one simple thing: bought as much college as we could reasonably afford. Granted, determining what you can “afford” is a bit trickier than with a house or car, but the governing principles still apply.

Which begs the question, why do so many buy more college than they should?

To answer this question fully is beyond the scope of this blog, but it revolves around three themes:

  • Equating a high priced education with a quality education (quality being defined as the ability to get a job once graduated)
  • Forgetting the primary purpose of going to college (to be a higher quality job candidate, not to “find yourself”)
  • Poor financial planning (failing to put pen to paper on the real financial impact once payments begin)

The problem with buying too much college is the same as with buying too much home or car. You have a high, fixed payment over an extended payback timeframe which severely limits your spending options.

The big three


I often hear people say they can’t save for retirement, travel more, or reduce the number of hours they work.

And they’re right.

They can’t because they’ve failed to understand the debilitating impact of buying too much house, car, or college.

In the moment, they all thought they could make their payments and still enjoy a comfortable life. They were half right. They’re able to make the payments, but it’s severely dampened their ability to have a comfortable life.

“Save for retirement, take a two-week vacation, work less? How can I do those things and still pay my debts?” With a big mortgage, new car payment, and high student loan debt, “How?” indeed.

This is the real impact of not getting the Big 3 right. Years and years of grinding away and feeling like you have no way out. It’s a real problem. A problem best avoided than taken head-on.



Do you know what your credit score is? Are you looking to improve it?

I know, talking about credit, credit history, and credit scores doesn’t rank high on most people’s list of fun conversations. And yet, your credit score is something you should be talking about or at least aware of because it’s really important.

Your credit score is the number creditors look at when considering everything from the interest on your car loan to the type of credit card you’re eligible for to whether or not you can get a mortgage. It can even affect your car insurance rate. Different lenders will have different criteria for lending but anytime you want to borrow money, your credit score will be part of the equation.

Even though it’s not the sexiest of money topics, let’s talk about credit scores! So, what is a credit score and, if you have a less than stellar score, how can you improve it?

What is a credit score?

Your credit score is a number used by lenders to determine how likely you are to repay your debts. Credit scores range from 300 up to 850. The lower your score the riskier you are to lenders. Those with lower credit scores pay significantly higher interest rates than those with higher credit scores. A low credit score can cost you tens of thousands of dollars over time.

The most widely used credit scores come via the Fair Isaac Corporation and is more commonly referred to as your FICO score.



A FICO score of 800-850 is considered excellent, 740-799 is very good, 670-739 is good, 580-669 is fair, and 579 and below are considered poor.

If you have good or excellent credit, lenders are more likely to loan you money and at better rates. Those with fair or poor credit scores are seen as riskier to lenders, have a harder time borrowing money, and at much higher interest rates.

Your credit score is composed of 5 different categories each with a different weighting:

  • Payment history (35%) – do you pay your debts on time or do you have a history of late payments?
  • Amount owed (30%) – how much debt do you already have on the books and how much of your existing credit are you using?
  • Length of credit history (15%) – those with longer credit histories are viewed as more reliable than those with shorter credit histories. This makes sense. If you have a longer credit history, it gives lenders more data from which to measure behaviors. It’s one thing to pay your bills on time for one year, it’s another to pay your bills on time for twenty years.
  • Credit mix (10%) – creditors consider your mix of different types of loans. Mortgage, credit cards, auto loans, etc.
  • New credit (10%) – research shows opening multiple credit accounts in a short amount correlates with a higher risk profile

If you’re unhappy with your credit score there are things you can do to improve your number.

Here are some creative ways you can improve your credit score.


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6 creative ways to improve your credit score


1. Do a self-assessment

Before we jump straight into tactics, ask yourself why you have bad credit. Getting to the root of the problem will allow you to avoid making the same mistakes moving forward.

Do you spend too much, forget to pay your bills on time, or do you only make the minimum payments on your credit cards each month?

Are you regularly maxing out your credit cards? Have you opened multiple credit cards in a short amount of time?

All of these things can impact your credit score negatively.


2. Increase your credit awareness

Do you check your credit report regularly? If not, you may want to start. The only way to know if your credit has taken a nosedive is if you are monitoring it. Checking your credit card regularly can help to protect you and your credit score against things like credit card fraud or identity theft. Reviewing your credit report doesn’t impact your score, and there are ways to do it for free, so there’s no excuse not to. If you’re not sure where to start, head over to Credit Karma for your free scores and more.


3. Get a side hustle

While your income doesn’t directly affect your credit score it does affect your ability to pay your bills on time. Having more money can also help you to pay off debts faster or avoid going further into credit card debt. Reducing the amount of outstanding debt is one of the biggest components to your credit score.


4. Automate bill payments

Automating bill payments will help you avoid late or missed payments. It only takes a few minutes to set up and you don’t have to think about it again. Because your payment history is one of the most important factors in determining your credit score, you want to make sure you’re always prompt with your bill payments.


5. Make frequent payments

Rather than making one lump sum payment at the end of the month, making multiple small payments throughout the month can help you to improve your credit score over time. This strategy works because it helps keep your credit utilization low. Credit utilization refers to the amount of credit you’ve used compared to the amount of credit available to you. Low credit utilization shows lenders you aren’t financially maxed out and they see you as less of a risk.


6. Ask for more credit

Okay, let’s start by saying this strategy doesn’t work for everyone. If you’re someone who can’t control their spending and will immediately rack up new debt, don’t do this.

However, if you’re responsible with credit and want to employ another strategy to boost your score, then this can be an effective strategy. When you ask for more credit, your amount of “available credit” goes up and you automatically get a boost to your credit utilization as you’re using a smaller portion of the amount of credit available to you.

If you’re wondering, “wait, I have the ability to rack up even more debt and that’s good for my credit score?” Yep, that’s how it works. You have the opportunity to increase the amount of outstanding debt but are choosing not to. Responsible borrowers don’t use most of the credit available to them.



Are you ready to improve your credit score?

If you currently have a poor credit score, don’t beat yourself up over it. Things happen. If you’re willing to learn from past mistakes, you can rebuild your credit score quickly. Start by figuring out why you have a bad score in the first place and then employ some of these creative strategies to help you improve your standing.