Comment

Why I didn't pay my husband's debt in full from my savings

He didn't want me to.

The end.

But where's the story in that? We discussed it ad nauseam in our initial days of me freaking out with all of the new IRS and Franchise Tax Board and Employment and Development Department debt levy letters arriving in the mail.

Sure, I, his wife, could "fix this." I could take my savings, which took me years to save up, and pay off his debt. Financially, it would be the smartest move "on paper" because the debt interest rates were eating up more of our collective net worth than the itty bitty savings interest rate I was earning on the cash in my savings account. Big ups, I still love you CapitalOne360!

But then what? First off, it would have gipped us of our journey. Second off, it would technically be treated as a loan to the business, which is actually more complicated than it sounds and wouldn't really "solve" the problem of our too high expenses (for our incomes), lack of tax planning (and filing--oops!), and lack of any discernible business plan and book-keeping.

If I paid off all of the debt, we'd never know if the business my husband spent 16 years of his life building would ever have been able to "make it."

I wonder sometimes if in the future I could write the follow up book to Jim Collins "Good to Great," with instead, "From Bad to Good to eventually Great." With the low success rate of first time businesses started in the United States, there is plenty of "supply" of businesses to buy, but no demand for a business with terrible, but fixable, problems. I know that shows like "The Profit" seek to establish that there are good investment opportunities to be found in poorly run businesses, but overall, it's quite an under-served niche.

The truth is, I didn't use my savings to pay off my husband's debt because: he didn't need me to pay off his debt.

What needed to happen I've outlined before, and I will continue to outline here below. But again, this only worked for us, and hopefully sharing this list can help others or inspire others to do the same for themselves:

1. File all taxes

2. Clean up all book keeping

3. Keeping business and non-business accounts militantly separate

4. Knowing how much and where we were spending each month, every month

5. Meeting regularly to fix all personal, relationship, and business problems together, even when those meetings really sucked sometimes! Read: Money Monday Date Nights, our sacred stay at home, eat what's in the fridge only, date night ;).

6. Remember that money doesn't fix money problems, better habits fix bad habits.

7. Negotiate all of our debts and fees relentlessly

8. Pay off all of our debts

9. Lower our monthly costs as much as we can, nothing is sacred.

10. Lower monthly business related costs, no matter if they are tax deductible or not.

Comment

Comment

The biggest difference in couples who pay down debt successfully

Making financial decisions in isolation isn't inherently a problem ever.

Until it is.

When there are money problems in your life or in your couple, it's important to begin to change the isolation habit: never make key money decisions alone.

The same goes for both the financial savvy partner and person and the less financial concerned partner or person.

Before my husband and I got married, I went through a lot of career soul searching. Some would say my entire career has been a case of career-soul searching - ha! But it wasn't until I found my present career that I've been able to relax into work and rise to challenges and grow in a way I never thought possible; in a way I'd never thought would feel so satisfying. I've truly learned to love my work.

During my career soul searching, I remember that I had a nice amount of money saved up. It was intended for a home one day, but at the rate at which San Francisco Bay Area real estate was rising, and the very low rent I was able to secure, it didn't quite make sense for me to strap my cash into real estate. However, with paltry interest rate returns, a money market funds, CDs, or bonds didn't really lock in any meaningful gains either. The stock market also, had seen very low to no growth over this time period.

I began to wonder if my frugal habits which I'd cultivated especially hard over the past decade, but that's not to forget that I'm a natural saver to begin with, might allow me to "reward" myself with a few key purchases. I really wanted to buy a puppy and a Mini Cooper convertible coupe car. I'd always driven around sensible cars, and wanted to enjoy a car that made me feel absolutely stunning stepping out of with a real speed kick on the road! I also had lived for four years by myself and could really benefit from the routine and companionship of a dog.

I remember relying deeply on my conversations with my then boyfriend (now husband) contemplating these purchases. And I remember when I instead, signed myself up for a career coach for a few months instead. I often brought up the car and the puppy as items I wanted, but then I realized that, if I continued on my current career path, I would never have time to enjoy my puppy. I'd probably also have to consider doggy day care or having a dog stay home alone in an apartment all day at least 4-5 days per week (assuming I could snag day per week to work from home). With the Mini Cooper, sure, it would be a fast and slick ride, but hadn't most fast and slick purchases in my life turned out to be great for the first few months, life changing I'll even add, but then that excitement quickly diminishes over time after the initial purchase. Also, given the maintenance records of the Mini Coopers, how would I feel a few years in constantly funding auto shop visits and repairs?

This isn't to say that I "talked myself out of" these purchases. And who knows, maybe I would have been taken more seriously at my job with the tactic underlying responsibility I was exhibiting because I "had to get home to my dog to let him/her out," as I sped away in my much more flashier sign of corporate success tinted window-ed Mini Cooper burning out of the parking lot.

No, instead, I realized that, the purchases, felt better to desire than to actually buy because what I really wanted was a lifestyle in which I could actually enjoy my days more during which I would not be couped up in an office all day. Also, my car was just fine to be starting a family a couple years later and with enough TLC care and DIY maintenance (thank you auto expert husband!) and a good car detail and regular washings, I could feel just as "fancy" stepping out of my Honda CR-V as any Mini and bonus: less likely to flash too much stepping out of a higher seated compact SUV than a low rider (read: less chance of Brittany moments ;) ).

But I only came to this realization because my boyfriend (now husband) and I had these discussions. I felt open enough to talk with him about my deeper feelings about being ten years into a career and feeling so dissatisfied. He helped me script out emails and discussions I'd have with my management, given them a chance to make the situation better by communicating my discontent, wether they could "fix it" or not. And making the decision to leave early and forfeit my 401k match.

What this experience allowed for in our relationship, was a premise on which my husband could then begin to feel comfortable discussing his financial choices with me. It took a learning curve because he'd spent so much of his life isolated in all of his business and money decisions, regardless of outcome. It was a beautiful thing to see that he has better learned to be comfortable speaking to me about these concerns and choices before he makes them rather than after. Relationships can be an interesting mirror through which to view our own life choices before we have the chance to make them. But it takes practice, and we don't have it figured out.

For any couple who's decided and determined to pay off a small or large amount of debt:

The biggest difference in your permanent debt payoff success rate as a couple seems to come down to how comfortable you are as a couple discussing your finances and any financial decision with one another.

I see it in my clients everyday too. I had a set of clients, aged 76 and 82 on the verge of divorce, but you know what? After signing up with planning with my firm, they attended each meeting: together. And they discussed all financial issues: together. They ended up pausing their financial planning process for about about a month to spend some time with a quality counselor and make sure they were tending to their marriage rather than ending it. I can't say for sure whether divorce would have been the answer for them or not, I'm not really concerned with their choice ultimately. But as their financial planner, I'm glad that their financial process worked around their relationship issues and seemingly improved their experience relating to one another.

Financial stress in a relationship is the number one love killer, and it can be avoided.

It starts with having those tricky, icky, hard-to-have money conversations, one day at a time.

Financial intimacy doesn't really exist, only true intimacy exists. And both are worth it.

Comment

Comment

When my husband became our child's Father

My husband is the father to my child, without a doubt!

However, I remember the moment he became our daughter's Father.

During our extreme debt and financial crisis clean up program, at the start of our marriage, and during our (well, "my") third trimester, most days of the week, six days be week usually, I was just peachy daily recommitting to my loving marriage and cleaning up our financial mess together. It was a beautiful time looking back that brought us so close together. I'm not sure I'd ever change that experience, my husband and I, as a result, have such a better and deeper intimacy and trust in all issues with each other.

That being said, there was always that one day per week where, my hormones, and my financial disposition as a woman to crave comfort and security would flare up. I could blame the pregnancy, but I had an overall very happy pregnancy, serious, one of my symptoms was the giggle-fits that would double me over with tears in laughter over seemingly nothing, so pregnancy hormones and mood swings might not be to blame. In fact, my pregnancy probably mellowed out pre-pregnancy feelings and reactions.

But there was always that one day per week where I just felt over-whelmed and flooded with that "I can't take it any more" mood. Usually it would be triggered by a $30 set of missed tolls from 2014 that were now $450 of fines and penalties and already 90 days late by the time I saw this notice. Or maybe it was realizing that the IRS, or more likely, the Franchise Tax Board, removed all of the funds in all three of my husband's retirement accounts. Topping that off with the fact that, my husband wasn't aware of either of these financial sucker-punches until I investigated and informed him.

And I'd react, I'd be fearful, I'd let my mind spiral out of control thinking to myself, "Oh my God, is it always going to be like this?! Is it always going to be this hard?!"

And the truth is: yes. It has always been that hard. Being in a marriage with two entrepreneurs, a new marriage, and a new baby--it's all going to be hard, with or without tax troubles :).

Lovingly sorting through our challenges early on in our marriage, has given me an opportunity to grow more comfortable with discomfort, more secure with insecurity. Because no matter the circumstances, there is no real and lasting "security" for our human experience on this earth.

Some would align this with the philosophy of the stoics. And I'd agree with them.

But there is something to be said about that one day of the week, and those triggers, that really made me feel like I was flipping out. Sometimes, well honestly, most of the time, I would take this all out on my husband with intellectually verbal insults thrown his way. No cursing, no character defamation, but real concern for "how he could put us in this situation".

The other days of the week, all six of them, we worked hard, we loved each other more gracefully.

And then one day, he called me. My husband sounded obviously down on the phone call. I asked him what was wrong, and I was so thankful that we had developed more openness, especially that he felt more comfortable being open with me about his feelings, when he said, "I'm the one forcing us to live in a one bedroom apartment with a new baby. I'm the worst."

My heart was crushed that he felt so crushed. We all make mistakes, and I knew everyday my husband was working, working early, working late, and working on weekends. He recruited me where I could help, so we could jointly improve everyday one step closer out of debt into prosperity.

But I knew in that one exasperated phone call that: my husband became our child's father, more than DNA, he was beginning to look at the consequences of his actions in relation to how his actions impact our family. I already knew my husband would be a present, loving, caring, responsible, and fun Dad, but now I had confirmation, that he was going to be a Father who modeled a very good life for our family.

These aren't necessarily traits that anyone can truly "know" about a person, until you live it and you learn it. I wouldn't even know how to filter for these characteristics or changes during the early dating years. I cannot advise anyone in love or dating, but I can say that I'm hopeful and faithful for many more years of participating in and observing growth for me, my husband, our marriage, and our new little family.

After my husband confessed his feelings and regrets about his past decisions and how they will impact our new early family, and after a quick moment of silence passed over the phone call, I was so pleased to tell him that, we jointly assessed the situation, we're continuously working and developing our plan, and we're making progress. Now is the best time to have financial troubles early on, it's only on our way up from here. A baby will never remember the teeny tiny apartment, but I will remember the smaller space and less to clean. I'll remember the killer location to walk downtown everyday with the baby in the stroller. We are in the best location to capitalize on our incomes and jobs, and we're close by all of our immediate families.

Now is the best time to be this broke!

Comment

Comment

What did I "get" out of my spouse's $100k tax debt?

I'm an expert in personal finances. I KNOW what to do to organize personal finances and build wealth, but this whole trial was a doosey even for me. My husband is not an ideal client as he didn't initially come to me for help, but was "outed" by his levies that applied on my account. Also, I had learned very little in my experience, education, and personal finance blogs about tax debt. It's really a completely different beast, and at times, even an expert can feel so alone and isolated when left to fix an unknown amount of mess.

I help people everyday in my calling to improve their lives through organizing and improving their finances. Who knew that my marriage would be the single biggest source of inspiration and education for my job? Here are the lessons I've learned along the way for when opposites attract!

1. As my worst and least agreeably client, my husband taught me patience as an expert. He would not be ordered around. This taught me new strategies in patience, love, and trust that he too will have some of the best answers to fix his own crisis. It would be important for me to continue to train in human behavior psychology in order to understand how to help empower him to his own best and most productive solutions to our problems.

2. Learning about tax debt. I read a ton of professional development, self-help, and personal finance blogs. I started this habit more than ten years ago to pass the time at my seemingly boring first full time jobs. I just soaked up the stuff! But almost all personal finance material out there is geared towards salaried paycheck earners with side gigs or entrepreneurs who have developed businesses or passive income. I was awfully surprised that so few people have written or even experienced tax debt. Sure, even Kanye and MANY celebrities it turns out fall victim to this insidious beast of tax debt, but there just weren't many people writing about it online. And no one was talking about the emotional and financial costs.

3. My marriage became more than "traditional roles" and "financial roommate transactions". This is probably the best gift I received from my spouse's debt. We were forced to work on a project together, which neither one of us could quit. We had to stay engaged and involved in problem solving and helping and learning through love in order to fix this together. There was no room for "husband duties" and "wifely duties"--there were only "our problems" and "our solutions."

4. Our first pregnancy, childbirth, and raising our newborn became a sacred journey of how we wanted to be parents on limited means and income initially. What lessons that would allow us to teach our child about debt, responsibility, and working together. Most importantly, we were a family full of love, which we felt would be the best one bedroom apartment world for our little new baby girl.

5. Seriously though, learning the business tax code and how to use properly filed K1 can be used to file personal taxes, book keeping, and the emotions involved in getting out of debt and human behavior change - this became my critical moment of career experience and improved my ability to reach my clients and feel "qualified" to help anyone at any age. I was good at this and would continue to improve. In effect, I had found my calling.

6. I used to read and say "YOU are NOT your Net Worth, you have a worth, but you are NOT your NET worth." Through this experience, I truly learned learned and emotionally in my core understood what that statement meant that I had been preaching for so many years. I had dreams of wealth, I thought I was on track, but now, we weren't on track. That was a bit of an adjustment for me. How can a financial planner marry a man who has created quite a financial disaster? My only answer is that opposites attract and good love of a higher power can conquer all!

7. In my life, until I met my husband, it's no wonder I had trouble being in loving committed romantic relationships beyond one year with anyone I had dated. It's no wonder I had given my heart only to him. Marriage and love at this level of helping a spouse in the way that I was able to help, taught me something mystical about marriage that I'm not sure usually gets broadcasted about very often--perhaps because, very few couples make it through these tough parts of the journey. I appreciate my husband and our marriage because of our trial early on, maybe in ways I never would have been as grateful for before marrying him, or if we married and never experienced any trials. I just would not have appreciated how beautiful a thing marriage could be or how awesome a man I did marry :).

My early newly wed "challenge" became my biggest "opportunity" to fill in the gaps in my own experience and emotional health and heart that I had never had the chance to learn and master before. I've become a better person for it.

Comment

Comment

How to get out of tax debt as an Innocent Spouse with reliable Partner

This is a how-to guide that I'm trying my best to remember and write out each of the steps we took to begin to sort out and get out of this mess my husband had created for us in terms of tax debt.

Again, tax debt is an insidious beast because the IRS and state taxing authorities always find you, your spouse, and any accounts they can get their hands on to. They have very few restrictions on what cannot be taken to pay for tax debt.

If you find that you cannot get beyond the "how could you not file your taxes?!" judgement mode, then no action plan will help you. This has to be treated as the following:

Husband, you made a mistake, and it's time to come clean and be completely honest going forward. You deserve to be debt free, you deserve to be paid what your worth for the work that you do, and you deserve to be loved, not only by me your spouse, but also by yourself. You made a mistake, and that escalated, and now, there is no escaping dealing with this mess. We cannot defeat this mess and make things right alone, we can only proceed together. There may be a day in our marriage in the future when I mess up, please remember that I stayed and helped you through your trial. We will get to "the other side" of this debt.

If you're not ready to continue to build trust and love your indebted spouse and treat them as a responsible adult who made a mistake, any action plan will be one step forward and two steps back. It wasn't always easy, it was an emotional roller coaster to ask for tasks to be accomplished and have to remind, in some cases, remind for weeks, for things to be done. But you learn, you learn what stands in the way, you learn each other's "blockers".

And now without further adieu, here is our initial plan:

1. Credit reports for each of us, we needed to understand some history and protect ourselves from any identify theft. Credit reports allowed us for free, once each year, to review each of our three credit agency reports. Try www.annualcreditreport.com only once per year for this purpose.

2. Updating all addresses to current (home and business) for as many accounts as possible. Making address and name changes (for my new married name) was critical to managing the inflow of mail that we would have to handle with bills or worse. In our case, we had to renew our PO Box which was the single mailing point for my husband's business. Only make these changes once you've 100% committed to paying off the debt.

3. Joint access to all accounts. When there are levies and trust building, combining accounts while common for just married couples, is not practical advice for newly weds with an Innocent Spouse and a Debtor Spouse. We "joined" accounts by putting ALL of our accounts, debts, assets, investments, etc, into one www.Mint.com account. I'm an advanced mint.com user, but I highly recommend this strategy for even the novice.

4. Joint access to all logins. I created a spreadsheet with all accounts, URLs and phone numbers, Usernames, and we both had common password creations that we were aware of so that I could easily access all accounts.

5. If you have already joined accounts, be sure to remove the debtor spouse immediately from all joined accounts as quickly as possible before debtors begin to access these funds.

6. Hire a really good CPA who specializes in tax clean up, back taxes, late filings, and the specific industry relevant to your clean up purposes. In our case, construction is our industry. We went to yelp.com and found a CPA that fit our requirements. Also, we needed a CPA who my husband would feel comfortable and geographically close enough to "pop in" to his office on any day. Begin working with the CPA immediately, this is much easier after April 15th and before December 15th during the year when tax seasons are much slower. Note that for us, our CPA knew that we were limited on funds and while we paid a reasonable rate he charged for business back tax filings, we filed the personal back tax filings ourselves online to save about $200 for each filing. Be clear about your circumstances with your CPA, find one that is understanding and helpful and pay their bills always and on time every time!!

7. Begin to collect, organize and store all new bills and levy documents. Open each and every one, file them away in one big folder to look at later. Begin to organize and collect ALL documentation from the year before the tax issues began through present.

8. Cutting costs. Listing this one tip is like inviting a mountain of feedback. You must mercilessly cut costs to begin to build up some funds to beginning to hire a CPA, renew your post office box each year, and pay down debts. That's exactly what we found though. Mint.com or budgeting software can really help over time, but cutting cable (we did), lowering your internet plan (we did), cut down mobile packages (we did), and anything else, is the first step. While we still ate at restaurants, it's good to know that once we tracked our joint spending, we cut our food bill in half the following months thereafter.

9. Figure out where the issues began. With tax debt, issues began well before the tax debt. Usually business owners who are qualified in their craft, are not qualified business persons. For instance, there are ZERO licensing requirements in the trades that require a single business or basic finance course in the United States, even though only a trade license is required to practice a self-employed business in the trades. Compound that with the fact that in the trades, where it's oftentimes a case of the "blind leading the blind" when it comes to business strategy and financial management, no one is giving anyone sound, legal, financial advice. We understood our tax debt as as a symptom of a larger problem: we had no clue what our cash flow each month was like--we needed to fully understand our monthly and annual obligations for the business and our personal finances before we could begin to understand how to structure our strategies and debt payments.

10. Self-care: at some point, this all will become exhausting, feeling like a nag, asking for that password to that account (for the umpth-teen time today!), trying new strategies, getting hit with late payments and penalties, and feeling like you aren't making any progress. Remember in these moments, you can take a warm bath for an hour. You will need your strength, both spouses, so have rituals and routines for relaxation for free: go for walks together and alone, take warm baths (I used all the bath products I had up and never bought more--most of us have plenty anyways that we just have lying around! Now is the perfect time to indulge in what you already have), make dinner time meals long, drawn out productions with candles, music, clean tables, table clothes (if you already have them), sweet notes, desserts on the menu (even if this is a cheap broiled pear with brown sugar).

11. Innocent Spouse "to-do" list. It will be impossible to fix all of your spouses problems, and that's not your role. There is an interesting thing about creating your own "fix-it" to-do list that is critical. It is not a competition, you are in a partnership. Some things I had on my list: finish wedding thank you notes, finish wedding album before baby arrives, set up and clean all baby hand-me-downs generously received, develop a home cleaning schedule, develop a weekly meal menu plan, keep up with supportive relationships, journal, get to work on time each day, do your own manicures and pedicures (I have excellent tips for this!), keep up with laundry (less likely to buy/need new clothes), declutter the entire house (of only YOUR items, not your spouse's :) -- keep receipts of donations, items and resale value for tax time).

12. Dream together. This one is tricky, but helps to keep the energy fun and uplifting. If you're religious, pray together, but no matter what, dream together. What do you want on the other side of this debt? You want to be good people, do the "right" thing and pay your debts in full, never get in this mess again. But you may also want: to adopt a second child, buy a home to have full of family and guests and dinner parties, go on a cruise vacation, go on a Safari, build a new business or three, send the kids to private or special schools if they require it, and on and on. Keep dreaming, because there will be dark moments which will require new motivational forces.

13. Set up a Weekly Money Date Night. Ours was "Money Monday Date Night," and all of our friends and family knew that this was our sacred night. We rarely scheduled over this time, we always cooked our own food for dinner, and we always sat down, reviewed all of transactions for the week, categorized them, reviewed our monthly progress, tracked our progress against our goals, hugged and kissed each other. I have paragraphs and paragraphs to write on this one tip alone, but know that a weekly meeting was the only reason that we really succeeded. Sometimes, the meeting sucked, they could get emotional, and we each had to learn how to lighten up the mood and celebrate our successes and keep our big dreams at the heart of our intentions weekly. It also affirmed to both of us that: we weren't alone in this.

14. Learn Bookkeeping relevant for your business industry but ALSO for accurate data entry and reconciliation for easier tax filings, even if you have to pay someone, or three people. This is NOT hiring a bookkeeper full time. You may hire a full time bookkeeper, once the business is profitable and winning a livable wage for your spouse, but until then, learn how the system works in order to make filing taxes easier.

15. The serenity prayer. Yes, this is a relic of AA and Al-Anon, but it is critical in your life as an Innocent Spouse to a Debtor Spouse. Your debtor spouse most likely wants to fix this problem, but for as long as it took to develop, it will take that long or more to fix. It's important to do YOUR job well, keep YOUR health strong, keep YOUR spirits high. You can't control everything your partner does, nor would you want to, but you can 100% control your actions, your reactions, and your to-dos in life. Do not let this financial mess destroy you. Your finances can suffer, but if your health and emotional life degrade as well, you cannot easily recover in all three areas. Keep a spiritual practice and remember that: this too shall pass, we just don't know when or how until we know. I had the advantage for my health and emotional state because I was protective about the fact that my body was carrying and building a baby. I really had all the best reasons in the world to keep my health and spirits high despite my finances being a mess.

16. Have a plan to both keep the business and fix the mess AND prepare for looking for a formal job, side gigs, and a Plan B. Even if you have to make a resume for your spouse, you must both be open to both possibilities and the work involved for both options without slacking on the clean up of the business. Why? Tax debt again is insidious, every job your debtor spouse will have in the future requiring (and they all should require) a social security number will result in wage garnishment where the taxing authority takes your pay away before you ever see it. Your debts will always have to be handled until the end no matter your employment situation.

17. Decide how you both feel about the innocent spouse paying off the debtor spouse's debts. This didn't work spiritually or emotionally for our marriage. My husband's attitude was "I got us into this mess, I'm getting us out," so he never wanted me to pay off his debts.

18. Have good money management skills and split expenses more favorably to the debtor spouse. What we did do was reassess all of our bills each month. I began paying half of our rent, well I paid 100% of our rent, and he paid me when his cash flow permitted, his half. We did this because paying on time became another goal of ours. My mobile bill went on his business account as I helped his business where I could, I took over the energy bill in exchange, and overall, I talked about my purchasing processes and decisions before I spent money with my husband so that he understood how I developed good money management skills and that I was 100% supportive of his efforts without compounding our problems. ALWAYS keep learning better money management skills, negotiating rates and raises, and putting all excess to help our your family during this process. Women are naturally and overly self-less, so don't go overboard on the basics and one treat here and there that's just for you. It's not about deprivation, it's about making better decisions today and going forward.

19. Have an automated savings fund for your debtor spouses business with automated monthly payments. We started with $40 each month on the 16th. We grew this per Dave Ramsey's suggested $1,000 Baby Step #1 for making over your finances. We did the same for our personal emergency fund but funded it at $110 starting with just $10 per month. We continued to fund to our 3 months levels of $12,000 minimum in each account, so that we could cover business emergencies and personal emergencies from different accounts.

20. Begin to file your back taxes. Work with your CPA to call the IRS and taxing authorities so you are aware of any available credits you can apply (this is money sent in but never applied to any taxes because they were never filed, and usually these credits expire after three years). Call your bank for all monthly bank statements with business charges from the earliest year you plan to file. Also ask your bank for copies of all checks. This is really hard if you haven't had some sort of system in place. We were lucky, my husband had Quickbooks and Paychex for payroll services, but he didn't complete the tasks, so our job would be to "fill in many blanks" rather than starting from scratch. This was worth the work for us because our levies were based on estimates that would only be reassessed and renegotiated once we filed legally, applied all legal deductions, had those filings accepted, and paid our obligations in full.

Notice how we put 19 other tasks in place before we even first filed a single back tax filing? This is important because the fear of filing is what keeps most people from starting, but there are many ways to get started that are less threatening before you will have to "face the music". Besides, you may need a few months of budgeting and saving cash before you are ready to execute and fix problems. Remember: two incomes are always better than one in these situations!

21. Begin to keep a spreadsheet of all the levies owed, tracking the late fees, penalties, interest payments, due dates, relevant tax year, and which agency has which levy.

22. Have a plan to get out of all non-tax debt. For some, it may make sense to make only the minimum payments on all other debts, but for us, we paid off the business credit card in full and the car in full savings us about $600+ in interest we would have paid over the term of both. Also, we decided until our taxes were up to date and our books were clean and our accounts stayed consistently silo-ed for each business (my husband had a habit of dipping into various accounts to "cover" his deficits from non-business accounts--this is not helpful in the long run), then we would maybe readdress using a rewards credit card for his high expenses each month. However, I have yet to have one month where he has kept his business expenses 100% separate from his personal or other business expenses (yes, he has an S-Corp and an LLC).

Each one of these tasks can and most likely will be its own blog post, but that will depend on the questions I receive most frequently about getting out of tax debt and staying with a debtor spouse. What holds everyone back is that it's really hard to get started. Our "Money Monday Date Nights" are still in effect each week. It was one of our first habits. It was peace of mind for me in knowing what I could not control and letting it go until Monday nights. This gave me freedom in between our meetings from worrying to much about "what he HAD to do and wasn't doing...or was..." Also, we chatted each Monday about what else we could meet about once we were debt free, tax debt free, and making legal quarterly proactive payments and funding our savings and retirements goals in full each year. Would there be other businesses we wanted to start? We he ever want a job in a new industry?

Just get started with one task today. Keep at it until you can add a new task. Tax authorities are scary, scarier than collection agencies. Keep making progress and keep learning to challenge your emotions into the most positive and productive and loving reactions and responses towards yourself, your spouse, and others. And most of all, keep dreaming for bigger and better lives beyond the debt. There are others out there who have been there, if not worse and have come out the other end, and you can too.

Comment

Comment

For richer or for poorer, that's what you sign up for...

Those are the vows, this is what I signed up for with my husband: for richer or for poorer.

I've mentioned this in earlier posts but, I did suspect there were financial troubles in my husband's life that not only haunted him, but were not set up for any quick resolution long before we were even engaged, and they had only gotten worse.

I tried to advise him at the time, to say for instance, start retirement accounts, and I could tell from his questions that without me having a complete picture of his entire financial history and current picture, I wasn't able to properly advise him.

When you advise someone with tax debt and three years of not filing any taxes, in this case, my husband, without knowledge of those facts first, any IRA is subject to government levies if applicable. My dear husband, fiance at the time, did start retirement accounts and fund them just a little, but the government did take all of his funds within two years time.

I knew things were bad and surprise - we're pregnant!!! This was during the California drought year of 2015, the summer which felt like the eternal summer. Pleasant, hot and dry weather, which adequately reflected our bank accounts.

How did we begin to unravel this mess? As most trials in life, we have to unravel things at a time when they were about to get worse, and not better right away. Awareness and presence about the truth of how messed up everything had gotten, only made us aware, but each day I felt as though we were being sucker punched with new "surprises" everyday.

The first surprise: Our May wedding invited us to combine my one personal checking account with his legal name at the same banking institution as his checking account. We made this innocent decision in order to deposit checks written in our and his name as gifts from our wedding. This way, I would manage the gifts safely in savings and directed all funds to our "home sweet home" down-payment fund. No literally, that's what it's always been named in our CapitalOne360 savings account with a monthly automated increase contribution.

And then, sometimes with written notice and missed automated voice mails, the bank began to contact us. Having never had a levy, I went down the rabbit whole and called the levy-line phone numbers which revealed that, in addition to a $75.00 charge each time the bank had to hold levy funds, I was beginning to learn about the $18,000+ State tax debt due and the $51,000+ IRS tax debt due.

What the F$*&!?

So slowly, my meager checking account was siphoned away to these payments in full, whatever funds I had, were taken about 2-3 weeks after the letters and 1 week after the phone calls. This was my only source of income coming directly from my paychecks. My automated credit card payments which have never been late and which I'd always paid in full, were now bouncing, incurring again, another charge by my credit card.

Here is the sample math each month:

$1,3337 left in account taken by the bank to submit to pay my husband's levy

$75.00 charge from bank for the luxury of holding and taking this money away

$45.00 charge from the credit card for bounced payment for insufficient funds in checking

10 hours - at least ten hours of my time trying to navigate the bank, the state tax levy phone numbers, and the credit card company.

Flying absolutely blind!

You have to understand that, when you are in this situation, you have limited rights to information if your spouse is responsible for the levies and you are not. No amtter how diligent and responsible you are, you alone cannot fix these issues independently, and no taxing agency or bank makes it easy at all for what I'd come to know as my role: Innocent Spouse Debt Relief.

As an innocent spouse, I could reverse the banking account error by taking my husband off of my account at the bank.

I could also call and at least ask that the $75.00 be refunded, and it was. With my perfect banking record, I was happy they obliged this request.

Same with the $45.00 credit card charge.

The last part was getting funds back from the State tax levy, frankly, we didn't have the funds to support this or any other payments on behalf of the levy. It required multiple calls and a fax of bank statements, proof that the levy was before the marriage, copy of our marriage certificate, etc.

All the while, I'm pregnant, and emotionally, uncertain how to proceed with my husband. There was a moment I remember deciding on our couch, alone in the late afternoon during that eternal hot and dry summer when I decided: I love my husband, this information would not have impacted me marrying him or delayed me marrying him, and I have 100% committed to this  man and our situation financially.

Having 100% fully committed, taking care of this first step of "winning" my accounts back. We needed to put an action plan together. Very quickly I determined that, I needed his help, I needed him on phone calls, and I needed to know that we were working together to fix this.

Could I rely on my husband?

Was he ready to make changes and get his head out of the sand and deal with this four year old mess?

Did he understand that it is a criminal offense with potential jail time to not file his taxes?

Does he understand how I feel so betrayed when I had asked the right questions all along?

Was he even capable of being honest with me and himself about his financial reality?

Would we be paying off debt, living in a 500 square foot one bedroom rental with a kid for how many of the next years, decades? How big and bad was our problem?

I was still scared, but committed really helped. Also, no matter if I committed to fixing our financial troubles or not, I knew I could not in good conscience leave my husband alone to fix this mess. I wasn't entirely certain he was capable of doing so. It would mean that I would be allowing the father of my child to drown in his own financial mess.

But what about filing bankruptcy? I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not a bankruptcy expert, but tax debt, similar too but even more insidious than student loan debt, is rarely and almost never discharged.

At this point, I had no idea how big the problem was, or what we were going to do.

Comment

Comment

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

My background is in online technology and monetization. What the what?!

I've predominantly worked for major industries (read: auto, insurance, finance, internet security, software, technology, consumer goods, etc) to use technology to place their online advertising in places that make sense to win a paying consumer out of you.

Ooooh, so you're the one behind those scary sketchy ads I see when...

Yes and no.

Yes, I utilize technology to place the ads where you will be, except that my entire focus has been on paying customers. We have technology to tell us whether people are turning into customers or not.

No in that, if no one becomes a customer, I turn that ad off, so you don't see it, and no one else does, because testing reveals that...it wasn't a "fit" for that particular online audience.

So if you've ever seen a "bad ad" that doesn't make sense or an ad that seems to "follow you" from site to site, rest assured that: they don't care to know anything else about you except whether or not you click and whether or not you purchase after that click on the advertiser's site.

There is no conspiracy in advertising to know anything more about you as a person, or your browsing habits. But that's just speaking from my own experience.

But along the way, something happened. I don't know if it was being told "F*** you" by those 1-2 clients on those few occasions, or if was being a minimalist in my regular non-working life, but encouraging consumerism and purchases in my professional life. Which I suppose I justified for ten years in that, hey, online advertising is better than all the other ads that are shoved down your throat because at least we can turn off the ads that aren't "working" which probably means: we don't like stupid/dumb/irrelevant/obnoxious ads as much as you the consumer and online content consumer doesn't like them.

Before I met my husband, I made well over six-figures, had a matching 401k plan, was offered raises, promotions and company stock regularly each year at a leading technology company working in a very sexy industry. I probably wouldn't have ever been fired. In the corporate world I found however that, "not being fired" can easily also mean "very cheap to keep on the payroll"--so perhaps I could have been making more.

But I knew deep down that I had only stumbled upon this professional career I built for myself, resenting that I knew I wanted to be serving in some other capacity.

Forgive my Gen Y attitude, but I just wasn't fulfilled by my work and I could feel lifestyle inflation and "vice-gripe"--meaning, the money I was earning wasn't turning into wealth and the time I spent, I believe made me worse of a person on this earth for what I believed my values to be.

Having everything I could possibly want materially, I slowly over time dominated my finances, investing, health, and slashed my expenses. Although interesting to note, I did begin to pick up on secondary interpretations of the Stoic philosophies and Stoic philosophers, and I liked what I read. I appreciated living lean, making most of my meals, keeping tight budgetary goals for things I didn't care to spend money on (read: clothing and makeup), and overall, just transitioning into a simpler life.

Also, when I say that "I knew deep down", that's kind of lie. It really became revealed to me that I never liked or enjoyed my career, and I made the jumps forward that I made in spite of my own better signals. I can say that I am very proud of the ten years I spent in this career, but I had to make a change because: my work life no longer "turned off" in my personal life, in such as a way as to be quite disruptive. My negative attitude towards the work I was doing with, let's face it, my life, because all my hours were being consumed by work, thinking about work, preparing for work, dreading work, and driving to and from work, was almost a nice procrastination keeping me from discovering what my true potential could be and what I may be better called suited to do on this earth.

So while I have quit jobs and jumped into fun-employment and "figured it out", quite successfully I might add, I didn't want to make my decisions so hastily this time. I was tired of feeling sick and tired, and I need to address the way I spent my hours each day first before I could begin to unlock many more levels of areas of development my life was craving beyond just work.

I tell you this because it took me about two years to engineer an official career transition into personal finance from online advertising. The goods news is, there is a tremendous amount of overlap because instead of helping advertisers grow their wealth, I help individuals now. It hasn't been perfect, but I'm loads happier and a nicer, kinder person to be around as a result.

However, I made the switch into this new career at temporarily lower levels of income, sacrificing a traditional paid maternity leave, while my husband assured me that "we'd be fine." But then we found out that we were pregnant, and his entire business tax history became slowly known and unraveled before me. We. Were. Not. Fine.

Thankfully, I've learned that we were able to get through this very difficult time, and I'll continue to chronicle our journey.

It begs the question then: do I regret missing all of that stable cash and those numerous benefits?

Not one bit.

I'm sincerely certain that I am a better person because of the changes I made, they had to happen for me, regardless of what was happening around me. If not now, then when? When would I be happy with my work, when would I make changes? When would I have hours in my day to address the larger issues in my emotional life, if I had a well paying job that kept me in mediocrity and enabled me to work as many hours as possible to never have to take an honest inventory on my life?

So in the same year that we paid $25k cash for our wedding, discovered we were pregnant, and slowly began to unravel our new marital financial woes and debt loads, I took a 50-100% pay cut, and we'd have to eventually pay our benefits out of pocket like health insurance.

But even still, my own changes had to happen, they just had to in order for me to have the strength, time, and energy to take control of our lives together.

Comment

Comment

Why I DIDN'T want my parents to pay for our wedding

I'm my parents youngest of two children and their only daughter. By the time my dear husband asked them for my hand in marriage, only one of my seven combined cousins/siblings was married, and it was his second marriage. Half have never been married, and I am the youngest out of them all.

Needless to say, my parents, and especially my mom were VERY excited for us to be married. The only thing was, early on, and because I am financially savvy and had already been saving regularly for our wedding (and many other goals too), my husband-to-be and I decided not to have my parents or his parents pay for our wedding. While each set of parents luckily gifted us with a bridal shower and rehearsal dinner, they otherwise were never tapped for any cash to pay for our nuptials in any way.

Why did we make this decision?

We didn't need their money-

I have to say that it's an entirely individual decision to make. My dear husband was 39 when we were married and I was 31, we had lived good, long lives before we met each other. We weren't broke 18-22 years olds looking to make our start in life together. We were combining two separate one-bedroom apartments into one-cosy one bed apartment and had full and complete lives that neither required nor complimented a matching China pattern or punch bowl.

We wanted to have "skin in the game"-

Oftentimes, it's easier to over-spend when you're spending OPM, or: Other People's Money. No matter how good any of our intentions are, we are human, and we generally concern ourselves more with how much of our own money we're seeing leave our wallets than of OPM. If we had the "Bank of Mom and Dad", who knows how we would have treated our spending differently than we had when it was "our money."

We wanted our unique wedding choices to be "ours"-

Yes, a wedding is a celebration for the couple and their families, but we didn't want to be beholden to the "good" opinion of others outside of just me and him. While this wasn't a major concern for dear husband and won't be a major concern for most other people, my own dear mother would have made conversations on spending and vendor choices absolutely miserably for me because she takes her "purse strings" position quite seriously. I can't blame her because I feel I would be the same way, but for my day, I really wanted to avoid having to pass any decisions by my parents first.

We also had very specific requests that we both wanted from "our day", and it would have put a lot of stress to have felt that we needed to compromise on any of those items. My parents are much more traditional than either my husband or me, so invariably our choices may have come into conflict with their opinions due to this different of tradition.

Paying for our own wedding in full was the best decision that we made for us, and each couple will find their own way towards the right payment decisions for their wedding. Now most parents are not misers, and mine were quite generous with gift giving after the wedding. Since we paid 100% cash for our wedding and honeymoon, we were able to invest these funds entirely in to our "Home Sweet Home" downpayment fund for any future real estate we may buy together.

Thanks Mom and Dad, we love you!

Comment

Comment

Weddings: The most magical day of your life

Flashing-back a little bit in this entry to...Our Wedding <3!

We were married in May 2015 at an aviation museum. The day really began the previous day where my dear husband-to-be was setting up our tent behind the venue where the ceremony would be and I spent my day checking into a fancy local hotel to have a bath, take a nap, and get ready for our rehearsal dinner.

The day was fantastic with photographers, makeup artist, hair stylist, my friends and family, and then it was on to the venue all dressed up in my magical Ivory strapless wedding gown. I was truly loving every minute of it and it was the most magical day of my life.

Seeing my husband to be waiting for me at the alter as I walked towards him with my dad by my side, all the while passing rows and rows of friends and family from all parts of our lives, I was just in absolute awe at what a special moment that day was.

We did however, and I dutifully tracked our budget as best as I could, spend about $25,000 on our engagement ring, wedding bands, full wedding and week long honeymoon in Puerto Vallarta. I must say that through all of our favor exchanges, negotiations, and deals, truthfully got a lot for our money's worth, and would have spent about $50,000 retail. My husband works in the restaurant industry and I'm a keen negotiator, and we also had very generous contacts who were excited to see us be married.

Was it "worth" it? Knowing and learning more about our money battles now, our new baby on the way, and my recent career switch and salary temporary salary and benefits drop which overlaps our make-shift maternity leave, I have to admit, I've debated that question in my head at times. Turns out in cash gifts I suppose we came out "break even" too. So...theoretically, it turned out to be worth absolutely every penny although we did not know that going in.

In fact, I previously believed that spending about $10,000 would be just right for a wedding. We did however want a single venue to host as many of our friends and families for both a ceremony and reception celebration. We were willing to compromise in my areas, and besides our aviation museum venue, I didn't have a specific vision, but just a general casual but classy vibe I wished to achieve.

But where did I even come up with that figure, $10,000 for a wedding? Which by all means, is still a lot of money? I don't even know! I can't recall. The average wedding costs in the United States are actually closer in line with the cost of ours (though these may not include the rings and honeymoon) at around $25,000-$28,000. In fact, in our zip code, for about 180 guests like we had, couples spent about twice as much! See image below and find out with this online wedding cost calculator how much people in your zip code spend on their wedding.

Frankly, I have only been "stressed" three times about the high cost of our wedding. Once was on the honeymoon, once was while I was beginning to unraveling our financial mess many months ago, and the third time was writing this blog post! Otherwise, I felt 100% comfortable with the way it all turned out. I married my best friend, in front of everyone in our lives that we absolutely love and adore, we have terrific memories and photos of the date, and absolutely nothing went wrong.

If you're interested in tips on how to design your dream wedding on a budget, I will list out tips that we found helpful in our case as we didn't hire a wedding planner and otherwise did as much as we could "DIY" without spending countless hours on things like centerpieces unnecessarily. Also, I had been saving for a wedding for a few months before my husband proposed to me. Why? Because I knew that I wanted to get married, and hoped it would be with him. But also, I knew I wanted to alleviate as much financial stress as possible from then until the day the BIG DAY came along. Little did my future husband/boyfriend at the time know, but the longer he waited to propose (he didn't wait that long, he was very excited to marry me!), the longer I had to acrue funds monthly plus minor amounts of interest on my funds.

What started as a $40 monthly amount, or roughly one nice dinner out with the girls a month less, turned into about $140 per month as the day grew closer. And while there is no way that measly little account could cover our entire wedding costs, it really did help tremendously initially with the larger purchases as monthly cash flow became tight.

Oh yeah: we paid 100% of our wedding in COLD HARD CASH! Because payments are made over six months or so, and because we had savings, and we had DIY initiatives as well as good connections with our vendors/friends, we never had to go into debt! We did use the credit card to earn some reward cash back, but quickly paid those off within 30 days so as not to have had to have paid any extra interest on an already very extravagant day.

Could we have used the funds for better purposes? If we truly had the social circles to support a very small wedding, or let's say this was a second wedding for either of us, we would have spent less, but for the amount of people and the quality of the celebration, we really feel we got the best deal we could have. Luckily for us the gifts did equate out to the same cost, which we believe is quite rare and most of those funds were heavy loaded by my parents.

However, besides accelerating our "Home Sweet Home" downpayment savings fund, or paying off a little more debt (which I didn't know the entirety of) faster, we wouldn't have treated ourselves to anything nice that those funds could have purchased for us. We have each other and we already have MORE than enough :).

Comment

Comment

Should I stay or should I go now?

I'd never known love in a romantic relationship ever until I met my husband. I'm not sure I ever even knew love before I met my husband as I certainly was reluctant to let the love in from others until I met him and gave him my heart, the whole heart--all of it.

He was the person I'd spent all of my time with, he was well integrated into my family and friend circles, and he was loved in return, by me, and by all of them. We had fully integrated our lives together.

He meant so tremendously well with his intentions. He's the guy who will drop everything to help you with a flat tire on the road. He'll leave work or whatever he's doing to come comfort you and bring you soup if you aren't feeling well. He's the one who largely helps his own parents out as they further live to their advanced age. He loves me, he will love our daughter, and he will be a very caring, involved, and present father, as he is that kind of man, friend, and husband to me.

And the realty is, I'm 100% qualified to help him out of his financial disaster. But, he's 40 years old, facing down at least $60k in existing tax debt payments and four more years of being behind in his business and personal tax returns as well as losing money most months and being unable to keep up with his minimum payments was not a situation anyone could fix by himself. He never was trying to "pull a fast one" with respect to his business or his taxes, he was perpetually overwhelmed by running his business by himself and frankly, didn't reach out for more help and no one really reached out to him to help him.

He's had to face the formal auditing process by the IRS, alone, without a college degree, I can only imagine how scary and daunting that must have been. He's not alone, this is rampant in the trades across America now. Many men in the trades have their wages garnished because it takes just the minimum to earn a license as a contractor or other trade, and not one requirement to earn the license covers business management, taxes, or administration.

Demand where we live for tradesmen is at an all time high, many clients and customers complain that the tradesmen don't professional call them back or send proposals in on time. The reality is, they don't have too, there are more projects during these boom-times than their are qualified and talented tradesmen. In other industries, economists teach us that when demand is higher than supply, then prices will rise, but because many tradesmen are never educated about taxes and general financial literacy, they keep their prices just high enough to provide what they think is a enough profit completely forgetting about taxes for fear of eventually losing business or being labelled "that guy who charges to unreasonably high rates."

In one of our more heated conversations, my husband said that he wouldn't blame me if I decided to leave. He knew it was a bad situation, he felt awful and incredibly remorseful. He felt stuck, for many years he had felt stuck and lost many hours of sleep as a result. No one ever tells you how to build a business from a financial perspective when you get your contractor's license. I feel like this is a travesty since a basic primer should be required.

I knew that it our situation was fixable, but only if we both committed to fixing it, and committed to working together; working together was the only way we'd ever be able to make any progress.

I also had privately thought early on about what it would mean to divorce and leave my best friend, husband, and father of my child. I had faith that if I did, I would be alright although devastated initially and I would miss our prior relationship in a gut-wrenching way. But if I was willing to make it better and I was in his shoes, how would I feel being abandoned by my spouse in this situation? I too wouldn't expect someone to stay, but I'd love them all the more for staying and helping.

Whether I stayed or left, he needed my support, and he would continue to need my support. He was in no position to begin to fix this mess all by himself. There are harder trials that other couples have had to face. And as the father of my child, I knew I would forever play a role in his support if his situation were never to change, and at the very least for the well-being of my child when in his care.

If our roles were reversed, I would have wanted my spouse to stay with me even though I could give them no reason why they ought to and even though they had ever right and reason to leave.

And so I stayed, and he committed to making this better with me. And we loved each other through it. Most days were blessings, although some days, the harsh realities hurt me and I would revert to anger and grief. He listened to me and my thoughts and my fears. And we began to make our reality different. I really worked on communicating how financial decisions really made me "feel" rather than focusing on a particular event.

This really helped my relationships overall because I could separate my initial reactions with the actual feelings behind "where I was at emotionally" that was behind the reaction. This way, all my relationships improved because I could pause and ask myself "what are my feelings behind my reactions right now? Is there a way I can communicate my feelings as something separate from the event occurring right now?"

I stayed because that's the wife, spouse, and partner I always wanted to be. And I'm happier today for it.

Comment

Comment

As Paul Harvey would say: The REST of the story!

I almost forgot to include one of the best parts and hardest parts about confessing my new marital financial mess to my mom, my biggest critic and my fiercest defender.

The hardest part:

She has a mouth on her, my mom. It's a trait we strong-willed women often share. She and my husband work on a side project together on a property that she manages. And at the minute of their next conversation she confronted him about the conversation she and I had. She communicated to him in not so many uncertain terms that he is lucky to have me and without threatening him made it clear that anything less than fixing the situation would not be ok.

I confessed to my husband about the conversation my mom and I had right after it had happened, I had to be honest. My truth was that, with all this new information about our situation, I wasn't as prepared as he was to be stoic and silent with others about the truth of what we were going through. I'm social by my very nature, and he appreciated my honesty. Later that weekend, my husband also confessed to me about the conversation he and my mom had and part of me thought; "go mom!" I loved that my mom stood up for me. But the other part of me knows that my husband is only human, he makes mistakes like anyone else, and the way out of our mess would not include threatening or berating each other or having others threaten or berate our mistakes or our efforts going forward.

The best part:

Allowing myself to be vulnerable with my mom, and confessing that I still had tremendous hope and love for my husband and marriage, allowed her to think past her own marriage and origin story and share with me a story about her friend Gloria*. (*that's not her real name)

Gloria was one of my mom's best friends. She's very classy, and very old school. She's a widow who lost her husband, the love of her life, to cancer about five years ago after caring for him for the years of his disease and deteriorating condition. I only knew that the loss devastated Gloria still to this day, she's not quite ready to officially "move on," and even if she does, date other people, she's keenly aware that her best relationship of her life may now be...behind her.

Oh yeah, and Gloria's husband, left her loaded. It's no exchange for losing your loved one, but until I heard this story, I had only known that my mom's best friend was extremely wealthy and lived in a big huge house in a very prestigious neighborhood and cycled weekly through her many beautiful vehicles in her collection.

My mom confided in me, in her infinite wisdom, that Gloria's story and her marriage, started on entirely different terms financially speaking.

Gloria's first and only marriage was to a man who had been married before, with children, and who was divorced. Shortly after Gloria and her husband were married, she found out that his business had fallen into complete financial ruin and would most likely face bankruptcy.

Bankruptcy, financial ruin, divorced, and his children from his previous marriage did not like Gloria and do not like her to this day. They do not treat her very well, she receives no kindness from them for taking care of their father as she had for so many years.

Early on in their marriage, Gloria resolved herself to fixing the financial mess. So this women whom I had only know to be "loaded in the fancy neighboring town," was largely responsible to steering her new family unit's ship into the direction of wealth and away from bankruptcy.

My jaw had officially dropped at this point.

I loved the marriage that Gloria spoke of having, and I knew that me and my husband, had love for each other. No one was dying, we were just in a financial disaster that was fixable.

Comment

Comment

Origin stories and changing yours

Throughout this new journey of my marriage, as typical as the rest of my life, my mom was my biggest critic and my biggest fan. A poor Russian immigrant by heritage at her start in life, she married my dad, also quite poor from California's central valley. She had lofty financial dreams for herself, but settled into marriage finding out that my dad not only had student loan debt but unpaid medical bills as well. They both were working part time jobs and barely able to make ends meet let alone get on top of their debts and provide for their futures.

Spoiler alert: financially it all worked out just fine over the past 38+ years for them.

Listening to my mom while growing up, beginning when I was quite young, I often remember my mother's emotional tirades about her, at times, troubling marriage to my dad, exclaiming his awful money habits and questionable lack of enthusiasm for work. She largely supported our family for many of those early years, especially as they bought one house, had my older brother, then upgraded to a larger house, and welcomed me into their lives.

Today she finds herself somewhat forced into early retirement and nursing her ailing body back into a healthy state after many decades of stress, desk jobs, low levels of physical activity, and poor diet choices most likely seeking comfort the only way she knew how to in the face of chronic stress.

My mom and I are very different people, so we clash in the ways that strong willed mothers and daughters often do. But having Chinese food lunch specials and conversations with her that day, so many months ago, shortly after finding out about my own personal financial Armageddon and sharing with her openly, in tears at that table in the restaurant, what little I knew about the awful financial predicament that I now found myself in as a newly wed and newly pregnant wife with her, it was apparent to both of us how similarly our newly wed stories appeared at that point.

Until I met my husband, I never seriously considered marriage before with anyone that I had dated or anyone that I could have imagined dating. My mom has had a lot of adversity to face in life and in her marriage from what I've been able to pick up, and I feel it's made her irreversibly bitter and overly negative in some ways as a result, closing her off to many experiences in life that involve feeling love and vulnerability.

Exposure to this bitterness during my childhood and youth, cultivated a feeling of fear and "hopelessness" that I too would become bitter if I were to ever marry anyone. So as a young child somewhere along the line facing these messages, I decided that if I wanted to remain happy, and not bitter, I should never enter into this thing called "marriage" because it seemed to be what caused my mom to become bitter.

Meeting my husband felt like a stroke of good luck. I didn't know someone like him could exist, let alone in my hometown, who I'd never met, who'd never himself been married before, and who fell just as desperately in love with me as I did with him. Almost a year into our relationship, I found a hidden journal entry that I wrote years before I met my husband. It was a list of criteria that I was looking for in the man that I wanted to give my heart away to. As I read that journal entry privately to myself on the sofa, sitting warmly tucked next to my love, I was in shock and awe at how he met each and every emotional criteria I had listed years before we met that I knew I was longing and looking for in a partner.

Looking back humorously, I suppose I never wrote any financial criteria down about the man I'd wanted to find to give my heart to!

In remembering my lessons I had yet to learn and to sit with the discomfort without reacting or acting, I sat that there with my mom, wiped my tears and said to her:

This is really bad, it's not good at all, but I do love him dearly and I know and believe that my husband is a good man. I know that no matter what, should we chose to go through this and stay together and fix our finances, that it will only add to our love story and make us an even stronger and loving couple in the long run.

My situation, our situation, didn't have to make me bitter. That was the freedom that sitting with the discomfort taught me. In facing my fears, and finding some way to be calm about my new marriage, my pregnancy, and our financial disaster, I was able to begin to see some ways we could work together to fix this mess.

Comment

Comment

Patiently sitting within the discomfort

I have an ex boyfriend. He and I dated one and off again, tumultuously for about timeframe totaling a year and half. Before meeting him I remember how "on top of it all" that I felt. Good job, finally debt-free and saving, and in terrific shape with an excellent crew of family and friends. When we were finally able to call it quits, I was able to come to two conclusions about this relationship:

1. I would never again stay with someone had $80k worth of debt that he wasn't trying to actively repay and "fix".

2. We never loved each other enough to both be completely vulnerable with one another, and I knew I wanted to experience that with the man I eventually would want to be with for a long time romantically.

In fact, among many successful men that I had dated, I had also dated a trust fund man earlier with about a $1 million in debt and related lawsuits. Additionally I had dated a man with tremendous amounts of student loan debt as well, who ironically broke up with me because of my own financial inaccuracies and $3,000 worth of consumer debt that I was having trouble cleaning up. But how common today are all of these stories? Very common!

In 2010, I remember ready about fellow San Franciscan Allison Eastman, who's fiancé broke off their engagement because of her very high levels of student loan debt. I thought that I would be the one some successful business man would break off an engagement with back when I had zero clue about my finances. The them initiated a complete financial repair in my life, and a rekindling with wonderful money memories of my childhood and youth.

I never imagined that I would become the person married to someone with a ridiculously high sum of debt, and tax debt too, which by all accounts is the worst kind of debt that is still legal. Both tax debt and student loan debt carry with you your whole life, they are not dischargeable through bankruptcy such as other debts might be, and tax debt comes with none of the forgiveness, programs, and tax deductions possible with many kinds of student loan debt.

My husband never said these words that Ms Eastman mentions in this NYTimes.com article on how Debt can destroy a relationship, but I often found myself echoing a very similar mantra in relation to feeling completely lied to:

“He accused me of lying,” said Ms. Eastman, 31, a San Francisco X-ray technician and part-time photographer who had run up much of the balance studying for a bachelor’s degree in photography. “But if I was lying, I was lying to myself, not to him. I didn’t really want to know the full amount.”

If my husband was lying, and I felt lied to, imagine how he must feel? I knew he was lying to himself, and I just turned out to be an innocent bystander. How innocent? I did request that he fund his retirement, and savings goals, and lower his monthly expenses, and many other requests to make a noticeable dent in his debt before we were married so that we were on track to have it paid off. But shortly after we were married, a ran his credit report with his permission and together we began receiving pretty scary letters from taxing authorities that they would be taking money owed from both of our accounts...very large sums of money leaving us little to live off of afterwards.

I felt I had done my work, but I was lied to. But a few facts for context:

1. I had just had two years of conversations with him about switching my career, leading to me now making 50% what I was brining in just months earlier. I could handle my share of our joint expenses, my personal expenses, and retirement funding, but never did he mention or I know to include absorbent debt repayments into my calculations.

2. I had enough in savings, dedicated to potentially our home downpayment in the future, and some funds in a Roth IRA that I could access without penalty, which could have been used to pay off the largest amounts of his debt. After lengthy discussions, it was very clear that the best option was to have him try to pay off his debt independently first.

3. Deep down I knew that if I had never made the career change that I made, and dropping to a part time schedule in my former career and a part time, commission based paid, schedule in my new career that I may never have made the jump.

If I had known what I had come to fully learn about our financial situation he created, I would have never had the courage to pursue my dream and practice in a profession that nourished the world as well as my soul. I would have been too scared to lose half of my immediate salary.

So what? So I could help pay off all or at least most his debts in full, but we both knew this wasn't the answer for us. Whether deeply cultured gendered messages played their part or not, my husband felt that as a man, he ought to be the one to "clean up his mess" as it were and get back on track to being our family's "provider."

I had to make the decision to keep moving forward into financial planning as a financial planner, working with clients in very difficult situations and helping them half of the week, and then helping my own family's financially difficult situation each night of the week when I got home from work. I had to persist in this discomfort knowing that financially could not pay off my husband's debt and negative monthly cash flow without making more money again, an option that presently, wasn't on the table in either of our minds.

I wanted to spring into action and fix the problem, to pay off the debt and say sayonara to my hopes and dreams of starting in my new field that I was over the moon about. My husband knew it too, but he also knew that he wanted to be the one to fix his own problem, he only wanted my support. And besides, he was the biggest beneficiary of my new love and zeal for life now that I spent my days doing what I loved instead of coming home from long work days and work trips dissolving into tears and complaints about how dissatisfied I was in my corporate job.

Before anything could be "done," and before anything could be "fixed," I had to learn how to patiently sit within the discomfort of our own financial disaster. - Elizabeth May Prindle

I had to ride the emotional waves that coursed through my body, different emotions each hour, each day: sometimes anger, sometimes fear, and oftentimes hope. I wanted to quit and run away at times. I wondered in my darkest moments if I had made a mistake and married the wrong man. I was sadly curious if I stayed, would the rest of our lives would be plagued by debt and bad financial decisions? Why did I chose to love men with money problems and even marry one? Coming out of a job I hated, would I have to resolve myself to working jobs that I hated again and always to constantly "save us" from his financial ruin for the rest of our marriage? How was I as a financial planner, supposed to "wait out" my gut reactions to fix everything right then and there or just quit?

My biggest insecurities about money demonized my thoughts and emotions, and I had to chose to recognize those fears, and sit with those fears before I knew how to begin to tackle our situation and my relationship again. I had to face realities about my own self-worth before I could approach my husband about our financial net worth, a reality that I am by my nature unable to ignore and hide my head in the sand about. We were legally married, and I was pregnant with our child, quitting now wasn't as simple as it was compared to when we were only dating with no children on the horizon. Quitting when I actually loved this man more deeply than I had ever loved anyone before, was an awfully scary realty to be facing.

I had to learn to fully accept our situation, recognize that it may never get better, and play out those thoughts and scenarios in my head before I was ever going to be able to be a supportive partner to my husband and learn how he would like to begin to fix this problem of ours. Without accepting that this was our reality and deciding that this must be a situation which would only make me stronger, hopefully make us stronger, and it was an actual gift for me to experience, would I have ever been able to rise above blame, regrets, shame, accusations, moral high-grounds, and judgements.

No matter how I chose to act, I had to go through my daily life activities stronger, without letting my new knowledge of the reality we were facing change the gusto with which I approached my life. If I had let my situation depress me, then it would have ruined me and I would have easily fallen behind in my work and goals and dreams, which would have been devastating for me, for him, and for our child being formed in my belly whether we all stayed together or not.

In patiently sitting within the discomfort, breathing through it, and not trying to change it, fix it or impact it, finally a quiet and comforting knowing voice said to me: it will all be ok and you have to believe it's all going to be ok before you even know that it will in fact, eventually all be ok, no matter the outcome of your relationship.

Comment

Comment

The Lesson You Must Learn

It seems as though, life is a very clear teacher, if you're willing to be the student and willing to learn. -Elizabeth May Prindle

May 2015, I married the absolute love of my life, my soulmate. And by August 2015, we found out that we're expecting. December sonograms revealed that come May 2016, we will have baby girl Prindle joining us to make our family grow from just two into three.

Having never originally dreamed of marriage or having children, I have to admit, marriage and pregnancy have proven to be both wild and beautiful experiences.

But there is a theme in my life that's crept up recently. For the past few years now, I've been hearing the rumblings of my soul and how I ought to serve this world. I wanted to be a blogger, and then a personal finance blogger, and then money management coach of sorts, and now, I'm actually a candidate for my Certificate in Financial Planning and have joined a firm to complete my certification process with 2000 supervised work hours of financial planning and working with clients.

To get to the point I'm at now, I've gone through personal counseling, career counseling, two job re-engineerings to make time for school and part time work at the new firm, nine months of schooling on the weekends, five weeks of studying for the national exam, PASSING that exam, and all the while nourishing my new marriage and discovering that we're happily and healthfully pregnant. All the while I have been staunchly debt-free, a strong contributor to my retirement accounts, diligent saver for all sorts of goals in my life and learning to how to live life to the absolute fullest!

But by month four of marriage/month two of our pregnancy, it just wasn't clear if we would even make it past year one together...we meaning, my new husband and me. While I had long known about his tax debt and that he was on a payment plan for, imagine my surprise, a financial planner in training and by calling, when I learned that the tax problem had resurfaced again in his life and had been brewing since at least a year before we met (trouble brewing began early 2012; we met mid-2013). While I was beginning to come out of the nauseous fog of my first trimester eager to rest, nest and prepare ourselves for a mortgage and permanent home and bigger space, I realized that as a marital unit, my husband and I already owed a mortgage-sum of money...to the government, with no house to show at the end of it. A combined decade long problem that I would never be able to ignore, a problem we'd never be able to absolve through bankruptcy.

Despite so much love for one another, I admit to having to my own thoughts of quitting and leaving, and he to admits to his own understanding if I did. The words that haunt me the most, "I'll never be able do this all alone." The tears well up in my eyes remembering his plea during one of our emotional conversations about how bad the situation was for him, and now for me, and soon, for our little daughter as well.

Many American women dream of getting married and becoming pregnant and making plans to care for their baby and enjoying their maternity leave while their dear husbands plan to provide while wife-y carries the baby for nine months and sacrifices time from her career in order to care for their growing brood. Perhaps that's an elitist American ideal, but in my case, there were pangs of initial regret to learn of all this debt information, which I even tried to "pre-screen" before we were married, and to realize that financially speaking, my husband had been losing money for many months and barely able to keep up with his existing payments and lifestyle. I did my due diligence, but when someone is lying to themselves, it's difficult to be honest even to the ones they love the most. My husband had had his head in the sand ignoring his money problems for many years.

Our tiny 500 square foot, one bedroom rental apartment, felt even smaller during those first few months of pregnancy alongside one another as newly weds as we faced one new debt surprise after another still lying ahead of us like little emotional land-mines.

And so I leave you with this and as "God" says in the underrated comedy Evan Almighty from 2007:

"If someone prays for patience, do you think God gives them patience? Or does he give them the opportunity to be patient? If they pray for courage, does God give them courage, or does he give them opportunities to be courageous?"

For the past four years of my life, I have prayed to become a financial planner, and over the next few months, I will chronicle how life actually turned me into one.

Comment

Comment

Under Pressure - Results be Damned

Sitting there, kidnapped by a Senegalese taxi cab driver in his taxi being driven God knows where, I somehow had the right words spew from my mouth in a mixture of Wolof (the local language) and French. My friends had already had a chance to roll out of the taxi already, but I was the last one in with no safe way out before he sped off and began to threaten me.

I've always worked with numbers in one way or the other. My first official job was working as a cashier at a sporting goods store. I had sloppy long hair, overalls with frayed back heels that I walked on from their slightly over-sized fit, and a Union Bay striped baby tee-shirt which fit snuggly. My school mate who was able to help me get the interview for the job, just kind of "tsk-tsk-ed" me at my somewhat sloppy appearance when I showed up after school for the interview, but thankfully the manager, who happened to be a lesbian, which hopefully doesn't matter in this case, but either way, she was willing to take a chance on me and hire me--sloppy appearance and all. I was 15 and had only babysit for about four years professionally at this point, needless to say, I was so happy to have gotten that job. Freedom, independence, new friends, and a paycheck at $7.10 per hour, sweet!

All cash registers at this sporting goods store were controlled with software. So the minute you signed in with your employee code, and when you signed back in after each break, and when you logged off at the end of your shift. In my first impromptu meeting with my hiring manager, now my official manager, as it would turn out, I had a 72% accuracy rate. I was told that below average was at 92%. Effectively, I was in tandem losing the company money while simultaneously giving out incorrect amounts of change back to customers maybe in their favor, maybe not--completely unintentionally, merely carelessly. I remember that hot, hot feeling on my face, the intense heat, the deep pit throbbing in my stomach, and the embarrassment coursing through my veins while I heard the news. Truth be told, I was in Algebra II/Trigonometry, I knew math, but I was certainly making an abundance of careless mistakes.

I walked to the bus stop that day after work, only three weeks in, quite sullen, thinking, wow, this is really really bad. Could I possibly be the world's worst cashier in the history of cashiers? I remember asking point blank, "How do I get better?" My manager told me to watch 1-3 of the other cashiers. She pointed out that they all typically scored in the 99-100% accuracy rating. After I beat myself up a bit and probably listened to some Sublime really loud in my room at home that night and wrote in my diary self-defeating reflections, I was fired up for the next day. I studied those other guys, I asked questions, I slowed down my pace, and I kept my friendly, calm, and helpful attitude towards all of our customers.

This isn't a piece about how to get better at your job, but more so a piece about how to know the right things to say at the right moment.

I remember knowing in that moment to tell the taxi cab driver, who when I all of sudden slowed down and noticed might have been younger than my 19 year old self, and said, "Do you believe in god?" He was furious with really intense eyes that interacted with my eyes through the rear view mirror when he looked up at me from the road. I told him to look at me directly. I somehow knew to say, "Only you will answer to your God, or whatever you believe in, for what happened here today, please let me go."

And with that, a mile away from my original destination, he stopped long enough for me to hastily get out and walk back to my school where I was studying abroad. For the record, I always felt safer those six months traveling through West Africa than I have ever felt anywhere in the US. In spite of this one occasion, which turned out fine, and it turned out to be a misunderstanding and disagreement about the transaction which amounted to about 500 CFA difference, or the equivalent to $1 USD at the time, but those numbers didn't pop into my head, I was a broke student.

I never call myself a "numbers gal" or a "quant", because numbers aren't my passion necessarily. I was anecdotally always superb in my math courses. What really mattered about numbers, was context. 72% is a decent grade, except as a cashier, where 100% the follow week and every week thereafter resulted in my very first raise at size months which was six months earlier than a typical raise annual raise. I got the new nickname from the store banker "OTP" which stood for "On The Penny". That mattered to me. I somehow knew under pressure, there right questions to ask in the face of numeric adversity.

And that $1 USD/500 CFA, which in the scope of things could have kept me safer by handing over to the taxi cab driver, but within the context of being irrationally trapped in a high speed moving vehicle against your will, made me question if any amount of money was going to help me in this moment. My locally raised Senegalese professor confirmed that I did the right thing, and I said the right words. I didn't condemn him, I used my apparent seniority in age to offer him the chance to rethink his own decision. I can't guarantee any of this will work for you, but it's what worked for me, only on this one occasion.

I somehow always know the right context under extreme pressure in life. I'm not a numbers gal, although I love numbers, what fascinates me, is the context and the story line of numbers. I knew what to say to the taxi man, and I knew what to ask of my first manager. This "knowing" interestingly enough, came from periods of intensity, under pressure, when the world seemed to slow down, and the answers came to me at the right time, and in the right moment.

Comment

Comment

Zen and the art of workplace contentment

I've worked at more companies than I can count on fingers and toes. What started as "my career" quickly evolved into more of a buffet meal rather than a prix fixe. To say that I've overlapped projects, contracting, part-timed it, and worked full time bouncing around like a ill-volleyed ping pong ball is an understatement.

I am largely, unemployable, while concurrently employed.

Many older career books and about 75% of the parents of my generation of friends whom I speak with often advise me with a "tisk-tisk" whenever I feel that rumble of complacency sink in. In the past, I've literally felt nauseous looking at pay stubs knowing how a frustrated "past me," tear-streaked-faced-my-way into a promotion at my one and only corporate job--more than once. I complained, problems weren't addressed, and problems got worse, and I then I get promoted? There is no mentor or career book that can equip you with the right advice at this point. It shouldn't work like that...should it? Those who co-create the solutions with calm and ease should get the promotion and raises right? I'm not ego-driven, but I can tell you, my soul felt bruised, and all of the color dropped away from my days.

"It's the way work is, that's why it's called work!"

"You should be counting your lucky stars that you have a job in this economy!"

Admonished, for feeling malaise, soul-crushing boredom, and disrespect from people I mutually respect and treat well. And yet, a constant feedback loop of SMART goals and reviews that never came back with anything less than "a very positive team player." Something didn't add up. Why did it feel so grossly wrong in the pit of my stomach each morning if I'm doing everything that I'm told to do to be "successful" and climb that corporate ladder and actually "succeeding"?

Why the hell can't I stay in one work place for longer than a year without this "yuck" sinking into my arteries, clogging every happy bone in my body?! AHHHHHHHHHHHHH!

Now I know, that it doesn't have to be this way, and I will explain if requested a bit about my background and story and the types of conversations I have to battle the toughest of workplace conflict and problems. I'll talk about how my two male managers made me learn how to compromise and play nice with the office B**** even though I was scared poop-less to do so after she reamed me via email. I'll talk about finding compromise with a team spreadout across the country involving egotistical sales people fearing firing and engineers with what some would call socially-challenged nuances* (*my words, but not sentiment--I love engineers, end of story--all of them).

I've come to realize that, I'm an entrepreneur. Not because i chose it, but because it chose me. Most employees are happy to show up earlier a few days a week when review time comes up, they stock pile their vacation, too afraid to leave their positions exposed, and they fondly reflect on their paid health benefits and paychecks clearing their banks twice each month or so. Most successful employees: they don't care. Most people don't care like I care. Most people don't take it personally and pick up extra roles and hats to "make something profitable," but I do. And as of yet, no meditation in the world has led me to the "off-switch" yet.

Most employed people don't care like I do, and if they do, boy do they hide it well. I know the steep decline of revenue numbers faster than the CEO in some cases. I know when a new manager is going to usurp newly opened "job recs" with their favorite team members from their previous jobs. I know when someone is talking shit behind my back about my work style, ethic, or product. I've even picked up when people actually go and take a...number two in the shared office bathroom. And yet, I also know that my numbers, go up--my work translates into revenue and profit for the companies I work for every year. And I consistently receive "she has an incredibly positive attitude and is easy to work with" on countless reviews. It sure does feel awful in my stomach to be this damn positive all the time.

So what gives? Well, before I go deeper into any one particular story or the other, I'd like to first offer a collection of tips to provide solace if you too, find the common American office-place to be someone, less ideal than you ever imagined. If your work-soul needs a hug, read on.

A guide for ambitious women:

What helps me succeed at work when I feel like I don't know what I'm doing

1. Think before you send

Draft it, bitch about it to your girlfriends, complain about it to your partner, talk to your manager if you trust them enough, shoot, even script out your in-person confrontational response in your journal. But don't you dare, ever, and I mean never, send that email while you're experiencing an intensely negative emotion. Email as a whole, is an inefficient tool for communication. It is not a way to express yourself. Email is for follow up, keeping a record of communication, and a helpful project management tool, but don't ever use it as a means to express how you feel. Ever.

2. , Bitching someone out can always wait until tomorrow

Go to bed. No seriously, create an outlook appointment reminder to "worry about so-and-so at 3pm tomorrow" or to "bitch so-and-so out at 2pm tomorrow", but do not choose to bitch someone out while you're feeling the emotions rise. Take a personal day off, call in sick, work from home, or just take a nap for 20 minutes in your car (roll your windows down though!). I've only ever bitched out two people to their face at work. One guy and one gal. Also, the guy, it wasn't even about work, it was about sports tickets he stiffed me on and didn't answer my phone calls about when challenged. It makes you look bad and well, logically, any of us can be argued to seem "right" or "wrong", but when you bitch someone out, you just look like a loser. That doesn't mean stifle your feelings, just deal with the emotions first, then handle your confrontation strategy, or just decide to forgive and move on. This originally is advice via Ben Casnocha via his writing about Warren Buffet.

3. Fearlessly defend anyone who reports directly into you

Change the subject when someone expresses an ill opinion of your intern. Deflect the conversation when your junior associate is being discussed around you. Highlight all of the awesome, and most challenging items your recruits work on, all the time, often, to every higher up imaginable. This is what creates trust and happy employees. If I hired them, or if I inherited them, they...are...MINE! They are my troops, and if they fail, I've failed. If they are happy, and we're all meeting our numbers, then they get all of the credit, each and every time. I don't care if it makes me look weak to my higher up, and I don't care that men don't give credit to "the team" more often and women often don't "take enough credit for themselves, while deflect credit to the team." I'm nothing without my recruits, I have no job if I have no interns. No troops, no war.

4. Encourage feedback regularly, and take some of it to heart

If I'm not authentically admitting my weaknesses (Interviewer: "what's your greatest weakness?" Interviewee: "I sometimes care too much. Profitability really matters to me, and sometimes it's hard for me to turn that off."). No. No, no, no, I will no longer diplomatically express my strengths into "false weaknesses" that are actually hugely desirable nuggets the hiring middle-management folks droll over. I admit it now.

Correct response: "As you can see my resume is quite the cornucopia of experiences, places, and environments. I'm adaptable with proven results to show for that, on the other hand, take a look at how much time I've spent at each place of employment. I think it's best, if you find there is a fit between me and the role that you're looking to hire, that we consider taking it one six month period at a time with specific, meaningful projects and objectives to achieve within each time-frame. I've noticed that you're interested in user acquisition, let's discuss a ten hour project we work on first to determine the scope and objectives on increasing user engagement and then evaluate how comfortable you feel moving forward."

It takes balls, lady-balls, and hutzpah to communicate like this and you know what? My managers feel good about giving me feedback as a result. We lay the groundwork out, and can assess weaknesses, and we design the project nimbl-y enough to manage weaknesses. My real weakness is that, I get bored, and I get nervous to admit it to management. Sometimes it's nice when it's a boring week at work and you leave early two days a week. But if you feel like you have no impact, and you can't advance, I'd rather complete my work in two hours and head to the beach for the rest of the day. Or rather, start another project for pay elsewhere.

That being said, I make it a rule to leave organizations where one person's opinion of me matters more than my single, one, direct manager's opinion matters of me. That to me is toxic, thinly veiled workplace bullying, and a sign of a serious need for management training and improvement.

5. Always change your energy first, then act

If you sit all day, go for a walk. It'll be hard to motivate, but the rewards are palpable. If you run around all day, take a nap, also strange, and guiltily delicious. If you are emotionally charged, you must make it your responsibility to improve your energy before entering into conflict. If you must act, to respond to pressing client demands, you must practice improving your energy every opportunity you get, and offer a "wrap-up" discussion to assess previous situations where you've "acted out." Acting out can include, purposely avoiding important phone calls, blaming and naming and shaming in email (in bold, red font), talking or gossiping behind someone's back, and so on. Are you hungry? Then eat a healthy snack if you regularly skip meals, sleep, walk, read a magazine in your car. You must improve your energy to believe your own prescription and evaluation of events.

6. We can't control Karma, whether it exists or not

Sometimes bad things happen to good people, often in fact. Sometimes bad people have nothing but good in their lives, and they, as evil people, live happily ever after. If you believe in Karma, know that your actions cannot translate into karmic retribution for past wrongs. Karma only exists in retrospect, we can't plan it, if it exists at all. Life just isn't fair sometimes, sometimes "bad people" never "get theirs." And that's OK actually. There is a very wonderful saying I like to remember: "When you get in the mud with a pig, you get dirty, and the pig gets happy." When you try to "play games" with bad people, they enjoy the challenge and interaction, and you just end up looking dirty and foolish. Keep to high level, factual, and minimal communications, change teams, change jobs, but know you cannot escape evil, toxic people entirely, but you sure can make every attempt to do so.It's much better than revenge.

I once "slipped" into one presentation, for a client that a chronic-last-minute-lucy sales rep requested from me for a convention center, mock ups that included a lesbian event company as a possible audience target. While I know I was right, this was a potentially excellent target market, I purposely put in this non-neutral mock to act as my signature that I was angry that I was asked at the last minute to complete this task when the "false emergency and late night" could have been avoided. But you know what? I ended up updating and re-doing the whole document early the next morning after an angry and direct phone call with the sales rep, and no one got "in trouble." Ultimately,  I cared too much about the deal to sabotage it, and I learned that...revenge never feels as satisfying two steps removed from the event itself.

7. You may sense your more intelligent than someone else

Smart women are not praised in the American culture or workplace. Please send me examples if you find otherwise. As a smart, capable woman, you will find that, not everyone is honest with how they have found themselves in a role as your manager, or a client may not be aware that you genuinely have their best interests in mind for their profit margins with your suggestions. You may wish to take many approaches, but I will say that, I've relied many times in my life to the act of "playing less than." It works, I wouldn't have tried to "act dumber than I was" if it didn't work. It's less threatening to those around us when we keep our challenging, yet good, smart suggestions to ourselves.

Better still is to choose to be the smart, talented, and ambitious woman that you are and take life as it comes for offering your brilliant solutions. Be sure to always give credit to whomever you report into if it works out. Also, the art of "planting the seed" of brilliant ideas, cannot be dismissed in this conversation either. It's ok to choose not to get credit, so long as that is your choice. It's ok to defer acknowledgement, if it's for a greater good. Don't get used to playing dumb. Period. Take the risk to experiment what it's like to have your ideas taken or ridiculed. Do this, so you learn the dance of planting seeds and watching some of them bloom. Be patient with those less intelligent than you, they have gifts they can offer, find those gifts. Unwrap each person's gifts.

8. Acknowledge that few rich people are happy people

What is rich? This question created the personal financial book market for centuries. A rich life, has something to do with money, but more money rarely fixes money problems. Look at rich people, do they look happy? If a rich person disrespects you, can you imagine that that person is genuinely happy? I mean all the money in the world, and they have to take their vitriol out on their two second interaction with you today? Because money only enhances: enhances the good behaviors and enhances the bad behaviors. It's the reason why so many lottery winners and celebrities declare bankruptcy time and time again. Bankruptcy certainly does not make us "happy," rich and poor alike.

So now that we know money won't solve all of our problems and make us happy, what will solve our problems and make us happy? You have to first understand that only you can solve your own problems. Sure others can help, but it has to come from you and you first.

9. How to get rich: Dream, Data, Decide

So you to get rich, get a better job, stop your endless shopping sprees, or at least not go into debt over them huh? Well, take a moment, schedule it in to do one.

Dream.

You have to dream, you have to have a good energetic vibe to dream. Hate your job? Take a day, an hour, or a minute, to dream about what your perfect job will look like.

Data

Then start tracking, maybe it's just green smilie faces each day your enjoy your job "overall", this isn't scientific, but mark the days you feel "good" at the end of the day. Also, mark with a red frownie face days you feel lethargic, angry, or upset about your work. Over time, tally your percentage of happy days against your percentage of sad days. Start to see if there are any trends or interactions that keep coming up which result in a "red frown face day." Start to tackle those trends and interactions with any books or internet research and practice on your friends your scripts for how you will request change and act differently than you already have. Get your green smile face percentage up, or....

Decide

Then decide, do you stay with a 20% happy face rate? Or do you leave? You've complained, you've tracked the data, you experimented with different approaches, now you must decide. Each time you decide, you get better at this process, and rich people are rich by the decisions they make over time. There are only "rags to riches stories" because it's hard to ever pinpoint a "rags to riches moment." It's a subtle process that starts with a dream, some data to compare the "now" versus the dream, and then a decision.

10. The other "D's"

The only other options you have in life, rich or poor, are the other two "D's". You can't "unknow" the Dream, Data, Decide cycle now that I've outlined it here and you've read this far. You can't erase your knowledge of this infinite cycle. You, from here on forth, have only two options outside of Dream, Data, Decide:

Disaster or Die

If you cease to Dream and do something about it, you either wait for Disaster to come along and help with change, or you Die. Neither have to happen instantaneously, but will happen over time. It's the reason why my Dad, diagnosed with Type II diabetes, is now struggling to get in shape and change his diet. "Sugar, it's been a good run," I told him when he confessed his recent diagnosis. We all knew. We knew his diet was poor and his physical activity as a software product management savant that sitting all day and eating poorly could only last so long. His diagnosis was his "Disaster." Disasters force change upon us, willing or not.

And if you're not willing? That's the final D.

I think we can all agree, that Dreaming is a great place to start from here.

Conclusion:

A client of mine recently took my team out for Burgers and wine in exotic car storage warehouse the other day. It reminded me of the last time this married 40 year old came into our office with his 17-year-old intern to drop off the check he owed us. We were forced to give her life advice since, it seemed that she might need it given her current employer. We thought to tell her all about HR policies and dealing with life as it comes as she prepares to go off to college in the fall. To which our client ended the conversation with this brilliant statement:

"Remember the Iditarod. In the Iditarod, all of the dogs in the famous race have the same view. Except for the lead dog. The leader of the pack is the only one who sees the oncoming scenery change, and all the others, are just staring at other assholes."

You have to choose to be different, choose to be you.

 

Comment

Comment

Bag Lady Syndrome

Living in a van down by the river, ending up broke, old, and alone, living beyond any reasonable means of savings--all these and more a symptoms of the Bag Lady syndrome.

You ever get that feeling, before spending any money that, "no wait, I shouldn't." And then you feel bad you even wanted to spend the money, because you should be saving the money--so you don't end up a single old lady eating cat food? Or maybe you spend the money, but never feel true "value" from your purchase, maybe you binge shop as a result of the initial guilt of even wanting to spend and enjoy your money.

The guilt can be so distracting that you buy stuff to feel better, resulting in many consequences like a closet full of clothes with tags on them, never warn, and frankly, not enjoyed.

Then the next round of pangs of guilt come in "spring cleaning" - oy! - all these clothes I never wore, all this money I spent, and I knew I shouldn't have spent it!

These are classic signs of bag lady syndrome. Research indicates that children who grew up during the Great Depression tended to exhibit extremely frugal behaviors throughout the rest of their lives, even despite many positive economic indicators which would allow them to "loosen up."

But that fear, whether systemic from exposure to "hard times" as a child, or growing up in poverty in general, or just maybe the endemic nature of feeling the pressure to have to "accept one's circumstances as a woman" who must provide for herself in a country where her worth is 70% that of a man's in terms of salary despite on average living longer, being divorced more often, and having the added responsibility of being awarded full custody and care of dependents.

So it makes sense, it makes sense that we women, and some men too, would fall victim to this mentality. And whether you express your fear as an outright resistance effort never spending money or are so wracked with guilt of being unaware of our actual financial needs that we end up adopting a short-term "#yolo" lifestyle, only to find ourselves increasingly in piles of consumer debt and shopping binges for items we don't love, don't need, and which make us feel worse for even owning.

I know because I've been there. I've gotten mad at romantic partners for even suggesting to spend money on...anything, like dinners out. I've also been in denial quickly tossing receipts after shopping trips for new clothes just purchased as my two full hampers sat laundered in my closet.

But there is a better way. It starts with awareness, and truly wanting a different way to approach finances, fear, and this particular part of your life. The solution is found in the creative ways you can approach the "problem" in the first place. The reality is, that most people who suffer from the bag lady syndrome earn an income, and most likely, will not be in dire straights financially. However, the point is, us bag ladies, we just "don't know what we don't know"!

Because we feel like we don't know an alternative, we don't seek out a better way. But there is a better way. It starts by honestly and gently considering the solutions available if you didn't have any access to money. And from there, continue to count your blessings:

1. Thank goodness for my friends, I can ask my friends for help

2. Thank goodness for my car, I could live in my car

3. Thank goodness I'm good at bookkeeping, I could offer my services on craigslist

4. Thank goodness my church helps those in need, I can try that out as an option

Or maybe...maybe we never end up broke or "impoverished"? What would that look like, and how would we get there. It starts by thinking about creative solutions to our lives today. If we approach our life today with creativity and solution-based thinking to our fears, then there is nothing to tell us that that same mindset will also provide us the foundation to seek care and comfort during our twilight years.

Comment

Comment

My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock

In this post, we're reviewing the book My Year with Eleanor by Noelle Hancock.

In this 295 page memoir, a savvy New Yorker autobiographically presents her journey of a year of fear. Her year of fear is a year in which she loses her job and finds her mission in life all by confronting one fear each day for 365 days.

In a year as accounted by Ms. Hancock, you'll be with her, side by side, as she depletes her entire savings account and follows the life and advice of the Ms. Eleanor Roosevelt herself from her books and interviews along with a present day therapist guide, compassionate boy-friend, and a troupe of sassy New Yorkers to help her along her journey.

From Aruba to Arusha, you'll learn that this at times vapid yet hilarious writer encounters truly scary tasks from confronting all of her fears. From the fear of heights, fear of small aircrafts, fear of death, and fear of being alone, no fear is left untackled! Noelle covers plenty more fears as well, but these were most top of mind for this reader. Her journey, while somewhat simple and pedestrian, was a wonderfully light read that I indulged in each night before bed. This piece also encouraged me to personally tackle my own fears as I would reflect, "if she can do it, and I have come to admire Ms. Roosevelt, then I can face my fears too."

I admit that overall, I enjoyed the gutsy attitudes and "fake it 'til you make it" adages Noelle, through her study of Eleanor, lived, embodied, and continue to push all admirers and readers to do the same.

Learning about Eleanor Roosevelt's life through brief passages which served as interludes and segways within Noelle's journey also had me gnawing through page-by-page for more of her life. Roosevelt turns out to have been quite the audacious, gutsy lady herself and I am looking forward to finding and reading about her life more exhaustively.

What it's like in a small airplane and death when you're scared of both? These two passages in particular, as an avid small aircraft enthusiast, had me rolling with laughter as I reread passages, which perfectly depicted real life on a small aircraft for the novice, that I shared with my boyfriend who also found such passages amusing too.

This is a really fun book that dips into some deeper topics. What you may find to be most surprising is that Hancock's writing style actually made me laugh at loud, which seems to be rare given my more serious selections of non-fiction I've been making as of late spanning podcasts, audiobooks, and real books.

Will this book change your life? Probably not, but you made find it refreshing to read this piece of non-fiction that is written to make you laugh and introduce you to an incredible woman in history: Eleanor Roosevelt.

My Year with Eleanor: A Memoir
$9.68
By Noelle Hancock

Comment

Comment

How to make people care about your bright ideas.

Another meeting and another chance for me to listen to guy co-worker (or gal): "I have this great idea, why don't we..."

Wait...no, actually, DON'T be a control freak. Or do...Who knows :).

Wait...no, actually, DON'T be a control freak. Or do...Who knows :).

UGH!

That was MY idea.

How dare he or she steal it! We were JUST talking about that idea in the break room.

But he or she spoke up and vocalized the idea to the team and I didn't.

I remember this happening to me on many occasions from as early as high school up to present day throughout my startup jobs and corporate job.

On the one hand, ideas are like flowing bodies of water, and that there is always more where that came from.

On the other hand, someone who didn't have the creativity to put that idea together is getting credit and acclaim for it.

In high school, I was assigned to a group project in Advanced Standing English class. We were studying a book; I don't remember the book. It turns out to have been one of the first groups I was assigned to without a natural "leader." All other groups I had been assigned to, naturally had a leader rise up and assign out work, and everyone would simply show up with their assignment mostly-ready. Among the five parts of the project, one of pieces of work included writing a Socratic dialogue between two of the characters of the book.

The night before the project was due, I had to, meet with as many members as possible, assign out work, finish up loose ends, and then, making the very "leader-ly" decision to say to the group when our meeting time was up, "and I guess I'll write the Socratic Dialogue portion." After driving the last classmate in my group home, over a half an hour away from school, and another half an hour away from my home, I wrote the piece.

The next day, we presented our project and turned in our work. The teacher, who had never really noticed me and had nothing but average grades and comments to give me on my work exclaimed, "and WHO on the team wrote the Socratic dialogue? It completely captured the concept elegantly between the characters in the book!" Silence.

Finally, I raised my hand, "Oh, um, I did" at the same time my classmates pointed to me and said, "Liz did." My shyness or lack of pride, must have set her off a bit, in fact, I feared that maybe I had misunderstood the entire assignment at that point. She quickly remarked, "Oh? You did?" as she raised her eyebrows which intuitively made me believe that she was hiding an opinion that probably wasn't very constructive. See, even as a high schooler, a 16 year old teenager, I could read her like a book. She was saying one thing, but her body was telling me, "seriously? But I never thought that you wrote very well. This seems like work of a much higher caliber than you are capable of." Ultimately her body language was telling me her truth, that she didn't think that I was a good student, and that I didn't write very well.

Which may have been entirely true. But under the anonymous guise of a group project, where my name was lost and never included in the details, I produced a wonderful piece of work, under pressure, with ease. I suspected it was good when I printed it out that night I wrote it. It flowed from me beautifully, and I remember seeing the two characters talking write in front of me as I listened and wrote down what they said at the computer. It sounds like fantasy, and it probably was more of my creativity being expressed as a day-dream, but indeed, I saw these two characters speaking to each other as I wrote the piece. It was a beautiful lesson for me to learn and look back on. When the pressure was about producing quality work, and when I could create anonymously, and then see the impact of that work anonymously, I generally produced greater, more creative work.

And then years later, after watching only one or two excellent leaders "build consensus," I learned that: true "smarts" is realizing that you have the power to formulate beautiful ideas, solutions, and quality work, but a real leader knows how to socialize those ideas and solutions so that it appears to be everybody's good idea, a vision to stand behind.

But how do I get "credit"? How do I get "promoted" for my good ideas?

Well, in a word or two: you don't.

You get credit and promoted based on how well you respond to other people's demands on you and how well life has set you up to play the various games in jobs being played around you.

Now, that being said, there will be environments and jobs where you will be promoted because, it's a game you enjoy playing, it's a team you enjoy serving.

But if you don't care to play the game, at a job you only partially like, but you STILL have brilliant ideas? The best way, rather than unofficially "socialize" your ideas to others, is to make a plan of action to build consensus, and offer your ideas to the team as an exercise in building consensus.

What this means is that, you state the "problem" you'd like to solve to your management. You decide who needs to be apart of the solution, and then you schedule time in meetings and powerpoint decks to brainstorm and decide how to solve that problem. What's great about this idea is, other people, when they trust you, will want to offer their brilliant ideas too. Then your ideas can meld, mold, and shape a grander idea to benefit the company you work for.

What's the advantage? It makes work more interesting if you're somewhat disengaged. It's also great practice for what great leaders already do, they may have good ideas, but they know how to get the best ideas from a group of idea-makers. It'll make you more valuable in any job. It'll allow you to build on more of your work relationships with others.

The best piece of advice I learned from observing smart, excellent leaders? Your ideas ARE NOT YOU. They come from you, but we all have the capacity to create beautiful solutions if provoked. So seek to provoke your team to produce the best, creative ideas and solutions. Choose to remove your ego from the best solution. It isn't that your smart and therefore that you have brilliant ideas that everyone should jump on to execute. The best solutions are the solutions that have consensus built behind them and that are actually executed on.

This just happens to be a mindset that worked for me and lead to my piece on How to Build Consensus last week. However, I can only share what has worked for me.

Have other ways to make people care about your bright ideas? Share them with us in the comments below.

Comment

Comment

The Winning Recipe to Build Consensus on a Team

Being rich, wealthy, successful, healthy, and having it all is going to require other people. But what happens when all the folks who need to get along, can't get along? Consider the following corporate setting below in which the team must decide between three options offered by three opinionated, smart co-workers. How would you proceed?

Ok, ok, that's ONE way to build consensus, but read below for the alcohol-free version of this recipe!

Ok, ok, that's ONE way to build consensus, but read below for the alcohol-free version of this recipe!

Executive: "I see no other option, we need to go forward with THIS plan A!"

Manager: "We really need to move forward with plan C."

Individual Contributor: "Option B is what makes the most sense, option A frankly, sucks."

So what is it? A, B, or C?

Maybe one of those, none of those, a combination of those, an idea not yet mentioned/discovered/thought of, or a case of a deadline which needs to be pushed out!

If you decide which option to go with in isolation, you will piss somebody off, and you won't have all the information necessary to go forward efficiently. The wrong idea will waste time and money. But by building consensus, getting everyone on board with a common idea, leverages the combined intelligence of the team and then everyone can be equally attached to the success or failure (read: learning experience) of the decision. This great because this experience teaches teams how to make better decisions moving forward when done repeatedly.

Back to our example, a team must consider all three of the inputs, and choose the best to move forward. But how?

Start with pre-planning, set your ego aside and detach yourself from any option you "like" best, and decide to get all three co-workers together in the same room* (*this could be a virtual room as well) to collectively decide which option everyone agrees with as the go-forward option.

Consensus building is difficult, and if you're working for the government or a large corporation, you'll quickly find that it can be just as powerful to build consensus as it is to be "creative" with your "own contributions." Once you've practiced and perfected the art of consensus building, you will more easily leverage the expertise and intelligence of an entire team rather than re-inventing the wheel or carrying a much-too-heavy burden on your own shoulders.

Begin building consensus today by using these five easy ways of building consensus and prepare you and your team to toot your own horns for getting everyone to agree!

Step 1. Schedule the meeting one day or more before the deadline

Invite all important co-workers into the meeting. Take care of all coffee, bio-breaking, double check that all technology works, and that conference lines are clear. Technical difficulties or logistical problems are extremely distracting and time consuming.

Step 2. Collect your ingredients

Prior to the meeting, in poster boards or a powerpoint presentation, quickly outline the following: objective (what does "done" mean in three bullet points), deadline, timelines, and outline all of the options, featuring one board or powerpoint slide for each option A, B, and C. Extra points for more images, and less text. Mastery level: less text is more magic; large fonts are more courteous.

Step 2b. Pizza pie in the sky time!

Now, set time in your calendar for an hour to really consider the provided options. Was any other option not considered? What, if any, are options which are too "outlandish or political to mention, but should be mentioned because it meets the objective and deadline? You're never limited to just one, two, or three options in most cases. Consider this part of the process as though you're building your own pizza! On top of your doughy foundation, add on toppings featuring a little bit of one option and a little or a lot of other options and leave off what doesn't taste good. In this case, we'll call your pizza "Option D," and include it as a planted slide at the end of your materials. Option D will be an excellent "jumping off point" in your meeting to make your team think more creatively to arrive at an Option everyone agrees on.

Step 3. T-1

A day before your meeting, send an update with your agenda included, powerpoint/materials attached, and ask for feedback prior (like this: specifically ask for what you want to have happen: a. please review all materials, b. do I have the options listed correctly, let me know where to omit/edit/add, c. looking forward to having you all on the call tomorrow). This creates urgency, authority, and keeps everyone on the same page, which means essentially, no secrets, no politics, and a tremendous amount of focus which ends up using time more efficiently.

Step 3b. Rinse and Repeat

Repeat Step 3 as you receive feedback. Mention that you've received additional feedback and that you have provided the updated materials accordingly. This reinforces that you validate the contributions and thoughts of each of your co-workers. Long-term, this builds more trust in you as someone your team can rely on to share ideas with, judgement free, and that you respect their ideas enough to include them into the discussion including the most important details.

Step 4. Go-Time

Once everyone has joined the meeting, welcome everyone and remind them of your sent prep materials (by the way, assume no one looked at the materials beforehand, but don't say that, say this: "I'm sure you've all been really busy so I really appreciate the folks that took a look at the prep materials. For those who haven't yet had a chance, we'll quickly review to open up the meeting/call.") Long term, this is a subtle nudge to indicate that you mean what you say, and in future, this statement should generate more hearty responses and adherence to your instructions.

Step 4b. Addressing MIAs

When someone doesn't show up? Still work this recipe to build consensus, but plan to defend the missing party's point of view. Plan to work all five steps, but shorten the call by 50% as you'll only want to move forward with everyone in agreement. You will reschedule another call, and then repeat Steps 1-5, but open this second meeting by summarizing the first call, and making this second meeting up to 50% shorter as well.

Step 5. Final Countdown

Review the powerpoint slides with the team starting with the Objective, Deadlines, and Timelines. Real-time, on the call, update this shared slide presentation with any new edits or information. Mark down any other folks you need to verify these updates with. Make sure everyone decides on one option. Build this new option, in this case, Option E, on a blank powerpoint slide or poster chart page during the live discussion by copy/pasting, or drawing. Continually ask clarifying questions to each team mate by asking, "Did you see what I added on the screen? I took what you said to mean x, y, and z. From what you see, do I have the right?" Keep pushing the team to consider what hasn't been said yet, if there is anything we can add that we're politically too scared to add, but should, or if anything else is missing.

At the end of the call: Here is your exact script:

By the end of the call, you should have drawn out a good idea of a fully agreed upon single plan. Confirm this with the team by stating the following: "Team, we've decided on this option from a host of excellent suggestions. This is the best go-forward plan because it considers all stakeholders and viewpoints, meets the business objectives, and the deadline. Executive, do you agree?" Make sure the executive says yes on the call, and continue down the line of meeting attendees until everyone says yes on the call.

It obviously won't always work out perfectly as you're learning, but what I've noticed is that...busy people say often "yes" too frequently, while others automatically will say "no" which in many cases they don't have the authority to say "no" or flat out shouldn't say "no," and almost always the busiest people require someone to keep them on track to make a decision in a timely fashion to meet business objectives.

In time by following this recipe you will find that:

1. Keeping records in various powerpoint drafts to access later and cover any discrepancies (save with dates in the titles of the document) makes information easy to access as the same types of questions will arise throughout the process.

2. Keeping records in Outlook or a mail/calendar program of all agendas and notes keeps everyone honest and ensures that all of the important details are included.

3. In order to keep the team focused before and after the decision is made, utilizing in-person and/or virtual tools creates a "single source of truth" (the powerpoint and the email reply-alls) which establishes a single plan that is agreed upon, saved, and easy to reference.

What are your top two tips to build consensus in groups? Tell us below in the comments section and be sure to subscribe to GetHotAgain for more tips winning recipes for success!

Comment