Tuesday, April 29, 2008

How do you handle your money and credit?
You have to see bad habits to break them
Stress for Success
April 29, 2009

Many Americans are losing sleep these days as they struggle to keep themselves financially afloat.

A major cause of financial anxiety is giving into Madison Avenue’s relentless enticement to spend, spend, spend. This may be great for the economy but it’s lousy for some peoples’ financial viability.

If you tend to overspend, see if any of the following five spending habits identified by LaToya Irby (http://credit.about.com/mbiopage.htm ) are leading you to burdensome debt.

Habit #1: spending more money than you make. To subsidize this habit you dip into savings, get a home equity loan, or make minimum payments on credit cards. These choices may get you through a brief downturn after which you can recover. However if this is an ongoing pattern you’ll dig a deeper and deeper debt hole eventually leaving it difficult to climb out of.
Habit #2 (which facilitates Habit #1): using credit cards for everyday purchases, something many do to earn frequent flier miles. My husband and I do this but we pay off our credit card balance every month, a good habit we’ve continued since 1986. If you don’t pay yours off every month then consider using cash only for weekly purchases like groceries and gas. It’s less convenient but safer for staying within your budget.
Habit #3: being a shopaholic. The best way to disarm this habit is to leave your credit cards at home and carry only as much cash with you as you can truthfully afford to spend. So when you lust after something that costs $200 and you only have $60 with you, to buy it you’d have to go all the way home to get your credit card then all the way back to the store to buy it, leaving you plenty of time to rethink your acquisition. Or do as a friend does. She postpones some purchase decisions until she has slept on it.

Another friend discovered that frequently she’d lose interest in a recent purchase that at the time she just had to have. She disciplined herself to buy only that for which she could pay in full without using savings. This helped her reduce impulse buying.
Habit #4: use new credit cards to pay off old ones. This just shuffles debt around and incurs more expenses each time you do it. Don’t be fooled, transferring a balance from one credit card to another invariably involves transaction fees, leaving you worse off than before you began.
Habit #5: you spend money you don’t have, which is the essence of the previous habits. The obvious solution for this, therefore for all of these habits, is to create and live by a budget that your income can handle.

Do any of these habits sound familiar? Knowing your worst spending patterns gives you a head start in changing them.

Get control of your spending before it’s too late. In my next article (in two weeks) we’ll look at budgeting and a myriad of ways to save money.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Financial stress is increasing
Stress for Success
April 22, 2008

There’s a sense of economic unease in America. Some are losing jobs and/or homes while others are tightening their belts. Over half of all workers report having money difficulties and subsequent health problems, such as depression. 2005 legislation made it more difficult to eliminate credit card debt leaving more Americans in a stressful financial corner.

There’s no doubt that financial stress can cause health problems:
§ Trouble sleeping is common and if it continues too long it depresses the immune system, increases moodiness, and negatively affects cognitive abilities.
§ A sense of helplessness increases along with rising debt, adding to your stress because you see limited options in dealing with it.
§ Cutting budgetary corners leads some to eat less healthfully or put off medical treatment.
§ High financial stress along with poor coping abilities increases the development of periodontal disease by twofold, according to a 1999 study in the Journal of Periodontology.
§ Unhealthy coping behaviors like over-drinking, smoking, and eating lead to a host of well documented physical problems.

Extra money doesn’t necessarily solve your financial concerns, make you happier nor reduce your stress. Don’t waste your energy hoping for it. Having an infusion of cash is great but the “happiness” it brings is temporary. You’d “habituate” to it, which eliminates the happiness bump. Just ask lottery winners. And, typically you’d increase spending to adjust to the extra income, possibly landing you in the same stressful boat. Instead of wishing and hoping for more money your energy is better spent more effectively managing what you have.

An important first step is to assess the severity of your financial troubles. Jeremy Vohwinkle (http://financialplan.about.com/mbiopage.htm) offers the following warning signs that you’re in over your head. You:
§ have no savings
§ make minimum credit card payments
§ continue to buy with your credit cards while trying to pay them off
§ have at least one credit card that’s near or over the credit limit
§ pay some bills late
§ don’t know how much debt you have
§ use cash advances from your credit cards to pay other bills
§ bounce checks or overdraw your bank accounts
§ have been denied credit
§ lie to friends or family about your spending and debt
Denying that you have a significant and mounting cash problem only perpetuates it and the related stress. The first step to getting out of financial difficulty is to admit that you’re experiencing it. Seek help if you cannot bail yourself out on your own. Vohwinkle recommends going to http://financialplan.about.com/od/creditdebtmanagement/qt/DebtAnonymous.htm .
Learn to be financially in charge, which increases your personal control, which automatically lowers your stress. Being in control also allows you to be more grateful for what you have vs. pining for what you don’t have, which can dramatically decrease unnecessary debt. Being in control expands your intrinsic self-worth, a much more reliable source than extrinsic self-worth, such as buying cars, homes and clothes.

Next week we’ll explore some of the habits that can back you into a financial stress corner.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Develop good friendship with yourself
Stress for Success
April 8, 2008

You’ve just met someone you want to ask out, but you immediately put on the brakes. “She’d never go out with me. I’m an idiot!”

Are you your own worst critic? If so, welcome to the human race. Shad Helmstetter, author of “What to say When You Talk to Yourself,” finds that 80% of the average person’s self-talk is negative!

Who would want a friend who talks to you like you talk to yourself? Good question.

With a derogatory self-concept, not only will you be stressed, but in the above example you probably wouldn’t act. Even if you did work up the courage to ask her out, you’d nonverbally communicate low self-esteem, making you less attractive so she’d be less interested in you, making you right - she’d never go out with you.

Over the past weeks I’ve addressed the importance of friends, who enhance your life while improving your mental and physical health. At the core of your ability to attract good friends is being a good friend to yourself.

Listen to your internal dialogue to assess if you’re a good friend to yourself or not. Do you compliment yourself when you do something well? Or, are you difficult to please? When you mess up do you forgive yourself? Or do you demand perfection and still hurl disparaging remarks your way?

Another way to tell how much you respect yourself is by your level of self-care. Do you work relentlessly with no rest? Do you feel guilty when you take care of yourself? Do you allow others calling you “selfish” keep you from nurturing yourself?

For most of us, the truth is that if you don’t take care of yourself, no one else will. So, here are some ideas to enhance your relationship with yourself:
§ Talk respectfully and honestly to yourself. This will make you more attractive to others because your enhanced self-esteem communicates through your nonverbal communication.
§ When you’ve made a mistake, instead of thinking, “I’m stupid,” say, “What I did wasn’t too bright but I’m smart and will learn from this.”
§ Turn off TV one night a week and do something that interests you. Put yourself in the company of others who enjoy the same thing. You’ll be more interested, therefore more interesting.
§ Get enough rest. The more stressed you are the more you need to take regular time, at least 15 minutes a day, to rest and recoup your energy.
§ Recognize and compliment your own productive efforts, whether or not anyone else does.
§ Show respect for your body by limiting bad habits, especially those that are unhealthy, like too much drinking, eating, etc.
§ Accept compliments from others rather than downplay your role. Say, “thank you,” while biting your tongue to keep from disparaging your contributions.

Before you can expect others to befriend you, you must be a good friend to yourself; be kind, supportive, loving, gentle, forgiving and honest. Treat yourself as you want your best friend to treat to you.

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Making friends can help reduce your stress level
Stress for Success
April 1, 2008

“In the cookies of life, friends are the chocolate chips,” says a couch pillow. Friends are what’s sweet and special in life, plus they help reduce your stress.

University of Pittsburgh stress research found that “social support reduces cardiovascular reactivity to psychological challenges.” There's something calming about having friends when you’re stressed.

Often, however, those in most need of friendship spend inordinate amounts of time in solo, passive pursuits. A survey by PA State University and University of MD found that adults who average 16 hours/week of TV were the least likely to socialize with friends, take classes or play sports.

So, instead, take a risk and try these ideas to expand your support system:
§ Don’t wait for someone else to make the first move. Initiate get-togethers with those you think you could be friends with. It won’t always pan out but when it does, it’s so worth it.
§ Follow your interests and meet like-minded people by joining groups that already appeal to you, like a college class or a political cause.
§ Be discerning about whom to befriend. Someone who’s not supportive of you causes more stress versus reduces it.
§ Accept that relationships are two-way streets. To receive unconditional love and supportive attention you must give it.
§ Don’t overwhelm someone with phone calls or invitations. Consider that if they’re not getting back to you after a few attempts it may be their way of saying they’re not interested.
§ Walk your pet, join a gym and seek out opportunities to chat with others. Don’t pressure anyone to be your friend; just let conversations evolve. If there’s potential for friendship it’ll emerge.
§ Accept others’ invitations to events even if you fear you won’t know anyone. The worst case scenario is you become bored and leave early.
§ Open yourself up to conversations. Don’t put your conversational partner through a friendship test, just enjoy talking.
§ Be visible in your neighborhood. Sit on the front porch, take walks, go to sponsored community activities; get to know your neighbors.
§ If you know you have personality traits that historically turned off friends, work to reduce them or develop a sense of humor about them. Poke fun at your own tendency to complain or to be needy.

Be sure to nurture your present relationships, too:
§ Remember your friends’ special days. Stay in touch with them through lunches, calls and emails. Show your concern and support by checking in when they’re down or ill.
§ Be a good listener, rather than talking too much, especially when you know your friend needs someone.
§ Avoid competition unless it’s the fun kind that men tend to have. Be happy for his successes versus being jealous of them.
§ Let your loved ones know that you appreciate them and what they do for you.

Friends help you get through the stressful times, they offer you a sense of belonging, of security, help you avoid loneliness, and increase your self-esteem. Along with family, what could be better?

Jacquelyn Ferguson, M. S., of InterAction Associates, is a trainer and a Stress Coach. E-mail her at www.jackieferguson.com with your questions or for information about her workshops on this and other topics and to invite her to speak to your organization.