Are You Financially Prepared for Life’s Lemons?

We’ve all experienced unexpected curveballs at some point in our lives, and realistically, we’ll probably experience many more. A lost job. A broken dishwasher. A pay cut. Medical bills. An injury that prevents you from working for several months. A leaky roof. The question is, what will you do in these situations. How will you handle them? Hopefully you’ve planned for emergencies.


 64% of Americans don’t have enough cash on-hand to handle a $1,000 emergency. This means that if a crisis strikes, big or small, and you DON’T have money put away for emergencies—you could be in for some real stress and heartache.


An “emergency fund” is an account set aside with money earmarked solely for high impact situations that could substantially affect your well being or quality of life. As a rule of thumb, a fund that contains four to six months worth of average monthly expenses (invested in safe, accessible, short-term investments) will help serve as a buffer in these unfortunate situations. During periods when the economy is weak and your job may be in jeopardy, it’s sensible to build a six to twelve-month emergency fund to give you an extra cushion. Establishing an emergency fund should be your first financial priority once you begin your career.


To determine how much you should have in your emergency fund, you should first identify what constitutes six months’ worth of expenses for you. Add up what you spend each month on normal household budget items and multiply by six. Make sure you include what you pay for your mortgage, utilities, loans, insurance, gas, groceries, and other essential expenses, allowing a small amount for incidentals and entertainment, etc. And, don’t forget those seasonal items like vacations and gifts!


Then, to avoid being tempted to spend the money you need to use to build your emergency fund, it may be helpful to set up automatic account transfers (or automatic deposits from your paycheck if your employer offers this). You’ll also need to be disciplined and NOT give into the temptation to withdraw from your emergency fund for vacations, high tech toys you think you can’t live without, or for any other non-emergency expenses or indulgences.


Ultimately, what an emergency fund buys you is peace of mind. If something comes up, you won’t have to scramble to come up with the money you need and you won’t have to turn to credit cards or other debt. It’s like having a free insurance policy when life throws you a big fat lemon!


How have you created an emergency fund? It’s never to soon or too late to start. Do you have any other tips, ideas, or experiences to share?

4 Steps for Choosing the Right College Major and Career for you

Which situation would you rather experience? Working for a company you admire, fully utilizing your skills, building life-long friendships, and having the opportunity to grow professionally, OR hating your job, spending most of your waking hours bored, frustrated, and stressed out, and working for an employer you don’t care for, where you’re not rewarded for a job well done?


Obviously the first situation is the right answer, but, unfortunately, far too many people get stuck in a job or career rut.  


Often, people end up with career misery because they don’t do their homework. Choosing your major and career should be one of the most fully researched decisions of your life, yet not everyone approaches it this way.  Doing your homework on these four steps will help you select a well-suited career.


Step 1: Conduct a comprehensive self-assessment. This involves taking an honest and objective inventory of your:

  • Interests and passions
  • Skills and aptitudes
  • Lifestyle and workplace preferences
  • Willingness and ability to obtain the necessary qualifications


Step 2:  Develop a list of potential careers that align with the above four areas. Meet with admissions counselors and professors. Attend career fairs. Review the recommendations from any aptitude tests you’ve completed. Meet with actual practitioners in each career area to gain invaluable inside scoop. Speak with others who know you best to gain their perspectives.


Step 3:  Investigate the demand outlook for the careers you’re considering. Research which careers are experiencing strong job growth and which majors will qualify you. For every major you’re considering, thoroughly evaluate the employment prospects for their respective careers. If the job outlook is weak, go elsewhere. Have frank conversations with the college Department Heads regarding the employment outcomes of recent graduates. How many found work in their field?


Step 4:  Seek out work-study, internship, and job shadowing opportunities to get a taste of what the career is like. This will provide a firsthand reality check and either confirm or reject your preliminary conclusions.


            Once you complete this four-step process, you’ll have narrowed down your major/career choices to a few finalists. Don’t be surprised, though, if your thinking changes as you take more advanced classes and learn more about that career. After all, most college students change their major at least once. I did twice!   


A great research tool is the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, which you can find at On this site you will find the descriptions for hundreds of occupations, in addition to their education and training requirements. Also listed are average earnings and future projections for growth in each profession. Need help starting to identify which jobs and careers might be a good fit for you?  Also check out this website: It’s called, “What Do You Like?” and can help you narrow down your options based on your own interests.


Parents, youth mentors, and educators: Please consider sharing this email with the career-bound students in your life. Use it as a bridge to opening conversations about life direction, career options, and preparation for life as an adult. Then feel free to share your comments and testimonials with our online community; we’d love to hear your thoughts!

My Best Tip for Meeting New People

Do you thrive on meeting new people? Or, do your palms break into sweat just by the very thought of introducing yourself to a stranger? Whether you like it, love it, or detest it, meeting new people if something we all have to do, and the more comfortable we become with it, the better.

Being skilled at getting to know new people isn’t about winning a popularity contest, being intellectual or funny, or even about being remarkably interesting.  Here’s the scoop: to be well-received (and liked) when meeting new people, your best bet is to ask questions and be a good listener. Put even simpler? Use more of your ears and less of your mouth.

My mother-in-law Lea likes to talk about the parties she attended with her rocket scientist husband, Dale. She was far less educated than her husband’s “high tech” peers. Theoretically, these should have been intimidating situations but, for Lea, they were a piece of cake. Her Dale would receive one compliment after another about his wife’s graciousness and intelligence! She was excellent at conversations, and was a joy to be around!

That’s because Lea had a secret when meeting new people. She figured she couldn’t compete with their smarts, so she listened intently and asked them lots of questions. Lea instinctively knew that if they did most of the talking (which most people like to do!) her encounters would be a success. And, that’s exactly what happened, time and again. Lea built up quite the wonderful reputation for herself.

When you meet new people (whether it’s at college, a new job, a networking event, or a party) or are in a social setting where you don’t know the others very well, take a page from Lea’s playbook. Take the pressure off yourself by letting them do most of the talking (I recommend a 40/60 rule of you/them).

This tip works especially well for those who are shy by nature and for young people who are now on their own and building their networks. Start with questions about the context of your introduction (event/person), listen intently, and show a keen interest in them with good, open ended follow up questions. Soon, they’ll be the ones asking you questions and you’re on your way!

Do you have a secret for meeting new people you’d like to share? When you’re in a social situation, do you try and ask more questions and do less talking? How has it been received? As always, please share your tips, advice, or thoughts. And feel free to share this with your friends, too!

Are You Working Too Much?

There was a time when our economy was driven by manufacturing. In fact, in the town where I grew up, my father and most of my family worked in paper mills. While my father worked very hard and his hours shifted from week to week, when his work was done, it was done. He was able to devote his free time to family and interests by not taking his work home with him.

Today’s workplace is completely different. We are now a service economy in the information age. Much of our manufacturing has shifted overseas where labor costs are lower. Consequently, our work life today is much more knowledge-based and open-ended. While this makes for a more exciting work environment, it does have its downside. We take our work home with us, and, if we’re not careful, it can easily consume our free time.

This is an especially common issue when people are in the early to middle stages of their careers. Unfortunately, it often coincides with when we get married and start a family. Right when we’re needed most as spouse and parent, we allow our careers to take precedence. This conflict is one of the main reasons for the breakdown of marriages today, and the results can be devastating to families.

Don’t get me wrong. Your career will be a key component of your life. However, more than any other aspect of your life, it has the greatest risk of taking over if you’re not careful. One of the biggest regrets people have later on in life is they worked too much and focused too little on what was truly important.  Don’t make it your regret. Choose right now to not let yourself become that guy or that girl. Always remember to stay balanced and invested in all areas of your life!

Be mindful of the fact that there are very few people (maybe none) out there who’ve said: “I wish I didn’t spend as much time with my family,” or “I wish I never took that vacation to spend quality time with my children.” I encourage you to take a mental note of your current priorities, how you spend your time, and what you think about most often. Evaluate what you focus on most. If you think things need to change, don’t be afraid to make that step!

6 Things to Talk about with Your Teen Before College

As summer draws to a close and the school year starts up again, change is in the air. Many of us have children who are about to leave our homes and head off to college or the workforce for the first time. Many people are uncomfortable with change, especially big ones like this! They don’t know how things will turn out and often expect the worst. That’s too bad—because change can be incredibly positive!

This year’s recent high school graduates are about to experience the greatest decade of change in their lives. Some of it will be voluntary and some of it not. Some of it will be clear and some of it will have highly uncertain outcomes. Some of it will be easy to handle and some will be highly stressful. It’s all part of their journey, and their journey is what will make them, THEM!

These six topics will help you open up conversations about what may be in store. Share your stories about how you faced these similar changes—warts and all. Change doesn’t seem as intimidating when someone else you know has navigated it successfully and learned important life lessons along the way.

  1. College majors and career paths. They will probably change their choice in career or major several times over, and this is NORMAL. The anxiety associated with this big decision is considerable and far too many high schoolers are placing undue pressure on themselves to know their future major/career. Let them know that it’s okay to change their mind and that you will be supportive no matter what.
  2. Future jobs. They will probably have five to seven jobs in their life. They will have to deal with new employers, new managers, new coworkers, new technology, and new locations multiple times.
  3. Moving. They’ll likely move several times, whether for long periods or for short-term assignments. The assimilation involved in each situation is significant.
  4. Dating. They’ll most likely date several different people before potentially settling down into marriage. Since there is much more at stake than during high school dating, the pressure is that much greater.
  5. Social adjustments. It is important for them to make new friends once they go off to college, but it’s also important to maintain their long-term friendships. They’ll face lots of peer pressure (and you won’t be there to coach them through it), so it’s crucial for yours to know that they should never compromise their values to fit in with a certain social group. Self confidence when meeting new people is HUGE.
  6. The academic transition. There’s no way around it—college is much harder than high school. Like with me, their Freshman year might come as a shock as they’ll have to work and study much harder than they did in high school. Help them build the disciplines necessary to succeed.

Change can seem overwhelming, especially when it comes out of the blue.. Since life is so unexpected, it’s wise to view change as a constant and become as adaptable as possible. That goes for all of us, no matter what season of life we’re in!

In the end, we all have a choice when it comes to change. We can either withdraw in fear or we can embrace it as an opportunity for growth, adventure, and preparation for even bigger things down the road. Sure, change will be unsettling at times, especially when it involves relocation and “starting from scratch.” However, there are countless examples of people who have endured enormous upheavals that proved transformational and purposeful.   So, encourage the young people in your life to be confident and courageous—and take it to heart yourself. Take change by the reins and make the most of it!

How do you react to change? Do you have a young person who is leaving your home soon? Have you talked about any of the above topics? We’d love to hear from you, so please feel free to share your own thoughts or comments!

3 Ways to Handle Unhealthy Stress

Did you know there’s good stress and bad stress? Good stress keeps you motivated and focused, enabling you to be your best self. Your first big job interview, an early flight to catch for your dream vacation, or a first date where you want to look your best are all examples of good stress. But there’s also bad stress…a loved one passing away, financial hardship, health problems, unemployment, or a bad break-up.

Admittedly, most of us don’t take the best care of ourselves when we experience bad stress. If not handled correctly, negative stress affects our appetites, sleep, work performance, relationships, and our emotional well-being. That’s why it’s essential to take care of ourselves while facing hard times and cope with our stress in healthy ways.

1. Prioritize sleep.
When we’re stressed out, it’s easy to lie awake in bed at night, anxious about what is happening or what’s to come. But when you’re sleep deprived, your metabolism slows, you become moody, and your relationships suffer. Sleep deprivation can actually impact your blood pressure and blood sugar! Therefore, it’s important to get a healthy amount of sleep. Try setting aside some time to relax before bed. Take a bath, read a good book, or drink some decaf tea before you hit the sack. Try muscle relaxation techniques to ease your tension, making it easier for your body to drift into sleep. When you’re well rested, you’ll be better prepared to handle the negative stressors in your life.

2. Exercise.
My best stress reliever is running. Not only does it relieve tension, but it gives me time to pray and think about my current situation. My best thinking comes when I run and allow my mind to roam free. That, together with the physical exertion of cardio exercise, helps restore my peace of mind and takes away my butterflies. If running isn’t for you, exercises like dancing, walking, yoga, or bicycling can have the same therapeutic effect.

3. Surround yourself with your support system.
Friends cheer us up. Friends make us laugh. Friends are a shoulder to cry on and offer perspective. Friends keep us healthy. Although it’s hard for most of us to ask for help, it is an incredible blessing to be surrounded by loved ones when you’re going through a hard time. In fact, if we don’t ask our friends for help when we need it, we’re depriving them of the opportunity to shower us with love and encouragement—something friends love to do!
You might have different stress outlets than the ones I’ve suggested. But whatever they are, remember to use them. If you’re not healthy—whether it’s emotionally, mentally, or physically—you won’t be fully equipped to deal with negative stress. If you focus on your own well being, getting through your current trial will be that much easier. These are the times to “look out for number one!”
Do you find that it’s harder to take care of yourself while going through trials? How do you deal with stress? Do you have any tips or tricks to share? We can always learn from each other!

The Benefits of Counting Your Blessings

Count your blessings. It’s a bit of a cliché phrase, but it is incredibly good advice.
While others are adding up their troubles and stressing about life situations they can’t control, you could be focusing on personal contentment and happiness by considering all the little blessings in your life.
As I think about the people I’ve known in my past, the people who have regularly counted their blessings (both big and small) seem the most content. They take nothing for granted and appreciate the simple pleasures in life. They’re marked by joyful spirits and seek opportunities to pass that joy on to others. By counting their blessings, they’re able to take major challenges in stride because they remember what they’re truly thankful for. Doesn’t that sound like someone you want to be like?
Did you know that researchers have found that there are lasting benefits from counting your blessings? A recent study asked participants to think about three blessings at the end of the day and why they thought those blessings happened. The results were astounding. By practicing what the researchers called, “The Three Blessings Exercise,” every participant experienced more positive moods and less negative emotions and depression symptoms within one week. Wow!
Not only is counting your blessings an age-old bit of wisdom, but it’s also a positive exercise backed by science. Your disposition, outlook, and ability to handle life’s disappointments will improve if you reflect on your daily blessings.
So, why not give it a try? Record your three biggest blessings each day, or, better yet,  start compiling a blessing list. Keep it handy and refer to it often!
Do you regularly count your blessings? If you do, have you noticed it having a positive impact on your life? What are you most thankful for right now? It adds a spring to our step, doesn’t it? 

The Mother of All Financial Musts

We’ve all heard the age-old saying that money will never truly make you happy. However, mismanaging your money and making poor financial decisions can be a life wrecker!
Believe it or not, money problems are among the top reasons for divorce, alcoholism, and suicide in the United States. Therefore, it is crucial to become a wise manager of your financial resources. Financial literacy should be one of your greatest learning priorities, and it should be a core requirement for our nation’s educational institutions.
Fortunately, having a positive (and growing) net worth is not rocket science. If you follow this one tip, you will be on the path to responsibly managing your finances and avoiding major financial pitfalls. Are you ready for it?
Live within your means by spending less than you earn—no matter what your income level. It’s that simple!
In order to generate positive cash flow, you must spend less than you make. This means conservatively estimating your income and ensuring you have funds leftover after all of your spending. Major trouble can set in when you overestimate your income (common in careers with cyclical earnings), underestimate your spending, or charge more stuff on credit cards that you can’t afford to pay off each month.
When determining how much you earn (and therefore the limit of what you can spend), here is where some people run into trouble. You will want to avoid these mistakes at all costs to enable you to live within your means:

  1. They forget that their take-home pay is roughly 60 percent of their gross salary (after taking into account deductions like federal and state income taxes and Social Security)
  2. They assume that a spike in their income is the new “normal” level of earnings and ratchet up their spending accordingly.
  3. They assume their strong investment returns in the recent past will persist.

It’s important to recognize whether your career provides a steady or volatile income. Generally speaking, the more your income is tied to sales (e.g., real estate agents, commission-based retail sales) or project work (e.g., writers, architects, actors) the more it will fluctuate over time. This income pattern presents unique challenges in your financial planning because you can’t forecast the next few years based on the recent past. Therefore it pays to average peak and trough earnings to calculate “normal” earnings more conservatively.
Consequently, people often overestimate their future income when they just had a great year. Then, they increase their spending just when their income falls back to normal. Not good!
Another helpful rule of thumb is to earmark your income first to charitable giving and investments and then to spending. It adds discipline when you force yourself to save 15+ percent of each paycheck. By thinking of your spending as the “leftovers” rather than your savings, you’ll avoid the trap of living paycheck to paycheck.
Plan your income conservatively and spend accordingly—it’s far better to be positively surprised than disappointed! 

4 Ways to Avoid Being Socially Awkward

Have you ever noticed that there are some people who seem to have it all (good looks, book smarts, sense of humor), but come across as socially awkward in business or social settings?

There have been times that each of us has lost an audience for one reason or another. Whether it is from talking too much about ourselves, excessive detail, arrogance, bad body language, or even an unappealing communication style, we sometimes miss the mark. It’s never fun for the people involved, but the good news is we can reduce the odds and limit the damage when it happens.

Here are four markers of great communicators.

  1. Great communicators analyze nonverbal cues. By studying your audience’s facial and body language, you will be able to gauge the impression you’re making. If they seem bored or disinterested (their eyes will show it!), raise your enthusiasm level or change the topic to something about them. This brings us to our second point.
  2. Great communicators are good listeners. No one wants to listen to a 10-minute monologue about your great grandpa’s bubblegum business[DT2] . When talking with others, be sure to engage them in the conversation and ask lots of questions about themselves. (Here, it’s wise to use the 60/40 rule…let the other party do 60% of the talking.) Where did you grow up? How did you meet your spouse? How do you spend your free time? These questions are easy to answer and can take uneasy tension away from a conversation. People love to talk about themselves!
  3. Great communicators make sure to clarify. Some of the best conversations can get detailed or technical, especially in professional settings. In order to hit the mark, be sure you’re clear and don’t talk over their head. Just because you know what you’re talking about doesn’t mean your audience does. Check in during conversations, or pause and allow time for them to ask questions.
  4. Great communicators learn from the best. Let’s face it, some people just “get it” when it comes to communicating with others in social and professional settings. Carefully observe them and learn from their secrets. It’s easy and it’s huge! Also, if you’re really feeling insecure about your social skills, ask your BFF how you can come across better. They’re on your side!

Your ability to successfully communicate is a vitally important skill to master. By being sensitive to your audience’s nonverbal cues, listening well, and being a clear communicator, you’ll improve your odds immensely. With these tips, hopefully you will end up not only appearing like you have it all, but communicating like you do, too!

Have you learned how to monitor others’ reactions to you? What do you feel is your best communication asset? Do you have any other personal tips you’d like to share?

Get Outside!

I have been incredibly fortunate to live in areas surrounded by nature. Growing up in Wisconsin, I would shoot mice by the creek during the winter, pick strawberries in the spring, and collect bird eggs for our collection during the summer. During the fall, I would pick wild hickory and hazel nuts. Being outdoors was simply the best. And, it remains true today as I live in the stunning marine community of Gig Harbor, Washington. The beauty is everywhere.  

Back then, it was totally normal for parents to allow their children to spend a day in the woods and have total peace of mind. Safety was never an issue during that innocent time, but neither were video game consoles, social media, cell phones,, cable television, and year-round sports commitments. Kids’ lives weren’t crammed and scheduled with various activities like they are today. We had the freedom to truly immerse ourselves in nature. We had balance, and, frankly, I think we were healthier for it.  

I wish everyone (both young old) could have the same experience that I did as a child. The outdoors—the fresh air, the amazing smells, the beauty—has a way of bringing things into perspective. It’s a place to meditate, refocus, calm down, be active, and grow.  

It fills our spirit, and strengthens our bodies.  

In fact, a study conducted in 2009 found that people who live closer to nature (and away from the city) are physically healthier! Live in the city? That’s okay, too. Researchers have also found that joggers who exercise in a natural setting (with trees and lots of greenery) feel less anxious and more restored than runners who do the same amount of exercise in a gym or urban atmosphere. So, it looks like the verdict is in. Get outside!  

Whether it is hiking into the forest, taking a walk on the beach, photographing wildlife, admiring sunsets and sunrises, looking for rainbows, or watching clouds, I encourage you to get yourself outdoors and into nature. There’s truly no substitute for it! It’s good for your body, mind, and soul.