3 Life Choices to Prevent Poverty

January is Financial Wellness Month. In honor of this special emphasis, I wanted to share some thoughts this week on avoiding poverty. Poverty can be a touchy subject, but I think it’s important to talk about the ways we can avoid it, just like any other pitfall we may encounter in life. Please pass this message on to the young people in your life. It’s one of the most important nuggets of life wisdom they’ll ever receive.

I believe every child is a masterpiece in the making. Sure, there will be some blemishes, but each of them is unique, priceless, and filled with potential. With a strong support system, excellent guidance and education, and an appreciation of their worth, value, and opportunities, they’re well positioned to fulfill their dreams. The fact is, life success also requires living strategically and avoiding choices that can derail futures. Foremost in this is avoiding poverty.

William Galston, Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, columnist, and former Clinton Advisor, did a hefty amount of research on the subject of poverty. Thanks to him, we are better aware of some of the chief causes of poverty. His important conclusions, based on his research findings, are surprisingly simple. Dr. Galston asserts you need to do three main things if you live in the United States to avoid poverty:

Finish high school, marry before having a child, and marry after the age of 20!

Here’s the real kicker: only 8 percent of families who do all three are poor; however, 79 percent of those who fail to do all three are poor.

These statistics are compelling and make perfect sense. Students who fail to finish high school will not have access to many well-paying careers and will not be perceived as well by employers. Those who have children before marriage (many teens and young adults) will find it that much more difficult to enter college or complete their degree due to the immense responsibility and financial demands of raising a child. Finally, those who marry before age 20 tend to have higher divorce rates and greater career and life challenges. The common thread of all three poverty causes is reduced access to attractive careers due to lack of education or life circumstances.

Words cannot express how much better our lives, the lives of our children, and our culture would be if more people simply heeded Professor Galston’s advice. These three choices won’t guarantee success, but they will help avoid some of life’s biggest derailers.


Are you surprised by the wisdom and logic of these research conclusions to avoid poverty? What are your thoughts on them? Are you as parents, teachers, and mentors sending this message to the children you guide?

See the Glass a Half-Full

“Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.”

Colin Powell

Who might be considered among the most popular and inspiring politicians in our last century? Presidents Franklin Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Reagan immediately come to mind. They each faced extraordinary challenges but offered Americans a spirit of hope in times of great fear.

We saw this positive attitude in the leadership of Lee Iacocca, who successfully resurrected the Chrysler Corporation from the economic disaster in the 1980s. We also witnessed it in Paul Azinger who led the USA golfers to a smashing victory over Europe in the 2008 Ryder Cup after years of humiliating defeats.

Most successful people have inspiring “can do” attitudes. They embrace challenges rather than complain and achieve more in the process.  AND, they not only accomplish great things themselves, but they also bring out the best in others.

Bringing out the best in people means looking for positive qualities and calling them out. Sometimes when you observe a negative quality, that can be a real challenge!  But it’s always possible if you begin by focusing on the positive (i.e., see the glass as “half full”), help others to do the same, and coach them in an uplifting and constructive manner rather than critically and harshly.

If you’re one who has a tendency to “see the glass half empty,” consider how an attitude change can improve your life and relationships. It’s not hard; it just requires a mindset adjustment and a few simple principles:
1. Cultivate a can-do attitude.
2. Focus on the positive (“see the glass as half full”).
3. Embrace challenges and use them to your advantage. Remember that the best character growth comes from successfully handling adversity.
4. Focus on (and bring out) the best in the people around you; inspire them to have a can-do attitude as well!

What examples have you seen of someone who has a can-do attitude and brings out the best in the people around them?
Share your ideas and experiences with our online community; we’d love to hear from you!

Wings vs. Strings: Empowering Your Teen to Thrive

Take a guess what’s the most common question I receive from teenagers. The quickest way to success? How to land that job? How to handle stress? Nope. It’s how can I convince my parents to let me live my dream? Kaboom!

As parents, we all want to empower our children to be the best they can be: to build healthy relationships, to be successful in college and career, and to thrive as independents. (And even if we aren’t parents, we probably feel this way about the young people in our lives, right?) Part of empowering our children is to give them wings rather than strings.

Wings are the things we do to prepare our children to be secure and confident people ready to make their mark. Wings allow them to soar. Strings, on the other hand, tie our children down and prevent them from achieving their full potential. It happens when we over manage them. Or, if we coddle, enable, or ignore them.

How do we release eagles to soar rather than kites we control?

One of the most important things for any parent to remember is that your child’s success is not entirely reliant upon you!. Lots of other factors are at play. However, the foundation you lay will have a lasting effect on your child and will impact his or her life choices and worldview. And, your parenting style will impact their outcomes.

With that, let’s visit some real-world examples of how parents unintentionally give their children strings:

  • helicoptering (hovering, reminding constantly, orchestrating their every plan, interfering, nagging)
  • performance-driven (excessive pressuring of kids for their achievements and accomplishments; valuing performance above the person)
  • vicariousness (living life through the child; glorying in his or her successes and agonizing in his/her defeats as if they are the parent’s own)
  • enabling (failing to enforce discipline or accountability, not letting him/her fail and face consequences)
  • overprotection (being overly fearful of outside influences and perceived dangers; not allowing kids to experience enough of the real world to make informed choices; not permitting them to make their own decisions)

In contrast, we empower our kids when we train them with strong internal guiding principles and give them freedom, opportunity, and accountability according to their desires and maturity. Here are some examples of giving our children wings:

  • healthy separation (understanding that teens are their own persons separate from their parents)
  • trust and grace (giving them incremental freedom as it is earned through demonstrating responsibility and integrity; extending forgiveness and taking steps to re-establish trust when it is broken)
  • equipping (strategically training them to handle real world responsibilities and situations)
  • empowering (letting them experience new/different kinds of people and challenging situations with trust and guidance; appreciating their unique design and interests and encouraging them accordingly; having them make their own decisions and supporting them through the consequences)

Ultimately, raising young adults is not about us and our identity, interests, or agenda. It’s about doing what’s best for our kids—guiding them to fulfill their dreams and purpose. Empowering them to live confidently and independently, with integrity and impact. When we give our children wings, we give them one of the greatest gifts of all—our unwavering belief in them. It’s huge!

Parents (as well as teachers and your mentors): what are your own methods for preparing your teen for the real world? What’s your parenting style? Do you struggle with overmanaging, or the opposite, enabling? Share your triumphs and struggles, we would love to hear from you! – See more at: http://dennistrittin.com/view_blog.aspx?blog_id=223#nogo2

Curriculum Solutions for Next Semester or Next Fall

Planning for your next Semester & Next Fall ? 

Are you considering new ways to set up YOUR students for success—in school and beyond?

Increasingly, employers and universities are encouraging greater development of the “soft skills” necessary for success in college, career, and life, such as:

  • Sense of purpose/strategic perspective
  • Character, integrity, and work ethic
  • Successful relationship-building, communication, and teamwork
  • Personal productivity/discipline
  • An attitude of empowerment, not entitlement

This is why schools across the nation are choosing our innovative and comprehensive What I Wish I Knew at 18 Leadership and Life Skills curriculum to help their students build a personal leadership foundation. Here’s what they’re saying:

Micah Arneberg—Business Teacher/Learning Coordinator:

“The (WIWIK@18) book and student guide have had a great impact on my students.  … (helping) them to look ahead and have a vision of success. …They truly are becoming more successful socially and academically. I would highly recommend this curriculum to other teachers.”

Patty Rogers—Family and Consumer Science/Personal Finance Teacher:

“While teaching Personal Finance this year, I was able to use this great resource to enrich the content of this course. Every Family and Consumer Sciences teacher should have a classroom set.  Students enjoy this book and their comments are always positive!”

Pam Wickman—Family & Consumer Science Teacher:

“I have made great use of What I Wish I Knew at 18 in my classroom, including it in a variety of classes, such as Parents and Children, Individual and Family Relationships, and Life on your Own.  My students respond well to the teen-friendly language of the text, and the accompanying workbook includes questions and writing topics that inspire useful discussion and written reflection. Trittin’s book has become a valued resource, and one I turn to often.”

Bea McCleod—School Counselor; Former President Virginia Association of School Counselors:

I am so impressed with this curriculum. The information is timeless and so “down to earth.”  I like how you can pick up the book, and go to the chapter you need. You don’t have to read the book in any order—just take what you need to share these life lessons with students. For a limited time

 We are offering bulk pricing discounts now for our book and curriculum so you can plan and order for next semester’s – and next year’s – classes.

We invite you to visit our website and contact us at 920-319 3169 with your questions.

We’re honored to serve you in preparing your students for real world success.

All the best,

The LifeSmart Team

Making the Right Call in Risky Situations!

Are there young adults in your life who have recently left home and entered college or the career field? Or, high schoolers about to graduate into independent life? Here’s a special message for them you’ll want to share!


Once you leave your parents’ home to travel, study, or work, you’ll experience a newfound freedom and sense of independence. And, you’ll no doubt encounter potentially risky situations that require quick decisions in the moment. Unfortunately there will be no time to call mom and dad, phone a friend, or ask the audience. How will you handle it?

These scenarios often involve alcohol, drugs, sex, and cheating, and especially arise when you feel pressure to fit in with others. They can compromise your value system and derail your plans, dreams, and even your physical, emotional, and spiritual health if you’re not careful. During these situations, it’s wise to pause and ask how your conscience will feel tomorrow if you answer “yes” or “no.”  Will you feel guilt or shame, or be proud of your actions? Let that answer guide your decision.

It’s also helpful to quickly ask yourself these following questions:

-What are the potential consequences to your well being and reputation?

– What answer aligns with your value system?

– How will your decision impact the people you love and care about?

Succumbing to high-risk behavior and situations leads down a path from which it’s very difficult to recover. Your best bet is to avoid these situations altogether before they occur and test you (if not, at least decide in advance how you will react if and when your values are challenged). I’ve heard far too many stories of young people who didn’t heed this advice and whose college careers ended prematurely due to unwise decisions. Often, they lose years of momentum and wander aimlessly in the aftermath. But, you have a purpose and a destiny that is worth guarding and respecting at all times. By following your conscience and your value system, you’ll be well positioned to handle life’s risky situations.

Have you ever been in a situation like this? Did you have the courage to go with your values over the pressure you received from others? If not, how can you better prepare yourself the next time?  After all, life is about learning and recovering from our mistakes, isn’t it?

Live Within Your Means, Part 1

Money will never make you completely happy—but mismanaging it can be a life wrecker!

Money problems are among the top reasons for divorce, alcoholism, and suicide in our country. For these, and many other reasons, it’s critical to become a wise manager of your financial resources. You should consider this one of your greatest priorities and our nation’s educators should too.

Having a positive (and growing net worth) is essential for all of us, and the good news is it’s not rocket science. Simply put, it requires two things: 1) living within your means by spending less than you make and 2) building long-term wealth through a regular savings and investment program. This will set you up for success in both the short- and long-term.

In order to generate positive cash flow, you must spend less than you make. That means conservatively estimating your income and ensuring you have a “cushion” left over after all of your spending. Trouble sets in when you either overestimate your income or underestimate your spending.

Here’s where many run into trouble on the INCOME side:

  1. They forget that their take-home pay is roughly 60% 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) 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.

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!

Don’t fall into this trap. Plan your income conservatively—it’s far better to be positively surprised than disappointed!

What are some ways you’ve learned to live within your means and generate a positive cash flow? Have you developed creative and effective ways of showing these principles to your own children or students? Share ideas and questions by commenting below; we’d love to hear from you!

Building Lasting Friendships

Do you have a trusted confidante with whom you can share your innermost feelings; one who has your best interests at heart? What about someone who will encourage you to be your absolute best and hold you accountable in your career, relationships, and even your spiritual life? Is there someone you can turn to when life throws you a curveball? A person of your gender with whom you can connect on a regular basis?

If your answers are “No,” then this could be a valuable New Year’s resolution for you!  Here’s why: Friendship—the enduring, here-til-the-end-for-you, holding-you-accountable kind—is good for you! These friendships make you a better person and are an essential ingredient to a strong support system.

It doesn’t just make intuitive sense, it’s also supported by clinical studies.  People with long-time friends live longer. They experience less stress. They are more likely to survive cancer. They even contract fewer colds! I am not kidding here, folks!

Just last year, Virginia Tech researchers took a group of students from the University of Virginia to the base of a steep hill, fitted them with a weighted backpack, and asked them to estimate the steepness of the hill. Some participants stood next to friends during the exercise, while others stood alone.

Interestingly, the students who stood with friends gave lower estimates of the hill’s steepness—and the longer the friends had known each other, the less steep the hill appeared to them.

This principle holds true across the board. Trusted friends make our life journey smoother (especially when the going gets rough) and our experiences all the richer. They enable us to live life fuller and provide companionship and support along the way.

Granted, it takes time and effort to build a trusted friendship of that caliber. It’s easy today to be lulled by the superficial “friendship” that Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and online forums offer. But, remember that true friendship takes time: getting to know each other, identifying and building on shared values, accumulating a library of shared memories, weathering conflict and crisis, and more. It’s all worth the investment, and the best part is, it’s never too late to start.

Not sure where to begin? Here a few tips to help get you there.

  1. Take a personal inventory of your interests and the qualities and values most important to you. Chances are, your forever friendships will reside where your interests and values intersect. Together with trust, they’re the building blocks of companionship.
  2. Don’t be afraid to let your guard down. People relate to others who are real and transparent. Instead of trying to appear a certain way to your friends, be your authentic self, warts and all!
  3. Ask questions that will reveal their inner selves. While it’s easy to gauge compatibility of interests, it takes time, in-depth conversation, and experiences to gauge compatibility of values.
  4. Say yes. Even if you don’t feel like getting off the couch and changing out of your sweatpants, it’s important to say “yes” to new opportunities with new friends.. You never know what might come from each new experience!  Saying yes also means returning phone calls with phone calls (and not text messages). Remember, cultivating friendships takes energy and personal engagement!

Who is your most trusted confidante? How have you invested in that relationship throughout your life? Have you been cultivating and investing in new ones?

Constructive Criticism Can Help You Grow

How committed are you to correcting your weaknesses and building your strengths? Do you embrace constructive feedback when it comes your way?

Let’s face it.  Most of us love to receive compliments—but criticism?  Not so much. Criticism, even if it’s constructive, can sometimes make us feel guilty, ashamed, or inadequate. We often become angry or withdrawn when we receive it. We can be defensive. Or, out of hurt, we turn the tables on the people criticizing us, attacking their credibility and motives.

The common sense reality is that if we’re genuinely interested in improving ourselves, we should be just as interested in hearing about our weaknesses as we are our strengths—even if the method of delivery is indelicate. We are, after all, a work in progress!

It’s a great idea to make it a practice to actively solicit constructive feedback from your superiors, friends, and role models. This means asking them questions such as:

  • Am I meeting your performance expectations?
  • How can I improve—as a person and as a colleague?
  • What do you see are my strengths and weaknesses?

It also means being able to receive the feedback with a grateful heart whether you asked for it or not. It’s natural to react defensively when someone gives critical feedback.  But if you do, you’ll miss a golden opportunity to learn and grow.  Here is some advice to receive criticism well and use it to your advantage:

  1. Don’t take it personally. If someone criticizes you for something you’ve done, it doesn’t mean they don’t like YOU.
  2. Learn to separate yourself from the criticism and take it at face value. Think of it as a gift from someone who cares about you!
  3. Resist the temptation to interrupt or argue. Thank the person giving you feedback, and assure him or her you’ll take it to heart and consider it.
  4. Thank the person for the feedback. If it seems appropriate, enlist his or her help for making changes related to the advice given.
  5. Ask for specific examples of any behaviors needing improvement.

This is especially important for young people to embrace—a challenge when they’re exerting their independence and think they know it all. I adopted this practice early on in life and consider it one of the most valuable life lessons in my career. It made me progress that much faster by seeking the wisdom and feedback of others. It’s a hallmark of excellence!
Make it a point to ask for one piece of constructive feedback from someone in your life and practice responding in the ways we’ve just discussed.  Are you a parent or teacher? Share this lesson with the young people in your life. If they apply it, they’ll likely thank you for it some day!