24 November 2009

Mindstorming


After last week’s financial triage, I’ve spent much of this week conjuring up ideas for income sources, organizing the ideas into categories (products, services, etc), and determining the required steps to bring the ideas to life. I used Brian Tracy’s mindstorming method for the ideas, but I came up with more than his suggestion of 20 answers/ideas, so I now have three promising pages of possible ways to bring in money. Yay!

Also, thanks to Trish MacGregor, I’ve learned I can market and sell my self-help book before it’s finished. (With fiction, which I was originally focused on, you have to finish the book before selling it.) So that’s my main focus right now: marketing the book. Instead of spending up to four hours a day searching for and applying for jobs, I’ll use that time more productively, at least until the job market picks up. As for my other ideas, I’ll let you know how those progress.

By the way, Brian is offering his Goals e-book free if you sign up for his newsletter. I have the print version of his book and it’s full of excellent advice, including his mindstorming technique.

17 November 2009

Thinking the Unthinkable

Please note: This post is about the insights I’ve gained through managing my own financial situation. It provides links to financial advice, but it does not provide financial advice.

When I resigned from my high-stress job in May 2008 and began my sabbatical, I thought I could find a new job whenever I chose—when I was rested and the novel was done. Now, 18 months later, with my savings long gone and my credit card debt creeping up, my perspective has changed, and the banks seem to have changed as well... or were they always this greedy? Is a 30% purchase APR even legal?

Until I’m out of debt and can tell the banks to shove it, I have to get through right now. And right now, like many people, I’m having to consider options I previously thought unthinkable, like cashing out my 401k or filing bankruptcy. I’m not quite to that point, but it was time, this week, to do some serious research and make some hard phone calls. I was dreading it, but I feel better after having done so. Here’s what I discovered:
  • Cashing out my 401k should be an absolute last resort, since 401k accounts are usually safe from bankruptcy filings, but I’m leaning toward bankruptcy being my last resort. Dave Ramsey’s The Truth About Bankruptcy (and related resources) were helpful to me, as was SmartMoney’s 10 Things Bankruptcy Court Won't Tell You.

  • Selling assets and continuing to live (frugally) on credit cards is my best option for now. I’m current on payments (I’ve been paying early and slightly above minimum), so I was able to negotiate lower rates with my credit providers by kindly explaining my situation without blaming, complaining, or meandering. I did use the word “ridiculous” once, but only because a rep suggested I pay off a $10K balance in 800 months. Other than that, I was nice.

  • Skipping my car payment in December will help a bit. Interest still accrues, and the payment gets tacked on to the end of my loan period, but if I get to keep my car, I’m happy to pay a smidge extra.

  • Since my COBRA coverage ends this month, I’ve been researching health insurance options. I started with CoverageForAll.org to see if I qualify for any special-case plans in my state (I don’t), then compared insurance plans at eHealthInsurance.com. I found a plan with Aetna that includes dental coverage, which I desperately need, at about half of what I was paying for COBRA.
I can’t go back and do things differently, but even if I could, I’m not sure I would want to. My time off to rest, recover, and write has led to personal enlightenment, which of course is priceless. I’ve learned the value of living below my means yet above the intoxicating influence of ego and advertising. I’ve learned that true joy comes from what I am—not what I have.

10 November 2009

Letting the Right One In


On Thursday, I met my friend Chris at the New Moon Café in downtown Augusta. We sat and chatted on a comfy sofa beside a window, watching people and waving at dogs (okay, it was just me waving). We agreed the café was a cool place: laid-back vibe, good music, lots of food and drink choices. My choice was a cup of hot mango tea that smelled as good as it tasted.

Then we walked a couple of blocks east to Rock Bottom Music which, like the café, was new to both of us. As soon as I saw the huge KISS poster/cutout, I took an instant liking to the place. Chris bought guitar strings and explained to me the differences between acoustic and classical guitars.

That was all well and good, but my most exciting New Thing this week was actually a book: a Swedish vampire story called Let the Right One In, by John Ajvide Lindqvist. I won’t summarize the plot, since you can read that on Amazon, but I will share my favorite lines from the story:

“For a few seconds Oskar saw through Eli’s eyes. And what he saw was... himself. Only much better, more handsome, stronger than what he thought of himself. Seen with love.”
— John Ajvide Lindqvist, Let the Right One In

I should also share the synchronicity that added to my delight in reading the book. The story takes place from 21 October to 13 November, 1981, so not only was I reading it exactly 28 years after it (fictitiously) happened, the days of the week even match: Wednesday, 21 October 1981, matches Wednesday, 21 October 2009. That won’t happen again until 2015.

Coincidences aside, the book took me back. I was 11 years old in 1981, which is about the same age as Oskar and Eli, who are 12 in the story. I can clearly remember being that age—being innocent and not yet aware of what the world had in store. Wondering if the boy down the street liked me. Talking about boys with my girlfriends, unless we were singing along with the Go-Gos or pretending we were Solid Gold dancers. Practicing cartwheels in the yard. Playing basketball until my mom yelled it was dinner time. Standing on my bed and using my baton to turn off the light for a full week after watching a scary movie.

So much has happened since those days, but while I was reading the story of Oskar and Eli, the time between then and now seemed to fold up and disappear. That’s quite a story.

03 November 2009

Streamlining Self Management and Time Efficiency


Over the years, I’ve developed an efficient system for managing myself and my time. It has always worked well for me, but after a recent makeover of sorts, it’s even better. In fact, it has become less like a system and more like a way of life.

It started with a book I read called The Big Leap, by Gay Hendricks. The book was mostly about things I already knew, until I got to the chapter about relativity and controlling time, rather than letting it control you. I kept hoping Hendricks would scientifically describe how to control time, but he didn’t, because of course we can’t control time. We can, however, control our experience of time.

Generally, time seems to speed up when we want it to slow down (e.g., when we’re in a rush), and it seems to drag like molasses when we want it to pass quickly. The standout word here is “seems,” because therein lies the key to experiencing time. Or one of the keys, at least. The concept is difficult to explain in a blog post, but here’s the gist:
  • Keep simplifying your life until you’re doing more of what you enjoy and less of what you don’t, and until you have more of what you love and less of what you don’t. Lots less. Clutter can sneak into your life in many forms—not just as things. If something has been on your to-do list for ages, ask yourself if you really want and/or need to do it. In my case, I retired a novel I had been procrastinating on, and instead of feeling like I had given up, I felt relieved.

  • Keep structuring your days until you’re doing more of what you want (or truly need) to do. If “take up painting again” keeps getting shoved aside for housework, it’s time to hire a housekeeper or get a smaller house. (Unless maybe you don’t really want to paint again, eh?) Just like with a budget, when you track where your time goes, you see where your problem areas are.

  • Large, overwhelming projects can be tackled by breaking them down into steps and working on them a little each day.

  • With everything you do, get into the habit of asking yourself if it’s an efficient use of your time. Is it adding value to your life, or are you not even sure why you’re doing it? This goes for big things too, like jobs and relationships. It’s your time, and your life.
To put it even more simply, time management is really about self management, and a life well lived is not about how much you get done—it’s about the value of what you’re doing.

Further Reading: