Financially Fearless: A Levo League Event Recap

This past week, I finally attended a Levo League event. Levo is a community of passion women working to help one another. They sponsor all types of events across the country to better professional women. Tuesday night I attended one such event called Financially Fearless, which was led by Alexa Von Tobel, the CEO of Learnvest, a company centered around affordable financial planning. What a great night discussing an important topic!

First, it was great to network with the Levo ladies. All poised and energetic, they were so welcoming and happy to hear my story. After some chatting, Alexa began her talk, centered around the her, Financially Fearless that ties to her company. In short, Learnvest is a budgeting tool with help from a certified financial planner. The book (and the Learnvest plan) provides simple but effective tools to help you manage your money. Alexis broke down each step, with charismatic humor and true passion.

Alexa sharing great tips at the event hosted by Levo League

Alexa sharing great tips at the event hosted by Levo League

Step 1: Focus – You need to sit down and figure out where your money is going. Track all of your spending (the Learnvest app can help). You should look at your credit cards and how often you use them as well as your 401K plan and credit score. My personal favorite points from Alexa on this topic included setting up a separate email account for all your bills and for having calendar alerts for all payments.

Step 2: Focus – Know your after taxes income and your expenses. Remember there should be money left after paying your bills. Another great point: Just because you make more money doesn’t mean you’ll save more. If your pay and spending both continue to increase, that won’t solve any financial problems.

Step 3: Plan – Make sure you have an emergency savings account that you do not touch. This should be for true emergencies, not needing a new dress for an upcoming event. The goal should be to constant financial stability.

Step 4: Build – Alexa described this as the dream phase. Set financial goals for the future and plan out all of those crazy things you want to go and do later on in life.

Step 5: Protect – Alexa emphasized that this probably the most important phase. Look at all of your insurance policies (home, health, car, etc) and make sure you are getting all benefits of the policy. Once you have a full-time job, health insurance is a must and so is renter’s insurance if you rent. Favorite quote here? “Unused credit cards are a hacker’s dream.” Amen!

Step 6: Maximize – This part was all about investing, which honestly gives me some anxiety as I don’t fully understand every piece of it. The most important concept here is to invest money in a variety of assets but only do it if you can afford to leave it in the market for a five-year minimum. This way, you’ll have a shot of investments turning a profit.

Alexa's best selling book!

Alexa’s best selling book!

Step 7: Achieve – The final phase is about being prepared even if life changes. Alexa gave a great analogy: The way you manage your health meaning going to the doctor, taking vitamins, etc., should be the same way you approach being financially responsible. You need to pay attention to it!

Alexa’s 45 minute chat was jammed packed with information, realistic examples and helpful tips. Her passion for making financial planning affordable is clearly apparent. I can’t wait to read her book and start using the LearnVest app. Expect an update once I do!

For the Love of the Game

I’ve played softball since age six and have parents who played. Playing under the lights is in my blood. Point proven last night when my co-ed team beat the third ranked team in a come from behind win, advancing to the second round of the playoffs. The energy and excitement was electrifying as we headed into extra innings, a feeling like no other that any athletic could relate to.

a league of their ownI’ve felt this feeling before, earlier this year when I was coaching little league. Thirteen wide-eyed eight and nine year old boys, wanting to play for the love of the game. They accomplished so much in such a short period of time; a coach couldn’t have been prouder!

Whether it be with my little leaguers or my adult teammates, the game (like most sports) has taught me lessons that are important to remember in the most important game: life.

1) Try it out: My boys on the little league team were willing to give most positions a shot. The smallest kid on the team pitching? Sure why not! They weren’t afraid of failure and just wanted to try something new. With no risk comes no reward. Those little boys were a perfect example of that.

2) Perseverance: The pitcher on our co-ed team wasn’t get the calls on certain pitches yesterday. It’s super frustrating but he didn’t let it get him down. He managed to come back better each inning, ultimately winning the game. If he stopped fighting, who knows what the outcome would have been. You always have to push through no matter how many people try and stop you.sandlot

3) Energy is contagious: I’ve watched this happen with both teams. Someone makes an outstanding play or strikes out the best player. Everyone gets hyped up and energized. It’s a feeling of invincibility, like you’re on top of the world. That feeling spreads through the dugout like wildfire. When you stay positive, it spreads to the people around you, making for a more happy environment.

I will forever love the game, baseball or softball and know the life lessons its taught me are invaluable. The quotes featured are from my two favorite baseball movies: The Sandlot and A League of Their Own.

Have sports or other activities impacted your life positively? Share with me!

The Credit-Free Summer

At the beginning of the summer, I made a promise to myself to not use my credit cards for the next three months. Yes, the joke is on me. However, I’ve limited my use and figured out how to better budget for the lifestyle I want.

I only have two credit cards but it’s amazing how quickly each swipe adds up. I was casually using my card all of the time, not realizing how much I was spending. Now that moving out is becoming a real possibility, this summer was the opportune time to start the proper savings plan.

So for the last couple of weeks, while it’s been somewhat challenging, I’ve figured a couple of tricks that have helped increased my savings and not my spending.

dollar sign

  • I made an actual budget spreadsheet that was divided into categories like transportation, fitness, food, etc.  Then I decided on a set amount for each of those categories as well as an amount to put into my savings at each pay check. I suggest using automatic online banking so the money is pulled right as you get paid. If you don’t see all the money, it feels like it wasn’t there!
  • I’ve tried to limit eating out to once a week especially in New York City. When lunch is ten dollars a day, it quickly adds up. It’s more economical to buy food in bulk or head to your local farmer’s market and make meals at home.
  • Gas continues to climb so be strategic about where you’re driving. Carpool if you can and have adult sleepovers if it’s more convenient! Your wallet will thank you.
  • When you do get a credit card, find one that has a rewards program. My American Express card has a great program specifically if you use your card for gas or at department stores. Some programs will let you use these rewards dollars towards your bill or you can purchase something from their rewards store. Usually, there’s a lot to choose from.
  • I leave at least one of the credit cards home every day. See no evil, can’t use the evil, it’s as simple as that.
  • You are allowed to SPLURGE, you’ve earned it! Just be smart about when and what you’re spending your money on. Also, websites like Groupon and Living Social typically have great deals on more expensive items or experiences like massages or fitness classes.

While it hasn’t been the easiest to limit my credit card use, it has certainly been worth it! The summer isn’t even over yet and my savings has increased. Feel free to share any other budget tips with my in the comments section!

 

Dancing Through Life

If you live anywhere on the east coast, lately you’ve experienced crazy thunderstorms complete with heavy rain, bright strikes of lightening and overall miserable conditions. It’s hard when it’s gloomy out to keep a positive attitude, much like it’s hard to be happy when life throws you curve balls. How do you keep moving forward when life drags you down?

Recently, I saw a quote that read, “Happiness is a choice, choice it.” Even when life downright sucks and nothing is going right, we all have the ability to choose to be happy. We can make the decision to see the glimmers of hope instead of being negative. I can attest that it is extremely difficult to stay positive, to look at the glass half full. I’ve been trying hard lately to stay positive through some challenging family situations that I could allow to affect my happiness. But what good does that do for anyone involved if I’m miserable?

When things don’t go right, absolutely allow yourself the momentary second (or more) to grieve, be angry, cry or feel bad for yourself. All of those emotions are probably valid and totally normal. But don’t get stuck there! Despite your hard situation, it could always be much worse. The situation that provides the most discomfort will be the one that teaches you the most.

You might have seen my post about Zumba and how it’s changed my life. Dancing and music have amazing benefits to both people’s physical and mental health. Next time life brings you down, find your favorite song and dance it out. You might need a couple of songs to cheer you up but I promise it will. I also suggest singing at the top of your lungs while dancing.

Below is a song from the musical Wicked titled Dancing Through Life. All of the characters face different obstacles but the song, sung by the charming Fiyero, proclaims “It’s just life, so keep dancing through.” Sometimes bad things happens that shake us to our core, but that’s no reason to stop dancing! No one said it would be easy, but it will be worth it.

Is Being Busy a Badge of Honor?

It has been two months and a day since my last blog post. This fact saddens me but the reality is I haven’t had time to fit writing into my schedule lately. Depressing to a degree, but the truth nonetheless.

Over the last two months, I’ve been to five different states, worked three different events and have had to make the choice on what the priority was that minute, hour, day and week. Some might call this busy and I did too, until I read a powerful article from the Harvard Business Review, sent to me by an esteemed colleague. The two-page article, “Why we Humblebrag About Being Busy,” should resonate with anyone who’s ever said “Oh I’m so busy,” in response to the simple question “how are you?”

busyThere’s so much to obsessed over in this article. You can bet that mine is highlighted, underlined and has been read approximately four times. In short, an epidemic is occurring where people are so proud of being busy that their lives are becoming a giant rat race of more. The more bubble, as author Greg McKeown suggests is enabled by “smart phones, social media, and extreme consumerism. The result is not just information overload, but opinion overload.” That thought, opinion overload, struck me as the greatest factor aiding the growth of everyone’s more bubble.

The opinion overload epidemic has been aided by advancing technology that allows us instantly post on a zillion different forums how late we’re working or actual photos of the work we have left to do. Twenty years ago, people didn’t feel the need to share about their overtime because there wasn’t technology for them to make this private information public. Now, it’s a constant competition of who is the busiest and when translated that means the most successful, happy, satisfied or important.

McKeown suggests four helpful tips to become more of an Essentialist or the type of person who actually read books instead of strolling through Facebook before bed. I’d like to add two more suggestions on how to become an essentialist:

1) Stop playing the comparison game. It does not matter what someone else is doing at work, at home, for their community or on the moon. This is your life, your journey to forge and I bet you are doing just fine.

2) Believe in balance. Some days, I have time to write  a blog post and exercise, but not all will be like that. Some days work wins and others my family come first. Priorities are allowed to shift as often as you need them to.

I am no where near being an essentialist but this article has inspired me to try harder. Being busy aka not sleeping, missing family time and being generally unhappy is not the badge of honor I want to wear any more. Join me in the essentialist movement and please share your tips below!

I’d like to add two more: work smarter, not harder and stop playing the comparison game. Most supervisors are not going to hover over your desk as you work. They trust you to get the work done in the most efficient, best way possible. Maybe that means you work 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Or maybe you go to yoga on your lunch break. Figure out how to be more efficient and make that your routine. Working more hours does not always make you more productive.

Oh the comparison trap, how it ruins lives! Please do not scroll through Facebook or any other social media site and compare yourself to your co-workers, neighbors, relatives, friends, etc. It unhealthy and unproductive to make comparisons when no two lives operate in the same way. We each need to live our own life, on our terms. Sure, it’s fine to want more but not at the expense of your health, family, sanity or anything other life necessity.

Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

Regardless of your profession, planning is mandatory for success. From surgeons to PR professionals, failing to plan will promise to give you a wealth of headaches.

I experienced one of these such headaches last week when it was 4 p.m. on a Friday and we didn’t have space for an event that was less than two weeks away. Backup plans and analyzing risk should be part of your routine when planning out schedules, events and pretty much anything else. Here are my tips when preparing for a presentation, meeting or whatever your need might be.

  • Write down any and all things that could go wrong. When I was an account executive at PRowl Public Relations, anytime we had an event, we listed out everything that could go wrong and what we would do if it did. This ensured that each member of the team was prepared to handle any unexpected challenges.
  • Have communications ready in case all of things that could go wrong actually do. Sometimes things happen in an instance and you need to fire off communications to target audiences immediately. Having these already drafted and patiently waiting in a Word document will save you the time.
  • Do your homework. If you’re presenting at a meeting, know the target audience and what questions they might ask. Also, do not read off a piece of paper, it’s not professional.  If you’re planning an event, know all the venue and hotel options in case your preferred venue cancels.
  • Hold a debrief after the meeting or event concludes. If you presented at a meeting, ask the audience for feedback and evaluate yourself too. Post event debriefs are pretty much essential so the team can evaluate its success and see what they could improve upon in the future.

Regardless of your profession, planning needs to be ingrained into your brain to guarantee success. As part of this, you should be organized, keep a calendar and communicate clearly. My friend and mentor, Jason Mollica, provides more planning tips here on his video blog.

What tips do you have when it comes to planning? How has it impacted your profession? Please share your ideas!

 

Slam Dunk Controversy

If you’ve been near a television, radio or basically any social media outlet over the last couple of days, you’ve heard about Donald Sterling and his less than appealing commentary. In short, Sterling made negative comments about his girlfriend being friends with “blacks” and said he did not want them at his games. Once the audio of his remarks were made public, Clippers players as well as the NBA were outraged. In response, the NBA banned Sterling for life and fined him $2.5 million dollars. Anyone else think Sterling is kicking himself right now?!

As PR people (note applicable to all human beings), this mess can serve as a teaching moment for several reasons. Numero uno: Nothing you say is private if your life is public, meaning if you live in the public eye, you are vulnerable to have whatever you say and do examined by the world. In Sterling’s case, the comments he made were said in private but clearly it didn’t make a difference. It’s important to make our clients aware of this and make sure they know what they can and cannot say in various situations.

donald sterlingPoint number two: Trust no one. Now, this is a hard sell because you need people in your life to talk to. But for those in the public eye, it’s important for them to realize not everyone should know every detail of their lives. There are bad people out there who just want to get close to someone for the story or the almighty dollar. Public figures and celebrities need to keep this in the back of their minds.

No one is denying that what Sterling said was completely wrong. He should be held accountable for his actions regardless of where or when he made these comments. One could argue, though, that more severe acts have been committed with minimal consequences. For example, Riley Cooper of the Philadelphia Eagles made racist comments at a concert. He was fined as a result of his actions but is still an active player within the NFL. I understand each sport’s leadership is different but Sterling’s lifetime ban versus Cooper’s fine makes me wonder. Other athletes, say Michael Vick for example, have gotten away with far worse too.

The bottom line is people, public figures or otherwise, need to be held accountable for their actions. PR people need to aid their clients in being responsible for their words and actions. Donald Sterling’s situation is unfortunate but can be used as a lesson for all of us.

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