Pay attention. I am not kidding. Really.

Category: Pay attention to your money.

Saying “No”

photo of resistant customer in furniture store

How long before a pro gets him to say yes?

Learning when to say yes and when to “just say no” (á la former First Lady Nancy Reagan) has to be one of life’s most valuable discernments.

If you’ve ever had an encounter with a professional salesman (as opposed to the non-professional hordes who greet you in most retail stores), you know the alarming consequences of not having developed this ability. After an unfortunate engagement with one of these guys, you wonder what hit you.

Why did you buy something you can’t afford and didn’t even think you wanted that badly? You bought because he’s an expert at moving you along to that holy-grail-YES – the one which earns him a juicy-fat commission – and that all-expense-paid trip to Hawaii.

How does he do it?

Here’s a clue from my last professional-salesman skirmish. See if you can spot it.

Pro: “Gorgeous day, isn’t it?”

TLB: “Yes, it is gorgeous out there.”

Pro: “You looking for [whatever his store is selling]?”

TLB: “Actually, I am.” Duh. why am I there otherwise? (Notice he didn’t ask if I were “looking to buy,” just “looking for.”)

Pro: “I expect you’d like to be left alone and look around for a while.”

TLB: “Yes, thanks.” Yes. Please DO go away.

A little later.

Pro: “I notice you keep coming back to this [whatever I’ve been circling back to over and over].”

TLB: “Yeah. I guess I have.”

Pro: “Would you like a brochure about it? I think that manufacturer left us a few.” 

TLB: “Yes, thank you.” A “few”? A cartload, I’ll bet.

Pro: “Here you go. Nice, isn’t it? This manufacturer really goes all out on their advertising.” (Translation: If a manufacturer spends this much on their advertising, just think what they’re willing to sink into their products!)

TLB: “Whoa. This is nice.”

Enough of that. You were paying attention and found the obvious clue. After only six minutes on the battlefield, I’d already said yes or its synonym six times. Count ‘em: six. AND the two of us hadn’t discussed anything remotely involving product features, benefits, prices, terms, etc. in this introductory sparring. He was good.

And I was embarrassingly
outmaneuvered. 

  • Outmaneuvered because Mr. Pro kept plying me with seemingly innocuous questions to which the only reasonable answer was yes. He never gave me a chance to just say no.
  • Outmaneuvered again when he deftly asked questions about my mental wish list.
  • Outmaneuvered yet again when he circled around with questions that lured me into signaling possible willingness to part with my credit card for a few seconds.

In minutes, I became a conquered blob, so accustomed to saying yes that I couldn’t help (later on this bloody battlefield) but say it one last, fateful, costly time.

That’s how the yes mentality works; it’s a habit, a way of thinking and responding. The professional salesman simply encouraged me to slip into this otherwise healthy habit as skillfully as a Lord of the Rings swordsman backs an Orc into a corner.

As we saw in Saying Yes, living life with a will-do, yes habit is a good thing. But there are situations, like this area of spending money, in which we need to decide we’d rather eat glass than fall into our normal yes habit. So how do we prepare ourselves to say no to these sales-guy pros (and even the not-so-professional sales guys and gals)?

You thought I’d never get here, didn’t you? Check out my disarmingly simple tricks for learning how to say no to spending in my next post. And, as always, pay attention!

© 2014 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text: "Too many people spend money they haven't earned to buy things they don't want to impress people they don't like." – Will Rogers

Will Rogers got it right – 80-plus years ago!

Sustainability

I touched on this in The Brits and Us, but I’m not finished harping. If we don’t learn from the redundant British aristocracy, we are, indeed, daft (or just plain foolish).

photo of author's husband in front of Dunham Massey

Deceptively small facade of Dunham Massey

About a month ago, we toured Dunham Massey – located in the Greater Manchester area of England. Owned by the National Trust, it’s huge and operated by another trust within NT, called the Dunham Massey Trust.

In spite of all this trustiness (read: layers of management), it appears very successful – without seeming too mercenary. They must be doing something right because three very large brick buildings were being constructed to house a larger restaurant, larger gift shop, and conference center – all projected to open for the 2014 season, according to one of the staff. They were also doing some major renovation work on the clock tower.

Dunham Massey’s 108 rooms contain 25,000 objects indigenous to the house (collected by its generations of owners). This comes with its own set of problems, mainly maintenance. Five kinds of natural-hair brushes brushes and a special, low-suction Museum Vac are used (with a very light hand) on the furniture and furnishings when the house is closed for the winter.

Every object must be cleaned, inspected for damage, and covered with an appropriate dust cover. Light levels, temperature, and humidity levels must be constantly monitored. Even the type of polish used on metals must be such that it can be applied very thinly, e.g., Autosol, a paste brass polish, so as not to excessively wear down the metal. Same for the silver.

photo of part of Dunham Massey's silver collection

Part of Dunham Massey’s silver collection

the rest of Dunham Massey's silver collection

Yet more of  Dunham Massey’s silver loot

photo of one wall of books in Dunham Massey's library

A wall of Dunham Massey’s book collection

photo of copper collection in Dunham Massey's kitchen

Just part of Dunham-Massey’s copper kit

All winter, this army of NT employees (and a few dutiful volunteers and interns) are on the prowl for their devilishly persistent enemies: furniture beetles; carpet beetles; case bearing moths and larvae; silverfish; clothes webbing moths. They use food traps, blunder traps, hanging traps, and Agrodust to trap the little buggers.

And don’t get me started on the horde of craftsmen required to repair, restore, and maintain the stonework, pointing, slate roof tiles, ancient gutters, ancient wiring and plumbing, etc. Then, of course, there’s the platoon of gardeners and other estate workers required to manicure the acres of land surrounding the country house.

Dunham Massey isn’t unique.

This same seasonal maintenance is occurring simultaneously in the other National Trust properties and those owned or operated by NT for Scotland, English Heritage, Historic Scotland, and other assorted keepers of British heritage.

Are you getting a sense of the number of employees involved? Good. Because that’s the point.

As I said in The Brits and Us, for hundreds of years each generation of the British aristocracy knew its job: collect, add, grab, steal, cheat – do whatever it takes – to add to the family estate. Being the dutiful sort, they did exactly what was expected of them.

But then things changed.

Along came WWI and WWII, which made a huge dent in the servant population. Exposure to the wider world also made those who survived both wars less inclined to return and be servile once again. (The lords and lairds and those about to become lords and lairds didn’t fare so well either, causing all manner of inheritance issues.)

The growing clout of unions made factory jobs safer, more lucrative, and more attractive to the previous in-service crowd. A plethora of inventions, e.g., the typewriter, gave them a wider variety of jobs from which to choose.

Great houses, confiscated by the government to serve as hospitals during WWII, were handed back to their owners in rather shabby conditions, as you might expect. It fell to the owners to try to “put it right” – a very expensive job with insufficient cheap labor to accomplish it.

Death duties dogpiled on, making it next to impossible for the aristocracy to pay death taxes when the current Lord So-and-So died. (Try paying 60 to 80 percent on your inherited mansion-cum-land when you’re cash-poor.)

Now what? They’ve done what they were supposed to do. They’ve successfully accumulated 108 rooms of stuff – and have no one to help them use it, maintain it, protect it, show it off, scrub it. The world, as they had known it, had fallen apart. Their world was no longer sustainable.

In large numbers, British blue-blood families had been collecting albatrosses for their heirs. Those huge country homes and estates were not sustainable without a ridiculously cheap servant class and so, one by one, those families passed their estates on to non-profits like National Trust and the others I’ve mentioned. (The ones who didn’t, sold what baubles they could, walked away, and let the family pile fall to rack and ruin.)

There’s rich irony here –
and a pay-attention tidbit.

Remember I just commented on how successful Dunham Massey appeared? We found that to be true on many other country estates Why?

Today, NT, HHA, HS, NTS employ armies of the very class of folks whose ancestors would’ve been in service. But they’re paid a livable middle-class salary, receive satisfaction knowing they’re preserving their country’s social – though blingy – heritage, and have perks unheard of by their ancestors.

Meanwhile, the aristocracy have either turned over the title and keys completely to these NPOs or have struck some sort of deal – living in an apartment or wing of the house their ancestors once had the total run of for a set amount of time (their lifetime or their heirs’ lifetimes). So, ironically, the aristocracy amassed properties which are benefitting the very classes they tried to so very hard to keep subservient for hundreds of years.

Pay attention, now. 

I said in this in The Brits and Us post, and I’ll say it again: don’t make your life’s work the process of accumulating as much of everything as you possibly can. If you do, someone else (and not necessarily your blood heirs) may well receive the benefit of all your hard work.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

red box with white text of Luke 12: 16-20 (The Rich Fool Parable)

The aptly named “Rich Fool”

Magic Bullet 3: Wouldn’t it be cool if managing our money were easy-peasy?

Now I know you know this is just a pipe dream. But, oh, don’t we all really, truly want it to be easy?? Unfortunately, the area of personal finances has to be one of the classic examples of complexity. 

photo of woman agonizing over past due bills

It’s the land-mine sector of our lives fraught with all kinds of emotions which are tangled up in all kinds of bad habits. Combined, these emotions and habits are the causative agents for the maxed-out credit cards, late car payments, loan defaults, and disappointing lack of savings which characterize many Americans’ financial states.

It’s the part of our lives for which we’d most dearly love a magic bullet – one stupendous act that could fix our colossal financial mess – and the one for which NO magic solution exists. But you already knew that, didn’t you?

 Do you also know
that all is not lost?

While we all have a lot of stuff to sort through, it can be done. It IS being done – by thousands. Especially since The Crash of 2008, there’s been the unmistakable sound of collective forehead-smacking across our nation. Thousands of us are saying, “I have got to get a handle on my money. There won’t be any Social Security by the time I retire, and I’m really not cut out to be a bag lady.”

Thousands of people are sitting down by themselves or with spouses (some even with their entire families), and beginning the process of sorting through all the bits and bobs. My unscientific Trend-O-Meter tells me a personal-finance tsunami is growing as more and more people have decided enough is enough, literally. They’ve decided they have:

  • more than enough stuff,
  • more than enough debt,
  • more than enough stress, and
  • more than enough angst over finances.

Thousands of people are figuring it out.

Are you in step with these trendsetters?

Then, after also deciding enough is enough, go though their next steps.

  • Unravel the complex set of EMOTIONS that got you into this mess. Pay attention to why you buy.
  • Unravel the complex set of HABITS that has arisen from your complex set of emotions. Pay attention to your financial habits and start breaking the nasty ones.
  • Unravel the complex set of financial PROBLEMS that have resulted from your complex emotions and your complex habits. Itemize your financial problems. Do the hard thing; find the sources of the bleeding and start applying your own first aid.

Some of these go-getters have decided to forego the daft idea that if they know Uncle Lauren, he can’t possibly know anything useful about managing money. They’ve swallowed their pride, called him, made a coffee date, and are getting help from their family’s in-house financial wizard. Cool. (And I’ll bet, in a fit of familial goodwill, he isn’t even charging his hourly rate.)

Some of these thousands, deciding their families are clueless (and, to be fair, they may well be), have enlisted the expertise of a professional financial counselor to guide them through their complicated financial maze. That decision can come with its own perils, so be careful. Shysters abound. Ask around. And, of course, beware of anyone selling shiny magic bullets. Check with the Better Business Bureau in your area. Really.

Here’s an already vetted,
less risky alternative.

Heard of Dave Ramsey? Talk about someone with street cred for doing it ALL wrong the first time ’round! He started a real estate empire which ended in his personal financial meltdown – a good 25 years before our nation’s 2008 financial meltdown. He paid attention to his mistakes, dug himself and his family out of the hole, and started his Financial Peace University. This thriving business makes money telling others how to deal with their money – the smart way.

Thousands, including yours truly, have decided to take advantage of Ramsey’s learned-the-hard-way expertise. Guess what? People who sign up for Financial Peace soon notice that the words “magic solution” never pass Dave Ramsey’s lips. He does, however, insist on the laborious work of unraveling your financial mess SO THAT you can do something about it.

After my husband and I did the hard work of paying attention to our emotions and habits, we tackled the chore of creating a better financial plan. Fortunately, I’m from a very conservative gene pool where paying interest on anything is regarded as really, really, really bad form. “We don’t pay interest; we earn it.” My husband is also from conservative financial stock.

That bit of hereditary good luck meant we hadn’t gotten ourselves into debt or financial trouble. We went through the process above because we were fairly certain we could do better. And we did.

Though it wasn’t a particularly hard process, it was a lengthy one. But we persevered. Slow and steady wins the race, you know. But you’ve probably heard that before, haven’t you? Hmm, I wonder where? Oh, never mind. What could Uncle Lauren possibly know about fiscal health?

So. Want to get your finances in order?

  • Swallow hard and put on the big-boy pants (or big-girl pants, as the case may be).
  • DECIDE that you are willing to do for yourself what no one else can: get your own financial house in order.
  • Forget the magic bullet myth. Like unicorns, they never existed – never will.

I know you know all this – because you’ve been paying attention. Now make me proud: go do something about it but before you do, check out Bullet #4.)

red box with white text of quote from Dave Ramsey, "There are no shortcuts when it comes to getting out of debt."

(Shortcut = Ramsey-speak for magic bullet)

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

“EVERYONE does it [this way].”

Whenever you hear this, do you think, Oh, really? I don’t wonder. Everyone, after all, is an awfully laaaaarrrge word.

I recently talked with young friends who just got married. They’d decided on a small, immediate-family-only wedding. And, oh my, the grief they had to take from other people telling them, “you have to do it this way”; “everyone does it this way.” Translation: 47 bridesmaids, full-dinner reception, yadda, yadda, yadda.

Are you under this sort of conformity-pressure right now? Isn’t it astonishing how many people in your life try to tell you to get in line, conform, do things the way everyone else does? And isn’t it clever how they try to hide it behind “for your own good” advice?

Here’s your
PayAttention Tip-for-the-Day.

When someone starts spouting Everyone Tripe, back up – waaay back – because that person has just proved they can’t be trusted AND that they’re manipulative.

There is precious little on the face of this planet that EVERYONE does – except breathe, eat, sleep, and defecate. But when friends tell you “everyone does it,” they’re usually not referring to these four bodily functions. They’re trying to get you to do something because THEY think that’s what you should do.

When they try pulling this trick on you, ask yourself these questions.

  • Do they know the details of my financial situation?
  • Do they know what pushes my stress level out of my comfort zone?
  • Do they know the short-term and long-term goals I’ve set for my life?
  • Do they truly know my moral compass and world-view?
  • Do they know about my health/medical/emotional state?

I could go on, but you get the picture. People who try to get you to do something using the suspect admonition “everyone does it” are usually clueless about your life’s details. Or they could be the kind of people who go through life telling other people what to do. Regardless into which category they fall, ignore them. If that feels awkward (and maybe even rude), then broaden your perspective on the topic, whatever it is. Find out for yourself if everyone does it.

Using this wedding scenario example, you could ask slightly older couples if they had it to do over, would they still opt for the fairytale-princess wedding for 300 guests (and spend the next five years paying for it)? Or you could ask even older generations about their weddings. If you can collar a couple who wed in the ’40s or early ’50s, you’ll learn that the wedding industry was in its infancy and just beginning its quest to manipulate unsuspecting brides and grooms.

Because it was still in its formative stages, it hadn’t yet sucked in the general population. Large, extravagant weddings were the exception rather than the norm. Couples concentrated on preparing themselves to have successful marriages and households rather than successful, over-the-top weddings and receptions. They were the Builder Generation and in large numbers, they built stable marriages without one single flower girl and no fairytale-princess dresses. Really. Everyone did weddings their way – and not so very long ago.

Back to my young friends’ case: they discussed their wedding plans and decided everyone would just have to soldier on without them while they had a wedding appropriate for their situation.

And that gives me such hope! When young people buck this kind of insidious, pervasive manipulation, they show they’re thinking and paying attention. And you know how thinking, pay-attention people warm my heart.

So buck up, Little Camper. And while you’re at it, buck whatever it is that someone else declares is the way EVERYONE does it. Rubbish: we’ve already ascertained there are only four activities that fit that bill.

Warm my heart some more. Share how you’ve bucked the everyone-does-it ploy.

red box with with George S. Patton's quote: "If everyone is thinking alike, then somebody isn't thinking."

A great WWII general’s take on “everyone”

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Living Well 3

photo of hand dropping coins into a charity's change can

Small donations add up – for you AND others.

Okay. So can we agree (after Living Well 2) that practicing self-discipline to watch the little things – the little buying decisions – leads to living well for you?

Okay, what about others? Have you ever wished you could do something worthwhile for your favorite charity or your church? You can. Yes, right now. You have ten bucks to spare, don’t you? Ah, that’s what I thought. Ten bucks? Are your kidding? What good will that do?? If you’re like most of us, that’s what you were thinking.

We’re all stuck on the “big stuff.”

One of the oddest quirks of human nature is that we all want to do “the big stuff.” We don’t want to donate the easily affordable $10 to charity; we want to build a new wing for the hospital. We don’t want to write a 200-word article for our scrapbooking club’s monthly newsletter; we want to write a 500-page e-book on scrapbooking. We don’t want to save $3 this week; we want an extra $300 to show up in our checking account after implementing a few new saving habits.

Maybe that’s why Jesus felt it necessary to say that giving just a cup of cold water to someone who needs it will bring us a reward. Talk about a little thing. Notice, he didn’t say we needed to build a dam to provide hydro-electric energy and water for an entire section of a third-world country whose people are dying from diseases that they get from drinking unsafe water (whew) in order to receive our reward. No, just give what we all have – a cup of cold water. A little thing. A very little thing.

Know what I think?

We don’t practice self-discipline in the little matters of life – whether it’s foregoing a $5 latté, leaving those cute sandals on the sale rack, taking the stairs instead of the elevator, or racking up philanthropic donations $10 at a time – because WE DON’T THINK LITTLE THINGS MATTER. We don’t think little, painless decisions will get us the Bahama-trip big things we want in life. We don’t believe one of life’s most basic rules, and we do believe little things are inconsequential.

But little decisions ARE important. Little slices of self-discipline are of great consequence. They’re a process that adds up to something big, something we really want – living well.

Living well is an eminently obtainable goal for each of us. Interestingly enough, The Blessed people I’ve known often seem even more caught up in the big-thing mentality than the rest of us. So there. We ordinary mortals may even have an edge in getting this concept. Self-discipline in the little things leads to our growing sense of personal responsibility for living within one’s mean: living well and doing our bit to help others live well.

Tell us a heart-warming story of how you or someone you know saved a little money over time to accomplish _______. (Fill-in-the-blank time again.)

red box with white text of Artistotle's quote about excellence being a habit

Aristotle nailed it: practice habitual excellence.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Living Well 2

photo of a pile of pennies, symbolizing our daily "little" decisions

Pennies and daily little decisions ADD UP.

Q: What do self-discipline, living well, and personal responsibility all have in common?

A. Little decisions. Lots and lots and lots of little, relatively painless decisions.

Let’s just take one example. Let’s take Great-Grandpa’s “take care of the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves” advice which, incidentally, he stole from previous generations. This time-worn, self-discipline advice was – and still is – spot on.

Yes, inflation has chewed up pennies and spit them out as dollars. And yes, I know you’re much more in-the-know than poor old Great-Grandpa. Bless his soul, he’s just so out of it, soooo unbelievably un-cool, and so clueless. What does he know? That $5 latté you buy every Friday as your pre-weekend treat is of no consequence in the long run, for Pete’s sake. That $50 pair of sandals you bought at a killer sale last spring (the ones that look almost like the ones you already had in your closet)? No big deal.

No? Those 500 pennies you spend once a week on a latté add up to 26,000 pennies in one year – $260. What could you do with $260? If you buy just two pairs of good-quality, but unnecessary, shoes in the spring and two in the fall, all for a very thrifty sale-price of $50 each pair, that’s $200 you could have saved or spent elsewhere. What could you do with $200? What could you do with $460?

Some, depending on their finances, may answer “not much.” Others, perhaps not so flush with cash, will revel in all the possibilities of having an extra $260 or $200 or $460. However, listing the alternative things we could do with $260 or $200 or $460 isn’t the point.

Here’s the point.

When we make hundreds of these kinds of decisions every week, they collectively add up to a great deal of money – maybe even enough for _______. Fill-in-the-blank time. What would ring your chimes? Fill it in. A trip to the Bahamas, is it? $460 might get you a cheap flight. Now for a good deal on a hotel; how much would that cost? Hmmm. What else could I give up for a while?

See how this works? Little everyday decisions about how you spend small amounts of money add up. They add up in dollars. They add up to increasing self-discipline. They add up to the habit of personal responsibility. They add up to living well.

Your turn. Give us another example.

red box with white text of Jesse Owens wrote about self-discipline

Time to ramp up your personal responsibility!

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

Living Well 1

profile view of Teddy Roosevelt facing his statement about what self-discipline is

Pay attention to the simple, “little” things.

Most of us, thank goodness, don’t love money; we love what money can DO for us – allow us to live well. A key component of living well (and one of the most powerful stress-busters known to modern man) is living within our means.

Yeah. Yeah. It’s a sneaky way of backing into the real topic of this three-part, Living Well blog post. But if I had called it what it’s really about – Living Within Your Means – wouldn’t you have skipped it? Yes, well; there you go.

Now that I’ve come clean, just stick with me for a bit. Don’t stop now, because I HAVE GOOD NEWS. Living within your means requires only one thing. Of course, that one thing – self-discipline – is a rare commodity in 21st century U.S. Oh, let’s just tell the whole story. The other dirty little secret: self-discipline is on the same black list – in our society – as personal responsibility.

Are we really clueless –
or just not paying attention?

Why are we so unwilling to make ourselves follow our own rules so that we can achieve our own goals for our own lives? Looks suspiciously like self-sabotage to me. (And why do we snicker at those who practice personal responsibility, following their own rules to reach their own goals for their own lives?)

We SAY we want to live within our means. We SAY we know our mounting debts cause us sleepless nights and ever-increasing stress. We SAY we know stress is bad for our bodies and our minds. We SAY we’ve learned that having more things doesn’t necessarily make us happier (translation: allow us to live well). We SAY we know all these truths, but we live as if we don’t.

I first wrote the material that appears in this set of Living Well blog posts almost five years before I started this blog. Since that time, our country experienced The Great Recession. Life got ugly. People lost jobs, homes, self-respect.

I was hopeful. Yes, hopeful. I was hoping that venturing so near the guillotine would’ve scared our society enough that we’d stop the self-sabotage.

Dang. I was wrong. We’re still doing it. I see it all around me. Shoot, I even find myself shooting myself in the foot, even when I know our economy is still shaky. Again I ask, are we clueless or just not paying attention?

Could it be …?

I’m just thinking aloud here. Could it be that we’ve forgotten that self-discipline consists of tons and tons and tons of little – teeny, tiny, minuscule –  decisions? Have we overlooked the fact that making small AND EASY behavior modifications will help us live better?

Could it be that relatively painless, minor decisions will slowly but inevitably lead us into a more self-disciplined lifestyle and a lifetime of living well? As you can tell, I think so. And I’m not alone. Thousands of generations before us have learned this lesson. Read Living Well 2, if you don’t believe me. And then tell me if I’m wrong.

red box with white text of quote fro Robert J. Ringer

We know this. Now we need to practice it.

© 2013 Teresa Layne Bennett

%d bloggers like this: