Every story wants a villain. Villains make stories feel complete, and full of excitement. It would be a lot less exciting if Luke and Darth Vader were a normal father-son duo, right? What if there was no light and dark side, just a grey side? The story would not be told the same way. The epic battles would cease to be the focus. It would become another less-interesting story of a civilization just existing.
Stories don’t just want villains. The best stories want grand villains with a striking image. In Skyrim you battle Alduin, the World-Eater. Alduin is a dragon that seeks to enslave and end the various mortal races inhabiting his world. He makes a good villain because his motives are clear. You can, and should, oppose him just by hearing him speak of his desires to dominate.
In 2020 we are facing a villain. It’s not a sentient being and it’s not striking or grand. The virus that our society faces is difficult to write about or even think about, because we cannot perceive it. That also makes it harder to research and to predict.
To illustrate this confusion, let’s look at the S&P 500’s movements over the last few months. The big drop in the market began on February 20th, 2020. Over about a month the index fell about 33%. During that period you could argue that the American people understood (or thought they understood) how the villain would affect them. The market is emotional, and this drop largely reflected the way people assumed the economy would be hit.
Sure. That makes sense. But then how do you explain the next month? From March 23rd to today (written on April 27th) we saw the market climb over 28%. We’re still not back to the highs we started with in February, but the uncertainty around how our society will actually deal with this has resulted in “business as usual.” A recovery and slow uptick is what tends to happen following drops in the market.
Losing ~50,000 Americans, and countless other global citizens, is not “business as usual.” It is certainly a major cause for concern. Losing millions of jobs, having business suspended, and having unemployment payments support a huge percentage of those folks is not “business as usual” either. But, the enemy is not visible. We have no idea how long this will last, and so we return to a sense of normalcy pretty quickly...as long as it’s not affecting us. Humans are creatures of habit, after all.
I did not write this piece to encourage you to be normal in this moment. I wrote this piece to point out a helpful resiliency we have, but a feature of humans that ultimately does not aid us well in this case. We don’t have some big villain to fight, there’s no statue to topple, but that also doesn’t mean things should go back to “business as usual” for you yet. You should spend more time caring about some specific things.
On the financial side, care about your income and your savings, be able to weather a coming financial storm. On the personal side, care about your level of activity and your mental health. On the health side, care about your distance from others and the limited list of people you should be physically near. On the social side, you should care about each other. We need each other more than ever right now. We need to laugh, to smile, and to allow ourselves to be vulnerable sometimes.
So here’s where I share with you all my moment of vulnerability. Right as all of this started, as our invisible villain began dismantling our normal, I faced another challenge in my personal life. It was another story without a clear villain. It’s not one you will write an epic novel about, or that will be featured in a video game.
My wife and I got separated. I’ve written about Rebecca here before. She was, and still is, someone I care about very deeply. However, our invisible enemy was change. The two of us began a relationship with very aligned goals. Stay together forever, no children, build a life that is fun, exciting, and adventurous.
Change took Rebecca down a different path than me. Having a child became very important to her. I understand why, and I don’t hold it against her, but I still do not want that for myself. My big change, becoming a business owner, took its own separate toll on our relationship as well. So because of this change, there was no real resolution besides separation. She’s not the villain in this story either. We both changed. But, that did not make the separation and the eventual divorce that will follow any less painful.
So there’s my moment. There’s my villainless struggle that I needed to be vulnerable about. The good news is much like our current global crisis, the same human resiliency is pulling me back to a state of normalcy. There is no good or bad with this habitual behavior, it just is.
Even though my situation may seem dramatic and sweeping, that does not detract from the struggles that I know many of you are going through right now. So whether your struggle makes for a good story and has a clearly-defined villain with horns and pointy teeth or your struggle is more emotional or mental, please make sure to share it.
It helps. It really does. Thank you for reading and please, stay safe and healthy.
Ian Bloom, CFP® Covers the Extras tier of the Hierarchy of Cash Flow. All of that extra stuff we want, that's advertised to us constantly, is a lot more exciting to purchase if you know you don't have to give up your future goals and dreams to acquire it!
What's up internet? My name's Ian Bloom. Welcome to nerd finance. I'm your resident financial life planner and huge nerd. In today's episode, we're going to be talking about the final stage in this hierarchy of cash flows, which is extras. From a gaming perspective, which is how I like to talk about everything if you haven't figured that out by this point in the series, extras is when you are super powerful in the game. Not only do you understand the system, but you have maximized it to your benefit in every other aspect possible, and now you're just adding the icing on the cake. That cool legendary sword, or that piece of equipment that enables you to dominate any of the enemies or opposition you come up against. Extras is really just the extra stuff to enjoy the spice of life.
It might be getting takeout once a week. It might be spending extra money on gaming accessories, or sporting equipment, or going to concerts. Any of those things can be extras that are very enjoyable. And as we already talked about, extras can be woven through the different stages in some form or fashion. We do live in a consumer culture. So you will be advertised a lot of extras, like maybe that League of Legends skin that you want, or maybe that really good food that you saw in the commercial.
Those things are okay to buy occasionally for yourself in any one of these stages. But once you have all four of the previous stages taken care of, you get to enjoy the extras that you can afford guilt-free, which is the amazing part. It's way less stressful to spend money on extras when you know that the other things are taken care of, you have made sure that you have a roof over your head and the utility bills paid, you've made sure that you can continue to do that for the next six months, regardless of what happens with your employment. You have money that is growing towards your future and your financial independence, and you have some of the things that were core to the things that you wanted out of life. Whether that be that extra home in the mountains, or the cool car, or the trip to Europe.
And so now you get to focus on spending money on yourself, just for the heck of it. And boy, is that a joyous place. When you see people who are clearly living in the extra stage and have no guilt about it, you can see the joy on their face when they give to others. You can see the absolute purity of the fun that they're having. And it's all because they made sure to address the other four stages first. And moreover, all the other four stages and the extra stage look different for every person.
Some people like to live their lives very frugally. And so their retirement contributions in the future stage might not need to be that large. And some people like to live their lives a little lavishly. And so their retirement contributions might need to be greater in that same future stage, which may delay the amount of money that they have to focus on the extras. But whatever the situation is for you, just make sure that you're taking care of the core things before you move on to spending money on all of the flippant extras, though they are very enjoyable.
I hope you have a wonderful day. And I hope that this video has been, and the series has been, very, very helpful to you. The cashflow, a hierarchy tool is one that I have loved using with my clients. So I hope it benefits you as well. Have a wonderful, wonderful day. And thanks for watching.
Ian Bloom, CFP® covers the Aspirational tier of the Hierarchy of Cash Flow. Aspirational goals might be buying your dream home or taking that trip around the world. The important part is that if you've taken care of the previous three stages, achieving aspirational goals will be more freeing.
What's up internet? My name's Ian bloom. Welcome to Nerd Finance. I'm your resident, financial life planner and huge nerd. In today's episode, we are going to be talking about tier four of this graphic, the Hierarchy of Cash Flows. Tier four is aspiration. Aspirational expenses are some of the things that give our lives that extra little burst of meaning, so they are important, but it's important to have the other three stages taken care of first.
Aspirational stuff is what you think about when you're thinking about the moment in a game, where you have finally started to do the really cool stuff. Maybe you in Saints Row, and now you can leap tall buildings with a single bound. Or maybe you are in Skyrim, and now you have all three parts of Fus Ro and Dah, and you can throw enemies feet away from you whenever they are trying to attack you.
This is the really, really cool stuff that isn't necessarily to beat the game or to play the game at all, but is some of the extra stuff that you might be aspiring to. In real world terms, this is the savings for those extra, but meaningful, things in life. So you might have to contribute to a brokerage account over and above your retirement savings in order to make sure you get some of these things like a travel budget, or buying that perfect house that you've always wanted, or making sure that you have the dream car that you've been wanting since you were a kid.
Those things don't necessarily strike me as extras because they have significance to you. Traveling to a lot of people is what gives their life some amount of meaning. But making sure that they have all of the other foundational pieces in places, how they are comfortable with going on the trips, and not worried about how much money they spend while they're on the trips. Trust me, traveling is a lot more fun when you don't have to worry about the budget, which again is why all inclusive resorts have such a great business model, even though they make money hand over fist.
So all that being said, aspirational expenses come after you have already ensured your survival. You've built up an emergency fund via consistent savings. You've started contributing to your retirement and you have a little bit left over after that. This is a hard stage to reach because this means that your income is not just a little bit greater than your expenses, it's probably significantly greater. And you've probably done a lot of hard work to make sure that you have the emergency fund and the retirement contributions going in the background before you start planning for the Porsche, or the new house, or that amazing trip to Europe that you've always wanted. Those sorts of things matter, but they have to come after the other stuff.
For instance, if you spend money on experiences before you start saving for your future, you may get to take a great trip, but you may come back to a bunch of bills and expenses that you weren't planning on, like your car breaking down, or medical bills because of breaking your leg on the trip, or something like that. Those are not the things that we want to have happen in life. That causes extra stress, and cashflow is about getting a handle on the day to day of your finances, so that you don't have to be stressed out about it.
I hope that this continued conversation around the hierarchy of cash flows is interesting to you. We've now moved through survival, which is keeping the roof over your head and the food on the table. We've talked about stability, which is making sure you can meet those short term emergencies. We've talked about future money, which is focusing on retirement or those other long term moments that you want to have occur. Then now we've moved on to aspirational stuff, where you are making the cool things in your life happen.
The final thing we'll talk about are extras, which are little fluff pieces in the day to day that you need to make sure to budget for. That is the fifth tier of the Hierarchy of Cash Flows. And maybe the self actualization moment, although you could argue that that comes in at the aspirational stage. Anyway, I hope this video has been helpful to you, and I hope you have a wonderful day. Thanks so much for watching.
Ian Bloom, CFP® discusses how to move from the Survival Tier of the Hierarchy of Cash Flow to the Stability Tier. This level up involves the creation of an emergency fund that can insulate the household from unexpected expenses. Creating cash flow stability is very necessary before moving on to the exciting ways to spend money.
What's up internet? My name's Ian Bloom. Welcome to Nerd Finance. I'm your resident financial life planner and huge nerd. In today's episode, we are going to be continuing to focus on this graphic, the Hierarchy of Cash Flows that I've been using to help my clients understand where they are in their cashflow journey. This is our second stage, stability. Stability is interesting because it comes after you've started to get a handle on things, whether it's in real life or in a game. See, stability is developed when you understand the mechanics of what you're trying to do and have somewhat of a basic rhythm to them. In a game it may come when you have your go-to combo of your sword and then your spell to take out the bad guys. Well, in real life, stability as a cashflow thing comes about when you have a consistent amount of income that is exceeding your expenses and have started to allocate the money properly.
What I mean by this is if you have $2,000 a month coming in and $1,500 you must spend on bills and needs like groceries, and you have $500 leftover, stability starts to develop. But instead of just spending that $500 on things like Xboxes, Nintendo Switches, and awesome games, or maybe the furniture that you want in your apartment, you actually start to allocate this money towards savings. You see, savings in an emergency fund is where stability actually comes from. Knowing that you have three to six months worth of expenses there to absorb all of the changes that will occur in your life. Life is bound to change, the rules of the game change every day. Your tire may pop or your hot water heater may break, and you may need to spend some money to replace those things. Well, it's going to be a lot easier to come up with the money if you already have it in savings. And it will disrupt your day-to-day life a lot less if you have built up these savings and can therefore absorb those impacts.
For instance, that $1,000 car repair sucks a lot more if you have $500 a month and you have to put it on your credit card and pay it off over two months, then if you already have $5,000 in savings and so you just pull a $1,000 out of that. Now, $5,000 in savings doesn't happen overnight, which is why stability is a stage and not just a step. See, you have to save the money over time. Let's go back to that earlier example. We have $2,000 in income coming into the household every month, we have to spend $1,500 of that on bills like groceries and things, and so we have $500 leftover. You may decide to allocate $250 a month to your savings to start building it up. And then you may spend the other $250 on the extras and things that you're having fun with. That is how you develop stability. It doesn't happen immediately, it happens by those repeated actions towards saving over time.
I hope that this video has been helpful to you. Stability is the stage that you want to reach to get rid of that financial stress that's been plaguing you for a while. It helps make the day to day less stressful. It helps you avoid that paycheck to paycheck dance. As we move through the rest of the series, we'll start focusing on the more aspirational things, the future stuff. Anyway, have a wonderful day. I hope the video was enjoyable.
Ian Bloom, CFP® covers the Future tier of the Hierarchy of Cash Flow. The Future tier is all about contributing toward your retirement or future financial independence. Future-focused cash flow enables you to make long-term financial progress, not just prepare for the now.
What's up internet, my name's Ian Bloom. Welcome to Nerd Finance. I'm your resident financial life planner and huge nerd. Today we are focusing on the third stage in this graphic. You see, the future stage is very, very important to the development of a financial plan. And it's incredibly important to the hierarchy of cash flows going forward. Once you have developed stability and you can take care of those immediate needs, you will then be focused on what you can do for the future. The future is really important, because stability in the now is nice. But knowing that your future is taken care of is amazing. So the way that you start entering this stage is very, very simple. Let's use some gaming terminology. You have got a good grasp on the mechanics, and you have decided that your one, two punch of sword and spell works really well right now. But it will not work against the end game bosses. So you start to plan out the skills that you need to purchase at each level up in order to make sure that you're ready for the end game.
That is the future stage in a nutshell. As far as cashflow goes, it's when you start contributing to things like 401ks and Roth IRAs. It's when you start allocating dollars towards future use, so that future you will thank you today. And that's really, really important. Because creating wealth doesn't happen on accident. It is an intentional decision that has to be made once the household is safe, comfortable, and taken care of from a financial perspective. So what does this look like? Well, if you work at a traditional employer, it may look like just deciding that you need to put five or six, or seven, or eight or 10% into your 401k every month. And that after that, you can still maintain the household and keep up with your savings, right?
That will allow you to build towards a financially independent future. It may also look like something that's a little bit more in my neck of the woods, which is sitting down with a financial planner and saying, "Hey, how much money do I need to save in order to make sure I can have this life I want at age 55 or at age 65?" Whatever the age where you want to reach that financial independence stage is. And we can give you some exact numbers on that. But the least you can do is make sure that you're contributing something towards your retirement every single week or paycheck, or month. However you want to think about it. If you're in a non-traditional employer, you could also just contribute to something simple like a Roth IRA. A Roth IRA can be held at any custodian.
And it stands for Individual Retirement Account. So you're not required to have a particular employer to do that. You just have to have an income. So anyway, future focused money is money focused on the long-term. It's money focused on the things that you know that you will need later on, like the ability to take care of yourself financially. I hope this video was helpful to you. Keep in mind that the stability and the survival stages need to come before the future stage, because if you contribute money to your future, and your now is not secure, then you may end up needing to take the money out of the future focused account just to make ends meet today anyway. So make sure to do these things in ascending order. Though, don't put off your future contributions until you're all perfectly financially set, or you'll almost never start making those contributions. Thanks so much. And again, I hope this video was helpful to you. Have a wonderful day.
The sunk cost fallacy is a powerful, real psychological effect. You can see it at play in both personal decisions “But, I already bought X...so I have to pay Y for upkeep.” and in the decisions of corporations “We worked so hard on X project...it’s 90% to completion. We may as well pay our employees to have it finished.” In both cases, X has been invalidated by a new idea, technology, or item. Yet, in both cases, X is still pursued because we spent money or time on it, and we like to see outcomes from those investments. This effect can also explain why gamers will pour time and energy into finishing the narrative of a game, even if they’re not enjoying it.
What’s the solution?
Hit the reset button. Take a step back and pull the plug. Redesign it from the ground up. Stop doing it.
Financial planning often addresses this in the form of an annual review. After recapping all of our work together over the year, I will often ask my clients: “What did we miss?” they will often say “Nothing, we did great!” So then I follow up with a simple. “Okay, if you were to design your ideal life, what would be most important to you?”
Sometimes my clients roll their eyes at me then, and I laugh. We almost always uncover something new in that conversation though. It goes back to human nature. Our plans are invalidated by our new desires. You may have thought you wanted to buy that house and that would be the pinnacle for you, but once you have it...well, there’s a new pinnacle. We never fully self-actualize. There’s always another level.
How do you hit the reset button personally, especially in a time of chaos like we’re in right now?
The answer for you will likely be deeply personal. What puts you in the state of mind most necessary for reflection and planning will be your own solution. I can tell you that what I will be doing this weekend is kicking off a week in the mountains on my own. I’ll be sitting in solitude, writing down my thoughts and vision for the next stage of my business and my life. I’ll redesign things as if I was starting from scratch. I’ll reflect, think, and analyze all the new data and thoughts from the last six months that I can to come up with. That will determine the next step.
That said, my business likely won’t change dramatically. I’ve been doing this process for the last three years, every year. How I’ve gotten the time, such as my mountain retreat this weekend, has been different. But, the core idea and process has remained the same. I simply know that I need to look at things from the outside every so often. Otherwise, I’ll fall prey to the same fallacy and human tendencies we all do.
So hit reset. Look at your life anew. If you were starting from now, with the resources you have and no major constraints, what would you do differently?
How To Evaluate a Mutual Fund: Ian walks through three basic criteria that he uses when he's evaluating a mutual fund quickly. When you are evaluating a mutual fund, make sure to pay attention to the cost, relative performance in the category, and category that the fund is invested in.
Wondering when you're going to get your check? Filing for new unemployment benefits? Listen to Ian Calmly Talks Again about the CARES Act. There are a lot of changes in this bill. Ian tries to walk you through the basics.
Let’s start this off with a disclaimer. There are a lot of very wonderful people who mean the world to me in this story. Few of them are named, because the work is ultimately deeply personal. If you are one of those people and would like to be named, feel free to let me know!
Imagine knowing nothing of a career, not even dreaming it would exist, and then standing on its most sacred ground five years later. It’s awe-inspiring. Hana is the epicenter of life planning, brought into existence by George Kinder. With the goal of connecting the mental side of money with the meaning that we are looking for in our lives, life planning is an incredible way to work with clients. If you missed the previous blog post in this series, please go read or listen to Journey to Hana. That blog post lays the foundation for this one, focused on my three challenges in Hana, and my Journey Home which I will be releasing in the future.
Arriving in Hawaii was full of emotion. I was exhausted and annoyed because long flights and little sleep do that to a person. I was also overjoyed, because my wife rented me a convertible Camaro as a surprise. Finally, I was hopeful. I hoped that I would learn something that would allow me to serve my clients better and propel my business forward. I know that most conferences and retreats leave me filled with inspiration, and I didn’t expect this one to fall short.
The ride from Kahului to Hana is a true sight. I was used to winding mountain roads, having graduated from App State, but I was not used to seeing the ocean along winding mountain roads. Some of the overlooks gave a stunning view of waves crashing on rocks, waterfalls, and small communities down on the coast. All of it was incredible. I was beginning to understand why George spends a lot of his days in this part of the world.
Our little home-away-from-home was simple, but perfect. A suite-style apartment attached to the home of a lovely couple. We had this amazing view of the coast across a grassy field (pictured below) and I jokingly called it my office to a few clients I corresponded with the next morning. I could have worked from that porch for the whole week and the trip would have been worth it.
Before the workshop started we took one little adventure. Waioka Pond (pictured below) was less than a mile from our front door, so we decided to go on a hike.
It is a sight to behold! The pond is actually more a lagoon, an intersection of a stream, a spring, and the sea. The water level is pretty consistent and the pool is deep. We witnessed several travelers jumping off the high rock into the pool, laughing and having a great time. That’s when the first challenge of the trip set in for me. I wish I could do that. I’m afraid of heights.
Ten minutes went by. Rebecca and I took pictures of the pond. The same travellers went back to the top of the rock and jumped off half a dozen times. They were fine. I can do that. “H-hey...Becca...I think I’m going to do that.”
After deliberating for a moment, Rebecca promised to film me. I went to the top of the rocks, my heart pounding in my chest. I looked off the edge of the rock and took a deep breath. Why can’t I move? My legs were frozen in place. My chest was tight. Maybe I can’t do this.
Then the simplest, easiest solution presented itself. The path was obvious. One of the travelers who had done it before walked up behind me, clearly impatient for his turn. “Can you count me off? I’m nervous.”
It was actually that simple. Much like life planning, overcoming a fear is all about having a partner to talk through your obstacles with. The stranger didn’t provide the solution, I did. But him being there was necessary. It made me have to do it.
And did it feel good! The water was refreshing and cool. My adrenaline surged and laughter spilled forth from me. Joy was abundant at that moment.
Rebecca joined me in the pool, though in a more gingerly fashion. She didn’t want to jump, and I don’t blame her. It was my goal, not hers.
That evening, after a shower, we found ourselves at the opening evening for the 5-Day. It was amazing for an entirely different reason, because now I was face-to-face with so many people I knew (or knew of.) People I loved, people I admired, people I hoped to know were filling that room. I knew I’d be paired with one of these people eventually to practice with. Someone in this room was MY life planner!
Making a room of people comfortable with that notion is hard work. But, the lead trainer set in on it with a smile. We worked through some surprisingly non-painful exercises in sharing. It was all about us too. The activities required us to open up about ourselves and receive praise, smiles, laughs, and consolation from our peers. All of which were working toward the greater goal of making it easier to select a life planner to work with, and the secret goal of making it easier to share in front of people this week.
So then the next morning came, and so did the selection of our partner. This was the one thing about the training I was dreading. We were instructed to “Just feel where in the room you were pulled to.” and go to that person. It brought back flashbacks of something traumatic from my childhood, being the worst athlete I knew. Great. It’s like being picked last for kickball. Anxiety and fear bubbled up, barely contained within my calm outer demeanor.
It’s a great reminder that in a room full of people, it’s entirely possible to feel alone.
Then I locked eyes with my partner, grinned, and sat back down immediately. Meg Bartelt, someone I admired greatly, had chosen me. A kindred spirit, someone who stayed glued to the exact spot they stood up in. I could not have been happier to have that awkwardness behind me. I happen to know very keenly that a number of my colleagues were feeling the same emotions, partly because of an aside I had with one of them where tears were shed. But, the torrent of emotion was behind us. Kinda.
The next three days were full of sessions exploring the Kinder methodology, known as EVOKE, and becoming deeply familiar with the emotions of our partner. What were the things that made up their ideal life? What were the emotions driving them to want or need those things? How could we bring those things into reality soon? Not five years from now.
Whereas the selection of our partners brought forth a torrent of emotion, I would call these three days a slow burn. Imagine always feeling strong emotion, so much so that your eyes are a little sore every day. It’s not that you’re denying yourself tears, it’s just that the tears don’t need to be shed. There’s a fair mix of positive and negative in life planning.
Someone needs to get a divorce, but their life will be better on the other side.
Another person needs to leave the career they’ve had for the last 30 years, the one that’s supported their family. But, their new work is more meaningful, and leaves more time for their spouse and children.
These things provide the full range of emotion. Joy, happiness, and excitement, but never without anxiety, longing, and change.
As one trainer said about life planning “Emotion is energy.” This is true whether it’s positive or negative. Emotion provides motivation for us. Life planning is mostly concentrated on the aspirational emotions, but it does not ignore the negative. It breathes, sits with that emotion, then smiles and asks “How would you like it to be instead?” Life planning is about the present and the future.
My second challenge for the week presented itself in the form of my partner. Throughout the three days, some aspects of Meg’s personality stood out in particular - hard-edged skepticism, discomfort, unease in this space. What I would later learn is that this was a transformation my partner was going through, compared to me she was new to the world of life planning and had not fully embraced the potential results. I can imagine that being told what you’ve been doing for years is only a part of the bigger picture is jarring, and that’s what I imagine she was feeling.
Yet the amazing thing about life planning still stood true, as we removed the focus from the workshop and focused on her and our conversations, some wonderful emotions blossomed forth. Meg had a deep caring for her family and getting to see them more often. There was a reading chair, a sanctuary in which she could relax and be herself. Lastly, there was a longing for an adventure with her children, something very particular and beautiful. All of that was unpacked through our work, which showed me the whole person as opposed to the image we so carefully cultivate and show to the wider world.
All of that was stunning and wondrous, but also nerve-wracking in a way. It’s incredible to work with someone on their ideal life (not perfect, nothing is perfect and life changes always), but it’s also challenging to be there with someone emotionally as they discover what really matters to them. You have to practice it, both staying calm yourself and mirroring the other person so that they know you’re listening. That’s how you become a truly great life planner. So while I got over the speed bump on that challenge, there’s still a long way for me to go.
It would be dishonest for me to end this post here, despite the fact that my written posts are in danger of becoming small books. I’ve already pointed the lense at my partner, but now let’s talk about myself. Pointing the lense at myself was my third challenge. Being life planned was an emotional journey.
What I realized, both in private conversation with my amazing partner, and in the demo session we did in front of the whole workshop full of people, was that my old enemy had returned to me in a way. I often hold myself back from success with self-limiting belief. I’m too young. I need a bigger practice. I need more time. I can’t do this.
These mantras are insidious. They don’t show up visibly in my life often, but they’re just under the surface, directing me toward self-doubt at inopportune moments. They slow down my growth, both as a person and in business.
It was obvious to me, tears welling up in front of all of my peers, that I don’t have to let this happen. The pathway forward was clear. It all crystallized in the moment she asked me “How can you make sure this happens?” My partner and I worked together to set deadlines, a pathway toward the life and business that I want for myself and my wife. I smiled, and breathed out, with no more tears sitting just behind my eyes.
Having those deadlines has already done incredible things for me.
Since Hana, just under a month ago, I’ve:
-Published My Life Planning Story (My highest performing piece of content ever)
-Gotten A Spot at a 100+ Person Conference to Speak (About life planning and my journey)
-Signed Contracts with Two Wonderful Clients
-Rebuilt All of My Firm’s Processes (To focus on life planning and serving clients better)
-Hired and Begun Training an Associate Planner
-Scheduled My Wife’s Dream Trip (With the family, to Belize!)
-Rebuilt My Calendar (To focus on giving me time back with my wife)
I’ve also done plenty of other things that aren’t mentioned here, but that have renewed my vigor for my business and life.
Where I would like to end this post is on a high note. The journey is emotional, certainly, and the work is challenging. But, the reward is great. Life planning is incredible. We should all do more of it and help ourselves and our clients live into their dreams. The world will be better for it.
Imagine knowing nothing of a career, not even dreaming it would exist, and then standing on its most sacred ground five years later. It’s awe-inspiring. Hana is the epicenter of life planning, brought into existence by George Kinder. With the goal of connecting the mental side of money with the meaning that we are looking for in our lives, life planning is an incredible way to work with clients. The following blog post and two more to come will be focused on my Journey to Hana, my Journey in Hana, and my Journey Home which I hope will ultimately convey some of the substance of life planning itself and not bore you to death.
My journey as a financial life planner began in college. I was a psychology major at Appalachian State University. And like many other juniors, I was sitting through the “Careers in Psychology” course all too late. My mind had been made up until this point - I was going to be a therapist. I wanted to help adolescents sort their ways through the difficulties that I’d experienced in middle and high school. I saw the same problems that were increasingly prominent in my generation - increases in anxiety and depression. It was my inclination that my place to help was in that painful transition of puberty.
Until the reality of five more years of school was shown to me.
A Ph.D. is an incredible thing to have, but I no longer wanted one. I wanted to make a difference sooner. Five years is a long time to sit in a classroom not helping people, and I’ve always been more of an action-focused person (sometimes to a fault.) The reality of how few options I actually had was paralyzing. What can I do with a bachelor’s in psychology?
Like all good stories, mine does involve a partner. My wonderful wife Rebecca and I began dating that same semester. From the first few weeks we began dating, I remember remarking on how simple our relationship felt. The communication was easy, and we both enjoyed each other’s company. She even liked that I was a nerd!
During my time of crisis, she took me home to meet her parents. On that trip I met the second person in the Brody family that would change my life, Steve. Steve and I met in the same uneasy way most fathers and boyfriends meet, but I do remember feeling a lot of warmth from him immediately.
Rebecca and her mother left the house that evening for something, which left Steve and I calmly sitting in the living room. We were watching some show I wasn’t particularly interested in, but I was happy to just be sitting there. I’m sure we were talking casually, but I don’t remember much until the question came. “So...what’s your degree in? What are you going to do when you graduate?” What are you going to do to take care of my daughter?
I have no fucking clue. “I...uh...honestly don’t know, sir…” And I elaborated, as I always do. I’m a long-winded talker when I’m in an interesting conversation. I explained my current nervousness about the future and my lack of direction, a feeling I was unfamiliar with.
“Well...why don’t we go to my office tomorrow and talk about that?” He replied, calmly.
I had little idea what he meant by that. Rebecca had told me her Dad was a financial planner though, so it wasn’t altogether weird for him to want to chat about it and give me advice. It was a little odd that it was on a Saturday we’d be going to his office...alone…
Reader, I don’t know if you’re from the South, but where I live there are a lot of half-jokes told about protective fathers and shotguns. I believed he was intelligent enough to hide a body, too.
But what actually happened that Saturday morning is Steve showed me life planning. He showed me the future. He gave me a window into something that I would be good at, something that would help others, and something I loved. He changed my life. It all started with the question “What’s important to you?”
After a winding road to graduation, a boring sales job, and a lot of begging, I became his understudy. I was put through a crucible of his mentorship. License-getting in record time, mock client meetings, learning the processes, listening with intention, and hours upon hours of driving down a long, empty highway in the mornings and evenings. It all paid off though. I was thriving and learning, which was something I was very good at.
After six months of preparation, I started running my own client meetings. He wouldn’t let me do them alone of course, but if I booked appointments he made sure he was available to sit in on them. He would take tons of notes! The clients thought the notes were about them and the substance of the meeting, but they were really about all the things I could improve. We would spend as much as an hour reviewing after each meeting. And man, did I get better quickly.
Just over a year later, I was winning awards within the larger region for our company. I was blowing my competition out of the water...in sales. With my clients, I was constantly learning how to meet more and more of their needs and deepen the relationships. Oddly, the two always seemed related. Do the right thing and the money will follow.
It all changed when the fire nation attacked. Corporate consolidation, I mean. The large insurance company we worked for decided that it was no longer doing business with individuals, so we were given short notice that we’d be moving firms. A year and a half into my career and I was already on the move. The new company made a lot of promises. Almost none held up.
My motivation waned. Around the same time we were moved, a lot of the things that had been joyous and business-driving at the previous firm started to dry up. We used to teach these wonderful courses for employees at large tech companies, for instance. Those were gone. The inefficiencies of the transition and inept movements of management cost us. Steve and Eric, the other member of our team, had less need of me. As a result, I lost quite a bit of enthusiasm.
During this time I slowly moved through my CFP® education and tried to go deeper with my clients. My “numbers” weren’t stellar on the product side, but my fees for planning were going up dramatically. Even with the few clients I had in those days, I was making a decent amount and feeling very fulfilled in that role. That said, pressure from the office and structure of the company weren’t far from view at any moment over my 18 months with this new firm.
There was an incident that made me leave. I distinctly remember a conversation with my sales manager that went something like this.
“So, let’s talk about your numbers.”
“Well, sir, sure! It’s only the end of the first quarter, and I have $25,000 in planning fees already. I’m pretty happy with those numbers. Financial planning seems to be paying off.”
“Congratulations. I’m really happy for you...that said...because you haven’t sold any insurance yet, we’re going to have to put you in the Sales Starter class. The GA is worried you won’t make contract by the end of the year at this rate. Insurance pays the bills around here, you know that.”
What about the $5,000 that you took out of my fees?
And so I left. The situation was untenable. They wanted me to sell insurance, and I wanted to do what was right for my clients. A few months later I launched a firm with XY Planning Network. Granted, the transition was not as smooth as I would have liked, but the industry is set up that way. It’s remarkably hard to give a two-week notice in the financial services industry.
My new firm Open World Financial Life Planning was about serving my people, nerds, better. Life is in the title on purpose. I had been practicing a form of proto-Life Planning the entire time, and I intended to grow more into that. The first step was finishing my CFP® certification, which I did within six months. Then I focused on growing from the five clients I brought with me to something more sustainable.
There was stress in that, as you might imagine. I was grateful for my five clients, but I’d lost about that many in the transition in some form. That meant that income was quite a bit lower than I’d imagined. Anxiety about money and building a business are really one and the same, however. I’ll be writing a blog post about that soon too.
Then a big reminder about Life Planning slapped me in the face - XY announced that they would have George Kinder himself hosting a 2-Day workshop at the annual conference. I knew I had to be there. Revenue was still tight, so an extra thousand dollars wasn’t that appealing, but to go any other time would be much more. And it was very worth it.
At the 2-day I was introduced to the EVOKE methodology by George himself. George is someone who commands a room not with a booming voice, but with a bold smile and a calmness that is almost palpable. That said, the calmness doesn’t mean he doesn’t work. We were in the 2-Day workshop for about 12 hours each day. The work is largely introspective, focusing on an understanding of your own money stories and ideal future so that you can see the same in clients.
Then came the end of the two days, where George life plans a member of the class. In the middle of the room, in front of 70 others, I watched a colleague well up with tears at the vision of his ideal future. George painted a wonderful picture with his words, showing my colleague just how simple and clear it could be. I would later come to realize that is the essence of life planning, it’s not magic, it’s just putting exactly what your client wants in full view and clearing the roadblocks in their mind. But, as another colleague of mine described it “Watching George work in the 2-Day was amazing and humbling. How am I going to do that?”
It was like seeing my future. I wanted to do that with clients, and moreover, I wanted to help spread the word that it could be done for clients.
I left the workshop feeling determined. I was going to practice my own life planning and find a way to make it to the 5-Day soon. I knew it couldn’t be right away...I just don’t have the money. I need to develop the practice. I wish I could, I mean...this one’s going to be all XY people...
I got a text from my wife the next day, after recapping all of the feelings and sentiment with her, that said: “My dad said he’ll pay for us to go to the 5-Day in Hawaii in January. He wants us to get life planned together.” I called her immediately, trying not to cry. “A-Are you serious?”
Given that this post is about life planning, I’d be a hypocrite not to admit that I have trouble accepting help financially. I was given a sort of “Life Start Fund” by my parents, and sometimes it feels like accepting help beyond that is just too much privilege for me to stomach. That said, this was important enough that I overcame that reflex of mine in favor of what I knew I needed to be doing.
So we booked our trip to Hana, and set off on a journey I will never forget.
Survival Tier Cash Flow: Ian Bloom, CFP® covers the Hierarchy of Cash Flow and the Survival stage. Thinking about your cash flow in the survival tier, you should be prioritizing more income and reducing expenses so that you can afford your basic needs.
What's up internet? My name's Ian Bloom. Welcome to Nerd Finance. I'm your resident, financial life planner and huge nerd. In today's episode, we are going to be talking about this graphic that I just came up with. And it's going to be the subject of a couple of conversations we're going to have on this channel over the next three, four weeks. You see, this is a hierarchy of cash flow, and basically it's designed to help you think about where you are and what things you should be focusing on with your spending money. Now, what I want to emphasize is much like the Maslow's hierarchy of needs or the food pyramid, just because something is foundational and comes first like survival, it doesn't mean that you should never spend any money on extras if you're in the survival stage. But what it does mean is that most of your money, time, and energy should be focused on the thing for the stage that you are currently at.
So let's talk a little bit about that in terms that a nerd like me might think about it. The survival stage, this first stage is when you are level one. It is when you're first starting to get a handle on the games mechanics, and the things that you should be thinking about and focusing on in order to make sure your character doesn't die or put themselves in a very unfortunate untenable situation. You might be learning how to cast your first magic spells or do battle with an Orc. But in reality, what this looks like is maybe you're graduating from college, or maybe you've been out of college for a while, but finances were pretty hard for you. And so you're starting to figure out that your income needs to be greater than your expenses in order for you to ascend to the next stage, which is stability, or maybe you've been here for a while.
In fact, unfortunately, a lot of Americans are back in this position due to the pandemic for the first time. You see, survival is when you're focused on keeping the roof over your head. It's when you're focused on putting food on the table or paying the bills. And essentially, the thing that gets you out of the survival state is having a consistent income that is greater than your expenses.
Now, this may mean that your income needs to rise. Like you just lost your job and you need to find a new one, or you need that new promotion, or it may mean that your expenses need to fall. And expenses falling is one of the hardest things to do because you get used to the spending and all those things. Also, even though I said earlier in the video that you don't need to not spend any money on extras during the survival stage, because sometimes spending a little bit on yourself can keep you sane and rewarded, some people tend to spend a little bit too much on extras way too early in this hierarchy.
You see, extras are those things that are advertised to you all the time. And so they're very tempting to spend money on, but for survival, you need to focus on the basics, food, water, shelter. And probably electricity and internet in this day and age, let's be honest. It's hard to work without the internet. So anyway, for the next three, four weeks, we're going to be ascending through this pyramid and talking about the rest of the stages. And I hope that this conversation is interesting to you. There's a lot to talk about here. Cashflow is something that I deal with as a financial planner all the time. So if you have questions, make sure to leave them down below or send me an email or just book an appointment on my website. Anyway, I hope this video was helpful to you. Have a wonderful day.
I play a lot of Magic: The Gathering. If you know me, this is not a surprising fact at all. I bring this up because the game is something I think a lot about and it colors my thinking toward the rest of my life. One of the areas I’ve been thinking a lot about recently is the fundamentals. Stick with me, there’s a lesson in this.
The fundamentals of Magic EDH deck construction go something like this - 35% lands, 10-20% mana acceleration, 10-20% card draw, 10% ways to disrupt what your opponent does, and 25% your threats to beat your opponent with. Now there are variations on that formula, but the first three categories I listed appear in almost every deck on some level. They aren’t fun, they aren’t the sexiest part of the game, but they do enable your deck to run smoothly. If you don’t have resources to spend (mana generated from lands) then you never get to cast your cards. And moreover, you can’t cast your cards if you never drew them in the first place!
So why do I bring this up today? Well, for my first blog post in 2021, I thought it was important to re-center the narrative around financial life planning back to the fundamentals. There’s a lot of “might change” in the near future. Biden’s new tax plans, stimulus package, and litany of other changes may be promising for some reasons, but we won’t know what they are until the legislation is passed by congress. The pandemic is going to slowly fade as more and more people are vaccinated, allowing us to hopefully return to some degree of normal life, but the timeline for that is also unclear. So what do we focus on? The things we can control.
1: Are you setting goals that bring you closer to your ideal life? If you could design your ideal life, what would be most important to you?
2: Once you establish that ideal vision, are you sitting down to look at your cash flow and position it to move you closer? Or are your monthly habits moving your further away from that vision?
3: Are you taking care of your basics? Things like setting aside an emergency fund, staying free from consumer debt when possible, and investing for the long-term?
4: Do you have time set aside each month or every few weeks to check in on your progress? Tracking progress toward a goal has been shown to dramatically increase the likelihood of achievement.
I would call these the fundamentals of good financial life planning. You want to create the vision of your personal ideal life, make sure your monthly habits are moving you closer to it, have a good financial foundation set up, and then set aside a specific time where you periodically check in on your progress. Then you can adapt, revise, and strengthen the vision.
Make sure to focus on the things you can control in 2021. Hopefully it’s a better year for our nation than 2020 was, but either way there will be a lot of changes this year. The fundamentals will apply no matter what those changes are. You’ll have a hard time achieving your ideal life if you never identify what that is and you’ll need resources to create it.
Ian takes a moment to compare Animal Crossing's infamous Stalk Market, the buying and selling of turnips, to real-world investing. One more note: There's no diversification in the Stalk Market! Only turnips.
What's up Internet? My name's Ian Bloom. Welcome to Nerd Finance. I'm your resident financial life planner and huge nerd.
Today, we are continuing our second video in the Animal Crossing series. And this one is on the Stalk Market, one of the ways to make money in Animal Crossing. I think it's kind of interesting to point out some similarities between investing in Animal Crossing and investing in real-life, as well as a couple of differences, so that's what we're going to dive into today.
You see, the way you play the Stalk Market in Animal Crossing is on Sunday mornings a woman by the name of Daisy Mae will show up on your island. She has turnips that you can buy, and her turnip prices are different for you to buy every week. They might be 50 bells or they might be 115 bells, and that is the price at which you buy. Throughout the week, Timmy and Tommy, the shop owners in town, will have different prices that you can sell these turnips at. They might go as high as 800 or they might be as low as 35 bells. And you have to somewhat time your buying and your selling in order to make a profit.
Now, there are different patterns that play out in this market, but without doing a ton of research and using online calculators you can effectively assume that the turnip prices are random. And that is kind of similar to the way that we invest in the real world. See, prices, within days, change rapidly and quickly. You have to, if you're going to make trades on the same day, be very, very aware of what's going on. And also, the entire time that your money is invested in turnips, much like in real-life when you're investing in the stock market, your money is tied up. It can't be used for anything else. So if you wanted to build that bridge in Animal Crossing, you're going to have to fund it with bells that you get from a different way.
Now, let's touch on some of the differences, because I think these are very, very important differences. The first big difference is that in Animal Crossing your turnips expire, as in they are no longer usable and valueless on the same Sunday one week from when you bought them. And that is a problem from an investing perspective. That means that you have a crunch of time that you have to worry about in Animal Crossing, which very rarely do you have to worry about in the real world.
You see, you can invest in the real world from times starting at one day all the way up to 30, 35, 40 years, and that is where we get our edge in traditional investing. You can hold onto investments for a very, very long time, and thankfully in the modern economy, historically it shows us an upward trend. So even if you have a down period in the market you're likely to see up time later.
Another difference between real-world investing and investing in Animal Crossing is patterns. You see, in Animal Crossing, once you understand them, there are very specific patterns that you can use online calculators for to determine what your yield will be for that week, based on the first three or four prices that you get from Timmy and Tommy on Monday and Tuesday. And that is a benefit that we don't really have in the real world.
The stock market is a largely emotional entity and can be impacted by any number of factors. Take the coronavirus for instance. We have seen big drops in the stock market that even though we were, what some would say, due for the next downturn or recession, we never knew what would be the cause of it or why. And so, these sorts of things are much less predictable, so to speak, than what is going on within the Animal Crossing world, at least mathematically.
Now, that does not mean that historical data does not suggest a pattern of upswings and downswings in the market. We can look at that and draw conclusions about when investing is a good or bad idea as a result of that. But that all being said, there are some differences.
So to wrap up some of the similarities between the Stalk Market and the stock market are that prices change very quickly, and that your money is tied up within the system while you're investing. On the other hand, some of the differences are that our investments don't expire in the same way, unless you're investing in options contracts, and there is less of a pattern to the way that the stock market performs than maybe the very predictable calculator math style pattern that's in Animal Crossing. But it's still really cool to think about the idea of investing X and getting Y. And so, I think that the Animal Crossing Stalk Market is a really interesting addendum to an otherwise kind of less rigid game.
I hope that you enjoyed this video and that you learned something from it. Have a wonderful day, and thanks for watching.
"What is better - to be born good, or to overcome your evil nature through great effort?”
This quote is from the epic role-playing game Skyrim. When you are at the peak of the world, questioning Paarthurnax about why he is the only dragon that isn’t setting fire to the humanoid civilizations, he responds with that quote. It’s an interesting philosophical question that he poses to you. In the lens of the game, Paarthurnax is making a case for his way of life, that by overcoming his evil nature through meditation and self-isolation he has become good and that his path is inherently more noble than that of a person who does good with little effort.
I think this quote transcends the medium that it’s used in, a video game, and is applicable to much of our lives in the modern era. We are all born under different circumstances in this world, but what is most important is how you overcome your individual trials and obstacles to “overcome your evil nature through great effort.” Conquering these challenges is how we become the ideal versions of ourselves.
I was born into an upper middle class household. I wouldn’t say my family never struggled, but the struggles were rarely due to finances. My father worked a high-paying job when I was a kid, but I rarely got to see him. Between his long hours and my parents’ eventual divorce, I was closer to my mother until my teenage years. My other struggles came from a different place - finding meaning and generosity in a world that seemed so cruel. That initially emerged for me through the lens of psychology, which morphed into financial life planning when I discovered it.
“Why are you telling us your life story, Ian?” Put simply, it’s to outline something that I think gets lost in the modern debates about privilege. When someone says you are privileged, they don’t mean you haven’t had a hard life. I am privileged, yet divorce and the modern quest for meaning in an unforgiving world were deep emotional struggles I had to deal with my whole life. But my privilege insulated me from other difficulties that my peers have had to deal with.
I didn’t deal with poverty, I received an inheritance. I didn’t deal with violence, I was from a peaceful suburban home. I didn’t deal with malnutrition, I was fed well and often. I didn’t struggle to get my education, I was enrolled in a special “Magnet School” program through middle and high school and then my college was paid for.
I know people who have had to deal with all the things I just noted I didn’t, and much more. So when someone says I’m speaking from a place of white privilege, my comment back is “Yeah, I probably am. Tell me how you see things, please.” Because frankly, I am fortunate beyond all belief, so my perspective and experiences are different.
So how does this relate back to the sagely words of Paarthurnax? I view it as my responsibility to be a force for good. I was given a lot in life, some would say more than my fair share. I’m in no business to decide who gets what, but I am in a place where I can take some action to insure that others are given financial skills, financial assistance, and a place to open up about their difficulties. I take that responsibility seriously. It’s my life’s work.
Money is not good or evil, but being given fortune and not using it for the betterment of society, that is evil. It takes great effort to give up some of your fortune, but it is ultimately what we must do to be a force for good.
On that note, reader, if you are someone who is struggling financially and can’t see a way out...please reach out to me. Whether it’s an hour of time you need, or just someone to listen, I am happy to donate my time, skills, and effort to equipping you to tackle your financial life. Everyone needs help sometimes.
If you fall into another camp as a reader, someone who has much and needs less, then I would encourage you to donate to the people who are struggling right now. Black lives are currently highly at risk, and the protesters are on the front lines. Here is a link to my local bail fund, but find your state’s if you’re most interested in helping elsewhere. Otherwise, I encourage you to donate to Give Directly, a charity that provides financial resources to disenfranchised communities, your local homeless shelter, or any other charity that suits your fancy. As a bonus, I can tell you that some of the highest moments of self-actualization come when you are giving to others. You’ll enjoy it.
And thanks, Paarthurnax (and Bethesda’s design team) for giving me a life-defining quote in a place few look for them. Through great effort, we can all be better.