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  • Timothy Iseler

Serenity & Control: Managing Your Money

When I was just a little tyke, maybe age 6 or 7, a program was introduced to educate public school children about emotional health. Mr Mitten (could that have actually been his real name?) and a troupe of puppets periodically visited our classroom to teach us about feelings and coping mechanisms. In fact, I'm positive that was the first time I heard the word "cope".

Perhaps it was part of the state-approved curriculum or perhaps Mr Mitten was a 12-stepper, but we learned a version of the so-called Serenity Prayer: give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. Heady stuff for a bunch of 7-year olds!

The last few years have shown the magnitude of the things that we cannot control: a global pandemic, a divisive election, global supply chain breakdowns, and war are just a few of the factors pushing and pulling us around. Then there are the financial headwinds: rising inflation, soaring home costs, and falling stock market prices impact nearly everyone, but are beyond any of our control.

But there are still a lot of important factors that we can control – and we have the wisdom to know the difference! Here are just a few meaningfully impactful practices that each one of us can use to improve life.

Spending – There are expenses that you have to pay each month, like housing, utilities, insurance, loan repayments, and health care. These are called essential expenses and there isn't a lot you can do about them. (On the plus side, these expenses tend to stay fairly steady each month, making them easy-ish to predict.) Everything else, though, falls into the category of discretionary expenses – and all of that spending is completely within your control. Going out to dinner, ordering boxes from Amazon, even your streaming services can be tapered or eliminated at your discretion. Even groceries, which is typically treated as an essential expense, offers room to control costs by taking advantage of sales, buying frequently used items in bulk, and exploring alternatives to the pricier treats and snacks in your shopping cart.

Saving – Spending & saving have a push-pull relationship: spending less means greater ability to save, while spending more does just the opposite. Again, both are completely within your control! Every dollar of income you save represents a little more freedom in the future – freedom to take a vacation, to treat friends & family to a nice meal, to cover an unexpected expense without using debt, and even the freedom to sleep a little better at night knowning that you have a financial cushion.

Investment contributions – Holy smokes, the stock market is definitely beyond your control. But how much you contribute to your investment accounts – how much current income you allocate to eventually generating future income – is up to you. You can choose to contribute a little out of each paycheck, a certain amount each month, or to maximize contributions to retirement accounts each year. And we can make lemonade out of lemons when market returns are disappointing: lower stock valuations means that each of your dollars goes further (i.e., buys more) in a down market.

How you use your time – This one is both personal & financial: what you do with your free time directly impacts your mental & financial health. Spending your Saturday watching Netflix is certainly one way to pass the time, but probably won't dramatically enrich your life. Going for a walk with an old friend also passes the time, but is emotionally & socially rewarding – and doesn't cost a single penny! Vacations and fancy meals are great, but plenty of activities that impact quality of life are simple & inexpensive.

The skills you cultivate – You can't conjure up a raise or a promotion, but you can change what you bring to the bargaining table. Learning new skills & improving existing ones makes your expertise (and therefore your time) more valuable. The additional training, certification, or hands-on experience you receive is a great way to invest in yourself – and expand opportunities.

Thanks, Mr Mitten!

Timothy Iseler, CFP®

Founder & Lead Advisor

Iseler Financial, LLC | Durham NC | (919) 666-7604

Iseler Financial helps creative professionals remove stress while taking control of their financial futures. As both advisor and accountability partner, we help identify current strengths and weaknesses, clarify and refine your long-term goals, and prioritize understandable, manageable, and repeatable actions to bring long-term financial well-being. Reach out today to take the first step.

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