Sometimes Financial Wellbeing Doesn't Start with Money: Small Changes, Big Impact
I grew up in a German household with a German mother who LOVED to clean. Or at least that’s the impression I got since she spent so much time doing it. Most people I know tidy up for a cleaning lady, but my mother would make me tidy and then vacuum the entire house - all three floors including the stairs -- for the cleaning lady’s impending bi-monthly arrival. I thought this was insane as a kid and to this day I still wonder if my additional vacuuming provided any added value to the cleanliness of the house.
Recently though, I’ve been reflecting on how a clean house may actually lead to a more simple, relaxed, and financially free life. Was my mom on to something? I realized that when the house was a mess, she would spend time pestering my dad and I about how we didn’t contribute. She was tired from work, and I couldn’t understand why she didn’t just retire. But when the house was clean, we saw the best parts of my mom - a loving mother and wife who went above and beyond in her career with so much generosity to give to us and to our community.
This past week I was home and my mom laid out three suitcases that she asked me to sort through. Although this seems like a simple, innocuous request, she’s asked me to do this every time I come home to visit. “Can you please go through your drawers and let me know what you don’t want. I will bring it to Red Cross.” And each time I went home, I found a reason not to. I mean, it’s my childhood bedroom. Why wouldn’t I just keep it in there?
But this time, I did it. The fact is, there has been a true shift in my daily and weekly routine this year and today’s blog post will outline how and why it’s occurred. While this is a stray from my normal subjects of blog posts - stock comp, inflation, interest rates - the shift has been so profound I felt compelled to share.
At the start of the year, I was inspired by a quote from Jenna Fischer (aka Pam, from The Office). She said - “fix small problems”.
It got me thinking: What are all of the things that I’ve been putting off addressing that don’t contribute positively to my day?
I realized that the clutter of my closet and my apartment in general was actually causing me daily stress. I felt like every night I had to clean, but it never actually looked clean...
I realized that I wanted to read more, but I didn’t have a relaxing place to settle...
I was bored by wearing the same outfits all of the time and so I ended up with several shopping subscriptions and buying clothes anyway, because my closet overwhelmed me...
I found myself cleaning before and after the cleaning lady, bringing me back to those hectic moments as a child and wondering - am I turning into my mother?
So over the first week of January, my boyfriend Bryan and I cleaned out our closets. All of them. I was so inspired I even cleaned Cristina’s closets in March. In April, we did ours again. I’m now in July and ready to do it again!
Instead of buying new clothes, I found items that were lost in the mess of my overflowing closet. I was able to donate bags of clothing (a charitable deduction and a great feeling), sell some items on Tradesy and Poshmark (some extra cash), and get excited about exercising to fit into some of the pieces that made the final cut.
Instead of never finding time to enjoy a non financial book, I cleaned and moved furniture around, creating space in my house dedicated to the activity I wanted to dig into the most.
Instead of spending my evenings trying to figure out where everything will fit and then ultimately going to bed with the job unfinished, I spend my evenings cooking at home and then relaxing in the haven we’ve created.
This feeling moved me to clean the clutter of other areas of my life:
My inbox. I stored, archived, unsubscribed and deleted over 6,000 messages down to zero. I can now feel on top of my personal email and confidently operate under the 24 hour turnaround rule to respect the time and needs of others.
My mornings. Having made time in my evenings to wind down, I’m able to get to bed earlier, which means my mornings aren’t such a hectic affair. Instead of feeling tired and regretting the jam packed rushed feeling, I feel relaxed and make time for a long walk or run and/or coffee with friends.
Finally, my personal finances. I asked for help in a place we help so many, bookkeeping and taxes. Procrastinating helping myself is something I and so many suffer from, but having a third party to help me prioritize this part of my life and make decisions has improved my own financial confidence where I am now getting to decide how to allocate savings instead of feeling like I’m playing catch up all the time.
I’ve witnessed over 30 families go through the Life Planning exercises led by Cristina that result in the creation of their LifeVision. What I’ve discovered: what matters most to so many is family (either born or chosen) and spending time with those you love. With me, it’s no different.
I recognize that spending time with my friends and family, feeling good because of consistent exercise and eating delicious but healthy foods, and making sure I am constantly learning and sharing this knowledge is where I am at my best.
This shift started with fixing the small problem - clutter. But it’s progressed into developing habits that make each day more peaceful, invigorating and open to continuing to grow in this life. In Life Planning we use a tool called the Wheel of Life to measure and recalibrate the work we do with clients. The idea is to score each part of your life and observe if there are important parts of your life which you are neglecting or have been devoting too much of yourself to.
We like connecting the dots and seeing what shape it forms. In the past year, the shape inside my wheel of life has transformed from a shape akin to a jagged hourglass into a smoother, more concentric circle. Less chaos and clutter; more balance.
Everyone has little things that contribute negatively to their day. In our meetings, we aim to help identify the aspects of clients’ financial lives that are causing them stress or negativity and ask them to envision a life where they have moved past a behavior that may be linked to this feeling. We also help create a vision of a time 1-2 years in the future, where clients are living into a moment that brings them joy. We have found major shifts in clients and are grateful to be part of this discovery and evolution.
Sometimes, money isn’t the right place to start. I would encourage everyone to ask themselves, what can I do to fix one small problem? Start there. It can create a snowball effect that enables major change across your emotional and financial life. This idea of clutter for me has caused me to spend less money on groceries and avoid food waste. It has made me eat at home more, lowering my restaurant expenses and bringing me in my happy place of sharing meals with friends. It made me cancel my expensive shopping subscription and reinvest this money into going to a group workout class every week. Small changes can make a big impact.
Stephanie Bucko is a fee-only financial planner based in Los Angeles, California and is the Chief Investment Officer of Mana Financial Life Design. Mana Financial Life Design provides comprehensive financial planning and investment management services to help clients organize, grow and protect their wealth throughout life’s journey. Mana specializes in advising professionals in the tech industry, as well as women who work in institutional investing, through financial planning and investment management. As a fee-only fiduciary and independent financial advisor, Stephanie never receives commission of any kind. She is legally bound by her certification to provide unbiased and trustworthy financial advice.