Investing In Peace

Dear Peace-Deprived,

Are you satisfied with the progress you’ve made so far this year? If not, you still have time to make some positive changes in 2011. There are three weeks left in the year. Lucky for you, it only takes 21 days to start/break a habit. What’s one positive change you would like to accomplish in 2012? What’s one thing you have no desire to bring into your New Year? What areas of your life are you struggling to find peace…  finances? your relationship with God? your marriage? your job? your health/weight? What do you do that stresses you out? Think about it. Go ahead… take a few minutes. Got it? Good. Now that you’ve identified your struggle, let’s do something about it. There’s a simple solution to your complex case: you have to start doing things that will produce harmony instead of hostility; serenity instead of stress. You have to start investing in peace.

An investment is simply a commitment of time, energy, or resources with the expectation of future gain. Simply put, it’s sowing a seed to reap a reward.  Your life is a giant investment portfolio of the decisions you make and the risks you take. The value of your portfolio (aka, your self-worth) is based upon how much weight you give to your experiences and accomplishments. Your daily actions and behaviors are an investment of your time/energy/resources that will reap either positive or negative results. If your portfolio is consistently experiencing poor performance, you have to get rid of what’s weighing you down and begin investing in things that will bring you peace. What stress/struggle do you want to be free from in 2012? Well, in order to make that happen, you’ve got to start tackling it today. You must become proactive instead of reactive (lead by your emotions). Let’s handle that, shall we? Here’s your investment plan:

1. State your objective. What is the primary goal you are trying to accomplish… a better handle on your finances? debt reduction? weight loss? lower blood pressure/cholesterol? Whatever your goal is, make sure it’s S.M.A.R.T. (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound). Let’s say you want to build up your cash reserves. A S.M.A.R.T. goal would look like this:

“I want to have an additional $3,000 in my emergency fund by 12/31/2012. I will accomplish this goal by saving $250/month into my savings account for the next 12 months. I will monitor my progress quarterly. Because I have created a budget based on my income and expenses, I can realistically expect to save $750 per quarter (which will total $3,000 for the year). Yes, I can do this!”

Write the vision and make it plain. Put your objective in writing and read it aloud to yourself. You are more likely to reach a goal if you simply write it down. And hearing yourself voice your desire causes you to take ownership of your objective. Investing in peace is all about knowing what you want for yourself. You can’t change anyone else and nobody can change you. You have to do this for your own peace of mind.

2. Identify the positive rewards of accomplishing your objective.  Investing in peace will reap some wonderful rewards: less stress, more joy, better sleep, healthier attitude towards yourself and others, etc. Make a list of all the perks that come as a result of reaching your objective. This is the positive return on your investment.

3. Identify the negative consequences of not reaching your goal. Write down the “poor performance” you might experience if you don’t start investing in peace. Depending on your goal, some examples may include: depression, stress, anxiety, increased debt, reduced savings, heart attack, stroke, poor self-image, hopelessness, strife, etc. This is the negative return on your investment. Compare this list to the list of your positive rewards. Which would you prefer? Keep both of these lists in mind when you get discouraged. Oftentimes, we don’t think twice about divulging in unhealthy behavior when we don’t acknowledge the risks associated with it.

4. Get a Peace Partner. This is someone you trust who can respectfully hold you accountable to reaching your goal (and who is not struggling in the same area you are). They will be there to keep you on track when you want to give up. And they will celebrate your  accomplishments in the process. Having someone to hold you accountable will significantly increase your ability to make your dreams come true.

5. Manage your risk. Reduce/eliminate your distractions. What people, places, and/or things often distract you from staying on course? If you’re trying to save money, you probably shouldn’t hang out with friends who spend money like it grows on trees. If you’re trying to reduce your debt, stop carrying your credit cards in your wallet. It’s amazing how much easier it will be to focus on your goal when your vision isn’t clouded with temptation.

6. Take a daily Peace Pill. What is ONE Thing you can do every day to help you reach your objective? This is your Peace Pill. Doing ONE Thing consistently everyday for the next 21 days will help you form a positive habit that will not only assist you in reaching your goal, but will also give you more peace in the process. It’s much easier to reach a goal if you break it down into baby steps. Smaller pills are far less difficult to swallow. So, focus on changing just one bad habit at a time for 3 weeks straight.

7. Monitor your progress. Break your goal down into shorter intervals and monitor your progress accordingly. Check in with your Peace Partner to let them know how you’re doing and discuss any challenges/frustrations you might have. And don’t beat yourself up if you fall off the wagon… just jump right back on and keep it moving!

FYI: It’s not good enough to simply know these steps. You must implement them in order for them to work. Commit to this process and above all else, invite God to lead the way. Stay prayerful. Seek His face throughout each of these 7 steps. The Holy Spirit will guide you and the Prince of Peace will keep you. Investing in peace is about doing the little things that will produce positive results for your peace of mind. It’s about taking good risks. Make a conscious decision to invest in your peace every day- no matter how big or small. Consistency is key. Acknowledge how counterproductive it is to waste your time, money, and energy on things that will ultimately steal your joy. Short-term pleasure often produces long-term pain. Enough of that already! You’ve been going in circles for too long… can we agree that it’s gotten you nowhere? Take ownership of where you are and how you got there. Here’s the good news: when you focus on doing the right thing, you leave little room for the wrong thing to take root. Even when you experience the volatility of life, you can experience positive performance. You’ll be more at peace with yourself and others, and your quality of life will grow exponentially. Sounds like an excellent return on investment, if you ask me!! Peace is priceless… get yours today! 🙂

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick

P.S. If you’re dealing with long-term issues that you can’t seem to resolve on your own, or if you feel your situation is hopeless, don’t give up! Seek the counsel of your Pastor, therapist, or other mental health professional. For additional resources, check out ShareCare at, or the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)…. or (800) 950-NAMI. Support, education, information, referral and advocacy is available to you! It’s not too late. You can do it, and they can help!

Your Wedding and Your Wallet

Dear Altar-Bound,

‘Tis the season to get engaged! November thru February is peak time for proposals. So, if you should happen to be newly engaged and want to spend wisely for your wedding, this post is for you!

Nowadays, the average wedding costs roughly $27,000/year (more in major metropolitan areas), and this doesn’t even include the honeymoon. Umm… that’s a lot of moolah! And this crazy economy certainly doesn’t help the cause. So, how do you afford a fabulous wedding without breaking the bank? Here are 10 tips to help you do just that:

1. Create a realistic budget. As John Maxwell says, “a budget is telling your money where to go instead of wondering where it went.”  I view a budget as a spending plan. It shows me how much money I can reasonably spend each month. So, do the same for your wedding. Write down your net monthly income and compare that to your total monthly expenses. What’s left over? This is your discretionary income. These are the funds that you can use towards your wedding. If the figure isn’t high enough, then you’ll need to cut back. Whatever you do, make sure you don’t commit more money than you can realistically afford to set aside each month (keeping in mind that you still need to save to build up your emergency fund). Use The Knot‘s  Wedding Budgeter to help you plan appropriately.

2. Use cash/American Express only (no credit cards or loans). From day one, you must commit to not financing your wedding. For major purchases (reception, wedding gown/tux, wedding bands, etc.) use an American Express Charge Card (responsibly, of course!) and pay the balance in full when it’s due. Better yet, use an American Express Pre-paid Card. Either way, your purchases will be protected against fraud, and you won’t have an ongoing balance lingering over your head. For everything else, pay as you go with cash. It will do your mind and your marriage a whole lot of good to have everything paid in full by the time you leave the reception. Don’t enter your marriage with the ball and chain of debt.

3. Let there be… lunch! That’s right- consider having a lunch reception (you may even be able to get away with a brunch reception, if you plan it right). Shout out to Pastor Tejado and Co-Pastor Victoria Hanchell for giving us this brilliant idea years ago- before we were even engaged! The earlier your ceremony, the earlier your reception. You can get practically the same entrée for lunch as some venues would serve for a dinner reception- for 20-50% less. How awesome is that?!  This could literally shave THOUSANDS off your reception bill (which typically accounts for up to 50% of the total cost of your wedding day). And with a lunch reception, you can take advantage of Tip #4…

4. Skip the open bar. An open bar can account for nearly HALF the cost of your reception. Want to save some major cash? Have a lunch reception and skip the open bar. If you really want to go all out, skip the bar all together. How many of your guests are really going to be “takin’ it to the head” in the middle of the afternoon?

5. Hire a student photographer and/or videographer. What’s a great wedding day without great pictures and video to prove it? Contact the department head of your local College for Design and request referrals for student (junior or senior) photographers/videographers who may be for hire. Just make sure they come highly recommended and you view a sample of their work. Ask them for references as well. You’d be surprised how many college students would love to add you to their professional portfolio for a nominal fee (I can testify! Thanks to our videographer, Dylan Steinberg! He’s big time now- glad we snagged him when we did!).

6. Be selective with your guest list. Look, I know you want to invite your BFF from 4th grade, but you haven’t seen her… since 4th grade. Too often, couples invite everybody and their mama to their wedding, and have no clue who some of these folks are when they look through their wedding album. My friend, this doesn’t have to happen to you! Looking for ways to trim your list? Don’t invite anyone whose middle name you don’t know, or anyone you haven’t personally dined with in the past 12 months. Those two criteria alone should drastically reduce the number of guests on your list. Oh, and forgo the ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, as well anyone who is not married, engaged to, or in a significant long-term relationship with someone else on your list. The fewer mouths to feed, the more money in your wallet (and it’ll make the bouquet/garter toss much more exciting.) 😉

7. Pair down the bridal party. Keep it simple: closest friends/family members only (2-8 people max). The fewer folks in the bridal party, the less  you have to spend on gifts, and the less you have to spend on transportation to and from the ceremony/reception. Hey, more people, more problems! Lol

8. Cut the cake. Tiered wedding cakes are rather passe nowadays. Consider an assortment of desserts (sorbets, chocolate treats, slices of cake, etc., for your guests. Still want a big fancy cake but without all the financial fuss? Opt for what I call a “styrofoam special”… a beautifully decorated styrofoam cake, where only the top tier or two is real. Have a less expensive sheet cake to be cut to served to your guests (check beforehand to make sure your venue doesn’t have a cake cutting fee. If so, ask them to waive it as a courtesy). No one will ever know the difference, trust me! (Shout out to Bredenbeck’s Bakery for making this happen so deliciously!).

9. Skip the favors. Hundred of dollars can be saved by not giving favors to your guests. No one will even miss them. Do yourself a favor- skip the favors.

10. Spend less, invest more. I know it’s tempting, but don’t spend all your money on your wedding. As beautiful as your big day will be, it will only last a few hours. Your marriage- on the other hand- will last a lifetime. Invest more in your future, less in the moment. If you haven’t done so already, check out my previous post (Financial Rules of Engagement) for smart steps towards holy financial matrimony.

Implementing these tips will reap you a wonderful wedding, while sowing more wealth in your wallet. Cheers to you!

Practically Yours,

~The Practical Chick