What Financial Health Means to Me

June 29, 2016  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Better Your Life
financial health stephanie taylor christensen

financial health by stephanie taylor christensen

Financial health the ability to move out of a career you hate. Financial health is the option to choose relationships based on emotion instead of perceived security. It’s confidence that you can leap into the unknown. Financial health is the freedom to live on your terms.

I grew up in a family where money was the catalyst behind a number of pivotal life events and emotions. My dad was a small business owner who grew up in poverty. Though armed with only a high school education, he took it upon himself to learn how the rich become wealthy, and provide a better financial life for his children than he experienced. He learned about the stock market, and exchanged phone calls with his broker daily. It worked well for him—until it didn’t. When we celebrated my birthday on October 18, 1987, the Taylor family had no idea that a margin call was to come in less than 12 hours. Black Monday changed our financial life entirely.

I wouldn’t understand the details of what had happened until I was nearly 30 and my dad passed, but the crux of the lesson wasn’t lost on my ten year old self: Money, material items and the sense of security they provide are fleeting. I didn’t need to see bills, bank account or credit card statements to know where my family stood financially throughout the years. Our financial security was palpable based on the amount of stress that was or wasn’t present on any given day.

While these experiences likely shaped the reason I am a freelance financial writer today, I didn’t learn about financial health until I was 26. I was educated and business-minded but had no idea that I was expected to live within my means, save money, or manage debt. I didn’t understand how to use credit cards or live on a budget.  But it didn’t bother me; I had no aspirations of being financially secure. I figured debt was the American way. My experience was no different than most: 57% of Americans struggle financially, according to the Center for Financial Services Innovation’s data.

It wasn’t until I met a former ex who had his financial act together that I learned you can chose your financial life. That was the start of what would be a five year journey to dig my way out from under $15,000 in credit card debt. I pinched pennies, worked side gigs in addition to my full-time job, said no to almost every non-essential purchase, and cried many tears of frustration. But in that time, I grew emotionally, and intellectually and physically. I learned that commitment to a goal dictates your success or failure. I learned that I had far more options over my financial path and where it could lead than I once believed. One day, after all the years of struggle, I was free of debt. For the first time, I felt financially empowered, capable and free to live on my terms.

Financial health is the ability to choose your path, whatever you want it to be. When you’re ready to achieve financial health, life is yours for the taking.

How to Enjoy Thanksgiving Dinner at a Restaurant

November 23, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Better Your Life

thanksgiving dinner

Ready to kick back and let someone else make thanksgiving dinner this year?  You’re in good company, according to the National Restaurant Association, which estimates more than 14 million people choose to eat at restaurants on Thanksgiving. Here are some ways to ensure your thanksgiving dinner remains enjoyable, even when it’s spent in the “professional” dining room of a restaurant.

Allow for family input. Because Thanksgiving tends to bring about memories and emotional attachments to tradition, etiquette expert and author Thomas P. Farley (Mister Manners) says to have the conversation about dining out for Thanksgiving well before Thursday. Discuss the opinions and preferences everyone has about the idea itself, and the style and feel of the restaurant, the location, and the price.

Respect family dynamics. To ensure a tension-free Thanksgiving dinner at a restaurant, lifestyle expert Limor Suss says it’s important to let everyone choose their own spots in terms of where to sit, and when and how to interact. Farley says restaurants that offer private rooms can add to a relaxed holiday vibe, and allow guests and small children plenty of space to relax, chatter, and roam.

 Be open to options. At a loss for where to celebrate thanksgiving dinner?  Open Table makes it simple to search availability by date, price, neighborhood, and type of food served. As an added bonus, you may even earn some valuable points (aka, cash) through your Open Table account for reserving space for a large group.  But, if you’re willing to search a little further than your computer for your thanksgiving dinner locale, remember that small family-owned local venues may be highly accommodating and welcoming to your group (provided they have advance notice of your plans) even if they don’t advertise thanksgiving options.

Agree on the experience in advance. Successful thanksgiving dinners are those that are joyful and stress-free–regardless of where they’re held, or who cooks. Once you decide on the type of food everyone will enjoy, look for places that allow people to serve themselves, or those that will leave dishes on the table for a “family style” dining experience. You can also maintain the hometown feel of your thanksgiving dinner out if someone who lives near the restaurant is willing to host after dinner dessert, coffee and drinks (for those who want to attend).

Don’t let money sour your Turkey Day. Money isn’t often a part of thanksgiving dinner conversations when hosted at a person’s home–but it can cost just as much to make your own turkey and sides as it does to outsource it when your consider food costs, time, energy-and stress. If possible, give each family who will be a part of your thanksgiving dinner out their total cost owed–including what each guest/family will pay for a generous gratuity, and beverage service–well before the dinner begins. If some guests drink alcohol and others don’t, let guests pay for their libations with cash at the restaurant’s bar to avoid confusion.  In this day and age, it’s simple to transfer funds electronically (whether via Paypal, electronic bank transfer, or check) so no one feels like they’ve been tasked with the unpleasant job of settling a large bill after dinner, or collecting money on turkey day.



The Ultimate Career Test: Rekindling Your Passion for Work

November 10, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Better Your Life

career test

The ability to command a respectable salary, influence positive social change, or bring new ideas to a stale or conservative industry can draw you to a profession in the beginning. With any luck, it will keep you engaged for years.

But just as your life changes, so do your goals and interests. But when you find that your interests have changed to the extent that you’ve lost all passion for your work, it can be the ultimate career test–especially if you’ve spent several years in one industry, have no desire to learn the ins and outs of a new one, or are bound to your profession by the proverbial golden handcuffs.

The great news about feeling “meh” about your career?  Your relationship with your profession and the impact it has on your emotions and your satisfaction with life can be revived–just like your many other relationships that ebb and flow throughout life.

The key to acing this career test and coming out better for it? Be open to honestly identifying what’s not working, what is, why– what you’re willing to change in order to proactively reshape your professional destiny.

Here’s how.

Get out of your box (or cube). You may have mastered the skills outlined in your job description, but that’s a gift and a curse. When you can perform your job by rote, you go on auto-pilot. You disengage. You stop looking for new ways to solve problems. You probably get a little lazy. Most importantly, you stop being challenged. (That’s required in order to grow, by the way).

Instead of going through the motions or coming to the conclusion that the only solution is to find a new job, consider how you can rebrand yourself as a resource in your organization–and in your mind. Forget about what you “do” based on your title, and think of yourself as a consultant. Better yet, what if you were the owner of your company? What positive changes could you make? How would you eliminate waste and redundancy? How would you make the group more efficient? How would you add more value?

Once you’ve given that some thought, approach your boss. (You don’t have to share the imaginary consultant exercise). Tell your boss you’re willing to assist with “overflow” needs because you crave the opportunity to learn through new experiences, and think you can accomplish even more than you currently do.

Likewise, if a team is struggling to complete a project, offer your assistance—even if the task is way out of your comfort zone. Broadening your exposure makes you inherently more valuable to your company. More importantly, you feel a renewed sense of challenge and purpose. As you interact with new teams, you’ll likely build and deepen relationships with new contacts as well. Through your new connections, you may develop a whole new perspective about your job, and your company.

Take on interesting projects with no strings attached.  When you begin your career, money has a way of being very important–and with good reason: You’ve probably got student loan debts to pay, new bills that come with living as a grown up, and potentially, longer term financial goals like buying a home, getting married, or starting a family.

Though getting paid what you’re worth is never completely irrelevant, money only motivates for so long. Once you’ve conquered some of those early adulthood milestones and been in the working world for a few years, a high salary isn’t enough to keep you moving forward. When that happens, it may be worth taking on extra professional challenges, even when there’s no indication that they’ll boost your paycheck or trigger a promotion. Instead, consider it an investment in your energy, and your happiness.

No idea where to start, or how to get involved? Lauren Still of Careerevolution Group recommends approaching a mentor to honestly discuss your goals. Be very specific with a statement like ‘I aspire to be [fill in the blank] in the future. What would I need to achieve/do/demonstrate in order to be seen as a potential candidate?’” When you can leverage the insight of a superior who has “been” where you wish to go, you can be strategic about the extra work you take on, and know your extra effort has a purpose.

Measure your value. Tracking individual progress is an important aspect to setting and reaching goals, whether you’re training for a marathon, gunning for a promotion or saving for retirement. But Michelle Maratto Itkowitz a partner at the boutique law firm Itkowitz PLLC says that when job burnout is an issue, it’s also important to identify how your efforts relate to the “bigger picture” of your workplace. What’s the big corporate agenda for the year? What’s the focus of the executive team? What are the “hot” initiatives? Now consider how every one of your actions contribute to one of those areas. If you don’t see that it does, there may be opportunity to improve processes, adjust your focus, or take on different work.

Not only will the data help you make sense of those less than challenging but necessary tasks that are part of your job, it can help you determine if it’s worth attending certain networking functions, or joining in on corporate volunteer opportunities and committees so you can become involved with the company goals and initiatives you find most exciting.


This Is the Real Key to Your Financial Well Being (Hint: It’s Not a Number)

August 12, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Better Your Life


How’s your financial well being? I don’t mean the amount of money you make, what you own, what you owe, or what you’ve saved for retirement. I mean how “well” you feel about it.  As scientific studies conducted at the University of Southern California show, you’ve got far more power over whatever your degree of financial well being at this moment–and throughout your life–than you may think. It all comes down to the gap (or lack thereof) between your aspirations (what you really want), and your attainment (what you get). Here’s a look at why what you “want” in life–material or otherwise–is the real driver for your financial well being.

Much is made about keeping up with the Jones’s, but the fact of the matter is, it’s a false story. Competition is something you choose to enter into, or completely decline. The “Jones” aren’t real. They’re you. They’re what you want in life, and what you strive to achieve. They don’t set the bar for success. You do. If you’re not happy with what you have, it’s completely within your control to rewrite your list of wants, and reset the bar.

Consider this:  You may want to drive a Mercedes while I’m perfectly happy with a used Accord. My goal is easier to attain,  in theory. I’ll probably reach it sooner than you –and with less effort. In scientific terms, once I have my accord, I’ll have narrowed the gap between aspiration, and attainment. As a result, I’ll feel happier with my life. I’ll probably be more likely to keep moving forward and feeling confident, instead of feeling stuck by a long list of things I want, and don’t have. The same theory explains why some people can make any amount of money and remain miserable, while others are perfectly content to live modestly.

Financial well being isn’t about the amount of money you have or the amount of your assets or debts. It’s determined by the amount you think you need to have in order to feel complete. But you don’t have to take it from me. Take it from longitudinal scientific studies that have revealed consistent results, across several decades, and despite changes income, buying power and the health of the economy.

The Roper Studies involved the collection of national attitudinal data from the 1970’s to the early 2000’s. The questionnaires measured respondent attitudes to family, money and other aspects of what they considered part of “the good life.” The list of 25 “good life” items asked study respondents to select which  they had—things like owning a home, having a vacation home, owning luxury cars or nice clothes, having a lot of money, having  kids, a four day work week, and a happy marriage. Then, it compared the respondent’s “wants” for the good life, to the degree they’d attained the aspects of they valued.

The data revealed some important findings, about gender, happiness, and money.  Women, as it turns out, tend to be happier with their lives in their younger years. This may be explained by any number of things, including that women tend to want marriage earlier in life than men–and that most marriages are happier in their beginning than their end. Women may also feel less financial pressure to earn alot of money, and drive nice cars earlier in life, compared to men. The spread between aspiration and attainment is narrower for women. But that all changes as men grow older. They are more likely to report having attained “the good life” items they value– while women are less likely to report having them.  This may be attributed to any number of things: Divorce rates tend to be higher later in life and the cause of financial strain for women.  Women’s finances may suffer from gender pay gaps, or the “mommy penalty” for taking a break from the work force to raise children. Whatever the reason, they tend to want more than they feel they have as the years progress.

Though that picture may seem bleak, it’s got a powerful take away: You have more control over your happiness—and financial well being—than you may believe. It starts with defining your “wants” for the good life, acknowledging what you’ve achieved and haven’t, and taking a close look at if what you thought you wanted the last time you created that list still applies. If it doesn’t, it’s time to rewrite the story of your own good life.






Why You Are the Success Definition

July 16, 2015  |  No Comments  |  by Stephanie  |  Better Your Life


Most of us say we want success.  In fact, we may spend our whole lives striving for it. We want our kids to experience it, and we want others to perceive us as the embodiment of it.

But success is a subjective term that few of us take the time to define before we pursue it. More importantly, it’s a very fluid and constantly evolving concept within the course of our lives.

The dictionary’s definition of success demonstrates the complexity. The primary definition is: “The favorable or prosperous termination of attempts or endeavors; the accomplishment of one’s goals.” But read further, and even the dictionary mentions that success has a direct relationship to the obsolete.

My definition of success is probably very different from yours. Your idea of what you thought would “complete you” (intentional Jerry McGuire reference) when you were 25 (ie, making you feel like a success) is probably very different than when you’re 45.

Most people who have an eye on success and achievement regularly set goals. It establishes a sense of focus, of forward trajectory. A path. But how often do we think about whether we’re still following the right plan for us, based on our personal definition of what success means, in the here and now?

When we lack something, we often think that we can satisfy the need by making some kind of external change: If I’m someone that hates my job, I may try to solve that by finding a new one. I may make significantly more money, or earn prestige on my resume in the process. By society’s definitions, my move was a success.  But two years later, I may be just as miserable as before. Why?

Because I didn’t define what success really meant in the here and now, to me.

I solved the wrong problem.

I recently wrote an article called “10 Tough Job Lessons Worth Learning By Age 30.” I’m not ashamed to admit that at least two of these things happened to me. (I’ll leave it to you to figure out which ones).

Indeed, the career lessons were valuable. They ultimately led me to realize that what I thought I was success (making money), wasn’t what I wanted at all. Perhaps more accurately, at some point it was—but then it shape-shifted. I grew and changed as a person. My idea of success evolved in tandem.

Ironically, one of my professional dreams has long been to work at a major financial publication like Kiplinger or Money magazine. Thanks to these tough lessons I wrote about, my name is now in the byline of Money magazine. Mission accomplished.

But reaching success signals that it’s time to check in. Sure, I can keep pursuing the same goal, but in all likelihood, it’s not going to be as personally meaningful the second or third time around.

So what’s my new idea of success, based on my definition of it, right now?

If you do one thing today, check in with your definition of success. Not your neighbor’s. Not your parents. Not your spouse’s. Yours.