The Blessing of Criticism

If you're experiencing zero criticism

Have you had a rough week from your critics? Don’t let the naysayers get you down. Take some time this weekend to evaluate the substance of the criticisms that have been lobbed your way.

Consider if there is any validity to what’s been said about you. Be humble and willing to admit your faults and mistakes, but don’t grovel in self-pity. Pick yourself up, apologize if necessary, then attack next week with a renewed vigor to overcome your failures.

Anything else that’s left over, dispose of it like yesterday’s trash and move on. Ignore future repetitions of criticisms you know aren’t true and do your best to remove those negative voices from your life.

Going forward, consider criticism a blessing. It means you’re making an impact on the world around you, and that someone’s taken notice.

You Become Who You Hang Around

You Become Who You Hang Around

When we’re working to change our lives and reach our goals, one of the most critical areas to examine is to check what types of people we hang around most often. One of the hardest alterations many people face on the way to reaching their goals is the realization that the people they’ve surrounded themselves with are negative influences.

We teach our children to be selective about who they hang out with, so why do we think that doesn’t apply to us as adults? A good parent encourages their children to be careful about the influences around them, knowing that they will be heavily influenced by those closest to them.

At the latest Smart Conference, Dave Ramsey referenced research that shows most people will earn a salary comparable to their closest friends—within +/-10%. He often talks about getting to know and become influenced by successful people. If we want to become successful in a certain area of life, such as money, then why would we allow ourselves to be continually influenced by people who haven’t been successful?

No, this isn’t advocating dropping friends because they aren’t rich, or trying to find a new set of people to pal around with so we look better than we are. This is about evaluating our relationships and determining whether or not they have a positive or negative influence on us.

Deleting Toxic Voices

A member of my small group at church recently recalled having a conversation with a woman who kept running down her husband. The woman’s diatribe included private details from her marriage, prompting my friend to stop her and say, “I’m not comfortable with this conversation. I don’t think we should be gossiping and running down your husband.”

The woman’s reaction just leaves me speechless. “Oh, it’s ok,” she replied. “I’m the one saying it, you’re just here to listen.”

You know what my friend’s reaction to that woman has been since? To never allow herself to be alone with her again. She remains friendly and doesn’t shun the woman, but she’s intentional about making sure she’s never in that uncomfortable position again. Why? Not only because she believes it’s wrong for someone to tear down their spouse that way, but also so she’s not eventually dragged down to the same level.

There are times when the best decision you can make is to cut ties with people who are holding you down. Are they negative? Do they gossip or put other people down? Do they consistently discourage you from following your hopes and plans? Are they a poor influence or someone that empowers a bad habit?

Those people need to be gone from your life.

Perhaps, like my friend, you can still be friendly, but within certain boundaries. This is especially true when it comes to family members. Can you allow that person to remain in your life in a limited way? Can you continue to interact with them without being alone with them or give them a place of significant influence in your life?

If not, then you’ll have to make the hard decision to delete them from your life. You owe it to them to be straight and tell them the blunt, honest truth. Give them the opportunity to change, but let them know that you’ll have to hold them at arm’s length until they’ve proven themselves. If they need help, point them in the right direction but make them responsible for getting the help they need.

Change Your Environment

I imagine that many of your friends are people you first became acquainted with due to your regular proximity to one another. Maybe you met them in your old neighborhood or school growing up, or back in college. Sometimes we meet people at work who are colleagues at first but grow to become part of our inner circle. It doesn’t really matter where you met, just recognize that the people you hang out with are likely there because of a shared environment.

So if you wake up one day and realize you need to find a new set of friends who won’t be bad influences, don’t go looking for new friends in the same old places. This doesn’t mean you need to drop everything, quit your job, and move to a new neighborhood. What it does mean is that you need to change the places you frequent.

If you’re not happy with the types of people you’re meeting down at the local pub, then why do you keep going to the local pub? If you haven’t been able to make any genuine friends at church, why don’t you look for a new church filled with different people? There’s no rule that says you’re stuck going to the same old places all the time. There’s no law that says your closest ten friends have to be coworkers or people you’ve known all your life.

Where do the people you want to be like hang out? What are the things the people you admire like to do? Go to those places and get to know a different breed of person.

Are You the Problem?

Last of all, realize that you may be the person in need of the most change. Like calls to like, so you tend to attract certain types of people more than others. This doesn’t mean you’re a bad person, but it does mean that there may be some work necessary on your part before others will want to hand out with you. Remember, you’re beginning to be selective about who you hang around, so you can expect others to be just as selective.

Remember, this entire exercise is all about change for the better, so don’t be surprised when you need to make some initial changes in order to make other changes possible in the future.

Keep Your Eye on the Point of Impact

Keep Your Eye on the Point of Impact

We’ve been in a bit of a renovation mode in our house in recent days, ripping up our carpet and laying down laminate flooring one room at a time. We haven’t been in any sort of a hurry, so we spread the first two room’s worth of work over a little more than a week.

There’s a small segment of the hallway that’s part of the renovation, including the floor just inside the entrance. This space—about five foot square—was covered in floor tile that’s been coming loose from the foundation over the last year. When I got out some tools to remove the tile it came up very easily, leaving a solid layer of mastic behind.

The best tools I had available to remove the mastic was my old framing hammer and a heavy duty chisel borrowed from my father-in-law. I set the blade of the chisel against the mastic and when to work, striking the hammer against the butt of the chisel in order to remove the mastic inch by inch.

In the beginning, I was careful to watch where I was swinging the hammer, ensuring the head impacted the chisel. But as I gained confidence I would get distracted and look down to watch the chisel as it progressed across the floor.

I’m sure you can guess what happened each and every time. I’d invariably wind up smacking my thumb painfully. Why? Because I took my eye off the point of impact.

Where’s Your Focus?

When you’re working toward any sort of goal—getting out of debt, starting your own business, or becoming a better spouse—it’s important to keep your eyes focused on the point that will make the most impact.

Though it sounds counter-intuitive, this almost never means focusing on your ultimate goal. In my mastic removal technique, my goal was to clear off the underlying concrete and create a smooth, level surface suitable for the new laminate flooring. My mistake was focusing on the progress I was making instead of on the action creating that progress—the point of impact.

So let’s say you’re getting out of debt. You need to keep your attention focused where it can do the most good—namely budgeting and using every spare dollar to rid yourself of that debt as quickly as possible. Yes, your ultimate goal is debt freedom, but don’t get distracted and start looking off into the horizon and lose sight of the here and now.

When a desired goal loses its impetus it becomes nothing more than an empty wish.

Where should your focus be at the moment? What is the point in your life which, when given your complete attention, has the greatest impact in moving your toward your goal?

Tax Day Has Come and Gone, Now What? Preparing Now for Next Year

Tax Day Has Come and Gone, Now What?

Tax day has come and gone for the year, and many of you are breathing a sigh of relief. Now you plan to kick back and enjoy the next twelve months and put taxes out of your mind until next April.

That’s a huge mistake.

If you want to make the most out of your yearly tax routine, you need to put together a game plan for next year. Here are the minimum steps you should begin taking today to be better prepared for your taxes next year.

Hire a Professional

Unless your taxes are simple enough to file using a 1040EZ, you will likely be well-served by hiring a professional to prepare your taxes for you. Chances are you’re already paying for tax preparation software, which means you’re out of pocket about $50 anyway. An informal survey on Dave Ramsey’s Facebook page revealed that the average return for self-filing individuals was $1,824 while the average refund for filers who hired a professional was $2,615. As you can see, the tax pro more than paid for themselves.

Tax software often leads users astray by not having any sort of checks and balances to ensure you’ve entered all your information correctly. The software doesn’t know how to apply all the deductions and credits for which you qualify—the best it can do is offer you options based on your input. Sure, tax software has gotten better and more intuitive over the years, but it cannot beat a professional with a working brain.

When you consider that a seasoned tax pro understands the intricacies of current tax code and can not only get you the largest return possible but also ensure that your taxes are filed properly, you begin to understand the benefits of paying their fee. Don’t overlook the added bonus of not spending hours and hours working on all that paperwork yourself—that’s what you’re paying the pro to take care of!

If you’re an entrepreneur, you’ll discover that a reputable tax pro is worth their weight in saved money. Why wade through all that red tape on your own? A professional knows how to find all the deductions and credits for which you qualify while ensuring you meet your legal obligations.

Don’t already have a tax pro in your corner? Ask your friends for recommendations, or check out one of Dave Ramsey’s Endorsed Local Providers.

File Your Taxes Early

Why wait until April 15 every year to file your taxes, especially if you’re going to hire a pro? Starting now, get a file folder and begin collecting all the relevant information you’ll need for next year’s taxes—things such as investment income statements and mortgage interest statements. If you plan on itemizing deductions, you’ll need to collect receipts for your charitable donations, child care expenses, college expenses—basically anything and everything your tax pro is going to need.

After the first of the year, place your W-2s and 1099s in your folder, along with any other relevant documents. Remember, most of your tax documents are required by law to be in the mail and headed toward you by January 31 each year. If you haven’t received all your documents by mid-February, you need to get on the phone and find out what’s going on.

As soon as you’ve received all your statements, schedule an appointment with your local tax pro. Not only does this get it all done and off your mind sooner, it also gives your tax pro more time to work on your filing. A tax pro’s schedule tends to fill up fast in the last month or so before the deadline, so you want to beat the rush and get your paperwork to them as early as possible. Don’t forget that even the best tax pro is human, and no matter how hard they try or how experienced they might be, they’re also feeling the crunch in the weeks leading up to April 15, which means they’ll be more prone to mistakes.

Don’t Look Forward to Getting Anything Back

There was a day when I looked forward to tax season because I was pretty sure I was going to get a return. In my immaturity, my plan was to take that “unexpected windfall” and spend it. Tax refund day felt like Christmas.

The truth is that what really happened is I allowed the government to take too much money out of my paycheck—essentially giving Washington an interest free loan. Wouldn’t it be better to keep that money and use it to pay off debt or invest?

Think about it. The average tax refund in 2014 was $3,096, and is expected to rise higher every year. That’s $258 per month the average tax payer could be putting to good use rather than sending it to a government who’s more likely to waste it than use it wisely.

How much faster could you get out of debt if you applied an extra $258 per month to your bills? What if you invested that money instead? An investment of $258 per month over the course of 20 years would end up being worth between $120,721 and $249,843.

How’s that 0% interest loan you’ve been giving the government looking now? Of course, the key to using that saved money is to put it toward debt or savings, not use it to justify a new monthly payment.

Your goal at tax time should be to pay nothing and not get a big lump sum back from Washington. For starters, use the Withholding Calculator at IRS.gov to find out how to properly fill out your W-4 at work. Has your family situation changed since you last filled one out? It’s time for an update.

Better yet, sit down with your tax professional and ask their advice to find out how to best set yourself up to keep as much money as possible in your paycheck.

Say “No” to Shortcuts and Tricks

Don’t fall prey to taking shortcuts with your taxes. You’re only one audit away from major financial and legal difficulties if there’s anything fishy going on with your taxes.

There are also so-called “smart tricks” that some tax pros may try to persuade you to take advantage of—things like whole life insurance policies, annuities, and holding on to your mortgage. Sure, there are tax breaks available for some of these practices, but if you sit down and do some critical thinking you’ll learn that you’ll be far better off pursuing investment vehicles like matching 401(k) plans at work and Roth IRAs, or paying off your mortgage early and investing the savings. In the long run, you’ll earn exponentially more money from investing than from tax breaks.

What About This Year’s Refund?

If you received a sizable tax refund this year, what’s your plan? Instead of blowing it, why not stick it in a savings account at the bank while you take some time to consider the wisest use of your funds?

My advice is to follow Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps, which means making sure you have a starter emergency fund of $1,000 saved up and then throw every extra dime at your debt until it’s paid off. If you’re out of debt, make sure you’ve got an emergency fund of 3-6 months worth of expenses, then look into saving for retirement and college, and paying your home off early.