A Financial Education Event
 

Driving Cars for Free

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In our Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour, one of the most popular segments deals with “how to drive a car for free.” The concept is fairly simple, but less than 10% of Americans actually follow the steps to experience debt free living when it comes to transportation. We love our military audiences because even though some military members are “ordered” to attend our show, by the time it is over, they are laughing, they’ve learned something and they realize how much fellow Americans loves them.

So how do you do it? Just follow three steps:

  1. Start with a Debt Free Car – This is usually going to be the car you just paid off. Or, it might be a vehicle a parent or someone else gave you (it might even have seen better days). In our lives, we were “given” one car and we gave away 8 cars. It might be that you agree to be a one-car family for 18 months instead of a two-car family. This is how the Kays did it to start with. If you don’t absolutely have to drive a car (you are a one car family, public transportation, driving someone else’s car, etc.), then you can go to step #2.
  1. Pay Yourself – The monthly payment for your car that you used to pay before it was paid off is a payment you will now pay to yourself instead of to the lienholder. So let’s say your car payment was $300. You will pay yourself $300 every month for 18 months. At the end of that time, you take the $5400 you have saved and then sell your existing vehicle for as much as you can get for it. You will get more money for your vehicle if you detail it, get everything running as well as possible (without a huge investment) and then sell it yourself. Go to KBB for 10 steps on how to sell your car yourself.  Let’s say you sell it for $8000. Now you have $13,400 to work with.
  1. Pay Cash for Your Next Car – Follow my steps from my previous blog on Car Buying Dos and Don’ts – Even if you aren’t a USAA member (for an additional military discount), you can still follow the steps listed to pay the least price possible for your next vehicle. Make a special note: You cannot do this with a new car! It has to be a used car. The average new car depreciates $8000 in 8 seconds (when you drive it off the lot). So you have to buy a car that is slightly used (or real used until you trade up). The example in my blog shows how I traded up consistently until I was driving a modest Mercedes. (Is there such a thing as a modest Mercedes? I believe there is).
  1. Trade Up Until You’re Satisfied – After you’re in a new-to-you “paid for” car, then start with step number two all over again and start paying yourself. Let’s say you bought a car for $13,400 and you got into it low (as I showed you how to do in my previous blog), then in only 18 months a used car won’t depreciate that much (if you take care of it and try to keep low mileage on it) and you can sell it for close to what you paid for it. You sell it after 18 months for $13,000 and add the additional $5400 that you have saved by paying yourself every month. Now you have $18,400 going into step #3 and you can trade up your vehicle.

Does this work? It absolutely does. Not only do I do this in my own family, but I have children who do it as well. When my kids ask for my advice (sometimes it’s nice having a mom who is America’s Family Financial Expert ®), I advise them to not be wasting money on expensive car interest payments or crazy expensive leases. The difference is enough money saved over the course of five years to be able to put money down on a house instead of having to rent. It truly adds up!

Keep trading up until you are satisfied with your car and you can trade up into a car with a substantial manufacturer’s warranty (or negotiate that warranty). I do practice what I preach, and I did this to get my 2014 Mercedes, which is under mfg warranty until 2022. The only perceived downside is that my dream car is red and I thought that red cars get more speeding tickets than other colors. But good news! That’s a myth. Pedal to the metal!

What can you do today to drive your cars for free tomorrow? Let me hear from you!

Ellie Kay

Smart Money Habits for Millennials (and Their Mamas)

The Kay Family had five babies in seven years. That roughly adds up to 3 kids in diapers at once, 10 years of not sleeping through the night, 4 teenage drivers at the same time, 3 kids in college at once and today, we have 5 millennials in their 20’s simultaneously.

Fun .

But the good news is that they eventually slept, pottied, drove, graduated and even mastered money habits in the journey. Here are the habits we helped teach our millennials to make sure they didn’t have to move home, they could remain financially independent, have a great start for their families, and still buy their mama nice birthday gifts.

Habit #1 – Create and Live By a Spending Plan

Many millennials have heard of the value of creating a budget and even have apps that help. But it’s of little use if they don’t know how to stick to it. Here are my favorite apps to help:

  • Mint Budgeting App – I met the founder of Mint, Aaron Patzer, in a green room, years ago, when we were both going to be on ABC News in NYC. At the time, he was building his success with Mint. I just remember him being (as he says in the video) “full of myself.” Ha! But his budgeting app is probably the best out there because it makes it easy to create a budget. You connect the Mint app to your bank and the app uses your details to help create a personalized budget.
  • PocketGuard Budget App – This app also connects to your bank accounts and shows you what you currently have in your pocket. It tracks your money to show what you are spending and automates where you’re going off budget and where you need to cut back.
  • You Need a Budget – This app’s claim to fame is that it creates a budget you can stick to based on the info provided in your bank accounts and spending habits. It even teaches you what to do if you overspend and how to live on last month’s income. This is the only app that cost money in my list and it’s $50 for the year, but there are hoards of devotees that say this app helped them to finally live on a budget.
  • GoodBudget – Back when dinosaurs roamed the financial space, there was an “envelope system” where you put the money you needed in each envelope labeled with expenses such as gas, food and entertainment. It helped Bob and I get out of 40K in consumer debt in only 2.5 years when we were first married. This app is the digital version of that system, making sure that everyone knows how much is left in the “envelope.”

You might need a money buddy to stay on track, too. Tiffany Aliche, The Budgetnista, talks about her journey on our fun podcast The Money Millhouse and how she went from broke to anything-but-broke through techniques that kept her on track.

Habit #2 – Cook Creatively and Consistently

Money evaporates when you order out for lunch or dinner more than one or two meals a week. Bob took leftover dinners (the

re’s a microwave and fridge at work) for our entire marriage and we calculate that he’s saved $20,000 by doing this! Make Pintrist your pal or watch The Food Network to learn easy ways to create nutritious and tasty meals. Ask for an Instant Pot for your next birthday and make more than you need for dinner so you’ll have leftovers for either lunch or dinner later in the week. Or freeze the leftovers. My daughter lived with roommates for a few years and they would assign different nights for each of them to cook to simplify the work. Cook more and your wallet and your waistline will thank you.

Habit #3 – Care About Your Retirement

When we take our Heroes At Home Financial Event on the road, we teach young service members the miracle of compounding interest with the mantra: start early, start small and stay committed. Be sure to start with funding a Roth IRA and take advantage of your company’s matching portion of your 401(k). Lacey Langford, an Accredited Financial Counselor gave some great tips on a segment called “I Aint Afraid of No Money.”  She discussed retirement planning from her experience in working with the military (but many tips apply to civilians as well.) If you’re military, be sure to go into your Family Readiness Center to discuss the Blended Retirement System and what your options are for your situation. It’s free and a benefit you can use early and often.

Habit #4 – Count the Cost of Debt

The average millennial college grad owes 37K in student loan debt and the average household owes $8500 in credit card debt. Work on minimizing the debt you accrue and pay off the debt you have so that you’ll have the flexibility to move or wait on the right job. One of my sons worked for JC Penney, and they eliminated his entire department. Most employees were freaking out because they had student loan debt, consumer debt and car debt—but not our son. He made a practice of living on less so he wouldn’t accrue debt and he was able to have less worry in the process of finding a new job.

Be sure you also pay attention to your credit score. Rod Griffin, from Experian, came over for a discussion on coffee and credit. He works with us on our tours and he teaches that if you have bad credit, you’ll pay an average of 360K more (over your lifetime) for the use of basic credit, than the person who has a good score. Improve your score by paying on time, paying more than the minimum balance due and make sure you never use more than 30% of your available credit.

Habit #5 – Choose Contentment

This is a tricky habit because it’s a mindset that you choose. There will always be something to spend money on to make you go off budget or get into financial trouble. There’s the new phone, tablet, car, vacay, boyfriend/girlfriend, baby, or a plethora of other reasons to want to spend more and have more. This is where your friends, family and even faith come into play. Coveting what others have or do is a lesson in futility and discontentment. Your friends either contribute to this mindset or they keep you focused on what matters most. If keeping up with their lifestyle is an important platform in your friendship, then you may want to find new friends. Remember that this financial journey is a marathon not a sprint. I’ve always said, “you can have it all—just not at the same time.”

What is one habit you are good at? What is one habit you want to improve upon? Share it with us, a friend or even a money buddy, so that you can be fiscally healthy in 2018 and for a lifetime.

 

Saving Every Day, the Kay Way

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This week, I got a phone call from Jonathan, my fighter pilot son, sharing his latest bargain. He may have gotten his flying abilities from the World’s Greatest Fighter pilot, but he learned how to save from another family member, who will remain nameless. He talked about how he scored a new bedding set at Bed, Bath and Beyond by layering the savings. As he shared, his excitement gained momentum,

“Yeah, so the regular price for the bed set was $245, it was on clearance for $109, then the clearance was marked down another 50% for one day only, so it was $55. Then I used my 20% off coupon (found at Retail Me Not) and saved $21 more.” He came up for air, with the coup de gras,

“I only paid $34 for a bedding set valued at $245.”

He is my favorite son. *

After I complimented his money savings prowess, I excitedly told him about my recent discovery from our local County of Los Angeles Public Library in Quartz Hills. I found out that instead of paying $14.95 for Audible, (which is a good deal if you listen to a lot of audible books) you can get them for free at the library online. It was so easy. You just download the Overdrive app for free, register your library card and voila! I’ve already downloaded Dr. Who, The Underwater Menace and Jodi Picolt’s Small Great Things. Since it’s a digital download, I can listen to iton my phone in the car or on a plane–all for FREE. When I’m done, it’s automatically returned on the system.

Truth be told, I taught my kids from an early age how to save money. It’s in their DNA and it’s served them well as millennials in the cold, sometimes cruel world of adulting. The good news is that these skills can be learned, even if you weren’t taught from the womb how to get the best bargain.

For example, my daughter’s friend, Kristen, went to Downtown Disney with my daughter and I recently and we educated her at the Rainforest Cafe in a major way.

The first perk we received was when we called ahead to make a reservation (at 4:00 PM) and were told there were no reservations left until 9:00 PM. To which I replied,

“But I’m a Landry’s Select Club member.” I heard a quick intake of breath on the other side of the phone.

“Oh well, that’s different. Just come to the front of the line when you get here and they’ll be a 15-minute wait max for you.”

Sweet dreams are made of this.

We were happily seated upstairs at a table overlooking the two-story Atlas fountain and right in front of our own personal monkey. While we perused our menus, I explained how the Landry Select Club works.

“You only pay $25 to get the card and you earn a $25 credit for every $250 you spend at hundreds of participating restaurants, casinos and hotels across the county. It’s not a credit card, it’s just like a membership card. Restaurants like Bubba Gump, the Chart House, Saltgrass & McCormick and Schmick’s.”  I paused for a quick breath and continued,

“Plus, you get $25 credit your birthday month. There’s no renewal fees and you always get priority seating.” About that time, the Manager came over and asked us how it was going (another perk of being a member.) As soon as the manager left, my daughter added,

“Also, as soon as you register your new card online, you automatically get a $25 credit. So it pays for itself right away.”

Just then the storm began with a loud clap of thunder. The elephants at the end of the aisle started snorting loudly and our monkey friend kind of freaked out at the weather.

It was the end of our educational session. But not the end of our passion about saving money every day–the Kay way!

What are some of your day to day savings discoveries? Let me know!

 

*To be  clear all of Ellie Kay’s kids are her favorites.  She’s not a horrible mom who loves one child more than another. (Except when they buy her gifts for no reason, then they really are her favorite because gift giving is her love language, which really is a thing.)

Back to College – The Kay Way – part two

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When people ask me how we are put our kids through college debt free, the answer is multi-fold.

First, we train our children from a young age that going to school, doing your homework and getting good grades is their primary “job.” By teaching them a good work ethic, we are laying the groundwork for scholarships and more.

Secondly, we send them to schools that we can afford or where they get the best scholarship offers to cover the most expenses.

Thirdly, we have saved a modest amount of college money to help them pay their room and board and partial tuition in some cases.

Lastly, but certainly not least, we require that they work part time in the summers or during the school year (through a work/study program or a regular job) in order to do their part in paying for college. By implementing these four disciplines, graduated debt free, with our most recent grad finishing up this past May. The older Kay kids had over ½ million in scholarships and and the last two garnered over a million dollars in scholarships.

Priorities
In any discussion of college costs, it’s important to keep priorities straight:
Parents need to leave yourself some fun money for retirement. How else can you afford that mechanical bull riding lesson and those parasailing flights (been there, done that, LOVE it)?
I really believe that you, as a parent, should try to avoid borrowing on your future in order to pay for your child’s future. Why would you want to take one of your greatest investments and leverage it for college expenses? Yet millions of parents make that devastating financial choice every year. I’m talking about avoiding any college funding plan that includes a home equity loan, a HELOC (home equity line of credit) or refinancing of an existing home mortgage. These options reduce the amount of equity in your home, increasing the risk of possible foreclosure and you incur costs in interest charges that may cost you more if the term on the new mortgage is greater than the remaining term on the existing mortgage.

The College Mantra
When I began a young adult, got married and began having kids (in that order) I was first exposed to the whole idea of “the college my child gets accepted to.” As a mom of many I frequently heard, “What college did they get accepted into?” The part of that question that amazes me is that the answer that is most impressive are also the most expensive (Columbia, Harvard, Stanford, Yale, etc). While an average of 40% of the students who attend these schools either get financial aid, grants or scholarships, they only average out to an assistance of $9600 per year. This leaves a boatload that the student and mom/dad owe for college. Most of this is usually in loans of some kind. So then the average student graduating from some of the most prestigious colleges have student loans upwards to $80,000 or more.
So why is the question: What college did they get accepted into?
The question should be: What college did they get accepted into that they can afford?
Why do you want to leverage your future (through HELOCS or loans) or leverage their future (through massive consumer debt) when it will take many years of earning power, for them to pay back those loans? One of the most common problems in young married Millennials is the burden of dual student loans in a marriage.

I’m doing what I can to help families minimize student loan debt so that both the parents and the graduates can have a better quality of life with more flexibility once they start those new careers. For more practical aspects of very specific ways you can pay for college. Please email assistant@elliekay.com and put “College Crunches” in the subject line. Our offices will send you a wonderful resource file that I wrote to help you fund a quality education for a fraction of the debt.

Ellie Kay

 

Back to College – The Kay Way – part one

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Back To College

When Bethany was four years old, she came running in the house sobbing uncontrollably. I smoothed her blond curls and held her, “What’s wrong, Bunny?”
“I don’t want to leave you and go to college!” Her chubby arms held my neck tight.
“Um, well, Bunny, you don’t have to go to college any time soon!” I soothed, while rubbing her back.
She sat up straight, “I don’t?”
Wiping away her tears, she sniffed, “Good! Can I go back to Julie’s house and play again?”
I figured out later that all the drama was because Julie’s older brother was leaving for college and her friend’s family was sad to say goodbye. She thought she was going to have to leave us and it made her sad.
Fast forward the better part of two decades and she’s now a rising senior at Moody in Chicago, majoring in media communications. She’s not crying when she goes back to school, although we miss her. The good news is that she, along with all our other kids, are graduating debt-free! We don’t have any student loans and we didn’t have to refinance our house. Here are a few quick tips to pay for college. For more info, email assistant@elliekay.com and ask for the “College Crunch File.”

1. Make the Right Choice – Choose a school not because it’s the best, but because it’s the best value. Change the conversation from “I’ll go to the best college that I can get into” to “I will go to the school where I can get the best education possible for the least amount of student loan debt.” Our son, Daniel, chose the University of Texas (Arlington) over the scholarship he got to Syracuse and TCU because he would still have 60K in student loan debt after the scholarships ran out. He graduated with honors and a degree in journalism. He’s a working writer in Texas and doesn’t regret his college choice. In fact, when his department downsized and he needed to find another job, many in his section were overwhelmed because of their student loan debt. But his lack of college debt allowed him the freedom to find a job he really enjoys and he didn’t have to take the first job that came along.

2. Save Big on Books by Renting – The average student pays more than $600 for course materials – the largest expense after tuition and room and board.  You may want to look at renting textbooks through Follett’s Rent-A-Text program, students can cut costs by 50 percent or more. Or go to amazon to find used textbooks, making sure that you have an amazon prime account and can filter the options with the prime filter to get free shipping.

3. Make Scholarships a Part-Time Job – Millions of dollars of scholarship money go unclaimed every year. This is free money that parents or prospective students who are willing to do some detective work may find more quickly than they think. Have your student go to College Board or Fast Web  to find scholarships that might be a fit for your student.

4. Create a Budget, and Stick to It – As a parent of a college student, your love for your student is unconditional, but your money is conditional. That’s what we’ve always told our kids. To ensure students are making the most of their money, set a budget for spending and manage it by downloading Mint to help track spending. And determine which on-campus retailers accept financial aid to be certain you’re making the most of your college dollars.

Join us next week for part two of our Back To College series and let me hear your tips and idea to make college more affordable!

Ellie Kay
America’s Family Financial Expert

Heroes at Home Tours Europe

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  1. As part of the “Heroes at Home Financial Event” 2017 world tour, we will visit military members and their families around the world, giving advice and practical tools on how to cope with the military lifestyle and advice on how to manage their money. Heroes at Home is visiting USAFE in Europe as well as AWAG in the next three weeks, thanks to our presenting sponsor, USAA and with help from educational partners such as Experian. You can find our schedule here. Our stops include Ramstein Air Base, Spangdahlem Air Base, Aviano Air Base, Royal Air Base Mildenhall , and Royal Air Base Alconbury

One of the ways we help military families save money overseas is to give them tips to “layer the savings.” Here are the steps to save big online:

1. The first step is to go to MySimon or bing which are shopping robots that will search the internet for your item to find the best deal possible. Then, there’s always amazon as well.

2. Once you’ve found the best deal, the second step is to go to a code site such asRetailMeNot or  coupon cabin  to find the codes you need to save even more. Sometimes these codes are for free shipping, gifts, or discounts.

3. The final step is to get a rebate for your shopping, by going to eBates or SlickDeals. On some of these sites, for example, if you have an account and get your friends to sign up under your account, you can earn $5 per referral. There are hundreds of participating online sites that will give you a rebate off of your purchases and you get a check at the end of each month.

CAUTION: To avoid spam: Be sure you deselect any “offers” you don’t want while signing up for a site. I also recommend that you use unroll.me to manage your subscriptions. They roll all of your emails into one larger email and you can easily deselect or unsubscribe. Bethany Bayless, our emcee has been unsubscribed from 700+ email lists in the last two years using this site. That’s a huge time savings!

Here’s an email from one of our audience members in Europe from one of our previous tours.

Dear Ellie Kay,

I would like to tell you how wonderful it was to have you speak at our meeting at Spangdahlem AB this past week. Your tips were great –I bought a bunch of clothes and with your tips and a $25 gift card I earned from mypoints.com I spent only $14!– and they really do work and are easy to do. Your military topics touched my heart and made me proud of what I am doing here for my husband as well as other military members . Thank you for telling our story to the world and for being an inspiration.Thank you so much!

Sincerely,Christina Aiken

 

Check out our schedule to see if we are coming to a base near you! Or, if you want to support our efforts, you can contribute to the financial education of our military members and their families at our Heroes at Home website.

MilCents Helps Build Your Financial Foundation

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Are you ready to understand, manage, plan, and protect your money? I know I’m ready and helping others do the same!

I love creative ways to learn about money that are easy and interactive. That’s why I work in Washington DC on the advisory panel of the Military Family Advisory Network (MFAN).  I am writing to share an exciting update about MilCents — MFAN’s financial education social learning program.

Over the last few months, MFAN has worked with financial education experts to develop five customized program tracks that correspond with stages within the military life cycle.

While our Heroes at Home Financial Event helps families learn in a live show, MilCents goes further online and at your own pace. Stages include: ROTC/Service Academies, actively serving, transitioning military, veteran, and retiree. The customized tracks allow users to get the tailored information they need, when they need it. In addition, they’ve enhanced their monitored social community, added gaming elements, and refreshed all MilCents content — especially the content focused on military retirement. 

Are you confused about the changes to military retirement? Don’t worry — MilCents breaks it down so it’s easy to understand in the retirement section.

BONUS: The first 150 participants to complete MilCents and earn all the program badges will receive a $20 Amazon gift card.

Click here to get started. And make sure to tell your friends and family — learning’s more fun when you’re doing it with others.

There’s also a better way to budget. Take control of your money by joining the @Military Family Advisory Network’s customized online #MilCents financial education program and get help with your spend plan.

To the partners who helped make MilCents possible — thank you. We know this program will continue to help families within our broad military community.

Ellie Kay

Advisory Board Member

Military Family Advisory Network

 

Driving Cars for Free

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In our Heroes at Home Financial Event Tour, one of the most popular segments deals with “how to drive a car for free.” The concept is fairly simple, but less than 10% of Americans actually follow the steps to experience debt free living when it comes to transportation. We love our military audiences because even though some military members are “ordered” to attend our show, by the time it is over, they are laughing, they’ve learned something and they realize how much fellow Americans loves them.

So how do you do it? Just follow three steps:

  1. Start with a Debt Free Car – This is usually going to be the car you just paid off. Or, it might be a vehicle a parent or someone else gave you (it might even have seen better days). In our lives, we were “given” one car and we gave away 8 cars. It might be that you agree to be a one-car family for 18 months instead of a two-car family. This is how the Kays did it to start with. If you don’t absolutely have to drive a car (you are a one car family, public transportation, driving someone else’s car, etc.), then you can go to step #2.
  1. Pay Yourself – The monthly payment for your car that you used to pay before it was paid off is a payment you will now pay to yourself instead of to the lienholder. So let’s say your car payment was $300. You will pay yourself $300 every month for 18 months. At the end of that time, you take the $5400 you have saved and then sell your existing vehicle for as much as you can get for it. You will get more money for your vehicle if you detail it, get everything running as well as possible (without a huge investment) and then sell it yourself. Go to KBB for 10 steps on how to sell your car yourself.  Let’s say you sell it for $8000. Now you have $13,400 to work with.
  1. Pay Cash for Your Next Car – Follow my steps from my previous blog on How to Buy A Car 101 – Even if you aren’t a USAA member (for an additional military discount), you can still follow the steps listed to pay the least price possible for your next vehicle. Make a special note: You cannot do this with a new car! It has to be a used car. The average new car depreciates $8000 in 8 seconds (when you drive it off the lot). So you have to buy a car that is slightly used (or real used until you trade up). The example in my blog shows how I traded up consistently until I was driving a modest Mercedes. (Is there such a thing as a modest Mercedes? I believe there is).
  1. Trade Up Until You’re Satisfied – After you’re in a new-to-you “paid for” car, then start with step number two all over again and start paying yourself. Let’s say you bought a car for $13,400 and you got into it low (as I showed you how to do in my previous blog), then in only 18 months a used car won’t depreciate that much (if you take care of it and try to keep low mileage on it) and you can sell it for close to what you paid for it. You sell it after 18 months for $13,000 and add the additional $5400 that you have saved by paying yourself every month. Now you have $18,400 going into step #3 and you can trade up your vehicle.

Does this work? It absolutely does. Not only do I do this in my own family, but I have children who do it as well. When my kids ask for my advice (sometimes it’s nice having a mom who is America’s Family Financial Expert ®), I advise them to not be wasting money on expensive car interest payments or crazy expensive leases. The difference is enough money saved over the course of five years to be able to put money down on a house instead of having to rent. It truly adds up!

Keep trading up until you are satisfied with your car and you can trade up into a car with a substantial manufacturer’s warranty (or negotiate that warranty). I do practice what I preach, and I did this to get my 2014 Mercedes, which is under mfg warranty until 2022. The only perceived downside is that my dream car is red and I thought that red cars get more speeding tickets than other colors. But good news! That’s a myth. Pedal to the metal!

What can you do today to drive your cars for free tomorrow? Let me hear from you!

Ellie Kay

I Do Not Hate You

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Technology–you gotta love it, and hate it, too.

On Jan 1, I published a very fun blog, that my readers loved. Then we transferred over to a new platform and it was forever lost.

So I’ve revived it, now that we are a few months into 2017 to remind us that this is going to be a good year!

********

My daughter, Bethany, and I have a close relationship that often baffles the unassuming bystander. While we have been known to have a hearty row every now and then, we prefer to laugh early and often. One of our shticks is performed when we try to call or text each other and the recipient fails to answer. Our ever-mature response is to call and leave voice mail saying,

“Why do you hate me?”

The other party is to respond as soon as possible with assurances that you are not nearly as hated as you think.

We have variations of this hilarity and while it seems unhealthy from the outside looking in, it works for us.

At the end of 2016 and beginning of 2017 we hear a lot about how eager some are to release 2016 to the dregs of a year gone sour: a year of political strife, unequalled loss and anguished setbacks. In short, they hated 2016.

But I have to say to 2016—I do not hate you.

In 2015 my Marine son was in a combat zone in Iraq, in 2014 he was in regular firefights in Afghanistan as an infantry platoon commander.  Had I been prone to hate a year, it would have been 2014.

In 2016 that Marine married his true love and I gained a daughter. I know it’s a cliché, most mother-in-laws have to say that, right? But in my case, I really expanded the tent pegs of my heart to let another inside. This young lady read my books before she met me, she knows my son better than I, and she works kindly and lovingly behind the scenes to foster our family’s unity. She calls me “mama” and she calls me regularly.  She gives me gifts (my love language is gift giving) and she makes me laugh. Yeah, I hear you “Ellie, you are painting this girl in shades of YOU—what she does for YOUR son, how she makes YOU feel, and the value she brings to YOUR family.” You are right. I am.

In 2013 my daughter Bethany, a recent college graduate, left the good old US of A and moved to England to serve at a non-profit that benefitted children. She mended hearts of kids who needed to hear about hope. She got to see a number of countries and experience other cultures and that was good. But the non-profit organization broke her heart. Amidst poor leadership, false accusation and territorial dogmas my daughter lost her joy. The “bouncing Bunny” came back shattered and in need of healing. If I could have hated a year, it could have been 2013.

In 2016 that daughter married her true love and I gained a son. Yes, here we go with the cliché’s again. But if you’ve never enlarged your heart to let someone who is not your own child in, then you don’t know what I’m talking about, so don’t judge me. This young man is guileless. Truly, he knows no guile. I don’t know if he’s a good poker player because he just doesn’t lie very well. My daughter had mended from her terrible-no-good-very-bad-year and was able to present him with a whole, healthy heart to have and to hold forevermore.  He calls me “mama” even though he has a great family of his own and they are part of the assets he brings to our lives. He adores my daughter. He gets her. She chose well and they gained a “happily ever after.”  Of course they’ll have challenges, loss and heartache. But they’ll have each other and that does a mama’s heart good.

In 2016, our family saw other great gains—my grandson’s 2nd birthday party with doting parents, Army beat Navy after 14 years, a son started pilot training, another son began his senior year at West Point, my children gathered from far away places for the weddings & holidays, and we welcomed our first grandfurbaby named Schmidt (yep, from New Girl, but the dog is better behaved.) My conference team successfully completed 15 events at 10 bases with Heroes at Home, providing financial literacy education to service members thanks to USAA.  I have a passion for these people and I got to live out that in my work this past year. The last part of 2016 had us planning 2017 with 25 events at 17 different bases in five countries—a success by any standard.

In 2016 had my focus been on politics, social justice or mortality, I would have hated this past year. Had I chosen to look at the family drama, broken friendships, missing family & friends associated with the two Kay family weddings—I would have hated 2016. There was plenty of negativity to focus on this past year both in our family and in our world, but I chose to focus on what went right, not what went wrong. I chose (not based on feeling, but based on a decision of the will) to focus on what we have instead of what we don’t have. I tried to choose wisely.

No, 2016, I do not hate you.

As I’m writing this blog on January 1st, I turned off my phone to concentrate on the task at hand. I missed a few texts, a call goes to voice mail. I proof and edit my work, choose the photos to accompany the blog and populate it for the appropriate day.  Then I listen to my voice mail. I have a “Happy New Year” message from my daughter that begins with,

“Why do you hate me?”

I smile to myself. Hello, 2017, I think we’re going to have a good year.

LEAD is Not A Four Letter Word – part 2

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Last week we talked about how every motivated person can become an effective leader by learning the steps involved in how to L-E-A-D and we covered the fact that “L” is for loyalty and “E” is for enthusiasm. Today we’re going to pick up with the letter “A.”

A is for Adversity

Truly effective leaders accept adversity as a condition of getting the mission done. I have never met a successful person who hasn’t had a lot to overcome a great measure of adversity. Don’t be afraid of adversity—handled properly, it makes you stronger. It helps you grow. Problems and people can’t stop you. The only thing that can stop you is you.

I remember a particularly difficult event when I had to substitute for a former First Lady of the United States at a large speaking event. The event was held in San Antonio Sea World Shamu-atorium. The Secret Service could not guarantee the former First Lady’s safety so they would not let her present at this military audience “Spouse of the Year” award.

The audience was tired and cranky after a long day at Sea World. They had kids that were eager to see Shamu and they had to hear me give a 25 minute “Heroes at Home” speech first. Plus, they were expecting the First Lady and they got me! It was a set up for failure.

I began the speech and the acoustics were horrible, with a huge echo designed to announce, “And here’s SHAMU!” Those microphones were not designed to hear a speech, no matter how compelling. My enthusiasm remained high, but the audience was not warming up. All of the sudden the crowd yelled, “WOW” and “AHHH.”

I thought, “Maybe the audience is turning around and getting on my team.”

The audience soon reverted back to hostile looks and crankypants kids. Suddenly, the previous reaction was repeated when the crowd shouted “WOW” and “COOL!” It was then I turned around to the large tank of water behind me and saw Shamu go back in the water. Apparently, he was swimming the full length of the tank and would break up out of the water at just the right moment!

Adversity means that we begin to view Murphy’s Law (what can go wrong, will go wrong) as a good thing—it can grow us. Adversity means we need to have wisdom in leadership positions to know when to fall on our swords and when to take a more subtle (but effective) approach.

For example, on one of my teams I had 70 year old woman, who was scared spitless to speak in public. As a leader and with the help of the informal leaders on the team, we not only helped her overcome this near phobia to become a speech contest winner.

WHAT IS ONE WAY YOU HAVE OVERCOME ADVERSITY?

 

D is for Determination

Determined people, particularly determined leaders posses the stamina and courage to pursue their ambitions despite criticism, ridicule or unfavorable circumstances. In fact, discouragement usually spurs them on to greater things. When they get discouraged, they recognize that in order to get different results, some change is required. Determined people also display another “D” trait and that is discipline.

In the process of earning my Accredited Speaker designation, I had to present to an audience of 3000 speaking peers at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas. There were three jumbo-trons behind a 150 long platform and it was streamed worldwide thousands more people. The night before, I realized that I had to change the first two minutes and I practiced those two minutes 60 times the night before the International Event. Yes, I practiced for two hours in the middle of the night! But the hard work paid off as I was the only finalist to pass the final level the next day, out of 400,000 speakers worldwide in various clubs.

Determination means that just because we can’t do everything we set our mind to, doesn’t mean we can’t do something.

Where do you need to be even more determined?

I believe that every motivated person can become an effective leader by learning the steps involved in how to L-E-A-D:

Loyalty – the ability to both give and inspire loyalty

Enthusiasm – following your passions so that it is contagious

Adversity – helping others to overcome obstacles as you lead by example

Determination – realizing that just because you can’t do everything, doesn’t mean you can’t do something.

What kind of leader are you and what kind of leader are you going to become this next year? I’d love to hear from you!