The Joy of Financial Security: The art and science of becoming happier, managing your money wisely, and creating a secure financial future with Donna Skeels Cygan

Donna Cygan Skeels

Donna Skeels Cygan,  author of The Joy of Financial Security,  joined me on Amy’s Table to discuss the art and science of becoming happier, managing your money wisely, and creating a secure financial future. Listen to the interview.

It’s true that sitting down to tackle money issues isn’t most people’s idea of fun , so to help motivate you, Donna  points out that the reward for taking control of your finances  isn’t only monetary—you’ll also be happier when you become financially responsible. Good, smart, sane money management feels great.

Donna combines her financial expertise with research from psychology, neuroscience, and economics to shine a light on the complex relationship between money and happiness. She shared 12 specific strategies to help you  build a more financially secure future:

Joy of Fincial

Focus on saving, not on budgeting! Calculate how much you are currently saving. (For help, visit www.joyoffinancialsecurity.com. Click on “Resources,” then “Tools.” Use the “Current Savings Rate” chart to determine what percentage of your gross income you are currently saving.) This is an important first step, because saving is the primary factor in achieving financial security.

Next, look for ways by which you can increase your saving percentage. Strive to save 15 to 20 percent of your gross income. (Most people save much less than 15 percent!) First, look at where you are spending your money. Cygan says most people have one or two “problem areas.” Maybe yours is an expensive cell phone bill or a deluxe cable TV package, both of which are items that have crept into our budgets during the past 10 years. Or perhaps you have a tendency to spend too much money on clothing, on eating out, or on entertainment. Whenever you do find an area in which you can cut back, redirect that money to savings. For some people, this may be as simple as not buying junk food or soda at the grocery store, or going out to eat once per week instead of four times.

“I suggest making your savings automatic,” Donna says. “Many people save through their 401(k) or 403(b) at work, and the money is swept into the account before it ever appears in a paycheck. This works great, and you can do the same thing with saving in a Roth IRA or a taxable account. Set your savings up so it is automatic, occurring on the first of each month or as soon as your paycheck is deposited into your checking account.”

While the “everyday savings”  will have a significant impact, Donna  also advises being prepared to “save big” when the opportunity arises. For instance, if you are lucky enough to get a tax refund, send half of it to savings. If you get a bonus or a raise, send half of it to savings. If you pay off your car loan, send the amount of your former payment to savings each month.

“No matter how you do it, there are two hidden benefits to focusing on saving,”  she explains. “First, saving gets easier with practice. Setting it up to be automatic will allow you to see your investment accounts grow quickly. Second, if you are saving 15 to 20 percent of your taxable income, you don’t need to worry about your budget. Forget the budget and focus on saving!”

Get serious about paying down debt. Although Donna is passionate about focusing on saving, she points out that it’s not the only tool that can help you take control of your finances in 2015. Excessive debt creates stress—and getting rid of “bad debt” is an important step toward financial security. “Bad debt” is debt derived from actions that have no future benefit. For instance, credit card bills (carried over from month to month) are typically from vacations, eating out, gifts, or clothing. The expenses were in the past, and there is no future benefit. For this reason, credit card debt that cannot be paid off each month is always considered to be “bad debt.” Contrast that with debt from a home mortgage. Your home provides long-term benefits and enjoyment. Home mortgage debt is “good debt.”

Donna acknowledges that automobile loans are in a gray area, but they are most often bad debt. The general rule is that a person should not buy a vehicle that they can’t afford to purchase with cash. However, taking out an auto loan and working it into your monthly budget might also be considered good debt. The way to tell is to ask yourself, Would I be better off (financially and psychologically) if I did not have that car loan payment each month? If your answer is “yes,” then pay off the car as soon as possible.

“If you’re not sure where to start when it comes to eliminating debt, it’s generally a good idea to focus on debt that carries the highest interest rate—likely credit card debt,” she advises. “Pull out all of your credit card statements (with a balance) and make a plan. Commit to paying off a significant amount each month and mark it on your calendar. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Most families can cut expenses somewhere and put those funds toward paying down bad debt. And if your budget is already trimmed down to the essentials, consider getting a second part-time job, just a few hours a week, and putting that money toward paying down the debt quickly.”

Hold a family meeting to set some long-term financial goals. (And get specific with your strategy.) Maybe you’d like to save more for retirement, set up college savings accounts for your kids, and beef up your emergency fund. To make sure your long-term financial goals actually happen, you and your family need to sit down and figure out how you’re going to get from here to there. Specifically, how much money will you put into your Roth IRA each month? What other expenditures will you need to adjust to ensure that happens?

At the same time, consider what really, truly brings you joy. How we spend our money says a lot about our values and priorities, Donna points out. Take some time and think about what’s really important to you and your family, and embrace the (possibly liberating!) responsibility of reprioritizing your life. With your values in mind, it may be less difficult than you thought to get rid of unnecessary and unwanted items, obligations, and self-imposed responsibilities.

“This will free up literal and figurative space for you to make new and wonderful changes, which will probably involve spending more time with the people you love,” she  says. “Don’t forget: Psychology research shows that improving our relationships with others is the number-one way to increase our happiness.”

Rethink what you’re calling “necessities.” For example, do you really need the expensive cable package with all the movie channels, or would you be able to get by with basic cable? Does your 12-year-old really need a cell phone with a data plan? In fact, extreme as it may seem, do you truly need the big house you’re living in, or would downsizing to a more modest home work just as well for your family—and far better for your budget?

“Often we think we need things just because everyone else seems to have them,” says Donna. “But this is nothing more than peer pressure. There really are very few true needs. The rest are just wants. And when we really think about what brings us joy, we usually realize we don’t want our ‘wants’ as much as we thought we did.”

Make sustainable small changes. If you are feeling overwhelmed at the thought of taking control of your finances, Donna recommends that you start small. Perhaps you set up automatic savings of $50 per month into a Roth IRA. Perhaps you commit to not buying junk food or soda at the grocery store for the next month. Or perhaps you decide to change your cable TV package to something more affordable. “The idea is to make smart adjustments in your lifestyle, not to turn your life upside down overnight, Small is sustainable—and baby steps in your financial life can add up quickly!”

Start paying attention. A lot of our spending tends to happen while we’re asleep at the wheel, so to speak. We sign up for expenses like cell phone plans and Internet services…and then forget about them. (If payments are set up for autodraft, we may completely forget about them.) Take a closer look at these regular expenses. Is there a more affordable option out there? Are you paying for features you don’t use? No, spending an evening researching cable-phone-Internet bundles might not be fun, but it might just save you a few hundred—or even a few thousand—dollars a year.

“Other ways to pay attention include watching sales circulars and using coupons, Eat what’s in your freezer instead of ordering a pizza. Commit to not buying clothes for the next three months and dig through your closet to find some clothing you forgot you had.”

Pay in cash whenever you can. Research has shown that we spend roughly 15 percent more when we pay with a credit card as opposed to using cash. If you have to reach into your wallet and count out bills in order to pay for a meal or an impulse buy at a retail store, you might just decide that it isn’t worth the money after all.

Avoid seasonal entitlement traps. We work (really) hard throughout the year, so it’s easy to convince ourselves that we “deserve” a lavish vacation each summer and a no-holds-barred holiday celebration. But the truth is, you don’t need to spend a fortune to relax, have fun, and make great memories with your family. “You might find that a more financially sane approach lets you focus more on each other—and that your former traditions were cash drains that never really lived up to the hype, Consider vacation options within a 200-mile radius. This might be a state park that you have never explored or a nearby small town. Consider taking more day or weekend trips in place of a major, expensive vacation.”

Focus more on experiences and less on things. From eating at expensive restaurants to making sure our homes are decked out with flat-screen TVs and sound systems, most of us don’t mind pulling out our wallets in the name of enjoyment. (And often, we don’t worry about the price tag until it’s too late.) But psychology shows that experiences are always more impactful on our happiness than things.

“Do some soul searching before you get out the credit cards,” Donna suggests. “For instance, cooking a meal together as a family might bring all of you more joy than piling into the car and ordering from yet another overpriced menu.”

Get real about kids’ needs. Stylish designer fashion. Electronic gadgets and all their upgrades. Summer camps. Traveling sports teams. Music, dance, and gymnastics lessons. Be honest: Is an alarming percentage of your budget going toward your kids’ activities and desires? And how much enrichment are your children really receiving? “The truth is, well-meant expenditures that were supposed to make your kids happy and fulfilled add up quickly and often leave kids themselves feeling overstressed and overscheduled (not to mention entitled)”

Don’t hesitate to call in the professionals. If you’re not sure where to start, which budget changes would be most effective, or how best to begin paying down debt, talk to a financial advisor. Many brokerage firms provide helpful information on their websites, but it is usually more helpful to sit down with a live person. Surf on websites such as www.napfa.org or www.garrettplanningnetwork.com for a financial advisor near you. These will lead you to fee-only financial advisors who won’t be trying to sell you something. In addition, some of the advisors will work on an hourly basis, which may be a good fit for your needs.

“Your financial advisor can help you make sound financial decisions now and in the future,” Donna notes. “And remember, the more honest you are about your current situation andyour financial goals, the more helpful your advisor can be.”

 “Action empowers and energizes,” Cygan concludes. “So don’t feel that you have to enact all of these strategies at once—pick one or two that you feel would be easiest to accomplish and start with them. Soon, you’ll probably be inspired to make a few more changes and so on and so forth. Trust me; when you start taking the first steps toward smart money management—once you start ‘paying attention’ and making deliberate changes rather than trudging ahead on autopilot—you’ll be surprised by how good it feels. You can make tremendous progress and your financial reality will look positively, radically different.”

 

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July 3, 2011 Show Details: Danger, Daring, Defining- and Dinner!
Save your Marriage in Five Minutes a Day

50 Dangerous Things You Should Let Your Children Do
June 26th show details: cooking, caring -and looking cute at the beach
Summertime Safety Tips

The Gentleman's Bedside Companion with Tom Cutler
June 19th Show Details: It's all about Dad
Brad Meltzer's Heroes for My Son

Bruce Feiler's Council of Dads
Are you wearing the wrong bra? Probably Not.
June 12th Show: We're getting Cleaner, Slimmer, Lighter- and Lifted

May 29th Show: Kicking off Summer
May 22, 2011 Show Details
May 15, 2011 Show Details

Parenting tips from Tom Sturges
The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking
Molly Morgan's Skinny Girl Rules

May 1st, 2011 Show Details
10 Habits of Happy Mothers
Pretty pearls- and a gem of a book

This is not the story you think it is: A season of unlikely happiness
April 24, 2011 Show Details
Who do you think you are? Tracing your family tree

Wear this, Toss that with Amy Goodman
April 3, 2011 Show Details
The 5 Love Languages by Dr. Gary Chapman

How Never to Look Fat Again
Tips to help you prosper from Jean Chatzky
Make your own (Irish) luck!

Wednesday Words: Roald Dahl
Feed Your Face
Halfway to Each Other: How a year in Italy brought our family home

How to: Make a Terrarium
Be the Queen of Your Own Life
Good Dog!

Game Night
The Flavor Bible
Steven Raichlen

98 Things We all Need
Food Jobs with Irena Chalmers
Lisa Lillien, The Hungry Girl

Soups on
Ethan Becker chats about Joy of Cooking
Small Space Living: 10 Design Mistakes to Avoid

Winemaker Paul Draper
The Art of Happiness
The Naked Pint with The Beer Chicks

Tips from the happiest cultures in the world
A poem: The Invitation
The Power of Small

Mom still likes you best
Tips for feeding kids
The Busy Mom's Guide

Talk to me like I'm someone you love
10 things to say to keep the peace
The Dating Optimist

Fight Less Love More
Cosmic Coupling
The Hard Times Happiness Revival

Live More Want Less
Tips for renting just about anything
View AllMost RecentCash & Career

Mom was Right with Larry Mathis
There's an App for That: Honey
June 19, 2016: Takin' care of business on Amy's Table at 8 on Q102

The Joy of Financial Security: The art and science of becoming happier, managing your money wisely, and creating a secure financial future with Donna Skeels Cygan
Circletail: Dinner, Art & Wine for Canines
February 1, 2015: A multi-tasking morning on Amy's Table at 8 on Q102

January 25, 2015: Life and a few ideas on how to live it on Amy's Table at 8 on Q102
AA Milne and Organizing
June 22, 2014 Show Details: A Sweet, Savory and Satisfying start to SUMMER!

Change Your Day, Not Your Life: A Realistic Guide to Sustained Motivation, More Productivity, and the Art of Working Well with Andy Core
15 Minutes of Fame: An Ode to Charles Osgood
March 9, 2014 Show Details: Live it to the Max this March

The Way You Do Anything Is the Way You Do Everything
February 2, 2014 Show Details: Love Affair with Food
January 19, 2014 Show Details: New Year, New YOU!

Discover The ONE Amazing Thing You Were Born To Do with Steve Olsher
WOMEN WHO DON’T WAIT IN LINE: Break the Mold, Lead the Way with Reshma Saujani
Real Happiness at Work with Sharon Salzberg

January 5, 2014 Show Details: Out with Old & In with the New Year!
11 Strategies for Enterprising Women from Vickie Milazzo
THE FOUR DOORS: A Guide to Joy, Freedom, and a Meaningful Life

October 27, 2013 Show Details: It's a SPOOKTACULAR Show on Amy's Table!
How to find Work that Works for You with Michelle Martin
City Stories with Courtney Tsitouris

March 31, 2013 Show Details: Good-Bye March, Hello April!
How To Be A Super-Achiever: The 10 Qualities That Matter with Forbes Media reporter Jenna Goudreau
March 24, 2013 Show Details: Put a SPRING in your step!

March 17, 2013 Show Details: Lots-o-Luck
Unconventional/Unexpected (and Fun) Ways to Beat Stress from Kristen Brown, author of The Happy Hour Effect
February 24, 2013 Show Details:Tips, Tricks and Recipes

Cheaper, Better, Faster: Tips and Tricks from Mary Hunt
DESIGN WITH INTENTION - American Accessories Company Empowers, Educates and Employs Nepalese Artisan Women
January 13, 2013 Show Details: Fuel Saving Tips for your Car, your Wardrobe and your Body

15 Habits That Will Lead To Extraordinary Things
Mary Hunt prepared listeners to debt-proof their kids
August 26, 2012 show details: Back to school, back to your yard and window boxes for WOW curb appeal

Job search tips with Career Consultant Julie Bauke
August 19, 2012 Show details: From Picky Eaters and Lunch Wars to Raising an Engaging Child
August 5, 2012 Show details: Sun, Fun, Style and Raising Kids

July 22, 2012 show details: Color, style and Food Trucks
July 8, 2012 show details: Quickies, Flips and GF Treats
How to Score a High Profile Mentor, from Laurel House, the QuickieChick

July 1, 2012 show details: Road trips, Marrakesh style, Spirited Cooking- and Cookies
July 24, 2012 show details: Get charisma, cook with soul, read a great book and be a Green Bride!
June 10th show details: Parties, Pure food, Purposeful Kids and Perfect Bathing Suits

May 27th show details: Detox, Declutter, Delight
The Charisma Myth with Olivia Fox Cabane
May 20th show details: Skinny chefs, better junk food, more money- and your psychic abilities

15 Ways to Keep Good Financial Habits with Eric Tyson
April 29th show details: Wayne Dyer, Ellen Whitehurst and Emily Maynard
Feng Shui Cleaning Tips from Better Living Expert Ellen Whitehurst

April 22, 2012 show details: Asian, Alison, Anderson and Alpha B*tch
Taming your Alpha B*tch with Christy Whitman
The Five Lessons a Millionaire Taught Me with Richard Paul Evans

April 15, 2012 show details: Sweet! Pie, Cookies and Cash!
April 8, 2012 show details: Slow cooking meals, long lasting husbands, the (new) richer sex and staying safe
The Richer Sex with Liza Mundy

Money tips with Leslie Greenman
The Impostor Syndrome
February 12, 2012 Show Details: Love, Money, Friendship....and Dessert!

How to: Organizing important papers
Take Control of Your Financial Future with 7 Money Rules for Life
January 22 show details: Chinese New Year, Champagne and Truffles

Women, Work & the Art of Savoir Faire with Mireille Guiliano
The New York Times 2012 Obits with William McDonald
Holiday Tipping Guide

Gifts you "do"
November 27, 2011 Show Details: Gifts, Crafts and Goodies
The great debate: Stay at home or working Mom

November 20, 2011: Dragons, Man Myths....and Mom Demons
October 30, 2011 Show: Spooky, Spirited.....Inspired!
Wicked Success with Vickie Milazzo

Working Mother's 100 Best Companies for 2011
October 23, 2011 Show Details: The habits and careers of marvelous Moms
The Myth of Work/Life Balance: Seven Ways to Rethink Your Approach to the Daily Grind (and Get Happier in the Process!)

October 16, 2011 Show: Sweet dreams- and dreamy casseroles
September 18, 2011: Celebrating Bad Girls, Great Careers and Dynamite Dining
Candace Klein, founder of Bad Girl Ventures

September 11, 2011 Show: Beauty, Bounty and Boy R Dee
7 Secrets to Looking Good for Less from Candace Corey
September 4, 2011 Show: Color, Cooking for a Crowd, Cheap Eats and Classrooms

Top 10 Tips from the Frugalista
Raising Philanthropic Kids
July 31st Show: Feng Shui, Fish, and Good Things in Town

July 17th Show: Junk, Love, Food and the Power of Small
July 10th, 2011 Show: Confidence, Love & Vegetables
Non-stop Confidence in 6 1/2 Steps

July 3, 2011 Show Details: Danger, Daring, Defining- and Dinner!
June 12th Show: We're getting Cleaner, Slimmer, Lighter- and Lifted
Living your Career with Intent

Tips to help you prosper from Jean Chatzky
Food Jobs with Irena Chalmers
The Power of Small

Holiday Tipping Guide
Who's (really) got your back?
How to save on groceries

Keep or toss? A paperwork primer
Attitude Adjustment 101
Tips for renting just about anything

Wills, Living Wills & Health Care Power of Attorney
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