Getting Back on Course

On a camping trip with the kids this past weekend, my daughter stayed in the woods to cut down a tree branch… my friend and his kids continued hiking back to our campsite.  When she had finished, we picked up our gear and began our trek to catch up with everyone else.  But unaware, I took a wrong turn and led us deeper into the woods.  After about ten minutes of hiking, it was apparent to her that we were lost.  A few minutes later she started to tear up and become afraid.

Having hunted in these same woods over fifteen years I knew we were safe.  My frustration was that I had led us in the wrong direction… and I knew it would take much longer now to get back to camp.  Her shoes were wet, her spirit beginning to break, and all she wanted was to be back with her friends (and to eat lunch).  Can’t say I blame her… as an eight year old (like her) I remember getting lost in my Mamaw’s neighborhood one time.  The word “fun” has never been used to describe that experience. 

Now, in the woods with my daughter, I began to experience a different fear… “what if” my six year old son had turned back for us and not continued on with my friend and his kids?  JB could easily assume that my son had stayed with me and would likewise be unaware anything was amiss.  That meant my son could be lost in the woods by himself… perhaps even feeling like I did as a lost child?  And to make matters worse, I left my cell phone in the tent, so there was not any quick phone call back to make sure all was okay (or to get a simple four-wheeler ride back to camp).

The mind began to run… and in a short while I was starting to feel a little panic like my daughter.  I had no control over my son’s situation and that is difficult for a parent.  But that’s when a simple thought landed.  I had a choice… to feed my daughter’s fear, or to turn our current situation into a learning experience.  We stopped, I said a quick prayer for my boy (and for us) and then began to point out signs to her.  Observing what was around us, we rather quickly found our way out of the woods and onto a familiar trail.  Then I let her take over and she eventually led us out to the road.  From there, we were back at camp within a few more minutes only to find her brother roasting s’mores over the campfire.

Thinking back on this experience I am reminded how easy it is to get caught up in hype, fear, or chasing trends with our investments that the “noise” around us soon causes us to lose focus.  We become distracted, and before long realize we aren’t following our plan.  We have taken a wrong turn and are no longer on course… or we simply become afraid, which can lead to emotional decisions that aren’t good for us.  There is much value in learning to stop and observe before we take action.  Through this practice we can make better decisions to get us back on track, and it’s how my daughter learned to get out of the woods!

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Getting your “Home Office” in Good Order!

Recently my wife hired a professional organizer to help organize my home office. My first thought was “I don’t need that”. The last couple years had been hectic, but I still knew where everything was located. And with just a little bit of motivation I believed I could get my cave back in good shape.

Yes, I am a detailed guy and my office keep’s good financial records for our clients. But I will admit my personal number of “piles” at home had grown to something that was not like me. I had grown tired keeping up the system myself. So… you guessed it. I shut up and off we went on “my wife’s” new project.

So how did it go? Well, when I came home for lunch I quickly noticed my “paper life” was under serious scrutiny. Personal papers and files were scattered all over the floor and much of my stuff was beginning to be questioned. But when I came home that evening something more positive happened. The clutter had been eliminated and I had a simpler, more organized system. In other words, the “garbage truck” needed to be empty the next time it showed up at my house!

More importantly, my wife shared that she learned a lot about me by examining my files, notes, and mathematical scratch. She said she realized the amount of stuff I manage, how my mind works, and my motivation to provide. It sounded like she was impressed.

Lastly, she felt good that she could locate our important documents and exhibited renewed interests in our files. And guess what – she offered to help me file and maintain our new system going forward. I thought, “Wow, that’s all positive stuff.” So let me briefly share the important points we learned during this exercise

1. Make sure it works for both. Our filing system needed to work for both of us. My spouse needed to know where our important documents were located and where to file each new item.

2. Keep it simple. A simple, clean, organized system can be easier to maintain and more appealing to the eye. All this can contribute to both time and money savings going forward.

3. Designate a tax basket. A basket can be used to collect the receipts and tax documents throughout the year. At the end of the day receipts in her purse and my pockets can be simply dropped in the tax basket. As needed, we can make short notes on each to make it easier to understand at tax time.

4. Use three ring binders. Information that is frequently needed or too bulky for a file folder can be organized in three ring binders. Categories like Insurance (home, auto, medical, life, disability, etc.), Estate (Wills, Power of Attorney, and Health Care Proxy, etc.), Home (manufacturers’ manuals, contractor info, paint colors, warranties, etc.), Financial Plan and Investments (annual statements, investment updates, etc.), Other (passports, birth certificates, employer handbook, children immunization records, real estate closing documents, vehicle titles, etc.) can be a starting point.

5. Get help. It can be hard to throw things away and to be objective with your stuff. Get help from a professional organizer who can give great ideas and provide a “catalyst” to make your filing system work for both of you.

In summary, I can see the time and money spent will reduce stress and save all of us time in the future. And at the completion of her project, I had to admit my wife was right again!