Friday, February 24, 2017

Financial Focus: Five actions to help you improve your financial habits

Did you resolve to lose weight, stop smoking or act on another life goal this year? Although it’s only a few weeks into 2017, many people have already broken their New Year’s resolutions. Instead of new resolutions, consider improving your habits, including your financial fitness. Good financial habits are vital for achieving your goals. Five ways to improve your habits are to: Automate, investigate, calibrate, allocate and participate. And your financial advisor can help reinforce these good habits, which may make a big difference in your financial future.

Automate - Since habits are regular routines, usually triggered in specific situations, you can break some bad financial habits by using automatic payments and other repeatable processes.
Pay yourself first by adding automatically to your investments each month – systematic investing can help take the emotion of market moves out of your decisions, although it doesn’t guarantee a profit or protect against a loss. Systematic investing allows you to invest a fixed dollar amount at regular intervals.

Set automatic payments to pay your full credit card balance monthly or at least pay more than the minimum amount.

Consider paying extra on your mortgage.

Make sure you spend less than you earn.

Investigate - Do you frequently react to financial advice aimed at others or the general public? It can sound impressive or enticing, but it may not be right for you. A better habit is to ask what will help you toward your long-term financial goals. The amount of financial noise seems to be exploding, so make sure you investigate to eliminate “fake news” and don’t follow recommendations that aren’t designed for you.

Calibrate - While the S&P 500 and the Dow are useful measures of how U.S. large-cap stocks are performing, they aren’t all you need to know. That’s why a possibly harmful financial habit is checking your portfolio’s performance against the S&P 500 or the Dow. Why? Because a stock market index isn’t tailored to your situation or aligned with your goals. It’s more volatile than you may want for your portfolio. And the more frequently you check how you’re doing, the more likely you’ll be inclined to make changes. Comparing your portfolio to a stock index is like comparing your life to a celebrity’s - most of us don’t have the ups and the attention, but we also don’t want the emotional swings that result.

Allocate - It’s easy to get in the habit of investing in what’s familiar - especially stocks of large, well-known U.S. companies. They’ve performed extremely well over the past few years; however, market leaders rotate over time. Make it a habit to allocate money to asset classes that have lagged recently, even though they may be less familiar. That way, you can reallocate and help improve your portfolio’s diversification. Some investments to consider are international developed-market and emerging-market stocks, as well as investment-grade bonds. Remember, stock and bond prices frequently move in opposite directions, so it’s key to combine them as the foundation of your portfolio.

Participate - One of the most important financial habits is to stay fully invested. It’s always tempting to hesitate, but that’s rarely a successful strategy. And failure may be more likely if you try to make huge changes or do it by yourself - but you’re not in this alone. Just like you’re more motivated to keep exercising if you walk with friends, you’re more likely to stick with good financial habits when you have your financial advisor to help break down your big goals into practical actions and stay consistently by your side along the way.

Take Action Today
Many of your best habits are automatic because you don’t have to think about them. And good financial habits can become as ingrained as brushing your teeth - but fortunately, your financial health can improve without doing anything twice a day. Regular checkups with your financial advisor can help you stick with your strategy and work toward your long-term financial goals.

Local woman travels to Nicaraguan orphanage by Lorraine Glowczak

Most individuals want to be of service to others in some way, especially to those whose needs are greater than our own. This is certainly a motivating force for Lily Turner, who will be leaving on March 8, 2017 to go to Nicaragua to assist with the needs of the CICRIN Children’s Orphanage and School and the nearby community, as part of a short-term mission trip with ADios Ministries, based in Portland, ME.

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Turner, who attends Faith Lutheran Church in Windham, has participated in many short-term mission trips before, but found this trip different from what she has experienced in the past.

“A friend of mine has served on numerous outreaches with ADios Ministries,” Turner said. “It sounded so unique from other outreaches I have participated in. However, other life events kept me from going with ADios ministries, until this year, when the time was available for me to participate.”
Presently, there are approximately 90 children at the CICRIN orphanage.  

“Many of the children are truly orphans,” Turner continued. “But some are abandoned children because the family just does not have enough food to feed all the children in the family. It’s very sad for all involved.”  Nicaragua is the second poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. Seventy-six percent of the population lives on less than $2 a day, with 45 percent living below the poverty line. 

Per the ADios Ministries website, the services provided to the orphanage in past mission trips included, but were not limited to: 1) An erosion control project to protect the laundry area from flooding, and a project to fortify and improve the aesthetics of other drainage areas by planting drought-resistant grass. 2) Construction of a large section of new concrete along ‘Main Street’ outside of CICRIN’s new office building, which was previously damaged by an earthquake. 3) Installation of fans in the boys’ dorm and replacement of damaged ceramic floor tile in the common eating area.

Members of the ADios team are encouraged to collect new or gently used clothing that will be donated to the CICRIN Store Project, where the clothes will be sold to local families at a very discounted price to intentionally preserve the dignity of local moms and dads, who want to be able to provide for their families - and do not want handouts. It also provides older children at the orphanage an opportunity to learn about the aspects of operating a business.

Additionally, small groups of volunteers go to nearby communities with a local pastor and a translator to visit families in their homes to talk, share and pray with family members; and to give out bagged hygiene items that include such things as: A washcloth, toothbrush, toothpaste, soap, hand sanitizer, comb, and a small toy or two for the family. These items are donated by family and friends of those traveling to CICRIN and are organized, packed and transported by individual volunteers. 

“We pack the donated items in a quart or gallon bag so they are ready to give out to each family,” Turner explained. “We are allowed one 50 pound bag to carry all donations and our own clothing.”

ADios Ministries’ mission is to empower people to serve others and to help break the cycle of despair and poverty - locally as well as internationally. It is also their mission “to spread the hope and encouragement of Jesus Christ to those we serve and serve with.”

Turner has her own personal mission, too. “To serve in any way possible,” she stated. “I hope to learn, encourage and fellowship with people on the team and with the people we meet in Nicaragua.”

Stepping out of one's comfort zone to go on a mission trip is an opportunity to grow in so many ways. When we reach out to bless others, the surprise is that we are blessed many times over. We can learn a lot from people who have so little,” Turner stated.

Turner will return home on March 16 and there will be a follow up story.

FMI go to the website:

A day in the life of a Senator by Stephen Signor

As a new column for your reading pleasure, we are beginning “A Day in the Life of ....” If you want to learn about what happens in someone’s career, non-profit organization, etc. or you would enjoy sharing what a day is like in your career, non-profit, etc., please feel free to contact the editor at: We welcome any suggestions and will do our best to write about it.

Election time, for now, has come and gone. The media coverage has all but disappeared, at least locally anyway. As voters continue to go on about their daily lives, there’s little doubt that no passing thought has ever been given to some lives of those we chose to represent us. In other words, except for what is broadcast or read through the media, especially during these elections, a politician’s daily life is relatively unknown - until now.  

Earlier this week I was afforded the honor, privilege and rare opportunity to be placed in the shoes of Democratic District 26 Senator Bill Diamond. “I have been asked in the past, if I minded being shadowed for the day? For the most part I say no because I am in so many directions with all the committees I am on. It’s very demanding,” explained Diamond.

Bill Diamond working diligently
Before disclosing his routine, there was one point in particular he wanted to bring home. “People have a general impression of a politician as it were. I think there are a lot of politicians who are not that. They’re in it for the right reasons. Legislators and town councilors and even the school board don’t get enough credit. These people are our neighbors; they are not the eager, egotistical self-interested (types) running ramped in Washington where the only goal is to get re-elected.” 

That said, his day depends on the time of the year. “This time of year in politics the day starts early and goes late. When I get up there (Augusta) we have a senate democrat’s caucus. That sets the tone for the session. After that there are committee meetings, work sessions and public hearings. In between, I am doing research because I have to present my own bills to all the committees; and then all of this goes until around 4 p.m. Starting in March I’ll be up there until later in the evening. Depending on which committee you are on, it may be even later. It will get more and more intense until the end of the session in June,” shared Diamond.

At the end of the day, if it is not too late, it’s a quick stop to Allmed Staffing, a business he has co-owned for five years. “The thing about Maine legislature is that, it is a citizen legislature that pays $12,000 the first year and $9,000 the second. To this end, unless you are rich or retired, most everyone in politics is doing something else.”

Added to this end-of-the-day routine, is the roughly 65 emails received daily. “When I get home I will respond to the 65 or so emails I receive on a daily basis. About half of those will require a response so I want to make sure I get those done that day, otherwise I will have 130 the next day. Besides, they want to hear from me for the most part.” 

To emphasize the point, Diamond added, “The biggest part of my job, whether it is here (Allmed) or Augusta is dealing with constituent concerns and getting back to them, based on what’s happening in Augusta legislatively. There is an amazing amount of folks that need help with something and to them it’s the first and foremost thing of the day. I understand that, so I try to get at these things very quickly unless it is a unique situation. But I treat all situations equally.”

Prioritizing is a learning curve. “Some of those are easy to dispose of or don’t require a lot of time to spend on. Others though, and there are many, may seem trivial at first look. I have had to train myself because I would look at that and say, ‘that’s an easy answer, that’s not a big deal’; but then I would look again and yes it is a big deal - because if they are getting to me with a question and are frustrated, at whatever it may be, then I have to give it attention”

But before any of that happens his day starts at the crack of dawn. “I am up every day at 5:30 a.m. Then I try to work out for 45 minutes - either running or riding the stationary bike. I get that out of the way otherwise I’d never get it done.  I’ve been doing that for 40 years. Then it is up to Augusta and I try not to do things that distract my driving. Even politicians have to comply with distracted driving laws,” he said laughingly. But the real driving force is the needs of the people, the same people that put him in office.

As for finding time to sleep, “I need six hours of sleep, seven is better. I can perform well on six but I will notice it after a few days if there is not a seven in there somewhere. If I am in the right place, I can take a 10 to 15 minute nap and I’ll feel like I just had five hours of sleep.” Obviously, that cannot be done while he’s in session.

“You can’t be seen nodding off,” said Diamond laughingly. “Besides, I don’t get sleepy up there because I’m really busy. So, it is a long day,” He also admits to rarely having a sleepless night.
That leaves only one last question: Is there such a thing as free time in a politician’s life? “I don’t have a lot of it but that is probably by design,” admits Diamond. He does, however, love the old west - the southwest in particular. “Having grown up with Gene Autry, Roy Rogers and the real life characters of the Earps and places like Tombstone, I got interested in all that stuff and traveled out west a few times. I would like to take a week this summer to re-visit Tombstone. It has a rich history. 
I’m not a big traveler unless it is a place I’d really like to go. Other than that I keep my day full. I also enjoying working around the house in what spare time I have.”

How long his political life will continue is anybody’s guess. “I don’t see myself retiring, I really don’t. I’d have to have a valid reason. I just can’t walk away from what I do. I’ve been blessed. It has been a wonderful experience. Sometimes I look in the mirror and wonder how did this happen to me - a poor kid from West Gardener who didn’t have any running water? But no, I’m going to ride that horse as long as I can.”

Losing it: How to recover from a parenting meltdown by Elizabeth Richards

When my younger son was two, he told my husband and me, “If I want to do what I want to do, then I can.” We laughed, admiring his strong toddler spirit. I don’t think either of us expected that attitude to hold steady throughout the years, but it did.

To say that he is a strong-willed child is an understatement. He’s intelligent and clever, and has a very strong sense of what he wants – and does not want – to do. On more than one occasion he has asked “Why do you get to tell me what to do?” and “Why are there even parents, anyway?”  

It’s been a challenging journey, but one I have felt prepared to handle. I’ve worked with children for more than 25 years. I’ve spent many hours in training to learn how to handle tough behavior. 
I believe that difficult behaviors are communication, and that parents need to decipher what is being communicated in a calm, empathetic manner. I’ve done a lot of reading about brain development, parenting, and discipline. I use positive guidance, not random punishments. I think my kids deserve to know why we do things, so I explain the limits I set while still holding firm on those limits. I strive to talk to my kids, not yell at them, knowing that it’s very difficult to learn – or even hear - anything if someone is yelling at you.
But sometimes, despite all I know and believe, I hit a wall. Last week I had a major “meltdown” on a public street over an incident that, in hindsight, was minor. There I was, ranting and raving, doing all the things I know won’t bring about the changes I hope for. I knew that I was being unreasonable. But I simply couldn’t stop.  

Afterwards, I felt guilt, shame, and a fair amount of judgment against myself.  How could I have let myself get so out of control? I was harder on myself than I ever am on my kids when they fall apart. And a friend pointed that out: That if their behavior doesn’t make them bad kids, my behavior doesn’t make me a bad parent. Another friend pointed out that I had taught my son an important lesson: That we can take responsibility for our actions, and do what we can to repair the damage.  

Which is exactly what I did.  A vigorous walk home helped me calm down, and when we arrived, I sat my son down and apologized for my behavior.  I let him know I didn’t want to act that way. He said it was his fault and I corrected him. Regardless of his behavior, I have a responsibility to control myself, I said. And I wanted to help him control his actions too. He sadly told me that he feels like he always fails. I told him we’d find ways to help him succeed. We worked on a system together, one that we were both happy with when it was finished. He went to bed smiling and humming. I breathed a sigh of relief.  Perhaps I hadn’t permanently damaged him after all. 

I know I’m not the only parent who has ever lost it, but I wanted to be sure the experience taught me something. I realized that if I, with my fully developed adult brain, could lose control so completely, then it’s no surprise that he does. I could finally understand just what he might be feeling, and I believe him when he says he doesn’t want to freak out, but sometimes just can’t stop. 

In the days since this happened, my son’s behavior has improved dramatically. I believe that what made the difference is how I behaved after the yelling. I didn’t try to justify or defend my actions. I didn’t pretend it never happened. Instead, I did exactly what I would want my son to do. Perhaps you’ve found yourself in a similar situation. Below are five things to do when things haven’t gone as planned. Following these tips can help you re-connect with your child and help you keep your cool the next time!

Apologize and Listen: 
The first step in reconnecting is to acknowledge that your behavior was inappropriate. Keep it short, and don’t place blame on your child. Ask what you could do differently in these situations, and really listen to the answers.

Forgive Yourself:
Long after your child has moved on, you might find yourself dwelling on the incident.  I know I did – so much so that I posted on social media, looking for reassurance. And what I realized from the responses is that, most people have done something they wished they could take back. Move on, and do your best to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Know Your Triggers:
One of the most important things you can do to prevent yourself from over-reacting to a situation is to identify what makes you angry or stressed in the first place. If you know what sets you off, you can be more aware of your own reactions.  

When you stop to think constructively about what happened, you can plan how to better handle similar situations in the future. What were the factors that contributed to the incident? Often, as it was in my case, there is a build-up of issues. Having a plan to handle these issues is always better than simply reacting.

Take Care of Yourself:
I hadn’t slept well the night before my meltdown, so I didn’t get up that morning to exercise like I usually do.  I hadn’t eaten anything since early in the day. By the time evening rolled around, I was tired, hungry and very cranky. It didn’t take much to set me off. If you take care of yourself as well as you do your children, you will be much better equipped to deal with the inevitable challenges of parenting.