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Control your finances and you control your life

/ Source: TODAY

First, Paula and I would like to thank you for buying The True Cost of Happiness. We realize you had many options. I recently did a search on for “personal finance” books, and there were 13,671 choices!

In addition, many of us associate the word “cost” with money. I wasn’t quite sure how people would react to a book whose title could imply that “happiness” is something that can be bought with dollars and cents. Happiness does have a cost, but as you’ll see in this book, it has little to do with money. You will also see, however, how your financial resources, whatever they may be, can play a role in creating a lifestyle that brings you happiness and peace.

Before I explain, let me tell you how this book came about. In the late 1990s I started working at CBS MarketWatch. This came after approximately seven years at the TV arm of The Wall Street Journal. The move to CBS MarketWatch took the focus of my reporting from Wall Street to Main Street. That’s when I really started to learn about the “people side” of money. That’s when I began to realize the contribution I wanted to make with my journalism — showing people how money can help them live better lives.

At CBS, I was able to do stories on everything from the latest guy who got rich on technology stocks to the groups that were unable to participate in the wealth the markets were creating due primarily to socioeconomic circumstances. I also did a lot of personal finance reports, “How to get out of credit card debt,” “Investing 101,” “Finding personal finance advice that really works for you,” and one my personal favorites, “What our financial choices tell us about our personalities ... A look at what the financial choices of the people running for President of the United States say about who they really are.”

I was always struck by the contradictions in my reporting. I could tell people the latest advice on responsible credit card use (I think even then there were about 13,671 pieces of advice out there), but in the same report I’d be saying the average household is racking up record amounts of credit card debt, while people are making more money than ever. Something wasn’t adding up.

Move the clock forward a few years and I was reporting for CNN. I always wanted to use my journalism to raise awareness of the struggles of people in Africa, so in addition to my business reports, I jumped at the chance to report for a show called Inside Africa on CNN International.

Ultimately, many stories about Africa turned out to be stories about hope. To see how much people can accomplish with such limited financial resources is something everyone should witness. It is the ultimate reminder that real wealth has nothing to do with accumulating cash.

We all know this intellectually, but the struggles monetarily wealthy people have with money — despite their best efforts to stick to a budget or financial plan — and the unhappiness these struggles bring, are also very real.

I’ve heard and said many statements like:

• “If I had more money, I could spend more time doing the things that make me really happy.”

• “If I had more money, I could be a better parent, because I’d have more time to spend with my children.”

• “If I had more money, I wouldn’t have to take on so much debt.”

People sure blame an awful lot on money! It became clear that there was a lot of “stuff” behind our financial choices, and the journalist in me had to know what that “stuff” was and share the Real Story.

About four years ago, that quest led me to something called Life Planning. Life Planning is an integrated approach to financial management in which a person’s beliefs, feelings, and thoughts about money are the jump-off point for the actual financial planning, versus just looking at the numbers side of the equation.

If you want to read more about what this methodology can do for your life, read Wynonna Judd’s book Coming Home to Myself (New York: New American Library, 2005), in which she talks about what Life Planner Rick Kahler, my friend and mentor, and his guidance have done for her life.

Life Planning appealed to my sense of logic because even I could see that it was not money that was causing the unhappiness or happiness that I witnessed, but the thoughts, beliefs, and feelings about money, and how they were playing out in people’s behavior.

There is some controversy over the term Life Planning. Some people in the financial world argue that getting to know what’s driving someone’s financial choices is just good financial planning. It was my observation, however, that the planners who take this integrated approach had or incorporated a different set of skills into their practices — the kinds of skills needed to help people tease apart their thoughts and beliefs.

As you’ll see, the factors behind our financial choices run very deep. They are rooted in our childhoods, social messages, and the ways in which we perceive ourselves. I have seen countless numbers of people try to change their behavior without addressing the root causes, only to end up exactly where they started.

Looking at the “why” behind our financial choices is the only way we can bridge that gap between what we know and what we do. It is taking a look at that space — that gap where change and choice reside — that will reveal the answers I believe you are looking for. I’ve observed time and time again that some understanding of what’s behind our actions is imperative if lasting change is to occur.

So I thought I had the story I was looking for, and off I went to write a book about Life Planning. I would show John Doe that his debt is largely rooted in the “I’m going to have a big payoff one day” message he got from his father. I would show Jane Doe that social messages about men making big financial decisions were behind her belief that she didn’t know how to manage money. I would show Jack Doe how social messages that his ethnic group is a bad financial risk were becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy in his own life. The lists go on and on.

I spent about two years thinking I had the whole story. I worked on book proposals and marketing plans, and was rejected by publisher after publisher. Then a series of personal events happened that changed my life so profoundly, I was left with no choice but to deepen my examination of the nature of happiness, unhappiness, and change.

Within 11 months, the two most important women in my life passed, and I gave birth to Christopher. To lose your mother, three weeks later unexpectedly lose your grandmother, four weeks later find out you’re pregnant, and nine months later give birth to a child unleashes “everything all at once,” as I’m fond of saying. You have no choice but to sit back, hold on, and watch.

What I saw was the miracle of human nature. If someone had told me that the deep feelings of grief I experienced could give way to the happiness that I feel today, I would have found that very hard to believe. The truth is, I cried, but I stopped crying. I hurt, but I stopped hurting, all without lifting a finger. My actions and behaviors changed from those of someone who was in enormous pain and grieving to those of a woman whose life was now empowered with the boundless and joyful energy that comes with motherhood.

What I saw was that we are built with everything we need to transform unhappiness and discontent into happiness. It is a process that takes place on the inside and is unaffected by external actions or circumstances.

What I saw was that all the people I had met and interviewed were looking outside of themselves, in this instance, to money to cure their unhappiness and discontent, when all money was actually doing was making them forget what they are truly capable of — change and transformation on a visceral level. If something as profound of grief can change, the feelings and beliefs that drive our financial choices can be transformed as well.

This book then became about looking at that place where transformation occurs and giving you the tools to create an environment that makes it possible. I not only had the story I was really looking for, but soon found a publisher who wanted to tell it!

As I moved forward, someone kept coming to mind whom I had interviewed in my previous research of Life Planning, Paula Boyer Kennedy. Her ability to make this integrated financial approach so simple and approachable had always caught my attention. Paula and I continued to talk about Life Planning, and then decided to collaborate.

As you will see, in Part II of this book, her financial planning skills and deep understanding of human nature — and the effects that money can have on it — will truly give you the skills to use your financial choices to help make the grandest statement of who you really are.

Paula and I feel that an integrated approach to financial planning is more important than ever. We are living longer, more productive lives than any generations in history. Baby Boomers are shattering our old notions of what it means to retire. Some are starting new careers. Some are going out into the world and trying to make a difference, instead of settling into the tranquility and peace they may have imagined for this time in their lives.

Many members of Generation X are just starting families as they approach and pass their 40th year. Many are taking the time, and giving themselves the experiences needed to figure out what they really want to be when they grow up.

Yet these generations face:

• The highest health care bills in history for themselves and their parents.

• The need to use assets meant to be inherited by their children to pay for things like retirement and eldercare.

• Disappearing corporate retirement benefits.

This all comes at a time when families and individuals are carrying historically high debt and historically low savings. We can no longer afford this, given the reality of our longer lives. The money simply won’t last. We can no longer afford financial illiteracy for ourselves and our children.

In addition to the age/money equation, our attitudes have changed. Quality of life has taken on a new meaning in the post-9/11 world. The things we value have changed. More men and women are walking away from high-paying jobs to spend more time with their families. In this post-Enron world, spending without accountability is no longer the accepted norm. We want to know what corporate officers are doing with our investment dollars. We want to know that corporations and nations are not cutting corners that hurt our environment in order to make money. We are giving more money to charities than ever before. These are our new realities.

We applaud you for taking responsibility for your finances and your happiness. We wish you all the luck in the world as you embark on this journey!

Excerpted from “The True Cost of Happiness: The Real Story Behind Managing Your Money” by Stacey Tisdale and Paula Boyer Kennedy. © 2007 Excerpted by permission of Wiley Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.