Gain Without Pain

Written by John D. Buerger, CFP®.


John Buerger

I am so tired of the "No Pain, No Gain!" mantra and the wrong-headed implication that people should seek "more pain" in order to guarantee "more/better gain."

When it comes to your spending decisions, you really can have your cake and eat it, too (with some important caveats)!

A recent article from the MintLife Blog ("The American Family Budget - A Partner's Point of View") is an example of the WRONG way. While I appreciate that it is important to have BOTH partners working together on family spending, I disagree with the assumption that the process has to be painful or that one partner can/should abdicate to the other any sense of control about their financial choices.

If THIS is what the American Family Budget is really all about - it should be taken out back and shot.


I don't like the word, "budget." A "budget" is like a "diet." It's a six-letter-long four letter word. To most people, a budget means pain, sacrifice and self discipline. 

Budget Police

It shouldn't be that way, but it is. That is what I call "The Sacrifice Fallacy" and because of it, most budgets fail (and fail miserably).

While budgets have a bad rap, making better spending decisions is GOOD and desirable. Developing that "control" doesn't have to mean your quality of life is diminished. In fact, when it is done correctly, making good money choices means improving your quality of life both now and in the future.


Traditional budgets imply that one person "keeps" the budget and their partner should follow along and toe the line. The MintLife blog article tries to address how this partner feels about that kind of arrangement.

The natural conclusion of the traditional budget approach is that spending decisions are made based on whether or not "it's in the budget." Since the dominant partner created that budget in the first place, they dictate through the budget how their partner must act.

I've been married 22+ years and that "command and control" approach would seem like a recipe for disaster. Nobody likes being told what to do - especially from their spouse.


If a cash flow system is going to work, it has to keep the playing field level and leave all participants working together toward a mutually agreeable and positive end result. Both factors are important.

When each partner feels empowered and in control, they stay positively engaged. They also support each other through the process which makes their relationship stronger and more productive.


When cash flow management is done correctly, money choices are made based on the Substitution and Value Question, not the Sacrifice Fallacy:

"I can only spend this money once - so am I/we getting good value here or could I/we do better by using this money someplace else?"

That is the question every family member should be asking themselves as they swipe their credit card, write a check or even pull cash out of their wallet.

It's not about whether it's in the budget. That's a question of sacrifice - I have to give up something I want because of an arbitrarily defined limitation. It IS all about using limited resources to have as much of what's really important to me/us as possible.


It's time to decomission the budget police and embrace Cash Flow Management instead.

"No pain, no gain" may work when you're at the gym, but pain, sacrifice and self discipline have no place in personal finances. That will lead to animosity, impulsive and wasteful spending and possibly a marital dissolution (after all, money is the primary cause of divorce), not to a better quality of life.

The next time you see an article talking about a "budget," know that when it comes to family matters (government and business are different) there is a better way. You CAN have your cake and eat it, too. You can make better financial decisions AND enjoy a better quality of life - no pain, sacrifice or self-discipline required.

That's something I think your partner can embrace.


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Wealth Health Basics

Written by John D. Buerger, CFP®.


John Buerger

There are a lot of moving parts to your personal finances, but that doesn't mean it has to be complicated or overwhelming to keep track of or improve upon them. Thanks to modern technology, there are online tools to take care of the tracking. All you need to focus on are some BASICS.

BASICS is an acronym for the six primary principles of good Wealth Health. Accept and embrace these and you can't help but make great choices with your money and enjoy a better Quality of Life:


This first part drives everything. When you are Mindful and Aware of your current situation "As Is" - warts and all - you are in the best place to make it better. You can only fix what you realize is broken.

This is also probably the toughest for most people because it means being willing to see your present situation as it is, not as you wish or hope it could be. Fortunately, the next element of good Wealth Health will make this one a LOT easier.



Be honest with yourself ... but also be accepting. Remember the phrase, "It is what it is!" There is plenty you can do to make things better, but there will be no improvement if you are starting from a place that isn't real ... and you WILL lie to yourself if that reality is viewed as some form of punishment.

Most of us are trained to be critical of things when they aren't what they could be so you'll want to be careful with this tendency, especially in the early going.

Rather than the glass being "half empty" or "half full," it simply has 50% of capacity and you want it to be something different. 


I know I'm biased on this one, but I believe that everything works out better when you have a plan. The strategic approach means you are paying attention to the opportunties and obstacles between where you are (that was the first part) and where you want to be.

If the glass is at 50% of capacity and you want it to be at 60%, what steps do you have to take to make that happen? Answer that question and you're being strategic.


Pay attention to your strategy and work on it every day. The plan is worthless if you go through life letting it hit you in the face. Think about the strategy. Take action that is in alignment with your plan. 


Whether we are talking about managing the cash flow slipping through your fingers or how you deal with your investments, consistency is critical to getting great results.

If you were in a workout program to get stronger, which do you think would get better results: one workout of 200 pushups and then nothing for a month ... or 10 pushups a day, every day for a month? Which do you think would be less painful?

The power of good Wealth Health comes in the consistent application of simple, sound principles over a long period of time. The daily effort is miniscule - it's easy to do - but the end result is vastly greater than the sum of those daily parts.


This one borrows mostly from the personal development world - humans are at their best and most effective when they are focused on one thing at a time. If you are working at one objective and are strategic, intentional and consistent about it, you have a very good chance (greater than 80%) that you will achieve your goal.

If you choose to have two goals at once, the chances of success with either of them is less than 40%. With three goals, that probability drops to around 10% for any of your dreams coming true.


Those are the BASICS - Be mindful, Accepting, Strategic, Intentional, Consistent and Singular in focus and you can accomplish just about anything you want.

This is especially true when it comes to your personal finances and Wealth Health. I've worked with hundreds of people as a Wealth Coach and following these BASICS is the always the difference between a great outcome (improving their Quality of Life) and an experience that didn't work out very well.


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One Habit To Change Your Life

Written by John D. Buerger, CFP®.


John Buerger

The other day, I ran across an article from the MintLife blog that promised Five Financial Habits That Will Change Your Life so I read it. Even though there are some sound financial principles behind it, my bet is that nobody will follow the author's advice.

Why? I mean, who wouldn't want to get more out of the money slipping through their fingers? It's not like we have extra bucks lying around to just waste them.

The problem is that even reduced to just five habits, it is still complicated and overwhelming. Plus, there is nothing fun, exciting or motivating in changing those five habits. They all sound like a time-out in school or a visit to the dentist. They may change your life, but in a good way? Nope.

Instead of five boring habits that are painful to adopt ... how about just ONE simple habit that can really change your life for the better!


Focus on one change, not many.

If you focus on one goal strategically and intentionally, you have a very good chance that you will reach your objective. If you focus on two things at once, the chances of either happening gets cut in half. Add a third item and there is only a 10% chance of success with ANY of them. By the time you get to FIVE things ... you can pretty much forget about any of them working out.

Although my daughter will argue with me to the death on this, the research is solid - humans are terrible at multi-tasking.

What is that one habit?



Become financially conscious! That's it. 

The one habit to change is to become aware of how you are spending your money -  but in a positive, open and accepting (the more challenging part of the habit shift, it turns out) way. When possible, review every dollar you spend to be sure you get the best value for it.

Do this and you will make much better financial choices - even if you are making really good ones now.


Be honest! You spend money on auto-pilot.

According to research cited by Brad Klontz and others, 80% of the decisions you make are made emotionally using the sub-conscious, intuitive System 1. Some would argue (and I'm in this group based on my own personal experience) that when it comes to money choices, that 80% figure goes up.

Money has been a reward or a threat to just about every aspect of your life so every financial decision you face is laced with all the emotions you've ever felt about money - the good AND the bad. It's nearly impossible to be rational or intelligent in that kind of environment.


It's not easy to be conscious of your money choices. We're all busy and life is full of lots of things grabbing for our attention. Many of those are more "fun" than reviewing your financial decisions would likely seem to be.

Sure, the software available today (our own Cash Flow Hydrant™,, Quicken, etc.) can give you the information when you need it (12-48 hours after you spend it is the best time to review a spending decision), but having access to the information and actually doing something constructive with it are two different things.

Thanks to years of subliminal training, it's real easy to be judgemental and get on your own case. We've all made lots of mistakes (me, too) with money. It is this common temptation to resort to "should have's" and "could have's" that make it so difficult to cultivate this one, simple, life-changing habit.


If you beat yourself up over your previous spending mistakes, you'll be building a very painful habit - not something that will change your life for the better. You'll never change the habit of willy-nilly, subconscious and emotional financial decisions that have locked you in to less-than-desirable results.

Accept your previous choices for what they are and simply vow to make better ones in the future. That way, you won't be afraid to go through tomorrow's review exercise.

Do this and you WILL shift your spending habits while improving your quality of life. While it does take a few minutes each day, in just 30 days you will notice a big improvement.


We can help you prioritize your goals and scope your focus.
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