About Bev Bachel

I'm a freelance writer and the author of What Do You Really Want? How to Set a Goal and Go for It.

Money Matters

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I listen to a lot of podcasts. A few weeks ago, I discovered a new one: small change—Money Stories from the Neighborhood.

Hosted by entrepreneur Twila Dang and Minnesota Public Radio economics reporter Chris Farrell, the podcast disrupts the notion that people with low or unstable incomes don’t know how to manage money. To the contrary, they are often the most creative and collaborative when it comes to doing so.

I’ve listened to all seven episodes that have been released so far, but one in particular got me thinking about the smart money lessons I learned from my parents, both of whom were born into the Great Depression and grew up on modest family farms, my dad in western Minnesota and my mom near St. Cloud.

My parents, Vi and Jim Bachel

Their philosophy was “live off what you have.” This, combined with the fact that my dad supported our family of seven on not much more than $20,000 a year, led me to learn important money lessons that have made a huge difference in my financial wellbeing. Here are a few:

Lesson No. 1: If you don’t have the money, don’t buy it. I never saw my parents use a credit card. Other than the utility bills my dad paid by check every month, my parents paid cash for everything from groceries to Catholic school tuition to an occasional new car. They kept meticulous track of how much money they had via their Midwest Federal Savings Passbook.

Lesson No. 2: If you want more money, ask for it. I learned and was reminded of this lesson just about every week when my stay-at-home mom asked my dad for money for groceries. No matter how much he gave her, she always asked—and often lobbied vigorously—for more. Sometimes she got it, sometimes she didn’t. So, midcareer, when I was offered a job with a consulting firm, I took a deep breath and asked for—and eventually received—a pay increase, a signing bonus and an additional week of vacation.

Lesson No. 3: Don’t be afraid to haggle. I can’t recall the exact amount the seller of my house was asking, but I was do know I was prepared to pay that amount. That is, until I talked to my dad. He advised me to offer considerably less, so I did. The realtor told me the buyer would be insulted by such a low offer. He was. But he eventually agreed to sell me the house for considerably less than his original asking price and only $3,000 more than my original offer.  

Lesson No. 4: Always get three estimates. Now that the pandemic has me hunkered down at home, I’ve been getting estimates for long overdue home chores, including painting the exterior of my home as well as the upstairs. In soliciting the estimates, I’m doing just what my parents taught me to do: calling three contractors. Their estimates range from roughly $5,000 to $20,000+, reminding me once again of the value of my parents’ advice.

Lesson No. 5: Save for retirement. Thanks to my parents’ urging, I started saving for retirement in my early 20s, when I got my first full-time job. It was at Honeywell. While I’m unsure how much I saved in the two years I worked there, I still have a 1984 Retirement Savings Plan statement showing that I contributed $55.94 in the fourth quarter of that year and had a yearend balance of $233.48. While that doesn’t seem like much to me now, I’m certain it did at the time.

I’m also certain that these and other money lessons I learned—from my parents, as well as friends, colleagues and podcasts such as small change—have made a huge difference in my financial wellbeing.

How about you? What money lessons did you learn…and from whom? And how have those lessons impacted your own financial wellbeing?

When Will I Do It?

My friend Maery did it after fracturing her shoulder at a company outing.

My cousin Eugene did it when he ran out of staples for his office stapler.

My sister Karen did it when COVID-19 closed the dental office where she worked.

What did they do?

They retired.

But unlike me, they all had employers to retire from. They also all had a key moment when they knew it was time to do just that.

But as a freelance writer who works for dozens of clients, there’s no one employer to retire from and since I haven’t yet had a “now’s the right time” moment, I’m still saying yes to most client work that comes my way. Thankfully, I enjoy the work…and the people I work for.

That said, I am beginning to think more seriously about retirement and what it might look like for me.

Despite the fact that I’ve been dreaming about (and saving for it) since I was 22, I don’t have a very clear picture. That’s one reason why, when I turned 60 three years ago, rather than celebrating with a big party, a piece of jewelry or an exotic trip, I took a one-year sabbatical.

Though I missed having work as a way of structuring my days, I really enjoyed the downtime and the chance to unplug both personally and professionally. I also enjoyed the chance to travel for months at a time.

Although I’ve since returned to freelancing, I now say yes only to projects I can do from anywhere at any time. That way, I still have plenty of flexibility and free time, a lot of which I just putter away. Most days that feels like exactly the right thing to do.

Other days, I’m more engaged. I’ve also started journaling again and gotten reacquainted with art supplies I haven’t touched in years. I’m cooking some and reading more. I’m writing letters and calling friends. I’m even enjoying routine household chores, plus getting estimates for several home improvement projects.

Increasingly, it’s these things—not my client work—that’s giving structure to my days…and no doubt moving me closer to retirement. What sign will tell me that it’s finally time? I don’t yet know, but I do look forward to finding out.

Rest in Peace, Patty C.

I first met Patty in 1978. We were both English majors at Drake University in Des Moines. I was in my early 20s, she in her mid-30s.

We didn’t have a lot in common.

I lived with a roommate I didn’t like in a campus dorm. She lived with her husband and young son in a four-bedroom house about 15 minutes away. I was a poor college junior who spent my weekends drinking beer that cost $1 a pitcher. She spent her weekends with her parents, swimming in their indoor swimming pool and sipping cocktails graced with fruit from their lemon and lime trees.

Both English majors, Patty and I were paired up on a class paper we worked diligently on to earn an A. I no longer recall what grade we received, but we became good friends in the process. She enjoyed hearing my stories about dorm life, and I liked hearing stories about her parents’ home and lavish lifestyle.  

Looking back, what I think we enjoyed most was sharing our hopes and dreams with someone who not only truly listened, often for hours on end, but also believed in our ability to achieve those dreams.

A year later, in December of 1979, I graduated and moved back to Minneapolis where I went to work for the Minnesota Senate, first as a page and then as an intern researching DWI legislation.

In mid-August of 1980, out of the blue, I received a letter from Drake University’s English department offering me a graduate-school fellowship. In exchange for teaching two sections of freshman English and working 10 hours each week in the school’s writing lab, I would earn a master’s degree in English.

I wanted to accept the school’s offer, but I’d already spent all my savings getting my undergrad degree. And having been raised by a dad whose mantra was, “If you can’t pay cash, don’t buy it,” I was reluctant to take on more student debt.

But then Patty invited me to come live with her. And suddenly my dream of earning a master’s became a reality.

The rules for living at Patty’s were simple: two dos and two don’ts. Do empty the dishwasher each morning and do grocery shopping with her once a week. Don’t smoke pot in the house and don’t have sex with her husband (she’d once found him in bed with one of her best friends).

We quickly settled into a routine. Her husband dropped me off on campus on his way to work each morning, and Patty drove me home each afternoon after we had both finished our classes.

We read books and wrote papers, and spent our free time penning bad poetry, drinking beer (her husband worked at Coors) and frying ourselves in the sun.

We also talked a lot about our hopes and dreams. Mine started out modest, but she encouraged me to dream bigger and set goals. It was her encouragement that led me to set a goal of someday writing a book. (Decades later, thanks in large part to her, I did: a book on goalsetting that’s been translated into five languages and is helping young people around the globe set their own goals.)

I liked being part of Patty’s family. Quiet early mornings at the kitchen table sipping coffee and writing in our journals. Afternoons playing catch with her son or helping him with his homework. Weekends hanging out with her parents or her husband’s colleagues.

After 18 months, with classes complete, I moved back to Minneapolis.

For years, Patty and I talked often, regularly exchanged long stream-of-consciousness letters, some of which held our deepest desires and our darkest fears and visited one another now and again.

Eventually she and her husband divorced, and she moved to Arkansas. She also got sick: first with a mysterious disease that was never diagnosed, then with tuberculosis followed by heart disease. Along the way, she made me promise that I’d be at her funeral—no matter when or where—and that I’d make sure Lynyrd Skynyrd’s Free Bird was played.

But as the years passed, our letters got less frequent. And although we did come close to getting together in person a few years ago when I vacationed about 50 miles from her home, we never did as she’d woken up that day not feeling well and had to cancel.

I still wrote a couple of times a year. Sometimes I heard back, sometimes I didn’t. Then, I sent several letters that went unanswered. I wasn’t worried at first, but then sent a letter asking if I’d said or done something to upset her. When I still didn’t hear back, I wrote to her sister who called me immediately to tell me Patty had died several months earlier, most likely from a massive heart attack. Patty’s sister and son had wanted to tell me but didn’t know how to reach me.

There was no funeral. I’m glad, as I would have felt terrible missing it.

But I did download Free Bird to my phone. In honor of our friendship, I play it now and again, always with a heart full of gratitude to a forever friend who made a huge difference in my own life, not only by encouraging my early hopes and dreams but also by being the first friend who truly believed I could achieve them.

When it Comes to Downsizing, Fire is Not the Answer

Have you read “How to Get Rid of Stuff: The Survey Says…”?

Published on Next Avenue, the article features an interview with David J. Ekerdt, author of Downsizing: Confronting Our Possessions in Later Life.

Although I’m too busy confronting my own mountain of stuff to read Ekerdt’s book, the article brought me face-to-face with my own struggle to take control of my possessions.

One line in particular stood out to me. It referred to the “magical thinking” approach to downsizing, which can be summed up as wishing a fire would “take care of” all one’s possessions.

I’ve been guilty of such thinking. In fact, more than a decade ago, I fantasized about this exact thing with my friend Maery Rose.

Last week my fantasy almost came true.

That’s when I came home from a socially distanced visit with my aunt Caroline to a smoke-filled bedroom.  

It started because of my hair.

I haven’t had it cut or colored since the pandemic began, and it’s been driving me crazy. I wanted to give it a bit of TLC from all angles, so I plugged in a curling iron in my bedroom, where I could adjust the mirrored bifold doors of my closet to get a 360-degree view of my hair.

Though I didn’t love what I saw, a figured a few quick curls just before walking out the door would get me to “good enough.”

But in the middle of making those curls, I got distracted by a call and forgot to turn the curling iron off. What’s worse, while I was gone, it slipped from the radiator onto my bed, where I had a pile of clothes I’d been debating about whether to keep or giveaway.

By the time I returned home, the curling iron had burned through the clothes, as well as a treasured handmade afghan, my down comforter and my sheets. Even my mattress was beginning to burn.

I’m lucky I came home when I did. The damage could have been much worse. And while I certainly hope I never accidentally set another thing on fire, there’s one positive that came out of that day: I’m finally, after years of talking about doing so, letting go of those things that don’t fit my future self.

In fact, in the week since the fire, I’ve donated two carloads of boxes and filled my dining room with dozens more.

And thanks to this tweet by Angela Giles Klocke, I’m able to see some humor in the fact that the universe had to light a fire in my bed in order for me to finally take downsizing seriously.

Inspired by Angela, I’m now cross-stitching my own aphorism: “Home Is Where We Unplug Curling Irons So We Don’t Burn Down the House!”

Angela is right, it does have a nice ring to it, one I hope will keep both my home and hers fire-free from now on.

The F#!%ing First Times

One in a series of Dear You greeting cards created by Jacque Fletcher of Heartwood Healing.

As anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a huge fan of podcasts, having listened to every episode of everything from “Fresh Air” and “The Brian Lehrer Show” to “Ear Hustle” and “The Happiness Lab.” And while I know very little about Brené Brown other than her “power of vulnerability” TED Talk, her new podcast—“Unlocking Us”—caught my ear.

In the inaugural episode, she talks about coming face to face with what she refers to as the FFTs: the “F#!%ing First Times.”

She describes the FFTs as those awkward and sometimes incredibly uncomfortable feelings that arise whenever we try something new. Her FFTs included recording the first episode of her new podcast, getting bangs for the first time since the 90s and learning to ride her Peloton bike (for the first three months she left her shoes clipped into the bike because she didn’t know how to get on and off the bike with them on her feet).

But, as she’s been telling her followers for years, the only way to get to the other side of being uncomfortable is to push right through.

That’s what I’m trying to do. But gosh, is it hard.

Ready, set … re-set

I’d expected to be on the road most of the first half of the year, but the coronavirus cut my travel plans short. So instead, I’m at home, staring at a long list of home improvement projects I’ve been putting off for years—everything from clearing clutter to replacing windows, from landscaping to building a new garage.

The good news is that I’m finally attacking that list. The bad news is that nearly all the projects on the list are FFTs for me, some made even harder to get started on because of large price tags and conflicting opinions.

Take my garage, for instance. One contractor says the existing slab is fine, while another says it must be replaced. One advises keeping the same footprint, while another recommends building larger. One says my 200-year-old backyard oak tree isn’t a problem, another that it needs to be trimmed right away.

Then, their estimates arrived … and my eyes glazed over. There was no easy way to compare apples to apples, and even if there was, I have no idea what shape roof to choose or how many lights to have installed or …

What if I make a mistake? Choose the wrong builder, or worse, the wrong dimensions so that the truck I’m planning to buy down the road doesn’t fit.

So, the project has come to a standstill, which is exactly what Brown says happens when we get overwhelmed by vulnerability and stop trying.

Embrace the suck

While I will eventually choose a contractor (a friend who has built two cabins is coming over next week to help me evaluate the estimates I’ve received), Brown says we all too often shut down in the face of uncertainty.

I certainly have been guilty of that.

But I’ve also seen the benefits of embracing what Brown refers to as “the suck.” The suck is the yuck we have to get through in order to get what we desire.

She says that when we don’t embrace the suck, things start to shut down inside of us. And while I’m now in my 60s and beginning to contemplate retirement, I have no plans of shutting down.

Instead, I’m reminding myself that I have what it takes to get through the FFTs. After all, when I think about it, I’ve done it before. I did it when I launched my own marketing and employee communications agency, when I wrote my first book and when I bought an island beach house.

And while all of those things were terrifying stretches at the time, I not only survived them, I emerged from them stronger and more confident. Sure, I experienced the FFTs (and I even f#!%ed up a few times along the way), but I’m proud of all I’ve accomplished and know I’ll feel the same way once one the garage is done.

My key takeaways

Whether you, like me, are considering a home-improvement project or a self-improvement one (I have a long list of those as well), here are three tips to help you s-t-r-e-t-c-h out of your comfort zone and get comfortable with the FFTs:

  • Engage your imagination. Research shows that our brains don’t differentiate between imagining doing something and actually doing it, so amp up your confidence by visualizing exactly what you’d like to experience. For me, it’s pulling into a light-filled garage and realizing my vehicles fit perfectly.
  • Lower your expectations. When you first try something new, chances are you won’t be very good at it. That seems obvious, right? But it’s amazing how many of us let the fact that we’re “all thumbs” or “have two left feet” get in the way of trying new things.
  • Ask for help. Don’t carry the ball all by yourself. Instead, let other people help you get where you want to go by expanding your network to include people who are both younger and older, as well as those who have had different life and career experiences.