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Who’s in Charge – You or Your Money? (Or maybe the kids?)




Does it seem like every time you take two steps forward you wind up one step behind?


Do you think you’re doing “fine” with money, but keep looking and looking for ways to cut back?


More to the point: Do you control your money, or does your money control you?


If the economy is chipping away at your peace of mind, join me to see what happens when you lose sight of your financial goals—and how to take back your life…and your dreams.


There will be magic—I promise.



Hi Dr. Monroy,


The budget we set up with you 18 months ago doesn’t seem to be working anymore. I just read an article in Parade Magazine about “America’s Thriftiest Families” and I need help!


Should we re-do our budget and be living like these folks? I feel like a failure because I can’t get our budget to work. I also feel guilty. We never seem to have enough money!


I did the homework you requested and have enclosed one months of receipts, and the “cash out challenge” note book.


Thanks, Caroline



Caroline, you’re not alone. You have no idea how many letters I get from people who are cutting back on “fun” or  having trouble meeting their expenses these days.


The “B” Word


Unfortunately, many folks view budgets like diets:  “deprivation.” But that’s because they don’t have an “authentic budget.” An authentic budget is a gift you give to yourself which doesn’t involve deprivation.


An authentic budget reflects and affirms your priorities, honors your values, and assists you in playing the game of life to win.


Do You Play to Win -- or to ‘Not Lose’?


When I was a young girl, my dad and his friends played poker for fun. (My mom never bought that line!) He won a lot. One day, a poker friend asked what his secret was. Everyone got very quiet waiting for his answer. “I play to win, and you play to not lose.” At the time, I realized this was a vital part of my father’s success in life—even though I didn’t know what it really meant. Now, some 40 years later, I think I have some insight.


Playing to win is proactive because all your resources are applied to the task at hand. Playing to “not lose,” on the other hand, is reactive, because you react to what others are doing or not doing. Playing to win trusts in the goodness of the universe while playing to “not lose” means knowing that something will go wrong.


When it comes to the game of life, most folks play to “not lose.” Their relationship with money is one of fear and impending doom. They get so focused on saving pennies that they miss out on the big picture, often losing hundreds—or even thousands—of dollars a month.


To make matters worse, our brains are wired to keep us in the “not lose” mindset. The left brain (the fear center) constantly focuses on negative thoughts like “I’m a failure” or “I feel guilty.” The right brain, on the other hand, sees the big picture and keeps us moving in a positive direction.


The left and right brain need to stay in balance so you can get your finances under control. Some tips for doing that:



Step #1: The big picture. Engage the right hemisphere of your brain! Caroline, your left brain created inaccurate conclusions about the article and that’s why you felt so guilty. The family in the article has different values. They think in “deprivation” mind set. They moved out of NJ to facilitate the “diet” oriented budget. They don’t take vacations, don’t buy treats and—in short, are living a deprived lifestyle that’s totally at odds with your commitment to joy and prosperity. The frugal family is also mal-nourishing their children. $3.89 cents to feed a family of 6 noodles and tomato sauce? Need I say more? An authentic budget for them would never be an authentic budget for you.

Step #2: Discernment: Now that you have a more balanced “right brain” picture of the thrifty family’s situation, what does your gut tell you about your own budget?


Right! Your budget is still off!


At this point, don’t fall into the trap of assuaging your guilt by 1) rationalizing, 2) justifying, 3) minimizing or 4) defending. (I call these the four horsemen—as in the apocalypse, because they lead to disaster). Now is the time to honestly look at why your budget is off and leave guilt and failure behind so you can make responsible choices for the future. (Responsibility means the ability to respond correctly.)


Let’s revisit your budget: In the homework you provided me, Caroline, every budget category—with the exception of your mortgage—was off. Some were way off. More about that below.


Step 3#: Gratitude. Give thanks you have the ability to notice you are off. Awareness is the hardest part of any situation. Appreciate that you have the tools and resources to get back on track!


Step #4: Action. With feelings of guilt and failure aside, you need to adjust your budget and your habits. If you add a new expense, what other expenses will you cut back on? If a one-time event has realigned your budget (or a series of one-time events), you still need to make adjustments.


Caroline, you took my “cash out” challenge, and did your homework—

1 month of receipts so I could diagnose the problem in detail.


Here’s what I found:


Kids and money


Like many families, you’re unconscious about spending money on your children. You say you think you spend about $200 a month in impulse purchases for them, including the video store ($11 dollars on popcorn and candy?), the pizza place and the grocery store.


Want to know the real number you spend on “add-ons,” Caroline? $600 a month! OUCH! Basically anywhere you go adds an extra 5-10% to the cost. The cash-out challenge revealed you are an impulse buyer. On almost every occasion, your “normal” spending was kept in check only because you did not have a credit card or checks with you. I know this surprises you, as you do not think you are an impulse buyer! (Statistically, about 50% of our purchases are impulse!).


Teach the Kids About Money


I can’t encourage you enough to empower your children by setting them up for success. Give them each $10 a week. That’s $120 a month for all 3. Remind them before leaving the house to bring their own money. Let them buy whatever they want (as long as it’s in line with your values) but ONLY if they have the money.


DO NOT loan them money or fill in the gaps—not even sales tax! Then, when they declare, “I don’t have enough money,” affirm that they may not have enough, but that they certainly could have it next time if they save up their money now.


You’ll all be “richer” for it.


Avoid the Withholding Tax Trap


You’ve set up your withholdings to get money back from the IRS, but as I’ve said for years, this is a bad idea. You don’t receive interest or benefit from the money that is withheld year-round. Although you’ve made a lot of progress reducing your credit card debit, IT WOULD BE GONE BY NOW if you had changed your withholdings and used that money to pay off the debt.


This would leave an additional $500 dollars a month to “get into the game of life.” Add this to the $600 you’re overspending, and you now have an extra $1,100 a month to put toward the life of your dreams.


I told you there would be magic!


Here’s my advice, in a nutshell:


Develop your awareness. Change your perception. And what was “possible” is now probable. “Expanding your Money IQ” means being open and aware.  We are always responsible. Which means: we have the ability to respond. Our ability to respond depends on our perception, our perception on our thoughts, and our thoughts on our awareness.


Be aware of your “self talk.” Realize the brain is trying to help, but it’s your job to make it work for you.


Karen has a Ph.D. in Psychology and Master’s Degrees in Business and Economics. Karen blends hard money skills with life skills, and wants everyone to learn to live a life of joy and prosperity. She’s committed to teaching folks how to accomplish this. If you want more information on budgeting, the “cash-out” challenge or her upcoming books, please e-mail


And if you have a question(s) for Dr. Karen, please e-mail:


Recent Reads:


My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte-Taylor

You’ll love the insights the author gives about your brain functions & scientific information about how your brain structure creates thoughts that control you.


A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

This is a third read for me! My husband began reading it last month and I decided to re-read it to join in discussion with him. Unlike The Power of Now (also a fantastic book), A New Earth is reader friendly. The psychologist in me can tell you everything Eckhart writes about the ego is TRUE. Your ego will not like being busted. However, if you feel there is a gap between something in life you desire and you, or you just want to know the territory of the ego better, this is a great book to read.


Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I have to admit I resisted reading this book, and boy that was silly! It is a great read; the author is funny and very honest about her sojourn. Gilbert answers questions about the task of balance in life, how can we try to be more loving and still be who we are, with humor and grace.

On the Radar:


Words, Actions and Deeds: Align the Money Message with the Values You Want to Teach Your Children— Is money a reason why you make or do not make certain choices? Do you think about money (or lack of money) constantly? Can you discern between what are options and what the facts are in the news? Do you like your children’s attitude and skill with money? PowerfulYou! Invites you to expand your money EQ and IQ with Dr. Karen Monroy. Register for this event by clicking here.

Thursday, August 14th, 12:00 PM — 12:30 PM EST, seminar is free to PowerfulYou! Members, $10 for non-members.


The Money Bewteen Us—  Did you know that for the last 20 years, MONEY has been the number one reason folks fight? Lean how to avoid that trap. More details to come! Stay Tuned for more information. Thursday, September 25th, 6:30 to 8:30 PM, Hampton Inn in Flemington


Next Month’s E-Zine:

The Money Between Us— A look at why money is the number one cause for distress in relationships and how to put a end to the discord.


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