My Education as a Writer with Mental Illness

 

I readily admit to being eccentric.  I was such even as a child.  In my more active years, I used to pace in the back yard for hours on end regardless of the weather just making up stories in my head.  I’m sure this concerned my family some (and made me a butt of jokes among the school yard bullies), but I had an overactive imagination as a child.  I was too scared to actually put any of this into writing.  I guess I was paranoid even as a child.  I used to make up all sorts of stories and characters.  I kind of kick myself now for not making notes on some of those stories as I think some of them might have made decent science fiction or fantasy stories.  But I never considered a career as a writer because I had heard so many horror stories about English and humanities students condemned to working minimum wage jobs after college.  As it is now, the middle class is all but gone.  I may have been happier as a double major in English and History rather than trying to be a medical scientist.

I guess now that I know myself much better at age 38 than I did at age 18, I know now that I am really a writer/story teller who is interested in science, rather than a scientist interested in writing.  And I certainly am not the economist or sales man I studied to be when I studied business after it became clear my mental illness wouldn’t allow to go to medical school.

Since I’m starting to read much more again, I’m beginning to get the urge to try my hand at traditional writing again.  I absolutely love blogging and I used poetry in my twenties to learn how to write and tell stories.  But perhaps it is time to venture into new possibilities with my writings.  I’ve had some of my poems published in small literary journals in the past. I did write the rough drafts of two novels when I was in my twenties.  I made outlines for science fiction novels but never wrote anything serious.  Once I even tried my hand at writing crime drama, and my only experience with crime was when I helped my boss catch a couple shoplifters during my first day on the job when I was in college.  I wish I had kept my rough drafts of my old novels.

I became interested in writing as a means of story telling during my freshman year in college when I qualified for a place in an advanced English course.  I find out I loved writing stories and essays in that class.  I made some pretty good friends in that class too.  One of those friends became a blogger too.  I regret that I lost contact with her and everyone else in that class over the years.  Even though I didn’t dive head first into writing after that class ended, I did become interested in literature.  I must have spent as much time reading in the college library as I did studying for my business and economics classes during the last three years of college.  I became so dedicated to pursuing this course of self study that I let much of my old college life go.  I left my fraternity even though I had lots of friends in that group.  I stopped dating to pursue knowledge.  I guess I knew even early on that learning and story telling were the true loves of my life.  Besides, fighting a mental illness I would have probably made a lousy husband and father.

I more or less lived in the library the last three years of college.  But one of the purposes of formal education should be to at least give kids the tools to learn new things should they wish to once they leave school.  I felt my formal education, first at a rural public school and then at a private college in York, Nebraska, did just that for me.  And I am grateful every day that I wake up for being able to make it through college without any student debt.  With as expensive as college is getting now, and how wages simply aren’t keeping up, I whole heartedly recommend against going to a four year college unless you are going for a STEM degree or can be guaranteed to get out debt free.  I’ve seen too many friends crushed by student loan debts, robbed of their peace of mind, and working jobs they can’t stand just because of said debts.  And much of what I learned in college can just as easily be learned with a few years of hard self study via the public library system, ebooks, and youtube videos.  I dare say that I learned more in five years of hard self studying via the public library and youtube videos than I did in my formal education.  But it was the formal education that planted that desire and need for knowledge and wisdom to begin with.  These are some of my thoughts on my education and path to enlightenment as the school year starts again.

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Money, Budgeting, and Mental Health Issues

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Been kind of housebound for the last couple days.  Fortunately not because of depression or anxiety, but because of the “end of the month blues.”  So I pretty much stay home and keep in contact with people via Facebook and cell phone.  As a result of staying home so much, I’ve been able to avoid rude people.  I am pleasantly surprised when I meet polite people who know what I’m talking about when I refer to science, tech, or science fiction.  One example was the pizza delivery man who recognized that I was playing Skyrim on my Play Station.  He even asked me if I had the expansion packs.  Unfortunately no, I’ll have to save up for those.

Lately I spent some money to promote the blog.  I think it’s working.  My friend Matt, the high school history and economics teacher, keeps telling me he thinks it’s possible that I could get picked up by a large service if I keep at this blog.  Personally, I think that’s a small possibility  A very small one.  But if I was doing this mental illness blog for money, I would have given up a long time ago.  As long as I can keep on my budget and stay out of debt, I don’t care if I make money from this blog.

Even though I’m low on money with a few days of the month left, I was fortunate enough to have enough food and supplies built up to carry me over the finish line.  It’s the first month in a long time that I ran low before the end of the month.  Normally I’m better at budgeting than this.  But August is a new month and I can start over.  I’m glad I didn’t have to go into debt to make ends meet this month.  Some people I know can’t claim that. I am so glad to not be in debt.  It makes living on disability insurance much less stressful. And if a person were to really look at it, one can live pretty cheap if you plan ahead.

Because I have no debts and a few emergency supplies, I can ride out months like this with unforeseen expenses and being too free with the money.  I probably shouldn’t have ordered pizza delivery when watching the US national soccer team those two times.  I probably shouldn’t have bought those two computer games.  Maybe I shouldn’t have promoted the blog.  But I won’t look back with regret. I had some reserves in case of emergencies (or frivolous spells) like what I just went through. Of course I’ll have to rebuild those reserves, which won’t take long. But I am glad I had those reserves built up months ago in case months like this happened.

I Enjoy Being An Adult, I Must Be Mentally Ill

I’m taking a bit of a detour with this post and try to be a little more humorous than usual.  Since I’ve been house bound because of a winter storm for a couple days I got to do some thinking.  One of the random thoughts that popped in my head is ‘being an adult beats being a kid.’  Sure I may have had more energy at sixteen than I do at thirty six, but I really didn’t know anything as a teenager.  And ignorance coupled with boundless energy can lead to dangerous and stupid things happening.  After five years of college, a few years of working, almost thirteen years of living on my own, writing a blog for almost four years, and spending five years now with educational videos on youtube university and binge reading wikipedia, I have come to the conclusion that even now I am not as smart as I thought I was at age eighteen.

I enjoy being an adult.  I really do.  I love the fact that if a boss is riding my case at work or my coworkers are being dolts, I always have the option of changing jobs or starting my own business.  I couldn’t transfer to another school in high school so easily to avoid bullies and immature classmates.  I love the fact that I don’t have to go to boring social events because my parents want me to.

As an adult I don’t have to feel guilty about not having legions of fair weather friends.  At the age of thirty six I have come to realize a few true hard core friends and some cool extended family is all a person really needs.  I don’t have to feel guilty about not being class president or not getting straight A’s.  It’s not like I made any money from my popularity or my academic achievements any way.  Even on youtube popular producers can make good money, not so in school.  I also didn’t like how joyless my high school settings were.  A bell rings and we move to change classes but don’t you dare be one second late.  I never did like being treated like one of Pavlov’s dogs as a kid.  Take abuse and scorn from bullies and classmates but don’t fight back because of zero tolerance laws?  At least in the adult world you can run away from an argument or try to plead self defense without losing your entire future.

And I am not intimidated by the fact that as an adult my successes or failures are on me and no one else.  I have a mental illness, but that doesn’t stop me from trying to make a decent life regardless.  I’m not married nor do I have kids but that doesn’t stop me from being a good influence and good uncle to my nephews and niece.  I don’t even have to feel shame for not being married or having kids as an adult.  I don’t have a job but that isn’t going to keep me from writing blogs and finding other ways to contribute to my fellow man even if I don’t get money or prestige from it.    I don’t have to associate with people who tell me that I’m not a “real man” for not having a job or a family if I don’t want to.  Shame and guilt have far less influence on me at thirty six than they did at twenty one. As an adult I am allowed to be more creative and I don’t have many of the restrictions I had as a child.  As an adult I don’t have to hit my older brother if he’s irritating me, I just don’t return his calls or avoid him until things calm down.  One of the best things that happened to my relationship with my immediate family was moving out of my parents’ house and setting out on my own.  We get on each other’s nerves less now than we did when I was a teenager now that I have my own place and I’m not expected to always be in a good mood.  If I’m not feeling well, I can just avoid friends and family for a couple days until things blow over.

One thing I enjoy as an adult is watching young people do stupid things.  I enjoy it more than when I was the young fool doing stupid things.  I know the consequences that are coming but the kids usually don’t have a clue.  And I get to chuckle when their schemes come undone.  But the young kids eventually become adults and grow out of their stupidity in spite the complaints of old people about the “damn kids.”  The boomer generation grew out of using drugs and free love, generation X grew out of binging on MTV and video games, and the millennials will grow out of their nonsense. People forget that before the World War II generation became forever known as the “greatest generation”, many of them were drinking bootlegged alcohol in speakeasies and chasing flapper girls throughout Prohibition before World War II carved them into marble men and women for all eternity.  But in spite of my enjoyment of watching young people do stupid things, I don’t hate them for their mistakes.  I refuse to complain about young people because my elders complained about how stupid and ungrateful me and my classmates were the entire time I was growing up.  I am never doing that to anyone.  I know what it is like to be thrown into a group and falsely accused of things I never considered doing.  It really sucks.  If I ever complain about young people as an old man, I hope someone knocks some sense into me.

I never understood the whole “how do I adult” mentality.  Who cares how you adult?  It’s not like there’s a teacher who’s going to hold you back if you don’t know how to get red wine stains out of a carpet or how to change a tire.  With seven and a half billion people in the world and the magic of the internet, I can ask around for any information I could possibly imagine.  Why in the heck should I clutter my mind with mundane information I can easily look up that I may need to know only once or twice in my life?  One of my house guests doesn’t like that I don’t decorate my house all nice, then don’t come visit me in my house.  We’ll meet at a restaurant or pub instead.  You don’t like that I don’t drive fast or sometimes keep fast food trash in my car, no one is holding a gun to your head to make you ride in my car.  There is public transit and taxis even in my small town.  How do you adult, you may ask.  Dude, adult however you dang well please for all I care.  I don’t grade on style points.  And ironically, most adults are too busy with their own lives to knit pick you over yours.

In short, I really do think most adults worry about a lot of junk that doesn’t matter one bit.  Your neighbor has a sports car and you don’t?  So what?  He’s probably having a mid life crisis and up to his eye brows in debt because he listening to everyone else telling him what he should want out of life and not listening to himself.  You got passed over at work for a promotion?  Big deal.  You know you’re not going to spend the extra money for your retirement fund.  You’re worried about being overweight?  No problem.  One third of the entire world’s population is overweight.  Obesity is no longer just an American problem.  Besides you probably weren’t that good looking at age twenty any way.

I should wrap this up.  In summary I love being an adult.  As long as I’m not infringing on the rights of other people, I can pretty much think, say, and write whatever I want. I no longer have a parent or a nanny teacher hanging over my shoulder watching me for every little mistake I make.  In short, make mistakes.  Learn from mistakes.  Go crazy and enjoy the freedoms and responsibility of being a grown up.  I for one enjoy being in my thirties far more than I did my teens and twenties.  At least now I don’t feel like I have to please a lot of people.

Debt And Mental Illness

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Managing money is one of those vital survival skills that just isn’t taught in schools in many places.  It certainly wasn’t taught at my school.  My parents taught me how to balance a checkbook and told me to avoid credit cards when I was growing up.  But that was the extent of my money training until I took business classes in college.  I learned to keep track of money pretty well but the idea of avoiding credit card debt wasn’t a lesson that sunk in until I ran up some debts and was in danger of getting behind on payments.  But everyone has to learn on their own time I suppose.

Over the years I learned how to make a budget for things like rent, food, clothes, medications, household supplies, and fuel for my car.  I didn’t get it perfect at first and turned to a credit card to cover the difference.  Big mistake.  Before I knew it I had debts that weren’t getting any smaller even though I never got behind on my payments.  Looking at debts with my only income being my disability pension and a part time minimum wage job scared me.  I knew I couldn’t ask for more hours at work as that would put me in trouble with Social Security’s earning limits.  So I had to drastically cut back on my purchases.  I had to quit going out to eat.  I had to quit going to the mall.  I had to live on cheap groceries (think lots of Ramen noodles, potatoes, baloney, and rice).  I had to cancel my magazine subscriptions.  I had to stop buying books and computer games.  I couldn’t buy new clothes every few months.  I had to limit my driving.  It took a lot of work but I eventually learned to live without going into debt.  I’ve been debt free now for over two years.  And I have less stress because of it.  I am sure some of my mental illness problems were made worse because I was worried about my debts.

If you have a mental illness and your only means of support are disability insurance and or a job, I would highly recommend if you’re going to have a credit card to use it only for emergencies.  I don’t have a credit card anymore as I know myself well enough to not trust myself with one.  Instead I have a small emergency fund I can get to in case of emergencies but I don’t have immediate access to it.  I have it set up I have to have at least twenty four hours to access it as I don’t keep it at my apartment or in my bank.  I budget to where I buy extra non perishable food and fuel my car to full every time I get paid.  I also maintain my car and don’t run it hard so I don’t have to make expensive repairs.  I have learned how to have a good time with friends, family, and by myself without spending much money.  I probably will never have much for money but I really don’t spend a lot to begin with.  Having no debts and having an emergency fund are the best sleep aides and stress busters I have found.  I don’t make much but I don’t worry because I don’t have to make payments to anyone.  If you are on disability or have a limited income, I highly recommend getting out of debt and staying out.

Routines, Reflections, Dollars, and Desires

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This summer has been anything but routine for me.  I hurt my back in late May and I was out of commission for six weeks.  I rarely spent any time outside and didn’t travel.  I went to the park maybe three or four times in the six weeks my back was mending.  Normally I go to the park three or four times per week during the summer.  I haven’t done any traveling as I haven’t been outside my hometown since late May.  I haven’t driven much and have actually developed a slight phobia of driving.  I guess I never gained my confidence back from my accident last October.  While I got my car fixed I still haven’t heard anything back from if I can get any kind of settlement.  Progress is insanely slow in some cases.

I haven’t been outside around the complex much this summer.  It seems that most of my neighbors have been more short tempered and irritable the last several months.  I don’t know what to make of that.  I still have the one neighbor who always in a foul mood and never has anything nice to say about anyone.  Apparently he won’t be moving out any time soon.  It’s kind of tough living in here anymore.  Three of my most interesting friends in here died in 2014 and 2015.  Since I live in low income housing, who we get as neighbors is luck of the draw.  There are days when I’m depressed I would love to move out and start over.  But I don’t think any where else in my hometown would be any better.  With my mental illness and disability pension I can’t afford to move to a larger city.  I don’t want to move back in with my parents as their hometown has far less to offer than my current town.  I really don’t know if I can move to my brother’s hometown because of my disability pension and transferring to a different state.  If I were to move to another city, I’d love for it to be to a place with reasonable public transit.  I hate driving anymore.  I’d never drive again if I had the choice.

I don’t suppose schizophrenics do well in large cities.  I hear horror stories about people with mental illness ending up homeless or in jail in large cities. My schizophrenia being what it is, it’s not like I can start over with a job that pays enough to give me a decent living if I were to leave disability.  I was anxious working as retail store clerk and factory worker. I used to have panic attacks so bad I’d vomit from the anxiety before I went to work.  I fear the idea of working with the public.  I have been verbally abused enough by customers and coworkers in my previous life as a customer service worker that I never want to experience that again.  And blogging about mental illness will never pay the bills even if I am providing a good service for others.

It’s not the money I care about, it’s what the money can buy that I’m concerned about.  I don’t need the status of a high paying job to satisfy my ego.  I don’t need the large house in the suburbs or the high end penthouse in a skyscraper.  I don’t need the large pickup truck or high end foreign car.  I can get around just fine in a twelve year old four door sedan that is as good on gas mileage as anything besides the really small Japanese cars.  If I need to move something with a pickup truck, that’s why I have friends and family members with pickup trucks.  It’s amazing what one can accomplish with a phone call, a little elbow grease, and offering to buy lunch or a tank of gas.

I really have my basic material needs but I can get by with almost no splurging.  I have learned to live inexpensively on my disability pension without a job.  I am happy wearing t-shirts, sneakers, and pants from K-mart and Wal-Mart. I can get all the music I want for free via youtube or pandora radio. I don’t even have music CDs anymore.  I haven’t even downloaded music from iTunes in over a year. I would rather watch Netflix at home, sit on my own couch, and eat a delivery pizza than go to the movie theatre. I would rather go for a walk in the park or shovel snow in the winter than spend heaven knows how much on a gym membership.

Splurging for me is grilling bratwursts and spending cool and overcast autumn Saturday afternoons watching Nebraska Husker college football games on my flat screen tv.  Splurging for me is buying a bucket of KFC and a couple side dishes instead of eating off the dollar menu.  When I need new furniture I talk to friends and family who are moving or having estate sales.  I got my couch, lamps, and recliner after my grandfather died.  I got my bed and dresser after my grandmother died.  I got my house plants from helping my mother.  All I had to do was help my family clean out their places for a weekend.  The most I gave for a piece of furniture was $50 for my all purpose heavy duty table I eat from and use my computer on.  So a person can live quite inexpensively if you use your family and friends’ connections and help people out once in awhile.  The only time I go to restaurants that aren’t fast food is when I’m entertaining out of town family and friends. I have stayed out of debt for two years even without a job.  I managed to save up some emergency money that could fund my life for a couple months even without a disability pension.

So I’m not concerned about getting rich.  For the first few years I was serious about writing, I was hoping to make some money as a writer, travel on the speaking circuit, and donate a bunch of money to my college as some of my happiest memories are from my four and a half years at York College in York, Nebraska.  Now that I know how to live on less than I thought I could and I see how much stress my brother is under with his job, I know it’s not the high paying job or successful business that I need or even want.  The big thing that I want now is for my experiences and writings to make a positive difference for whomever happens to read these entires.  I have no delusions I’ll make much money writing a mental illness blog.  Schizophrenia my involve delusions but that’s not one of my delusions.  I don’t care if I make money off  my writings and blogging.  I really don’t even care if I make above poverty level wages.  I just want to make a positive difference in the lives of whomever reads my blogs, whether you be a mental health patient, support person, or just someone who cares about the problems of the mentally ill.  I don’t desire riches.  I desire to make a positive difference in at least a few lives.

Budgeting While On Disability

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Bought groceries and supplies today.  So I’m set for another couple weeks even if it means the money is going to be tight for awhile.  Such is expected being on disability insurance and having limited funds to work with.  Being able to budget money is a skill everyone needs.  But it’s vitally important being on disability insurance.  Social Security Disability Insurance isn’t designed to make it’s recipients wealthy.  It is usually enough to get you by if you do a little planning and budgeting.

Every time I’m out shopping I hunt for sales and discounts.  I also have a rewards card (not a credit card) through one of the regional grocery store chains that gives discounts on gasoline purchases.  I have planned to where I usually get a 50 cent per gallon discount when I buy fuel.  As I don’t have a SUV or a pickup truck I can usually get by pretty inexpensive with gas.  I had a Ford Explorer for a few years but decided to trade it off once gas got more expensive.  It was good for hauling things around and I even made a little money hauling things around for friends and neighbors.  But it was an excessive expense that wasn’t worth it anymore, at least not for me.  Other luxury things I cut down on was eating out.  I was appalled how much money I was spending on eating out once I sat down and did budgets and reviewed my spending.  I probably eat out now only once a week on average.  And I found out I was a decent cook.  I’m especially good at grilling as I have one of those electric grills that I do almost all my meals on.

I also shop at discount stores, Goodwill (but I don’t buy furniture from Goodwill as I’m concerned about bed bugs), and Salvation Army. I buy most of my clothes out of season when they are on clearance.  You can find some good deals doing this.  I don’t use coupons as much as I should.  I don’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines so I don’t get much for coupons.  But I still find deals.

Another key to living on disability insurance is staying out of debt.  Those credit card payments with interest are killers, especially on a fixed income.  All I can say if you are on disability insurance and in debt is find a way to pay those debts off.  I had some debts I could have easily gotten in trouble with.  You may have to ask for help.  You may have to negotiate with your creditors and work out some kind of deal.  You might even get some of your debts forgiven if you keep lines of communication open.  Do not avoid collections.  But do remain calm if collection agents harass you.  Getting out of debt sucks but it is more than worth it once you’re no longer making payments.

Shopping at discount stores, looking for sales, using incentive programs, and staying out of debt are vital for anyone living on fixed income.  I had friends who filed for bankruptcy. I saw how much pain and stress it caused them.  After seeing this I vowed I wouldn’t let it happen to me if I could avoid it.  I don’t have much of a margin of error with as little as I earn.  Since I don’t make much money I have to be real wise with money.  I have to control expenses.

 

 

Managing Money With A Mental Illness

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Money.  It’s something we all think about, worry about, and use on a daily basis.  But for something that is so important to our lives, it is something only a few really know how to use and manage.  We often think that ‘if only I had more money’ or ‘if things didn’t cost so much’ we would be happier and better off.  No we wouldn’t.  A person could make twice as much as they do now, yet if they don’t keep their spending and consuming in line, they’ll spend every last cent they have.  What you make or don’t make is not as important as how much we spend and even keep.  Those of us living in the more developed countries can live pretty decent on what we make as long as we know what we’re spending on what, make sure what we spend is less than we make, and even set aside some money for emergencies or other purposes.

Some keep saying if only I had more money.  What you make doesn’t really matter if you keep spending more than you make and have to rely on credit cards or pay day loans just to make it to the next payday.  I personally live pretty decent on what little I make just from my disability pension.  But this is because I got deadly serious about budgeting my limited money and got out of debt.  I’ve been completely debt free for right at a year.  But it’s only because I stick to my budget.  I write out my budget every month and decide how much I spend for food, fuel and maintenance for my car, household expenses, clothing, and minor miscellaneous items after my rent is covered.  It is possible to live on just a disability pension as long as you get out of debt and control your expenses.  Yes this means passing on some things.  Yes this means hunting for bargains.  Yes this means shopping for clothes at Goodwill or Wal-Mart instead of The Gap or Neiman Marcus.  There is no point in looking good if it puts you in debt to a credit card company or a pay day loan place.  There is no reason to keep up with your neighbors or friends when they are behind on their rent and their relationships are falling apart because they aren’t managing their money well.  Such people who look good even when broke are what a friend of mine from Texas called ‘Big Hat but No Cattle.’

The best bit of advice I can give to those with a mental illness, or any disability, who are living on a disability pension and/or working a low paying job and struggling to make ends meet are 1) Make a budget and track every dollar you make and 2) Get out of debt and stay out of debt.  You might think you can limp along  as long as you keep getting your checks or the job keeps up.  But those pensions could possibly get reduced, just like what is happening in Greece, Cyprus, Argentina, and any number of countries that for whatever reasons got overextended and mismanaged their finances.  My USA is no exception, we overextended ourselves not just through military spending but by promising everyone who asked what they wanted without planning on how to pay for it.  The biggest lie we tell ourselves is that we can ‘have it all.’  In all honesty, we have to pick and choose what we get because we and our resources are finite and limited.  Many of our current problems, as individuals, businesses, and governments wouldn’t be having the instabilities and problems we have if we merely didn’t spend more than we bring in.

But to get out of debt, you may have to do some drastic things.  You may have to give up enjoyable things.  You may have to give up smoking, drinking, lottery tickets, electronic trinkets, move to a cheaper place, maybe even reconcile with family and ask them for help.  If you are behind on your payments, talk to those you owe money.  Tell them everything and see if you can work something out.  Some may even be willing to clear some of your debt, but that is not a license to go back and do the stupid things that got you into trouble to begin with.  Look at it as the real life ‘Get Out Of Jail Free’ card.  Yes, it will be tough going for awhile.  It will suck when you can’t go to restaurants or the bar with your friends.  It won’t be glamorous at all.  But if you are in trouble money wise, you need to get out of debt and adhere to a budget by any means necessary.  I was and I had to do some major adjustments that short term really sucked.  But they paid off long term.  I don’t worry about sending money to a credit card company.  I don’t worry about if I can make rent because I know I can.  I even manage to put some of my disability pension into an emergency fund.

It would have been great if we learned how to manage money and budget in our formal education.  But we didn’t so we have to learn it now as adults.  And yes this is required.  Money by itself is not evil any more than wheat seeds and livestock were in farming societies in ancient times.  Money is the tool of survival in the 21st century.  We all would be wise to learn how to manage it better.  Good authors to read on money management are out there, as are youtube videos.  My personal favorites include Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman.  Check some their work out.