Unwelcome Change, Or a Chance

By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, June 1, 2008

As the economy continues to slide, many people will face unwelcome changes in their lives. Already people have lost jobs, homes, cars and, in some cases, hope.

But with all this change comes the chance to turn a negative situation into an opportunity to live for what you love, say Robert and Melinda Blanchard.

"The desire to change course is often the result of some kind of wake-up call," the Blanchards write in their new book "Changing Your Course: The 5-Step Guide to Getting the Life You Want" (Sterling, $14.95).

No question the housing market is shaking people up. And that's good for some because a wake-up call was needed to change how people used their homes. We now know a home isn't a bottomless piggy bank for people to shake loose money whenever it is wanted. Maybe, just maybe, this housing crisis will make people better money managers.

After selecting books over the past two months about the debt hole Americans have dug for themselves, I thought for June I would lighten the mood a little by choosing "Changing Your Course" as the Color of Money Book Club pick.

This is an unapologetic feel-good book. There's even a slightly hokey hook to this tome.

The Blanchards lead you through the five steps in order to D.R.E.A.M., which stands for the following:

· Decide what you want to change.

· Research your options about whatever it is you want to accomplish.

· Evaluate which is the most feasible option to pursue.

· Act to make your plan real.

· Maintain your dream to make sure it lasts.

Yes, this is another self-help book but, hey, right about now, a lot of people could use an inspirational handbook to deal with the emotional and financial fallout from the economy's slowdown.

I think about the thousands of workers throughout the country who have lost their jobs because of the downturn. They can whine that they've been done wrong, or they can find a way to turn the situation into an opportunity.

What if this is your problem? You've got a job but you want to change careers, except you're afraid you won't be able to pay your bills.

Think about this, the Blanchards say: "Don't be afraid of making less money. It's a serious mistake to sacrifice passion for a larger paycheck, even if that means sacrificing some of the things you enjoy."

This book is packed with stories of people who changed careers or employees who decided to become entrepreneurs. As young adults, the Blanchards left low-paying state jobs to open a kitchen-supply store. They eventually sold that business and opened a restaurant in the Caribbean. They now commute between Vermont and the island of Anguilla.

But this book isn't just about following a dream of entrepreneurship. It's about shifting in a direction that makes life more fulfilling, financially and emotionally.

And the Blanchards aren't naive. They know change can be difficult. I know it, too.

I've spent the past two decades trying to get people to be better money managers so that they could handle the times when the economy sags. But many don't change because it means hard work and getting rid of the behaviors that get them stuck in one financial mess after another. For example, many stay in jobs they hate because they're too broke to move on.

"People use all kinds of excuses for not making a change, and most people list fear and lack of money as their biggest obstacles," the Blanchards write. "But it is lack of information that usually turns out to be the culprit. Ignorance isn't bliss, it's scary."

One of the Blanchards' mantras is that knowledge always trumps fear.

You want to live a rich life? Then change what you don't like about the one you're living. Stop being complacent and go get what you want. That's the point of this book.

Get your money straight. Get another job if every time you sit down at your desk, you get a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach. Use your layoff or pending pink slip to start that business you always wanted to own.

As the Blanchards write, "You can respond to life's events as they occur, or you can take charge and create your own circumstances."

To become a member of the Color of Money Book Club, all you have to do is read the recommended book. I invite you to join me online to chat about this month's selection, especially if you've got a dream deferred. Join me at noon July 3 at http://www.washingtonpost.com for a live discussion with Robert and Melinda Blanchard.

In addition, every month I randomly select readers to receive a book, donated by the publisher. For a chance to win a copy of "Changing Your Course," send an e-mail to colorofmoney@washpost.com. Please include your name and a mailing address.

· On the air: Michelle Singletary discusses personal finance Tuesdays on NPR's "Day to Day" program and online athttp://www.npr.org.

· By mail: Readers can write to her at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071.

· By e-mail:singletarym@washpost.com.

Comments and questions are welcome, but because of the volume of mail, personal responses are not always possible. Please note that comments or questions may be used in a future column, with the writer's name, unless a specific request to do otherwise is indicated.

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