Why do some people effortlessly achieve financial success and others never do? You’ve worked hard to become financially successful but you still feel frustrated. Unfortunately, rising inflation, rampant consumerism, and a growing length of retirement makes this scenario all too common. A million dollars just is not what it used to be. How can you finally stop worrying and begin enjoying the fruit of your success? 

In Spiraling Up, financial planner, Steve Medland, he lays out a deceptively simple plan to confidently grow and protect your wealth. Through clear and compelling real-life stories, he illustrates the proven principles that lead to financial serenity, making work optional and living happily in retirement. 

Here is my conversation with Steve Medland.

Welcome to The Author Hour Podcast, I’m your host Benji Block and today, Steve Medland who has just come out with a new book titled Spiraling Up: Discover Financial Serenity, Make Work Optional, and Live Happily in Retirement. Steve, thank you for being here on Author Hour.

Steven Medland: Thank you, Benji, it’s great to be here.

Benji Block: Love the title of your book, I think it’s a goal that all of our listeners are going to have. I love the tagline there. For listeners who are new to you, new to your work, just give us a snapshot of your day-to-day, Steve.

Steven Medland: Sure. I’m a financial planner at TABR Capital Management, we’re located in Orange California and we work with about 200 different families helping them with their financial planning and investment needs.

Benji Block: You’re in financial planning, you could just stick to that, not every financial planner writes a book, so tell me what was the genesis of this project and what got you sort of passionate in moving int this direction?

Steven Medland: Sure, yeah. It started, believe it or not, all the way back in high school. It was sort of the inspiration. When I was in high school in 1987, the market crashed. It was October 1987, it came to be known as Black Monday and it was the biggest one day drop in the history of the stock market. It went down about 22%, $1.7 trillion dollars was wiped out and I remember, my economics teacher said to our class, “You should save today’s copy of the Los Angeles Times. Someday you’re going to realize, you’re living through history.” 

One of the other things that he mentioned to our class was, “Even though the market’s down, if all of you could just save $4,000 a year, every year for the next 40 years and invest it wisely in stocks, you could all be millionaires by the time you’re in your mid to late 50s” and I thought that sounded pretty amazing. 

I went home and asked my dad who worked in finance and I said, “Is that true?” He said, it was. I said, “Well then, why doesn’t everybody just do that?” He said, “Well, because, it’s not easy but with the right plan, the discipline to follow it and enough time, just about anybody can be financially successful.” 

Writing those book, I’ve noticed, with the families that I work with, most of them are self-made, they’re not lottery winners, they sort of grew their wealth over time and I’ve just noticed that some people build their wealth and almost effortlessly and some people never achieve financial success, so writing the book was an attempt to define how that’s done.

Benji Block: Who are you imagining picking up this book? Who do you want to pick up this book, Steve — Your ideal reader?

Steven Medland: Yeah, my ideal reader would be somebody who has worked and saved and developed good financial habits. They tend to spend less than they earn, they follow certain principles to get sort of where they are but then, they realize that, “Hey, we’ve built up a nest egg of maybe one to $2 million dollars. We’re making a good living, we have a good lifestyle but the transition to retirement is a whole different question.” 

They realize that if you take a million dollars and divide it by a 30-year retirement — say, somebody retires in their early 60s and lives till their early 90s, that’s like $33,000 a year, which is not a whole lot in the big scheme of things.

Defining Financial Success: What Does It Look Like For You?

Benji Block: It’s only fitting that we kind of begin going into the content of the book here. Right where the book actually starts, and you break it down into some sections, but you take the beginning to discuss the illusive nature of financial success and there’s obviously a number of contributing factors but you’ve consolidated some of those common obstacles. What do you see as those big-time obstacles that are currently standing in the way?

Steven Medland: One of those things is just consumer culture, keeping up with the Joneses is another way you’ll hear the output. Many of us spend a lot of time and effort, making money in order to buy things that we may not necessarily need and in some cases we’re doing it to impress people that we may not even really like.

It’s this culture that sometimes makes us channel our financial efforts in sort of the wrong direction and that’s compounded by the media and social media. Advertisers, it’s a multibillion-dollar industry and really, their job is to make us want to buy things whether we need them or not and those things may not be beneficial for us from a long-term financial perspective.

Combine that with social media where most of us, when we scroll through social media, we see people who are on the beach in Hawaii, we’re not watching them do kind of those hard and sometimes just mundane things to get in a good financial position. 

I’d say the third area is the changing retirement landscape. There was a time, not that long ago, for many of us, our parents or grandparents had a pension. They went and worked for a corporation and after 30 years, they got a gold watch and a pension and they were in pretty good shape for retirement.

That has been changed where now, most people don’t have pensions. Most people are sort of on their own, they’ll retire using or their retirement consist of a 401(k) or whatever savings they’re able to put together and that’s a lot more challenging that it used to be.

Then finally, our limiting beliefs are another challenging factor. Many of us grow up with limiting beliefs about finance and what we’re able to accomplish. Overcoming those and really having a belief that we are able to achieve our own financial success is a big factor in getting there.

Benji Block: How do you see consumerism, that first one you mentioned there and then that last one, self-limiting beliefs, playing into just our overall lack of financial literacy?

Steven Medland: I think it’s a big problem in society today. It’s not taught in schools and you know, many of us think that financial success is driving a fancy car but what many people don’t know is, when you see somebody driving that fancy car, they may or may not be financially successful. I mean, it’s possible they are but they may also be in debt up to their eyeballs.

We learn to idolize that image of financial success when my experience has been the people who are truly financially successful, you wouldn’t know it if you ran into them in the grocery store. They look like normal — just like everyday people but the people who follow these principles, they slowly over time are able to build that financial success. It just may not appear that way on the outside.

Benji Block: Let me ask you one more question on the challenge and the problem and it’s focusing in on limiting beliefs; what are some of the common mind games and limiting beliefs that you encounter?

Steven Medland: Many people sort of, from childhood, get some of these beliefs, sometimes it’s handed down from parents, sometimes it’s just — we hear them in popular culture but things like “you have to hurt people to get rich,” and it is true. There are some examples of people who have hurt others and they’ve gotten rich as a result of that but that’s not really the norm. A more empowering belief, once you identify your limiting beliefs, that allows you to challenge them and then it allows you to create a more empowering belief around that.

If somebody’s limiting belief is that you have to hurt people to get rich or you have to take from others in order to get rich like it’s a zero-sum game, if you challenge it, you might be able to think of many examples of people who have done great things in the world who have also become very wealthy. Once you realize that, you can decide that a more empowering belief is, “Although some people may hurt others to get wealthy, I will be one of the ones who does great things to make the world a better place and who will benefit financially at the same time.”

Benji Block: That’s good. Okay, enough with the problems, let’s target financial success here. Speaking broadly of the book, you have three sections; you got the challenge, the solution and the payoff but when we start to target financial success, that’s going to look different person to person. Give me how you go about defining financial success.

Steven Medland: Okay, there is an interesting graphic in the book that I call “The Financial Success Pyramid” and at the bottom, the base of the pyramid is what I call “Financial Serenity” — and by the way, all these terms have many different definitions but I’ve sort of laid them out in the book in a way that I think makes a lot of sense. Financial security is really just, you’re meeting your needs, you have a solid cash cushion and you have a plan to achieve your financial goals. 

The next step above on the financial success pyramid is what I call, “Financial Independence” and that’s where you’ve gotten in a good financial situation where you have passive income, that can be from investments or other things, rental, properties where your passive income is meeting your needs. At that point, work sort of becomes optional. Many of my clients, they don’t want to retire but they want to know that they don’t necessarily don’t have to go and work every day, they’re doing it because they choose to. 

Above “Financial Independence”, the next level of the pyramid is “Financial Freedom” and that’s where passive income is covering your expenses for your ideal lifestyle. At the top of the pyramid is what I call, “Financial Serenity”. Financial serenity is living in abundance, gratitude and tranquility. Financial serenity is something internal, whereas the other three levels are something that’s external. Financial security, independence, freedom; those all show up on your bank statements or your investment account statements. Financial serenity is something that you feel.

Benji Block: When it comes to serenity, you still feel like it’s something that you have to have the others in order to achieve it or is it something that you can tap into like more broadly from any of those sorts of segments up the pyramid?

Steven Medland: That is such an insightful question, Benji. I actually talk about that in the book. I mean, theoretically, you can achieve financial serenity if you imagine, say, a monk as an example, who’s living on basically subsistence living, has forsaken all material goods. It is possible to live that way and have a sense of financial serenity. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with that and I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with wanting more material abundance in your life. We’re all individuals, as you said, and we all approach it differently. 

What I found for most of my clients, they don’t really want to be at one extreme or another. They find that by achieving a sense of financial security, independence, freedom, that certainly helps to get a feeling for financial serenity. You know, if you’re in debt, if you’re always worried about your finances, it’s harder to have that same sense of serenity than you would otherwise.

Benji Block: Absolutely. Okay, I love that and I definitely, I mean, that registers, for sure, on the security level. I would think, once you get up to like independence then you’d have some — maybe more space to think clearer and have clear values, which sort leans into the next question I have for you because you do spend some time talking about financial values. The values we hold [may] determine what we narrow in on and what we go after. Can I ask you a personal question, Steve? 

Steven Medland: Absolutely.

Benji Block: Okay, when it comes to financial values, what would you say are yours, if you don’t mind me asking?

Steven Medland: Sure. My financial values, really, just my life values, you know, I value my friendships, I value my family, I value a sense of security and I value contribution. So all of those things are different things that they sort of provide a target for us to aim for and then we can develop our financial goals around those values. 

Benji Block: Yeah, someone, I forget who I first heard this from but they said, “Show me your bank statement and I’ll show you your values” and I think of those things, friend, family, security, contribution and you definitely can track that in your bank statement, right? Go, “Oh, I definitely care about these four things.” 

Steven Medland: Absolutely. 

Achieving Financial Serenity

Benji Block: Well, with all that in mind, it takes us to solutions and you lay out seven principles that help us achieve financial serenity. Do you see this working in steps or are they all principles that work together? 

Steven Medland: They are principles that work together. I found that when we’re doing one thing well then it helps kind of the other thing. For example, principle one is focused on what you can control. Many of us, you know, we have a lot of financial worries. I mean, all of us have financial worries and some of those things are things like how much are we spending versus how much are we saving. 

Some of those things are what decisions our political leaders are making that could affect us. But ironically, many of us spend more time worried about things like what our political leaders are doing, which we have almost no control over and we don’t spend quite as much time focused on the simple things that we could do on a day-to-day basis. 

If the tax laws change and taxes go up in a certain area, we can fight against that and rail against that and be angry about that or we could say, “Okay, well, I can’t do anything about the tax law change but maybe I can contribute to an IRA account and that will defer some of my taxes to retirement.” When you’re focused on what you can control, that allows us to spend less time and energy on the things that are out of our control and then we can focus on some of the other things. 

The second principle is accepting that wealth is a state of mind, you know that gets into the mindset and the third one is cultivating a growth mindset. A growth mindset is just the opposite of what’s called a fixed mindset. A fixed mindset is saying that we’re born with a certain amount of intelligence. A growth mindset says, “Well, you know, I know a certain amount about finances but I can learn to get better.” 

The first three principles they really deal with our inner worlds or mindset and then the last four principles of the seven total in the book, they deal more with financial practices and strategies, things like understanding your personal financial statement, using that wisely and paying it off, developing good financial habits and then the last one is managing risk. 

Benji Block: I love the first three, let’s go back there real quick when we’re talking about the inner world, cultivating a growth mindset. A lot of times I think you’re right, we rail against what we maybe don’t know or don’t understand and then we just sort of throw our hands up in the air and go, “Well, I don’t know what to do. I don’t know where to start.” 

In actuality, when we focus on what we can control, it’s an area that we can actually learn about or go surround ourselves with people that know more than us who can help point us in the right direction. What are some of those first steps you would tell someone to do if they are needing to learn and grow in the area of financial literacy? 

Steven Medland: For me, books are one of my greatest resources, so I read literally hundreds of books when I was really coming developing my ideas for this book. Not all of them were financial and you can probably notice a big overlap between finances and personal growth. You know many of these principles, they’re not things I came up with focusing on what you can control. Stoic philosophers have been talking about that for thousands of years literally. 

Some of the principles are a little bit newer. All of them really came out of my reading from talking to others, observing what clients are doing, seeing what works and doesn’t work and the other great thing is you are not just limited to books today. You have podcasts, you have blogs and you have lots of smart people out there, some who are just writing about finances for a hobby and I think we can learn something from everyone.

Benji Block: Are there a couple of books that really stood out to you that had have a big impact on how you think about finances? 

Steven Medland: Yes and one of them is — well, it’s not finance-related necessarily. It goes back to stoic philosophy but Meditations by Marcus Aurelius. He sort of lays the foundation, you know — Here was somebody who was the most powerful person in the world at that time. He was the emperor of Rome, the most important power back then and his empire was kind of falling apart and he writes in Meditations, he was basically writing a diary to himself but he keeps coming back to that point that other people’s reactions are out of our control but all I can do is kind of be the best person that I can be, try to be fair, trying to be just and ignore those things that our outside of our control. All of those are really relevant to finances.

Benji Block: I mean, there is so much on mindset we could talk about so I could go down that road with you all day, Steve, but let’s go to principle four. It is one of the ones I wanted to highlight with you as well, understand your personal financial statements. I’ll quote you here and I’ll quote the book. 

You write this, you write, “Financial success is less about investing knowledge and more about your behavior. However, choosing the right behaviors depends on understanding the four main levers that control virtually everything in your financial life. These levers are your income, expenses, assets and liabilities and they are all contained in your personal financial statement.” 

Can you break down what you’re talking about exactly when you are talking about the personal financial statement and what that principle really is in your mind? 

Steven Medland: Absolutely. The personal financial statement, it consists of two documents. The first one is a balance sheet and very simply, a balance sheet it includes your assets. So things that you own, your investment assets, your home, your cash that you have on hand and then on the other side of the balance are your liabilities. Most people when they buy a home, they go into debt, they have a mortgage. 

That’s on the opposite side of the balance sheet or when many of us buy a car, we are going to take out a car loan. It’s a very simple equation. You may have a home and all of your other assets maybe worth a million dollars but if your liabilities, if to get those things you took out $950,000 in loans, you’re total net worth is your liabilities minus your assets, which is $50,000 and that sort of gets back into the whole keeping up with the Joneses discussion. Just because somebody lives in a nice house doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re well-off financially. By the same token though, somebody who lives in that home if they are debt-free, then they have a significant net worth, so that’s the balance sheet. 

And then the income statement is also fairly simple. You have your income so that your sources of income from it could be your job, it could be from a rental property, it could be from investment income or if somebody has a blog or they have say, affiliate marketing on their website, those can all be sources of income. And then your expenses on the other side of that statement are just the costs, things that you need. You need to buy food, you need to buy clothing and shelter and entertainment. 

By subtracting your expenses from your income, you come up with a net cash flow number, so somebody again, somebody maybe out there spending lots of money and they may look very wealthy but if their income doesn’t support that then they may be moving in the wrong direction. 

Spiraling Up

Benji Block: The other one I wanted to touch on real briefly is principle six and that is all-around habits. What’s been the most beneficial financial habit that you’ve formed over the years? 

Steven Medland: I would say spending less than I earn and I got that not just from observing clients but also from books like The Millionaire Next Door — which by the way, you would had asked about great finance books, that’s one of the foundational ones. 

The Millionaire Next Door was written over 20 years ago now and at the time it was pretty revolutionary. Many people thought that wealthy people were either born that way or they won the lottery or something in order to get wealthy but what the authors found after interviewing thousands of wealthy people, they found that over 80% of wealthy people are what’s called “self-made”. That is one of the most important habits is simply spending less than you earn because over a career, say, somebody has a 30 to 40-year career, that can be very powerful over time.

Benji Block: Any other financial habits you want to highlight for us that you think are worth forming or can be really beneficial for our growth? 

Steven Medland: Sure, one of them really relates to the definition of spiraling up and spiraling up, it’s sort of the concept that when we make a good financial decision, big or small, it leads to improved circumstances and those improved circumstances lead to better opportunities, which sort of set the stage for the next good financial decision. One of the habits that I think is also very important is just always having your eyes open for opportunities to spiral up. 

Here is a simple example, say someone has a car payment and it’s $500 a month. If they make the first good financial decision, which is paying off that loan and it could be if they come into money or it could just be doing it over time, once that loan is paid off that leads to the improved circumstances, which is now all of a sudden they have $500 a month more in cash flow. That opens up the door to better opportunities. 

With that $500 a month, they could either pay down other debt, say they have a student loan that they want to tackle or they could invest in income-producing assets, something that if they put money in that, that would start to generate more income but either way, it’s creating additional cash flow. It is putting them in a better position to make the next good financial decision. So spiraling up is really that self-reinforcing virtuous cycle that occurs when you follow these types of financial habits. 

Benji Block: We’ve really touched on in our conversation today the challenge and the solution. The final section of the book is the payoff. I thought as we start to wrap the conversation up, would you bring us up for air in a sense and help us understand really the payoff and paint a picture for us of the result of all this work.

Steven Medland: Absolutely. I tell a very personal family story in the final section of the book. My grandmother, she was pregnant with my dad in the 1930s and my — during the great depression and my grandfather tragically passed away when my grandma was expecting. She gave birth to him, to my dad in 1936 in one of the worst times in the Great Depression. She didn’t have the education and she didn’t have the finances really to practically survive back then, but she did. 

She followed all of these principles that I talk about in the book and I tell her story and I tell how she applied these principles and what she did from a growth mindset perspective. She had no education but she went to school, she eventually became a teacher and then a school principal and her story, I think is a shining example of these principles over a lifetime. 

Benji Block: Well, I love that. I think that’s a great way to sort of tie a bow on this conversation. Steve, thank you for sharing your wisdom. There is a lot here clearly, there is also a lot in the book that we couldn’t cover in just a 30-minute conversation but I am excited for people to pick up the book. As people want to stay connected to you and the work that you’re doing, how can they do that Steve? 

Steven Medland: They can connect with me through my website, which is stevemedland.com. 

Benji Block: Wonderful. Well again, the book is called, Spiraling Up: Discover Financial Serenity, Make Work Optional, and Live Happily in Retirement. It is on Amazon now, so we encourage you to go get the book. It is going to be a great resource for so many. Steve, thank you for being on Author Hour today. 

Steven Medland: Thank you, Benji, I really enjoyed it.