Archive for Finances

Build a Strong Family Financial Team

One of the topics that is often neglected or overlooked as parents struggle through the pre-teen and teen years, is finance. Money is not often a subject that comes easily to parents. And, once you’re teaching your children, they often want to know more about how much you’re making, how much debt you carry and why you aren’t making more.

While some of these may be good questions, they may leave you feeling uncomfortable or even violated, depending upon how open your own parents were about money. However, you might be overlooking a strong team of individuals living under your own roof who can help you move your family’s goals forward.

What if you learned that one night a month could change the financial direction your family was taking and grow your children’s understanding of how to grow their own financial future?

Not only will this build your bank account but you’ll also strengthen your relationships with the little adults you’re growing at home.

Let’s Talk Money

Most of us are very uncomfortable talking about money unless you’re doing taxes with your accountant. Money is an objective measure that many believe measures not only their financial worth but their own self-worth. Our society values those who have money, are rich, can afford to spend whatever they want on whatever they want.

But the reality is that your self-worth is not based on a number in your bank account. That number will let you know the probability you’ll pay your bills on time, can afford a new car or can easily splurge on a new wardrobe. But the amount of money in your bank account tells NOTHING about who you are as a person. It says nothing about your worth, your intelligence or your ability to be a great parent or partner.

Today I met an orthopedic surgeon who didn’t think he walked on water. Most physicians I meet these days think they were born with a stethoscope in their hands and a packed bank account. This one did not. He was humble, nice, listened to what we said and had ideas he talked about and didn’t TELL us about. In other words, he earned our respect and didn’t assume we would give it.

When you remember that no matter how much money you do or do not have in your bank account has nothing to do with who YOU are, you’ll be more comfortable sharing those numbers with your children. This is an extraordinary lesson for your children to learn as well. My middle son continues to struggle with this concept. In his mind, money equals worth.

He doesn’t have much money as he is still in college – but that isn’t as important to him as the fact that we didn’t have much money as he was growing up and therefore my poor worth was transferred to him. He has a good friend whose father is very well to do and he compared their family against ours for years. Teach your children their worth – and yours – doesn’t come from a bank account and you’ll all be happier.

Not Just Children

According to a survey by American Express, 90 percent of couples avoid talking about financial issues, debt and household expenses. In fact, many knew their partner’s weight but not how much they made at work! The couples claimed that financial discussions led to arguments so they avoided them.

And, while your children know you work to put food on the table, they don’t always understand the relationship between how much you make and how much you can spend on miscellaneous expenses.

The result is that many children believe the ATM is a magic machine. You’re getting money from a machine and not your bank account. My youngest daughter had that same idea when she was five. If I said, “That expense isn’t in the budget this month.” her response was always – “Go to the machine! The machine has money!”

Change the Future

For many years the family has been one unit. If one parent stayed home, what they contributed was valued. Children worked to make the process functional. Not necessarily outside the home, but they did chores, learned to cook and clean and earned their spending money. There wasn’t the expectation that one person brought home the bacon, but that everyone contributed.

Your family financial team is that – a team. You can make the meeting times fun by including prizes or games and treats. The team’s goal is to build a future and help each person achieve their own personal goals. Everyone has a voice in decisions and responsibility for the outcomes. As with any meeting, it’s important to start with a structure that each person can anticipate.

Begin by identifying any movement forward since the last meeting in individual or family goals. These goals can be short-term or long-term. For instance, saving for college, buying a bike, paying for music lessons. Reducing debt should always be a top priority as it may reduce your stress and therefore improve your parenting skills.

Use programs that will create a visual image that tracks your goals. You can easily build a graph using an spreadsheet program that’s free online inside your Outlook or Google account.

Put your goals in writing, and use pictures for the younger children, so everyone remembers and can participate in the meetings. Each meeting briefly review the goals to be sure you’re traveling down the road you WANT to. Part of your goals is controlling your spending so you can achieve those goals. So at each meeting, review your spending from the previous month. If you commit to using the same debit card each month it will be easy to track where your money is spent.

Review your upcoming spending with your children – how much is budgeted for food, rent, utilities and any known extras. Ask you and your children if the extras are something you need or you want – and if you can afford the want or should put that money away for your goals?


As you wind up the meeting, determine what you’ll review in the next meeting and the date and time. And then celebrate! You and your children are on the same page as you journey toward your future and together you’ll likely get there faster than traveling alone.



Develop a Budget You Can Live With

“Budgets suck!” my son yelled as he pounded his fist on the table.  “What good is having a budget if I don’t have any money to BUDGET???”

It is a bit of a conundrum – especially for him. He moved out recently and is living with his friend. His dad is asking him to take over a Parent-Plus loan from college while he’s drowning under the rest of his college debt and not yet working in his chosen field.

Seems like every time he turns around something else happens to add one more nail to this ever-growing box of trouble.

But he keeps moving forward, because the only other choice is to fail.

The great thing about budgets is that you learn exactly how much money you have, how much you don’t have and how you can spend that money.

The bad thing about budgets is that you learn exactly how much money you have, how much you don’t have and how you can spend that money.

One of those statements really resonated with you – and if you’re like most people, it’s the second statement.

It’s so much easier to live from paycheck to paycheck and hope for the best than to face the issue head on and know exactly how much you don’t have and wish you did.

BUT, when you look at it a different way, a budget is something that will help you figure out how much extra money you CAN spend each month while still paying your bills and putting away money for that vacation you want to take next summer with your friends.

I have two friends who are struggling now with their budgets. One is getting ready to leave her husband and the other’s husband just cut off spousal support by changing the agreement through the court. He used a family tragedy to prove she didn’t need the money any longer.

Both women need to make drastic changes to their living situations – changing homes, reducing expenses, and learning to live on less. These are challenging situations for both of them, but one that will go much smoother WITH a budget than without one.

Immediately after my divorce the economy crashed and I lost 75% of my business. It was a horrific time – and instead of facing things head on, I buried my head in the sand and began racking up credit card debt to pay groceries and repair my car.

There were no additional expenses, or excessive spending. I didn’t go shopping, buy new clothes, or go on vacation. We didn’t go out to eat or buy groceries at the highend grocery stores. And still, I was swimming in debt.

Had I looked at life realistically, I may have gotten another job and sold my house sooner. I may have had less debt today than I do.

But hindsight is 20/20. 

Learning from past mistakes is one great gift we’re given as humans. Learning from someone else’s mistake is an even greater gift. If there is one thing I hope other single women learn from my past is how to look head on at their situation and take ACTION.

There have been times when I’ve seen my present situation out of the corner of my eye and decided if I could put my head in the sand just a bit longer the whole thing would disappear – entirely, disappear.

I know I’m not the only one, but I hope that my story motivates you to address the financial issues in your life immediately, before they start addressing you. Credit card debt, a huge loss on my home, and losses in my business should have driven me to get a part time job while rebuilding and homeschooling my children. But it didn’t, and today I continue to make payments on money I spent to buy groceries for the children 3 years ago.

The question isn’t whether you can find a budget to live with – but rather how can you live WITHOUT a budget?

Because, truly, a budget is just a structured way of looking at you money.

Successful businesses do it.

Entrepreneurs do it.

Millionaires do it.

And YOU are all those things in the hours and weeks before they happen.

In other words, you are that successful entrepreneur or wealthy individual in the months before the success happens.

Because success doesn’t happen TO you –  you MAKE it happen.

YOU create your success with your hard work and RIGHT ACTION. 

So pull out a pen and paper, or open up a spreadsheet program and start writing down the money you’ve spent in the past three months – where you spent it and on what.

Then commit to creating a budget that allows you a few dollars each month to treat yourself, but also has the line items to pay your bills and put money away for retirement years that are coming much faster than you might think.

And, remember, before that retirement is college education for your children, a vacation once in a while, a new car and a new roof on your home.

In other words, the expenses of living life.

Protect Yourself Against ID Theft

My sister has experienced this a couple of times – not to the point where her whole identity was stolen, but definitely some of her credit information. She literally spent hours on the phone to straighten everything out, from just one or two credit card charges. You might think it’s just a matter of simply canceling one credit card and having the company reissue another, but that’s the simple picture.

What I learned from my sister – and her hours (I mean HOURS) of phone calls – is that it is better to prevent the problem than to deal with it later. Unfortunately, the problem can sneak up on you rather quickly, even with strategies in place to prevent it.

Of course, there are services you may consider using that monitor your credit information and notify you when something weird shows up. However, in this environment you’ll likely need this and a few more tactics to reduce the potential someone takes your bank account for a roller coaster ride.

Identity theft continues to rise over the years as black hat hackers and abusers get technologically smarter. This is theft without the home break-in and destroyed furniture. Instead, your credit and future may be destroyed.

Here are 13 different strategies you might consider:

Monitoring company

Before jumping on the first company that offers to monitor your credit report and identity, compare and contrast their services and price. Check with your bank too – some offer discounted services for their clients that are automatically deducted from your checking account.

Secure your passwords

Create secure passwords that are not easily guessed, and don’t include any identifying information. For instance, your password should not be the name of one of your children or your dog – unless it’s followed or preceeded by many numbers and symbols. Change your passwords consistently and record the ones linked to your financial information on paper. While several browser add-ons help prefill usernames and passwords on sites that require a login, never store your username and password to sites that have or store your financial information using apps or your browser.

Secure WIFI network

Use only a secured WIFI network, including at home. Secure it with another unique and hard to guess password so people trolling outside your home network cannot login and access your computer. If you are away from your home network, don’t sign in to any site that carries your financial information using WIFI as others can easily access that information. Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) while you’re away from home to add another layer of security to your information.

Check your credit reports consistently

You can get regular and free credit reports from the three credit agencies free. MyBankRate and CreditKarma are two places that offer this service. Check at least one of big three companies at least every four months, and sooner if you think something is a little “hinky.” Trans-Union, Experian and Equifax monitor your credit in order to report a numerical representation of your risk to people who may want to do business with you. Identity theft can trash these numbers, disabling your ability to get a loan, rent a car or raise your credit card limit.

Antivirus and antimalware

Using reliable antivirus and antimalware programs on your computer will add a layer of protection against hackers whose aim it is to enter your online domain.

Steer clear of the phish

You may think you wouldn’t fall prey to a phishing email, but they are getting more and more sophisticated with every passing year. I now receive emails that are well thought out, with the proper logos and grammatically correct English. DO NOT click links in emails from any company you do business with – they will send an email asking you to go to their website, login to your account and click a specific button; they will NOT send you a link to click.

Don’t overshare on social media

Going away for the weekend? Have a birthday coming up? Working with a bank for a loan on your new car?  Don’t post this on social media. It doesn’t require too much information for someone to sabotage your efforts and you’ll be driving your old car for years to come.

Shred, shred, shred!

Do NOT leave a paper trail. Shred it all, including but not limited to: credit card receipts, junk mail with identifying information, credit card solicitation and old bills.

Monitor your bank and credit card statements

Keep an eye on how much money you’re spending, because the money leaving your accounts may not be money YOU have spent. Make it a habit to check the statement on the credit card you use the most every day and your other credit cards and statements at least every two weeks.

Verify your mailing address occasionally

Think you aren’t getting as much mail as you used to? Identity thieves may have turned in a change of address to the post office so you don’t get overdue notices.

Set up a fraud alert or freeze

A fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus will essentially force anyone who is trying to access your credit information (like a bank extending a line of credit) to ask more questions. This is definitely not fool-proof, but just another layer of protection.  A credit freeze with these agencies is more effective, preventing any access with any new company doing business with you. However, while it is effective, it also puts up a few speed bumps for you if you’re trying to get any form of credit. It may take up to three days to lift the freeze and continue on your way.

Safeguard your social security number

There are several pieces of information an ID thief may use to access your information and your social security number is a big one. If someone wants to use it to identify you, ask if you can provide another form of ID.


Get your name and number off as many marketing hit lists as possible. When you get an automated call, wait until the end and ask to be taken off the list. Call the national Do-Not-Call Registry (1-888-382-1222) or go to their website (  to register your home and cell numbers. Consider cutting back on your junk mail and opt out of credit card solicitations. You can opt out for five years by calling 1-888-5-opt-out or visiting




Teaching Your Children About Money


If you don’t teach your children about money, someone else in their life will. Whether they learn these lessons from friends, relatives or their favorite television shows, the lessons they learn will likely not be the ones you would have taught them.

Unfortunately, with as much effort as you may have put into teaching your children about money, the Wall Street Journal reports that many grow into adults without an accurate understanding of how to create and follow a budget, pay their bills, develop a savings or invest their money.

For some children the lessons will come easier than others. My oldest daughter grew up to be the saver that I was when I was younger and my middle boy is even more frugal than I ever was. However, my daughter’s twin brother has an entirely different viewpoint about money and struggles to save anything. They received the same lessons, in the same environment and have slightly different ideas about how to spend and save.

The lessons are important, but so is taking into account the difference in your child’s individual personality, desire and ability to generalize information. One startling fact about learning finance in the classroom is that the information doesn’t often translate into results in the real world. The question you might be asking is – if most high school students have mandatory financial education, why do so many people struggle with foundational concepts?

Studies have demonstrated the subject that has a significant impact on your child’s ability to understand budgets, saving and investments – math.  Almost all decisions about budgeting and saving involve understanding the implications of numbers. Without using strong math skills, your children may rely on emotion to make to their decisions – and emotions are not reliable.

This means it’s important your children receive a strong math education at school, AND that you spend time talking with them at home about money. It’s easy to do this in a relaxed setting around the dinner table each night. Don’t make it into a “lesson,” but rather talk about the financial decisions you made that day.

Spending money on lunch out every day at work, checking account fees, investing, saving, grocery shopping, window shopping and refurbishing your home are all excellent examples of talking about money without creating a lesson.

Children learn more about who you are and what you believe by watching what you DO with your life and not listening to the lectures you give. This same concept holds true about how you value cleanliness, health and wellness, sleep, nutrition and your family. What you DO is more powerful than what you SAY.

Talking about subjects also removes the stigma that’s often attached by society to specific subjects. Topics like money, death and sex often become taboo, which then increases the risk your child will develop ideas in private that don’t revolve around truth.

The Truth is . . .

The truth is money, sex and death are a part of all our lives – and the more we talk about them, the less uncomfortable it becomes to learn more and understand how they integrate into our own life.

Children of wealthy parents may assume their parents don’t talk about money because they are poor, when in fact parents didn’t want their children to brag. However, making your financial situation a common conversation encourages your children to accept it as common and not something to brag about or be ashamed of – as long as you feel it isn’t.

Money has symbolic value to you and your family – and unless you identify what it symbolizes and address it head on, then your children are destined to continue to carry those emotions forward. When you speak frankly, associations with money don’t pile up and children are less likely to act selfishly in the short term.

Researchers have found children who focus on money, act more selfishly toward their friends. Avoiding discussions about money increases the psychological weight children associate with the topic. And, by sharing your fears about being broke, you may also increase your child’s fear.

My Mistake

I made that mistake when my youngest boy was growing up. I thought I was being matter of fact about my lack of funds, but he interpreted the information as fearful, even though the bills got paid, we stayed in the house and there was food in the cabinets.

We didn’t go out to lunch, there were no extras, but we were stable. For my youngest boy, it wasn’t enough. He watched his father remarry, move his step children into a brand new home and didn’t know how to handle the emotions that went with feeling his father had financially abandoned us.

Those emotions were channeled into fear about losing everything – even though we never were. He became extremely frugal, saving every dime and spending nothing. He and his father bonded over basketball and sports, but he continues to struggle with an imbalanced financial blueprint as he goes through college.

No matter how rational, matter-of-fact or open you are – HOW your children interpret the information is also based on their own personality traits.

More Ideas

Summer financial camps are a good start if you think your child would enjoy the camp experience, and financial classes are good adjuncts – but neither of these options takes the place of mom talking to her children.

This is because the effects of these classes, camps and one time lectures wear off over time. You might be able to correlate this to your doctor recommending specific lifestyle changes. At first, you’re motivated and interested but it isn’t long before you go back to old habits. Your children are the same.

Encourage your children to save their money. Young children may use a clear glass jar so they can watch their savings grow. Piggy banks are traditional, but don’t offer young children any visual feedback about how much they’ve put away. You and your child can decorate their savings jar, making it more personal and a lot more fun.

Children as young as 12 can learn about banking, savings and checking accounts by starting an account. This is a good way to teach them about earning interest – and how the more money you have in the account, the more interest it earns.

Think about giving your children a commission and not an allowance. This means the money they earn is based on the work they do – just like when they grow up and get a job or become an adult. Keeping their room clean, taking out the garbage, mowing the lawn, cleaning bathrooms, vacuum, dusting and dishes are all fair game.

Before your children leave home, be sure you talk about the dangers of credit and credit cards. This is easily a conversation you can incorporate into dinner time conversations or when you’re out shopping.

This means it’s better to wait to purchase something you want until you can truly afford it. Otherwise, the interest paid on the money will mean the cost of the item is many times more than it was in the store.

Just after my divorce, I had to use credit cards to stay afloat. It has taken years to pay off the debt – most of which was spent on food that was long ago eaten and gone. That was a lesson I shared with the children. While I didn’t have a choice at the time, it was something they’ll remember and hopefully never fall into that trap.


Teaching your children about money, saving, budgeting and investing starts when they are young and – like many parenting functions – doesn’t end until you have died. You might be surprised at the number of times and ways children come back for advice, with questions and needing your support as they grow.


Credit Cards May Help and Hurt Your Credit Score

Our economy ebbs and flows. There are years, and sometimes decades, when everything comes up roses. Then are other years when there are more weeds than anything else.

As a single mom, your finances are just a bit more important than if there are two people supporting your family, two people who can get jobs and two people who can rely on each other.

Every time you do anything, there are consequences. If you forgo exercising you’re making a dent in your health. If you don’t clean up after the kids, you’ll lose toys and clothes. If you use your credit card, you may end up in more debt than you can swim out of in years.

July21PanicI know.

When my ex and I split up it was mid-2007. My business was flourishing and I was focused. And then, the economy crashed and so did I.

Within 5 years I had more debt – mostly credit card – than I had ever had, ever hoped to have and thought I could dig myself out of anytime in the near future.

Money was going out on necessities – like food, mortgage and utilities – but not enough was coming in. I’ve always been frugal, but in these very lean years I learned a new definition of frugal.

And I learned how credit cards could both positively and negatively impact my credit score.

Your credit score is VERY important to your future, your buying power and your financial stability.

Each time you apply for a loan to purchase a car, put down a security deposit on an apartment, get a new credit card – your interest rates are determined by your credit score.

You credit score is supposed to demonstrate your credit worthiness to your lender. In other words, how likely are you to repay the loan on time?

Insurance companies use your score to factor you premiums. Cell phone companies and utility companies may use the score to determine if you need to put down a security deposit, or how much interest is charged on any overdue money.

Your credit score is used for just about everything involving money in your life.

Your score doesn’t have to be a mystery.

Several factors impact your score – from your utilities and lenders payment history (such as credit cards, apartments, mortgages and cell phone companies) to the difference between your assets and debts.

The last one is how you can either positively or negatively impact your credit score with your credit cards.

Let’s start with the negatives and end on a positive note.

How Your Credit Score Causes Problems

The first reason is logical – late payments. Falling behind on your credit card payments is a sure fire way to drop July21Stopyour credit score like a lead balloon, especially if you do it consistently.

What you might not know is many credit card companies may charge you a fee for being a couple of days late, but they don’t report your late payment until you’re 30 days overdue. Check with your card company to be sure.

Maxing out your credit can put a real dent in your credit score and for reasons you may not have considered. Your score is determined based on the amount of credit you have available compared to the amount of credit you’re using, or credit utilization ratio. By maxing out a card you reduce the amount of credit available to almost nothing.

Closing your credit card. This is another way you reduce the amount of available credit you have in your name. If your card has a large limit it can make a HUGE dent in your credit score. Maxing out credit usually happens slowly so your score adjusts, albeit in a negative direction. But, closing your large limit card suddenly drops the available credit.

Credit inquiries are another way you get a ding to your score. Anytime you apply for a new credit card or loan the bank reviews your credit. This can cause your score to drop a little. However, if your score is low, a little drop can mean a lot.


Credit Cards May Improve Your Score

History. When my oldest son was applying for his first car loan they gave him a higher interest rate because he didn’t have a history of making payments on time. They advised him to get a credit card, charge something small every month and pay it off. After 12 months of a good payment history they reduced the interest rate on the loan.

Different types of credit. Your score is also based on the variety of credit you hold. If all your accounts are from lenders – like your house, car or boat – it can ding your credit score. Sprinkle in a few credit cards you routinely pay off.

Credit utilization ratio. Like I mentioned above, your score is highly influenced by the ratio between the credit you have (the amount of unused credit you have on your cards) against the debt you carry. When that debt to credit ratio is too high your score does a nose dive.

Three ways of using your credit utilization ratio to improve your score:

  • Call your card company and ask them to increase your limit. This gives you more unused credit – and it’s important you don’t use it!
  • Pay off your credit cards as quickly as possible.
  • Open a new credit card, put a small amount on it every month and pay it off every month. You’ll take an initial ding when they check your score, but that is quickly made up by a better credit to debt ratio (credit utilization ratio).


Don’t follow the same path I took.  Instead, follow what I learned. Paying down debt takes years. Think of it this way – by the time you’ve paid for what you’ve charged you won’t be using it anymore.



It’s Tax Time . . . Do You Have Questions?

Who doesn’t have questions at this time of the year?

This week we were able to speak with Melanie Prevost from Plante Moran.  She is a senior manager in Plante Moran’s Cincinnati office. She focuses on high net worth individuals and closely held businesses and serves clients in the wealth management industry.

Plante Moran is among the nation’s largest accounting, tax and consulting firms and provides a full line of services to organizations in the following industries: manufacturing and distribution, financial institutions, service, health care, private equity, public sector and real estate and construction. Plante Moran has a staff of more than 2,000 professionals in 23 offices throughout Michigan, Ohio, and Illinois with international offices in Shanghai, China; Monterrey, Mexico; and Mumbai, India. Plante Moran has been recognized by a number of organizations, including FORTUNE magazine, as one of the country’s best places to work. For more information, visit

Here are just SOME of the questions that we covered in this fast-paced 26 minute interview!

  1. We’re in the middle of tax season. How should I make the decision about whether to use a tax preparer or I should try to do it myself? What are the advantages of using a tax preparer vs. trying to understand the tax law myself?
  1. Does working with a tax preparer give me a better advantage over using a software program, such as HR Block or Turbo Tax?
  1. What are some of the essential questions I should ask before hiring someone to prepare my taxes?
  1. What are the critical pieces of information that I should gather before bringing my taxes to my preparer? Do all tax preparation professionals provide you with a document that asks pertinent questions and prompts you to gather important information?
  1. How long should I keep my back history of taxes before I can safely get rid of them? And when I do destroy them could you also cover a little here about shredding or burning to cover identity theft – let’s not pitch them in the garbage 🙂
  2. What system would you recommend in order to keep my paperwork organized throughout the year so next year’s tax information can be gathered quickly and easily?






Critical Tools for Eliminating Debt

In 2015 the average American household was carrying 129,579 dollars in debt, 15,355 of it on credit cards. If the household had a loan, the average car loan was 26,530 and the average student loan is 47,712.

These are enormous numbers!

Compare those numbers to the average amount on credit card debt per person in 2010 which was 5,100.

Feb15SaleThe debt in our country is growing each year. But this debt is not coming from overspending problems. Instead, most is coming from the rise in cost of living which has outpaced income growth in the past 12 years.

Consumers will also vastly underestimate the amount of debt they are currently carrying. Lender reported credit card debt was 155 percent greater than what the borrowers reported.

And . . .

Unbelievably, the average household is paying over 6,000 in interest payments each year on the loans they are carrying. That’s at least 9 percent of the household income on INTEREST alone.

How Do You Stack Up?

A friend of mine told me a story the other day about a friend of hers whose husband recently died. Once the funereal was over and the widow could get into her finances, she learned they were carrying a phenomenal amount of debt.

Without the money to cover the mortgage she was forced to sell the house and move herself and children into a room with a friend.

My daughter and I had a similar conversation the other day. Recently married to a personal banker, it would be incredibly easy for her to allow her husband to take care of all of the finances.

But, like in all things, knowledge is power.

I counseled her to keep the knowledge, and thus the power. She and her husband should make decisions together and both should know what the bills are, where the money is invested and how the money will be spent in the future.

When I was divorced, the situation was reversed. I knew about the money, the bills and investments and my ex wasn’t nearly as up-to-date. It worked to my advantage, both during the divorce and in the years following.

What if You Carry Debt?

The reality is that we all carry some amount of debt. Whether it’s a mortgage, auto loan, credit cards, student loans or any other type of loan.

It is a highly unusual person today that does NOT have debt.

However, debt causes stress. In this situation, it’s the money (or lack of it!) that’s making you sick.

Money is the leading cause of stress, according to a survey the American Psychological Association did in 2007. 73 percent of those asked said money was a significant source of stress and debt related stress increased 14 percent between 2004 and 2008.

Debt stress can lead to ulcers, migraines, pain, anxiety, depression and heart attacks. Each of these health problems lead to more difficulty working, parenting and therefore, more stress.


Step One: Don’t Beat Yourself Up

You aren’t the only one in this position. And, although that is small comfort, it is important to recognize that beating yourself up only increases the stress you are already experiencing.

It’s time to look forward and be proactive in your debt reduction instead of reactive in your debt payment.


Step Two: Get to Know Your DebtFeb15Loans

In all likelihood you are among the people who would underestimate the amount of debt you carry. It’s time to look carefully at how much you owe and to whom. Open up a spreadsheet, pull out a Word document or just a piece of paper and pencil. Write down everywhere you owe money.

Credit cards
Money borrowed against retirement
Money withdrawn from IRAs
Car loans
Personal loans
Life insurance loans
Student loans

If you borrowed, spent or owe money to someone or some financial corporation – write it down.

Write down who, for what, how much and what the interest is.


Step Three: Make a Plan

You can’t make a plan until you know the amount you owe and the interest you’re paying each month.

The plan is to pay off the loans with the highest interest as fast as possible. Interest you are paying is money that belongs in your pocket. You spent the money or took the loan, so now that money belongs to the lender.

The faster you can pay off loans with high interest rates, the more money lands in your pocket.

Use the budget you put together in the past weeks using strategies outlined in Creating Your Budget. Remember at the bottom of that article is a free spreadsheet you can use to develop your personalized home budget.

Spend only the money you have and make a commitment NOT to use credit cards any more. If you can’t afford to buy the clothing, book, cell phone or music without using a credit card, then don’t buy it.

If you need your cards to buy food and other essentials, first make sure you aren’t purchasing non-essentials and then commit to getting help to find more ways to cut your expenses and increase your income.

You may have to move to different housing, buy a different car or cut personal expenses that previously weren’t a problem when you were married.

It’s not easy, but YOU can do it.



  1. Don’t expect your debt to disappear overnight. It’s like getting pregnant and expecting to return to a pre-pregnancy body in 3 weeks. It just doesn’t happen. If it took you 5 years to get into debt, expect that it will take at least half as long to get out. At least.
  1. Try to cut as many expenses as possible and divert the money toward your debt. Do you really need cable if you have Netflix or Amazon Prime? Do you NEED a landline? How much Internet speed do you NEED? You may be tempted to continue to go out to lunch every Sunday after church with your children because you’ve always done it. Instead, treat yourself to lunch with the children once a month and stay home the other 3 Sundays.
  1. Stay motivated through the process. It might be challenging to stay the course but it’s important to recognize that you are in a marathon and not a sprint. You must see this as a permanent change in your spending habits. BECAUSE, once your debt is paid off, it’s not time to go back again! You must then divert that cash flow to investments so you can go on vacation without taking out the plastic cards and one day retire comfortably.
  1. Use free online budget tools to help you stay the course. Buxfer, BudgetPulse and Billster are three tools you can use to help stay on track with bill paying, investments, debt reduction and a myriad of other financial options. They are free and easy to use. ONE CAVEAT: Never link your accounts to any program. With the amount of hacking that goes on, you want to keep your information as safe as possible.
  1. Understand the importance of your credit score and track it. For instance, with a score of 760 you can expect your car loan interest rate to be around 6.3 percent. But, drop that score to 660 and your interest rate takes a nice hike to 9.8 percent. You can access your score once a year for free from each of the companies – Experian, Trans Union and Equifax. If you request a report from one every four months you can track your score 3 times a year and check for errors and inconsistencies.
  1. Pay your bills on time, every time. Set up a reminder system that you can easily use to ensure you aren’t late. Being late will create a problem with your credit score, and then increase your interest rates.
  1. Don’t close any accounts you have open now, but don’t open new ones either. Your credit score is partially based on the amount of money you have available to you against the debt you are carrying. The more money available – through credit cards that are paid off – the better your score. Just don’t USE the cards!
  1. Call your credit card companies routinely – every 6 months – to ask if they can reduce the interest rates on the card. As you begin to pay down the cards with a good payment history they may reduce your interest rates, which means you’ll pay off the cards more quickly.







Creating Your Budget Step-by-Step

Raise your hand if you hate the word “budget.”

Several years ago I would have been one of the people with both hands raised and waving my hands furiously to be noticed. To me a budget meant not using MY money the way I wanted.

It’s my money – why shouldn’t I do what I wanted with it?

What I’ve come to appreciate over the last years is that my budget keeps me healthy – financially, mentally, emotionally and even physically.

Without a budget I didn’t know where I was spending my money and how often it was going toward frivolous items I could do without. Today, I’m spending hours cleaning out a storage room and the rest of my home – of things I could have done without.

Without a budget I found that my credit card bills climbed faster than they should have. This caused me emotional and mental distress, which led to physical symptoms of stress.

Without a budget my financial health declined.

Everything in life should NOT center around money – but it appears that we all need money to accomplish the things in life we value. So, while money is not the end all to be all, it is the train that takes you where you want to go.

But, like a train, money is just a vehicle. It doesn’t have a life of it’s own. Money is not a living, breathing entity, but instead is a vehicle to help you accomplish what you set out to do in life.

Don’t worship your money. . . Use it.

And the best way to use your money is to know where, how and how much you are using it.

And the best way to do that is to have budget.

Of course, if you have an accountant who takes care of your expenses and gives you an allowance each week to spend, then you don’t have to worry about a budget because someone else is handling your budget for you.

If you run a business you have a budget for your expenses.

People who live a “millionaire lifestyle” do so within a budget or they’ll run through their money in months. It’s what happens to people who win the lottery. They aren’t used to handling that much money. They don’t use a budget and before they know it, they’re broke.

According to the National Endowment for Financial Education, 70 percent of people who win a lottery, or get a big windfall, will go broke.

Those are big numbers!  You might tell yourself that if you were lucky enough to win a million dollars you wouldn’t go broke. But, I’ll bet the lottery winners who go broke told themselves that too.

If yoFeb4WomanCIu can’t handle the small things in life, you won’t be able to handle the big things. So before you win the lottery, it’s time to learn how to deal with the money you already have.

Whether you have a lot or a little, to get more you have to manage what you already have. A budget is nothing more than an allowance you give yourself to spend each day, week and month based on the amount of money earned each month.

In Three Dirty Words: Budget and Net Worth you’ll find an outline of how to begin creating your budget. Although simple, you may not think it’s easy. That’s because you have to take a long look at the things you spend money on now, and don’t think twice about.

Now, you have to think twice!

I had a friend several years ago whose spending habits far outweighed her income. She had three children, two dogs, a mortgage and a deadbeat ex-husband. And still, she couldn’t get a handle on her spending. She continued to live the way they had when she was married and had two incomes.

Today she is in danger of losing her home. She’s had to sell off several family pieces of furniture, and her credit card debt is more of a mountain than a molehill.

Whether you’re in her position or in a better financial position, it’s never too late to stop, take stock of where you are and what you’re spending, before developing a plan that will improve your financial, emotional and mental health this year.

Start with the list of six things in Three Dirty Words and then let’s move on.

Use a spreadsheet to lay out your Spending Program for 2016.  I use Microsoft Excel, but OpenOffice is a free open source software spreadsheet program that operates in much the same way.

HOW TO . . . Or use the gift below

In the left column write out your consistent expenses each month and across the top write out the months of the year. Leave the first column next to the expense column blank and start January in column number 3.

Column number one will have your expenses, number two is what you budget for that expense each month and numbers three through 14 will be the months of the year. Column 15 will be the total for each expense for the year.

Below the expenses add your income sources. Tally your income sources and your expenses and then leave a row where you can subtract your income from your expenses.

This is an incredibly visual way to see where your money is coming and going.

If creating a spreadsheet isn’t something you relish, or you don’t want to take the time to learn the program, I have created one just for you.  Download your free gift using the links at the bottom of this page.

The spreadsheet is easy to use and has the formulas built in.  You should probably make a copy so if you mess up one of them, you’ll have a second to fall back on. I’ve also done a brief tutorial on how to use the spreadsheet. The link to the video is just below the download link for the spreadsheet.

Please leave me a comment about the spreadsheet, the article or anything else you’d like to talk about in the comment section. Please tell your friends to stop by and get their copy. They don’t have to subscribe to the magazine to get it . . . Unless they want to!

Your next step is to get in the daily habit of looking at your bank statement and whichever credit card you use consistently. Each morning I open up my bank account statement online and enter the new charges to my spreadsheet. It’s amazing how this little act of accountability can make a huge difference your end results!




CLICK HERE to download the free budget spreadsheet.


CLICK HERE to watch the tutorial on how to use it.



Protect Your Family’s Financial Future

32 people had their data lost or stolen every SECOND in 2014. Breaches to data groups numbered over 1500 in 2014, up an astounding 46 percent over the year before. This is equal to over 1 billion people who had their records stolen. (1)

Accidental loss accounted for 25 percent and the remaining 75 percent were spread between malicious outsiders, malicious insiders (people inside companies who stole the information) and hackers. (2)

Have you been affected?

In 2014 my card information was accessed through a breach in records from Home Depot. In 2008 and 2009 my friend had fraudulent activity on one of her cards, and again just this past month someone charged over $400.00 in merchandise on her card.

If you hold a credit card, have money in the bank or otherwise do any kind of business, your financial information and identity are at risk. In fact, it’s not just your financial identity that can be stolen but also your medical identity!

Someone who steals your medical information can use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescriptions, file claims or get other care. When their information is mixed with yours, your future treatments and credit reports will be affected.

Your responsibility . . . . .

Unfortunately, there is no one who will protect your identity except you. There are companies who will monitor activity on your credit reports, but it is up to you to ensure your safety and the safety of your family.

It might be scary – but let’s reduce it to manageable steps.

Protecting your financial information is critical to the health of your family. Money can’t buy you love or happiness. But, money is essential to everyday life. When you’re spending your hard earned money to pay for someone else’s lifestyle, it becomes very important, very quickly.


Before you get your data stolen.

  1. Use only one credit card.  You might have three or four, but you should only use one of them, especially for online purchases. It doesn’t take an online purchase to lose your credit data, as demonstrated by the hacks to Target, Home Depot and a number of other large department stores.
  1. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet. If your purse is stolen, so is your identity. Have the number memorized.
  1. Keep your credit cards in an RFID protected case. Thieves can steal your credit card by just walking close to you when they have the right device.
  1. NEVER respond to unsolicited emails or phone calls where you are asked to provide sensitive information. Do not give your bank numbers, passwords, user names, social security number or birthdate.
  1. Get your mail from the mailbox promptly each day. If you’re going to be away, have the post office hold your mail.
  1. Stop paper delivery of your bills and request online delivery. This keeps your identification information from sitting in your mailbox.
  1. Never store your passwords online in your browser or in programs like LastPass. Your user names and passwords for financial information must be kept off the computer and not online.
  1. Change your passwords every three to six months and never use the same password for multiple sites. Create complex passwords that include capitalization, unique characters, letters and numbers.
  1. Install firewalls and virus protection on your home computer.
  1. Never access password protected information in a public place.  Your information is too easily seen and stolen.
  1. Order a free credit report every four months from the three different credit reporting agencies.  TransUnion, Equifax and Experian will all issue a free report annually. If you alternate the agencies, you can get a free report every four months. Watch for fraudulent accounts that may have been started in your name and that your debt is reported accurately.
  1. Check your credit card statement twice monthly online, if not more frequently. Watch for purchases that you didn’t make.
  1. Shred all credit card statements and any other financial statements you are not keeping. Don’t just tear them up! If you can shred and place the shred in two different garbage bags that’s ideal. Also shred credit card applications and tear off any labels with your name and address.
  1. Read your insurance statements to be sure that the claims paid match the care you received.
  1. Consider using a credit monitoring service. Although they can’t stop thieves before the theft, they can discover the theft sooner and help protect you from further loss.

Jan18WalletIf you’ve had your data stolen.

You have had your identity stolen if someone used your personal information in a way that involves fraud or deception, usually for financial gain. This may mean getting medical care in your name, using your credit card, opening accounts in your name or using your IP address for illegal purposes.

When you discover someone has stolen from you, there are measures that must be taken immediately.

If a credit card was used fraudulently:

  1. Call the card company immediately and cancel the card. They will issue you a new one to your address. CONFIRM the address where they are sending the new card to ensure it’s going out to you and not to another “you.”
  1. Call your other card companies and cancel those cards as well. Unless you are sure that only one card number was stolen, it’s much better to be safe than sorry.
  1. Make a police report at your local police station. They take credit card fraud seriously. It is their responsibility to follow up.
  1. Notify all three credit agencies: Experian, TransUnion and Equifax and order a credit report. Check that report for fraudulent activity.
  1. Place a hold on your credit report for 90 days.
  1. Report the theft to the FTC. Use their online complaint form. This isn’t available on a mobile device, but you can call to make the complaint @ 1-877-438- 4338.
  1. Close any new accounts that were opened in your name (from the credit report).
  1. Talk with the credit card companies and have any bogus charges removed from the cards.
  1. Take the necessary steps to correct your credit report.
  1. Consider adding a credit freeze to your account which freezes the ability of anyone, including you, from opening new accounts, taking out loans or other financial activities.
  1. Replace any identification that was stolen or used – such as social security cards, driver’s license, etc.
  1. You may have to contact other financial companies to clear your name including student loan accounts, bank loans, car loans, mortgages, or clear a bankruptcy filed in your name.
  1. Ensure that your investment accounts were not accessed and speak with them about freezing the account for withdrawals.
  1. Change any credit card accounts that are currently linked on shopping sites. Although the cards have been canceled, you should also remove the cards from the sites.
  1. Contact your bank. Although your cards may not be linked directly to a bank card, the bank will be more vigilant in monitoring your accounts.




Three Dirty Words: Budget and Net Worth – Why They Are Vital To Your Future?

Want to make 80% of the population cringe and turn away? Start talking about budgets and net worth.

These concepts are different from other financial ideas, like investments, savings or even paying the bills.

We might not like paying the bills, but it doesn’t often send you running to the next room. We might not understand the ins and outs of investment portfolios, but that lack of knowledge doesn’t want to make you bury the folder in the backyard.

But BUDGETS and NET WORTH are words that have a different implication. They are negative. They mean you can’t spend your money.

Before I was married I was, what you might call, frugal.

But, to call a spade a spade – I was just tight.

TIGHT with a capital T.

I was single, making a good salary and spending the least amount I could each month. I didn’t buy new clothes, dressed warmly in the winter to avoid turning the heat higher than 63, and decorated my apartment in what my roommate and I affectionately called “Early American Basement.”

After a few years, and a growing nest egg, I splurged a little here and there but kept the reins tight on the finances. I was on a journey, and bound and determined to get there.

That all changed when I met my soon-to-be husband. We had different money blueprints (as T. Harv Eker calls it). And those differences resulted in several heated disagreements and recurring issues.

Over the years I let go of any hope for a bright retirement. From his perspective, he was saving for years during which he didn’t think he’d be alive. From my perspective, I had to have my own business so I could live during those “Golden Years.”

After the divorce there was no thought about saving or even budgeting. I just hoped that there would be a month when I didn’t have to charge the groceries to be able to pay the rent.

Years later, carrying more debt than I ever thought possible, I was finally making the bills each month WITHOUT dipping into the credit cards. Mind you, the bills had been electricity, gas, water, rent, food, credit card bills and insurance since the divorce.

There were no extravagances, but there was a roof over our heads and food on the table. The car was in good working order and we found ways to amuse ourselves that didn’t cost money.

It was time to create a budget again and get a handle on my net worth.

The first time my net worth was a resounding ZERO. I had as much in retirement savings from the divorce and assets, as I did in debt.

To push those numbers in the black, I created a Spending Program.

This is my version of the house budget. But, instead of looking at the program as a way of keeping us from spending money on the things we wanted, we saw it as a way of having both – a future vacation and some new clothes now.

And, of course, my retirement without depending on the kids to feed me.

Just about all of your challenges today can be boiled down to finances.

Not enough and there’s too much stress which triggers illness, disease and relationship problems.

Then there isn’t enough for the counselors to help with the relationship issues with your children. There isn’t enough for the stress reducing vacations, day off or yoga classes. There isn’t enough, so you pick up extra work to plug the hole in your finances.

Of course, not all challenges are caused by a lack of funds, but an unbelievable number can be fixed with more funds. Remember I did say “Just about all. . . .boil(ed) down to finances.”  But NOT all.

In fact, your future, the future of your family and your health all depend upon your ability to pay. So your net worth and that pesky budget are VITAL, essential and down-right indispensable to your future.

It’s getting a handle on that budget that pushes most people away from the process. But the process is essentially very simple and easy to do.

  1. Change the way you think about money management from “budget” to Spending Program. You are defining the money you have to spend on what you want now, so you don’t go into debt, and still have money to spend tomorrow.
  1. Write down all the consistent bills you have each month – including the recurring insurance bills that only pop up every 3 to 6 months. Include just the essentials.
  1. Write down the things (and cost of those things) that you would like to be able to do each month. Include going out to lunch with friends, taking the kids to a special event and anything else that’s important to your family.
  1. Now write down how much money is coming in every month from every source – child support, spousal support, interest on accounts that isn’t reinvested, paychecks and any extra income you have.
  1. Tally up the amount from number 2 and 3; then subtract that number from the total in #4.
  1. If the number is less than zero you’ll have to cut from #3, if it’s greater than zero you should still cut from #3 (although maybe not AS much) and put the remainder away into a money market account (earns more interest than savings account and doesn’t require that you have investment knowledge). If you know something about investing, then invest the remaining amount each month, keeping enough in reserves to handle at least one month of bills in cash.

What bothers many people is tracking and writing down expenses each month. Not that it’s difficult or time consuming, but it’s just one more thing in a day filled with 300 things to do.

I don’t do that.  It’s just one more thing in a day filled with 300 things – and then I feel guilty about not doing it!

Instead, I use one credit card for everything. I use it for my groceries, bill paying and anything else we’re doing. I pay it off at the end of every month and then have one place where I can see exactly how much money I’m spending each month and where it’s going.

Definitely not as accurate as keeping track of every place you spend cash, or happen to pull out a debit card – but much simpler than trying to have an accountant mindset, when that kind of work drives me up the wall.

Suddenly, you’ll have a Spending Program you can live with, that evolves over the months and years you use it. You’ll have a growing savings account and will be making more plans for retirement than living with the child who loves you the most.


Of course there is more to investing, separating savings and creating wealth in your life, but we’ll leave that for another day!




Spending More and Saving More

~ by: Jan Royston

Until I was a single mother of two, I never really thought much about money or how it was spent.  My ex sure spent a lot of money that we didn’t have, but at the time, I was too intimidated to speak up.  That is why he is my ex.  But, I digress.

Once I realized I had to live on only what I earned, it became clear to me that I needed to actually think about how much I was making, how much I was spending and how much I needed to be saving.  Well, I wasn’t making much, I was spending only what I felt I needed to, and I wasn’t saving a single dime.  So, what to do in this situation?

I cried a lot and lost a lot of sleep, and after all of that I still didn’t have any solutions that were good or would work.

So, I pulled up my big girl panties and sat down one night over a cup of coffee and set up my budget.  I knew what I had to make, and I knew what bills I had to pay.  I know it’s not supposed to, but saving would have to come later.  I just couldn’t make it work right then.

After setting up my budget I realized that I still was not going to be able to make things work.  So, I had to go with Plan B (it’s always good to have a Plan B).  I worked for a University and I had gotten to know several of the staff in the cafeteria so I took a shot and gave them a call.

I told them I had recently gotten divorced and needed a second job to make some extra money.  I got lucky and they hired me that day into the catering department.  I was able to work around my schedule with the kids, and on most occasions I could take the kids with me.

I worked a lot at both jobs.  Oh, and did I mention I was taking a full load of classes toward my bachelor’s degree?  Yeah!  my plate was pretty full.  But I did what I had to do to keep food on the table and a roof over my head.

It was hard, but I did the best I could and I think my kids felt a new respect for me even though I wasn’t there all the time.

Once I started I was able to pay my bills on time, but saving still wasn’t happening.  I knew one day that it would all come together, so I just kept working and going to school and hoping for the best for me and my family.

I soon learned the art of couponing.  I never got as good as the people on Extreme Couponing, but I have to say I was pretty good at it.  I used every coupon I could get my hands on, I sent in for every rebate that was offered to me and I used every store card that I could.  Once I got my stockpile up and running, it was easy to do after that.

I could walk into CVS, shop for a while and walk out with 5 items free and another $5 to spend on my next trip.  It’s a game to them, but it became more of a game for me to beat them.  I’m just a little bit competitive when it comes to things like that.

I wasn’t going to let them get the best of me if I could help it.  I studied their game, clipped their coupons and soon figured out that I could get a lot of things for free or at a HUGE discount.  For me, it was a rush every single time I did it.  I almost danced out shouting, “I won!”

So, I know you are asking yourself exactly how I learned to do that.  It is a lot of work and if you aren’t willing to put in the time it takes then it simply won’t work.  And there are some up-front costs associated with it until you get your stock pile where you need it to be.

You can probably get out of CVS the first time spending about $30 – $50 to get the things you need (shampoo, toothpaste, toilet paper, paper towels, etc.) but only buy the items that will give you their Extra Bucks back.  Generally, I have learned that if you buy $30 of those things you will get back $10 toward your next visit.  So, you can look at it one of two ways: You only spent $20 for $30 worth of stuff, or the next time you go into CVS you’ll get $10 worth of stuff free using your Extra Bucks’.

Make sure you look at all of the items carefully and get the right sizes, etc. so there is no confusion at the register.  Another thing to check before shopping is a trick they like to use with say, razors.  They might have the ladies Venus and the men’s Fusion on sale.  You have two coupons for $4 off the razors, plus the store is offering $5 Extra Bucks back on the purchase.

You will need to pay for the razors separately because you can only get the Extra Bucks back on ONE Gillette product (it’s in the fine print).  Always read the guidelines and the fine print.

I try to use coupons for every single purchase I make, but sometimes coupons just aren’t out there.  So, instead shop around at every store to find the best prices on anything you buy.  You might be surprised at what you would pay at one store versus another.  Prices vary a lot!

Grocery stores are probably the hardest places to save when it comes to couponing.  Yes, manufacturers will throw out some coupons here and there, but not really enough to make much of a difference.  The grocery store where I shop has a money back guarantee on their store brand, and even with a coupon I can save more money buying those items.


If I don’t like the product after I try it, then I DO write and tell them and get my money back.  That’s actually only happened once.

I’ve never been able to find a good deal on meat, unless it was in the reduced aisle; and then you should cook it that day and not freeze it.  However, I have found an excellent butcher in my town who carries the best, freshest and least expensive meat.  I always thought going to a butcher meant fresher meat, but at a bigger cost to me.  That’s not always the case.  It pays to shop around!

I now make a weekly trip to the butcher and get all my meat.  They know me so whenever I go in they cut my meat fresh, right there on the spot. See if you have one in your town and check out their prices.

Bread is another item that is hard to get at a reasonable price anymore.  So, I go to the “day old” store in my town and get bread that would cost $2 more at the grocery store. Most of the time the bread tastes just as fresh.

Learning to use your coupons along with your store cards can mean the difference in $80 for groceries or $30 for groceries.  Just think what you could do with that extra $50 you’ll be saving every time you go to the grocery store.

If you think the money doesn’t add up, start a savings account with the extra money you save each week.  After 6 months see just how much money you saved.  You will be surprised, and darned proud of yourself for doing it!

I never look at how much money I spend when I go on a shopping trip anymore.  I know I’ve gotten the best deal that I could get, so instead I look at what I saved while I was out shopping.  Looking at the positive side of spending and saving can give you a whole different outlook on “making” money.


If you want to talk money with me (or anything else for that matter), please feel free to email me at and please, visit me at and get many more tips on ways to spend and save money!