Financial Planning

The Truth About Women and Money

I recently had the opportunity to speak to a group of women, all between 20 and 30 years old, about money. Many of them were living on their own for the first time and just starting their careers. It was also the first time they had ever talked to a professional about their personal finances, and many said they felt empowered by the experience. I was a little surprised (given the youthful audience), when I asked the question, “Do you worry about money?” The answer was a unanimous: “Yes!”

Why You Should Get Started with Financial Planning Today

One thing I know for sure is that if these women start financial planning now, they will worry less about money later. There are simple truths about money (such as compound interest, asset allocation and diversification, and living within your means) that, if put into practice early, will pay huge dividends later.

So, what is financial planning?

Financial Planning is a process that throws a spotlight on your personal financial situation. It’s a process that lets you know if you are on track financially to reach your short- and long-term goals. It takes courage, but keeping your finances in the shadows because of fear, disinterest or lack of time just won’t cut it if you want to reach your goals and live worry-free later in life.

Financial planning is a series of steps you take that will answer and provide solutions for questions like:

Are you…

  • Living within your means?
  • Building a cash reserve for unexpected expenses or possible job loss?
  • Saving enough for your most cherished financial goals and retirement?
  • Investing your savings in a broadly diversified manner?
  • Using debt, such as your mortgage, wisely?
  • Adequately protecting yourself and your family against loss with insurance?
  • Taking advantage of tax-saving strategies?
  • Planning for future generations with a sound estate plan?
  • Maximizing your employee benefits?
  • Managing your stock options for maximum benefit?
  • Thinking about how you will pay for long-term care costs?

The goal of a good financial plan should be to get to “yes!” on all of these questions.

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Revisiting: Contrary to Popular Opinion, You Were Not Born to Shop

shoppinggirl Contrary to popular opinion, you were not born to shop. If you are a woman who loves clothes and fashion (c’est moi) this may be debatable. However, most of us have to curb our enthusiasm for adornment lest we wreak havoc on our cash flow and personal net worth.

Over the years, I’ve developed a few strategies that allow me to indulge my fashion passion and still manage to stay current on credit card bills, invest and save money. It’s all about stretching those dollars to stay within budget. You do have a clothing budget, don’t you?

Here are my top five strategies for smarter clothes shopping:

(I like to support the local economy, so most of the retail establishments mentioned below are in the San Francisco Bay Area. But most metropolitan areas will have similar venues—you just have to go out and find them!).

Strategy #1: Take a cue from chic French women and maintain a small but high quality wardrobe. Artfully use accessories to create different looks.

How? Find designers and shops that suit your fashion sensibility. Patronize these places—buy less, but buy what you love. As an added bonus, if you become a loyal customer, you’ll be invited to special sales and sample sales. My personal favorites:

FIT: FIT is a small clothing boutique in the Rockridge district in Oakland. Joyce Gardner, the owner, carefully curates her stock to satisfy her local clientele. She carries selected labels such as Schmacher, Cop Copine, Yoshi Kondo, Diane Von Furstenberg, Three Dot, Velvet by Graham and Spencer, and Pete. She packs a lot of style in a small space and her employees are adept at pulling looks together. She holds special sales and gives first dibs to her best customers.

Catherine Jane: Catherine Jane is a San Francisco designer who has an eye for gorgeous fabric and fit. She creates wonderfully feminine clothing with her own unique flare that will flatter your figure. Tip: Her sample sales are full of outrageous bargains.

The reward for buying high quality, timeless fashion is longer wear and thus less money spent over time.

Strategy #2: Find consignment shops whose buyers are very picky and who echo your style sensibility.

Yes, these are pre-owned and pre-worn garments. If you don’t have a problem with that, it’s a great way to add pieces to your wardrobe at good prices. Here’s how consignment shops work: Women bring in their current, gently worn and seasonal items and the store buyer selects which pieces work for her store. Then she splits the sale price with the seller, usually 50/50 or 60/40. Prices are generally 1/4 of retail prices.

My personal favorite consignment shop is Mirabel (3251 Lakeshore Ave, Oakland). This store is full of fashion gems. You will find labels such as Marc Jacobs, Burning Torch, Velvet by Graham and Spencer, Diane Von Furstenberg, Prada and Missoni as well as a carefully edited selection of Banana Republic, J. Crew and H&M. Occasionally there will be truly great finds (like an Isabel Marant leather jacket I found recently).

Added bonus: If you don’t want to buy, you can always sell clothing that is gathering dust in your closet.

Strategy #3: Find a fashion stylist to audit your closet and help you shop.

If you love clothes but hate to shop or feel like you make a lot of expensive buying mistakes, hiring a personal stylist may be the perfect solution. She can save you both time and money and you’ll look great with minimal effort.

Great Find: Urban Darling.

Stylist: Lisa Deane.

For more tips on working with a stylist, check out my previous post, “Save Money By Shopping in Your Own Closet with a Wardrobe Stylist.”

Strategy #4: If you don’t like going to shops, bring the shop to you!

There are clothing lines that are sold only in private venues. If you host a party, not only do you get to invite all your friends, you receive 50% off your items depending on how much others buy. Personally, I like the CAbi (Carol Anderson By Invitation) line. And my favorite CAbi consultant is Erin Saul who lives in Oakland.

Great Find: CAbi.

Strategy #5: Use the Internet to find sales on items you crave.

You see a gorgeous pair of shoes at Bloomingdale’s. You can’t afford them. Go home and do a Google search using the specific brand name, style and color. You may find that the shoes are on sale somewhere else. In addition, you can ask retailers to match prices if you find them lower on-line. Don’t be afraid to ask.

I think these five strategies will give you a good start on smart clothing shopping. But, if your closets are bulging and think you might have a shopping problem you may need another kind of help. Jill Chivers, a former shopaholic, has created the “My Year Without Clothes Shopping” program for people like you. Her program offers a fun and safe way to “break the cycle of unconscious and compulsive shopping” and to be more in control of your money. Check out her website:

I would love to hear of any tips or strategies you have to be stylish without breaking the bank. Please share your thoughts!

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Stock Market Volatility Doesn’t Imply Direction of the Stock Market – It’s The Price We Pay for a Higher Return

Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation

Stock market volatility doesn’t imply direction of the stock market – it’s the price we pay for a higher return. Repeat this phrase to yourself whenever you feel anxiety overcoming logic and you’re tempted to sell your stocks into cash. After you calm down, take time to review your portfolio to determine whether it’s allocated in alignment with your risk tolerance and your need for return on investment (ROI).

Risk Tolerance
To simplify the concept of risk tolerance, think of it as measuring how much volatility you can stand before you want to cash out. The riskier an investment is = the higher the return potential = the higher the volatility. “OK,” you say, “I can’t stand any volatility so I plan to sell all my stocks and transfer the proceeds to my savings account.”

Stop there. It’s not quite so easy. And repeat: “Stock market volatility doesn’t imply direction of the stock market – it’s the price we pay for a higher return.”

Return on Investment
Most of us invest because we want our money to grow. We want it to outpace inflation, to fund our key financial goals and to enable us to maintain our lifestyle in retirement. To understand how much ROI you need (and consequently how much volatility you will need to withstand) a few numbers are critical to know: How much you have now; how much you can add in the future; how much you will need in the future; and when you will need it.

If you are young and have many years ahead to save and invest, or if you have been a disciplined saver and investor, you may not need as high an ROI to reach your goals. If the volatility of the markets gets to you, you can rebalance into a lower-risk, lower-volatility portfolio. (This is accomplished by increasing your allocation to bonds or cash-like investments.) However, if you run the numbers and realize you have some catching up to do, seriously reconsider your desire to “run for the hills” and maintain an allocation to stocks.

Important Caveat
When determining your risk tolerance and need for ROI, keep in mind that the stock market isn’t the place to invest money in stocks that you’ll need in the short term (in 3–5 years). For example, retirees would be wise to keep 3–5 years of living expenses in very safe investments. A prospective new homeowner wouldn’t want to invest their down payment in stocks. In addition, it’s just smart to maintain an emergency fund of six months to a year’s worth of living expenses in cash-like investments.

The charts and statistics below illustrate the long-term return potential of stocks, bonds and cash.
Stocks, Bonds, Bills and Inflation

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Do You Know You Have A Money Personality?

Do You Know You Have a Money Personality?

Do You Know You Have a Money Personality?

We’ve all developed money habitudes and attitudes over the years – learned from our parents and other adults, advertising messages, our siblings,  and our peers. Some of the information we absorbed about money may not be serving us so well now.

For example, if you were raised in an atmosphere of scarcity, you may spend your whole life craving things you can’t afford and you now overspend to get them. On the other hand, if you grew up in abundance, you may expect things will always come easily to you. If your mom was a spendthrift, you may become one too or, you may overcompensate by becoming a miser.  If your dad procrastinated about important money decisions and took the attitude “things will work themselves out”, you may find yourself taking the same approach.

Ever wonder why you procrastinate about financial matters? It may be due to your deep-seated money personality.

My Money Story

My mother and father were extremely frugal, especially my father. He didn’t want anything. Buying him a gift was torture because it was impossible to figure out what he would like – except peanuts, he loved peanuts.  So my siblings and I would end up buying him canisters of Planter’s nuts for his birthday, Father’s Day, Christmas.  His frugality rubbed off on my mom. Going out to eat with her was challenging. She’d look at a menu and always order the cheapest thing on it – or a side salad.  She would do the same thing when shopping for clothes – in her mind, nothing was worth the price when you compared it to what you could make it for yourself.

We kids would only get the “necessities” – basic clothing and shoes (thankfully we wore school uniforms!) and no spending allowance. So, I learned early on that if I wanted the “extras”, I needed to find a way to buy them myself. This was probably a good thing, as I became self-sufficient at a very early age. But I also rejected the frugality of my parents and have been known to indulge myself on occasion. I’ve worked hard to find a good balance between being prudent and being extravagant.

Can you change your money personality?

I interviewed a graduate of The Money Coaching Institute based in California, about her insights about money personalities.  She said, “If we don’t pay attention to our money personalities they will act out in louder and more extreme ways. For example, the shopping sprees become longer and more expensive because you can’t quite fill the emotional hole you are trying to fill or the anger towards money grows until you blame it for everything wrong in your life.”

In my financial planning practice,  I find that the more I know about my client’s money type or personality, the better I can serve them. To that end, I have each client complete a money personality and financial satisfaction questionnaire which seeks answers to such questions as:

  • What keeps you up at night (or at least feeling anxious) when it comes to your personal finances?
  • If there is one thing you could change about your personal finances, what would it be?
  • If you had more money to spend, what would your spend it on?

If you think that you may be acting in ways that sabotage your chance of financial success and it’s become a pattern  – read, sign up for a workshop, talk to trusted friends or advisors, or engage a money coach. There are resources available to help you.

Below are a few books and ebooks (including one I wrote myself, called The Happiness Spreadsheet), that can help you discover your values and ideas about money.


Do you want to manage your money (and life!) better?

The Happiness SpreadsheetIf you want to think differently about the relationship between your spending, your values and your happiness, then sign up to get your FREE copy of The Happiness Spreadsheet.

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Abandon The Cart!

First Lady Michelle Obama - Stylish, and Prudent!
First Lady Michelle Obama - stylish, and prudent!

You wrap your hands around your shopping cart and feel your heartbeat quicken as you enter the store. Your senses are heightened by that familiar junk-food aroma particular to Target. You take the long way to the work-out clothes department. You want a quick peak at the women’s clothing.

You suddenly remember that Target’s latest clothing line is called “Mrs. O.”  It just hit the stores. You love Michelle Obama’s style. You might be able snag an item or two for next to nothing before everyone else does! And there they are! A yellow sheath dress – $34.99!  A teal knit cardigan – $19.99! A black patent cincher belt – $17.99!  Green kitten heels – 32.99!  A teal-yellow-green floral brooch – 12.99! All go flying into the cart. You finally make it to the athletic clothing section and snag some new yoga pants at $19.99 and two work-out bras at $8.99 each. Woo-hoo! Off to Costco!

At Costco, the smell of Polish hotdogs wafts across your consciousness. You make a bee-line for the paper goods section and load up your cart with bulk t.p, towels and facial tissue. You swing by the book section. “Costco always has such great prices on books. If I find a book I’ve been after..”

As luck would have it, The Necklace by Cheryl Jarvis is $12.99. Amazon had it for $ 17.76 – into the cart it goes. “Wow! I’ve wanted the French Laundry cookbook forever! Only $19.99!”  A no-brainer.

On the way to the check-out line, you taste the granola bar samples. “Hey, not bad! I can take these to work and hold off the morning hunger pangs. A 48-pack seems like a lot, but these might save me from pizza at lunch.” Thunk! Into the cart go forty-eight granola bars!

It’s two and a half hours later when you finally make your way to the check-out counter. You look at your overloaded cart and it hits you – most of this stuff you didn’t have on your list.

The rationalization process begins, but this time it’s different. You know you’re fooling yourself. Disgustedly you think, “Jeez, I just met with my financial planner last week. I promised myself I’d stay on my budget. WHAT AM I DOING???!!!!”

Your mother always taught you to put things back where you got them, but Mom isn’t here. She is taking a back seat as you feel overcome with self-disgust and panic. So what do you do? You abandon the cart!!!

You then climb into your car – the one with the back seat overstuffed with the hottest new items from Target’s Mrs. O Collection – and you drive right back to Target and you return every last item. Because from this day forward, you’ve decided you’re going to stay on budget.

Congratulations. You’ve taken some key steps to financial freedom. Pat yourself on the back!

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Curtis Financial Planning