Simple Truths About Money

Simple Truth #3: Contrary to Popular Opinion, You Were NOT Born to Shop

You Were Not Born to Shop

We originally published this article on February 20, 2010, and it remains one of our most popular blog posts to date. In the spirit of ongoing financial wellness, we thought we’d give it a refresh for 2021 as many of us adjust to new habits—including how we shop.

I’m a financial advisor. But I’m also a normal person just like you. I know how difficult it is to be an American and somehow not feel it’s our duty to shop.

Our economic and social systems are based on capitalism. Consequently, economists watch consumer spending like hawks, and no wonder—it fuels about two-thirds of total economic output in the United States. Talk about pressure!

This also puts a lot of pressure on you, the consumer. If no one buys our goods and services, then what happens to our economy?

Advertising Only Fuels Your Shopping Habit

The advertising industry is the perfect agent for promoting consumption. According to the ANA, advertising is linked to the bedrock principles that shaped our nation—free speech, competition, and individual choice—and is a driving force in fueling economic activity.

As such, advertisers have one role: to make us want us to consume. Their mission is to make products and services seem as enticing as possible, so we buy them whether we need them or not. Just watch a few episodes of Mad Men to learn the tricks of the trade.

And it’s almost impossible to escape from the influence of advertising unless you live like a hermit. Watch TV, drive down the freeway, listen to the radio, log on to a website, and you’re bombarded with advertising messages. No wonder we feel like we were born to shop!

Only You Are in Control of Your Shopping Habit

The problem is, economists and advertisers aren’t concerned about your personal bottom line. Just like you, they’re concerned about their jobs, their families, their standard of living, and their ability to retire comfortably.

Therefore, you need to adopt a “me vs. them” mentality when it comes to kicking your shopping habit. In other words, before you open your wallet to buy something, stop and think: Do I want “them” to have my money, or do I want “me” to have my money? The person on the other side of the cash register certainly doesn’t know if you can afford the item you are about to purchase—nor do they care.

Think of shopping as a psychological battleground—that’s how advertisers think of it.  Do you want to be the victor or the vanquished? Remember: you were not born to shop!

Don’t Be the Vanquished When It Comes to Your Personal Finances

Feeling vanquished about your personal finances isn’t a good thing.  It probably means you’re in debt, or you’re anxious about your future and feel stuck. Is all the “stuff” worth it? Probably not.

Excess stuff also clutters your environment. Coupled with your excess debt, this can ruin your credit score and your relationships.

Like anything psychological or emotional, it isn’t easy to change. But there are things you can do to take control of your spending. It’s time to denounce popular opinion, admit you were not born to shop, stop spending more than you earn, and live within your means.

First, Balance Your Budget

Using an excel spreadsheet, list all of your expenses categorized as follows:

  • Fixed and necessary expenses. These expenses are the same every month and/or are necessary to keep you housed, clothed, groomed, healthy, fed, and mobile.
  • Other committed expenses. These may include child-related expenses, pet care, fees to professionals, adult education, gym membership, insurance premiums, and debt payments.
  • Discretionary expenses. Includes vacations, dining out, entertainment, hobbies, electronics, gifts, home improvements, furnishings.
  • Auto-savings. Includes your retirement contributions and other savings.

Next, total the subtotals for each category to come up with your total monthly expenses. Then subtract this amount from your total monthly income. The outcome will either be a positive or a negative number.

If it’s a positive number, congratulations. You are living within your means. If you know you’re saving enough for retirement and other financial goals and have no debt to pay off, then you have some discretion as to how you use your money. However, if the outcome is negative, go back and rework your expenses until it comes out even or positive. Once your cash flow is neutral or positive, you now have a working budget.

Hint: You will have the most flexibility to adjust your discretionary spending, but you can also try and negotiate savings with service providers or increase deductibles on insurance policies to save on premiums. In addition, you should try to eliminate any high-interest credit card debt before adding to your discretionary spending account.  

Some Tips for Staying the Course

  1. Print out a copy of your budget. Post it somewhere that is visible to you regularly, so it stays top-of-mind.
  2. Track your spending. is a free online tool that tracks all of your expenses, income, and savings. You can enter your budget, and Mint will send you an email any time you overspend on a budget item.
  3. Try the envelope system. Place your budgeted amount for discretionary items like clothing and food in an envelope in cash. When the cash is gone, you can’t spend on those items again until the next month.
  4. Leave your credit cards at home. Become more conscious that the money you spend is from a finite source. Try paying cash or using your ATM card whenever possible.
  5. Walk away. If you’re tempted to buy an item that you don’t really need, leave the store, walk around the block, and think about it. Nine times out of ten you won’t buy the item. Remember: It’s “me vs. them.” Who gets your money?
  6. Reward Yourself. Each month that you stay within budget, reward yourself in some small but significant way. For example, indulge in a nice lunch out, get a pedicure, or order a nice glass of wine with a meal.

Maybe You Were Not Born to Shop, But You Still Want To

After completing the budgeting exercise, you may find it’s impossible to balance your cash flow. Even though you realize you were not born to shop, you don’t want to live frugally, either. If this is the case for you, look at the income side instead. Can you ask for a raise at work? Find a higher-paying job?  Freelance?  Start a small business? Rent a room out? Sell belongings to raise cash?

Explore all avenues. Exercise your capitalist gene by thinking about all the ways you can produce goods and services for profit—for yourself!

Feel Happier While Spending Less

If you want to think differently about the relationship between your spending, your values, and your happiness, download The Happiness Spreadsheet. In addition to giving you a more inspiring approach to budgeting, our free eBook includes a number of resources you can use to get your shopping habit and spending under control.

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12 Simple Steps to Financial Success

12 Simple Steps to Financial Success

This article was originally published December 29, 2011. In the spirit of ongoing financial wellness, we thought we’d give 12 Simple Steps to Financial Success a refresh for 2021 and repost. Happy new year!

The new year is upon us, and January is always a good time to look towards the future and recommit to past personal finance goals or create new ones. Just in time to round out your new year’s resolutions, here are some simple steps all independent women can take for a more financially successful 2021.

12 Simple Steps to Financial Success This Year:

  1. Develop a habit of saving. It’s never too early or too late to start.
  2. Build a budget that aligns with your values. Think about what makes you happy and then allocate your money accordingly.
  3. Create a financial plan that reflects your most cherished goals. Think of it as a roadmap to happiness.
  4. Invest the maximum amount you can for retirement. You will need more money than you think.
  5. Build and maintain a diversified investment portfolio. Don’t worry about finding the “best” investment.
  6. Review your spending periodically to keep yourself on track. It’s the key to living within your means.
  7. When it comes to investing, avoid the crowd—and tips from well-meaning friends and relatives.
  8. Understand that volatility is a normal occurrence when investing in stocks. Keep a cool head and stick to your plan.
  9. Know what your money is doing. They say ignorance is bliss, but that’s not the case when it comes to your finances.
  10. Insurance protects you from the unexpected. It’s just smart to have the right coverage.
  11. Choose your advisors wisely: Find people you like, trust, and who will listen to you.
  12. Spend on the things and experiences that make you happy. They make life worth living!

Your New Year’s Challenge

Choose one of these 12 simple steps to financial success as your new year’s resolution for your finances and write a short (200–250 word) journal entry describing how you’ll put it into action. Studies show that just writing down your goals increases the likelihood that you’ll achieve them. Then, review your plan routinely throughout the year so your resolution is always front-of-mind.

If you’d like to work on any or all of these steps with a trusted financial partner, please get in touch. We are here to help!  

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Financial Windfalls: How to Manage Sudden Wealth

Financial Windfall Sudden Wealth
Financial Windfall Sudden Wealth
An inheritance, a big bonus, a surprise payout – expected or unexpected, receiving large sums of money can be stressful. Sudden wealth or a financial windfall can derail even the most prudent people. Some people feel guilty about their good fortune and react by being overly generous or too frugal. Others immediately start spending, erroneously thinking that the money will last forever until it doesn’t. Bottom line: this type of income can be emotionally charged. We have all heard stories about professional athletes, lottery winners, or celebrities who blow through vast amounts of money and even end of bankrupt. But, this can happen to anybody.

Sudden Wealth Syndrome Is Real

This behavior is common and has a name: Sudden Wealth Syndrome – symptoms include heightened stress, guilt, social isolation, mistrust of others, and poor spending habits. Sudden wealth can also cause a person to feel so conflicted that they don’t take any actions at all.

As a financial planner, I have seen people take the following actions soon after receiving a financial windfall:

  • Quit their job before they have a new one lined up.
  • Decide to do a major remodel on their home instead of their previously planned appliance upgrade or fresh paint.
  • Buy family members expensive gifts.
  • Give money to family or friends who are in need.
  • Buy expensive cars (a Tesla instead of a Prius).
  • Take luxurious vacations.
There is nothing wrong with any of the above actions if well thought out and considered within a broader plan. If done impulsively, or to relieve emotional stress, they can create feelings of guilt or remorse that can last longer than the money spent.

Is It Possible To Not Get Caught In The Sudden Wealth Trap?

Yes, here are a few ideas:

Develop Mindfulness. Think deeply about what you want to do with the money to match your values, and make decisions with clarity to use the windfall wisely and well. Talk to your trusted circle – a friend or family member, a therapist, or advisor – before making any large purchases or life-changing decisions.

Try not make any large purchases until you’ve had a chance to make your dream list and pare it down to realistic priorities before you write the checks.

Sudden Wealth Creates Opportunities

Sudden wealth creates opportunities– for security, for pleasure, for doing good – but without careful planning, it can create headaches (and heartaches too). With a plan in place, you can avoid the negatives (regret, remorse, guilt), and embrace the positive outcomes from a financial windfall.

Take The Next Step

Download our free guide to find out what to do if you’re experiencing the symptoms of sudden wealth syndrome, and learn what your next steps should be to adjust to and maintain your newfound wealth.

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The Truth About Diversification

financial planning diversification

financial planning diversification

Most investment advisors  (including me) believe that building and maintaining a diversified portfolio is the most prudent way to invest clients’ money.

Not only do numerous studies of asset class* returns support this, but no matter how smart and experienced the advisor is, it’s near impossible to predict with consistency which asset will outperform in any given time frame. That isn’t to say that it doesn’t take skill and expertise to build a diversified portfolio – it does – many metrics come into play such as growth prospects, valuation metrics, and global economic trends.

* There are four broad assets classes:

  • Stocks or equities
  • Fixed income or bonds
  • Money market or cash equivalents
  • Real estate (represented by REITS)

And, within each asset class are sub-asset classes  (or stock sectors) that allow for greater diversification, for example, with the stock asset class, you will find large U.S. stocks, small U.S. stocks, international stocks, and emerging markets stocks. And, within the fixed income asset class are different types of bonds: short-term, hi-yield, muni, etc.

The reality about diversification is that a truly diversified portfolio will not provide the return of the best performing asset over a given time, nor will it match the performance of the worst performing asset. The return will be somewhere in between. Which is precisely the point – the highs are less high, but the lows are less low making it more likely that an investor will not panic and change strategy at exactly the wrong time.

Remember the calmness in the markets in 2017 when all stock sectors seemed to go only up? And, indeed, the returns were pretty amazing: 37.2% for emerging market stocks, 27.4% for S&P 500 growth stocks, and 24.2% for the MSCI (a global stock index) for example. Now, take a look at the chart below which shows returns year to date through June 15, 2018. You can see that the best performing sector so far this year is the Russell 2000 (an index that represents small-cap U.S. Stocks).

And, the worst performing sector is emerging markets stocks (EM Equity). The S&P 500 (representing large U.S. stocks) is up only 2.3%. I’ll wager that there aren’t too many investment advisors that could have predicted that small-cap stocks would be the best performer so far this year, but I can also almost guarantee the portfolios they manage for their clients have an allocation to small-cap stocks.

A truth about investing is that past performance does not predict future results. A great visual of this phenomenon is shown in Callan’s Periodic Table Of Investment Returns – a chart showing annual returns for key indices from 1998-2017. You can see how random the returns are and how easy it might be to try and chase top performers and then be disappointed.

You can liken diversification to the Tortoise, and the Hare story…as the Tortoise said: “slow and steady wins the race.”

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Stock Market Corrections are Inevitable

As you open your account statements and see your balance go up month after month you breathe a sigh of relief. But, then your next thought is – can the market keep going up like this? When will it end?

It helps to recognize that every market has pullbacks and that they are a regular part of stock market behavior.

Volatility does not imply the direction of the stock market. Instead, it’s the price we pay for a higher return in the long run.

We are currently in the 9th year of a bull market that started on March 9, 2009. In a few months, it could be the most extended bull market in history. However, it hasn’t all been up, up, up. There have been five corrections (market drops of 10% or more) and many smaller dips since 2009.

Second, it helps to recognize that market corrections are unpredictable. Realizing there will be a pullback doesn’t tell us when or help us maximize returns. If we cash-out today, we are just as likely to miss another year or two of upward movements as we are of sidestepping the next downturn. In result, our long-term financial plan may get derailed.

Third, recognize now that the next unpredictable correction will look obvious in hindsight. The reality is that even the most seasoned of investors can’t accurately predict stock market direction. Why? There are many events that can cause stocks to drop that are unpredictable themselves – from terrorist attacks to civil unrests, to a sudden change in economic policy.

Finally, realize that corrections are healthy for long-term bull markets. As stocks get close to full value or overvalued, it makes sense that prices will fluctuate to a more reasonably priced range. This leaves the door open for buying stocks at better prices and more gain in the future. Sometimes taking no action is the best action.

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Why You Need A Financial Plan

There are a few times a year when the volume of calls to my office from people seeking financial advice goes way up. One of them is in January when New Year’s resolutions are top of mind and another is the 30 or so days leading up to the tax deadline in mid-April.The “January effect” arises from a wish to get a fresh start on financial planning; the “tax effect”  has to do with figuring out how to pay less to Uncle Sam.

But most people would be better off if they didn’t wait for a deadline or time of year to take a hard look at their finances. Financial planning can be compared to being proactive about your health – we’re way better off maintaining a healthy lifestyle than waiting for a medical crisis to change our habits! Same goes for your finances. Making smart financial choices early and often will ensure a strong financial future.

For sure, meeting with a financial advisor isn’t always the easiest thing to do. It’s hard to talk about money especially if you feel “clueless” (not my word, but a word many women use to describe their financial savvy) or embarrassed about some of the financial decisions you’ve made in the past. But a good advisor doesn’t care about any of those things; they want to objectively help you make good financial decisions going forward.

When I ask a potential client why they contacted me, here are some of the most common answers:

  • I want to retire early and do something different with my life. Can I afford to do this and how soon can I do it?
  • I am retiring in 5 years and I have no idea if I’m on track.
  • I want to buy a house and I need to know how much to save and what I need to do to qualify for a loan.
  • I am afraid to invest my money in the stock market because I don’t trust it, but I’m not earning any return on my money in the bank, what should I do?
  • My father (or mother) just passed away and left me some money. I want to make sure that I make the right decisions with this money and need help and a plan.
  • I want to send my kids to private schools but they are expensive. I want to know if I can afford it and save for other goals like retirement.
  • I’m single and I don’t want to rely on anyone else for my financial health, I want a plan to reach my goals.
  • I’m going through a divorce and I worried about my financial future.I need help figuring it out.
  • I make a great salary but I spend too much. I want help to set up a budget, reign in my spending and start saving and investing more.
  • My spouse/partner passed away and I’ve never managed the finances alone. I need someone I can trust to help me.

Some of these situations are like a medical crisis – “oh my gosh…I’m retiring in 5 years and I haven’t saved enough money!”, others are unexpected, such as a divorce. But all share one thing in common: all situations will be less stressful and better managed with financial education and a plan.

Photo by Teerapun/

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on April 7, 2014 and has been updated and refreshed.

Related articles:

Do You Need A Financial Advisor?   Investopedia
Six Important Steps to Hiring a Financial Advisor  Forbes


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Simple Money Truth # 7: You Are Your Credit Score

youareyourcreditscoreYour credit score is the single most important tool institutions use to determine your creditworthiness.

Without a credit score of 700 or over, you won’t get the best rates on mortgages and car loans, and you may not get that apartment or job that you dream of.

Your credit score can also affect the price you pay for auto insurance. A low credit score can prevent you from getting what you want or make what you get much more expensive!

If you don’t know your credit score, do this:

Pull your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. You can do this by going to, which is a government-approved site that will get you free access to your credit report. Warning: Ignore all solicitations to buy anything when you are accessing your credit report on Just get your free report.

Unfortunately, you won’t get your credit score on the credit report. But you can get that information for free from websites such as Credit Karma or Remember, don’t buy anything you don’t want when visiting these sites!

At this point, you have access to what lenders see when they pull your credit report. What is your score? If it is below 700, you have some work to do. If it is above 700 — congratulations! Keep up the good work, but be ever vigilant and know that 750–850 is considered excellent, so you have something to strive for if you aren’t there yet.

Fortunately, Your Credit Score Is in Your Hands to a Great Degree.

If your credit is less than stellar, you can turn it around with some work. Most importantly, always pay all your bills on time. Use your credit cards, but pay them off in full each month. It’s beneficial to have different types of credit: a credit card, a car loan, and a mortgage, for example. If you are young or can’t get a credit card for other reasons,  establish a secured credit card with a bank. This is a card backed by your savings, and will help you to reestablish a good credit history.

For more information on credit scoring, visit or, or read these recent articles:

Editor’s note: This post was originally published on January 12, 2011 and had been updated for accuracy and timeliness.


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NoBody Knows – And That is Why You Diversify

The Sun Tarot card

the sun tarot– Nobody knew that the yield on the 10 year Treasury would keep going down. – Nobody knew that the price of a barrel of oil would drop by 55%. – Nobody knew the Russian ruble would crash. – Nobody knew that Japan would dip into a technical recession. – Nobody knew that Europe’s tentative recovery would falter and fail. And this week, nobody knew, including Christine LaGarde, the director of the International Monetary Fund, that Switzerland was going to un-peg the Swiss Franc from the Euro. These are just a few of the surprises that happened in the last year that even the most experienced investors didn’t predict. These unexpected events can have either a positive or negative effect on stock and bond markets worldwide. Unexpected events like these are also why most investment professionals, including me, espouse the mantra of diversification. You’ve probably read about diversification in your employee benefits package when signing up for your 401 (k) or from reading investment articles or from your financial advisor. Diversification is what it sounds like – an investment strategy that combines a variety of investments (both U.S. and international, a mix of small and large cap stocks, and a variety of bonds) designed to reduce exposure to risk. However, diversification doesn’t just reduce the downside potential it also reduces the upside potential, in the end, hopefully providing a smoother portfolio trajectory. You might say, what?, why would I want to invest in a strategy that reduces the upside potential? Well, if you knew anyone that bailed out of stocks in 2008 or early 2009 and never reinvested, you will know the answer to that question. A portfolio with 100% invested in the S&P 500 in 2008 lost 37%, and if it had a good dose of large technology stocks even more (the NASDAQ Composite was down 41%). That unfortunate time in stock market history scared off a lot of seasoned and unseasoned investors. If instead, that 2008 portfolio was diversified with a dose of bonds in it, the loss would have been less and the investor, more likely to stay in the market. Which is the point – less volatility is more likely to keep a person invested for the long haul. In 2014, the more diversified your portfolio was, the less closely it would have matched the returns of the S&P 500, which was up 13.69%. The S&P 500 is the index along with the Dow Jones Industrial Average, (up 7.52% in 2014) most often quoted in the media. Below are the 2014 returns of various indexes representing the broader asset classes and geographic areas you would find in a diversified portfolio: REITS (Real Estate Stocks)                 28.0% Inter.Term Bonds                                5.97% US Small Cap Stocks                           4.90% Global Stocks (includes US)                4.0% Hi-Yield Bonds                                    2.46% Emerging Markets Stocks                  -1.8% International Stocks                           -4.90% Global Diversified Bonds                   -5.72% Europe Stocks                                     -7.10% Pacific Stocks                                      -7.10% Commodities(includes oil&gas)        -17.01% Russia Stocks                                       -44.9% As you can see, the returns were all over the map, and mostly down. It was not a great year to invest internationally and definitely not in energy stocks. But nobody could predict that going into 2014, in fact, back then it the world looked like it was poised for synchronized global growth. If you were in a diversified portfolio, you had another decent year, maybe nothing to jump up and down on the bed about, but decent. And, the good thing about decent years, even single digit ones, is that they add up over time. ——————– For additional food for thought on this topic, the attached charts illustrate the randomness of asset class and sector return year by year. Please note that the “AA” or Asset Allocator portfolio was created by and is for illustration purposes only. asset class returns s&P 500 sector returns

5 Ideas to Protect Your Email Accounts From Cypercriminals

Rayi Christian WWe all know that hackers and cypercriminals are out there and probably not going away anytime soon. In fact, their crimes, like the recent Russian hacking incident, get bolder all the time. The truth is that criminal networks are conspiring round-the-clock to hack into our email accounts to find ways to steal our money!

A particular type of email fraud referred to as “a hostile email account takeover” is a growing trend. In this type of fraud, a hacker uses malware such as a keystroke-logging program to take control of a victim’s email account, often by secretly stealing their log-in credentials. The fraudster then monitors the email account and identifies the financial institutions or financial advisors with which the victim does business. For example, the hacker will contact financial advisors disguised as their client and ask for a wire transfer. Or, a fraudster will send an email from someone familiar to you who claims to be in trouble, out of money, and needs your immediate financial help.

We are all vulnerable to this type of fraud, but there are ways to protect yourself. Taking action may be a pain, but it would be more painful to be a cypercrime victim.

Here are 5 ideas to put into action to protect your email accounts from fraud:

1. Use strong passwords and change them often (every three to six months). Strong passwords have the following characteristics:

* Do not include dictionary words – if you use dictionary words, replace some of the letters with symbols.
* Do not include consecutive numbers or numbers that match your address, phone number, date of birth. last four digits of social security number, or other easily identifiable numbers.
* Do use a mix of symbols, numbers, lower and upper capitalization.
* Are longer than six characters.
* Are customized for each log-in.

2. Get clever with your passwords.

* Create a goal setting password. For example, floss teeth daily, stay on budget – just be sure to drop some letters and replace with numbers or symbols.
* Use a line from your favorite poem, song, or prayer and knockout some letters and replace with symbols.
* Think of your favorite books, plays, musicals and do the same.

3. Be vigilant when opening emails. Don’t open attachments or click on links from unreliable or unknown sources – this is how malware gets on your computer.

4. Keep your computer healthy by updating your operating system periodically, activating your computer’s firewall, installing and regularly updating anti-virus and anti-spyware software.

5. Use extra caution when using a public computer or logging in away from home.

If remembering multiple passwords is the bane of your existence, you can try password managers such as LastPass or 1Password. However, a password manager is only as secure as the password you assign to it. Another way to play it safer is to sign up for the two-factor authentication offered by many online services – before logging in with your password, you will have to enter a code sent to your smartphone or tablet.

Don’t be a victim, protect yourself now.

photo by Rayi Christian W, from Unsplash

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Mothers, Daughters and Money

parents financial habits

parents financial habits

My mom quit her blossoming career as a buyer at the Emporium in San Francisco to become a 1950’s-style housewife. As a dutiful Catholic wife, she gave birth to 6 healthy children and spent the next 16 years or so cooking, cleaning, and loving us all as only a mother can.

My dad gave her an allowance which I’m sure was modest. She rarely bought herself anything new and for years she made all her own clothes and some of ours too.

She spent money on food and other necessities. She kept within budget by watching the pennies. For example, she didn’t buy T.V. dinners or other packaged foods that were convenient, but cost more per serving. Rather, she cooked from scratch, with the help of a few canned and frozen items.

We ate simple meals which rotated weekly: Monday-chicken, Tuesday-spaghetti and meatballs, Wednesday-enchiladas, Thursday-pork chops and Friday-always fish and usually breaded-and-fried fillet of sole.

She and my dad rarely went out to dinner and even many years later, she couldn’t accept restaurant prices. She would always go for the cheapest thing on the menu. It got so that when my siblings and I would take her out to eat, we wouldn’t let her see the menu but rather ask her what she felt like eating so she wouldn’t order the house salad!


We all learn about money in various ways. Our parents behaviors around money can trigger different reactions.

I am nothing like my mother was with money. As soon as I started to have discretionary income, I would treat myself to what I wanted. I believe in living within your means, having an emergency fund, and saving for financial goals and retirement, but I also believe that money is a tool to create a life filled with experiences and things you love and enjoy.

I think my mom was content. But I also know that she would have liked to go out more, get dressed up, maybe go dancing now and then. She would have liked to travel more and she would have liked a new piano. She could have had all those things, and I wish that she had.

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Curtis Financial Planning