Women and Money

The Complete Guide to Buying a New Car as a Solo Woman

Buying a New Car As a Solo Woman

The world continues to evolve in many ways. However, when it comes to buying a new car, it often feels like stepping into a time machine—especially if you’re a solo woman.

Data shows that women buy 62% of new cars in the United States and influence 85% of all car purchases. Yet many car dealers are still ripe to take advantage of female shoppers, at least according to the numbers. In fact, one Yale study has repeatedly found that car dealers offer higher list prices to women than men, by about $200 on average.

Indeed, there are likely many reasons for this discrepancy. Still, one way to ensure you get the best deal when buying a new car is to prepare accordingly before signing the papers.

Luckily, my husband Rob handles all car purchases in our household. Because even though I’m financially savvy, I know what I don’t know when it comes to cars. However, I remember many frustrating experiences buying a new car as a solo woman. I hope this article helps the next time you’re in the market for a new vehicle.

Tip #1: Do Your Homework

Kelley Blue Book reports that women are twice as likely as men to be undecided on new vehicle type. Unfortunately, walking into a car dealership with no plan in place leaves you open to potentially unsavory sales tactics.

To avoid making a purchase that you may not be happy with in the long run, be sure to do your research ahead of time. Websites like Edmunds.com, Kelley Blue Book, and Car and Driver provide in-depth information on pricing, safety, and other features. You can also read reviews to understand how certain cars measure up against others.

In addition, visit the dealership’s website ahead of time to familiarize yourself with what they have in stock and the respective sticker prices. That way if the dealer directs you to the most expensive version of a particular vehicle, you know if there are more affordable versions available.

Lastly, once you know which cars you’re interested in, go directly to the corporate website—for example, Acura.com or Ford.com—to see what deals they’re currently offering. Many times, brands will offer incentives that can reduce your final price significantly.

These steps may seem tedious, and it may not excite you to research cars online. However, the more information you have ahead of time, the better deal you’re likely to receive when buying a new car as a solo woman.

Tip #2: Know What You Can and Can’t Negotiate

Depending on the market environment, you may have limited room to negotiate the final price of your vehicle. Even so, it’s helpful to know what you can negotiate when buying a car as a solo woman, as well as what’s set in stone.

First, know that the MSRP—the Manufacturer’s Suggested Retail Price—is just that: a suggestion. As independent franchises, car dealers have the latitude to sell the cars on their lot for any price they choose. In other words, the MSRP should be the starting point for your negotiations.

To better understand your ability to haggle the MSRP, you should also know the dealer’s invoice price and the car’s market value. The invoice price is how much the dealer paid the manufacturer for that vehicle. While you can ask the sales manager for the invoice price, websites like Consumer Reports may provide more straightforward information. In addition, Edmunds.com and KBB.com can show you what other people in your area have paid for similar cars recently to help you determine the fair market value.

So, what can’t you negotiate? Taxes and registration fees are non-negotiable when buying a new car. In addition, dealers won’t negotiate the cost of transporting the vehicle from the factory to the dealership. But beware of dealers attempting to add a second freight charge to the final price of the vehicle. This fee should be negotiated down or eliminated—and may be a sign that you don’t want to do business with that dealership.

Finally, keep in mind that some dealers are moving towards “no-haggle” pricing, especially if you’re looking at a used or certified pre-owned car. If this is the case, typically your only room for negotiation is on your trade-in value, financing terms, and the price of any add-ons.

Tip #3: Know What Your Trade-In Is Worth

If you plan to trade in your current vehicle when buying a new one, doing your research ahead of time is essential. Many dealers will assume you don’t know what your vehicle is worth and intentionally try to low-ball you on price. They may also try to tell you your car is in worse condition than it is.

When buying a car as a solo woman, don’t begin any negotiations until you know what your trade-in is worth. A good place to start is KBB’s “My Car’s Value” tool. Simply enter your VIN or make and model and answer a few questions about features and overall condition. KBB will then quote you a private sale price, trade-in price, and instant cash offer. Typically, the price you can realistically get for your trade-in falls somewhere between the trade-in price and instant cash offer (assuming the information you enter is accurate).

However, in certain cases you can get a better offer for your car than the Kelley Blue Book value. Therefore, it’s also helpful to check online dealers like Carvana and CarMax. Carvana gives you what they call a “real offer” for your car in less than two minutes. CarMax will also give you an instant offer online.

These three resources will give you a pretty good idea of what you can reasonably get for your trade-in. Once you have a quote from each, be sure to take screenshots or print them out so you can show the dealer what others are offering for your vehicle if necessary.

Tip #4: Understand Your Financing Costs

Unless you plan to pay in cash, you’ll likely need to finance the cost of your new vehicle. Unfortunately, the financing discussion can be one of the most confusing aspects of buying a new car as a solo woman if you don’t prepare ahead of time.  

One of the best ways to prepare is to know your current credit score. Most credit bureaus and credit card companies let you check your primary FICO® Score for free. You also have a separate FICO® Auto Score, which dealers use to determine your creditworthiness.

If your overall credit score is strong and you’ve diligently paid your car notes in the past, your Auto Score is probably fine. However, if you’re nervous, you should also check this score before buying a new car.

Once you know your credit score, you’ll have a better idea of the interest rate you can expect on your car loan. If your credit score is strong (typically above 700), you’re likely to qualify for any dealer financing promotions. In many cases, the promotional rate is more attractive than what you’ll pay for a third-party auto loan.

On the other hand, if the dealer isn’t offering any financing incentives, you may want to research your bank or financial institution’s auto loan terms and see if you qualify. Having this information ahead of time will better prepare you to negotiate with the dealer and avoid overpaying for your new car.

Tip #5: Avoid Common Negotiation Pitfalls

When buying a car as a solo woman, the sad truth is that the dealer will try to take advantage of any knowledge gaps. For example, when negotiating price, they’ll likely ask you what you want your monthly payment to be.

Don’t share this number with them! Only negotiate the final price of the vehicle. You can also try to improve your financing terms, but only do this once you’re satisfied with the final price of the car.

It’s fine—and even advisable—to determine what your budget is ahead of time. However, sharing this number with the dealer allows them to manipulate the other terms of the transaction in their favor while still meeting the upper end of your monthly budget. For instance, they may quote you a higher price but stretch your loan term out six or seven years to lower the monthly payment.

Alternatively, they may try to push you into a lease by offering you a lower monthly payment. And while in some cases a lease may make sense for your budget and lifestyle, you should only lease a car if this is your intention. Otherwise, you’re locking yourself into a contract and have no asset to sell if your plans or financial circumstances change.

Secondly, the dealer will likely try to sell you gap insurance and a pre-paid maintenance plan. You don’t need to buy either of these, no matter what they tell you!

Instead, check with your insurance company to see if your auto insurance includes gap coverage. If not, you can likely add it at a very low cost.

Additionally, a pre-paid maintenance plan may make sense in certain cases. But trying to do the math on the spot is nearly impossible. Bottom line: don’t let the dealer pressure you into something you’re not sure about.

Tip #6: Be Ready to Walk Away When Buying a New Car as a Solo Woman

Of course, the first rule of any negotiation is to be ready to walk away. If you’re not completely happy with the terms of the transaction or the vehicle, don’t sign the papers. In many cases, taking a break from the negotiation gives you more leverage to ask for what you really want. It also gives you more time to research your options in the meantime.

Buying a car as a solo woman can be a stressful and frustrating experience. Yet the more information you arm yourself with ahead of time, the more empowered you’ll be to buy it on your terms.

Curtis Financial Planning specializes in helping independent women thrive today and plan for tomorrow. If we can help you take control of your personal finances, please get in touch.

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5 Inspiring Statistics About Women and Investing

Women and Investing

As a financial advisor who works primarily with women, I’m all too aware of the gender investment gap. Not only are women paid less than men on average (and therefore have less money to invest), but many women aren’t confident in their investment abilities. Unfortunately, this can result in lower returns—a contributing factor to the retirement savings shortfall.

That’s the bad news. The good news – there’s evidence that this gap may be closing. Fidelity recently released its 2021 Women and Investing Study, which provides some interesting insights into women’s attitudes and behaviors about investing. The study’s key finding: more women than ever are taking a seat at the investing table.

Here are five inspiring statistics about women and investing that may make you feel more optimistic about your financial future:

#1: 67% of women are now investing outside of retirement compared to just 44% in 2018.

When it comes to closing the gender investment gap, younger women seem to be leading the charge. Indeed, 71% of Millennial women invest outside of retirement, according to Fidelity. But, the numbers are encouraging among older generations as well. Two-thirds (67%) of Gen X women and 62% of Baby Boomers say they invest outside of retirement.

So, what’s holding women back from closing the gap completely? According to Fidelity, 70% of women say they need to know more about picking individual stocks. In addition, 65% of women said they’d be more likely to invest or would invest more if they had clear steps to do so.

#2: When women invest, we see better results than men do.

Based on an analysis of more than 5 million Fidelity customers over the last ten years, women outperformed their male counterparts by 0.4% annually, on average. According to a recent CNBC article, there are many reasons women tend to be better investors than men.

For one thing, women trade less, which helps avoid unnecessary fees and many of the pitfalls associated with market timing. In addition, women tend to invest more consistently, meaning we like to have a strategy in place and follow it. Interestingly, none of these reasons has anything to do with knowing how to pick the right stocks. Instead, they require discipline.

#3: 9-in-10 women plan to take steps within the next 12 months to help their money work harder to grow.

Nearly 70% of women surveyed said they wish they had started investing their extra savings earlier. On the bright side, 90% of women say they plan to take steps to remedy this situation in the next 12 months. Specifically, their goals include:

  • Improving their financial literacy.
  • Creating a financial plan.
  • Reaching out to a financial professional.
  • Investing more of their savings.

#4: 64% of women would like to be more active in their finances, including investment decisions.

Perhaps some of the good money habits we developed during the pandemic contribute to these inspiring statistics about women and investing. For example, half of the women surveyed said they have been more interested in investing since the start of the pandemic. And 42% of women say they have more money to invest than they did pre-pandemic.

However, despite women wanting to invest more, the vast majority still don’t feel confident when it comes to long-term planning and investing for the future. Only 19% of women feel confident selecting investments that align with their goals. Meanwhile, only 31% feel confident planning for financial needs in retirement. (If this sounds like you, here are 5 Ways to Boost Your Financial Confidence.)

#5: 71% of women said they felt more confident once they set up a financial plan.

An overwhelming theme throughout the Fidelity study is that women feel better when they have a financial plan. Yet, though interest in investing is on the rise, less than half of women say they would know what to do if they had $25,000 to invest in the stock market today.

Unfortunately, this lack of confidence goes beyond women’s financial lives. More than a third of women said their financial situation keeps them up at night at least once a month. The primary culprit? Their long-term finances.

If these statistics about women and investing have inspired you to take the first step towards securing your financial future, a trusted advisor can help.

If your finances are keeping you up at night or you simply want a clear path towards your financial future, working with a trusted financial partner can help. In fact, 86% of women agree that having their investments managed by professionals makes life less stressful, according to Fidelity.

Curtis Financial Planning can help you develop a plan for your future and align your investments with your goals and values. To get started, please schedule a call.

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Sustainable Investing Simplified

Sustainable Investing Simplified

Over the years, the nomenclature around sustainable investing has morphed to the point of confusion. Besides “sustainable,” other descriptive terms for this investment style include environmental, social, and governance (typically referred to as ESG), socially responsible (SRI), and impact investing. You may also see the terms green, values-based, climate, intentional, or personal investing used to describe this investment approach.

While the terminology may vary, there’s a common theme inherent to this investment style. People who invest sustainably not only want to grow their wealth, but they also want to support their values with their capital.

What is Sustainable Investing?

In traditional stock analysis, investors evaluate a variety of fundamental factors to determine a stock’s expected return. For example, they may look at a company’s earnings and growth prospects to determine if it’s a good investment. The underlying belief is that if a company is profitable, its investors should profit as well. Unfortunately, traditional investment analysis doesn’t consider how a company makes its money.

A sustainable investment approach takes traditional analysis a step further by including environmental, social, and governance factors in the analysis. The goal is to reward companies that not only take care of their investors and stakeholders, but that also care about their employees, the planet, and society in general.

Indeed, numerous studies have found that companies that score well on ESG factors perform better over time. Since many of us are investing with a long-term view for retirement, investing in companies that operate responsibly can be both financially and personally rewarding.

Let’s take a closer look at the individual elements of ESG:

In many cases, ESG can be used interchangeably with sustainable investing. Here’s a deeper look into each ESG factor.

The E, which stands for environment, measures how a company uses energy and resources. Today, carbon emissions and climate change are critical environmental issues encompassed in the E analysis.

S stands for social and addresses employee and labor relations, diversity and inclusion, and reputations fostered between people, institutions, and communities.

G, or governance, refers to a company’s internal system of practices. In other words, it considers the procedures a company follows to govern itself, make effective decisions, comply with the law, and meet its stakeholders’ needs.

Unfortunately, analyzing securities for these criteria can be challenging since there aren’t uniform ESG reporting standards yet. However, as investor interest grows, so has the industry that rates companies for ESG performance. This trend suggests the future of ESG investing may offer greater opportunities for investors who wish to align their investments with their values.

How to Invest Sustainably

Investor interest in ESG investments hit an all-time high during the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, Morningstar reported that ESG funds captured $51.1 billion of net new money from investors in 2020—a record and more than double the net inflows in 2019.

As interest in responsible investing gains momentum, sustainable investment strategies are increasingly becoming more accessible to individual investors. Whereas options were once constrained to mutual funds, there’s now a wide variety of ESG exchange-traded funds (ETFs) available. Specifically, the number of sustainable mutual funds and ETFs available to U.S. investors rose 30% year-over-year in 2020, according to a report issued by Morningstar earlier this year.

In addition, ESG strategies are no longer limited to stock funds. There’s also a growing number of options entering the ESG bond fund universe. Meaning, investors can now incorporate sustainable investment strategies across their entire asset allocation if they want.

Women and Sustainable Investing

Interest in sustainable investing appears to be growing among all types of investors. However, women have long led the charge in ESG investing since values-based investment strategies entered the scene.

For example, a recent client survey conducted by RBC Wealth Management found that women are more than twice as likely as men to say it’s extremely important that the companies they invest in integrate ESG factors into their policies and decisions. Another report from Cerulli found that the majority of women in the U.S. under age 60 favor ESG investing. 

Why do these statistics matter? Today, more than half of women in the U.S. are the primary breadwinners in their families, according to research from Prudential. And 30% of women surveyed are married breadwinners who are producing more than half of their household income. In other words, as our financial power grows, our investment decisions can have a greater impact on how companies address environmental, social, and governance issues.

At Curtis Financial Planning, we help you invest in strategies aligned with your values, so you can feel better about your financial decisions. Please get in touch if you’d like to learn more. We’d love to hear from you.  

In the meantime, if this brief primer on sustainable investing interests you, please take this survey. You’ll find out what issues you care most about when it comes to your investment dollars.

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Podcast Guests Share Expert Money and Life Advice for Women

Podcast Guests Share Expert Money and Life Advice for Women

This year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview six smart, savvy women, who are experts in their respective fields. I learned a lot from these remarkable women during our conversations and am grateful to them for generously sharing their expertise. To truly benefit from the wealth of knowledge these women possess, I highly recommend listening to Season 3 of the Financial Finesse podcast. In the meantime, I’ve compiled some of their best money and life advice for women.

Liz Eshleman: What Every Woman Needs to Know About Long-Term Care Insurance

You don’t need an unlimited policy for long-term care insurance to be effective and beneficial.

“As I like to say to families, or to my single clients, you don’t have to crisis manage on day one. If you have a long-term care event, and you have a two-year plan, there’s two years where your family, your friends, your loved ones are helping figure out if your need will be more ongoing (longer than two years).

They’re helping figure out how are we going to pay for that, you know, whatever it will be. And you weigh in on that if you’re available to do so. But people sometimes think, well, if I can’t get unlimited, why would I buy this at all? Which I think is missing the point of the stress of trying to navigate a long-term care event with no plan in place.”

Liz Eshleman is a long-term care consultant and founder of Eshleman Insurance Services.

Listen to the full episode: Season 3 Episode 1

You do not have to defend your life choices to anyone.

“Whatever you choose in life, there are going to be far more people who are choosing something different. Choosing a life that looks different than yours. So you need to get really comfortable and square on: this is right and this is best for me. And I do not have to defend my life choices to anyone.

Yes, people are going to inevitably offer their unsolicited commentary on what you do with your life, especially when you’re in a public-facing role. Oftentimes that’s far more a projection and about their stuff. You don’t have to take that in, and you don’t have to defend yourself.”

Joy Lere, Psy.D. is a licensed clinical psychologist and behavioral finance consultant.

Listen to the full episode: Season 3 Episode 2

Jennifer Barrett: Learning to Think Like a Breadwinner

Let go of the stories you tell yourself about money that aren’t serving you.

“I think we do a lot of money shaming. One of the things I really wanted to do with the book was to not make anyone feel ashamed of the money choices they’ve made. And help women understand that so much of it comes from the cultural conditioning that we’ve gotten and the messaging that we got as kids. Even if we know what we’re supposed to do, this kind of conditioning can get in the way of that and in a really subconscious way. It’s really hard to see that sometimes. You have to understand like, why am I making these money choices, and not those money choices? A lot of us don’t stop and question that.

And if we did, it might take some digging to realize, oh, I put my money in savings because I’m terrified I’m going to lose it. Because maybe their parents lost money, or they had some experience. They were exposed to something. And so that has lodged in their brain, so they’re afraid of investing themselves. So many of us carry around these stories, whether you’re a man or a woman. And it’s so important to examine those, especially if they kind of get in the way of your wealth building efforts.”

Jennifer Barrett is a published author, personal finance expert, and chief education officer for Acorns.

Listen to the full episode: Season 3 Episode 3

Megan Gorman: Understanding the SECURE Act and Inherited IRAs

Celebrate good money habits and take advantage of every opportunity to secure your financial future.

“I think it’s incredibly important for women to have their own money. And it might not seem like a lot at first, putting the $6,000 or $7,000 away if you’re over 50. But over 10 years of doing that, plus the growth, that turns into six figures pretty quickly.

If there was $20 on the floor, I’d pick it up before I left the room, you know? Because if you max out your 401(k), and you fund your IRA, and then you add to your brokerage account, and maybe you fund your kid’s 529, and you add it all up, all those little things become a big number. And we need to celebrate that more because it is so hard to save today.

Since the 80s, the system has been made to work against you. So, if you are a beneficiary of an inherited IRA, it’s a blessing. And you need to think through it because it can be one of those things that makes the difference between a financial challenge and a financial success over the long term.”

Megan Gorman is a financial advisor and senior contributor for Forbes.

Listen to the full episode: Season 3 Episode 4

Lis McKinley: How to Make Room in Your Life for What Matters

Organize your stuff based on your real life, not a fantasy life.

“Don’t organize your life based on what you see in a magazine or on Instagram or on TV. You should really organize your life for your real life, for your real habits. And if you’ve been struggling with disorganization your whole life, don’t expect things to change overnight. New habits take time to develop.

The hard part in organizing is not sorting and categorizing, as much as that’s important. The hardest part in organizing, especially if you’ve got more stuff than you have space for, is what I call curating. It’s making those tough decisions about what you want to keep and what you’re willing to let go of. There’s a saying in my industry that clutter is nothing more than delayed decision-making.

But the one tip that I didn’t mention that I think is really important, is don’t make your stuff more important than you are.”

Lis McKinley is a Certified Professional Organizer® and founder of Let’s Make Room.

Listen to the full episode: Season 3 Episode 5

Nichole Proffitt: How to Calm Your Mind and Experience Life More Fully

Don’t worry about getting meditation perfectly “right.”

“I think meditation is a key component to building out a life that feels useful and manageable. And I know for a lot of people, meditation or getting started in meditation is really challenging. I think there’s a lot of misconceptions in the meditation world that our minds should be totally calm and clear. My take on meditation is that it’s not so much that the mind needs to be clear and if it’s not clear and calm, you’re doing something wrong.

One thing that I say to every person that I work with when we start is that there’s no right way and there’s no wrong way. There is just simply the opportunity to be curious about what’s happening in our minds, and to be willing over and over to come back to that present moment. And then over time, most people find that it does yield a greater sense of overall wellbeing.”

Nichole Proffitt is a Certified Mindfulness Teacher- Professional (CMT-P) and founder of Presence Mindfulness, Somatic Counseling & Coaching for Women.

Listen to the full episode: Season 3 Episode 6

Looking for More Personal Finance Resources?

Check out our resources page.

Schedule a call with Cathy.

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Finding Your Style Can Save You Money

Finding Your Style Can Save You Money

This article was originally published July 23, 2015.

There was a time when men’s grooming and fashion were as complicated as women’s. But that time is long gone.

In fact, the average American spends $161 per month on clothes, with women spending 76% more than men annually, according to CreditDonkey. And a recent study by OnePoll for Groupon found that women spend an additional $313 each month on the rest of their appearance, on average. This amount of spending can do serious damage to your budget and keep you from meeting your financial goals.

Fortunately, it’s possible to start spending more prudently. First, review your spending habits and determine how much of your disposable income you can truly afford to spend on your appearance each month. Awareness is the first step towards developing better habits. Finding your style can also help.

Why You Have a Closet Full of Clothes but Nothing to Wear

Many women buy clothing that they seldom wear. It’s usually because the article of clothing did not suit them or fit their style. Maybe a well-meaning friend or salesperson insisted, “it looks fabulous on you!” Then you realize later it most decidedly does not.

It’s easy for a wardrobe to mushroom with such ill-advised purchases but still feel like you have nothing to wear. Finding your style can help you spend less, save more, and curate a wardrobe that feels more like you.

4 Tips for Finding Your Style

Style Tip #1: Identify the Pieces You Wear Most Often

Go through your closet and pull out the pieces that you wear over and over again. These will offer strong clues about how you like to look.  As you’re pulling out the items you love, set aside anything you haven’t worn in a year.

Style Tip #2: Look for Inspiration

Browse magazines and tear out pictures of outfits that appeal to you. Alternatively, you can pin photos on a Pinterest Board.

Style Tip #3: Revisit Your Routine

Your routine activities can provide clues about what to stop buying. For example, if you’re not going to many cocktail parties, you probably don’t need to own ten cocktail dresses! In other words, make sure your wardrobe fits your current lifestyle.

Style Tip #4: Hire a Professional Stylist

If you find it impossible to audit your closet yourself, hire an expert to help you. An experienced stylist or organizer can help take the emotion out of the equation and squelch your attempts to hold onto clothing that doesn’t work for you or your lifestyle.

You can also employ a stylist to help you shop. A good stylist will help you fine-tune your personal style, go shopping with you seasonally, and even find great items on sale for you.

Even though hiring help will cost you money, it will be well worth it in the end when you have a new, well-edited wardrobe. And once you have a better handle on your personal style, you’re likely to save time, energy, and money in the future.

Finding Your Style Has Multiple Benefits

Besides the cost savings, finding your personal style can have psychological and emotional benefits. When your appearance accurately reflects who you are inside, you may find you feel more confident and in control of your life.

If you’re looking for more tips on how to curb your shopping habit, check out: 25 Tips to Get Your Clothes Shopping Habit Under Control.

And for a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting, download The Happiness Spreadsheet to create a spending plan that’s aligned with your values.

Finally, if Curtis Financial Planning can help you take control of your finances and secure your future, please schedule a call.

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Feeling Mentally Drained? You May Need to Go on a Decision Detox

Decision Detox

If you find it difficult to stick to good habits and are having trouble reaching your goals, it may be the result of decision fatigue. A decision detox can help you get back on track.

We all have those days where we feel like there are just too many choices. Should I go grocery shopping today after work or tomorrow morning? What should I make for dinner tonight? When can I squeeze in a workout?

In fact, it’s estimated that the average adult makes about 35,000 remotely conscious decisions per day. And researchers at Cornell University estimate we make roughly 227 decisions each day on food alone!

It may seem like all this decision making is the obvious consequence of a busy life. Unfortunately, it’s draining us of our mental energy, which can have real consequences on our lives—and finances.

What Is Decision Fatigue?

Coined by social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister, decision fatigue is the emotional and mental strain resulting from a burden of choices. It’s one reason many of us feel exhausted after a stressful day at work even though we were sitting down most of the day.

As your mental energy decreases, you’re more likely to let basic desires take over and make whatever decision seems easiest at the time. For example, you might decide to pick up takeout on your way home rather than cook the healthy dinner you planned.

When decision fatigue sets in, our ability to consider the long-term impact of a decision goes out the window. Meaning, there’s nothing wrong with you if you’re having trouble accomplishing your goals. It just means you may need to go on a decision detox. 

How to Do a Decision Detox

A decision detox doesn’t mean eliminating all decisions from your life altogether. The goal is to make fewer decisions so you can clear mental space for what matters.

Here are five strategies for reducing decision fatigue and boosting your mental energy:

Decision Detox Tip #1: Anticipate Routine Decisions

Do you find yourself wasting time on similar decisions every day? Like what to wear or eat for breakfast? The fewer decisions you make early in the day, the more energy you’ll have for more important decisions later.

The solution is to plan accordingly. For example, you can choose your outfit the night before so you’re not struggling to put something together in the morning. If you have trouble deciding what to eat most days, try prepping your meals for the week on Sunday so you always have healthy options in the fridge.

The same is true for routine financial decisions. Consider automating your monthly bill payments and setting up automatic transfers to your emergency fund and retirement savings.

Decision Detox Tip #2: Set Healthy Boundaries and Learn to Say “No”

Many of us have a hard time saying no, especially if it lets someone we care about down. But people pleasing can be mentally draining. If you tend to agonize over how to respond to invitations or requests for your time, you’re contributing to your decision fatigue.

An effective decision detox includes setting healthy boundaries. It’s not easy, but it can save you valuable mental energy. If you haven’t read it, Essentialism by Greg McKeown is a great book for helping you focus on what matters in your life, so you can confidently say no to everything else.

Decision Detox Tip #3: Avoid Making Decisions When You’re Tired, Hungry, Stressed, etc.

There’s a reason everyone says not to go grocery shopping when you’re hungry. Or to avoid major decisions when you’re stressed or grieving. When we’re in survival mode, we’re more likely to take the path of least resistance. That may mean buying food that tastes great but isn’t exactly nutritious or making an impulsive decision that we later regret.

If you feel like you’re slipping into survival mode, there are a few things you can do to pull yourself out. Spend a few minutes meditating, go for a walk, or connect with a friend. Adding these types of activities to your decision detox can help you restore your mental energy and make better decisions more consistently.

Decision Detox Tip #4: Designate Times to Check Email, Texts, and Social Media

Most Americans check their phone about 160 times per day, according to a recent study. If this sounds like you, your smartphone habit may be working against you. For example, if you see a new text or email come in, you may feel compelled to respond immediately. Unfortunately, even communication that feels easy—like responding to a friend about where you want to meet for lunch later—can zap your mental energy.

As part of your decision detox, try designating specific times for communication and scrolling your social media feed. You may be surprised how much more you can get done when your phone isn’t constantly distracting you. And how much more energy you have at the end of the day! 

Decision Detox Tip #5: Don’t Be Afraid to Delegate

Lastly, just because you can do it all yourself doesn’t mean you have to. Our time and energy are finite resources. Sometimes reaching your goals means asking for help.

Whether it’s at work, at home, or in your financial life, look for areas where you can delegate decisions to someone else. If delegating allows you to spend more time and energy on things that bring you joy, it’s probably worth it.

At Curtis Financial Planning, our goal is to be a fiduciary financial partner to our clients so they can focus more time and energy on what they love and do best. If you believe we may be a good fit and can help you achieve your financial goals, please schedule a call.

And if you’re ready to go on a decision detox in your financial life, check out The Happiness Spreadsheet—a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting that aligns your spending with your values.

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25 Tips to Get Your Clothes Shopping Habit Under Control

25 Tips to Get Your Shopping Habit Under Control

We originally published this article on June 16, 2018.

If you’re like a lot of Americans, your spending habits may have changed during the Covid-19 pandemic. For many of us, staying at home meant spending less and saving more. And with nowhere to go, buying new clothes didn’t feel like a priority.

Now that the economy is reopening, you may feel the urge to make up for lost time—and potentially reignite your shopping habit. Before returning to old habits that are interfering with your financial goals, getting you into trouble with a significant other, causing you to rack up credit card debt, or simply making you feel bad about yourself, consider these strategies to get your clothes shopping habit under control.

First, Face Reality

Compare last year’s credit card and bank statements to 2019 and figure out how much money went to clothing and accessories each year. If your clothes budget decreased significantly over the last 12-15 months, you may not be able to reasonably maintain that level of spending post-pandemic. Instead, set a new goal to cut your 2019 clothes and accessories budget by 20%. (Trying to cut spending too much at first is a recipe for failure, so it’s best to do it in stages.)

Now that you have a new budget, you’ll need some strategies to stick to it.

Consider these tips to get your clothes shopping habit under control:

Notice that many of these tips are as much about the psychology of shopping as they are about the acquiring of new clothing, shoes, and accessories.

  1. Try very hard to intentionally schedule shopping trips instead of spontaneously dropping into your favorite stores just to “take a look at what is new.”
  2. Don’t shop when you are lonely, tired, frustrated, anxious or bored.
  3. Avoid shopping immediately after a setback or a major victory.
  4. When the adrenalin kicks in and you catch yourself in a shopping frenzy, leave the store before buying anything. Focus on centering yourself first.
  5. Don’t let friends, shop-owners or salespeople convince you that something looks great on you when you don’t think it does, or it’s just not your style.
  6. Decide what you need in your wardrobe and make a list. Take the list with you when you go shopping.
  7. Before you buy anything on sale, ask yourself whether you would buy it at full price.
  8. Think quality, not quantity. Not only will the item of clothing last longer, but you are likely to love it longer too.
  9. Stop rationalizing. You don’t need a whole new wardrobe because you got a new job or because you now work at home.
  10. Buy things you’re going to wear now, not for a far-off occasion or event that may never happen.
  11. Buy clothing for the way you live now, not for the way you wish you were living. (For example, buying a fancy dress when you never go to fancy parties.)
  12. Avoid buying one-off pieces of clothing that don’t go with anything in your wardrobe.
  13. Don’t buy clothing in the wrong size thinking you’ll lose weight or have it “taken in.” (Although, having a good tailor is worth its weight in gold.)
  14. Try shopping with cash, not credit cards. It’s easier to set limits.
  15. Limit the number of trendy items you buy to just a small percentage of your wardrobe.
  16. Think #10: everything you buy should be as close to a “10” as possible.
  17. Realize that a new dress, skirt, blouse, or jacket are not going to make you more beautiful or change your life.
  18. To help make better buying decisions, analyze your wardrobe to understand what your favorite go-to pieces are. What are the common themes?
  19. Home in on what colors and styles look best on you to limit choices.
  20. Instead of going shopping with girlfriends, do something else, like going for a hike, to a museum, or out to lunch.
  21. One-in, one-out rule. (If your wardrobe is very large, you may want to release two or two pieces for each that you buy.)
  22. Think like an economist and analyze cost per wear before buying.
  23. Track your clothing and accessories spending to hold yourself accountable.

Kick Your Shopping Habit, Once and for All

If you’re able to stick to your new budget for a few months, set a lower budget for the next month and see how it goes. Tracking your spending not only keeps you honest, but it will also show you if you tend to buy the same items over and over, which is very common. How many pairs of jeans or black tank tops does one need?

It may take several attempts to get your clothes shopping habit under control. But with each small victory, you will get stronger. Just think about all the time and money you will gain by not buying so many clothes and what else you can do with it to make your life better.

P.S. This post is written by someone who loves fashion and who continues to incorporate these tips into her own shopping habits. 🙂

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Life After Lockdown: Creating a Budget Post-Pandemic

Creating a Budget Post-Pandemic

For the past few weeks, I’ve been teaching a personal finance class at Mills College. The first class covered cash flow and budgeting, so I asked my students to create a budget for homework. To help them get started, I suggested reviewing their recent credit card and bank statements to estimate their discretionary spending habits. One of the students brought up a great point: “I wasn’t spending like I normally do during COVID, so the last 14 months may not be representative of my spending from now on.”

As it turns out, her statement is true for most of us. For example, 64% of Americans say their spending habits have changed since the pandemic started, according to a Bank of America survey of more than 2,500 adults. In addition, a separate Bank of America survey found that 46% of affluent Americans have been getting their financial lives in order during the last year and expect to reach key financial milestones sooner than their parents did. That means many of us not only changed how we spend our money, but we also developed more financial discipline during the pandemic.

Indeed, our spending will likely look different as the world reopens and life returns to normal. Of course, just how different depends on the person. It’s tempting to splurge on the things and experiences we missed most in lockdown (for instance, we finally have a reason to buy new clothes again!). However, I think it would be fantastic if some of us could maintain the money habits we developed when we had fewer options. Creating a budget that reflects those habits can be a great way to do that.

How the Pandemic Changed Our Spending Habits

Life in lockdown forced us to reevaluate many aspects of our daily lives. As our circumstances and priorities changed, so did our spending. Gyms and restaurants closed, and travel was all but nonexistent for the first part of the pandemic. So, where did our money go?

Self Magazine surveyed 1,300 Americans to find out how their spending habits changed during the pandemic. Of the female respondents, 62% said they used time in lockdown to cook more creatively and spent a lot more money on groceries as a result. In addition to our growing grocery budgets while at home, a CIT Bank survey conducted by The Harris Poll found that spending on food delivery was also up 25% during the pandemic. 

However, food wasn’t the only thing we spent more on in lockdown. According to data provided by budgeting app Mint last August, consumer spending on investments, pets, education, and home expenses was up significantly year over year.

While some of these trends may continue, others will naturally return to more normal levels in a post-pandemic world. It may be helpful to keep this in mind and adjust accordingly when creating a budget for the future.

Good Habits We Developed in Lockdown

Despite increased spending in certain categories during the pandemic, more than half of Americans said they spent less and saved more than usual overall, according to the same CIT Bank survey. Thanks to government stimulus and new spending habits, many people were able to save more and pay down debt.

Notably, CRS reported that credit card balances declined about $76 billion in the second quarter of 2020, the largest quarterly decline on record. In addition, data from Experian shows that on average, Americans’ credit scores increased and payment habits improved in 2020.

Yet good habits extended beyond those experiencing financial difficulties before the pandemic. Of more than 2,000 affluent adults (households with investable assets between $100,000 and $1 million) surveyed by Bank of America, 81% said they took the money they’d normally spend on entertainment, travel, and dining and set it aside for savings and emergency funds during the pandemic.

The Pandemic’s Impact on Women

These statistics certainly paint a rosy picture, and many of us have been fortunate enough to come out of the pandemic in similar or better financial shape than we started. Unfortunately, however, many women experienced unprecedented challenges during the pandemic, setting them back even further on their path to retirement.

For example, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported women’s unemployment has increased by 2.9% more than unemployment among men since the start of the pandemic. In addition, data from Washington University in St. Louis showed hours worked by mothers fell four to five times as much as hours worked by fathers. Many women had no choice but to leave the workforce to care for aging parents or children. Female participation in the workforce has not been this low since 1988, according to one NPR analysis.

It’s no secret that women have long been at a disadvantage when preparing for retirement. This is because we tend to invest less and hold more cash than men, contributing to our savings shortfall. However, the main driver behind this shortfall is our lower lifetime earnings due to gender pay gaps and caretaking responsibilities—a trend that only worsened amid the pandemic.

Morningstar reports that 55% of all jobs lost in 2020 (2.3 million jobs total) were lost by women. And 32% of women ages 25-44 say they’re not currently working due to childcare demands, compared to 12% of men in the same age group.

If you’re facing any of these challenges yourself, creating a budget for post-pandemic life might be the last thing on your mind. However, closing the retirement savings gap is more critical than ever. Even one small step in the right direction can help you take control of your financial future.

Creating a Budget for Your Future

My suggestion to the student who spoke up in my class was to look back to 2019 as a spending guide. You may find this advice helpful as you’re creating a budget for yourself post-pandemic. However, if you want to continue the good habits you developed during COVID or create new habits to better prepare yourself for the future, be sure to incorporate these changes into your new spending plan. Remember: small, consistent actions over time often lead to big results.

If you’d like to work with a fiduciary financial planner to help you feel better about your money and prepare for the future, please schedule a call to see if we’re a good fit. In addition, you can check out The Happiness Spreadsheet, a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting that can help you maintain good money habits and develop new ones.

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Why Do We Procrastinate about Finances?

personal finance

This article was originally published January 25, 2018.

Personal finance is something that’s easy to put on the back burner. I hear it from clients all the time:

I only have $200,000 saved for retirement and I’m already 62 years old!

I’m co-signing all of my child’s student loans, and I realized I’m nowhere near as close to paying off my existing debt as I thought I was!

Let’s face it: life gets busy. Between our professional and personal lives, we often have very little time left over to work toward big-picture goals. Inevitably, some important things end up getting neglected.

Many people think about working with a financial planner for years before they take the leap. In reality, it often takes a crisis or a large life change to shift them to a place where they’re ready to set up a consultation.

Why Do We Procrastinate?

If the above description sounds like you, don’t worry! You’re in good company. It turns out procrastination is a big part of most people’s lives. When it comes to personal finances, there are a few main reasons we put off planning:

  • The task is unpleasant.
  • Our finances cause us anxiety.
  • We’re not sure where to start.

Let’s take a look at these procrastination-causes, and how we can work through them to get a jump on your financial planning.

Viewing Finances as Unpleasant

It’s no secret there’s a taboo that exists around money. In general, people don’t love talking about it—or even thinking about it. Oddly enough, though, this taboo primarily exists in the United States. Elsewhere in the world, discussing money is seen as anything but gauche. It’s a part of life!

To change this view of money and motivate yourself to start working on your finances, it’s smart to purposefully alter your perception. When you view money as an entity that shouldn’t be discussed, you give it power.

Instead, try viewing money as a tool to help you live the life you want—whether that’s traveling more, giving more to your favorite charity, or retiring comfortably around family. As soon as you take the power away from money, you realize it’s not unpleasant to try and create a financial plan. It’s actually kind of exciting!

Money Causes Anxiety

If you’re like most people I speak to, you know the value of financial planning. But too often it takes a personal crisis to move you toward dealing with your finances. This is often because, to put it simply, money stresses us out.

The idea that there isn’t enough money—or that we aren’t moving closer to our money-related goals—is enough to send most people into an anxiety spiral. To avoid these negative feelings, we avoid financial planning altogether.

The crazy thing is that if we were to face our fears and create a financial plan that helped us get on track, our money anxiety would dissipate significantly. But because we continue to avoid it, we continue to feel anxious, and the guilt cycle goes on and on.

If money anxiety is what’s stopping you from starting your financial planning journey, there are several things you can do to ease the stress:

  • Try making a to-do list with bite-sized tasks (like calling a financial advisor for a consultation, checking your account balances, or writing down upcoming financial goals).
  • Set a spending budget.
  • Focus on what you’re doing right. Not everything’s bad news! Rather than always beating yourself up about financial mistakes, focus on the big and little financial wins you experience, too!

Not Knowing Where to Start

Often times, it’s a lack of confidence that prevents us from getting started with financial planning. We’re not sure where to begin, and the information that’s available online is daunting—to say the least!

Luckily, this financial hang-up is the easiest to fix. Working with a fiduciary CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ can help. As a fiduciary advisor, I have a duty to my clients to provide financial advice that’s always in their best interest. Years of practice and education make a financial planner your best ally when it comes to financial planning.

At the end of the day, you are busy. Carving out time to handle your financial planning alone can be incredibly intimidating. I’d like to help. We’ll work together to get you started on the right financial path, set meaningful goals together, and strive for success. Contact me today to set up an introductory phone call. I’m excited to hear from you!

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Women: Take Control of Your Financial Future

Take Control of Your Financial Future

Recently, Business and Tech asked me to participate in a panel of experts for an article called “Taking Control of Your Financial Future.” Below are some of the key points I shared during our discussion, which focus on the specific personal finance issues women often face.

I think all women can benefit from working with a trusted financial advisor if they need help managing their personal finances. A fiduciary financial partner can help you set financial goals, allocate and invest your money, and develop strategies to grow and preserve your wealth. However, there are certain things all women can do to take control of your financial future, whether you choose to work with an advisor or not.

#1: Take Ownership of Your Finances

My first piece of advice for women is to take ownership of your finances. Don’t depend on a relative, significant other, or spouse to make financial decisions on your behalf. 

If you’re married, consider taking a team approach to managing the household finances. Ultimately, being looped into these key financial decisions will give you peace of mind, especially if you lose your spouse.

#2: Seek Feedback from Other Women

Another way to take control of your financial future is to talk to other women about how they handle their money. Find trusted friends or create a money circle to talk about money issues and financial topics. Or there are money coaches that you can hire to work through your money issues.

#3: Be Your Own Advocate

Women need to be our own advocates. Despite the progress we’ve made, we still earn less than men, on average. In addition, we often must choose between being a caretaker and pursuing a career. These factors can significantly impact your ability to retire on your own terms, especially if you’re the primary earner in your household.

To ensure your compensation is fair, ask for more benefits or a pay raise when you feel you’ve earned it. Keep a record of your contributions and any metrics that demonstrate the value of your work.

And most importantly, don’t be afraid to negotiate your salary and benefits when accepting a new job. In many cases, negotiating your starting salary is your best opportunity to meaningfully increase your income.

#4: Find the Right Balance

If you have a family, juggling your home life and work life can feel like a never-ending challenge. To ensure your financial future doesn’t suffer as a result, you need to find a healthy balance.

First and foremost, seek out employers who have family-friendly employee benefits. Look for organizations that have good gender diversity among management and employees. These types of employers typically offer work-from-home, tele-commuting, family leave benefits, and even daycare. In some cases, they may even offer part-time work to support working parents.

In addition, talk to your spouse or partner about sharing childcare and household duties. Set up systems and schedules so each person knows their role to keep things working smoothly. If possible, ask local family members if they are willing to help.

It’s often helpful to set strict boundaries for your time at work and set expectations accordingly. Let your employers know it’s important for you to attend certain family events, which will keep you from working overtime. And be sure to stick to these boundaries yourself, even if you’d love to work just one more hour on that project.

#5: Invest in Your Future

Lastly, educate yourself about investing and be willing to invest to secure your financial future. Keeping cash in a bank will not beat inflation over the long run but buying stocks will. You don’t have to invest beyond your comfort level. However, it’s critical to find the right mix of investments to stay on track towards your financial goals.

For more personal finance tips, you can read the full Business and Tech article here.

Curtis Financial Planning specializes in the unique financial planning needs of independent women and women who take the lead in their household finances. If we can help you develop a plan to take control of your financial future, please schedule a call.

In the meantime, check out our personal finance resources, including The Happiness Spreadsheet, a fresh, inspiring approach to budgeting for women.

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Curtis Financial Planning