Women and Money

Events: The Ascent of Women Series at the Commonwealth Club of California

The Ascent of WomanThe Commonwealth Club is the nation’s oldest and largest public affairs forum, established in 1903. Headquartered in San Francisco, the Club hosts speeches, debates, and discussions on topics of regional, national and international interest. Some of the world’s most interesting people have appeared before the Commonwealth Club in its 107 year history.

Currently, the Club (in addition to its regular programming) is hosting a series entitled The Ascent of Women which will explore the lives of women today.  There are 30 programs planned beginning on July 30 and extending through the end of August 2010. Many of these programs will be of interest to Of Independent Means readers so be sure and explore the list.

I will be moderating two of the programs which I will highlight here:

On Friday, July 30, Outliers and Outperformers: Women in Fund Management – this event will be a  panel discussion and will focus on the role of women in the fund industry today and how more women can reach the level of fund manager.

The panelists are:

Mellody Hobson, President, Ariel Investments
Ivka Kalus-Bysticky, Portfolio Manager,The Pax World International Fund
Luz Padilla, Head of Emerging Markets Fixed Income, Doubleline
Mary Ellen Stanek, Managing Director, Chief Investment Officer, Robert W. Baird & Co.
Cathy Curtis, Investment Advisor, Curtis Financial Planning – Moderator

If you would like to attend, you can click here to reserve

On, Tuesday, August 3:  Girls Gotta Do Business-The Rising Force of Women Entrepreneurs. This panel discussion will focus on the exponential growth of women-owned businesses, some of the struggles women face as they grow their businesses and how more women can succeed as business owners.

The panelists are:

Alison Covarrubias, Co-founder, The Hatch Network, SF
Baat EnoshEntrepreneur Alliance Program Director, NCWIT; VP of Operations, Women 2.0
Ayesha Mathews-Wadhwa, Director, Savor the Success, SF Bay Area
Julie Abrams, CEO, Women’s Initiative for Self Employment
Cathy Curtis, Financial Advisor, Curtis Financial Planning – Moderator

To reserve for this program click here.

Check back as I will be blogging about both discussions!

Hope to see you there.

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Women And Money: Primp Your LinkedIn Profile

Manage the Brand That is You.

Kim Kochaver
Kim Kochaver
Last night, I hosted a LinkedIn workshop at my home for members of the Hatch Network a modern business school for entrepreneurial women. Our guest speaker was Kim Kochaver, a Trade Marketing Manager for LinkedIn.

Kim gave a fast-paced, gem-filled presentation on how to nurture your LinkedIn profile, build your network and then leverage it. Because many of the women in the room were LinkedIn neophytes, we spent most of the time on primping profiles, which is what I will share with you in this post.

Why should LinkedIn be important to you?
Because 60 million other professionals are using it. It is THE social media site for business networking. And most importantly, (as Kim stated so effectively last night) it is a growing phenomenon that our career or business success depends on managing our own personal brand. LinkedIn gives you an excellent platform to do just this.

Start managing your personal brand with an optimized profile.
Above all, Linked in is a site meant for doing business and making professional connections. The profile layout is straightforward and simple with fields to let people know who you are, what you do, your professional  memberships and interests. The following are a  few tips to help you set up an effective, professional profile (click on “settings” in the upper right corner of the your LinkedIn homepage to start editing). Definitely post a picture of yourself.

Choose a head-shot style picture. This is not the place for a picture of you on a beach in Mexico. If you can afford it, hire a professional to take a head shot. You can use it many other places.

Write a summary that is brief and interesting. Write it in paragraph form, not bulleted like a resume. Cutting and pasting your resume is probably not a good idea – do you find resumes interesting reading material? Highlight your specialties… Choose the experience or personal qualities that most represent your brand. If you don’t like to write about yourself, enlist the help of a professional writer/editor to help you.

Choose a custom Public Profile URL.  Kim recommends using your name since your employer or business could change. You will always be you. For example, my URL is http://www.linkedin.com/in/cathycurtis

Choose custom names for your websites by ignoring the default “my website”, “my blog” and choose “other.” By choosing other you can name your links whatever you like. Another great tip: rotate your links and websites depending on what you want your contacts to know about you. For example, Kim has a website link called Get LinkedIn’s Audience Stats and Follow Kim on Twitter.

Edit your Public Profile. The default public profile is too basic. At least include your picture, headline, summary, specialties, websites and interests. If you peak a viewer’s interest the more likely it is they will go on to read your full profile increasing your chances for a connection.

Use the Network Updates box to promote yourself and your business. Some ideas for effectively using this feature: post new blogs you have written; post event info, let your contacts know about special projects you are working on related to your business or job, if you are openly job hunting, let people know here. Network updates is a great tool to remind your network of what you are up to on a regular basis.

Take Advantage of LinkedIn Applications
LinkedIn has added several applications and there are more to come. Here are a few that are easy and fun to use and further the goal of building your personal brand:

Reading List by Amazon:   You are what you read?  Let your contacts know more about you by what you read. You can post your reading list and write recommendations for books you like.

My Travel by TripIt, Inc:  Fill in details of your upcoming trips. The application then let’s you know who lives or works in that area or if one of your connections is travelling there too. Think about the opportunities to meet business contacts while on the road?  Or solicit helpful comments about places you are going?

WordPress: This automatically syncs your wordpress blog posts with your LinkedIn profile. Expand your readership and contact list.

Tweets: Integrates your twitter account with LinkedIn and allows you to choose tweets for posting on LinkedIn.

SlideShare Presentations:  If you are particularly proud of a presentation you have created, you can now share with your connections. This is an effective way to highlight your particular knowledge or expertise and show off your slide-making skills. Think about the opportunities for connections with potential clients or employers!

Once you get your profile primped up to perfection, you can step up your network building activities and then start to leverage your network. In closing last night, Kim challenged us all to log-on to LinkedIn and spend a couple of hours carefully going through every section under “settings’:  Profile settings, email notifications, home page settings, RSS settings, groups, personal info, privacy settings and my network. There are many important choices within these sections that you won’t want to miss.

I’ve primped my profile, have you?

Primp your LinkedIn Profile:  Your Brand is Depending on You.

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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A Savvy Young Woman Charts a Brave Course

As a financial planner, a lot of my work for clients is centered around careful and strategic planning. I help people gain a clear perspective on where they are right now. I work to understand where they want to go in the short term (“We want to go to Paris next year.”) and in the long term (“We want to retire comfortably in Napa Valley.”). Of course, there are many variables to any financial planning effort – there’s budgeting, saving for a college fund, buying a house, putting money away for a vacation home, etc.

As part of our work, financial planners must take into account our clients tolerance for risk. Personal financial goals, risk tolerance and, a clients age, will be among some the factors that shape any plan. Along the way, a financial plan has to be reviewed and tweaked to accommodate changing conditions — as in the economic meltdown in 2008. Good, sound financial advice – whether to stay the course or to make adjustments are key to long term success.

In financial planning, as in life, some of the best laid plans have to have some built-in flexibility to meet conditions on the ground. Or, as our story will show, on the sea.

Meet Jessica Watson – Sailor, Savvy Planner, Risk Taker

Jessica Watson - Youngest Around the World Solo Sailor
Jessica Watson - Youngest Around the World Solo Sailor

When we talk about planning, tolerance for risk, adjusting to changing conditions, sheer courage, and staying the course, we could hardly find a more inspirational example than Jessica Watson, a savvy young woman from Buderim, Australia.

Jessica, at this very moment, is sailing around the world. She is alone, on a solo voyage. Her pink sailboat is named Ella’s Pink Lady.  She is well over 5,000 miles into her epic journey and is about to sail straight into the fearsome Southern Ocean and the Cape of Good Hope.

Jessica is sixteen years old.

If she is successful, she will be the youngest person ever to sail around the world solo, unassisted. On her website, she lists her philosophy – “Always make the best of everything. Stay positive, ask questions, lots of questions.”

Not a bad approach for someone trying to sail around the world, or for life in general, or for someone trying to plan their financial life.

As a financial planner who focuses on women, their families and businesses, I think Jessica Watson is one savvy young woman. It’s clear from her blog and website that she is a serious planner who knows what her goals are, knows how to create a plan to achieve her goals, has the smarts and the skills to adjust as conditions change and has something that will stand her in good stead the rest of her life – courage.

Go Jessica!

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Financial Planner’s Reading List: You Are What You Read

This past Sunday morning I (and, I suspect, millions of others) read an article in the New York Times Magazine by Elizabeth Weil.

So many books, so little time.

Married (happily) With Issues takes the reader along on a fascinating and personal journey in search of a more perfect union. Elizabeth Weil manages to convince her good sport of a husband, that even though their marriage is “good” they might benefit by attempting to make their good marriage better through various counseling and therapy strategies.

In the story, Weil discussed some of her peccadilloes (she doesn’t like French kissing) and his (he’s overly obsessed with cooking gourmet meals every day) that chipped away at their otherwise good marriage.  After I read the article, I remembered that my husband had “suggested” an idea that he thought might lead to a more perfect union between us. I might want to “review my magazine collection” he said, in the hope that some of them could be recycled, “before they took over the house.”

I know my magazine habit is a pet peeve of his…and the article triggered my unconscious and motivated me into action. It’s hard for me to discard my beloved magazines: The New Yorker, More, Gourmet, Sunset, Good, California Home & Design, and Cook’s Illustrated all hold for me hours of pleasurable entertainment.  But, because I knew it would be good for my marriage, I threw out everything but the 2009 issues.

Would I have agreed to purge my magazine collection if I hadn’t read about one couple trying to build a better marriage? Probably not. Could Elizabeth Weil have become a writer or a well-informed, always-trying-to-improve-spouse without reading? Probably not.

Reading is so important. One of the most powerful advantages to being an avid reader – you not only learn so many new and interesting things, (“Hey, let’s try and make our already good marriage better!”) reading has the power to change your behavior in positive ways. Reading can even help you think about, manage and handle money better!

My Personal Finance Reading list
This brings me to my list of favorite personal finance books –  guaranteed to change one or two of your money behaviors the first time you read them and more if you read again and again.  Just give some of these books a try and see if you start gaining money smarts!

1.   I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Ramit Sethi.  Meant for a 20-30’s audience this book is full of tips about how to live within your means but enjoy the things you love, and how to automate your finances so that saving and investing are on auto-pilot.

2.  Your Money or Your Life: 9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence: Revised and Updated for the 21st Century by Vicki Robin, Joe Dominguez, and Monique Tilford.  Do you ever feel like you are spending money on things you don’t even really care about but buy anyway?  This book really makes you think about the value of your time and money and helps you to align your values with your spending.

3.  Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey by Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar.  An inspiring, practical guide that will help you to talk about money with your partner and create a successful financial life together.

4. Your Complete Retirement Planning Road Map: The Leave-Nothing-to-Chance, Worry-Free, All-Systems-Go Guide, Ed Slott.   Ed Slott is the guru of retirement planning and his books will teach you everything you need to know about 401k’s, IRA’s pensions, etc.

5. Making the Most of Your Money Now – The Classic Bestseller Completely Revised for the New Economy,  Jane Bryant Quinn.  A very comprehensive book covering all stages of your financial life. Discusses the pros and cons of major financial decisions.  (Buy the 2010 version, will be available soon).

Happy Reading!

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To Hatch Or Not To Hatch

Hatch Network CrewLast week I had the pleasure and satisfaction of watching six women entrepreneurs present their business stories to their peers and loved ones at the Slate Gallery in Oakland’s Temescal District. Each woman had just completed a 12 week course in entrepreneurship developed by the Hatch Network, a new, San Francisco-based company whose mission is “to be the absolute best provider of entrepreneurial education and services for women in the world.”

What the Hatch Network does, besides provide the curriculum, is to establish a network that connects experienced business veterans – the mentors – with ambitious business owners – the students.  Once those connections are established, the teaching/mentoring begins.

When Hatch Network co-owners, Allie Covarrubias and Claire Fontana asked that I become a mentor in their network, I didn’t hesitate. I was already familiar with their skills as leaders and visionaries and I wanted to become a part of their new venture.  Mentoring women entrepreneurs seemed like such a great complement to my financial planning practice, where I focus on women, their families and businesses.My initial concerns about time committments (I’m a solo practitioner, self employed) proved to be premature. This was a rich and rewarding experience.

So, back to the graduation celebration at the Slate Gallery in Oakland. The 12 weeks of classes are structured so that at the end, students are prepared for and required to present their business story as if they were presenting to investors or clients. They outline the who, what, when, why and how much of their business. The challenge is meant to help them achieve clarity over important business questions. Who are we? What do we provide. Who are our clients? Why are we unique? What benefits accrue to our customers? How much does our service cost? How much will we sell? And most important, how much will we make?

As you might expect, each of the six women were as nervous as a long-tailed cat in a roomful of rocking chairs. Public speaking was a daunting prospect, added to the writing and technical skills needed to pull together a dynamic  8-10 minute presentation. But when they each took their turn, it was as if they had been practicing for days….each more polished and professional than the next. It was truly gratifying to watch them and to have been a part of their story.

Who are these ambitious women and what are their businesses?

Pascale Teysseire
Owner, Funding for College
Provides a personalized college funding search to assist students/parents in attaining financial aid: scholarships, fellowships, and grants –  necessary to attend the college of their choice.

Jane Inch
Owner, Jane Inch Life Coaching:  Reveal Your Inner Sparkle (website coming soon!)
Provides lifestyle and business design programs for the midlife/empty nester who is seeking clarity and is ready to launch “what’s next” in her life.

Linzi Oliver
Owner, Doggy & Me Fitness
Provides an outdoor fitness class for you and your dog.

Feleciai Favroth
Owner,  The Art of Bathing
Provides handcrafted creams and soaps with the finest natural ingredients including shea butter
olive, jojoba, coconut and essential oils.

Elizabeth Husserl
Owner, Inner Economics
Facilitates  processes of awareness and change around people’s relationship to money.

Anne Cavazos
Owner, Cavazos Environmental Consulting
Provides high quality and cost effective environmental consulting services.

Congratulations, ladies!

If you’re interested in becoming a Hatch Network student, my next class starts in January and will be held in Oakland, California. Here’s an abbreviated course syllabus:

Week 1:  Evaluating your Entrepreneurial Opportunity
Week 2:  Identifying Your Ideal Customer
Week 3:  Scoping Out The Competition
Week 4:  What Are You Selling
Week 5:  Building your Brand
Week 6:  Your Company Message
Week 7:  What To Charge
Week 8:  Marketing Focus
Week 9:  Sales 101
Week 10: Finding  the Money
Week 11: Book Keeping, Briefly Legal, Insurance 101
Week 12: Be the Boss Lady:  Team Building, Leadership
Week 13:  Your Business Story

If you would like more information, go to The Hatch Network’s website or email Cathy Curtis
at cathy at curtisfinancialplanning.com

Hatch away!

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The Best Laid Plans

Back in July, I talked about a fantastic group of Bay Area women business owners. Kathy Wiley, Christine Doerr, Malena Lopez-Maggi and Mindi Fong are all involved in the food business and each had a different take on the value and importance of having a business plan. The original post is here, Women and Money – Women in the Food Biz Talk Business Plans. In that post I shared some thoughts of my own on why business plans are so important. As the article below describes, assumptions and circumstances change and having a plan can help you stay flexible to deal with an ever changing environment.

The Small Business Blog
The New York Times has blog for small business owners called You’re the Boss. As of this writing the lead post is, “Six Ways to Deal with Small-Business Stress”. The Small Business Blog is a valuable resource for every small business owner with all kinds of wonderful stories and it has a rich mix of comments.

My So-Called Business Plan
I love stories about food, restaurants, money and yes, business plans, so I was fascinated by a recent post on You’re the Boss. The post is titled, My So-Called Business Plan (Enter Laughing) by Bruce Buschel. Mr. Buschel is a writer who bought a restaurant – an old, beat up place in Bridgehampton, NY called The Wild Rose.

The Original Wild Rose
The Original Wild Rose

It’s a lively story with a lot of ingredients: one part lifelong dream, two parts bank loan (for 1.5 million), one part contractor nightmares, three parts local bureaucratic snafus and yes, at least two parts business plan. And it has the requisite blog that details all of his ups and downs on the way.


Curious Bits and Bites
Mr. Buschel has a list of 100 things his waiters must never do that include never announcing your name, (??) no perfume, no touching the patrons and so on. Mr. Buschel waited an entire year to get his permits and he has no restaurant or liquor experience.  His restaurant will serve only fish. Mr. Buschel’s local planning board required that he bring to their office samples of the actual roof shingles he was planning to install. Opening is tentatively scheduled for April Fool’s Day 2010.

The Plan, What About the Business Plan?
Oh, yes the plan. Here is an excerpt from his blog post.


“Do I have a business plan? You think a man with 100 rules for a waiter wouldn’t have one business plan for himself? In fact, I have had, like a fecund humpback whale, two in two years and another one on the way.”


Mr. Buschel crunched numbers with an expert who had owned, run and built half a dozen restaurants. They used the best available data. A major conclusion: Based on the evidence, a clever, well-run restaurant could be successful in the Hamptons. Not exactly earth shattering information, but useful.

Then, right after he purchased The Wild Rose, the recession kicked in. Shortly thereafter, Lehman brothers failed. And to cap things off, the food writer Mark Bittman wrote in the New York Times that if fish are so endangered, maybe we shouldn’t be eating them at all. Oh dear…

So the business plan changed and changed again.  Here, is Mr. Bruschel’s current plan for a restaurant in the Hamptons.

– Avoid a hefty key fee and a long, ever-increasing lease by buying a place with important permits in place. Eateries are finite around here and therefore always in demand. Every penny spent will come back one way or another. If the restaurant fails, change the concept or rent the space or sell the property.

– Create a folksy place with funk.

– Assemble a crackerjack team.

– Open the best fish restaurant in the Hamptons (where none exists west of Montauk).

– In October, after your first full summer season, sit down and read the numbers, not the tea leaves. You will know where you went astray and where true you stayed. Adjust.

The new Wild Rose under construction
The new Wild Rose under construction

Should be great fun to watch this project unfold. Good luck Bruce, we’ll be watching with great anticipation!

You’re the Boss Blog
My So-Called Business Plan (Enter Laughing)

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I Will Teach You to Tweet – Women in Consulting Twitter Panel in San Francisco


Get Twitterized at the Sir Frances Drake Hotel
Twitterize your business at the Sir Frances Drake Hotel / Sept. 23 5:30 pm!

Hi everyone! Public appearance alert. I’m honored to be part of a distinguished panel dishing about all things Twitter at a Women in Consulting event at the Sir Francis Drake Hotel. This is coming up soon and I wanted to make sure you know all the details.

What:   Tips, Tools and Tricks to Make Twitter Work for Your Consulting Business.
Where: Sir Francis Drake Hotel, Second Floor, 450 Powell St. San Francisco, CA.
When:  Wednesday Sept. 23, 2009 5:30 – 7:30pm
Who:    My fellow panelists are Nancy Friedman chief wordworker at Wordworking.com, and Irene Koehler, founder of Almost Savvy

Irene and Nancy are leading lights in the Twitterverse so you really should attend to hear what they have to say.
Eats: Light appetizers.

If you would like to register for this event, please go here>> See you there!

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Let’s do the Numbers – Secrets of the FICO Score Revealed

Jeanne Kelly of The Kelly Group
Jeanne Kelly, Founder and CEO of The Kelly Group

As a financial planner, I know too well how important good credit is to the financial health of my clients. Excellent credit is a financial asset that can pay huge dividends across all areas of your financial life. But the world of credit bureaus and credit reports can be a little confusing to many people. Maybe even a lot confusing.

If you weren’t already aware, whenever you apply for credit, whether for a mortgage, an auto loan or a home equity loan, the lender is going to “pull your credit” and take a look at your FICO score. That score is a hugely important metric. Virtually every lender depends on the FICO score to measure your creditworthiness. A “great” score means you’re eligible for the best possible interest rates. A “good” score means you can get a decent, but not “lowest possible” interest rate and so on. But what is “great” and what is “good” and who decides?

The good news is, it’s possible to improve your score. The not so good news is that banks and other lenders, frequently adjust what a “best score” is depending on overall economic conditions.

Jeanne Kelly is founder and CEO of The Kelly Group, based in Danbury, CT. The Kelly Group is a credit repair firm that specifically works with their clients to improve their FICO scores. The company works with individuals directly and with mortgage brokers. Jeanne was kind enough to spend a few minutes discussing the nuts and bolts of FICO scores.

Q: So what exactly is a FICO score? What does it measure exactly?

Jeanne Kelly: It works like this. Thirty five per cent of your FICO score is derived from your payment history. Thirty per cent comes from amounts owed on revolving balances. That’s a huge number – and people should know that by lowering balances owed, that could really help your score. Length of credit history is 15%, new credit is 10% and types of credit used is 10%.

Q: So there are five categories that go into your FICO score?

Jeanne Kelly: Right. If you understand this, you can work with your FICO score and stay on top of it and hopefully improve on it.

Q. Where does FICO get the information?

Jeanne Kelly: From all three credit bureaus – Experian, Equifax and Trans Union. A simple way to think about this is that FICO looks at your credit report and gives it a grade. So in order for the grade to change, you are really dealing with the credit bureaus, not FICO.

Q: How often is the information updated?

Jeanne Kelly: It could be updated every day. It depends on when your creditors decide to report your balances.

Q: Where does a person get their FICO score?

Jeanne Kelly: The thing to watch for are those offers where someone will give you your “credit score”. I’d stay away from that. Since most lenders are using FICO scores, then that’s what you want. Go to www.myfico.com — that’s exactly where you want to go.

Q: If a young person is just getting out of college, do they have a FICO score?

Jeanne Kelly: Well, you have a score if you’re using credit. You have to have two to three accounts to get a score. So whether it’s an automobile, a major credit card, a store card, a student loan – as long as you have three things reporting, you’ll get a score.

Q: How do you feel about young people and credit?

Jeanne Kelly: I suggest using credit in a healthy way and I also suggest trying to start young. I know people get afraid because college kids get these credit card offers and some of them go wild. But if you start young, by the time you’re 25, you will have learned how to use credit correctly and you’ll have a great score and get better interest rates.

Q. What’s a good score?

Jeanne Kelly: You know things change all the time; if you asked me that question last year I would have told you 680 was “A” credit. Now it’s 740.

Q. What changed?

Jeanne Kelly: Well, look around you. The banks have tightened credit, they’re being more cautious. People are talking more than ever about credit because of what’s going on in the economy and I’m glad — being aware is a good thing. If people are informed, then they can figure things out and improve their scores. But right now this is what banks are doing and people should be cognizant of that.

Q. Should people continue to use credit?

Jeanne Kelly: I do see people being afraid of it now. I’ve heard people say, “I’m going to use my debit card.” That’s a mistake. It’s perfectly okay to use credit, just do it in a healthy manner.

Q: Is it possible that your score is one point below what the lender needs to give you the best possible rate?

Jeanne Kelly: That does happen, sure. It’s like being in school – you might have to get a 90 or above to get an A. If you get an 89, you’re getting a B+. In that situation, you wait a little bit, you pay down some balances and try to move your score a bit.

Q. Is the FICO score a fair measure of a person creditworthiness?

Jeanne Kelly: I think it is. For the banks that are issuing credit, it simplifies the process quite a bit. Rather than trying to evaluate all the information in a credit report, or three credit reports, they have a grade. I think it’s a fair system.

Q. If someone believes that their score is inaccurate or isn’t a fair representation of creditworthiness, what should they do?

Jeanne Kelly: I would look at whether all your bills are being paid on time. And look at your balances. Remember earlier I said that 30% of the FICO score comes from revolving balances? Well here’s a great tip. If you keep your available balance to 20% or less of your credit limit, you’ll maximize your score for that particular portion of the FICO score.

Q: How long does it take for your FICO score to change?

Jeanne Kelly: It could take up to 90 days. So if you’re planning to go house hunting, be aware. You should start looking at your score months and months in advance.

Q: How does the Kelly Group help its clients improve their score?

Jeanne Kelly: We work directly with the creditors reporting the derogatory information on our clients’ credit reports. We’re the middle person. We know who to talk with to get the best, fastest results. We’re going to make sure that your creditors report accurately and we’re going to educate you at the same time. We’ll suggest what accounts to pay down, we might suggest opening a different account or closing an account.

Q: How much improvement can you achieve?

Jeanne Kelly: Well, every case is different. Some people might get a ten-point spike; others might see a 100-point gain. On average, our clients see a 50-point increase.

Q: That’s a big jump.

Jeanne Kelly: When you’re talking about a 30-year mortgage, it’s very dramatic.

There’s so much money riding on your FICO score. If you look at the interest on a thirty-year mortgage and the difference a better score could make, it’s just incredible. Think about it – when we do our taxes, we hire an accountant, when we go into a court of law, we hire a lawyer to protect our interests. With something as big as this, we really need someplace to go. That’s what we’re doing – we’re a small company trying to do the right thing.

Q: This has been fantastic. Really very helpful and informative, thanks so much.

Jeanne Kelly: I loved it! Thank you!

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Fee Only Financial Planner Dishes on House Buying in the Bay Area

House Buying in the Bay Area | Jim and Annette’s Financially Sound, Thoughtfully Executed, Excellent Adventure

Curtis Financial Planning
Jim and Annette in front of their new home

“I really admire the conscientious way you bought your first house,” said I. “That’s because we’re really cheap!” said they, almost in unison. Meet Jim and Annette. They’re in their late 30’s and lucky. They both watch their pennies. If only all my clients would…well, never mind.

While many of Jim’s and Annette’s friends bought houses in the last few years, they held back. The market was too frothy and unaffordable, they thought. At the time, life was a cramped one bedroom apartment in North Berkeley. But of course things change. Soon enough real estate prices crashed, and taking the leap made more sense. They started out on their own, found some neighborhoods they liked and found some houses in their price range: no more than $525,000.

Know Thy Numbers
In the meantime, Jim and I worked on their cash flow adding in housing costs (they’ve been clients since 2007).  Both were adamant that they know the numbers and not get in over their heads.  Jim has an inviolable goal, “I want a six month buffer of living expenses at all times.”  As a self-employed graphic designer,  he has a about a thousand good reasons for doing this. And while Annette currently works for Williams-Sonoma – layoffs have begun there.  I recommended they get pre-qualified for a mortgage, which they did.

Here’s a few things they learned along the way.

Know your must-haves
Jim and Annette knew what they had to have:

1.  A good location so they could walk to shops and services, and have an easy commute.
2.  A live-in ready house: some work would be okay, but they wanted no delays or additional costs.
3.  They wanted to live near their friends.

What you can live with?
No house is perfect, especially a house in the Bay Area in the $500,000 price range. Here’s what Jim and Annette had to contend with:

Close proximity to Bart meant noise, so new windows are planned.
They lack storage space, typical of older homes (1926).
They have $18,000 worth of work  to do – plumbing upgrades, electrical work, window replacement, foundation repair and some unexpected termite damage. Closing cost credits (due to the fine work of their realtor Carol Parkinson) and first time home buyer credits ($8,000 on their 2010 taxes) will help pay for all this.

Know what you care about most
Jim and Annette are now proud and busy homeowners: they’re refinishing floors, knocking out walls and buying a few new furnishings. They splurged – on a $4,000.00 Thermador Range.   When I questioned the decision, Annette said something to me that I thought was very wise:  “It’s about knowing what you really care about” she said, “and putting resources and energy towards those things, and then making compromises on the rest.” Wise words.

My Take: Top 5 things to consider when buying a home in the Bay Area

1. Know what you can afford before you start looking for a home.  Get pre-qualified.
2. Identify the neighborhoods where you want to live. Get to know prices.
3. Make a list of your no-compromise must-haves.
4. Get referrals for real estate agents and mortgage brokers.  Make sure you’re comfortable and that there’s a level of trust between all parties.
5.  Know that the costs of home ownership don’t end with the purchase.  Endless amounts of money can be spent improving, furnishing and decorating a home. Carefully plan your expenditures based on your income and budget.  Most important: don’t rely on credit.

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Women and Money – Women in the Food Biz Talk Business Plans

Women and chocolate photo

Can street smarts, charisma and passion stand in for a business plan?  It all depends on who you ask.

Women and chocolate photo
Women in the Food Business at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club – From left to right: Kathy Wiley, Christine Doerr, Malena Lopez-Maggi and Mindy Fong

I recently hosted two panel discussions that focused on women entrepreneurs in the food business. Participating were eight vibrant businesswomen in their 20’s and 30’s.  Each had the entrepreneurial bug from an early age, each has bootstrapped their business and most had no written business plan before they launched.

Of Passion and Practicality

Molly Fuller of Hands On Gourmet and Kathy Wiley of Poco Dolce are self-described pragmatists. “I wanted to make money,” said Molly. “My father always told me to do it myself, that was the way to make money.” Kathy Wiley said her decision “came down to the stable shelf life and high price point” of high-quality artisanal chocolate. Other participants cited their love of good food, and their lifelong desire to start a food business.

Fire, Ready, Aim

Kika Besher of Kika’s Treats and Christine Doerr of Neo Cocoa are graduates of La Cocina, a food business incubator in San Francisco where eligibility requires a business plan. Kika’s current business profile no longer resembles her first plan and she wishes she had a new one. “So many things change,” she said. Christine Doerr said her plan has changed and there’s a lot of “fire, ready, aim” in her business.  Kathy Wiley (Poco Dolce) started a number of business plans, only one of which she came close to finishing. Malena Lopez-Magg of The Xocolate Bar said, “I did write a long business plan but it was obsolete as soon as it left the printer.”

Recurring Themes

–    Understand the numbers, but don’t get hung-up on producing a document.
–    If you make a plan, be aware that things change and the plan may need updating.
–    Pay attention as you go and you’ll learn.
–    If you are self-funded, the decision to create a business plan is in your hands.

A Different Take

I have no doubt that these amazing women will succeed. Street smarts and passion can take a business a long way. However, as a financial planner I see what bootstrapping can do to a business owner’s personal finances and I am duty bound to counsel caution. Here are  my three reasons why you should consider developing a business plan.

Writing a business plan compels you write down the numbers and
decide which are most important to your particular business – then it’s
up to you to watch them like a hawk.

Taking shortcuts doesn’t work when it comes to growing a business.
Writing a plan helps you to think strategically and decide what’s best for the company in the long term. This can even include an exit strategy.

Assumptions change and circumstances change, but don’t make that an excuse to avoid having a plan.  Even if you launched on sheer gut instinct, step back and create a plan now. You’ll be rewarded with clarity and peace of mind.

What do you think?  Is a business plan an integral first step to launching a business? As always, your comments are welcome. If you have any topics you’d like to see here, feel free to let me know.

Women Entrepreneurs in the Food Business Panel
Molly Fuller, Hands On Gourmet http://handsongourmet.com
Nona Lim, Cook! S.F.  https://www.facebook.com/CookSF
Gabrielle Fuersinger, Cake Coquette https://www.cakecoquette.com/
Kika Besher, Kika’s Treats http://www.kikastreats.com

Women and Chocolate – A Natural Combination Panel
Malena Lopez-Maggi, The Xocolate Bar https://www.thexocolatebar.com
Kathy Wiley, Poco Dolce https://pocodolce.com/
Christine Doerr, Neo Cocoa http://www.neococoa.com
Mindy Fong, Jade Chocolates http://www.jadechocolates.com
Dayna Macy, Author  http://daynamacy.com

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Curtis Financial Planning