Saturday, March 8, 2014

Why Women Need More Money Than Men -- and What Can Be Done to Make It Happen

Women need more money than men. Why? (No, not so we can buy more shoes, handbags or manicures.) Women need more because we live longer than men, make significantly less salary than our male peers, and are more likely to be single parents raising a family on one income.
Having a child is now the single best indicator of financial collapse.
Women comprise 87% of the impoverished elderly. A woman who works full-time for 40 years will earn $523,000 less than her male counterpart. At age 65, that extra half a million dollars could keep her from becoming one of the elderly poor.
What do these grim statistics tell us? They tell us that women, especially as they become older, are not prepared to take care of themselves financially. Yet nearly 90% of all women will end up managing their finances alone at some point in their lives.
Despite a woman's greater potential for financial need, it appears that many factors hamper financial equality between the sexes.
What can women do to beat these alarming odds?
Here are a few of my own - perhaps unique - ideas:
Delay motherhood.   My husband and I purposely waited until we had achieved financial freedom before adopting our daughter, because we didn’t want to repeat our own parent’s experiences. We both grew up with workaholic, struggling young parents and quite frankly, that often stunk. We didn't want money to interfere with our parenting.
Forming a family through adoption, rather than pregnancy, was a decision I made when I was a mere teenager. (The way I figured it, why "make my own" child when there are countless orphans dying for a family already.)  Since my husband and I chose to create our family through adoption, my biological time clock wasn't a ticking time bomb.
As my blog’s tagline says, “Financially free, our family hasn’t set an alarm clock in years. Whether it be work, parenting or play, we wake with the sun, eager to spend each new day doing whatever we choose.”   We waited until we could afford to commit to parenting 100%, together. For our family, the wait has been worth it.
I realize the path we chose isn't a good fit for most, but I do think it's sensible for parenthood to wait until certain things are in order. Consider taking the time to first:
  • finish college, establish your career, or launch your business
  • pay off your credit cards and other consumer debt
  • build an emergency fund
  • protect your growing wealth with insurance policies like disability and health
  • start your retirement account
  • build a solid partnership with your significant other
Share parenting and careers with your child's father.   I have two biases to confess right off the bat: One: I think most kids grow up best when raised by their parents (as opposed to day-care providers); and two: women need to know how to make money (see the statistics referenced in this article, above).
My ideal parenting-career model looks like this: Mom and Dad divide childcare and career hours between the two of them. For instance, rather than settle for the stereotypical full-time working father and the stay-at-home mom, each parent works part-time (20-25 hours each), during different shifts, while swapping care of the kids.
Think about the benefits to this kind of arrangement:
  1. Kids grow up spending quality time with both parents
  2. Both Mom and Dad get to spend quality time with the kids
  3. Both parents have the opportunity to pursue their own career paths
  4. No childcare expenses are required
  5. Mom hasn't given up her earning power
I recognize this isn't an easy arrangement for everyone. Many families feel they both need to work full-time to support their family. Some don't think their employer would allow them to work part-time. Others are single-parents who can't count on reliable child-support or parental care from the other. It's not the perfect solution for everyone. But if it sounds like an appealing idea to you, see if you can eliminate the "yes-but's" and figure out a way to make it happen anyway.
Refuse to be underpaid.  Remember-- a woman who works full-time for 40 years will earn $523,000 less than her male counterpart.  When you perform the same work, why in the world should you settle for less pay? Demand what you deserve,
Become financially literate.  Almost 90% of all women will end up managing their finances alone, so it's foolhardy to allow the man in your life to handle your finances. Read books, take classes, find a money mentor.
Come to grips with the emotions behind money.  The “How To’s” of personal finance are the same for women as they are for men. What is different is our feelings and beliefs about money. It has been demonstrated that most women are raised to nurture and seek acceptance and view money as a means to create a lifestyle. Women spend on things that enhance day-to-day living. Conversely, most men grow up learning to fix and provide. They view money as a means to capture and accumulate value, like a house and retirement. Men don't spend, they invest. Men don't want something, they need it. Theirs tends to be a future-money orientation.
Modify your money mindset to a more functional one.
Create a lifetime financial plan.  I use Microsoft Money's lifetime financial planning tool. Stay tuned for a future post for more details.
If you are married (or in a committed relationship), invest in it.  Money ranks as the first most argued topic for many couples. It has been estimated that an astounding 80% of divorces are the result of money disagreements.
A good marriage takes effort. I've been married for 21 years, so believe me, I know.  We schedule regular date nights sans kid, and see a counselor for "maintenance tune-ups". Money and time well invested, I assure you.
Push for national change in Congress, state legislature, public schools, and at the corporate level. Support systems that will help to ease financial differences between genders.
Readers, how do you think women can beat the odds?  I recognize this topic could raise some controversy, so please remember to express your constructive opinion, thoughts and ideas with respect and kindness.
Learn more on this topic:
Prince Charming Isn't Coming: How Women Get Smart About Money
The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Mothers and Fathers Are Going Broke
The Overspent American: Why We Want What We Don't Need
Women & Money: Owning the Power to Control Your Destiny
Don't miss anything: Subscribe to receive free email or RSS notifications every time I publish a new blog post.
Note: Statistical information for this article was obtained from the following sources:
Posted on 10:47 PM | Categories:

Rent, Grow Rich, Be Free

I recently shared my formula for uncovering the difference between your needs and wants and today, I'm sharing a relevant personal story.

 In 1994, my husband and I built a fabulous home on a seven acre farm. We constructed a huge barn and filled it with critters and big boy toys.
Each weekend, we'd have a mile long to-do list: we'd plant more trees, paint fences, weed the garden, remodel. Our housekeeper spent half a day each week cleaning our home-- despite the fact that the two of us occupied only half of our total living space.
One financially reflective day in 2003, I calculated the total cost of living in our home. Due to our sweat equity, our mortgage balance was very low ($120k with monthly principle and interest payments of about $855), but once I added property taxes, insurance, maintenance and, especially, lost opportunity costs (home equity not available to earn money), it became very clear that our shelter "need" was costing us too much in life energy. The total cost for living in our home, including lost opportunity costs, was an astounding $60,000 that year.
That day was a turning point in my financial life. We discussed our options, sold our home and became renters. I took our home equity and invested in a well-diversified equity portfolio.
Our net worth blossomed exponentially. Some might find it ironic, but the day I officially became a millionaire, we were renting a small apartment.
By downsizing into a rented apartment, we had replaced our previous $60,000 annual shelter expense with one costing $9,000 per year. This huge reduction in spending quickly accelerated the growth of our net worth.

Our downsized move saved on other costs, too: the clubhouse, swimming pool and exercise room eliminated the need for our health club membership; our utility costs dropped dramatically; and our commute was shortened, cutting car transportation expenses.
The benefits were more than financial-- we enjoyed our first taste of freedom. We'd wake on Saturday morning with no to do list: no mowing, no repairing, no cleaning, no sweat. We'd sit smugly on our patio, enjoying our coffee and newspaper, watching the property management's landscaping and maintenance crews busy at work.
We chose to move into a house when we adopted our daughter. Currently, we rent a nice family home located across from a large neighborhood park. Compared to owning our previous house, our annual savings is about $44,500. How long do we plan on staying here? As long as our property manager comes when we call and no yappy dog moves in next door.
Important Update: Welcome! If you have arrived here via Lifehacker, Mental Floss, or are jumping into this conversation without any additional background information, you MUST read the following posts to completely understand the point of this post. Additionally, please read the information I offered in the comments sections.
In Rent vs Buy: The Hidden Cost of Lost Opportunity, I explain why it was so costly, despite my mortgage payments being so low, to own my house. In a nutshell, lost opportunity cost is defined as the cost of something in terms of an opportunity forgone and the benefits which could be received from that opportunity.
In my post I Get Richer As A Renter, I directly compared apples to apples, using a comprehensive rent versus buy calculator, on one typical home. The calculator reported, "Your home purchase does not breakeven after 30 years."
Finally, in Dispelling The Myth That Home Ownership Is Your Best Investment, you'll find answers to common questions and objections.
Additional resources comparing renting versus buying:
The Motley Fool: The Worst Investment Ever
MSN Money (by SmartMoney): Why rent? To get richer
Priced Out Forever: Renting vs. Purchasing
Click here to view some of my favorite books.
Posted on 10:43 PM | Categories:

If You Want To Be Wealthy, You Need To Know This

Do you want to be wealthy? I'm going to share something with you today that you really need to understand - on a gut level - before you can make it happen.
Even if you learn all there is to know about money (how to make it, save it, invest it), if your relationships with others - or yourself - are dysfunctional, you'll never reach your full abundance potential.
In the past, I used to bitch, moan and complain (aka commiserate) with certain people because it seemed to bring us closer together. Misery likes company, so I feigned misery so these people would like me. I didn't want to make anyone feel jealous or envious either, so I talked myself down. It seemed so PC (politically correct).
I learned the hard way that this didn't do anyone any favor. I curbed this behavior... and I grew wealthy and happy.
I hear from these individuals now only when something difficult is occurring in my life. But when I'm all smiles and gratitude, I don't hear a peep from them. Similarly, a reader suggested recently that I make some people feel depressed by expressing my satisfaction, gratitude and happiness. He/she thinks that I should express more humility instead.
I know that my blog's traffic might increase if I discussed the mess my latest bookkeeper made of our financial records, the hit our retirement accounts have taken during this economic downturn, the exhaustion I felt during our recent move, or the disturbing mystery behind my still missing sister-in-law.  We all know that bad news sells. The media is full of tragedy, fear and despair because it works to increase circulation and readership.
But I don't want to write about bad things, even if it would drive my blog's traffic to new heights. Sure, bad news sells, but I don't have anything to sell.
If I focused on hardships, I'd feel like a car wreck on the side of the highway - the type that drivers can't help but slow down to gawk at (even though we know it's what causes the horrendous traffic jam).  I'd be attracting negative thoughts into my mind, and people that choose to focus on negativity into my life.
I write to express myself, and to share the steps I take to live a fuller, richer, happier life. By doing so, I actively practice my intentions and keep aligned on what is important to me. It brings a higher caliber of relationships into my life, and it gives me the strength to deal with the occasional curve ball thrown my way.
Here are some things I've learned by attending the University of Hard Knocks:
We become the company we keep.  Like attracts like. Be negative and you'll attract negativity; be positive and you will attract positive relationships into your life.
Limit your exposure to toxic people.  We all have them - friends, family or co-workers - that seem hell-bent on bringing us down to their level.  Immunize yourself from their poison by maintaining healthy personal boundaries. Don't be a martyr, learn to say no. Be a positive role model instead. Perhaps you'll inspire them (when they are personally ready) by modeling a different, healthier attitude.
Envy and jealousy will get you exactly what you don't want.  Acknowledge these feelings, then release them and let go. Compare yourself not to others, but only to your best self.
Don't be pressured into humility.  Definitions of humble include:
     - cause to feel shame; hurt the pride of
     - low or inferior in station or quality
     - marked by meekness or modesty
These definitions don't fit with a healthy, positive self-esteem.
Choose to use different language. The language you use directs your actions and therefore the path your life takes.
Limit your exposure to mass media. Pull the plug on bad news. Be selective - record uplifting, humorous and educational programs and keep the boob-tube turned off otherwise.
Focus on the bright side of life. I promise - there is always a bright side! What you think about is what you will get. Practice this skill by keeping a gratitude journal.
Stop looking in the rear view mirror.  Live your life from this day forward.
Posted on 10:38 PM | Categories:

I Choose Happiness. Do You?

Four years ago, my husband and I sold our country farm home. Our intention was to kick start our early retirement with a year-long travel adventure across America in an RV. We planned to submit our adoption paperwork before leaving so we'd keep busy during the long wait for a referral. During our road trip adventure, we planned to keep our eyes peeled for the perfect place to call our next home. We were ecstatic about the prospect of living as vagabonds for a whole year, then welcoming a child into our lives.

Two months after selling our home and placing our pet goats, chickens and horses with new owners, my mom was diagnosed with a rare blood cancer. Whoa. Not only did our trip preparation come to a screeching halt, but so did my carefree and positive outlook. My mom wasn't just family-- she was one of my dearest friends. She was only 59. She'd always been extremely active and healthy. She was going to be such an incredibly fun “Gramz” for our future daughter. I was completely thrown for a loop.

My mom lived with my husband and me for much of her two-and-a-half-year-long battle with cancer. I watched helplessly as her once strong body weakened, withered and starved. I've never before felt such intense and prolonged pain.

I realized I had to do something to avoid going completely out of my mind with fear, grief and overwhelm. I tried all the usual things: support groups, therapy, sleep. While these things certainly helped, I discovered something even better. And it was so ridiculously simple.

During this intensely difficult time, I realized that I could be happy anyway.

How? I made it my mission to look for at least five things each day that make my heart melt, my soul sing and my smile grow. I wrote a list of five happy moments everyday. I actively searched for things to add to my list. My focus changed and in turn, so did my mood. I learned that happiness takes practice. With practice, I developed a habit of feeling happy.

At first I felt like a traitor. How could I think about happy things while my mom suffered? Was I being unfair, insensitive? Fortunately, I realized that I couldn't be a good caregiver for my mom when I felt bad. Fortunately, I chose happiness over guilt.

I learned an invaluable and powerful life lesson: It isn't circumstance that dictates whether I live a happy life -- rather, it is a matter of choice. I can succumb to sadness and overwhelm or I can choose to feel gratitude, love and happiness.

I know it sounds hokie, but give it a try anyway. Right this minute, grab a notebook and write down five things that make you happy. If a negative thought pops up, wave it away and look for something positive. Just in case you're having a really “bad day”, I'll offer a few ideas to get you started:

crisp autumn air
the smell of puppy breath
reading the Sunday newspaper
creative photography
vine-ripened garden tomatoes
a good book
surfing the internet
setting a goal
enjoying a massage
watching birds congregate at my birdfeeder
playing hide and seek with my child
chai tea
my favorite wine
buckets of sunflowers at the farmers market

The power of focus is amazing. Recounting painful memories in the beginning of this post was making me feel a bit blue. But after compiling the list of “happy things”, I'm once again feeling, umm... happy!

I continue to develop and practice my happiness habit. I choose to feel happy. What about you?

Relevant and Recommended Reading:

View my favorite books on happiness (and other topics) at the Millionaire Mommy Next Door Store. Profits are offered as micro-loans (via to sponsor small businesses operated by the world's working poor-- empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.
Posted on 10:37 PM | Categories:

Marshmallow Test and Money

5 Things The Marshmallow Test Can Teach You About Money

Tina is an intellectually-gifted bartender who struggles to pay her bills. Tina serves martinis to Susan. Susan is no more intelligent than Tina, but Susan is a millionaire.

If not intelligence, then what explains the difference between wealth and financial lack? And what do sticky, gooey marshmallows have to do with it?

In the 1960s, Stanford University psychology researcher Walter Mischel conducted a longitudinal study. Mischel placed marshmallows in front of hungry four-year-old children. He told them they could have one marshmallow now, or if they could wait several minutes, they could have two. Some children quickly grabbed the marshmallow and ate it. Others waited.

Mischel followed the group and found that 14 years later, the children who eagerly devoured the first marshmallow weren't faring as well as the children who had waited for two marshmallows. Years later, the “grabbers” suffered low self-esteem. Teachers and parents viewed these kids as stubborn, prone to envy and easily frustrated. The "wait-for-two-fers" possessed better coping skills; were more socially competent, optimistic, self-assertive, dependable and trustworthy; and scored about 210 points higher on their SATs.

Perhaps the key difference between between financial lack and wealth is not merely hard work or superior intelligence, but the ability to delay gratification.

What can the Marshmallow Test teach you about personal finance?

Avoid looking at marshmallows when you're hungry

During the Marshmallow Test, some successful kids reportedly covered their eyes so they couldn't see the tempting treat. Avoid temptation-- stay away from the mall when you're bored.

Save a marshmallow today and you'll eat well tomorrow

The children who waited for the second marshmallow were rewarded with a 100% return on their first marshmallow. Unleash the power of compounding and you'll be rich when you retire.

Drooling over s'mores? Wipe your chin and wait for the hot goo to cool-- because you don't want to burn your mouth!

One child reportedly licked the table around the marshmallow while waiting for the experimenter to return. Imagine having what you want, but wait until the time is right to consume. If you shop, wait until you have cash in hand to buy-- don't get burned by finance charges and credit card debt!

Stick your marshmallow into the fire, keep your eye on it and remove when perfectly browned-- before it bursts into flames.

Some successful children watched their marshmallow to prevent others from snatching it, waited patiently until the researcher returned with the expected second marshmallow, then enjoyed their reward-- without begging greedily for more. Invest in the market, monitor your investment and sell your shares when they reach your target price-- before the bubble pops.

Give your children mini-marshmallows and teach them how to make rice crispy bars.

Some kids handled the wait by turning their back to the marshmallow, singing songs or talking to themselves. With practice, kids can learn how to delay gratification. Provide opportunities for your child to develop strategies. Give your children an allowance and teach them money management skills.
Posted on 10:31 PM | Categories:

Friday, March 7, 2014

Uncover The Truth About Needs and Wants

Baby Step to Financial Freedom #12

I'll explain this next step by way of an example. I know a family of four that lives in a large, beautiful home. Kids' toys multiply like horny rabbits, spilling out of their huge playroom. Both mom and dad drive late model cars. This two-income family owns a recreational vehicle they rarely use because they're too busy to leave home.
The parents tell me their number one priority is spending time with their two young children. Unfortunately, their children spend more awake hours with a daycare provider than with their loving parents.
Mom wants dad to work more so she can quit her job and be a stay-at-home mom. Dad wants mom to continue working so they can pay down debt and build some savings. Despite earning a higher than average combined annual income, they often argue about money. Worse, they feel stuck, unable to do anything about their current financial situation.
Clearly their personal priorities are out of whack with their finances. They want to spend more time with their children, but they believe they need to work more, earn more, to take care of their financial needs. And their financial "needs" keep growing.
The problem, as I see it, is they don't know the true difference between their needs and wants.
Do you? Let's uncover the truth...
1. List your basic needs categories: food, shelter, clothing, transportation.
2. Imagine that you and your family are currently staying in a homeless shelter, eating at the soup kitchen, receiving government assistance. Now, imagine that you earn just enough income to rent a small apartment and buy your own groceries. Add roundtrip bus fare for your work commute. Write down your bare bones monthly costs.
(Example, based on data collected for a family in the lowest income category):
Food = $254
Shelter = $627
Clothing = $71
Transportation (public) = $12
Total Monthly BASIC NEEDS = $964
3. Write down your own expenditure numbers from Baby Step #4: Where Does Your Money Go? Tips and Tricks for Tracking the Flow for these same needs categories.
4. Subtract your bare bones costs (#2) from your own expenditure numbers (#3). The results are your basic wants.
Example (using the family I described earlier):
Food: $1027 (spend) minus $254 (need) = $773 (want)
Shelter: $3280 (spend) minus $627 (need) = $2653 (want)
Clothing: $457 (spend) minus $71 (need) = $386 (want)
Transportation: $1613 (spend) minus $12 (need) = $1601 (want)
Total Monthly BASIC WANTS = $5,413
5. Similarly, separate the rest of your expenditures into needs and wants. Be brutally honest! It might look something like this:
Kids' Toys: $200 (spend) minus $15 (need) = $185 (want)
Tobacco/Alcohol: $123 (spend) minus $0 (need) = $123 (want)
RV: $250 (spend) minus $0 (need) = $250 (want)
Cable TV: $70 (spend) minus $0 (need) = $70 (want)
Let's return to the story of the family I told you about above. Hypothetically, if they reduced their material wants as outlined in my examples, they'd save at least an extra $6,041 a month ($72,492 annually)-- easily enough to afford one parent the option to quit their job and pull the kids out of daycare. On top of this, If one parent stayed home, daycare expenses would be eliminated. If their top priority is to spend more time with their children, clearly they can afford to do so.
I'm not advocating that you get rid of all your wants-- heck, what fun would that be? In fact, I personally choose to spend more on wants than I do on needs.
Live your life in accordance with your priorities and values. Uncover the role that needs and wants play in your financial life. Realize that your life is full of choices. Reaching your goal is simply a matter of taking care of all the little details, one Baby Step at a time.
Coming next... I will share my own needs versus wants evaluation plus a few personal illustrative stories. Then I'll share instructions for the next Baby Step: Craft A Budget That Fits Your Needs AND Wants. Rather than restricting your fun, a well-crafted budget will offer you more financial freedom. Don't miss anything: Subscribe to receive free email or RSS notifications every time I publish something new.
Did you miss a step? Want to learn my recipe for success, happiness and a million dollars? Start here: Baby Steps to Financial Freedom.
Posted on 9:41 PM | Categories:

8 Questions To Ask Yourself Before You Buy

                                                          Baby Step to Financial Freedom #11

In my previous post, How To Put A Price Tag On Your Time (Baby Step #10), I suggested that you write your true hourly wage on a piece of paper and carry it in your wallet or checkbook. Before you make any purchase, divide the sales price by your true hourly wage. If the item or service is worth the hours of work to you, buy it. If not, walk away.

Today, I'm sharing some suggestions on what to do if you determine that the service or item you want is not worth your life energy price tag-- but you still need or want it.

Before you buy, ask yourself:
  1. Can I buy it for less? Comparison shop. Find it on sale. Negotiate. Look for a recycled one in the newspaper, at garage sales or consignment stores, on ebay or craigslist. Avoid the mall. I bought an entire summer wardrobe last year from a consignment boutique for less than $100 while vacationing on Kauai.
  2. Will I change my mind? When I leave a store to comparison shop, I often find that I stop wanting it. Advertisers and retail stores are notoriously skilled at making shoppers believe that they need something-- even when it isn't true.
  3. Can I trade something for it? Swap with a friend, neighbor or family member. Create a toy exchange with other parents. Ask the seller if she wants something you have in exchange for the item or service you desire-- we've traded plumbing repairs for health club dues, computer work, pizzas.
  4. Can I borrow it from someone? Borrow books, music and movies from the library. Ask your neighbor if you can use her seldom-used yard tools or specialty cooking appliances. Just make sure you are willing and able to repair or replace damaged or lost items.
  5. Can I share the expense with someone? Co-op with your neighborhood to buy one set of yard maintenance equipment. Consider car-sharing. Ask your babysitter for a reduced hourly rate for watching your child along with another.
  6. Can I cut back on another budget item instead? If what you want to buy doesn't fit into your budget, choose to spend less on something else for awhile. Use the money you're saving on that budget category towards what you want to buy instead. I often cut back on dining out the month before a vacation because I'd rather use the savings generated to enjoy special meals at our travel destination.
  7. Can I sell something to come up with the extra money? Sell an item you no longer use, then use the money to purchase the item you want. Try a sales listing on craigslist, ebay, community bulletin boards or your local classified ads. Here's an idea for toy-hungry kids (or adults!): declutter, hold a garage sale, then buy something new with the proceeds. Better yet, make “found” money go further by using tip #1 above.
  8. Can I make a green choice? Look for products that make less impact on our environment. Choose a less toxic alternative, one with less packaging and more recycled content, or something that can be reused for something else when you're done with it.
Did you miss a step? Want to learn my recipe for success, happiness and a million dollars? Start here: Baby Steps to Financial Freedom.

Don't miss anything: Subscribe to receive free email or RSS notifications every time I publish something new.

Posted on 9:39 PM | Categories:

How To Put A Price Tag On Your Time

                                                    Baby Step to Financial Freedom #10

Why is it important to convert dollars to time?

For many, buying with credit is akin to paying with funny-money. You want something, you pull out a plastic card and shazam, you own it. By translating the number of dollars you pay for something into hours of your life spent working, you can make well-informed choices regarding what you're willing to pay for with your life energy.

1. Determine your true hourly wage: Plug your numbers into this Time Value Calculator.

I am illustrating this Baby Step with an example. I entered a $37,135 annual salary (2005 median individual income for a person age 25+, employed full-time with some college education). I included typical work-related expenses: work clothes, commuting, etc. and daycare for one child. I used the defaults for work and non-work time. The calculator's results tell me:

“Including time spent on commuting and work-related activities outside the workplace, you work an average of 47.12 hours per week. For that, you were paid a net $8.90 per hour after expenses, such as gasoline, child care, clothing for work and the like.”

Wow, $8.90 per hour. Based on salary alone, it would appear that this person is making $18.57 per hour ($37,135 by 2000 hours per year). The difference between salary and a true hourly wage can be significant!

2. Next, pull out your categorized list of expenditures (Baby Step 4). Take each monthly expense subtotal and divide it by your true hourly wage.

For example:

Car Payment: $250 by $8.90 = 28 working hours
Electronic Gadgets: $200 by $8.90 = 22 working hours
Dining Out: $175 by $8.90 = 20 working hours
Cigarettes, Chewing Gum: $150 by $8.90 = 17 working hours
Credit Finance Charges: $100 by $8.90 = 11 working hours
Shoes: $80 by $8.90 = 9 working hours

3. Take a deep breath and let your own numbers sink in. This is how long you spend working to pay for the things on your list.

4. Pull out your Treasure Map To A Rich Life (Baby Step 1) and your prioritized list of personal values (Baby Step 2). Compare the hours you work - to pay for the things you buy - with what you find most important in your life. Now, answer these questions:
  • Are they in alignment?
  • Are you working towards your dreams and values?
  • Are the price-tags of your life energy too high? In other words, are the things you buy worth the time you need to work for them?
  • What could you do with your life if you trimmed away some of the expenditures that aren't on your Treasure Map or list of prioritized values?
5. Schedule a family finance meeting (Baby Step 3) to review your findings and reactions.

6. Write your true hourly wage on a piece of paper and carry it in your wallet or checkbook. Before you make any purchase, divide the sales price by your true hourly wage. Is the item or service worth the hours of work to you? If so, buy it. If not, walk away.

We'll use your true hourly wage again in a few upcoming Baby Steps. Don't miss anything: Subscribe to receive free email or RSS notifications every time I publish something new.

Did you miss a step? Want to learn my recipe for success, happiness and a million dollars? Start here: Baby Steps to Financial Freedom.

Learn More:
Create Your Treasure Map To Riches (Baby Step 1)
By taking the time to establish what real wealth looks like to you, you direct your efforts in ways that will make becoming rich, in your own terms, simple.
Take Inventory: Identify Your Spending Values (Baby Step 2)
Once we've identified what truly makes us tick, our financial decisions will be guided in alignment with our values. I believe that under these circumstances, money can indeed contribute to our happiness.
Money Can Buy Happiness: How to Spend to Get the Life You Want (paperback)
Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (Paperback)
Your Money or Your Life: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence (paperback)
Microsoft Money 2007 Premium (software)
Posted on 9:36 PM | Categories:

How To Calculate Your Net Worth (and why it's an important financial freedom step)

Just imagine having enough money socked away earning passive income- enough to pay all your bills and still have fun –that you can afford to say “asta la vista” to the shackles of your 9 to 5 job. You wake each day able to do whatever your heart desires.

At age 30, I decided I wanted this kind of freedom. And I didn't want to wait too long for it-- I wanted financial freedom while I was still young and healthy enough to enjoy it. To get there, I needed a plan. First, I needed to know where I was starting and then, where I planned to finish. Your current net worth serves as the starting line to your financial freedom journey. Knowing exactly where you are today is the first step to moving to where you want to be.

It may sound like a difficult chore, but all you're really doing is totaling up what you own and subtracting what you owe. If you sold all your assets and paid all your debts, what would be left over? That's your net worth.
  1. List the current market value of the things you own (assets): cash, bonds, stocks, mutual funds, retirement accounts, whole-life insurance cash value, annuities, pension and profit-sharing plans, real estate, business assets, vehicles, household furnishings, jewelry, collectibles.
  2. List the current balances of what you owe (liabilities): mortgages, loans, medical bills, back taxes, credit cards.
  3. Subtract the total of what you owe from the total of what you own. This is your net worth.
  4. Save your calculations, update once every quarter and track your progress. You might find it helpful to make a wall chart and hang it near your treasure map to a rich life. It can feel draining to make loan payments and feel as if you're getting nowhere. By updating your net worth regularly, you'll be encouraged as you watch your number rise.
It's possible that your current net worth is a negative number, especially if you're young, recently took out a mortgage on a house, or you've been living beyond your means on credit. But don't despair, because you've just taken a step towards upward progress. You can learn ways to beef up your assets and trim down your liabilities.
In a future Baby Step, I'll show you how to figure out your target net worth. Then we'll plot your course between today's net worth and tomorrow's financial freedom!
Exercises for Extra Credit:
If you want to feel accountable -- or competition spurs you on -- set up a free NetWorthIQ account to track and compare your progress with others. You can view my account here.

This calculator estimates how your net worth could change over the next ten years.
See where you rank based on your age and income.
See where you stand according to the book titled The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko.

Don't miss anything: Subscribe to receive free email or RSS notifications every time I publish something new.

Did you miss a step? Want to learn my recipe for success, happiness and a million dollars? Start here: Baby Steps to Financial Freedom.
Posted on 9:33 PM | Categories:

8: Invest On Your Own

I'm sure there are investment brokers worth the fees and commissions they charge, but I haven't met one. I burned through five brokers before realizing that no one cares as much about my money as I do. Brokers are salespeople. Naturally, they care more about their bottom line then mine.

Each year, I'd compare my broker-managed portfolio's long-term performance with stock market indexes (Wilshire 5000, S&P 500, Dow Jones Industrial Average, NASDAQ, MSCI EAFE, etc.). I found that despite paying a decent sum to brokers for their expertise, my portfolio was under-performing the standard index benchmarks.

In 1999, I decide that it was worth my time and energy to learn how to manage my own investment portfolio. My efforts have paid off handsomely. Here's a down-n-dirty summary of what I've learned:

1. Start Today

Start as early as possible to take advantage of the astounding power of compounding growth. By reinvesting the gains you receive from the money you invest, you can double your money in less than eight years assuming a 10% average annual return.

Take a look at the following example, then try this calculator to see how much postponing your savings plan could cost:

Start Now
Starting amount: $0
Savings plan: Save $10,000 per year for 30 years
Rate of return 10.00%
Ending balance = $1,809,434

Start Later
Starting amount: $0
Savings plan: Postpone saving for 10 years then save $10,000 per year for 20 years
Rate of return: 10.00%
Ending balance = $630,025

Cost of waiting = $1,179,409

2. Put Your Investments on Auto-Pilot

Instruct your bank to automatically transfer at least 10-20% of your gross income to your investment accounts each month. If you don't think you can afford to do this then you can't afford your lifestyle. Get creative and cut expenses elsewhere and pay yourself first.

3. Maximize Retirement Account Contributions

How taxes are applied to an investment can make a big difference in the long run. There are tax advantages to retirement accounts which is why you should maximize your contributions to these accounts first, then add to your taxable accounts. Additionally, some employers match your contributions which equals free money.

This calculator compares a normal taxable investment to two common tax advantaged situations: An investment where taxes are deferred until withdrawals are made, and an investment where taxes are paid on money that goes into the account but all withdrawals are tax free.

4. Do It Yourself

Invest $10,000 each year and use a broker to place your order and you might pay $575 per year in sales commissions. Alternatively, learn to place investment orders yourself and your commission savings, compounding 10% annually, would be an extra $104,042 in your pocket after 30 years.

I use TD Ameritrade, an online trading brokerage, and spend $0 to $49.99 per trade in commissions. Compare their prices with a few competitors.

5. Diversify and Build a Balanced Portfolio

Speculative investments are like eggs-- when they fall, they make a mess. Don't place your bet on a single stock or sector. Spread your risk into a variety of market caps and styles as well as domestic, foreign and emerging markets. Proper diversification helps your portfolio weather any ups and downs the market can take. Asset allocation accounts for 94% of the variation in portfolio returns, while market timing and stock selection account for only 6% (Gary Brinson, Randolph Hood and Gilbert Beebower). Review and rebalance your portfolio annually to maintain your desired allocation percentages.

The Asset Allocator calculator is designed to help you create a balanced portfolio of investments. Your age, ability to tolerate risk, and several other factors are used to calculate a desirable mix of stocks, bonds and cash.

I'll share what my portfolio looks like in a future post, so please check back soon.

6. Be Mindful of Fees

Invest in a low-cost equity portfolio using no-load mutual funds, Exchange Traded Funds (ETFs) and index funds. Even a small difference in the fees you pay on your investments add up over time.

Use this calculator to see how different fees can impact your investment selections.

7. Don’t Try To Predict The Future

Rises and falls in the stock market are normal, frequent and not a reason to sell quality investments. On average, a 10% drop in the stock market has happened once a year during the past 100 years (Ned Davis Research). Don’t try to time the market by predicting the effect that current events might have on the market. You're likely to buy high and sell low which will cost you a bunch of money. Stay invested. Even professional market timers get it wrong most of the time.

8. Cover Your Ass(ets)

Protect your growing wealth with adequate insurance. The number one cause of bankruptcy is major medical expenses. In addition to health insurance, consider coverage for disability, life (use term rather than whole life), auto, homeowner/renter, business, and personal liability. Buy policies with the highest deductible you are comfortable with and invest your premium savings.

9. Understand Your Assets and Liabilities

Most people consider the home they live in as an asset but the truth is, it’s a liability. You're spending money (mortgage payments, repairs and maintenance, insurance, property taxes, etc) on property that isn't producing income. Stop thinking of your home as a savings account. In fact, consider living in a smaller home to free up extra money to invest. Put your money into investment property that produces a positive cash flow or into stocks and bonds.

We sold our home four years ago to invest the equity accumulated. Alarmed at the irrational exuberance in the real estate market, we then chose to rent a home to live in as the bubble grew and popped. Renting instead of buying our home saves us money and, by keeping money invested in equities rather than in the roof over our heads, affords us the opportunity to retire early. Don't believe the sales-pressure hype that homeownership is your best investment. I'll discuss this concept in more detail soon.

10. Crack Open Some Good Books

What I've offered today is a summary. I've shared my opinions and experiences. But don't just take my word; ask questions, read quality books, practice investing as you wean off of your high-commission broker.

Readers, what is your best investment rule-of-thumb? Do you use a broker or financial advisor? Have you been successful investing on your own?

Relevant and Recommended Reading:

View my favorite investment books at the Millionaire Mommy Next Door Store. Profits are offered as micro-loans (via to sponsor small businesses operated by the world's working poor-- empowering them to lift themselves out of poverty.

110 Personal Finance Calculators: Fast Answers For Your Financial Questions (my previous post)
5 Things The Marshmallow Test Can Teach You About Money (my previous post)
Start on your first $1 million at age 16 (article at MSN Money)

Did you miss a step? Want to learn my recipe for success, happiness and a million dollars? Start here: Baby Steps to Financial Freedom.
Posted on 9:26 PM | Categories: