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Jacqueline Ross, CCIM

Jacqueline Ross, CCIM is an experienced investor, educator and real estate professional. She founded Investment Strategies, Inc. to help property owners and investors nationwide strategically plan to create income, build wealth and achieve personal and financial goals. Learn how to tap into 'lazy' equity and get your investments working for you.
Jacqueline Ross, CCIM has written 24 posts for Investment Strategies Inc.

Why Women Make Great Investors

Women really do make great investors.  Why?  Because investing is about more than just math and numbers.

Women are becoming more and more deeply invested in their own financial success for many reasons:  Careers are being pursued and marriage is being delayed, divorce rates are higher than ever, single-moms and women who are the sole or main breadwinner in the family are increasing, cost of living is rising steadily, job security is virtually non-existent…the list goes on.  There are no guarantees in life and situations can change drastically in the blink of an eye.  Independence and self-sufficiency are more than just words; they are a gateway to freedom.  Women are no longer content or willing to be dependent on others for their quality of life.  

A lot of the Myths about Money & Women floating around out there are simply false.  Statistics show that women are blowing the stereotypes out of the water when it comes to money and investing:  Women are MORE likely to join a retirement plan, women save on average 10% MORE than men, women actually spend LESS than men, and women are MORE likely to diversify their investment portfolio.

True power and independence happen not when you HAVE money, but when you know how to MAKE money.

Just ask any lottery winner or divorcee who has blown through a divorce settlement trying to sustain a champagne lifestyle on a beer budget!  A lump-sum goes away pretty fast when there is nothing in place to replenish it.  The first step is learning about Assets & Liabilities; the next step is doing something with that knowledge.

As Rich Woman Coach Nichole explains in a video Coaching Tip about Women and Investing on Robert Kiyosaki’s Rich Dad website, there’s a lot more to successful investing than just numbers and calculations.  The Rich Woman coaches identified their top 5 characteristics that make women great investors:

  • Asking for help
  • Planning
  • Multitasking
  • Diligent research
  • Value shopping

Let’s take a closer look at these strengths, how they each contribute and add up to a Great Investor Profile:

Asking for Help.  Women typically know how to ask for help when they know they need it.  And in my experience, more often than not, they prefer to ask other women.  Have you noticed all the networks and clubs and resources that are geared towards supporting women in financial and business endeavors?  The Daily Worth, WomenOwned.com, Ladies Who Launch, National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO), My Wealth Spa to name a few.  Many of these were created or developed just in this past decade.

Women seek and value mentors that can support and assist them in a non-intimidating, non-judgmental forum.  Although men often view women’s lunchtime or evening gatherings as a sewing circle gossip session, women frequently use friends and colleagues as sounding boards for new ideas, thoughts and perspectives.  Brainstorming and round-table sessions are becoming more and more mainstream, even in the ‘Old Boys Club’ organizations because there is strength and power in teams and in seeking outside opinions and help.

Planning.  Most women become good planners by necessity.  Often in addition to full-time employment or business ownership, women take on, or inherit by default, the monumental task of running the household, juggling kids activities, making and keeping family appointments, planning and organizing family vacations, meals, etc.  It takes a lot of planning and organization to make sure everything runs smoothly from day to day and week to week.

Investing demands a similar kind of planning and organization to be efficient and get the most out of your capital.  The ability to make and stick to short and long-term goals is important but having a system to monitor and track it all is priceless, especially when it comes to finance and investing.

Multitasking.  Women are also known to be exceptional multitaskers.  Handling several issues or tasks at once is all in a day’s work for most women.  This translates well into the world of investing because there are always many different things going on in many different markets and across many different asset classes.

Women who are able to see various market factors and how they can affect an investment will be much more able to predict possible outcomes and proactively make adjustments as needed.  Diversification is also easily appreciated and accepted by women who are more likely to hedge their bets as opposed to going for the glory in a single ‘Hail Mary’ home-run move.

Diligent Research.  Women know how to do their homework.  They are used to budgeting, comparing prices, finding the right pediatrician, school, camp, mechanic, gardener, insurance, etc.  In finance and investing, this means that women know how to investigate and identify investments that will work best for them.

Investing involves a LOT of research.  ‘Due Diligence’ is an investment term that refers to the process of verifying data presented, investigating the investment parameters and terms so that the investor can make an educated decision to purchase or decline.  As a real estate investor, I screen and analyze literally hundreds of properties before finally deciding to offer in on one or two.  Diligently investigating the investment and the people involved is a crucial step in protecting your investment funds up front and finding a good fit for your specific purposes.

Value Shopping.  Warren Buffet once said, “Price is what you pay; value is what you get.”  Women seem to intrinsically know how to stretch a budget and shop for bargains.  They are aware of what’s available, what the going rates are and will go clear across town to get something at a discount.  Women know that it makes sense to get a designer gown at half price if they are willing to find and sew on a couple of missing buttons.

Investing for value or value-add opportunity follows the same principles as shopping for any kind of bargain.  You need to have a good idea of the general market value so that you have a benchmark to evaluate the investment you are looking to purchase and know when it’s priced below its true value, or when a few simple steps are all it takes to realize its potential (add value, like sewing on a button).  Once you know what to look for, it gets easier to spot the gems.

Finance and investing may seem like a spider’s web of intricacy and detail but understanding the rules and knowing how to filter out the junk makes it a lot easier.  Women have the skills and qualities to excel in the investment arena on their own terms.  Women really do make great investors!

~ Eleanor Roosevelt ~

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Investing Takes Effort: Would You Let the Dealer Pick Out Your Car?

When purchasing a big-ticket item like a car or a house, don’t most people usually do a little research, shop around, compare prices and look for specific features that suit their needs?  Of course they do.  So why do many people not bother doing the same when it comes to their investments, especially their retirement, arguably one of the most important big-ticket items a person will ever own?

It always surprises me when people talk about their portfolio but have no clue as to what they are invested in.  They’ll often joke about it and make a comment about leaving it up to the professionals or that’s why they pay their stock broker/adviser the big bucks.

Let me ask you this:  Would you let the dealer pick out the car you’re going to purchase?  Or how about letting your real estate agent pick out your home?  Highly unlikely.  So why would you let anyone else have the last say on your retirement or investments?

Think about some of the reasons why you probably wouldn’t leave the decision-making up to a dealer or agent:

Perspective.  The fact that there are six – count’em, six! – cup holders may be a fabulous feature but not as high on your list of ‘Auto Must-Haves’ as it might be for the car-pool commuter.  An agent might find the school next door to be most convenient but your spouse working the night shift might disagree when trying to sleep during the day.  Different people are always going to have different opinions based on their unique personal perspective, especially when it comes down to the details.

Priorities.  The dealer may also not realize that you’d rather give up side air-bags for an extended warranty, even though you indicated that ‘safety’ was a priority.  An agent  might consider a view to be more valuable than a yard.  Many of us don’t even realize our own priorities until we start looking at options and are faced with making some decisions.

Cost.  It’s way easier to spend someone else’s money.  It’s also easier to take risks and overlook ‘minor’ issues when it’s not your buck.  The agent or dealer won’t have to live with the stiff clutch or the less-than-functional kitchen layout.  And if compensation is based on a percentage of price, they might not be as aggressive in negotiating the sale.  Always track the money chain.  Fee structure can often make a big difference in how much you end up actually paying for something.

Value.  No one will care as much about getting the best bang for your buck as you will.  These are your hard-earned dollars so it makes sense that you’ll want them to work as hard as you do (or harder!)  That’s why we usually take the time to shop around, to get the most value for the best price.  We each have a different cut-off point when we feel we have a good idea of the ‘going rate’ and are comfortable with the intrinsic value of the purchase.  The dealer or agent might only look at 2 or 3 options before making a decision.

Reliability.  Choices can be tough, either having too few or having too many.  It’s hard to know all the in’s and out’s of every product in every field and it can be even harder to slog through all the information out there and filter it down to manageable, suitable options.  That’s one of the reasons why we look to loan brokers, agents, lawyers and other professionals.  Hiring a specialist in the field and leveraging their knowledge and experience is usually well worth it.  But…

How reliable would you consider the data or opinion if the dealer/agent providing the information was also the owner of the car or property you are about to buy?

Don’t get me wrong.  I think it’s VERY important to seek professional assistance and advice, especially for infrequent, large and/or complex transactions.  But just like an auto dealer or real estate agent, their role is to give information, guidance, advice and support through the transaction.  You might decide to outsource some of the legwork but ultimately you need to make the final decisions.

All of these concepts apply when making any major decision, including investment and retirement planning.  If you leave all the decision-making up to someone else, you are basically at the mercy of their choices.  You don’t have to be an expert but you owe it to yourself to do a little research and have a basic understanding of the core concepts, even when you use a professional, so that you can effectively evaluate the information you are given and make informed decisions.

NOTE:  Many employer-sponsored retirement and 401k plans are limited to a few select investment funds but they usually include dollar-for-dollar matching contributions.  It’s hard to go wrong with free money!  Just be sure to monitor statements and fund performance, and discuss options or concerns with the fund manager.  Don’t forget ~ 401k accounts can normally be rolled over into an IRA when employment has ended.  Know where your funds are and what they’re doing!

Technology & Information Jobs Pay Top Dollar

It’s official – the Digital Age has not only arrived but is living in your parents’ basement!

According to a research study posted by Inc., the highest paying jobs are in Technology and Information fields.


(Source: Inc.com)

In fact, even in other industries, some of the top-paying jobs appear to be tech-related.

For anyone looking to upgrade their skills or change career paths, take a long hard look at what’s being offered related to technology and information. The great news is that most community colleges offer classes that can get you up to speed pretty quickly without the astronomical cost of private institution tuition.

Encourage yourself and your kids to embrace technology, to use it wisely and purposefully, and to continually strive to upgrade your skills and learn about new platforms. At the very least, it is important to have an understanding of what’s out there so that you can pick and choose what works for you, both personally and professionally.

Not only will you be enhancing your skill-set and making yourself more marketable and valuable to an employer, you’ll also be improving your own efficiency as you incorporate more of the tools that can make your life a whole lot easier!

Million Dollar Formula: Anyone Can Make a Million Dollars

I just read an article by Timothy McMahon, editor at Financial Trend Forecaster entitled All it Takes to Make a Million Dollars is Time, Consistency and Rate of Return.

McMahon shares some numbers and data to support this formula and it got me thinking about a pretty exciting reality:  Anyone can be a millionaire.

It’s true.  The tools are available, especially here in opportunity-rich North America, for anyone with a little bit of self-discipline and a willingness to learn.  A-a-a-a-and there’s the rub.  Despite having the key to the Million Dollar Formula, those two little characteristics make all the difference when it comes to WANTING a million dollars versus actually MAKING a million dollars.

Think about it.  We all know that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.  And then another and another, until we finally reach the destination.  We know the destination is there waiting for us even though we can’t see it.  We know that paths are available to get us there, sometimes many different routes. So why do so many of us never actually make it there?

Self-Discipline

It’s been said that ultimately we are the sum of our choices in life.  Nowhere is that more apparent than in our financial picture.  Good habits are the cornerstone of success but to develop them you have to be willing to prioritize and maybe even curb some indulgences along the way.

The ability to delay gratification is a huge struggle for most of us.  But it’s also your most powerful tool when it comes to money, saving and investing.  If CONSISTENCY is one of the keys to the Million Dollar Formula, then having a plan and a system can really help you balance and manage the process, as well as to stay focused on the end goal.  This is especially important when the goal is long-term, like retirement and the benefits can’t be seen or felt immediately.  Make it as easy as possible for yourself to be successful!

Temptation and accessibility are the silent saboteurs when it comes to your money and savings.  Take steps to make it harder to access your funds, like setting up a separate savings account that is NOT linked to your ATM card or locking up your credit cards (carry only one for true emergencies).  Choose to go to the park or beach instead of the mall.  Unsubscribe from magazines and emails with advertising and offers.  Keep pictures to remind yourself of the end-goal and track your progress so you have a visual representation of your success.

Treat your savings like an iron-clad fixed expense and take it off the top of each paycheck no matter when or how often it comes in.  YES, YOU CAN!  Remember, it’s about making choices.  Latte or $1M?  Eat out or $1M?  New car or $1M?  Every single indulgence is a choice you make that adds up and pushes your goal back a little further.  It’s not about doing without; it’s about priorities.  If you want to get to the Million Dollar Destination you have to make it a priority.  How quickly you get there depends on how high a priority you want (or need) to make it.

McMahon shares the math about the effects of Time and Consistency, along with an interesting thought:  “Even if you don’t have a (lump sum) nest egg you can retire a millionaire. Simply by saving $10 per day and investing it at 15% per year you will still reach Millionaire status in 25 years.  Is 25 years too long to save become a Millionaire? The average mortgage is 30 years!  So why are people willing to go in debt for 30 years but not save for 25 years?”

Willingness to Learn

People will often tell themselves that others have more opportunities, more cash, more luck or more whatever so that they can absolve themselves of any and all responsibility for their own success (or failure!) The truth is that we are each in charge of how we handle the people, things and events in our lives.

We are in the Digital Information Age.  There is information readily available on just about every possible topic you can think of, including money, finance and investing.  There are many paths to get to the Million Dollar Destination but not all of them will be right for you.  Taking time to read about different options and benefits will help you make informed decisions and more likely to avoid costly mistakes and setbacks.

Knowledge is power.  Even a child can understand the value of knowledge.  I asked my 13 year old son which he’d rather have:  A million dollars or the ability to make a million dollars.  He explained that, of course, knowing how to make a million would let him do it over and over again.  (But as we all know, knowing and doing are two completely different things – cue self-discipline!)

Are you familiar with the phrase, The rich get richer and the poor get poorer?  Knowledge and discipline really do make all the difference in the world.  McMahon shares this insight:

The Wealthy buy Assets; the Poor buy Liabilities; The Middle Class buy Liabilities believing they are Assets.

Knowing the difference between an asset and a liability is fundamental to building wealth.  Assets earn money and can appreciate in value; liabilities cost you and depreciate.  A rental home has the capacity to provide income and tax benefits AFTER covering its operating expenses, as well as the potential to appreciate in value.  Conversely, that boat you’re eyeing might provide hours of enjoyment and entertainment but it depreciates the minute you purchase and costs you every month for storage, gas, licensing, registration, maintenance and repairs.

As your funds grow, so will the temptation to spend and/or move them around.  It’s important to understand the pros and cons and the ins and outs of what you are invested in so that you can make informed decisions, regardless of whether it’s the stock market, real estate or any other asset class.   Rates of return vary greatly from product to product and every investment carries its own risk and parameters.  Again, there are many possible paths to get to the Million Dollar Destination so you need a basic understanding how they work to decide which is right for you.

Million Dollar Formula

So here it is again, the not-so-secret formula for anyone to make a million dollars:

Time + Consistency + Rate of Return = $1Million

Whether it’s the magic of compound interest or the brilliance of principal reduction, the sooner you start, the longer your funds have to work for you.

You have the Million Dollar Formula ~ The big question now is what are you going to do with it?

BTW, did you know that one of the best graduation or birthday gifts that you can give your kids is a ROTH IRA?  They may not fully appreciate it now but when it helps to pay for their college education or a down payment on a house, rest assured your kids will profusely thank and consider you a financial genius! 

Making Time for Business & Family

Hello, Holiday Weekend!  So good to see you again – it’s been way too long!  I’m looking forward to catching up…and not feeling guilty for taking time off work!

The great thing about running your own business is flexible scheduling.  The tough thing about running your own business is…flexible scheduling.  Family demands somehow manage to creep into the workday.  Work demands (especially the ‘administrivia’!) often get pushed to the weekend or evening when you can work without interruption or distraction.  The demands never seem to end; there is ALWAYS something else to be done and it can be really hard to keep everything in check without going a little nuts.

There are times when I look back longingly at the days of punching in on a time clock.  Things just seemed so simple back then.  You worked when you were at work; you were off when you went home.  You got paid for the hours you put in.  No need to think about the upcoming quarter or reporting or payroll or making decisions.  Boundaries were clearly defined and made it relatively easy to know when to make time for the demands of work and when you dealt with everything else.  As an entrepreneur, those lines quickly get fuzzy.

Dealing with issues as they come up is one way to get things done but it usually means reacting to events and people instead of being proactive and in control.  Flexible scheduling does not mean no scheduling.  It’s kind of like tax time – the more prepared and up-to-date you are, the faster and easier it is to file the return, and the more likely it is you will do it accurately and efficiently.  It’s the same in business.  Someone once told me that the secret to being a successful entrepreneur was self-discipline and time management.  That concept, like the board game Othello, takes a minute to learn but a lifetime to master.

Small business owners wear many hats.  I’ve come to realize that it’s crucial to your business and your sanity to respect each role and dedicate a little bit of time each week to working on specific tasks for each hat, for both business and family.  Notice I said ‘working on’, not ‘completing’.  An on-going business, just like a family, is never actually a finished product.  It will grow and change and evolve, priorities and tasks along with it.  Just like juggling, keeping everything in motion requires that you regularly handle every single ball (task), even if it’s just for a short time.

Making a plan or schedule and sticking to it can really help you stay organized as well as dedicate specific time to personal, family and business matters.  It’s much easier to balance your life when you can actually see it in front of you.  It also reduces your anxiety and stress knowing that important tasks and events won’t be forgotten and that there IS enough time to fit everything in.

  • Plan Daily/Weekly/Monthly/Annual tasks.  Some things need more time than others.  Some things need to be done more frequently than others.  Figure out what works for your strengths and your business and your family and plan accordingly.  Kids and employees alike really respond well when they can anticipate what’s coming up.
  • Be Realistic.  Set up for success by giving yourself the time it actually takes to do the task.  Consider outsourcing personal or business tasks (bookkeeping, writing, groceries/meals, cleaning, etc.) if it makes sense.
  • Be Disciplined.  Stick to the schedule.  If you plan an hour for a lunch meeting, keep it to an hour.  If you set aside a day for the family, don’t bring home work.  You have to respect your own time and trust your own schedule if you want it to work.
  • Give yourself a break.  Not just scheduled breaks (which are important), but mental ones as well.   Don’t beat yourself up when you stray from the schedule.  Things happen and unfold even with the most disciplined of entrepreneurs.  Adjust accordingly and move on.
  • Build in Catch-Up sessions.  Make sure you include a daily or weekly block of time to tie up loose ends or account for unexpected adjustments.  Just knowing that there will be time to finish something up later can help your business and your blood pressure.
  • Review.  Things change, including people and schedules.  Things work for a while, then they don’t.  It’s less stressful to simply recognize and accept when something isn’t working so that you can try something different.

It doesn’t matter what you start with, it just matters that you start.  By no means am I a master of life balance either.  I struggle with all the things above and am constantly trying to find a ‘just right’ formula.  If you have any ideas or tips to add, I welcome and encourage you to comment below and share them.

That being said, it’s now time for me to ‘unplug’ and spend some scheduled time with family and friends.  Thanks to my schedule, I can rest assured that my business won’t suffer while I enjoy the weekend and have some fun!

 

 

Women & Business: Too Nice to be Successful or Too Successful to be Nice?

I’ve read and heard a lot about women and success lately, most recently in the form of a TED video by Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook.  She talks about the lack of women in business leadership, and suggests that women could be making better headway in the corporate arena if they change some key behaviors and make a concerted effort to get in the game.  I agree, but think it might go even deeper than that.

The statistics are staggering and still pretty pathetic when it comes to the number of women in power and leadership roles, in executive and corporate positions, salary discrepancies and the like.  It’s easy to blame the ‘glass ceiling’ and the ‘old boys club’ but when it comes right down to it, it’s possible that we women might just be resisting our own corporate success.

Women should be shattering that ceiling and crashing those clubs.  In fact, a post on Daily Worth cites a 2010 economic committee report which found that companies with women promoted to senior positions consistently outperform their competition.  It goes on to highlight the proven success in the corporate arena of collaboration, team-building and mentoring, skills that women naturally tend to use and excel at.  We should be leading the C-suite charge and taking the business world by storm.  Instead, we seem to be consistently undermining our own efforts and thwarting our own potential success at every juncture.

Sandberg suggests that women tend to take themselves out of the game when it comes to business advancement and promotion.  She notes some disturbing patterns and trends and then raises some great questions:  Why don’t women pursue goals as actively as their male counterparts?  Why do we tend to defer to spouses when it comes to domestic situations?  Why do women often capitulate or back off in business settings?  Are we being ‘too nice’?

There are probably as many reasons for it as there are women.  After all, success is actually a very personal and subjective term.  Being successful means different things to different people.  However, one common denominator seems to be happiness in some form, and regardless of the amount of money you make or titles you earn or values you uphold, it’s pretty hard to be happy if you think that no one likes you!

Whether they choose to work inside or outside the home, women often seem to get the short end of the judgment stick, and unfortunately, we women are often the worst offenders when it comes to bashing our own.  Have you ever commented on or criticized the ‘soccer moms’ and ‘helicopter moms’ for not being ambitious enough, or the ‘working moms’ for not being involved enough, or complained that the ‘bitchy boss’ needs to get…a life?  Women need to support each other irrespective of priorities and choices instead of perpetuating negative and counterproductive stereotypes.

In business, successful men are typically seen as confident and assertive, whereas successful women are more often than not considered aggressive and cold-hearted.  The stereotype of the ‘Bitchy Boss’ stubbornly persists and can be found all around us – it’s in movies, magazines, photos, story lines, even in our conversations.  So why on earth would any girl or woman ever want to aspire to be ‘successful’ in business if it means being seen as cold and hard, shunned and resented by everyone around her? 

Historically, success in the business world has also represented sacrifice, most often at the expense of family and relationships.  As a woman, it is often considered selfish to actively pursue work-related goals, but ironically, men are seen as ‘go-getters’ and good providers.  Gasp, what kind of woman/mother would ever put her work or self ahead of the needs of her family?!  She might be successful but at what price?

Guilt can a pretty strong motivator, especially when it plays on our existing doubts or insecurities.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t experience a little self-doubt every now and then.  People tend to put others down to feel good about themselves and to rationalize their own choices.  It takes a very confident and self-assured woman to overcome that kind of guilt, ignore societal prejudice and judgment and feel secure in the knowledge that she is living according to her own values and priorities.   

As Sandberg suggests, maybe women need to be more assertive in pursing promotions, more confident in their abilities and in presenting their ideas, more diligent about sharing domestic responsibilities.  These are positive key behaviors that will serve us well no matter what we choose to do.  Maybe as a society we should judge a little less and accept a little more.

But maybe the apparent lack of progress with women and corporate success is not really about insecurity or refusing to step up to the table.  Maybe it’s a little more complicated than that.  Maybe it’s about rejecting the notion that a powerful, successful business woman must, by definition, also be a bitch.  Maybe it’s about an unwillingness to compromise priorities or to sacrifice family to fit some arbitrary definition of what it means to be successful.  Maybe women DO want it all and are no longer willing to accept less.

Maybe, just maybe, women are collectively rejecting an antiquated industrial corporate model and are refusing to do business in the manner that its always been done.  A recent analysis reports that the number of women-owned businesses has increased by 50% over the last decade and a half.  Company size and revenues have not increased but maybe that’s by choice and design.  Maybe it’s possible that progress via the corporate ladder has slowed because women have embraced the spirit of the Gen-Y Millennials and are actually in the process of redefining success and rewriting the rules to do business on our own terms.

Maybe women are realizing that we can have it all.  It just might look and feel a little different than what our grandmothers, mothers, aunts or even we ever imagined!

One thing is for sure though – it’s a lot easier and faster to succeed if you are the one writing the rules.  We do need strong, confident and capable women in corporate-level and Board positions.  Not to increase statistics or reflect equal representation or even to just show ’em all that women are just as able as men.  Women need to be an integral part of making the decisions and policies that shape the way business can be done and to redefine success.

Author Note:  Check out the TED video by Sheryl Sandberg and share your comments to let us know what you think we can do to help redefine the rules and roles of women leaders.

Pennies & Pounds ~ Making a Big Difference in a Small Way

My Grandad always used to say, “Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.”

He was obviously English and referring to the British monetary system but the concept is clear no matter which currency it’s applied to:   Little amounts saved can add up to a lot.  And that can make a big difference when it comes to meeting not just your financial goals but personal goals as well.

The inspiration for this post actually came in the form of a credit card statement ~ when I realized my interest rate had just TRIPLED for no apparent reason.

I never used to really understand or pay much attention to how the credit industry worked.  I never really felt I needed to because I almost always paid the entire balance during the grace period so I didn’t have to pay interest or late fees or over-limit penalties.  I also never used to ask questions.  I just assumed there was a good reason for the changes, that it was my fault, and that I, a lowly borrower, was powerless to do anything about it.  Remember The Golden Rule?

Well, not anymore.  I’ve taken a keen interest in everything credit-related over the last few years, especially with the Great Recession and as the new federal regulations started coming out.  I began tracking cards and rates, watching every statement like a hawk.  I now review and verify new charges, avoid pre-authorized bank or card charges wherever possible or set email alerts to follow up free trial periods so that I cancel on time if needed.  And I always, always, ALWAYS check the interest rates.  

Twice in the last two months I have noticed rate hikes and successfully called the credit card companies in an effort to get them to lower the interest rate.  Through this process I have learned that most credit accounts are set up on various automated systems.  One involves a periodic, random check that is based on an inquiry into your credit report.  Any kind of change to your credit (new card, job, even an error) can trigger a hike to a predetermined default interest rate, regardless of your past history with that card or company.  The new rate is applied immediately and without notice.

Another automated system involves the payment due date.  In the past, many companies would forgive a payment that posted a day or two after the due date.  Not so anymore.  Additional fees are typically set to apply immediately and are often accompanied by an automatic interest rate hike.  I realized this after making a payment through my bank website instead of the company website.  Because of the weekend, it delayed my payment beyond the due date and triggered an automatic rate hike.

As expected, the first response to both of my calls to request a rate reduction were negative.  It pays to be calm and persistent, though.  Fortunately, I have excellent payment history and was able to use that to my advantage.  After asking for manager review and assistance, I was able to successfully get both rates adjusted back down to their original levels (along with my blood pressure!)

The interest rate reduction was extremely important because I was carrying a balance on both of the cards at the time.  The tripling of the rate meant that my minimum monthly payment would more than DOUBLE from the original amount  and would have resulted in TRIPLE the amount of total interest paid for the year.

Remember, this is happening immediately and without notice.  More importantly, it is happening regardless of actual payment history.  It might have gone unnoticed and unchallenged had I not been in the habit of reviewing and tracking the charges and rates.

Obviously, these hikes would have affected my own overall cash flow.  But, in this global, interconnected world, that isn’t the end of the story.  It could also impact the financial situation and daily lives of several women in developing countries who have benefited from the micro-loans that I’ve been able to contribute to since I was introduced to Kiva, an incredible micro-finance organization.  The few extra dollars that I am able to save in interest can literally mean the difference between a child somewhere being able to attend school or not, or a family’s ability to put food on the table each week.

A few dollars saved here and there may not always seem like much or worth the trouble.  To some, it might even be looked at as penny-pinching or cheap or just plain anal-retentive.  To me, it’s about meeting financial and personal goals, without having to compromise one for the other.  Who knows?  Maybe Grandad was right about the pennies and pounds after all.  In the grand scheme of things, that little bit just might make all the difference in someone’s world.

Role Models Don’t Tell – They Do

Role Models come in many different shapes, sizes and forms and are so significant in our lives that they often have a profound and lasting impact, sometimes without even knowing it.

I am so fortunate and grateful to have a wonderful Dad in my life to look up to and love.  He may not always put into words all the things that he’s thinking or feeling but I know without a doubt that he cares deeply and listens without judging and will always be there.

In some ways, I think my Dad knows me better than just about anyone.  He knows that when I set my mind to do something, I’ll find a way to do it.  He knows that I won’t back down to a challenge or a puzzle and will persist stubbornly until I find the solution (preferably before anyone else!)   He knows that I’ll spend whatever time is needed to get something ‘just right’.  He knows that I’ll fiercely defend and protect and support those that I love, even though I might not always agree with them.

He knows because more often than not, it’s exactly what he’d do, too.

I’ve watched and learned and grown so much thanks to my Dad.  He encourages me to always follow my heart, to always seek new challenges, to always strive to be the best that I can be, even when if it means I’ll be miles away from him in another country.  He may not like it but he always supports and encourages, and makes every effort to somehow help it all work out.

I shouldn’t be surprised.  My Dad is part of a long line of great men in my life; men of character, men of strength, men of principle.  They are my uncles, my brothers, my cousins, my colleagues, my mentors, my friends, my husband.  I love and admire them, quirks and all.  Whether they know it or not, each of these wonderful men have had an impact on my life.

I am so fortunate and grateful to have the benefit and wisdom of a great Dad and many wonderful Father Figures in my life.  I am thankful that my son will also have such positive and strong role models to admire and look up to.  They won’t tell him what to do, but rather will do it, and their impact will be that much more significant for having done so.

Happy Father’s Day!

‘Make Money’ is not a SMART Goal

‎”It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly.” ~ Mabel Newcomer

If you don’t have a clear, defined financial goal how are you going to know if you ever reach it?

‘Make Money’ is not a SMART goal (Specific Measurable Attainable Realistic Timely).  How much money?  In what time frame?  With what amount initially invested?  You need to clearly state exactly what it is you want to accomplish.  Then, you can measure and evaluate, and make adjustments as needed to stay on course.

When you want to go somewhere you’ve never been before do you just get in the car, start driving and hope you get there?  Of course not.  You get out a map, look at where you are and where you want to go, and then plan a route that suits you best based on your personal preferences and needs – like taking or avoiding toll roads or highways, visiting certain cities or sites along the way, taking 3 hours to get there versus 6 hours, etc.  If you run into a roadblock or detour or something unexpected comes up then you pull the map back out, make the necessary adjustments and get back on the road.  A plan to meet your financial goals can and should be crafted and maintained in much the same manner.

So what is it that you want your investments to accomplish?  Think both short and long-term.  Do you want to generate income to pay for college tuition?  A wedding?  To replace a spouse’s income so they can stay home with kids or retire early?  To help you retire to a warmer climate or closer to children and grandchildren?

It’s okay to think big; you just have to be prepared to plan and break it down into manageable chunks to make it happen.  You also need to be patient and give the plan time to work.  You can’t make a great chili without letting the spices simmer!  It’s also okay to change your mind and make changes along the way.  You never know what life’s going to throw at you.

One of my biggest pet peeves is that most so-called ‘financial advisors’ don’t seem to actually advise people at all.  They just babble on about risk and safety and then suggest putting money into a company-managed fund (for which they get compensated) and eventually you should ‘make money’, because it’s a ‘balanced’ fund where losers are off-set by winners.

Really?!  I should spend the next 30 years investing my life savings in something I don’t fully understand that might eventually make me some amount of money?  How is that a good plan?  Please don’t tell me that it’s to protect my principal.  If that were the case, it’d be easier and safer to just stick to FDIC-insured CD’s.

Every asset should have a POSITIVE effect:  Generating income, off-setting paper gains/losses, creating tax benefits, preserving or enhancing net worth or otherwise helping me reach my overall personal and financial goals in some way, shape or form.  Personally, I want my assets working as hard as possible!  Every investment should have a specific purpose for being in your portfolio and role to play in working towards your overall goals.  

If you don’t understand why you are invested in a particular product or vehicle, you need to ask questions and do some research.  At the very least you should be able to read and understand your investment account statements.  If your advisor can’t or won’t help, it might be time to find a new advisor.  Remember, no one will care as much about your money as you.

Bottom line, if I’m paying for advice, I want an opinion.  I’m not asking for a guarantee, just an opinion from a knowledgeable professional in that particular field.  I want a summary of information and data used to form that opinion.  I want to know exactly what this particular investment is designed to do for my portfolio and how and when it will help achieve my overall investment goals.

Then I can make an informed decision and make sure I stay on track to accomplish my goal.

To Dare Mighty Things means to Take Risks

Theodore Roosevelt, circa 1902

Image via Wikipedia

‎”Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs even though checkered by failure, than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much because they live in the gray twilight that knows neither victory nor defeat.” ~ Theodore Roosevelt

When it comes to investing, there are no guarantees and nothing is ever completely risk-free.  Really.  There are investments with projected lower volatility and there are ways to help mitigate risk but there is no way to completely eliminate risk all together.

If you choose to invest, you will have to expose yourself to some kind of risk at some point.  The good news is that you get to choose.  And it is your choice.  Own it.  Own it when you prosper and own it when you don’t.  When you authorize funds to be sent, you make the choice to invest.  It might be good, it might be great, it might be not-so-good, and on occasion it just might be a spectacular disaster!

No one has a crystal ball.  The best any of us can do is to research and learn and grow.  The only way to grow is to learn from our mistakes and missteps.  Sometimes we want something so badly (like a guarantee) that we ignore many of the warning signs that, on hindsight, were right there staring us in the face from the start.  Sometimes unforeseen variables come into play.  Sometimes things just don’t pan out as projected.

Don’t beat yourself up for a bad call (and certainly don’t beat up your broker!)  It’s impossible to completely eliminate your mistakes just like it’s impossible to completely eliminate risk.  But there are a few things you can do to help you mitigate and manage the fallout:

  • READ, READ, READ…and then read some more!  Read every word on every page of every document about every investment or project or private placement.  Make sure you understand all of it (including the risks) before opting in.
  • Beware the Guarantee.  Immediately red flag anything ‘guaranteed’ for intense scrutiny and further research.  Seriously.
  • Check out the people involved.  People can make or break a project no matter how great the idea.  Follow the leadership and follow the money (salary, distribution and profit structures).  Good people put their investors first.
  • Document everything.  Keep copies of all signed paperwork, documents, information and communications.  Following up phone calls with a summary email is a great way to help keep track of conversation details.  Dated docs make it easier to reference back to details (especially at tax time).
  • Learn.  Review the investment or project to pinpoint what went right and/or what went wrong.  Being able to objectively identify the elements or activities of a success or failure will help you to apply that knowledge to future projects.  If you let yourself get emotional, too busy pointing fingers and blaming everyone (including yourself) then you’re not going to be able to learn and grow from the experience.

Next time you get the chance, read or listen to a biography of someone you admire.  Chances are they’ve experienced just as many failures as successes.  Everyone gets it wrong some of the time, even the professionals, especially the professionals if you consider the number and volume of transactions handled.  You can travel once a year and never run into any problems but if you fly once or twice a month, chances are you might get delayed or lose your bags every now and then.  

If you want to keep going places, you have to put it all into perspective and then get back on the plane!


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