Q&A: Robo Advising

With Cynthia Loh

Q: What is your best financial advice?

A: Don’t be afraid of leveraging technology to help you manage your investments. Technology has helped make lots of day-to-day aspects of our lives easier – whether that’s ordering an item on Amazon, or getting a ride from Lyft – managing money is no different. When it comes to investing, you can easily save yourself both time and energy by automating your portfolio through a robo advisor at a low cost. You can also automate the money that you’re putting into your portfolio by setting up automatic deposits from your paycheck or bank account on a monthly or bi-monthly basis.

Automation can also be effective across many other parts of your financial life. A few other things to think about automating: retirement savings (set up recurring contributions to your 401(k) or other retirement account), debt payments (from student loans to credit cards, automate your loan payments every month so you don’t incur late fees or added interest), bill pay (instead of painstakingly sorting through your bills every month, set up an auto-pay feature for the bills you know you have to pay regularly), and investment account deposits (for accounts outside of your employer, like a brokerage account or IRA, set up a monthly auto-deposit feature to make sure that you don’t forget to make a regular contribution).

Q: What is an easy way to get started with investing?

A: If your employer offers a 401(k), that is an easy way to get started. Set up a recurring contribution that deposits money from your paycheck, and max out the annual contribution if you’re able to (in 2019, it’s $19,000 per year). And, don’t forget to take advantage of any match potential that your employer may contribute!

Outside of your 401(k), robo advisors are a great tool for investors just getting started because as we all know, the best way to get ahead when it comes to investing is to begin as soon as possible. Most robo advisors have low investment minimums (you don’t need a fortune to get invested!), and automatically invest your money in a diversified portfolio.

Q: How does a robo advisor work?

A: Simply put, a robo advisor is a way to use technology to help you with investing and financial planning. When you sign up, a robo advisor will typically ask you a brief set of questions about your short- and long-term financial goals (such as when you want to retire) and risk tolerance. Then, it automatically selects funds and creates a low-cost investment portfolio for you. You get the benefit of not having to think about rebalancing because that is done for you, and many robo advisors will also tax loss harvest (selling investments and using the loss to lower your taxable gains, even when your portfolio has positive returns). 

Within a robo advisor, experts are regularly monitoring market activity and underlying investments to make sure that your portfolio is rebalanced appropriately by a sophisticated algorithm — all so you don’t have to. From there, you can log into your account to track progress, make adjustments, add contributions and continue toward your goals.

At Charles Schwab, we have two different robo advice offerings. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios is our fully automated robo advisor, available with no advisory fees and a minimum of $5,000 to invest. Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium is our hybrid robo advisor, which builds on the benefits of Schwab Intelligent Portfolios, PLUS unlimited access to CFP professionals and a digital financial plan for a $300 upfront advisory fee and $30 per month ongoing.

Q: What is the biggest challenge that women face when it comes to investing?

A: Women earn anywhere from 49 to 80 cents for every dollar earned by a man. One of the biggest challenges women face financially is that earning less than men on average means saving and investing less over time. That’s why having a financial plan, even a simple one, is an important way to make sure that you are working toward your long-term financial goals.

Only one in four Americans actually has a written financial plan, but there are many benefits to developing one. A written financial plan allows you to outline your goals as well as understand your current financial situation. Almost half of Americans without a plan say it’s because they don’t think they have enough money to merit one, but a plan is crucial regardless of how much money you have – even if it’s as basic as a budget at the beginning. Many robo advisors offer access to financial professionals who can connect virtually to help you build a plan.


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Cynthia Loh is Vice President of Digital Advice & Innovation at Charles Schwab. Cynthia leads the team responsible for defining the client experience for Schwab Intelligent Portfolios® and Schwab Intelligent Portfolios Premium™, the firm's robo-advisory and hybrid advisory and planning services. Her team is also responsible for developing and executing a growth strategy for both services.

Financial Considerations When Having a Baby

By: Emily Graham

Being pregnant is a wonderful experience, but it can be worrisome too. Many moms-to-be get overwhelmed with concern about the baby’s health, the challenges of motherhood, and the financial stresses of being pregnant and having a baby. Let’s look at the monetary issues you may face, and some solutions on how to save money as you prepare for your little one’s arrival.

Out-of-Pocket Healthcare Costs

Even if you are fortunate enough to have insurance, that doesn’t mean all your costs will be covered. According to a 2013 study by Truven Health Analytics, the average out-of-pocket costs for labor and delivery was $1,686 for vaginal delivery and $1,948 for caesarean births. However, that doesn't include newborn care in the hospital, which can be another $500 or more. Even if your insurance covers your entire labor and delivery costs, you'll still need to pay the deductible and copays along the way. Things like elective testing or over-the-counter prenatal vitamins won't be covered either. List all your potential costs, then talk with your insurance provider about what your actual out-of-pocket costs will be so that you'll know what you're facing.

Some women want a doula to assist during labor and childbirth. The price of a doula varies drastically by where you live and what services they provide. According to Parents.com, in major cities, a doula hired just for labor and delivery can cost $3,500 or more. Most insurance plans do not cover all the costs of a doula; however, the fees could be paid by a flexible spending account (FSA) or health savings account (HSA). Midwifery can be covered by some plans and average $2,000 to $4,000, depending on location and services.

Photo via  Pixabay

Photo via Pixabay

Ways You Can Save While Pregnant & After the Baby Is Born

Skip the Maternity Clothes

You probably don’t need to buy new maternity wear. Take a look in your closet — maxi dresses, slouchy sweaters, and stretchy skirts can all be worn throughout your pregnancy. If you are short on clothes, talk to any friends, relatives, co-workers, or neighbors who’ve been pregnant in the last few years. They will probably let you borrow clothes or even give them to you.

Purchase Used Baby Clothes

Babies grow out of their clothes extremely fast. Therefore, you shouldn't blow your budget on hundreds of dollars worth of baby clothing. Instead, maybe buy one special outfit, and then try to find used clothing whenever possible. Many areas have stores dedicated to used baby and children's clothing and furnishings. Also, check with other moms who have little ones to see if they want to donate, loan, or sell baby clothes to you.

Don’t Buy All the Baby Gear

Although it can be tempting to buy your baby every little thing, it's not a financially smart decision. When it comes to the nursery and other goods, try to keep it very simple. Put the basics on your baby registry. Then, whatever items you don't receive from friends and family, try to find used. The major exceptions for used items are car seats and cribs. You should never buy a used car seat, as you won't know if it has damage from a previous accident or other issues. And as for cribs, you must be extremely careful that the crib is safe and functional. Avoid drop-side cribs, check all recall lists, and preferably buy from someone you know.

Shop the Sales

For all the little stuff you may want for your baby — from pacifiers to burp cloths — keep an eye out for sales. You have nine months to accumulate all the essentials and extras, so don’t impulse buy. When shopping for your baby, don’t forget to pick up a few things for your diaper bag, which kill quickly become your best friend. Kindred Bravely points out that cute headbands, extra T-shirts, hair ties, and other items can be bought on sale and then easily tossed in your diaper bag until the baby has arrived.

Although having and raising a baby does cost money, it doesn’t have to put you in debt. Be smart about what you buy and look for ways to get discounted, donated, and loaned items. It doesn’t matter if everything for your baby is new; it matters that they are healthy and loved.


Emily Graham is the creator of Mighty Moms. She believes being a mom is one of the hardest jobs around and wanted to create a support system for moms from all walks of life. On her site, she offers a wide range of info tailored for busy moms -- from how to reduce stress to creative ways to spend time together as a family.

Survival as a Solopreneur: 7 Toughest Things About Working Alone — and How to Conquer Them

By: Laura Gayle

No more strict hours or stuffy business attire: You are your own boss and can adhere to any schedule and dress code you want. Creating your own company and working alone certainly has some enticing perks, but there are also some risks. Pay can fluctuate, and taxes become more complex. Often even the lack of company-backed benefits can seem too daunting for many women to strike out on their own. With careful planning and strict budgeting, though, many women are able to take on the solopreneur life and happily live out their dreams.

I Think I’m Alone Now…

It can be fun working alone for the first week, maybe even the first month, but eventually the loneliness may start to set in. Not having a co-worker to break up the monotony of the day can be difficult. It helps to have friends at work to discuss ideas, share successes, or even just commiserate about life. 

Working alone can be lonely at times, but there are ways to help keep you connected. Keep your existing friendships strong and rely on them to help keep your day moving. Branch out and meet new people, maybe even other women who work alone and understand what you’re going through. If it’s possible in your home, having a pet can help keep the loneliness at bay; a furry friend is still someone to pass the time with.

Fluctuating Income

When you first start out, it might seem that all of your money is going out, with very little return. But if you believe you have a good service or product and believe in what you are doing, this will eventually change.

When money does come in, though, it may not be steady, and your financial picture might look like feast or famine. Expect large sums to come all at once for a big order, and then a meager trickling of income at other times. It can be hard to maintain your normal lifestyle with an unpredictable paycheck. 

This is when your saving and budgeting savvy needs to go into overdrive. Always stick to a budget and make sure you have enough in savings to get you through the slower times. Early on in your company’s life, try to avoid large personal purchases, if possible, to maintain your savings safety net.

Missing Those Big Corporate Benefits

One of the perks of working for a big corporation is that the company helps to fund employee benefits. Whether it’s healthcare coverage, a short-term disability program, or company-funded retirement plan, benefits offered by big corporations can really add up. When you’re working as a solopreneur, suddenly you’re responsible for footing the bill — and costs can stack up quickly. 

Shop around for the best health insurance package that suits your needs. Healthcare companies are incredibly competitive and want to work with you in finding the right coverage. Start your own IRA or 401K to help set aside retirement funds on your own. You may not get the benefit of a company match, but at least you’ll have the beginnings of a nest egg for retirement.

Keeper of Secrets

Your entire business plan is at your own fingertips, which is both exciting and terrifying. Be sure to keep your company's secrets, documentation, and precious client information both safe and accessible. Utilizing cloud storage is the perfect way to have documents available at a moment's notice, but also keep them safe from prying eyes. Cloud storage can be accessed from almost anywhere in the world with just a simple internet connection.

Relocating Your Office

Working for yourself, you have the luxury of setting up your new office anywhere in the world. You are no longer tied to a corporate office that must stay within your 30-minute commute time. Select your new city carefully, as it could offer some major benefits to your company and your bottom line. Some up-and-coming cities, like Kansas City, for example, boast short commute times coupled with low monthly rent. This combination represents a desirable climate for many first-time business owners.

High Startup Costs

You've laid the groundwork and have a solid plan for executing your own startup. You know how much initial costs will be, down to the penny. Good for you! Unfortunately, starting and owning your company can come with some hidden expenses that can drive the cost of starting your own company even higher. 

Simple things like having a desk big enough to spread out your work or finding tech help when your computer crashes can cost you a hefty and surprising chunk. Be sure to maintain a cushion to pay for such unexpected expenses, and remember to keep all your receipts for possible tax deductions at the end of the year.

Self-Employment Taxes

Yes, starting a business is expensive, with hefty overhead costs. Luckily, a good portion of what you spend on your business may be tax-deductible. The federal tax code allows numerous deductions that people starting their own business or working from home are entitled to take. Furniture, office supplies, computers, or communication services, like the monthly costs of phone and internet, can ultimately be deducted. Calculating tax deductions for your end-of-year return can be complicated, though, so it’s best to use an online service to keep you organized. Tax calculators can help give you an idea of what is and isn’t deductible, and can help you predict what your year-end payment (or refund) might be.


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Laura Gayle is a full-time blogger who has ghostwritten more than 350 articles for major software companies, tech startups, and online retailers. Founder of the Business Woman Guide, she created her site to be a trusted resource for women trying to start or grow businesses on their own terms. She has written about everything from crowdfunding and inventory management to product launches, cybersecurity trends, web analytics, and innovations in digital marketing.

5 Affordable Beauty Tips for Summer

By: Tori Lutz

Everyone wants to look their best, particularly during summer months when you get to show some skin.

Fancy beauty treatments that help you get to that goal look can get quite expensive, though, if you don’t budget wisely and find some ways to save money with it all.

To help make sure you feel as confident as possible this summer without breaking the bank, here are a few affordable beauty tips to get you ready.

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At-Home Spa Treatments

One of the easiest ways to save money on beauty treatments is to do all of the pampering yourself at home!

This can help you save an enormous chunk of money when it comes to simpler spa treatments like doing your own nails, putting together a skincare routine that involves masks, scrubs and other necessities, setting up your own aromatherapy and more.

A good rule of thumb is really just asking yourself what all you can accomplish on your own. Some treatments and services may require an outside party (laser treatments, massages, elaborate hairstyling, etc.), but many don’t.

The best part about an at-home spa day is that it can be tailored to your exact specifications without dipping too deep into your wallet. Choice of treatment, brands and application methods are all up to you!

Research Affordable Beauty Providers and Products

Big price tags don’t always mean the best service or quality, and there are often plenty of affordable salons, med spas and other beauty providers that will provide excellent service and results.

This tip is something that will require basic amounts of research in your specific area, but making sure that you do this will help to guarantee that you aren’t overspending.

One general piece of advice is that if there is a beauty school in your area, they will often provide great service for a fraction of the price. Not only are the students almost always receiving advice and instruction from experienced professionals, they are also often meticulous with their work since they still have a lot to prove.

If choosing a beginner stresses you out a little, there are often tiered options to select more experienced students as well.

As far as products go, just remember that a brand name doesn’t inherently imply quality. If you have products that you love but feel are a little expensive, try to look into the specific ingredients or type of product it is and see if you can find a lesser known brand that accomplishes the same result for less.

Sunscreen Will Save You Headaches

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A big part of summer fun often involves much more sun exposure through days at the beach, strolls through the park or even just being out and about in the hotter weather.

A little goes a long way with sun protection, and this is definitely one of the least expensive parts of any skin routine!

By making sure you take care of your skin and keep it protected from UV rays, you will save yourself a lot of stress over things like sunburns, peeling skin, uneven pigmentation, advanced signs of aging, skin cancer and much more.

Treatments do exist for a number of the issues that sun damage can cause, but they can sometimes get expensive and it’s possible that not all of the damage can be undone.

The best thing you can do for your skin at any age is to make sure you invest in some good sunscreen this summer and skip the tanning oil!

Invest in Long-Term Solutions

If you do already have existing insecurities and want to invest in solutions that can leave you feeling more confident, the best way to go is looking into quality, long-term solutions that will leave you happier and healthier.

When it comes to beauty, medical spas, dermatologists and naturopathic physicians are often great resources. Many of them will also offer free consultations so you can get an expert opinion on what to look into.

Dr. Sarah Bennett, a naturopathic physician in Scottsdale, knows how pricey visits to a med spa can get if you don’t do the right research beforehand:

“I always want to make sure my clients get the best care for them, so I like to give free consultations to not only make sure that we are the right fit but also to make sure that they get all of the needed information firsthand. I know that I’m far from the only naturopathic physician who does this, so I definitely encourage anyone considering treatments like botox, laser hair removal or others to look around online and see who is available for a brief, informative conversation.”

If you have insecurities like body hair or skin problems, looking into a long-term solution can be affordable - you just have to make sure to do the proper research in your area and pick treatments that best serve you and your needs to make sure you don’t accidentally rack up a bill on things that you could otherwise handle in more affordable ways.

Clean Eating Goes a Long Way

Food can impact a great deal more than just your weight. It can also impact your skin, hair, mood, tone and more.

Clean eating can help to make sure that you avoid a lot of the toxins that can cause problems like acne and weight gain while also boosting your morale and helping with energy, motivation and overall mood.

The most important thing to remember when you try to make a switch in your lifestyle like this is that it is just that: a lifestyle choice. Looking at it as a diet has a tone of impermanence while also carrying negative connotations that will make you think of suffering or “going without”.

Clean eating is just the opposite of that. It’s adding to your life by giving your body more of the nutrients it genuinely needs and less of the unnecessary chemicals, fats, sugars and other contents commonly found in more processed foods.

If grocery stores are a place of temptation for you that will make clean eating hard to stick with, try to only shop the perimeters of the store where you’ll find more natural and healthy essentials like produce, fresh meat, dairy needs and bread.

In Summary

Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but it is more than possible to achieve the best version of yourself by making a conscious effort.

This effort doesn’t even need to break the bank. By pampering yourself at home, switching to more affordable providers and products, remembering sunscreen, investing in yourself and eating cleaner, you will already make all the difference.

For more money saving tips to avoid overspending in other areas of your life, be sure to check out our other great blog posts on this topic!


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Katherine (Tori) Lutz has made a career out of freelance work and published through a variety of outlets in many industries. Her work has been published on platforms like USAToday, the Tallahassee Democrat, Altitude Group Inc., and others. She has contributed a breaking news story that ranked as the top viewed article on USAToday for 3 days, served as the sole resource for the Tallahassee Democrat and USAToday network at the 2017 Richard Spencer event at the University of Florida, and stayed on top of on-going coverage of Hurricane Irma. In addition to over 175 published articles, she has also completed a collection of poetry, managed social media for numerous companies, worked at an independent newspaper as a writer, section editor, and Editor-in-Chief, and taken on a number of corporate copywriting and copyediting jobs.

Best Social Security Claiming Strategies For Working Spouses?

By: Michelle Buonincontri, CFP®, CDFA

Q: My husband retired from the military after 30 years of service. He turned 72 November 24, 2018. He receives his Social Security check, a check from the Veterans Affairs, and he also receives multiple pensions. I still work but I don't make a lot of money. Am I entitled to early Social Security on his behalf?

A: There's some information we need to answer your question specifically, said Michelle Buonincontri, a certified financial planner with and founder of Being Mindful in Divorce.

For instance, you didn't mention your age and there are many nuances that apply around Social Security eligibility and benefits, said Buonincontri.

In general, however, there are two "retirement" benefits available to you as a "married working" person (depending on your age):

  1. A benefit based on your own earning record, called a retirement insurance benefit (RIB)

  2. A spousal benefit based on your husband's earning record, called a disability insurance benefit (DIB)

There are two other Social Security benefits known as Retroactivity for widow(er)'s insurance benefits (WIB) and Retroactivity for Disability Insurance Benefit (DIB), which are outside the scope of this question.

According to Buonincontri, the rule for a spousal Insurance benefit (SIB), states that if you are at least age 62 and your spouse is already receiving retirement benefits or disability insurance benefits (DIB), you can receive a spousal benefit of "up to" 50% of your spouse's eligible full retirement age (FRA) "base" Social Security benefit, or primary insurance amount (PIA) at their (FRA). A spousal benefit will not include any delayed retirement benefit credits (DRCs) your husband may be receiving or entitled to (See considerations below.)

"In your scenario, your husband is already receiving benefits and you would be 'deemed' to be applying for both a 'spousal benefit' (SIB) and your own 'retirement benefit' at the same time," said Buonincontri. "This means that Social Security will always pay your benefit first based on your earnings record, and then if your spousal benefit is higher, you will get a combination of funds equaling the higher amount of the spousal benefit."

Buonincontri gave this example: If your retirement benefit was $1,000, and your spousal benefit was $1500 (50% of your spouse's $3,000 based benefit), you would receive $1,500. This is $1,000 based on your record and a spousal benefit of $500

Note, however, had your spouse not already filed for benefits, you would not be deemed as filing for a spousal benefit (SIB) at this time - just a retirement benefit (RIB) of $1,000 based on your earning record, said Buonincontri. Then in the future when your spouse applied for benefits, the spousal benefit rules would apply and if that spousal amount was larger than your own benefit ($1,500 is greater than $1,000), your benefit would automatically be increased to ($1,500 in this example) to cover that additional money, she said.

Note too, said Buonincontri, this consideration that may reduce your benefit: If you begin receiving benefits at least age 62 and file before your FRA, your spousal benefit will be "permanently" reduced for each month you are filing early and your benefit will not increase when you reach your FRA; making your spousal benefit less than 50% of your spouse's full retirement "base" benefit or PIA. "Additionally, if your husband delayed receiving Social Security benefits past his FRA, for example to age 69 or 70, so that he would get a bigger check, you are not entitled to a spousal benefit based on his delayed retirement credits or DRCs, said Buonincontri. "So, his base benefit at his FRA will be less than what he is receiving and your percentage will be based on a lower amount, meaning a smaller benefit for you."

Buonincontri also issued a caution: Filing for early benefits "before" your FRA, will prevent you from utilizing claiming strategies that might allow you to switch between benefits. "For example, as a widow you could take a Widow Insurance Benefit (WIB) and later switch to your own retirement benefit or RIB in the future if that benefit was larger," she said. "You lose this option if you choose to receive a spousal benefit before your FRA."

  • At FRA - a spousal benefit cannot exceed 50% of your spouse's full retirement benefit

    • If you were born before Nov. 1, 1954, then after your FRA you can choose a "restrict and suspend" strategy, said Buonincontri. "This would allow you to file a restricted application to receive only a spousal benefit now and delay receiving a retirement benefit based on your own earnings record until a future date - maybe age 70, when you benefit is larger due to delayed retirement credits or DRCs," she said.

    • Unfortunately, due to Social Security changes that went into effect Nov. 2, 2015 - those born on or after Jan. 2, 1954 cannot file a "restricted" application to only receive spousal benefits, said Buonincontri. "Instead you will automatically be filing for 'all' benefits that you are eligible for and don't have the opportunity for your retirement benefit based on your earnings record to grow," she said.

Your spousal benefit may be reduced for other reasons as well, said Buonincontri. "For instance, you mentioned that you are working," she said. "The amount of Social Security benefit based on your spouse's earning record or PIA may be reduced if you are entitled to a pension from previous work, not covered by Social Security under the Government Pension Offset or GPO. Additionally, she said, your benefit can be reduced if you have a child eligible for benefits under your spouse's earning record as there is a "maximum amount" that can be paid to family members.

"As you can see this is complicated," said Buonincontri. "There are too many opportunities to make an uninformed decision and in turn not maximize your benefit," she said. "This decision is irreversible and applying online limits your options, as the restricted application option is not available."

Buonincontri's best advice: Make an appointment at your local Social Security office and explore all options at your age, any benefits of delaying and receiving at a different time, as well as inquiring and understanding if the "restrict and suspend/defer" option under a "restricted" application is available and makes sense for you.

Got questions about the new tax law, Social Security, Medicare, retirement, investments, or money in general? Want to be considered for a Money Makeover? Email: Robert.Powell@TheStreet.com. Kim McSheridan assisted with this report.

This article originally appeared as Ask Bob: Best Social Security Claiming Strategies For Working Spouses? on The Street.


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Michelle Buonincontri is the Founder of Being Mindful in Divorce. She’s a divorced single mom, passionate about using her professional experience as a CFP® & CDFA™ and personal journey to support women in transition; creating confidence through education so they can make financial choices with peace of mind. Bringing together a background in investment management, tax prep and retirement planning, to provide Divorce planning (with singles or couples) and Financial Coaching services, financial literacy workshops and writings.

3 Tips to Reduce Later Life Divorce from Wreaking Havoc on your Retirement Plan

By: Michelle Buonincontri, CFP®, CDFA

A laterlife divorce can wreak havoc on even the most well-thought out retirement plan -  as there is little time to amass assets and recover from the loss of previously anticipated retirement income.

"Gray" divorces — among couples 50 and up, or "Boomers" – have been on the rise, with about 25% (one in every four divorces) occurring to people over the age of 50 according to a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University . It has been said that 50% of first marriages end in divorce, and the numbers are even higher for second and third marriages

So what can you do?

Manage Expectations

During this time, managing expectations is paramount. The income that once supported one household, is most likely now supporting two. A spouse may need to consider working longer (delaying retirement), modifying living expenses and discretionary spending. Many times, one spouse may be entering the workforce – either again after many years or even for the first-time. Life will be different post-divorce. This can be scary and stressful, and decisions tend to me made on emotions rather than facts. Ensure you have others in your life to help support you during this difficult time. Consider Mediation as a resolution alternative, maybe join a support group or yoga, be "mindful" of emotions, and try to keep "healing" as a central theme as you weigh choices.

Create an Asset Inventory

Unfortunately, the spouse that was non-working, “less-monied” or the care-taker - suffers the most financially in a divorce, as they have less saved for retirement. Understand that all marital assets can become "potential" retirement assets; even ambiguous employment benefits such as bonuses, stock options, deferred compensation, health benefits, the future income stream of pensions, and Health Savings Accounts (H.S.A.’s). If these assets aren't specifically identified, or you don't understand them, the success of a retirement plan may even be compromised - as there is no "re-do" in divorce.

Understand the Value of What you Are Really Entitled to

Decisions regarding the identification of marital & separate property (and their growth during the marriage), retirement asset valuation, asset division and tax implications become so important as pension benefits and social security will be less in a single household, and health-care costs may now become a concern (whereas before they may not have been due to spousal benefits). Pensions and Social Security benefits increase the likelihood of successfully meeting your needs in retirement and are considered "safer streams of income", so they are an important part of your plan after divorce. All these need to be considered in the Divorce planning process as they have a large impact on the success of your new post-divorce retirement plan.

Working with ac CDFA™ (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst) can help with understanding the short and long term cash-flow and net-worth effects of various options and settlement scenarios -  so that decisions can be made that minimize the financial impact on a retirement plan and provide longer term peace of mind.  

Both the IDFA (Institute for Divorce Financial Analysts)  and the ADFP (Association of Divorce Financial Planners) can be resources for finding a CDFA™ (Certified Divorce Financial Analyst)  professional to support you during this time of transition.

This article originally appeared on LinkedIn.


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Michelle Buonincontri is the Founder of Being Mindful in Divorce. She’s a divorced single mom, passionate about using her professional experience as a CFP® & CDFA™ and personal journey to support women in transition; creating confidence through education so they can make financial choices with peace of mind. Bringing together a background in investment management, tax prep and retirement planning, to provide Divorce planning (with singles or couples) and Financial Coaching services, financial literacy workshops and writings.

How Women Can Help Fill the Retirement Savings Gap

By: Michelle Buonincontri, CFP®, CDFA

There is certainly a gender gap issue that women face in pay, but there is also a larger one they face in retirement. Having left the workforce to raise families or care for aging parents, possibly having gone through a divorce and the longevity issue that brings with it higher medical costs in retirement all contribute to less lifetime retirement savings and higher expenses.

According to a report, released by the National Institute on Retirement Security on March 1, 2016 “women were 80% more likely than men to be impoverished at age 65 and older, while women age 75 to 79 were three times more likely to fall below the poverty level as compared to their males counterparts.” These findings are contained in Shortchanged in Retirement, The Continuing Challenges to Women’s Financial Future. Consequently, lower retirement savings and increased retirement expenses can create the perfect storm for a retirement crisis for women, if nothing changes.

Develop a spending plan/savings plan. It all starts with cash flow. In order to know how much you can save, you have to know what is coming in and what is going out (your spending). So track your expenses and set an initial savings amount. Remember no amount is too small - just start somewhere, stick with it and have a plan to increase the amount!

Four Ways Women Can Help Fill Retirement Savings Gap

Roth IRAs/Roth 401(k)s

When eligible, maximize your annual Roth IRA contribution and utilize Roth conversion strategies when appropriate. A Roth account allows tax-free compounding and paying tax on retirement savings now, while in a lower-tax bracket, saves money in the long-run. When withdrawals rules are followed the withdrawals, including earnings, will be tax free in retirement and since she can withdraw her original contributions at any time without a penalty, her money is not tied up. Being in a lower tax bracket may be the case for many women due to the gender pay gap, a single lifestyle or supporting single parent households.

Health Savings Accounts

As women we live longer, will most likely be single without a partner to take care for us and will have the added concern of higher medical costs for a longer time period in retirement.  When covered by a high deductible healthcare plan, a Healthcare Savings Account can offer four benefits to women looking to reduce the retirement gap. Contributions are tax-deductible, so taxes are reduced now. It allows savings for future costs, while the earnings grow tax free. HSAs allow tax-free withdrawals for qualified medical expenses - this is particularly important in retirement when healthcare costs will be higher. Lastly, HSAs are portable even if you leave your job or the workforce, so you do not have to “use it or lose it” in a single year.

Employer Plans

Tax-deferred accounts, like a 401(k), also allow money to grow tax free and the employer match is “free money” that helps a nest egg grow quicker. So contribute the minimum needed to take advantage of an available employer match so that you are not “leaving money on the table.”

Saver’s Credit

There is a tax credit specifically for low-income workers who save for retirement. So if a woman contributes to a retirement account such as an IRA, Roth IRA or 401(k) and her modified adjusted gross income is less than $30,750 in 2016, she may be able to claim the Saver's Credit on her tax return. This credit is worth up to $2,000 for individuals and can be used to reduce the federal income tax she pays.

Consult a Certified Financial Planner for comprehensive advice on these and other strategies that address your retirement planning needs.

This article originally appeared on Investopedia.


Michelle Buonincontri Circle Headshot.png

Michelle Buonincontri is the Founder of Being Mindful in Divorce. She’s a divorced single mom, passionate about using her professional experience as a CFP® & CDFA™ and personal journey to support women in transition; creating confidence through education so they can make financial choices with peace of mind. Bringing together a background in investment management, tax prep and retirement planning, to provide Divorce planning (with singles or couples) and Financial Coaching services, financial literacy workshops and writings.

Get Your Finances in Shape! Take the Financial Fitness Quiz

To help you get a quick idea about the state of your personal finances, answer these quiz questions and you'll get a snapshot of how healthy your finances are (not to worry--nobody will be watching you work out). It's kind of like getting your cholesterol checked. In just a few minutes you'll know if you're doing okay or if you should trim the fat from your financial diet to get your finances in shape.

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Rebuilding Your Financial Future After Divorce

By: Michelle Buonincontri, CFP®, CDFA

If you are like most, your divorce ends with debt, and the last thing we are thinking about is retirement. I know, I've been there; nothing kills a retirement plan like a divorce. There are no student loans or government bailouts to help us.

According to a report released by the National Institute on Retirement Security on March 1, 2016, 80% of women over 64 are already more likely to live an impoverished life than men.

So what’s a gal to do?

Cut Discretionary Spending

This might sound obvious, but life is not the same. The income that once supported one household may now be supporting two, and you may be entering the workforce again or for the first time. Things will need to change, and you are the catalyst for that change!

For example, renting instead of owning a home may make more sense, even if just in the interim to keep expenses down. We need to remove the emotion from our financial decisions and take a longer range view.

Take Advantage of Any Employer Retirement Match

Many employers offer workplace savings plans that match employee contributions—often up to 6% of your salary. Execute the strategy above so you may contribute enough to your tax-deferred employer plan to earn 100% of the employer match in a 401(k), 401(b) or 457 plan. Earning the match is like receiving a 100% return on your investment. Where can you find a 100% return? This will help your nest egg grow and boost your retirement security. Not contributing enough to utilize the employer match is like leaving free money on the table.

View Your Divorce Debt Like An Investment

Like a what? I know that intuitively does not make sense. But there are competing resources for paying off debt and saving. Start by comparing the interest rate on the debt to that of an expected investment return and the power of compounding of retirement savings.

If, for example, your student loan or mortgage has a before-tax interest rate of 3–5 % (which may be even less after a tax deduction) and you can reasonably earn 5% with compounding over a longer time horizon in retirement, it may make more sense to put money in your retirement account than pay off that debt early—always considering cash flow and remembering that market returns are not certain. 

But if your credit card is charging 10%, put more money there. Once you stop paying that 10% it’s like earning 10%, because it is no longer being spent and is available in your budget for other items. Look at the interest rates you are paying like market returns that are leaving your pocket, and try to consolidate debt into a lower interest rate whenever possible.

Get in Touch With Where You Are in Your Story

What is going on for you right now, in this moment? Are you living in the past with regret, bringing the past into the present, or maybe even living in the future with fear?  What messages have you taken in and believe about yourself? This can be scary. For me, being grateful for what I have, acknowledging a point of view or a set of expectations I have of a situation, or others that are coloring my perspective, is freeing. Once done, I can choose to see things differently and I can choose to take actions so that I may be the architect of my life.

When we are not blaming and we are choosing, it can be very empowering!

Yes, these are the basics. We need to lay the foundation before we can move onto planning strategies. Consult a certified financial planner for comprehensive advice on strategies that address your retirement planning needs.

This article originally appeared on Investopedia.


Michelle Buonincontri Circle Headshot.png

Michelle Buonincontri is the Founder of Being Mindful in Divorce. She’s a divorced single mom, passionate about using her professional experience as a CFP® & CDFA™ and personal journey to support women in transition; creating confidence through education so they can make financial choices with peace of mind. Bringing together a background in investment management, tax prep and retirement planning, to provide Divorce planning (with singles or couples) and Financial Coaching services, financial literacy workshops and writings.

5 Retirement Assumptions You Can't Make Anymore

By: Michelle Buonincontri, CFP®, CDFA

We've all heard the adage "nothing can be certain, except death and taxes." This line of thought also applies to retirement, as society and financial markets change.

Here are a few assumptions many Americans used to be able to make about retirement, and why they can't rely on them anymore.

1. I’ll Be Married When I Retire

Times are changing. We have all heard the statistics that 50% of first marriages end in divorce, and the numbers are even higher for second and third marriages. "Gray" divorces — among couples 50 and up, or "Boomers" – have been on the rise, according to a study by the National Center for Family and Marriage Research at Bowling Green State University, with about one in every four divorces (25%) occurring to people over the age of 50.

Divorce can wreak havoc on the retirement plan of married couples, as assets now need to be divided. Typically, the "less monied" earning spouse has less saved for retirement (401(k), pension, annuities) and a lower Social Security benefit than their higher-earning spouse. With the retirement strategy no longer based on two incomes (even if only Social Security) as originally planned, income is cut in half or less, and expenses as a single person rise. Consequently, divorced couples face unanticipated financial constraints and decisions.

Retirement assets may not be split 50/50 – only the "marital" portion will be divided and they are not automatically split in a divorce — substantially reducing what you will receive after a divorce versus at widowhood. Get financially literate and know what you have ahead of time. Understand all the marital assets, as they all become "potential" retirement assets; even more esoteric employment benefits such as stock options, deferred compensation, bonuses, HSA accounts and the value of pensions (their future income stream). If these assets aren't explicitly accounted for, or you don't understand them, the success of your retirement plan may be been compromised and you could be out of luck – there is no "re-do" in divorce.

Divorce may be out of our control, just like an accident or illness, but it's important to plan for the things we can control – like saving more. Since divorce is forever, perhaps it may be prudent to run retirement projections if you were to divorce — treat it like a "long-term care event," even if you are not considering it — just to test the success rate of the modified scenario and understand the potential financial impact on your retirement plan.

Pensions and Social Security are an important part of your plan after divorce, as they are considered the "safer streams of income," and increase the likelihood of successfully meeting your needs in retirement. After divorce, you may still be eligible to collect larger spousal or survivor Social Security benefits using your spouse's higher earning record under certain circumstances; even if he/she is remarried. You can speak with a Financial Planning (FP) professional to test your plan as a "single" and to understand how to maximize your monthly Social Security benefit before filing for benefits. Most FP's have special software used to determine the best age and withdrawal strategy for you to begin collecting benefits based on your "individual" situation, something that the Social Security department cannot do as effectively.

2. My Assets ‘Conservatively’ Need to Last for 30 Years

As we live longer, a 30-year conservative assumption for retirement assets to last for an average 65-year-old becomes more the "norm," rather than the conservative assumption it was meant to be in 1994 when first introduced as part of the 4% safe withdrawal rule, according to Wade Pfau, economist and professor at The American College of Financial Services. At that time, a 30-year number was outside the "normal" lifespan for an adult.

According to the Social Security website, approximately 25% of 65-year-olds today will live past age 90, and 10% will live past age 95. These numbers are generally lower for an individual versus a married couple, but these statistics negate a "30-year time horizon" for a plan as a "conservative" assumption for how long assets need to last in a retirement plan. If you are retiring earlier, assets need to last longer, but as we live longer and heath costs in retirement increase (more on this in item #5 on this list), the chances of outliving our money increases. Although age 95 is now used as the common age for "last to live for couples," a more "conservative" number may have the last in a couple living until age 100 since 10% of individuals will live past age 95. Then you need to factor in "planned" years in retirement (as some retire earlier than 65), marital status, sex, personal and family health issues. You may get a more accurate number by working with a planner, and to get a better idea of whether your plan will be successful.

3. I Won’t Outlive My Money If I Have a Safe Annual 4% Withdrawal Rate

How cliché can I get? Well when science proves something out, it should be shouted from the rooftops beyond facial blueness. The 4% safe withdrawal rate rule was introduced in 1994 by financial adviser Bill Bengen. It has been used by planners to help retirees spend their retirement funds and suggests that if retirees withdraw 4% of their portfolio in their first year of retirement, and adjust that amount for inflation each year, they'll have a low risk of running out of money in 30 years. This rule is affected by several parameters such as; interest rates/income generation, how long folks live (longevity), asset allocation & income source types (stocks, bonds, guaranteed annuity stream, pension etc.).

However, several articles have been written challenging this 4% withdrawal assumption. Pfau wrote a research paper showing that this rule would not work when retiring in a market downturn or in a period with historically low interest rates.

In 1994, when this rule was introduced, portfolios were generally earning 8% annually, and these days we are looking at earnings more like 3-4%, with safe investment such as bonds not earning nearly what they did historically, and if interest rates did rise, folks would face a loss in bond values since prices fall when yields rise.

When interest rates are low, retirement savings are not earning the same income and people are spending principle, retirement savings becomes more dependent on market upside (if they are invested in stocks and bonds) to provide the earnings needed rather than stable rates of return. This makes retirement savings more susceptible to swings in the market when money is being withdrawn and that can have a dramatic impact of savings, which increases the risk that funds won't last through retirement.

Add the fact that we are living longer, and the money needs to last even longer — creating further risk in the original 4% withdrawal rule.

The bottom line is there is no easy answer.

4. A Home Is a Good Retirement Asset

A home is probably the largest and most valuable asset that consumers own, though it may not be as appreciable as you think it is. Owning a home is no guarantee of profit. In fact, even if you sell your home for more than you bought it, that doesn't mean you necessarily made a profit. You need to determine the inflation-adjusted dollar amount of what it would cost to buy that home in the future when you want to sell it.

Going backwards: For example, if you spent $800,000 in 2005 to buy your home, and wanted to sell it 10 years later in 2015, that same $800,000 in 2005 would cost you $974,111 in today's dollars due to inflation. So then you may think you need to sell that house for more than $974,111 to break even – but owning a home has related expenses that are much higher than renting. You need to also subtract any money you spent on upgrades and maintenance over the past 10 years, and 3-6% in sales commission, closing costs and moving costs to get a more accurate picture of your profit. Chances are you really didn't make very much on that asset you held for 10 years.

Additionally, the housing market is volatile, and if you don't sell at the height of market, you could be facing a flat market or prices declining for many years. The financial crisis taught us that the real estate market can be affected by things outside our control. This, and the fact that you can't sell unless there's a buyer with your price at the time you want to sell, makes real estate illiquid and creates undue risk in your retirement plan at a chosen time that you need cash flow.

Making a profit also depends on where you buy and when you sell and where you wind up living after the sale. You will need to spend money on a place to live, and unless you are planning to live in an area with a substantially lower cost of living, that "windfall" may not seem so big or last so long. (This free calculator can show you how much house you can afford.)

We cannot predict the market climate when you retire, so remember your home is a home, buy it with that intent, and plan on not needing it in retirement you will have a higher degree of certainty that you plan will work.

5. Spending Always Decreases in Retirement

Maybe, maybe not. Just as we were individuals while working, the same goes for retirement. Sure, certain expenses like clothing, transportation and other business expenses tend to go down, and maybe your house is paid off, but with 8-10 hours extra a day, socializing, entertainment and eating out can take up a bigger part of your retirement budget. Many retirees want to travel more in the early retirement years and believe these costs drop later, but those travel costs are most likely offset by rising medical costs. Medical expenses can even consume a larger portion of a post-retirement budget right away because health insurance costs may no longer be subsidized by employers. So you may need to pay out of pocket; if you are 65, Medicare part B premiums can be pretty high, depending on your income level.

As we live longer, the likelihood of increased medical expenses also increases with diseases such as Dementia & Alzheimer's. Seventy percent of individuals over 65 have a long-term care event at some point in their life, which is not covered by Medicare. According to the Employee Benefits Research Institute (EBRI), Medicare covered roughly 62% of an individual's medical expenses, and it may decrease in the future – increasing a retiree's share of health care costs. EBRI estimates that a 65-year-old couple should save between $241,000 and $326,000 to cover medical and drug costs (excluding long-term care) in addition to the amount required by a retirement plan to cover basic annual needs. Also, another EBRI study stated that 20% of retirees reported that, in addition to supporting the immediate household, they also provided financial support to relatives and friends.

Between high retirement lifestyle goals, rising health care costs, increased longevity and costs related to supporting family members in retirement, don't assume that expenses in retirement are always less. Instead, you need to take this all into consideration to help improve the success of your retirement plan.

This article originally appeared on Yahoo Finance.


Michelle Buonincontri Circle Headshot.png

Michelle Buonincontri is the Founder of Being Mindful in Divorce. She’s a divorced single mom, passionate about using her professional experience as a CFP® & CDFA™ and personal journey to support women in transition; creating confidence through education so they can make financial choices with peace of mind. Bringing together a background in investment management, tax prep and retirement planning, to provide Divorce planning (with singles or couples) and Financial Coaching services, financial literacy workshops and writings.

International Women's Day 2019

March 8th is International Women's Day. It is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. The day also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. This year's theme is #BalanceforBetter. Better the balance, better the world. 

In thinking about balance, it made us question how this relates to our personal finances and wellness.

Are our investments balanced?

According to Investopedia, “a balanced Investment strategy is a method of portfolio allocation and management, aimed at balancing risk and return. Such portfolios are generally divided equally between equities and fixed-income securities.”

A balanced investment strategy still has risk. It is designed for someone who has a longer time horizon until retirement and has some risk tolerance.

We encourage you to take a look at your investments and determine what strategy works for you. Try this Asset Allocation Quiz/Calculator

Work-life balance

A work-life balance may seem like something we’re always striving for and never able to achieve. Despite numerous articles on the importance of finding a balance or tips to get it, we are not always able to put it into practice. The resulting stress we deal with affects our wellbeing and finances. When we’re able to find a balance, we are more healthy, productive, and happy.

To achieve the balance, it may require you start with small changes like not checking your phone constantly, prioritizing and setting realistic goals, accepting that things won’t always be perfect, or finding a stress-relieving activity like meditation or exercise.         

If you’re feeling out of balance financially or mentally, now is the time to make a change. When you’re in balance, you’re better able to bring about change in the world. To watch a webinar on strategies that will get you back in control of your day click here Reclaim Control & Get It Done

Happy International Women’s Day!

Tax Help for Your 2018 Filing

2018 Marginal Income Tax Rates and Brackets

Revised  Income Brackets and Marginal Tax Rates  What are marginal tax rates?  It’s the percentage of your income that you pay in taxes.  Good news –the brackets (or income ranges) were lowered so most of us will be paying 2-3% less income tax. Find your annual income range and the associated percentage you'll pay below

Example: If you are single making $50,000/year you are in the 22% tax bracket

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Standard Deduction 2017 compared to 2018

The standard deduction was almost doubled to simplify the process and encourage less people to itemize their deductions. The 2018 tax reform bill got rid of the personal exemptions. To see what was eliminated click here.

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Your Budgeting Worksheet

Your Budgeting Worksheet

With this easy to use DIY budget worksheet you can start tracking your earnings and your spending, be mindful about your money and make better decisions that will lead to financial stability. Start gaining control by routinely checking back on just that one spreadsheet...and the best part is that your privacy is protected since the budgeting spreadsheet resides in your drive, so you don't have to share any information with anyone.

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How well do you receive money?

By: Liz Wolfe

I recently read a moving and insightful book called 365 Thank Yous: The Year a Simple Act of Daily Gratitude Changed My Life by John Kralik.  It’s a true story of a man who completely turned his life around when he decided to write a thank you note every day for one year.  This memoir is an example of how powerful gratitude can be.

The story that I remember most from the book, though, was one that Kralik tells in the beginning.  He describes how as a young boy his grandfather gave him a silver dollar, telling him that if he received a thank you note, he would send another one.  As long as Kralik sent him a thank you note, the silver dollars would keep coming.  In this way, his grandfather taught him a life lesson in etiquette, while simultaneously illustrating how gratitude generates more abundance.

As the story goes, Kralik did indeed send his grandfather a thank you note, and true to his grandfather’s word, a shiny new silver dollar came back to him in the mail.  Once again he wrote a thank you note, and in return another silver dollar.  By the third silver dollar, however, Kralik had lost enthusiasm for the exchange, and did not send another thank you note, and thus the flow of silver dollars stopped. 

My husband and I don’t give an allowance to our children, so one day my son Julian came to me asking if he could earn some money.  “Sure,” I told him, and he presented a list of activities and how much each was worth.  Getting out of bed when called in the morning and getting dressed was worth 25 cents.  Making a bottle of seltzer was worth 10 cents.  Doing a complete load of laundry, including folding and putting it away was worth $1, etc.

For two weeks, Julian enthusiastically completed tasks, and as he did I dropped quarters in to a cup for him.  I noticed, however, that I was the one reminding him that if he did certain things he would get the money, and I soon tired of that game.  One day I said to him, “When you complete a task, you let me know, and I’ll put the money in the cup.”  I figured if he really wanted the money, he would tell me, plus, I wanted him to be the one taking the initiative.

For a while, Julian accumulated a fair amount of money in his cup, and got to spend some of it.  However, once I told him that he was responsible for letting me know he had earned money, the rate at which he earned it dropped significantly.  In fact, for the past month, he hasn’t asked me for money at all.  He still makes seltzer, he still gets out of bed and gets dressed in the morning, and does a host of other items that we decided on -- but he doesn’t collect on them.

The similarity between these two stories is that in both cases, had the child simply taken the initiative to do the prescribed activity as directed, they would have received more money easily and abundantly.  It caused me to think about how often I “leave money on the table.”  For instance, I have a check for $100 sitting on my desk right now that I just haven’t taken to the bank.  I’ve written in previous blogs about various gift certificates that end up buried in piles on my desk.  I even occasionally delay in submitting invoices for work I’ve done.  People actively owe me money, but I don’t collect on it, just like Julian and his chore money.

If inadequate cash flow is a frequent theme in your life, take a look at how well you are RECEIVING the money that is already out there in the universe waiting to come your way.  While there is a common belief that receiving is easy, many of us could use practice in this area.  Receiving is an action that requires conscious attention.  You can practice receiving by being gracious when people give things to you – compliments, gifts, a seat on the subway, and of course, money. 

I have a personal practice whereby any time anyone offers me money, I take it.  I want to tell the universe that I want money, and that I am ready to gratefully receive it.  That way, like the author’s grandfather, it will send me more.


Liz Wolfe cropped.jpg

Liz Wolfe is a skilled and energetic motivational speaker, coach and trainer. For more than 20 years she has inspired hundreds of people with her passionate stand of abundance: “There is plenty for everyone, including me.” As a coach for entrepreneurs, she empowers clients with her unique system: “A Clear Vision + Purposeful Action – Hidden Barriers = Breakthrough Results.” Lizwolfecoaching.com

Comment

Liz Wolfe

Liz Wolfe has lead trainings professionally for over 20 years. She is originally from Western Pennsylvania where she grew up on a sheep farm. She began her public speaking career as a child, doing spinning and weaving demos at local festivals with her family. In her formative years, she was money poor but resource rich. Her days on the farm supplied her with a wonderful foundation to learn about the abundance of the universe.

She came to New York City in 1987. Since then she has created a successful business with her husband, Jon, that focuses on helping companies and individuals realize their full potential.

Money Talks - Get in on the Conversation

By: Liz Wolfe

A hot topic these days is why the “1%” have accumulated so much wealth.  Perhaps you’ve seen the video that went viral demonstrating, with impressive graphics and mind-boggling statistics the chasm between the nation’s wealthiest and the bottom 20 percent.

So how did 1% do so well?  Is it because they greedily and purposely hoard wealth to keep it away from the rest of us?  Are people poor because they are lazy or financially irresponsible, especially when on public assistance?  Does the government unfairly favor the rich and big business?

Here’s my question:  who cares?

How much money they have has nothing to do with how much money you have.  There is an unlimited amount of money available to all of us, and the key is not figuring out why they have more than you do, but rather why you don’t have as much as you want. 

Here are some common ideas about money that keep us from creating as much as we want:

#1 –Money is a “thing” or a fixed entity

Money is energy.  Dollar bills and coins are merely symbols of the life energy we exchange and use as a result of the service we provide to the universe and to each other.  Thinking of money as an object restricts our ability to create it freely.  By learning to acknowledge it as energy, you will have unlimited access to it.

#2 –There is a limited supply; if wealthy people have too much, it takes away from my supply.

Back to reason #1.  There can be no limit because money is not a fixed entity.  There is an unlimited supply.  How much someone else has does not affect how much you have now, or will have in the future.  Ever!

People from the poorest and most difficult backgrounds — Steve Jobs and J.K Rowling are two — have found great fiscal success.   The top 1% didn’t stop them.

#3 –Money is directly related to personal worth.

People have the mistaken notion that you have to "deserve" money.  Wealthy people, the argument goes, shouldn't have so much, because no one "deserves" that kind of money. Who came up with this idea of “deserving” anyway?  To say “all that I deserve” puts a limit on it.  How do you know if you deserve it? Who decides if you deserve it?

Money is neutral.  It doesn’t care if you deserve it or not.  You have as much money as you have created up until now. End of story.

#4 – It is more noble to be poor than rich, and rich people are selfish.

Stories often portray the rich as unfeeling and stingy, and the poor as benevolent and generous.  While true that the working class gives more to charity proportionate to their income than wealthy people, it’s not true that all rich people are selfish.    

#5 – You have to have money to make money. 

Since money is energy, it can be created from nothing.  Don’t believe me?  Try this.  Just ask someone for money,   someone that you know will give it to you. You ask, they give, and you have it.  There!  Created from nothing!

#6 – Money is good – wait, no, it’s bad...

We’re told “Money makes the world go round” yet “money is the root of all evil.”  “Money can’t buy happiness”, but we’re convinced that we’d be happier if we had more of it.  No wonder money seems so perplexing.  We’ve received mixed messages about money that are confusing and incorrect!

#7 – We are not skilled at receiving money. 

Actually, we’re usually not skilled at receiving in general, but money in particular presents challenges for people.  It stems back to reason #3 (we don’t think we deserve it) and reason #4 (if we accept it we’re not good people.) 

I have a personal policy – whenever anyone ever offers me money, I take it.  I want the universe to know that I am open to receiving money at any time.  So, I always say yes!

It’s all about perspective

The makers of the video I mentioned before despair at the chasm between the top 1% and the bottom 20%.   However, if we took the bottom 20% of the US demographic and compared just that portion to the demographics of most "developing" nations, it would likely fall in, if not the top 1% then at least the top 10 or 20% of a graph of all those nations.

Think of it this way.  First, put yourself somewhere on this scale:

Affluent

Prosperous

Managing

Struggling

Impoverished

Destitute

Most "middle class" people put themselves somewhere around “managing” or “struggling”. Now, think about the photo of that child that UNICEF sends out when soliciting donations – the one that hasn't eaten for a month and has a distended stomach and two parents with AIDS. Now, compare yourself and your situation to that child, and place yourself on the scale. Compared to that child, you're affluent.

Back to my original point.  How much the 1% has, while certainly unbalanced, is irrelevant to how much money I have the OPPORTUNITY to create.  For that, we’re all on equal footing.


Liz Wolfe cropped.jpg

Liz Wolfe is a skilled and energetic motivational speaker, coach and trainer. For more than 20 years she has inspired hundreds of people with her passionate stand of abundance: “There is plenty for everyone, including me.” As a coach for entrepreneurs, she empowers clients with her unique system: “A Clear Vision + Purposeful Action – Hidden Barriers = Breakthrough Results.” Lizwolfecoaching.com

Comment

Liz Wolfe

Liz Wolfe has lead trainings professionally for over 20 years. She is originally from Western Pennsylvania where she grew up on a sheep farm. She began her public speaking career as a child, doing spinning and weaving demos at local festivals with her family. In her formative years, she was money poor but resource rich. Her days on the farm supplied her with a wonderful foundation to learn about the abundance of the universe.

She came to New York City in 1987. Since then she has created a successful business with her husband, Jon, that focuses on helping companies and individuals realize their full potential.

Even Introverts Can Excel at Networking by Following These Steps

By: Marguerita M. Cheng

The three C's of networking -- Conversation, Connection and Collaboration -- create a context that helps even those most reticent about networking.

Networking builds businesses. It brings in clients and partners and helps businesses grow, but networking can be intimidating and seem overwhelming. I understand that because I'm an introvert. Fortunately, that hasn't prevented me from creating my own network. You don't have to be an extrovert to use social sites, attend networking events or pursue professional opportunities to connect with others. Introverts don't have to be shy.

Debunking networking myths

Networking has a bad rap. People are hindered by awkward networking moments, misconceptions about networking and its benefits, as well as their own self-protective barriers. Here are five networking myths that need to be debunked before you can rewrite your own networking narrative:

1. Networking has not been effective. It's easy to dismiss its benefits when you don't see immediate results from networking. People become discouraged when they don't make any "useful" contacts at an event. What they don't understand is that one meaningful connection can translate into a valuable contact. There might be many people at an event, but the right connection, even if it's not the connection you had anticipated, might prevent you from making a wrong decision or help you accomplish a task that you couldn't have achieved otherwise. Networking might not appear how you expect, but that doesn't mean it's not effective.

2. Networking is only for salespeople. Early in my career, I noticed that people didn't like salespeople. Most everyone has a natural disdain for cold pitches and direct sales. As an introvert, I realized the value expanding my network. Years later, I understand that cold pitches and direct pitches do not constitute networking. You can make connections and conversations without selling anything.

3. Networking wastes time. Networking takes time. That doesn't mean it wastes it. It's an investment of time, and like any investment, it produces over time. Be wise and focused about how you allocate your networking resources, both time and money. Attend events where you're most likely to make the connections that will help your business. If you're a chef, choose events that focus on cooking. If you're a techie, concentrate on forums relevant to your niche. Think about the kind of connections you'd like to make and be strategic about finding the networking opportunities that will provide the most value for your time.

4. I cannot be a good networker. This is where most introverts bog themselves down. Networking doesn't feel natural. We shield ourselves from socially awkward situations by creating a protective barrier of dismissal. If networking is just "not your thing," you can justify retreating into your cocoon by dismissing it as over-rated and irrelevant. The problem is that networking is neither over-rated or irrelevant. Not even for introverts.

5. Networking is a dirty business. Some people associate networking with schmoozing and moving up the political or corporate ladder. They prefer to take the moral high ground and avoid networking for professional gain. In Networking Is a Dirty Business, Maryam Kouchaki, assistant professor of management and organization at Kellogg School of Management, uses research to show how people who associate networking with greed and selfish ambition tend to see it as a moral contaminate. They avoid it like the plague. The truth is that networking isn't schmoozing. Good business is reciprocal, and networking facilitates good business.

The "three C's" that change the networking narrative

The three C's of networking -- Conversation, Connection and Collaboration -- create a context that helps even those most reticent about networking move past these myths and into networking relationships that open opportunities and grow their business.

Conversation

Be ready to engage. Look professional, dress appropriately for the event and relax. You are not schmoozing. Smile and be approachable. A friendly, confident demeanor is attractive. Non-verbal communication is a pre-cursor to verbal communication so make sure you're not sitting in a dark corner or hiding behind your drink with your shoulders humped into your phone. Eye contact, a smile and a firm but warm handshake are all strong non-verbal cues that invite conversation.

Initiate dialogue with simple, non-personal questions like "who catered the event?" to open the conversation space. Be open, show interest in those you're talking to and offer genuine compliments. Have your 30-second elevator speech ready but deliver it naturally and conversationally. You want to provide compelling information about what you do and be prepared to answer questions, but you also want to listen and engage in a way that facilitates establishing a real human connection.

Connections

Networking events aren't card collecting events. The goal is making personal connections. Developing one quality personal connection trumps collecting a short stack of business cards. In his book Power Relationships: 26 Irrefutable Laws for Building Extraordinary Relationships, Andrew Sobel explains how quality connections always win over quantity. A good connection can translate into a good contact. It pays to be selective. Figure out what connections are most relevant to your passions and talents. Develop a list of a "significant few" professional contacts and nurture those relationships by contacting them regularly. Create a secondary list of those you might contact in the future. Then, add all of your connections to your social network and look for ways to engage them on an ongoing basis.

Make emotional connections. Ask questions that invoke thought. Mark Zuckerberg states that you should learn to start where you are. Whether imagined or real, believe that people like you and the world is ready to receive you. Part of making connections is helping people. When you meet people, pay attention to what they say to see if they have a problem you can help solve. Always be generous and willing to help.

Collaboration

Collaboration is a human dynamic that even introverts can take part in. Networking is collaborative. People need your help, and you need theirs. Don't be afraid to offer that help or shy about asking for a favor. You can help people, and they can help you. Leave your comfort zone. Be willing to mix and listen, and to introduce yourself and ask questions. Relationships and careers are built through collaboration.

Collaboration means working with people and organizations. Concentrate on building a network that adds value to your organization and enables you to improve and grow your reputation. Establish networks both with individuals and organizations, so you can maintain a connection with an organization even after individual connections leave a company. Collaboration expands your personal network.

Networking is human, and introvert or extrovert, we're all human. It allows us to help each other, work together and grow along the way by conversing and connecting and collaborating. An old African proverb says it best: "If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others." Networking helps us get where we need to go… together.

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.


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Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Prior to co-founding Blue Ocean Global Wealth, she was a Financial Advisor at Ameriprise Financial and an Analyst and Editor at Towa Securities in Tokyo, Japan. She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning Counselor℠, a Retirement Income Certified Professional® and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst.

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Marguerita M. Cheng

Marguerita M. Cheng is the Chief Executive Officer at Blue Ocean Global Wealth. Prior to co-founding Blue Ocean Global Wealth, she was a Financial Advisor at Ameriprise Financial and an Analyst and Editor at Towa Securities in Tokyo, Japan. Marguerita is a past spokesperson for the AARP Financial Freedom Campaign and a regular columnist for Investopedia & Kiplinger. She is a CFP® professional, a Chartered Retirement Planning CounselorSM, a Retirement Income Certified Professional® and a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst. As a Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards (CFP Board) Ambassador, Marguerita helps educate the public, policy makers, and media about the benefits of competent, ethical financial planning. She serves as a Women’s Initiative (WIN) Advocate and subject matter expert for CFP Board, contributing to the development of examination questions for the CFP® Certification Examination. Marguerita also volunteers for CFP Board Disciplinary and Ethics Commission (DEC) hearings. She served on the Financial Planning Association (FPA) National Board of Directors from 2013 – 2015 and is a past president of the Financial Planning Association of the National Capital Area (FPA NCA) 


Rita is a recipient of the Ameriprise Financial Presidential Award for Quality of Advice and the prestigious Japanese Monbukagakusho Scholarship. In 2017, she was named the #3 Most Influential Financial Advisor in the Investopedia Top 100, a Woman to Watch by InvestmentNews, and a Top 100 Minority Business Enterprise (MBE®) by the Capital Region Minority Supplier Development Council (CRMSDC).


Marguerita’s mantra is “So many people spend their health to gain wealth, and then have to spend their wealth to regain their health” (A.J. Reb Materi).

Finding Happiness at Work

By: Laura Berger

The Proven Science of How to Enjoy Your Job

In True Grit, Grace, and Gratitude, I used the term “happy hour” as a constructive and necessary analogy, but I do have a good bit of aversion toward the expression. Why does an hour we reserve to be happy have to be after work? I also have tepid excitement for the sayings “Work hard, play hard,” and “All work and no play makes Jack a Dull Boy” because the masses interpret them as having work and play happening at two different times.

My approach to executive coaching is multi-faceted and situation-based, but my greatest mission is to blur the lines between employment and enjoyment. My view of the optimal workspace to which leaders should aspire is one where leaders create, in themselves and their employees, a pervading feeling of drive, purpose, camaraderie, and comfort. Now let’s match the facets of that statement with the brain science behind the human state of happiness.

The article “Hacking Into Your Happy Chemicals“ by fellow Huffington Post columnist, Thai Nguyen of theutopianlife.com, sums it up beautifully, identifying the four primary brain chemicals secreted during happiness:

  • Dopamine – Creates motivation. Exposure also produces an addiction to winning.

  • Serotonin – Creates feelings of significance. People with high levels also manifest greater logic.

  • Oxytocin – Creates togetherness. Environments promoting oxytocin are also marked by strong teams.

  • Endorphins – Alleviate anxiety and depression. People with endorphin surges are also ambitious and perseverant.

Take a moment to see how well the bolded words map to my statement of the optimal workplace.

So what levers can we pull to promote happiness? And how do these techniques specifically map to the brain chemistry that makes you and your teams go to work with a big glorious smile?

1. Turn your work into a game

Da Big Kahuna here is Dopamine. Take it from fellow Psychology Today blogger David J. Linden, Ph.D., who showed that the interaction of challenge and success inherent in video games leads to the secretion of great amounts of dopamine, (a.k.a. the pleasure circuit). Dopamine also addictive, achievement begets a further desire to achieve. Just this week, I received an email from a client with whom I had devised a game called “Listen All the Way.” My interviews with work colleagues revealed her habit of interrupting, leading her to decisions based on incomplete information. Having played the game, she reported, “I realize we are often not aligned … and it turned out that their solutions are often better than mine.” She is surprised that her direct reports might have better solutions than hers because she at times forced her own solutions through interruptions. Through the game and a trickle of dopamine, she spontaneously gives herself room to empower her employees to empower her. By the way, when her employee is acknowledged for the solution, that serotonin release creates approval leading to a spontaneous ambition to achieve more, and when the team implements the joint solution, Oxytocin creates a feeling of togetherness. We find these chemicals appear together time and again.

2. Bring laughter to work

There are so many essential benefits that comedy troupes such as Darren Held’s Held2gether Improv for Life have brought forth in training the likes of Google, PepsiCo, MetLife, McKinsey, American Express, DuPont, Ford, and Procter & Gamble. One is that laughter is one of the most effective triggers of endorphins. Many people will dread two hours of continuous work. Put them in a comedy club with an ambitious comic who is slaying the room for the same amount of time, and they’ll fret when it’s over. The primary difference is that endorphins are being secreted, (a.k.a. the second wind chemical). Endorphins, also addictive, give you sudden bursts of energy and a desire to persevere with a task, even through massive amounts of discomfort. This explains how “runners high” is spawned from such an excruciating activity. Too many years ago, I was on a massive enterprise-wide project that was failing badly—until someone kidnapped our project mascot, a doll, and began sending pictures of it in various sordid situations and with injuries. The kidnapper laid out a menu of misfortunes that would befall the mascot as each future milestone was missed. The team found the charade hilarious, shaped up, worked together, and snapped back on track with the milestones with startling efficiency. Incidentally, see serotonin and oxytocin above.

3. Communicate clearly with employees, bring them together, and reward them

How cliché can I get? Well when science proves something out, it should be shouted from the rooftops beyond facial blueness. In everyday life, when we receive hugs and gifts, oxytocin brings us a feeling of togetherness and trust, leading to happiness and stronger relationships and teamwork. Organizations that communicate effectively and reward when clear goals are met have been clinically proven to achieve the same results for employees, bolstered by the research of fellow Psychology Today blogger Paul J. Zak. What’s more, I often encounter personnel of large corporations who meet global service days—where teams take time off to work at community sites—with hints of cynicism, feeling they and the less fortunate are being exploited by the company to enhance its brand. If they dug a bit deeper, however, they’d also find that when properly positioned and organized, these days could just as easily be named global oxytocin days, and their companies might actually be interested in their engagement and happiness as well.

I truly hope that understanding how the basic chemistry of happiness can be triggered during work will create greater incentives for today’s most powerful leaders to remove the dividing line between work and play to catapult our nations global economic effectiveness.


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Featured on ABC News, CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdeo Group. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is the co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical.

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Laura Berger

Featured on ABC News, in CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and in Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdéo Group. She has counseled leaders for 15 years, maximizing their potential in the areas of Evidence based leadership, global operations management, and strategic change management. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, Leo Burnett Worldwide, American Hospital Association, Starcom MediaVest Group, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, World Business Chicago, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is an in-demand speaker and co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical: Could You Say Goodbye to Everything You Know to Get Everything You Want?.

Time Management Techniques for Work-Life Integration

By: Laura Berger

Credit: Pexels

Credit: Pexels

Despite all the talk and best efforts, work-life balance remains elusive for many professionals. The generic advice about how to structure our time fails to account for each individual’s income requirements, career goals and personal values. When you fall short of “having it all” -- the successful career, the storybook family life, the active gym membership, the eight hours of sleep -- the outcome is guilt, stress and shame. In a nutshell, these emotions only hinder growth.

No one can be in two places at once. Expending effort in one area of life causes guilt in another. Long hours at work, for example, can result in a cycle of negative self-talk: “I’m letting my family down by staying at the office so late.” Conversely, leaving work early to join a child’s field trip can cause thoughts like, “I have so much to do at work. I really shouldn’t be here.” These statements only add more guilt and shame, and the vicious cycle continues.

Fortunately, it is possible to have a successful career and live in accordance with your values. The key is to understand what works for you. You can also shift your approach, maybe embracing the term “work-life integration.” Just making that subtle pivot in language will help.

The Tool

Start this integration by identifying where you would really like to focus your energy.

You can use an energy chart, similar to the one below, to provide a fantastic visual representation of where you are now and where you want to be. The energy chart allocates how much energy you spend in each of your “essential roles.” Create your own chart by first calculating your total daily waking hours.

Next, over the course of a week, record how much time you spend on each intrinsically fulfilling activity daily, both as time and a percentage. For example, if you spend 10% of your time exercising, you would assign “10” as your energy allocation for that activity. You can also include activities that you’d like to incorporate into your life. If you would like to start meditating, for example, assign it “0” since you currently spend 0% of your energy on meditation.

Typically, clients will include eight to 10 activities, but there is no right number. For your chart key, create color-coded rectangles for each activity.\

Courtesy Berdeo Group

Courtesy Berdeo Group

Now map out how you wish to spend your time. Being a visual creature, having a chart of what you value makes it far easier to stay accountable to your goals. Having your current and future life charts side-by-side will show you whether you are living in alignment with your core. This may just be the motivation you need to kick start your journey.

Courtesy Berdeo Group

Courtesy Berdeo Group

Courtesy Berdeo Group

Courtesy Berdeo Group

Taking Action

With a mechanism in place, it’s now time to start acting toward your goals. Begin by figuring out how you might be able to get back more time for yourself. Some, for example, choose to wake up 30 minutes earlier to fit in something they love, whether meditating, walking the dog or journaling.

Next, look at how you are “wasting” your waking hours. How much time do you spend scrolling social media or browsing the internet? In front of the TV or shopping? You might be surprised at how quickly these numbers add up. Twenty minutes per day on social media is 2.3 hours per week. Ask yourself if this time would be better spent on any of the essential roles in your future energy chart.

Next, evaluate how you can strategically shift your schedule. Say, for example, you currently do laundry after your kids go to bed. Could you do laundry when they are doing homework instead and use the time after they’re in bed to treat yourself to an at-home yoga session or a nice bath? Of course, routines are powerful. Be determined to approach this from a flexible perspective.

Then identify the barriers preventing you from doing what you love. If you find yourself overloaded with work, for example, delegate more. If you find that housework falls entirely on you, talk to your family and provide specific ways they can help. Ultimately, if you spot an unfair “time-suck” in any aspect of your life, don’t be afraid to speak up about it.

Now ensure you are allocating your newfound time toward the activities you identified in your future energy chart. If you’ve made time to exercise, for example, set a goal, whether that’s running a 5K or going to the gym three times per week. Think about ways to help you stay accountable to that goal. Maybe find a gym buddy or track your progress in a notebook or in an app. Think creatively about how you can optimize every second of the time you find for yourself. After all, time is finite -- it's truly your most precious resource.

Lastly, treat your energy chart as a living document. Make a note to come back to it periodically to ensure you’re on track. As you make progress, your current energy chart will evolve, and the preferences on your future chart will likely change, too. Alas, all change requires some type of tool or method. In this case, a little rigor will create much happiness, lower stress and maybe even increase longevity. Go forth and see how worthwhile it really is.

This article originally appeared on www.forbes.com


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Featured on ABC News, CNBC, Yahoo Finance, Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdeo Group. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is the co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical.

Comment

Laura Berger

Featured on ABC News, in CNBC, Yahoo Finance, and in Redbook, Self, and the Miami Herald, Laura Berger is a certified executive coach and co-founder of the Berdéo Group. She has counseled leaders for 15 years, maximizing their potential in the areas of Evidence based leadership, global operations management, and strategic change management. Her clients include leaders at JP Morgan Chase, Leo Burnett Worldwide, American Hospital Association, Starcom MediaVest Group, The Walt Disney World Company, Financial Solutions Advisory Group, World Business Chicago, and Big Brothers Big Sisters. She is an in-demand speaker and co-author of two books: Fall in Love Again Every Day and Radical Sabbatical: Could You Say Goodbye to Everything You Know to Get Everything You Want?.

How 'Nice-Lady' Negotiating Saved Me $4,300 in a Year

By: Jill Beirne Davi

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After a recent hospital stay, I opened one of dozens of health care-related bills and found one for $21.47 for the TV and phone in my hospital room. I never used the phone. I never used the TV. Yet here was this bill — one that my health insurance would not be covering — telling me I owed money for a service I never used.

Now most people would get on the phone right away to dispute this error, but I hesitated. As an agreeable people-pleaser, calling to disagree felt scary. Deep down, I was terrified of the word ‘no’ — both hearing and saying it.

I’d think: It’s hopeless anyway; they’re just going to tell me I have to pay. And then I’d rationalize not calling by telling myself it was “only $20,” or whatever the bill amount was. If the bill in question was higher, sometimes I just wouldn’t even pay it.

Every once in a while, I’d get up the confidence to call. But at the first sign of disagreement, I’d panic and hang up — and then send in the payment.

As my financial life became more complex with a mortgage and two kids, I realized my shut-up-and-pay (or not pay) strategy couldn’t continue. Those smaller charges were adding up. And the larger ones I ignored were hurting my credit when those bills went to collection. I knew I needed to find another way.

Inspiration came in the form of my two-year-old daughter negotiating over school clothes. I realized she was a pro in this delicate art form: pleasant, curious and dogged in the pursuit of her own happiness, despite hearing several "no’s" from her mama. I could learn a thing or two.

And then it hit me: Instead of perceiving the person on the other end of the phone as an enemy, I would approach them as a collaborator — someone who could answer my questions and help me get what I wanted.

So, back to the hospital bill.

Calling with no plan was the old Jill. This time, I took 10 minutes and did my research. I called the insurance company first. Then I wrote down exactly what I wanted the outcome to be. Finally, I wrote down in big letters, “What if they say no?” and scribbled some thoughts about what I’d say next.

Prepared, I picked up the phone and pleasantly introduced myself. The man on the other end sounded like he’d had a long day. I detected annoyance. Bad start, but I forged ahead. After calmly explaining my situation, I asked how I should proceed. He reminded me that my insurance didn’t cover this and explained it was a separate service.

I paused. This is normally when I’d agree and hang up. I looked at my notes and asked a question instead: “I don’t remember signing up for these services. Would you be able to send me a copy of the document I signed that said I authorized those charges?”

“Ma’am,” he replied,” you are automatically enrolled in the services and should have received a document in the hospital for you to sign if you wanted to opt out.”

Bingo! This new information gave me just the leverage I needed. I explained: “I never received paperwork to opt out. I was never given the opportunity to decline these services. What should I do next?”

He responded, in a huff, “Ma’am, did you use the TV or phone in your room or not?”

“I did not,” I calmly replied, ignoring his tone.

There was a long pause, during which I made sure to stay quiet. He came back and agreed to give me a one-time credit for the bill.

I thanked him, hung up and broke out in a happy dance. I couldn't believe it! The amount was irrelevant; this was a breakthrough moment. Since then, I’ve gone from timid bill accepter to expert nice-lady negotiator. In the past year alone I saved over $4,300 in fees, discounts, health insurance copays and incorrect charges by having the courage to get on the phone and negotiate. Want to do the same? Here are my tips for getting the outcome you want:

Have a written plan. If you usually get flustered on the phone, don’t wing it — be prepared. Before each call, write down the exact outcome you’re seeking and how you hope to get there, including possible roadblocks and how you can get around them. It’s important to have something (anything!) to say when your emotions get rattled.

Get your facts straight. Knowledge is power in this situation, so keep all documentation of bills sent to you, have specific dates ready and always read the fine print on any policies so you can speak intelligently and confidently on the phone.

Ask open-ended questions. Before a call, write down 10 questions you could ask the person on the phone. This can help move the conversation forward when you may otherwise feel stuck.

Be neutral and pleasant in your tone. If you’re angry or upset about a bill, give yourself some time to calm down before reaching for the phone. I used to think I had to turn into a jerk to get my way, but in my experience I’ve found the exact opposite to be true. Being pleasant, making a connection or even cracking a joke can help grease the wheels between you and the rep.

Have a plan for a no. Instead of fearing an initial "no," learn to embrace it. Don’t be discouraged — just keep asking questions until you can find a creative way around it.

This article originally appeared on https://www.learnvest.com/2017/05/how-nice-lady-negotiating-saved-me-4300-in-a-year


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Jill Beirne Davi is the founder of Abundant Finances, a service that helps you get yourself out of debt and start amassing abundant savings in record time (without deprivation or eating cat food for dinner). For more helpful money strategies to turn your finances around, visit abundantfinances.com.