Stacy’s Savvy Financial Advice

Stay Savvy with our founder Stacy Francis’ latest articles on financial planning, budgeting, debt management, investing, divorce, retirement planning, and more.

Stacy Francis founded Savvy Ladies® in 2003 with the mission to educate women about their finances and empower them to make proactive choices. Inspired by her grandmother who stayed in an abusive relationship due to financial reasons, Stacy has been determined to never let another woman become powerless by financial instability.

Get the resources, knowledge, and tools you need to make smart and informed decisions about your money and your life.

In addition to being the Founder and Board Chair of Savvy Ladies®, Stacy is the President, CEO of Francis Financial, Inc., a boutique wealth management and financial planning firm. A nationally recognized financial expert, she holds a CFP® from the New York University Center for Finance, Law, and Taxation, and is a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst® (CDFA®), a Divorce Financial Strategist™ as well as a Certified Estate & Trust Specialist (CES™).

Stacy has appeared on CNBC, NBC, PBS, CNN, Good Morning America, and many other TV & Financial News outlets. Stacy too is ofter sought out for her advice and can be found quoted in over 100 publications such as Investment News, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today.  She shares her wisdom and expert financial advice here for you to learn and get savvy about your finances.

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STACY’S $AVVY ADVICE

Retirement Savings Dos and Don’ts

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I had dinner with my best friends last night – a monthly tradition that usually turns into a full night of fun. Not this time, however. It turned out my friends were all in a state over their retirement accounts. Their mutual funds invested in stocks were trading at lousy prices, they couldn’t find any decent-priced income generating securities anywhere, and when it comes down to it, what’s the point in investing anyway if your account value can get cut in half?

We covered so many savings and investment basics that night – over Spaghetti Carbonara and Tiramisu – I thought I should share.

  1. Ceasing to contribute to your retirement account is a don’t. With many nest eggs now considerably smaller, adding money is more pressing than ever.
  2. Rebalancing your portfolio is a do. The investment climate is much different now than, say, a year ago. Your portfolio should reflect this.
  3. Buying income-generating securities, such as mutual funds invested in bonds, is a don’t. Why? Because with every investor on the planet rushing to buy them, yields are infinitesimal and you won’t make money. It is much better to wait until the public has recovered from the shock and is rushing to buy securities with more risk exposure – thenyou can score yourself much higher yields.
  4. Shifting your investment strategy toward mutual funds invested in stocks is a do. Have you ever heard the expression “buy low, sell high?” I thought so. With the lower stock prices today, the downside to buying such securities is much smaller.
  5. Thinking long-term is a do. True, short-term forecasts are looking pretty ugly. But if you apply a long-term perspective, things immediately brighten up. After recession follows economic growth and boom. Always. If you keep this in mind, you can make smart investment choices. Just as the falling real estate prices are only going to hurt those who need to sell within the foreseeable future, the fact that stocks and mutual funds are trading for practically nothing won’t hurt your savings unless you are trying to get rid of them.

 

Real Estate: Reading the Fine Print Before You Commit

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Reading the Fine Print Before You Commit

After December’s holiday festivities, January can feel like a dreary, lonely month. So you can imagine how delighted I was when I picked up the mail the other week and found an invitation to a cocktail party at an old college friend’s place. The invite promised delicious hors d’oeuvres and divine views, and my friend kept her promise. The condo was modern, light, spacious, and equipped with all the newest luxuries.

When I asked my friend how she had gotten her hands on such an amazing place, she laughed and told me getting her hands on it had been easy – getting rid of it was the challenge. Apparently, last October, one of the women on her floor had run into financial difficulties and therefore wanted to sell her condo. Unfortunately, it turned out that the contract had a clause prohibiting residents from selling their condos until all the units had sold. And the building, despite the marble counters and commercial dog driers, was only 33% occupied.

The Dalai Lama once said “leave your mistakes behind, but never the lesson.” So here you go. In the era of sign-on-the-dotted-line and inch-thick stacks of contracts, you really do need to read the fine print – or, even better, go over it with a legal professional.

Job Loss – Now What?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

We all know someone who lost his or her job last year. For my husband’s friend, though, it seemed to happen out of the blue – he is a news producer at a major news station. But with dwindling demand for advertising time, many stations are finding it difficult to cover the costs associated with local news. And so sixty people were advised in December that when the holidays were over, they would no longer be needed. The reason I am mentioning this is not to whine about the economy, but rather to share the story of how he coped – like a true role model for the millions of Americans in similar situations. If you are one of them, here’s what to do: 

  1. Be professional. Many people said “no way am I working during the holidays if this is how you thank me,” but not my husband’s friend. By continuing to prove himself until the end of his very last show, he scored himself a much better chance of being rehired when the economy comes back around.
  2. Lick your wounds – but don’t wallow in self-pity. Yes, losing your job is sheer misery, especially in this economy. Feel sorry for yourself for a day or two – then move on.
  3. Cut your spending – but give yourself a pat on the shoulder for the emergency fund you have set aside. In the past, you sacrificed things you wanted to save that money. Now it is paying you back by saving your life!
  4. Manifest and focus on your best-case scenario. Taken the right way, the loss of a job can be a golden opportunity to make positive changes in your life. Take some time to figure out what you want the future to bring, set goals, and get to work on fulfilling them.
  5. When you are unemployed, your job search becomes your profession. That means setting the alarm at your usual hour and spending a good eight hours browsing job sites, writing cover letters, sending out resumes, networking and attending interviews.

What Size Mortgage Can You Afford?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

With real estate prices free falling in many areas, mortgages seem to be the topic on everyone’s minds. It is hard to narrow down all the different concerns people have into a structured format, but my facilitators report that one of the most frequently asked questions in the Savvy Ladies Empowerment Circles is: what size mortgage can I afford?

This is a great question! Even better, it has a simple and straightforward answer. Most lenders limit the size mortgage an individual or a couple can take on to 28% of the gross income. If you have other types of debt, the total payments for your debt, including your mortgage, needs to stay below 36%.

This comes as a surprise to many, as it is not unusual for people to spend 40% or more of their income on rent and still make all their payments on time. Because of this, some lenders will let you borrow a little more, especially if your credit rating is stellar or if you put down a decent down payment.

But what you also need to ask yourself is . . . how much can you pay, without having to cut down on things like contributions to retirement savings accounts? Don’t forget that taxes and insurance costs will pile up on top of your mortgage payment. As houses are illiquid (today more than ever), take an in-depth look at your finances – or hire an expert to do so – before you commit to a mortgage.

Credit Card Myths

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I went for a run in the park this morning, with my favorite workout pal. Thank goodness she is a good friend as I don’t run as fast as I used to now being pregnant. Anyways, she surprised me mid-run by asking whether it was really necessary to keep six months’ worth of income in an easily accessible emergency fund. Wouldn’t it make more sense to put her money in retirement accounts so that she could cash in on the tax benefits, and then do a cash advance from one of her credit cards if she got into trouble?

This got me thinking about credit cards, and how even though almost everyone uses them, few have a real perception of how they work. Below are three common myths about credit cards, starting with my running buddy’s.

  1. Doing a cash advance from your credit card is like taking cash out of the ATM. No. Rates and fees are sky high for this transaction. Avoid it.
  2. In times when money supply is short, you can stick to the minimum payments on your credit card balances. Again no. Not only will you waste horrendous amounts of money on interest, but paying the minimum balance only will drag down your credit score.
  3. It’s OK to take your cards to the limits. Third time no. This is OK only if you don’t care about your credit score, and don’t mind spending your money on interest instead of investing it – or enjoying it.

Scoring a Mortgage in Turbulent Times

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

“For years,” a woman said during a recent telephone conference, “I was waiting for the real estate bubble to burst so that I could buy something. Now that it finally has, no one can get a mortgage.”

While it is true that it is much more difficult to score a mortgage today than, say, two years ago, it is still far from impossible. My husband and I just got a mortgage 3 months ago. Here are three things you can do to increase your chances:

  1. Work on your credit score and history. If you have a stellar credit score and a flawless history, you’re halfway there. And even if you’ve had a few hiccups in the past, paying down your balances and making your payments on time will greatly increase your chances.
  2. Don’t ask for a larger mortgage than you can afford. Banks are very wary of this problem right now. If your household income is, say, $6,000 per month before taxes, don’t ask for a mortgage where the interest alone will cost you $5,000 per month. Be realistic, and banks will think higher of you.
  3. Make a down payment. Not only will doing so make the amount you need to borrow smaller, but it also shows the lending institution that your finances are sound and that you are ready to be a house owner. We actuallyput down a 25% down payment making our monthly mortgage more manageable.

So while I won’t disagree that first time home buyers will have a harder time making their dream come true today, there is certainly hope. After all, many houses do sell even in today’s market – and so someone must be buying them. If you follow these easy guidelines, you may very well be next one.

 

 

Money Making Tips for Tough Times

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

One of my mom’s friends has a daughter who studied interior design, and then scored an assistant manager position in an upscale furniture store right out of college. She was estatic, loving everything about her job . . . until last week, her employer cut everyone’s hours from forty per week to eighteen. She was on the verge of tears – how was she supposed to make any money?

As she is far from the only person facing a situation like this, I thought I should throw some ideas out there for how to create extra income in tough times.

  1. The first, obvious idea is to take on an extra job. While many businesses are crumbling, some are still doing well and hiring.
  2. Another idea is to finally clean out your closets, shelves and storage spaces and have a garage sale. You’ll make money and have a less cluttered home.
  3. If you want to unload a smaller amount of stuff, or you don’t want strangers coming to your house, try selling some things online instead. There is a reason eBay has grown so much over the past decade; many people do make a good deal of money there.
  4. Trade your car for a smaller one. If you play your cards right, you may end up with not only a chunk of cash, but lower bills at the pump, too.

How Much Debt Is Too Much?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I was in back-to-back meetings all day today. This is not unusual – neither is the fact that four consecutive meetings started out with a prospective client informing me that she had come to me because she is in debt and would like to regain the control over her finances.

Debt is truly a widespread problem these days. So with each of them, I started out by breaking down their finances – income, costs, spending, and debt. In every case, their debt-to-income ratio came out higher than the limits most lending institutions use when determining how large a mortgage an individual can carry. According to them, if your debt payments (including mortgage payments) eat up more than 36% of your gross income, you should consider changing your lifestyle. If you do not own a home, of course your debt payments should be much smaller than that. Still, many people are far deeper in debt.

The good news is, by taking an honest look at your finances, drafting a budget, and making changes – some smaller, some bigger – you can turn this around and face a brighter financial future. I see it happen all the time. All you need is determination and a network of people who support you.

 

The iPod Issue: How Much Can -and Should- You Spend on Your Children?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I took the subway uptown today, to meet a colleague at a favorite lunch place. Turns out, the subway I was in also had twenty-something ten-year-olds, on a field trip coming back from the New York Stock Exchange. As Sebastian is only three, I don’t spend a lot of time around older kids. Now, I couldn’t stop staring at their iPod Nanos, glossy cell phones, Seven jeans and designer handbags.

It got me thinking about the finances of reproduction. How much do parents spend on their children these days, and how much should they spend?

A bit of Internet research told me that the average family spends $7,500 per year and child, not including added expenses pertaining to the increased living space. If you have enough money to set 10% aside for retirement savings, live comfortably, and stay out of debt while spending $7,500 per child — go for it! But if you have to cut back on savings, skimp on your own needs or pull out the plastic, you should consider cutting back. But how do you make this happen without turning into the mean mom on the block?

An excellent way to go is to give your children some financial responsibility. If you increase their allowances, and in return require that they buy their own clothes, they may think twice about those $200 jeans when they see everything they have to pass up to get them.

Other ideas include sticking to the cheap stuff while your child is still too young to care about brands — and outgrows things quickly. Vintage stores for baby clothes can be true treasure chests – and you can sell the clothes back when your child has outgrown them. You can also scale down on things like extravagant birthday parties, and of course, encourage your children to take on part time jobs when they grow older. I know that my years at Dairy Queen helped me become the hard-working successful woman I am today!

 

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