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.

Financial Knowledge is Power. Be Empowered and Find the Advice You Deserve.

Know that Savvy Ladies® is here for you! Should you like to seek advice on a personal financial question, please visit our Free Financial Helpline and get matched with a pro bono financial professional, click here.

STACY’S $AVVY ADVICE

The 10% Rule

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Yesterday, I went shopping with a colleague of mine. (Yes, I know I advise against hobby shopping, but if kept under control it can be a great way to bond with your peers.) Everything was lovely, until she found a suit she liked, determined that it fit, and promptly started to bargain with the shop assistant. Wasn’t this button a little loose? The stripes a little off on this arm? The stitching starting to come loose in this particular spot?

I was dumbfounded at first. When the shop assistant went to fetch a manager, I asked my colleague what she was doing. Did she like the suit or not?

She replied that her parents had taught her that just about every shop assistant is authorized to knock 10% off purchase prices in order to make a sale. If you make sure to save this 10% on every purchase you make, by the time you retire, you will have saved more than $200,000.

While I am not sure how pleasant of a money saving trick this would be – to you or to the staff in the stores where you shop – I thought it was creative and worthy of a mentioning. And for major purchases like computers, TVs and cars, it could – depending on the circumstances – most certainly be worth a shot. Hey, if you don’t ask you will never get it.

When Your Account Is in the Red

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A lady I met last night while I was waiting for my husband to arrive at a restaurant was intrigued that I am a financial planner. As usual I typically get questions about their personal investment and/or finances. This case was no different. She confided in me that the red in her investment account is keeping her up at night. “What,” she asked, “am I supposed to do? I can’t sell because my investments are all down, but they just keep falling. It’s a total nightmare.”

“What you’ve got to ask yourself,” I told her, “is how you feel about your stocks and funds. Do you think they’re going to do well in the long run, or have their fundamentals changed so that you no longer believe in them?”

Because when it comes down to it, holding equals buying. With any investment, historical prices are irrelevant. It doesn’t (or shouldn’t, anyway) matter whether the stock you own that is trading at $5 per share was $1 last week, or $30. If you would buy it at today’s price, you should hold it. If you wouldn’t buy it at today’s price, you should sell it. If the reason for your lost shuteye is that you no longer believe in the company, sell it, and chances are good you’ll find that lost peace of mind. If, on the other hand, you still like the company, and the reasons you trusted it with your money are still there, try to look at it from a wider perspective. Both the economy and the markets go through cycles of ups and downs. If the company of your choice is truly great, sooner or later your investment will pay off.

Finding and Understanding Your Credit Score

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

“Now that real estate prices are falling,” a woman told me over the phone today, “I would like to buy a town house or a condo. But I hear you need really good credit these days, and I have a feeling mine may be pretty bad.”

I asked her what her score was, and she replied that she had no idea. She had never seen her own credit report, and she was not aware that this information is available to her. After some research, it turned out her credit wasn’t bad at all, and she decided to find herself a real estate agent. For the rest of you, here’s some basic information on the very much dreaded credit score.

There are three major credit-reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. The information on their reports tends to vary slightly. You can get your credit report for free from www.annualcreditreport.com

Once you have your reports, you should check them for accuracy. If you see anything that shouldn’t be there, make sure you contact the reporting agency/agencies to dispute it.

Looking at your reports for the first time can be something of a cold shower, as they will list every single late payment you have ever made in your life, as well as how late it was.

The actual score is a snapshot of your creditworthiness at any given time. It is calculated by a machine, and influenced by many factors such as available credit, outstanding debt, length of credit history, and late payments. As these variables vary, so does your score. So the good news is that when you clean up your report, make your payments on time, and reduce your outstanding debt, over time your credit score will be better and better.

Shopping Triggers and How to Curb Them: Plastic Instead of Paper

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Yesterday, a dear friend invited me to a pre-sale event in a major department store. There would be free champagne, she told me, excellent service, fun music, wonderful people and above all – of course – some killer outfits, just off the catwalk. Now, the thing is, this has been quite an expensive month for me, with vacation times along with some unforeseen expenses. So I told her that unfortunately, I’d have to pass because of money.

“Why,” she asked, “don’t you just charge it?” I nearly gulped out loud! Doesn’t she remember that I am a financial planner? That is like telling a dietician to start living only on a diet of McDonalds!

This leads us to our next shopping trigger: those wonderful, glistening, magic little cards that are sometimes able to bring us so much pleasure. Because, we reason, why would we pass up fabulous deals and pay more for the things we want later, when we can just seal the deal by charging them, and then pay them off when we do have the money?

The answer goes a little deeper than the obvious one of the financing charges that make most personal finance experts recommend that we double the sum of each purchase we charge but do not intend to pay off the same month, to get an idea of the actual cost. It is also this very behavior– to seal the deal fast by putting up the plastic — that gets so many of us in debt, severely damaging our financial futures. Instead, think about how much better of a deal it is to pay cash when you actually have the money, and stay clear of the murky depths of credit card debt.

Check out the other articles in our series on Shopping Triggers.

Saving Money on Groceries: Does Hitting Up Five Different Stores Really Pay Off?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

In a teleconference last week, a woman shared that her credit card debt was very much weighing on her, and that she wanted to take on an extra job for a while to pay it down. The problem was, she had no time whatsoever to spare. It all seemed to get eaten up by housework and errands. Her grocery shopping alone took over four hours, every week.

Puzzled, I asked her how that was possible. She replied that because she was in so much debt already, she couldn’t afford to pay any more than the cheapest possible prices. To obtain this, each week she had to hit up five different stores, cashing in coupons and buying for less.

To some this may sound crazy, but the truth is, she is far from alone. With the economy crumbling, people are penny-pinching like never before. The question is, does it make any sense?

This is one of those lovely albeit rare decisions where you can get a reliable, clear answer with just a pen and a paper. First, calculate how much you really save – the total difference between what you pay now, and what you would pay if you chose the store with the lowest prices overall. Then, compare this with the gas you use when you drive to the different stores, as well as any other expenses or opportunity costs relevant to your case (such as money you could have made spending three of those hours at an extra job). Putting these numbers together, you can learn what is really the best option for you. You may be surprised!

Four Rules for Paying Off Credit Cards

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Numerous people have told me that Mary Hunt’s book Debt-Free Living is well worth a look. This weekend, I finally got a chance to read it. Sure enough, it had some excellent points. My favorite was her four rules for getting out of debt. I will share below.

According to Mary, shrinking your debt is not all that different from shrinking your waist, so just like your diet, your action plan needs to be simple and specific. It is also crucial that you can measure your progress, and that you have a specific completion date. All payment plans work in theory – but they will only make a difference for you if you can stick to them. So be realistic when crafting it, and your chances for success are much bigger. Then make sure you work these four rules into the formula.

  1. There can be no more debt. You are never going to be debt free if you keep borrowing. It’s a bit like binge eating while on a diet – except you can’t make yourself sick afterwards.
  2. Pay the same amount every month. Over time, as your balances and minimum payments start to look smaller, you will be tempted to slow down and make smaller payments. Don’t. The faster you pay it off, the less finance charges you have to pay, and the smaller number of dollars will stand between you and financial freedom!
  3. List your balances according to size and payback time.
  4. Whenever you’ve paid off one balance, add the size of the payment you used to make toward it to the next one, and really get the ball rolling.

Paying off debt is no more fun than being on a diet, but if you keep envisioning your goal and implementing these four steps, you will be out of your crunch before you know it.

Talking to Kids about Money

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

During a dinner party last weekend, a woman told me her son had taken her by surprise by asking “are we rich?” She said she was dumbfounded, and as she had no idea how to respond, she mumbled, “no.” Her son got extremely anxious, and she spent the rest of the evening trying to comfort him. Below is some advice, so that the rest of you can be prepared in case your son or daughter . . . pops the question.

If you do have a good amount of money, tell your child that you have enough to be comfortable. If possible, avoid going into sums and too much detail – most children won’t grasp them anyway. They just want to know that you are OK.

If, however, your child insists and starts asking for numbers, tell him or her that you are doing better than most. This should still his or her curiosity.

If, on the other hand, you are not doing so well, the situation gets a little trickier. You don’t want to worry your child, but at the same time you don’t want to lie. Tell him or her that you are doing alright, and hopefully will do even better in the future.

As a general rule, stay as close to the truth as possible and avoid details.

Shopping Triggers and How to Curb Them: Sense of Entitlement

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Watching TV last night got me thinking about how our entire society is built around this shopping trigger. TV and radio ads, magazines and catalogues all scream to us: you deserve this, you’re worth it, treat yourself! This is because savvy advertisers know that creating a sense of entitlement is one of the most potent ways to get consumers to cough up the dough.

It is so easy, when exposed to those ads, to start thinking that “hey, that’s right, I did pass that exam/meet that deadline/suffer through that nasty flu/put up with the in-laws staying at my house for a full week, I do deserve a little something.” The problem is, none of those things did anything to change your budget, so when you treat yourself, you have to either find another place to cut, or get (further) into debt.

The best way to curb this is to tell yourself, whenever overcome with this sense of entitlement, that if there is anything you deserve, it is to have your finances in order. If you need to repeat it over and over again, fine – let it be your personal affirmation. After all, what outfit/cosmetic product/trip/new high tech gizmo could possibly make you feel better than true financial security?

Check out the other articles in our series on Shopping Triggers.

The Prenup

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Over lattes today, my best friend reported that her friend was finally leaving the husband we all tried to tell her she never should have married in the first place. I am sure that you have a few girlfriends who you love in spite of their husband. Why do nice girls sometimes choose jerk husbands? Ok, I am digressing. This is a topic for another blog…

The friend was devastated by the divorce, my best friend told me, and her only consolidation was that she had made him sign a prenup.

We have all heard this story in one version or another. From A-list celebs to politicians and neighbors, divorces are far more common than we’d like to think they are. Conclusion: while drafting one isn’t exactly like a honeymoon trip to Maui, doing so may save you years and years of agony down the road. But what should be included in a prenup?

Put simple, the prenup should be a summary of how your assets (savings accounts, securities, houses, cars, investment properties along with anything else of monetary value) are to be allocated in case of a divorce. In the absence of a prenup, state laws will make these decisions for you. Though you may consider these laws favorable at the time of the engagement, they are ever changing, and therefore most people are better off settling things on their own. Not because lawmakers aren’t doing a good job – it’s just extremely difficult to generalize when each case is so truly unique.

Get your financial questions answered.

Visit the Savvy Ladies Free Financial Helpline. 

Get the Expert Advice You Deserve.