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

The Concept Time Value of Money

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I came across an interesting article in the newspaper this morning. Did you know that in many Muslim countries, it is illegal to charge interest when lending someone money? This got me thinking about the concept time value of money – in a way, the very foundation of the US banking system.

The essence of the concept time value of money is that money is worth more now than in the future. All other things being equal, I’d rather get paid $10 today than $10 five years from now. Why?

Well, apart from a pinch of impatience and another one of instant gratification, strictly rationally, $10 today will score me more purchasing power than $10 five years from now. And not only will inflation have made everything I can buy with my money more expensive in five years, but it is also a matter of opportunity cost (what you un-choose when you select a certain path of action). Because if I receive $10 today, and decide not to spend any of it for five years, I can invest it and score myself a yield. Most likely, in five years I will have at least $14 – enough to make up for inflation and then some.

This is why US banks charge you interest on your loans. Because they know about time value of money, and they would rather have the $10 today, too. So you need to compensate them for lending you the money – make it worth it for them. This is also part of the reason we invest. Because if we’re going to put off spending our money, we had better not only make enough off our investments to offset inflation, but we need a little extra to make it worth the wait.

How Much Is Your Time Worth?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A friend of mine, who is a lawyer, left work early today to clean her house before her in-laws were coming into town. With her earnings in excess of $350 per hour, I frowned and asked why she didn’t simply hire a cleaning service. No, she said, I can’t do that. I can’t just waste money.

Waste money? Looking at it from a numbers perspective, here’s what happened. By leaving three hours early, she missed out on more than $600 worth of earnings. You can get a decent cleaning service around here for $15 per hour. So if my friend would have stayed at work instead of running home early, she would actually have saved $600-$45=$555. Hardly my idea of wasting money.

I know I’ve mentioned opportunity cost in this blog before, and this is an excellent example. How much is your time really worth? If you are a stay at home mom with no college education, chances are, it makes sense for you to clean your own house. But if you are a career woman making the big bucks, should you really spend five hours per week cleaning (or, for that matter, shopping for groceries), when you could spend that time at work?

When battling decisions like these, always consider the opportunity cost. If you weren’t at home scrubbing your bathroom floor, what would you be doing? What are you giving up in order to engage in your current activity? Then, lose that outdated yuppie guilt, and use a rational perspective. You’ll be surprised at the changes you’ll find yourself making.

The Gas Issue

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I paid over four dollars per gallon at the pump today! While this may not impress Europeans, who have paid such prices for ages, the cost of oil certainly isn’t helping the US economy right now. Herds of people are making the switch from large SUVs to compacts – even hybrids. But in dollar terms, how much of a difference does it make what kind of car you drive?

Though the numbers vary slightly, the main consensus seems to be that the average American commutes 33 miles per day, between home and work. Nine out of ten drive a car. So say that your commute is 33 miles per day, and that you work 5 days per week, fifty weeks per year (gotta have a few days off). This adds up to 8,250 miles per year.

Now let’s look at cars. On one side of the spectrum, we have small Japanese hybrids such as Honda Insight, Toyota Prius, and Honda Civic Hybrid. These cars will get you 66, 57, and 47 highway miles per gallon, respectively. The other extreme is sports cars, or huge SUVs. A Hummer will get you 10 highway miles per gallon, a Dodge Ram 12, and a Lamborghini Murcelago 13.

So if you’re driving a Honda Insight 8,250 miles per year, at $4 per gallon gas, this will cost you $500. If you on the other hand go for the Hummer, and drive the same number of miles, your price tag will be $3,300. The difference is $2,800.

So while your car is likely to land you somewhere in the middle, with several thousand dollars per year in potential savings, it is not hard to see why to many Americans, bigger is no longer better.

Good and Bad Reasons for Making an Investment

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

At a barbecue last weekend, a friend told me about this awesome tip he had gotten from his brother-in-law, about a stock that was trading on one of the Canadian exchanges for only $0.20. As it would take very little for the stock to double, he reasoned, he was bound to make money. When I asked him what the company does, he had no idea. This very common type of logic got me thinking about the reasons we use when picking our investments. Below, I will list some excellent ones – along with a few not so excellent.

One wonderful reason for buying a security (be it a mutual fund, a bond, or a stock, or whatnot) is that you believe in the company’s business model. Clients who believe organic groceries are the future many times buy stocks like Whole Foods, and many times do very well.

Another great reason to buy a company is that you share its values. This way, you know your money is in good hands, and contributing toward a better world. Practicing fair trade no longer means high prices and no customers – across the globe, people are taking ethical issues to heart and making purchasing decisions accordingly.

A third reason is that you think the economy is going to work in the company’s favor. When the market is boiling over with demand for a certain product or service, chances are good that companies supplying them will do well.

And finally, a few not so good reasons. The first one is a common one; one I hear all the time. If a fund or stock has done great over the past year, suddenly everyone wants it because it’s “the best one.” The chances you will overpay are high.

The second not so good reason is that – like in my friend’s scenario – the stock is cheap. Sure, if the fundamentals are there, go for it! But don’t buy something just because the price is low, or you may end up learning the hard way why.

Tony Robbins for Your Money

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

One of my friends has grown to be such a Tony Robbins fan, she now quotes him daily. I went over to her house last night, to watch one of his videos and find out for myself what the fuss was all about.

I liked it. Even more so, I liked that even though the video dealt with life and overall goals, the technique can be narrowed down and applied to personal finance as well. Here’s how:

  1. Write down all the things on which you spend money. This includes every dime – no exceptions for the pack of gum you pick up at the gas station and the one-off birthday gift to your daughter’s friend.
  2. Write down your financial goals. When it comes down to it, what matters the most to you? Do you wish to achieve financial independence, send your child to a top-notch college, or simply be able to spend a little more at Bloomingdales?
  3. Brainstorm ways in which you can make the different situations where you spend money all part of your grand plan. When you deny yourself a mid-afternoon smoothie from Jamba Juice, rather than sulking, think of it as scoring yourself another tenth of a new pair of heels. Or, alternatively, don’t feel bad when you pick up that gorgeous cashmere scarf at Neiman Marcus. Instead think about how this is what you’ve been working so hard for.

In essence, it is all about dividing your spending into clusters, and aligning these clusters so that they all point in the same direction: toward the fulfillment of your dreams!

The Financial Impact of another Child

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

My nutritionist had a baby a month or so ago. She told me over the phone that she was relieved beyond words that her insurance company had covered most of it, because the bill for her birth and subsequent hospitalization added up to a whopping $80,000. You just wait, I told her.

Because the thing is, while children are wonderful, and the greatest joys of many people’s lives, they are also huge financial responsibilities. Bringing one into your life requires a great deal of planning, especially if you – like most mothers – want nothing but the very best for your youngster. Here are just a few things to consider:

  1. Childcare. If you and your spouse both work full time, someone needs to care for your treasure while you’re at the office. From nannies and Montessori schools to public daycare and occasional baby sitters, making sure your baby is always safe and in good company can cost you. Lots.
  2. Your work life. You may want to cut back on your hours to spend time with your baby – even stay at home for a couple of years. The higher your current salary, the more you will feel this drop in income.
  3. College. While your child may score an amazing scholarship, chances are also, you may need to foot a good portion of the bill. With tuition many times in excess of $20,000 per year, be prepared and make sure you leave room in your budget to start saving early.

Of course, many more factors can (and will!) apply to your specific situation. By thinking ahead you can give your child a wonderful life, without sacrificing your own.

Spring Cleanout of Your Finances

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

My husband, son and I are getting ready to move to a larger apartment. I did a much belated, and much needed, spring cleanout of my closet this weekend to start getting ready. It got me thinking that while most of us do some sort of spring cleanout – our closets, our houses, our garages, even those office drawers stuffed with papers that haven’t seen daylight for years – very few of us go to work on our finances. This is too bad, because just as spring cleanouts make us look at our clothes in a new light, they can help us reach our financial goals. Here’s what you do.

Start with your investment habits. Are they in line with your expectations for retirement and overall life plan? Would you feel better about yourself if you set more aside, or be happier if you lived more in the now and bought yourself some nice things? Has your life situation – and thus your investment needs — changed?

Then look to your income. Are you happy with your current income? If not, how could you change that? Would a couple of extension classes up your value on the job market, or could you take on a few more clients? Or are you in a place right now where you want more time for your family or for yourself, and thus wish to cut down on your hours? If so, how do you make it happen?

Finally, take an in-depth (be brave!) look at your spending habits. Are they in line with your goals for the future? Do you leave room for error in your budget, or for disasters such as hospitalization of someone in your family? Could you cut some corners? If so, where?

Our life situations change constantly, and consequently, so do our financial needs. By taking the pulse on your finances once per year, you greatly improve your chances of staying on track and getting what you want out of life.

Ten Percent Off at Macy’s – How Your Credit Score Affects Your Finances

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I spent the afternoon shopping with a friend, and received no less than six credit card offers from well-meaning sales reps. Back home, three more waited for me in my mailbox. Frankly, it is no wonder that a large number of Americans have so many credit cards, you could use them for a round of Texas Hold ‘em. The problem is, not only do these cards tempt you to overspend – every time you apply for a new card, your credit score goes down. This can affect your finances in many more ways than you would think. Below are just a few.

  1. The lower your credit score, the more expensive it is to finance anything – from your dream home to that sweet new car. When you have a low credit score, banks and similar institutions consider you a high-risk individual, so if you want a mortgage, be prepared to pay for it.
  2. A low credit score can make it expensive at best, impossible at worst, for you to get a loan, should disaster strike.
  3. Many landlords will only lease their apartments or houses to people in good to excellent credit standing.
  4. You may need to put down a deposit – lock your money up without earning any interest – even for things as ordinary as, say, cell phone service.
  5. Your credit score may cost you that job you want — most notably any type of position where you work with money, be it in a bank or another type of financial institution.

 

I love discounts. Who doesn’t? But if you care about your financial future, it is better to shop on sale than to open three dozen store credit cards.

 

 

 

The Commuting Issue

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

This morning, I was stuck in my apartment elevator for 30 minutes. I spent this time, of course, thinking about commuting and happy that my commute is normally only 10 minutes and involves no cars, buses, trains or subways. I moved my apartment next to my office so that I could spend maximum time with my family and friends. I am one of the lucky few who enjoys the trip to and from work.

However, commuting is just one of those things almost all Americans deal with . . . yet few take an in-depth look at the true effects of commuting on their lives. Because not only can commuting be a hassle, a nuisance and a time consuming endeavor — it can be expensive as well. Breaking it down into commuting cost and salary, you may find that your current situation is far from ideal.

Commuting costs are things like gas, car insurance and maintenance, train or subway passes or tickets – whatever applies in your specific situation. You may need to add another car to your household solely to handle the commute. Add to this the time you spend getting to and from work, and you should have a rough estimate of how much your time on the road costs you.

Then consider your salary. How much is left after you have paid taxes and commuting expenses? Could you get a similar job closer to home and save money? And if that is not an option, could you move closer to work and save money that way?

It is important to keep in mind, though, that these aren’t the only factors to consider. Where you choose to live and work is about much more than just money. When adding to the pot your children’s school and spouse’s commute, plus personal factors such as the fact that you happen to love your job and the community you live in, things get even complicated.

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