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

Simplify Your Life and Save Time

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I spent an hour last night paying bills and double-checking credit card transactions after my son and daughter went to bed. When I told a friend about it over the phone, she laughed and told me that’s nothing. Last weekend, she spent Friday afternoon through midnight on Sunday running errands. What have our lives come to? A morass of things to do, errands and just have to finish this up?

While this may sound a bit extreme, the truth is, many of us feel overwhelmed more or less all the time; like we are spending so much time and energy on things we couldn’t care less about, we have nothing left for those that truly get us going. Fortunately, the problem can be fixed and your life can be turned around.

The key is to identify the things that are important to you, focus on those, and outsource the rest. So take some time – a couple of minutes may be enough, or it may take several months – to look into your heart and see what you are truly all about. Write these things down. They will change over time, and that’s all right. Change is the very essence of life, and you can realign the way you spend your time and money accordingly.

Then, keep a journal for whatever amount of time you need in order to learn where your time goes. Once you have this settled, you can compare what you care about to what you spend time on, and identify your time thieves – the things that frustrate you and steal your time. The solution for these things is outsourcing.

Hire someone to clean your house or do your grocery shopping. Recruit your teenage son to make sure your bills are paid on time – in exchange for a larger allowance. Have your daughter take your car to the wash in exchange for that dress she’s been drooling over. For complex tasks, there is always AssistU and numerous other services. We live in a global economy. If you take advantage of it and let go of the ways of the past, your life will be simpler, more efficient, and much more rewarding.

Happily, I now work only four days a week and have three day weekends every week. I am getting more done in less time with a higher paycheck at the same time. This works – so try it!

Money Myths That Hold You Back

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Last week, I had the opportunity to help an extremely wealthy woman sort out her finances. Now, my favorite part about this is not the fact that she is one of the largest clients I have ever signed, but that she is an interior designer. She personifies evidence that the money myth holding so many people back from their true potential – that the key to financial success is the right occupation – is not true. Indeed, many lawyers and doctors make a decent living. But so do many musicians, caterers, animal chiropractors, and contractors. With this in mind, allow me to sort out four other money myths that hold people back.

1. Wealth is the result of hard work. I’m amazed that this myth has survived for so long. Just look at all the people who, after a lifetime of hard work, are now struggling to retire. If wealth were truly the result of only hard work, wouldn’t they be loaded? I am not saying that you should quit your job and meditate about wealth as the answer; just that making money is about much more than hard work.

2. Making money is boring. I would beg to differ. Success and passion go hand in hand. If you love what you do, you will prosper. If you couldn’t care less, your apathy will show in the fruits (or lack thereof) of your labor.

3. Money is like fossil fuels; there is only so much of it in the world. Therefore, if your wallet is stuffed, someone else’s must be empty and you should feel bad. Out of all the myths, this may be the most destructive. Devotees tend to resent rich people, and this stops them from getting ahead because if they did, they would have to resent themselves. Sounds silly but many people believe this.

4. Finally, many people hold on to a false belief that money cannot make you happy. Statistics, however, point to the contrary. Age and gender make very little difference, but people who make good money are significantly happier than those who don’t.

‘Tis the Season for Savvy Spending

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Stretching your holiday budget doesn’t mean you’ll be giving lumps of coal as gifts this holiday season. Smart shoppers have always known that the holiday season doesn’t have to cost a lot to be fun.

Here are a few tips to make your holidays brighter but not budget busters.

  • Determine the total amount you can spend and don’t go over budget. Track what you have spent by keeping a tally of your purchases in your purse.

  • Simplify gift giving. Ask people what they want and need. You’ll be able to choose more wisely from their lists than your perceptions of what they want. Encourage family to create a wish list on popular Internet websites such as Amazon.

  • Go shopping with your shopping list in hand. Don’t succumb to impulse buying. Many holiday shoppers end up with busted budgets by purchasing expensive gifts for themselves and spending more than planned on friends and family.

  • Give your family a gift everyone can enjoy, such as a museum or aquarium yearly pass.

  • Subscribe to a high-quality magazine everyone will read.

  • If someone gives you a gift you don’t like or need, save it to give as a gift later on or donate it to a charity for a tax deduction.

  • Ask family members to set a price limit on gifts. Insist everyone stick to the agreement.

If you’re really stuck for ideas or cash, consider giving your time as a gift, including free babysitting, housecleaning or lunch out every few months. Seniors would be especially appreciative of help around the home. The gift of time is the most precious gift of all.

Happy holidays!

How Do You Get the Best Price and Walk Away With More For Less?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

With the holidays in full swing many are left wondering how we can make our buck go further. The best way to get the best price and walk away with more for less is by bargaining. The biggest problem most shoppers have with bargaining is they believe that nice people don’t do it.

The important thing to remember is that bargaining is nothing more than a business transaction. You are simply trying to get something for a fair price. You are not trying to cheat anyone. For many countries bargaining over prices is the norm. In Turkey, bargaining or haggling is actually a deep seated tradition.

You have the right to bargain, especially in smaller stores that don’t discount. Here are some top tips to help you get the best price.

Price limit – Be sure to have a price limit in mind before you approach the storekeepers and be prepared to walk out if they can’t meet your limit.

Be discreet – Be discreet in your negotiations as the shop owner may not want other customers to know that prices are negotiable.

Shop during non-peak hours – When business is slow, bargaining is the easiest.

Be respectful – Treat the sales person and merchandise as you would want to be treated.

Unmarked merchandise – If there is no price tag, this is an invitation to bargain.

End of Year Tax Tips for the Savvy Investor

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

You only have a few weeks left to take the bite out of your annual taxes. Here are some tax strategies that you can put into effect before the end of the year, saving money when it comes time to file your annual tax return.

Time capital gains and losses. If you lost money on a stock you sold this year, you can use that loss to avoid paying tax on gains you made in a mutual fund or from a more profitable stock sale. You can offset up to $3,000 of ordinary income.

Look into tax saving investments. Tax-free investments can escape federal, state, or local taxes. Give Uncle Sam the old heave hoe and say no to taxes.

Exercise stock options with care. When stock options are exercised, the gain realized between the grant price and the market price will be included in W-2 income and taxed as ordinary income. Therefore, consider delaying the exercise of any more nonqualified stock options until after year-end.

Maximize those deductions. When itemizing your deductions, you’re allowed to group so-called miscellaneous deductions to the extent that they exceed 2 percent of your adjusted gross income. Included in those miscellaneous deductions are any materials used exclusively for investing — subscriptions to financial magazines, fees for a financial planner, tax prep fees, software, etc.

Top Tips for Saving on Holiday Airfare

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

The airlines are gearing up for what looks to be one of the busiest holiday travel seasons in years. This is good news for American Airlines, Northwest and Continental, but it’s bad news for you. Travelers who need to fly over Thanksgiving or the December holidays will find stiff competition for affordable seats.

If you’re one of the millions of Americans planning to fly this holiday season, you’ll need to plan ahead and be flexible with your flight dates and times in order to get an affordable flight. Read below for tops tips to keep your holiday travel from busting your bank account.

Book early: Buy tickets at least 30 days in advance for maximum [seat] selection and savings.

Avoid peak travel dates: Certain dates around the holidays are more popular for travel than others commanding much higher flight fares. Needless to write, you will have a less frantic airport experience by traveling on less crowded dates.

Fly on the holiday: The cheapest times to fly are on the holidays themselves: Thanksgiving day, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, and New Year’s Day.

Use flexible online search tools: To help you find the cheap seats compare prices at Expedia, Hotwire, Orbitz, Priceline.com and even Ebay is getting into the action.

Fly out of an alternate airport: By avoiding major airports and flying out of smaller, less popular ones, you may find more availability.

Book a vacation package: If you’re not staying with relatives and need a hotel room, you may be able to save on airfare by booking air and hotel as part of a package.

Safe and happy travels!

Use It or Lose It: 25 Ways to Spend Your Flex Account

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

If you’ve been healthy this year, congratulations! But if you’ve spent less on medical expenses than you expected when you set up your flexible spending account, you may be scrambling to find ways to use the money before it disappears. Studies by benefits specialists regularly show that employees typically forfeit more than $100 each year in medical flexible spending accounts.

Flexible spending accounts offer employees a great way to reduce their taxable income while at the same time paying for medical or childcare expenses they know they’ll encounter during the year. Many companies let employees set aside $2,000 to $3,000 annually in pre-tax money to spend tax-free on medical expenses.

It’s a great deal, but the big catch is that you lose what you don’t use by the end of the plan year. But in late October, the Treasury Department announced a new $500 rollover option that companies can adopt voluntarily.

Savvy Ladies’ Tip: You can use the flexible spending account money for almost any health-related expense that isn’t covered by insurance, including:

Deductibles and co-payments, dental work and orthodontia, eyeglasses, prescription sunglasses, contact lenses and laser eye surgery, psychotherapy, psychiatry, psychology, drug and alcohol treatment, smoking cessation programs and prescriptions, medically necessary cosmetic surgery, massage therapy to treat an injury, physical therapy and speech therapy, out-of-pocket expenses for fertility treatments, chiropractic care, doctor-recommended weight-loss programs, hearing aids and batteries, medical equipment (such as wheelchairs, crutches or oxygen equipment), assistance for the disabled (including guides, Braille books, seeing-eye or hearing-trained animals, note takers, etc.), birth control pills/devices and procedures, acupuncture or related procedures to treat a medical condition, medically necessary prescriptions, vaccinations

Now you can also use flex funds for medications that don’t require a prescription, such as allergy and cold medications, antacids and pain relievers.

Investing 101

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

If you’re a novice investor — or you’re looking to brush up on a specific investing concept — this is the article for you. Savvy investing requires knowledge of several key financial concepts as well as an understanding of your personal investment profile.

The Difference Between Saving and Investing

Even though the words “saving” and “investing” are often used interchangeably, there are differences between the two.

Saving provides funds for emergencies and for making specific purchases in the relatively near future (usually three years or less). Ease of converting to cash is an important aspect of savings. Dollars used for savings generally have a low rate of return and do not maintain purchasing power.

Investing, on the other hand, focuses on increasing net worth and achieving long-term financial goals. Investing involves risk.

Investment Return

Total return is the profit (or loss) on an investment. It is a combination of current income (cash received from interest, dividends, etc.) and capital gains or losses (the change in value of the investment between the time you bought and sold it).

Risk

ALL investments involve some risk because the future value of an investment is never certain. Risk, simply stated, is the possibility that the ACTUAL return on an investment will vary from the EXPECTED return or that the initial principal will decline in value. Risk implies the possibility of loss on your investment.

The Risk / Rate-Of-Return Relationship

Generally speaking, risk and rate of return are directly related. As the risk level of an investment increases, the potential return usually increases as well.

Diversification

You can do several things to offset the impact of some types of risk. Diversifying your investment portfolio by selecting a variety of securities is one frequently used strategy. If you put all of your money in one place, your return will depend solely on the performance of that one investment. Alternatively, if you invest in several assets, your return will depend on an average of your various investment returns. Here are three basic ways to diversify your investments:

Variety of Assets – By choosing securities from a variety of asset classes, e.g. a mix of stock, bonds, cash and real estate

Variety of Securities – By choosing a variety of securities or funds within one asset class, e.g. stocks from large, medium, small and international companies in different industries

Variety of Maturity Dates – By choosing a variety of maturity dates for fixed-income (bond) investments.

Dollar-Cost Averaging

Another technique to help soften the impact of fluctuations in the investment market is dollar-cost averaging. You invest a set amount of money on a regular basis over a long period of time, regardless of the price per share of the investment. In doing so, you purchase more shares when the price per share is down and fewer shares when the market is high. As a result, you will acquire most of the shares at a below-average cost per share.

As most investors know, market timing . . . always buying low and selling high . . . is very hard to accomplish. Dollar-cost averaging takes much of the emotion and guesswork out of investing. Profits will accelerate when investment market prices rise. At the same time, losses will be limited during times of declining prices.

The Time Value of Money

Now that you understand the concepts of risk and return, let’s turn to an element that is at the heart and soul of building wealth and financial security…TIME. The essence of the concept time value of money is that money is worth more now than in the future.

Compounding also applies to dividends and capital gains on investments when they are reinvested.

Stop Flirting With Disaster

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Nobody likes (or needs) to spend much time thinking about a possible future disaster. But sometimes an ounce of prevention is worth a lot more than a pound of cure. Losing precious documents to disasters such as theft, fire, earthquake or flood can cost you countless hours and thousands of dollars as you try to restore them. Buying a fireproof safe will set you back about $100. You decide.

Savvy Ladies’ Tip: Buy a fireproof safe online (Google “fireproof safe”) and have it delivered right to your doorstep. Then store these documents inside:

• Birth certificates, marriage certificate, divorce papers • Passports • Social Security cards • Title to your home (the deed) • Title to your car (the pink slip) • Will, trust, and power of attorney • Advance directives (living will, health care) • Insurance policies (car, home, long-term care) • Stocks and bond certificates • Photographs of your possessions (for insurance purposes)

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