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

Mid- Year New Year’s Resolutions for the Savvy Lady

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

It’s halfway through the year and it’s time to make some changes. So what’s it to be? If you are REALLY serious about saving money and are willing to make a few changes in your spending habits, then read on.

1. Set goals and have fun The key to making your resolution become a reality is to set a ‘goal’. In other words, what do you want or need the ‘extra’ money for? Are you saving for a new beautiful handbag? What about a family trip to Las Vegas? Set up a savings account for nice things like shopping, holidays and other treats, and you won’t begrudge putting some of your hard-earned cash to one side each month.

2. Pay off one loan/debt over the next 6 months Some of us tend to collect debts like others collect handbags. The fact is, debts are not a necessary part of life. Make a pact with yourself over the next 6 months to get rid of as much of your debts as possible. Contact each credit card company and ask them for the total current balance. Work out how much that will cost you to pay off the debt completely over the next 6 months. It will probably surprise you how little it will impact on your lifestyle. Set up a direct debit and forget it.

3. Get a pay rise You know how, no matter what you earn, you always seem to live beyond your means? Well, now is as good as any time to take action. Collar your boss and ask for that pay rise. The worst that can happen is they’ll say no. And if they do, start looking for another employer who will pay what you deserve.

4. Cut out one money wasting expense like eating out This may be your number one money saver depending on how often you dine out. Trips to restaurants and fast food ‘joints’ quickly add up to be an expensive bill. Try and limit your outings to once a week. Not only will you find yourself saving money, but you’ll be eating healthier at the same time.

How International Do You Want to Be?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Paris, London and Rome, here we come!

Care to own a little of London or un petite peu de Paris? The relationship between international stocks and retirement savings is along the same lines at brie and French baguettes – you shouldn’t have one without the other.

There is no practical limit to how much of a retirement account can be invested internationally; although, like anything, you don’t want too much of a good thing. Usually 10 percent to 35 percent of international exposure in your portfolio is sufficient.

Mutual funds are by far the easiest way to invest internationally. Your options include international funds (which invest in countries outside of the U.S.), global funds (which invest all over the world, including the U.S.), regional funds (which specialize in one region, such as Europe or Latin America), and country funds (which invest in just one country). There are also emerging markets funds, which invest in countries with younger, less well-developed economies.

The United States stock market is the largest in the world, but it still only represents about half of the global stock market. So get out there and see the world and invest in international stocks through mutual funds.

Savvy Ladies’ Tip: Look at all the things you normally would when choosing a fund, like the fund management, costs, past performance and overall fit with you portfolio. Pay special attention to fees, which tend to be higher in foreign funds than domestic funds, and the experience of the fund manager in that particular part of the world. Visit http://www.Morningstar.com to get this important information.

Make Sure Your Cash Works as Hard as You Do

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Not ready to put your cash in the stock market? Feeling like you are not getting anywhere making 0% on your extra dough? We have the answer for you.

One of the easiest ways to get higher interest rates on your checking and savings is to do your banking online. You need to make sure that you use a bank or brokerage firm whose name you recognize. Also, make sure the accounts are FDIC insured. What does FDIC insurance do for you? A lot – so listen up.

Established by the federal government in 1933, after the bank failures of the Great Depression, the FDIC guarantees deposits in banks and thrift institutions for up to $100,000 per depositor per bank. If the bank fails, the government will protect your money up to the established limits. So make sure the bank accounts you stash your cash in are FDIC insured.

Savvy Ladies’ Tip: One of the highest paying savings accounts is 0.75% offered by Capital One and Ally Bank. Another great resource for finding the best interest rates is at BankRate. The site has a great tool for comparing rates.

Overreacting to the Market

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

If you are developing a nervous twitch lately it may be a sign that you are a market over-reactor. While there will always be an economist that preaches doom and gloom, be assured that while the economy may have slowed, it hasn’t fallen off the cliff.

Let’s look at a few bright spots! The housing market is booming. Record numbers of people are buying and selling homes. Look at house construction. Yes, it’s higher too.

Consumers like you and I are also spending in droves. We are helping this country actually buy itself out of this recession. And overall job growth is slowly increasing.

Fact is, while many people overreact to bad news, it pays to keep your cool.

Should You Be on the Field or On the Sidelines?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

When the market is in transition, it’s tough to decide whether to be in the game or on the sidelines. In order to know the answer to this question what we really need is a crystal ball. Since neither you nor I have access to a crystal ball we need to look at alternatives.

The best way to accurately predict the future is to invest in it. Certainly it’s better to have money working. Worried money sitting in a checking account never makes money.

The best bet for the future involves investing in a diversified portfolio of stocks and bonds. By spreading out your investment portfolio, you usually can reduce risk, minimize losses, and take advantage of the next “surprise” winners.

Savvy Ladies’ Tip: Throw your crystal ball away and start getting in the game.

Does Your Head Hurt? How To Choose a Mutual Fund?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

There are so many different kinds of mutual funds, does your head hurt? How do you pick one that’s going to make you a ton of money? There are now funds that specialize in so many different parts of the world and so many industry sectors. What do you do? The answer is not to invest in the latest “hot” mutual fund profiled in the likes of Smart Money, Money or Kiplinger’s. You need to look at less flashy funds.

If you don’t yet own any funds, ignore the specialized ones at first. You need a foundation to build on. Start with a solid, well established equity or balanced fund to deliver growth while limiting the up and down volatility. Be sure to check out its fees as well as manager track record and tenure.

Savvy Ladies’ Tip: Check out the latest board game called Mutual Mania. Mutual Mania combines the entertainment of a board game with mutual fund education. If you enjoy Monopoly, you will love this game and you will gain so much more from playing it.

You can purchase Mutual Mania on Amazon and a portion of your purchase will help support Savvy Ladies.

Asset Allocation Made Sexy. Where Should You Put Your Money?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Achieving a secure financial future has less to do with picking the right stock or mutual fund and more to do with the method in which you divide or diversify your investments. Studies show that asset allocation will account for about 90% of your return. The selection of individual securities and market timing will account for the remaining 10% or so.

As you know an investor’s group of investments, frequently called an investment portfolio, can be divided in numerous ways among stocks, bonds and cash management options. But what should you invest in? To answer this question you will first need to determine your investment profile. What investment profile you chose is based on three main factors – your investment goals, your appetite for risk, and your time horizon.

Your Investment Goals Goals are specific things (e.g., buy a house) that people want to do with their money. Your selection of investments should relate closely to your financial goals; each goal will define the amount and liquidity of the money needed as well as the number of years available for the investment to grow. Liquidity refers to how quickly an asset can be converted into cash. Your house is not a liquid asset because it could take months to sell it. However, your savings account is extremely liquid and can provide cash fast with no penalties.

Your Risk Tolerance Risk tolerance is a person’s emotional and financial capacity to ride out the ups and downs of the investment market without panicking when the value of investments goes down. As you can imagine, risk tolerances vary widely. If thoughts about your mutual funds latest negative returns are keeping you up at night, this is a big clue that you should select saving and investment options with lower risk. On the other hand, it’s important to realize that not taking enough risk has its own set of risks. Conservative investments may not grow as quickly and could stop you from reaching your long-term goals such as retiring early.

Your Time Horizon Time is money. Time is one of the most important resources for investors. A youngish investors with a long time horizon may choose investments that have wide price swings, knowing that time is available for fluctuations to average out. Families investing for a specific mid-life goal (e.g., funding a child’s education or purchasing a home) may choose a more moderate course which has opportunity for growth, but guarantees more safety for the principal. Individuals nearing retirement and those with the need to depend on investment income to cover daily expenses, may wish to select investments that lock in gains and provide a guaranteed income stream.

So You Think You Are a Stock Picker?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Here’s something that happens all the time to me: somebody will mention they’re thinking of buying a certain “hot” stock. The next question is if I think that’s a good idea? I always give them the same answer – I don’t know.

Whether or not you should purchase a stock depends on quite a few factors. Is it the only stock somebody will own? Or only one of ten stocks? How diversified is their portfolio? How much money do they have invested? What are their life goals? No matter how good the market is some years, often the majority of stocks can go down. Let’s take the late 1990s.

The S&P 500 was up quite a bit if you remember, but this was because of a handful of good performers. Over 400 stocks were actually down. More recently, we all painfully remember 2008. Enough said about that.

The great advantage of a mutual fund is that it can invest in a lot of stocks. Some will go down. But the mutual fund can hold so many more stocks than you could possibly own yourself that it makes sense to leave the stock picking to the professionals.

Savvy Ladies’ Tip: Get savvy about mutual funds and be sure to read “Find The Right Mutual Funds” by Morningstar.

Financial Fitness for Newlyweds

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Let’s see, you’ve got the wedding chapel and the caterer booked, the dress selected, the cake designed, the wedding invitations mailed, vows written, finances talked about – oops, didn’t do the last one yet?

Money conflicts are a leading cause of marital strife and divorce. A frank discussion of finances before you say “I do” will go a long way in helping you stay “I do forever.” And harmony and understanding probably won’t happen by themselves. So couples should set aside some time to discuss their philosophies and goals about money — how much you want, how you want to use it, and how to make it part of your happy marriage.

While many of you would love to have the problem of too much money, most newlyweds will feel like there’s never enough money. That’s why it’s so important to understand your partner’s approach to money and to manage it well.

SPENDER/SAVER Which of you likes to spend money and which likes to save it? Often in a couple, one person has a more liberal approach to money and the other has a more conservative approach. It is important to understand that neither of you is “right.” Instead, you will need to come to a spending agreement that works for you both. You might agree on some spending strategies that include maintaining a joint household checking account for household bills, but keep separate accounts for spending as you wish. This will surely involve some compromises as well as give and take.

WHO DOES WHAT? Set up a weekly family meeting. My husband and I sit down for 30 minutes every Saturday morning (early before Sebastian and Samantha wake up) and discuss the upcoming events of the week as well as other concerns. Be sure to also talk about finances, marital roles, and existing obligations to friends and family members. Who is going to be paying the bills? Who is going to monitor the investments? These are just a few of the questions you need to agree upon. What you decide about rights and duties in your marriage is not important; whether or not you agree is. Make sure you talk about your life goals together to make sure you both are on the same financial page. Do you want to have kids, travel, purchase a home, or retire rich at age 40? You will have a much higher likelihood of achieving your dreams if you are both working together to achieve the prosperous life you deserve.

Contrary to common opinion, talking over one’s financial circumstances, and perhaps financial differences, usually doesn’t doom the wedding. Talking about your future finances will actually deepen, not divide, your relationship.

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