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

5 Things You Should Know Before You Buy a Stock or Fund

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A friend of mine is an aspiring author, and eventually wants to leave her corporate job. Over bouillabaisse and freshly baked baguettes the other night, she announced that she just sold her first short story, to an Ezine. All smiles, she explained what an important step this is for her writing career since, as she put it, now she’s googlable. This very versatile new verb got me thinking about the many, many ways the Internet helps investors. Just imagine the amount of information now at our fingertips; information to which, as little as fifteen or so years ago, investors had very limited access. Below are a few googlables to consider before you buy a stock or fund.

  1. Essence. What does the company (or companies, in case of a fund) do? My general advice is that if you don’t understand the business, you shouldn’t bet your money on it. To stomach the ups and downs in the markets (especially today), you have to feel good about your investment.
  2. Sales. Are whatever products and/or services the company produces actually selling? If they are gathering dust in a warehouse, chances are your money will, too.
  3. Cost control. A $10,000,000 golf retreat for the executive staff is hardly effective use of your capital. Put it to work elsewhere.
  4. Debt. People aren’t the only ones who suffer when overwhelmed with debt. Find the leverage ratio (calculated as total assets divided by shareholder equity) for the company (or companies) you’re considering. If it is higher than 5, reconsider.
  5. Bad news. Nothing spreads faster than bad news. If there’s anything fishy going on, chances are somewhere on the World Wide Web, someone picked up on it.

 

 

The Savvy Guide to Coupons

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

Think coupons spell cheap and cheesy? So did I, until a couple of weeks ago the woman in front of me in line at the grocery store used a whopping sixteen of them, saving over thirty dollars. This, with hardly any effort! I just had to ask for her best coupon shopping advice.

If you have yet to try this way of saving, or if you’d like to get more out of your clippings, read on!

  1. The Internet is not just for shopping and email – it’s for saving as well. Check out sites such as hotcoupons.com, valupage.com, and coolsavings.com.
  2. Your Sunday paper, too, can be a wonderful resource. Allocate a compartment in your purse or wallet to this purpose, clip, and save!
  3. Many stores have fliers with coupons at the entrance. If this is true for yours, don’t miss out on this golden opportunity. You can combine these savings with the ones already in your purse. I now check the flyer at Whole Foods every time we shop. We save a minimum of $10 on every grocery visit.
  4. If you can’t find coupons for the brand you like, try giving the company a call. Many companies are happy to send valued customer coupons – you just have to ask.

I am taking the first, staggering steps toward becoming a coupon customer, using them mainly for restaurants and travel. What about you?

5 Quick Fixes for Your FICO Score

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

An old friend – a real estate agent in the Midwest sent me an email this morning with a topic she suggested I post in my blog. With real estate prices at record lows, many aspiring homeowners are looking her up. Many fulfill both the down payment and income requirements for a mortgage. Unfortunately, they tend to underestimate the extent to which the credit markets have changed over the past couple of years. These days, there’s no way around it: your credit score must be sky high. Wanting nothing more than for her clients to have their dream homes, she has put together a list of quick lifts for that FICO score.

1. Pay down balances. A main ingredient in the credit score formula, the size of your balances really does matter. Pay them down – or even better, off.

2. Protest unfair information. If you have an entry on your credit report that shouldn’t be there (honestly, now), know that you can dispute it. If you submit complaints to the company that posted it as well as the credit-reporting agency, they will investigate and take it off, leaving your record a whole lot cleaner.

3. Ask for help. If you’ve been a loyal customer for years and normally make your payments on time, chances are, if you talk to customer service, they will disregard that one time you forgot to pay your bill because you were on your honeymoon. Ask politely – and thou shall receive.

4. Don’t neglect the oldies. Another important factor in the credit score formula is how long your accounts have been open. So even if the Victoria’s Secret card you applied for when you were in college doesn’t have the most useful perks, use it once in a while for a credit score boost.

5. Make your payments on time. It seems simple, yet so many people fail on this count. If you have a hard time remembering your payments, set up a reminder.

 

The Fear Factor: The True Cost of Emotion-Based Investment Decisions

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

I am very intuitive, said a new client over raw food downtown yesterday. Thank goodness I can finally eat Sushi again. While I was pregnant this food was strictly off limits. Anyways, my client told me that she always listens to her gut when determining when to buy and sell. It has never been wrong in any other aspect of her life, yet she keeps losing money. Any idea why this could be? 

I do have an idea, and I think it’s important enough to mention to the rest of you as well. The reason following her gut in investment decisions is getting my new client nowhere is that gut feeling is a biological function designed to keep you safe. So when things start to get shaky in the markets, it will tell you to pull out. When indexes start to head north again and others around you start to make money, it will pick up on their sense of security and conclude that it is safe for you to re-enter.

In essence, you will end up buying high and selling low – one of the worst investment strategies imaginable. Statistics show that it is not unusual for investors who move in and out of the markets to underperform major indexes with 1.5 points.  

I’m not saying you should ignore your gut, because it is useful in so many other aspects of life. Sometimes, it can be a lifesaver! But when it comes to investing, it’s all about the rational. Draft a long-term strategy, stick to it, and – with the exception of your annual or bi-annual portfolio review – leave your money alone. You are much better off using that gut feeling to improve other aspects of your life.

6 Smart Money Moves in Your Thirties

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A couple of weeks ago, I attended my friend’s thirtieth birthday party. A week later, she called my office to schedule an appointment. While I was delighted to accommodate her, I couldn’t help but scratch my head a little. She never asked me about money before. What was going on? 

It turns out that like so many people entering their thirties, she suddenly felt overwhelmed with financial responsibilities. Would she ever be able to pay off her student debt? What about buying a home? And retirement, it had dawned upon her, wasn’t as far off as it had seemed before. Nor was the whole baby thing.

It is true that your thirties bring a ton of financial responsibilities – but it is also a decade of wonderful opportunities! Below are six smart money moves and stepping stones toward a prosperous future.

  1. Learn to prioritize and keep your expenses down. While a few people pick this up in their twenties, many people never do – and they rarely enjoy a better-than-average standard of living.
  2. Pay off your credit cards. Not only will you save a bundle on financing charges, but as your FICO score improves, you can obtain better rates for mortgages and many other things.
  3. Build an emergency fund. Most experts recommend that you keep enough money to cover six months worth of living expenses in an easily accessible account. This is especially true today.
  4. If you haven’t done so already, start saving for retirement. You are best off stashing this cash in an account that scores you tax benefits, such as a 401(k) or a Roth IRA.
  5. Watch your debt. Get into the habit of spending less than you earn, making room for savings. Stay clear of high-interest and toxic debt.
  6. Review your insurance coverage. Chances are you have some sort of medical insurance already. Other types to look into include long-term disability and homeowner’s insurance (if you are planning to buy a home).

You don’t have to deal with them all at once. Just keep them in mind, and work on them whenever possible.

How the Recession Can Help Your Finances

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A newsflash from travelzoo.com just plopped down in my inbox. Apparently, this weekend, flight fares between New York and the West Coast run as little as $99, round trip. Now, with two little kids, spontaneous travel is not as easy for me as it once was. Still, I love that the possibility is there! Slashed airfares all over the country (and all over the world) is just one way the recession can help your finances. Below are a few others. 

  1. Mortgage payments. With interest rates at record lows, this is an excellent time to refinance. Furthermore, with landlords growing increasingly desperate, renters with outstanding payment records may be able to negotiate a discount. Or take advantage of the rare low home prices-low interest rates combo and buy!

  2. Going out of business sales. Enjoy major discounts on the items you were planning to buy anyway (a car, new carpet for your bedroom, a flat screen TV) by sweeping up all the bargains out there.

  3. New business opportunities. Old, established companies going out of business means there will be plenty of room for up-and-comers once the economy comes back around. Start out slowly, be patient, and before you know it you’ll be in a perfect position to prosper.

  4. New wisdom. Yes, the past year or two have been painful for most. That we have learned the hard way may be the understatement of the year. Still, there’s no way around it: our attitude toward money has changed for the better.

Opportunity Cost and Holidays: Should You Stretch Your Budget for a Longer Vacation?

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

During the latest Savvy Ladies teleconference, the topic of conversation was much rosier than the typical ones these days (unemployment, recession, and ways to cut spending). One member had just quit her job to realize a long-lost dream: to spend a year backpacking through Asia and Oceania. By staying in hostels and eating out of grocery stores, she wouldn’t use more money per month than a family visiting Disneyworld burns in a weekend. She was very proud of her calculation, and it does make a lot of sense …except she forgot to consider opportunity cost.

 Since she won’t be making any money while traveling, she will also miss out on a year’s worth of salary. Whereas the family spending the big bucks during the weekend or while on paid time off wouldn’t face any loss of income.

 Now, whether a weekend at Disneyworld is as much of an experience as a month trekking the Himalayas, I am going to leave up to you to decide. But considering how often people forget about opportunity cost, I always feel obliged to point it out.

Selecting Your Beneficiaries

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

One of my best friends is going through a divorce. Over the phone last night, she provided an endearing account of her efforts to make a clean break and start over. Apparently, she even remembered to take her ex out of her will. This reminded me of something few people know, even though it affects most of us in one way or another.

Your will has no jurisdiction over accounts with beneficiaries, such as your IRA. Translation: no one will care about the changes you made to your will five years ago, designating your entire fortune to your sister. If your ex is listed as the beneficiary on your retirement account, he may very well walk away with all your money.

Now, before you break into a cold sweat, hear the good news! Most investment firms make changing your beneficiaries easier than changing a light bulb. Many provide a printable version of the form on their website. If this is not the case with your firm, the form is probably just a phone call away. Meaning: it is definitely worth the effort to review your beneficiaries periodically – especially when you are going through a lot of changes – and make sure everything is still as you wish.

Two other things to note: first of all, it is generally unwise (and an express ticket to probate) to select a minor as your beneficiary. If you want to ensure that a minor gets a portion of or all of your money, set up a trust. Secondly, it is usually smart to have a backup beneficiary, to keep things simple in case anything were to happen to your first choice.

How to Stay Clear of Cuts in Your Line of Credit

by Stacy Francis, CFP®, CDFA

A report from a recent Savvy Ladies meeting revealed that many of you are having your lines of credit slashed. I thought a few pieces of advice could come in handy. A couple of months ago, I touched on the topic in a blog entitled “Will a Cut in Your Line of Credit Hurt Your FICO Score?”, concluding that the extent of the damage can range from a minor nuisance to near disaster, depending on your credit history, score, and accounts. This time, I will focus on preventative measures, namely:  

  1. Use your cards. Many times, inactive accounts are the first ones to go (if you don’t use your cards, unless you pay an annual fee, you don’t make the bank any money). This doesn’t mean you should go on a shopping spree. Simply charge something once in a while, to let the lender know you are still using the account.
  2. Keep your outstanding balances low. This is always advisable, but now more than ever. Companies like American Express have been known to reduce customers’ lines of credit to below their outstanding balances, further adding to the hardship of indebted individuals.
  3. Keep working on your FICO score. It is not hard to see why troubled banks cut lines of credit for high-risk individuals; they simply cannot afford to have them default on their debt. By proving to the lending institutions that you are a safe bet, you greatly enhance the chances they’ll let you keep your lines of credit. If you have stellar credit, you can use this to your advantage, kindly informing institutions threatening to reduce your lines of credit that you could easily take your business elsewhere.

Join the 2021 Gala Awards Celebration

Virtual Awards Celebration

plus Live Panel Discussions

November 18, 2021 6:00 PM ET

 Bringing together our supporters, advocates, and allies to celebrate the work of Savvy Ladies and honor those who are making a difference in supporting financial empowerment for women.