How My Mentor Helped Me Get Promoted

In the workforce, doing great work isn’t enough to accelerate your career. Mentors and sponsors ensure your great work is recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated by those in power. My mentor has been a tremendously valuable source of guidance throughout my career, and our partnership helped me earn my most recent (and significant) promotion.

Let’s take a moment to define terms:

  • Mentors provide guidance, coaching, and perspective on your career and professional ambitions. I think of my best mentors as a second set of eyes on my life decisions, and love this article on the four things the best mentors do. Mentors may be within or outside of your organization.

  • Sponsors may do some of the things mentors do, but they exert effort on your behalf. They actively seek, develop, and create professional opportunities for you. I believe you must have at least one sponsor within your own organization.

A report by executive search firm Egon Zehnder indicated that only 54% of women have sponsors or mentors supporting their career. Frustratingly, women have fewer sponsors than men. In my experience, I find we are less assertive about developing senior relationships because we often feel uncomfortable asking for help. If you don’t yet have a mentor, here are six tips on how to get one.

050 - Mentors.png

My primary mentor is an amazing, inspiring businesswoman with over a decade of additional professional experience. Let’s call her Amani. Her guidance has been valuable throughout my career and she played a massive role in helping me secure a big promotion.

Eighteen months ago, I felt stuck in a professional rut. Amani and I had a conversation where I shared this feeling with her, and she asked me several pointed questions to help me diagnose the source of my angst. I find that the best mentors, like Amani, often listen more than they speak.

One of the questions she asked me was: “If you weren’t stuck, what would be happening differently at work and in your career?” This simple, thoughtful question required me to gather my thoughts. I shared some of the frustrations that would be eliminated, the projects I’d stop spending time on, how I’d change my staff, and the new things I’d take on. “Well,” Amani chuckled, “let’s build your plan to do just that.”

Over the next several weeks, I evaluated and retired lower-value projects; I assessed my staff, and adjusted workload and responsibilities. With Amani’s guidance echoing in my head, I built a small working team to re-evaluate internal processes that had grown cumbersome and inefficient, and began working towards new goals that inspired me.

In the eighteen months that followed, Amani served as a “second set of eyes,” as I ran any new project and commitment by her. Her objective perspective helped me evaluate which opportunities truly matched the revised vision of my career.

Before a particularly difficult meeting, with several executives that never agreed on anything, she was my audience as I practiced the meeting, executive concerns, and questions I would need to address.

Amani helped me clarify my focus and served as a meaningful source of inspiration, particularly when some of my proposals went down in flames. She reminded me, “Your next role isn’t going to come because you were right every time, it’s going to be awarded to you because you’re a great executive and thoughtful leader. Keep proving that, and the opportunity will come.”

Importantly, Amani helped me communicate the case for my promotion in the six months leading up to the review cycle. She and I would discuss which leaders had confirmed their support and strategize on which critical promotion decision-makers needed to shift from neutral to supportive.

My great work and strong leadership earned me a promotion eighteen months after I articulated my feeling of being professionally “stuck” with Amani. Her guidance, support, and objective advice are things I’m forever grateful for. You might be curious how I pay her back? She always asks one thing: that I return the favor by mentoring other women. I’m happy to oblige.

I’d love to hear how you’ve benefited from the partnership of a mentor...or, how you’re supporting other women by serving as their mentor. By intentionally spending the time to support those around us, we’re elevating all women, which is a beautiful thing.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

This post also appeared on the Fairygodboss blog - I love their mission to improve the lives and workplace for women, through transparency.

My Money Mistakes: The Four Times I Accumulated Credit Card Debt

I’ve made a commitment to share my money-related mistakes. These financial lowlights aren’t my proudest moments, but I hope sharing my missteps can help remove some shame and embarrassment from the topic of personal finance.

My mistake with credit cards is a series of mistakes that repeated it four times. Unfortunately, I’m not alone in accumulating too much credit card debt. As of this writing, the average American household has a credit card balance of $8,377 and has an interest rate that is greater than 12%. Consumers typically have 9 credit cards and approximately 14% of Americans have more than 10 cards. (This is far more than the number of credit cards I recommend, which I’ll cover in the next post.)

Mistake #1: Credit card debt in college. I was thrilled when I got accepted into the University of Michigan, the only school I wanted to attend. (Go Blue!) When school started, I couldn’t believe how lucky I was to be attending a school in beautiful Ann Arbor, with fascinating classes, inspiring campus life, and creative, thoughtful students.

It was also my first exposure to those who appeared very wealthy. Some students had cars that cost more than my childhood home, parents that bought them an Ann Arbor house as “an investment property,” or spent their winter break in Switzerland. My sturdy Eddie Bauer backpack seemed out of place - many of the women in my classes carried their books in Kate Spade, Fendi, and Louis Vuitton bags, which I had only seen on Sex and the City.

By the time I reached my junior year, I had accumulated around $2,500 of credit card debt. This debt wasn’t for my books or school supplies, but all splurges I felt I had “earned.” You know, because I was working so hard in school...and “all” my peers had nice stuff, too, so...

To manage the credit card debt, I ignored it and headed off to my summer internship in Washington, D.C. One evening, I was walking to the Metro when my cell phone rang. It was the credit card company, frustrated by my lack of payment. The representative offered to “charge off” my debt. I happily accepted.

Once I returned to campus to begin my senior year, I checked my credit score. It was in the toilet because of my decision to ignore my debt. I worked out an arrangement to repay the debt, which modestly improved my score. My first experience with credit card debt was a double-whammy; I accumulated debt buying things I didn’t need and did a horrible job of managing the debt. I swore I’d never get into credit card debt again.

Mistake #2: Credit card debt after moving to D.C. After I graduated, I moved to the nation’s capital and promptly racked up another credit card bill, around $2,700. I thoughtlessly swiped my credit card to buy essentials for my first solo apartment, shop for a work-appropriate wardrobe, and splurge in D.C. bars and restaurants.

Further, if I had been shocked by the wealth I saw on display in Ann Arbor, D.C. was another level. I vividly remember going to “pregame” one evening at a colleague’s apartment, which had amazing views of the National Mall. He told me it was his parent’s second home, which he’d be getting when his trust fund kicked in. This started a conversation on provisions in trust funds; I finally understood how my peers could afford their lifestyle. Unlike me, they had another meaningful source of income beyond their entry-level job.

About six months into my new job, I got my act together, stopped spending thoughtlessly, and actively sought out friends that didn’t live a lavish lifestyle. I also earned a promotion (and pay increase); all of my extra income went towards my credit card debt. I promised myself I’d never get into credit card debt again.

Mistake #3: Credit card debt after buying a home. I’ve shared the massive size and wild terms of my first mortgage. When my partner and I moved in, we left a 500-square-foot studio apartment for a 3,000+ square-foot house.

There were plenty of things we needed (fire extinguisher, household tools, window coverings for our bedroom) and plenty of things we convinced ourselves we needed (brand new furniture). Together, we racked up over $12,000 in credit card debt. This was the largest amount yet; a massive mortgage and large credit card balance made me feel trapped.

In 2006, Mr. Financier and I created a goal to eliminate our credit card debt in one year, with two $500 payments each month, diverting any “found” money to debt, and reducing three household expenses. We paid the debt off earlier than planned; I kept a handwritten log next to my bed to track our progress.

This was the most significant credit card debt I’d ever paid off, and I swore I’d never get into credit card debt again.

Mistake #4: Credit card debt following a significant raise. When I started my consulting career, I set a goal to be a Director by the time I turned 30. Colleagues in this position were generally 35 or older, but my career ambition and desire to grow my income inspired me to put my nose to the grindstone and shoot for this lofty goal. I earned a promotion into the Director position the month after I turned 30; my base salary rose to $150,000.

In End Financial Stress Now, Emily Guy Birken writes about the windfall effect. When we receive a windfall - an unanticipated bonus, or a generous birthday check - we’re more tempted to frivolously, quickly spend it. Our brains tend to compartmentalize and we view the extra money as distinct from our paycheck (which we spend more responsibly). One study on the psychology of unexpected, windfall gains concluded, “...the unanticipated nature of windfall gains is responsible for their heightened proclivity to be spent.”

I had one hell of a windfall on my hands, so I did what all responsible adults do in that situation. I rewarded myself well before I had actually saved the money to do so. Yup, you guessed it - I racked up another $3,100 in credit card debt. After the high from my shopping sprees wore off, I felt sick to my stomach. How in the world did I end up in debt, again?

It was this fourth time in debt that forced me to break my pattern. I was ashamed to be carrying a balance on my credit cards (yet again) and my debt dulled the achievement associated with my promotion. I had more than enough in my emergency fund to pay the debt off, but refused to do so, forcing myself to pay the costly interest charges as penance.

My fourth time in debt finally caused me to reflect on what habits I needed to change; there were four.

1. Watch out for life changes. I realized that I’m vulnerable to credit card debt during big life changes or times of stress. I’d feel like I “deserve” something nice and this emotional spending would push me into debt. This may not be unique to me, but since I’m conscious of this fact, I put my credit cards on lockdown when change is afoot and watch my spending even more closely.

2. Increase my save-to-spend account. I needed a cushion to fund the things I enjoy. My budget was so lean that I didn’t leave myself enough space for occasional splurges. I adjusted my automatic savings, increasing the amount going to my “save-to-spend” accounts to allow for the things I love, like shoes and dining out, that can tempt me into debt.

3. Change my shopping habits. I adjusted my shopping patterns to make myself less vulnerable to temptations. I stopped meeting up with girlfriends to shop - instead, we went to art galleries, parks, vineyards. I stopped browsing and only go shopping (online or in a store) when I have a specific item missing from my wardrobe. And, I unsubscribed from the many email lists I was on from my favorite retailers. If I missed out on a huge sale, so be it - I wouldn’t miss the possibility of subsequent debt.

4. Stop using credit cards by default. I changed my default card to my debit card, which pulled directly out of my checking account. Today, I only “allow” myself to put expenses greater than $100 on credit cards and I transfer the payment immediately from my checking to my credit card, so I can’t be surprised by large credit card bills.

I currently remain out of credit card debt and love getting zero-balance credit card bills in the mail. My money mistake with credit cards is one that I chose to repeat until I took the time to address the underlying issues. Have you struggled with credit card debt? Or, are you one of the lucky ones that excel at keeping your cards under control?

xoxo, Ms. Financier

Is This Real Life!? The Feminist Financier Is Now an Award-Winning Blog!

This morning, I found out that The Feminist Financier was named Best Investing Blog at the 8th annual Plutus Awards. I was surprised, humbled, and thrilled...and subsequently spent a solid hour on Twitter eagerly exploring the other winners and joyfully reading the notes of congratulations from other personal finance gurus.

You read this blog for personal finance perspective, not blogger awards. But let me tell you why this award is so amazing, and then we’ll return to our regularly-scheduled money-focused programming.

The Plutus Awards celebrate the best in personal finance, and are affiliated with The Plutus Foundation, a nonprofit that provides, “...opportunities for the financial media to create, develop, and administer community-based programs that enhance financial literacy, education, and empowerment.”

Plutus Awards Winner.png

As you know, I believe wealth equality is at the heart of gender equality. Wealth provides the holder with security, options, and power. I started this blog to be a drop in the sea of change...in order to help more women build wealth. This blog is not a business - it doesn’t earn me any money, nor do I offer any affiliate links. The Feminist Financier was created with the sole focus of supporting wealth equality.

Today, the finance industry is not set up well to serve women. Sallie Krawcheck puts this so well - she says the investing industry has been, “by men, for men,” and has historically kept women from achieving their financial goals. That’s problematic because investing early and often is at the heart of building wealth.

041 - Sallie K Investing for Men.png

The power of compound interest means that the earlier women invest, the sooner our investments start growing and making money on our behalf. And, today, women invest less than men. We tend to keep 10% more of our savings in cash than our male counterparts. Millennial women report a lower level of financial comfort - on average, we are less confident in our financial future, and less likely to feel “in control” or “confident” about our financial future.

This blog is all about changing that trend, and that’s why I’m so thrilled to receive acknowledgment that this is the best investing blog out there! It means that no-nonsense straight talk that cuts through the jargon is providing you with the information you need to succeed.

You can easily browse all the blog posts on the site, or view only those related to investing. An easy way to start is the “investing in four steps” series, which includes:

As always, I welcome your feedback and am honored that you spend some of your valuable time with me. I’m looking forward to continuing to support financial literacy and help more women improve our finances and build wealth.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

Six Expenses I’ll Never Cut Back On

The difference between cheap and frugal lies in priorities. Someone that is cheap enjoys spending as little as possible. They prioritize cost reduction in all expenses, in every area of their life. 

Someone that is frugal reduces expenses selectively. They prioritize specific experiences or things that deliver value and are okay with spending more in those areas. Those that are frugal do focus on reducing or eliminating expenses associated with things that aren’t a priority.

I've shared three ways I live frugally - but there's another side to that, as I don't view myself as cheap. In this post, I’ll share six areas where I splurge. This topic is important because many personal finance enthusiasts inadvertently create a culture of shame, judgment, and embarrassment around spending more than the minimum on any item. I’ve fallen into that trap myself; it isn’t motivating to others. We all have different values; part of becoming financially free is aligning your spending with your unique goals. For many of us, that doesn’t include deprive ourselves of all of life’s luxuries.

Shoes. I have a weakness for fabulous shoes, which are often (but not always) expensive. I prefer shoes to either clothes or handbags and get an irrational frisson of happiness when I’m wearing a pair that I love. As I write this, I'm wearing a pair of studded Marc Jacobs mouse flats. These little rodents make my day. The right pair of shoes bolsters my confidence, lifts my mood, and takes my primarily monochromatic wardrobe to the next level.

When my grandmother passed away, she had accumulated over 100 pairs of shoes. Clearly, I inherited her passion for footwear. My shoe collection includes inexpensive, unique heels that I snapped up at no-name shops alongside fabulous Manolos, Louboutins, and Choos. It’s a Carrie Bradshaw cliché - a woman who loves shoes. But I do!

Wine. In the past several years, I’ve become an amateur wine enthusiast. My splurge on wine doesn’t include endless cases of Chateau Mouton Rothschild, but I do have a 200-bottle wine fridge that I keep stocked with delicious discoveries. Wine allows me to explore the world with each bottle and I get quite a lot of enjoyment from the different tastes, characteristics, and regions represented in my collection.

I use CellarTracker to keep track of my wine; what I’ve bought, tasted, or have on my wish list. It also keeps track of how much I spend on the bottles I log. I could save more money if I drank less wine, visited fewer wineries, or switched completely to Bota Box (which I enjoy and often have in my pantry, it's a great price-to-value.)

Benjamin Franklin was quoted as saying, “Wine makes daily living easier, less hurried, with fewer tensions and more tolerance.” I couldn’t agree more.

Sunscreen. My daily sunscreen is an indulgent beauty splurge. While I buy drugstore brand makeup, the Kiehl’s sunscreen I prefer is over $20 an ounce. It protects my skin and feels amazing. Similarly, I splurge on two other skincare items, my nightly moisturizer from Dermalogica and a lovely Origins moisturizer ironically called Starting Over. These products might have less expensive alternatives, but I haven’t yet identified them.

I had terrible skin in my late teens and used to spend a ridiculous amount on high-end skin care and makeup in my early 20s. Once I figured out the right way to protect and manage my skin, I happily continued to buy the pricier items made a difference in my complexion.

Travel. Exploring is something I value tremendously and will always budget for. I aim to spend more on traveling as I age; my current retirement budget includes a line item that is three times what we spend today.

My partner and I both enjoy a wide range of travel experiences; we have as much fun climbing a mountain in the Pacific Northwest or camping in West Virginia’s gorgeous Monongahela National Forest as we do on a luxurious Parisian getaway. Even in lean times, I’ve been fortunate to continue to invest in travel experiences that both broaden my perspective and recharge my batteries.

Home. This is my biggest splurge; Mr. Financier and I live in a home that is quite generously sized for two people. I’ve shared the ridiculous terms of my first mortgage and I’ve occasionally considered selling, downsizing, and investing the balance.

However, my partner and I have created a home that provides us with plenty of space to enjoy a variety of different experiences without leaving our property. We have a library where I can curl up and read, a theater room to enjoy our favorite movies, a dining room that we use regularly, a basement bar to serve wine and mixed drinks, and an outdoor space that allows us to explore nature.

We’re lucky to have these experiences at our fingertips and while a tinier space in a lower-cost location would make financial sense, I’m quite certain we wouldn’t be as happy. Mr. Financier and I enjoy socializing, but both of us are introverts, so having a space that is truly ours to retreat to is our biggest luxury.

Giving. This is an area I aim to increase over time. Ever since I started working, I’ve been contributing regular, automatic donations to a few of my favorite nonprofits. With each raise or bonus I earn, I always set aside a portion for these groups. Many that I support are related to nature and conservation, as well as supporting and enabling women. One of the most exciting things about increasing my household income has been the ability to donate even more meaningful sums to the causes I care about.

My giving strategy is to engage more deeply with fewer causes; this can be difficult because there are so many amazing groups doing powerful work. However, I enjoy getting to know the leaders of the nonprofits I support, understand their short- and long-term objectives, and connect them to valuable resources. I aim to spend even more time (and money) with these organizations once I reach financial freedom.

Those are six expenses I’ll never cut back on, which means I need to work longer and grow my income consistently in order to fund them. I’m curious to hear if there are expenses that you’ll never cut back on? What are the things you happily spend more than the bare minimum on?

xoxo, Ms. Financier

Three Ways I Live Frugally

Being frugal gets a bad rap. It is often confused with its less forgiving cousin, being cheap. I love the distinction between the two in this article by Stefanie O’Connell: “Being cheap is about spending less; being frugal is about prioritizing your spending so that you can have more of the things you really care about.”

I experienced this in a recent conversation with my girlfriends; I mentioned something I didn’t purchase because I’m too frugal. My friend replied, “With those shoes!? You are NOT frugal!” But, frugality isn’t about always buying the least expensive item. Here are three ways that I live frugally:

Identify low-value budget categories to reduce (or eliminate). As I became more mindful about my spending, I identified several expenses that cost more than I was willing to pay. Your categories may differ; here is where I decided to reduce (or eliminate) spend. These changes freed saved me $540 monthly, creating another $6,480 annually to invest in financial freedom.

  • Cable Television: My television bill was over $100 and provided plenty of channels; In order to save money and give myself more free time, I cut the cord. I now watch far fewer shows, most of them on Netflix.

  • Dining Out: Restaurant meals had ballooned to nearly $400 of my monthly budget. I decided to break the habit of eating out regularly and instead treated restaurant outings like an event. Planning meals and creating easy options for breakfast and lunch contributed to my savings.

  • Housekeeper: My weekly housekeeping service was convenient but costly. My partner and I decided that we could roll up our sleeves and keep our own house tidy, investing a little extra time each week and saving significantly. I will occasionally splurge for their services, but not on a scheduled basis.

  • Expensive Cell Phones: Switching from a traditional cell provider to Republic Wireless allowed us to keep great connectivity, without confusing contracts and expensive plans. There’s a misperception that pay-as-you-go plans are less reliable; in fact, many run on the exact same networks as the big guys. Like all cell services, your coverage may vary, but I’ve been a very happy customer for years.

Optimize entertainment expenses. For anyone near a large city, the wide availability of shows, events, speakers, and entertainment can be a huge benefit. I really value these experiences and in DC area we are fortunate to have amazing entertainment venues alongside Smithsonian Institution museums that are completely free (though they welcome donations). Every now and then, I’ll splurge on tickets to an amazing Kennedy Center performance, but I’ve found that free and low-cost events fill my entertainment need without breaking my budget.

I’ve nearly eliminated some entertainment costs; I am a huge reader and intentionally use the services at my local library to reduce my spending on books and magazines. My library also offers great programming and workshops. I’ve taken free classes on everything from gardening to personal finance.

Local wineries in the metro DC area are also of increasingly high quality. Wine Enthusiast covered some of the leaders in Virginia’s wine scene and visiting local wineries is one of my favorite lower-cost outings. Many wineries allow you to bring your own picnic lunch, and after a few dollars enjoying a tasting, I select my favorite bottle and enjoy it with a homemade charcuterie platter.

Finally, I live frugally by learning new skills. There are two areas where this has helped me save money. First, I learned to cook! I actively rejected learning to cook for years because I had an irrational fear that it would make me too domestic. This all changed in 2015 when I got fed up with boring dinners and tried Blue Apron after a colleague’s encouragement.

My first recipes included Chicken Rollatini alla Cacciatore with Radiatore Pasta and Chicken Mole with Sweet Potatoes, Avocado, and Queso Fresco. These recipes intimidated me and initially took me forever to prepare. However, they were incredibly delicious and I kept customizing my deliveries and enjoying the satisfaction that comes with creating an amazing meal. Over time, I improved my confidence in the kitchen, became more skilled, and invested in a few key kitchen gadgets that made cooking a lot easier.

Learning to cook allows me to enjoy amazing meals at home, which means if I get a hankering for an amazing meal, I can often make it myself. My partner is a great chef but doesn’t enjoy eating out as much as I do, so it works out well that he can pitch in as sous chef (and do the dishes).

Additionally, my partner and I have developed our do-it-yourself skills. I grew up in a house where my parents tried to outsource as little as possible - so I was used to things like painting, wallpapering, landscaping, and installing tile. Mr. Financier often says the most valuable class he took in high school was a home improvement course, which culminated in each student building their own bathroom project, which included plumbing, electrical, and drywall.

When we moved into a house that we simply couldn’t afford (but bought anyway), being able to DIY saved us a tremendous amount. With so many fabulous resources available, we regularly build the knowledge and confidence to try ambitious projects. You can find a step-by-step tutorial for nearly anything. One of my favorites is House-Improvements, a YouTube channel and website run by an experienced contractor, Shannon, who is an excellent teacher.

When a home improvement project or repair doesn’t require the cost of labor, you can immediately pocket the difference, which can result in huge savings over time. You also get the priceless feeling that results from your own handiwork, something I feel anytime I look at the myriad of projects that Mr. Financier and I have completed around our home!

Those are three ways I live frugally, by reducing or eliminating low-value expenses, optimizing my entertainment spend, and learning new skills. I’m curious if you call yourself frugal...or if that’s a label you reject? If you are frugal, what tips would you share?

xoxo, Ms. Financer

Business Travel Tips From an Expert Traveler

I’ve been traveling for business for more than a dozen years. Looking for business travel tips? I’ve got you. These are some of the travel hacks that help me survive on the road.

Enjoy the experience. There are many articles about the drudgery of travel, but visiting new places is a tremendous luxury. It is estimated that two-thirds of American adults haven’t flown in the past 12 months and 18% haven’t flown in their life. Only 36% of Americans hold a valid passport, meaning that 64% cannot travel outside the United States (though they may have previously.) Look to meet new people, try a new type of cuisine, and broaden your own horizons through your trips.

Pack a good attitude. Confirmation bias is the tendency to seek, interpret, and recall information that confirms our biases. If you travel with a negative attitude (thinking airlines are terrible, people are annoying, stations are crowded), your brain will seek those experiences and reinforce your bias towards the horrors of travel. I encourage you to pack another attitude: that travel is interesting, exciting, and offers an opportunity to experience things you never would in your home office.

Be loyal. While rewards programs aren’t as rich as they used to be, they’re still useful. I have a colleague in a different department that was traveling sporadically for five years without any loyalty programs. Since they only traveled four or five times a year, they didn’t think signing up for anything was worth the effort. Understand your company’s travel policies and look for a few airlines and hotels you can remain loyal to in order to earn rewards.

Sign up for TSA Precheck and Global Entry. Not optional. Global Entry includes TSA Precheck, so once you are vetted, you’ll have both benefits. The current cost is $85 for five years. Precheck saves you time and effort at the beginning of your journey - you can move more quickly through dedicated security lines that also include Precheck travelers (who tend to be more experienced, and therefore efficient.) Global Entry saves you time when you return from an international flight; you simply enter information at a kiosk as opposed to standing in a queue to interact with a live agent.

Invest in excellent luggage. This really, really matters. I prefer Briggs & Riley and Tumi, as both have excellent customer service and provide warranties. If possible, select your luggage in person, and ensure it works with the items you pack, is comfortable to wheel when full, and is something you can lift into an overhead bin.

Invest in a travel-friendly wardrobe. Look for pieces that can mix and match easily with one another, in neutral colors, that don’t wrinkle. Here’s where women get a big leg up on men - they are often in suits with pressed shirts; women in a professional role can often get away with an amazing shift dress. Much easier to pack. Other critical items include good scarves and statement jewelry; both add flavor to a wardrobe without taking up much space. I’m also mindful of my pyjamas; I have been in hotels that have been evacuated at night and have been standing outside with colleagues. It can happen.

Use a list and pre-pack. Even experienced travelers forget things! I have a packing list that I use for my business trips, which ensures I don’t forget small items, like socks, hosiery, and my sports bra. I also pre-pack, meaning that there are certain items that never leave my luggage. These items include: an umbrella, travel pyjamas, chargers for my electronics, and my makeup/toiletry kit (which include Band-Aids, aspirin, and Imodium, which you should never be without). I also travel with my beautiful Shhhowercap; life is too short for the ineffective plastic caps provided by most hotels.

Keep your work bag stocked. Some items that are critical for flights stay in my work bag at all times, like lip balm, hand sanitizer, tissues, gum, and a travel-friendly pouch of wet wipes in case I end up in a seat with a dirty tray table that hasn’t yet been cleaned. I also always have a large scarf in my bag; temperature is unpredictable while traveling and it can double as a blanket.

Use packing cubes. You never know when you’re going to have to open your luggage in front of colleagues, clients, or the TSA. I use Eagle Creek packing cubes, laundry bags, and shoe sacks so I can easily dig through my bag without any embarrassment.

Never check your luggage. I’m serious - even if you’re headed overseas for a few weeks, it is possible to go carry-on only if you have excellent luggage and a travel-friendly wardrobe. At best, checking your luggage wastes your time (and that of your colleagues if you’re traveling together); at worst, it puts you at risk of not having what you need for tomorrow’s meeting.

Pack an extra bag. Sometimes, you end up adding things to your luggage on your journey. This may be binders or books from your clients or something fun like an unexpected piece of art and a splurge at Duty Free. I keep Tumi’s ultra-lightweight Just-In-Case® tote packed in my luggage for these emergencies. In this case, you are then allowed to check your luggage on the return flight!

Consider noise-cancelling headphones. I travel with mine for flights that are over 2-3 hours; shorter than that, I can get by with smaller earbuds to drown out the noise. Your experience may differ, but my ears get irritated after a few hours, so an over-the-ear model works best for me on long flights.

Identify a pair of “airport flats” that work for you. I’m usually in business professional clothing when I travel, and I prefer to wear heels to client meetings. If you’re often in heels, I recommend identifying a pair of neutral “airport flats” that you keep in your luggage and can change into after a client meeting, before you have to dash through the airport to catch your flight. Comfortable ballet flats work well.

Prepare for long-haul flights. Long-haul and overnight flights require a little extra effort. When I’m flying overnight, I add a few things to my work bag, including: my noise-cancelling headphones, eye drops, panty liners (I’m serious, pack a few to stay fresh on long flights!), woolen socks, an eye mask (I prefer the 40 Blinks mask from Bucky), and a superb travel pillow (I prefer the Aeris neck pillow; Travel and Leisure has an excellent list for different types of sleepers). I also drink a lot of water and use Airborne; I’m not sure if the Airborne actually does anything but I rarely get sick while traveling.

Stay active healthy. Whether I’m traveling for a single night or several weeks, my gym clothes and sneakers come with me. Staying active on the road helps my energy and keeps me healthy. Nearly every hotel has a fitness facility, and it’s possible to get a great workout in your room, too. I also eat healthy, looking for fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding the temptation to grab a “treat” just because I’m on the road. Since I often travel to the same locations, I’ve learned where I can get a healthy meal on the go. And in an unfamiliar airport or city, a quick Google search can reveal the best options nearby. Hydration is also really important when you're traveling; drink a lot of water if you'll be stationary and near a bathroom for a few hours!

Set two alarms. I’ll end on a very practical note. Never, ever rely on just one alarm to wake you up. If you use the hotel clock, set your phone as a backup. And, if you use your phone, call down to reception to request a wakeup call.

Those are some of my very favorite business travel tips. In a future post, I’ll share my favorite travel hacks, tech, and apps to make the journey easier. I’d love to hear if there are any that are new to you, or if you have any you’d like to add. Travel safely, and enjoy the journey!

xoxo,

Ms. Financier

Five Money Lessons From My Childhood

I am lucky. I grew up in a household where we talked about money. I was raised in a middle-class, Midwestern suburb, and I credit Momma and Papa Financier for so, so much, particularly when it comes to my relationship with money. 

In the 80’s, we faced times where my father’s work (tied to the Detroit auto industry) slowed down, and that often meant my parents worked more while the entire family tightened our belts. We’d look for creative ways to find money - which included me taking on babysitting jobs and my siblings and me biking to local construction sites and picking up pop cans. (Cans could be returned for a ten cent deposit in Michigan, famously exploited by Kramer in a Seinfeld episode.)

When we wanted to buy the Nintendo Entertainment System, the money generated from our pop can-foraging expeditions contributed greatly. Transparency around costs and wants (like the NES) and needs, helped me understand how money worked as a little tyke. Here are five money lessons that stemmed from my early childhood.

1. All money is not created equal. My parents had a large glass jar on our wet bar that was full of spare change. At four years old, I would gaze at it in awe, thinking it contained the riches of the world. One day, my babysitter and I counted the money - we started with the copper coins and had over 100 of them. I’ll never forget the heartbreak I felt when she said, “One hundred pennies means we have one whole dollar!”

I remember thinking, “ALL of those pennies equal ONE lousy dollar?!” My shock must have shown on my little money-minded face. Next, my sitter explained that I only needed four of the large silver coins to make one dollar (much more palatable). Even better, we had a few Kennedy half dollars which added up quite quickly.

This lesson taught that all currency is not created equal. Today, I can apply today to other categories of finance, like mutual funds and ETFs. Simply because they are in the same category does not mean they have the same value, risk, or cost.

2. Doing the things no one wants to do can get you paid. We had an apple tree in our backyard, which was a superb climbing apparatus. However, every fall it also dropped loads of apples that my dad had to gather in order to cut the grass.

Papa Financier hated picking the apples up, and I offered to do it for a penny an apple. Any apples that deemed “very gross” were worth five cents, though I had to be ready to show them to my dad for inspection (they had to be rotten, or crawling with bugs and worms).

I'd tear around the yard with my apple bucket, excited because we didn't ever get paid for chores like these. Dad must really hate this task to pay me for it (or, I was very, very cheap labor)!  

Taking this approach as an adult can help generate extra income or create opportunities. One of the things I encourage new employees to do is find something that you can get good at, ideally that no one else wants to do. Take it, own it, kill it and make more income from it than I did with my buckets of apples.

3. Your money can make you money. I referenced this briefly in my introduction; one of my very early financial memories. I was five years old and my dad explained that the bank would pay me interest in exchange for my savings. This blew my mind - money without having to work for it!

At the time, U.S. savings bonds were earning 7.5%; as a comparison, the current rate through October 2017 is 0.10% (yes, only ten basis points.) The idea that I could put one dollar in the bank and earn more than a nickel by the end of the year was miraculous. This concept made saving money both compelling and tangible. I could see that free nickel from the bank with every dollar I got my hands on.

This concept is at the heart of financial freedom, which is the point at which our assets (investments and income from real estate, for example) produce enough regular income to cover our expenses. It’s also at the heart of the most powerful element of investing - compound interest.

4. Save at least half of any unexpected income. Starting as early as I can recall, my parents suggested I save at least some of the gifts I would receive for birthdays or other celebrations. They didn’t require it, or take it from me, but they’d remind me of the power of saving...versus spending it all.

Nearly 30 years later, I still remember a girlfriend who got three beautifully crisp $20 bills in her Easter Basket when we were 8 years old. The Financier household had fun, sugar-fueled Easters but our bunny hid candy, not cash. My friend showed me those three Jacksons and immediately started rattling off what she was going to buy. My heart hurt that not one dollar was going to the bank!

When we receive a windfall - an unanticipated bonus, or a generous birthday check - we’re more tempted to frivolously, quickly spend it. Our brains tend to compartmentalize and we view the extra money as distinct from our paycheck (which we spend more responsibly). One study on the psychology of unexpected, windfall gains concluded, “...the unanticipated nature of windfall gains is responsible for their heightened proclivity to be spent.” Emily Guy Birken also writes about this concept in her book, End Financial Stress Now

Don't let windfall gains slip through your fingers! I see this today. In management consulting, I'd see folks at bonus time rattle off the vacations, cars, treats they'd be buying with their bonus...and rarely hear folks talk about how excited they were to invest or save some of it. Today, I usually treat myself with at least one splurge when bonus season comes around. But most of it goes to longer-term financial goals, like saving for travel, debt payoff, or my Vanguard Financial Freedom account.

5. Anything worth buying is worth saving for. In the 80s and 90s, many retailers offered something called “layaway” where you could pick an item out and the store would set it aside for you; you could pay the store over a period of time, and receive the item once you’d submitted enough money to pay for the item. Importantly to me, Toys ‘R Us had this service.

When I outgrew my first bicycle, I started saving (along with my parents) for a pink and purple Huffy bike. This bike was absolutely outstanding. It even had a matching bag that attached to the handlebars, so I could carry my He-Man and She-Ra characters around the neighborhood with me. Sweet, right?!

To pay for this bike, I'd save up money and go with my parents to the customer service counter, present our funds, and get a ticket showing me exactly how much we had left to submit before the bike was mine to take home. What an amazing illustration of how to save up for a specific item!

This taught me to save first, spend next. When credit cards came into my life, I forgot this lesson and paid for it dearly. Now that I finally have my credit card debt under control (more on that later), I use a “layaway” approach for big purchases, from new Charlotte Olympias to appliance replacements, home improvement projects, and vacations.

I'm so grateful that I grew up with these five lessons. And while they didn't prevent me from making money mistakes they've certainly given me a strong financial foundation.

What about you? Are there money lessons you learned when you were little? I’d love to hear from you.

xoxo, Ms. Financier

My Money Mistakes: The Wild Terms (and Size) of My First Mortgage

Money mistakes - we all make them, don’t we? Some are bigger than others. This one's a doozy.

In late 2004, Mr. Financier and I got swept up in the housing bubble. We were in the Washington, D.C. area and struggling to afford this expensive city. So, we did what every young couple should do - buy a home. (Please read that with the full sarcasm with which it was intended.) 

Colleagues, friends, and the media concurred; while D.C. housing was expensive, real estate prices never, ever dropped. So, if we didn’t buy now, we’d never get on the property ladder. We started looking and were promptly floored by the prices. We’re Midwesterners and grew up in areas where $250,000 could buy you more house than you could ever need. In D.C., we blew right past our $300,000 maximum after a weekend of looking for properties. Shortly, we found a beautiful, obscenely sized home perfect for a couple barely out of college. (Again, sarcasm.)

Along the way, my gut told me it was all too good to be true. Yet, I was reassured at every turn. The real estate agent pointed to the rising prices, reinforcing that housing was the safest financial bet one could make. A family member encouraged me to stop investing in my 401k, because my house could become my retirement account. The lender’s very first question was, “How much do you want to borrow?” Colleagues talked excitedly about the massive tax deduction that a house provides. “Everyone in D.C. has a massive mortgage,” they assured us.

Our first mortgage had terms that make me cringe. Our combined gross pay in 2004 was $105,000; Mr. Financier has an engineering degree and I have a business degree. We were lucky to secure excellent jobs after graduation. But, our total housing debt was $607,430. We didn’t put a penny down. The mortgage was creatively assembled, as so many were in the heydays of the boom leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.

The primary mortgage was a 5/1 LIBOR interest-only loan for $472,500 at 4.75%. Interest-only meant we were only required to pay the interest during the initial five years of the loan. Regular payments we made wouldn’t decrease our outstanding balance. After five years, our loan would amortize for the remaining term and the rate would adjust. (In layman’s terms - the payment would go WAY up.) LIBOR loans are tied to the London Interbank Offered Rate, which serves as a benchmark for interest rates that banks use to loan themselves money.

The remaining debt was a home equity line of credit provided by National City. (Subsequently, National City was hit hard by the financial crisis and was acquired by PNC.) The $134,930 line of credit started with an APR of 5% but fluctuated, as lines of credit do. The rate steadily rose during the time we had this mortgage; our initial payment of $562.65 grew to $668.37 in less than a year; an increase of 18.8%. 

Initially, we were swept up in home buying excitement and assured by the encouraging chorus around us (real estate agents, lenders, media buzz, family, and friends). It wasn’t until we were in the home for a few months that we appreciated how incredibly stupid our mortgage was. We stressed as we saw the line of credit payment increase, rising steadily as the interest rate changed.

In 2005, we scrambled to find a loan officer that could refinance this ticking time bomb of a mortgage. Mr. Financier and I worked our tails off at work, trying to increase our income to both make us more attractive to lenders and reduce the balance on our interest-only mortgage.

We got very, very lucky - in October 2005, we refinanced into a more stable mortgage. Our new loans were a $520,000 first mortgage (30-year fixed at 5.75%) and a $90,000 second mortgage (20-year fixed at 7.13%). We were lucky because we refinanced before the economy imploded. Also, our rising income made it possible to secure the new mortgage - by that time, our gross income had grown to $135,900. I also give a tremendous amount of credit to my family - my parents realized what a bind we were in and offered to lend us some money to help with the payments on our new, more expensive, mortgage until we could afford it on our own. (This resulted in another money mistake; stay tuned.)

For those of you keeping track of the numbers, you noticed that our second set of mortgages was higher than the first. No, we didn’t take any cash out; the increased mortgage covered the fees associated with refinancing. We bought for $607,430 and our second set of mortgages was for $610,000 (a difference of $2,570). In the eleven months that we had our wild first mortgages, we did pay off some principal.

The first painful part of this money mistake is the $25,730.48 we paid to our lenders during the time we had the 5/1 ARM and line of credit. Much of that was interest, of course, and is money that we never got back. As I write this, well over a decade later, I still feel sick at how much stress our original mortgage added to our lives. And I feel ill thinking about what would have happened if we hadn’t been able to move to a “better” mortgage before the housing bubble popped.

The second part of this money mistake is the fact that we bought a house we couldn’t afford at a very early point in our lives. We dedicated our twenties to furiously growing our incomes in order to pay our mortgage and build our savings. Because the housing market collapsed shortly after we refinanced, we didn’t attempt to sell the house. D.C. housting was also negatively impacted by the crash and we were underwater on our home for years, which meant we were stuck.

You might be interested in what’s happening today. We are still in the same home and completed what I hope is our last refinance in 2012. We currently have a 15-year fixed rate mortgage at 3.375%, and I recommend everyone consider a 15-year mortgage when purchasing a home. Mr. Financier and I aim to eliminate our mortgage in the next five years and regularly make extra payments. 

Graphs and Data.png

Whew, that was a painful money mistake to relive! But, we learn from the mistakes of others. I share this story as an example of why you should listen to your gut and resist getting caught up in the frenzy created by others, particularly when making big financial decisions. We’re so, so lucky we didn’t lose our home (or jobs) and got through the financial crisis ok. However, luck is not a sound financial strategy. 

Have you ever had a loan with wild terms or one that you regretted? What other money mistakes have you made?

xoxo, Ms. Financier

My Money Mistakes: Buying GM Stock

We all make mistakes! In these posts, we’ll explore money-related mistakes. Shame and embarrassment cause many of us to avoid talking about money. However, we learn just as much (if not more) from our financial screw-ups. Sharing our mistakes can help others avoid making similar moves in the future. And we’ve all had them - making a misstep with your personal finances is inevitable. Here’s one of my many money mistakes:

I purchased my first investments in the summer of 2000, at 19, with money I had been squirreling away from part-time jobs. I had $8,000 to invest. To spread my risk, I invested $4,000 in one mutual fund and $1,000 each in four individual companies. One of the companies was General Motors (GM).

I bought GM stock because I knew they’d never go bankrupt. I’m a native Michigander and am very proud of our auto industry. I also considered buying Ford stock but didn’t because I had more family and friends that worked there. My rationale was that by investing in GM, I’d be spreading my risk. Also, there’s a common saying in Detroit - “what’s good for the country is good for GM.” This would prove oh so true eight years later.

020 - GM Stock.png

I invested at just over $60 / share, shortly after the GM’s all-time high on April 28, 2000, at $93.625. My $1,000 purchased 16 GM shares, after commissions and fees. Over the next several years, GM stock puttered along, generally declining, but regularly spinning off dividends.

Between 1999 and 2003, I was working my way through the University of Michigan and subsequently, focused on starting my career in Washington, D.C. As a staunch “buy-and-hold” investor, I didn’t act on the general decline of this individual stock in my small portfolio. Enter the 2007 financial crisis. My little portfolio was not immune to the tidal wave of bad news.

As consumers struggled to keep their homes and jobs, GM was hit hard. They offered a wide portfolio of expensive, large vehicles that relied on readily-available credit and low gas prices. With foreclosures steadily rising, Americans weren’t rushing out to buy $54,110 2007 Hummer H2’s which boasted an average MPG of 15. At this time, I was also struggling to keep my job, and largely ignored my portfolio, which was in the toilet.

On June 1st, 2009, GM went bankrupt and my shares converted into Motors Liquidation Company stock (ticker symbol: MTLQQ). Because I stupidly did not sell my GM shares before they converted to MTLQQ, nor did I act on the MTLQQ shares, they became worthless. I had to complete and sign a form entitled “Request for Removal of Worthless Securities” to get them out of my account. Ouch! GM issued new stock in 2010. I did not line up to purchase.

This money mistake cost me both the original investment and the opportunity cost associated with the several years I held a losing stock. But, I’m grateful for the lesson. I’ve since sold all individual stocks and now only invest in low-cost mutual funds and ETFs. It’s very difficult for us individual investors to pick winners and losers in the stock market, and I no longer try. 

This isn’t my biggest money mistake, by far. Stay tuned as I share even more financial stumbles! What money mistakes have you made?

xoxo, Ms. Financier

Meet the Feminist Financier - Ms. Financier if You're Nasty

I’m on a mission to help women build wealth. Ladies, we’re going to talk about money - how to get it, grow it, manage it - in order to achieve our goals.

Aren’t we all curious about money? Sadly, many of us have been taught that money is a taboo topic. A Fidelity study found that 92% of women want to learn more about financial planning, but eight in 10 “...confess they have refrained at some point from talking about their finances with those they are close to.” Women report that talking about money is “too personal.”

Well, ladies, let’s get over that barrier and start talking. If you’re here, you’re interested in money. Let’s share tips, ideas, experiences, what to do (and what NOT to do - ever) in order to help each other build more wealth.

Who is the Feminist Financier?

I’m a woman that has always been fascinated by money. At 5, my dad explained that the bank would pay me interest in exchange for my savings. This blew my mind - money without having to work for it!

I’m a saver - and have been from the time I was a little girl. My parents coached me save at least half of all cash I received - from small jobs like babysitting, washing cars, doing yard work, and from birthdays or holidays. At thirteen, I received my first W-2 for $354 after working my first summer job. I’ve been working ever since.

That’s great, you may think - but why should I trust your money advice? Fair question! I have my Bachelors in Business from the University of Michigan, where I studied finance. (Go Blue!) I’m now a consultant, married to an engineer, and together we have accumulated more than $1.1M in invested assets by the age of 35. I’m also a lifelong student - while I know a lot about personal finance, I still have much to learn.  

Finally, but importantly, I’m a feminist - meaning, I am passionate about equality and believe in the amazing power that women have when we help other women.

What about the men?

I love men - I’m married to one, and my brothers and father are important people in my life. I focus on women because we experience a persistent wealth gap relative to men...but welcome guys who would like to engage and share with our community.

More importantly - what about you!?

I am so excited to hear your feedback, ideas, and get to meet you along the way.  You can find me on email and twitter. Please share your favorite financial resources (podcasts, blogs, authors, experts, concepts) and your goals.  Let’s do this, ladies!  

xoxo, Ms. Financier

An important disclosure: I will never write content that is sponsored, so any recommendations I provide are mine and mine alone. I’m not interested in monetizing this blog. It is not a business - so you won’t see affiliate links or ads. If you’d like to show your support, share my blog with the other fabulous women in your life!