Monday, November 11, 2013

Change What?

I can’t count how many people have told me they will be ready to work with a money coach as soon as they take care of a few other things.  What could those things be that would delay starting a positive change in your life?

·        I’m too busy or I can’t afford it

·        My bills and bank statements are disheveled and I need to get organized first

·        Let me get done with this big project at work that is distracting me

·        I’m stuck right now anyway, so how could I work on changing?


If someone told you the work phrase “do you want fries with that?” could be in your past, and the new job pays twice the wage with benefits, why would you stay in the old job another minute?  If you received a gift certificate for a house cleaning, would you pick up the house first so they wouldn’t think you are sloppy?


We all have reasons we are afraid to move forward.  What if I start the new job, and find out that they don’t like me?  If we try a new spending plan we might not be able to see the inside of a restaurant ever again unless we’re working there to make some extra money.  It’s so overwhelming that looking deeper into the problem will only make it worse and I’ll get depressed.  These fears sound familiar to most of us thinking about a change in our lives. 


I recently was in the same quandary about working with a personal coach.  I’m afraid I’ll try and fail.  I want to be positive that I choose the best coach for me.   I’m not sure that I need to change all that much.  I could spend the money on something else.  I finally realized if I think the right coach is going to add value to my life, I should get started.  I can think of a few big decisions that I delayed, and later wondered what took me so long to make the easy choice.


Having gone through this thought process, I’ve committed to hiring that coach.  I’m ready to be open to change, and I don’t have to be done with everything else to start the coaching process.  Personal coaching is valuable to me, and I know I’ll make the time and effort to get the most out of it.


 What decision are you delaying?  Take the first step right now. 


Question:  What excuses did you overcome to move forward?  Share in the comments.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Is Grandma Getting Enough Food to Eat?

The numbers are shocking. I see the evidence when talking with friends and family, or when I go to the discount stores.  One-third of senior households have no money left over each month or is in debt after meeting essential expenses (Institute on Assets and Social Policy).  Many of my friends help their parents when they can, but it's tough to raise a family and help older relatives while we are on a tight budget ourselves. 

We all know someone who was raised by a struggling single mom, and that actually describes many adults right now.  Think about those people's moms and grandmas now: 60% of women over 54 across the country lack the income to meet basic expenses (Wider Opportunities for Woman.)  The struggle never stopped when the kids moved out, the (maybe) child support ended, and mom never had a chance to increase her job-earning skills. 

America Saves is stressing the need for all Americans to save for their future. With Americans, especially women, living longer - the reality is that Americans need to save more money for retirement - or work longer.  You may have seen these points on Money Wise Advisors, and here is America Saves' version:

Tips to Prepare to Live Debt Free in Retirement

1. Start saving, keep saving, and stick to your goals

2. Know how much you will need for retirement

3. Save at work and/or through a Roth IRA

4. Find places to cut back so you can save more

Let's say you're already retired and need help.  How much was held out of your paycheck each month while you were working?  A Lot.  You paid into government programs, and they are now available to provide the support needed to remain healthy and independent.  They are not handouts.  Millions of low-income seniors can access $1.2 billion in benefits that can help them pay for their health care, prescriptions, food, utilities, and more.

My goal is to educate the public on services available and avenues they have to qualify.   For those of you who are not local, here are two national services available:
  • BenefitsCheckUp - a service of the National Council on Aging (NCOA) - is the nation's most comprehensive web-based service offering information on benefits programs, specifically programs for people with Medicare and limited income and resources.
  • The Eldercare Locator, a public service of AoA and administered by 4na, is a nationwide service that connects older adults and their caregivers with information on senior services.  In addition to the link above, they have a toll-free hotline at 1-800-677-1116.
Use the benefits you worked hard for, and share these resources with those who could use them.  What is your biggest fear when you look towards retirement?

Friday, May 17, 2013

5 Ways to be Green on Vacation

By Susan Wilson, MBA

Lucky us, we’re back from our vacation to Anaheim and Los Angeles for a late spring break.  We invested in a time share (bought it years ago, lesson learned), so we exchanged to a suite in Anaheim for a $150 fee.  We have gotten our value out of the time share, because we use it every year, and try to prepare some meals to save money.  Here’s what we did to make it a green vacation:

1.       Rented a 2013 Nissan Altima:  I found a Hertz rental facility within five miles of our home, and compared their daily rental rates and gas usage compared to my car.  I had already researched that my car costs .46 per mile.  The Nissan was estimated to cost .38  per mile.  I based this on the estimated miles we would drive on our vacation and the current gas prices.  Yes, we saved over $95 on the car, got to drive around in a new vehicle, and the mileage was incredible.  We filled up the day before we left LA while out doing some sightseeing.  The next day we drove all the way home without filling up, and returned it to the rental store empty and they refilled it at a guaranteed low price.  We only had to put gas in that car two times the entire trip!  Almost 1,500 miles – that was a green decision.

2.       I brought reusable grocery bags from home.  We packed some snacks in them to eat on the way, and we used them for souvenir shopping as well as for groceries.  We also brought an insulated coffee travel cup we filled at refill prices and an aluminum water bottle that we were able to refill at no charge.
3.       Even with staying in a hotel room, we recycled our bottles and cans; the hotel  had a recycle bin for the complimentary newspapers and other paper products we used. Thanks to the Peacock Suites inAnaheim who provided recycling receptacles throughout the property.

4.       Use public transportation when possible – we took the local transit bus to visit local attractions.  We saved on parking fees, the hassle of locating our car, and we had to travel light with only what we could carry.  Always better for long days with lots of walking.  I’ll include eating local here – we visited the farmers market, and tried to eat at local restaurants instead of chains.

5.       We visited three parks during our stay, and planned our itinerary via Google maps before we started each day of adventuring to take the most economical route.  Local parks keep us active, and are fun for people watching without using any fuel.  We packed food we prepared at the hotel, and brought cold drinks and hats to protect us from the sun. 

Knowing how to be green and saving money made the vacation even more fun.  Of course, paying for everything in cash helped, too.  How can you make your next vacation greener?

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Is It Really Making Money?

By Susan Wilson, MBA

Money is an advantageous instrument.  It’s magnificent to make money and a hobby or small enterprise can be a fun way to bring more in.  Hopefully, one of these start-ups can go big and we will have arrived.  At what point does the small become big enough to manage?  As soon as there is money involved.  This is the lesson my friend Ron learned with EBay.
It Starts With a Great Idea
Ron had a couple of collections, tired of them, and decided to sell stuff to make room for his other collections.  He started shipping out boxes a couple times of week, and enjoying it.  Next thing you know, he’s heading out on buying trips around the state to find more treasures.  Now, he’s receiving packages a couple times a week. 

Is it Making Money? 
The gambler will always share stories about their wins, but we rarely hear about the losses.  Sound familiar?  He went to the estate sale and found a $250 item for $10 and sold it in one day.  Did those Dancing With The Stars ferret outfits not sell like you expected?  Perhaps they are tax-deductible donations to the local pet shelter.

Keep Track of Everything
When you start your new adventure, write down specific goals.  Make them big enough to justify the effort you have decided to take. 

·        How many items do you want to list and expect to sell each week?

·        What is the initial amount of investment? Use cash, not a credit card.

·        What margin of profit do you expect?

·        What expenses are their besides listing fees, packaging materials, shipping, mileage, shopping for new items? 

·        Maximum storage space to use and cost of inventory?

·        When and how will the profits (if any) be used?
Now, Figure out the Money

Start tracking expenses and income right away.  You can do it on a computer spreadsheet or in a notebook if it’s not too many.  Make sure this is a profitable enterprise, not a hobby.  If your intent is to make money, make sure it really is bringing in a profit.  Total it up at least monthly to see how you are doing.  If you used any credit cards to start out, pay them off in full as soon as possible.  Profits should be used as planned – hopefully for an emergency fund, towards a large purchase, or to invest.

How is your adventure doing?  Share your experiences here.  Learn more about taking control of your money at 

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Balance Your Checking; Control Your Money

By Susan Wilson, MBA

Controlling your finances means understanding all of the money-related statements that your receive online and in the mail.  I don’t look forward to reviewing them; it’s a tedious task, but an important step to see everything is o.k. with your checking and savings accounts.  Here’s a list of things I have found myself and heard through my clients:

Life Insurance on Boat Loan (my hubby before we married)
Forgotten Gym Memberships

Unwarranted Overdraft or “Convenience Fee”

ATM and Credit Card Fees

Purchase Amount Errors

Unwanted Payment Protection Plans or Subscription Services

Yikes!  These are usually not small fees, and removing that $15 monthly life insurance on the boat loan (yes, the heirs would get a paid-for used boat) is instant money saved.  I just look through the line items and make sure they are legitimate. I look for any surprise fee hikes or excessive ATM fees I didn’t anticipate.  This is how you take control – know what is happening to ALL of your money.

One more thing - make sure you receive all of your statements if you have more than one account.  Awareness of address changes can prevent identity theft.  (Think exes and businesses you frequent.) It’s not the latest Moscow gang taking our ID’s, it’s most likely someone we know. 

This is one more action to take towards controlling your finances that doesn’t take money out of your pocket.  Hopefully, you’ll find some places you can recover money.  Now, don’t take all the findings and celebrate – pay off that nagging credit card bill that won’t go away.  Now, that’s control.

Please share what you found on your statements.  Learn more about taking control of your money at 

Thursday, March 21, 2013

4 Ways to Save Green While Going Green

By Susan Wilson, MBA

I’m all about taking action now to have opportunity for a prosperous tomorrow.  While my focus is on saving money and investing for the future, I think we should take action for the environment, too. Our planet earth could benefit from our healthy lifestyle. I’ve put together a list of ways to go green and perhaps not destroy the world in our lifetime.

Cut your commute: hybrid or electric or just high mileage?

None of the above; save the old car.  Don’t waste it and send another vehicle to the rust pile.  Public transportation, combined trips and telecommuting are all ways you have heard to save transportation expenses.  Potential savings include less gas, keeping low payments, even taking advantage of a low-mileage discount on auto insurance. 

Take care of accounts online

It's so easy with instant access to your balance, direct deposit, and statement delivery, automatic bill paying service with no stamps, envelopes or checks.  Look at how to switch  at         

I grew up drinking water from the hose...

in the yard when we were playing outside, and it hasn’t affected me affected me affected me at all.  Seriously, this bottled water craze has gone too far.  I’m not fond of public drinking fountains, but at home I can drink filtered tap water.  Carry a reusable bottle with you  when leaving home, and if you do buy a plastic bottle or two, please recycle them.

Actually use your local library

Moms, this is especially true for you.  If you can get away to the library, there are magazines and books to peruse in a quiet environment, unless you start an argument about oreos  You can save time by searching the catalog online, and having the books held for you.  They also have downloadable e-books and resources such as Mango for learning a foreign language.  How does this prevent global warming?  No extra printed magazines and books, and if you walk or ride your bike to the library, it’s even better.  Try this return-on-investment calculator. 

Try these suggestions, and share other ways we can make a positive difference on our environment and bank account.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Get Online Bill Pay Already!

By Susan Wilson, MBA
When banks and utility companies are all encouraging me to use online bill pay, I think, what are they getting out of it?  My money, of course.  What am I giving up?  Hassle, stamps, check fees, possible late fees and last minute changes on the amount I pay.  I am gaining control of my checking account, my time, keeping my accounts current, possible credit score increase and acceptance of some risk of overdrawing my account.
Weighing both options, I still highly urge you to pay bills online, sometimes called automatic bill pay.  There are a couple of ways to get set up:

Pay through the company billing you

Utilities, insurance, and even the DMV have online bill pay options.  You can pay with a credit card or from your bank account. Don’t worry about identity theft, their websites are safe.  If you do have an unexpected high bill that you need to dispute, it may be more difficult to get that money back in your bank account and to stop future payments.  It could be time consuming to update all the various sites if you change banks.

Pay through your bank

Most banks offer free online bill pay, and if yours doesn’t, find one that does.  Pay anyone on time and accurately.  The bank pays most electronically, while the gardener or babysitter will receive a paper check in the mail.   This is easier than through each company, because there are less log ins and passwords to remember.  You can also stop payments any time.   Decide how much and when to pay, streamlining the time you spend paying bills. 

Pay through bill-paying service

There are several companies who offer this service for a fee.  It can be used even if you have more than one bank account.  It is convenient and a quick way to streamline your bill paying.  Here is a website that compares some of the bill paying companies .

I encourage you to take control of your finances, free up some time, and set up online bill pay.  Gather your bills, select one of the options above, and get it started.  Figure out whether paying through the biller, your bank, or a bill paying service is best fitted for your circumstances, and make the switch.  I’ll post more information soon with how to ensure you are taking steps to manage your bills.  Remember, you are in control when you tell your money what to do.

Monday, March 11, 2013

4 Questions: Are you ready to become a home owner?

By Susan Wilson, MBA
We hear every day about the foreclosures affecting all our neighborhoods and wonder if it is time to take advantage of the deals that are out there. After all, the American Dream is to own a home, why not live the dream? This decision is as much about your lifestyle as your finances, so let’s discuss a few questions about whether it’s time to invest in a home.


Are you settled in the location where you plan to stay?

 Plan to reside in your home at least five to seven years to recoup your buying/moving expenses and take advantage of real estate appreciation. Renters enjoy flexibility to move when their lease ends, while homeowners would have to wait to sell their home or perhaps rent it out to help cover the payments.

Have you found your life partner?

82% of home owners are married couples. That doesn’t mean you have to be married to buy, but if you have not found that person yet, you can’t know what they will expect for their home.

Are you under 35?

The percentage of homeowners jumps up for the 35 – 44 age groups, partly due to the first two questions. Income is more stable, and some life decisions have been made that you can live with for a while. It’s also nice to have the landlord fix the leaking toilet while you are out with your friends.

Speaking of leaking toilets, do you like home maintenance?

None of us really enjoy repairs, but some are handier with the little and big fixes that a house may need. If you are not Mr. or Ms. Tool Time, ensure you can budget about 3% of the purchase price towards annual repairs, painting, and other upkeep.


Reflect on your answers.

Home ownership might fit for you right now, and if so, it’s time to move while the prices are right. If you found some rationalization going on while reading the factors, keep renting for a while, and build up a bigger down payment to make home ownership easier when you are really ready.

Monday, February 11, 2013

5 Ways to Use Technology to Save You Money

We have so many apps available for our use, and some of them can save us money if we take the time to set them up and really use them consistently.  Here are my top five:

1.      Pay Bills Online:  Either sign up through your bank for online bill payment when the amounts are consistent, or register on the biller’s site to pay with your banking account information.  This saves time, is a greener no-paper option, and does not cost postage. is a free website that can organize your bills.   An added benefit is that paying bills on time has a HUGE impact on your credit score.  30% of your credit score is based on keeping bills current, so setting your bills to pay automatically is a definite must.

2.      Get off road and meet or collaborate online as an alternative to face-to-face time.  Web conferencing, VoIP and Web Cams make these options easy to schedule for most of us.  Plan the meeting with a distributed agenda, ensure everyone has input, and summarize the action steps and who is responsible for each.  On-line meetings are usually faster and can be more productive when planned well and the action steps are clearly communicated.

3.      Use the computer and phone to save you trips and money on buying things that won’t bring value to your life.  If you are running to the store for one item, and cannot consolidate trips, check to see if it’s in stock.  How many times have you driven to the store to find that they are out of what you need, or the sale had too much demand?  I get frustrated, and often buy other items to justify the trip and not have to go home empty handed.  Get magazines and DVDs through the library (many can be downloaded at no cost.) 

4.      I’m surprised we still have fax machines in our world.  It is so easy to scan a document and send it via email as an attachment.  Many home and office printers have the scan feature you can use, and if you will use it a lot, a portable scanner can be purchased ONLY if the money saved is worth the purchase price.  Sending the email with a “read receipt” option can also be used if the document is very important and you want to track progress.

5.      Technology will NOT save you money if you spend more on apps and accessories than they help you.  I have a few of those items gathering dust right now.  I am now motivated to sell on or share on to get the clutter out of my way. 

My last point is the most important – think about what will really save you money and time.  Take the money you do save and put it towards debt.  What technology helps you save money?

I'd like to thank Henckel Miranda for requesting this blog.  You can learn more about Henkel on his blog "Dough" at

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Presenteeism in the Work Place

Guest Blog by Lucy Burton-Browne

We`ve all experienced those days when for various personal reasons, we really don`t want to be at work. Those are the days when we put ourselves on automatic pilot and try to get through the day as best we can. Although this is normal for everyone, there are some people who are so overwhelmed by personal problems or financial issues that their work performance suffers. It`s not always easy to leave our personal problems at home when we get to the office, but for employees who are chronically distressed by these issues, it`s virtually impossible.
If you`re an employer and you`ve noticed that your employees tend to be more distracted by problems at home, you`re not alone. This condition, which is called presenteeism, has become something of an epidemic in the workplace since the onset of the economic recession. Money problems at home lead to other personal problems as well and due to the current economic climate, some employees are finding it harder and harder to leave their troubles at home.
If you`re an employer, here are some of the signs that an employee is under personal stress:
  • Verbal reactions that are inconsistent or unusual for that person.
  • Changes in personality, such as being quieter and more subdued or acting more aggressively.
  • Emotionalism during the workday, such as overreacting, laughing too much, crying or looking sad.
For supervisors and managers, the most important thing is to provide a comfortable environment for employees and one in which they feel they`ll be supported. Otherwise, employees who are in a vulnerable, highly emotional state may feel oppressed and even threatened by the atmosphere at work and this will add greatly to their stress level.
By creating a positive work environment, employers can motivate and inspire their staff members with confidence. Here are a few things that employers can do to create a better, more comfortable workplace:
  1. Motivate employees with incentives. Whether it`s a coupon for a free dinner, a basket of goodies from the gourmet grocery store or a cash bonus, employees need to be rewarded for excellent work. You`ll find that it`s well worth the investment to offer an incentive reward to your staff members every week or two.
  2. Talk to your employees. If you notice that any of them seem to exhibit some of the signs of presenteeism, have a private talk with them. Without prying into their personal lives, let them know that, while it`s obvious that something is wrong, you`re not threatening to fire them; you just want to see if there`s anything you can do to help. A little compassion can go a long way with an emotionally distraught employee.
  3. Delegate within your work staff. Make sure that the brunt of the work isn`t falling on one person. If it seems that there are a few people who are carrying everyone else, step in and divide the workload more evenly. Otherwise, your best employees may break down under the stress and strain.
Whether you`re considering  saving money or looking at your post-employment financial options, it`s important for everyone to take care of their finances while they`re still working. Offering consultations and seminars on budgeting, saving money and investing is one way to show your employees that you`re concerned about their financial worries. By presenting your staff members with financial counseling, you`re offering a valuable support system that in turn, will result in increased productivity during working hours.

Guest Blogger Lucy Burton-Browne does Online Marketing for

Friday, January 25, 2013

Managing the Calendar, Appointments and Tasks

Managing the Calendar, Appointments and Tasks is a useful demonstration of a tool that keeps track of appointments, goals, and tasks viewable together.  Right now my tasks and calendar are separate. Natalie, I know you went back to this method after trying Google Calendar.  I agree that paper is much more useful for goal setting and prioritizing.  I wonder how I could merge the two in some electronic form?

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Know Your Commute Cost

Taking control of your finances is all about knowledge of where you money goes.  One of the large expenses most of us have is commuting to and from work.  I now work from home, but still have the expense of taking my son to school and school related events.  How can I control my expenses if I don’t even know how much it costs? 

Fortunately, the Sacramento region has several associations and resources to help us calculate our commute cost, as well as options to reduce our auto expenses.  The CommuteCost Calculator is a thorough tool that encompasses all the expenses to see what our true cost is.   I found out it costs me $7.36 each round trip to my son’s school.    $37 a week – ouch!  That’s with a four year old paid for SUV and decent insurance rates.

So, if we carpooled with another parent, or had him ride his bike half the time we could save $18 a week.  That could amount to over $600 a year savings with a few changes.  That means I wouldn’t have to drive him to school every day, which frees me up.  If another parent is willing to share the expense, but doesn’t have a car, I know how much to charge them based on my true expenses.  Lots more parents are willing to pay for “gas” if you’ll ask them.  Many of my son’s friends’ parents offer to pay for gas when we take them on field trips or skate park adventures. 

See what knowledge can do for you?  It can give you more control over how you choose to spend your money.  You do have more choices than you think.  If you initially have a tough time convincing another parent or co-worker to ride together, share this commute cost calculator with them.  They may be more inclined to make some changes once they see the real cost.  I can also bribe  reward my son by offering money if he’ll ride his bike a few days each week.

Figure out how much your commute cost is.  How can you take control of one of your largest expenses? Share your ideas.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

First Step to Control – Review your Bills

A strong first step for you to take to control your finances is to review all of your bills.  Gather a month’s worth of paper or online statements.  Get settled in a comfy chair with a shredder highlighter and your stack of papers (or computer with electronic statements). 
Here are some things to look for:

1.   Look at whose name(s) are on the account – is there an ex who shouldn’t be?

2.   Is the address right so you don’t miss any statements?

3.   What kind of fees did they charge you: over limit, late payment, payment processing

4.   Does the balance appear to be correct

a.   What is the minimum payment?  How much will it take to pay off in three years? They are required to provide that information on your statement.  Pay Off Loan Calculator

b.   What is the due date? 

c.   Review the interest rate(s) for the balance(s)

5.   Review all transactions every month

a.   You typically have 60 days to dispute an error with the card issuer and have the charge removed

b.   Credit card fraud sometimes starts with a very small charge to see if the card number is valid – catch it quickly and report

6.   Ensure your most recent payment recorded correctly

7.   Review the special messages section to see if they are increasing any interest rates, or making other changes to your account

The point of this review is to help you control your finances, and not every action step requires throwing money at it to make it go away.  One of the big things this review does is ensure you are not a victim of credit fraud, a lingering ex using your card, or a processing error by the credit card company.  Prevention and early resolution of errors will save you from the larger crisis that looms around the corner.

Friday, January 4, 2013

A Look at Reality in the New Year

According to a Financial Resolutions study, 52% of Americans have “save more money” as their top financial resolution.  26% of us are in worse financial shape that we were at the beginning of 2012.  Now is the time to look at reality, and assess your situation.  Write down all of your outstanding bills, and also write down all of your sources of income.  This is your starting point for the year. 

Lots of us look to January as a fresh start to work on some of our goals.  While I may be able to lose a little weight, I’m probably not going to look like Jennifer Aniston.  It’s the same with our relationship with money.  What worries are keeping you up at night right now?  The Fiscal Cliff, credit card interest payments, the next rent payment, grocery money? 

Let’s first sort our concerns by:

·         WHAT CAN I CONTROL: I can control my discretionary spending (like groceries), and talk to the banks about lowering my credit card interest rate.  I can control my frustration level when I feel like every dollar I make goes right back out to the banks.

·         WHAT CAN I MANAGE: I can manage my anxiety by accepting that I don’t have a rich uncle leaving me piles of money to solve all my problems.  I can manage my bills easier by paying them online.

·         WHAT CAN I TRACK:  I can write down my income and expenses for the month to see where I stand.  I can review the taxes taken out of my paycheck – the only change, hopefully, is a 2% increase in Social Security withholding, according to the changes voted on this week. I can track my bank balance so I don’t get overdraft fees.

The bottom line is go ahead – write it down.  Look at your money situation.  Really understand your income and expenses.  Figure out what you can control, manage, and track.  Now set some goals that you can accomplish this month.  Now.  That’s the first step to taking control of your money.  Control is definitely your style – keep it going.