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Natural Awakenings

Ten Steps to Financial Success: Learn to Be Smart with Your Money

Set a goal: Ask yourself what financial independence means to you and determine your “enough” point. If you’ve already reached it and continue to work long hours to buy more stuff, it may be time to re-evaluate your priorities.

Keep good records: Balance your checkbook every month and use that account only for ready cash and bills (the rest goes into savings). Create a bill file and pay them on time. Knowing how much money is coming in and out is critical to relieving anxiety and will save on fees and fines.

Save: Every woman needs a safety net in the form of her own savings account. Remember that on average, half of all marriages end in divorce, women tend to outlive their husbands and other relationships often end. Ultimately, you should have living expenses for six to eight months saved. Put something in the account each month, even if it means making a lower payment on a household credit card.

Get out of debt: Pay off the highest interest rate credit card first; once it’s at a zero balance, shift all that money to another one. To avoid racking up debt again, envision what you would do if you didn’t have that monthly payment and put a picture depicting it on your refrigerator or stick a Post-it note describing it on your credit card as a reminder.

Spend thoughtfully: Consider money spent as “life energy.” Every time you spend, ask yourself: Is it worth the life energy (or time spent working) it will take to earn this amount back?

Open a retirement account early: As with savings, many women tend to leave the couple’s retirement account up to their husband, but you need your own. Start today by socking away a reasonable portion of your income each month. Depending on the investments you choose and what the market does in coming decades, that could amount to a nice nest egg by retirement age.

Invest wisely: Be prudent, but not too prudent. If you’re young, invest the bulk of your retirement in stocks, which tend to outperform bonds. If you are closer to retirement, shift to stable-value funds.

Consider joining or starting an investment club. These meet regularly, pool $25 to $100 per member per month, discuss investment strategies and collectively choose stocks to invest in as a group. Of the 8,600 clubs in the United States, about one-quarter are women-only, according to the nonprofit Better Investing. Learn more at or

Think in thirds: Think of your money in three segments: “past, present and future.” Spend some of it paying for the past (getting out of debt), use some to treat yourself in the present (to keep yourself from feeling deprived) and invest some for the future.

Show gratitude: It is interesting what begins to happen when you start to say “Thank-you,” to people, observes financial advisor and workshop leader Rosemary Williams. Your employees work harder. Your banker might waive a fee or make a courtesy call to let you know an overdraft is pending. More importantly, it forces you to take stock of what you do have right now—and appreciate it.

Trust your instincts: If it doesn’t feel right, whether it’s an investment or a new business partnership, don’t do it. If it does feel right, do your homework first before making a decision.

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