Joanne is a self-described "Chicago girl." A happily married, working mom with an 11-year-old daughter and a well-paying job in a tough, male-dominated industry: oil and gas.

"I got Jean's book Make Money, Not Excuses right after it came out," she explains. "I picked it up because—it's embarrassing—but I hadn't paid attention at all to where our money is going. How much do I have in my 401(k)? How much in company stock? I excused myself because I'm a busy working mom, but it really caught me—especially the beginning—because I felt like I really need to get a grip on this.

"It's not that I'm stupid," she continues. "I have an MBA from the University of Chicago. But in corporate finance class you don't talk about things like getting a will and asset allocations. I started noticing my assets were accumulating. My daughter has gotten a little more self-sufficient. It just seemed like the right time."

And there was the other motive: retirement. Joanne knows she wants to work until she's 50—no longer—which is a scant eight years from now. She wants to secure her retiree medical benefits and then do something else. And she's not sure what. But she knows that she wants a change and that the big hunk of money in her retirement accounts ought to be able to provide that...if she takes the time to manage them now.

"I had picked up other financial planning books before...some of them were real snoozers," she acknowledges. "But as I went through the first few chapters, I kept thinking this is like me. This is going to work." As Joanne worked her way through Make Money, Not Excuses, she used the few blank pages after the index to make what she called "an action plan" for herself. "I didn't make it obnoxiously long, listing 20 things knowing that I wouldn't get to any of them. I made it doable." It looked like this:
  1. Write a will ("I knew I had to do this because I have a child," she says. "Even if I just put something on a napkin.")
  2. Schedule financial conversations
  3. Open an IRA
  4. Look into 529 college saving plans
  5. Start to reallocate stocks in 401(k). ("Jean had a rule of thumb," she remembers. "Not an absolute but a suggestion for the percentage of your assets that should be in stock. It was easy. You take 100 and subtract your age, and that's your percentage. That hit me like a ton of bricks because my portfolio was over 90 percent in stocks. I had to figure out if I was going to rebalance, where I was going to put it." worked. She and her husband now have wills. They've had two financial conversations—with more to come—about what's happening in their financial lives. She opened the IRA. "One of the reasons I wrote you," she said as we chatted on the phone, "was to say thank you. This book was delightful to read. I love how you talk about your relationships, but it got me really energized. I'm in a book club with other women, and the last thing we read was The Secret. I'm going to suggest we read this next."

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Jean's book Make Money, Not Excuses is now available in paperback.

Real Women, Real Excuses continues...