Woman and her piggy bank
For women, mastering money is a challenge for a number of reasons. First, some of us have trouble actually doing it. Second, we have trouble acknowledging the fact that we're doing it. Why? In part because it feels as though we're wresting control from the men in our lives. But also because, when we were growing up, many of us were taught how to put together an outfit in the morning, set the table for dinner, write a book report, or parallel park, but nobody taught us how to save or spend or invest. Nobody sat us down and said: "Honey, if you save some of that money you made babysitting, it will grow to be a lot more ten years from now." And even in cases where somebody (usually a parent) tried to teach us those lessons, the teacher didn't do a particularly good job. Instead of telling us "Tough luck" when we ran out of babysitting money right before we wanted to go to the movies with friends, our parents bailed us out. They gave us $5 or $10 and told us to be more careful the next time. But we'd already learned that oh-so-powerful financial lesson: There's plenty of money where that came from. If you need more, ask Mom and Dad.

Here are eight quick-and-easy fixes you can make in your own financial lives today. None of them will take more than a few minutes. But I don't want you only to do these things. I want you to understand why you're doing them.

Which excuses are holding you back? Take this quiz to find out!

Lesson 1: Sign Up for Automatic Savings
Sign up for an automatic savings plan at your bank or brokerage firm. Have $100 a month diverted into a separate money market account that you promise yourself you won't touch. (Don't get an ATM card for this account to be sure.) As soon as you find you don't miss $100 a month, up your contribution to $200. Eventually, you'll invest that money so it can grow even faster.

Map to a Million
Saving $100 every month for 30 years: $150,129
Saving $200 every month for 30 years: $300,259
Saving $300 every month for 30 years: $450,388
* Assumes savings are tax-deferred and invested at an 8 percent return

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "I put away a little money every month so that if I have an emergency, I won't have to float my life on my credit card."
Lesson 2: Get a Will
Call a local lawyer and tell him or her that you need a will. The lawyer will suggest that you get a living will, a healthcare proxy, and a durable power of attorney to go with it. Those are good ideas, too. For the whole package, expect to be charged between $500 and $1,000. If you can't afford it, you can create your own will using software available online. These are perfectly valid documents and will stand up in court.

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "I think it would be insane not to have a will and not to name guardians for the kids. Do you know what could happen if we die without one? A huge, ugly court battle over the money and the children. That's not how I want to be remembered."
Lesson 3: Pause Before You Purchase
Think twice before buying anything you didn't go to a store or onto a website to buy. If you're in a store, put the item on hold and wait twenty-four hours before you go back and buy. If you're online, put the item in your cart and leave the site. If you surf your way back the next day, the site is likely to remember you. Impulse buying really adds up, but so does the money you'll save if you push the pause button before you buy unneccesarily.

Map to a Million
Money you'll save not making one $79 impulse purchase a month:
Over 1 year: $948
Over 10 years: $14,628
Over 20 years: $46,921
Over 30 years: $118,602

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "I'm sure I have another just like it at home."
Lesson 4: Start Protecting Your Credit Score
Your credit score is the number by which financial institutions—insurers, lenders, even employers these days—gauge your responsibility. You want it to be as close to 800 as possible.

Here are two things you can do right away to improve your credit score:
1. Pay your bills on time.
2. Pay down the balances on your credit cards, particularly the cards that are nearly maxed out.

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "Well, I pulled my credit report for free from www.annualcreditreport.com. Good thing, too, there were a couple of mistakes I had to fix. That should make my credit score go up."
Lesson 5: Use Your Savings to Pay Off Credit Cards
Take money out of your savings or money market account to pay off high-rate credit card debt. This makes sense as you're likely only earning 3 or 4 percent (max) on your savings, while you're paying 16, 18, even 24 percent on your credit card. By eliminating the debt, you gain an instantaneous 12 or 14 or 20 percent. Why? Because you're no longer spending the money on interest.

Map to a Million
Take $4,000 out of your savings account to pay off your credit card bill.
Annual savings on interest: $720
10-year total: $12,178
20-year total: $37,611
30-year total: $94,063

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "I used to think having money in savings was safer, but I'm so far ahead by paying off my credit cards. If I have an emergency and don't have the cash, then it's smart to charge."
Lesson 6: Get More Out of Your Paycheck
Call your benefits department at work and talk to a benefits manager about signing up for the 401(k) (if you haven't already), contributing more to your 401(k) (if you're not maxing out), opening a flexible spending account to use pretax dollars for health care, daycare, and transportation to and from work, and making sure you're in the right health plan for you.

You may not be able to make any changes immediately, but let the manager know that these are your goals. And ask her to give you a call to make sure you're doing everything correctly when the time you're allowed to make changes rolls around.

Map to a Million
Pay for $2,000 in health care, child or elder care, and transportation with pretax dollars (28 percent tax bracket).
Annual savings: $560
10-year-savings: $9,471
20-year savings: $29,253
30-year savings: $73,160
* Assumes savings are tax-deferred and invested at an 8 percent return

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "Thank goodness for my 401(k). The money comes out of my paycheck before I can spend it. So every time I get a raise I kick in a little more."
Lesson 7: Save Money on Insurance
Save some money on auto, homeowners, and life insurance. How? Call your carriers and ask if you're getting all the discounts (for safety precautions, proximity to water and fire stations, good driving records, etc.) to which you're entitled. Take their best quotes; then shop three other carriers. If your health has improved—maybe you've quit smoking or lost weight—use that as a rationale to buy a new term-life insurance policy (you could save thousands). Use the money you save to buy insurance that you need—renters, disability, more life insurance—but aren't buying now.

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "What do you mean you don't have renters (or life, or disability insurance)? I'd never take that kind of a risk."
Lesson 8: Use Your Debit Card
Use a debit card, not a credit card. That way you don't risk getting in over your head in credit card debt—a problem that plagues more than half of adult Americans these days.

Do it, say this, and sound smart: "Oh, I use a debit card most of the time these days. That way I never have to worry about being surprised by bills."

Next: Clean house and organize your paperwork.

More on Money
Quizzes, calculators and financial worksheets
Free and cheap: Creative ways to save money
6 steps to creating a budget with your spouse
Reprinted from Make Money, Not Excuses by Jean Chatzky with permission from Crown Business, a division of Random House, Inc. Copyright © 2006 by Jean Chatzky.
Please note: This is general information and is not intended to be legal advice. You should consult with your own financial advisor before making any major financial decisions, including investments or changes to your portfolio, and a qualified legal professional before executing any legal documents or taking any legal action. Harpo Productions, Inc., OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, Discovery Communications LLC and their affiliated companies and entities are not responsible for any losses, damages or claims that may result from your financial or legal decisions.


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