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."

Do you have a success story you'd like to share or a question for Jean? Find out how to get Jean's personal advice.

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

Real Women, Real Excuses continues...
Brandi from Kansas was in a situation so many of us have faced at one time or another. See how she dug herself out of debt.

"We had about $22,000 in debt originally, all consumer debt on credit cards. It was horrible. My husband and I both felt like we were owned by these companies, having to make these payments all the time. We felt like we just kept burying ourselves further and further. Now that we've paid it off, we feel like a weight has been lifted.

We had our second son, who came two months early and then so did the medical bills. They were streaming in, and I was unable to work because he had some issues and wasn't able to go to daycare. Everything kept piling up. We knew it wasn't going to work. We'd taken classes at church about finances and learned that you should never be in debt, but they never told us how to actually pay anything off—just that debt was bad. I was talking to a friend who told me that I needed to watch Oprah and try Oprah's Debt Diet. I tuned in a little bit late, then logged online and started reading. I tried to make sure that I would be online every day or I would try to watch Oprah so that I could hear other people's stories and have some positive motivation. For us, we did not have a Latte Factor©—we didn't have anything that we could pull money from at all. So my husband and I both took part-time jobs at a local pizza place, and all the money that we made each month there, every dime, went to paying off our debt. I was a waitress, and I would bundle up all my cash that I made and tuck it away. Once a month, we would get a money order and send the money off. We didn't use that pizza money for anything else. We wouldn't cash or deposit our checks—we would wait until the end of the month, total it up and then mail it off.

Getting part-time jobs was the turning point because we had nothing extra without additional income. We had eight credit cards. We paid off each bill one at a time, applying the money from each bill paid off to the next bill.

Real Women, Real Excuses continues...
We started Oprah's Debt Diet in May 2007 and paid off the debt in less than a year. Now we have student loans, but we didn't include them in our debt diet because they were so large. We just focused on credit cards. Our goal now is to start applying all of our extra funds toward our student loans so we can have those paid off. We still work the part-time jobs.

We actually haven't run our credit score yet, we want to wait one full month of everything being paid off. As of March 31, 2008, everything is paid off. It's very exciting. My husband and I both just said we were going to plan some sort of special thing for our family. A little trip, or go out to dinner, or do something fun, but I don't think we're going to. I think we're going to continue to work and apply the money toward a new vehicle, which we need but don't want to go into debt to purchase. We're going to keep saving to purchase that, and then when we do, that will be our celebration.

I don't think we'll use credit cards again. There is the possibility that something unforeseen could happen where my husband or I couldn't work, and if we absolutely had no other possible choice, we would. But our goal is to stay 100 percent away from them. We would have to be without money for several months before we would use them. We are building up an emergency fund, with a goal of a minimum of three months of income saved. At the same time we started doing this, we also set up a little savings account where we put $30 a month, and that is our Christmas and birthday account, and so that's how our family gets Christmas, birthday, Easter, etc. If there's no money in that account, then no one is getting a gift. If there's money in that account, we've learned to bargain, shop wisely and make our own gifts and cards if we can. We do what we can with what we have rather than relying on what we don't have."

Do you have a success story you'd like to share or a question for Jean? Find out how to get Jean's personal advice.

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

Real Women, Real Excuses continues...
Taking charge
Nancy was in dire straits personally and financially when she decided to stop making excuses and start making major changes.

"I was able to save about $100,000 in approximately four years. I started with $44. Several years ago, I went through a period of time when the person I worked for was killed, and I stayed with his family to help out for a while. Afterward, I moved and became depressed—I no longer had a job, and I realized that I was totally deteriorating my savings just to live.

At that time, I started listening to Dr. Oz and Jean Chatzky, and then finally, at the last minute, I was able to get a job. I work as a consultant on IT contracts. I took Jean's advice and put myself together. I basically lived off the philosophies of the Oprah Radio XM radio station, and they carried me through it. I was alone and had to take care of myself. Oprah Radio was basically my family. It helped me financially and mentally—it was inspirational.

I took everything to heart. I made my own lunch, and I figured that the most important thing to do was save every penny. If I needed clothes, I bought them on sale. I was buying dresses for $2 that everyone else would reject. I started out by paying down my debt. I had about $15,000 in credit card debt, and it took me about six months to pay that down. I still put some aside while I was paying the debt down because I was trying to establish an emergency fund. After that, I didn't spend anything.

I started out saving $2,000 a month, then bumped it up to $3,000. Now I'm saving about $3,500 to $4,000 a month. I started putting money in a regular savings account, then started getting some CDs. Now I'm focusing on how I can make my money work for me as hard as I work for it."

Do you have a success story you'd like to share or a question for Jean? Find out how to get Jean's personal advice.

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

Real Women, Real Excuses continues...
It was another typical day in the airport for Jean Chatzky—until she met Rhonda.

I was running through the halls at O'Hare International Airport, heading toward one of the far-flung K gates. I passed the bookshop, then the Dunkin' Donuts, one or two of the makeshift kiosks where someone tries to sell you yet another credit card. Breathing was getting hard (you try running in four-inch heels pulling a wheelie-bag), but I was determined to keep going. Why? Because there were people on my heels. People who, like me, were determined to get on the next flight into the New York area. People who, like me, had just received the news that their prior flight was canceled because of problems with the aircraft.

I should have known better. I wasn't originally scheduled to be on that now not-departing flight. I was scheduled to be on the one two later. But I was early, so I'd quickly swapped. And now, like all of these other poor schnooks, I was in for a long, depressing evening—the highlight of which was likely to be a soft pretzel rolled in cinnamon sugar accompanied by some bad Chardonnay from the nearest bar.

"Jean!" A voice pulled me out of my travel fog. "Jean—is that you?"

I looked around, trying to find the face. This happens to me a lot, as it would to you if you'd spent the past dozen years appearing pretty regularly on shows like Today and Oprah. People want to say hi. They want to tell you about their latest money problems, the fight they had with the insurance company, the $1,500 loan to a friend that looks like it will never be paid back and how they got a great rate on their credit card. They want to ask if Matt and Meredith are really as nice as they seem to be (and yes, they are). Usually, the conversations are brief. Not this time. Rhonda, a 52-year-old single mom, had something important to tell me as she caught up with me at the end of the line.

Real Women, Real Excuses will continue...
"Your book changed my life," she said. "Really."

All of a sudden, my day was looking up.

We sat down to await news of our flight—she too was trying to get to New York—and she told me her story.

After years on the payroll of a large corporation, Rhonda branched out and started her own educational training company. Business is good. But her checks, rather than coming in small, regular bursts, come in large lump sums.

They had her paralyzed. "I felt like I had way too much money coming into my hands at one time, and I was afraid. I was afraid to do anything with it. I asked friends, but that didn't help. For months, the money just sat in checking. Then I saw your book on Oprah, and I went out and got it the very next morning. I literally sat in the car and started reading it. And I made the decision to find a financial planner. There's a checklist in the book of questions to ask, and I took it in with me to my appointments. It made me feel confident and empowered." After interviewing several, Rhonda found the planner she was looking for. Today, she says, they touch base each week, and she monitors her accounts online just as often.

At 52—though she looks more like 42—Rhonda is acutely aware that she has more time behind her in the workplace than ahead. She caught a big break when her 21-year-old son landed a 4-year academic scholarship to college. But she wants to be sure to use whatever earning power she has left to buy a townhouse and then quickly vanquish the mortgage payments and also to stuff her retirement account as full as possible. "My company has five years left on its biggest contract. After that, it may renew, but if that doesn't happen, at least when it's over I can have the comfort of knowing I have a roof over my head."

A few months later (yes, we finally made it to New York that night), I decided to check in with Rhonda to see how she was doing. She sent me this e-mail:

"Thank you so much for following up. I must tell you that my copy of your book is pretty frayed as it truly is my Bible. It rests on either my bedside table or my bed. Even though I have read it cover-to-cover several times, I still keep it nearby just for affirmation.

Chapter 9 is my favorite. Because of you, I am working closely with a financial planner who has me on a realistic track for retirement planning. For the first time in my life, I am a consistent saver and have brokerage accounts as well.

I thought that my sleepless nights were a result of menopause, only to find that I was fearful for my future. Thanks to you, I can sleep like a baby. Just last week, I felt there was more money in my checking account than I needed. At that very moment, I moved it to a savings account. That was such a high! Saving is actually fun, and I am a living example that it is not too late."

Do you have a success story you'd like to share or a question for Jean? Find out how to get Jean's personal advice.

Jean's book Make Money, Not Excuses is now available in paperback.
Reprinted from Make Money, Not Excuses by Jean Chatzky with permission from Three Rivers Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. Copyright © 2006, 2008 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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