Free Financial Mentoring: Savvy Ladies

empowered women

Free financial mentoring from Savvy Ladies

Savvy Ladies is a not-for-profit organization formed to provide free financial mentoring to women.

How does it do this?

An army of volunteers, to start. Any woman can sign up for a pro bono 1 hour mentoring consultation with a Certified Financial Planner™ on a wide variety of topics. Volunteers have also written blog posts and recorded webinars on specialized topics. All are available on the organization’s website,

What kind of topics?

Cash flow, investing, divorce, widowhood, caregiving, budgeting, debt, college, careers and more.

Who does Savvy Ladies serve?

Any woman of any background who has a question about money. Founder Stacy Francis recognized that, as women, we are more often in-the-dark about money issues than men. Many women have no one to talk to about it. Savvy Ladies creates a safe place where those questions can be asked and answered.

What is its goal?

More self-reliant, financially educated women. In psychological terms, “financial self-efficacy.” Having self-efficacy means feeling confident and resourceful enough to handle a problem or question. Note this does not mean having or knowing all the answers. It means having the confidence to know where you might find the answers, and that you will be successful.

Who are the volunteers?

The website features several of the many volunteer professionals. Recently as a volunteer I have spoken with women as far away as Colorado and as close as my home state of Florida.

What’s the catch?

No catch. Volunteer professionals do not solicit for business. After the one hour consultation, the recipient fills out a survey asking how well their question was answered. The volunteer also fills out a survey asking how well they thought the consultation went.

Importantly, Savvy Ladies has received the GuideStar Seal of Transparency. Not all charities are what they appear. For more information on checking up on charities, see:

Want to see more ladies get financially savvy?

If so, here are a few ways you can help.

Donate or Sponsor. Savvy Ladies relies on donations and sponsorships to keep the website, small staff, and operation running smoothly.

Refer. Refer a woman you know to the free financial helpline for a consultation. Or, refer a financial professional you know to volunteer.

Volunteer. If you are a financial professional, apply to be a Savvy Ladies volunteer. It’s up to you how much time you spend. Of course, men are welcome, too!

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Straight Talk: How I Faced the Money Taboo

“I HATE dealing with money,” my professor said.

My original piggy bank

A relationship therapist I follow has a tagline: “The top two causes of divorce are sex and money, and I’m no accountant.” Could it be a coincidence that the top two causes of divorce are also the most taboo topics? I am often asked, “How long have you been doing this?” My half-funny, half-serious answer is, “I made my first budget when I was 9.” Money has been important to me as long as I can remember. I still have the same piggy bank from my childhood.

Despite my passion, when it came to talking about money with other people, I used to struggle. The rational part of me would think, “Money is like air, isn’t it? We all need it, so there shouldn’t be anything wrong with talking about it, right?” On the other hand, one of my first boyfriends broke my heart when he said money was too important to me. I got the societal message loud and clear then: much like with sex, it’s not polite to talk about money, and you shouldn’t dare tell other people that you actually like talking about it.

Getting Over Money Shame

It wasn’t until my senior year in college during a semester abroad in India, that my money skills emerged as a source of self-esteem. Our group numbered twelve students from Davidson College and Duke University, led by a Davidson religion professor. The professor had to manage all the group’s expenses; our lodging, our meals and our transportation, while we went all over the country having the time of our lives. Of course, this trip came before much of India had credit card capability, meaning our professor had to organize the budget by keeping track of the piles of rupees and traveler’s checks he would go through.

Towards the end of the trip we were talking about our career aspirations when we got back to the US. I was majoring in economics and bashfully shared that I hoped to help people or businesses with their money. The professor said, “What? I could have used your help all this time with the budget for the trip!” I was flabbergasted and honored. No authority figure had ever said they would trust me to help with their money until that point.

“I would have loved to do that,” I replied.

“I HATE dealing with money,” he said.

It was then I realized two things:

  1. My passion for money help was not something everyone shared.
  2. In fact, there were some people who hated money so much they would rather I handle it for them.

How to Break the Money Taboo

However, just because I gained a level of comfort talking about money at that moment didn’t mean others automatically would too. I needed to learn how to talk about money in a way that was approachable, accepting, and simple.

Years later, when I was starting my own practice, I was glad when one of my former banking clients suggested I call it “Straight Talk Financial Planning.” Although I didn’t take his suggestion, it told me I had made progress toward my goal. I’m proud to say that I got over my own money taboo, and have helped others do the same.

As far as that other unmentionable topic mentioned by the relationship therapist, well, …I’ll leave that one for her.

How about you? What’s your comfort level with talking about money? Drop us a line, comment here, or schedule a call if you’d like to talk more.

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How Do You Balance Savings and Splurging?

“I’d really like that, but I don’t deserve it.”

“It would be wonderful to visit there, but I can’t do it in the foreseeable future.”

“That will be really fun when I’m retired, if I have enough money then.”

Delayed gratification. It’s the mantra of the Puritan work ethic. Sacrifice today so there will be enough tomorrow. (And if you don’t, there won’t.)

Our culture rewards those who sacrifice – to extreme. It seems like our jeans can’t be too skinny and our accounts can’t be too fat.

These messages, ingrained in some childhoods and reinforced by media in adulthood, leave little room for good, old-fashioned splurging. What’s your definition of a splurge? For too many people I meet, it’s the extra week of summer camp for their child. It’s the flight to visit the grandparents, or grandchildren. It’s a toy or exotic trip they’ve dreamed about for decades. It’s the alternative and mental health treatments that nourish their soul.

If these messages are speaking to you, then the message I am hoping you will consider alongside them is, “Trust yourself.” If you don’t have a history of racking up unmanageable credit card debt, chances are one trip or toy is not going to send you there. If you don’t regularly run out of month before money, the occasional treats or therapy for yourself have little danger of becoming your new uncontrollable habit.

In a media world filled with messages about Americans’ overspending and undersaving, there are more than a few who have the opposite problem. And as admirable as it may seem, it has costs – in regret, in relationships with others, and in integrity with ourselves.

How can we know? Ask someone over the age of 90, or who has been given a limited time to live. Our focus on what mattered most to us sharpens considerably when we are told our time and health are now more precious resources than our money.

So if you haven’t taken care of your current self lately because you think your future self will be “poor,”  lighten up and strike some spontaneity in your budget.

I, Holly P. Thomas, Certified Financial Planner(TM), and recovering obsessive compulsive money addict, hereby give all Puritans permission to live more than a little.

And for more on “mindful splurging,” check out this recent article by Susan Johnston Taylor,


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Dig Those Digital Assets

Shortly before a relative of mine died in 2008, he showed me where and how he kept his financial life organized. He had accounts in more places than I could keep track of in my head. So we wrote them all down. Between the visit to his home office and our written instructions, I thought I was all clear on what he had and how to get to it. But when it came time, I still nearly missed one. It was the only account for which no statement came in the mail – a “digital asset” at Treasury Direct.  I uncovered it 11 months later as I was clearing out the file cabinet, in a manila folder with a scribbled label. The folder was empty, but a userid and several crossed-out passwords were written on the inside flap. It turned out to be a five-figure account. 

Nowadays, it’s estimated the average American has between 30 and 80 online accounts with passwords. Of course, not all of them have money in them, but they still might be “assets.” Paypal accounts, frequent flyer accounts, Amazon accounts, eBay accounts, and any kind of points-earning sites might be worth a little, or a lot. Membership sites – AAA, AARP, fraternities, sororities, national professional associations, etc. might hold some kind of group life or accidental death policies. A blog or YouTube channel might bring in a little advertising revenue. Even if the site or account has no potential for ever producing money, most people have some kind of online presence, even if it’s simply their Facebook page, that they might not want hanging out there if they’re no longer around. There are 4 categories that our digital assets can fall into. Next week I’ll go into more detail and how to plan for them.

But while it’s tax time and you might have all of your financial life pulled together, give it some thought: how could someone easily take over my digital life if necessary? One app I am using is Dashlane – it sits on my hard drive and remembers all my sites and passwords. All someone needs to do is enter my Dashlane password, and they can see what I’ve got and how to get to it. Scary? Perhaps. To play it a little safer, I chose not to use the “cloud ” version of Dashlane to share among all my devices.  I’ll be providing lots of other resources in an upcoming e-book on end-of-life planning and digital assets (Porchview Publishing, $7.99). If you would like to be on the pre-order list for a coupon, become a subscriber to the free monthly e-letter, “The View From The Porch,” at

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How To Be a Gracious Gift Exchanger

(If you prefer video to text, click here to see this post in a 3-minute video.)
“Oh, thank you…but I didn’t get you anything!” How often has that awkward response ruined a nice giving moment? Sometimes it’s hard to accept a gift without feeling the need to give one back. For a long time it was difficult for me to accept that. Sometimes I didn’t give gifts that I wanted to, because I was afraid of imposing an obligation with my gift! How silly. It took time for me to realize not everyone thought the same way – some people can accept a gift graciously. I learned that when someone has the desire to say Thank You, Happy Birthday, Merry Christmas, or Happy Arbor Day with a gift, my gratitude is usually all that’s needed to make the kind gesture complete.
The best gifts, in fact, might not even arrive in a package. Last week for a special occasion, I wanted to give my Toastmasters group a gift, a final thank-you speech, to express in 10 minutes how the program, and its members, changed my life.
(Click here to view.)
The response to my going-away speech was overwhelming – appreciative tears all around. I gave a gift; and immediately, unexpectedly got 30 gifts back. In my past, I would have said, “Thanks, but I wasn’t THAT good,” or found a way to deflect the praise to a mentor, colleague, or family member. Not very gracious.
Perhaps because I am 15 years older than when I joined, or perhaps because of the work I have done on my own emotional intelligence, or perhaps because I’ve been hanging out with the right people or it was the right day, I soaked it up with as much grace, courage, and humility as I could muster. Because I allowed that to happen, the exchange felt complete. I left the meeting on an emotional high, and I hope everyone else did, as well.
This season, if you find yourself moved to be the generous gift-giver, are you doing so without expectations (as my Tennessee grandmother used to say, “out of the goodness of your heart”?)
Conversely, if you find yourself overwhelmed with someone else’s generosity – intangible, tangible, or financial – how will you handle it? Will you graciously accept, honor the giver’s gesture, and allow the exchange to be complete? With so many messages about self-determination, independence, and not “needing” others in our lives to get by, it can be easy to forget how exchanges of gifts, if handled well on both sides, weave the fabric of our support networks tighter, and make it more beautiful. When not handled so well, we begin to take that fabric apart.
I invite you to think about what your giving and receiving this season will do for you and for those around you. Whether there is money involved or not, you have the potential to enter 2016 feeling a whole lot richer because of it.
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Having “The Visit” At the Holidays

For many families, the holidays are one of the few times when adult kids, parents, grandkids, and grandparents get to see each other. That time together might be the best time to have a planned “Visit.” There are two common topics for the Visit: 1) finances; and 2) health and home. Today’s post will deal with finances. Next week I will have a guest post from Monica Stynchula, LCSW and CEO of ReunionCare, about health and home.

Members of the Greatest Generation are notorious for keeping quiet about money. Yet, as they reach old age, their Baby Boomer kids begin to wonder, “Do Mom and Dad have enough money to live on?” “What if they need in-home care?” “What if they need to make modifications to their home?” “Did they really need those $5000 new windows, or are they being scammed and not know it?” “If I had to pay bills for them, where do they keep their money?” “What if they have money or accounts stashed somewhere and they forget about it?”

Some parents may discourage the money topic by cutting conversations about it short. Perhaps they do not want to acknowledge their own mortality. Perhaps they are embarrassed about falling victim to a scam already. Perhaps they see all of their kids as spendthrifts who will not be responsible (regardless of their age, education, and career status). Perhaps they are afraid of having the keys to their car, or their home, taken away. And it’s not always the parents that don’t want to talk about it. Sometimes the adult kids are uncomfortable talking about their parents’ mortality, and they are the ones cutting off the communication.

Regardless, every time the topic, and its underlying emotion, is avoided, it feeds an elephant in the living room. If not acknowledged, it stays there, and gets bigger, until a crisis erupts, and everyone is forced to talk about it under duress.

How do you bring up the money topic before a crisis? Try owning your discomfort about it up front. “There’s something I am struggling with talking to you about,” might be a good beginning, for example. Then let them know what you want to talk about: “There are two main concerns that keep coming up for me, and I need your help.” However, if they still shut down, keep your cool, and ​be empathetic: “I​f I were in your shoes, I would find this hard to talk about, too. Perhaps this wasn’t the best time to bring it up.” ​Try writing them a letter instead to keep the conversation going.

​​But, ​if you find the discussion goes even better than you thought, let them know how relieved you are: “Wow, I was so worried about talking to you about this, but I feel better now.” You may find you have paved the way for more open conversation, and even happier holidays with the family, in the future.

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What Were Your Generation’s Money Messages?

Members of the Greatest Generation are famous for their frugal habits, sometimes to the frustration of their Baby Boomer kids.   It can be hard to understand why Mom or Dad refuse to part with Ziploc bags and empty shoeboxes, or why they will not buy something nice for themselves. Many of us recognize that these habits probably evolved after being raised in a time of true scarcity – the Great Depression.  What I didn’t know until recently was how this money mentality was reinforced by our government throughout World War II. A baby boomer friend recently showed me a historic relic I had only read about but never seen: a war ration coupon book, issued in 1943. It belonged to his mother, born in 1928.

1943 War Ration Book with frugal messages
1943 War Ration Book – front

1943 war ration book - back with frugal messages
1943 War Ration Book – back

The language and tone on the ration book is striking. Authoritarian, even threatening. If you had been a young person holding this ration book, what money messages might you have received? My own thoughts, if it were me at that time, are below.

“Rationing is a vital part of your country’s war effort. Any attempt to violate the rules is an effort to deny someone his share and will create hardship and help the enemy.” (Yikes! Both of those sound pretty bad. I’ll comply.)

“This book is your Government’s assurance of your right to buy your fair share of certain goods made scarce by war. Price ceilings have been established for your protection. Dealers must post these prices conspicuously. Don’t pay more.” (Those evil dealers/merchants. They’re always trying to get us to pay more than what’s fair.)

“Be guided by the rule: ‘If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.’ ” (Right! I got through the last ten years with one pair of shoes; the next pair can last that long, too.)

Contrast the last message to the one to “go shopping” following the 9/11 attacks.  The word “ration” itself is used 9 times on the outside of the book, plus on every stamp in the book. Other scarcity terms pervade: “This book is valuable. Do not lose it.” “Without the stamps you will be unable to purchase those goods.” “Do not throw this book away…You may be required to present it…”

You may ask what self-respecting Americans would have put up with this rationing garbage. Yet, at the time, the government had been given credit for bringing us out of the Depression. We had been attacked by Japan, and German U-boats were off our coastlines. Who else would you turn to for protection? If you wanted “rationed goods,” (many of them household staples), the government was the provider, unless you wanted to risk a $10,000 fine (a lot of money now, and in 1943?), imprisonment, or both. Stiff penalties awaited noncompliant rule-breakers. From this place of fear, a message of scarcity to a Depression-battered generation must have seemed natural, even patriotic.

Money messages from authority make the most impact in our formative years, and in times of fear. It depends on who we view at the time as authority: parents, teachers, coaches, pulpits, and government. In response, we adapt the best habits we can in the interest of self-preservation. The trick is to continue to ask ourselves, as times change, are these habits still serving us well? Are they helping us lead a happy, fulfilling life, enhancing relationships with those around us? Or are they keeping us trapped by unhealthy attachment to money, possessions, or fear itself?

Need help identifying your money messages? Try books by Rick Kahler, CFP, Brad Klontz, Ph.D., and Ted Klontz, Ph.D., and read Chapter 2 of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future.


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What’s Your Next Chapter? Questions for Any Age

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where…” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
“… so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.” (Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter 6)

What will I do with myself every day in “retirement”? Many 45 – 65-year-olds struggle to answer this. But what if, for you, “retirement” is a long way off, or, has been going on a long time already? What if you just want to know how to spend your mid-life? Or your 80s? Since I was 20, I have relied on the What Color is Your Parachute? book series to help with this kind of question. There is the original one for career-hunting, and a “Retirement” edition. They may sound different, but both books essentially ask the same questions…When have been the times in my life that I felt most fulfilled? What accomplishments, big or small, brought me the most joy? What places have I lived where I was happiest and why? What kinds of people do I enjoy being around the most? How much alone-time is necessary for me? It turns out that, in many respects, planning for “retirement” is not much different than planning for any other decade.

But what about money? While retirement might be a time of “financial independence,” that term can vary by degrees throughout our lives. Many people start a new chapter in their 20s, 30s, 40s, or 70s. They must feel financially independent, at least for at time, in order to do so. If you are not there yet, what’s one thing you could do? Take ownership of your purpose. Some people hand over that ownership to a financial professional when they ask, “Here is the sumtotal of my financial decisions over my life so far… What kind of life (income) can you get me?” Some people even shop financial professionals this way and choose the one that gives them the highest answer.

What if, instead, you did the homework to determine what kind of life you want first? Then you could go to the financial professional and ask, “What are the chances I can lead this life, and not run out of money? How big or small are the changes I might I have to make to get there?”

When you determine your purpose first, you can align yourself with someone who can guide you to get there. You don’t give up ownership to them, because they help you know the impact of your decisions. You could wake up every day with purpose, knowing exactly what you are meant to do. That’s not retirement. It’s independence, no matter what age you are.

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When Going Over Budget is Good

Last week I looked at my income and expenses for the first six months of 2014, comparing them to the budget I made at the beginning of the year. One category had a big surprise – groceries. Everyone knows about supermarket inflation, but upon further inspection I realized my own personal inflation was due to some “bad” (financially speaking) choices I have been making for my own “good.”

In my newly single life, I assumed I would be spending about two-thirds of my old married grocery budget. Instead, I found that I have actually spent more. My analysis showed three reasons – 1) my healthier food choices; 2) my love of cooking, especially for others; and 3) general grocery inflation.

When I go to the grocery store now, I hardly spend any time, or money, in the middle aisles. I spend it on the perimeter, where the produce is. As a result, I have managed to keep off the ten pounds I tried for several years to lose. But produce is generally more expensive, and not quite as filling, as packaged goods and carbs, so I buy more of it. It also spoils, so I buy more often.

I have always enjoyed cooking, but now I have someone new in my life for whom I especially enjoy preparing meals (lucky guy, huh?). Upon reflection, he estimated I am buying 75 percent of the groceries for our two households. And he is probably right. I nearly always send leftovers home with him, then bring groceries to his house, too.

Relatively speaking, I would guess that eating healthier, and cooking for two, have far more impact on my cash flow than general inflation has. But I have no intentions of stopping either one. I will find other areas to sacrifice first. Compared to the cash flow impact, my much-improved health and wellbeing is far more worth it.

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Market Froth and Making Meringue

market froth

For Thanksgiving, I had one goal: to make a lemon icebox pie that tasted just like my grandmother’s.  I had tried before, but half the battle with lemon icebox pie is the meringue. My grandmother’s meringue had stiff white peaks. Denver’s airport, with the manmade rooftop peaks mirroring the real ones in the distance, reminds me of her lemon icebox pie. My first try with meringue several years ago ended with a gooey white puddle on top of the filling.

“You didn’t beat it long enough,” one family member said.

“You need to add cream of tartar,” a restaurant-owner friend told me.

“You can’t have ANY water in the bowl,” Mom said.

Determined to get it right the night before Thanksgiving, I made my filling, heated my readymade graham cracker crust in the oven, and waited for it to cool. Then, it was meringue time.

I cleaned the bowl and dried it. And dried it. And dried it. I carefully cracked and separated the eggs. Pouring the whites into the automatic mixer bowl, I added the sugar, vanilla, and cream of tartar. After turning on the mixer, I watched the whites swirl in the bowl as the blades scooped and blended the sugar.

Then my phone rang.

It was a friend. I really wanted to talk to her but the mixer was noisy. I explained what I was doing, and she offered to hang up, but I decided to go in another room.

Absorbed in our conversation, a while later I realized I had forgotten about the mixer. I muted the phone and hurried into the kitchen. As I turned the motor off and pulled the blades out, I wondered if meringue could be overbeaten. But it was still gooey.

When I first ran into the kitchen, I was worried about how long it had been beaten. But when I saw the goo, I wondered if the peaks would ever come. What if I messed it up again?  What if I make it worse by continuing? Or the first advice was right, and it hasn’t been long enough? How will I know? Little panic attacks burst through my stomach.

Meringue is Like Markets

Returning to the phone conversation, I stated with an air of false confidence, “Well, you know, with meringue, you have to wait what seems like a long time for it to turn out right.” And then I added, “It’s like….money. You have to…just… WALK AWAY.” She’s a financial planner and she thought that was funny.

But it is true. Particularly with market conditions in what might seem like froth, many begin to wonder how they are supposed to know when “it” is ready. What if this is the peak? What if it’s not? What if I regret whatever I decide? What if I regret not deciding? Little bursts of panic arise from uncertainty, whether it’s markets or meringue.

In times like these, it helps to have a recipe, and a professional, to keep emotions from ruining the plan. It also helps not to look too often at the results.

In the case of my meringue, I decided to stick to the prior advice and wait it out. Rather than hover over the mixer, I walked out of the kitchen to give my friend my full attention.

When we were finished, I returned cautiously, turned the mixer off and lifted out the blades. The bowl of goo had frothed into white peaks rivaling the Rockies. Browned a little in the oven and refrigerated overnight, the pie turned out as I remembered.

You know, we might not need so many financial professionals if we could make achieving financial goals taste that good.

Check out our suggested Resources, books by Holly, or schedule a call to learn more.

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