Financial Expert Carmen Wong Ulrich On How Women Can Take Control Of Their Finances (And Lives)
9:30 am, March 18th | by Ella Vincent
Carmen Wong Ulrich is the go-to financial expert for women. She dispenses common sense advice on CNBC, Dr. Oz, and in personal finance advice books like The Real Cost of Living. Wong Ulrich sat down with Ella Vincent to give some advice to Jane Dough readers about how to conquer student loan debt, build wealth, and why you want to wait to buy those new Louboutins.
Saving is something we’re supposed to do, but often don’t. How do we resist the “buy, buy, buy” aspect of our culture that tell us to buy the latest gadgets or shoes?
CWU: It’s a siren song of our culture for sure. But, arm yourself by first asking: “What is my priority?” By thinking deeply about your real financial goals — such as having an annual vacation or simply building an emergency fund or getting out of credit card debt — you can hold something in your mind that means more to you than
the latest gadget or shoes. Thinking isn’t everything though; you need action. Look at your bank balances and credit balances at least once a week. Have a number in mind that you’re looking to reach for your goals. If you need $10,000 for an emergency fund, set up automated savings every month or with every check and check in to see how you’re doing. Most importantly, remember that it’s not just about the numbers (rarely is that the case for women!), it’s about the ‘Why’.
Why have an emergency fund? So you can take care of yourself and, if you have kids, your family should you lose income. Can you imagine having to get up and move, quickly, because you were laid off and don’t have an emergency fund? Would the shoes be worth it then?
Many young women are struggling during this recession. How can they save money when they have so little left over after paying bills?
CWU: By being mindful of where the money is going. When things are very tight your options are two-fold: either find the money, or make the money. Finding money means spending less and adjusting your lifestyle to fit even under your limited budget. Making money is another option — if things are that tight, do you have time to earn money part-time or on weekends? Do this before you have kids — you’ll have a huge head start. And what are you saving for? Prioritize by getting rid of expensive credit card debt and bad habits first, then automate your savings and no maxing out your 401k or other IRA until you have a cash cushion. Nothing wrong with only putting 5% or 10% in your 401k, getting a match (hopefully!), and then saving cash. Once your emergency fund is built, then up those retirement savings.
How can women handle sky-high student loan debt before they go into default?
CWU: There is no escape from student loan debt. None! (Unless you are forgiven
a balance because you have a federal loan and qualify for an extended period of working in the public sector). So, it pays to be proactive when you’re unable to pay. Hopefully, you have a federal loan, which has more flexibility. You can file for income-based payments (head to FinAid.org to find out more). If you have private loans, you’re in a quandary, since those have little or no flexibility. But you can get still help. Head to a nonprofit credit counselor near you (find one at NFCC.org) and review your options for payment with them. Know not only what you owe, but who you owe, and stay on top of it!
Paying taxes can be intimidating and even tax experts miss deductions. What is the best advice you can give women around tax time?
CWU: If your taxes are complicated — for example, if you work for yourself, it can pay to hire a pro. Someone who has experience working with someone like you can find deductions that you may not even know exist. Ask your friends and family for a solid referral and look up any ratings on him or her online. It can pay to ask for help!
You are the president of ALTA Wealth Management. How can women become more involved in being invested in their money short-term ( like budgeting) and long-term ( retirement planning?)
CWU: Loaded question! But there’s really an easy answer. Know everything you can about where your money is, who you owe, and how. And never stop your financial education. This should be like a second job (or third!) for you, but so integrated in your life that it’s routine. Think about it — we spend a lot of time focused on our income, but
little time thinking about how the money moves we can make can ‘earn’ us income as well, by saving us money, growing money tax-free, or protecting us in case we lose a job. Think of good financial planning as another form of ‘income’, earning money for yourself.
What are the most empowering actions women can take to be financially stable and build wealth?
CWU: Education + action = solid finances. You’ve got to not only know the in’s and out’s of your money and all the financial products out there that can be helpful, but you need to make the right decisions. Ask yourself, Why do you make the decisions you do? Are you happy with them so far? What needs to change? Much of money is really personal, psychological. Deeply so. Never stop learning and have little ‘talks’ with yourself about why you do the things you do. Learn from mistakes and always, always, have a bank account and credit card in your name only! It will serve you for the rest of your life.
Ella Vincent is a freelance writer who currently writes about culture for AskMissA.com and Blackworthy.com. She has also written for the Advocate and Clutch Magazine. Follow her @bookgirlchicago on Twitter.
[Photo via NYC Newswomen]