Buy shoes, you lose

Drinking tea, eating chocolate and learning to get out of debt at the Second Annual Nevada Women’s Money Conference

Photo Illustration by David Jayne and David Robert

For more advice on money management--and a link to search online for money owed you--visit Nevada Treasurer Brian Krolicki’s Web site,

So, women. Credit cards bad. Saving for retirement good.

Not exactly new concepts. But you may be surprised to think of Nevada Treasurer Brian Krolicki as a “sister.”

The Republican father of three was deigned an honorary woman at the Nevada Women’s Money Conference held in Reno on a recent sunny Saturday. Admission was free.

The messages—from getting out of debt to protecting ourselves from identity theft and planning for retirement—were important reminders for most of the 300 women gathered.

A woman’s inclination to sacrifice herself can be counter-productive in the long run, said Jane Nichols, former chancellor of Nevada’s university system, during a lunch talk.

“We tend to put our husbands and children first, our homes and employers first,” Nichols said. “We put ourselves last. … Eventually, we find there’s nothing left. And all we have in life as a tool is ourselves.”

One woman, in her late 20s, described how she keeps department store credit lines maxed out from month to month, making only minimum payments.

“If I pay off $33 each month, then I have that $33 to spend on things I need,” she said. “I might need that new pair of shoes to get a better job.”

Her fascination with footwear was shared by many of the 300 women gathered at the Reno Hilton.

Shoes symbolize the stereotypical female’s yen to shop. Author and speaker Dee Lee described the siren song of a pair of pumps on sale. She urged women to resist plopping down the plastic for the pleasure.

Credit cards get in the way of positive cash flow.

“You want a positive cash flow,” she said. “That means money left over each month. You aren’t going to achieve your goals without a positive cash flow.”

Good debt—a home mortgage or school loan—increases your bottom line, Lee said. High-interest credit card debt is “bad” debt.

Lee, a petite woman with clipped hair and a wide smile, said she stopped asking women to show off their credit cards after one woman showed her 23 cards.

"[Credit cards] get us in deep. … I can’t say it with your state treasurer here,” Lee laughed, “deep doo-doo.”

She turned to Krolicki, who’d organized and rounded up private sponsors for the event. The elected official was engaged in an activity that endeared him to every mom in the room. He was briskly following his preschool daughter toward the bathrooms at the back of the room.

Follow the money

First, you’ll need to find money to get out of debt and to begin saving and investing. This starts with figuring out where your money goes, Lee said. Sit down and write it all out. List your family’s income from salaries, Social Security, alimony, child support, rental income, dividends—everything. Then track expenses from mortgage or rent to utilities, phone, food, clothes, insurance, child care, car payments, credit card payments, taxes. Be specific.

Subtract expenses from income. Do you spend more than you earn? Not good.

What to do? You could get more education and nab a better job.

You could make some lifestyle changes. Here are a few tips, most lifted from Lee’s book, Let’s Talk Money:

Coupons: Use them.

Utilities: Keep your home a few degrees warmer, cutting air conditioning expenses. Turn off lights and computers when not in use. Turn the temperature on your water heater down.

Eating out: Do it less. Take the time to shop and plan meals. When cooking, make extra and package leftovers in single servings for easy eats the next few days.

Telephone: Does every member of your family really need a cell phone?

Shopping: Consider the possibility that a trip to Macy’s fills an emotional lack. Revise your habits.

Exercise: Walking, jogging and bike-riding cost less than health-club memberships.

Gifts: Create a spending plan and stick to it. Be creative.

Get out of bad debt

Credit cards aren’t innately bad. They’re tools, Lee said. She carries two credit cards—one for personal use, one for business.

It’s easy, though, to let credit cards get the upper hand.

Example: You treat yourself to a Hawaiian vacation, whipping out a new credit card and charging $3,000 for plane and hotel.

If the credit company charges 18 percent interest, and if you make the minimum payment each month, how long will it take you to pay for your trip?

Only about 33 years.

“That’s longer than your home mortgage!” Lee said.

You’ll be paying around $6,000 in interest during that time—double the cost of your trip.

How to get out from under this load?

Transfer high-interest credit card balances to low-interest cards, if possible, but watch the fine print for balance transfer fees. Keep track of when promotional low-interest deals run out. Pay off cards with the highest interest rates first until every card is paid off.

When you’ve paid off your cards, and this is important, don’t charge more than you can pay off from month to month. (Sounds easy, but this takes more will power than a low-carb diet for a pasta lover.)

Final advice: Find a credit card that pays you.

Invest young, invest now

The earlier you begin a saving and investing plan, the better.

Of course.

This point really sank in when Heidi Foster, a Wells Fargo investment counselor, showed exactly how much less money you have to invest to end up with more money in the long run—if only you start young.

It’s all about compounding returns.

Here’s an example from the Wells Fargo Web site: If you start at age 25, putting around $20 a week in a retirement account that earns 10 percent a year, you’ll have $108,000 in the account by age 50. If you wait five years until you’re 30, you’ll end up with a little over $63,000.

Bottom line: Investing $5,000 less—starting five years later—means $45,000 less in the long run.

If you aren’t in your 20s, no worries. Start saving now.

Bag Lady 101

Possibly the biggest conference eye-opener was Lee’s explanation of how much it’s going to cost to be retired. Social Security payments aren’t going to cut it.

“How many of you plan on eating when you’re retired?” Lee asked and related a story from another conference. One attendee had been shopping with her mother around the middle of the month. The embarrassed mom admitted that she couldn’t afford broccoli. The daughter did not want to end up in the same dire straights.

The good news for women is that we’re going to live longer than men in retirement.

“The bad news is that we’re going to live longer in retirement—and we have to pay for it,” Lee said. “The No. 1 fear of most women is that they’re going to be a bag lady.”

The average age that women become widows is 56, Lee said.

“You will be in charge of your finances at some point in your life,” she said. “You may be on your own. You have to have enough dollars to survive.”

This doesn’t top the list of concerns for most women, who’re struggling to raise kids or care for elders, maintain a household and make ends meet.

If a woman has to choose between purchasing a couch for her house, Lee asked, or setting money aside for retirement, what’s she going to do?

Most won’t save for the future.

“Don’t do that anymore," she said. "Prioritize your goals."