On April 4, Karen Telleen-Lawton, Principal of Decisive Path Fee-Only Financial Advisory, spoke at our bi-monthly meeting at the Canary Hotel. A timely talk as the 2012 tax season loomed, her words provided plenty of valuable advice that was specifically targeted to women of all ages.
Here is a summary of what Ms. Telleen-Lawton had to say:
1. Live Within Your Means. Don’t spend money you don’t have. Record all your expenses. Consider under-consumption as a way of life. Don’t shop when angry, sad or hungry. Work out some frugal alternatives for entertainment. In Santa Barbara, there are endless frugal ways to eat, entertain or be entertained, such as having friends in for dinner instead of eating out, discount movies, hiking, or frequenting the beach or park.
2. Pay Down Your Debt but maintain credit. Start with the highest interest rate debt. The average household debt as a percentage of disposable income is 105%, down from 114% in 2004. Having a credit record is good to establish credit, but keep the length of the loan less than the life of the purchase.
3. Nurture a Savings Habit. Make savings a part of your budget and pay yourself first. Have 3-6 months worth of your expenses available as an emergency fund. Set up an IRA and then build some savings for purchases you’ll need to make in the next 6-7 years. The earlier you learn to stick to a budget, the more you can slack off when you’re older. That’s partly because you will have saved more of a cushion, but it’s also because you will have developed a healthy habit of consuming less.
4. Invest in stocks for long-term goal to create wealth. Stocks preserve and increase purchasing power. Choose socially responsible-type investments.
5. Discern your goals and risk tolerance. Consider some “What if scenarios,” regarding your retirement. First imagine having all you need. What are your life goals? Then imagine that amount is reduced to half. What are your goals? Then imagine you have only a short time to live. (Go to her website to formulate your life goals.)
6. Develop marketable skills. Keep evolving.
7. Manage your personal risk. Floss! Eat well, exercise. Insure whatever you can't afford to lose, like your health. If you need to, go for the high deductibles, high caps. Insure against catastrophe.
8. Cultivate a life-long network. Maintain healthy relationships. Choose your life partner wisely. Even so, 60% of wealth is held by women.
9. Recognize the value of Social Security. There is $2.3 trillion in reserve, assuring that the current system would pay benefits until the late 2030's. It will be there. Retirees use social security as 40% of their income. If you wait to collect until you are 70, you’ll get 8% credit for every year you don’t collect after age 66.
10. Dare to seek help. Get advice from “Fee-only” planners who have no conflicts of interest since they sell no products. Telleen-Lawton is one of those, and you can check out her website at
Karen Telleen-Lawton has published on environmental, economic, social, and family issues in local, regional, and national publications including Santa Barbara Seasons, Stanford Magazine, UCSB Coastlines, Coloradan, and Family Fun. Her book, Canyon Voices - The Nature of Rattlesnake Canyon is available through Amazon. She lives with her husband in Rattlesnake Canyon, volunteering as a docent at the Santa Barbara Botanic Garden. They have two grown children.