Identity Theft // November 19, 2012

A woman I work with was recently apartment-hunting and couldn’t figure out why the landlords weren’t returning her calls. Luckily one of them finally hit her up and told her why her application was denied. Now I didn’t hear their conversation myself, but I’m assuming it was due to the 10 pages of unauthorized accounts I saw her print out; none of which she knew were open in her name. Sucks, right?

Now I’m not trying to get you all paranoid, but the holidays are the perfect storm for this type of identity theft. You’re running around buying gifts and attending holiday parties, you’re distracted by all the booze stimulating conversation, and in all the hustle and bustle you don’t dispose of your statements properly…. Lo and behold, you’re spenRding the first week of the new year cleaning up your credit. I don’t mean to scare you, but I do want to give you a few practical steps to help you avoid becoming a victim of identity theft this holiday season. Here are my top 7 tips:

  1. This one is pretty straightforward, but I’m a firm believer in regularly checking your Credit Report.  You’ve got your three main bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. You can get a free report from each bureau every 12 months. (Go to or call (877) 322-8228. Note: you have to pay to get your credit score, so keep that in mind. This is a year-round tip!
  2. Set up email alerts through your bank or credit card company so you know when large transactions have been made or when your balance reaches a certain limit (this is also helpful for shopaholics). Catching weird transactions early is key in fighting them.
  3. Sign up for paperless billing. This way you don’t have to worry about your sensitive info getting swiped in the mail (or the trash, when Aunt Marge comes in town and does you a “favor” by cleaning up your desk). And it’s eco-friendly. Plus, if you monitor your accounts online you’ll catch any weird activity a lot faster. If you prefer paper bills, invest in a shredder.
  4. DO NOT carry your social security card in your wallet, but do keep your account numbers and bank contact info handy (i.e. wallet or phone) in case you ever do need to make those calls.
  5. It’s the season of party-throwing. Whether you throw a holiday party, or have a roommate with *ahem* sketchy friends, be smart! Keep your financial info in a safe place. Approximately 30-50% of identity theft happens by people the victim knows. Eek!
  6. Don’t enter sensitive information into sites that are linked in your emails. You’d be surprised by how many scams there are out there, especially during the holidays. If you receive emails—or snail mail, for that matter—asking for such information, be safe and manually type the URL in your browser, or find the company’s number and call them directly. An extra moment or two now can save you a huge headache later.
  7. Be sure to shop on secure websites and make sure you see "https" before you enter your credit card info. If a site looks sketchy, it probably is. Err on the side of caution.

You have enough on your plate this holiday season (literally); the last thing you want to do is clean up a mess caused by someone else. Use these tips and you won't have to clean up after anything but your party guests!

Published in Personal Finance

May 21, 2012 

So you just graduated! Yay! You have your cap and gown...and a mountain of student loan debt!! Wait. OK, so there is more to this whole graduating thing than you expected. But you can simplify your loans and pay them off more rapidly. Here’s how: 

  1. Consolidate your loans for simplicity – You may not get a lower interest rate but you will get the convenience of having just one payment to make. Cutting down on managing multiple accounts makes it easier to avoid late fees and keep up with due dates. For more information check out
  2. Check to see if you qualify for the Obama Special Direct consolidation program – This new program started in January 2012 and is available through June 2012. If you qualify, you can consolidate your loans and get a 0.25% reduction in interest rate. You can become eligible for another 0.25% interest rate reduction if the loan is repaid through an automatic debit system. For more information on the program and to see if your loans qualify visit this site.
  3. Make additional payments – By making additional debt payments every month you may be able to pay off your student loan a lot faster.  For example, if your student loan balance is $10,000 with an interest rate of 6.8% and minimum payment of $115 per month, it will take you 10 years to pay off the loan.  If you add another $100 to your monthly payment for a total of $215 per month it will take 4.6 years to pay off the loan.  Also, by paying $215.00 per month instead of the calculated payment of $115.08, you save $2,169.12 in interest charges.
  4. Get someone else to pay – I like this one. There a lot of occupations now offering to pay off your student loans as a recruiting tool. Programs such as AmeriCorps or Teach for America also offer grants to help you pay off your loans. Teaching in a low-income school may also qualify you for loan forgiveness.
  5. And don't forget: If you meet income requirements, you can deduct up to $2,500 per year in interest on any loans used for higher education.

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When dealing with debt, the best thing you can do is educate yourself about your options. Do your research and then work on paying your student loans down step by step. Soon you’ll be able to pay them off and focus on the bright future ahead of you. 

Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. California Insurance License #0F33895. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

Published in Personal Finance

May 7, 2012

You have worked hard to establish a great career--no small feat during an economic recession--and now you are ready to put your money to work for you. But where to begin? Should you hire a financial broker, or become an independent investor? Play it safe with bonds, or play the stock market?  Before you resort to stuffing cash under a mattress, take these five steps toward investing…straight to the bank. 

1. Get Financially Literate. Some investment terms you should know include:

Stock/ Equities - If you own a stock, you own part of the company. A stock is evidenced by a paper certificate.

Securities - Includes stocks, bonds, and bank deposits. 

Bond - A bond is a debt investment in which an investor loans money to a corporate or government entity that borrows the money for a defined period of time at a fixed interest rate. The main categories of bonds are corporate bonds, municipal bonds, and U.S. Treasury bonds.

Market Capitalization - Also known as “market cap.” It is calculated by multiplying the current price per share of a stock with the number of shares outstanding.

Mutual Fund - An investment company that combines the money from a large group of investors to buy stocks and other investments.

Dividends - A portion of a company's profits that is paid out to shareholders on a quarterly or annual basis. 

These are the most commonly used terms in investment and knowing what they mean will help you understand stock roundups in The Wall Street Journal, Yahoo Finance and Dow Jones. When I first tried to calculate a company’s market cap it took me two hours, simply because I didn’t know what it meant. Now that I know the lingo, I can look at an analyst report and easily follow the progress of a stock. I’m no expert, but I know enough to play the game. 

Photobucket  Photobucket  Photobucket

After brushing up on your fiscal vocabulary, read Lois P. Frankel’s Nice Girls Don’t Get Rich: 75 Avoidable Mistakes Women Make with Money.  I love the advice she offers women about diving into investment and not waiting on “Prince Charming” to take care of their finances. Use the workbooks and self-evaluations in the book to establish and monitor your progress toward financial goals. 

Another great read is Douglas R. Andrew’s Millionaire by Thirty: The Quickest Path to Early Financial Independence. Andrew claims that young professionals can achieve financial independence at an early age by investing. He suggests alternatives to the traditional 401k to make the dream of early retirement a reality.

The Richest Man in Babylon uses parables and layman terms to deliver investment basics and emphasize the importance of growing your money. My dad gave it to me when I was only seven and I often revisit the principals outlined in this book. The common sense advice helps keep me in check when I’m tempted to splurge during a sale at H&M.

Also, get in the habit of scanning Investors Business Daily, The Wall Street Journal and Yahoo Finance for the latest news and market trends.

2. Do Your Research. Before you invest in anything, do your homework. Publicly traded companies want your money, so they make it easy to find pertinent information. Check out their websites to find earnings reports, mergers and acquisitions news and stock quotes. Knowing everything you can about a potential investment is crucial to making a wise decision. Supplement your research with facts from Hoover's Company Profiles. This is an invaluable web resource that offers additional material about company management and executive profiles. 

3. Stay Connected. Once you have done your research and decided which companies you want to invest in, it is smart to stay in touch with an online financial community. Social media is a great tool for networking with investment pros and getting the inside scoop on smart buys. Try Stocktwit, a social networking platform where you can “share ideas and learn from passionate investors and traders.”

4. Don’t Invest What You Should be Saving. Investments should be a part of your overall financial strategy; however, it is important to establish good saving habits first. Create an emergency fund, open a retirement savings account and pay off outstanding credit card debt before playing the stock market. Pay yourself first and you should have extra money to invest in no time. 

5. Diversify Your Portfolio. Once you have savings and understand your investment options, it is important not to place all your eggs in one basket. Diversification is the practice of spreading money among different investments to reduce risk. A well balanced portfolio of investments is more likely to withstand fluctuations in the volatile financial market. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission offers great advice on steps you can take to diversify your investments for maximum returns. 

Investing is key to financial independence. You want the freedom to travel, buy a home or retire early, but savings alone won’t get you there. The average annual percentage gain for a high-yield savings account is one percent. Compare this to the average 10 percent earned on stocks. When you save, your money doesn’t work for you and you will only have as much money as you set aside from your salary. When you invest, your money grows by earning interest. So, determine your financial goals, study up and take your first steps toward a wealthy future.

Published in Personal Finance
Monday, 23 April 2012 09:10

Are You Covered? Insurance Review

April 23, 2012 

Insurance is used as a way to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the things we own against unexpected events that happen in life.  It would be lovely if you could set it up and forget about it, but as you work on building your financial foundation, your insurance coverage just becomes another area that you should review on a regular basis.  

While there are many types of insurances you may need as you progress through different life stages, here are a few you need to know about now: 

1. Disability Insurance

Simply stated, disability insurance protects your income.  According to the Social Security Administration, just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20 year-olds will become disabled before reaching age 67!1 And 67% of the private sector workforce has no long-term disability insurance.  Most people think of disability insurance as a waste of money because they think nothing bad will happen to them to keep them out of work but the reality is…it happens. You go skiing and break your leg or (God forbid) you get seriously sick. What happens then? 

As you move toward financial independence it is crucial that you protect one of your most significant financial assets: YOU! Your ability to earn an income is what funds your life and allows you to save for your goals.  Without it, you may lose everything you have worked so hard to build and save. Disability insurance is what pays you an income if you become too sick or injured to go to work.  In general, disability insurance policies usually replace about 60 percent of your annual earnings for a specific period of time (2 years, 5 years, to age 65).  If you are lucky, you may have an employer that offers a group disability insurance coverage as a benefit.  If not, you should look into individual disability insurance, which on average should cost between 1 and 3 percent of your annual income.

2. Life Insurance

My motto: If you love someone or owe someone, you need life insurance.  Why?  Because your debts don’t die when you do and you’re going to want to make sure your loved ones are taken care of financially should something happen to you.  It makes sense to review your life insurance needs on a regular basis to ensure that you are adequately covered for your current financial situation and goals you’re saving for.  Usually you will want to get enough in life insurance to leave your family with enough money to cover the bills and replace your income if you were no longer here.  If you have kids or other dependents, life insurance will provide your survivors with an income stream or lump sum to replace your income.  

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Parents who stay home and care for the children also need life insurance.  If something happens to you, who is going to stay home and take care of the kids?  Your surviving spouse can stop working to care for the kids or hire childcare.  Both require money.  Since there are many types of life insurance out there, it is wise to do your homework and understand the basics of the different types of life insurance.   For more information on the different types of life insurance, check out this article on Investopedia, Intro to Insurance: Types of Life Insurance.2

3. Long term care insurance

In 1940, the life expectancy of a 65-year-old was almost 14 years; today it's almost 20 years.1   With life expectancies rising, more and more people will find themselves needing some sort of long term care.  Long term care insurance provides assistance to people who are in need of either in-home care or a long term care facility. The average cost of a private room in a nursing home facility in California for 2011 is about $91,250 per year!3 With the costs of long term care increasing at about 7% annually, you can see why individuals of all ages are starting to heavily consider this type of insurance.  Keep in mind that while some think Medicare covers long term care costs, Medicare only pays a portion of the first 100 in a skilled nursing home, the rest is paid by you.  For more information on Medicare, visit their website at If you have parents who are in their 50s and 60s, you may want to look into long-term care insurance with them. If they need care later in life, you may be the one who has to care for them.  This is an emotional, physical and financial responsibility.

Financially Wise Women Quick Tip:

Here are some quick tips to help you get some of your insurance needs in shape:

1. Review your insurance coverage today.  Protection planning is a key part of your financial plan, as you want to protect yourself against unexpected events.  Buying insurance helps shift some of the risk to an insurance company and helps protect your financial foundation.

2. Make sure to take advantage of the insurances offered through your employer.  These are usually easier to qualify for and cheaper to you since the policies underwrite a large group of people, helping the insurance company minimize its risk and therefore keep the cost down.

3. Make sure you understand the types of insurance policies you currently have and what your insurance needs are.  Work with an insurance professional to identify any gaps in your insurance policies.

4. Review your insurance policies regularly. just like any financial strategy, you’ll want to make sure you review on a regular basis and make any necessary changes or amendments to your coverage as you progress through life stages.

For further information I invite you to check out my blog or email directly at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. California Insurance License #0F33895.

Sources and Links:

  1. Social Security Administration-Basic Fact Sheet- May 17, 2011
Published in Business

April 9, 2012

We all see them. The graphic images on Pinterest and Facebook like this one. Food porn. They lure you in and trick you into thinking you really can squeeze a gourmet lunch or breakfast everyday into your budget. But when was the last time you actually calculated the cost of your breakfast?  I calculated the cost of mine the other day just out of curiosity and was pleasantly surprised that it was only a whopping $1.96 every day!

Breakfast Breakdown 

  • Bananas- I buy a bunch of bananas every week and usually can get 6 for $1.29, 1 banana = $.215
  • Oatmeal- I eat two individual packets of regular oatmeal, 6 packets to a box, box cost $2.50, 2.50/6= $.42 x 2 packets= $.84
  • Coffee- I buy Starbucks coffee and I brew it at home- One pound cost $9.95 and can last me 14 days = $.71 per day
  • Soymilk- I buy a carton that last about 10 days- one carton cost $1.99= $.199 per day

Grand total= $1.96

Not too bad right?  Great way to start the morning and not bad on my wallet either.

Now if you know me, you will know I am a creature of habit when it comes to food and don’t mind eating the same thing every day.  My breakfast is the same every morning; oatmeal, a banana, and coffee with soy milk. As routine as this may sound, I plan my meals like this mainly because I want to eat something healthy and filling in the morning. Because I stay so busy, I also appreciate not having to think about what to eat every morning– which saves me lots of time and money.

Get Control

When working with clients on their cash flow, I usually see their food costs as the expenses that can really get out of control.  They save and skimp in other areas but often times dining out is the one place where money falls through the cracks.  A lunch here, a dinner there, drinks here… and there– all of these things really add up. Planning ahead and prepping your meals for the week can ultimately become a more cost efficient route. Think of it as portion control for your finances.

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Iron Lady Chef 

As tempting as it may be to call up your girl friends for a fancy dinner out, a good way to keep your food costs in control is simply by eating at home. I try to go grocery shopping every weekend to stock up for the week ahead.  Yes, there are occasions where I do eat out during the week (i.e. business meetings, client meetings/events or to celebrate a special occasion), but for the most part I usually eat my prepared, planned out meals and it frees up some time and spending cash.  Get a jump on breakfast this week and cook a batch of these. Your tastes buds and your wallet will thank you. 

One Bite At A Time 

Another tip (one I learned from my parents), is to save money by not buying drinks while eating out. Think about it. You’ll end up drinking more water, saving cash, and possibly losing a few pounds by cutting back on sodas. I still follow this same philosophy today.  If you have to have your diet Coke with dinner maybe skip the appetizers and/or dessert. Life without dessert may seem extreme, but deciding ahead of time what to cut will help you stay in control.

Now, I know what you may be thinking.  Going out to eat is part of what you enjoy most and part of your social life too.  I completely understand this. But I’ll let you in on a little secret, I still see my friends, family, attend networking events and go out for social gatherings all the time and usually do all while sticking to my food budget.  Instead of business lunch meetings, I opt for coffee meetings (saves time and money). Instead of always going out to eat with friends, we opt for potlucks at someone’s house.  We love this idea because everyone can bring their favorite signature dish to share, which is usually a great conversation starter and a less expensive route too.

If you just simply enjoy going out to eat and don’t want to give it up– don’t.  Instead, make sure you adjust your spending plan accordingly to ensure you are still in control of your food costs. Remember, financial planning is not about cutting the fun out of your life.  Rather, it is simply planning how you want to use your money to support your current lifestyle, while being able to save for your future one.

For further information I invite you to check out my blog or email directly at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. California Insurance License #0F33895.

Published in Personal Finance

March 26, 2012 

Do some financial strategies and terms just seem like a complete mystery to you?  Do you feel that if someone just explained it in layman’s terms you would be able to understand the foreign language of finances better?  Well, good news, I am going to crack one of the financial mysteries to help you when it comes to investing for your future financial goals. This is the rule of 72.*

Ever hear of it?  Well, the Rule of 72 is a great financial rule of thumb that basically helps us calculate how many years it will take to double our money, given a specific interest rate. This becomes important as you save for your financial goals because you want your money to be working hard for you. The more time you have and the higher the interest rate, the higher the end result will be. 

For example, if you have $10,000 and want to know how long it will take to double your money at a 2% compound interest, divide 2 into 72 and you get 36 years. If you take the same $10,000 and instead use an 8% compound interest, it will take 9 years to double your money– 72/8=9. Get the picture?

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So if you are 30 years old and your financial goal is to accumulate $1 million dollars for retirement by age 60, it does not mean you have to save $1 million. It means your money has to GROW to 1 million– big difference. The more time you have to grow your money, the less money you need, because compounding interest will be hard at work for you. Even if you only have $50 to save per month, by starting now, you will have more time to allow compounding interest to work in your favor.

Here is a chart demonstrating how the Rule of 72 works with different compounding interest rates:


So there you have it, mystery solved.  And we didn’t even need to bring in the FBI!    

*The rule of 72 is a mathematical concept and does not guarantee investment results nor functions as a predictor of how an investment will perform. It is an approximation of the impact of a targeted rate of return. Investments are subject to fluctuating returns and there is no assurance that any investment will double in value.

Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. California Insurance License #0F33895.

Published in Personal Finance
Wednesday, 15 February 2012 16:11

Day 15: Flower Child vs. Money Minded Mogul

February 15, 2012 

I have a confession to make – I have multiple personalities. No, I haven’t been diagnosed by a mental health physician; I am referring to my multiple money personalities. And I am not alone. We all have multiple money personalities. Due to the complex world we live in, it only makes sense that we have more than one personality when it comes to money. A good balance of several different kinds of money identities is key toward cultivating a well-rounded financial life. 

Two of my main money personalities are the “Flower Child” and the “Money Minded Mogul.” I believe that everyone has these two basic money personalities. The “Flower Child” is the one that wants the thrill of the present and to experience the freedom that money offers today. It is the side that lives in the moment and dreams big goals. The “Money Minded Mogul” is the personality that approaches money methodically. It is the side that plans strategically and takes charge of your financial life, plans out income goals, expense goals and financial goals for the year.    

Most people have more than just these two money personalities, but these two represent a common yin-and-yang relationship many women face regarding how they would ideally like to manage their money versus how they actually manage their funds. What I notice is that a lot of women in their twenties and thirties tend to avoid their inner “Money Minded Mogul.”  I am not sure if it is because we are scared to address our finances or that life gets too busy and prevents us from taking the time to engage in our financial lives. Whatever the roadblocks are, we as women need to make sure we take the time to nurture our Money Minded self.  Women are staying single longer, the divorce rate is still high and we live longer than men – so it’s up to us to learn the ins and outs of personal finance. 

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I’ve learned to acknowledge all my money personalities and use them to their strengths. The “Flower Child” inside us all helps us to dream, imagine, and create; the “Money Minded Mogul” allows us to find ways to accomplish those dreams.  For example, it may be that once you allow your Flower Child time to dream, you realize you want to travel to India and see the Taj Mahal.  Once you capture that dream, you go back to your Money Minded Mogul and analyze how you can make this dream happen.  You decide it will cost $3,000 for the entire trip and you will be able to set aside an additional $200 per month for this goal. Now that you know you can afford to take this trip in 15 months, you can start planning to make your dream a reality. 

Be in charge of your financial life, take time to educate yourself about your finances and plan strategically for your financial goals. 

Here are some ideas to nurture your inner Money Minded Mogul:

  1. Track your income and expenses regularly.
  2. Request your credit score at least once annually.
  3. Map out some short term financial goals and come up with an action plan to help you reach your goals.

Strive to find the balance between your money personalities that is right for you and take time to nurture your (multiple) money personalities.

Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. 

This article was part of our series "30 Days of Made: Love Yourself". Each day we released updates of videos, poetry, images, and original content, all based on the theme of loving yourself. Click the link to read more!

Published in Current
Monday, 30 January 2012 09:05

Personal Finance | Know Thy Net Worth

January 30, 2012 

Net worth- What is it and how do we increase it?  Simply stated, net worth is the amount your assets exceed your liabilities. Do you make more than you spend? Women in general tend to shy away from knowing what their net worth is because (1) They think they don’t have enough assets to have a net worth (2) They have no idea what goes in the net worth calculation.  Whatever your net worth is, you want to get in the habit of checking in on it on a regular basis to ensure you are moving in the right direction financially.  Typically if you are saving and working on financial goals every year, your net worth should be increasing year over year.

So how do you figure out what your net worth is? First off, don’t be scared! To make it easy, just make a list of what you OWN versus what you OWE.

Examples of what you OWN Include:

  • Car
  • Checking
  • Savings account (and other cash accounts)
  • Home
  • Retirement accounts (401k, IRA, etc)
  • Business 
  • Your personal belongings (furnishings, jewelry, electronics, etc)

Examples of what you OWE Include:

  • Credit card debt 
  • Student loans
  • Mortgage debt
  • Business debt
  • Personal loans, etc.

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Knowing your net worth is an important step to becoming a Made Woman, however it is not the end all in financial planning.  Eleanor Blayney, CFP® states in her book A Woman’s Worth, “your financial success depends far less on what you have and much more on what you do with what you have.”

So remember as you calculate your net worth (OWN-OWE) there is no good or bad net worth, but rather a number that you should check on every year and work on increasing every year. Once you know your net-worth you will be able to plan for your future and live within your means. Having this knowledge gives you the power to make better decisions. 

For further information I invite you to check out my blog or email directly at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Brittney Castro is not affiliated with Brittney A. Castro is a registered representative with and securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. California Insurance License #0F33895.

This month we are bringing you "30 Days of Made: Love Yourself". Each day we will release updates of videos, poetry, images, and original content, all based on the theme of loving yourself. Join us as we seek to reflect, refocus, and reward ourselves! Check back daily on our 30 Days of Made tab to see what's new!

Published in Personal Finance
Monday, 12 September 2011 05:16

Save Money | Pull Those Purse Strings

September 12, 2011

Here's an unfortunate fact in a Made Woman’s life: we can't have everything we want right this minute. Sure, we have confidence, sex appeal and talent, but when it comes to the purse, most of us have limits. Part of being successful means knowing how to manage finances and set a budget. Ah, managing a budget.... Sounds completely dull and slightly daunting, but it's simple if you start now. Just think: you could splurge on Prada stilettos, or you could show restraint with a stylish, affordable pump and avoid unwelcome credit card bills. In 30 years when you have more at stake financially, you'll thank your savvy younger self for learning how to budget.

The time to start is now, so pull out your pen, paper and calculator. Next, download and fill out a personal financial statement worksheet so you can assess where you stand financially. You can find one for free here on Microsoft Office’s website or just Google “personal financial statement worksheet” to search for one you like. It’s also a good idea to fill out an expense sheet to see exactly where your money is going.  Suze Orman's expense tracker is an amazing tool. Once that’s done, it’s time to determine your budget! (I'm learning right along with you, I promise!) Remember, it’s not about the size of the paycheck--it’s what you do with it. All dollar amounts below are just guidelines that can be tweaked to fit your own financial situation. Utilize the following five priorities to get started:

Priority #1: Pay yourself first. When I was a bright-eyed eight-year-old, my dad gave me the Savings Lecture (which he still repeats today). He told me to save two dollars out of every allowance. Really, two whole dollars out of a ten dollar allowance? I thought he was so strict, but I saved the money anyway.  Lo and behold, it all paid off when I could pay for a fancy princess Halloween costume that year on my own. That lesson stuck with me. Now I save regularly and the 401(k) I have through my job has, to my great delight, grown pretty rapidly.

Yours can, too. The key here is that you've got to pay yourself first to build financial security. If you're tight on money, save $10 per paycheck. Have a little more cash flow?  Save anywhere from 3% to 5% of each paycheck. This savings will build slowly but surely and can provide you with a down payment on a house, an emergency stash or the start of your retirement fund (no, you're not too young). It's worth giving up a few extra lattes to have money in the bank.

Priority #2: Living Expenses/Bills. Set aside whatever you need to pay your bills, rent and utilities in full and on time. No further explanation needed.

Priority #3: Fund Proper Nutrition. Healthy eating habits are essential, so set aside the same amount of money each month for food and groceries and stick to it. Remember, home-cooked meals and packed lunches save bundles, so set aside about $150-$200 a month for groceries and don't exceed it. Set a $50 limit per month on going out to eat (going out to dinner is a huge money-sucker). Once it's gone, it's gone.

Priority 4: A Girls Gotta Have Some Fun. 2007 was my first year in the professional world. I worked, I paid bills, I went to the gym...that was it, really. And it was B-O-R-I-N-G. I felt like I never indulged myself with a sparkly new top, a trendy accessory for my apartment or dinner out with my best friends. That, ladies, is no way to live. Lesson learned? Factor play money into your budget. After all, you work hard for it. This covers drinks with friends, movies, travel, dinner with your sorority sisters or pizza night with your fiancé. Try $150 per month or’ll be surprised how far that can take you.

Priority 5:  Made Women Need a Clothing & Beauty Allowance. No Made Woman can go around wearing a torn bra, an unkempt hairstyle or a button-less pair of pants. Purchase what you need to feel comfortable, sexy and powerful. Don't kid yourself, though: You don't need Victoria’s Secret every month. Up to $100 per month is a good figure when you’re not doing any big seasonal shopping.

Still have money left-over? Take a deep breath--that's the feeling of accomplishment when you budget accurately. If you make a conscious effort to pull those purse strings and set limits each month, you won't end up biting your nails until pay day. Managing your own money and saving for the that’s MADE.

Published in Personal Finance