Column Archive | Sign Up for Weekly E-Mail Newsletter
Color of Money Book Club
Thursday, March 4, 2010; 12:00 PM
Personal finance columnist
Michelle Singletary hosted a live discussion on Thursday, March 4 at Noon ET with Thomas J. Stanley, author of "Stop Acting Rich . . . and Start Living Like a Real Millionaire," The Color of Money Book Club selection for February. As Singletary writes in her columnabout the book, Stanley makes the case that if people stop acting rich, they can achieve the kind of happiness money can't buy. Many pretenders have become very good at generating income and enjoying a high standard of living, but, Stanley says, "Those who are among the least productive in transforming their incomes into wealth are in the higher-status occupations."
Submit a question now or during the discussion.
Michelle Singletary: Good afternoon everyone. Wow. Lots of questions already for one of my favorite authors.
So let's get started.
Manchester, Mich.: Although I'm just a secretary, I live below my means, pay extra on my mortgage (my only debt) save for retirement and now, a replacement (used) vehicle I'll need in 3-4 years. There are times when living frugally is really a drag, like when co-workers eat lunch out a couple of days/week or take nice vacations (I take "day trips"). What is your strategy for remaining disciplined without becoming discouraged? Thank you.
Thomas J. Stanley: You're right. The social pressure from colleagues, friends to spend is enormous. Add to that the pressure from marketers, and it's hard to believe that anyone saves money today. My mentor often told his graduate students in marketing: "The great minds are working in marketing, designing ways of...convincing us that one brand of a hemorrhoid remedy is superior to another...that one wash detergent will produce whiter whites." It's really hard to remain frugal. However, you have to think differently than the crowd and take pride in doing so. As many financially successful people have told me, you must constantly focus on where you're going versus what others are spending. Remember what you're saving for...your retirement, your transportation needs!
Laurel, Md.: In some fields, it's believed that to be successful you have to present the image of success. Do you feel this is a) untrue; b) only true in a very limited number of fields; c) less expensive to achieve than people say; d) important to fire-break between your image at work and your home life?
Thomas J. Stanley: It really all depends on the character of your clients and prospective clients. If you have a reputation for being tops in your field, the "wrapper" doesn't matter. Looking nice/neat, showing respect to your clients doesn't mean spending lavishly. It doesn't matter if you're a financial advisor, a real estate agent, an insurance provider - people want to deal with productive, hard-working, dedicated professionals. Many millionaires have told me they are absolutely turned off by sales/marketing professionals trying to get their business who are overdone in status artifacts (clothes, cars, watches). Shakespeare said - to guild the gold, to paint the lily is but ridiculous excess.
Baltimore, Md.: Hey Michelle! Thank you for the chats, I have learned a lot over the years. I am ready to open a 401k, and I would like some general advice about managing money. How do I go about choosing a financial advisor?
Thomas J. Stanley: To begin, even if you're not already wealthy, you should have a CPA to do your income tax returns, or at the very least, provide you with advice about your tax situation. While you're working with your CPA, you may inquire about the identity of those financial advisors that he/she would recommend. A CPA has access to the investment statements of his/her clients, and will also likely know the financial advisors that have done well for his/her clients. One of the common threads among self-made millionaires is that they have outstanding CPAs. As one millionaire recently told me, "I selected a CPA that had many millionaire next door-types as clients."
Additional savings accounts: To contribute a "well, duh" moment--most banks allow multiple savings accounts under one name, so you can actually quite easily set up your emergency/life happens/savings/etc. accounts in one place. I somehow had it stuck in my head that different financial institutions were required. I'm sharing this in case others are too embarrassed to ask how to take this basic first step. I will NOT share how many years it took to figure this out. LOVE LOVE LOVE these chats!
Michelle Singletary: Hey saver.
Thanks for the tip. And you are right, you could set up your emergency and life happens fund at the same institution.
If you don't know what a life happens fund is (cuz the regular chatters know), go thru my archive. I talk about it all the time.
Anyway, often I recommend people set up the accounts at another institution because if they see it along with their regular checking and savings, the temptation to spend the money is too great .
But if you have the discipline to not touch the money, sure, keep it all in one place (just make sure you stay within the FDIC limits for insurance).
Washington, D.C.: Hello! I am in need of a little advice. My husband and I are planning on moving out of the D.C. area in the next 6 months for his job. It will likely be temporary and the new home will have a far lower cost of living. After a year or two, we will probably move back to D.C. where his income will increase drastically. I was planning on looking for a position in the new city, but have recently found out that I am expecting our first child a few months after the big move.
So, here is my question. We have always saved and we both have very high earning potentials. Can I afford to take some time off from working? I am uncomfortable looking for a new job which I will have to leave after a few months, and then leave again in a year to 18 months. But I'm also very nervous about living on one income with a baby, even in a less expensive city. Please help!
Michelle Singletary: First congrats on the baby.
And yes, you may in fact be able to afford to live and live comfortably on one income.
There are a lot of expenses associated with working -- commuting costs, daycare, etc.
So do the math.
Here's the link for a stay-at-home calculator that may help you figure everything out and make you less nervous.
Laurel, Md.: When you're making under $50,000 and are the only person in the household working (of me and l other adult) and can't pay all of the bills (renting), is getting a part-time job the next best thing to surviving?
Michelle Singletary: A part-time job and going over your budget or cutting down your expenses as much as you can.
Marriage and Money: My boyfriend and I are talking marriage, and of course, a big part of that is talking about money.
The only issue that has come up is that he makes significantly more money than I do (more than twice as much). While I'm proud of his success, I'd marry him no matter what he made. I've never been a financially motivated or materialistic person. If anything, his high income is a drawback.
In my first marriage, my ex used his higher income as justification for making the lion's share of the family decisions. His notion was that the person who brought home most of the bacon should have final say on how the money was spent, and where and how we would live. He also believed that I should have picked up most of the chores around the house, never mind that we worked the same number of hours (I just made a lot less).
I've always believed in being a team, with equal say, perhaps with one person taking the lead in what they have expertise on. I don't think you can 'buy your way' into running the show. (Aren't you surprised it didn't work out? Oh, impulsive youth!)
So here's my question: I don't expect my second marriage to be just like my first, but life experience has told me this is an issue to watch for (I've seen it in friends' marriages as well). Income disparities can fuel power disparities in a marriage.
Are there warning signs I should look for? And could you suggest a loving way to discuss this, without my boyfriend feeling like he's being called to the carpet for something my ex did?
Thomas J. Stanley: Thanks for your question. While I'm not a marriage counselor or psychologist, millionaires over the years have shared the key qualities of their spouse that contributed to a successful marriage. The top five qualities of a spouse that contributed to millionaires' successful marriages from the women's point of view: their husbands were judged to be capable, loving, honest, responsible and supportive. You may want to check out the Millionaire Mind from the library - and see chapter 6 - Choice of Spouse.
Michelle Singletary: If you are seriously thinking this relationship will lead to marriage, get some premarital counseling. Seriously! And be sure the counseling has a strong component in the financial area. Meaning the counselor, of course, spends significant time having you both talk about money, that you pull each other credit reports, that you lay out how you both think the money should be handled, who will be the treasurer, etc.
That's a way to approach your boyfriend without appearing as if you are worried he will be like your ex.
Success: We must Look Professional: That means clean, neat, crisp. Rips, tears, buttons are fixed and sewn--Spots cleaned. Hair neat. It does NOT mean we need to look like we spend a lot of money. That is a HUGE fallacy.
Michelle Singletary: Totally, totally agree.
In the name of looking professional, a lot of people spend a lot of money on "business" clothes.
Me, I don't, and I'm on TV all the time. I switch around jackets, pants, etc. and put the money I could or might spend on clothes in savings, retirement, kids college fund, etc.
Heck when I went on "Meet the Press" for the first time, I didn't buy a new outfit. Most of America hadn't seen anything I've worn before. And if anybody had said they saw me wear that outfit before, I would fuss them out!
Palo Alto, Calif.: Submitting my question early because I will be busy with my children during your chat.
Hi Dr. Stanley and Ms. Singletary,
I have read you both for years and greatly enjoy the things you have to say about money. Your writings have greatly informed my approach to money.
When I read your most recent book, Dr. Stanley, one of the biggest take-away points for me was that it is better to be the richest person on the block/in the neighborhood in terms of wealth accumulation because one doesn't feel compelled to live above one's means. I would really welcome any thoughts you might have on accomplishing this when living in an expensive area.
My husband and I have a "good" problem. He is finishing up his medical training and will begin working as a doctor soon. Our income should quadruple. We will need to save, but should be able to buy a house in the next couple of years (we are currently debt-free).
However, here's the kicker. A reasonable starter house in a decent neighborhood runs about $1.2-1.4 million dollars here. We could move elsewhere, but there would be a much longer commute for my husband and a poorer school system. With three children, I think we need to live where the public schools are very, very good.
We have talked about moving to another state for work. The combination of local family and excellent professional advancement make staying a compelling choice.
So, what would you suggest as a strategy here? How do we save for a house and also bolster our financial portfolio when houses are so darn expensive? Do you think talking to a financial planner is in order at this point?
I really want us to use our upcoming prosperity carefully and well, even if we do end up staying in a very affluent area. Thank you for your help and words of wisdom.
Thomas J. Stanley: Thanks for your insightful questions. Yes, it is possible to live in a very affluent area and still become financially independent. In fact, the scenario you have described reflects closely the profile of the 733 multi-millionaires profiled in the Millionaire Mind. These households represent a fraction of the top 1% of the wealth and income in the US. Respondents were from the top neighborhoods in the US (including places like palo alto). Keep in mind that their average income was about $750,000 per year. If you live in these kinds of neighborhoods, six out of ten millionaire neighbors will tell you that they bought "an easily affordable home." 8 out of 10 said quality of schools was a key factor in buying where they did.
What is your strategy for remaining disciplined without becoming discouraged? : I think when we limit ourselves too much, the pressure can build up and release in an uncontrolled way. So at the first tinge of "spendy envy" I give myself a small release to praise myself for doing well and to prevent a big splurge. I also have a friend at work who eats out every day. For I while I fell into the habit of eating out with her a lot. Now, I returned to bringing my lunch, but allowing myself to eat out once every two weeks.
Michelle Singletary: Here's a quote you should write down and put on your computer.
"Every penny should have a purpose."
I stay on track by reminding myself that every penny I earn is meant for something. It's meant to save for an emergency or retirement or to help my kids thru college without any debt so they can get out of my house when they are grown and I can go back to running around naked if I want with the fine man I married!
So within that penny/purpose thing is money for fun. We take family vacations every year with savings not debt --that's a purpose for the money.
If you are in heavy debt, fun has to wait. So your purpose list should say getting out of debt. Post the credit card bills around your house or on the fridge to stay on point.
The bottom line is know exactly why you are doing what you are doing with your money/wealth.
Arlington, Va.: Hey Michelle!!! I paid off my car last week! A year early! Whoo hoo!!! And you'll be so proud -- I immediately changed my direct deposit allottment to add that payment amount into my savings account, which will pay for an out-of-town June wedding I'm a bridesmaid in. Thanks for the chats, columns, & advice!
Michelle Singletary: Everybody say it with me loud and proud (or quietly if you are at work).
"Free at last, free at last."
That's our collective shout out to you for getting rid of that bondage.
Good for you and that strategy of saving that car payment is one I learned from my grandmother. Been making a car payment to myself for a decade now and haven't had a car payment in more than a decade. Beautiful, wonderful way to keep saving. Cuz you are already used to that money coming out of your budget.
Atlanta, Ga.: How is income different from wealth?
Thomas J. Stanley: Great question. Net worth/wealth is the value of your household's assets less liabilities. When I refer to income, I'm generally speaking of realized or adjusted gross income. In other words, it's what you pay tax on. Many people have great incomes in this country, but very little wealth.
Money and Marriage, Again: Thanks for your advice!
No matter what, I'm getting us to premarital counseling so we can have a facilitator work with us to get our concerns out in the open.
What I'm wondering, however, is if the income imbalance/power imbalance in marriage is as common as I think it is, and, if so, what can be done about it.
Michelle Singletary: It is common but not overwhelmingly so, based on research I've seen.
Your ex was a bum. His theory was whack and smacks of a personality of a dictator.
But it does happen. A spouse equates his or her income as having the right to be the boss.
I've always believed and preached that when you marry, you become one especially with your money. One pot, with both making joint decisions.
Springfield, Va.: It is possible to balance the saving now and enjoying now? I'm a saver, my husband is a spender. I put away money for our retirement and future home each month, and he comes up with the fun activities and purchases that we enjoy day to day without dipping into our savings. Sometimes I cut coupons, sometimes I make my lunch (both less and less with two small kids), but I also enjoy the now. Save like your living to 100, but enjoy today like in case you die tomorrow.
Thomas J. Stanley: Great point. You are only here for a visit! Can you live on 90% or 85% of your income, and still have fun? Fun doesn't equal expensive...cookout with friends at your home versus eating out at the nicest restaurant in town. Little things add up.
Philadelphia, Pa.: In what areas do you see "pretenders" wasting the most money? I am guessing that automobiles is high on the list. I notice many wish to drive cars that are hard on their budget as it creates an "image" of wealth. I also notice many wealthy people drive beat up old cars.
Thomas J. Stanley: Thank you - one of my favorite topics. Biggest pretenders - it's their homes in fancy neighborhoods. Where you live affects everything that you consume. If it's a status neighborhood, it's filled with status cars, status watches, clothes, private schools. The spending seems to never stop.
Lesson learned the hard way: I purchased a car for $74k 3 years ago. Although, I just paid it off last month, I still think it was a complete waste of money. I should have saved the money, but no, I just had to have it. Little history, I have no credit card debt...haven't for over 6 years; I max out my retirement savings, I have a 529 fund for my daughter, I only owe $71k on my mortgage. I normally live below my means and thought I would treat myself. :-( Oh well, lesson learned...you can never save too much...next time buy USED!
Michelle Singletary: Did you really mean you bought a car for $74,000?
I've always felt if you are going to buy a car that expensive (heck $40,000 is expensive to me), you should have the cash (plus no debt and I mean NO debt).
Anyway, glad you got a lesson out of it.
Too much?: Thomas - Thanks for taking questions today. Is there any such thing as saving too much for retirement? I know it depends on what lifestyle you want in retirement, but let's say a 30-year old couple is debt-free, maxing 401k and IRA contributions every year, and has retirement savings of $500K. Are they saving too much?
Thomas J. Stanley: Good thought here. If being frugal is an obsession or hurts others, then it's time to loosen up!
Michelle Singletary: Go to choosetosave.org. Go thru the ballpark retirement calculator. That will help you tell if you are saving at a good pace or if you are overshooting your goals and can afford to pull back.
Rockville, Md.: "If you are in heavy debt, fun has to wait."
Well, hardly ever.
After the best things in life are not obtained with cash. They may be free. And this city has the Mall with lots to see for free. And the Zoo and the parks and lots to see and do.
Just plan fun days with out spending.
Michelle Singletary: Okay, really you know what I meant was: fun that cost money has to wait.
But in case you or others didn't know, thanks for the opportunity for me to clarify.
Yes, you can have free fun in the D.C. area and everywhere in the country.
Upper Marlboro, Md.: Will it adversely impact my credit if I apply for a mortgage loan modification? Thanks!
Michelle Singletary: What impacts your credit most is paying bills late.
If you need to get a modification so you don't pay bills late, get it.
Columbia, Md.: I'm so thrilled to see this book! I cannot wait to read it. This is great timing for a book like this especially with so many wannabe rich people all over reality TV flaunting their short-term "wealth." My friends never understand me when I say that those people are not rich just because they drive big cars and live in big houses. My point has been proven again and again as these people (aka those of the Housewives franchises) end up having to reduce their standard of living once their real estate investments and football contract dries up. I just don't get it. If you have all this money, why don't you pay down your debt so that when hard times come you don't have to give up a whole lot?
Thomas J. Stanley: Great point. Most millionaires state that their objective was to become financially independent. The key is to become wealthy BEFORE you spend on so-called prestige products and services. Unfortunately in the US, most people spend in anticipation of becoming wealthy...and then they never will.
to pregnant high-earner: please safeguard what you say is your own high-earner status. taking even a year or two off in some competitive career fields, well paid or not, makes it hard to come back at the same level. keeping your hand in (telecommute the current job, consult, freelance, teach as adjunct) can be wise. keep any license or certificate current, maybe take a class or three to keep up. your husband is moving for a career step. make sure you don't correspondingly take two steps back. as M.S. says: life happens.
Michelle Singletary: I get your point. But also staying home with a new baby can take up all your time.
But if you want to get back in the work game, do keep in mind what it will take once you come off your leave with the baby.
St. Louis, Mo.: The first time I read one of your books was on my honeymoon...my husband and I loved "The Millionaire Next Door"...and over the past twelve years we have paid off student loans, cars and saved and it feels awesome! Thanks for your books!
Thomas J. Stanley: Thank you for your kind words. You'd be surprised to learn how many couples don't agree about the concepts in the book - frugality, financial independence, etc.
Seattle, Wash.: Mr. Stanley, what are the top 3 things that have surprised you about first generation millionaires (prodigious accumulators of wealth)?
PS where can I tune in to this interview?
Thomas J. Stanley: Great question. The first surprise was that 80% of millionaires were actually first generation - that was surprising in itself. Then, the top three things that have surprised me about first generation millionaires are 1) how frugal they are, 2) that they don't "look like" what most people think of as millionaires (in terms of their cars, clothes, and houses), and 3) that most were just a little above the average in school (e.g., GPA/SAT).
Harrisburg, Pa.: What are your thoughts on spending on hair products? Some, especially men, may chuckle at this question, until they realize that, for some women, the most expensive thing they wear is their hair. Many women spend thousands of dollars for weaves, perms, extensions, etc. Isn't this one industry that has a high profit on luring people into seeking status?
Thomas J. Stanley: Yes, this is a profitable industry. But people who "over hair, over accessorize, over dress" with the thought that it will translate into economic success are wrong. The key question here is why people spend so much on their hair. Who are they trying to impress? Themselves? Friends? If the people that are important to you are achievers, and you also want to be an achiever...what does hair have to do with it? I can state unequivocally that both men and women millionaires are anything but overdone in terms of appearance. In the Millionaire Women Next Door (you can find it at your library), you'll see how little self-made women spend on themselves. They're much more interested in funding their children/grandchildren's educations, and giving to noble causes.
Michelle Singletary: This is such an interesting question. When I talk to folks about doing the 21-day financial fast in my new book, one of the things I say is that you can't do during the fast is get your hair done.
When I announce this, many women in the audience just start hollering. It's so funny. Like I slapped them.
Mess with a woman's hair schedule, budget, you might get your feelings hurt.
when you spend very carefully: I doesn't take much to feel like a splurge: I feel wild and crazy when I buy $2 shampoo instead of $1 shampoo!
Michelle Singletary: LOL!
Re pretenders: Some go the Salahi route, stiffing working folks on their bills (tradesmen, lawyers, beauty salon operators, purveyors of services), crashing parties. Catches up with them sooner or later, though I wish it were sooner...
Michelle Singletary: That's not saving or being a penny pincher, that's being a miser.
In my book you are not allowed to stiff anybody to save a penny. That's just wrong.
Blissful, WED: One participant raised the issue of income disparity between spouses in a marriage. I've been married for more than 30 years now and we've had both situations: sometimes he earned lots more, sometimes she did. We're a team and we share responsibility and decision making. I think it's important to look at the long term -- today's "higher earning spouse" may be tomorrow's "lower earning spouse".
And oh yes, we LOVE your books. We've made our kids (now 19 & 12) listen to them too!
Michelle Singletary: Thanks for sharing.
Washington, D.C.: Hi Michelle! I love reading your column and the chats, and you've inspired me so much. That said, I tried the financial fast and failed, miserably. Made it four days before I found myself making excuses for getting this or that, little things that I figured wouldn't matter. But that's the point, right? If you start to add up all the little things, they start to matter!! I have a very active social life with a side job that basically requires me to be out and about, in bars and such. It's really hard not to just buy -1- drink, which turns into -only- two drinks, etc. I think part of the problem is that I'm not really that poorly off, manage my debt okay, so maybe don't feel the pressure. But I want to be able to save more, which is why I tried it in the first place. Any special tips? How to navigate social situations without spending too much, if anything? Thank you!
washingtonpost.com: "The Power to Prosper"
Michelle Singletary: I'm betting you didn't try the fast with the book?
It's okay if you did or you want to forgo getting it, but getting it gives you more advice, help, tips, testimonies to make it to the end.
Besides the fast isn't just about curtailing your consumption or eliminating the use of credit.
It's about changing your attitude about your money.
The fast isn't a quick fix, it's a long-term way to find prosperity -- and prosperity for a purpose to help you, your family, community, church, etc.
There's a link on this answer. Click it. Read more. And then try the fast again. Many people try and fail but they keep trying until they make it thru the 21 days.
The Pretenders: What do you do about 70 something parents who are pretenders, knowing their pretending will affect you and your siblings when reality finally comes through?
Thomas J. Stanley: That is a tough situation, and it's why we should all do a better job squirreling away more of our income each year.
One year's stay in a quality assisted living/nursing home typically costs about $90K, not including drugs. The median net worth of a household in the US is $90K. Share this information with your folks and have a serious discussion about their financial situation. You may wish to hire a financial planner that has experience in helping people in this situation. He or she can be "the bad cop" - as this is a sensitive topic. Unfortunately, there are seniors in this country who think their adult children will provide all the economic support, time and energy that is required to care for them.
Bonus money: Hi Michelle, I have a question about bonuses. I'm lucky enough to be getting a very low 5-figure bonus this year. While I could have alloted more to go into my 401-K, I'm choosing to pay off long standing credit card debt.
I have one card that I have been on a payment plan for several years that I'll be able to finally pay off, along with several others. I've had this account since 1997 but it's not active - please tell me I should just close the account once it's finally paid off!
I can't wait to be able to get rid of that hanging over my head, so that I can pay down more of my student loans.
Thanks for the great advice and to those just starting, I can say that I've been trying to follow your advice since I discovered your chats last year, and every little bit of progress I make (yay to reaching the principle on my student loan!) is such an amazing feeling!
Michelle Singletary: Good for you for using the bonus to pay off debt.
Just make sure you have an emergency cash cushion, even a small one.
As for closing the account. If you are paying off all the other accounts and you won't have a balance on any of them and you want to just be done with the one account, sure, close it. Contrary to what some are being told, closing an account does not wipe it off your credit history right away.
Re: pregnant wife: I was a little nervous reading that the questioner might be basing her decision on the assumption that they can move away for a job for 1-2 years then return to DC, where husband's income with "increase drastically."
Nothing is ever certain, so I would hope that in her planning (looking at expenses like you mention), that she does not count 100% on the proposition of her husband's income going up.
Michelle Singletary: True.
Just keep planning and living below your means, so you can try and be prepared for what comes next.
spending on hair: Study after study has revealed that expensive shampoo is the same as cheap shampoo--only the name on the bottle is different.
Thomas J. Stanley: Again, some of the smartest minds in America are in marketing. It's amazing that this economy can support over 300 brands of scotch, which are essentially identical in chemical composition.
Newark, Del.: There seems to be a current trend of both 'Going Green' and popularity of downsizing everything from homes to cremation instead of lavish funerals to yes, even fast food meals. Do you see this as a moderate or long-term way of life or a quick fix - knee jerk response to the current economic situation? Will financial responsibility education-- starting with the children and youth-- be a way to address this situation or are there other effective measures that can be utilized with adults first?
Thanks for all your insightful information on the years. I'm currently reading your Millionaire Women book -- EXCELLENT.
Thomas J. Stanley: Thanks for your question. Financial education begins at home. It's not what you say, but it's how you act. If you budget, your children will budget. If parents live below their means, then most likely the children will, too.
I tend to think the current focus on frugality will be short-lived. It's a fad. When the economy recovers, most people will go back to their hyperconsuming habits.
Salem, Ore.: Many people believe that when they are wealthy, it is all about what they will be able to afford -- the nice home, the nice accessories, the college education for their children... Can you say a few words about the responsibilities of wealth -- about philanthropy, altruism, and making the world a better place by using one's own wealth for the greater good?
Thomas J. Stanley: Those in America that are the best at transforming their income into wealth are also the most charitable. They consistently give more to noble causes than others in the same age and income cohort. My research shows this to be sure. Most people look at growing wealth is growing good - that their wealth will help create jobs, will build a business for their family, will allow them to donate to charitable causes. While I'm not commenting on whether they should donate or help others, my research has demonstrated that those who are economically productive are also the most charitable.
Michelle Singletary: I call it prosperity for a purpose!
Chicago: I'm in a relationship with someone who has been in finical trouble for a while. The problem is I think they are starting to see me as the enemy because I have my things in order, and often try to provide advice on how they should manage their situation. Any advice on how couples who are dealing with financial issues should overcome them??
Michelle Singletary: Unless you are ready to get married, you might just want to back off on the advice.
I often think people dating share too much financial information.
Just be there. Be supportive and if asked, provide wise, sound advice.
Sometimes just doing what you do and allowing someone to watch you without adding any advice or commentary is the best way to lead them to the right financial road.
Lead by example.
Bethesda, Md.: "stiffing working folks on their bills (tradesmen, lawyers, beauty salon operators, purveyors of services), crashing parties."
"Michelle Singletary: That's not saving or being a penny pincher, that's being a miser."
Actually, that's not being a miser either -- it's being a crook. Even worse.
Michelle Singletary: You are right. I stand corrected or clarified.
How do I handle my friends overspending?: I look at their fancy new suit and estimate how may mortgage payments that adds up to. I look at their flashy jewelry and figure out how much of my next car that will cover. I look at their extravagant vacations and think about how many months of retirement income that will come to. Easy to defer spending!
Thomas J. Stanley: Be a good friend and teach them the same through your frugal ways!
Michelle Singletary: Or just close your eyes.
Northern Va.: Hi,
I am close to being a millionaire, if you go by my retirement savings and bank accounts. I loved the "Millionaire Next Door" when it came out. I resemble the people in the book--I drive a 14-year-old Honda, dress quietly but neatly, and live in a quiet but not luxurious neighborhood in a townhouse that is as old as I am (46).
Dr. Stanley, you are right. It can be done. I am living proof.
Thomas J. Stanley: Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It's funny: many people who become financially independent believe that that the goal that was achieved is much more rewarding psychologically than owning a house full of prestige labels.
Portland: So am I supposed to sell my Lexus and other fake possessions now or what? The debt for it has already been rolled into a 5 year home equity loan with some other stuff.
Michelle Singletary: You could if you want to to pay down the home loan.
Or you could just hunker down, cut expenses and pay off the debt and learn your lesson.
Millionaire Teachers: I loved today's column! "Pretenders"--that's so perfect!
My grandfather wasn't a teacher--he started off as a janitor and worked his way up to managing the school buses for a small city school system. When he died, we almost died, too--to find out he had over a million dollars in a savings account. My grandmother didn't even know!
I will say this: He was not a nice person, and he was cheap--the expression was "so tight he squeaks"--as opposed to FRUGAL. But he demonstrates that saving a million dollars sure can be done on the smallest of salaries.
I've been out of work for a year (today), and it is breaking my heart to watch my savings dissipate. It distresses me to know that I may not be able to save a million dollars. But I take courage from the fact that, after a 10-year marriage to a guy who thought an extra dollar in his pocket was an extra $1.10 to spend and 12 months since my job was eliminated, my mortgage and my one credit card have been paid--on time and in full--every month. My credit score is still over 800. I lived a frugal life in a modest house before the layoff, and I was able to scale back even further. I'm not sure how much longer I'll be able to do it, but I'm hopeful that the economy will turn around soon and advertised jobs will actually start being FILLED--and I can start back to my savings goal.
And when I start to feel pangs of envy for people who eat out often or spending money on luxuries, I'll just remember your word: Pretenders.
Michelle Singletary: Thanks.
And I hope things turn around for you soon. But don't ache for those lost savings. You saved for just this time. Rejoice that you have the money.
Washington, D.C.: I have a co-worker who is self-admittedly addicted to shopping. She finds great deals and convinces herself that it's okay because she only buys things that are on sale. I am a saver and cannot understand how she can afford to shop every week. What advice would you offer to someone like that?
Michelle Singletary: Tell your co-worker this:
"You never save when you spend."
She may be spending less, but she is NOT saving!
Pregnant Mover: Hi, I just wanted to clear a few things up.
First, I am very concerned about taking time off and being able to get "back in the game" career wise. But I also do not want to burn bridges in a small community by taking a job I can't commit to. I fully intend to return to work when I am able, and am less concerned with earning as much as I do now with having a job I really like. I am planning on working with my current employer to try to work something out, I was just envisioning a worst case scenario and making sure we could handle it financially.
Second, my husband, like another poster, is a medical resident finishing his training and is on a fixed salary based on Medicare GME. His specialty is very in demand and has already been in salary negotiations for a position after training.
We live well below our means now, have saved a significant amount of money and have only his medical school debt to pay off. I appreciate all the advice, I certainly agree with many of the posters today, I just wanted Michelle to tell me that I'm not crazy for taking some time off when it is practical.
Michelle Singletary: You are not crazy. I took off 6 months with each of my three kids.
The good thing about this chat is that people do care. They just wanted to help you. I'm sure that was the spirit of the advice and concern.
But go ahead and be with your baby. Enjoy the time off.
From DC to Manchester, Mich: Come on Manchester, you are more than "just" a secretary! I am a legal secretary and a vital part of my team and the firm, itself. I'm sure he or she is a great asset to the company he/she works for. I, too, can be frugal and sometimes want to splurge. It takes me forever to make a financial decision and that bothers me because I fret over whether it's right or not. I'm always wondering how someone has this car or takes that trip, etc. I don't have cable or internet service at home and my car is eleven years old. I just got cell phone service. Sometimes it seems I am missing out on fun events that others include in their lives for the sake of saving money. It's an odd feeling.
Michelle Singletary: Yup, I thought that too.
But I think the person was really saying "even" on a secretary salary there's the opportunity to save.
the craziest thing I read all day:: That hair extensions will make you more successful! Because, like Sampson, their strengh is in their hair? I'd just hope it doesn't get in their way of doing their job (doctor, chef, dentist, plumber). no hair in my soup, thank you!
Michelle Singletary: You people are just so funny.
Washington, D.C.: I wonder if millionaires are less likely to be overweight? To me, sticking to my budget is like sticking to my diet: I know it will pay off in the long term but it's hard in the short term.
Thomas J. Stanley: Yes, my research has shown that they are less likely to be overweight. They also exercise more often than the norm.
I don't think people with expensive clothes are more successful: I think they're materialistic, shallow and foolish--and I certainly don't what them advising me in my decisions, be it a stockbroker, doctor or accountant. THAT was how people got sucked into giving Ponzi scammers their money, they were impressed by the show of wealth and failed to realize it was a sign of misplaced values.
Thomas J. Stanley: The thing about it is, there are very wealthy people who wear expensive clothing, but it usually understated, traditional. Perhaps what you are referring to are those who are a bit more flamboyant. Sometimes the only person impressed is oneself.
North Miami, Fla.: Is this new generation (20 years old) being more or less "pretender"?
Thomas J. Stanley: Unfortunately, I think the younger generations were trained by the master pretenders, the baby boomers. Let's all hope that they they didn't pay too much attention!
Michelle Singletary: Well folks, time is up. I am just pickled green (as in money) to have had Dr. Stanley on this chat. His research is just informative.
Thank you all for joining me today. Great questions and comments and advice.
Take care and keep on paying down debt and saving.
Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.