Honey, I've been rich and I've been poor, and rich is better. -- Pearl Bailey
Diane Ackerman is frank about her love affair with money.
"I'd always thought it would be very sexy for a woman to make a million dollars," says the 35-year-old entrepreneur. (One of an estimated 290,000 women millionaires in this country, she is, by her own definition, very sexy indeed.) "The money game is incredibly exciting to me. Once I made money on my first stock (at age 19), no one could get me to stop."
With no formal education in economics -- "except one college course, where I learned that the GNP wasn't a big oil company" -- Ackerman parlayed $12,000 her attorney father had saved for her college education into seven digits by age 30. Her current worth, she says, is "over a million dollars." (Putting her in the ranks of about one-fifth of 1 percent of Americans who are millionaires.)
"Any woman," she says, "can learn the rules of the money game, get smart and get rich. For too long we've left financial matters to our husbands and our fathers and our brothers. And they haven't done such a great job.
"For women -- and for men -- the only real independence is financial independence. It's a wonderful feeling. I think I collect money more for the thrill of it than for any other reason."
Ackerman has set out her financial formula in Getting Rich: A Smart Woman's Guide to Successful Money Management (A & W Publishers, $11.95) -- which includes chapters on taxes, investments, credit, budgeting, widowhood and divorce.
Ackerman's interest in money, she says, "comes from my father." He started out very poor in the depression and worked his way through college and law school at night. He was always very strict and very concerned about money.
"He rewarded me for saving and taught me about the stock market when I was about 10. I've been reading The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Fortune and Business Week since I was a teen-ager."
When Ackerman won a scholarship to Barnard College -- majoring in English literature -- her father gave her the money he'd saved for her tuition to use as investment funds. To this pool of "play money" she added earnings from odd jobs -- such as posing as an imposter on the television game show "To Tell the Truth" (where all the celebrities voted for her and she won $250).
After college she worked in public relations, married a businessman, divorced him, married an attorney and continued to fuel her financial fires. Her wheeling and dealing had gotten to a point, she says, "where I had to go against my father's teaching and borrow money.
"It was very hard for me, because my father had instilled in me an aversion to being in debt. But the use of other people's money is the only way the average person can ever really get rich."
Her second husband's business took him to California often, so Ackerman -- who quit her public-relations job when she married -- used her borrowed funds to buy a house in Beverly Hills.
"I bought the tiniest house in the best neighborhood," she says, "and I fixed it up. It didn't take much time -- maybe a few hours a week -- and I made $150,000."
That formula became one of Ackerman's favorites for making money in real estate. From her Park Avenue home in New York, she now spends her time working on a novel, raising her 8-year-old daughter and, of course, making money.
Some of her advice for women -- and men -- who want to get rich:
Formulate a spending plan. "This is a fancy name for a budget, but has a more positive connotation. If you don't sit down and figure out a financial plan, you're probably going to be living beyond your means -- from paycheck to paycheck -- and will never get ahead."
Try to save at least 10 percent of your after-tax income. Instead of putting it into a savings account (about 5 1/2% interest), she recommends choosing a higher-yield (about 16% interest) money market fund.
Avoid spending more than 10 to 15 percent of your income to repay debts (except mortgage payments).
Establish a good credit rating. By paying back debts on time, you establish yourself as a sound risk for future borrowing. (Married women should get credit cards and a major utility bill in their own name.)
Shop around for loans. Terms can vary, so look for the best offer. Make an appointment to deal with a vice president at a major branch of the bank: that person has more power. Do your homework beforehand to sell yourself.
Draw up a contract before going into a living-together relationship or marriage. "You've got to be realistic about the high divorce rate and protest your assets. If your partner really cares about you, he or she shouldn't object to a measure that's designed to protect you."
Don't play the stock market, unless you've got a lot of money -- at least $25,000 in savings. Invest no more, says Ackerman, than one-third of your savings.