Archive for the ‘Cincy Chic columns’ Category

Budget: NOT a 4-letter word

April 26, 2010

What does the word “budget” mean to you? Do you cringe when you hear it, thinking of an end to spontaneous dinners at your favorite restaurants and a new habit of packing your lunch? No more cute shoes and Starbucks runs? If so, then you are like most people! But to me and in my financial coaching practice, budget means nothing more than an on-paper look at where your money is going.

Most of my clients come to me with needs including debt-reduction advice and help with saving more money. They’ve done the basic budgeting in their head and know there is extra money somewhere to put away, but they struggle to find it. The thing is, when they add up all the “fixed” stuff like rent/mortgage, utilities, car payment, other loans, childcare, etc, and compare that number with the amount of money coming in, a lot of people are sad and discouraged to see what “should” be leftover.

More often than not, the process usually stalls out there with feelings of poor willpower and negative self-talk. It is at this point that I remind clients they aren’t counting the other little things that are also needs in our everyday lifestyle. Haircuts, oil changes, personal care items, house cleaning, gas money, and yes, food. Most people do have an amount of money each month that they could put toward debt reduction or savings without really feeling a pinch to their accustomed lifestyle, but it isn’t as much as it initially appears.

So once you have all the predictable bills down that won’t go away without major changes, take a look at the other things you’re spending on. You will probably be pleasantly surprised to learn that even when you factor in such indulgences as date night at Nada or your daily stop at Coffee Emporium, you will still be able to find that little bit of extra money.

And even if it is only $50 per month, if you make saving it automatic through payroll deduction or auto-transfer from your bank, you will be surprised at how quickly you will see a difference. Then as you acquire little windfalls like tax refunds, a raise at work or some other bonus, you will be more inclined to put some of that money toward your goal, getting you there even quicker. So enjoy your gastronomic pleasures, knowing that you can still stick to a budget and achieve your financial goals.

A version of this article was published in Cincy Chic on April 26, 2010

Go Green, Save Green

April 12, 2010

As an avid environmentalist, (I go to ridiculous lengths to divert trash to recycling, just ask my boyfriend!) I am thrilled that going green has become the latest trend. However as with any trend, creative capitalists are finding ways to make a pretty penny with expensive green upgrades like fancy in-home composting systems or shiny new hybrid SUVs that garner gas mileage equal to a standard transmission coupe. The pressure is on to buy the latest green gadgets in order to be cool.

But it doesn’t have to cost you a dime to join the trend and reduce your carbon footprint. No one said you have to spend money in order to become environmentally friendly. To get started, choose eco-friendly projects that are also wallet friendly.


The first step to saving green by going green is kind of a no-brainer. As your mother used to remind you, turn off the lights! Make it a habit to flip off the lights every time you leave a room, even if just for a few minutes. And while it is nice to come home to a brightly lit kitchen, trade leaving the overhead lights on for a low-energy night light that can guide you to the closest switch when walking in the door. Don’t forget to check outdoor and basement lights!

If you don’t mind spending a few bucks that will go a long way in saving you money, change your light bulbs to compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs). They cost more than regular light bulbs, but last about ten times longer. According to energystar.gov, if every American home replaced just one light with an Energy Star qualified CFL, we would save enough energy to light more than 3 million homes for a year. Try it!

Another great way to save money while saving the earth is to turn off the tap. Leaving the water running while brushing your teeth wastes about 2 gallons of water. Think of the carton for a gallon of milk &emdash; you’re wasting two of those with each brush! Likewise, don’t let the water run while you’re doing dishes, shaving, or bathing your pets.

Another common way we waste water at home is by flushing bugs, hair and tissues down the toilet. Put these things in the garbage can and save the 2 gallons of water that goes with each flush. You should also wait until your dishwasher is full to run it and try to limit hot water washes to your really dirty whites, using cold water for all other laundry.

Finally, reduce your utility bill and your household emissions by adjusting your thermostat a couple degrees. I’m not suggesting you sweat it out at 80 degrees in July, but how about setting the A/C at 74 instead of 70? And flip those numbers for winter, keeping the heat set closer to 68 and just put on a sweater to stay warm.

Other earth-friendly and free ideas include riding your bike for close-to-home errands, forgoing A/C by opening your windows and drinking tap water rather than expensive bottled water.

I know that most of these ideas are elementary, but consider this to be your reminder to practice the easy green habits before you go out and spend a wad of cash on double-pane windows and solar panels. Yay Earth!

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on April 12, 2010.

Feeding the Urge to Purge Your Stuff

March 29, 2010

Have you ever taken a look around your home and thought about all of the stuff you have that you don’t really NEED? Then keep reading for hot tips on purging these items while adding a little bonus cash to your wallet.

I’ve written of Dave Ramsey’s book Total Money Makeover in a past column and while I don’t necessarily agree with all of Mr. Ramsey’s advice, I have tried some of his suggestions. One of my favorites was his chapter about ridding your life of extra “junk” by selling things you don’t need or use on craigslist. Guided by William Morris who said, “Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful,” I took Mr. Ramsey’s advice and satisfied my urge to purge.

To date I have raised over $700 by selling items such as an old TV stand from three apartments ago and the water fountain that my cats shunned for three years in favor of standing water in a ceramic dish. This experience has taught me a few things about engaging in commerce this way, so I’d like to share some of those tips with my readers.

First, be prepared to bargain. I learned this lesson the hard way right off the bat when I made my first sale. I had listed some furniture at a certain price as a set, but a buyer came by to purchase just one piece. We had agreed upon a price ahead of time, so when he arrived to pick it up, I was unprepared for him to request the rest of the set. As we stood in my dining room negotiating, I was intimidated by his cajoling and anxious to get the furniture sold. Regrettably, I ended up accepting less than half of what I had listed the furniture for. Even worse, the next day I received an offer for the entire set at my asking price.

After that, I listed everything for a higher price than I hoped to receive, and that has worked well for me. For example, when I wanted to receive $20 for an item, I listed it for $23. The buyer inevitably arrived without correct change, so when I accepted $20, we both felt good — I received the price I wanted and the buyer left with a bargain.

Second, remember what craigslist really is: an online garage sale. You will probably not be able to sell your crystal candlesticks that would earn you a decent price at an antique market or on eBay. The items that I’ve been able to sell quickly and without hassle include furniture and small appliances. That iced tea maker that you received as a wedding gift ten years ago that has only brewed three pitchers of tea? You can sell that for about $10 on craigslist. And that wooden nightstand from your first apartment that you’ve dragged through three moves but doesn’t really match any of your furniture now? Twenty bucks, easy!

Finally, as you’re preparing to sell your treasures, make sure the listing maximizes your chance for a sale. Use descriptive titles, including key words that someone might use to search for your item and always try to include as many pictures as you can. Be prepared to suggest a central meeting place when someone does want to buy an item — I’ve met countless strangers in the parking lot of Rookwood Commons to exchange goods. Larger items may require buyers to come to your home, so if you’re a single gal like me, try to have someone there with you when your buyer arrives.

You will also have a fair share of scammers and spammers trying to get you to click on their links. Do not click on any links from response emails and be wary of anyone asking for your home address to send a check. In my experience, any email that comes with the subject line: “Re: ,” is a scam. Emails from real buyers have a legitimate subject line, either referencing your item or with your listing title. It is the “Re:” that gives the scam away. In fact, I don’t even open those messages.

Remember that you probably won’t recover the price you originally paid for any item, even if it has never been used, but my philosophy has been that it is much better to have that cash in my wallet now than to continue to tote stuff that I MIGHT need someday from place to place. Good luck!

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on March 29, 2010.

Spring Cleaning Your Finances

March 15, 2010

Cleaning up your finances doesn’t have to be a big chore; you can do it while catching up on your DVR one evening. Not only will you put a better system into place to reduce clutter, you will also re-connect with your money and hopefully begin taking control of it.

Filing
Start by getting organized. Gather all your documents in front of you — grab your files, empty that basket, pull out your bills and round up your receipts. Next sort them into the following piles:

 Receipts, paycheck stubs, bank and credit card statements and monthly bills
 Investment statements (401k, brokerage, IRA, etc.)
 Tax returns and the documents used to prepare them
 Insurance policies, ownership deeds, etc.
 Warranties, user manuals and their corresponding receipts
 Identification documents

Next, place your identification documents (also called “forever docs”) in a fire-proof safe in your home. This includes birth certificates, passports, marriage license, divorce decree, will, trust, power of attorney, death certificates and other original documents. For all of the other piles, create a folder for each and add new papers as you receive them.

Some folders will then have folders within them. For example, in your folder for monthly bills, you might have a separate folder for electric, cable, credit card statements and so on. If you can, keep these files in a fire- and water-resistant safe. If that is not possible, at least keep them together in a drawer or on a shelf.

Then let the de-cluttering begin. Read on for guidelines on how long to keep what type of documents.

RECEIPTS, PAY STUBS AND MONTHLY ONGOING BILLS
Utility bills: Keep for one year, unless you claim a home office deduction, in which case they become tax documents.
Pay stubs: Keep for one year until you receive your W-2. As long as your last paycheck matches your W-2, you can toss them.
Bank and credit card statements: Keep for two years, as you may need them when applying for a mortgage or other loan.

INVESTMENT STATEMENTS
Keep your monthly or quarterly statements until you receive your annual. If you make any trades, keep the trade confirmation for a purchase as long as you hold the asset and for a sale, for at least three years. If you make any non-deductible contributions to your traditional IRA or convert to a Roth IRA, save the IRS Form 8606 until you withdraw during retirement as proof that you’ve already paid the taxes.

TAX RETURNS AND SUPPORTING DOCS
Keep everything for at least three years. For questions on IRS recordkeeping guidelines, check out IRS Publication 552.

INSURANCE POLICIES, OWNERSHIP DEEDS, ETC.
Keep all as long as the policy is in effect or as long as you own your home or car. Consider placing this file in your fireproof safe as well.

WARRANTIES AND USER MANUALS
Save all active warranties. Toss any that have expired or for items you no longer own. Try to weed this file out on an annual basis. I like to staple the receipt showing proof of purchase to the warranty in case I need it. If you are comfortable using the Web, I recommend tossing user manuals. Manufacturers now have downloadable versions on their Web sites, so you can rid yourself of this clutter.

As far as ATM receipts and other receipts for purchases, you can toss these after you’ve checked them against your bank statement. I keep receipts for clothing until I’ve worn and washed the item and for household items until it has been used at least once, unless it has a warranty.

As you are de-cluttering and tossing unneeded documents, be sure you shred them before putting them in your recycle bin. Even if it is a statement for an account that is closed, you don’t want to tempt identity thieves by offering your name, address and an account number on one page.

Finally, once you have your important papers more organized and up-to-date, make a note to revisit your files on an annual basis to weed out those no longer needed and collect and add any new documents collected.
A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on March 15, 2010.

Wedding Bells Without the Money Blues

March 1, 2010

When planning your dream wedding it is easy to ring up an event costing more than $30,000 — that’s more than the price of a decent new car! As each little thing adds up, it is important to save money in areas where it won’t really affect the overall day. Try one or all of these ideas to save some coin without sacrificing the ultimate intent: exchanging vows with your beloved!

Minimize the Menu If you’re hosting a large reception (over 150 guests), the cost of food can exceed $10,000 if you choose a premium main course. In my opinion, you don’t need to serve a gourmet meal — chicken and veggies are just fine.

Most wedding guests aren’t coming to your reception for the food anyway. In general they will expect a decent meal, but won’t be disappointed if they are not served a filet or lobster. And if you hire a fun deejay, (one area where you can get a lot of bang for your buck) most people won’t even pay attention to what they’re eating because they’ll be so anxious to get out on the dance floor.

Save money on the food and spend it on great meals on the honeymoon that you will savor and remember.

Lower the Bar Bill Don’t let your party animal friends talk you into hosting a top shelf open bar. While some wedding guests may prefer a mixed drink before dinner, most will be fine with choosing beer or wine as their drink of choice for the night. Trim a dollar or two off the cost of EACH GUEST by choosing to serve only beer and wine at your bar and you’ll save hundreds of dollars on the reception. If you’d still like to make mixed drinks available, guests will understand if you choose to have a cash bar for those options.

You may also choose to offer an open bar for the first three hours of the event, turning it into a cash bar later in the night to discourage guests from overindulging. This is safe for your budget and your guests’ health.

Have Your Cake It is worth the money to have a professional bake your wedding cake. Ask any caterer and he or she will have a story of an amateur wedding cake gone awry. To have a beautiful cake without breaking the budget, ask your baker to make your decorated cake smaller, then bring a couple extra sheet cakes or “kitchen cakes” to keep in the back to give you enough to serve all your guests.


Event center staff are used to this arrangement, and your guests will still enjoy a tasty cake while never knowing that the piece they savor didn’t come from the actual cake you cut.

Above all, don’t lose sight of why you are planning such a celebration. A wedding is one of life’s great milestones for many and loads of fun to plan and execute. Just remember that at the end of the day, the only purpose is to unite your life and your heart with that of your soul mate’s. As long as you make that happen, none of the other details will really matter in the long run.

These tips are just a sampling of the many I have collected over the years. My newsletter, Weekly Wedding Wisdom, offers several other money-friendly ideas related to getting married. If you’d like more, please Email me to be added to the list. Your email address will not be used for any other purpose.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on March 1, 2010.

Priceless Time With Your Girlfriends

February 15, 2010

Female relationships have played an important role in the lives of women since the beginning of time. As far back as historians have documented, women depended on each other for basic survival needs as well as a social outlet. As our society has evolved, we’ve become less dependent on our neighbors and family members for fulfillment of basic needs, but the social aspect of girlfriends has not diminished in the least. In fact, I would argue that they have become even more important as technological advances lead to social isolation on a grander scale. As a result, we must be more deliberate in maintaining these sometimes life-saving relationships.

The trouble is, too often when we think of hanging out with our girlfriends, we automatically think we have to go out for an expensive meal or spend the day shopping at the mall. This can often cause us to skip those important social times due to budget restrictions, forgetting that the renewal and comfort we receive from our girlfriends is priceless. I know that I have had this struggle lately, as have many of my wonderful girlfriends.

Recently, I had one of the best nights I’ve had in a long time with girlfriends — and it cost me less than $10, including gasoline. It didn’t start out as a cheap night though. As the three of us made our initial plan, the first suggestion was dinner and drinks somewhere nice in Covington or Crestview Hills Town Center , which would have cost at least $30, if not twice as much.

Luckily, my girlfriend Heather pled for a more low-key night and Tasha suggested making dinner at her place as an alternative. We divvied up the menu (I was assigned the easy appetizer and rolls), met in our PJ’s, and had a relaxing evening of laughter, support and a hearty and delicious homemade meal. Not only was it inexpensive, but the evening was actually more pleasurable and refreshing without the outside “noise” of a public setting.

There were no waiters interrupting our conversation to check in with us, no overly eager bachelors trying their luck with a table of pretty ladies, and no need to dig out the Spanx and eye shadow to put our best look forward. Sometimes all we need is a quiet evening in our slippers with healthy, delicious food and a willing ear and shoulder to share with a girlfriend.

So next time you and your girlfriends find the stars aligned and you’re all available at the same time for a rendezvous, rather than heading to the ATM for an expensive night of cocktails and dancing, get creative and have a BYOB dance party in someone’s living room. I guarantee you’ll feel better about the shape of your wallet, and I bet you also have some good laughs as you exhibit your best dance moves for each other without the self-consciousness of looking goofy in public.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on February 15, 2010.

Goal: Affording Your Dream Vacation!

February 1, 2010

Too many people go to their graves having never taken that one trip they always dreamed of solely because the total cost of the trip was too daunting. Follow these steps to “find” the money and set sail within just a couple years.

Financial goals are rarely about dollars in the bank — they are about realizing a dream that requires financial backing. So rather than using the word “goal,” which can sound restrictive or negative, I like to use the word “dream” when helping clients set up a savings plan. And “dream” doesn’t mean unattainable or far-reaching. In fact, if you’ve stopped dreaming, I bet you often find yourself asking, “What’s it all for?”

Therefore the first step in setting and achieving financial goals or dreams is to re-start your dreaming. Do you have a trip, home or purchase that you’ve always passed off as pie-in-the-sky or “someday?” When you look at the total price of such a dream, do you sigh and think to yourself, “Maybe when I win the lottery?” Well, today is the day that I challenge you to turn someday into an actual date, no lottery ticket required. With a smidge of discipline and a little time, you can take that trip or have that house.

Perhaps you’ve always dreamed of taking an Alaskan cruise. With flight and cruise packages, this fantastic trip can cost upwards of $5,000 for two people. (This figure is based on a room with a balcony, departing out of Seattle for a 7-day roundtrip cruise) That amount can seem daunting and impossible if you are a typical American who struggles to keep $5,000 in the bank for emergency purposes. I’m here to tell you that it is entirely possible with a little planning. Here’s how:

Let’s say you and your beloved are preparing to celebrate your 38th wedding anniversary. (Congratulations!) Wouldn’t it be a treat to embark on an Alaskan cruise to celebrate your 40th? If you start saving today, you can get there without even breaking out a credit card. This year, rather than giving your sweetie a store-bought gift for your anniversary, head down to the bank or credit union and set up a 40th anniversary trip savings account.

Start your account with an initial deposit of $100 — remember you don’t have to buy an anniversary gift this year, so stretch a little to start saving toward your dream. You then need an additional $4,900 to realize your dream. Since you have two years, or 24 months until the big day, you’ll need to put away about $200 per month.

If you are paid every other week, that equals $100 per paycheck. When you split the amount with your beloved (after all, your gift to him is STARTING the account, but he should help you get there), it’s just $50 each per pay.

Make your savings automatic via payroll deduction or automatic transfer, and without any pain at all, you will be setting sail for glaciers, polar bears and Eskimos. Bon voyage!

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on February 1, 2010.

Money-Saving Travel Tips

January 18, 2010

The first weeks of January are typically not too rough for me. While basking in the afterglow of holidays with family and the promise of a new year ahead, I embark on those days with a sense of discipline, purpose and optimism. It feels good to get back into a routine that includes healthy eating and physical activity. But if you’re like me, by the time Martin Luther King Day rolls around I’m ready for spring. The combination of cold, gray days and early sunsets has me yearning for the oppressive humidity of July, while finding it a supreme challenge to keep up with the vigorous routine that sounded so satisfying just two weeks earlier.

When the winter doldrums trump my desire to get in shape, I’ve found a way to trick myself into staying with the program: vacation! OK, so I’m not the first person to think of this idea. But hopefully some of my ideas for saving money while still enjoying a dream vacation will be new to you. Read on for tips on planning the perfect getaway without straying from the budget I know you’ve set for 2010. (if you haven’t yet, refer to my Money Makeover column from December)

Once you’ve figured out your destination, the first step is finding a place to stay. If you’re open to a little adventure, consider renting a house through sites like Vacation Rentals by Owner or Home Away. These sites make it easy to sort by property types, dates of availability and preferences. Because some of the properties may have standard check-in/check-out days, it’s important to book this before your flight.

If hotels are more your style, try kayak.com to find out what is available. I recommend going ahead and booking a refundable/cancelable room as soon as possible directly through the hotel’s site. You can always change your mind — just don’t forget what reservations you’ve made! Then as your departure dates draws near, look for lower prices knowing that you already have a place in case you don’t find a last-minute deal. A trick that has worked for me several times is to wait until one week from the date of my trip, then using Priceline to try an absurdly low rate. I’ve ended up staying in the Hyatt Regency in downtown Denver for only $50 per night using Priceline. Just keep in mind that once your price is accepted, you are locked in and your card will be charged. Don’t forget to cancel your original reservation!

Once you know where you’re staying, it’s time to figure out how to get there. If possible, use the credit card points or frequent flyer miles you’ve been saving for something special. Booking early gives you a greater chance of being able to pick the dates you travel. Try traveling on “off” days like Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday for greater availability. If you don’t have points to use, I still like kayak.com for finding the cheapest flight. Once you find the airline, Kayak takes you directly to the airline’s site for booking, which saves you any fees incurred through third-party sites.

Finally, as you begin to pack for your dream vacation, you’ll have to deal with the latest airline restrictions on luggage and liquids. Most airlines charge a fee to check a bag, forcing travelers on a budget to try and fit everything in a carry-on sized suitcase. With the restrictions on liquids, this can become impossible if you’re going away for a week. Unless you’re heading for a remote destination that won’t have a Walgreen’s or grocery store nearby, think about buying travel size toiletries at your destination. This will save you room, hassle and hopefully enable you to carry your bag on without paying the baggage fees.

Regardless of where you end up for your getaway, having something to look forward to in the near future will help you stick to your guns and realize your dreams of a beautiful beach bod.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on January 18, 2010.

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

January 4, 2010

I entered the West Chester Conference Center on April 3, 2008, for the first time filled with anticipation and not having a clue what to expect. I had finally taken the plunge and signed up for Life Success Seminars’ Basic workshop after months of prodding from a friend. Everyone who had been through Basic promised me that the weekend would change my life. And considering where I was at that point in my life: bored and frustrated with my career and feeling like I needed to embrace a new start, I was ready for it!

LSS uses the tagline, “If I always do what I’ve always done, I’ll always get what I’ve always got!” It is upon this idea that a weekend of self-exploration and new beginnings is built. The purpose of Basic is to have participants shift the direction of their lives just one degree. Like a ship on a course across the sea, one degree doesn’t seem too far off when the shift is first made. But as time passes and the ship continues on its new path, it eventually ends up far from its original destination, perhaps even on a different continent.

During my weekend at LSS, I had some pretty powerful realizations. One was the fact that despite a high level of achievement in my life, I was actually coasting and taking the easy road with my career. But what I didn’t know was what I should do next. I was impatient to figure it out.

Eventually I would come to realize that I had gained the skills and self-awareness at Life Success to find the answers in time. While my career at that point was one that was financially lucrative, I knew in my heart that I could be doing more to feel fulfilled, but I just didn’t know how. I did know for sure that it was not about money. I had played it safe for the first years of my career and was financially secure for someone in my situation. I knew by then that a cushy salary did not equal fulfillment. But what did?

A progression of small steps and risks eventually led to the answer and the launch of my financial coaching practice. Two years ago I would not have dreamed of doing such a thing — putting my life savings on the line and quitting the rat race to depend solely on myself for my next meal seemed scary and absurd. I certainly didn’t wake up one morning after Basic and say, “That’s what I’ll do!” What Basic did was open my mind to the possibilities within me, which allowed me to think a little bit outside the box.

Once I took one step out and survived, it gave me the courage to take the next step. Then the next step and so on. By the time I was officially announcing the launch of my business, it simply felt like the next natural thing for me to do. As Christopher Reeve is known for saying, “So many of our dreams at first seem impossible, then they seem improbable, and … they soon become inevitable.”

What Life Success helped me discover over time is that life is not about the safety of the balance in your savings account, it is about the purpose you are saving toward. For me it turned out to be discovering and following my dream of helping everyday career-people gain a grasp on their money. If it hadn’t been for that one degree shift, I could still be coasting along on the easy road, agonizing over that deep down intuition that told me there was more to life than a salary.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on January 4, 2010.

Decade in Review: 10 Years of Financial Turmoil

December 21, 2009

When it comes to money and the past 10 years, most investors are frustrated by the poor performance of the United States stock market. A dollar invested in the S&P 500 index 10 years ago would be about $.97 today, according to MeasuringWorth.com. To address that concern, I could echo the typical investment adviser and remind long-term investors that they are in it for the long haul and that, while the 10-year snapshot may look bleak, it is the overall return when you actually need to liquidate the investment that really matters.

However, that topic has been covered ad nauseum by investment writers, with everyone having his or her own opinion. Because really, no matter what the expert investment analysts say, no one can predict how the stock market is going to do over the upcoming 10 years, and the past year or so has proven that history doesn’t always repeat itself.

Instead, I’d like to review the various reasons behind the behavior of the stock market over the decade, including world events and changes in attitudes and information.

Since the year 2000, our world has changed dramatically. Thinking back 10 years, the Internet was just becoming available to the everyday person. The speed of information was at a snail’s pace compared to what it is today. The thought of carrying a tiny computer that gave you access to the Internet, e-mail and virtual maps at the touch of a finger seemed space age and decades away. How did we survive without iPods and text messaging?

It is in part due to this increase of availability of information that investing in stocks as we knew it 10 years ago will never be the same. That hot stock tip that could earn savvy and fast-acting traders millions in a couple days is now available to EVERYONE and within split seconds, important information that affects the price of a company’s stock is reflected.

We had Sept. 11, which closed the New York Stock Exchange for six days. Entire firms were wiped out in one day, such as Cantor Fitzgerald, which lost 658 employees in the World Trade Center attacks. Fear of a repeat attack was reflected in the performance of the U.S. stock market for years, as investors remained uncertain.

Martha Stewart went to prison for selling stock based on insider information, meaning that she acted on information that was not yet available to the public, allowing her to make an unfair profit.

Executives at Enron and WorldCom lost sight of their duties to run their companies with integrity and, in some cases, cost their loyal employees their life savings. Greed took on a whole new meaning, and with news now available 24/7, the whole world is instantly made aware of such indiscretions. Investors are unsure of which corporations will be around for the long haul.

The U.S. went to war in the Middle East. Interest rates have been at an all-time low multiple times. And the Great Recession still has many searching for jobs or new careers. These are just the headlines from the past 10 years, but they describe much of what contributed to such poor performance of the stock market.

All of these factors make it difficult for people to continue to contribute to 401k’s and other long-term savings plans, but I would advise investors not to give up or cash out yet. While I can’t promise that the next 10 years will be better, I still believe that investing in the stock market is the best way to earn a higher return on your money with the lowest amount of risk.

Here’s hoping that the second decade of the 21st century is better in terms of investment performance and that we all keep our sights on what is truly important: having something to believe in and something to live for BESIDES money.

Personal Opinion Disclaimer: This article represents the views of Kelley C. Long based on her capacity as a certified public accountant and her experience in the financial services industry. The opinions expressed are intended for educational purposes only and are not to be considered financial advice.

A version of this post was published in the Cincy Chic column “Cents & Sensibility” on December 21, 2009.