My friend Marla is turning 50 this year. As she approaches Menopause, this savvy fitness buff decided to explore acupuncture as a way to moderate her hormonal swings. When I learned that acupuncture is a practice that stems back to China's Neolithic Age, (c. 8000-3500 BC), I was fascinated and asked Marla to teach me more. First, Marla explained the role of Meridians. Simply put, Meridians are pathways in our bodies that life-energy (often called "Chi" or "Qi") flows through. There are 20 overall Meridians. 12 of these Meridians are associated with specific bodily organs and the remaining 8 are considered "extraordinary vessels." These 8 are the reservoirs of energy associated with our overarching "spiritual axis." The goal of Acupuncture is to address any blockages in your Meridians, so that your Chi can flow more fluidly through your body and create spiritual harmony. What do Acupuncture and Meridians have to do with making your financial life less stressful? I've been talking about the left brain mechanics of personal finance for years. Over and over I am asked the same 20 basic financial questions. In response, I (along with many other money experts) give the same 20 core answers. Yet financial anxiety remains high around the country. I began to wonder: Could these 20 basic money questions correlate to the body's 20 meridians? The most common financial concerns I hear tend to fall into these 8 buckets: earn, save, spend, give, invest, protect, reflect, reconnect. That led me ask whether these 8 financial buckets might correlate to the 8 extraordinary vessels. Since starting this MoneyZen quest, I've been blown away by the heartfelt comments readers have shared. A common theme I've noticed is a desire for a more balanced relationship with money. Is it possible that an imbalance in our financial meridians - and particularly within our 8 extraordinary (financial) vessels - keeps us from experiencing financial peace of mind? In my own life, I've felt financial tension in different areas at different times. During the first 15 years of my corporate life, my Financial Chi was flowing strongly through the areas of earning, saving, investing, protecting, and reflecting. But I was blocked in spending and reconnecting. I needed to learn how to experience joy rather than just saving voraciously. I also needed to reconnect with my Self and loved ones rather than hiding in workaholism. When I became an entrepreneur, my biggest block shifted to earning. I struggled with both wanting to help women AND earn a healthy living in exchange for my work. I questioned whether it was fair for me to earn a profit from my current work when I was already financially blessed thanks to my first career. (For more on this common blockage, read this delightful piece by my creative writing coach, Brooke Elise Axtell called "What Is A Woman Worth?") Gandhi famously advised us to be the change we desire to see in the world. When I apply this concept to receiving money for my work, I find the block around earning starts to clear up. I begin to feel connected to money from a very different place. For a brief moment, my focus shifts from guilt or fear to wanting to complete the energy loop - contributing value to others and naturally allowing financial reciprocity to flow back. I want to stand tall in this place, lead by example, and earn a healthy living in alignment with my values. It is this feeling of financial completion that I wish for all of us. I want this especially for women, who have far too long a history of putting other-care ahead of self-care, blocking the natural exchange of financial energy. What about you? Are there places where your Financial Chi is currently feeling blocked? If so, what small step can you take today to begin the unblocking process? [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want to join the journey to MoneyZen? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor or sign up to get her MoneyZen email updates delivered right to your inbox by clicking here.
In the world of personal finance, we are often told what we should do. Alas, with the seemingly endless number of positive steps you can take, that approach can sometimes leave you feeling overwhelmed. Today I'd like to focus on something concrete, tangible, and finite that you can do to make the most of your employer's benefits offerings. Specifically I want to help you avoid four common mistakes. A recent Harris Interactive/Aflac survey showed 77 percent of people made mistakes at open enrollment and 42 percent say those mistakes cost them money. I don't want this to be you! So here are the top four open enrollment don'ts. (1) Don't assume the benefits package you had last year will work again this year. Life moves fast (too fast sometimes!) and your needs may have changed. Perhaps you have a new medical condition that you are grappling with or the aging process is kicking in and your teeth or eyes need some extra TLC. The specific options you need to optimize for your well-being this year may be very different from last year. Additionally, in these rough economic times employers are shifting more costs to employees. Per an Aon Hewitt study, employees are projected to contribute an average of $2,306 more towards their overall health care premiums in 2012. This represents a whopping 11% increase over 2011. As such, you want to make sure you are aware of any material changes in your coverage that would affect your overall self-care strategy. (2) Don't forget to sign up for valuable tax savings accounts Many people tell me when they hear the word "tax" their minds start to glaze over -- even when the word following "tax" is "savings." That’s why I’ve teamed up with WageWorks, a provider of tax-advantaged programs, to raise awareness about valuable employee benefits that include health care FSAs, dependent care FSAs and commuter benefits. Don't let the alphabet soup of names throw you. These three employee benefits enable you to save up to 40% on qualified expenses. What shocks me is that only 1 in 5 people eligible for these valuable benefits actually sign up for them. My hunch is that many feel confused about how these accounts work and others simply forget to re-enroll (you must opt-in to these accounts every year). Here is a quick overview: these accounts enable you to set aside money from your paycheck BEFORE taxes so that every dollar you contribute goes towards health care, dependent care or commuter expenses, and 0% goes to Uncle Sam. For a more information, I would encourage you to visit SaveSmartSpendHealthy.com. The site includes a comprehensive list of eligible expenses and calculators for predicting your savings. You should also read my article on saving big and making the most during open enrollment. (3) Don't skip on health care FSAs for fear of losing money Participating in a health care FSA is like standing in line at the pharmacy with a basket of goods you have to purchase and having someone hand you a coupon for up to 40% off.  When I ask people why they don't sign up for this benefit, a very common response is fear of the "use it or lose it" rule. If you plan in advance and make a conservative estimate, this is not a rational fear. According to Aon Hewitt's analysis, employees will spend an average of $2,275 in additional out-of-pocket costs while seeking medical care in 2012. If your family's experience is anywhere close to the average you could be saving nearly $900 a year by participating in a health care FSA. For those who have never participated, even setting aside a small amount of money is a good way to get started without concerns about any risk. (4) Don't be shy about asking for help The world of open enrollment and employee benefits can make any sane person's head spin. So please don't hesitate to reach out for help. Your Human Resources or Benefits departments are in-house experts on what your employer offers, what has changed since last year, and the specific nuances of the sign up procedure. Their job is to help, so take them up on it! [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want to join the journey to MoneyZen? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor or sign up to get her MoneyZen email updates delivered right to your inbox by clicking here.
Eighteen months ago, I began working out in the gym with a functional trainer. His name is Michael and he has changed my life. His training philosophy is rooted in a belief that many pieces of modern exercise equipment designed to push us harder actually result in less effective workouts. How can this be? Michael points out that with their rigid structures many of these machines dictate our movements in such a prescribed way that our body does not use its natural, full range of motion. So, instead, he has his clients do a variety of activities that mimic the moves of primal man - hunting, gathering, climbing and jumping. The result has been stunning. At age 41, I feel stronger and more energetic than I did at age 21. What does this have to do with your finances or with my quest to help us all find a tool to increase our financial peace of mind ("MoneyZen")? Michael taught me the power of concentric and eccentric muscle movements. It's not a situation of concentric or eccentric. You actually need both movements to achieve strength, balance, and endurance. And I have a hunch this concept could help you find more money joy in your life.
  • Think of a concentric muscle movement as lifting a heavy object overhead. Your muscles work to overcome resistance (by contracting) to raise the object to the desired position.
  • Think of an eccentric muscle movement as gradually lowering that heavy object back down. In this case, your muscles work (by lengthening) to help you lower the load smoothly without dropping it.
In response to my first two MoneyZen posts, several readers brought up the concept of "more or less." “More or less” is a financial framework I've long relied upon, often using exercise as a metaphor to highlight its power ("To become physically fit - exercise more, eat less. To become financially fit - earn more, spend less"). But what if this misses the mark? Is it possible that one cause of financial anxiety is that we are focused on "More OR Less" instead of "Concentric AND Eccentric"? What if the true recipe for achieving financial peace of mind is looking at your own specific circumstances and figuring out how to be both concentric and eccentric? Imagine how you could concentrically exert energy towards things you'd like to bring into your life - and then eccentrically lengthen out the process of feeling joy from that activity. In my own life, I've started to observe that the periods where I feel the least financial anxiety are not correlated to how much or how little I'm earning or spending. They are correlated to the length of my joy. A soy chai I savor for 3 hours while writing in my favorite cafe feels very different than a to-go cup I gulp down while driving hurriedly to my next meeting. Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to embrace the richness of the moment. He says, “Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves - slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.” Are there areas in your life where lengthening the process of joy would increase your financial peace of mind? How can you "be (financially) eccentric"? [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want to join the journey to MoneyZen? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor or sign up to get her MoneyZen email updates delivered right to your inbox by clicking here.
At the end of this summer, my hubby and I flew into Houston's Hobby airport. We were coming in for his oral surgery appointment (to extract two teeth ... ouch!).  So as we landed in the 100-degree heat, we were not exactly in the most Zen of mindsets. After deplaning with our carry-ons, we went straight to the rental car counter. We had reserved a compact car, a cost effective option we knew would not only be fuel-efficient but also easily meet our minimal space requirements. The attendant at the counter, however, had an entirely different goal in mind: namely, an upgrade. "You know," she said very loudly, "You've reserved a COMPACT car." We nodded in agreement. Her disdain was palpable. "You'll have to roll down your own windows. They're. Not. Electronic." We reiterated that we were quite happy with our choice. She stared at us intently.  Taking a deep breath, she lobbed her last salvo in a voice that turned heads, "THERE ARE NO POWER LOCKS IN YOUR COMPACT CAR." Hot and tired, we told her that we didn't mind the manual labor. As we stepped away with the keys to our Ford Focus, we were relieved to be out of the notorious upgrade zone. But I couldn't help notice several people in line giving us that head-to-toe once over. I could feel their enquiring minds at work: "Are they cheap and stingy? Are they out of work? Why on earth would they want to roll down their own windows?" Ouch.  I was feeling the pain of the public upgrade. However, as uncomfortable a feeling as it was, I knew deep inside that a compact car was the right decision for us. And the universe took notice of that conviction. Not only did our compact car end up having power windows and locks, but it maneuvered easily with its zippy engine, and the air conditioner had no problems handling the Houston heat. Alas, in today's world we are subjected to the up-sale at virtually every turn. We are bombarded 24/7 with advertising that further fans our flames of desire. Is it really any wonder that so many of us end up with spending habits that are totally out-of-whack?  The average American household, for example, spends almost 20% of its take-home pay on transportation costs; that’s double the 10% rule-of-thumb I’ve always recommended people follow.

So how do we find financial peace of mind when there is temptation and pressure to spend from nearly every direction?

When I think back to our rental counter episode, I was struck at how unmoved I was by the agent’s peer pressuring shenanigans. (Full disclosure... I'm not always so clear and decisive in the face of pushy sales tactics!) Reflecting upon it, I realized that there were at least two factors that kept me from succumbing to the public upgrade. First, I had thought through my choice calmly and deliberately before heading to the counter. Second, I was aware that part of the checkout routine included the upgrade shtick. I had in effect shone a mental flashlight on both my choice and the potential temptation. Thus I was able to walk away from that counter relatively unscathed. Having lost hours of my life to second guessing myself on many other occasions, it recently struck me that the "mental flashlight" might very well be a useful tool to keep in hand on this journey to financial peace of mind.

What about you – what tools have helped you avoid the pain of the public upgrade?

[This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want to join the journey to MoneyZen? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor or sign up to get her MoneyZen email updates delivered right to your inbox by clicking here.
There are thousands of personal finance books, magazines, radio and TV shows.  Yet money anxiety persists. No one is immune. Financial fear lurks in the once safe nooks and crannies of our daily lives. Millions of hardworking Americans are living paycheck-to-paycheck. With economic uncertainty so high, even those with emergency funds and retirement accounts are prone to night sweats about their financial futures.

Our money is holding us hostage. Like a bag over our heads, financial anxiety prevents us from seeing and feeling the truest of joys that life has to offer. I've spent the past few years traveling around the country speaking and connecting with folks about money. And it's become crystal clear to me that we are whirling around like a centrifuge when it comes to our personal finances. There is a lot of movement, but no forward progress. Time and again I'm asked the same 20 basic money questions. Over and over I cite the same 20 core financial answers.  Yet it feels like nothing is changing. As a society we remain twisted up in severe money pain. Clearly, there's another dimension to our personal finances that has yet to be addressed. Lately I've been thinking about the concept of a "money tree." In this image, the leaves represent the traditional financial advice we've all been hearing for years; the branches, our emotions; the trunk, our familial and cultural programming; and the roots (deep underground and invisible to the naked eye), our spiritual underpinnings. To date, 90% of our energies have been focused on fixing our financial leaves. But a tree cannot be healthy if the branches are overburdened, the trunk is damaged, or the roots are weak. Likewise, my hunch is that our financial lives cannot be rejuvenated without an equally holistic remedy.

So with this post I am embarking upon a one-year journey - a quest to find financial peace of mind. My goal is to find "something" that in one fell swoop will help us never worry about money again.

Photo credit: neilio / ccl

My hope with this adventure is to find a framework or concept that can be used by all people in all situations to soothe money pain. A tool that works - regardless of your age, gender, income, occupation, or religious affiliation - to guide you to make a lifetime of financial decisions that make your heart sing. Just in the way a scared kitten might hide under a sofa, I want to help call out our money joy from wherever it has sequestered itself from so many of us for so long. Crazy idea?

“Problems can’t be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.” -Albert Einstein.

In a couple of very messy areas of my own personal life I've seen how this works. With regards to food, Suze Orbach and Geneen Roth have taught us the power of "eating what our bodies want." With regards to human interaction, Marianne Williamson and Gabrielle Bernstein have shown us the power of assessing our actions through a spectrum of "love versus fear." These simple frameworks have powerfully transformed our relationships with ourselves and with each other. These touchstones work because they come at the underlying problem from a vastly different consciousness than the one that originally birthed the problem. I believe deep down, at a guttural level, that there is a financial equivalent out there as well… If this resonates with you, then please join me on this journey to MoneyZen. Together we can find the pathway to financial peace of mind. [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want to join the journey to MoneyZen? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor or sign up to get her MoneyZen email updates delivered right to your inbox by clicking here.
It's that time of year again, open enrollment period.  This is the annual window where you can sign up for, or adjust, your participation in a variety of employee benefits that range from traditional health insurance to one of my favorites—flexible spending accounts ("FSAs"). Alas, a recent Harris Interactive/Aflac study showed that 77 percent of people admitted that they made mistakes when signing up for their benefits packages in past years, with 42 percent saying those mistakes cost them money. What kind of mistakes are we talking about? One of the most common errors actually was forgetting to sign up for FSAs. Given today's economic environment, you no doubt want to save as much money as you can. That makes FSAs, in particular, a benefit that you really want to take the time to understand. Why? FSAs enable you to set aside pre-tax dollars to pay for qualified health care costs. Depending upon your tax-bracket, an FSA can save you up to 40% on items you already pay for out-of-pocket (such as co-pays for doctor visits or prescription drugs). Health care FSAs aren’t the only pre-tax benefit that you can sign up for. There are others, including benefits that cover dependent care and commuter expenses. If you work for an employer who offers one or more of these valuable benefits, make sure you don’t miss out on your opportunity to enroll and save.  Even if you’ve participated in the past, you still have to re-enroll in these benefits each year. Whether it's thinking about traditional insurance or pre-tax benefits, the most common sentiments I hear from folks about their employee benefits are that they feel overwhelmed and confused. So here is a list of 6 resources that you can use during this year's open enrollment season to make the most of the benefits available to you through your workplace.
  • WageWorks – Confused about the pre-tax benefits offered by your employer? Benefits provider WageWorks (a company that I have proudly teamed up with on a consumer awareness campaign) has calculators for every type of pre-tax benefit that your employer might offer (e.g., healthcare FSAs, dependent care FSAs, commuter benefits, and Health Savings Accounts) that will help you to estimate your eligible expenses and expected tax-savings.
  • Save Smart Spend Healthy – Want to know more specifically about health care FSAs? A wealth of information on these accounts is available on this educational website sponsored by WageWorks. Tools available include an easy-to-browse list of eligible expenses, a savings calculator, and a video library.
  • Consumer Reports Health Website – Confused about health insurance? This website offers a wide range of information on this topic, including a comparison of different insurance offerings by state, as well as in-depth articles on how to choose a plan and what changes you should expect in the era of health reform.
  • Plan for Your Health – Want more help with health insurance? Aetna and the Financial Planning Association have teamed up on this site to offer some excellent tools to reference while you make your open enrollment choices, including a glossary of benefits terms (aka, dummy guide) and calculators for health and baby-related expenses.
  • Simplee.com – Feel like your medical costs are spiraling out of control? If you’re willing to provide Simplee with access to your medical records, it can help you make sense of your medical bills and figure out where you can save more money.
  • Metlife’s Employee Benefits Simplifier Tool - Overwhelmed by the range of other benefits offered by your employer? This site asks you to answer a few questions about your family and income, and then provides you with an overview of which benefits you will likely want to sign up for during open enrollment. Using the tool only takes about 5 minutes and it will help you consider everything from disability insurance to 401(k) contributions and more.
Of course, the best resource during open enrollment is always your Human Resources department. They will have all the information that is specific to your particular benefit offerings. So don't hesitate to ask them any questions. Lastly, remember to keep all of the relevant information you receive (brochures, emails, etc.) in a special location so that you can easily refer to it when making selections for you and your family during this year's open enrollment season. Do you have any favorite resources that help you plan for your open enrollment choices each year?  If so, please tweet them to me at @ManishaThakor with the hashtag #enrollmenttools. [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want more financial love? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor, sign up to get her email updates delivered right to your inbox here, and enroll in her innovative online basic personal finance course called “Money Rules.”
Is a larger business always a better business? As a newly minted MBA my first job back in 1997 was as a buy-side equity analyst. My task was to evaluate the financial prospects of publically traded companies and make recommendations as to whether or not their stocks should be bought or sold. This was back in the heady days of the internet bubble years when double digit revenue or profit growth was scorned upon. The prevailing wisdom: Who wants 15% growth when there are dot coms generating 150% growth? I never quite got that obsession with size. Wearing my analyst hat all I could think when I saw a rapidly growing company were the pitfalls. How would they handle the logistics, the infrastructure, the accounting of such a sprawling concern? Back then my aversion to rapid growth for the sake of growth made me an investment outlier. Today - a breath of fresh air arrives. It's in the form of a delightful new book by Adelaide Lancaster and Amy Adams called The Big Enough Company. It's a marvelous guidebook that helps entrepreneurs to "build a business you enjoy running without caving under the pressure to grow." So if you are an entrepreneur, want to be an entrepreneur, or love an entrepreneur... read on.  Adelaide was kind enough to answer some questions about the financial implications of choosing to be a "Big Enough Company."  Oh - and here's the book trailer, I double dare you to watch and not be moved! (1) What are the most common financial issues you see entrepreneurs struggle with? Entrepreneurship is ripe with "financial issues", as entrepreneurs are constantly negotiating investment (money, time, commitment, sacrifice, etc.) and reward (money, satisfaction, freedom, meaning, etc.) Most entrepreneurs learn many of the same classic financial lessons (often the hard way), such as understanding the value of their time, what their product or services are worth, and the very real difference in revenue versus profit. However I'd say the three most problematic and persistent financial challenges are the following:
  • Shorting themselves in favor of the business. Entrepreneurs often take better care of their business finances than they do their personal finances. We've heard lots of stories of incurring major personal credit card debt and foregoing a salary. Even when it turns out okay in the end, we get concerned about the setting the wrong precedent and potentially fostering underlying feelings of financial insecurity or resentment. There is a big difference between making a significant investment in your business and putting yourself at significant financial risk for your business.
  • Fear of growing because of the expenses involved. A major deterrent to growth is fear of the expenses involved, not just the short-term growth expenses but the ongoing operating expenses too. It's a reasonable enough concern. However we've met lots of entrepreneurs who would actually be more satisfied with a bigger business but stay small because of their expense aversion. In these cases, expenses are not a good enough reason not to grow. Unfortunately, if you want to grow your company to be bigger you almost always have to experience the increased expenses before you experience the increased income.
  • Getting the right amount of money to bridge growth gaps. It's often difficult to find ways to access the $10-50k range that lots of businesses need in order to make it to the next level. It's short of a formal capital investment, but often bigger than early lines of credit and small loans. We are interested to see how a few newer peer-to-peer investment and lending models might change this.
(2) What are some of the financial benefits that can come from deciding NOT to grow your company bigger? Ironically, we've met lots of entrepreneurs whose take home pay ended up being more with a smaller company than it was with a larger company because of the extraordinary overhead involved. Assuming you can support yourself with your company as is, I think that money alone is a bad reason to grow. Instead, consider your motivations for becoming an entrepreneur (what were you after in the first place), how you like to spend your time (i.e. what is your ideal job), and what you want your company to be known for (not all goals are equally accomplished by small and large companies). I know it can sound cliché but it's harder to make money when you're miserable, especially when something very important to you (creative freedom, autonomy, the right role, or the right impact) is being compromised. (3) What are the most frequent issues you've noticed entrepreneurs grappling with when it comes to the "values" versus "monetary benefit" trade-off? Contrary to some stereotypes, most entrepreneurs aren't in it for the money. If the goal was to make as much money as possible, many say they wouldn't be entrepreneurs. Instead it's the allure of freedom, autonomy, and meaning that often motivate them to strike out on their own. However, even our clients who were primarily motivated by money often make choices that result in less income in favor of other values - business related values such as an ethical company culture, or socially responsible business goals, and also more personal values such as outside of work time, extracurricular hobbies, and family. The experience of being an entrepreneur makes you understand the quantifiable value of your values. You are constantly making decisions about what is worth it. You also learn that not all dollars are equal. For example, a new client could present a huge sales opportunity but require a significant values compromise. Anecdotally, in these cases most entrepreneurs choose their values and believe in their ability to cultivate other more congruent business opportunities. It takes some time to have this kind of confidence but most entrepreneurs learn that the "right" business opportunities don't require a huge compromise on either front. [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want more financial love? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor, sign up to get her email updates delivered right to your inbox here, and enroll in her innovative online basic personal finance course called "Money Rules."

When was the last time you couldn't put down a book?

For me it was reading Gabrielle Bernstein's latest work, aptly titled Spirit Junkie.  The book chronicles Gabrielle's personal journey from spiritually confused party girl to radically transformed believer in the power of love over fear.  And it's all set against the backdrop of the iconic text, A Course in Miracles. First, a warning. This book is not for everyone. Hip and edgy, it's most definitely not your parent's self help book. This is a book for forward-thinking women seeking a fresh way to navigate the "new normal" of this unique (and economically painful) environment we find ourselves in. But if you are feeling exhausted from a life that seems like a non-stop treadmill of work and emotionally hollow commitments, I have a hunch you will love this book as much as I did. Now, what on earth does this post and Gabby's book have to do with my normal subject matter of personal finance? Surprisingly, everything. Increasingly I am realizing how much of our personal finance troubles (excessive student loans and credit card debt, underwater mortgages, stagnant or shrinking retirement accounts) are occurring at the same time so many are feeling spiritually empty. It may well take a "miracle" to pull our country out of our current financial malaise. I'll talk more about this in future posts.  But for now, I want to leave you with a few questions Gabby was kind enough to answer for us on her relationship between spirituality and money.

(1) You've concurred so much (food, love, drug, work addiction).  As your spiritual journey progressed, how did your relationship with / attitude towards money evolve?

My self-worth directly informs my net-worth. As I've grown spiritually I understand that outside abundance is a reflection of your inner abundance. I welcome abundance in every form.

(2) You often tweet that you are the "happiest person you know."  These days so many people are struggling with the economy and their personal finances.  How do you stay upbeat around those potentially gloomy subjects?

Each moment of our life we can choose what to focus on. We can choose to see lack, doubt, fear. Or we can choose to view our world with a more creative perspective by holding visions of hope, faith and opportunity. From the moment I began my first business in 2001 I chose to see obstacles as opportunities and practice turning fear into a more faithful perspective. This is very hard work, especially with the recession and fear on the news. But the more we work to perceive our world with love the more love is what we'll see.

(3) You've been so successful at such a young age.  What has been the best money move you've made so far as your career has taken off?

The best money move I've made is learning to negotiate. Today I LOVE to negotiate and ask for more. This was once a major issue for me. I spent years leaving tons of money on the table. Today I know my worth.

For more Gabby you can follow her on Twitter at @GabbyBernstein, follow her on Facebook by clicking here, and watch the book trailer for Spirit Junkie. [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want more financial love? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor, sign up to get her email updates delivered right to your inbox here, and enroll in her innovative online basic personal finance course called “Money Rules.”
Ask a working parent how they feel about summer and you may be surprised. Thoughts of beaches, barbeques, and balmy days at the ballpark are often overshadowed by something much less exotic - concerns about childcare. If you have children under the age of 13, and you need childcare so that you can work, look for work, or attend school full-time, you are in luck. Dependent care flexible spending accounts ("FSAs") can save you up to 40% on a wide range of childcare-related costs. I'm continually amazed at how many people have access to this valuable benefit at work, but don't utilize it. The three most common reasons I hear for people not taking advantage of this employee benefit are: (1) A belief that dependent care FSAs only cover a few scenarios, (2) A perception that the cost savings aren't that great, (3) A feeling that there is too much paperwork involved to make participation in a dependent care FSA worthwhile. That's why I've teamed up with WageWorks on a nationwide campaign to help hard working employees better understand this valuable workplace benefit. So let's take a look at each of these three common concerns.
  1. What exactly is covered by a dependent care FSA? You can use these funds for before- or after-school care or special programs, a babysitter or nanny, and even the cost of day camps during the summer or other school holidays for any children under the age of 13. For a full list of eligible dependent care expenses, click here. And since it's the rare family who isn't feeling a tightening of the wallet, it's worth noting that there are summer camp options in almost all budget ranges. According to the American Camp Association fees for a full week of day camp can start at as little as $75 while the upper end can be in the $800 plus range (note: overnight camp fees are not FSA eligible expenses). On top of this, over 90% of camps offer some form of financial assistance ("camperships") while others offer discounts for things like multiple enrollments from one family. Combining all available discounts with a dependent care account can make summer childcare much more affordable.
  2. How much money you can save by using a dependent care FSA? Let's start with a quick review of how these accounts work. As with pre-tax accounts for healthcare and commuter costs, a dependent care FSA allows parents to select a specific amount of money during their firm's open enrollment period to have deducted from their paycheck throughout the year before taxes. This lowers both your taxable income and the amount of income taxes you owe. And the money you withdraw from your FSA for eligible expenses is not taxed either. Or said slightly differently, using an FSA to pay for qualified expenses is like being handed a coupon for up to 40% on a purchase you were going to make anyway. (Click here for a nifty calculator you can use to assess the cost savings of your particular situation).
  3. Are FSAs too much work? FSA participation is a simple three-step process.  First, review the list of eligible expenses and estimate how much you will be spending in the coming year. Second, during open enrollment season (typically during the fall) you decide how much you want to contribute to your dependent care (and/or healthcare and commuter) FSA.  In the case of dependent care FSAs, the maximum amount that can be contributed at present is $5,000. Note, healthcare and commuter FSAs are subject to different contribution limits, you can read more about all types of FSAs at SaveSmartSpendHealthy.com and FSAFeds.com). Also note that if you have what is called a "qualifying life event" such as getting married, divorced, widowed, birth or adoption of a child, or if you experience a significant rate hike in the cost of your childcare... you can adjust what's called your "FSA election" or how much you are choosing to contribute. Third, you pay those dependent expenses and then simply submit a claim with supporting receipts - and you will get those funds reimbursed back to you (and many firms allow you to receive those funds via direct deposit).
If you've already signed up for a dependent care FSA, this is a great time of year to ensure you are making the most of those FSA dollars. And if you haven't enrolled yet, let this article inspire you to talk to your Human Resources department ahead of this fall's open enrollment period so you are in the best shape possible to maximize the fun and sun of summer. Are you making the most of your Dependent Care FSA? [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want more financial love? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor, sign up to get her email updates delivered right to your inbox here, and enroll in her innovative online basic personal finance course called “Money Rules.”

57% of men entering the workforce negotiate their salaries, while only 7% of women do.

Ouch. This is one of the many powerful messages I took away from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg's riveting TEDwomen presentation on why we have too few women leaders. I highly recommend watching this 15-minute talk. Sheryl's comments are game-changing in the same way Gloria Steinem's iconic "If Men Could Menstruate" OpEd was. Specifically Sheryl encourages working women to:
  1. Sit at the table
  2. Make your partner a real partner
  3. Don't leave before you leave (re: balancing having a career & children)
These are all lessons she learned the hard way... through her own life experiences as she climbed the ladder from whip smart Harvard undergrad to one of the most powerful women in global business. After reading a recent profile about Sheryl in The New Yorker I felt aglow about the possibilities for women being financially rewarded for the business results they generate without having to tamp down their feminine sides. (While I've never met Sheryl, by all accounts she is warm, kind, supportive of others, and believes in "bringing your whole self to work."  A working mom, she's both feminine and ferociously effective in her career). So what does this have to do with hair... and more importantly with your career and financial future? First, let me confess that I'm very sensitive about hair. I have some of it growing in places where honestly, no woman should have to deal with it (yep, dreaded facial hair). And the bits on the top of my head have a mind of their own. They generally prefer to live in a state of frizz and are not easily tamed. Why this is relevant you shall soon see.
Note: Rebekah Brooks photo credit - PA/AP

Note: Rebekah Brooks photo credit - PA/AP

Right after reading the New Yorker article, I stumbled upon a piece in The Daily Beast called "Rebekah Brooks' Distracting 'Do." Rebekah Brooks is the former CEO of News Corp.'s News International. She recently resigned amidst the fury of the News Of The World phone hacking scandal. Oh - and she has long, red, curly hair. As part of the ongoing investigation into who knew what and when, Rebekah spoke last week at a British Parliament hearing. Here are some excerpts from the article describing ex-CEO Brooks' presentation:

Her hair hung thick and loose below her shoulders like a dense tangle of vines. It was free and unruly; it was hair that had been released from any need to be controlled and tidy.

Brooks’ hair was a distraction because it was a ballsy rebuke of our expectations governing how people on the defensive are supposed to tread. There was no suggestion of humility, timidity, or caution. There was no attempt to disappear into doleful anonymity.

That was look-at-me hair—stare at me, remember me. Me, me, me.

By the time I finished reading, I literally had to start deep breathing exercises to calm down. My joy at Sheryl Sandberg's success had turned into despair. For goodness sakes, here was a scathing attack. Not upon Lady Gaga's latest outfit at a concert but upon a professional woman's NATURAL HAIR. (Would "don't-look-at-me-when-I-speak-in-Parliament-hair" have been better?  And what would that hair even look like?) Reading this article made me feel like someone was putting a bag over my head, trying to smother my ambition and sense of feminine self. For I too am a working woman with spirited hair. In frustration, I reached out to an older, wiser friend who reminded me Rebekah is merely one of many executive level women derided for the body she was born with. She pointed out it was not long ago that Hillary Clinton was taken to task simply for having breasts. In the past I have written about how one key component in the wage gap between men and women is that we women don't "Ask For It" - and by that I mean raises. In a world where a C-suite level woman speaking in Parliament, dressed authentically as herself, is derided for having "look-at-me-hair" ... is it any wonder that so many of us women feel conflicted about standing tall in our authentic selves at work and asking for stretch assignments and raises? After watching Sheryl Sandberg's TEDwomen video & reading the Daily Beast piece on Rebekah Brook's "Distracting 'Do"... how do you feel about this whole to do? [This post originally appeared at ManishaThakor.com.] Want more financial love? You can follow personal finance expert & author, Manisha Thakor, on Twitter at @ManishaThakor, sign up to get her email updates delivered right to your inbox here, and enroll in her innovative online basic personal finance course called “Money Rules.”