Ask Carrie: Carrie Schwab Pomerantz - The Personal Side of Money

It's All About Attitude: How to Take Charge of Your Financial Future

December 8, 2010

This week, Carrie interviews Farnoosh Torabi, CBS MoneyWatch columnist and author of Psych Yourself Rich: Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life (FT Press: 2010).

CARRIE: Farnoosh, you've written a great book for young adults. Can you briefly explain why the proper mindset is so crucial for a young person who is just starting to build their financial life?

FARNOOSH: I think it's easy, as a young adult, to get emotionally overwhelmed, especially now with so much economic uncertainty. Many are graduating from college with heaps of student loan and credit card debt and entering an extremely competitive job market. Many are being forced to move back home with mom and dad (not so fun). Others are barely making ends meet on their own, given stagnant starting salaries. In short, being a young professional today can be quite an emotional drain. That's where Psych Yourself enters the picture. It teaches us that while life has its setbacks, it also has its opportunities. Before you reach for your financial calculator you need to get control of your emotions, think strategically, and commit to your goals.

CARRIE: You talk about why it's crucial for all of us to be our own financial advocates. Can you explain why this is important—and what it involves?

FARNOOSH: If you're like me, you accept that no one cares more about your money and your financial livelihood than you do. And you see why it's so critical to be your own financial advocate, protecting your assets and making the most educated decisions. This is especially critical for a young adult new to being completely on his or her own.

When you're just starting out, it's easy to feel intimidated by the financial world. We often feel insecure about calling up our lenders or walking into our boss's office to discuss a raise. But if you don't ask for these things, no one will do it for you. You'll learn (quickly) that there's not a lot of handholding in the real world. You'll be expected to make a lot of decisions—from picking your health-care options to your 401(k) investment allocations.

My advice: To earn your independence, speak up, ask questions, and be heard. From your student loan officers to your landlord, human resources manager, doctor, and bank agent, ask questions and follow up.

CARRIE: The title of your book is pretty bold. Tell us what you mean by "rich"? Are you talking about achieving a certain dollar amount, a certain life style, or something else?

FARNOOSH: Rich in my book equals financial security. It's not about becoming a millionaire or accumulating wealth. After all, we know plenty of quantifiably "rich" people who do little to protect their assets and give into a lifestyle that is far beyond their means. To me, rich is about striking a balance between your needs and wants and having enough left over to protect you in the event of a financial emergency, like a job loss. It's about freedom, and choice.

CARRIE: As you point out in your book, many of us behave irrationally when it comes to money, making foolish decisions that really aren't in our long-term best interests. Do you have some suggestions for how we can correct that tendency, and take control?

FARNOOSH: Absolutely. Some of my favorite highlights from Psych Yourself Rich include:

Use Cash. There's no doubt that we tend to overspend when we use credit cards. We feel a false sense of confidence and shop more impulsively. To avoid this, use cash more often. It not only limits how much you can spend but it also keeps you more honest. You are forced to think twice, three times about whether something is worth it and, indeed, aligned with your goals. It hurts more to part with cash than to swipe a credit card…and that's a good thing!

Narrow Your Options. It's a proven behavioral fact: too many options cause confusion—whether that's entrées on a menu or mutual funds for your 401(k). One way to deal with this phenomenon is to identify a price range you're comfortable with and stick to it. When you're debating over what kind of a car to buy, and you know you only want to spend $18,000 to $25,000 soup to nuts, confine yourself to just a few vehicles in that price range. Don't cross the $25,000 threshold. Stick to your guns. When you look at cars beyond $25,000, temptation kicks in and you try to justify spending more than initially planned (or than you can afford).

Pre-commit to Saving. Do you want to save but seem to come up dry at the end of the month? A pre-commitment to paying yourself first and saving automatically in your employer's 401(k) plan before you get your paycheck will ensure that you save well.

CARRIE: And finally, you've written your book for young adults, but isn't a lot of your advice equally valid for older folks?

FARNOOSH: I believe anyone at any age can benefit from practical and actionable financial advice, which is what I hope my book ultimately provides.

Important Disclosures

Farnoosh Torabi and CBS MarketWatch are not affiliated with Charles Schwab & Co., Inc.

The information provided here is for general informational purposes only and should not be considered an individualized recommendation or personalized investment advice. The type of securities and investment strategies mentioned may not be suitable for everyone. Each investor needs to review a security transaction and investment strategy for his or her own particular situation. Data contained here is obtained from what are considered reliable sources. However, its accuracy, completeness or reliability cannot be guaranteed.

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The information on this website is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice. Where specific advice is necessary or appropriate, consult with a qualified tax advisor, CPA, financial planner or investment manager.

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