Stephanie Swilley

Women may be the great communicators, but given the state of the economy, it’s no surprise that ladies aren’t clamoring to talk about personal finances. And January may top the list of the worst months to come out of the cave of denial as the post-holiday bills start pouring in.

To face your financial statement with less fear, we’ve found three books that mix self-help, financial how-to and a big dose of female sensibility. Each of these accessible books recommends opening up about money, and they give you the advice you need to make the conversations a little easier—whether it’s with your spouse, financial advisor or debt collector.

To get you inspired to take charge of your wealth (start with positive thinking!) in 2010, pick up Live It, Love It, Earn It: A Woman’s Guide to Financial Freedom. Marianna Olszewski, a popular money and lifestyle coach with years of Wall Street experience, writes in an engaging style that educates without being overwhelming.

Olszewski focuses first on maximizing your potential to achieve financial independence by finding balance in all areas of life (diet, sleep, exercise) and adding more fun to the everyday. It feels a bit like you’ve wandered into a “best life” episode of “Oprah,” but it succeeds in energizing and opening your mind to new possibilities. Part two then gets into the financial practicalities of dealing with debt, cleaning up credit and saving for retirement. However, Olszewski goes beyond the basics by coaching the reader on uncovering why and how their individual money histories got them where they are today. She includes activities and questions to defuse emotions around money and even suggests that it’s OK to love money. The personalized “fun spending plan” reframes the money perspective to make it less boring than following a basic budget.

The final strategies focus on action, and the interactive approach helps you make the most of the advice. Whether you do it on your own, inspired by the personal stories from powerful women in the book, or start a group to work on the exercises together, Live It, Love It, Earn It will energize how you think about—and act on—money.

While you’re still feeling empowered, tackle Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money with Your Honey. This succinct guide teaches women in committed relationships how to talk successfully about money with their mate—without fighting. It’s no surprise that many gals simply avoid this tough conversation, since 85 percent of all couples say money causes tension in their marriage (according to Money magazine). But, while the conversation may not be appropriate for a first date, authors Manisha Thakor and Sharon Kedar say it’s a must to discuss what you own, what you owe, your income and your credit scores before moving in together or getting married. No problem, right?

Start by baring all and getting naked with yourself first, then warm up to doing it with your partner. Helpful “foreplay” questions get the ball rolling, and the financial compatibility quiz is revealing and eye-opening. The authors are refreshingly honest, reassuring the reader that you don’t have to love—or even like—dealing with money to be successful. Their best advice is that personal finance should be simple. Focus on the big stuff: house, car, kids, retirement and family. And the common sense, straightforward advice on these five key lifetime expenses makes it truly seem easy. It’s having the courage to have the “get naked” talk before saying “I do” that is really powerful. The roadmap developed by Thakor and Kedar helps readers navigate these landmine conversations and get to happily ever after.

Another distinctive female perspective on financial independence is A Purse of Your Own. It’s based on a metaphor we can all relate to: an impulsive splurge on a designer bag to fool everyone into thinking we have it all put together. This is what author and wealth coach Deborah Owens calls a “counterfeit purse.”

With 20 years of financial industry experience, Owens turns the purse metaphor into a wealth philosophy and provides tips, action steps and “purseonality profiles” for her seven must-have wealthy habits. It starts with cleaning out that purse to cultivate a Wealthy Outlook that allows you to dream big again. The remaining habits teach the basics of investing, with a heavy focus on owning stocks.

Some of the best advice comes at the end as Owens details how to start your own Purse Club and covers nine “pursessentials. ” The no-nonsense tips on hiring a financial planner, speaking the financial lingo and establishing your daughter’s purse allow you to start putting your new wealth habits into practice with confidence.

Pick up any of these valuable books to start your purse makeover in 2010.

Stephanie Gerber writes from Kentucky, where her purse has turned into a diaper bag.

Women may be the great communicators, but given the state of the economy, it’s no surprise that ladies aren’t clamoring to talk about personal finances. And January may top the list of the worst months to come out of the cave of denial as the post-holiday bills start pouring in. To face your financial statement […]

The name Nevada Barr may sound like the perfect moniker for a spirited heroine or a Vegas showgirl, but Ms. Barr's legions of fans know she's the author of an intelligent, suspenseful mystery series set in various national parks. A former actress and National Park Service ranger, Barr didn't use her own name when she created her alter ego Anna Pigeon, but she readily admits she was the model for the sassy sleuth.

 
"She was based on me — except she was taller and stronger and smarter and braver," laughs the petite author. Barr channeled her feisty, independent spirit and love of nature into the intrepid park ranger's roving mystery-solving adventures. Whether it be Colorado's Mesa Verde National Park or New York City's Gateways Park, when Anna arrives, disaster seems to strike. Along the way the heroine has faced raging wildfires, battled claustrophobia in a cave rescue and even saved the Statue of Liberty.
 
But Barr admits that over the years "we've evolved in different ways, so now she is very little like me." While Anna Pigeon battled alcohol dependence and slowly became more of a work-oriented loner, Barr grew "more whimsical, more lackadaisical, lazier, happier. I've rejoined humanity, and Anna has no intention of getting near it," she says.
 
Anna's increasing isolation is even more apparent in Blood Lure, Barr's latest mystery. This time Anna travels to Waterton-Glacier National Park in the Rockies to join a grizzly bear research project. While gathering samples of bear fur and DNA in the wilderness with two other researchers, Anna's peace of mind is shattered by a violent bear attack. The woman who has always turned to nature for comfort and solitude finds her world turned upside down.
 
"The big thing in Blood Lure that makes her seem isolated is that it's not people that seem to be warped and twisted, it's nature itself. Suddenly the place she's always gone to find peace has been screwed up," Barr explains.
 
Often praised for her arresting depictions of park scenery, Barr's keen psychological insight is even more impressive. She's able to communicate the grandness of the wilderness and then nimbly magnify the smallest gestures and details of her characters into funny, dead-on descriptions. "I just find it riveting why people do things," says the avid student of the human mind. "That's one of the things that makes life so interesting."
 
The National Park Service isn't worried about Barr tampering with their tourist business by scaring off would-be campers. She's become a sort of park poster girl, with rangers and superintendents vying to be considered for her next setting. That's how she wound up in Glacier, the "stunning" park she's "been wanting an excuse to visit for some time."
 
Deciding on the setting was the easy part. Then Barr waited for the story to come to her, plunging in with no idea how the ending would come together.
 
"All I know when I start is who dies, where they die, how they die and usually I know who did it," she says. "But sometimes I'm wrong, and in the middle I realize, he didn't do it. My gosh, it was this other guy!"
 
Her write-now-and-worry-later attitude has filled several drawers with scrapped ideas. "I tried once, years ago, to outline it all like a grown-up and write a synopsis for every chapter, and it read like the English assignment from hell," she admits. "Every bit of spontaneity got sucked right out." One failed attempt includes a prison book with a cast of male characters. "About 60 pages in I realized, Wait a minute, these are all men, what do I care? So I dropped it."
 
Barr had hoped to take a break from the Anna series and go in a different direction with her next book, but the success of her 2000 release, Deep South, changed her mind.
 
"The need to do [a different book] is getting stronger and stronger, but the money they'll give me not to do it is getting better and better," Barr admits with a laugh. So in her next adventure, Anna is heading back to the Natchez Trace Parkway to catch more criminals and to continue her semi-serious relationship with a local sheriff.
 
"I have to balance artistic integrity with material greed," Barr says ruefully. "Material greed won this time, but I'm hoping artistic integrity will win in the next few years." But for Anna's many fans, Barr seems to have the balance just right.

 

The name Nevada Barr may sound like the perfect moniker for a spirited heroine or a Vegas showgirl, but Ms. Barr's legions of fans know she's the author of an intelligent, suspenseful mystery series set in various national parks. A former actress and National Park Service ranger, Barr didn't use her own name when she […]

Usually it's the diva author who breezes in late for an interview. This time it's the interviewer, offering a multitude of apologies, who calls 40 minutes late. In the face of myriad technical difficulties, Irish novelist Emma Donoghue couldn't be more sympathetic and generous. "No problem!" she says in her lilting accent, adding almost apologetically, "but can we be done by 10:30? I have a photographer coming to take a picture of me."

With a new book hitting the shelves, a media whirlwind is already disrupting Donoghue's routine. The interest in her latest work follows the critical and popular success of her third novel Slammerkin. Reviewers called it "a roller-coaster ride through the 18th century" (The Baltimore Sun) and "an intelligent and mesmerizing historical novel" (Publishers Weekly). Thousands of readers were drawn to the provocative cover, making the book into a word-of-mouth bestseller.

In Slammerkin, Donoghue turned the true story of Mary Saunders, a poor servant girl who turns to prostitution, into absorbing fiction. With her latest book, Life Mask, Donoghue returns to 18th-century London, but this time her characters are the wealthy and privileged. The author says she enjoyed delving into the world of lords and ladies "after writing about chamber pots" in Slammerkin. "These characters wouldn't even have noticed the servants of Slammerkin," she says.

Like the story of Mary Saunders, Life Mask is based on real-life events. The author found a snippet of gossip about three famous characters of the era Lord Derby, a supremely wealthy but ugly aristocrat; Miss Eliza Farren, a popular comedic actress; and Anne Damer, a widow, sculptor and rumored Sapphist and couldn't resist piecing together their story. History tells us that Anne Damer and Miss Farren, despite differences in ages and rank, became fast friends. Their close relationship revived the old gossip about Anne's sexuality, and the ensuing scandal threatened Miss Farren's career on the public stage and, more importantly, her long, chaste courtship with Lord Derby. "I was fascinated by the love triangle," says Donoghue. "I'm not sure why I'm drawn to stories based on real people. I guess I enjoy filling in the gaps."

She also uses that talent to create rich, full characters. Stifled by the rules of propriety, even the era's richest lords and ladies often hid their true thoughts and feelings. However, these "life masks" are not necessarily a bad thing, says Donoghue. "I enjoyed peeling back the layers of the characters." She felt a special affinity for Anne Damer's struggle to accept her sexuality. "I related to Anne's fear of people finding out," says the author, who had her own coming-out in Dublin in the 1980s. Despite having loving family and friends, Donoghue says there was always a "what if they find out?" fear that hung over her youth. The author now lives in Canada, a country she says is a "very safe place for gay couples," with her partner and nine-month-old son, Finn.

Donoghue's empathy for the characters gives the novel added depth, but it is her love of research that recreates the time period with astonishing detail. The author admits she has a hard time dragging herself out of the library to sit down and write. Donoghue immersed herself in the turbulent decade of 1787 to 1797, an era of extravagant balls, social intrigues, cockfighting and, perhaps most of all, cutthroat politics. The reader gets a front-row seat inside an English Parliament threatened by the bloody French Revolution. Fearing a similar revolt among English peasants, the government had cracked down on civil liberties.

Threats of attacks hung over the country, and the word terrorism was first coined. The similarities to today's political climate are hard to miss, something that surprised Donoghue. "I never set out to do that," she says. "But I've also never been as interested in politics as I am now." After Life Mask, Donoghue has decided to give modern-day interests her full attention. Next up? A contemporary novel set in Ireland and Canada.

 

Usually it's the diva author who breezes in late for an interview. This time it's the interviewer, offering a multitude of apologies, who calls 40 minutes late. In the face of myriad technical difficulties, Irish novelist Emma Donoghue couldn't be more sympathetic and generous. "No problem!" she says in her lilting accent, adding almost apologetically, […]

When my aunt bought a used BMW on eBay last year, I thought she was crazy. Buying a book or a pair of pants online isn't scary anymore, but do people really put down thousands on a big-ticket item like a car, truck or boat sight unseen? The answer is yes: for a growing number of car buyers, purchasing a car on eBay isn't crazy behavior at all it's an excellent way to get a good deal. Buyers purchased more than 300,000 vehicles in 2002 via eBay's newest online auction site, eBay Motors. Twice as many vehicles were sold in 2003, and buyer demand continues to outpace supply. Joseph Sinclair and Don Spillane, both longtime eBay gurus, teamed up to write eBay Motors the Smart Way to give both buyers and sellers tips on how to finance, what to test drive, and when to walk away. BookPage caught up with Sinclair to find out more about saving a bundle without getting stuck with a lemon.

You stress that buyers must do their homework before bidding. What do they need to do to be prepared? Understand what type of car they need and the price range in which they can purchase a car. The other part is looking up the value of the car on one of the online pricing services (e.g., Kelly Blue Book).

How can buyers avoid getting a lemon when buying a car in another state? They can buy an online car check for $5-$10, which lists the documented history of the vehicle (from public records such as the DMV).

They can also have a mechanic check the vehicle for $75-$100 to determine what kind of operating condition it's in. This is usually done as a contingency to the purchase when the buyer picks up the vehicle (or before).

Why do sellers stop auctions before the time is up? How can buyers avoid a cancelled auction? A seller can terminate an auction at any time prior to completion so long as no one has reached the Buy It Now price, if one exists. A buyer can stop an auction from being cancelled by bidding the Buy It Now price, if one exists.

The book covers car selling on eBay as if it were a negotiation rather than an auction. Why? First, the price of the vehicle is one element of the sale. If you buy from a used car dealer, there are several more elements to negotiate (e.g., financing). Second, many dealers remove the vehicle from an auction as soon as someone makes an acceptable offer. Often that someone is a person who sees the auction on eBay and makes an offer off eBay. Thus, the entire transaction is negotiated, and the auction is never completed.

Do bidding strategies work in car auctions? Bidding strategies are overrated. No matter how any of the bidders bid, the guy who is willing to bid the most usually wins. There are lots of bidding strategies, but they are all subject to the above statement. The best auction strategy is the same for both buyers and sellers. That's know the value.

Can you still find a great deal on eBay? Absolutely! Cadillac Devilles cost about $50,000 new. See what they sell for on eBay. There are over 200 available today. I just saw one six years old with about 40,000 miles for $9,000. That's hardly broken in. Don't get a black one, though, or everyone will think you're just the chauffeur as you drive it around town.

When my aunt bought a used BMW on eBay last year, I thought she was crazy. Buying a book or a pair of pants online isn't scary anymore, but do people really put down thousands on a big-ticket item like a car, truck or boat sight unseen? The answer is yes: for a growing number […]

<B>Ben Stein's winning tips on managing your money</B> Ben Stein wants to ruin your financial life. The 59-year-old economist and soon-to-be reality TV show star has added another volume to his <I>How to Ruin Your Life</I> series with a hilarious look at our 55 most common bad financial habits, including shopping as therapy, maxing out credit cards (then getting new ones) and finding an "angle" to make money rather than working hard. BookPage recently caught up with Stein in California to find out which lessons he learned the hard way. Stein admits he has been guilty of #39: if your investment program isn't producing good results, keep doing the same thing anyway. "For years and years I thought I could pick stocks better than the indexes and I couldn't. When I started buying the indexes my life improved dramatically." Stein's 16-year-old son doesn't need Dad's book because he "makes every single mistake he can possibly make, in every regard, therefore I feel it is my duty to earn as much money as I can to try to protect him after I'm dead." <B>So your son hasn't learned from the financial master?</B> [No,] he is very stingy with other people but he's unbelievably lavish with himself. His capacity for spending money is mind-boggling. And I should say I also am a wild over-spender. Wild, wild, wild over-spender. But I earn a great deal of money so it makes it possible for me to be an over-spender. I don't overspend compared to my income, whereas my son overspends by any standard.

<B>What do you spend the money on?</B> A lot of it is spending, but it is really concealed saving. For example, I have four mortgage payments a month but really they're saving because once they're paid off I'll own those houses.

I give an awful lot of money out to people. But anyone who's reading this, please don't call and ask me for money. I only give money to people I actually know and have met. I give out an awful lot of money to close friends, who are sad, heart-rending people.

<B>So you're not the sarcastic guy you play on TV?</B> I'm the softest touch in the world. I'm very, very, very emotional. I cry more than anyone I've ever met, except I guess . . . no, I don't know anyone who cries as much as I do. And to be as emotional as I am and to manage to keep myself out of insolvency is no small task. In many ways this book is aimed at me. In many ways this book is written to me, by me, reminding me of things not to do.

<B>Your father told you, "Benji, live prudently." What other advice did he give you?</B> It's interesting, he said that to me, and it actually turned out to be terrible advice. It's good advice up to a point, but he talked me out of buying several pieces of property, which, had I bought them, I would have made so much money on them it's insane. I believe it's possible that I may have been too prudent.

<B>Don't we need to keep spending to support the economy?</B> No! That is not your responsibility. Your responsibility in the free enterprise system is to yourself, to make your own life as prudent as possible. Don't worry, there will be plenty of other people spending, so don't feel that you have to spend to prop up the economy.

<B>Do you think the government's growing deficit is bad for the country's finances?</B> It doesn't bother me in the slightest. I think there's some limit to how much of a deficit we can have, but we're not even close to that limit. But the same is not true for individuals. It is extremely vital that individuals not be in a deficit position. Individuals cannot print money to pay for their expenses and to pay for the running of their households the way the government can. Individuals cannot tax other people to make up their deficits in the future, so don't compare yourself to the government. In real life, you should definitely not go into debt. Definitely, definitely do not go into debt unless you absolutely have to.

<B>Do you play the lottery?</B> No, I used to play the lottery because I used to be the spokesman for the California lottery and I felt as if it was my duty to play the lottery.

<B>Any stock tips for us?</B> Buy the diamonds. The diamonds are the index of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and just buy them on a consistent basis, month in and month out, and over long periods of time you'll make plenty of money.

<B>You've figured out how to ruin your finances and love life. What's next?</B> I think my next one is going to be <I>How to Ruin Your Parents' Life</I>. Is that a good one? Just thinking about it makes me laugh.

<B>Ben Stein's winning tips on managing your money</B> Ben Stein wants to ruin your financial life. The 59-year-old economist and soon-to-be reality TV show star has added another volume to his <I>How to Ruin Your Life</I> series with a hilarious look at our 55 most common bad financial habits, including shopping as therapy, maxing out […]

Ã"Trading Spaces' hunk hammers out a home repair guide Ty Pennington, the handyman heartthrob from the hit television show Trading Spaces, is looking for a little respect. He's an adorable goofball, one of People magazine's sexiest bachelors, and he keeps millions of women glued to the tube. But the guy famous for filling out a tool belt wants to do a little redesign on his own image.

"People don't realize that I'm more of a designer than a carpenter," he says. "I'm a cross between Martha Stewart and MacGyver, so I'm going to change my name to Stewart MacGyver." Obviously Ty doesn't take himself too seriously, and the wacky sensibility in his new book, Ty's Tricks, was in full force in a recent BookPage interview. Peppering the conversation with "dude" and "awesome!" the Atlanta native with a surfer vocabulary shows an enthusiasm for home repair that's infectious. In fact, we spent five minutes on the merits of a "killer toilet" from American Standard called the Tower of Power. "This thing is so bad ass," he says. "I'm telling ya man, it's incredible." After reining in Ty's tangents, we got back to the book he describes as "a home-work handbook for screw-it and do-it-yourselfers" that embraces the "cheap and easy" mantra. The first chapter shows off Ty's renovation of his own home, a process that cost him a mere $10,000. A real fixer-upper, the design challenge on a shoestring budget brought out Ty's talents and creativity, and the designer relishes letting readers into his house for a change.

"People will finally get to see me in a different light, not just the carpenter who makes you laugh. It's more like, wow, this guy has some style and knows what he's doing." Even the Trading Spaces cast of designers was impressed with his work, Ty says with satisfaction.

The results are irreverent kitchen lights made out of plungers, a salad bowl sink and a faux bamboo forest but ingenious. Before-and-after shots show the amazing results of the modernized bachelor pad (along with a full page of the sudsy stud in the shower). The self-described "penny-pinching freak" loves "making something for nothing and making it really special. What I do is make crap, craptastic. Let's be honest." He describes his furniture style as "modern primitive, which is an oxymoron, which is so much like me. Really modern clean lines but it's made in a primitive way." His furniture has an Asian minimalist feel with a touch of Swiss Family Robinson thrown in. "It's funny, in my brain I think I see things very simply, but I like to be surrounded by chaos at the same time. I'm kind of like the Zen eye in the middle of the hurricane." Chapter two of the book gets into nitty-gritty plans for eclectic projects, which Ty says was key because "so many people come up to me and say, Ã"Dude, I hate your guts. My wife loves you. Just kidding. Dude, you gotta come over and build us some furniture.'" That house call isn't likely to happen considering this carpenter's busy schedule. Ty just finished taping 10 new Trading Spaces episodes; he also makes and sells incense holders and such on his website (www.

Tythehandyguy.com) and runs a furniture company called FU. Ty's Tricks fills the gap where the show leaves off.

"You get such a positive reaction and realize that people are actually trying [to build] some of the stuff," says Ty, but "there's a lot on [Trading Spaces] that they don't show. I guess they just find it boring or it gets edited out. And there's so many tricks that I know." Building a backyard treehouse as a kid started Ty's passion for home repair, but he never expected to turn his handyman skills into a career. "It's just something I've always fallen back on," he says. "I never really meant for [carpentry] to be my long-term career goal." He studied graphic design for a couple of years but quit to model in Japan. After 10 years of globetrotting, he moved back to Atlanta and started renovating a warehouse with his brother. Exactly one year later the call came for a crazy carpenter for a new TV show, and Ty knew it would be the perfect job. He loves showing off his creative side and at the same time being "my crazy little self." Ty may be a ham, but he knows his place on the show. "I have to just kind of shut up and build whatever," he says, while conceding that "if they're going to do a room that's completely hideous, by all means, I'm really going to help them out to make sure they never do that again." Those "what were they thinking?" designs have helped Trading Spaces attract millions of viewers, earn an Emmy nomination and spawn a publishing powerhouse. So which of the show's designers would Ty let loose in his home? "None of the above, just because I know them all too well. . . . But I guarantee that some would have to stick with yard maintenance." "Hildi [Santo-Tomas] has definitely got a creative gene in her that's insane. What's great is that she knows it's a TV show, so she pushes the envelope. You can't keep doing the same room every time, like some designers; you gotta branch out and do some crazy stuff." Ty may know what makes good TV, but fortunately his book focuses on the practical. "I want everything to be a project that you can put together yourself and you can change depending on your tastes, so that everyone can become part of the creative solution. That's the only way I stay happy." Is it just a matter of time before the master of beer budget transformations becomes the star of Trading Spaces II? "Who knows," Ty says, "maybe I'll become a designer on a show like that, and instead of $1,000, we'll do it for $100."

Ã"Trading Spaces' hunk hammers out a home repair guide Ty Pennington, the handyman heartthrob from the hit television show Trading Spaces, is looking for a little respect. He's an adorable goofball, one of People magazine's sexiest bachelors, and he keeps millions of women glued to the tube. But the guy famous for filling out a […]

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