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January 25, 2012

The Rich Girl's Money Rules to Live By

Want to earn more? Spend smarter? Live a glamorous life? Take charge of your money with our financial cheat sheet.

money in box

Photo Credit: Bill Diodato

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Forget old-fashioned scrimping and saving. We asked top experts and polled a clique of super-successful women for their advice on how to make the most of what you've got — and earn even more. Check out the newest tricks to get wealthier (or at least get on your way...

Follow these basic guidelines and you'll never worry about money again:

ASSESS WHAT YOU'VE GOT. Know where your money goes each month and you'll feel instantly on top of things. The quickest way to do it? Sign up for a free site like mint.com. You'll enter information for each credit card, bank account, retirement plan, loan, and investment; your account updates with every transaction to give you the latest picture of your finances in a colorful, easy-to-read format.

MAKE A BUDGET. Throw out that calculator. All you need now for a simple budget is your iPhone and one of the scores of low-cost apps that will keep you in the smart-spending zone. Try Spend ($.99), which displays what you can blow for the day, week, or month; Expenditure ($1.99), which has a currency converter for vacation money management; or iXpenseIt ($4.99), which lets you store receipts digitally and even alerts you to upcoming bills before they're due.

MAXIMIZE YOUR PAYCHECK. Take pretax dollars from your salary to ensure you have funds for things you need. A flexible spending account (FSA) lets you pay for health expenses like contact lenses or acupuncture (a woman making $50,000 a year who puts $2,500 in her FSA could get a tax savings of $625); a transportation-benefit account earmarks several hundred bucks a month for commuting; a 401(k) invests a portion of your salary for retirement.

DITCH CREDIT-CARD DEBT. If you carry a balance — $10,000 or even $1,000 — paying it off is a priority, says Alexa Von Tobel, founder of learnvest.com, a personal-finance site for women. Many cards have six-month introductory rates of zero percent, which later reset higher. Transfer your balance to one of those, and for half a year pay it down with every penny (skipping retirement savings). Close the card once your debt is paid. "Emotionally, you'll fee so much better."

STAY ON TOP OF YOUR BILLS. Create an e-mail account — like janiesbills@gmail.com — for electronic bill-delivery. Set up calendar alerts for each vendor three days before payment is due so you can read the statement and fix mistakes, like inflated restaurant tips. (Von Tobel says they're not uncommon.) Forget automatic transfers — "bills have errors!" says von Tobel. "You need to check them."

Women and Money by the Numbers*

We peeked into the wallets of U.S. women ages 18 to 34. See how you stack up!

2.3 credit cards per woman

43%have credit-card debt of $10,000 or more

23%saved up at least three months' expenses (compared with 34% of men)

The New Money Rules You know how not everything your parents told you is true? That goes for money, too! Experts toss the old rules and share how to get ahead now

THEN: Invest in real estate

NOW: Rent, rent, rent!

"The American dream is changing: People have lost so much money buying homes. The new key is job stability and a solid savings account, not property investment."

— Farnoosh Torabi, money coach and contributor to Yahoo Finance and MoneyWatch

THEN: Go to graduate school

NOW: Take an adult-education course

"We all used to just assume we'd pay for grad school later. But tuition has sky-rocketed; the debt follows you forever. Try a professional development class instead."

— Catey Hill, author of SHOO, Jimmy Choo! The Modern Girl's Guide to Spending Less and Saving More

THEN: Date or marry up

NOW: Be your own breadwinner

"A man is not a financial plan. So many women's husbands and boyfriends have been laid off. It's more important than ever that we take charge of our own finances."

— Manisha Thakor, coauthor of Get Financially Naked: How to Talk Money With Your Honey

The Biggest Money Mistake You Can Make

"Paying too much in rent! There's no quicker way to erode your financial foundation than moving to a new city after college and splurging on a place you can't afford. The rule of thumb: No more than 30 percent of your post-tax salary should go to rent or mortgage. So get roommates or commute farther to work, but don't start your financial life out of balance." — Alexa von Tobel (left), founder of learnvest.com


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