Dollars and Sense
I've been giving college-savings advice for more than two decades. As a financial journalist, I've covered the subject for more business publications, major newspapers, personal-finance monthlies and women's magazines than I can recall.
One might naturally assume that by the time our son, Max, left for the University of Pennsylvania two years ago (projected expenses: $160,000), my husband and I would have been well prepared to pay for his degree, and to foot the bill for his younger sister, Emma, when it was her time to go. Not quite. Really, not at all. Our tuition-savings account didn't even add up to the price of a used minivan.
Okay, it's time for me to confess: I don't always follow my own financial preaching. There. I said it.
And I am not alone among the pros, with whom the "save as I say, not as I save" philosophy is as common as coins between sofa cushions. Just ask Candace Bahr, a San Diego-based financial adviser who cofounded the Women's Institute for Financial Education (WIFE). She's also the coauthor of It's More Than Money -- It's Your Life (Wiley, 2003), a book that touts budgeting as a key tool in handling one's finances. "Devising a budget may seem a daunting task," the planner assures readers, "but it isn't that difficult."
For her, it's especially not that difficult: She never bothered to plot one for herself.
Muriel Siebert is a legend among successful executives. She was the first woman to have a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and to serve as New York State's superintendent of banks. "I advise people to put money into a retirement account every month," she says. "A good rule of thumb is to put in a sum equal to the most expensive piece of clothing you bought that month." But the chairman and founder of Siebert Financial Corporation didn't exactly follow her own advice: "I never put money into a retirement account," she acknowledges.
Of course, her career was so brilliant that the balance in her checking account would likely provide more than enough for any pensioner's golden years. But Siebert knows that it might not have ended up that way. "There was no law saying I would have all the money I would need as I got older."