Color of Money Live

Jan 03, 2013

Join The Washington Post nationally syndicated personal finance columnist Michelle Singletary Thurs. Jan. 3 at noon ET. Singletary will be discussing the Color of Money Book Club December selection, "Amazing Things Will Happen: A Real-World Guide on Achieving Success & Happiness" by C.C. Chapman. Chapman will be Singletary's guest and available to take your questions about his book. During the chat, Singletary will also be available to answer your personal finance questions.

Michelle's latest columns:
- Get it right in 2013
- Michelle's weekly email newsletter - New Year, Big Fiscal Changes
- Michelle's column on Chapman's book

I'm so pleased you could all join me for the first live Color of Money chat for 2013. I have a guest, C.C. Chapman who can take your questions about making changes in the New Year. Let's get started.

Hello Michelle, I wrote in a few months ago, asking your advice on what to do about what I had left of student loans, and if I should deplete my savings to pay them off entirely. I have a very secure job (federal), and no other debt besides my mortgage. Well, after much pondering, I decided to start 2013 off right, and I paid them off entirely this morning!!! It feels so good to know that, except for the mortgage, I am entirely DEBT FREE!!! Thank you for all your wonderful advice and encouragement. I read your column all the time, and it has served as a wonderful guide. :) Happy New Year!

I just had to start off the chat with this great testimony.

Starting off 2013 debt-free except the mortgage is a wonderful way to being the New Year. So proud of you!

Happy New Year to you too. 

And if anyone else has a testimony, send it on!

Can you explain more what you mean by being a "Passion Hit?" And is it really possible in this economy?

I think right now is the perfect time for people to take something they love doing and turning it into their livlihood which is what a Passion Hit is.

If you need examples take a look at Passion Hit TV where I profile people doing exactly that and I haven't had any shortage of finding people.

It is never an easy time, but if you are out of work or only working a job to pay the bills then you should be looking to do something you love doing right? Yes, you have to make sure the bills are paid for, but I think anyone would prefer doing what they love doing for work rather than only doing it because they have to.

I think we are going to see many more people starting businesses directly because they can't find work. I'm not an economist, but when people need money they get creative and finding a way to start a business no matter how small is a great option. 

The trick is that you must figure out a way to make a business of it. Not all hobbies magically turn into money making ventures.

How can I get a couple of an audio version of Amazing Things Will Happen? Bob the Green Guy

I just recorded the audiobook two weeks ago and it is scheduled to be released in Q1 of this year, but I don't have a date yet. Sorry.

Keep tuned to or follow me on Twitter @CC_Chapman and you can be sure I'll share as soon as I know. 

Hi, Michelle. My husband and I are still struggling from the economic downturn and, even with help from charities (very hard to accept), family and friends, could not give our 4 and 5 year old daughters a very nice Christmas. After assuring them that they had been very good, which is true -- they are wonderful children -- one of thjem said, I guess Santa only likes rich kids. So we had to explain that Santa is a spirit of goodness but parents and others actually provide the gifts. Now their friends' parents are mad at us for having done so. I believe you grew up in somewhat reduced circumstances and am wondeering how Big Mama handled this. Not to make ighjt of your situation, but I think it might be easier if others weren't showing off their expensive goodies. Who gives a 5 year old an iPad? Some of our neighbors that's who. It makes us very sad.

First, I'm so sorry you are struggling. But you have nothing to be ashamed about for deciding it was time to be upfront about Santa given your situation. So if other parents try to make you feel guilty, don't take the bait. You did what was best for your family. 

Now two things. I agree that many parents overidulge their kids and I agree with you that I don't see the sense in giving a 5 year old an iPad. I wouldn't do it even if I had it like that. 

But others do have it like that. They may have savings, no debt, college fund, etc and feel they are in the position to give lavishly to their child. That's their right, just like it's your to try and explain that your kids about Santa. Are people really showing off their stuff or just using it? 

You have to explain to your children (and yourself) that others are doing better but it's not a reflection on you or them. 

I understand you are sad for you and your kids. I was sad often. I remember well while in college watching as the young women in my dorm went off to dinner with their parents on weekends. I had to send money home. It made me sad. But I just resolved to do the best with what I had. My grandmother couldn't afford to take me to dinner. She couldn't afford to give us a lot of gifts at Christmas. But we still had a good holiday with what little we did get. 

Keep the focus on your love and the family. They may not understand now, but they will. I did.

What makes your advice better than others who try to motivate people to achieve financial success?

I can't tell you that mine is any better than anyone elses. I actually say that right up front in the book.

The book I wrote was to collect what has helped me be successful in life. It is a guidebook and nothing else. 

But, I do believe that every single person can read the book and come away with the motivation and inspiration to try to live a more fulfilling life. 

In your book you talk about carrying around a notebook. Why? With all our smartphones, etc. what the need for paper?

Great question and I'm a big fan of my iPhone and never leave the house without it.

But, as much as I love technology and am rarely far from it there is something very different about writing things down by hand. You still can't doodle, take notes, sketch and collaborate on a device as well as you can in a notebook.

That being said, I do love Evernote and use it a lot to grab my thoughts and other things I see. That in combination with hand written notes are how I keep my mind straight and collect everything from ideas to brainstorming out new books.

My employer has had a few layoffs and I think it is coming around again. What do I do if I think I am in the crosshairs? How should I handle my debt? Pay the minimum on credit cards that I usually pay off? Hoard all the cash I can? Cancel my 401k with no matching? Should I buy my own life insurance policy? If you have a check list please help. Thank you!! Happy New Year to you and yours!

You are doing exactly the right thing but looking ahead to what could be a hard time. For the time being, I would hoard cash. If you pay off the cards every month, pay off the next bill and then you should also stop charging anything! Start living as if you might be laid off to see where you can cut quickly. 

I would double check the life insurance policy. It may be portable, meaning you can pay your own premiums should you lose your job. Check with the insurance company. If the insurance ends with the job, you should get a supplemental policy if you can.

I don't mean live in fear, just start being smarter about the cash going out. Ask yourself everytime you spend any money if it's a need or a want. 

If it turns out that you don't lose your job, you will still be in a better position because you would have hopefully cut any fat in your budget.

Where do you fall on the value of a master's degree? I'm at the point where I feel like I should get one (my career options with my bachelor's degree are limited at best) and have been told that a lot of jobs open up with any master's degree; it doesn't matter which one. But I'm pretty wary of that statement and don't want to waste my time getting a degree that will put me right back where I'm at now - getting paid very little in a dying industry (which I actually love, unfortunately). I know I could pick a master's in careers that are growing leaps and bounds and paying well, but from what I've seen, none of them interest me. So I'm in the position of trying to decide if the degree programs I'm interested in would be worth the financial and time commitment. So where do you fall on this? Any suggestions on resources that would help me weigh each degree program? I wondered if paying a career counselor would be helpful, but right now I'm pretty skeptical of them.

It is hard to answer this without knowing what sort of career you want.

Some fields most certainly open up when you have an MBA. That is a fact that can't be disputed. 

But, there are plenty that don't. It is more about the person, their skills, drive and wants than it is about any piece of paper.

I think you first have to clearly determine what kind of job you want. Your question almost feels like you are looking to get whatever degree will get you a good job. That is fine if all you want is a paycheck, but how many years before you are unhappy with that?

Once you know the industry you want to go in and have some schools you are considering, talk to their career councilors who should be more than willing to discuss the market with you.

It is never bad to have more education, but never feel you must have an MBA only because someone told you that you should.

I agree with C.C. I frequently get mail from folks who have a graduate degree and a ton of debt only to find that the degree didn't get them any more dough. If you want to stay in your field, talk to hiring managers and HR folks about the value of an advanced degree. With more information you can then determine if it's worth the effort. I would NOT take on debt for it. If there's a possibility of higher pay, start saving and pay cash for the degree. That way if you don't get more pay, you aren't saddled with a lot of debt. You still get a good education but without the burden of debt.

Self-help authors are always saying people should "take stock" to make a change. What does that really mean? And why would it work? I mean people are in trouble because they can't do self examination so isn't telling them to do self-examination nonsense? Futile?

It MAY be futile because if they are already in trouble than they haven't done something right in the past.

But, with that being said it IS the first step towards improving your current situation.

If you don't know where are at and where you want to get to than there is no way that you can plan out a strategy and approach to make it all happen.

It isn't easy at all and it does take a lot of time, dedication and work, but I do believe anyone can do it if they are determined enough.

Being a long time federal employee, I feel like we have lived under the threat of govt. shutdown furloughs forever, but they have never actually happened to me. I've always told my younger colleagues that it will all get worked out in the end, but this time really feels different. Should we all hunker down and stop spending? That's what the Congress ignores. Just the threat of a cliff/ crisis/ debt default hurts the economy when people like me stop spending.

I never ever take my job for granted. So I save what I can to live long enough to get some kind of job to at least pay the basics -- roof over my head, food, utitlities. Sometime things don't work out. So it is always good to plan for the worse and hope for the best.

Have any of your eager followers created a workbook to accompany the text? It deviates from your notebook methodology, but would provide a better framework for going though the ideations and making linkages between them.

They haven't yet, but have you been reading MY notebook because this is something I'm in the process of putting together. 

You just confirmed that it is a good idea. Thank you.

Could you please have the link to your column on Chapman's book fixed. Clicking gets me nowhere nor does a search on WaPo. Thank you.

So sorry for the broken link. Here' a link that should work.



You suggest choosing three words to keep your focus. Your examples are rather broad. Can you elaborate on some words you have found useful in past and how you used those through year to achieve your goals?

I had to keep them broad because I knew the audience for the book would come from all walks of life. 

If curious, I just posted my three words for 2013 which are Menu, Build and Minimize. Also, I saw this Pinterest board collecting others. 

The thing with this exercise is that it is up to you to determine how broad or narrow to make the words because in my case I like to keep them open and with more than one meaning so that I don't box mysef in.

For example a few years ago one of my words was Create and that was big for me because it gave me permission to create new things. I took more photos, starting making more videos and began to create the idea that grew into the book.

That could have simply been Photos and been more narrowed focus, but I always choose mine to be bigger than that.

Hope this helps and be sure to check out those links to other people's words because you'll see that many people do the exercise in their own unique ways.

It's hard for a child to see other children getting glittery things when they don't. But you can still model the value in the non-material things so that they will learn to enjoy these things. (Insert soapbox about how we value the material in our culture and how we judge people by their profession). Having a loving family, making Christmas cookies together, going to see gorgeous Christmas decorations - say the National Christmas tree. In fact, in the DC area there are so many things one can do free that are fantastic. I know it's hard not to be able to give materially to your children the way you would like - but you can still give them so much.

Thank you. You said it even better than me. That's what I was going for. And please know I'm not and I don't think this reader isn't trying to minimize how hard it is watch your kids watch others getting so much more than you can give them. It is hard and doesn't mean you are materialistic.

Our society is, which in turn makes it hard for all of us -- me included -- to just bake cookies or sing around the tree and NOT give presents. 

But in the end, it is those things that matter. Your presense does matter. My grandmother couldn't give me a lot of "things" but she gave me what she could and it turned out to be more than enough. So much more. 

What's the one piece of advice that you've gotten to help you change?

There has been so many and that is why I wrote Amazing Things Will Happen so that I could share all the advice from over the years. 

But, if I had to pick one I think one of the most important pieces was when my Dad told me "To Each Their Own."

I use to get really bothered when people didn't agree with me or said I was crazy to do something. But, as I learned from my Dad telling me this there would always be people that didn't agree with me and that the trick was to realize that unless their opinion and actions directly hurt me or someone I cared about than I should just let them be and move on.

It is only a few words, but it greatly changed how I approach every day.

Michelle, This doesn't relate to the book, which I haven't read. I wanted to commend you for your courage in the column in which you wrote about your friend who passed away. Michelle, I am a curmudgeon who hates sentimentality, but this column was so moving, so honest, and so beautiful that I wept while reading it. Underneath the melancholy over lost loved ones was some genuinely practical advice, too. Very well done.

For those who didn't see the column see the link.

And thank you so much for your note. It was a hard column to write but one I needed to write. I miss my friend so much but seeing how she lived her life has changed me. I hope all of you will pass along this column. Tweet it, post it on Facebook. It's an important lesson for us all.

Welcome back, thank you for joining us for the New Year! Over 30 years married, kids grown, so far so great. I've been working overseas for going on 2 years, my spouse and I see one another every 2 months and talk every day. Should I be worried about growing apart?

I'm so glad to be back. And I'll be getting back to a more frequent schedule for the chats in 2013.

So not exactly a personal finance question but good one even so.

I lived away from my husband for almost two years when we first got married. I hated it. And couldn't wait for it to end. It's probably why I follow him around the house now and we've been married for 21 years. (And when I tell him he has to sleep on the couch after an agrument, he just laughs. He knows I'll be right there with him after about 5 minutes).

But that's us. Talk to your spouse and find out if the distance is a problem. Don't worry. Act. You know if the signs are there that the distance is too long. So follow your gut. If you are concerned there may be something to be concerned about. 

I teach a course that focuses on social media and personal branding at UW-Madison. Sadly, I see a LOT of young people struggling with finding direction in their work lives and personal lives. I started this class in large part to force them to think deeply about who they are, what they want to do, while finding an economic model to support their goals. I haven't read the book yet, so I'm wondering, is this a book that could be used to help students see doing introspective work can result in vocational direction, economic benefit and happiness?


Sorry for the all caps, but students were one of the main audiences I thought would benefit from this book. Afterall the motivation for writing the book was to serve as a guidebook for my children.

Your description of your goals for the class are exactly how I hoped people would use the book. 

If you go to my publishers site, there is a link in the upper right hand corner for professors to request evaluation copies. Hope that helps.

Keep the life insurance. Buy separately, if possible, through a broker or though a professional association (the American Economic Association is one, and we have their policies, not tied to jobs.) We bought life insurance instead of mortgage life insurance (our lender let us do this), so we kept it going after we sold the house. I kept paying for it when the job provided more...and still had it when the layoffs happened. Now that one of us has died, that life insurance paid off quickly without question because we'd had it so long. This wasn't the case with the more recently purchased policies, which put the surviver through the wringer and delayed payment for 6 plus months.

The point is check about the portablity of your policy. You don't want to be left without coverage.

Late last year, I finally convinced my husband that we need to get out the credit card trap. So we buckled down and paid off his almost $10K card in 3 mos. We scaled back a lot and used some of our savings to tackle that card. So now in 2013, we're tackling two remaining cards that we hope to pay off by summer. Thanks for the advice!

I love, love these Debt Defeater stories. Good for you. My heart just beats faster when I see people taking control.

Debt free is the way to be!

Let's make that our words for 2013

Your words about your grandmother reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh words: 'The most precious gift you can give to the one you love is your true presence.' Your grandmother must have been a remarkable woman.

She was. And scary. And frugal. And a hard worker. And honest. And did I mention scary like a drill sergeant. 

But it was her presence, her decision to raise me and my siblings on so little money that made me admire her more and set me up for a life of community service. I wanted to be there for others like she was there for me. Nothing like presence. Can't buy that in a store.

I always seem to get family priorities (elders, kids, hubby) that take priority over my goals and dreams. Can you share some advice on how I can stay focused on my personal goals?

I'm a dedicated father of two great kids. My mantra has always been family first.

It is easier to chase your dreams when you are single and without commitments. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

I'm constantly having to balance things. I pass up on opportunities quite often because of other commitments.

That being said, if you are unhappy or always away working that isn't good for your family either.

It sounds like you should have some very honest and open conversations with your spouse and figure out how to find a balance for everyone. 

Hi! At what point in the house hunting process should an mortgage application be completed for pre-approval? My husband and I are just starting the hunt and narrowing down areas to look. We are hoping to buy in April or May of this year.

You should be sure you can be approved for the amount of house you are looking for. But there is a difference between being pre-approved and pre-qualified. The first step is to be pre-qualified, which involved finding out if you can afford the house you want. Once you decide on the area and price, then you can go to one or two banks, credit unions, etc. to get pre-approved, which is a more involved process involving really going over your finances and credit reports.

If you are just starting find out generally what you can afford by getting pre-qualified. And keep in mind you should keep your housing costs per month to about 30 to 36 percent of your net take home pay.

I agree the most important thing is to live a more fulfilling life no matter one's materials / financial circumstances, Making a choice to be grateful for what we do have and focussing on the non-material brings deeper and sustainable satisfaction. That said, trying to make a business of something you love and are passionate about I have found after leaving a secure and good job, to be a challenge and after over a year and a half of endeavoring toward this, I would not be able to support myself if not for my husband's income. What from your experience is key to making your passion your work, and work for you financially?

I wish it was a simple formula for success.

For me, what has worked is constantly hustling and never sitting back and getting comfortable. That means that every day I get up and am looking for new work and opportunities because I don't know when things might dry up.

But, having the DNA of an entrepreneur means I'm always looking for new problems to solve and coming up with a way to do it that be turned into a business. 

You might need to change a couple of times to find success. Some businesses just don't work. Might not be a market for it, too early to market or  a million other things that could show why it fails. 

I wish you the best of luck as you chase your dreams!

Just to clarify, the purpose of getting a master's is because I'm pretty certain I can't stay in this industry any more. I would get a master's in something else entirely. If it helps, right now I'm looking at public affairs or library science. And while making more money is important, it's not everything as the thought of working in business feels awful and not something I'm willing to do, even for a better paycheck. I guess I'm just wondering if it's too much to expect to have both - a decent income and a career I truly enjoy.

Not too much to expect at all. It SHOULD be something that everyone strives for in my opinion.

An MBA might open doors for you, but in the end it is your performance that will allow you to get promotions and keep the job you get. Never forget that.

Again, talk to people in the industry you are looking to jump into. Ask public affair folks if they needed a masters. Say with library science. Just do some homework with people working in the jobs you want. Find out if they have masters or if it really made a difference. 

Every now and then, I'll hear one of those "Transforming Debt into Wealth" commercials on the radio, and I'll wonder how something like that is even possible. Do you take any stock in such programs that make such grandiose promises? Or there really a ton of legitimate debt loopholes that people can explore to pay down their debt?

No. And no.

I switch the channel. 


What are the top ways for people to achieve success? And can you give some real practical ways to go about getting that success especially in an economy when so many people are unemployed, underemployed or not getting by financially.

The only way is through hard work. 

I might be over simplifying it, but growing up in a blue collar family this is how I was raised. Success only comes to those who make it happen.

Besides that I think the key is for someone to understand clearly what success looks like to them. It isn't all beaches and yacts for most people. Do you know what you want to do? More importantly do you know how to get there? 

I think most people have to start there so that they can plot out a course for success. It isn't going to happen over night no matter how much some people want it to.

Happy New Year Michelle. In November, I started a new job in which my salary literally doubled. I am now a member of the "one percent" and as a household, we are probably in the "point five percent." The thing is, we do not know what to do with it. We live comfortably, but modestly. We drive "average" cars that we will hold onto for at least 10 years. we have a manageable mortgage payment. We are in our 40s with one child, so college tuition will not be a big deal and retirement is a ways off. We plan to increase our charitable giving. But honestly, we do not know how else to deal with this wealth. We do want to travel more and maybe at a more luxurious level (like flying first class, for example). Also, while all of our friends and family are pretty much middle income, none has our resources and it would be weird to be the only ones wearing Rolexes instead of Timexes. Any advice on dealing with this?

You actually answered your own question. Take the extra money and:

-- Pay off your managable mortgage now rather than later.

-- Save up all the money now for the tution for the one kid. I'm not sure when you say tuition won't be a big deal if you mean you have fully funded your child's college fund. Probably not. So take extra money and speed up that funding.

-- Retirement is closer than you think. Examine your retirement savings and see if you can put more in the plan. Go to and use the ballpark retirement calculator to see if you are truly on track to retire the way you want.

-- Save up all the money to replace your cars 10 years from now. So when you decide it's time, you can pay cash for the one or two cars.

-- Love that you want to give more. Give generously. Perhaps there are some kids belong to relatives you could help with school costs.

-- Save up for that trip and go first class. 

All good watches keep the same time. 

I am in my mid-50s. I have a "good" job (decent pay, good benefits, nice people, not overly stressful) but have lately been very unhappy with it. I look at my age, at how much of my life may be left, and think I should be doing something more engaging. I have an engrossing avocation that could be a career (though undoubtedly would not be as lucrative) and spend most of my spare time at it, but it's difficult to do this and work full time as well. I have thoughts and ideas and am even planning to make some changes in this direction, but it's hard to give up the security of my job. My husband earns twice as much as I do and we'd be fine without my income, though it would reduce how much we are able to save. We have no kids and no debt other than our mortgage, and we have about a year's living expenses saved, plus we're putting the max into retirement accounts, in which collectively we have almost a million dollars. Neither of us will have pensions. I'm willing to take some risks but don't want to be foolish. How do you make a decision about something like this?

This is a big question and I can't address the financial angle directly, but it sounds to me like you are doing rather well and stable enough that taking a hit on your income would not have dire consequences.

With that being said, it feels just from reading your question that you've made your mind up and know that you want to make this change. Is it something where if a year down the road it really wasn't working that you could go back to what you are doing today?

I think you and your spouse should sit down and really talk about it and look at where you are from all angles and give it a go.

After having been out of work a while, I was reemployed late 2011 but not before we'd used up a lot of our emergency fund. We resolved to spend 2012 building it back up and have gotten to our goal. While it really stunk to have to be so frugal when tempted by the "shiny things," I can honestly say that there is not one single purchase/event that we had to forgo that I regret having missed. It's doable. Thank you for sharing your insight and advice.

Thank you for sharing your testimony! And so glad you are doing better and that you had that reserve.

Man where did the time go?

Thank you all so very much for participating in this first chat of 2013. Great testimonies and wonderful questions.

I'm so sorry if I didn't get to your question, but don't think your particiapation was for naught. There's still a chance I will answer your questions within my column or e-mail newsletter, which I hope you subscribe to. There's a link on the chat page.

As I said, I'll be returning to a more frequent live chat schedule. So join me back here in two weeks. 

Happy New Year and may you reach all your financial goals!

In This Chat
Michelle Singletary
Michelle Singletary writes the nationally syndicated personal finance column, "The Color of Money," which appears in The Post on Thursday and Sunday. Her award-winning column is also carried in more than 120 newspapers. In her spare time, Singletary is the director of a ministry she founded at her church, in which women and men volunteer to mentor others who are having financial challenges.

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