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Saturday Aug 27

Sisterly Advice

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Written by Galia Myron Tuesday, 01 November 2011 10:31

Book by women for women focuses on taking financial control of your life.


Author Q&A

Written by sisters Red (Tina) and Black (Mandy), whose nicknames come courtesy of their scarlet and raven locks, respectively, this book uses a conversational, modern tone to convey the message to women that financial independence is a necessity, not a luxury.

When Red’s husband lost his job, the stay-at-home mom sought advice from her financially successful, business-savvy sis, Black, whose advice—and Red’s personal discoveries—form the basis of What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!

Touting a “real approach to personal finance and prioritizing your life,” the authors present their practical advice primarily through email conversations and instant messaging. Boomer, Mature, and even some Gen X women may identify with the traditional gender roles that Red and her husband had established—ones in which he did the earning, she did the spending and knew little to nothing about their finances until his job loss. Black’s first piece of advice? Face the financial facts. 

1. What inspired you to write What I Learned About Life When My Husband Got Fired!?

Red: This is a funny story. Let me start by saying that although I had a university degree from a great school, I went from living with my parents to living with my husband. We lived all over the world and in January 2004 happened to be based in Houston, where my sister Mandy, aka Black, a retired executive, lives. On a rainy Friday afternoon, my husband comes home from work (I’m a stay-at-home mom) and when I ask him how his day was (expecting the usual answer on how he conquered the business world) I was told that he had been fired. I then did what any self-respecting 40+ year old woman would do. I waited until everyone was asleep and emailed my sister, wanting her to tell me what to do. (I was too much of a coward to call!). Of course, I wanted (and expected) herto make my world “perfect” again by Monday.

Instead, she asked questions. Lots and lots of questions. She forced me take my “ostrich” head out of the sand and finally face those life realities that I had managed to avoid. We started with personal finance, and then logically progressed to things like time management, relationships, handling stress, and even tackling piles of paper. Fast forward (I have a tendency to blah-blah-blah) and less than a month into my crisis (she hates when I use that word!) I see her taking notes. I ask her, quite exasperated, what she’s doing, since she clearly isn’t focusing on me. She tells me, in her typical pragmatic way, that this will make a great book one day. So, I was having a crisis and she had a new business venture!

Black: She neglected to tell you her degree was in theater. And she was finally using it, as those first few months her reactions seemed overly dramatic. Anyway, I told her I can multi-task so I did not see the problem. But what I did see was that when we started talking about finance, the terminology caused her to shut down. That very first Monday, when I said “assets and liabilities” she told me I was the M.B.A., not her, and that she could not do this. When I explained it was “what you own” versus “what you owe” she replied, “well, that I can do.” At that point, I realized there were probably other people who were in the same position. Which means if there is a need, then there is a market. And, as long as I was going to help her, I might as well document everything, so I started saving our emails and IMs. To this day, she likes to ask me if I taped our phone conversations, and I have never given her a straight answer.

2. Tell us how women – and particularly which generational demographics (Gen X, Boomer, Mature?) would benefit most from reading this book.

Black: Initially, I thought our primary market was baby boomer women, because we are baby boomer women. However, I could see where our demographics could also include younger women who are starting out, as well as older women who may be starting over. For example, when our father died, I had to handle all the legal and financial details for my mother. I guess I was right because at one of our first book signings when Neiman Marcus launched our book, one woman bought three copies ? one for herself, one for her grown daughter and one for her mother.

Red: I will admit upfront that I have no clue what any of the terms in your question means, no more so that I understood the financial terms Black initially used, or her business plan. But I can tell you that I continue to be amazed at how women (and men) of ALL ages are telling us how they’re benefiting – and enjoying – our book. A woman in her 40’s told us that she found the book “enlightening, yet entertaining”, while a senior woman in Black’s high-rise told us that she wished she had the book when her husband died because although she knew they had enough money, she didn’t know who she could trust because she hadn’t any experience with her family’s personal finances. So, Black definitely got those demographics right! But even she didn’t count on the fact that high school students would love the book, even going so far as to call it a “reality show in a book.” And I know her business plan never imagined our book would ultimately be approved as a financial literacy textbook by the (Texas) State Board of Education.

3. The format of the book is very interesting, using IM and email messages. What made you decide to present your advice this way?

Black: Quick answer: Because that was the format in which I had accumulated the information.

Complete answer: By the time we started “writing” the manuscript, I knew the book was a platform to establish the Red & Black brand. Since “content is king” in the entertainment world, and the baby boomer women’s market needed content, I realized the concept of two sisters with very different perspectives and personalities could be the basis of a brand. Not to mention a sitcom, since all successful sitcoms have been relationship-based. And then Red kept telling me that my life had better storylines than many movies she had seen. So, we added several movies to the mix. (Our lawyers have told us to state they are “fiction.”)

To make a long (but interesting) story short, I sought the advice of major “players” in New York and Los Angeles, and after reviewing my business plan they encouraged me to proceed, but suggested that we needed to start with the book or the sitcom. Obviously, a book has fewer barriers to entry, but it was critical that it establish our personalities ? the warm and fuzzy stay-at-home mom and the sarcastic retired executive who races Ferraris. Using a conversational format seemed the best way to establish our “voices.”

Red: Everyone seems to love the dialogue format of the book and audiences, including the high school students, keep asking about the status of the sitcom! But what I think is so funny is that people who have not met us have questioned if we’re really as different as we come across in the book. This happened with a newspaper editor that we met for a breakfast interview. When we first sat down, he patted the cover of the book and said that he loved the banter in the book but wondered if we had “beefed it up” so as to make it a better read. Black and I laughed and said that, in reality, we had toned it down because no one would believe we were really like that. We could tell that he wasn’t buying it. By the end of our 1-1/2 hour meeting, he turned to us on the way out of the restaurant and said – “you’re right, you toned it down.”

4. What are your top tips – takeaway messages – from the book?

Red: Wow, that’s tough, because there are so many. So, I think I’m going to “pretend” to be Black and use bullet points!

* Q-I-D. First, and maybe foremost, the importance of learning how to make smart conscious decisions. I initially wanted answers, but Black forced me to “take a step back” and learn what we now refer to as Q-I-D: ask Questions, gather Information, to make smart conscious Decisions. Too often we either look to others to make our decisions for us, do things out of habit, or do nothing. In fact, Black made me realize that “doing nothing” is a decision; it means you’re accepting the status quo.

* YOU CAN EAT AN ELEPHANT, JUST NOT ALL AT ONCE. This applies to many large issues or projects, which often become bigger the longer you delay addressing them. Early on, when I found myself being overwhelmed, whether in terms of learning about personal finance or dealing with the rapidly growing mountains of paper in my “work room”, I didn’t know what to do first, so I did nothing. It was then that Black gave me this invaluable piece of advice about elephants! And I have to admit that it’s a “mindset” that I return to on a regular basis.

* THINK BEFORE SPENDING ?TIME AND MONEY. In the first week of my “crisis” I was about to cancel my oldest daughter’s swimming lessons to save money. After Black helped me understand why I shouldn’t cancel the lessons, I asked her how I was supposed to know the difference between smart – and stupid – spending. She asked me whether I had ever thought about thinking before spending. I thought she was being sarcastic, until I realized the wisdom in her statement. I later learned the same concept applies to how we spend our time.

* YOU’RE NEVER TOO YOUNG – OR TOO OLD – TO BUDGET. There’s a funny story about Black and her first budget and it’s posted on our website. (One of Black’s pet peeves is when an author references a book excerpt trying to entice you to buy the book, so she just includes it on our website.) But the bottom line is that a budget is the tool that lets you manage your money to achieve the things you want. It doesn’t require an M.B.A. to do one. Just desire.

* THIS ISN’T ROCKET SCIENCE. There’s no magic, no “new” approaches. Almost everything in the book, and everything we teach in class, are “duh” moments ? when you stop and think about them. Key word is “think.” And it’s important to realize that it’s not so much about the “how” as the “why” of things. For example, it’s not “how do I budget?” – there are plenty of websites and books out there to tell you how. It’s understanding “why” you should budget. Once you do that, then you will seek out the answers as to “how.” And you’ll be motivated to create long-term, lasting change.

Black: Our book was never intended as a self-help or personal finance book. It really is just a story of two sisters, one who made her mistakes early and got them out of the way (I believe in efficiency) and the other who waited until a crisis forced her learn to make her own decisions.

In terms of take-aways:

* LONG-TERM PLANNING IS BACKWARDS THINKING. Most people start at today and work forwards when it comes to planning. I, however, start with where I want to be and work backwards. When I described this to my sister in the book I had her look at where she wants to be in 20 years, and work backwards. We took it to the extreme when we taught at KIPP Houston High School and asked the kids how many of them want to retire one day. Then we asked them if they wanted to have kids? Did they want to help their kids go to college? Did they want a house? Did they want furniture in the house? We kept working backwards, and they then saw that college was not a goal – it was merely a step along the way. (We even received a round of applause from one of the classes!) We then discussed how this type of thinking helps you decided how to spend money (and time) today. This approach can apply to everyone, at every stage of their life. And it truly puts priorities in perspective.

* YOUR VALUES AND PRIORITIES SHOULD DRIVE ALL YOUR DECISIONS. Financial and otherwise. This concept may sound obvious, but sometimes it is easier said than done. For example, when we put our book out to bid, it was twice as expensive to print in the United States as in China. I wanted to know why, and found out it was partially due to labor costs, but also because of environmental laws, and employee health and safety regulations. From a strictly financial viewpoint, it was an easy decision. But it was not just about money. So, although many people thought us crazy, we took a deep breath and followed our hearts, and are proud to say our book is printed in the U.S.A.

5. What is your next (or other) projects that you would like demodirt.com readers to know about?

Red: Great question, and I wish I knew the answer! Let’s put it this way, at speaking engagements when someone asks this question (as they always do) I tend to stop, sit down in the audience, look up at Black and say that I’m as curious to the answer as anyone in the audience.

All I know is that somehow Black got our book launched by Neiman Marcus and the next thing I know I’m standing in front of 90+ high school seniors “teaching” personal finance and “Life 101”. Then I somehow become a public speaker and then a newspaper columnist. All this when, to be quite honest, I’m most comfortable baking cookies and sitting on carpool line.

Black: Although the sitcom is still there, along with all the other entertainment applications, they are on the back burner. (Much to the dismay of our entertainment attorney, as I have basically postponed his billable hours.) All our content is consistent in that everything exists on two levels. On the surface it is entertaining, but if you choose to delve a little deeper, it is about values and priorities.

Being true to that theme, right now we are taking a sabbatical from the development of other Red & Black concepts to continue to focus on the initial book and the apparent impact it has had on readers and audiences. Especially as we journey into the world of education. I will not get on my soapbox about our education system (which is an oxymoron, as “system” means parts that work together) since that is another subject, for another day.

6. Whatever else you would like to offer is more than welcome.

Red: Since I have a habit of blah-blah-blahing, and I feel like I’ve already exceeded my quota for the day, I’ll try to keep this short. I guess all I want to add is that, although it still remains a complete and utter surprise, I know we’re doing all the right things for all the right reasons. After all, how do you pass up the opportunity to make a difference in a child’s life? I feel like we’ve been handed this great gift by having the opportunity to become “teachers” and touch not only young adults, but based on their feedback, also their families.

And the impact we seem to be having on women is incredible. Especially when you consider that I thought I was the anomaly in terms of my understanding of personal finance and “Life 101” and it turns out that Black’s the anomaly! We’ve even been told that our book, and even our story, has been inspiring and a source of empowerment. I find all of this humbling.

But I also have to admit that I’d love to sell more books! But since we don’t social network, (there’s a limit to how many hours there are in a day, although Black never seems to sleep) the grassroots marketing effort is a challenge at the moment, although people keep telling us that social media is a great way to get things to “go viral.”

Black: You call that short?

When my brother-in-law got fired, I told Red I thought it was the best thing that ever happened to her. I believe that now, more than ever. It made her, and hopefully others, realize that you only have two choices ? you can let your life control you, or you can take control of your life.



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