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Archive for the ‘disaster planning’ Category

How to Overcome Financial Chaos

Thursday, July 9th, 2009

Bernard Madoff’s attorney said today he will not appeal his 150-year prison sentence. The Wall Street Journal had a moving piece last week called “Downsized Lives and Shattered Dreams” that profiled some of Madoff’s victims.

I was inspired by the story of Jesse Cohen, who lives in Summit, NJ, a few miles from me. He’s a 50-year-old former bond trader who built a successful business, sold it and gave the money to Madoff to invest. He lost it all, and his parents lost their savings as well. Cohen, the story said, recently took a math exam to apply for a university program that turns former finance professionals into math teachers in three months. He past the test but is still looking for a position.

In other words, he has picked himself up, dusted himself off, found a new direction, and is pursuing it vigorously.  He’s focused on how he will overcome a horrific situation over which he had no control.

In today’s Yahoo!Finance column, I interviewed Daryl Conner, an organizational development consultant who has been studying change for 35 years. He finds that people who successfully overcome negative situations and move gracefully through transitions have a number of character traits and behaviors in common.

As he writes in his book Managing at the Speed of Change:
“Assimilation is the process we use to adjust to the positive or negative implications of a major shift in our expectations. Assimilating is costly – reduced intellectual energy, increased psychological stress, and diminished physical health and stamina. Resilient people have learned how to increase the number of their assimilation points and how to stay within their personal assimilation budget.” Click here to read my interview with Conner find out more about the strategies of resilient people.

Meanwhile, if you needed yet another good reason to pay off your credit cards in full, see today’s Wall Street Journal (sub. may be required.) Bank of America and J.P. Morgan Chase have notified a number of its customers that it will now tie their credit card interest rates are no longer fixed and will be a variable rate tied to the prime rate. Read the story here. Personally, I’m still get 0% rate offers in my mailbox. Has your credit card company changed the terms of your agreement? Comment here or email me at laura at

A Brief Encounter with Greenspan

Wednesday, October 29th, 2008

I met Alan Greenspan last weekend at an event in Washington D.C. thrown by my alma mater, the University of Illinois. Ben Bradlee received the Illinois Prize for Lifetime Achievement in Journalism at the Newseum (a truly amazing space), and the place was hopping with journalistic legends, including Bob Woodward, Jim Lehrer, and Bob Schieffer.

I had gone up to a former CNN colleague to say hello and found myself standing next to the former Fed chairman and his wife, NBC’s Andrea Mitchell. Unfortunately, I can only report that he drinks diet Coke, because Mr. Greenspan moved away rather quickly after the introduction.

I suspect he was in no mood for questions after his four-hour grilling the day before in front of the House Committee on Government Oversight and Reform. Greenspan admitted his free-market, anti-regulation ideology had ultimately been a mistake.

As he wrote last March, and quoted to the lawmakers: “Those of us who looked to the self-interest of lending institutions to protect shareholders’ equity, myself included, are in a state of shocked disbelief.”

Greenspan, like many on Wall Street, was tripped up by over-confidence (or possibly irrational exuberance?) in the U.S. housing market. See this Yahoo!Finance column for the view of a Wall Street insider.  

What I found most interesting about Mr. Greenspan’s testimony was his explanation of how difficult it is to make accurate predictions about the future course of the economy and the markets. At another event that weekend I spoke with two Wall Street professionals — one who suggested I should have nothing in stocks at all (my retirement portfolio is about 40% in stocks) and another who suggested I should have 100% in stocks and be buying on margin.

More proof that the old adages — figure out your risk tolerance and time frame, and create an allocation that reflects them — still apply. 

Blogging Again

Tuesday, October 21st, 2008

Sorry I haven’t blogged in nearly a month, I’ve been swamped. The market turmoil and economic downturn is obviously making life awful for a lot of consumers, and I’ve been trying to reach more people with advice through a variety of venues. Aside from the weekly Yahoo!Finance column, I recently contributed a batch of stories to Disney Family’s new Money-Savvy Moms website and signed books and gave out personal finance tips at Sam’s Clubs in Baltimore, Chicago and Phoenix.

I’ve also been doing a lot more media interviews to help people confront tough questions about what to do with their money. Below is a recent segment from Good Morning America; viewers asked questions about saving for college, 401(k) contributions and whether your money is safe in the bank. (And I found out that New York Times’ money columnist Ron Lieber grew up a few miles away from me in Chicago; close to where Suze Orman spent her childhood as well. Not sure why the south side seems to be a breeding ground for personal finance writers. If you have a theory — or any personal finance questions — email me at laurarowley.column at yahoo dot com.)

Yahoo! Finance columnist Laura Rowley takes viewer questions on the economy @ Yahoo! Video

Preparing for Disaster: Records to Store

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

With wildfires becoming more destructive in recent years, the 2008 tornado season one of the deadliest on record, and the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season forecast to be more active than usual, it’s smart to plan ahead for disaster. See my Yahoo!Finance column for the story.  The Red Cross recommends you rent a safe deposit box ($30 a year) to store originals of records that would be difficult to replace in a disaster. Key documents include:

·         Birth, death, and marriage certificates

Divorce and child custody papers

·         Adoption papers

·         Passports

·         Military records

·         Social Security cards

·         Copies of drivers’ licenses

·         Mortgage/property deeds

·         Stock and bond certificates

·         Car titles

·         List of insurance policies (life, health, disability, longterm care, auto, homeowners, renters), including the type, company, policy number, and name of insured

·         Copies of power of attorney, living will, and other medical power

·         Trust documents Don’t keep the original of your will in a safe deposit box because the bank may seal the box temporarily at your death, the Red Cross says. Keep the original of your will at your lawyer’s office and copies of it at home and in your safe deposit box. For more on records to keep in a disaster supply kit, see this link.   

Staying Safe in a Disaster

Wednesday, August 27th, 2008

My Yahoo!Finance column that posts August 28 looks at protecting yourself in a disaster. I wanted to add a few details here suggested by, a Homeland Security website and the Red Cross:  

1. Plan a home escape route. 

2. Establish a meeting place where family members can gather in the case of emergency – a local school or church. Click here for a printable emergency plan to help you plan. 

3. Agree to a contact who lives out of state to coordinate communications if you can’t reach each other. Carry in your wallet a card with the out-of-state contact’s name, address and phone numbers. Carry a pre-paid phone card with enough cash on it for several calls, in the event cell phones are not working.   

4. Get a copy of the emergency plan for your child’s school to keep in your desk at work. Post emergency numbers – fire, police, ambulance – near the phone.  

5. Create an emergency kit with enough food and water for three days (one gallon of water per person per day). Keep a small disaster supply kit in your car trunk. Click here for a checklist of what to keep in your kit.

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