Category Archives: Ballers/Shot-Callers

The Shot-Callers Who Work For Adventure!

By Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie

Almost everyone has a bucket list.  Whether your dream is to learn how to pilot an airplane, spend six months hiking in South America, teach English in India or ride elephants in Cambodia, a bucket list is personal and often includes a dose of adventure and travel.  I recently met with two entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on planning, packaging and helping women check off some of their once-in-a-lifetime dreams through their new company, WHOA Travel (that’s: Women High On Adventure).

Meet the Founders of WHOA

Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton met only last March when they were part of a group that hiked Mount Kilimanjaro.  From that life-changing trip, WHOA Travel was born and the two women found their new friendship blossoming into a partnership.  Coming from the international education industry, Allison had always enjoyed travel but thrived in more adventurous trips, experiences where she could push herself but also give back a little.  Danielle, who is an associate creative director at an advertizing company,  confesses that she’s always felt a never-ending hunger for travel and change, and that “I always knew I was going to leave Texas since I was a little girl!” (No offense, Texas!)

Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton, WHOA founders

Allison Fleece and Danielle Thornton, WHOA founders

WHOA’s (www.WHOAtravel.com) mission is to organize trips for women that are fun, challenging and inspiring, and that allows the group to also give back.    As Allison puts it, the purpose of WHOA is “to provide a transformative experience for women through travel; at the heart of every adventure is an advocacy project that gives back to women and local communities.”

For example, although last March’s Mt. Kili trip wasn’t an official WHOA adventure, Allison arranged for the group to volunteer at Give A Heart To Africa, a nonprofit based in Tanzania that helps provide women with skills and training they need to learn English and make a living.

WHOA’s Adventure Trips

Although WHOA is only a few months old, things are already full-steam ahead!  For the 2013/2014 season, WHOA is organizing three adventure trips and is currently taking reservations.  The first is a trip to the Alps and Bavaria in September where the group will bike, hike and paraglide through the Alps, with a pit stop at Oktoberfest, and ending with yoga in the park in Munich.  All proceeds from yoga will go towards Give A Heart To Africa.

In March, the group will head back to Mt. Kilimanjaro for a seven-day trek with plans to summit on International Women’s Day, March 8, 2014, followed by another volunteer day and safari or resort options.  Finally next summer 2014, the group plans to hike the Inca Trail.  In addition to the three flagship trips, WHOA can also custom organize a special trip for individuals or groups who want to do something different.

Danielle and Allison on Mt. Kilimanjaro--you can be there too!

Danielle and Allison on Mt. Kilimanjaro–you can be there too!

This August, both women plan to leave their jobs and embark on a 7 week trip to Africa, Europe and South America in preparation for next year’s trips.  They will be meeting with contacts for each adventure, make new connections and spend time with the community organizations.  The passion and enthusiasm that Allison and Danielle have for their business is inspiring and contagious–I have a feeling they can persuade the most fearful traveler to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro!

The Early Days of WHOA

Although the energy and optimism at the new company is high, the ladies had to put some work into their partnership. Early on, they realized that they both approach work differently and also have different–but complementary–skill sets.  Allison is the talker of the two, engaging and persuasive, while Danielle is in charge of branding and the creative aspects of the company.  While their start was bumpy at times, since holding a “come to Jesus” meeting in which they were both painfully honest with each other about their goals and expectations, the business has run much more smoothly.  They collaborate on everything and both agree that even their website reflects both personalities.

Is Entrepreneurship Right For You?

The ladies offer simple advice when it comes to starting a business.  If you’re ready for a change and have an idea in mind, “put it out in the universe,” says Danielle.  “I knew I wanted to do something different and I was open about it.”  Allison agrees, adding, “You’ll never regret the risks you take, only those you don’t.”

Both Allison and Danielle agree that when it comes to picking a business partner, it’s important to respect one another and be brutally honest (but kind) with each other.  Working with a business partner is like a balancing act, and as Danielle points out, “It’s harder to find the right business partner than a husband!”

The business partners unfolding the WHOA flag on Mt. Kili

The business partners unfolding the WHOA flag on Mt. Kili

And since they are both leaving their corporate jobs, both women have cut back on spending.  Both are much more aware of their expenses, have stopped buying frivolous things and know that soon those regular paychecks will vanish so they have set and following their own strict budgets.  Allison admits that since she’s eating in more, she’s actually eating healthier!

Go Tell It On The Mountain!

While Allison and Danielle are very aware of the risks of starting their own business, they are certain that there is a need and a demand for a company like WHOA.  After all, many of us desire unique experiences and challenges, we dream of coming home from a foreign land with bragging rights, and we want to show our gratitude by giving back in some way.  WHOA combines all three by offering unique once-in-a-lifetime trips for women around the world.  As Danielle puts it, by taking on challenging trips like those that WHOA organizes, “you can change yourself, you can change the way you look at yourself and you can even change the world a little bit at the same time.”

WHOA

The Shot-Callers With Ingenuity–and Crowd-Funding!

By: Lena Rizkallah, Money Moxie

It seems that the recession and high unemployment rate, as well as general worker dissatisfaction, has created a unique atmosphere for entrepreneurship and creativity.  People have been laid-off, sometimes more than once, and many have realized that they’d rather work for themselves than work for “the man.”  But starting and funding a new business or venture takes money, and as a result, people are turning to crowd-funding sources like Indiegogo and Kickstarter that allow individuals, businesses, non-profits and organizations to raise money from family, friends and friends-of-friends.  This new trend, which also got a boost from President Obama’s Jobs Act last year, is really taking off and helping people raise money so their businesses and projects can take off too!

Nancy Vitale and Nilou Safinya  recently launched a fundraising campaign for their new film/TV production company to raise money for their first short film, RUNNING WITH SHARKS.  The women met through the Middle Eastern theater community and have been friends ever since.  Nancy studied dramaturgy/new script development at Columbia School of the Arts and worked as a dramaturg for various regional theatres all over the US.  She is also one of the founders and the Producing Artistic Director of Noor Theatre (www.NoorTheatre.org), a Company-in-Residence at New York Theatre Workshop, which co-produced the critically acclaimed play ‘Food and Fadwa’ in 2012.  Nilou’s background is also in theatre – in directing, stage managing and producing. She studied Theatre and Psychology at Columbia University and then worked for several years in the NY theatre scene, and more recently for an independent film and TV production company before turning freelance.

Nilou Safinya and Nancy Vitale, co-founders of Eyes Up Here Productions

Nilou Safinya and Nancy Vitale, co-founders of Eyes Up Here Productions

Their joint venture, Eyes Up Here Productions, is a film and theater production company through which they hope to provide a venue for women ( and men!) to tell their stories.  They first short film, RUNNING WITH SHARKS is their own story of being bullied at an aerobics exercise class and the chaos that ensues.

Currently, they are raising money to fund and produce their film and are in their second week of their funding campaign on Indiegogo.  You can learn more about their venture and make a donation here http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/running-with-sharks-a-comedic-short-film-series-pilot.

Recently, Money Moxie sat down with Nancy and Nilou to chat about their plans for their production company as well as their first film.

MONEY MOXIE: What is the concept behind your new production company?

Nancy: The concept is simple – to develop great stories in collaboration with artists we believe in. The name and branding focus the attention of all audiences – up here – at the big screen, small screen, mobile device, theatre stage, you name it.

Nilou: As far as the more tongue-in-cheek implications of the name, we are two real women with real stories to tell, and we want to direct your gaze to those stories. The rest is in the Eyes of the beholder.

MM:  How long did it take to get the company started-from idea to where it is now– and what did it take to get you where you are now?

Nilou: When the script for RUNNING WITH SHARKS was complete, we decided that producing it ourselves would be a great way to launch our new company.

Nancy: This way we are also challenging ourselves to continue generating and developing work once this production is complete.

MM: What are your goals for your company?

Nilou: Our immediate goal is to produce and finish this short by the summertime. Once it is completed, we plan to send it out to both film and TV festivals. We are also going to use the short as a pilot presentation to put forth to networks and broadcasters as a concept for a comedy series.

Nancy: Following that, we hope to develop more properties for TV, film and theatre. We are looking to develop our own content as well as the content of other artists we admire.

MM: Tell us about the project and your goals for the project.  How did you come to the $ goal that you set in your fundraising campaign?

Nancy: The project is a short comedic film called RUNNING WITH SHARKS, which we describe as a story for anyone who has ever felt judged in a swimsuit. It was loosely inspired by our own experience at a swanky Upper East side gym, where we were yelled at by territorial gym rats, who happened to be older than our mothers. Rather than letting it bother us, I wrote about it in an effort to point out how we ladies can be oddly competitive with one another. I would say that the competition doesn’t help anyone, but it made me write a short film script rather than cry in a corner, so it was somewhat helpful.

Nilou: Even though we almost did cry in a corner! Especially when I was yelled at for putting a support belt in the way of the alpha rat and Nancy was snickered at behind her back!  The $8,500 goal we set for the Indiegogo campaign is the honestly the bare-bones minimum we need to rent the necessary equipment, get insurance, hire cast and crew (at extremely minimal fees) and take care of anything else that we cannot get our friends to donate out of the goodness of their big, beautiful hearts.

Nancy: Setting up the campaign, we turned to friends who have funded films and plays using Kickstarter and Indiegogo and asked them about strategies that worked for them. Everyone recommended a brief, upbeat and fun campaign that engaged people as often as possible without being annoying.

MM:  Why indiegogo as opposed to other avenues for investing?  Did you get help from family/friends, bootstrapping or finding investors?

Nancy: As a new, unknown company, finding investors to give us thousands of dollars of start up money is not easy. We could also beg friends and family to help, but that is not a sustainable model. By launching this campaign, we have to put ourselves out there to the rest of the world, tell them why we want to tell these kinds of stories, that they’re important and that we want to tell more of them with their support. It’s about building a base of supporters that will eventually also be our audience.

Nilou: We are simultaneously talking to any brands we have access to as well as possible investors we know just to get the ball rolling and who knows – maybe someone will bite! However, once we complete this first project and have a tangible example of the work we want to do, we will certainly seek investors more actively for company proper as we explore raising funds for our next projects.

MM: What has been the response so far regarding the company and your campaign?  Where are you in terms of your fundraising goal?

Nancy: We are half- way through the campaign and half- way to our goal. Let’s keep it up!

Nilou: The response has been lovely, very positive, and people really seem to enjoy the pitch video as well as the company name. Our friends and family have been very supportive and complementary. We just need to get more people to see it.

MM: Knowing what you know now, would you have changed anything about raising money?  What advice would you offer people who are thinking of bootstrapping, fundraising, asking money from family/friends?

Nancy: Don’t do it too often. Eventually you’ll exhaust your base.

Nilou: We both often raise money for projects that are non-profit in nature, so there’s no financial return on investment and this sort of fundraising can be very difficult, especially past a certain level. To be very clear, Eyes Up Here is not intended to be a non-profit venture.

Nancy: We’re excited about moving into the next phase of profit-bearing entertainment, but we need a little help with this test run first. Please.

Nilou: And thank you.

The Shot-Caller with Plans

A recent New York Times  article revealed that to be considered “middle class” in New York City, one has to make about $160,000 per year.  In other areas of the country, that salary can get you farther–maybe a nice home with a pool, a car or two and a comfortable lifestyle–but in NYC, you’re lucky to be living in a doorman building in a decent part of town and possibly have a parking space.  If people making six-figures are still struggling to afford certain essentials, what if you make a five-figure salary?  How can you possibly maintain a decent lifestyle, have your needs met and maybe even afford a splurge or two?  And more important, how can you save money while living in NYC on a not-so-hefty salary?

Jennifer Cole, a freelance graphic designer (www.jenncoledesign.com), learned the hard way that to save money as a small business owner, it takes organization, prioritization and thriftiness. Yet over the past 4-5 years, she managed to save $35,000 on a $50,000 a year salary–and can still afford to pursue her hobbies, travel and shop!

jenncole

The Tough Early Days

Up until recently, Jennifer’s experience with money had seemed like a crazy a rollercoaster ride. Growing up, she witnessed her family wrestling with money problems and debt, and she had always had a tenuous relationship with money. In college, she trained herself to be thrifty, living on $50 a week, and became adept at using coupons at the grocery store, prioritizing splurges and being creative with her existing wardrobe.   That frugality extended even down to her shampoo!  Later, as a business owner, Jen struggled to abide by this philosophy, but eventually she found herself in a hole.

She started her graphic design business in San Francisco, then moved to New York City several years ago and struggled to balance the responsibility of her business with the financial demands of living in a big city.  As an entrepreneur she knew that the key to success was managing her finances so that her business could sustain her lifestyle.

Her “aha” moment came one day when she was balancing her checkbook and realized she had spent $2000 in the past 2 weeks.  She was mortified and disappointed with herself–because the bulk of that money was spent on frivolous things and not on necessary expenses.  Soon after, she received a tax bill in the mail and didn’t have the money to pay it.  She quickly realized that if she was to continue her freelance business, she would have to be more organized, and allocate portions of her paychecks to taxes and other expenses.

Making Changes

After some soul-searching and thanks to a loan from a family member to help her pay the tax bill, Jen got herself in gear.  She dove into what she calls “spreadsheet land,” and set up a system that tracks her paychecks.  So now when she gets a $6000 check, she knows it doesn’t all go directly into her checking account; rather, she allows herself to keep half for monthly living expenses, then portions the rest into tax payments, retirement account, savings and business equipment/expenses.

Once she set up her spreadsheet and started using it, saving was a cinch!  By allocating her paychecks to savings and taxes, she didn’t have any lingering worries about missing payments or outstanding debt.  She knew how much she had to spend each month on necessary and variable expenses, and was automatically putting money into savings because of the way the spreadsheet was set up.  The more she saved the more peace of mind she had–and the easier it was for her to set priorities.  With her spending money, she learned how to live on a budget and make the right decisions, and the most important concern for Jen was to be unencumbered with money problems.

Rules To Live By

Five years later, Jen has a thriving business and a healthy savings account, yet continues to live below her means. She says, “Whenever I make money, I don’t up my lifestyle.  I have a hefty savings account but still live in a 300 square foot studio apartment.”  What rules does she live by?  “Set financial goals, live by your rules but don’t change your lifestyle if you get a raise or come into money.”  She says the most important lesson she’s learned is to “align your values with your money; that helps you prioritize how you save  and on what splurges.”

So even as she continues to grow and take her business to the next level, Jen also allows herself the occasional splurge, especially on her favorite hobby–traveling.  She is a fan of airbnb.com and arifarewatchdog.com, sites that offer low-cost travel options for budget-minded consumers.  Jen also does much of her wardrobe shopping online, and snags deals on sweaters, coats and boots all year-round by using coupons and specials advertised on the sites.  In that way, she is always shopping and never “needs” anything.

And this year, she has been pursuing another goal.  With her business and finances in order, Jen has been hitting open-houses and meeting with real estate brokers with the hopes of taking advantage of the low-moderate income housing opportunities available in New York City.  These governent subsidies may help Jen buy her first home–a benefit for people at her income level–but, alas, not available to the six-figure ‘middle class.’

The Shot-Caller With Style

Alexandra Suzanne Greenawalt knew almost from the start that she was meant to be an entrepreneur.  After graduating with a BA in French from Boston University, she worked in Paris as an intern for a small fashion PR firm.  Back in the States, she worked in PR and fashion for several years.  Yet early in her career she knew that her intense work ethic was a hot commodity and became dissatisfied with her office jobs.  Alexandra says,”My experience in a cubicle made me run from working for a company. At one company, I had built their online community only to have them [the company] tear it down.  After that, it just didn’t feel right to work for other people.”

Career And Style Re-Invention

She came to New York City and started her personal styling business 12 years ago, and has never looked back (check out her unique offerings at http://www.alexandrastylist.com).  She specializes in working with successful professional women by offering a variety of styling packages, including her signature Style Re-Invention, an 8-session program that ‘kicks style into high gear.’  Alexandra’s style makeover process is comprehensive, from bra fitting to closet editing to image consulting to shopping to putting it all together. It’s an all-encompassing program for women who want to develop their personal style or who may be going through a change in her life–whether weight loss, a new job, divorce, moving to NYC–and wants to rebuild her wardrobe.

Alexandra Greenawalt

Alexandra Greenawalt

The rewards of owning her own business are tremendous and Alexandra admits, “I’ve never thought of quitting [her business] once I started on the path of fashion styling because it’s my true calling.  What drew me away from commercial work and editorial styling is that I felt replaceable.  With my private clients, I feel appreciated and cherished.  I get to help change a woman’s life for the better.”

The Long Road To Success

But the entrepreneurial path isn’t easy, and Alexandra found that out the hard way.  While she admits that she got lucky when she first started out on her own, and landed a national ad campaign for Pantene, she soon learned that these big jobs are few and far between and that it’s often “feast or famine.”  She made tons of phone calls to contacts, editors and people in the fashion industry to get started which lead to a few more gigs.  But it was only after she built her website that she saw her business shift and new clients and referrals come her way.

Slowly but surely, Alexandra developed her styling business and established herself in this competitive industry, but when the recession hit, her business took a huge hit.  She had plenty of sleepless nights and worried about the uncertainty.  She says, “I questioned whether I was doing the right thing [by sticking with her business] but every time I took a job self-help test, it lead me back to styling.”  So instead of folding, she stuck to her guns and updated her website.  As a result, she’s attracted new clients who were drawn to her unique website and her clear, specific offerings.  Now, she gets most of her business via Google organic searches as a result of her great SEO and strategic blogging.

Along the way, Alexandra wrote and self-published, “Secrets of a Fashion Stylist,” a book she said she had wanted to read since she became interested in fashion (available on her website).  The book chronicles some of her past mistakes and experiences as a fashion stylist, helping wanna-be stylists to establish themselves and avoid some of the pitfalls of the industry.

Smart, Stylish & Budget-Minded

While the entrepreneurial lifestyle has its advantages, like the freedom of taking an 11 am yoga class, the downside is that income can be inconsistent.  Alexandra has had a lot of experience in managing her budget.  From an early age, she’s had to be money-minded; her mother gave her the responsiblity of balancing a checkbook and a budget since she was in middle school.  When she started her business, she used her savings from past jobs so that she wouldn’t have to couch-surf.  She keeps her business and personal accounts separate, and always negotiates for lower prices and deals with vendors.  When she was building her website, she decided to launch it in stages instead of all at once so that she could pay it off incrementally.  She keeps a lean over-head for her business, uses virtual assistants like Elance  for special projects and design, and keeps a home office to save money.

When it comes to budgeting for fashion, Alexandra offers simple but wise advice: Don’t buy things you don’t need and don’t buy things until you need them.  Use credit cards wisely–like if a card offers cash back on purchases or low interest rates for the first 6 months.  And most important, it’s OK to splurge but make sure you have money in the bank to pay for that splurge.

Do Your Thing, Chicken Wing

A few years ago a good friend of mine went through a mini nervous breakdown.  He was depressed and anxious because he was fast approaching an important milestone in every man’s life—his thirtieth birthday.

He’s not the only guy who has experienced anxiety before The Big Birthday; my brothers, ex-boyfriends and other guy pals have all mentioned the stress of turning thirty.  It seems that’s the age that most men stop and evaluate where they are in life, how far they’ve come and where they need to go.  Many measure their success based on monetary accomplishments like how much they have in the bank compared to their buddies, their role at work, whether they own a place, a car, and of course, how they’re doing with the ladies.

For women, it’s the same, except different. As we get older, societal pressures and expectations seem to mount, and while the pressure of career and settling down is the same, the timeline to get stuff done is different between men and women.

For the longest time, women have been expected to get married and start a family early on before worrying about a career.  Society and the gosh-darned biological clock forced our priorities upon us for a long time. Over the past few decades, however, this has changed. These days, 20% of people between 18-29 are married compared to 59% in 1960.

Now more than ever, women are delaying marriage and family– and some delay it indefinitely.  Instead they are pursuing lucrative careers, financial freedom, travel and adventure first before settling down. And many are choosing to remain in the workforce after marriage and while raising a family.  Many of the married women I know who are still working do so because they want to, not because they have to.

So now you can say there’s a different kind of competition between women; those who “have it all” and those who don’t.  It’s not just Bethany Frankel who shows that you can get married, have a family, run a successful business and have your own reality TV show. Now, not only are we expected to become wives and mothers at some point and maintain sparkling, happy households, we are also struggling to break glass ceilings in the workplace, fight for our promotions, log in long hours and build our own empires.  All while maintaining a year-round tan, toned body, sexy youthful style and unlimited energy.

But do we all have to have it all?  Do we even want it all? And by what age should we have achieved all of this?

Unfortunately, I’ve found that not only do we as women put a lot of pressure on ourselves to compete, but we also put pressures on each other to keep up with what we perceive to be the standard.

I’ve known smart, seemingly happy stay-at-home moms to look at single professional women and feel guilty about being “just” a mom and not back at work, utilizing the degree she worked so hard to earn.  I’ve seen smart, ambitious single women who run successful businesses look at married friends and act like they (the single ladies) are failures because they have not yet been married or become mothers.

Many of us are often faced with pressures we put on each other.  Occasionally, some of my married friends have “sympathetically” offered me (unsolicited) advice about how I should stop being “picky” and “settle down” like she did, and have a nice “normal” life.

Other times, I’ve visited friends in their new homes and asked myself why I’m still renting.  I will beat myself up for half the day until I remember that I live in New York City where the condo fees and taxes alone probably equal double their mortgage payment.  I remind myself that I will buy a home when I’m ready to buy, not when someone tells me it’s the right time to buy.

Because we are now trying to “have it all” the pressure can be relentless. Yes, there are moments when I reflect on my status–about why exactly I file taxes as a single person, and how far behind I am.  But far behind what? Is it that I’ve fallen behind in the expectations of others– or am I right where I should be?  Maybe I don’t have a cozy town house with a sunken family room, 2-car garage and access to the community pool, and maybe I don’t yet have the family that will suck my energy and bank account dry.

But on the other hand, when my bathtub needs recaulking or the air conditioner is broken, I only need to call my super and hand him a twenty.  If I’m meeting a friend for dinner in the Village, I just hop on the bike path down 9th Avenue. And when I do travel, I get warm smiles and appreciative comments from fellow travelers telling me how well behaved and quiet my Boston terrier was on the plane. I’m not saying that one status or lifestyle is better than another—although there are plenty of people who will.  It’s just easy to get distracted and let others influence our overall sense of accomplishment and growth.  If we let others establish the parameters by which we measure ourselves, we’ll always fall short.

Instead of beating ourselves up if a few things are missing in our lives, use others’ accomplishments as motivators that will help set goals—in career, in love and in money—on your own terms.  Take the time to define what it means to “have it all” and make it personal.  Keep in mind that a little pressure and competition is good for the soul and ego, but there’s no room for friends who put each other down—that probably means someone’s having an unhappy life.  Take the time to check in with yourself and reward yourself when you’ve knocked things off your list—whether it’s a new job, becoming debt-free, a dream vacation, a good man, a home or a new business venture.

Let every year be a milestone that you look forward to and celebrate.

Shot-Caller Wisdom

Over the past few weeks, I’ve received great feedback about the “shot-callers” I profiled on this blog.  People loved reading about Sharon, Tea and Tamar–“real” women who built successful businesses, bought dream homes, planned their ideal weddings and traveled the world–and did it all using savvy financial wisdom.  I want to send a special thanks to my favorite shot-callers–Sharon Richter, Tea M and Tamar Vezirian–for sharing their unique stories, for being so open and honest about the challenges they encountered along the way, and especially for offering simple but profound advice.

Discipline

Sharon Richter

Sharon Richter

Sharon Richter, a NYC based nutritionist with a successful business (www.therichterreco.com) worked hard, saved her money and built her business from the ground up.  Recently she bought and renovated her dream apartment near Central Park.  Sharon isn’t a trust fund baby, nor did she have a ‘sugar daddy’ paying her bills and buying her mink stoles.  Sharon relied on guts, hard work and discipline to get where she is today.  Here are some great tips from Sharon:

– Make and pack your breakfast and lunch every day, even if you’re on the go.

Once in a while, it’s OK to forego the big Friday night dinner with friends and just meet up after for drinks.

– If you are saving up for a big-ticket item or event like buying a home or planning/paying for a wedding, consider investing the money you’re saving to generate higher returns–like a short-term CD, high-yield savings account or mutual fund.  So when you need the money down the road, you’ll have a little bit more!

Never pay full price for designer stuff.  Almost everything goes on sale so wait for the sale to make the purchase and in the meantime, figure out a way to save up for that big purchaseSharon stuffs 10’s and 20’s into an envelope to save up for her shoes, boots, bags, etc.

Come up with a system to save money that works for you.  And then follow it!

Design

Tea M on one of her hiking adventures

Tea M, an architect and design consultant for financial systems, recently purchased her dream apartment in NYC with a million dollar view.  Now she looks forward to designing her new home the way she has always imagined.  While the road to homeowners-ville was tough and windy, Tea was able to save money and use some financial wisdom in the meantime to get there.  She knew compromise was essential to take the next step, but there were some things that were not up for grabs–like traveling the world, skiing and hiking.  She designed her life so that she was able to buy her dream apartment while still pursuing activities that she enjoyed.  Here are some tips from Tea:

If available, make sure to sign up for credit card rewards, collect airline miles and other credit card incentives–and use them to your advantage.  This allowed Tea to travel on miles and saved her thousands of dollars on her skiing/hiking/touring trips around the world.

Figure out a budgeting system that works for you.  Tea keeps track of expenses by charging most things on one credit card.  She keeps a specific amount of “street money” on hand for unexpected expenses.

One way of keeping costs down since Tea’s apartment purchase is to cut down on unnecessary expenses.  Tea now holds off on manicures, pedicures and haircuts until absolutely necessary and keeps frivolous expenses to a minimum.

Determination

Tamar Vezirian

Tamar Vezirian, founder of Gotham Glow (www.GothamGlow.com), originally came to NY to pursue an acting career.  Instead, she found her calling as the owner of one of the top airbrush tanning salons in NYC. She admits that building her business was tough–demanding clients, the physical requirements of the job and the challenge of running a business alone–often wore her down.  But with guts, persistence and determination, she built Gotham Glow into a high-end service demanded by socialites, celebs, executives, business moguls– and regular peeps too.  Here are some money gems from Tamar:

If you’re thinking of starting a business, it’s best to keep your day job while you’re starting up and make sure you have a substantial amount of money set aside in savings. I suggest (this is Lena’s opinion!) about nine months’ worth of savings.

When starting a business, or if you’re saving up or trying to manage debt, make sure to keep living (and business) expenses low.  When she moved to NYC, Tamar rented a room from a 75-year-old woman, not exactly the ideal living situation for a swingin’ 23-year old woman! And as a business-owner, Tamar was a one-woman show, doing the tans, bookings, correspondences, PR, bookkeeping and anything in between.

Become an expert negotiator.  It never hurts to negotiate a price  (except maybe  not at Macy’s) or barter/exchange services.  Depending on your business, you can swap services for massages, beauty services, haircuts, PR, SEO, website help, legal advice and more.

While it’s true that we live in a ‘material world’, we have a choice about how to deal with it.  We can live like ‘ballers’–and shop til we drop, spend hundreds on just the right tone of highlights and low-lights, go to fancy restaurants and live in luxury apartments–and then go broke in the meantime.  Or we can be ‘shot-callers’– and exercise restraint and discipline when it comes to our expenses and savings.  With a little prioritization, preparation and  self-control,  we can reach our financial dreams– and still look good, eat well and wear those Jimmy Choos.

The Shot-Caller With Determination

There aren’t many things I liked about the ’80’s.  Bad hair was prevalent then ( A Flock of Seagulls, bi-level bobs, rat-tails).  It was a decade of bad fashion (braided headbands and leg warmers, Members Only jackets, pegged jeans, double-breasted suit jackets over wife-beaters a la Miami Vice, anything MC Hammer wore). And for some reason, everyone spoke “valley,” even in Maryland (“Like, gag me with a spoon!”). 

But it wasn’t all bad; in fact, there was one person who singlehandedly saved the ’80’s from being the dorky decade. I’m talkin’ to you, Sylvester Stallone. Whether Stallone was starring in the “Rocky ” I-IV movies, “Tango & Cash,” or any of the many hammy movies of his career, there was an endearing similarity in all of the characters he played.  While the storyline and circumstances varied in each film, Stallone always played a character with determination.  Whether he was training for a fight, running up and down the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, battling the Viet Cong in “Rambo,” or even cracking jokes as a tough cabbie with a heart of gold in “Rhinestone,” we rooted for his characters because they were relatable, gutsy and determined.

Similarly, determination is what took Tamar Vezirian, founder of Goltham Glow in NYC,  from the bomb shelters of Beirut, to the hills of San Francisco, to the filthy streets of New York City where she launched an air-brush tanning business that became a smashing success.  It’s a story that says–like Tamar or Rocky Balboa– with enough guts, hard work and determination, we can reach our financial goals.

The Shot-Caller With Determination

For  Tamar, the road to success was long, windy and filled with drag queens and trannies, late night house calls, drunk celebrities, angry cab drivers and tanning formula along the way.  Growing up in San Francisco, Tamar dreamt of becoming a performer, just like her idol Cher.  She studied acting and singing, and performed at local theaters before venturing on to NYC to seek theatrical  fame and fortune.

Tamar Vezirian

In NY, Tamar started doing sketch comedy, musical theater and improv, went to tons of auditions and became heavily involved in the acting community.  But while she was thrilled to be pursuing her passions, someone still had to pay the bills.  While living in San Francisco,  Tamar had worked as a makeup artist (that’s where she met all the drag queens!) so it was easy for her to find similar jobs in NY.  Along with make-up gigs, she eventually  landed a job at an air-brush spray tanning salon. Tamar quickly learned the tricks of the trade, and, with her bubbly personality, sense of humor and professionalism, clients loved her.

After a few years of tanning clients, Tamar knew she had found her calling, and she was ready to take the next step.  Not only could she make clients look natural and sun-kissed, but she knew how to apply the solution in a way that enhances the appearance of her clients’ bodies.  With a few strokes of her tanning gun, she can make a woman’s breasts appear larger, give a man’s gut definition and “abs,” and even reduce the appearance of cellulite around the thighs.  In other words, she’s a magician!

While she was working at the salon, she also worked part-time for a high-end cosmetics line at a department store, worked several nights a week as a make-up artist at a strip club, and was also doing freelance makeup gigs on the side.  “I was a Jamaican working seven days a week and had a show at the same time,” she remembers.  Tamar finally saved enough money from her side jobs to quit the tanning salon, and focused on creating her own mobile airbrush tanning business.  After months of fear and agonizing over starting her own venture, Gotham Glow was born (www.GothamGlow.com).

Going Rogue

The early days of Gotham Glow were tough.  Since it was primarily a mobile service, Tamar would take subways, buses, taxis and would hoof it all over town to meet clients with her pop-up tent and tanning machine in tow.  When she started building her business, she took any and all appointments–whether it was a house-call for an Upper East Side socialite at 6 am, a D-List celebrity coming back from the club at 3:00 am or a busy executive returning home from a trip just to unpack, repack, get a spray tan and get back on the road.  When she wasn’t traveling to and from her tanning appointments or spraying clients, Tamar did everything else: from the bookings, to the correspondences (apparently many New York women need A LOT of hand-holding) to the accounting to marketing to her own PR.  When she could get away from all of the paperwork, Tamar would hit the public library for free business courses or just spend time doing online research on competitors and ideas.

After a few years, Tamar had built up a list of solid clients and had earned a reputation as one of the best air-brush tanners in the city.  She worked around the clock, day and night, heading to appointments in sleet, snow, wind, hail, scorching sun and dark of night.  She would leave parties, events with friends, and dates with her boyfriend just so she can make a scheduled appointment, and she rarely took a vacation. 

Eventually, her services were so in-demand that she began offering in-studio tans and had men and women ringing her doorbell at all hours of the day and night.  By that point, Gotham Glow was being written up in all the major beauty and health publications, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Details, Allure, Glamour, Time Out Magazine and many more.  The press was great for business but since her business was in her home, it was difficult to get any peace or privacy.  In 2011, Tamar finally opened the first Gotham Glow salon in the Flatiron District.

Dancing Clients

As a successful business owner, Tamar can now breathe a little easy, but she still maintains that hard-core work ethic.  Still, she laughs when recalling some of her kookier clients and some of the antics she had to deal with in the early days of Gotham Glow.  She recalls one client who was addicted to iced coffee and would always have several half-filled cups of iced coffee scattered throughout her apartment.  This same client would keep her Bluetooth headset in her ear and would continue her conference calls while Tamar tanned her, despite having to talk over the hum of the tanning machine.

Another client had taken too many ‘muscle relaxers’ when Tamar tanned her.  She fell asleep standing up under the tent, and when it was time for payment, she wrote Tamar a check for $14,000 (Tamar charges $125-175 for house calls).  Still another client was naked in the tent, dancing by herself to no music while Tamar patiently tried to tan her.

Tips for Starting a Business or Reaching Your Financial Goal

Tamar shared some serious tips that helped her build her business from the ground-up:

– “I’m always one of those people who worries about money,” she admits.  For that reason, Tamar thought long and hard before quitting her job at the salon and starting her own business.  She also made sure to save a substantial amount of money so that she has emergency funds for living expenses.  And even after she started Gotham Glow, she still held on to several gigs to make sure she was making money to cover her rent and living expenses and staying debt-free.

– Even before she started her business, Tamar made sure to keep her living expenses low.  When she moved to NYC, she rented a room from a fellow Armenian woman who was 75 years old.  The situation wasn’t exactly ideal for a 23-year-old woman newly arrived in NYC, but she knew that by keeping her rent payment low, she could save money.

– She kept her expenses to a minimum in her business as well.  For many years, she was the only employee–giving the tans, doing the bookkeeping, using her apartment as a studio and anything in between.  If she could do the work, she did it rather than hire someone.  Eventually she got so busy that had to hire a few people but she was very careful about all the moves she made. 

Tamar is an expert negotiator.  Whether she is at a flea market, in the flower district, at a hair salon or getting coffee, Tamar will negotiate the price. Sure, sometimes a vendor will say no to a discount, but very often they are charmed and say yes.  It never hurts to ask.

– Because she is in the beauty industry, Tamar relies on bartering and swapping services.  She will swap makeup and makeup applications, products and tans in exchange for haircuts, highlights, laser, facials, massages, legal services, PR, SEO services and more.

– Tamar even used her supreme negotiating tactics when she planned her wedding last year.  Working within a specific budget, she and her husband planned a beautiful rustic wedding with a  lot of attention to details.  They relied on friends’ time and talents, their own skills and good old determination to plan and pay for the wedding of their dreams.  While it required a lot of footwork (Tamar even went to the flower district herself to buy flowers, vases, table covers, etc), she insists it was all worth it.  “Just because you’re spending a lot for your wedding doesn’t mean it will be special.  It’s the personal touches and details that make it special.”

We all know the phrase, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”  Sometimes it’s the road we have to travel that provides the most valuable life lessons.  Whether your goal is to start a business, get out of debt or save for a wedding or home, with a little determination, smarts and hustle, you can reach your goals and learn some valuable lessons along the way.  Like how to tactfully return a $14,000 check to a customer.

The Shot-Caller With Design

There are some things in life that you can’t control.  Like who you fall in love with, and when. Or the line at Trader Joe’s that sometimes begins in the produce department.  Also traffic, weather patterns and flight delays.  And how your face turns red whenever someone brings up the Spring Break “incident.”

On the other hand, there are things in life that you do have control over.  Like wearing eye shadow to the gym–not really necessary, right?  Or whether to accompany the 6 ounce petit filet with a baked potato instead of potatoes “three-ways” (you know what I’m talking about and it involves bacon bits).  You also have control over not ordering that fourth margarita.

Similarly, some of the best ways to wrestle with your finances so that you have the upper hand and not the other way around –is to set specific goals and design your financial lifestyle.  Once you have a handle on what you want in life, what you won’t compromise on and what you will, you can make better decisions for budgeting, saving and investing.

A Shot-Caller with Design: Tea M

Tea M, a NYC-based architect and design consultant for financial systems, shared with me her inspiring story about the windy road from her homeland of Croatia to an eight year pit-stop in Italy, to the US where she’s lived for the past 13 years. All along she has designed her financial future by focusing on what is most important to her, setting goals and following the path she set for herself.

It wasn’t easy.  During the 1990’s when war broke out in her native Yugoslavia, Tea fled to Italy to find work.  She was lucky to find a job in her field as an architect, but because her boss was responsible for filing paperwork and paying taxes on her as a non-native employee, he decided to file her under “housekeeper.”  This would reduce his tax payment, but made life difficult for Tea.

At that time, there were many people fleeing to Italy from neighboring Eastern Europe and Africa.  As a result, there was a sense of widespread discrimination and suspicion of the foreigners coming to Italy and “taking” jobs.  Her fellow co-workers got wind of her “official” title, and she felt humiliated and was treated differently.  Because she was an immigrant, though, she was afraid to speak up, so for eight years Tea toughed it out.  She worked hard, saved her money, and when she had an opportunity to come to the US, she took it.  Within the first seven years after coming to the US, Tea had her green card, a master’s degree and had paid off all her student loans!

From NY to Mt. Kilimanjaro to Machu Picchu…And Back…

Tea hit the jackpot when she moved to Manhattan and found a rent-stabilized apartment, paying below-market rent on her place. In a city with sky-high rents where someone can easily spend thousands of dollars to live in a dark shoebox-sized studio overlooking a shaftway filled with trash, Tea was thrilled to have found an affordable, cozy, sunny apartment. Most important to Tea was that she could live her life without having the burden of an outrageous rent every month.

Since she worked for a company with global clients and projects, Tea traveled the world. Traveling helped satiate Tea’s taste for adventure, culture and change, but more important, she got to collect points and miles on her credit cards and favorite airlines!  As an avid hiker and mountaineer, Tea used these points to travel to the furthermost regions of the world to pursue her hobbies.  She has climbed to the Mt. Everest base camp, Mt. Kilimanjaro and Machu Picchu, among others, and has traveled to countries all over the world.

Tea M on one of her hiking adventures

This lifestyle served Tea well for a while, but as the years rolled by, she began to feel a pang in her gut.  While she enjoyed her work, friends and traveling adventures, she wanted more out of life–like her own home and a family– and in NYC, it’s easy to let years roll by before finally realizing you’re ready to grow up!

At around the same time, Tea’s neighborhood was changing.  A building with a 24-hour gym had been erected across from Tea’s building, blocking her view of the park.  What’s worse was that during all hours of the day or night, Tea could look out the window and watch people working out on treadmills and lifting weights.  While this might have caused some people to immediately cancel cable and invest in an expensive tripod and telescope, for Tea this gym situation put a big cramp in her style.  In addition, the building itself was so high that it blocked any remaining sunlight she used to get in the apartment.  As “cabin-fever” set in, Tea began to spend more time way from her apartment, and when she was home, she would keep the curtains drawn so she wouldn’t be subjected to the gym rats.

Change is Good..But Scary!

Finally, she realized a change was in order.  While she didn’t set out as a serious buyer, she started attending open-houses to check out the Manhattan real estate market, mainly as a new hobby; at that time, it was fall/early winter– too cold to hike and too early to ski.  Plus, going to open-houses was a great way to meet men!

The more she looked around, the more specific she got about what she wanted. In the years that Tea had lived in NYC, she dreamt of owning her own place, and more importantly, as an architect and design freak, Tea knew exactly how she wanted to furnish and design her home down to the fixtures and the faucets.  “You know how little girls know how they want their wedding dress to look since they were twelve?” Tea laughs. “That’s how long I’ve known how my house should look.”

She had a substantial savings account from years of working and socking away money, but wanted to make sure she wouldn’t ever be tied to a particular job just because of a mortgage obligation.  She considered apartments at different price points, determining how much she would have to work to meet the mortgage payment and how much time off she could take during the year to pursue her hobbies.  She knew that becoming a home owner in NYC would require a huge financial responsibility, but she wanted to make sure that she still had control over her life, including having the freedom to travel.

She finally found the apartment.  It had everything she wanted, including an oversized bedroom, comfortable kitchen and dining area, and a south-facing city view and balcony.  From that point on, things began to fall into place, as she soon discovered that her friend was the seller’s broker.

Months after the purchase, Tea is eager to begin designing and furnishing her home exactly the way she dreamed, and has been doing research on possible renovations, furniture, fixtures and cabinets.  But since she now has to pay a NYC-priced mortgage, she is nervous.  “It was different before when I went to the bank and saw my savings and had security, ” she says.  With the majority of her savings invested in her apartment, she says,”Now I’m an adult!”  She knows that the first year of homeownership is an adjustment, and she is ready for this next phase of her life.

Survival Tips for Homeowners and Wannabe Homeowners

Here are some tips Tea used to help her save for her apartment and budgeting strategies that will help her get through the first year:

– Tea always makes sure to pack her breakfast and lunch for work.  This allows her to save at least $10-20 everyday.

–  While in the past, she would allow herself a couple nights out a week with friends for dinner and drinks, she has curbed her outings since becoming a homeowner.  Now, she is perfectly content to go home after work and enjoy the view from her balcony, or have friends over.  This saves her at least $75-100 per week.

– Because her job required frequent travel, Tea became a pro at signing up for rewards, collecting miles and using them to her advantage.  She opened a credit card that awarded her 100,000 reward points for signing up.  While the annual fee was $95 a year, it was worth it since she was able to cash in those reward miles and go home to Croatia twice a year.  In fact, Tea has used her miles and bonuses to ski, hike and travel the world, and that has saved her thousands of dollars.

– Tea keeps track of expenses by charging most things on one credit card.  She keeps a specific amount of “street money” on hand for unexpected expenses.  Lately, though Tea has found that the “street money” that used to last her a week is being stretched and now lasts her almost 2 weeks, as she continues to set strict budgeting parameters for herself.

– One way of keeping costs down since her apartment purchase is to cut down on unnecessary expenses.  Tea now holds off on manicures, pedicures and haircuts until absolutely necessary and keeps frivolous expenses to a minimum.

Whether you’re saving to buy a home, budgeting for your dream vacation or a wedding, or trying to get out of debt, the key is to take control and set goals you can meet.  For Tea, cutting corners, staying in her small below-market apartment a few extra years, and being savvy about points and credit cards helped her to reach her goals.  But while she has compromised on certain expenses and luxuries to stay within her budget, she’s got limits.  Bottomline: she’s not giving up those ski trips.

The Shot-Caller with Discipline

We all know that the best way to save money is to set a budgeting plan and stick to it.  But successful budgeting requires discipline.

Unfortunately when I think of discipline I imagine an evil drill sargent barking orders at a skinny recruit too petrified to wipe Sarge’s spittle from his face.  Or I recall the monotonous “wipe on, wipe off” of the Karate Kid learning the right moves while washing Mr. Miyagi’s car.  Or the crazy people who wake up at 5:30 am to work out with a trainer.

The truth is, discipline can be a real jerk.  In many cases, having the right discipline means foregoing instant gratification.  Discipline squashes the whiny voice in your head that says “But I DESERVE this!!!”  It makes you wake up earlier than you really really want to, and sometimes makes you go to bed later in order to get everything done for the day.  Discipline forces you to leave parties earlier, pass up offers to meet for a drink or a bite that might break your budget.  Discipline makes you work out, fill your plate with veggies and (gasp!) forego dessert.  Discipline makes you break up with that hot young guy because, although he’s A LOT of fun, you know it’s not going anywhere:(

Sharon Richter: The Shot-Caller with Discipline

While being disciplined may be tough and sometimes boring, setting goals and being vigilant about reaching them can be rewarding in the long run.  Discipline is what took Sharon Richter from a pre-med major to becoming a certified nutritionist with a successful, diversified business, clients who love her and numerous TV spots under her belt.  Discipline also helped Sharon fulfill her ultimate dream: to own a beautiful spacious apartment overlooking Central Park, with a shoe closet that rivals Carrie Bradshaw’s on “Sex and the City,” and a kitchen in which she can cook and entertain friends.

Sharon Richter

Sharon Richter

Sharon’s road to Carrie Bradshaw Shoe Closet was not easy though.  It took Sharon many years, a lot of risk, strict budgeting and smart investing to get her to where she is today.

Grocery Store Tours, Nutrition for Kids and Equinox–All In A Day’s Work

While studying pre-med in college, Sharon found herself interested in health and nutrition and made the choice to switch to nutrition.  After graduate school, she worked for doctor’s offices and then with Tiger Schulman’s Karate until she saved up enough money to quit and start her own business.

Now that she was on her own, Sharon knew there was a lot at stake, so she started networking like crazy, getting involved in different aspects of nutrition and working around the clock.  Sharon focused on educating her clients to make better food and fitness choices.  She worked with clients on their specific goals, often going food shopping with her clients and teaching them to read the labels on the back of products in grocery stores, and advising what foods and aisles to avoid.  She aligned herself with doctors who would refer their patients to her as part of their treatment plans.  She conducted seminars all over the city with companies like Tiger Karate and Nike World.  She was involved in implementing a nutrition program for kids called “Days of Taste” that helps kids discover food, teaching them about taste, nutrition and creating their favorite meals.

In addition to education and consulting services, Sharon also worked with various companies like E Boost to help them develop supplements, and worked closely with fitness companies such as Equniox.

In the ten years since Sharon started her business, http://www.therichterreco.com/, she has seen it grow from an idea to a dream to reality.  In the past few years, her specialized expertise, friendly and approachable personality, and no-nonsense attitude,  coupled with amazing networking skills has landed her various television spots, including on NY1, the Today Show, Channel 11, the Dr. Steve Show and a recurring spot on the infamous “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.”

Sharon’s “Aha!” Moment

All along, Sharon never let the success get to her head– or let it affect her wallet.  While building her business, Sharon lived in a modest apartment she had purchased with money she saved from college graduation, her bat mitzvah, and past jobs.  Her dream was to save enough money to own her dream apartment in New York City.  Two years ago, she saw this dream realized when she bought and renovated two adjoining apartments in a charming building along Central Park.  With money she earned from the sale of her first apartment, along with smart investing, saving and budgeting strategies, she was able to purchase the two apartments and convert them into one larger apartment.

As Sharon puts it, this was her “aha moment.”  She recalls watching “Sex and the City” and being jealous of the characters’ fabulous New York apartments.  When she finally was able to buy and build her own dream apartment, she remembers thinking, “Oh my God!  I’m like living in it!” as a real-life “Sex and the City” character.  Her coup de grace was the closet she had custom-built to house her shoe collection.  She laughs, “You have your babies, SJP, these are mine!”

And with a spacious apartment comes a large, bright kitchen that allows Sharon another victory.  As a nutritionist, Sharon focuses on creating and cooking delicious dishes that are healthy and yummy–check out her website and subscribe to her newsletter, “The Richter Reco,” to get some of these scrumptious and guilt-free recipes.  She had always wanted a kitchen that would allow her the space to create these recipes and entertain her friends and family.  Now she uses her kitchen every day, cooking for herself, her clients and friends who reap the benefits too!

Take Notes, Carrie Bradshaw!

But Sharon insists that building a successful business and buying your dream NYC apartment takes hard work and discipline.  Here are some great budgeting habits from Sharon:

Make and pack your breakfast and lunch every day.  Even though Sharon is on the move everyday, meeting with clients in their homes, gym or her office, she continues to pack her meals and bring them along.  It’s healthy and budget-friendly.

– Many times when she wants to keep costs down, Sharon will forego meeting friends for a full dinner and will come after for a drink.  That way, she saves herself $40-80 but can still be social and connect with friends.

– When she was younger, Sharon had money saved from family and graduations so that may have helped her in the long-run.  Instead of splurging on expensive blow-outs and manicures, she chose to save the money that allowed her to buy her first apartment.

– Later, when she was ready to renovate her second apartment, she spoke to the contractor to get an estimate of how much time the construction would take.  Then she went to different banks and shopped for competitive CD rates; she found a bank with the best interest rate and invested the money she would be using to pay for renovations in a short-term CD. By the time she had to pay the contractor, the CD had allowed her money to grow and earned her more than enough for construction.

– Sharon’s weakness is expensive designer shoes.  The great thing about Sharon though, is that while she has an impressive closet full of designer shoes, she has never paid full price for them.  When something catches her eye, like a pair of Jimmy Choo boots, instead of grabbing them and plunking down her credit card immediately, Sharon backs slowly away, goes home, takes out an envelope and writes “Jimmy Choo Boots.”  Then for the next few weeks, she watches for a sale all the while stuffing tens and twenty’s into the envelope.  Usually, Sharon notes, by the time she has enough for the boots, they’re on sale and she can buy them, or she’s over them and can put that money into savings.

– Most important, Sharon has a created a system that works for her.  She keeps a specific amount of cash in her wallet for the week but tries to charge everything and then enters all purchases and expenses into Quickbooks as personal or business expenses.  And most important, she continues to stuff money into her savings and 401(k).

Sure , discipline can be an ugly hairy mole that you want to run away from.  But if you can fight those initial instincts of giving in to every whim and weakness, you’ll see that, like Sharon, by taking control and playing by the rules you set for yourself, you can actually fulfill your dreams.

Are you a Baller or a Shot-Caller?

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog called “Don’t Be A Baller” http://bit.ly/wErnAW in which I discussed the mythical city girl dressed in designer threads, hitting the hot-spots every night of the week, and living in luxury.  While there are many successful, savvy women (and men) who do have –and can afford–this lifestyle, there are a ton of ladies (and guys) who talk the talk but CAN’T walk the walk.  And by walking the walk, I mean paying for their over-the-top lifestyle.

In fact, the more I talk about managing debt and minimizing unnecessary expenses with friends, colleagues and acquaintances, the more ballers I find who have been popping up all over the place–women who grab their paychecks and go shopping immediately– before putting the 10% minimum into savings.  Women who slouch around in Seven For All Mankind dressing rooms squeezing into jeans, trying on dresses at Reiss, shopping for wrinkle cream and lip gloss in Sephora, snagging Frye boots at Bloomingdale’s–while their monthly bills sit unopened on their kitchen table.  Women and men behind on their bills but hitting the clubs every Saturday and assuming their shrinking bonus check will cover up their spending sins.

I know life is hard, being single can be tough, work sucks, you just broke up with your boyfriend, yadda yadda yadda–and any other excuse we use to validate this outrageous behavior.  But we need to get a grip!  With a little focus and planning and a lot of self-control, we can change from being a baller to a shot–caller.

What’s a shot-caller?  She’s a woman with a plan, focus and single-minded self-control.  She sets goals for herself–maybe she wants to start a business, buy a home, start investing in ETFs or save for a wedding–sets up a plan to reach her goal, puts her head down and gets to work!  Shot callers aren’t always out at the club, they often pack their own lunches, use Groupons and coupons, skip big group dinners and buy things on sale.  It’s not that these ladies don’t have fun–they just pick and choose when and where to make an appearance, keeping their eyes on the ultimate prize–their financial goal.

Shot-callers are just that: they call the shots when it comes to their finances, and not the other way around.  They have already determined what their priorities are, and anything else that comes up is not as important.  So if a particular Shot-Caller’s goal is to accumulate six months’ worth of savings to start a business, she may bid adieu to Antonio her fabulous but needy hair dresser and head to Super-Cuts for the next few haircuts in order to save some money. Or she may skip the sushi dinner with friends and just meet them after for drinks.  And, she might choose to stay in her small but affordable apartment while her peers ‘move on up to the east side’–just to allow her breathing room and freedom to save for a condo.

Rest assured, not all city-slickers and suburban-dwellers are ballers. Recently,  I came across three shot-calling women who are large and in charge, and I wanted to share their stories.  Each of their stories represents a significant D-word.  Now D’s have always meant something bad to me, ever since I got a D in Algebra 2 and was informed I wouldn’t be allowed to move on to Trigonometry.  This was good news to me since I would rather spend the night alone in a wax museum with a serial killer than do my multiplication tables, but my dad didn’t see it that way.  That guy was a closet mathematician and took out his math obsession on his very confused daughter, Lena.

But I digress.

This week, I am going to profile three different Shot-Callers–women who have successfully taken control of their financial futures and have survived to tell their stories.  They have graciously shared their personal experiences in their plight to reach their goals and determine their future.  And along the way, they have some great tips we can all learn from.

Tune in tomorrow when I will profile a Shot-Caller with Discipline: Sharon Richter, a certified nutritionist and founder of the Richter Reco (http://www.therichterreco.com/), who built her business from the ground-up, bought and renovated her dream NYC apartment and–most importantly–built a closet to house her Carrie Bradshaw-inspired shoe collection.

Wednesday/Thurs I will profile a Shot-Caller with Design: Tea M, a Croatian-born architect who came from war-torn Yugoslavia by way of Italy then NYC-and climbed Mt. Everest, Kilimanjaro and Macchu Picchu along the way.  While young girls dreamt of their dream wedding dress, Tea envisioned her dream home, down to the color and design of the fixtures–and now she’s living her dream!

Wrapping up the week will be a Shot-Caller with Determination: Tamar Vezirian, founder of Gotham Glow Tanning (http://gothamglow.com/) , who came to NYC from San Francisco to be a performer–and instead found herself spray-tanning celebrity clients, some of whom have greeted her at the door of their hotel rooms wearing nothing but a rhinestone necklace.

All of these ladies started with a dream, worked and saved for it and reached it.  They have determined their lifestyle and financial future; if they can do it, so can you.