By: Tiffany A. Kampsnider Issue: Collaborative Women Section:Jewel Of Collaboration
As women, there are few topics we deem “off limits” while conversing with our girlfriends. We gab endlessly about the trivial stuff; the guy we met for drinks last week, the way in which we were “bad” for ordering the side of fries instead of the salad, or the wonders that our new Pilates class is doing for our abs. We share our thoughts on religion, the strength it took for our mom to beat breast cancer, our views about politics and how we got ourselves into $50,000 of credit card debt….
Er, hold that last thought.
When is the last time you discussed the details of your personal finances with your closest girlfriends, let alone anyone else? Have you shared the nitty gritty about your mortgage, your stocks and your savings, or like many of us, your lack there of? Although money management and personal finances affect all of us in one way or another, the topic continues to be taboo among women of all ages. Wouldn’t it be nice to receive honest feedback, accountability and encouragement in regards to our finances, similar to the ways in which we are counseled on the former topics? A forum to share the truth about our money management strengths and weaknesses that gives both emotional and educational support?
Meet the Smart Cookies. Not your average chocolate chip and sugar variety mind you, but rather a group of five young women who haven’t had a chance to cool since starting their own money management group over five years ago. Inspired by an Oprah Winfrey show on personal finance, friends Andrea, Angela, Katie, Robyn and Sandra decided that it was time to tackle their own financial demons. Wanting to take an honest look at their personal finances in a way that they had not done before, they decided to challenge their financial management skills in order to make the most of their money. Furthermore, they wanted to do it in an environment that they were both comfortable and familiar with. Together. The ladies were eager and determined to get the conversation that always seemed to slide under the radar to the forefront. While agreeing to weekly meetings, the group quickly turned money into a hot topic and they were well on their way to helping one another reach financial freedom. Wanting to be held accountable, each came with different agendas that were important and pertinent to their lives such as wanting to pay off $18,000 in consumer debt, becoming savvy in stocks and investments, to simply wanting to learn the “sweet” ways to live on less. What’s more? They wanted to do it all without sacrificing their fabulous style or social lives. Just one glance at this striking and dynamic five-some and you quickly realize that this ain’t your mama’s cookie jar.
A typical meeting for the group follows a similar agenda to the one that they put forth in the beginning consisting of: a general check-in with one another, spending updates, reviewing goals and setting new goals, an education component in which each person is responsible for coming up with bits of factual information for that weeks financial topic and perhaps most importantly, sharing good news or one smart money move that each had recently made. They found that by sharing these successes, no matter how small, was motivational and inspiring to the entire group and a key to their personal financial successes. Sandra Hanna of Smart Cookies insists that this positive attitude has been a key ingredient to their success. “We are very proud of ourselves as a group and of each other. We are also very connected. But most of all we are positive. We always have and continue to focus on being positive,” Hanna maintains. “We feel that being positive sets us apart from other money groups in that it’s not about deprivation or being frugal. It’s about wealth management and adding things to your lives by making smarter decisions about money.”
Hanna further describes the group as a type of ‘Weight Watchers’ for managing wealth. Similar to the Weight Watchers model, the importance of the group lies in the emotional, supportive and positive reinforcement they continuously get in reaching their goals. And, as any Weight Watchers success story can tell you, the group meetings are crucial to their achievements. For example, Sandra described how they were able to look at the amount of money another one of the Cookies could potentially make in her current career by going back and getting her masters degree. The women were then able to root her on, providing the encouragement and accountability she needed while she went after her diploma. “By working as a group, we are able to really push each other,” Hanna adds. “We arm each other with information and act as a cheerleading squad for other members of the group.” Managing their goals and expectations alone simply would not produce the same results as collaborating together does. “We know this, because we all tried on our own. Collectively, we had purchased every financial book on the market,” explains Hanna, “and we all had continuously gotten off track.” She confirms that being part of a team pushes you beyond your limits of what you can accomplish by yourself. Ultimately, you can achieve more.
While the “Rah, Rah’s!” of the sideline cheer squad and the weekly meetings are nice, one must ask, how, specifically they got from financial farce to freedom - and everywhere in between. Hanna recognizes that by allowing themselves permission to indulge, in a structured manner, the ladies have seen their social lives, relationships, and even their shopping and personal “maintenance” habits flourish, all while saving a bit of money along the way. Instead of giving up the luxuries that make them who they are, they simply perfect the ways in which they go about doing them, providing ways that they can still achieve their ultimate financial goals. For example, “…we have found that women love to share everything,” gushes Hanna. “If you can tap into that, you can save yourself A LOT of money.” Things like borrowing clothes, swapping magazines and trading babysitting services are all ways that can make a big impact on financial success. “Simple things like always asking for the special,” she adds, “can help you make smart decisions.” Whether they are inquiring about the happy hour specials on Friday afternoon or finding a local beauty school in their town to color their tresses, the Smart Cookies have taken their favorite routines and have turned them into money saving opportunities. Coming out on top and staying ahead of their goals is worth it - even if it means ordering a Coors rather than a Cocktail on occasion.
Beyond trading their Vogue for Glamour or babysitting skills for a hand in the yard, the ladies also acknowledge the importance of larger money management skills such as “Knowing Your Numbers.” To become truly financially savvy, Hanna insists that this is a crucial component for setting and achieving both short and long-term goals when it comes to finances. She also encourages you get organized, map out where you want your money to go and constantly ask, “Is this bringing me closer to my financial goals?” These are vital components to success. Their website, www.smartcookies.com, offers many other valuable “tips and tricks” for making the most out of your money, packaged as daily doses of “Bite Sized Cookies” and educational articles from the “Cookie Jar”. Resources also include on-line planning tools, expert advice and ways in which you can experience financial success by forming your own money group.
Collectively, the Smart Cookies have created a money management powerhouse. Their tools for success, innovative resources and continuous support for one another have led them to very aspiring achievements. They have paid off an impressive amount of over $50,000 in combined debt and, like Andrea, known as the debt buster of the group, are making large strides in building their savings accounts. Angela was able to go into business for herself and is full of creative ideas for making money in an unconventional way. Katie continues to build her savings and investment portfolio while Robyn inspires others by showing ways in which to make the most out of the job you have. Sandra has perfected the ways to be a savvy shopper and how to live on less while planning for an upcoming wedding.Today, the ladies strive to inspire others who have been in their shoes by: ‘Helping women take control of their finances, attract more money into their lives and turn their dreams into reality.’ Their motto shines atop their website and attracts women who may otherwise be afraid, confused or lack the know how to get started in such an endeavor. Thanks to Smart Cookies for being pioneers for groups of their kind, women everywhere have been finding ways to work jointly while achieving common goals such as wealth management and financial success.
Their positive and unconventional attitudes regarding wealth management have landed the group segments on The Oprah Winfrey Show, MSNBC, the New York Times, New York Daily News, and Money Magazine to name a few. Today, the ladies currently enjoy life as full-time Smart Cookies and, by looking at their accomplishments, they have given even the best soft and chewy cookie assortments a run for their money. Perhaps their most rewarding accomplishment to date, however, has been the feedback they have received from other women. Hanna says, "To hear others’ success stories, to see other women’s money groups popping up left and right and to see women making career changes to benefit their lives has been amazing. Even the simple act of getting women to discuss their finances has been very gratifying."
“My hope is that if we’ve done anything, it’s that we’ve gotten women talking about money. And not just by referring to the great deal they got at Target, but rather in a more intelligent fashion. Such as how they are saving for retirement or updates on their financial portfolio,” clarifies Hanna. “Hearing those types of conversations is so inspiring and I hope that we were cause for some of that.”The women of Smart Cookies have become trailblazers for groups of its kind. Not only have they broken down barriers in their own financial lives, they have shown how by taking the cookie jar off the shelf and onto the table, the topic of personal finances can now be embraced rather than embarrassing. Most importantly, they have gotten women using joint efforts to collaborate about the subject of money in ways that are both intelligent and inspiring; together these five cookies have influenced thousands of women, both domestically and globally. By combining forces, the ladies have shown how approaching money management in a trendy, fresh and smart manner while maintaining the lives that they are accustomed to living can lead them to wealth management and overall financial success. Suddenly having your cake, or rather, cookie, and eating it too is an attainable feat!
Tiffany Kampsnider graduated from the University of Colorado at Boulder with a degree in Communications. She is a program manager for Polk Majestic Meetings & Incentives where she plans and executes corporate meetings and incentive travel. Tiffany has a passion for writing, and while most of her writing is for leisure, she greets the opportunities to write professionally. She and her husband live in Denver, enjoy the outdoors and are expecting their first baby in August! Email her at email@example.com or visit her blog at www.tiffandchris-blog.blogspot.com to learn more.