Savvy stylists, money makeovers, fun fiscal features

by April 28, 2014

Welcome to the final installment of Money Monday, our collection of story ideas and resources related to National Financial Literacy Month.

Personal finance can be a weighty and sometimes unpleasant topic, but not every dollars-and-cents topic is dismal.  One way to keep readers’ interest is to find the amusing, entertaining and unexpected angles to money matters, from unexpected sources of advice to easily-digested how-to features that show readers how to make a quick difference to their fiscal health.

The Savvy Stylist.

There’s a venerable personal finance book called “The Wealthy Barber,” first published in 1989, that centers around a barber named Roy who dispenses snippets of financial wisdom while he snips.

Steel Magnolias

Truvy (Hiwa Bourne) and Shelby (Ruth Coughlin) in East West Players’ “Steel Magnolias” a play set largely in a home-based beauty salon.

As Robin Phillips, the Reynolds Center’s digital director, points out, today’s hair salons still are vectors of valuable information, transmitting information gleaned from clients throughout their web of contacts.   Like bartenders, they hear it all.  And as businesspersons/self-employed workers, they contribute their own wide range of experience.  Whether it’s shopping for health insurance or finding day care, salon owners and stylists may have a  compilation of tips and info to impart.  Mine found a reliable pet sitter for me among her clients, and Robin said a family member gleaned valuable advice on assisted-living options from a stylist who specializes in mature clients.

If you cover health care, why not a round-up of how your community’s stylists dealt with Obamacare?  Or tips for older folks, as mentioned above?  Or stylists’ best money-saving tips when it comes to personal care; this Huffington Post survey found that “it’s more expensive to be a woman,” and concluded that Americans spend $426 billion a year on beauty and personal products.

Try variations depending on your beat; if you cover financial services, get bankers to offer their favorite cheapskate tips, and so on.  For about a decade, money advisers ad nauseum suggested that just “cutting out a latte a day,” and pocketing the $5 instead, everyone would soon be on the road to debt-free riches.   That advice still floats around often enough that you might want to flip it upside down and ask a panel of java-shop baristas for their favorite money-saving suggestions.

Money Makeovers. 

Everyone loves to read about what other people do with their money, so I am surprised at how few publications are running makeovers these days.  They are more labor intensive; you need to enlist a reputable advisor like a CFP to do the work pro bono, and then gather an array of documents from participants: At minimum, last year’s tax return, recent pay stubs, all bank account, loan/credit card/mortgage statements and retirement account statements, if any.


“My former colleague
Brian O’Connor took a
different tack and did
the makeover on his own
family; in a series of
zany columns later turned
into a book”

The professional will have her own questions for the participants, and once the pro has completed a review, you’ll have a joint meeting where you take notes to develop the basic situation and the advice into a narrative.  Try to find a theme others can relate to, such as “Can we afford one of us to be a stay-home parent?” or “How can we pare down debt and boost retirement income?” or “Will a graduate degree pay for itself?”

It does take time but if you can get several under way at once, the logistics get easier and you will assure yourself of a pipeline of go-to stories that will generate clicks, feedback and reader interest as well as helpful advice for your audience.  I have other tips too lengthy for this space, feel free to e-mail me if you want the blow-by-blow methodology.

My former colleague Brian O’Connor took a different tack and did the makeover on his own family; in a series of zany columns later turned into a book called “The $1,000 Challenge,” he provided detailed tactics for slashing $100 a month out of the household budget.  The self-described “funny money” writer uses with and humor to keep the mood light.  If you aren’t up to do money makeover snap-shots on a variety of readers, consider adopting one family and trying this sort of longitudinal approach, with input from a different advisor every month.

You also can tout the vacation-day makeover.  Some years ago I suggested that readers pamper themselves with a sort of “money spa” approach.  Take the day off work, clear the calendar and put in a good nine or 10 hours working the Internet and phone lines to get better deals on insurance policies, telecom packages and other routine bills, as well as evaluating the budget, clearing out loose ends like the lost library book or the $75 worth of jeans that need to go back to the store.  Readers can use the day to assess rewards points programs – I found a stray $77 on one credit-card bonus plan last month, by finally logging in – and otherwise clear the cobwebs from fiscal matters.

All of these features are motivating and the trick is to include at least a few tactics that people can address right way, which gives readers a feeling of accomplishment and that they’ve received instant value from your writing.