It’s been a running joke among my friends lately that we just can’t focus. Over the last few months, we seem to have somehow lost our ability to hone in on a particular task or conversation in the same way we were able to do pre-COVID… We’re all just more distracted somehow. Is that due to spending way too much time scrolling social media in our pajamas? Having zero routine? Trying to manage remote school + work + cooking dinner + making a doctor’s appointment + 1,000 other things in a single day?
Yes, these are strange times. But I think many of us expected that the older we got, the better we’d be able to focus, to manage stress, and to fall asleep without thoughts racing through our minds … But for many of us — though we may be incredibly wise and mature — these things seem to be getting worse.
This week’s HerMoney Podcast guest, Dr. Romie Mushtaq, says that many of us are suffering from something she calls “Busy Brain.” Dr. Romie is a triple board-certified neurologist, an integrative medicine specialist, and mindfulness expert who has impacted millions of lives via her keynote speeches and corporate workshops on mindfulness and brain health. She’s also the Chief Wellness Officer for Evolution Hospitality.
Listen in as Jean and Dr. Romie talk about how the pandemic has shifted many of our schedules to result in us working later into the evening. And while flexible schedules can be great, they’re leading many of us to feel that we never stop working.
“We’ve shifted our productive hours late at night, rather than calming down,” Dr. Romie says. ‘I mean, this is our new reality, and this is what’s a ‘Busy Brain.’ But I’m here to say, sister: Your brain is not a bulletin board. You just can’t keep throwing stuff at it. Your brain needs boundaries. Let’s talk about that.”
Dr. Romie also gets candid about her own health struggles that changed her life, and how she found a path to living with less stress day-to-day. We all have some stress in our lives, and many of us have anxiety that is paralyzing. But the one thing that we all have in common is that we would “turn it off” if we could. Dr. Romie walks us through how to shut down our busy brains once and for all.
Dr. Romie walks us through a mini 3-minute meditation — the kind she incorporates into her daily life to help her shift away from overwhelm, burnout, performance struggles, and lack of sleep, We also talk about the concrete steps that all women can take to minimize our stress levels.
In Mailbag, Jean advises a recent college grad who is wondering where to put her savings, then we take a deep dive into a question on mortgage refinancing, and we also hear from a listener who is seeking advice and resources on de-acquisition and charitable giving as she moves into retirement. Lastly, in thrive, Jean breaks down five ways to improve your credit score and secure the home of your dreams.
- 7 Ways To Stop Money Stress Forever
- 6 Surprising Ways You’re Stressing Yourself Out
- Stressed About Money? Don’t Be. Here’s How To Beat These Common Millennial Stressors
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Romie Mushtaq: (00:01)
We’re working, putting our productive hours late at night, rather than calming down. I mean, this is our new reality. And this is what’s a busy brain. But I’m here to say, sister, your brain is not a bulletin board. You just can’t keep throwing stuff at it. Like your brain needs boundaries. Let’s talk about that.
Jean Chatzky: (00:25)
HerMoney is brought to you by Fidelity Investments. Celebrate women’s history month with Fidelity. Join us for marquee virtual events and get resources for a healthier financial future. Learn more at Fidelity.com/HerMoney.
Jean Chatzky: (00:38)
Hey everybody. I’m Jean Chatzky. Thanks so much for joining us today on HerMoney. You know, it has been a running joke, I guess, although whether or not it’s funny or not, I can’t quite decide. But it’s been a running thing among my friends lately that we just can’t focus. I mean, over the last few months, we somehow seem to have lost our ability to hone in on a particular task or conversation or chore, in the same way that we were able to do earlier in quarantine. We’re just more distracted somehow. Now is that due to spending way too much time scrolling social media in our PJ’s? Is it due to having zero routine or a different routine? Is it because of trying to manage remote school and work and cooking dinner and making a doctor’s appointment and a thousand other things all within the span of a single day during which we never leave the house? These are strange times for sure. But I think many of us expected that the older that we got and the longer we were stuck at home like this, the better we would be able to focus, to manage stress, to fall asleep, without thoughts racing through our minds. But for many of us, things just seem to be getting worse. And I am not, by the way, talking about COVID brain fog – the brain fog that has been in the headlines. That’s a real medical issue. It’s one that I know doctors will be focused on for many years to come as they should be. I’m talking about what today’s guest says many of us are suffering from. She calls it busy brain. Dr. Romiee Mushtaq is a triple board certified neurologist. She is an integrative medicine specialist and a mindfulness expert who has impacted millions of lives via her speeches and workshops. She’s also the Chief Wellness Officer for Evolution Hospitality, and she is here today with a cure, thankfully, for our busy brains called brain shift. Dr. Romie, welcome.
Romie Mushtaq: (03:04)
Oh my gosh. Thank you so much, Jean. I am fan-grilling to be here with you in the entire HerMoney community. Thank you.
Jean Chatzky: (03:12)
Oh, well, we are so excited to have you here. We’re going to get to tactics and I know you’ve got plenty of them. But before we do, I want to hear how you got your start. I mean, you entered neurology at a time when fewer than 5% of neurologists were women. And then you developed this very rare health issue that changed your course. Give us a little bit of your story.
Romie Mushtaq: (03:38)
Yeah, Jean. Thank you. You know, I am the daughter of immigrants and English is my second language. And I grew up with one success mantra in childhood. I don’t know if any of your other listeners can relate to this. We have one daughter and you will become a doctor. So the only thing I’ve ever known as a child is succeed. Push yourself to succeed. And I did that, right? And as I was wearing my stress as a badge of honor, in my early career as a neurologist, I was in academic medicine. So that meant not only was I seeing patients, I was doing research and teaching medical students and residence physicians. The real life versions of Grey’s anatomy without McDreamy and McSteamy, and all the other hot doctors there to take me out on a date. Yeah.
Jean Chatzky: (04:26)
No George Clooney.
Romie Mushtaq: (04:28)
No, no, none of those. No, no. Yeah. And so here I was and something was wrong. And I was responsible. I started to have chest pain. And I went into the doctor very much like probably everybody is hearing right now. Oh, you’re just a typical type A, success-driven professional. You’ve got acid reflux. You need to stop the wine and the chocolate, which is devastating. And here’s some antacids and antibiotics and we need to do tests. So I listened. And I started the antacids and I stopped the chocolate. It didn’t work. So I stopped the antacids and restarted the chocolate, right? Like any good woman would do to cope. And it progressively got worse – to the point that I was having difficulty swallowing. And waking up in the middle of the night, Jean, and I physically couldn’t breathe. I was choking on my own vomit and saliva, getting pneumonia and mind you, I’m only in my early thirties. And what we discovered at that time was, I had been on that churn and burn stress cycle for so long that, not only do I have this rare medical disorder, achalasia, which by the way, is just typically discovered on autopsy in about 1% of Americans. But my stress was so bad that I had literally burned the lining of my esophagus and stomach and upper intestine. And I had precancerous lesions. So I am sitting here with you today having come about 10 years ago, being burned out and undergoing life-saving surgery. And so I’m here for a message for all the women and the men who listened to this community. Like there has be a different way. We can’t burn and churn our ways through the changes in the pandemic.
Jean Chatzky: (06:03)
No. And I think even though many of us, and I think we probably have a good number of type A listeners to this show. I know we’ve got an audience of really smart, really successful women. Even those who were coping before the pandemic, I think, have found ourselves struggling during it. Is that part of it normal as well?
Romie Mushtaq: (06:32)
Yeah. When we look at the recent surveys from Gallop at Work, it’s showing that about 90% of women are reporting anxiety. Actual anxiety disorder. Not just feeling anxious. That’s more than double the baseline rate for mental health in America. But really what does this mean? We know this. You’ve discussed it on previous podcasts. I’ve listened to the episodes. Women are working the second shift. We are carrying so many burdens right now for ourselves, our businesses, our families, during the pandemic, our circle of girlfriends. But there’s something else that has happened in the brain. And first of all, as a fellow type A personality, I’m unapologetic about it. Like welcome sister.
Jean Chatzky: (07:11)
Romie Mushtaq: (07:11)
We call ourselves the mind mavericks. We’re the movers and the shakers of the world. There’s no need to apologize. Like be success-driven, but we can do it and not kill ourselves. And that’s the pattern that I’ve largely been seeing was happening BC, before COVID, when I would go into workplaces and meet men and women and work with them. The stress levels were high and it was becoming unproductive. And now in the AC, after COVID, world, finally, I think companies and teams were starting to say, oh yeah, I need to prioritize my brain and mental health.
Jean Chatzky: (07:46)
So what exactly is brain shift? And I want to make sure we approach this in a way that makes sense. So if we need to dive into stress first, we can absolutely do that. I mean, I sort of want to unpack the problem and get us to a solution. And in the most effective way.
Romie Mushtaq: (08:06)
Let’s do this. Can I start with, what’s a busy brain. The brain shift is the actual cure for the busy brain. When I ask you to brain shift. So Jean, you know, as I’ve studied stress my entire career, not only for my own health, but seeing it as a neurologist and now in integrative medicine, there’s one aspect ,or surprising brain science, that I’m working on in my first book that most traditional doctors have missed. But when you say it, there’s this aha moment, that for those of us that are unapologetic, success driven, moving a hundred miles an hour, even if we’re just sitting and working from home. We tend to be very hyperactive and hypervigilant and in that GTD, get things done, mode. That’s who we are in our best selves, right? But when we continue on that stress cycle, it turns out that anxiety or feeling anxious, difficulty focusing or ADD, and insomnia are not three separate diseases. In traditional medicine, we treat it like three separate diseases. So if you came into the doctor’s office and said, hey, I can’t focus during the day. You’ve either been taking a lot of caffeine or you’re about to get a stimulant. Well, guess what? That’s making the anxiety and the insomnia worse. So you get something to calm you down at night, whether you’re self-medicating with alcohol at home, or getting a prescription sleeping pill. Or girl, let’s be real. One of those like bougie overpriced supplements that some Instagram influencer tells you to buy online, right? Like nothing gets on my last nerve when I have clients coming in. But Dr. Robbie, do you know how much I spend on this? And it doesn’t work, right? And it turns out that we’re in this rut where we’re stimulating ourselves all day and we’re trying to sedate ourselves at night. And what we’re doing during the day is making the insomnia worse and whatever we’re doing to calm down and take the edge off and cure insomnia is making our ability to focus and be productive and stay calm, worse. We’re in this vicious cycle. And when you break down the brain science, can I do that? Is that kind of boring?
Jean Chatzky: (10:05)
Yeah. No. I mean, I love the brain science. So let’s have at it.
Romie Mushtaq: (10:10)
Okay. Okay. So, a lot of your listeners have heard this before. There’s something in your brain, in the temporal lobe amygdala, known as the stress response. That’s when you get emotionally hijacked and the stress hormones start to surge, and it can cause symptoms all over your brain and body. But with the busy brain, there’s a specific pattern of inflammation that gaba and other excitatory hormones that should be pepping you up, just get completely imbalanced. And that’s why you’re anxious and you can’t focus. And your to-do list is multiplying. And you’ve got multiple screens in front of you now, as you work from home, the messenger’s going off and the emails are going off and there’s a child or a pet in the background. It’s coming and you can’t even get one thing done, right? And all the noise is multiplying around you. And you can’t stay calm like you normally would have. And then you can’t take the edge off at night. And you can’t shut down the racing thoughts. And that’s the spectrum known as the busy brain – that it’s all one spectrum. And you can get to the root cause of it, which we’ll get to in a second, which is brain shift, and get all of that under control.
Jean Chatzky: (11:15)
I’m listening to you and I’m thinking, oh. I mean, I’ve gone, in COVID, and we’ll just get really honest here. I’ve gone from COVID from the point where I would have my last cup of coffee at about 10 o’clock in the morning to 12 o’clock to two o’clock. And then from the point where one glass of wine would be completely enough, always, to the point where, it’s just not, you know? It’s so much harder to stay pepped up and it’s so much harder to wind down. And then I’ve started this crazy thing where, in order to sleep at night, not that this show is all about me, but let’s just make it about me for a second.
Romie Mushtaq: (12:00)
No, no, please do.
Jean Chatzky: (12:01)
I plugged my audio book into my brain and having that activity actually puts me to sleep.
Romie Mushtaq: (12:08)
Okay. I get it. And Jean, thank you for your honesty. And I know so many people are sighing a breath of relief going, oh my God, you’re not alone. And that’s why I shared my story at the top of the podcast. Like I’m not here because I’m the smartest woman you could bring onto the podcast. I’m here because it started out 10 years ago where you were, and I kept burning and churning to the point that I got burnt out. And those same elders in my family that were like, we have one daughter, you should become a doctor, were all of a sudden saying what happened to our Romie? It’s like the lights are on and nobody is home. And that’s where we had. We’ve all been there, Jean. I am too. And by the way, you know, I made a promise not to drink in quarantine, even during happy hours. But can I tell you what substituted alcohol for me early on, when I knew I was going into busy brain, the same thing I’m researching – comfort carbs. It’s a magic trick. How quickly those boxes of gluten-free girl scout cookies disappear.
Jean Chatzky: (13:09)
I didn’t even know they made gluten-free girl scout cookies.
Romie Mushtaq: (13:11)
Jean Chatzky: (13:13)
No. The, the regular cookies. The Oreos disappear in my house.
Romie Mushtaq: (13:17)
Okay. See. And so whether it’s alcohol, it’s some form of sugar we’re using to numb ourselves at night. Alcohol has that additive sedative effect, right? So we’re all in this together, but here’s another thing. I mean, for those of the listeners that have children at home, you may find that the only quiet time to get back to work and answer those emails, because now you have no more zoom work meetings to attend and your children thankfully don’t have to do virtual schooling anymore. We’re working, putting our productive hours late at night, rather than coming down. I mean, this is our new reality, and this is, what’s a busy brain. But I’m here to say, sister, your brain is not a bulletin board. You just can’t keep throwing stuff at it. Like your brain needs boundaries. Let’s talk about that.
Jean Chatzky: (14:06)
Absolutely. And let’s just get to the solutions. Let’s get to what we can do to fix that. But before we do, I want to tell everybody that HerMoney is proudly sponsored by Fidelity Investments. Harness your economic power. Join Fidelity’s WomenTalk Money pop-up for tips on a healthier financial future. I’ll be a special guest for the virtual event on March 10th with yes, Dr. Romiee Mushtaq. We’ll discuss improving your financial wellness in good times and bad. And on March 24th, former HerMoney guests, Eve Rodsky and Tiffany Dufu will share how to use healthy money habits to create the life that you want. You don’t want to miss either one of these. So to learn more or watch event replays on demand, go to Fidelity.com/HerMoney.
Jean Chatzky: (15:06)
So Dr. Romie, let’s get into how do we break this cycle? I mean, you said you gave up alcohol during COVID. Is that what we need to do?
Romie Mushtaq: (15:15)
No, no, this is the beautiful part. Okay. I’m just going to break it down into Dr. Romie real talk, because we don’t want to lose friends on the HerMoney podcast. I’m not here with some bougie brain advice, like, oh, eat berries, Jean, and everything is going to be fine, right? Nor am I going to take your alcohol away. And most importantly, we are not going to do a calorie limiting cleanse. Because right now cleansing feels like such a punishment. And we’re living under so many punishing circumstances and rules. If I were to give you any more rules, doesn’t that feel like it would just add to the stress.
Jean Chatzky: (15:49)
Yeah. I’m up to here with just the rules about when I can’t see my friends. As I’m sure many of us are.
Romie Mushtaq: (15:56)
We are. I feel the same. So here’s the thing that I’m here to say. I want to break down, we were talking about brain science and what the brain shift protocol is. So when our brain shifts from being a mind maverick into the stress cycle, and we do a free stress test on our website, you can go to it and see. There’s two phases that happen. The first phase instead of being a mind Maverick, where, when your mind Maverick, you’re able to process your stress and perform. No problem. That was probably all of us before the pandemic. We didn’t become successful women without those skills. Now, all of a sudden, the early phase is what I call brain drain. You take the test and you score between a 30 and a 40. It means, hey, the usual things that you and I would do, like yoga at home or exercise, or walking around the block or sleeping eight hours, isn’t really making us energetic anymore. And like Jean, you said earlier, we find we need caffeine or a pick me up later and later in the day to keep going. That’s the brain drain phase. And if you’re there, it’s really easy to climb back. And we’ve got a ton of resources for you and free on our website. But we’ll talk about that. But here’s the thing where we’re finding when we did, like you Jean, we’re working with so many companies, including Fidelity. And we were finding that 90% of the teams were above a 40, which is the brain strain. Your brain is straining to keep your brain and body functioning. And we need to get down to the root cause of it. And that’s where brain shift came along. I want to know. What’s the problem? Is it with your sleep, your hormones, age. I, inflammatory markers like vitamin D. F, fuel the way you’re fueling yourself. Or T, technology, right? That we’re scrolling and trolling on Instagram too late at night. Or now nowadays it’s clubhouse. Have you gotten on Clubhouse yet?
Jean Chatzky: (17:46)
Oh my goodness. Not yet. I know I have to, but not yet.
Romie Mushtaq: (17:50)
Yes. It is. It’s another scrolling, trolling, listening kind of social media app that so many of us have gotten into. And that’s what happens. I want to break it down cause if you’re like, Dr. Romie, what can I do? I’ve tried everything. I want you to know that there’s an imbalance and it’s somewhere in your sleep, your hormones, inflammatory markers, especially vitamin D3, how you’re fueling yourself or technology. And this podcast isn’t long enough to go into all of them. So I thought I would just break down one place to start. Does that sound okay Jean?
Jean Chatzky: (18:20)
That sounds perfect.
Romie Mushtaq: (18:21)
Yeah. It’s called the 3-30 method. That, in your busy life, could you give me three minutes a day and 30 minutes before bedtime? What do you think? Could we both do that together Jean.
Jean Chatzky: (18:32)
We’ll do that. We can absolutely do that.
Romie Mushtaq: (18:34)
Yeah. So here’s the three minute breaks during the day. You know, we all have the ability to section off our days. I know it feels like everything is bleeding into each other. You’re running a load of laundry, maybe keeping an eye on children or caregiving for elderly while doing your job. But if I actually asked you to look at your schedule, could you say, well, this is the time I’m going to help my children. This is the time I’m doing meal prep. This is the time I’m doing a chore or working. And in between any one of those places, I need you to take a three-minute break and step away from it all. Three minutes to step away from it all. And I’m going to leave you if you’re listening to this podcast right now in one of my favorite ways to reset the brain. It’s called the Take Two meditation. Would you like to do it?
Jean Chatzky: (19:20)
I would love to.
Romie Mushtaq: (19:22)
Okay. So this is going to be hard because we’re recording a podcast. But we’re both going to practice this together. The whole idea is, we need to get away from our screens and the blue light that’s kind of scrambling our brain and adding to that busy bulletin board in our brain. So if you’re listening to this podcast, I’m just going to ask you to take a nice deep breath and look away from all the screens that are in front of you. And find two things with your eyes open that you can focus on. So could you tell me two things you’re looking at Jean, instead of all your podcast recording equipment.
Jean Chatzky: (19:53)
Yep. I’m actually looking at pictures of both my kids from their bar and bat mitzvahs.
Romie Mushtaq: (20:01)
Oh, how beautiful. I want you to focus on the image and the color and the size of the pictures. And if any of the beautiful memories from the bar and bat mitzvah are coming back to you, just allow it to wash over you and take a nice deep breath. And now we’ll guide the listeners. What are two things you all can hear other than Jean and my voices on this podcast in the room right now. I want you to focus on the tone and the volume of whatever you’re hearing. For instance, I can hear this air conditioning heating vent in my office right now, where we’re recording this podcast. And focus and take another deep breath. And what are two things you can touch right now? I want you to notice their texture, their temperature. And take another deep breath. And what are two things you can smell or taste right now? And just focus on the aroma and the flavor. And take another deep breath. Good. And now just come back to the rest of this podcast episode. And welcome back. It’s that easy to scramble our busy brains Jean. It’s the sight and the sound and the smell and the touch that are the airport traffic runways into that center of our brain. And when we do something that’s associated with pleasurable memories, like you telling me about the pictures of your children, it’s as if I was sitting right there in your office looking at those pictures. I could just feel your energy shift.
Jean Chatzky: (21:51)
So when we do this, at three different junctures during the day, we just step away for two minutes. We go somewhere else.
Romie Mushtaq: (22:01)
We step away. I say three minutes to scramble your brain. And here’s a secret. If anxiety levels are high, sometimes you’re like, girl, I tried that breathing stuff. I downloaded an app. It doesn’t work. Dr. Romie, what do I do? What do we do for people like that? We call it a Romie, rake the leaves moment. I live in Orlando, Florida, in downtown. And there are these oak trees. So there are beautiful leaves falling off the tree year round. I know many people may be listening to this podcast and there’s snow outside to shovel. The idea is it’s the same concept of, what’s something you can see touch, taste, or smell, but do a physical activity to calm down the anxiety levels. So raking the leaves for just three minutes, organizing a spice drawer. And here’s one of my favorite ones based in yoga, is do a forward fold with your eyes open. So you literally are looking at your room upside down. A shift in perspective and breathing. You’re scrambling your senses so that they do a quick reset and your brain calms down. It’s that simple. It sounds crazy, doesn’t it? But this is the whole science behind these micro habits and brain shift is, one little brain shift can create an entire shift in perspective for your brain.
Jean Chatzky: (23:15)
And I’m actually feeling calmer than I was feeling before we were doing that exercise. So that’s a good first sign. What’s the 30 minutes at the end of the day?
Romie Mushtaq: (23:25)
Alright. You kinda hinted at it already. This is where we may lose some friends, but bear with me. I’m going to ask you to divorce your digital devices, 30 minutes before bedtime. It’s more important today than ever. And just to show the studies is two things. One, we did this when we were still meeting in person at Evolution Hospitality, where I’m Chief Wellness Officer. To remind you, this is a company that manages hotels. So hotels are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and on holidays. And yet we told every leader, no digital devices, 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime. We measured stress scores before and after for 21 days. And Jean, the results were amazing. Like, literally an average of a 60 percentage point drop in stress scores. They wouldn’t have done as well had I given them Xanax or Ambien or Restorol, a sleeping or an anti-anxiety medicine. And in fact, that’s one of our most popular programs now is our 21 day digital detox we do every quarter. It has that profound of an effect because all the lights, not just the blue lights, tell our command center and our brain like girl, wake up. It’s time to start stressing and obsessing again. And that bulletin board gets full again in our brain. Even, here’s the thing Jean, if you’re listening to an audio book. And that’s if you’re looking at your screen. Now, if you’re disciplined to have it on a Bluetooth speaker and the voice is just calming to you, that’s perfect. How do you do it at home?
Jean Chatzky: (24:51)
I do it on my phone and I put the phone down, but I have earbuds plugged in.
Romie Mushtaq: (25:03)
I think that works. Here’s the thing, Jean that I found. You may be more disciplined than I am, but most of us are human. You know, the notifications start popping up for an email. Somebody liked a post on Instagram. Whatever the notifications are. And the temptation. If there’s a lull in the story or the music you’re listening to, or the meditation, just the temptation to pick it up again.
Jean Chatzky: (25:23)
Yeah. No. It’s hard.
Romie Mushtaq: (25:23)
So if you can resist it, that’s perfect. But you know, if you can listen to something with earbuds, whether it’s music or something, that’s absolutely fine. And we’ll do that. But no smart TV, no laptop, no E reader. Because that light is elevating our stress hormones at night. And so if you’re waking up in the middle of the night and you can’t go back to bed, it’s because your stress hormones are so high that they’re wired and they’re telling you, hey, wake up because they think it’s six, seven o’clock in the morning. And it’s only like 1:57 AM.
Jean Chatzky: (25:54)
But we could read an actual book or a magazine.
Romie Mushtaq: (25:57)
Yes. Read an actual book. But that same rule applies is, do things that calm your sight or your sense of smell or hearing or touch. And if you’re a busy brain and busy body, like I am, this may be kind of gross, but I leave all my dishes in the kitchen sink. So I’ll do them 30 to 60 minutes before bedtime, because then I’ve got like nasty, oily curry and dishwashing soap on my hands. I’m not going to pick up a phone. And then my dog gets an extra walk. So the minute I go to the sink, he goes to the front door. He knows he’s gonna go out and play one last time at bedtime. So I’m that busy body. I have to move to unscramble that bulletin board from my brain. And here’s the other thing is, if your brain is full, we have a rule called the brain dump. If you think it, ink it. Now, I don’t need you to get some fancy journal. Who has time to start journaling. Hey, if you’re a journaler in here, in the HerMoney community, wonderful. But most of us don’t have time. Get the back of a napkin or, you know, a piece of paper or the back of an envelope that a bill came in and just write something down. Because when you think it, you ink it. And then you’re free to release it from your brain. And that’s the cure to the busy brain. So digital detox. And then if you ink it, think it. Do a brain dump. Those two steps alone, before we even add in any mindfulness-based exercises, typically get about 90% of our patients off of sleeping pills, prescription sleeping pills,
Jean Chatzky: (27:25)
Two quick follow-up questions. Is there a difference when it comes to financial stress that you found? Is there any particular way that you’ve found to get rid of that?
Romie Mushtaq: (27:37)
Well, gosh, this is where I would add your expertise in. And we’re eager to have you come talk to all of us at Evolution Hospitality as well.
Jean Chatzky: (27:43)
Absolutely. Any time.
Romie Mushtaq: (27:43)
Because here’s the thing. You know, we know the number one related stressor before the pandemic was our jobs and then finances. Now that’s all kind of blurring together when you look at the data. So that’s the cause of stress. And so for most of us, see the unapologetic success-driven mind Mavericks in my community, we need to have control. So the idea is, I would say in that three minutes during the day or the 30 minutes at night, if finances are stress, what’s one aspect you could do to take control of your finances in that three minutes. So what would you tell me to do in three minutes a day or 30 minutes before bedtime to feel like I’m getting control of my finances again, Jean. Because it’s a worry. It’s a realistic worry.
Jean Chatzky: (28:32)
Yeah. It absolutely is. And we know that stress goes down when we have goals. When we have an emergency savings account. And when we’re putting away 10% for the longterm. So any one of those three that you could work on during those 30 minutes, I think would be effective.
Romie Mushtaq: (28:52)
And what if it was just looking at your emergency fund or your savings account where you put that 10%?
Jean Chatzky: (28:58)
I think that’s fine.
Romie Mushtaq: (28:58)
I don’t know, with the volatility of the markets, looking at your 401k or stock portfolio may be a little stressful, right?
Jean Chatzky: (29:05)
Yeah. But if you know you’re adding to your savings, then looking at your savings is a confidence booster anyway.
Romie Mushtaq: (29:12)
I love that.
Jean Chatzky: (29:12)
And you can see how much closer you’re getting to achieving those goals. So I think that’s helpful.
Romie Mushtaq: (29:18)
Yeah Jean. Thank you for sharing that tip with me. I’m going to pass that on in our community of mind mavericks, because we need that. And financial stress is real. But you know where I’m coming from is, I’m getting your brain to function again. So that if you’re procrastinating and taking your financial advice and your tips to do it, or there’s a perfectionist, or that fear of action, I’m calming the stress hormones down in the brain with this three 30 method. That’s just the start of our brain shift at work program. And then all of a sudden, the things that felt so frightening, like tackling your finances or that you’re procrastinating or feeling overwhelmed, that you don’t even know where to start. All of a sudden, you feel calm and in control again.
Jean Chatzky: (30:01)
Yeah, absolutely. I know that everybody listening is saying, where do I get this test? The busy brain test. So where do I go to take that? And it is free, right?
Romie Mushtaq: (30:12)
Oh, absolutely free. We’re not up-selling anything because I want people to be empowered. I want you to be a mind maverick. So you can go to our website, DrRomie.com. It’ll be right at the front of the website or DrRomie.com/test. We’ll include a link when we share the podcast here on my platform as well. And just take a look at it. DrRomie.com/test. And it’s called the Busy Brain Test. Find out if you’re a mind maverick standing in your brain power, or if you’re in a brain drain, or if you’re in a brain strain. We put you through specific things to do. Three minutes a day. 30 minutes at night. And on averaging, we found with the clients we were working with last year, virtually, that they saw at 25% improvement in their stress scores, in just seven days.
Jean Chatzky: (30:59)
That’s amazing. All right, I’m on it. I’m going to take it and I will let you know. I’ll let you know how I did. Dr. Romie, thank you so much for doing this with us today.
Romie Mushtaq: (31:08)
Oh, thank you. I want every woman listening to stand in her brain power sisters. You are all mind mavericks. We are going to come out on the other side of this standing in our brain power.
Jean Chatzky: (31:19)
That sounds good to me. I’ve loved this conversation. I hope we can do it again soon. Please check out the webcast and we will be right back with Kathryn and your mailbag,
Jean Chatzky: (31:34)
HerMoney Kathryn Tuggle joins me now. Hi Kathryn.
Kathryn Tuggle: (31:38)
Hey Jean. That was a great show.
Jean Chatzky: (31:40)
Thanks. I thought she was very interesting and incredibly on point for what’s going on, I know in my life, but I think in the lives of so many of our listeners. I mean, I just don’t think any of us expected this to drag on this long. And you would think that you’d get better at something, but it is not getting easier. It’s just getting harder.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:04)
Yeah. Not even close did we expect to be here in this position for this long. But I think Dr. Romie had some great tips for all of us on how to destress, whether it’s COVID stress or work stress, or at the point that we’re all beyond this. That ability to disconnect from your busy brain and to reconnect with the smaller things in life is so important. It’s such a great skill to have.
Jean Chatzky: (32:32)
Yeah. I’m going to try these three minute breaks. I mean, even for me, I can do three minutes. I can get it done. Three minutes, three times a day. That will work for me. So we’ll give it a shot.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:43)
Jean Chatzky: (32:44)
I know we’ve got a bunch of questions. I want to make sure we get to them.
Kathryn Tuggle: (32:47)
Yeah, absolutely. Our first question comes to us from Lexi. She writes, Jean and Kathryn. Hello. I’m a 23 year old engineer and I’ve enjoyed listening to your podcast and getting your HerMoney emails for the past few years to educate myself about money. I’m in my first year out of college, woo-hoo, 2020 grad and have been employed for about six months now with an annual salary of $70,000. I was wondering what I should do with my savings. I’ve maxed out my Roth IRA since I was 19 through internships, and I’ve already done so for 2021. Similarly, I invest 10% toward my employer Roth 403B and another 10% toward my employer 403B, which my employer also contributes 10% to. I’ve began paying my student loan debt of $10,000, which I plan on paying off over the course of the next year or so. I have current saving goals of post COVID travels, a wedding, a honeymoon, and a house. I’m struggling with how best to save my money, especially for the wedding and the house. Specifically, I see myself getting married within the next five years and a house maybe within the next 10. My boyfriend earns $50,000 annually. I have $3,000 in a five-year CD that I started last year, as well as $5,000 in my Vanguard investing account, which are invested funds. I have $10,000 in savings. Although these numbers aren’t necessarily high yet, as I’m still building up my finances, I want them to get working for me in the best way possible. Should I be doing any adjustments to my retirement allocations? Thank you so much for any insight you can offer, as well as all of the guidance and confidence you’ve given me through your work.
Jean Chatzky: (34:26)
First of all, Lexi, and I know Kathryn, you are feeling the same way, wow. I mean just, wow. And let me point out a couple of things about this letter to everybody who’s listening. First year out of college, annual salary of $70,000. She works as an engineer. For anybody who’s thinking about a STEM career. I mean, this is it. These are the numbers. This is the argument. Of course, we want you to enjoy it. Of course, we want you to be interested in and happy with what you’re doing, but the earning potential is there. And it’s very, very clear that they not only need women in these fields, they really want women in these fields. So if you’re looking for a smooth and clear career path, Lexi is just pointing the way. Second thing, you are supercharging your retirement savings. I mean, we often talk on this show about how, if you can get to the point where you are putting away 15% of whatever it is you’re earning the time you start working until the time you stop working, you will secure your retirement. You will have enough to make sure that the money lasts a good 30 years and enables you to live comfortably on a salary that will cover a decent chunk of your pre-retirement earnings. You’re putting away 30% and you’re just a year out of school. That is phenomenal. I like the way that you are diversifying. That you’re putting some money into Roth holdings and some money into traditional holdings. That just gives you a nice way of being able to pull out of both pools of money as you get down the road. Plus Roth flexibility is nice to have. It’s nice to have when you are buying your first house. It’s nice to have should you ever want to go back to school. It’s nice to have should you ever need money for something that comes along unexpectedly because you can get at the contributions without penalties. So I like that as well. As far as addressing your specific questions, so allocating your retirement assets, you didn’t say anything about how the money is invested. I assume that the vast majority of it is invested fairly aggressively, that you’ve got a good 80 to 90% of it in stocks. That’s where it should be. Yes. The markets are absolutely going to go up and down. No question. Between the time that you retire and the time we’re at right now, you will see the market rollercoaster. You will see it rise big and you will see it fall big and you will see do it again and do it again and do it again. But, historically, what we know is that over time the markets go up. The trend line is up. And so as you look to your future, you want to have most of your money in stocks. As for those other goals, the wedding, the house. I don’t have a huge amount of difficulty with you keeping that money in fairly safe havens. Could you invest the money for your down payment 10 years from now? Yeah, you could. 10 years is a long time. It’s a long enough time to have a stock market time horizon. But you could also not. You could also put the money into CDs. You could put the money into high-interest rate savings accounts, and you could do so knowing that you have covered your bases in other ways. Or you could split the difference. You could look at bonds. You could look at other investments that are not quite as risky as stocks, or you could look at something that mixes the two, like a balanced fund. I say this because the timeframe that you’re putting on your goals has a little bit of a wishy-washy feel to it. That you see yourself getting married maybe within the next five years and a house maybe within the next 10. Those things can change and they can change pretty quickly. You may decide that you want to buy a house before you get married, or that you want to buy a house in three years and get married in seven. I want you to give yourself the flexibility to make all of those things happen. So I just want to say good job. Keep going. Keep saving. And the only word of caution that I would give you is, make sure that you are giving yourself the opportunity to have some fun as well.
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:18)
I could not agree more with that, Jean. And she is doing such an incredible job of saving and she’s so young. It’s so funny reading this letter, I was just laughing to myself thinking how pleased I was at 23 with like my 3% contribution to my 401k.
Jean Chatzky: (39:35)
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:35)
So she’s killing it.
Jean Chatzky: (39:37)
But then again, we know that you were a journalist and not an engineer. And so you weren’t making that much money. And neither was I.
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:43)
Yes. Yes. This is true. We do the best we can.
Jean Chatzky: (39:46)
Kathryn Tuggle: (39:48)
Our next question comes to us from Denise. She writes, hi Jean. Big thanks to you and to Fidelity Investments for offering great financial advice to women. My husband, 48, and I, 47, have a mortgage balance of $74,000 and a monthly payment of $1,270. Our mortgage has a rate of 3.875% and expires in May of 2026. We also have a home equity loan of $41,000 with a 5.59% rate and a $610 monthly payment that expires in June of 2029. With mortgage refinance rates at historic lows, does it make sense for us to combine both loans into one 15 year mortgage since rates are around 2.7%. Our financial goal is still to pay off the loan by May, 2026 when our first child will be entering college. So if we refinanced now to a 15 year term, we’d make much more than the minimum payment. With the costs of refinance and the short time horizon of five to seven years while we saved money? Thanks again.
Jean Chatzky: (40:51)
So Denise, this is a really good question, but it is a really complicated question because usually if you’re trying to figure out, should I refi a mortgage, you figure out what is the cost of this transaction. Then you look at how much you’re going to save every single month and you do some quick division. And if you’re planning to be in the house longer than the number that you get when you divide the cost of the transaction by the monthly savings, which equals the number of months you have to stay, then you go ahead and you do it, because you know you’re going to come out ahead. You’ve got a lot more factors at work here. You want pre-pay. You’ve got two different loans. You are looking to accelerate the payment of both of those loans. And you want to reduce your interest rate. So there there’s a lot going on here. More than I could handle with a simple mortgage calculator. I actually reached out to a guy named Keith Gumbinger or who has been one of my best sources for a good two decades. He is the mortgage expert that I call whenever I have a serious mortgage question. And he used the mortgage calculator called the It’s My Term Prepayment Calculator, which lives on hsh.com, in order to run these scenarios. And the answer is basically, yes. You should refi in some way probably. It will save you money if you do that. But you’ve got some choices. And there are a lot of numbers staring at me on the screen right now. What I’m actually going to do is send this analysis to you via email so that you have it. But I also just want everybody else here to know the different ways that you can look at this in order to save some money. So, if you go ahead and you roll these loans together and you refinance them at 2.75, you’re absolutely going to save yourself money in interest over the long-term. You’ll end up paying a little bit more in total monthly payments because you’re trying to get out of that home equity loan, which is scheduled to last until 2029 by 2026. But not a whole lot more per month. Just a couple hundred dollars. And it’s going to save you a good $18,000 overall. So that is something to consider. There is a cost to this transaction, probably about $2,500 in closing costs. There’s also a hassle factor to doing it this way, because it’s not super easy to refi alone as anybody who has ever refinanced a mortgage before knows. It’s just, you know, there comes to a point where you’re just like, oh, can this close already. So that is one way to go. And yes, you would save yourself the most money by doing it that way. The second way to do this is to not take a 15 year loan, but actually to look for a local lender, a credit union, or a local bank who offers you a 10 year term. You may save a little bit more this way because the interest rate on a ten-year might be even lower than on a 15. The rub is that your monthly payment will actually be higher and it will be required to be higher. But it won’t be as high as you’re planning to prepay in the long run. So I don’t really see that as much of a downside. It’s just, if you get yourself into a financial squeeze and you have to scale back on those prepayments, you are going to have a required monthly payment that is higher to begin with. So that’s just something else to take into consideration. The third way to go about this is to not refinance at all. Your first mortgage has just a few years remaining on it, and you only have a little bit in interest left to pay. So by refinancing that loan, even at a lower rate, you’re not going to save that much money. Plus you’re already comfortable with the end date of that loan. Instead, what you do is, you just prepay the home equity loan. And in order to hit your time goal of getting out of that loan by 2026, you’d need to prepay that loan by about $335, $340 a month. That is going to see you save a little over $5,000 in interest without having to refi, without having to consolidate. Yes, it does mean that your total monthly payments will be higher than if you refi and pre-pay, but it does have the advantage of not needing to go through the refi process at all. So I hope that that makes sense. And I think that one of these three solutions should work for you. But again, I’m going to send it to you via email so that you can look at them. You can mull them over. And you can talk about them with your husband. But thanks for the question.
Kathryn Tuggle: (46:44)
Wow, Jean, that was such deep dive. I was not expecting that answer.
Jean Chatzky: (46:49)
Well, you know, I got to say, I wasn’t expecting it either. I was sort of expecting when I got the answer back from Keith, it would be, yeah, just do this. But he’s right, refinancing, because I’ve done it. It’s a total hassle. It’s not fun. And if you’re feeling, as Dr. Romie was talking about, that you already have enough on your plate, you may want to just say thanks, but no thanks. Save yourself some of the money, not all of the money. And know that you have still made a pretty substantial difference in your financial life, right? It comes down to the point where it’s time. It’s the hassle. And it’s what you have the stomach for right now.
Kathryn Tuggle: (47:34)
Such a great point, Jean. Our last question is from Stephanie. She writes, when is enough enough? I’m a 65 year old physician who retired from a busy practice a year ago. Now I’m working part-time, because I love my profession, making $140,000 a year. I plan to work until 70, as long as my health holds. I saved a lot over the last 10 years since my divorce. I also had an employer-sponsored retirement program, which has left me very comfortable. I estimated 10 years ago that I would retire at 65 with $1 million. However, with an inheritance and my savings, I have $2.3 million in assets, including one rental property. Even more importantly, I have a defined benefit pension plan. So my pension plus social security at age 66 will be $126,000 a year. And at age 70, it will be $188,000 a year. With my savings and inheritance, I have more than exceeded my expectations. I’m a simple gal. Some of my favorite clothes come from the Goodwill. My only debt is a $400,000 mortgage for my second home, which I pay from the rental on my first home. How do you know when you have enough for your retirement needs? I’ve begun to give my excess money away. I’ve gifted money to my kids to prompt them to start retirement savings accounts. I have endowed a scholarship for first generation college students interested in health sciences. There are people in my life who are expressing concern about my giving money away. However, with my pension and social security, I feel that I can return to my goal of 1 million plus my house and be secure. Am I wrong? Finally, do you have any resources on deacquisition or charitable giving? Thank you so much.
Jean Chatzky: (49:16)
Stephanie, this is such a good question. I feel like I’m a broken record today. This is such a good question. This is such a good question. This is why I love our listeners. This is why I love our community, because you don’t just write when is enough enough and leave it at that. You tell me about your lives and you tell me about your challenges and you give me some insight into why you’re thinking the way that you’re thinking. And that makes me just love my job and love all of you so much. I, in reading this, Stephanie, there’s one thing that I think is missing. You say you got divorced. You didn’t say if you are single at this point. And you didn’t mention long-term care insurance. I’m a little bit worried about your long-term care needs. The pension and social security. Could they fund the cost of your long-term care if you had no other money? They might be able to. They might be able to. That plus the sale of a house, could it fund your long-term care needs? Probably. I just would like you to look into that. I’d like you to, as what sounds like a single woman, I just want to make sure that you have the ability to be taken care of in the way that you’re comfortable. That should the time come where you need physical care, if you want to receive it in your home, I want you to have the resources to get it in your home. If you want to move into a continuing care community, I want you to feel like you have the resources to do that. So, if you’ve never had the conversation, I’m not saying that you absolutely have to buy it, because after you look at it, after you look at what the policies offer, as a physician, you, better than anyone, knows what it means not to be able to accomplish the activities of daily living that are the benchmark for when these policies kick in. But I would like to see you just have this conversation. And then I’d like to see you, yes, come up with a plan for giving this money away. One of the things that I have been counseled, more than once, from giving experts is, when we start these programs of gifting annually to our children, we sometimes feel like we can do it once or twice, and they won’t start to rely on that money. But they may not have the same perspective. And so, if you are going to start annually gifting, I just want to make sure that you’re being very clear about what the expectations are both on your side of the table and on their side of the table. When it comes to deacquisition, when it comes to charitable giving overall, I’ve been very impressed actually with the resources at Fidelity. And I’m not here by the way to sell you on them. But I opened a donor-advised fund with Fidelity a couple of years ago and have started exploring grantmaking. It’s allowed me to think about ways to bring my children into the process of having a donor advised fund in the family, and grow their giving aspirations as well as my own. And so I would encourage you to look there. I also think you should go back to one of our earlier podcasts. We have a guest named Dr. Katherina Rosqueta. She runs the Center For High Impact Philanthropy at the University of Pennsylvania. They are always publishing lots of really good resources. So I think you should look there as well. And I’m going to keep my eye out for other resources that I can send your way. I think that it’s a very nice problem to have. We don’t get the question how much is enough, often enough. I think you are the best judge of what is enough for you. But I do just want to make sure that you have enough, should you live the next 40 years, to be able to do it in comfort and in good health.
Kathryn Tuggle: (54:02)
That’s great advice, Jean. Yeah. I think that the people who are advising her maybe to be careful with HerMoney are people who know just how long she could live, right? Like you don’t want to be so generous that you wind up in a bad position. But I think that there is a happy medium between her feeling the abundance that she feels now and her having the $1 million that she set out to have.
Jean Chatzky: (54:29)
And the million dollars that she set out to have is not worth a million dollars in 20 years. We know that inflation erodes the purchasing power of our money. And so, if it’s not invested for growth, at least for some growth, then you have to be careful about running out.
Kathryn Tuggle: (54:50)
Yeah, absolutely. Thank you so much for your great advice.
Jean Chatzky: (54:54)
Thank you for teeing up the questions, as always. In today’s thrive, let’s talk about improving your credit score so that you can secure the home of your dreams. We have all heard the buzz about the low mortgage rates out there right now. Rates for a 30 year fixed mortgage stood at about 2.6% this week. And those great deals, coupled with more city dwellers migrating to suburbia have driven home sales to their highest pace since 2006. But of course, to capitalize on these rates, you have to qualify for them, which means having a good, if not great, credit score. So what do you do if your credit isn’t good enough to get you the rate you want right now. There are a few action steps that you can take to increase your score so that at the same time you’re adding more savings to put towards your down payment, you can be building up that score to secure the best rate. We’ve got a full rundown at hermoney.com this week, but there are a few tips to get you started. First, start by paying your bills on time, every time. It’s an important factor. The most important factor in improving your credit score. Next, look to lower the amount of credit card debt you’re carrying and limit your spending. Avoid making any big purchases between now and the time you apply. You want to keep your credit utilization ratio, which shows how much of your available credit you’re actually using, at 10% or less to really improve your score. Also, if possible, avoid any new credit inquiries while trying to improve your score. These happen whenever you apply for new credit and they can knock two to five points off your score. Lastly, don’t close old credit cards. As long as the card is in good standing, having an additional one, even if you’re not using it, doesn’t really hurt you, and technically can help you by adding to your available credit. So how long will it take to see a bump in your score? Within one or two months, you can see a slight uptick. And at the end of six months to a year, a serious improvement. And don’t forget, applying for a home is something to be celebrated. Improving your credit score is a marathon rather than a sprint, but with the right hard work, you’ll get there. Thanks so much for joining me today on HerMoney. Thanks to Dr. Romie for joining us to help us all think about a brain shift of our own. I know I’m going to start thinking about my busy brain a little bit differently. If you like what you hear, we hope you’ll subscribe to our show at Apple podcasts. Also while you’re there, leave us a review. We really do love hearing what you think. We’d like to thank our sponsor Fidelity. We record this podcast out of CDM Sound Studios. Our music is provided by Video Helper, and our show comes to you through Megaphone. Thanks so much for joining us and we’ll talk soon.