MintStyle

MintStyle with Rachel Weingarten: Simple Skills for Smarter and More Confident Style

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I was having dinner with friends last week when the conversation veered off the traditional topics and went in an entirely different direction. One friend almost guiltily admitted that she had never checked her credit report and had no idea of how to even begin.

Another shared that she was unsure of how often to change her sheets (once a week was the general consensus, or more frequently if you live with children, pets or other messy creatures). It would seem that my confident, successful and very interesting group of friends can sometimes feel incredibly clueless about everyday and sometimes mundane topics.

There are so many statistics floating around about how many American women wear the wrong bra size, but what about the most basic of daily activities that you might be doing wrong? While changing a tire isn’t in my repertoire of daily talents (in my defense, I don’t have a car!), I do tend to have unexpected skills. I’m guessing that you do, too. Although, sometimes the most ordinary ones can feel elusive.

As a savvy user of Mint.com, you’re already smarter than most about your personal spending. In case you need a brush up, Gail Cunningham, Vice President of Membership for the National Foundation for Credit Counseling (NFCC), graciously offered tips for keeping better track of your personal finances:

Understand your credit report

According to the NFCC’s 2012 Financial Literacy Survey, in spite of it being free, 62% of respondents hadn’t ordered their report. According to Cunningham, there is also a big difference between obtaining your credit report and understanding the contents.

The website to obtain a free credit report once every 12 months from each of the bureaus is www.AnnualCreditReport.com. If you’re not sure you understand your scores, you can check out posts from MintLife’s resident credit expert, John Ulzheimer, for tips on how to interpret your credit report.

Reconcile your bank statement

“Banks still make a significant amount of money from overdraft fees,” says Cunningham. “Adding insult to injury, the consumers who overdraft their account are typically the ones who can least afford the penalty fees.”

Cunningham advises recording every deposit and withdrawal, including those pesky ATM transactions. The next step is to keep an eye on the balance so you know when you’re near the end of your money.

She continues, “Since accounts can be reviewed online, if you forget to record an entry, you can easily look it up. The final step is to reconcile your bank statement as soon as it arrives, as this will alert you to any errors before they become unmanageable.”

For less urgent everyday matters, Bruce Lubin and Jeannie Bossolina Lubin have written a series of books called Who Knew?, offering practical and money-saving solutions to everyday issues and problems.

Invest in What You Love

Despite reconciling your checkbook and avidly following the financial pages, you still might not be an expert investor. E*TRADE’s new mobile app elevates the old investing adage of “investing in what you know.” Their new barcode scanner allows potential investors to use a mobile device to scan their favorite product and purchase the company’s stock on the spot.

For example, if you’re obsessed with a new shoe designer, you simply scan the barcode, and if the company is publicly traded, you can pull up the stock information immediately buy shares.

Things You Never Knew

You invest a considerable amount of time and money on your wardrobe and want it to last, right? To launder your investment (literally!), the authors advise adding a half cup lemon juice to the wash cycle to brighten white clothing.

If your black cotton items are starting to fade or take on a bluish tinge, the Lubins advise washing a load of only black items – with a twist. First, brew a strong pot of black coffee and then add it to the rinse cycle.

As someone with far too much black in my wardrobe, I’m a new convert to Woolite Extra Dark Care, which can also get rid of the appearance of white deodorant marks on black clothing.

If the Shoe Fits

Earlier this year, the U.K. Sunday Times reported that Queen Elizabeth has an official shoe breaker-inner. Okay, they didn’t exactly phrase it that way, but it would seem that even HRH is tired of Cruel Shoes.*

Alice Chen, a footwear designer for Alice Alan Footwear, says she often hears women complain about how hard it is to find shoes that don’t hurt their feet. “Footwear pain can be attributed to a number of factors such as heel height, lack of support, shape of toe box, etc. However, a big problem I see (along with podiatrists) is that women are often wearing the wrong shoe size.”

To that end, Chen offers some tips to finding the right size and fit:

Shop late in the day. This is when your feet are the biggest, since they tend to swell throughout the course of the day. If you plan to wear the shoes with socks, bring a pair to ensure the fit is as realistic as possible.

Get friendly with the staff. As a starting point, ask the salesperson to measure your feet and get their advice on brand and styles. Staff members know if brands run larger or smaller and can make recommendations.

Ignore the number. There is no true standardization of shoe sizes across brands or within brands. Don’t assume you are the same size in every brand. Sample different sizes and styles and try not to obsess about the number.

Be critical of the fit. I know the shoes are cute, but do not believe you can “break them in.” If they are uncomfortable when you wear them, it will only get worse throughout the day. Check the length – your feet should not be crammed in and you should not be slipping out when you walk. Make sure the toe box does not squish your toes into an unnatural state.

If the Bra Fits

And while we’re on the subject of fit, let’s get back to the notion that most women have no clue which bra size they wear. Jene’ Luciani, author of The Bra Book, says many women approach buying a bra the wrong way.

“They go to the store, pluck their ‘size’ from the rack and buy it, expecting it to fit like a glove, only to be disappointed when they return home and find it doesn’t. Think about it – would you even buy a pair of shoes without trying them on? And those are for our feet!”

Luciani offers some warning signs that you’re wearing an ill-fitting bra:

  • The first rule of thumb: if the bra causes you pain in any way, it doesn’t fit properly.
  • The band “rides up” in the back, or squeezes your flesh in a way that causes pain or leaves marks.
  • The shoulder straps fall down or dig in. (They may simply need to be adjusted.)
  • The cups should not be baggy, gaping or wrinkly. (If so, they are likely too big.)

Doing things smarter and better usually adds to your overall confident style. And who couldn’t use more confidence?

Do you have any questions or issues that have always confused or eluded you? Write me at mintstylerachel@gmail.com.

*If you’ve never read Steve Martin’s early homage to some women’s addiction to incredibly painful shoes, you should.

Rachel Weingarten no longer wears cruel shoes. Okay, maybe only for special occasions. She’s a style expert, marketing strategist & personal branding consultant for CEOs, politicians and celebrities and the creator of MintStyle. She is the award-winning author of Career and Corporate Cool and Hello Gorgeous! Beauty Products in America ‘40s-‘60s. Rachel writes for top media outlets including CNN, Fortune, Forbes Life, MSN, USA Today, Yahoo Finance and many others. She is a regularly featured expert on TV shows including Good Morning America and The Today Show. Visit her online at http://racheletc.com or on Twitter @rachelcw Write to her with your burning style questions at mintstylerachel@gmail.com