\o7 The Money Make-Over feature was inaugurated with The Times' Wall Street, California pages last year with the idea that real-life experience would be a powerful teacher, and that the professional advice offered in each case could benefit the public as much as the individual or couple directly involved.
Make-Over subjects have been a diverse group facing varied challenges. For some, it was overspending or unrealistic goals or career setbacks or family situations. For others, it was an investing style that was too risky or too cautious or not diversified.
With today's end-of-year report, The Times revisits five Money Make-Over subjects to see \f7 how they responded to financial planners' advice and whether they profited from it.
\o7 The Coopers and Rhoni Smith faced significant debts but were fortunate enough to have fate come to their aid. Jackie Motobo and couple Dan Robertson and Steve Schullo were diligent savers whose portfolios needed a few adjustments, and who feel they are better off today for having taken some of their planners' suggestions. For Sydney Kamlager, the problem was a lack of discipline, but she now has a better idea of where her money is going.\f7
Last March, Sydney Kamlager was a 24-year-old bride-to-be having trouble committing fully to a responsible money management plan.
A few things have changed since then.
For starters, she's put her marriage plans on hold. On the professional front, the community art director with the Social and Public Art Resource Center in Venice who was struggling to get by on $28,000 a year has received two raises and is expecting a third soon.
Never one to let life get her down, Kamlager, 25, has made a New Year's resolution to use her short-term savings--which she had originally planned to put toward her wedding costs--to travel abroad next year.
Kamlager's fledgling investment program is continuing to progress, and with her raises she added $50 to what she'd been putting aside every month. She is still dividing the money, now $250, evenly among four mutual funds: AARP Growth & Income (five-year average annual return: 19.7%;  322-2282); T. Rowe Price International Stock (five-year average annual return: 12.6%;  638-5660); Strong Short-Term Bond (five-year average annual return: 6.6%;  368-1030); and Strong Growth (fund is less than 5 years old).
Fee-only certified financial planner Peg Downey of Silver Spring, Md., had suggested that when Kamlager got more money saved, she add a mid-cap fund to the mix, and Kamlager is considering making that move.
Downey had urged that Kamlager, who could be unrealistic about what her income could buy and could let charge card bills get a bit out of hand, start keeping close track of her expenses.
As the planner suggested, Kamlager started keeping track of her spending in a notebook. After a few months, though, when she had a good mental idea of where her money was going, she stopped. But the experience taught her what she needed to know about budgeting, she said.
For the holidays, she decided to put her talents to work. She set herself a goal of spending no more than $100 on gifts. Her secret? A $26 subscription to the magazine Martha Stewart Living. Thanks to Martha, Kamlager learned how to make candles, soap and toilet water--crafts many of her friends and relatives will be sampling this holiday season.
Kamlager is especially pleased that she's continued investing, since the planner thought it unlikely that she could keep up with her ambitious agenda. Kamlager credits her success to her higher salary and to improved financial discipline.
"I'm doing better keeping track of my spending. That's changed this year," Kamlager said.
But her main problem--a tendency to pay off credit card balances only to run them up again--persists. Kamlager's credit card debt, although not increasing, remains stubbornly at $1,200. She manages to reduce the debt substantially, then decides to visit friends or family in other cities.
"It goes down, and then I buy a ticket and it goes up again," Kamlager said.
Remember Kamlager's New Year's resolution? She's already planning a vacation in Italy for this spring. She swears she won't charge it.