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Financial Planning

Passing Along a Financial Lesson

After a divorce, Marie Salerno, mother of two, had to get a job and take control of her finances. Now she is helping other women learn to be independent. As told to Candice Lee Jones.</b>

Marie Salerno shares her self-taught financial skills with other women.

You hit bottom. what happened? Seven years ago, I was a stay-at-home mom and my husband handled our finances. But then we got divorced. On top of going back to work and caring for our two children, I had to take control of my finances. And I had no idea where to begin. I had no pension. I didn't even know what an IRA was.

When did you realize you had to do something? It sounds so silly, but it was when the transmission on my car went out and I didn't have the money to fix it. Then I worried: What would I do if something really terrible happened?

What did you do first? I decided to talk to some friends. One day we spent nine hours going through my financial records and putting all that information into a spreadsheet. One friend gave me a copy of Kiplinger's, and I started reading and reading. I created a budget and started saving for retirement.

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How much are you saving? In the beginning, I was putting away $50 or so each paycheck toward my 403(b). For the past two years, I have been able to contribute about 12% of my salary toward retirement. I am also putting money into a 529 college-savings plan for my daughter, Samantha, and son, Michael.

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How did all this lead to educating other women? I always swore that when I was back on my feet, I would pay it forward. My friends and co-workers at the Jericho School District on Long Island, where I am the computer help desk coordinator, joined me in starting the Jericho Project to teach women the skills they need to step into the workforce or be more independent. We offer free classes in computer basics, resume-building and personal finance. We tell them that they don't need to wait for Prince Charming.

How are you doing now? I am happily remarried and feeling very comfortable with my finances. I know that if, God forbid, I ever have to be on my own again, I will be financially stable. My daughter is 17 now, and I tell her that not having to worry about money not only makes you independent, it also strengthens a relationship.