Elizabeth Hamilton-Guarino
Discover How to Be Your Best
Christine Romans

CNN Anchor and author of Smart is the New Rich

I don’t know how many times this year I have gone on national television and told viewers, “It’s raining.”

No, I am not a meteorologist. I am a correspondent for CNN, covering the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. You’ve heard that old saying from your grandparents: “Save for a rainy day.” Well, it’s raining. And it’s going to be very wet and uncomfortable for a while. Americans have done the impossible for too long. We spend more money than we have, and now, for a variety of reasons, it’s coming to a painful conclusion. The savers will endure, even profit, through all of this. Those who have consistently lived beyond their means will find that the credit spigot has been shut off.

My aunt recently wrote me that she can’t bear to watch television, the news is so bad about people losing jobs and the banking system on the brink. She worried about me and how I must feel always delivering terrible news. Every day is another historic calamity in the financial markets. Stocks swoon and retirement wealth vanishes. But I find delivering this news absolutely critical. I feel very strongly that viewers need to know the facts and prepare themselves for what could be a tough 2009 and 2010. Does it depress me? No, I am too busy working to think about that. And the reason I got into this business, is because knowledge is power. I feel very strongly about sharing all the information I get.
Who I Am and How I Got Here

I grew up in Iowa, the oldest of four children. I wanted to be a reporter from a pretty early age. My little sister and I would play news Channel Six in the play room, urgently reporting various made-up fires and car crashes. (My mother must have found this terribly morbid, but she let our creativity prevail!) We also played school for hours, making fake lesson plans and drawing on the blackboard. I became a reporter and my sister became a teacher.

I won’t bore you with my official CNN bio – I’ll just say this: I’ve had a great ride covering great stories all over. I came back in August from maternity leave after having my second baby, and jumped right into a thrilling election and an incredibly active hurricane season. I got my feet wet – literally – in Louisiana covering the evacuees from Hurricane Gustav. It’s incredibly emotional to cover a story like that when you have your own babies safely tucked in bed far away from the eye of the storm, with grandma in charge. Someday I will tell my baby about how mommy filed stories from a rocking satellite truck, as the outer bands of a category three storm bore down.

Throw in an election and a financial crisis, and I cannot remember a more critically important time since I have been a journalist. These days, I am almost exclusively covering news about your money. Weekday mornings you can find me on CNN’s American Morning, with hourly updates on your money. Also, I anchor a show that airs on CNN Saturdays at 1 pm ET and Sundays at 3 pm ET called “Your $$$$$.” You can email me your money questions at Christine@cnn.com and we try to answer as many as we can each week and we use them to shape the hour.

What I have learned most in my reporting, is that this country must return to healthy habits about money and debt. Think if it this way: We all need to go on a debt diet. Not a fad, crash diet, but instead a return to long-term healthy living. For millions of Americans, they never gorged themselves and they will be just fine. But too many people from all walks of life were gluttons on cheap debt, and now are facing the unhealthy consequences. (To say of teaching terrible habits to their children.)

Christine’s Debt Diet: Getting Back to Healthy Financial Living

1. Pay down credit card debt. Don’t add new credit card debt. Period. If you can’t afford it, don’t buy it.
2. Keep your mortgage, interest and taxes to 40 percent or less than your net income.
3. Hands off the 401k. Do not raid it to pay down your credit card and other debts. Instead, examine why you are running up the bills. Too many times, viewers tell me they have tapped their retirement to get themselves out of financial difficulty, only to end of in the same dire straits five years later, with no nest egg.
4. “Earn rate versus burn rate”: You have to make more money than you spend. It is as simple as that. Much like counting calories, it is easier in principal than in practice.
5. Work harder. Protect your job. Millions of them will vanish by the end of next year. To augment your income, find what you are good at, and see if you can figure out a way to make extra money from it. A little business on the side can tide you over now, or maybe even blossom into something more lucrative later on.
6. Like good nutrition, you have to teach good money habits to your children. How will they understand the value of work and money if we give them every plastic toy they want? We’re drowning in stuff. It’s not hard to draw a straight line from gorging ourselves on cheap imported consumer products, to the trouble we are in right now.

It’s not too late. I have great confidence that American families will set an example of financial health for their children, and demand the same from their government. It might the small sliver of a silver lining in the financial crisis. As for me, my credit cards are empty. I race to work at the crack of dawn, love my job for every minute I am there, and then race home to spend a wonderful afternoon and evening with my babies and husband. THAT is priceless.