Spend Less and Save More: A Conversation with Alice Wood

Alice Wood didn’t set out to be a money management guru.

She was a successful lawyer, mother and wife when a faulty oxygen mask on an airplane changed her life.

Wood’s sharp mind became fogged and confused due to a prolonged lack of oxygen. Her professional life and income crashed and simple tasks—like remembering to pick up her children—were often forgotten.

Her finances spiraled out of control and she gained 20 pounds.

“It was unthinkable that I was going to go through my whole life like that,” she says, talking about her brain injury.

To get her life back on track, she started small. She joined Weight Watchers to take off the pounds and found that their system of journaling—not dieting—but tracking every bite helped her stay in control. She started applying those same principles to her financial life.

First, she faced the music. She sat down with her accountant and figured out how in debt they were, how much money they were bringing in and what they could afford to spend. It was a revelation. She set a goal for herself: a simple, daily number that she wouldn’t exceed. Then she started tracking her expenses and accounting for every penny.

“Our family’s biggest black hole was eating out,” Wood says. She doesn’t love to cook or shop, so they spent a lot of money on takeout and restaurant meals. When she added it up and realized cooking avoidance cost them thousands of dollars each year, Wood got more organized and planned simple dinners at least four nights a week.

From her basic idea—watch the little things and everything else falls in place—Wealth Watchers was born. It shares Weight Watchers’ philosophy; nothing is off limits, but everything must be accounted for. If you want to splurge on a pair of Tod’s loafers, you have to cut back on something else (and a lot of something elses for those shoes), until you have the money set aside.

Once she had her idea fleshed out, Wood decided to share her idea with everyone. She’s written a book, Wealth Watchers: A Simple Program to Help You Spend Less and Save More (Free Press, 2010, $19.95) and also has a free app for iPhones to help you track daily spending.

But most important of all, Wood feels like herself again. Although she doubted that anything good could ever come from her brain injury, her experience launching Wealth Watchers made her think that maybe her ordeal was for a reason.

“It’s been 10 years since my accident,” she says. “And I’m so much better now.”

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