Living Longer Tips: Are You Using Them?

lltWow, would I love to inherit my 93-year-old Nana’s longevity. This pistol in pantyhose still has her own Manhattan apartment and only recently retired from her bookkeeping career. She surfs the Internet, plays bridge regularly with her gal pals, and can tick off the birth date of everyone in our clan, right down to the youngest great-grandchild. There’s just one hitch, my husband reminds me: Nana is on his side of the family.

Point taken. But experts now say that I might actually have more to gain by following Nana’s example than I would if I shared her bloodline. In fact, an explosion of research has found that how you approach life and the choices you make play major roles in how long and well you’ll live. Here’s what experts on aging say you can do to stay young at heart for a long time to come.

1 Think positively We can learn a lot from the Roman Catholic nuns researcher David Snowdon, Ph.D., has been studying for the past 15 years. In looking at personal essays the nuns wrote upon first entering the convent, Snowdon found that those who frequently used positive words such as joy and hopeful lived up to ten years longer than nuns who expressed fewer positive emotions. Snowdon, author of Aging with Grace, which recounts his work with the nuns, notes that when you’re angry or depressed, your body releases powerful stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol, which can weaken your immune system and increase your risk of stroke or heart attack.

More evidence: In the 1960s, the Mayo Clinic gave a personality test to more than 800 people. Each person was typed as either an optimist or a pessimist. Thirty years later, the pessimists were 19 percent more likely to have died than their cheerier counterparts. “Pessimists believe things happen to them, while optimists express a sense of control over their lives,” says Christopher Peterson, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. If you don’t believe you can change the future, you’re more likely to engage in unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking. By contrast, an optimist tries to take care of herself and improve her life.

What to do Try to surround yourself with positive people. “It’s possible they’ll bring you up,” Peterson says. Master something new–anything from whipping up a perfect souffle to becoming handy around the house. A new activity will be satisfying and may motivate you to make healthy changes elsewhere in your life. Finally, get some exercise. After a half hour on the treadmill (or doing another aerobic activity), you’ll see life in a whole new light thanks to feel-good hormones called endorphins, which are released during your workout.

2 Stimulate your mind Believe it or not, somewhere between ages eight and ten, the brain begins a gradual decline. Experts used to think there was nothing we could do about it. But studies have found that rats exposed to a stimulating environment continued to develop key structures in their brains that help process information. “An interesting environment can have a similar effect on humans,” says Marian Diamond, Ph.D., a professor of integrative biology at the University of California at Berkeley. Building–and maintaining–brainpower has other benefits too. Snowdon found that nuns who kept challenging themselves intellectually were less likely to develop Alzheimer’s disease.

What to do Constantly give yourself opportunities to learn. “Crossword puzzles are an especially good exercise, but if you always do them, try something else,” Diamond advises. Take a French class or learn to play piano, for example. If you’ve got kids and are pressed for time, start a book group and meet after your children have gone to bed. And try balancing your checkbook without the help of a calculator. Challenging your brain has major payoffs no matter what your age, experts maintain.

3 Get spiritual Research has found that people who have religious or spiritual beliefs experience less anxiety and depression than others, have lower blood pressure and fewer strokes, and are healthier overall. Praying may also slow the body’s production of harmful stress-related hormones. A large study from the Duke University Medical Center, in Durham, North Carolina, recently found that people who rarely or never prayed had a 50 percent greater risk of dying over a period of six years than those who prayed more frequently. Another Duke study showed that hospitalized patients who questioned their faith were 19 to 28 percent more likely to die within two years.

“Religion and spirituality act as buffers against the bad things in life,” Peterson says. Religious beliefs also encourage healthier behaviors such as not smoking or drinking. And, Peterson adds, “attending services provides important social contact and support.”

What to do Reconnect with your faith if you’ve lapsed. If organized religion doesn’t suit your belief system, take time on a regular basis to think about things that give you comfort and strength, recommends the American Academy of Family Physicians. Or attend to your spiritual self by enjoying nature, volunteering in the community, or meditating.

4 Cultivate your creativity When the Center for Creative Retirement, in Southampton, New York, surveyed about 600 people between the ages of 80 and 100, many maintained that their creative endeavors had a major impact on their longevity. This was also true for those who participated in the Okinawa Centenarian Study, a 25-year project that is exploring the remarkable longevity of the residents of Okinawa, Japan. “Many are devoted to hobbies such as writing their life history or painting,” according to Bradley Willcox, M.D., and Craig Willcox, Ph.D., coinvestigators of the study and authors of The Okinawa Program. “Creative activities not only keep the brain stimulated, but they also keep people engaged and interested in their lives.”

What to do If you don’t already have a hobby, find one–be it gardening, listening to opera, or compiling a family cookbook. “If you lay the groundwork now, you’ll have something meaningful to pursue when you retire or send the kids off to college,” says Gene D. Cohen, Ph.D., M.D., director of the Center on Aging, Health & Humanities at George Washington University, in Washington, D.C., and author of The Creative Age.

5 Socialize Studies sponsored by the esteemed MacArthur Foundation Research Network on Successful Aging have described loneliness as hazardous to a person’s health. In fact, the death rate for older people who have limited social contact is twice as high as the rate for those with a strong support system. By stressing the body and increasing vulnerability to disease, isolation accelerates the rate at which people age, explains Lisa F. Berkman, Ph.D., chair of the department of health and social behavior at the Harvard School of Public Health.

What to do Berkman has found that interacting with others lowers a person’s overall risk of dying as much as physical exercise does. This doesn’t mean you should forsake your morning jog for a social hour at Starbucks. But it’s a good argument for getting out with your friends, no matter how busy you are. Be sure to diversify your relationships among family members, coworkers, and friends. That way, if you lose a spouse or retire, or if your kids move across the country, you’ll have other relationships to fall back on. “Pay as much attention to building your social portfolio as you do to building your financial portfolio,” Dr. Cohen advises. And don’t neglect sex. A study of 1,000 middle-aged Welsh men found that the least sexually active men were twice as likely to die over ten years than those who were more amorous.

6 Keep working “People do best if they have work–or something that resembles work–in their life,” says Robert N. Butler, M.D., president of the International Longevity Center-USA, in New York City. Work keeps your mind engaged, brings you into contact with others, and gives you a sense of responsibility and self-worth.

What to do “Work in whatever capacity you can for however long you can,” Dr. Butler says. If you don’t like what you do, take steps now–however gradual–to find something you’ll want to keep doing, even if it’s light-years away from your chosen career. Consider giving tours at a local historic site or parlaying your love of cooking into a part-time catering operation. “Anyone can turn her life around,” Dr. Cohen says. “It’s good to start early, but it’s never too late.”

Let’s Talk Anti-Aging for Women

ltaafwChances are good that if you own an antiaging cream, it’s for your face. We’re so focused on our reflection that we forget there’s other territory affected by time: the skin below our necks. While this thought may depress you (“Oh, great, now I’ve got to start looking for wrinkles on my back!”), it’s meant to be encouraging. “The skin on the body is so neglected that just by regularly using something–anything–you can make a visible difference,” says Nicholas Perricone, M.D., assistant professor of clinical dermatology at Yale University.

Products for the body are more effective than ever, because skin-care companies–including Estee Lauder, Jergens, Lubriderm, Neutrogena, and Olay–are tweaking formulas used in facial products to target thicker-skinned, less-sensitive areas. That often involves increasing concentrations of active antiaging ingredients such as alpha hydroxy acids, vitamin C, and retinol. So read on to find out how to get younger-looking skin–without having to join a gym or police what you put in your mouth!

HOW OLD IS YOUR SKIN? DEPENDS WHERE YOU LOOK

YOUR YOUNGEST SKIN

Where Inner arms, buttocks, lower abdomen, breasts, thighs

Why “These areas have had virtually no UV exposure or wear and tear in terms of flexing and bending,” says Tim Fowler, senior scientist for Olay skin care. “So they’re the closest you’ll get to baby skin.”

What’s next The signs of aging that will eventually appear in these areas are mostly due to genetics, not external factors. You can expect to see gradual dryness and lack of elasticity, but probably not until your 50s or even your 60s.

YOUR MIDDLE-AGED SKIN

Where Elbows, knees, bottoms of feet, cuticles

Why The physical stress, pressure, and friction endured by these areas create rough, dry, scaly patches. “The almost-constant bending and bumping gives skin on these body parts a dull and unhealthy appearance,” Fowler says.

What’s next If ignored for too long, deep cracks can develop, especially on feet. The good news? “You can treat these areas and see immediate improvement,” Fowler says. “Just body lotion will go a long way.”

YOUR OLDEST SKIN

Where Neck, upper chest, hands

Why These body parts tend to age even more rapidly than the face, because they get as much or more sun and little or no help. “Women protect their faces with sunscreen or makeup, but skip these areas,” says Deborah Sarnoff, M.D., a New York City cosmetic dermatologist. “The skin here tends to be not only thinner, but also slower to heal, so cumulative sun damage has a very visible effect.”

What’s next Check these regions for the first appearances of age spots and crepiness.

THE TRUTH ABOUT THREE NEW “MIRACLE CREAMS”

Cellulite Timed to beach season, a new slew of creams offer help for that dimpled and dappled look. Competing for attention are Lubriderm Skin Renewal Firming Body Lotion, Jergens Skin Firming Moisturizer, Neutrogena Anti-Cellulite Treatment, RoC Retinol Actif Pur Anti-Cellulite Treatment, and Remede Slender Active Amplifier–but should we get our hopes up?

Well, yes and no. Recently, manufacturers have begun backing away from their more ambitious claims; you’ll notice that many of them are calling the newer products “firming lotions” that can “tone and tighten” skin rather than eliminate cellulite (defined in medical journals as inexplicably uneven deposits of fat). These pared-down promises are pretty accurate: Most creams in this category use reliable antiaging ingredients such as retinols, antioxidants, and enzymes to improve elasticity and tone, which can make the cellulite less noticeable. And they provide an immediate, although temporary, camouflaging effect from light-reflecting pigments–a trick borrowed from facial moisturizers.

Stretch marks Most of the over-the-counter lotions targeting this problem claim that they will prevent the formation of new marks (by making skin more elastic), not that they will make existing marks disappear. However, dermatologists say the tendency to develop stretch marks has less to do with your skin’s suppleness than with its genetic blueprint, so creams can’t help much.

To lighten existing marks, some doctors are prescribing glycolic acid and retin-A. “But even the biggest believers will tell you that they work best on pink or red marks; the older, whiter ones seem to be untreatable,” says Fredric Brandt, M.D., a New York City dermatologist. Even more experimental are treatments with vascular lasers. At this point, Dr. Sarnoff says, “There is nothing you can do to get rid of stretch marks completely.”

Spider veins These leg wreckers can be successfully zapped with a laser, but new products (such as Dr. Perricone Alpha Lipoic Acid Anti-Spider Vein Leg with Toxotrienols) have an obvious appeal: Who wouldn’t rather apply a cream than sit through stinging laser sessions or uncomfortable saline injections?

According to Peter Pugliese, M.D., a cosmetic chemist in Reading, Pennsylvania, it’s too soon to say whether these lotions work: “These types of formulas have been popular in Europe for years, but they’re relatively unstudied.” So for now, the smartest tactic, if you decide to try these products, is to check the return policy.

The Diary Of A Perfect Wife??

pwIt is a matter of pride with me that the refrigerator is always stocked with my husband’s favorite brand of orange juice, and that the bathroom cupboard has a full complement of his beloved Dr. Bronner’s peppermint soap and that absurdly expensive Eau Sauvage stick deodorant. I make fresh lemonade every weekend in the summer (a seriously labor-intensive process); in winter the freezer is lined with individual serving-size containers of homemade peasant soup. Not to put too fine a point on it, I wait on this guy hand and foot.

In the interest of full disclosure, where he far outscores me (I keep score; he doesn’t) is in the generosity-of-spirit part of the marriage (which some might argue carries a higher degree of difficulty than dropping shirts off at the laundry). Take both kids to school so I can sleep a few extra minutes? Sure, he’ll do it. Go willingly with me to my 20th high school reunion, where, for five hours, he’ll have to listen to people he barely knows tell stories about people he hasn’t met? Of course. By contrast, when he asked me to accompany him to his college reunion–let the record show that I’d already been to three previous ones–I responded as I would to a root canal: Fine, if I’m sedated.

So when my editor called to ask how I’d feel about being a perfect wife for a day, I was a little dubious. One whole day of giving up the last word in an argument? A day of listening with rapt attention while he tells me yet again what a jerk the guy in the next office is? Still, I was intrigued by the idea … and curious to see whether I could really pull it off.

3:37 A.M. Perfection is hardest achieved under trying circumstances like sleep deprivation. Thus I have decided to begin this experiment in the wee small hours of the morning when, as Frank Sinatra so famously sang, the whole wide world is fast asleep. I’d like to be in dreamland, too, but there’s that noise to my immediate left. To say that my husband, Michael, snores would be like saying that Bill Gates has some spare cash. It is a symphony with an identifiable theme, three distinct movements, and a boffo finish. Ordinarily I elbow him or shake him awake and beg him in a threatening sort of way to turn over. On this occasion, however, I kiss him gently on the brow, slip out of bed as quietly as a cat burglar, and trundle down the hall with my pillow to spend the rest of the night on the living room sofa.

6:02 A.M. There are many ways that I like to be awakened. The snapping on of the overhead light and the thump of a medicine ball are not on the list. My husband, who admittedly was not aware of my location, has begun to exercise. His head is turned away from me. You know, I could just take that ball and…. Instead, I head to the kitchen and get him a glass of water. Then I go back to our room for a blessed hour and a half of sleep.

6:52 A.M. Did I say an hour and a half? Michael apologetically wakes me. He was setting out our son Matthew’s clothes and was coming up empty on a few items. “Where do we have socks for him?”

Where do we have socks for him? We? I refrain from snapping as I normally would, “In the refrigerator, that’s where we have socks for him.” Instead, I go to Matt’s room, reach into the second drawer where there are enough pairs of white socks for a Little League team, and hand them to my husband.

11:00 A.M. I call him at the office to say I love him and to give him the even more welcome news that I am making his favorite dinner: Dijon chicken breasts and wild rice. “Great,” he says, but I hear the shuffle of papers and I suspect he isn’t really paying attention. I do not point this out.

2:30 P.M. I run into the wife of one of my husband’s dearest friends on the way to pick up my daughter from school. I don’t like this woman (and, come to think of it, I’m not so nuts about the guy). I cheerily agree to a dinner date next week.

6:50 P.M. My husband walks in the house. “That smells good,” he says. “What are you making?” He clearly has no memory of our chat this morning.

“Chicken breasts,” I say gamely.

“Oh, right,” he says. “Great.”

But there’s something in his tone…. I press him. “It’s fine,” he says. “It’s just that I had them for lunch. But I don’t mind.”

“Let me make you some pasta,” I suggest. “Pesto or marinara?”

Yup. Time to hit the sauce.

9:15 P.M. I’m filling the dishwasher. My husband is watching The West Wing, and the phone rings. “You get it,” he says. “You know it’s always for you.”

I pick up. “It’s your brother,” I say. I do not bean him with the receiver.

9:35 P.M. I remind my husband that we have a parent-teacher conference at our son’s school tomorrow at 3:15. “Tomorrow?” he repeats as though it is a word in a foreign language. “First I’ve heard about it.”

Now, I know that I told him. And not only do I know that I did, but I could tell him exactly when. He was watching ER, and Mark Greene had just learned that his brain tumor had recurred…. “Well, maybe I just thought I told you. It’s tomorrow. At 3:15.”

10:20 P.M. I am finally able to pick up the novel I’ve been reading. My husband comes into the living room and asks plaintively whether I’ve thrown out Friday’s New York Times. Yes, I’ve thrown it out. It’s Wednesday. I should have known better. There is always something he means to read. When he has his way, the stack is high enough to housebreak the most recidivist canine in the annals of the American Kennel Club. I, on the other hand, think there is only so much you can keep around before you excite the attention and displeasure of the fire marshal. I often say so. This time I say, “You know, honey, it isn’t here, but I’m pretty sure the Times Web site will have the story you want. Let me check.”

11:00 P.M. Not being the fastest surfer on the World Wide Web, it takes me some time to find the article, but eventually I do find it. I am proud of myself. I take it to my husband. He is asleep.

3:45 A.M. He’s at it again with the symphony, but the day is officially over. I feel like a kid who, having received everything on her Christmas list, has no particular incentive to stay on her best behavior.

I reach over to nudge Michael just as he wakes up himself. “I was snoring, wasn’t I?” he asks.

“Were you?” I say tenderly. “I didn’t even notice.”

I would like to report that my husband took note that this was a 24 hours gloriously, radiantly out of the ordinary. He didn’t. But maybe I should take that as a compliment. It suggests that what I saw as a great reach wasn’t so different from my usual way of doing business. And you know what? I’d be perfectly happy to do it again–just as soon as he does his 24 hours as a perfect husband.

Losing A Child: Taking The Best From The Worst

gjI called her Potinka. It’s a silly name, I know, and I don’t even remember how it came into being. I can only tell you that as time went by, it seemed to perfectly describe this elfin child with a squinty grin and tinkling giggle.

She entered our lives in February 2000; my wife and I lived in Indianapolis then with our son Graig. Roughly nine months earlier, my son and his new girlfriend, Jessica, had gone off to Chicago to celebrate his 22nd birthday, a celebration spent largely–as he later told it–in bed. Just days after returning, they had a terrible fight, the first of far too many. Jessica took off. They made an effort to patch things up via telephone, but each call ended in an angry hang up, and they soon lost touch.

Until one September day when we arrived home to find a note taped to the door. It read: “Graig, you are going to have a daughter. See you in court.” My wife, Kathy, could not let it go at that, and took a personal hand in bringing about a reconciliation between Graig and Jessica. Sure enough, within a month she’d persuaded the two of them to move in together nearby, so they could cultivate some basic sense of partnership before the blessed event.

And blessed it was. From the first, there was something special about the bond between Potinka and me, something about how she seemed to look to me for comfort. Even as an infant, she’d search my eyes in a way that connected to a place deep inside me.

The proud new parents made several false starts as a family, moving in with us, moving out, moving back. They were forever “starting over.”

Like many couples, they’d try to add symbolic weight to each attempt by trading one setting for another–a new apartment, a new section of the city. And like many couples, they realized soon enough that what they now had was the same bad relationship in a different venue. It didn’t help that both of them were constantly getting, then losing, new jobs. When my wife and I moved to Pennsylvania, they briefly took over our old lakeside apartment in Indianapolis, then decided to join us in our new home. Another fresh start.

Amid these comings and goings, Kathy and I became Potinka’s living, breathing security blankets. If I never quite knew what histrionics I might encounter when I got home from work, I knew at least that my little Potinka, upon hearing my heavy feet on the interior staircase, would lose interest in whatever else she was doing and crawl or stumble toward me as best she could. We tended to meet just as I stepped over the safety gate, where she’d try to hoist herself up on my trousers. I’d pick her up; then she’d nestle into the hollow of my shoulder, lay her head down, and coo. I usually patted her back as I held her, and one night she began patting my shoulder in return. That became our ritual. We’d stand there at the top of the stairs, patting each other. What’s more, this child seemed to have magic, medicinal powers. Her very presence could cure me of a headache or an upset stomach and relieve the accumulated tension often hours spent hunched in front of a computer.

Unfortunately, tensions between Jessica and Graig were not so easily relieved. Threats flew back and forth. Various household items got kicked, punched, or thrown. One combatant would storm out of the house, screaming. I will not try to objectively diagnose the source of these problems or who should bear the blame. But this much was clear: They were a hideous mismatch.

In February 2001, shortly after Potinka’s first birthday, the couple made one last try at a new beginning–in California, the quintessential land of rebirth. On the afternoon that they loaded their meager belongings onto a ten-foot truck and rumbled out of our driveway, my feelings were about what you’d expect. I’d cradled Potinka in my arms almost every day since her birth. But I consoled myself with the hope that maybe this time Graig and Jessica could make it work. For their daughter’s sake.

Needless to say, the old pattern repeated itself: They still fought bitterly, just with palm trees instead of maples as a backdrop. In July, Jessica took the baby to her family’s annual reunion in Ohio. Kathy and I drove six hours each way to spend a precious few hours with our granddaughter. I hadn’t seen her in five months. As young as she was, I feared she might have forgotten me.

We pulled up and got out of the car; tentatively I approached her, marveling at the impossible crop of golden curls that had sprouted since February. For a moment she studied me. Then recognition swept over her face, and once again, she toddled my way and stretched out her arms. When I lifted her, she settled into that familiar position on my left shoulder and began parting. Just like old times. I cried. And she patted me harder.

Jessica returned to California from the reunion just long enough to gather her things and make plans to live for a while with her mother in Colorado. When that didn’t pan out–”strained” was the word Jessica had used to describe her relationship with both of her parents–she and her daughter took off for Indiana, where Jessica had friends.

Suddenly, about a month after arriving back in Indianapolis, Jessica started hinting that the baby wasn’t my son’s after all.

It took several months, and legal maneuvers east and west, before the courts finally ordered a paternity test. I could not imagine an unfavorable outcome. After almost two years? With all this couple had been through? Why had nothing been said earlier? I convinced myself that this was just Jessica’s way of making my son squirm. So confident did I feel that I even bought a nice wooden picture frame inscribed with the words Daddy & Me, inserted a favored photo of my son and the baby, and put it aside to send to him after the triumphant verdict. It was Graig himself who shook me from my reverie. “I don’t know what to believe right now,” he said in one late-night phone call, “but I can tell you this: Jessica definitely believes I’m not the father.”

The grim results came in a week later, via e-mail, no less. So this is how a fatherhood ends, I thought. With two strips of bar codes–like those you find on packs of toilet tissue–delivered over the Internet. Adding insult to injury, Jessica now said she wanted nothing more to do with us as a family. She was seething over the partiality that she felt my wife and I had shown to our son during all the wrangling.

I suppose there are countermeasures I could take. I mean, it’s not as though the paternity test has diminished my feelings for this child (or Kathy’s feelings–she’s proven only slightly better than I am at focusing her attention away from our loss). As it happens, two of my three children are from my wife’s first marriage, and I love them no less dearly than I love Graig, my lone biological child.

But I think, What’s the point? Why force ourselves on anyone? I am loathe to add any needless tension to this little girl’s life. Despite everything, she has always been a delightful, happy child; and I truly believe that Kathy and I helped make her that way, by providing stability and security at a pivotal time in her young life. Besides, I am fortunate to have two other grandchildren. Zoe is a beautiful, blue-eyed, precocious three–and an absolute laugh riot to be around, thanks to her theatrical demeanor and astute observations on the unfolding world. One-year-old Jordan, my rambunctious “little man,” as we call him, shows all the exuberance you’d expect in a child who pulled himself up one day during his eighth month on earth and just started strolling around the room. Neither of them lives nearby–but, because of the happier circumstances of their lives, they don’t desperately need to have their grandparents close at hand.

There’s something else: I know that our continued involvement would only hurt my son, who is trying to forget and move on. He has asked that there be no mention of Jessica or the baby around him–ever–and Kathy and I are doing our best to comply. Yes, we sometimes find it hard to fathom how he can shut all that out. But Graig has the resiliency of youth on his side. Harsh as this may sound, he’s probably better off starting over. At least now he can go on to have a child of his own the right way–that is, a child conceived in the fact of love, not just the act of it.

So I will say goodbye to my beloved Potinka. Tonight, as I write this, I’d want her to know how grateful I am for having had her as long as I did. Tomorrow, if I’m up to it, I’ll put away the pictures, including that one in the nice wooden frame, and I’ll spackle over those small holes I always pass at the top of the stairs, where a gate once was anchored to a wall, and a child and a man were anchored to each other.

Getting Rich Isn’t Easy: These Rules Can Help

wgwWomen get wealthy in a lot of ways. They start their own businesses (Jenny Craig, Oprah Winfrey, Martha Stewart), run giant corporations (Pat Russo at Lucent, Anne Mulcahy at Xerox), or forecast the stock market (Abby Joseph Cohen at Goldman Sachs). They achieve their positions through brains, talent, drive, and luck. Once they make their money, they’re usually pretty smart about handling it. So let’s look at what the do (not necessarily what they say) and learn.

1 LIVE ON LESS THAN YOU EARN

Before you start throwing plates at my head (“Jane, you dummy, who couldn’t live on less than a million–or $10 million–a year?”), let me hasten to say (crash, bang!) that I’m talking about the folks who not only earn big bucks, but also manage to keep them. Everyone knows the riches-to-rags stories of foolish Hollywood celebrities, sports stars, politicians, and business fat cats. When their lives blow up, it’s because they bought too many goodies or gambled too heavily on investments that soured.

Your $$$ lesson No one gets ahead by spending every cent. What’s more, anyone can be downed by debt. Instead of devoting your next raise or bonus to new purchases, think of your future and fatten your retirement plan.

2 BE A TIGHTWAD I have a friend who shops for bargains on groceries and wears 20-year-old suits (which still fit her!). So you can imagine my amazement when, as we were browsing in an antiques store last year, she fell in love with a small Italian statue and bought it on the spot–for $17,000. I had no idea she had that kind of money. “I’m just careful,” she says. “I don’t waste money on unimportant things.”

Your $$$ lesson Blowing money on meaningless or ostentatious purchases won’t win you lasting friends-and it could leave your bank account in tatters. Skimp where you can so you’ll have something left to spend on what really matters to you.

3 PUT SECURITY FIRST Most rich people I spoke with played around aggressively with some of their money. They bought and sold companies, speculated in real estate, or traded foreign currencies. But they also had a substantial chunk invested safely–in bank CDs, Treasury securities, or municipal bonds. If all their risky ventures turned to dust, they could still live comfortably on the income from their bonds.

Your $$$ lesson So you can’t afford a giant pile of bonds-few of us can. But you can still weave a safety net for your family, in case your income drops or your investments tank. Do it with term life insurance (at least seven times your income for a family of four), clean credit cards, and emergency money in the bank.

4 HIRE GOOD HELP If you’re not comfortable making money decisions, find someone who can guide you. And watch what he or she does! Even the top-tier advisers hired by the superrich can make mistakes–or steal. One woman told me her sister’s fancy stockbroker blew through her $3 million estate while she lay dying.

Your $$$ lesson To pick an adviser, ask for recommendations from friends, interview at least two, and find out how they’re paid. (If a fee, you’ll lay out more cash. If a commission, you have to be careful that the planner isn’t pushing you toward investments on which he or she gets a percentage of the sale.

HOW SOME RICH PEOPLE LOSE IT

THEY TRUST THE WRONG PEOPLE A slew of Hollywood stars, including Cameron Diaz, Courteney Cox Arquette, and Matt Damon, were swindled out of millions by the financial “guru” who handled their investments.

THEY LIVE TOO WELL Rapper M.C. Hammer earned an estimated $33 million in 1990–and filed for bankruptcy in 1996. Apparently, owning a Kentucky Derby race-horse, 17 cars, and a Boeing 727 stretched him too thin.