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Wealthy by Design
A 5-STEP PLAN FOR FINANCIAL SECURITY
By KIMBERLY FOSS
Greenleaf Book Group PressCopyright © 2013 Empyrion Wealth Management, Inc.
All rights reserved.
DISCOVERING AND SETTING YOUR GOALS
GOALS TRANSFORM WISHES into plans. The moment you set a firm goal and decide that it's something you're willing to take action to achieve, you have taken the first crucial step in transforming that wish into a reality.
In my financial advising practice, I've been privileged to assist people not only in achieving their financial objectives, but also in formulating the life goals that provide the motivation to build and maintain wealth in the first place. As I said, it's really not about the money—it's about the choices that the money can provide. And those choices are determined in large part by your life experiences, by your inclinations and desires, and sometimes even by the things you've learned to dislike.
THE EARLY YEARS OF A FINANCIAL ADVISOR
Some people have the idea that those of us in the financial professions have been around money all our lives. Maybe you've envisioned the story: we grow up swimming in the country club pool, vacationing in the Caribbean and Europe, going to school at places where a pedigree is one of the admission requirements. Then, after completing our obligatory four years at an Ivy League school, we hang out our stockbroker's shingle and settle in to a life of golf, parties, and investing trust funds for our parents and their friends.
I can guarantee you that my life, at least, bears no resemblance to that rosy picture. My father was a carpenter—a blue-collar, hardworking man with an eighth-grade education who, in his whole life, never made more than $22,000 in a single year. My mother was the ever-charismatic Avon lady from whom you bought products even though you didn't need them—yes, she was that good, and a very intelligent woman as well. There were six children in the house, and I was the youngest. My oldest sibling was nearly twenty when I was born. Needless to say, I was never the first one to wear a pair of jeans, let alone anything with a designer label—at least until I was old enough to earn my own money. I lived in hand-me-downs.
I've done a lot of thinking about what it means to grow up in humble circumstances. I think people in that situation can go one of two ways: either they never imagine anything different for themselves, eventually coming to accept that this sort of life is all that's available to them; or they somehow catch the desire for something more—they strive to live a different kind of life.
There was one thing that my parents gave me in abundance: the power to dream. When it came to imagining what I could be when I grew up, they gave me carte blanche. In fact, the future became the ultimate fantasy world for my young, creative mind. I felt that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. The message from my parents was always, "Kimberly, if you believe it, you can do it." And because they believed it, I believed it too.
What I really believed in—what I really desired—was a different lifestyle. I didn't want to be trapped by the circumstances of my birth. When I was young, if our car broke down and we couldn't get a ride from a friend or a neighbor, we couldn't get anywhere. To me, it seemed that we were constantly trapped. I would ask myself, "Why does it have to be like this? Why do we have to live this way?"
We must all have been dissatisfied with our circumstances, but for some reason, I felt that it affected me more than it did my siblings. It was impossible for me to become comfortable with the idea of accepting those circumstances; I had a special kind of determination to turn those dreams my parents encouraged me to have into actual goals. Maybe my determination had something to do with the place we lived in.
I was born in Auburn, California, a little town nestled at the base of the foothills on Interstate 80. Auburn was founded in 1849, during the gold rush. The people who settled there were driven by the desire to succeed, to have more. It was a hard and dangerous life, but the people who lived in the area had grit and determination.
One of those people was my great-great-grandfather Daniel Austin Rice, the first Wells Fargo agent in the greater Sacramento Valley in Northern California. As the story goes, he was responsible for transporting gold from Rattlesnake Bar, near Auburn, to Sutter's Fort in Sacramento, where the bank held the gold for safekeeping.
Unfortunately, there was a notorious bank robber named Rattlesnake Dick, a ruthless man with a nasty reputation for robbing stagecoaches. According to the stories I heard growing up, my great-great-grandfather, after being robbed several times by Rattlesnake Dick, searched him out and used his famous charisma (the same charm for making sales my mother obviously inherited) to start a negotiation with the outlaw, and actually struck a deal with him, agreeing to leave Dick a small payoff if he would leave the stagecoach alone during his run.
Great-great-Grandpa Rice's granddaughter was my grandmother. Edna Evangeline Rice was a deeply religious and faithful woman. She possessed the patience of Job and waited until her mid-thirties to marry her soul mate in order to be sure she would be financially secure in an otherwise uncertain economic time. My grandfather, Dr. Glover Brown Wilcox, was a surgeon and doctor in San Francisco. He graduated from medical school at USC and served in the Great War (or World War I, as it is presently referred to) as a first lieutenant in the Medical Service Corps in the United States Army in 1917. After the war's end, my grandfather began a successful practice in San Francisco. However, as fate would have it, he passed away while attending to his patients in 1922. He contracted pneumonia from a house-call patient and never recovered, only a year after my mother was born. My grandmother was suddenly a single parent. She never remarried, and continued to raise my mother in San Francisco, solo. In those times, because my grandmother was a doctor's widow, they might have been considered "high society," but like everyone else during those difficult times, they struggled to make ends meet, especially during the Great Depression, following the collapse of the stock market in 1929.
At times, I felt that I didn't belong with the rest of my family. I was the only one who cared about money. I wasn't greedy, although my siblings joked endlessly that I loved the greenback more than my family, but it did seem as if my brothers and sisters didn't see money the way I did. They saw it more as a means of getting by, or as an occasional treat, whereas I saw it as an opportunity for choice. I saw that money allowed a person options in life, freedom from feeling trapped and from living paycheck to paycheck. Because of these differences, I felt isolated, like the black sheep of the family.
That is, until the day (I think I was not even ten years old) when my mother told me, "You know, you're just like your great-great-grandfather and my father, Kimberly."
I asked, "Why?"
She said, "Both your great-great-grandfather and grandfather were very intelligent, intuitive, and had an incredibly astute business sense that complemented their God-given gifts; but they also knew how to attract quality people and how to help them fully develop their unique gifts, as well. This allowed both your ancestors to leverage their respective time and create an impactful and meaningful legacy to improve the lives of all those whom they touched while they were on this earth. You, my youngest one, possess those same qualities. Kimberly, God has blessed you with the best of your father's gifts and the best of mine, and in turn, I believe you're destined to do great things in your life."
I remember thinking, Wow! I do fit into this family, after all! All the pieces of my family history fell effortlessly into place. All the dots now connected, from my great-great-grandfather's career with Wells Fargo during the gold rush to my grandfather's ability to multitask a successful medical practice in San Francisco and save people's lives at the risk of his own: I fit in. To this day, my mother's words and the message she instilled in me at that tender age have never left me and are a source of daily inspiration.
I GREW UP in a loving, supportive home, and I adore my family to this day. I just saw certain things differently than they did. As a child, I couldn't quite make the connection between success and attracting quality people that I could help, like my grandfather had done. Regardless, I always kept the same image in my mind: the white picket fence, the manicured lawn, the late-model car in the driveway. Those differences between us determined the goals I began to set for myself.
For example, as a teenager, I really wanted a pair of jeans—brand new ones, ones that hadn't already been worn by several of my older sisters. Jordache jeans were the "in" item at that time, and they cost $35 a pair. For my family, that might as well have been $10,000. But I desperately wanted a pair, so I asked my mother.
"Jordache jeans?" she said. "We can't afford those!"
"If I make the money myself, may I buy them?" I asked.
"Sure," she said, "if you earn the money and put half away for savings, you can do whatever you want with the remainder."
At that point, my mother was so busy that she probably didn't even know what she was agreeing to. I could have said, "Mother, can I go play on the highway?" and she'd say, "Yeah, fine, great." (Today's busy moms reading this can relate, I'm sure.) But regardless of the circumstances, I'd gotten her approval. Now I just needed a way to get the money for my jeans.
The upper part of our half-acre lot was occupied by our home, and the rest contained blackberry bushes that were perpetually full of scraps from dad's carpentry work. The mess embarrassed me, so I asked my father for a job. I would cut down the berry bushes with a sickle, haul all of the thorn-covered vines to the junk pile, and then build a rock wall where the bushes had been. He agreed to pay me the exorbitant sum of a dollar an hour. I worked steadily until I had enough money to go down to the store and buy my Jordache jeans. I continued to work until the project was complete, and that resulted in enough money to stash away in my blue combination strongbox, the beginnings of a college fund and a "rainy day fund"—today's emergency fund. I still have those jeans today.
Somewhere around age eleven, I decided that my next goal would be to go to college. A degree was going to be my road to more money, which meant more choices. It was going to be my path toward my personal utopia.
To further that goal, I became my father's "assistant" and helped him to hang sheetrock, lay title, pour concrete—whatever he needed me to assist with, I was there. That also developed a strong work ethic and connected the capitalistic dots, as it were, for me for the first time. I saved all the money I could in that blue strongbox. When I turned seventeen, the first Long's Drugs (now CVS Pharmacy) opened in Auburn. They were looking for young people to hire. I remember being nervous about the required arithmetic test, but I passed it and was hired. Within about two months, the Long's Drugs management promoted me to the cosmetics department. I attribute this to my flair for fashion, of course, but mainly to my strong work ethic, instilled by hauling thorny vines and hanging sheetrock for my father.
In my senior year of high school, I started working full time (forty hours a week) for the store. I had taken almost enough classes to graduate and the only requirements I had left were senior English and civics. Still, even with the reduced course load, it wasn't easy to balance a full work schedule with school and everything else in my life. But it was worth it. I knew I needed to earn enough money for college, because my mother and father had no money to spare for such "luxuries."
I graduated on schedule in June 1980 and attended Sierra Junior College for my freshman year. That let me live at home and keep my full-time job while I raised additional funds for college. And it worked: combined with college grants, a Masonic scholarship, some savings, and a few student loans, that job brought in just enough to fund the college of my choice, where I earned a degree in business with a minor in computer science in three and a half years.
In the end, achieving my college goals wasn't much different from buying the Jordache jeans. I knew what I wanted. I knew that it would take a certain amount of money to give me the choice to pursue what I wanted. And no matter how difficult the doing got to be, I decided to do it. Setting goals was the first step on the path that allowed me to build the life I wanted—which was far from the circumstances into which I was born.
THE IMPORTANCE OF GOALS
As you read my story and think about your own experiences, keep in mind the idea that family background is very important in determining the goals we set and—even more important—in how we'll instinctively seek to achieve these goals.
In my case, growing up in a home where money was always tight spurred me to set goals that would point me toward a life that afforded me the choices that wealth can provide. My parents consistently modeled the value of hard work and always encouraged me to have big dreams and challenging objectives, but the lifestyle they provided wasn't what I had envisioned for myself, and that heavily influenced my behavior when it came to long-term planning. By the time I was eleven, I had set goals that included college, a professional career, and a very different life trajectory than that of my parents.
Our families have an influence on our financial behavior. For example, imagine you had a father who was a saver—he never spent a dime that he didn't have to. Depending on how you felt about his behavior, you'd either decide to do the same, or maybe you'd decide you hated having to make do with broken or substandard appliances or out-of-fashion clothes when you technically had the money available in savings to do something about it. In other words, whether you were aware of it or not, you'd develop a positive or a negative attitude toward saving money versus spending it, and that attitude would necessarily influence your financial behavior once you got out on your own. Or, conversely, imagine you had a parent who always bought the latest gadgets, the newest fashions, the most expensive cars—and who perhaps struggled to find money for more important long-term purposes. You may have observed that and determined, whether consciously or not, that this was the right way to behave—or that you would never spend money on luxuries until the necessities were taken care of.
So why do people from the same family sometimes have such different reactions to the financial behavior of their parents? From a study begun in Sweden in 2008 of 15,000 different sets of identical and fraternal twins, we know that many of our financial tendencies have a genetic origin. Environment and experience clearly play a large part as well, but the findings of the study indicate that by the time we reach our forties, most of our financial behavior is shaped by our genetic makeup rather than by what we've observed or learned from our parents and others. In other words, a certain proportion of the population consists of innate spenders, while others are innate savers. Short of rewiring one's genetic code, there's nothing anyone can do about changing that inborn nature.
As a financial advisor, I've learned that when a client is an innate spender, the best practice is to get them to recognize their tendencies so that we can set up mechanisms to help them avoid overspending. I work with their natural tendencies rather than against them to help meet the goals that we've established together.
Case Study: Jake (Gen Xer)
I remember when Jake first came to see me. Jake was privileged to have grandparents who had been saving for his education since he was born. As he prepared to enter graduate school in New York City, he realized that he needed financial advice and guidance to provide the best possible stewardship of the gift he had been given. With the funds from his grandparents, Jake had financial assets in the neighborhood of a million dollars, quite a sobering responsibility for a young person.
Add to that the fact that Jake had a tendency to be a spender; he shared this honest self-assessment with me very early in our time together. For these and other reasons, Jake was eager to gain the assistance of someone who could help him make sense of the world of investing, a "financial coach" who could help him form some good habits that would serve him well for the rest of his life.
Jake took his responsibilities toward his grandparents' generosity very seriously, so he made it clear that his goals included making wise use of his opportunities. He wanted to concentrate on his studies and eventually to seek a career in the nonprofit sector based upon his personal satisfaction rather than on the size of his salary. He also wanted to maintain a certain lifestyle, to travel and perhaps to purchase a home after he finished graduate school.
Jake's goals, dreams, and objectives informed the investment strategies he ultimately chose—strategies that would provide for security of principal with conservative growth characteristics. But given his innate financial behavior, it was also important to help him stay on track toward meeting his goals by putting some month-to-month disciplines and budgeting in place as barriers to the kind of unconsidered spending that would compromise his future financial security.
To establish those barriers, I had Jake set up a profile with the website Mint.com. Mint.com is an easy-to-use, interactive financial tool and is one of the best ways I've found to help clients organize their finances, understand where their money is going each month, and develop a strategic view of how all their financial assets are working together to move them toward their goals. Getting Jake in the habit of establishing financial discipline for himself helped him to understand and work with his innate "spender" tendencies, which allowed him to direct his assets toward achieving his goals.
Excerpted from Wealthy by Design by KIMBERLY FOSS. Copyright © 2013 by Empyrion Wealth Management, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Greenleaf Book Group Press.
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