Podcast Episode Transcript

S3 E4 Transcript: Understanding the SECURE Act and Inherited IRAs


Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis. Welcome back to the Financial Finesse podcast. And if you’re a new listener, welcome. I am this podcast’s host and also an acting and working financial advisor. My firm, Curtis Financial Planning based in Oakland, is an independent firm. And the firm is unique because we specialize in the unique needs of women—particularly women who take the lead in their household finances and are looking for a fiduciary financial partner to help them with their current finances and to secure their future, so they get more enjoyment out of their money today.

In this episode, I interview Megan Gorman, Founder and Managing Partner of Chequers Financial Management, a high-net-worth tax and financial planning firm in San Francisco. An attorney by training, Megan is passionate about the problem-solving required to work in the world of complex financial planning. She is also a senior contributor at Forbes and writes on personal finance and income tax.

As you listen, you won’t be surprised to hear that Megan is an adjunct professor at Golden Gate University in San Francisco as well. She is a very clear communicator and a great educator. And I’m happy to call her a friend, too.

Megan’s expertise is invaluable for today’s topic, inherited IRAs, which is why I’m so excited to have her on the podcast. Specifically, we’re talking about how the SECURE Act of December 2019 changed the rules for certain beneficiaries of inherited IRAs, creating a potential tax headache for some, unfortunately, including tax rates possibly jumping in the years the inherited IRA’s being distributed, and the fact that if you don’t follow the rules, you could get hit with a 50% penalty tax. No thanks.

I think everyone can benefit from this info whether you have an IRA or expect to inherit one. Many who are affected will want to review their current estate plan to ensure it’s still the best plan for all involved. We cover a lot, and it can get dense. So, if you have specific questions about after listening, please don’t hesitate to send me an email. And as always check the show notes for more information and resources related to this episode. You can find more information about me and my firm at curtisfinancialplanning.com. I hope you enjoy the podcast.


Cathy: Hi, Megan.

Megan: Hi, Cathy. How are you?

Cathy: I’m great. Welcome to the Financial Finesse podcast. Thanks so much for agreeing to come on as my guest.

Megan: Oh my god, I’m so excited to be here. I’ve watched a few of your episodes and they’re really, really informative. We can talk about some interesting stuff with IRAs.

Cathy: Oh, we certainly can. Believe it or not, there’s interesting things about IRAs. I first wanted to say where I first noticed you was on a Citywire cover in about 2019. You were profiled, and I was so impressed. And you’re in my area—you’re in the San Francisco Bay Area. And I thought, why haven’t we met yet?

Cathy: And one quote that I really related to, I’m just going to read it real quick. “The thing that I’ve had to get comfortable with over the course of my career is that being a woman with a strong sense of ambition and a strong personality, the best system for me was one that I created on my own.” And I so related to this, because I founded my own firm, and I know you founded your own firm, Chequers Financial Management. And I know it was hard in the beginning, but you’ve been doing it for six years now, is that right?

Megan: We just had our sixth anniversary. Yeah.

Cathy: That’s great. Congratulations.

Megan: Sometimes I wish I’d done it earlier. When you made your career transition from marketing to finance, you just jumped in. And I love that sense of courage and how you took on your practice. Because I think a lot of what we do on a day-to-day basis with clients, is really try to give them the confidence to jump in and embrace their money and embrace what they do.

Megan: It’s hard. It really is. I mean, when people ask me what I do, I often say, look, a lot of times, I’m doing a lot of coaching. I might know the technical rules, but it’s really about pushing you in the right direction for the answer that’s appropriate for you.

Cathy: And you know, that combo of having the technical skills and that other skill set of being able to listen and support is really powerful. And that’s, that’s really what we do as financial advisors. We combine those two things. And personally, I know on the technical side, you are a whiz. Because the other times I’ve seen you is when you’ve been on podcasts, explaining the CARES Act, and you have a really great way of making things understandable—very complex things, which most tax things are—very understandable. So that’s why I’m really thrilled that you’re here.

Cathy: Before we get going on the technical stuff, though, I wanted to ask you. So, Chequers Financial Management—and I know Chequers is the prime minister’s summer residence, right? I wanted to ask you this before. Is there a story behind you picking that name for your firm?

Megan: Yeah, so I’m a British History major, and always focused on the history of England. And when I went to name the firm, I wanted to pick a name that had a couple of meanings. So the term Chequers, the Chequers House was built in the 11th century in England, it was the Chancellor of the Exchequer, his house, the CFO. And for 800 years, it passed through family wealth transfer. And then at the early 20th century, men were starting—and unfortunately not women—but men were rising in society, self-made men, and they needed a place. You know, originally, the country had been ruled by the aristocracy. And they needed to have a place where they could entertain and do business. So the last owners of Chequers House donated the house to the country, so that self-made men would be able to do business. So, it’s an intersection of family wealth and self-made wealth,

Cathy: Right.

Megan: It’s interesting, when you have a firm, you start to attract a certain type of client. And so my, a lot of my clients—not all of them, but I would say that 85% of them—are self-made. I don’t know if it’s because of, you know, my own background. I love stories like that. But I’ve always found the clients I’m working with tend to be the first generation with sizable wealth.

Cathy: Oh, I love that. And so that’s why you named the firm Chequers. It completely fits. And I have to tell you, we have something else in common. I wasn’t a British History major. But I was fascinated by British history when I was younger, and I read everything I could about it. So that’s so cool. I’m really glad that I asked you about that.

Megan: Yeah, no, I love British history.


Cathy: Okay, so let’s get down to talking about the technical stuff. So, the reason I want to talk about the inherited IRA, specifically, is because I have a lot of clients who are inheriting IRAs and/or are growing large IRAs that they are going to give to their heirs. And I’m beginning to realize—you know, the SECURE Act changed the rules about distributions starting January 1, 2020—and that this needs to be paid attention to. Because of the changes, tax bills could really go through the roof. And there are things you can do to mitigate. And I thought, who can I talk to about this? You came first in mind.

Cathy: And so, we’ll start with the basics, so everybody understands where we’re going. Let’s start with what is an inherited IRA? What changed? And we’ll go from there.

Megan: Yeah, so a good place to really put this in context of why this is becoming such a big issue for a number of Americans is, pre-pandemic, Fidelity did a study. And they found that over, I think it was close to a half a million Americans, have IRAs that have balances in excess of a million dollars. Now, they were just doing a study, but put into context is the fact that this is a big issue.

Megan: And so, you know, an IRA is an individual retirement account, whether it’s your traditional one or a Roth IRA. And when you put money into the account, you’re saving it for your retirement. But the thing is, most people don’t spend their IRA down to zero. And so when they pass away, it passes to a beneficiary. And so that’s what we’re talking about here, is when you have your IRA, passing it to the beneficiary, they are inheriting an IRA. And that’s sort of the tricky part of planning. And why I say that is, when we think about estate planning as a whole, we think about our assets—our houses, our brokerage accounts, our jewelry, our cars, things like that. But one of the biggest assets that most people pass on to their family members or friends, and so on, is their IRA.

Cathy: So true.


Megan: The planning you do with your IRA is key. Now, if we go back to before the SECURE Act, and it’s funny, because the SECURE Act came into being in December of 2019, so less than 15 months ago. But truth of the matter is, it feels like a lifetime ago because of the pandemic.

Megan: And it made two really important changes to IRAs. The first is it changed required minimum distributions, the age at which you must take your distribution from your IRAs. It was at 70 ½, and it moved to 72. So that was the first thing it did. The second thing it did is it eliminated this concept called a stretch IRA.

Megan: So, what was the rule before? So basically, let’s say, Cathy, I had an IRA, and I named you my beneficiary, and I passed away, and you inherited my IRA. Before the SECURE Act, you could do something called a stretch IRA, which is, you would be leveraging the IRA tax deferral by just taking the IRA required minimum distributions. You’d take it out over a long period of time, stretching out that IRA. And so, if you lived another 40 years after I passed away, you could be taking distributions over those 40 years if you handled the IRA correctly.

Megan: Now, Congress didn’t like this. And the reason they didn’t like this is Congress wants to get paid. And if you think about it, with an IRA, we put money in pretax, it grows tax deferred, and when you get the distribution, you pay ordinary income tax on it. And so if you inherited my IRA, and you lived another 40 years after I died, right, you might not be paying all the income tax till 10, 20, 30, 40 years after I die. And Congress was like, well, that’s not cool. That benefits rich people.


Cathy: That is so not true, it just blows my mind. Because everybody, like you just named that stat about IRAs. In America, it’s not only rich people.

Cathy: So, you know, I want to give an example. I talked to a client today—just to talk about what you’re saying, to illustrate it—he’s going to inherit, he’s going to split it with his brother, a $500,000 IRA. Under the old rules, he would have to take about $18,000 a year.

Cathy: Under the new rules, he’s going to have to take about $50,000. Although you don’t have to take it each year, you could take it—well, you’ll get into that. But if he did take it each year, it would be $50,000. So think about the difference between $18,000 and $50,000 in tax, and also adding that on to your other income, what’s it going to do to the tax bracket you’re in, etc.

Megan: So I mean, and that’s the—you’re hitting the nail on the head. So that’s what the big change is. So the law was previously, you could stretch it out. And it was, I thought it was a great thing for a lot of Americans because it gave them measured income, like in your example, where the $18,000 a year.

Megan: So Congress changes the rule. And after January 1, 2020, the new rules apply. So for anyone who had an IRA that they inherited pre-January 1, 2020, old rules still apply. People who got, who were now going to inherit after January 1, 2020, what Congress did is basically what you’re talking about. They’re saying, except for a certain group of eligible designated beneficiaries—which we’re going to get into in a moment—everybody else who inherits has to inherit and take the money out over 10 years. They don’t care how you take the money out over 10 years, but 10 years after the date of death, IRA has to be done. U.S. government has to get its money and be paid its taxes.

Cathy: And that is a difference. Before it was a required amount every year. So the difference is now they’re not requiring you to take out an amount every year, you have to just empty it by the 10th year.


Megan: Correct. And so one of the things that’s going to be really key here, right, is the fact that, you know, you need to think about who your beneficiaries are going to be. Because this 10-year rule applies to a lot of beneficiaries. But there are a group of beneficiaries that Congress and the IRS have excluded from the new rule, okay. And so it’s really important to focus on this.

Megan: So the first group, which is sort of obvious, is surviving spouses. So if I have an IRA, and I walk outside, and I get hit by the proverbial bus, and my husband inherits the IRA, he can still draw it out over his lifetime. In fact, spouses have two ways to take a distribution from an inherited IRA. The first is, my husband could step into the shoes of me and withdraw the balance over my life expectancy. Or he could just roll it into his IRA and get sort of a fresh start with it.

Megan: Okay, so for spouses nothing has changed. And that’s important here. Because for a lot of people out there with their IRA planning, the original beneficiary, the primary is going to be their spouse, and the rules are the same. It’s going to be on the contingent side. But let me give you the other groups of people that are given sort of this special designation now. Eligible designated beneficiaries, EDBs.

Cathy: EDBs, let’s call them that from now on.

Megan: Okay, so EDBs. We’ve got the surviving spouse. We’ve got the IRA owner’s children, or child, who are under age 18.

Cathy: Minors.

Megan: Yeah. Just to give you more clarification, if I had a child who was 13, and I named them as my beneficiary, and I walk outside and get hit by the proverbial bus, they could inherit my IRA. And they could stretch it until they hit age 18. And then the 10-year rule applies.

Cathy: Right. And it does depend on the age of majority in the state, right? In some states it’s 21, and that would be the date then. Is that true?

Megan: You know what, I believe it’s 18 because this is federal law. So I don’t think there’s anything different about that.

Cathy: Okay, good to know.

Megan: Now, keep in mind, if you’ve had a grandchild, they do not come under the child provision. So this is child only. The other groups of EDBs are disabled individuals, chronically ill individuals, and any individual who is not more than 10 years younger than the deceased. Okay. And really, that is siblings. Okay. They’re trying to say siblings without saying siblings.

Cathy: Or parents. But that wouldn’t make any sense for a lot of reasons.

Megan: No, because they’re not 10 years or less in age, unless the parents are really precocious.

Cathy: Right.

Megan: So, if you think about it, right, it’s a very specific group. And the two groups that make the most sense, right, are the disabled and the chronically ill. Because if you think about it, they’re trying to add protection there. The major groups—surviving spouse, child under age 18, and an individual who is not more than 10 years younger—you have to really think about this group. The group is a very small group of people.


Megan: So I think the thing that we’ve got to be thinking about here is, how do you want your estate plan to flow? Right? Because what I find when we do estate planning is we do a nice little flow chart when it comes to the will or the trust here in California, right? How it all will pass, how will the assets pass. But I think the beneficiaries, right, you need to be doing the same thing.

Megan: So for instance, if I was to take my situation, I would look at my situation holistically. And I don’t have children. But I have two brothers. One is two years younger than me, and one is eight years younger than me. And in my estate plan, I do want them to have some of my assets. But if I was to look at the whole thing, right, to look at my entire asset base and figure out—how am I going to slice up the pie?

Megan: And I know I want to give a piece of the pie to my two siblings, and I know that they’re less than 10 years younger than me. What I might do is say, well, because they can stretch it out, I might name them as my contingent beneficiary to my husband. Because they can still take advantage of these stretch IRA rules, right? Other people in my estate plan, right, like my mother, my best friend, some of those groups, right, they might not meet the stretch IRA definitions, and they might be better served taking under my estate plan.

Cathy: Right.


Megan: I think the thing is, and I know Cathy, a lot of people who listen to this are, you know, clients of yours and also advisors. I think that given the changes in the law, the first step everybody really needs to make is pull it all together holistically between the estate plan and the beneficiary designation. And really think about mapping assets.

Cathy: And let me let me stop for a second because I think I want to clarify something. So, for the listeners, when you’re talking about the beneficiary designations of the estate plan, the estate plan includes anything that isn’t an IRA with a beneficiary or a life insurance policy with a beneficiary. It’s your taxable assets, your house, things like that. But those are the things that go in your trust. And then on the other side is the IRAs and the life insurance policies that have designated beneficiaries. So, Megan is saying you need to have a holistic plan to combine those two. Just explaining the term estate plan.

Megan: Yeah, no, I think that’s really helpful. And I think one of the things that’s happened over the past decade is estate attorneys have gotten more focused on beneficiary designations. So, you know, I think for everybody, right, the best way to look at your estate plan in general is that it’s a living thing. I always tell clients that this is living, breathing estate plan. And anytime there’s a life event, we should get back in front of the attorney, right? Whether it’s you’ve had a child or grandchild or you got married, all of those things bring us in front of the estate attorney. But the SECURE Act and the changes to the beneficiary rules is also a good point for us to then reach out to our advisors.

Cathy: That’s a good point.

Megan: This is the time that maybe we should refresh this. And I think one of the things that the advising community has gotten very good at is doing a whole balance sheet approach. So Cathy, I’m sure with your clients, you know all of the assets, even if you’re not managing it, right, and I think that’s so important. And I think the ability to go through the balance sheet and say, okay, this is covered by my trust, but this is covered by beneficiary designations is really important. Because I’ve always been surprised at times to realize that people don’t understand how powerful beneficiary designations are.

Cathy: They don’t, they don’t. And so are you saying that you think estate attorneys didn’t focus on that as much, and now they are helping clients more to figure out that holistic approach?

Megan: I think that they’ve always been helpful on it. But what I’m seeing more when I get client estate plans is there’s often a great letter or a summary in the front of the estate plan, and you probably see this as well. You know, saying look, retitle your assets this way, but also say, listen, for your beneficiary designations, this is what it should likely read. And copy that on there.

Megan: But here’s the thing. For a lot of Americans, right, naming the spouse followed by their children might be the easiest solution. But for people who have these very big IRAs, this is where you really have to get into the planning, get into thinking about how you want it to work and how it’s going to flow. Because things sometimes don’t flow the way you think they might until you map it out.

Megan: My first piece of advice here is, because of this change, it’s a great time to connect with your advisor. Go through the balance sheet, understand what goes by the trust and what goes by beneficiary designations, and then work with your advisors to refresh the beneficiary designations, to really, really look at them and make sure it makes sense in context to the balance sheet.

Cathy: Love that advice. Perfect.

Megan: So that’s sort of the first thing because the problem we have, right, is we get into a weird world of taxation. And, you know, I think one of the things that’s been so overwhelming for people is this idea that if they inherit an IRA, right. So if I inherit an IRA from my mother, I have to take out the distributions over 10 years. And it’s a complex rule, because I’m facing income tax consequences when that comes down the path, and it’s how do you manage that? Are there certain tricks out there or ways to think about it that will help you manage the tax piece of it?


Cathy: Let me interrupt for one second. And I totally agree that I want to go into the taxing. So, you’ve been talking about what the owner of the inherited IRA should do, right? And one of them is definitely look at the estate plan and look at the beneficiary designation as a whole. Before we get to the inheritor, the heir, the beneficiary, is there anything else that the IRA owner can do before they die, to reduce tax for their heirs? And is that a wise thing? Do you think that’s a wise planning move to do?

Megan: It’s funny you bring that up. I think that when you, one of the things that you have, as you build your asset base, you have to figure out is what are your priorities. So I have a large group of clients, that the priority there to mitigate taxation, regardless. They just want to make things easier for their children and grandchildren. And then I have other clients that sort of say, look, my spouse and I, we’re protected. It is what it is, whatever happens plays out. So I think there’s a little bit of developing a philosophy on what your priorities are in your asset base.

Megan: Now, if you are one who said, look, I want my kids and my grandkids to inherit. I don’t mind if I have to take some of the pain up front. Some of the things that they should be thinking about is, can you convert your traditional IRA to a Roth IRA? Now, what does that mean? So, as we said, a traditional IRA, you put in pretax money, it grows tax deferred and comes out as paid at ordinary income tax rates. Roth IRAs, you put after-tax dollars in, typically, I’m just giving the broad scenarios. The money grows tax deferred. And when you take your distributions, it comes out tax-free. So if you’re sitting on an IRA, and you’re looking at your beneficiary saying, I don’t want them to pay a lot of income tax down the line. I don’t mind paying the tax. I might convert my IRA to a Roth IRA. Meaning I might pay all the income tax upfront, so that the money in the account becomes a Roth.

Megan: That doesn’t mean we get around the stretch IRA rules, the 10 years. But what it does for your beneficiaries is they can keep them, you know, if you pass away, and your children who were over 18 inherit, the money can stay in the Roth IRA for 10 years growing tax deferred, and then in the 10th year, you can take it all out and therefore mitigated some of the income tax over time.

Cathy: And this is assuming that the person that’s Roth-ing their IRA can afford to pay the tax. That’s why it really depends on what your goals are with your money. Do you want to pay the tax for your kids or your heirs? Or can you afford to do that? Do you need the money to support your lifestyle or whatever?

Megan: Right. Now, I’ll tell you my own personal situation. I mean, obviously, I’ve named my husband. But I’ve named friends. And my attitude is, look, you’re inheriting this. So what you have to pay the tax? It’s more than you had, right, like you’re lucky to be inheriting it. And that’s my sort of personal philosophy on it. You know, you don’t have tax practitioner.


Cathy: You don’t have kids, though. I know I’m thinking of some clients in particular, if you explain this to them—what’s going to happen when their kids inherit. They’re going to go, oh, really? And so then I start thinking, this is the next thing to think about. Who’s in the higher tax bracket? The person with the IRA that might do the Roth, or the kids? Are they high income earners? So, it always gets very complex, these types of decisions, in the end.

Megan: It’s very specific to the to the personal situation. And I just want to add one more element to that. I had someone do this in 2008, during the crisis. But sometimes the best time to be doing this type of planning for whether or not you should convert an IRA to a Roth is when the markets are down. So a year ago right now, right? We were almost at, I mean, right now we’re in April. But last March, March 2020, markets at an all-time low there—that would have been a brilliant time to convert your IRA to a Roth. The thing you got to think about is timing matters.

Megan: So if you’re one of these people who are sitting there saying, look, I’m going to be passing my IRA on to someone who’s not a spouse, who doesn’t qualify as an EDB. And I want to make sure I mitigate all potential income tax for them. And I want to convert my IRA to a Roth, and I have the money to do so, I’d wait till the market dropped.

Megan: In 2008, I remember we did it. I think we did it in like January—it was like December of ’08, January of ’09—and the market, as you know, hit bottom on March the 9th, 2009. And today, we’re at all-time highs. In retrospect, it was a brilliant move because he paid the income tax on a very low amount. But at the time, it was sort of like, I remember him asking me if I lost my mind. And I was like, no, because if you believe the markets will rebound, which you know, I think a lot of investors do, you know, at this point, moving it to a Roth over time, right now, saves you tax dollars down the line.

Cathy: And if they invested it, if they invested it right away in the Roth, they got to participate in the recovery fully, you know?

Cathy: Yeah, timing is super important. I mean, you can’t predict what’s going to happen with that. But you can certainly watch and be ready.


Megan: I would make the argument, you know, part of our job right now is when the markets are on a tear, we need to be talking about planning ideas with clients for when the markets drop. So next time we have a March of 2009, or a March of 2020—weird that it’s always iin March—when those moments happen, you don’t want to be paralyzed in your decision making. You will have wanted to have thought this through.

Megan: So I would challenge you to say if we went back to where we were on March 27th 2020, which was the bottom of the pike, technically, the bottom of the market when the CARES Act was signed. You know, looking back now, do you wish you had converted your IRA to a Roth and paid those tax dollars on it, given the growth in your IRA? And these are the questions people have to ask.

Megan: I don’t want to lose track of the beneficiary designation. So if you’re an IRA owner, my advice is flowchart out how your IRA is going to pass. Remember, if it passes to your spouse, you’re still under the old rules. If your contingent is not in the group of EDBs, then you really need to think about that group. And think about what is your philosophy on taxation? Do you want to pay the tax for them? Or do you not? Do you even care? I mean, are you saying, look, you’re inheriting something. God bless.

Cathy: And there’s nothing there’s nothing wrong with that attitude, by the way.


Megan: Right. Now, the tricker thing is, the person who inherits it. So you know, we’ve been using a scenario, right, where if you inherited my IRA, Cathy, you’re going to have a whole host of decisions that you have to make when I pass away. Because you get told, okay, you’ve inherited an IRA, what do you want to have happen? And this is where, as the beneficiary, you really need to work with a tax professional or another advisor who can lay out taxation for you. And to sort of map out the next 10 years, what does it look like, right?

Megan: Because you might be working for the first five years of the 10 years. And the last five years, you might be retired, and so your income bracket might be changing. And so what you want to be doing is roughly mapping out where you think your ordinary income tax bracket is going to be.

Megan: Now, some people would say, look, if your bracket’s going to remain the same the whole time, you just might want to take a piece out every year, and so be it. Other people might say, look, wait till the very end, wait till the 10th year, and then take it all out.

Cathy: There’s the other factor that predicting tax rates, like, right now we have an administration who might raise taxes. So you have to think, will I be taxed at a higher rate later, in that 10-year time frame? Or should I take it now? That’s another thing to consider.

Megan: Because there’s also a third group, right, of people who are trying to, they might have a high tax bracket, then a low, then a high, then a low. And you can intersperse the distribution that way. But I think, what I tell people about retirement planning is—we talked about me being a history major—I think of things on a timeline. Seventy-two, as we talked about. If they start taking the RMD before 62, they might still be working, but 62 to 72 is usually that first sort of decade of retirement.

Megan: And what a lot of them experience in that decade of retiring is they might be taking Social Security, but a lot of their income might be coming from their investment portfolio. And they might be municipal bonds, which are tax-free, or qualified dividends at preferential tax rates. And that might be the sweet spot to pull down a lot of the income to fill in the gap.


Cathy: Let’s repeat that, because that’s a really important point.

Megan: Yeah, I mean, I think the thing is, when you’re working with your advisor, they typically do a long-term cash flow. I think it’s the best tool out there. And Cathy, do you use them with your clients?

Cathy: Oh, yeah, I do this kind of planning, where in that that period you’re talking about—where you’re looking at—right when you retire before you take RMDs. It’s a really critical planning time.

Megan: It is, and it’s where your income tax, you know, if you do that sort of long-term cash flow, you typically can see between ages 62 and 72, there’s a reduction in taxation. Because most people go from paying a lot of ordinary income tax to preferential tax rates, right? They have municipal bonds that are tax-free, they have qualified dividends, and they often have Social Security, but their brackets drop.

Megan: And that’s where layering in IRA distributions can be incredibly powerful because you’re going to get more money out, but at a lower tax rate. And where I think anyone who’s inheriting an IRA really needs to think through sort of when they take it, and when they can take advantage of certain tax rates.


Cathy: Yeah. Could you talk a little bit about the whole Medicare and IRMAA charge thing, too? Because that’s something else that people need to think about.

Megan: Yeah, so there is a surcharge for Medicare. And I always find it, you know, it’s frustrating, because people don’t expect it. Medicare will surcharge you if you make a certain amount of income on your Medicare payments. So that’s frustrating for people, because first of all, Medicare looks back two years on your tax returns. And they add back any municipal bond income that you had. They’re really trying to figure it out.

Cathy: You know, the point you just made is so true. Why does—no one knows that. Everyone thinks that it’s that bottom line, monthly Medicare fee. And it’s not. And people are always surprised that they’re paying more.

Megan: I was on a call with a client yesterday. And I mean, she’s now 71. And I’ve heard for six years about the Medicare surcharge, because they add back for muni bond income. Because she’s like, look, I did the right thing. I structured my asset base appropriately.

Megan: But I think the thing is, those are the nuances you have to add in. And look, I’m going to be honest, sometimes tax is tax. You can’t mitigate it. And if you can’t mitigate it, you want to think about all the other planning levers that are around you.

Megan: So, one of the big things out there—and I know you’re a big fan of it—are donor-advised funds. So if you’re going to have to take the distribution, either over 10 years, or in a couple of years, from an inherited IRA, you may choose to take the distribution in a year that you can make a donation to charity. Or fund a donor-advised fund, where you put some of the money right to charity and mitigate the tax bill that way. And that might be another way to handle it.

Cathy: Another point with the donor-advised fund is for the IRA owner, if they decide to Roth part of their IRA, is to do a donor-advised fund contribution in that year. That would mitigate some of the tax on that Roth conversion.

Megan: There’s not a one size fits all solution. There’s a lot of different options out there, and you have to work through them, depending on your personal financial situation, and who you are as a person. What are your values, your value proposition?


Cathy: It’s so important that you’re bringing that up. Because, you know, when I wanted to do this podcast, I was really focusing on how can we help our audience save, learn how to save tax, given this new rule? And the truth is that paying tax isn’t really the worst thing in the world, you know. You’re paying tax on income, so you obviously have income coming in. And it really does depend on your own personal philosophy.

Megan: Yeah. And, you know, I’m sure you use investment policy statements. And I think whether you work with an advisor or not, you should have an investment policy statement for your asset base that lays out the mandate.

Megan: And we try to put in ours what people’s tax philosophy is. So, you know, I’ve got things like they hate refunds—they don’t want the government having that loan from them—to do everything possible to mitigate income tax and estate tax issues. And it’s trying to find that balance. Because, you know, anytime we have a law change, it might close one door, but it opens another door. And what’s why you want to go down that path of doing that type of planning.

Megan: And I have a lot of clients who have very complex situations, and they do complex planning. And then I have another group of clients where they’ll say, there’s elegance in simplicity. I’m not going to overthink it. I don’t know where tax rates are going to go. I’m going to let my beneficiaries figure it out.

Megan: But the beauty of the changes in this rule here for beneficiary designations is both the IRA owner and the inherited IRA beneficiary all have planning choices to make. Everybody is able to control some of the controllables. And so, the thing is, when you inherit an IRA, what’s really, really important is to seek advice. To reach out, get help, because people like you and me, we’re trained in thinking through these parts of the problem and understanding in context of the bigger picture. That’s important.


Cathy: Yeah. And some real mistakes can be made, like the contingent beneficiary. I mean, there could be some huge tax owed if people don’t understand how the beneficiary thing works and who’s the eligible designated beneficiary and who’s not. Someone doesn’t take anything out of their IRA dies and then their beneficiary ends up paying tax on a huge IRA.

Megan: Things like that can happen. It happens all the time. And yeah, you know, these are in a weird way—if you inherit an IRA, it’s a bit of a champagne problem. It’s a good problem to have, right? You’re working through it. But I also would say to people who, to all of us who have IRAs and 401(k)s and 403(b)s, this is the cheapest estate planning you can do, right?

Megan: Because in California, when we do an estate plan, we have to go out and get a revocable trust. But beneficiary designation planning, if you set your beneficiaries up, and in five years, your life has changed. Maybe you were married and then you got divorced. Or, you know, you’ve determined that one of your children doesn’t need the money, but your other child does. It’s all about just changing a form. And that’s the thing I like about beneficiary designation planning. It’s quick and easy to fix.

Cathy: I have some of my clients with simpler estates use transfer on death beneficiaries for their taxable accounts instead of doing the trust for that very reason. Because it’s simpler.

Megan: Yeah, I mean, I’ll tell you here in California, you know, when you get your revocable trust, they’re like change your bank accounts. And I’m like, oh, God. The first time you go to the bank and try to do that, the practical aspect of it is difficult. People inherently like to procrastinate on this.

Megan: So like you do, sometimes I’ll say just make it TOD or POD account at the bank. It just makes it easier than getting into the trust, because it’s, it’s just, it’s difficult.


Megan: Now, I do want to mention a couple other planning ideas. Because, you know, one of the things that people talk about was with stretch IRAs, you were creating this unique estate planning tool for your beneficiaries. Right? So one other idea out there—and it comes with a cost—is the IRA owner can also choose when they’re taking their RMDs. If they don’t need the RMD to live off of, they can pay for life insurance, and that life insurance can then go to the beneficiaries of their death. And they don’t have to deal with this income tax issue.

Megan: And that’s one of the things out there that people are starting to use to replace it. It’s not my favorite technique, because I find life insurance at times can be too expensive. But if you’re really, really caught up in making sure your beneficiaries get a certain amount, and get it income-tax-free, life insurance is one of the levers you can pull in your financial picture to make that happen.

Cathy: Yes. Yeah, that is a little more complicated and more expensive. But again, it depends on the person. For the right person, that could be the best strategy.

Megan: And I think that’s the thing where, you know, the beauty of working with an advisor is our roles are to bring to the forefront things that we don’t want to deal with. We force conversations that people put off. And I think one of the best conversations we should be having—and we do have—with clients is how does this all flow? How does it all play out? And I found when I start to show clients how the estate plan flows out and the dollar amounts, it can sort of take them by surprise.

Cathy: Yeah. And they’re certainly not thinking about that. You know, who spends time thinking about these things? I’ll give a good example of another planning technique that just came up today around inherited IRAs. One technique to reduce the IRA before the person dies—and if they’re older, this kind of makes sense. If they’re taking their RMDs on a monthly basis, you may want to take the whole RMD as early as possible, just in case. You know, if they’re in their 80s or 90s? So that the money is out of the IRA.


Megan: Yeah. That could work. You know, and also, you could just choose to take larger distributions. You’re in your 70s or 80s. And your main sources of income are your IRA and your Social Security check, right? Maybe you start taking larger IRA distributions. I mean, there’s no harm in it. Again, work with your advisors to make sure from a tax perspective you’re not getting burned. But it might make a lot of sense for a lot of people, you know. And how to do and how to structure it.

Megan: I can’t emphasize enough, you know, tax planning—and I know Cathy, you use a tool with your clients that you have found really effective. But, you know, I agree. Planning is so key as you project ahead, because there’s power in that knowledge in trying to be tax efficient. I can’t tell you how many times people are like, “woulda coulda shoulda.” If I’d known that’s how it was going to play out tax-wise, I would have done this differently. And so working with advisors like Cathy, who have those tools, I think it’s so valuable.

Cathy: I do too. You know, I always do tax planning. But I tell you, it was a lot of work when you were using spreadsheets to do it. And there’s new software available to financial advisors that’s incredibly powerful where you could do scenario planning for years out. And, I find in my role as a holistic financial advisor where I do financial planning and investment management, and I know everything about the client, that is so helpful and powerful for them. And because tax accountants, I don’t do tax returns, and many accountants don’t know the whole thing. So it’s really good to have somebody that does to help you, especially with these kind of issues.

Megan: Because you can then say, look, even though we’re going to take a larger distribution, let’s donate to charity more. I know you’ve been doing more to your alma mater, right? Things like that. And it’s that little nuance there that can make the difference.

Megan: And I think it’s important to quantify the tax savings, right? And remind people when we’ve done a strategy—over time, what has that strategy added to your portfolio? It’s like, I told you the story of my client who converted his IRA in ’08, ‘09. I mean, here we are 12 years later. I mean that’s, for him, a seven-figure difference. That has value.

Megan: It’s painful paying the tax, but a certain point, you cross over where you’re winning. And that’s so important when we’re managing our finances is—you want, I want clients to feel smart and clever about the choices they made. And even if the choice is, like I’m saying, I don’t care if you inherit my IRA, and you pay the tax. Good luck. Have at it. That’s a proactive decision. You know, look. Ultimately, the SECURE Act, I think it hurts more Americans than it helps.

Cathy: Wait, wait, what does the acronym stand for? It makes me laugh.

Megan: Setting every community up for retirement enhancement.

Cathy. Right! How is this enhancing? I don’t see—it enhances the coffers of the government. I’ll tell you that, you know.

Megan: So, but here’s the thing. What if the opportunity had been different? That if you inherited an IRA, you had an option that it was, you know, it was almost like a pension to you. And you got to, you know, talk to an advisor, who explained this thing could be like a pension for the rest of your life. Don’t pull it all out.

Cathy: Yeah. Which it was. That’s really what it was. It was an excellent tool for people.


Megan: Yeah, I’m disappointed that they did this. You know, I think that unfortunately, we live in a day and age that when they’re setting tax policy, there is such a need to be punitive to people who have been financial success. Right? That sometimes the typical American, right, the average American who have worked so hard to save this money. And they’re sitting there, and they have five, eight, $900,000 in the IRA. They’re getting penalized because there are a few wealthy people that also got benefits.

Cathy: Right. You know, good point. Because we didn’t, we haven’t talked 401(k)s in relation to IRAs. But you said people have big IRAs. One of the reasons is they’ve been saving in their 401(k)s their whole life or their 403(b)s or whatever. And then they retire, they convert it to an IRA, and then someone inherits it. I mean, that’s the way a lot of, in some cases, that’s the only way people are saving money. So, it really is penalizing a broad swath of people in the United States, not just uber-wealthy.

Megan: It is. And you know, I think the other thing is it’s one of these things where there’s also planning that can be done while you’re building the wealth, right? So, I have a lot of clients where one spouse is working, and the other one doesn’t. And we still fund an IRA for them. And if we can, we convert it to a Roth.

Megan: And a lot of times we’re doing it because, you know, one, it gives us the chance to create a vehicle that’ll create tax-exempt income. But also, two, even though they name their spouse as the primary beneficiary, and maybe their children as the contingent, they also are making the decision that the spouse could eventually disclaim the IRA, the Roth IRA, if it’s inherited, and go right to the kids. Granted, the kids have only 10 years to take it out. But it’s tax-free money, right? It grows tax deferred.


Cathy: Okay, let me let me ask you something. I thought about this before we talked. If someone disclaimed an inherited IRA, and it went to EDB, would they get to take it over? I mean, they get to stretch it?

Megan: So, yeah. If it was an EDB, like if my husband disclaimed it and it passed to my brothers? Yeah, they can stretch it.

Cathy: Okay. That’s interesting.

Megan: That’s, that’s some of the nuances there. Yeah. I think you know, it’s one of these things where, know who you want to give to in your family. Right? How far out do you want to give? Nieces, nephews? You know, and you might do nieces and nephews in your actual trust, but you do your siblings in the IRA because of the stretch privileges.

Megan: And that’s some of the stuff you just, and you can see just even in this podcast, some of it is just sitting around and kicking the can around. If you have a beneficiary who has spending issues, you might be better served putting them in your trust, in your estate plan, your trust part of it, and not give them access to an IRA. But that’s also problematic.

Cathy: Right. They might drain it all in the first year, right?

Megan: Yes.

Cathy: Yeah. And you can set up trusts where they get the money at a certain time. And you can’t do that with an IRA. It’s their money.


Megan: The other thing is, when you’re the IRA owner, think about dead—I love the term from the law—dead hand control. How much dead hand control do you want on your beneficiaries receiving something? Because if you had two siblings, and one of your siblings had a drug issue or spending issue and your other sibling didn’t, you could say, look. I’m going to give you my IRA. You’re going to have to pay some tax on it, right, but you’ll probably be able to stretch it.

Megan: I’m going to give our other sibling money in the trust. And they might get less from the trust than you’ll get in the IRA, because net-net, you’ll get the same after tax. That’s the type of nuancing that you want to be thinking through.

Megan: And estate attorneys, financial advisors, CPAs—these are all great people to have the debate with. And, you know, sometimes get them all in one room. You know, get everybody in one room and say, look, I want to do my beneficiaries. And I really want to think through this. Let me tell you about all the people I’m thinking about, and what I’m concerned about with each of them, or what I’m not concerned about with each of them.


Cathy: Right. Oh, I have a question for you. Nondeductible IRAs. If someone’s eligible, even a very wealthy person, would do you do those?

Megan: Totally. And I file form 8606. Which records the basis and tracks it.

Cathy: Do you put it into the same IRA? You don’t do a separate IRA for the nondeductible contributions?

Megan: In general. I mean, I keep it in the same IRA. And it depends, because some of the people we’re doing it with have such large pretax balances that they can’t do a Roth conversion. But then I have a group that every other year, we’re funding it and doing the Roth conversion.

Megan: And look, I’ll say this for what I have found—and maybe it’s because I’m a woman—but I will often run into situations where, you know, the husband is the working spouse and the wife has stayed at home. And I think it’s incredibly important for women to have their own money. And it might not seem like a lot at first putting the $6,000, or $7,000 away if you’re over 50. But, you know, as I say, over 10 years of doing that, plus the growth, that turns into six figures pretty quickly.

Cathy: No, I agree. Spousal IRAs are—definitely. So, you take advantage of any tool that is out there, no matter how small. Like with the deductible IRAs, it’s only six or $7,000 a year, right. But then those earnings grow tax free. If you keep it in, if you keep it in the nondeductible IRA.

Megan: What I tell clients is, look, if there was $20 on the floor, I’d pick it up before I left the room. You know? Every little bit. Because if you max out your 401(k), and you fund your IRA, and then you add to your brokerage account, and maybe you fund your kids’ 529, and you add it all up, all those little things become a big number.

Megan: And we need to celebrate that more, because it is so hard to save today. You know, I always tell people, what’s fascinating to me is the government determined that upper middle class starts at income of, I believe, $127,000. That’s where the government feels like you should be set. And I’m sitting here in the Bay Area, and that is still tough living on $127,000. How do you save?

Megan: And the system since the 80s has been made to work against you. So, if you are a beneficiary of an inherited IRA, it’s a blessing. And you need to think through it because it can be one of those things that makes the difference between a financial challenge and a financial success over the long term.

Cathy: Right. Because it is a gift. It’s a gift, right? An inherited IRA is getting a gift, and you want to take care of it.


Megan: And you know from all those studies. You know, Merrill Lynch does a study every year on this, the focus is on family. And I believe what the study has found is that there are so many boomers and Gen Xers who are building their entire retirement strategy on inheriting because they can’t fill the gap and they’re all living so long. So, that’s the tough part.

Cathy: No, it really is. Well, this has been just as interesting and thoughtful as I thought it would be. You’ve given me some new ideas around this topic. I really appreciate you coming on. Is there anything else you want to add on the top? I mean, we could probably talk forever about this.

Megan: One last thing I would just say to anyone who’s doing this is engage in your planning. These are big dollars. Whether your IRA is $50,000 or $500,000. It’s big numbers, and you want to have some control on how it plays out, so really get engaged. And talk to your advisor. It’s well worth it.

Cathy: I agree. And so, let’s tell our audience where they can find you. I know you write for Forbes, and you probably do some other things. So please, yes.

Megan: So you can find me at Forbes at www.forbes.com/MeghanGorman. And then you can also find some of my other planning pieces at thewealthintersection.com. So you know, I love to do webinars and write about this. I think my role in this space is about helping people thrive. It drives my husband a little crazy, because we’ll be out and about, and I’ll be trying to give people advice. But I love this stuff, though. If you want to read my articles, feel free and feel free to reach out.

Cathy: And give people your Twitter handle for those that are on Twitter.

Megan: Sure. It’s @megan_e_gorman. So feel free to reach out on Twitter as well. But thank you for having me on. This was great.

Cathy: I want to do this again on another topic, okay?

Megan: You got it.

Cathy: To be decided.

Megan: You got it. Sounds good.

Cathy: All right. Take care.

Megan: Take care.

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S3 E4 Transcript: Understanding the SECURE Act and Inherited IRAs Read More »

S3 E3 Transcript: Learning to Think Like a Breadwinner

Welcome to the Financial Finesse podcast, where we’ll be discussing tips on how to handle your money and life with skill and style. Your host, Cathy Curtis CSP has been helping make finance accessible and intriguing for women for almost 20 years. You will get savvy actionable ideas, listening to her conversations with some of the coolest and smartest women on the planet. And now, here’s your host, Cathy Curtis.

00:50 Cathy: Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis, host of the Financial Finesse podcast and founder of Curtis Financial Planning, an independent financial planning firm that specializes in the unique financial needs of women. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I partner with women who take the lead in their household finances, and I help them secure their futures while getting more enjoyment from their money today. So whether you’re single, the primary earner in your family, or simply take an interest in personal financial management, this podcast is for you. 

With April being National Financial Literacy Month, my conversation with today’s guest is even more meaningful and relevant. Jennifer Barrett is an award-winning financial journalist and digital strategist with more than 15 years of experience in print and digital media and a passion for personal finance. She is currently Chief Education Officer at Acorns, a growing financial wellness startup with more than 9 million subscribers. 

But more importantly to today’s podcast, she’s the author of a new book called Think Like a Breadwinner: A Wealth-Building Manifesto for Women Who Want to Earn More (and Worry Less). This book is available starting April 6, anywhere books are sold. 

In this episode, we focus on some of the most important concepts Jennifer writes about in Think Like a Breadwinner, including the financial literacy gap in this country and its impact on women, specifically; the importance of dispelling the myths that prevent many women from making good decisions with their money; and the one mindset shift that will not only give women a more active role in creating their own future, but can also create a positive ripple effect on every aspect of your life. 

I think Jennifer’s message is so important, and I encourage all of you to read her book as soon as it’s available. I promise it will change the way you think. With that, I hope you enjoy my conversation with Jennifer Barrett as much as I did. And be sure to check the show notes at curtisfinancialplanning.com for more personal finance resources.

03:02 Cathy: Jen, it’s so good to see you. I think it’s been, I don’t know, eight years. I’m reading your book. And I think I knew you back when you were in financial journalism at CNBC here. And that would have been six, seven years ago. And then you’ve changed jobs. And about your book, Think Like a Breadwinner, I love that you weaved in your own personal story and that you are so vulnerable about the things that you’ve experienced in your journey to be a breadwinner and feel power around your money. 

Jennifer: Yes. Yeah, it’s definitely been…there was a learning curve there.

03:54 Cathy: Was it hard to do that? Did you think twice about doing it that way? To be that vulnerable? 

04:04 Jennifer: Yeah. A little bit, but I think, I didn’t want it to be a preachy kind of book or the kind of book where it sounds like I’ve got it all figured out, and I’m going to tell you how to do it. It I really wanted it to be more authentic in the sense that I’m not just an expert, I’ve lived it. So, I can speak from both perspectives. And I just thought it was important because so many of us feel so uncomfortable talking about money. And a lot of women feel such a lack of confidence around managing their money, you know this. 

So I just think it’s important for us to admit that we don’t know everything, too. And we’re learning, too. And, you know, we’re all kind of part of the same journey and hopefully the destination. To get control of our finances and feel really good about where we are financially. 

05:00 Cathy: So, yes, I agree with you being relatable. And women don’t want to feel bad when, you know, they don’t want to read a book and go oh, my god, I’m terrible. I’m not doing anything right. 

Because money is so complicated. I mean, when you think about all the little acronyms you need to know, and all the tax laws that have “if yes, then do this, if no, but if that happens, do that.” And learning about all the different retirement plans, it’s a lot. So nobody needs to feel bad because they don’t know it. 

Although I think it could be better in our country, if we had more financial literacy classes, like you hear that a lot. And it never seems to happen. 

Jennifer: Oh, I completely agree. And we still have not made a lot of progress there. And I think there’s so many people who care passionately about that, and really are trying to get that implemented in school curriculums, and I have a feeling the pandemic may have put some of those efforts on hold. 

But I don’t know, either. Everyone seems to be in agreement that this is a life skill that we all need to learn. And yet I think it’s only 17 states that have it as a requirement in their high school curriculum. So yeah, there’s a gap for, you know, there’s a financial literacy gap, period. It’s not just a matter of whether you’re a woman or a man. 

But we do know, I mean, there’s research that shows that parents actually do speak to their sons differently than they do to their daughters about money. And so I think that plays into it, to where they are more apt to talk to their sons about investing and building credit. And they are more apt to talk to their daughters about saving and spending smartly. 

Cathy: And this all goes back to budgeting. 

Jennifer: Yes. And it all kind of goes back to this. You know, this old conventional model where the man was the breadwinner, the woman was the caregiver, took care of the house, you know. So being able to budget and clip coupons and count your pennies was really important if you were in that role. But those skills don’t translate as well anymore, because now women are moving into the breadwinning role. And regardless, we need the skills to build our own wealth. 

And so, there’s a lot of work to be done there, I thin—in terms of the messaging, and not just the financial literacy piece of it. 

Cathy: Yeah, that’s still stuck in the 50s. A woman at home with the apron, but managing the budget, getting an allowance. My mom was right there. She got her little allowance, and she managed it really well. You know, but my dad handled all the finances. 

But why are we still stuck in the 50s? How many years ago was that now? Really?

Jennifer: The conventional breadwinning model rose to prominence in the 50s and 60s. So it’s been like 70 years, and we’re seeing a paradigm shift in the model itself. But our attitudes have not caught up to that. Our culture has not caught up to that. Our corporate policies have not caught up to that. And so, you know, we have some ground to cover, I think, there. And it really just starts with the way that we talk to women and the way that we message them around money. 

And so, I’m not surprised at all that a lot of women actually don’t think that they need to have these skills. They think that, you know, they’re going to get married, and the man will take care of a lot of this stuff. 

08:10 Jennifer: You know this, right, because a lot of women are also really wary of investing, certainly investing in the stock market. And that is probably one of the best places to put your money in order for it to grow. And so if you are already wary of doing that, you think it may be too risky, too complex, whatever the reason is, so you put off doing that. And on top of that, you’re sort of thinking, “alright, I’ll get married, and my husband will probably be the one to manage the finances anyway.” 

Cathy: That could be an unconscious thought, too. So I want to read you a few things about how women are different from men that, as I’m reading your book, I picked them out. And women listening, I don’t mean this to be depressing. But research backs up every single one of these things, and Jennifer, you did a great job pulling in all this research out there. It’s so appreciated. I’m going to use it as a reference guide, I know it. 

09:17 Cathy: Women…

Earn 20% less than men for the same jobs in nearly every single occupation
Have lower levels of financial literacy
Higher credit card debt
Less likely to ask for a raise or promotion
Lower average credit scores
More afraid to say no to projects at work
Concentrated in the lowest paying master’s fields
Career tracks are usually things like human resources
Have less money saved at retirement: one in five women have nothing saved for retirement.
40% more likely to live in poverty in old age
Carry more student loan debt
Not invest, leave money in cash

A lot of women are more likely to tap into retirement accounts early, even though there’s penalties and tax. 

Jennifer: And I did that, like in my 20s. 

Cathy: Are less likely to take any finance classes in school. And I didn’t even write down the stats in the caretaker chapter about how many women take the caretaker role and leave work for children or older parents and therefore get retirement savings interrupted and all that. So I couldn’t help it. I read the book, and I was framing it. And I thought, there’s a lot of not good stats about women and wealth in this country. I don’t know what it’s like everywhere else. 

Jennifer: It’s not all that much better. I think Nordic countries have it a little better. They have more egalitarian policies that have held. 

Cathy: Yes, like childcare and all that. So anyway, as I’m thinking about this—I’ve been a financial advisor for almost 20 years. And I work mainly with women, and I work with a lot of single women. So I see many of these things happening. And I just keep asking my question over and over. When are these statistics going to start turning? 

And yeah, writing a book like you did with, you don’t only have the stats, you’ve got action steps in almost every area. That’s really important. So anyway, I want you to be able to talk. Talk to me more about, I know your personal story inspired you. But let’s talk a little bit more about that. 

11:41 Jennifer: Sure, well, I had my own wake up call. And that was really the genesis of the book. I was in my early 30s, I was an editor at a national news magazine, and I had a great job. You know, from the outside, it looked like I had it all together. 

But I was sharing a one-bedroom apartment with my husband and our toddler at the time. And I remember one night, when he woke up, I was kind of pacing back and forth in our bedroom trying to get him back to sleep. And I just had this moment where I looked around and I thought, we are in a completely unsustainable situation. And I don’t have the means to help us get out of it. 

And it was such a crushing moment. I mean, honestly, when I still think about it, I’m like, because I had thought I’m such an independent woman. I have a 401k, I have a little bit in a savings account. I’m paying half the bills. You know, I had credit card debt, but I was paying it down. And I thought I was sort of doing everything right. And it was in that moment that I realized I had missed a huge piece of the puzzle, which was, I was not investing for the midterm. I did not have the kind of savings that would help us buy our own place. I didn’t even have enough set aside to help us really afford to have a second child, which I badly, badly wanted. We both did. And here we were in a situation where we were about to outgrow our apartment, and I wasn’t even sure we could afford to rent a bigger place. 

Cathy: Let me stop you right there. Because what it sounds to me like, is that you realized that you had these super important goals. Having a second child and having your own place to live, which are pretty important things to me, really were at stake. And somehow those goals became paramount. So your epiphany was, oh my God, I’m not going to ever have this unless something changes. 

13:38 Jennifer: Yes. And to be fair, my husband, when we first met, his income far exceeded mine. He worked at a startup; the startup went under and he went back into journalism. So our incomes were much closer together.

And so, you know, he was contributing as well. But it did occur to me that neither of us were really prepared to buy this house. And there was no way that I could slough that off on him or assume that he would be the one to do this. What I really realized was, I had left myself in an incredibly vulnerable position, where the things that were most important to me, were now at stake because I had not taken a proactive approach to my finances to make sure that they came to pass. And that was just a huge wake up call for me. 

And then the next question was, why in the heck did I make these money choices? Like why would I ever have made money choices that leave me in this position? And as I started to really think about it, the turning point question was, I asked myself if I had been raised to think like a breadwinner. Like so many of the guys that I had dated in my 20s, who were all about, like I need to buy a house, I need to save money so I can get married, and all these things. I thought if I had been raised to think like a breadwinner, how would that change the choices I made with my money and even my career? And that was literally the turning point because I realized I hadn’t been thinking that way at all. 

15:00 Cathy: And also, you mentioned that you realized you were getting resentful towards your husband, that he wasn’t taking on the traditional bread winner role. And you realized that there’s two of you, it’s your goal too, and you decided to take the reins. I couldn’t help but thinking too when I was reading the book, that “think like a breadwinner” could be replaced by “think like a man.” And then I thought, no, that’s not it. It’s: think about how men have been raised in our culture and in our institutions and the things that they have been taught, versus the things that women were raised to think about and prioritize. 

Jennifer: Yeah. 100%. A man sort of grows up thinking, what do I want in my life? And how am I going to get it? And we may think that way about our career, but I think we’re still not brought up to think that way about our life in general. About like, this is what I want my life to look like. How much money am I going to need to make to support this lifestyle? I know that’s a question that I didn’t ask. 

I certainly, I mean, I went into journalism, no idea how badly it paid. There’s lots of men in journalism, but it’s more, there are a lot of women in journalism, and you see more men in management in journalism than you see women. I mean, women tend to be more on the reporter side, the writers, the writer track. That’s shifting, obviously. Now, there are a lot more women in management. But certainly when I first got into journalism, there were definitely more men at the top of the masthead, and those are the jobs that pay well. Or they were on the business side. And those were the jobs that paid really well. I only learned that later, of course. 

16:56 Jennifer: I moved into management shortly after I had that epiphany. And that wasn’t the only reason why, but it was a big reason. I realized, you know, these things are so important to me that I don’t want to put them at risk. And I need to get a job that pays well. And initially, I thought, well, this will be a temporary situation. I’ll move into management, and then maybe I’ll go back to writing. But once I was in that role, and on that track, I found I really enjoyed it. I loved the challenges. I loved how it sort of stretched my idea of what my capabilities were. 

It was very interesting how it actually started to shift my mindset even more in terms of what I thought I was capable of and how I envisioned my career. So in a lot of ways, that was a big step as well. 

17:47 Cathy: I think that happens to a lot of women that step up. I mean, that’s true for me. I think if women could get into more of a wealth mindset mode, breadwinner mode, combined with their personal skills that they already have in spades, right? The good communication skills, the caretaker skills, all those things, they’re gonna be unstoppable.

This is a challenge. And going back to your mindset growing up was not that you were going to be this person to build the wealth. And I’m thinking back to my childhood, because I had a little different trajectory for some reason. Wealth has always been important to me. I can’t figure out why. I’m thinking about it now that I read your book. 

But I do remember one message from my father. He always told me, Cath, you could do anything you want. He always said that. That was one of the key messages from my father, you know, the dominant male figure my life. And I’m not sure how many women are told that when they’re young? So my answer could be that my upbringing created the groundwork for me. But I know that’s not typical. And in the things I just read, the statistics about women are showing that that is not typical. 

Jennifer: That’s true. I interviewed a number of women who did have a breadwinning mindset from the beginning. And I can think of one in particular where she told me her dad actually sat down with her, taught her how to invest. He invested in real estate. So he taught her how to invest in real estate. He told her what capital was, he told her that when you have anything outside of your paycheck, that’s capital, you don’t touch it, you invest it. You leave your investment alone until you need it. 

He taught her how to separate her money into different piles for savings, charity investing, you know. So very early on, she got these lessons from her dad. And she was the oldest of three girls, and part of me thinks that maybe he was imparting the lessons on her that he might have done with a son.

20:00 Jennifer: In other cases, I talked to women whose parents divorced and the mom had been quite reliant on the dad. And after the divorce, they saw the impact on their mom and consciously decided, I am never going to allow myself to be in a vulnerable position like that. It wasn’t that they disrespected their mom, there was nothing like that. It was more like, oh, my poor mom, she ends up in this situation because she stopped working, because she wasn’t involved in the finances. They saw that unfold in front of them and how painful it was for their mom. And so they consciously decided, I am not going to do that. I’m going to take care of myself, I’m going to have my own money. And so they made very different decisions. 

And I would say I mean, my parents, I grew up in a middle-class household. Both my parents were professors of accounting at one point, so yeah, I did great in math. It wasn’t like a lack of skills. I knew about the stock market. But there was a disconnect for me between sort of knowing the stock market existed and realizing what an incredibly powerful tool it was, and building wealth from the get go and how important that was. 

21:10 Cathy: Yeah. Let’s talk about that. Because that’s a really key thing for women to understand. Because I still see women who are really afraid of investing and who keep way too much money in low interest-bearing bank accounts. And you have some stats about that in the book that that’s a true phenomenon. And, so you talk about compounding and all that. I mean, the book is such a great resource. If a woman read that chapter on why investing your money is so important, even if you just simply put it in an S&P 500 fund and let it sit for years, if you just did something as simple as that, it will change everything. 

Jennifer: Yes, because there’s no comparison. We know that, on average, the S&P 500 Index rises about 7% per year, right, on average. Obviously, some years it goes down. But you take an average 7-7.5% return, which is what it is. And then you look at a savings account, which right now is paying .05% for a traditional savings account and only like 0.4 or 0.5% for a high yield savings account. 

So we’re talking about a difference of 6.5 to nearly 7%. There’s no comparison. And when you run the numbers, and you look out five or 10 years, you’re talking about the difference sometimes of tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars, depending on how much money you have. And that accounts for a lot of the difference between what men have saved and what women have saved a lot of times. 

I don’t know where that comes from. But I did interview a lot of women who say that they take comfort in knowing that the money is there and accessible at any time and, so there’s definitely something in there that’s more emotional and more psychological. 

23:02 Cathy: You know that’s a really good point. When I talk to women who have that fear, they don’t understand that investing is very liquid. There’s this myth. And this is a financial literacy piece. Some people think if you put money in an investment account, you can’t get it back easily. When I realized that myth exists, it makes it a lot easier to explain that no, it’s completely liquid. You might sell when the market’s down. But you know, you can get your money out whenever you want. And you write about a lot of the myths of investing in your book, which I think is really helpful, because they’re out there and they persist. 

Jennifer: They do. We still have this idea that it’s complex and risky. And to me, I mean, I tell people this—I think you may agree—is I think it’s more risky to leave your money in savings for too long, because you don’t give it the opportunity to grow. And so if you want, certainly put some in savings. Enough to cover, you know, we usually say three to six months of expenses. 

But if you’re not investing the rest, you are missing out on all this potential growth and putting yourself at a disadvantage. I mean, right now, savings accounts pay less than the rate of inflation. So your money is actually losing value sitting in a savings account. And that’s, it’s really hard to wrap your head around that. And I get it, and I say if you’re nervous about the stock market being down, then invest in bonds or bond funds, but really almost anything has a better return than savings accounts right now. 

Cathy: Well, you know, and maybe the other thing too is, we’re talking about the now and investing now. The reason you invest is for when you can’t earn a paycheck anymore. And in this country, we don’t have as many safety nets anymore, right? The companies don’t have pensions. You know, what’s that old saying? A man is not a retirement plan? 

25:06 Cathy: Your dad is not gonna be around anymore. And so you have to think about it. And then for some women, younger women, that may seem way, way far in the future. But it takes years of compounding to get quite a chunk of money that you need to live out that—who knows how long it’s going to be, because we’re all living longer—30, 40, 50 years where you may be earning nothing or a fraction of what you’re earning in your prime working years. And so that’s that stuff that, unfortunately, women end up living in poverty. The bag lady syndrome is real still. I don’t know how many years it’s gonna take for all those trends to like, start reversing.

26:07 Jennifer: I’m determined in our lifetime. I mean, that’s my goal. I want to do everything in my power. I’m sure you do, too. I mean, to your point too, time is one of the most important factors in investing. So even if you’re investing $25 a month, if you’re 22, I mean, that money compounds. So it’s like, if you’re living paycheck to paycheck, or you perceive that you are and you think you can’t afford it, I would challenge anyone who says that to just put aside 5, 10, 15, $20 in investments. 

And the psychological, you know, just the benefit psychologically of seeing that money grow is so incredible. And then it serves as such an incentive to continue to do that. And you can actually see how people shift their habits. And we see this at Acorns where people sign up for roundups, and they’re usually at about 30 to $35 a month that they invest. So they sign up for just roundups, nothing else. And then they see that money start to grow. And we see after 3, 6, 9 months, they start putting more and more money in because they understand, you know, the power of compounding and the power of putting your money in. 

And also, they realize, you know, I don’t miss that. I don’t miss that spare change. I don’t miss that $35. So what’s another $5 here, or $10 there? And that is so beneficial to you to learn that lesson early on and then just start piling more money in as you can. It’s just huge to start early and have the advantage of time and compounding. And I know you know this too, but it’s like one of those things that drives me nuts when people feel like oh, no, no, I have to have a lot of money to invest. And I’m like, no, no, no, you won’t have a lot of money unless you invest. You’ve got it backwards.

27:43 Cathy: Okay, I have a story to tell you about Acorns. So I teach a personal finance class in the summer at a woman’s college here. And these are all college age and graduate level. And I’m teaching really basic personal finance, and they’re learning all new things. And one of the women told me, we were talking about savings apps and Acorns came up in the conversation—that she really likes using that app to save. 

And the other tool that I like talking about with women is Roth IRAs. You know, they fit the fear mentality perfectly for women because it’s a way to start getting invested because it’s a retirement account. So theoretically, you don’t touch it till retirement. But you can withdraw what you put in any time, without penalty and without tax, and you can invest it. And so I think it’s important to pick out things that are really easy to understand and explain the concepts and speak to those fears about not having access, or I’m going to lose it, or I’m never going to get it again. 

And the other financial literacy thing that drives me nuts is some people think an IRA is the investment. If you have an IRA, you have an investment. 

29:13 Jennifer: Yeah, you have to invest the money you put in. I actually had a conversation with someone not that long ago, where I had told her about the Roth and I was like, you should do this, you qualify. You know, like we checked her income because there is that income threshold. But then she said, oh, I had put all this money in my Roth. And I said, great, how did you invest it? And she said, I didn’t know I was supposed to invest it. It was just sitting in a money market fund. 

Because no one ever explains the second part of that. You’re like, I want to open a Roth IRA, and Fidelity or whoever says—or, you know, Acorns, we do it but we invest it for you, so we’re a little different—but in most brokerages, you open it up and they’re like okay, we’ve opened your account. And they send you on your way. And they don’t tell you, you have to invest it yourself. 

30:05 Cathy: Like the 401k. Now, there’s a default, it has to be invested. Right? It’s almost like that should happen with Roths. 

Well, let me let me ask you something. So your message is so strong in this book and so helpful. What is your plan to get the word out and the book out to as many people as possible? Are you gonna, you can’t be on the road right now, right? 

Jennifer: Okay, this my little studio, my makeshift studio. We actually just did the audio book, and I had to create a studio in our closet, which was funny.

30:42 Cathy: So you read the whole book? How was that? I’ve always been curious about that. Was it fun? Was it a drag?

Jennifer: It was fun. I mean, I’m an editor at heart. So there were parts where I thought, oh, I could have streamlined that. Or, you know, it’s hard to turn that part of you off. But it was a much more intimate, you have a much more intimate relationship with the book, when you’re reading it. And it’s like you’re talking to someone, you know, as you’re reading it. So that was a really incredible experience, because I was on with a producer and with an audio engineer, and they kept saying, you know, just imagine you’re talking to someone, you know, you’re telling them this. And so then you really kind of get into it, and you’re absorbed in the material. 

Cathy: Oh, that’s fascinating. I think this would be a great book to listen to on Audible. But I also think it’d be a great workbook where you actually write. You know, somebody that’s learning about finance actually buys a book and writes notes in it. I mean, I’m gonna buy it for me, because I want to use it as a reference guide. 

Jennifer: Yes, write in it. I encourage you to. 

31:58 Cathy: Your point about reading and editing—that’s why it’s so important. Anything you write, you read it out loud, right? 

Jennifer: So yeah, also, there were a number of things that I actually didn’t know how to pronounce. So many names. But no, it was a great experience. And so I’m doing that, I’m doing podcasts. And I mean, I’m trying to get the word out as much as I can. 

And I’ve joined some initiatives with some other women primarily, and some men who are in the space of really trying to advocate for paid leave and some of these policies that will help women better. So that’s a part of it, too. And I’m going in and speaking to companies about this, speaking to women’s employee resource groups, about this kind of stuff. 

You know, I was passionate about this before I wrote the book, but I hope that this book gives me the opportunity or the excuse to talk about it even more, though.

Cathy: It will. You have a platform now, which I’m so grateful to you for taking the time to write this because really, it’s like a manual to start growing wealth. It replaces like, I remember, there was this really thick book written. Now I’m not gonna remember the name. But I mean, it was, you know, a bomb of a book. And your book is still quite a long book. But it’s organized in such a way. And the storytelling in it about your life, and about other women and their money journeys, makes it an interesting read, which is not easy to say for a lot of finance books.

33:38 Jennifer: Thank you, I appreciate that. I did try to weave in as many stories as I could. And also the mindset piece, I think makes it more interesting, because it’s a message that a lot of people haven’t heard before. 

And just to go back to what you’d mentioned at the beginning about people being kind of embarrassed about money or not comfortable talking about it, I think we do a lot of money shaming. And so one of the things I really wanted to do with the book was to not make anyone feel ashamed of the money choices they’ve made. And help women understand that so much of it comes from the cultural conditioning that we’ve gotten, and the messaging that we got as kids. And so even if we know what we’re supposed to do, those, you know, this kind of conditioning can get in the way of that, and in a really subconscious way. 

It’s really hard to see that sometimes, you know, to understand like, why am I making these money choices, and not those money choices? A lot of us don’t stop and question that. And if we did, you know, it might take some digging to realize, oh, I put my money in savings because I’m terrified I’m going to lose it. Because maybe their parents had, you know, maybe their parents lost money or they had some experience, they were exposed to something, and so that has lodged in their brain. And so they’re afraid of investing themselves. 

So many of us carry around these stories, whether you’re a man or a woman, and it’s so important to examine those, especially if they kind of get in the way of your wealth building efforts. And it’s hard to do that on your own. 

35:00 Jennifer: I think you probably have tons of stories of people you’ve talked to because that’s part of what you do, right, is unpacking that. 

Cathy: You know, I really read your chapter on values and goals with great interest because I actually have an e-book called The Happiness Spreadsheet. And I have an exercise almost exactly like yours, where I list the 100 values. And I’m trying to get people to really think about what they want in their life. So I can so much relate to that. 

I laughed, though, because I was thinking about my book. It kind of is a budgeting book. That made me think it’s not an investing book. But one of the values is growing wealth. And I do interweave that in there a little bit. But I laughed at myself when I read that. But so I think that’s the core work for women. It’s worth figuring out where you got your money mindset from, and then doing the work to let go of that stuff. And realize who you are now. 

So many of our values could be from our parents. I mean, I even think about why I went into business, because I did the exercises in my own book. So I think I went into business because I love, my dad was on a pedestal, he was a businessman. And I turned it into a success. But as I was doing my exercises, I thought, would I have chosen a business career if it wasn’t for my dad? 

Because I love creativity. And you can make this work creative in certain ways. And that’s what you do. You compensate, once you get somewhere, because your point in the book, too, was choosing a career that can make you a living. 

36:56 Jennifer: Yes. Right. Yes, that piece is often missing in the advice that we give to women. And I love the idea of you can be anything you want. But a lot of times, and there is actual data around this, is that girls are less likely to have conversations about how they’ll be compensated in the careers that they’re interested in than boys are. 

So I mean, it all comes back to the same thing. We are still not thinking of women as breadwinners. We are still not setting up women to succeed in that role. Even though more women are moving into that role than ever before. More than 40% of moms in the country right now are the main or sole breadwinners for their families. 

So it’s happening. Whether or not they’re prepared, women are moving into those roles for a variety of reasons. We are still not preparing them for that role. And we’re not thinking about women being in that role or about their income being so critical with the policies that we have and the perceptions and biases that get carried into the workplace. And so you see that sort of play out in all these ways. 

38:00 Cathy: In your opinion, do you think that, given there’s a new administration, that there’ll be more focus on family policies that help women breadwinners? 

Jennifer: That’s the hope. Yes. We’re advocating pretty hard for that. And I do think, I mean, Biden did push for paid leave in the stimulus bill, and it didn’t end up in the bill in the form that he had proposed, which was kind of a mandatory leave. Now it’s an incentivized leave around with tax credits. And it’s really tied to the Coronavirus, not the kind of blanket paid leave that that we’re really advocating for. But I think he’s open to it. He said he’s open to it. You’ve got a lot of senior lawmakers right now talking about it. So I’m hopeful. 

Cathy: We’re the only country in the world that doesn’t have it—the only industrialized country in the world. 

Jennifer: Yeah, the only industrialized one. It’s so fascinating to me, because I studied Norway, and we’re where Norway was in the 1970s. So they implemented these policies in the 70s and men didn’t take paternity leave. So 20 years later, they completely revamped those policies and made it mandatory for men to take a certain amount of paternity leave. Or it was sort of a use it all or lose it policy. 

And they started this whole public awareness campaign to try and shift the perception of men as caregivers. And now they have one of the highest participation rates in the world for fathers and mothers. I mean, it has completely changed the game. And we would be smart to learn from their experience. But we’re still having the conversations they were having in the 1970s.

39:32 Cathy: Because we have a patriarchal society. It needs to shift.

Jennifer: It really needs to shift. And it’s good for men too. I mean, there’s so much research around the importance of men having that time to bond with their kids. Being able to be caregivers without feeling stigma or anything like that. It’s really, this is not just about women. 

40:00 Cathy: No, I know a lot of my peers in the financial world are men with young children. And one of the things I hear the most is how happy they were during COVID. Because they had to be at home, they got to see their kids and bond with their kids more. You know that must be so awful, to feel like you have to leave the house every day early in the morning, and you don’t get home till late. And you miss out on so many things that happen with your children. Good family policies are good for everybody, not just women.

40:37 Jennifer: I’ve seen it play out with my husband, because as I moved into the breadwinning role, I took jobs that had me traveling and were a little more demanding. He started working from home, and he was able to spend more time with them. And I saw how he bonded with our two sons. And I just thought, I don’t know. I was so grateful that he has that relationship with them. 

And I had this moment, this one phone call where I called my dad, I mentioned in the book where I was really stressed out, I was working really long hours in this one job. And I felt like I wasn’t getting a lot of time with the kids. And I was describing it to him. And he said to me, now you know how I felt. And I just burst into tears. It was the first time I really realized what a sacrifice he had made, certainly in his own mind that he thought would benefit us, and that we’d appreciate down the road. But he really was not around very much when we were kids. 

And you think like, I’m so close to him now. But I didn’t really get a chance to build that relationship until I was already in college and then spending like long amounts of time with him. And I just think, gosh, what he missed out on, you know, as a younger dad. 

Cathy: And what the kids miss out on not being able to get close to their dad. You cannot do that in two quick days, you know, a weekend. It takes more time than, you know, a week vacation in the summer. So all of the things we’re talking about are really good for everybody. The whole family system. So I love that. I mean, I could cry thinking about how little time I got to spend with my dad. And that creates its own set of issues where you miss somebody all the time. It’s just not, it’s not a good thing. 

42:32 Jennifer: No, and I think about, we have the opportunity now to change. That is really what it comes down to. I see how my kids are with my husband. And we’ll flip flop. I mean, I will not always be the main earner. Probably, who knows. I mean, it’s fine if I am. But I mean, just because you move into the main earner role doesn’t mean you’re there for life. 

And certainly, during the pandemic, we’ve shifted back to almost a 50/50 caregiving model, which has been wonderful. So I know what your colleagues are talking about. But I had plenty of time with them too. I feel like each of us are really getting the opportunity to bond with our kids and spend a lot of time with them. And that they really know each of us well and know that we’re accessible to them. And that’s so important. 

And watching that in contrast to how it was when I was growing up. Or even my husband and his dad. His dad was a pilot. He was never around. So I feel like we just have a tremendous opportunity here to ship that for the next generation. 

Cathy: I do too. You know, it could be so great if it was a partnership, not this, you know, the woman is the breadwinner in a marriage but also has to do all the housework. 

Jennifer: Yes. Which is what’s happening now if you look at the stats. It was happening throughout the pandemic too. And even when women earn more, as you said, they’re still doing more of the housework, the childcare. 

And it’s not all the men. I will say I will say this, that part of it is yes, the partner needs to step up as well. But I can speak from my own experience that letting go of the caregiving piece of it, even like letting go of the idea of yourself being you know, being the main caregiver. For me, my identity was so intertwined with that as a mother. I felt so deeply like that was my responsibility, that actually letting go of being the primary caregiver there for a few years was tremendously hard. 

Cathy: Really hard. And I get it in a lot of women to feel that way. I know that they want that role. And you know, there’s nothing wrong with being a caregiver. 

Jennifer: No, I mean, I think the whole problem is we aren’t valuing caregiving enough in this country. Right? And we and we pin it all on one gender, which doesn’t, you know, it’s a disservice to everybody. 

44:53 Cathy: I think it is too. You know, in my own experience, I switched careers and started from scratch. My husband was a breadwinner in those years. I built up my career, he wanted to retire because he’s older than me. I said, fine. Now I’m the breadwinner. It works so well, it’s great. Everybody gets what they want, and it creates a more loving relationship, more trusting, and it sounds like you navigated your own situation really well. And I’m sure it wasn’t easy at times. And you’re very open about it too. Because I know your husband’s read your book. So he’s fine with having a more equal paradigm in the marriage?

45:32 Jennifer: Yeah, I had him read the book proposal before I ever submitted it, because I wanted to make sure he was okay with it. And my whole point for him, too, is that this was not in any way meant to make him feel bad about not earning more. That’s not even what the book is about, at all. 

Cathy: No, it’s really about portraying a marriage that was working towards more equality so that you can both reach your goals. And give up on the princess mindset.

46:07 Jennifer: I didn’t even think of it as that. But it’s true, deep down. I don’t think I would have admitted it. But deep down, I think I was just assuming that. And he learned to embrace a childcare role, which I love. 

Cathy: I love this, what we’re talking about right now. This, it really came out in the book. So I don’t want to make this too long, or we’re gonna lose our listeners. I could talk to you all day about these things. So let me ask you this. So tell me about your role at Acorns. And also give info on how people can access your book. And any other, if you have a blog, or those kinds of things. 

Jennifer: You can go to jenniferbarrett.com. There’s a lot of information on the book there. There’s a form you can fill out if you have questions. I do coaching too. I’m just getting my performance and leadership coaching certification. So I started coaching primarily female startup founders and senior leaders. So I do some of that as well.

Cathy: I want to hear more about that. Let’s just talk about that for a couple of minutes.

Jennifer: Sure. I mean, I’ve always been interested in coaching, and I took an intensive last year. And then as I pulled back on my hours to work on the book, of course, I have to immediately fill them with something else. So I signed up, I applied for this. It’s Brown and ACT. It’s a joint program. And it’s really focused on performance and leadership coaching, grounded in neuroscience. I thought it was a really fantastic program. And I’ve just finished all the requirements for that. 

I actually thought even if I didn’t end up coaching, it was really fascinating to do that work as I was going back and kind of looking at the book, because so much of what I talked about was mindset. So I was really fascinated to see, how do you really help to shift somebody’s mindset? You know, first you have to make them aware that they even are holding this mindset that may not be benefiting them. But then how do you actually shift it? So that work was fascinating. And I figured there’s no downside to having that. 

Cathy: I love that, how much work is being done in brain science right now. That’s fascinating. 

Jennifer: Well, so often it comes down to that, right? Because we sort of know what to do. But then why aren’t we doing it? I mean, with our health, with our money. So it’s not necessarily a lack of information. Sometimes it’s the lack of knowing where to go for the right information. But so often, it’s a behavioral issue. It’s there’s some blocker, some mental blocker that is keeping us from taking the steps we know we need to take. And so I thought it was really important for me to dig into that. 

Cathy: You’re gonna write another book. I know that. You’re gonna solve the problem of how to get the breadwinner mindset.

48:59 Jennifer: I sure hope so. I don’t know that it’ll be fixed that quickly. It may be years in the making. But yeah, I would love to see that if more women start thinking that way. 

Cathy: Okay, great. And then your book is on all the platforms, I saw. It’s not available quite yet, right? 

Jennifer: April 6, but you can preorder it on Amazon. And I mean, on any bookseller, really. Barnes and Noble, my publishers Penguin Random House, there’s a page there too you can preorder from. So if you want it, you can preorder it now. 

Cathy: Excellent. Well, I can’t wait to delve into the book even more. It’s a wonderful, wonderful book. And thank you so much for writing it and for being on my podcast. 

Jennifer: I’m thrilled to be here. 

Cathy: So great to see you. 

Jennifer: So great to see you too. Cathy.

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S3 E2 Transcript: The Link Between Self-Awareness and Financial Success

Welcome to the Financial Finesse Podcast, where we’ll be discussing tips on how to handle your money and life with skill and style. Your host Cathy Curtis, CFP® has been helping make finance accessible and intriguing for women for almost 20 years. You will get savvy actionable ideas listening to her conversations with some of the coolest and smartest women on the planet. And now, here’s your host, Cathy Curtis.


00:51 Cathy:

Hi. I’m Cathy Curtis, host of the Financial Finesse podcast and founder of Curtis Financial Planning in Oakland, California, an independent financial planning firm that specializes in the unique financial needs of independent women. As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, I partner with women who take the lead in their household finances to help them secure their future while getting more enjoyment from their money today. So whether you’re single, the primary earner in your family, or simply take an interest in personal financial management, this podcast is for you.

In this episode, I interview Joy Lere, a licensed clinical psychologist and behavioral finance consultant with a practice in Napa, California. Joy previously served as an Associate Clinical Professor of Clinical Psychology at George Washington University and has held clinical and research positions at Children’s National Medical Center, Penn Medicine Princeton Health, and the Department of Defense.

One of the reasons I find Joy so fascinating is because of how she describes her clients: thoughtful, curious individuals who often know the “right” answers but find themselves repeatedly pulled into familiar, problematic patterns that hold them back from achieving their full potential. In many ways, her work goes hand in hand with the work I do as a financial advisor, since so much of our money habits and decisions are tied to the beliefs and patterns we developed at an early age that no longer serve us.

During the interview, Joy and I discuss the parallels between our psychology and money habits and why self-awareness is so critical for getting out of our own way as individuals and financial decision-makers.

Specifically, we touch on…

How setting clear boundaries for ourselves and living our lives authentically can actually improve our financial outcomes.

Why spending our time and money in line with our personal values makes us happier and more fulfilled.

And the psychological reason budgeting is so hard for so many people.

I really enjoyed my conversation with Joy, and I hope you do, too.

03:05 Cathy:

I am continually struck by how much what I do as a financial planner/advisor and how much what you do as a clinical psychologist intersect. For example, when I asked you who you do your best work with, you said that a crisis or distress usually brings a client into therapy. But after you get over the storm, then is the real opportunity to help somebody with their life and to help them up-level their life.

And I find this is really true with being a financial advisor as well. I call it a trigger, there’s usually a trigger that brings a client into my office. And sometimes they’re panicking over whether they’re going to be able to retire when they want or they received an inheritance and they have no idea how to invest it. There’s a lot of emotions tied around inheritance. Sometimes it’s some other issue, they don’t know how to budget. And after we do a plan and put their mind at ease about that particular crisis or trigger, then I can do the deeper work over the long term of making someone feel really comfortable around their money and help them use their money to create a life they really value.

But given that I’m not a clinical psychologist, sometimes some behaviors are hard to change. And, for example, an over-spender, or someone who has total inertia around money and delays getting me what I need to create a plan, or they don’t want to look at their budget. And if they do set a budget, then they forget about it. So I’m wondering, what tools do you use in situations like that with your clients on an ongoing basis? How do you help them?

05:00 Joy:

So I think you’re so right about something, Cathy. The conversations that clients are having with me in the therapy office are very similar to the conversations they are having with you in the financial planning office, because people are coming in, and they’re talking about their lives. And money is inextricably tied up in so many important aspects of who we are, our work, really creating a legacy, our purpose, these are deep issues. And as I think about the work that I do with clients I know, I really think that there is, there’s a lot of value in understanding how your history has come to shape and inform who you are today, how you show up in the world.

I think there are a lot of things that people copy, paste and carry forward in their lives—attitudes, beliefs, roles, behaviors, tendencies and patterns that they have—that they don’t even realize have their roots back in their very earliest experiences in life. Now, what I think is wonderful and marvelous, and creates hope for everyone is: you are not your history. Now, brain science even shows that as we move through our lives, experience then shapes and modifies even the structures in our brains. So who you have been, where you have come from, that is not prescriptive of where you are going.

So one of the things that therapy is really about, so it’s understanding your history, and then it’s developing, really developing, strengthening self-awareness. So understanding who you are, learning to pay attention to what is going on inside of you, being able to begin to label your emotions, have language for that, because all of our feelings have functions, they’re providing us with information. Now, sometimes some of the things people do in response to their feelings are problematic. So then the work is okay, when you can notice something happening internally, step back and ask, okay, what is this feeling? What is this trigger telling me? And then kind of lengthening that space between the stimulus and the response, or the action or reaction to the situation, whatever it may be, so that there’s more freedom to choose in that gap.

07:48 Cathy:

Right, and what you’re saying can be applied to money behavior, but it’s really about any behavior that someone is finding problematic in their life, right?

08:03 Joy:


08:06 Cathy:

Well, I think God, and what’s happening in the markets, right? I think that work is so important because we are all so different when it comes to our money. I call it money personality, that’s the term that I use. And, and our personality and experiences are based on what happened in the past, but I think there is more than one way to have a successful financial life.

You do not have to be a certain way to be able to live well, enjoy your money, retire successfully. You don’t have to be rich, you can have a moderate lifestyle, you could have moderate income. I think, and I know you agree because you’re a behavioral psychologist, that certain behaviors allow someone to be more successful than other behaviors. And I listened to some podcasts and read some of the things you’ve wrote. And you talk about the “no muscle.” And I really am a believer in that. Saying no, to yourself, is a really helpful thing to develop. Not so easy, though.

09:12 Joy:

No, it’s not. I tell people, I think everyone would be healthier, wealthier, and a lot less stressed out if they said “no” a whole lot more often. And there are two sides of this. And saying no is setting a boundary. You know boundaries are a big buzzword right now. But to have boundaries with ourselves and with other people. And I think there are complex reasons that people are compelled to, in the moment, favor their present self and kind of indulge that person in the moment and not say “no, I’m not going to do this right now.” And there are a lot of complex reasons that people have some difficulty saying no to other people. And if you think about both of those things, financially, they can have very costly consequences.

10:07 Cathy:

Yes, definitely. Another behavior that you talked about—and I agree with you on it, and it relates to the no muscle—is not being afraid to live your life your own way.


Yes, not being afraid to be different.


And what I think has to happen, though, is to understand yourself really well. To figure out what you most value as you are now, not what someone told you to value when you were young. Not what, you know, the comparison thing with other people is a big issue, right? It’s hard to not compare. I think we’re kind of hardwired to compare. You let me know if you agree with that.

10:57 Joy:

Absolutely. We don’t like to talk about comparison, or jealousy or envy. But those are inevitable parts of being a human. And social media only amplifies that in some ways. And I love what you’re saying, Cathy, because I absolutely agree. Like anything, your financial life—a successful plan—it’s not one-size-fits-all, in the same way that nutrition is not one size. There’s not one thing that’s going to work for everybody in every situation.

And I know you do a lot of work with women, and this idea of really getting square uncomfortable about, what do you want, and why do you want it? And I think it’s challenging when we talk about values and priorities. I love some of the work you do with your clients, even like listing out, okay, when you look at these values, what’s most important to you? And some values sound really socially acceptable, but no, just be honest and own what you really want and don’t apologize. And I think this idea of what your life should look like or is supposed to look like versus what it actually is or what you want—this is such complicated water, especially for women.

12:27 Cathy:

I think it is, too.

12:30 Joy:

I’ve done this as a working mom. I remember thinking before I had children, I can’t fully predict what I’m going to want or what I’m going to think I want my mom/work life configuration to look like. I may have an idea based on what I know of myself right now, of what may be the best fit. But I don’t know. So I’ll see what happens when I get there. It turns out when I got there, what I wanted and what felt right was about what I predicted. Now, that’s not the case for every woman I meet.

But what happens if you think about this, whatever you choose in life, there are going to be far more people who are choosing something different. Choosing a life that looks different than yours. So you need to get really comfortable and square on: this is right, and this is best for me. And I do not have to defend my life choices to anyone.

People are going to inevitably offer their unsolicited commentary on what you do with your life, especially when you’re in a public facing role. At times that’s far more a projection about their stuff. You don’t have to take that in, and you don’t have to defend yourself. You need to live your life and, “no, no, this is what’s best for me and what’s best for my family.

14:07 Cathy:

Let me ask you something. So, you know, my clients come to me and I try and help them with this issue, right? I even wrote an ebook called The Happiness Spreadsheet in response to the hatred of budgeting. You know, people don’t like to write down every single penny of what they spent and take a hard look at it. It’s emotional. It sometimes creates feelings of shame. But I try so hard to tell my clients: please, I’m not judgmental. I make no judgments on how you choose to spend your money. But I think it’s still hard for people to take that hard look.

And so I thought: how can I make this more fun and more interesting? And I also know that people who really think about what they most value end up spending their money in smarter ways. So The Happiness Spreadsheet is actually building a budget after you have really thought about what you value, and what your beliefs are. It’s actually a document that is created, and I think it’s a really helpful way to look at money. It seems to resonate with women a lot. And getting them to do that work, I think, is really powerful. So that’s one tool that I’ve tried to use to help people figure out this notion that they can use their money to build a life that is aligned with who they are.

And I think there’s so many instances where values don’t align. Like in what kind of house you buy, what kind of car you drive, where you choose to go on vacation. If you really think about what you most want, where you are right now may not align.

16:16 Joy:

I tell people, you can tell me all the live long day what you value. But let me look at your calendar. And let me look at your bank account. And they’re going to show me where your priorities really live. And really some of the work I do with people in therapy is helping people align your professed priorities with the life you are actually creating for yourself.

I’d love to circle back to, I think, what you brought up about budgeting and people bristling at that. I think that’s very much a natural reaction. I think sometimes people can associate budgeting with restriction. And whenever there’s any kind of restriction, often as a response to that is going to be a kind of feeling constrained. And people, humans are hardwired not to like that.

So I like even sometimes reframing it, not as budgeting, or a spending plan, either. Our language is so powerful, and even doing something like that can be useful for people. Like the work that Sarah Newcomb has done with behavioral science at Morningstar. And she wrote this tremendous book Loaded. I highly recommend.

17:38 Cathy:

Okay. I don’t know that book. Thank you.

17:40 Joy:

One of the things she talks about is when developing a more tactical plan, as you think about your spending, understanding that when you go to buy that cup of coffee, what is the real need behind the purchase? When you are buying clothes, what is the need? What is the desire? And then thinking about, okay, these are my needs. I need to continue to have these needs met. Now, are there other ways that I can still have those needs met, that I’m still going to feel satisfied, but are not creating financial problems for me now or in the future?

18:30 Cathy:

So this is so true. Okay. I’m going to use myself as an example of a couple of things you just said. One is that we hate to be restricted. And when someone tells you you’ve got to cut back on buying something, all of a sudden, you’re in a panic. Oh my gosh, I’m never going to be able to do that again. It’s probably kind of like someone telling an alcoholic they can’t drink anymore. I’m sure it’s the same kind of panic feeling, right?

I’ll use myself as an example. Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve loved clothes. And it’s really hard for me—except, not so hard now, because of the pandemic, I have to tell you. I’m not buying anything because where the heck can you go? But before that, I am so motivated to look good and have, not trendy, but chic clothes. And I have to admit I’ve probably spent more money on clothes than I should over my life. And I’ve tried many times to cut it down because I feel like I shouldn’t be doing that. And I’m married and my husband’s very frugal, and you know, there’s lots of reasons. But every time I try and shut it down, it creates the opposite reaction. I want to go out more and shop more than I did before. It, like, totally backfires on me. What is that about?

20:06 Joy:

It goes back to, as soon as something is unavailable, our mind becomes a little bit more preoccupied. And I think sometimes that has to do with a sense of control. And, you know, that happens with financial behaviors, like I said, that happens with food. It’s how the brain just responds to that constriction. And certainly, there are certain personalities who struggle with that even more. You told me, “I’m not going to.” Well, you’re just saying that, then it’s going to fire me up and give me an idea. And now I need to show you that I’m going to do this.

20:48 Cathy:

Yeah. You know, in my case, it hasn’t become destructive, probably because I love personal finance since I was in my teens. And so I’ve been able to balance it out. But for other people, those kinds of habits can be destructive. And those are the kinds of things that as a financial advisor, when you see that happening, there’s a different skill set for dealing with that.

Now you do some work with advisors, right? Can you talk about that a little bit? Are you helping advisors work with their clients in those ways?

21:29 Joy:

Yes. So I have some advisors in my therapy practice, okay. We believe that everyone needs to really be in a good solid place personally before you can do your best professional work. So I do behavioral finance consulting. And I’m just so excited about the direction things are going in the industry, because I think more and more people are beginning to understand that finance isn’t about economics or economic theory.

And especially for planners and working with clients, you need to be creating an experience. This is not just about numbers and spreadsheets, it’s about people’s lives. It’s about death and retirement and changes and identity conflicts with couples. It’s about really messy things that a lot of education doesn’t prepare advisors for. You are not trained in psychology. So it’s exciting for me to be able to step into this world and offer a perspective from my discipline, that advisors more and more are wanting. And recognizing this is essential to begin to integrate into my practice to really have the business that I want in the future.

23:05 Cathy:

I know certain types of advisors, for example, the fiduciary, RIA-type advisors. Most of them are doing financial planning work in addition to the investment work, and the skill sets you need for financial planning are completely different than what you need for investment management. And you are dealing with people’s emotions, feelings, so many important things. And so you are dealing with their past money life, their money, personalities, or money history, and it is a different skill set. So I’m personally really happy to know the industry is going in that direction.

We have people like, I know Daniel Crosby is really involved in the RIA world and helping us to do this kind of work with our clients. And I just think it’s so important. And I’m so glad that I met you on Twitter. We were having a little tweet chat about couples and money as I recall. So in your practice, you work with, it sounds like, a lot of young professionals, right? And mostly couples, women. And how often is money the key motivator in someone coming to see you?

24:33 Joy:

So very rarely is someone coming into therapy because they are financially anxious. I tell people, there are some people who do specific financial therapy, and that’s not what I do. That’s not what I market myself as. I’m helping people with their lives. But an important part of sorting out our lives and really experiencing success is attending to that pillar of financial wellness. When we think about wellness, we need to be thinking about what that means physically, what that means psychologically, what that means spiritually. And all of these pillars have a knock-on effect on the other. So to neglect one and not talk about one is, you’re missing something really important.

25:29 Cathy:

And you wrote that generally, money comes up no matter what. I mean, no matter what people come in for, at some point, money’s going to come up.

25:45 Joy:

Yes. So I can tell you I’ve worked internationally, with bright, intellectually curious, very accomplished people, and they’re having conversations with me behind closed doors that they aren’t having with anyone else. I tell people, I have the best job in the world. I absolutely love what I do. And it struck me as I progressed in my career that time and time again, regardless of what someone’s presenting concern is—which is kind of shrink speak for “what is the symptom that is bugging you enough to say, maybe I need to talk to someone?” So maybe you’re feeling anxious, you’re feeling depressed, you’re struggling to fall asleep. Maybe you are starting to struggle and have conflict in your relationship.

Regardless of what that presenting concern is, over time, as I got to know people’s stories, this idea of the topic of money comes up in some way, shape, or form. Because it’s something we have to have a relationship with every day of our lives. It’s like food. We don’t get to opt out. We don’t get to unsubscribe from it. And the thing with money is, either you learn to manage it, or it manages you. And when we think about even emotional health, there can be a complex interplay between, like I said before, the emotional health and the money piece in someone’s life.

27:25 Cathy:

You know, I find it to be such a shame that money is such a topic that creates such powerful emotions, and usually a lot—well, not all the time, but a lot of the time—negative emotions. And this is what I attribute it to partially. I’d love to know your opinion. So we all grow up, go through school, go through college, and none of us, unless we’re interested in personal finance, like me, learn anything about the practical sides of money.

And it’s complicated, because Congress and the IRS create policy around money and create products with all kinds of complicated rules—like Roth IRAs, health savings accounts, 529 plans, 401k plans—and if you go on the IRS website and read about Roth IRAs, it’s three pages long. Didn’t you know what all the rules are? And how is anyone supposed to know about that stuff if they’ve gone through their whole life never taking a class or, you know, being forced to learn about it really? I think that’s what creates a lot of the anxiety around money, is that people aren’t educated. And they don’t understand. And then they get to be adults, and they get so busy with their own lives and building careers in other areas that they don’t have the time to delve into it.

28:59 Joy:

Yes, there’s a real paucity of financial literacy across the country. And when someone doesn’t have that scaffolding early on, if money isn’t talked about, or talked about in the home you are raised in, then you enter the marketplace, you enter your negotiations, you sit down the first time you’re faced with the opportunity for a 401k match, and you’re like, I don’t even know what this is. I think in high school, it would be far more practical to be having classes on basic financial literacy than it is about trigonometry. I know I need the Pythagorean Theorem. But if I can understand a little bit about investing, that’s going to be far more practical in my life.

29:52 Cathy:

Well, maybe engineer types would disagree with you, but…

29:57 Joy:

The engineer would probably push back against that.

30:01 Cathy:

But I agree with you, I think we agree on a lot of things. So I’m so happy that we connected and were able to have this conversation, and I hope that you and I stay connected in the future. I know that we will. I wanted to just ask you a couple personal things. I read through your bio, and I’m amazed at how many places you have lived in your life. Fascinating. You’ve moved around a lot.

I know your husband’s in the military, or was, and that’s one of the reasons, right? And have you enjoyed it?

30:38 Joy:

Absolutely. There are lots of challenges that come with being a military family, but I knew what I was signing up for when I walked down the aisle. So I went in with eyes wide open. And as someone who likes predictability and a sense of control in my life, sometimes it’s difficult, really. The government gets to decide where I live as well.

31:08 Cathy:

That would be hard.

31:12 Joy:

And sometimes plans change at the last minute. So there’s a lack of predictability because of it. You know, I’ve gotten to live and work some incredible places. I spent several years in the UK, lots of time in DC. I’ve been in Princeton. I was raised in the Midwest, and now I’m here in this horrible place outside Napa, California. I feel so honored and privileged to have had many of the experiences I’ve been afforded because of how I’ve gotten to see the world. And I think our world opens up. And our ability to connect with people deepens when we form real relationships with people who have very different lived experiences than we do. So that’s something I’m so grateful for.

32:15 Cathy:

That’s wonderful. And do you see most of your clients via video? Have you always done that? Or did you do personal face-to-face?

32:26 Joy:

So, right now I have a telemedicine practice, and my consulting practice is all online. I’ve done work as a staff psychologist and consultant for the Department of Defense. I did some of that here while we’ve been in California. I worked with a group practice, a lot of private practices while I was in Arlington. I worked with Penn Medicine, Princeton Health up in Princeton for a while. I worked in inpatient and residential treatment settings while I was in the UK. So I’ve had the honor and privilege of working with lots of people in lots of different settings.

33:07 Cathy:

Fantastic. So if someone wanted to get a hold of you, can you tell us how that would happen?

33:14 Joy:

Absolutely. So there are a few places you can find me. So my website is my name: joylere.com. I also love writing, words are like oxygen for me. So I also put some of my thoughts on Substack. I have a newsletter for them: Freud and Finance (joylere.substack.com). I also hang out on Twitter and Instagram. My handles are the same, @joylerepsyd. So it’s my name and my degree. And also I’m on LinkedIn @joylerepsyd.

33:58 Cathy:

Excellent. Thank you so much for your time, Joy. I really enjoyed our conversation.

34:01 Joy:

You, too. Thank you for sharing your mic with me Cathy.

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S3 E1 Transcript: What Every Woman Needs To Know About Long-Term Care Insurance

Welcome to the Financial Finesse Podcast, where we’ll be discussing tips on how to handle your money and life with skill and style. Your host, Cathy Curtis, CFP® has been helping make finance accessible and intriguing for women for almost 20 years. You’ll get savvy, actionable ideas, listening to her conversations with some of the coolest and smartest women on the planet. And now, here’s your host, Cathy Curtis.

00:53 Cathy Curtis:

Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis, host of the Financial Finesse Podcast, and also founder of Curtis Financial Planning, a financial advisory firm that partners with women to manage their financial lives.

Today, I’m looking forward to talking with one of my favorite people in the industry, Liz Eshleman, who is an independent long-term care specialist. Not only does she know her stuff when it comes to long-term care insurance, she’s also a delightful upbeat personality.

Maybe that comes partially from her background as a singer and performer. She spent 16 years at Mills College in Oakland, teaching music theory and and teaching voice education. And she even started an advanced vocal ensemble program at Mills. She’s been an educator for 30 years, which really helps her in educating people about long-term care, which can be very complicated.

So how Liz and I work together, I’m a financial planner. And I work with my clients to build comprehensive financial plans. A very, very important aspect of financial planning is the fact that you’re going to live a long time, and that you need to save your money for your retirement years. And what happens when we get older, is we need more medical care. And a large percentage of us are going to need long-term care of some kind. In fact, about 70% of people will need some kind of long-term care.

And that is what I call a risk in a plan. Do you have enough money saved to handle that long-term care issue and cost. So that’s why I partner with long-term care specialists like Liz when I see a need with my clients that they might need to have that extra long-term care insurance policy to help them out. So Liz and I are partners in that. And I trust her completely to take care of my clients and educate them about only what they need. She never sells more than someone needs. And she is a really great consultant.

So then on long-term care, I want to add one more thing. It’s sort of a women’s issue, because as we all know, women live longer than men. 64% of Americans with Alzheimer’s are women. And the statistics of the number of women in nursing homes are also huge. 68% of people in long stay and nursing facilities are women. And in addition, women end up being the caretakers if their husband needs long-term care. So this ends up being a really big issue for women.

So I’d like to get into the weeds with you, we’re gonna try and keep it as easy to understand as possible, because long-term care can be complicated. And one issue that always comes up is the issue of eligibility for the insurance. And that’s why I want to start with that. There’s nothing more disappointing than somebody decides that they want to buy a long-term care policy, they’re willing to learn about it and make the commitment to buy. They talk to an agent and they find out they aren’t eligible for whatever reason, like medications they take for a condition they have had.

And Liz is really expert in how these insurance companies view people and their medical conditions. And the first step is she has a conversation with you to screen and figure out whether you will be eligible and if not, how she can counsel and coach you to become eligible. So I’m going to start talking and I’m going to let Liz take over on this eligibility issue.

04:57 Liz Eshleman:

Great. Thanks, Cathy. And thanks very much for having me today, it’s a pleasure always to work with you, and happy to help your clients in any way I can. This issue of eligibility is thorny, because people don’t realize that, in fact, some of my most healthy clients overall, for instance, my athletes, clients who are runners or skiers, even swimmers, if they have an issue, for instance, a chronic tennis elbow or a bad shoulder from swimming, or, you know, any kind of what’s construed as a mobility issue, they’re not insurable. So I’ve got really healthy clients, who for a time, if it’s not chronic and ongoing, can’t get coverage.

Now, what do I mean by chronic and ongoing? Well, just what it sounds like, if it’s a short-term issue, they’re in physical therapy for three months or six months, I’ll be able to help them after they’re done with their physical therapy. But there’s a waiting period. And if the problem doesn’t go away, which is often the case with a back problem, you know, or a knee problem. I mean, and if surgery is indicated, forget it. They’re not going to be able to get this coverage, perhaps at all.

06:21 Cathy Curtis:

Let’s say someone has a knee injury from a ski accident. And it keeps bothering them, it and they they’ve gotten an X rayed and MRI. And it’s not something that can be operated on, but they need to do PT, so they get referred to the PT person, and they start going and with that kind of thing be considered non eligible. And you would say, go through the physical therapy, come back to me in six months when you finished it. And then we could talk.

06:54 Liz Eshleman:

Yeah, and in fact, not just when you finish, but wait three months, because the company won’t cover you until they’ve seen that you’ve been off of physical therapy for at least three months. Every company’s underwriting guideline is a little different. But pretty much across the board, this issue of mobility is a concern, because they see that turning into the need for long-term care down the road.

07:15 Cathy Curtis:

Got it. Okay, talk about what conditions are absolutely not, cannot be covered by long-term care if you’ve got a condition like diabetes or…

07:29 Liz Eshleman:

Right. Diabetes is possibly insurable, depending on the agency really. So, you know, I won’t go into too much detail about exactly, but let me give you an overview of some. Of course, this past year with COVID, we’ve seen that become an issue for people. Now, a diagnosis of being positive for the COVID-19 virus has created a waiting period, that companies are insisting that the client has to wait. And it’s different with every company again. But right now, that’s looking like it may actually turn into complete un-insurability if you had COVID.

Yeah, because they’re seeing cognitive problems with some folks. They’re seeing ongoing pulmonary issues to difficulty breathing. I mean, there’s so many unfortunate long-term implications from having had COVID that companies are very wary. So that’s the thing about underwriting and we’re seeing it this year, it can change when companies find out that things are more troubling than they thought, and in unexpected ways.

So yeah, for now, it’s discovered that the long-term effects of having COVID aren’t that great. It may be something that isn’t an issue anymore in eligibility. That’s not, it’s kind of fluid, right? It’s a very volatile situation right now with COVID. So I don’t mean to lead with that, except that it’s just, you know, what’s on our minds right now.

08:58 Cathy Curtis:

So topical, I’m glad you brought that up.

09:01 Liz Eshleman:

Some of the issues that create un-insurability will be, and these are ones that I, there’s many issues, but I chose these to speak to because I think they’re not always, we don’t always think that this could be a problem. Like unexpected weight loss. Maybe it’s not an issue, but maybe it is. Having more than four drinks a day is uninsurable. Back pain that requires narcotic medication, or it’s just a disabling back pain, uninsurable. Any chronic pain, as I was mentioning, is going to be an uninsurable condition, and that’s probably not going to change unless the person has some really unusual change, you know, change in their health, because usually, if something is disabling, it’s hard to get back up and running.

You know, if it’s a bad back pain, and folks are a little bit older, it’s not usually getting better. Frailty, a head injury. I had a client, unfortunately, recently, who had forgotten that she had. She had rented a car, and the guy was showing her how the trunk worked. And he slammed the trunk down on her head. Well, that’s a whole separate thing. But she’s now in trouble because the MRI showed something else, something else in her brain matter that indicates memory loss. So any MRI is really tricky territory.

10:28 Cathy Curtis

Let me interject sorry. So this is a good example. So when you have this initial phone call with a potential client, long-term care buyer, you will ask them all these things?

Liz Eshleman:

I do I tell people, per day, do you smoke? Do you have any chronic pain? Issues? Are you taking any…

Cathy Curtis:

And you ask about any medications? Depression, antidepressants, things like that?

10:57 Liz Eshleman:


10:58 Cathy Curtis:

Tell me about that. Because a lot of people take antidepressants for years to handle, you know, anxiety or whatever. How do the companies consider that?

11:08 Liz Eshleman:

That’s a great question. You know, it’s a little counterintuitive. They actually, the company underwriting departments, like what they call stability. So if a person has been on a medication for 10 or 15 years, the companies don’t view that as a negative. As long as there have been no hospitalizations for depression or no serious episodes. If it’s just the maintenance of well-being and the medication’s working, the companies actually like that, because they see that this potential issue for that person has been handled.

What they don’t like is a new diagnosis. So let’s say something happened, a person lost her spouse, and she fell into a depression. And she had to have medication that was increasing in dosage. They wouldn’t like that. Or she got on her feet, she was feeling better. Now she decreased her dosage. They also don’t like that. They don’t like volatility in a person’s health history. They want to see stability.

12:10 Cathy Curtis:

Okay. Okay, so you find these things out?

12:14 Liz Eshleman:

Yeah, I asked my clients, I tell them, you know, please bear with me, but I’m your advocate. And there, they tell you everything, open kimono, so to speak. And then you know, the insurance company. So you will say I think we can apply given what you’ve told me or you say, you know what, either you’re not going to be eligible at all, or this is a course of action I think you should take, wait six months. See if, you know, see if you’re off the medication, whatever. Or maybe in the case of a widow who just starts taking an antidepressant, if you’re on it for how many years before you come back.

And you know, it’s not that it’s not that difficult. For instance, usually a depression like that is situational, and does kind of abate over time. So as long as, even if they’re on the medication, that’s okay. But it has to be for a period of time, usually three to six months, at least, before the company will then take a look at whether or not they want to underwrite you.

13:17 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, got it. So this brings up a thought in my mind. I remember when I used to, when we first started to work together, I’d have a client and I’d say this person probably needs to buy some long-term care insurance. I don’t think their assets are going to last, or it could insure the assets they have, you know, there’s a couple of reasons to buy it. And I’ll call you and go, could you just give me an estimate of what you think it would cost for this person. You’d say, you know what, I really can’t give you an estimate. There are so many factors that come into play, I really need to talk with the person to find out about their health history. And now, I understand why. Because it’s like you’re the gatekeeper, to figure out whether someone will be eligible or not, and to help them.

14:01 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, and I never want to give a person a false indication of whether or not they can get coverage. If I don’t have the, if I don’t know about their health history, I really don’t know. Not only whether they could get it, but if they can get it, what would be the proper rate to quote, because there’s different rates for this type of insurance, just as there are, you know, rates for life insurance. So, you know, it makes it sound like this is difficult to get, you know, it kind of is. Yeah, it’s kind of hard to get long term care insurance.

14:31 Cathy Curtis:

Exactly. That’s that. Okay. So that’s a good summary of the eligibility issue is it’s hard to get. It’s worth talking to a long-term care consultant to find out, but don’t be too disappointed if they’re, you know, there’s some roadblocks there or you might not be eligible. Okay, so we’re gonna move into the types of products that are out there because this industry is ever evolving, as a lot of industries are, as they figure out what’s profitable and what’s not. Particularly in the last would you say, five years, there’s been a lot of change in the types of products out there.

15:14 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, I would say that traditional long-term care insurance began in the 1970s. And it’s just like every other insurance product we buy to protect, you know, a car, an automobile accident or a hospitalization. Or you know, a fire in a home, we buy this kind of insurance where, if something happens, the claim is covered. But we never get a return of that premium, we just had that risk covered, we had transferred that risk onto the shoulders of the insurance company.

That’s what we call pure insurance. And traditional. That’s the model. And I’ll go into more detail about that momentarily. The other model that has become very attractive, especially to my clients of high net worth, is the hybrid, where in fact, you’re not just really covering that long-term care risk. With that pure insurance, you actually are doing a couple of other things, you’re buying life insurance, whether or not you want life insurance isn’t really the point. By buying the life insurance with this product, that’s called a hybrid, then you’re locking in your rate. With additional insurance, your premium could change as it does with car insurance, with health insurance, it usually goes up. That could happen with the traditional insurance product. With the hybrid, the rates are guaranteed. That’s one major difference.

The other thing that’s very different with a hybrid is if you wanted to, you could pay it off, in a lump sum, or over 10 years or 20 years, there’s more flexibility with the payment options. With the traditional coverage you pay ongoing every year until you’re on claim, meaning you need the benefits, then you’re done paying. So that with the traditional leaves a question about how many years am I gonna pay. The other thing, of course, is that if you never need long-term care, the money you put into a hybrid would return to your estate to pay to a beneficiary as a death benefit. You can also get money back if you decide, you know what, I don’t want to play this long-term care insurance game anymore, you can get a return of premium with the hybrid.

18:00 Liz Eshleman:

Yeah. And one more very significant fact is that with the hybrid, there’s one company that offers what we call unlimited meaning, you know, heaven forbid, you have Alzheimer’s, and it lasts 10 or 15 years, this hybrid coverage would continue to pay benefits, as long as you needed to receive those benefits.

18:24 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, you’re bringing up a good point about the average amount of time most people will spend with a severe long-term care need, or let’s say, in a nursing home. And yeah, what I’m reading is for, oh, by the way, there’s a great study that Morningstar puts out every year or the last couple of years, about long-term care statistics. And I’ve pulled some stats from that. And for women, the average is 3.7 years in a nursing home. And for men, it’s 2.2.

So right, so I like to know about those numbers, because that tells me as a financial advisor, if a client doesn’t have the resources to buy more insurance, like these unlimited policies, which you want an unlimited policy, but they’re expensive. So if you could at least get the average amount of years, you’re getting help to cover the cost. You know, you don’t have to have it fully covered, you’re getting help for it.

19:25 Liz Eshleman:

Absolutely. And as I like to say to families or to my single clients, you don’t have to crisis manage on day one. If you have a long-term care event, and you have a two-year plan, there’s two years where your family, your friends, your loved ones are helping figure out if your need will be more ongoing, longer than two years. They’re helping figure out, how are we going to pay for that, you know, whatever it will be, and you weigh in on that if you’re available to do so. Right? But people sometimes think, well, if I can’t get unlimited, why would I buy this at all, which I think is missing the point of the stress of trying to navigate a long-term care event with no plan in place.

20:15 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah, I agree. Also, the mechanism of when you initiate a claim of using the money is something that a lot of people don’t understand. They think it’s a daily benefit, which it is, but then there’s actually a maximum in most cases. Could you explain that? And do it based on the traditional long-term care where you’re paying every month for so many years?

20:41 Liz Eshleman:

Okay, sure. So let’s say your daily is $150. So, I’m going to speak to it from two directions. And I hope this is helpful in answering the question. If you need to spend more than $150 a day, then you have to come up with that additional amount from assets. But if you need to spend less than that daily amount, because maybe you only need a little bit of home care, and it’s only $100 a day, then the amount that you purchased will roll over. And so your daily is, it’s a maximum. You can’t get more out of your policy than the daily that you structured when you bought the coverage. Is that helpful? Is that what you wanted to know?

21:32 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah, but then most people are also purchasing, let’s say they can afford three years of coverage. So it becomes $175,000. In total, once they’ve reached that $175,000, it’s the pot, you don’t have any more money. So it’s a daily maximum, but it’s also a bucket of money that is finite.

22:01 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, that’s right. And, you know, maybe it would be helpful to actually talk about a particular plan for a minute. To illustrate what you’re getting at. Okay, so I structured a plan with a company. It’s Mutual of Omaha, right now their pricing is terrific in California. They’ve upped their prices around the country, but California, they still have, I think a more affordable plan. And I structured it to be a $200 a day benefit. So that $6,000 a month, that will more than cover homecare, that will perhaps cover almost all of assisted living. And I structured it to last two years, to our point about something’s better than nothing.

So the bucket of money is $150,000. Now $6,000 monthly benefit, bucket of money, $150,000 is terrific today. In 20 or 30 years, it won’t buy as much. So we need to add an inflation factor, right. So this benefit will increase. I don’t want to get too much in the weeds. But just to know that if a 55-year-old woman buys this policy today, she can count on it for her money to have doubled. Her $6,000 monthly benefit will be $12,000 monthly benefit, her $150,000 pot of money will be $300,000. It may last longer than two years. The two years is not a factor we should focus on. It’s just a factor in an equation. We multiply the monthly by the two years and we get the bucket. As long as there’s money in the bucket, you’re good to go.

23:47 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah. Okay. And so going back to my earlier point, if so, you’re saying that would be $6,000 a month, right? You’re buying $6,000 a month? If the costs are higher than that you pay those out of pocket? Correct?

Liz Eshleman:

Yeah. Okay. But it’s likely, I don’t know, California can be expensive. And it also depends on the facility. You can pick a premium facility and you’re fine with that. You go, okay, my long-term care insurance is gonna cover this much of the cost. And then I’m gonna pay the rest out of pocket because I want a nicer facility. And that’s perfectly fine. At least you don’t have to raid your retirement income at the rate of in current dollars, $72,000 a year, that’s not hemorrhaging out of your retirement.

24:30 Cathy Curtis:

Right. Exactly.

24:32 Liz Eshleman:

This plan that we just discussed for a 55-year-old woman is $275 bucks a month. Yeah. Which really, if you think about you get $6,000 a month for $275 a month and the $6,000 is growing. I think it’s a pretty good deal right now.

24:48 Cathy Curtis:

Yeah, you just have to understand that that may not cover all your costs.

24:54 Liz Eshleman:

That’s right. And that’s something that we look at when I talk with my clients. We go into detail about, I pull up a cost of care survey that we look at together to look at the current costs of care if they’re in San Francisco, or if they’re up in Sacramento, or if they’re, and I work with folks all over the state. So sometimes, I just finished helping a client up in Clearlake, much less expensive up there to receive care. So we look at that and figure out where do you want to go? Where do you think you’ll be? And if it’s an area, of course, it’s going to be some of the most expensive care, but $6,000 a month will help greatly even if you have to supplement.

25:34 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, and so this example you’re giving, I take it that this 55-year-old woman is getting the best rates. And so that means that she has really good health.

25:44 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, if she didn’t have terrific health, if she was on a blood pressure medication, let’s say, instead of $275 a month, it would be $325 a month.

25:54 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, got it. So you’re quoting the best case scenario with that first quote. Okay. Now, that makes complete sense. Okay, I want to talk about some of the other benefits. And we should probably talk a little bit about why you might not want to buy a policy so you know, so that people can have both sides.

You’ve often spoken to me about the benefit of having a care manager, right? Can you describe how that works? And do all the insurance companies offer that?

26:29 Liz Eshleman:

That is such a good question. Depending on the company, it might be a consultation on an 800-phone number. But with Mutual of Omaha, it’s an actual licensed health care professional, who will meet with the client, his or her family, and figure out a plan of care based on their needs. They don’t work for the company, because there’d be a conflict of interest, right. The company would want to keep it low, or, you know, assess the person as not needing as much care. So it’s a third party.

But I do think it’s so important, because even people who have really a terrific retirement portfolio, very well to do, if they don’t have someone help them access their money and help them figure out how they’re going to spend without selling what stock or liquidating what asset. See the care coordinator functions almost at the person, you don’t have to do that asset depletion. And now she or he is going to help advise which agency is a terrific agency, or which facility has a bed. When my mom needed care, I was running around trying to figure out what facility would be able to accept my mom. Oh, and I had to do all that research.

27:44 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, so when you choose a company, you’re thinking about that for the client? Do they offer that?

27:52 Liz Eshleman:

Absolutely. And I talk about that at length, because it’s not just a bucket of money you’re buying. You’re buying an infrastructure, so that you actually have care that can be managed by this care coordinator. And let’s say you don’t like your caregiver. You went through a particular agency, the person there’s a personality problem, or you don’t like the way the companies run the agency. You call the care coordinator, you say, I need a different agency entirely. No problem. That becomes what that care coordinator puts in place for you. So I cannot stress enough Cathy, how stressful that can be when your parent is failing, or when you yourself are failing. You don’t want to have to wonder, how am I going to get care?

28:41 Cathy Curtis:

Let me just bring up something else. And because there’s a lot of good, there’s a lot of myths about, oh, I’m not gonna buy long-term care, because when I need it, they’re gonna say you don’t qualify. So did you know what that whole thing? Does that person help you navigate that?

29:02 Liz Eshleman:


29:03 Cathy Curtis:

Let’s talk about, well, a lot of people know this. But when do you qualify? You buy your policy, you’re 80 years old. All of a sudden you’re not well, and you can’t take care of yourself. So when would you go, maybe I should initiate a claim. Go through that. And does that consultant help with that?

29:28 Liz Eshleman:

Yes. Okay. So I will give you a real case scenario from my last six months helping a client. And I think you’ll be surprised at the profile of that client. But let me speak more broadly first, that I believe a person who feels in any way frail, they’re just a little unsteady on their feet, or they have bad arthritis. It’s hard to button the buttons on a sweater. It’s worth calling the claims department. You call the company and they’ll put you in touch with this care coordinator, who will then talk with you. And more likely than not, people, especially if it’s a couple where the spouse that might be a little more robust is helping the frailer spouse, they don’t realize over time that that frail spouse could have been on claim.

So that’s why you want to call the claims department immediately and open a claim. There’s no harm, you don’t have to take the money, but at least you get the assessment. And the care coordinator is talking with the doctor, your doctor, accessing records so that they can see, has there been a deterioration in their memory? Or has there been, you know, a risk of falling in the tub because they’re just not steady on their feet? The care coordination is not so much to bar you from receiving benefits with the companies I represent. Really this care coordinator is to help you access the benefits, right.

And I would like to give you the case scenario, a 55-year-old woman this year, you know, trying to get out and get some exercise during our lockdown, took a bike ride up on Grizzly peak in Berkeley. She wasn’t even up there yet. She was just getting out of her driveway. And she fell. And you know, the way she fell and the way the bike and she interacted, she really badly mangled her knee. And she’s 55 so I think that is very young, that’s younger than I am. And she was on claim for six months, because she had to have surgery. And she could not bathe herself. She needed help getting dressed, pulling on pants, it’s you know, when you can’t stand up, you can’t do very much at all. Her husband was trying to help her. He called me kind of in a panic. And I said slow down, Jim, you need to call the company. Well, they did, and the care coordinator worked with them to assess she needed help. And she went on claim. And it saved, I wouldn’t go so far as to say it saved her marriage, but I’m sure it helped a lot with frayed nerves.

32:23 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, couple of industry speak things. On claim means that she bought the insurance probably a few years ago. This was an incident that was covered under long-term care, they made a claim and they’re getting the insurance to cover it.

32:41 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, on claim just means now you’re receiving the benefits that you purchased when you bought your insurance. Now you’re accessing those benefits.

32:49 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, so another point is, and there’s a lot of misunderstandings here, is that long-term care insurance is just for old age care. And this is a perfect example of where it’s not just old age care. It’s also the rules, or tell us the rules about the things that you have, you can’t do, you know, just give us the basics about long-term care. So this is important.

33:13 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, it really is important. So the need for care has to last for 90 days or more. And the need for care is defined by needing help with two out of six activities of daily living (ADLs). And those six ADLs, the first two that tend to trigger a claim, meaning that the money you want to come in from that big bucket that you purchased is available to you. If you need help with two out of six, those first two that tend to trigger that and allow you to get your money are need for help with bathing and need for help with dressing. Not because you can’t wash yourself. Because you’re at risk of falling from, for instance, this client who hurt her knee, she couldn’t even take a shower. She had to do sponge baths.

I mean, okay, so bathing, dressing. The next two of six are toileting and transferring, which are somewhat similar in that they require the core muscles if you can’t stand up on and off the toilet. Or if you can’t get in and out of a chair or a couch or a bed. Because there’s just something where you can’t get that energy to get yourself to rise up. Usually that’s a paralysis or a frailty. Or you can stand up but now you’re dizzy and you could fall, you need that arm to lean on. That’s the need for help with transferring.

Okay, okay, and then the others are incontinence, if you have to wear a diaper, or eating, which is usually end stage if you need help actually feeding yourself, right? That’s not usually a typical first activity of daily living that you need help with. Okay, now one more thing, you could be quite robust physically. But if you, and so maybe all of your ADLs are fine, you can bathe yourself, you can dress but you have a severe cognitive impairment. In that case, you’re also eligible for the benefits, right? As long as the need lasts 90 days or more.

35:18 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, and I’ll just throw in a real-life example. My mother qualified because of mental impairment. She was, she stayed pretty physically robust. Okay, well into her 80s. But she was starting to forget things and she wasn’t taking her meds because she would forget. She wasn’t turning on the heat. The house was freezing. So that’s why she qualified.

Okay, good. So yeah, those are some of the basics. I’m really glad you went over that so well, so people know what triggers a claim. Doesn’t have to be when you’re old and are about to go into assisted living or nursing home. It can also be when you’re younger, and you have an accident.

36:06 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, this client of mine who had the bike accident, you know, was always at home.

Plus, shouldn’t we talk about the real reluctance people have now to actually go into facilities to receive care?

Yes, that is a huge deal. I mean, a large, large percentage of COVID deaths are still in nursing homes, or assisted living facilities, both patients and caregivers. I do know somebody who was going to move into an assisted living facility and pretty independent this year. And the main reason she doesn’t want to do it is because she may not be able to see her friends and family, because of restrictions. Now, I know that’s starting to lighten up with the vaccine, but there’s no way she wants to move in somewhere and not be able to see people.

36:59 Liz Eshleman:

And another thing to know is that typically, people who have long-term care insurance policies are receiving their benefits at home. I believe that only 12% are in nursing facilities. It’s between 7 and 12%. It’s a low percentage of people who have long-term care insurance policies who are in nursing facilities.

And the reason for that is because the families are not burning out, providing care at home without having that respite care that’s provided with a caregiver coming in. So if you have a plan in place, rather than the family immediately thinking, they are the caregivers, you know, you have money to buy caregiving from an agency. And you know what, you should just do that. That’s why you buy. That’s why we purchase long-term care insurance, is so that we save our families from the burden of having to provide care 24/7, potentially. So they can stay at home, they can still be with their loved ones, they don’t have to go to a facility. With my mom, in my own instance, mom had to go to a nursing facility because I couldn’t manage the care anymore. Because caregivers were quitting. And my doctor was worried about my health. That’s what happens with families providing care.

That kind of care is so hard. It almost has to be 24/7, because accidents happen. Yes, other people fall they break bones. And that’s so typical, that it’s almost a responsibility to get that care for your family.

Cathy Curtis:

That’s a really good point. And I’m wondering, I’m just curious, how many people buy long-term care insurance for their parents? Do you ever see that?

38:51 Liz Eshleman:

Yes, I do. I’ve had adult children purchase for a 75-year-old mom that they’re just worried about, that maybe their father just passed, and the mom is vulnerable and she’s fine, she can get coverage. But you know, they’re doing it so that in a way they protect themselves in this way. They want to be able to visit their mom, they want to be able to be with her, but they just don’t want to have to give up their entire life. Right? They might have young children. And that’s what happens in families is now you have to choose between caring for mom or going to your son’s soccer game. And it’s just a non-issue if you have a plan. It’s horrible. And it doesn’t have to be part of the equation at all if you have a plan.

39:42 Cathy Curtis:

Do most companies offer all home care, assisted living care, or any other type of care?

39:56 Liz Eshleman:

For instance, adult daycare, which is a place sometimes that folks with dementia will go during the day when a family member is going to work, that’s covered. Hospice is covered if you need it. So all the companies I represent cover every conceivable living situation in the United States, except you can’t take your caregiver on a cruise. I did have that question once.

40:29 Cathy Curtis:

Oh, that’s too bad. That would work, wouldn’t it? Okay, so we’ve talked about a lot of the benefits of it. Do you see, what are the downsides? I mean, I’ll bring up one. Of course, it’s not cheap insurance. And so affordability is an issue. And then the chance that you’ll pay premiums for all those years and never need it. Or you buy one of the hybrids where you put a huge chunk of money in and don’t ever need it. In that case, there are some ways to get your money back through insurance, or you’ve mentioned refunds. And I don’t know how often that happens where you don’t use it. Do you know?

41:19 Liz Eshleman:

I don’t have stats on that. You know, this is what I think about your question, Cathy. It’s a really good one. This is not for everyone. Long-term care insurance is only for people who want the peace of mind of not wondering what if, because to your point, it’s possible that you could pay a premium for 20 years or 30 years and never need care and die in your sleep at age 92. If that bothers a client, that they might never see a return on that investment in that plan, I tell them don’t buy this. This is for people who are worried and starting to think, I don’t know if I want to handle that risk.

So I always tell people, I don’t think there is a downside for the client for whom this is keeping them up at night, that they’re just not wanting that portfolio they’ve worked so hard to create, and those retirement savings, they don’t want them subject to this devastating risk. But there are some people, for instance, the very wealthy, they don’t need to purchase long-term care insurance. They can self-insure.

I do tell them, make sure you have a care coordination plan involved in your own estate management, right? If you don’t want your children saddled with it, make sure you get a very astute and much younger financial advisor. So if it’s a 70 year old, I have a guy, actually, he’s quite wealthy, and he’s buying a policy because he doesn’t want his kids to fight. But you know. But to not buy it is a completely legitimate choice. I just think it’s important to weigh why you’re not buying. And I think for most people, it’s just they don’t see themselves needing care.

43:08 Cathy Curtis:

Okay. A couple thoughts about the financial aspect. I want to clarify one term because I get asked about this a lot. Self-insure. Self-insured just means that you don’t buy insurance to cover all the costs, and whatever comes up with your long-term care needs, you pay yourself with your portfolio, or nest egg.

Okay, this is right on the same topic about the financials of buying long-term care and the way a financial planner looks at it. So I’ll do a financial plan for a client and one of the modules I look at is the need for long-term care. And what that really means is, if I think if they have a long-term care need, and I work with mostly women, so a need for expensive long-term care, can they afford it? And I’ll build that as a “what if” into their financial plan using my software tools. And if I see that, yes, they will, it’ll really negatively impact their plan, I start thinking about whether they could afford long-term care or not.

So that’s one aspect, the person who has you know, saved a good amount of money, but not enough maybe to cover a catastrophic expense of long-term care. That’s one example. The other example is a high-net-worth person who has plenty of savings, and when I put those numbers in the plan, and there’s a catastrophic health care need, they can pay for it and not run out of money. Okay, there’s that person, but they do spend a lot of their estate on long-term care. Maybe they have other ideas that they want to use there as well. For other than paying for long-term care, and that insurance and long-term care insurance policy can be a way to ensure that they don’t spend their estate down.

So I think that would be a need for someone of high net worth, who could probably afford to self-insure. And I think that’s a legitimate use of long-term care. And sometimes the numbers work out surprisingly well, especially with the hybrid policy. So the real sticky issue is the person who really needs long-term care insurance, but really can’t afford it. That unfortunate. And, you know, things change over time, maybe there will be more products that come out or more services that come out to help those people. But for right now, that’s, that’s kind of where it is.

And so I help people work through that affordability issue. And then the next step I advise on is to talk to someone like Liz, to find out about eligibility, get the quotes on cost, find out what it all covers. Then they come back to me, we go over it together. So you’ve got an advocate, you’ve got a long-term care consultant, and you’ve got a financial advisor that’s going to honestly tell you is this in your best interest or not to buy this long-term care policy. And, that’s how it goes on the financial end.

46:29 Liz Eshleman:

And Cathy, I think that to really underscore what you’ve said, as a long-term care consultant, you can tell I’m passionate about it, I believe in it. But I’m never going to say to a client that they should buy it. I’m only going to try to help them uncover whether they really feel they want and need it. And then you and I talk together about is it affordable, and you ultimately can weigh in on that for them.

So I just want your clients to know that it’s almost a fact-finding mission, right, as to whether or not this is appropriate for them, suitable for their finances, that they can afford it. And if they like what they see, I’m happy to help. But I never want to feel that. Even though I’m passionate about it. And I think it’s a really important topic to look at. I never want to feel that I’m pushing it on anyone, that it’s simply getting the information in their hands so they can decide what they want to do.

47:33 Cathy Curtis:

Exactly. Okay, so this has been so great. I hope we didn’t leave out any key information. Is there anything else you want to add about long-term care insurance?

47:50 Liz Eshleman:

I think we covered so much today. And honestly, if there’s something we didn’t cover, let’s revisit it. If your clients can call you, and then give them my number if they want to call me.

48:03 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, well, for the viewers who aren’t my client and listeners, tell us how a person could get a hold of you if they wanted to.

48:12 Liz Eshleman:

Well, I have a website. And I’m happy to receive a text or phone call, and all that info is on the website. And my email is liz@eshlemaninsurance.com.

48:51 Cathy Curtis:

Okay, great. And I will include that and your website in the show notes, as well as that Morningstar study, which I think is fascinating on the statistics about long-term care. And then Liz, if there’s any other brochure or any articles that you think are pertinent, I’ll add those to the show notes as well.

Okay, everyone, thank you so much. I think this will give you a really great primer on what long-term care insurance is about. Feel free to contact me at cathy@curtisfinancialplanning.com if you have any additional questions.

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S2 E3 Transcript: Estate Planning Must-Haves For Single Women


Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis. And this is Season Two, Episode Three of the Financial Finesse podcast. In this series, I’m talking about what keeps you up at night when it comes to your finances. And today, I’m going to discuss what estate planning documents every single woman needs.


This year has highlighted to all of us how precious and fragile life is, and also how important it is to have financial plans. Just as important as a financial plan for your life now is to have a plan for when you’re no longer here. This is called an estate plan.


If you don’t have an estate plan, the people you leave behind will have a much bigger job on their hands. First off, how will they know how to find all your different accounts,


who you want your things to go to, and things as simple as how do they get into your house? In addition, your assets, property and belongings that make up your estate may not go to who you want them to. Because if you die intestate, which means without a will, your state’s laws will designate beneficiaries for you in an order that you may or may not want.


Usually, first is children, then siblings, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, great uncles or aunts, nieces, nephews, cousins, etc.


If you don’t have any family at all, your property will go to the state. This doesn’t happen very often because the state will do all they can to find even distant relatives.


But the key point to remember is if you want a significant other, close friends, or charitable organizations as your beneficiaries instead of those before-named relatives, it won’t happen unless you execute a few documents. In addition, with no plan, the court will appoint an executor to manage your affairs after death. And this may not be a person you would have chosen.


So there’s two key documents that will transfer assets to your designated heirs—a will and a revocable trust, sometimes referred to as a living trust. I believe that everyone needs a will, while others will need both a will and a trust. You can do some things with the will that you can’t with the trust, such as name a guardian if you have minor children or forgive personal debts. A will can also have a pour-over provision so that things you forget to transfer to your trust will pour into the trust after your death.


In a will, you name your personal representative called an executor, who will manage all your financial affairs after your death.


So there’s two key differences between a will and a trust that may help you decide which is the right choice for you. One is that wills are always probated, meaning that a court of law is involved in supervising the transfer of your assets and payment of your debts and taxes. Revocable trusts, on the other hand, do not go through probate. The assets you have placed inside the trust while your living will go to who you want them to with the help of your successor trustee. This is another individual who you appoint. Probate takes time, requires many steps, and be and can be more expensive.


Secondly, the probate process is public, while trusts are private. If you have an interest in keeping your affairs, your estate content, and your inheritors private, a will isn’t your best option. Every legal will is made into a public record after it is accepted by the probate court. And this means that everything you own, pass on, and who you leave things to also becomes public record.


And if you have private sentiments or last wishes, these two will be made public.


As far as cost, wills are cheaper to get prepared, but trusts will save money later and make things much simpler for your chosen representative and heirs.


Okay, so hopefully, all of those points will help you to decide whether a will and/or a will and trust are best for you.


If you have a more complicated estate, many beneficiaries, you own a home, I would say a will and a trust are better for you. You may be able to get away with just a will if you have a much simpler situation.


Alright, so next I’m going to talk about assets that are not transferred by the will and trust. Not to complicate things, but there are several assets that are not transferred that way because you name a beneficiary, when you open the account, or you buy life insurance, or sometimes when you buy property. And the assets that aren’t transferred by will or trust are the following: life insurance proceeds, any asset or account that you hold in joint tenancy or tenancy by the entirety with somebody else. Like, let’s say you own a property with a friend in tenancy by the entirety, that’s already predetermined how it’s going to go after you die. All IRA accounts, your 401k or other company retirement accounts, funds in a pay-on-death bank account that you’ve set up, stocks held in a transfer-on-death account, or real estate or vehicles held with the transfer-on-death deed or title document. Just for example, you could go down to the DMV and add a transfer-on-death document to your vehicle. It’ll go to wherever you want it to after death, if they just present that certificate and their ID.


So, you need to coordinate all these things that aren’t transferred by will and trust with the things that are to make sure that your estate plan is how you want it.


So the most critical advice I can give for these assets I just mentioned, that aren’t transferred by will or trust, are to be sure and review your beneficiaries


at least every other year or when your life circumstances change. For example, there are many horror stories about ex-spouses getting assets that they weren’t meant to, because someone forgot to update the beneficiaries on these accounts after a divorce. So you want to make sure you look at those on a regular basis.


Okay, so the assets that do get transferred to your heirs by will or trust include just about everything else, your residence, second homes, other real estate that you own as a single person, business interests, bank accounts, investment accounts, stocks, personal property, pets, all these things transfer by will or trust.


In the will or trust, you’ll list who will receive each asset or the percentage of each asset. If you decide to create both the will and trust, your will can be very simple because most of the instructions will be in the trust. With your trust, you can dictate that your estate be distributed as soon as possible and closed out, or it can last for years if you decide you want to distribute your assets over time. This is where the term trust funders come in. Trust funders are people where trusts have been set up for them by parents or relatives, and they are able to get money out of them but not all at once. That’s what a trust fund is.


When you have a will created, you will need to appoint an executor. And when you have a trust created, you will need to appoint a successor trustee. This person can be the same person. And you could name more than one for each case, the will or the trust. In the case of wills, the executor takes over when you die. With a trust, if you aren’t able to take care of your own affairs, your successor trustee can take over while you are still living with your permission, and then manage your estate when you die. For example, I was the executor and successor trustee for my mother. And she was getting elderly and really didn’t feel like handling all her financial affairs anymore, paying her bills and managing her accounts. So she signed over


to me to be her successor trustee while she was living and then I was able to manage them while she was alive. And then when she died, I just continued to do that until I closed her estate.


I have found for many single people that trying to decide on who their executor and successor trustees are going to be, can be more difficult than a married couple or domestic partnership who just name each other, which is what most people do. So here’s some smart guidelines to follow when you’re trying to decide who these individuals will be.


It goes without saying, choose someone you trust. And you want someone who you know to be organized and detail-oriented because it’s a lot of paperwork. It’s helpful if they live near you, not completely necessary, but someone who lives in another state might have to travel to execute documents and things.


Try and think of someone who has the time to devote to the job because it can be time consuming.


And consider putting in writing in your will or trust that your executor or successor trustee can hire professional help if needed. It’s pretty much assumed that in a trust that they might need to hire professional help, but not necessarily in a will.


If you have a large, complicated estate with lots of beneficiaries, like I mentioned before, you may want to hire a corporate trustee, especially if you want to set up a trust account that your beneficiaries will get in future years.


So with less complicated estates, most people choose relatives or friends. But you can also find estate attorneys or accountants who are willing to do this job for hourly rates. There’s also professional trustees that are individuals with smaller firms. Hiring a professional trustee may be the way to go if you’re worried that your personal acquaintances or relatives won’t be up to the job, or you’re worried about conflicts of interest.


Both executors and successor trustees are bound to act as fiduciaries, which means they’re to carry out your wishes, and keep the beneficiary’s best interests in mind at all times, not theirs. But while the probate process pretty much supervises executors in handling the will portion, a successor trustee is not supervised. And so that’s something to keep in mind.


Revocable trusts are pretty much private affairs.


Another thing is, it’s really important to be kind and helpful to your chosen representatives, your executor and successor trustee, because it really is a big job, and you want to be organized and not leave them to have to figure out a lot of things. So here’s some tips on what you want to do once you get this all set up, is that you keep an updated list of your assets and debts including bank and investment accounts, insurance policies, real estate, everything, you let your executor know where your original will is in the asset list and how to access them or give them copies.


You let these people know the name and contact details of your attorney, attorneys, agents, financial advisors, etc. in case they need help.


Let them know your wishes for funeral or memorial service. Because yes, they do get involved in handling that, and give them copies of all your important documents.


Another question that many people have is, do you pay your executor and


successor trustee? And it becomes kind of complicated when these people are family members and also beneficiaries because a lot of people do appoint their beneficiaries as their representatives. Now, I feel like people should get paid because it’s a tough job. And it takes time, it’s a lot of responsibility. Some people who are beneficiaries decide not to take pay because they’re going to benefit from getting something from the estate. And also, these fees are taxable to the person receiving them. So the executor and successor trustee would have to report them on their tax return. But some people may want to get paid. So just to give you an idea, and I live in California, so the executor compensation is pretty much set by the state. And in California, under California’s probate code, the person is entitled to—it’s very complicated—but 4% of the first 100,000 of the estate’s value, so $4,000, 3% of the next 100, so that’s another $3,000, 2% of the next 800,000, 1% of the next 9 million, 5% of the next 15 million, and if the total value exceeds 50 million, the court decides on a reasonable amount.


So that’s just an example of what an executor could be paid.


Now, if you designate in your will that there should be no fees, which some people do, and it ends up that this job is exceptionally difficult or time consuming, the executor can request compensation for extraordinary services from the court. Because remember, wills go through probate, and they may be able to get some form of compensation, if it ends up that they’re taking a lot of time.


So that’s for the executor of your will. For the successor trustee, it kind of depends on what type of trustee. Corporate trustees are paid, usually on a percent of assets under management. And that could be 1-2% of the trust assets. So that’s if you have a complicated estate where the trust assets need to be managed over time and you don’t have a personal acquaintance or relative that you want to have to do that job.


Professional trustees that aren’t necessarily corporate trustees, they may be an individual or a small firm, usually charge by the hour, and that would really depend on where you live.


I read things like $100 an hour, but in California, I don’t know anyone that charges $100 an hour. So I think it would be a couple hundred or $300 an hour at least. And then there’s the private trustees, which are your relatives, friends that do it. And


I would say that unless they decide not to take a fee at all, they would take an hourly rate. And it’s really important that that person keep track of their hours and everything that they’re doing, because they have to do a complete reporting to the beneficiaries to show what work they did. So that’s, that’s how the fees work.


And again, like I said, I, I really believe, because I actually have administered three different family estates, people in my family, and I can tell you that it does take a lot of time, you need to be super organized, detail-oriented. And,


you know, time is valuable. So I would consider letting people know that it’s okay to take a fee. And also, if you’re worried about assigning one person, because they won’t be supervised anyway, you can appoint more than one successor trustee.


It does make it a little more difficult, because both people have to sign everything. So you have to keep that in mind. Also, keep in mind that a person does not have to accept this responsibility. So I would not just appoint them in your documents and not tell them. I would talk to them about it and find out if they want to do it. I would also appoint more than one, so you’d have a contingent person or even two contingent people in case the first person passes away or doesn’t want to do it. So this takes a lot of thinking. And I know sometimes it can make people not execute their documents. And I really want to, I want to just make it clear, do not let the choice of your executors or successor trustee stop you from getting these documents in place.


You could always appoint a professional or that could be the end result. If whoever you choose doesn’t want to do it, they can appoint a professional. And it’s just more important that you get these types of affairs in order. Okay. Then there’s two last documents that usually go in a group with an estate plan. And that is your healthcare proxy, or durable medical power of attorney. They’re both the same thing. So this document deals strictly with your healthcare decisions and medical treatments. And with your healthcare proxy document, you will appoint an agent to make healthcare decisions on your behalf if you’re incapable of making them on your own. So this is a while you’re living document. So again, this is someone that you trust and also that you’re really honest with about the specifics of your wishes. Then there’s one last document, it’s called the financial power of attorney. And while the medical power of attorney deals with healthcare, the financial power of attorney deals with your financial matters. This is when you are living. So your financial power of attorney document grants another individual the power to make financial decisions for you while you are alive but not


capable of handling things yourself. So if you get very ill, this, this would spring into power, this person would help you with your finances.


It’s if you get hospitalized or incapacitated in any way, they do things like manage your bank accounts, pay your bills.


And you can also designate a power of attorney that’s effective immediately or kicks in after a specific event like Alzheimer’s, mental disability, things like that.


You can, while you’re living if you don’t want to handle a certain financial matter, appoint a power of attorney,


let’s say for one transaction. This is not if you can’t do things yourself because you’re incapacitated, and this power of attorney ends at death. And that’s when your other representatives take over, your successor trustee or your executor.


So that’s a lot of complicated information. There were so many that I tried to consolidate it so that it was understandable. There’s lots of things to think about here. But the main point that I want to get across is that it’s really important to get these things done.


And all you have to do is think about if this happened to you, if a friend or relative passed away, and they did not have an estate plan in place at all, it’d be so hard to know where to even begin. And the person is grieving already, and then to have to deal with this can be a real burden.

So I hope you found this podcast helpful. And again, if you want to hear more from me, please subscribe to my podcast on iTunes and other places where podcasts are housed. And also I’m on Twitter, and my Twitter handle is @CathyCurtis. And I have a Facebook business page called Women and Money. Thank you for listening.

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S2 E2 Transcript: Sticking To Your Investment Plan In Times Of Uncertainty


Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis, welcome to Season Two, Episode Two of the Financial Finesse podcast. In this season, I’m talking about what keeps you up at night. And as investments in the stock market are right up there when it comes to things that people worry about, I’m going to talk today about sticking with your investment plan during periods of uncertainty. And let’s face it, how much more uncertain can things get than they are right now.

There are two key money concepts that I’d like to get across to you today, that will hopefully give you greater peace of mind when it comes to investing. One is that you must invest a good portion of your savings in stocks, in order for it to grow, and last your lifetime. And second, how important it is to have a long-term view when it comes to investing.

Now I’m just going to take a brief moment and explain something, a couple of concepts that you’ll hear me talking about a lot. When I say stocks throughout this podcast, I don’t necessarily mean that you can go out and buy individual stocks, that that’s what you’re going to do. Investing in stocks includes investing in mutual funds or exchange traded funds as well, both passive index funds and actively managed funds. And when I say the market, I’m using the S&P 500 as a proxy for the market. The S&P 500 is a stock index made up of 500 of the largest US companies. It’s as good a proxy as any for the US economy and for the concepts that I am explaining to you today.

All right. So in order to accept these concepts, that you must invest a good portion of your savings in stocks, and how important it is to have a long-term view when you do, you have to understand and embrace the fact that investing in the stock market is risky with the capital or the way you know stocks are risky is by their volatility. Markets go up and down day by day, week by week, month by month. Sometimes they go down a lot. And for a longer period of time that is uncomfortable. But that’s a characteristic of stocks. And it’s what we must endure to get the higher returns that stocks reward us with over longer periods of time.

So just to visualize this contrast, investing in stocks to investing your money in a CD, a CD’s value doesn’t fluctuate, you buy it knowing you’re going to get a certain amount of interest. But currently, you’ll get less than 1% invested in a CD with no upside potential. So for example, if you invested $10,000 in a CD, today, at 1%, in 10 years, you’d have a little over $11,000 in 20 years, you’d have a little over $12,000. Contrast to investing in the stock market, with the average 8% return in 10 years, you’d have over $21,000, and in 20 years, you’d have over $46,000. This is a perfect example of the power of compounding interest, and why the higher return you can get from the stock market compounds exponentially over time.

The greater return on stocks is particularly important when you take into account inflation. Inflation means that your living expenses go up year after year, and they’ll definitely be higher in retirement. If you are earning 1% on a CD and inflation is 2%. It won’t be long before inflation as eroded the spending power of the money in that CD. In contrast, if you can earn a higher return on stocks, it will outpace inflation, and keep your spending power intact for your retirement years when you are no longer earning an income or a salary.

When you pay too much attention to the volatility of the market, it’s really easy to get scared and want to sell out to feel safe. This is a mistake because it is too hard to know when to get back into the market. While you are trying to decide you will most likely, proven by many, many studies, miss out on the very best days and hurt your long-term returns. Many people, maybe even you, got scared out of the market in 2008 in the depths of the global recession, and you may or may not have gotten back in. Yes, it took longer than past recessions for markets to fully recover. But by 2013 you would have been back to where you were and probably better off if you had rebalanced your portfolio when the markets dropped.


According to Goldman Sachs, the 10-year annualized return between 2009 and 2019 was 15%–higher than the normal and one of the highest 10-year returns since 1880. The typical 10-year return since 1880 is 9%. But again, it wasn’t always smooth sailing in that 10-year 2009 to 2019 period. If you recall, at the end of 2018, there was a scary market crash of about 20%. But that has recovered quickly as well.

Let’s just look at this year as an example, when COVID was spreading quickly to the US in February, investors panicked, and their widespread selling of stocks caused the S&P 500 to go down 34%. Since March 26, however, the index has completely recovered and more.

If you were one of the people that panicked and sold, then watched the market go up, up, up, since then, you’re probably thinking, well, now it’s overvalued, so I’m going to sit out longer. This isn’t the way to run a sound investment plan.

So how do you stick with your investment plan in times of great uncertainty? Well, the first step is to believe in your plan from the start. So let’s take the steps. To make a long-term plan, it’s important to write down the kind of lifestyle you want for the future, along with what expectations you have for the next 30 years. Because that’s really why you invest your money, to make sure that you have it when you need it after you retire. And you no longer are able to earn a salary income, your portfolio becomes your source of income along with social security or if you’re lucky, a pension. So you’re making a plan to get there. And I have to say that most people I know don’t want to reduce their lifestyle in retirement. And investing is one way to ensure that you don’t have to.

Secondly, you’re going to implement the plan, which a big part of this is determining the amount of risk you need to reach your goals and invest accordingly. For most people, this means a majority of their money should be invested in stocks. But whether it’s 60%, 70%, 80%, 90%, you need to stay with it and rebalance periodically and ignore the short-term volatility.

Lastly, you need to stick with it. No matter what, stay with your plan. Unless something drastically changes with the United States or global economic systems, history should be a comfort to you.

Now I’m going to talk about why sticking with an investment plan is so important for women in particular. Unfortunately, the statistics show that women are more likely to have a savings shortfall than men in retirement. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that women get paid less than men for the same work, and that women are more likely to be in and out of the workplace because of family care needs. Therefore, they can’t save as much as men over their lifetimes. Until these realities change, in order for women to close the savings gap, they need to have a plan, stay with the plan even in times of great uncertainty, save and invest more than you think you need, and get over the fear of investing.

Thank you for listening. Again. If you’d like to hear more from me, follow me on Twitter: @CathyCurtis, or on Facebook. I have a business page called Women and Money.

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S2 E1 Transcript: Will the Upcoming Presidential Election Impact Your Investments?

Welcome to season two of the Financial Finesse podcast. I’m Cathy Curtis, founder of Curtis Financial Planning, and a CFP®, focusing on the finances of female clients. I’m calling the second season, “What keeps you up at night?” Because let’s face it, there are a lot of things that keep us up at night lately. We’ve got rising COVID cases, an extremely contentious election, and just general uncertainty about what the future holds. Since the presidential election is right around the corner, I get a lot of questions from clients about what I think will happen to the stock market if the Democrats or Republicans prevail. So I thought I would start talking about that, for this first episode of the season.

To give a little perspective, the stock market has not done so badly considering the events of the year. The S&P 500, representing the 500 largest companies in the US, is up almost 8%. Now granted, this is largely due to the large mega cap tech stocks such as Facebook, Google, Apple, and Amazon. But many of us own those stocks in the mutual funds that we hold either in our 401Ks or other accounts. Smaller size US companies, as represented by the Russell 2000 index, are down about 2%. International stocks, as represented by the EAFE index are down about 7%. And emerging market stocks are up almost 2%.

So let’s go back to this question, do markets perform better under a Democratic or Republican administration? Well, yes, presidents do have a lot of power, but they really don’t control the stock market. Maybe to some extent they do because of the policies that are put in place during their administrations. But with all the factors affecting the staggeringly complex markets and the overall economy, presidencies don’t matter as much as they seem to during campaign season such as we are in right now, where you can’t get away from the election news.

The truth is that an argument could be made either way for each candidate. For instance, the consensus thought is that corporate taxes will rise if Biden wins, presumably bad for stocks. He would also most likely tighten federal regulations on auto emissions and the environment. Good news for alternative energy and electric car companies, not so good if you own shares of let’s say Exxon Mobil.

However, Trump’s environmental policies have been favorable to Exxon Mobil. Yet the company stock has been one of the worst performers of the year. If Trump wins, he will probably move further in lightening up the tax and regulatory burdens on corporations, helping stock prices.

On the other hand, Biden’s policies would boost the economy by improving public health, increasing American trade and engaging infrastructure spending that could give the economy a much needed boost and a chance to expand.

The fact is that stocks have risen and fallen under both Democratic and Republican presidents. And more often than not, they rise. Instead of focusing on the short term, which is the election, a much more important lesson from history is simply time in the market, not timing political cycles.

It still holds true that no matter the ups and downs, from 1929 to 2019, the largest US companies have generated annualized returns of about 10%. No doubt the volatility will remain high through the election season, and maybe after if the results are close. In this case, keep in mind a key concept of investing. volatility is just a characteristic of stocks. It doesn’t imply the direction of stocks. Volatility is the price we pay for the higher return stocks provide. And that most of us need to meet our goals. And it’s only temporary.

One common way to reduce anxiety in most areas of life is to stay in the moment. The exception to this I would argue is when thinking about the stock market. It really pays to take the long view and ignore the moment-by-moment activity.

Thank you for listening. And please stay tuned for my next episode of what keeps you up at night, which will be posted two weeks from tomorrow, Tuesday, October 20. And if you have any questions, please be sure and let me know via my email, cathy@curtisfinancialplanning.com, or on Twitter, @CathyCurtis, or on my Facebook business page, Women and Money. I’d love to hear from you and what’s keeping you up at night. Bye for now.

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Episode 7 Transcript: The Challenge Of Running A Small Retail Business During COVID


Welcome to episode number seven of the Financial Finesse podcast. I’m Cathy Curtis, your host and a financial advisor who specializes in the finances of independent women based in Oakland, California.


Today, I’m interviewing three women who own retail businesses in Oakland. I wanted to discover what their experience was like running a business during the pandemic.


Joyce Gardner owns Fit clothing boutique, Johnelle Mancha owns Mignonne Decor, and Andrea Serrahn owns Serrahna Boutique. All of these stores are based in the Rock Ridge neighborhood in Oakland, which is a thriving commercial district. I hope you enjoy our discussion. Hi, ladies, thank you all for joining me on my podcast, Financial Finance. It’s really good to see all of you on YouTube. Great to see you too.


So thank you so much because you three represent successful small business, retail, retail business owners. And as we all know, things have gotten quite difficult since March with the pandemic, but also prior to that you had the onslaught of online shopping, right? So over the combined 18–how many years? So Johnelle, you’ve been in business 14 years with Mignonne Decor. Andrea, you’ve been with Serrahna for 18 years, and Joyce, you’ve been with Fit for 18 years. So very experienced, long-term retailers. And I know our audience is gonna love hearing from you and what you’re experiencing right now. So what, and so the two of you are fashion retailers, and one is home decor, and I think there’s probably


some differences between what’s happening with your businesses right now based on what you’re selling. Because you’re not all the same even selling clothing, you’re selling totally different types of clothing. And we’ll get into that.


And Andrea, I’m sorry, I called you Serrahna. That’s the name of your store.


So let’s start with Andrea, I want to ask you, you have a very unique business, selling clothing, that is Indian themed, you actually design your own clothes, you probably built up a great following, and you sell jewelry and all kinds of beautiful things. And what has happened with your business over the last few months? Well, like most retail businesses, we’ve all suffered a big hit. And a big change in terms of walk-in business. Everyone, you know, took cover and didn’t come out of hiding for a while. And then finally, when the city of Oakland and the mayor declared it safe, under the you know, protocols of safe


social distancing and masks, etc.


I started taking clients by appointment. But meanwhile, I still had clients who wanted to shop who love shopping who want to support me who still want to get dressed every day and wear color. So they’d reach out to me by email, phone text, and say, I need something, help, what do you have for me? And it was really nice to have that kind of connection. And I have been building up an online presence for some years now. I’m not wanting to go online, but here we are.


This is the moment right.


When stepped in my shop, they would recognize the abundance of inventory that I carry and the idea of going online is really daunting. However, I have used these moments of COVID and downtime to use models and do really low


passionate, sensual photoshoots and post those on Instagram and Facebook. And that’s been driving me a lot of business. That’s fantastic.


And all of that is going to all those images that I’ve been creating. I do about two or three shoots a week. So I’m getting about 25 to 30 images, different looks. That’s all feeding into this new website that I’m creating with the help of a designer. Okay, so you’ve thought about, you have not had a true online presence yet. You’re building up to it and then you’re going to do your website to actually sell off of it. Right I’ve had an online presence in terms of Instagram and Facebook. Yes, ecommerce aspect is going to be amplified with the new website. Yes. Okay. Good for you. Okay, we’re gonna get back into that more but I’m gonna go to Johnelle. So you do home decor and decorating. You go to people’s homes and help them decorate their homes and you


We also have a retail store that sells. So what I’ve been reading is actually your part of the business home decor is actually doing really well right now because people have to be at home so much. Have you felt that and seen that trend in your business? Yeah, I mean, I think just kind of like Andrea, you know, the first initial like, oh my gosh, your store has to be closed. It’s a little bit of a panic. And yes, you’re right, that people are sheltering in place and kind of thinking about their homes on bigger scales. And now we’re seeing like my interior design, I’m picking up. I’ve locked down some really fun projects. But yeah, definitely. It’s not like I would say that has just like replaced all of our foot traffic and everything. But yes, you’re absolutely right that people are, we are lucky that people are in their homes and reaching out to us for different projects and things like that. Yeah, right. Right. Good. And Joyce.


Can you lift up a little bit? There you go.


I know your shop well, because I’m a loyal customer of Joyce’s. And she’s been selling women’s fashion for a long, long time. And so Joyce, what has your experience been?


Ever since March, let’s say, well, the thing was, you know, the original edict for retail didn’t work for us– curbside delivery, which meant nothing because what does that mean? Yeah, you know, our women like to come in, touch and look at new things and try it on. You can’t try it on and have curbside delivery. It just didn’t. So we actually opened on June 19.


So people aren’t out shopping, but we work by appointment, which really helped because I call my good customers and they would come in


to grab new things, because I’m not very into, you know, doing a lot of online things because it doesn’t work for a personal business like what we do. We’ve been in the neighborhood 18 years. So we built up a good clientele. So I would call them or they would say, send me some pictures and I would send them pictures of the new things and I’d send it to them free shipping, get a free mask. So they were really happy with it. But the nature of retail has been going downhill anyway after the recession, and online shopping is continually, you know, wanting to come to see you. But see neighbors will fly because people aren’t going anywhere. They’re not venturing far. So they do want to support local people. Yeah, yes. Yeah. Yeah. So you brought up three different things. You brought up the recession, which I’m assuming you mean the 2007-2009 recession. Yes, yeah. And then Amazon or you know,


We’ll just call it Amazon.


business. And then now, the pandemic three whammies. Right. Johnelle and Andrea have you felt all three of those as well? You’ve all been in business through 2008.


I feel like you know, that’s just kind of going back to what it means to be a small business owner, especially when you’ve been open all these years. It’s like, when the whammies hit you, you channel that, like drive that first initiated the whole concept of opening your own business. It’s like, you have to depend on that. Right? And it’s not enough to get you through. I mean, I know you all probably have a real passion for what you’re doing.


But you also have to pay the bills. And you’ve been in business a long time. Has there ever been moments in those years where you’ve thought, oh my God, this I just can’t do this. No.


More. Joyce, do you want to


kick in? Well, we have a lot of sleepless nights. Let’s put it like


anxiety, what you got to have


you know, the reason why you are in business because you have a belief that, you know you can make this work. It’s not like most businesses have been making a ton of money. It’s not about that because you care about what you do. You do care about your customer. So there is this thing where we are and most of our customers are women, right? They’re not men. Because men don’t spend money, we know that so our consumers are woman, yes. And we do care about that they understand we have relationship with them, whether we’re dressing them for their body or their home. You know, we are trying to take care of them and that’s what I believe in, you know, and I do want them to feel better about themselves and feel good about being in their home. What they do because we have a lot of responsibilities. A lot of them are retired but they also are mothers.


Got husband you know they got things going on in their lives right now. Nothing’s going on. So to get them to buy something is a challenge. Have you shifted the things that you buy given that most people are at home in their companies? Yeah so you know the term they hated that was that sloppy chic? So I think women are ready to get out of stupid sweats and their yoga clothes. That’s enough. You know, we dress for ourselves, not because we have to go somewhere all the time. You know, because we do like to feel good. I mean, I still put makeup on I still get my you know, comb my hair, and men don’t give a shit. You know, they can be on zoom and look like hell. But we still care about how we live our face to the world. And our home now is spending a lot of time there. So I’m spending and doing a lot more projects with my house than I’ve ever done.


You know, to answer your question about, you know, would I ever consider? I think it’s just I think it goes back to the community and like what a small business brings. So we’ve been having an online presence for a long time and people can shop and, you know, obviously we’ve ramped that up, you know, as of late. It’s, um, but really like, what do you want your community to look like? Do you want empty storefronts? Do you want to walk in, you know, people who love walking, you know, on College Avenue and pick back up? So I think it’s also really important just as consumers, you know, there’s enough you can buy something on Amazon, but you can also enjoy a coffee and a stroll and is that ever something you’re not going to want to do in your life? Like, I don’t think so. You know, I mean, I still agree with you. I should have said earlier that all of you have your stores in a neighborhood in Oakland called Rock Ridge, which is a super popular neighborhood, great walking neighborhood. It’s so sad to me that there’s so many storefronts that are boarded


up in Rock Ridge and that’s not only because of COVID, there’s other reasons landlords and things like that.


And I if, if it happens, that small retail dies out, I’ll be the first one to cry because it really is something that local bookstores, local clothing stores, eateries, everything about at coffee shops, it’s such a pleasure and to see a mix of, of stores like when your store went in, Johnelle, I was so happy because it wasn’t another hair salon or nail salon. It was actually a great retail store that you could walk in and enjoy looking and maybe buying something. So then I mean not, yeah, go ahead. I mean, I just feel like you know, when people travel and they and you know, when you go like that’s kind of something we try to bring it in. It is like this artistic experience that you know, like Joyce said and Andrea, it’s like you go and there’s a little bit of a wonderland and you know, you’re selling things


that, you know, are special and artistic. And so I think people, how do we drive that connective? Like, yeah, the small, the small purchases for small business really add up, you know, be it a $50 purchase. Okay. So that’s interesting. That’s, that’s maybe a good point to bring up a little bit. It’s not, you’re not just looking for the big purchase or the big engagement. Someone that walks in and buys a vase is every bit as an important customer as someone that engages you for more traffic. Yeah, there you go. You know, the service. And


yeah, me too. Andrea, you want to? I agree with Johnelle’s point there like when I had my door open to the public more than I do now. The casual drop in person who was going next door to have dinner or had just come from across the street and had lunch. Oh, look at this cute shop.


I feel like I’m in India. Well, you kind of are. And look at these earrings. These are fabulous. And oh how cool and you work with the artisans and you design some of this. Oh my gosh. So there’s $50 and there’s, you know, 75 and there’s 35 and that does add up. That does add up and that helps a lot. A little goes a long way. And people always say, I’m going to be back because I’m going to get gifts here. And so they want a resource where they can just pop in and get an easy grab gift. So I’m going to loop back around to the whole thing of boarded up storefronts. Yeah, because I don’t know if it’s sadly but I do have a boarded up storefront. I chose to do that when the looting and the rioting broke out. I have a lot of inventory and a lot of precious things. And I was like, I am not gonna fall prey to this. There’s just no way. Insurance or whatever. I’m just not going to deal with this shenanigan


of all this so


my partner’s a contractor, he put up a rather elaborate boarding system and paint. We painted it nicely. And so now I have a bunch of people coming in buying those 35, 50, $75 gifts. But I have time to focus on my website and focus on the bigger picture the next level the next place. Yeah, and my regulars know I’m here, there, they’ll bypass the, you know, the green plywood and come in, they know I’m here. And they all say no, don’t take it down. Wait till after the election. Just wait. Oh, that’s interesting. Yeah, I get a lot of support on that. And I’m glad because I was having sleepless nights when I wasn’t protected. And now I’m doing fine. Yeah. But it does have a negative impact on drop in kind of business. So it’s a trade-off.


That’s very interesting. Um, so going back to the whole online question, um, Johnelle, do you do a lot of business? Do you do most your business online or mostly with walk in and in person? Well, I mean, there are different facets to our business, like you touched on, you know, part of it is the showroom come in, get a gift. And that was why we moved to College because the bustling foot traffic and wanting to be in a community where people could come in, so there’s that. Then I do interior design and custom work that all fall under the umbrella of the home and we have a separate location on Martin Luther King, where we have a carpentry workshop and do upholstery, and then I have my fabric room. So, you know, we’re kind of a very interesting business in the sense that like, you know, and part of that is the first recession, you know, I started as kind of a gift and home decor shop. And when the recession hit in ‘08 you know, I was just a couple years open and it was like, okay, well, what else do I like to


do, I’m an artist, I’m a painter. I started selling furniture and then that turned into a whole other facet. And so that’s kind of like what we’re talking about with online for, you know, some of the other retails and focusing on online and getting, you know, getting crafty and thinking about other ways to generate income. So, yeah, I mean, we’ve always sold things online for the past couple of years, pretty consistently, but not as much as we are now, with just the major push on our Instagram page and Facebook and telling people we’ll deliver it, we’re doing complimentary, I do complimentary deliveries, if someone buys something and lives in the neighborhood we’ll take it to their house.


So yeah, but as far as like the foot traffic that we were depending on prior to COVID, you know, that has been a challenge, you know, because, um, because we don’t have it and and having to market and try to like, you know, supplement that online. Yeah,


we’re working through it and we’re getting and like I said it’s for me more than just online. It’s been locking bigger interior design projects. Yeah. And those types of things, right. I know I feel for you because I know you just opened that shop two years ago now. And a year and a half and you have the perfect location right next-door to Trader Joe’s, right next to Bart. It’s on the walking strip. It’s great. And boom. Well, yeah, we open the last couple days. We’re busy, like I sold furniture yesterday. It’s like so for me, I’m just staying in the positive lane. I don’t even want to introduce. It’s like we have to all work together, you know, the community and everybody to kind of get through this. And I think that’s what finds comfort is like, it’s not just me against the world. It’s like everyone’s dealing with this, you know, in their own realm. So I’m not going anywhere. I love my storefront. I love my neighbors. I love it.


Grew up in Oakland and, and so we’ll get through it one way or another. Yeah, you know one thing I’m really noticing with all three of you is you’re all entrepreneurs and business ladies, but you’re also very creative.


Like you’re saying painter and you’ve thought of creative ways to keep your business going over the years. And Andrea, you make all, well, I don’t know all but you make a lot of your own things. And Joyce. I know how creative Joyce is in putting together windows and she’s got that artistic eye for building outfits and helping women put them together. So maybe that’s the secret sauce is, is that creativity that you’re passionate about and keeps you going? Even when the raw business may not be so good. You still want to keep going and you love what you’re doing. Andrea, do you want to? Oh, yeah, absolutely. Um, when COVID first hit, and we all had to hunker down. You know, like most people, I went into a short


or however long depression for a little while and I’m like, ah, this is no fun. Don’t feel sorry for yourself get out of it. So I figured out, okay, if people aren’t going to be coming out, I’ve got to nurture this, you know, turn lemons into lemonade and, and a friend of mine is going through some transitions and she needed some work. And I’m like, well, let me give you an opportunity to model, you’re gorgeous. You love my clothes, my clothes love you. And so I’ve really been embracing this as an opportunity to take the time, which I didn’t have before. Because I’m very busy dealing with the minutiae of every transaction, and holding people’s hands which I’m happy to do, and I like doing, I love having that connection with my community. But with this downturn of business, I’ve got time and I have no shortage of creativity. So


my online presence on Instagram and Facebook has really picked up and I’ve picked up quite a few followers in the last six months. So I’m happy to tell you, I’m a shopper. Okay, I love beautiful things. I love fashion. And I think Instagram is a fantastic way to sell. And like all the stores that are using models, it’s brilliant. I mean, it’s so fun to see the models and the clothes on a human. And then you’ll probably start using video to that igtv video is a great way to sell. I mean, it’s just such a great tool for online. Joyce I know you’re using Instagram to some degree. Not quite as much, but actually it’s pretty good because you know I try and post other things too like food because I like to eat you know, my dog, but then every time I do Instagram I get lots of people yeah, last my customers so we’ve been sold out on a lot of pieces that I posted. Who’s good on Instagram, so yeah, not very good.


I’ve always been trying to encourage Joyce to do more online, but you know what, so you can’t change people’s thought




you know, you got to use everything and every tool at your availability now you know, we’re trying to get through this so anything that helps even me, Joyce years ago like now, I’ve come full circle but years ago I was like I can’t do. I didn’t even like have, we were cash and cheque only like I didn’t want to. I’m like I’m an artist. I want this to feel like old school, you know, you walk into different world but, you know, I finally got over that hump. But what I did in the beginning was you know, I had someone who worked with me like, I would say, I want these types of pictures. Just take like 10 pictures and email them to me. So it was someone helping like to do the Instagram and now it’s fine. Right?


Yeah, you’re outsourcing.


Great thing for something that you don’t love to do. I’m a small business person too, by the way, so I, I mean, I’m not having the challenges you are I cannot because I don’t own a retail business. But I outsource a lot of things. I figure out what I love to do and what I don’t love to do and outsource, right? I mean, you can’t be good at everything. So that’s right. So I’m gonna get in the nitty gritty of finances. Not too personal questions about finances, so don’t worry, but there was the


Care Act passed. And there, there was the PPP loan and there’s also emergency assistance loan packages. And I’m wondering if all of you were able to take advantage of it either in the first or second round? And how that experience was for you. Joyce, do you want to start. Well, the first round went to all these big chains, which was stupid and wasn’t supposed to go to them, was supposed to go to small business people, not the Lakers, sorry, and not these big food chains. So the second round, we did get some money, but guess what, nobody thought Covid


would still be going on in August so all that money’s gone. Yeah. So yeah, it was only supposed to last two months that money you know for no business people. It’s tough. I mean, I have a second source because my husband helps me out. Yes, we know but he doesn’t feed money into my business. I have to figure it out every day. What are we going to do? How are we going to get business and stuff so we really just have to constantly you know, just come up with new ideas and keep it keep excited about the business. So now I’m seeing more people come out because they realize COVID is not going away. So you better come out once in a while. It’s okay. Yeah, you know, you’re doing the right things. So you got to have some sense of your normal life a little bit. So with you and so in your case, the PPP money was welcome, but it didn’t close the gap. Yeah. What about you, Johnelle. Um, yeah, I received the second round PPP loan but


You know, it’s also a sense of chaos, even without it. I mean, I was so grateful. And like Joyce said, you know, it was for short term. And it did provide, like a sense of, but it also comes with an additional To Do List of like, ah, get all of this, you know, to get it because the whole concept is like it can be forgiven and, you know, and then with a state of, you know, just the presidency and the uncertainty, like just so many I know, it doesn’t end with getting the money, it’s how do you divvy it out? And how do you get forgiveness and use like, for me, like, I have employees, so I didn’t let anyone go even during the beginning, you know, it’s like, everyone stayed on payroll, and that was like to get that PPP loan, you know, you had to make sure that no one went off, okay, like so there were all these contingencies that like were stressful to be spending and paying money when there was this big hole. But just like everything else, it’s like you find the gratefulness and that was something that helped.


For sure. And now we’re kind of, that moment of pause is over and like Joyce said, it’s like the world is opening back up and it’s like, okay, it doesn’t stop there. What’s the next creative thing? Like what you know, and I think it’s about contagious energy. We’ve been open now back to the public Thursday through Sunday. I was busy this weekend, and


we’re doing it in a safe way. But yeah, it is a start. I’m getting the feeling. Well, Andrea, you don’t know yet. Because you’re focusing on your online and keeping the door shut. But it sounds like for both of you, Joyce and Johnelle, that it feels like things are opening a little bit more. Yeah. I mean, it’s gonna take time. Yeah. And this week, Alameda County is letting you know, they opened up a little bit more, but I feel for the hair salons because they’re not allowed to be open. I mean, you know, we can open our doors they’re not allowed to be open and they,


what’s the source of income? Right, right. Andrea, what about you with the PPP? Did you find that helpful? I did. Um, my partner is very business oriented. So he was encouraging me and pushing me. I’m like, I gotta finish my taxes first before I can even apply so I had to get all that together


because the bureaucracy of it, the paperwork is just a little bit daunting when you’re trying to maintain your everyday kind of storefront if you will. Yeah, so but I did. I ended up getting both PPP and EIDL, the economic industry disaster loan, right. Here’s the low percentage loan which was pretty substantial. And I just put that away. Good. Are you not gonna use it? I have a year until it starts to me interest and you know, it’s a nice nest egg. If I need to use it. What is the interest rate? Three and a half percent.


Yeah, yeah, yeah. Did you all go through your bankers individually personally? Or did you go online and apply?


Thank you because you will have banker’s relationship with you back so, okay. Yeah, because I know you did too. And Johnelle you did too. You had someone help you through there and then my accountant is really good and she actually if anyone needs to get an accountant, my accountant Liz is all biz like she posted tons and tons of stuff. She’s based in San Francisco but she does like videos on her Instagram feed and she’s amazing. Yeah, that’s good to know because I’m a financial advisor and I get asked all the time do you know a good accountant? So thank you. Thank you for that. That’s really helpful. Well, I’m so glad to hear you all got PPP because I remember in that first round, I was so disappointed to hear that so many small businesses didn’t get it and then thankfully, they started


it up again and they kept it going for a while. I don’t even know if they gave away all the money or not in the end, which you know they did, it got used up right away the first round and not so much all the wrong people that’s why the first round. Yeah, well okay so we’re gonna end, this has been so interesting and I want to give each of you a chance, we’re gonna use this as a little marketing effort to just talk about your business and just give us a little overview because we haven’t done a lot of that yet. And Andrea, why don’t you start and how people can reach you. What your Instagram? What do you call it? Name? Sure, sure. My Instagram handle is the same as my business name which is Serrahna. Serrahna means to be a queen and anyone who walks in the door or comes to me online. I’ll make sure they feel like a queen


after I’m done with them and you can get all kinds of beautiful colorful pieces from me. I specialize in color. Indian textiles are just ramped up with so much color. So and I understand what makes color work on each and every person considering the skin tone, their hair, their eye color. So you won’t walk away looking like a clown you walk away looking like a piece of art, a beautiful piece of art. So I dressed women of all ages, colors, shapes, sizes. I used to dress women going to weddings, Indian weddings aren’t happening so much right now. But people who just like comfortable cotton, pure fibers, silks, cottons, and all worked with the hand. Beautiful, you know, minute little tie and dye embroidery stitches, hand crocheted, a lot of like just bespoke kind of garment tree and jewelry. So


I hope you’ll come and see my collection on both Facebook and Instagram. I’m about to launch my ecommerce website, serrahna.com I believe in September. Great, well you’re a walking advertisement. Thank you. You look beautiful. You really do. Thank you. So Johnelle,


yeah tell us about you. Well, Mignonne means young decor and when you walk into our showroom you’re kind of taken back and we have


our brand is really kind of encompassing old world charm and timeless, one of a kind pieces for the home to complement you know, modern living, you know, if you’re going to buy something new, every house should have in our opinion, a couple statement pieces that tell a story. So when you walk in, you can find a larger piece of antique furniture that’s been refinished or reupholstered knowing that we’ve taken the time to


rebuild and save a piece from


landfill and pick out new fabric. You can also come in and find a small gift, be it you know, like you said a vase to put a beautiful arrangement in or a one of a kind textile rugs. So just pretty much anything for the home. Um, we have another shop in France, my family, my mom lives out there in the southwest. And so I studied painting in college and traveled a bunch and I just was always enchanted with our seasonal people actually using their hands. So that is something that you will find when you come into our showroom. And you can also talk with us when you come in about our custom services. Like I said, if you have a piece that maybe your grandmother gave you and it has sentimental value, that’s something that we can help restore for you. And then we do full scale interior design services. So I have a huge network. My husband is a carpenter. He builds furniture.


So for our bigger projects, we can you know, build cabinetry or banquette sore, whatever, you know, custom furniture, I would, I would tell people to go to our website, which is just mignonnedecor.com. And there’s tons of information about all of our services and you can shop online and receive a quote by reaching out to us also on Instagram. Great. Thank you, Johnelle. Perfect, perfect. Okay, Miss Joyce? Yes.


So, I just came out of a partnership in 2000. And it was in Burlingame. And it was I figured, okay, after two years break, I was going to open my own store. And I always like Rock Ridge. There was something about Rock Ridge because it always had the dining but then we use the retail, there’s no retail and right there wasn’t a lot of retail. It was


Awkward Rags, which was consignment anyway, so I found a spot right next to them. And I always wanted to have a store that was accessible to women, everyday woman and Oakland was the perfect thing. Because I came at a high end designer in but you know women the adult care about wearing Dolce Gabbana, Prada. So they want really great design, but really good clothes that fits their lifestyle. That’s the name of the store, clothes to fit a modern lifestyle. And that is 18 years ago, I tagged that line. Now it’s close to fit a pandemic. So what are you going to do? So, but it’s always been about really taking care of women and seeing how they could look because a lot of women really do need help in how they dress because that’s not what they do for a living. We do this for a living. So our customers are lawyers, teachers, moms from all walks of life, except now you know, they’ve, my customers have aged


With me, so now a lot of them are retired or not doing as much. And they still need clothing, right? So what are they wearing? That’s the key. So going forward, now I have to figure out, you know, it’s beyond sweats and athleisure wear, but they still want good design and good quality. So it’s taking them to go and forward. I just bought spring 2021. I’m very optimistic, because who the heck knows what’s going to happen next year. But in the European market, yes, by way ahead. But I am very optimistic because, you know, I know women still love beautiful things for their home and for their bodies. And they still do care about how they look no matter what age and we do dress all ages that we really do. But our particular customer really has good, you know, discerning taste, so we started doing consignment too because they have too much clothes, and they haven’t worn most of this stuff. So we sell it for them and then they can get a credit to buy something


New in the store. So that’s also added another dimension to our business is the online presence. You know, I still do Instagram, but I still like the one on one, you know, interaction of dealing with women and just seeing what they need and dressing them and taking care of them. So hopefully, you know, they’ll stay with us till their 70s and 80s and 90s. So we’ll see what happens. So I love it, very optimistic about the future. So it’s good. That’s great. Joyce, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you to all of you. I I’m so inspired by you, and I, I’m optimistic too. I feel like things are gonna get better, please. And maybe they’ll get even better in November. Right.


Don’t watch the TV this week, is all the Republicans.


Okay, well, thank you. And I hope I see you in your store soon.

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Episode 6 Transcript: Social Media Therapy: Overcoming The Awkward and Vulnerable Feelings That Can Come With Posting


Welcome to episode number six of the Financial Finesse podcast. I’m Cathy Curtis, host of this podcast and owner of Curtis Financial Planning, a financial advisory firm specializing in the finances of independent women. My guest today is Courtney McQuaid. We are going to talk about social media. And specifically, those vulnerable feelings you get when you go to post something. We all experience it, but there are ways to overcome it. And Courtney is uniquely qualified to talk about this, and I’m going to take a moment to read her bio. Courtney’s a recognized social media expert and has over 20 years of experience in the financial services industry. Courtney creates and implements transformative compliant social media strategies to teach individuals and organizations how to reach their target audiences and uncover untapped opportunities through social media. She builds confidence in her clients and counsels them through the awkward and emotional vulnerabilities that can come with posting on social media with a bespoke strategy to inspire and encourage growth. Right now, Courtney is a communications manager for Integrated Partners, a 7.3 billion hybrid RIA, and a social media consultant at City Wire USA. Hi, Courtney. So happy to have you on my podcast.


Thank you. It’s great to be here.


How are you doing today? Good, good. Good. I’m excited. Let’s get into this great conversation. I love social media. And I know you do too. And I just have a couple quick start off questions and wonders. Why do you think that for some people, it seems easy to be authentic and vulnerable when they’re posting and for others, it’s just a complete struggle and they don’t even know where to begin?


That’s a great question. You know, I, I can’t actually say for sure because everybody’s different. I think for some people, it just comes naturally. Maybe they’re just more open people, and they’re comfortable with the technology and the idea of social media.


Some aren’t.


Some people I’ve met are fantastic speakers. They can get on a stage in front of hundreds of people. But then when it comes to social media, they suddenly feel a little nervous, a little awkward, a little insecure. And maybe it’s because it’s the idea of it being out there to the universe permanently. I don’t know. But every everybody’s different.


Yeah, that’s a really good point. About being out there to the universe permanently. Because it becomes a public record. When you tweet or post something on Facebook, and we know it can never go away. Right? And I also think there’s something to do with this vulnerability issue. And this fear of exposure, that you’re going to say something stupid, people are gonna laugh at you. They’re not gonna think you’re witty enough or smart enough. I think there’s a little bit of that. And it’s almost like real life. Right? We feel that way in real life, too. And, yeah, and it gets exacerbated a little bit on social media, especially if you’re always comparing yourself to somebody that you think does it better than you.


Yeah, definitely. And, you know, there’s also that feeling of oh, I feel a little narcissistic. Everybody looked at me. Why does anybody care what I have to say? You know, am I being too pushy? Yeah. And so one of the ways I try to work through that with my clients is comparing it to how it really works in real life. So for example, I had one person tell me well, that he made a post, and a lot of people were commenting on it. And he wasn’t sure if he should reply back to the comments or not. And I said, well, think of it this way. If you’re walking down the street downtown, headed to an appointment to see a client, and you see a colleague walking toward you. And he or she stopped you for a minute to say hi and say, hey, congratulations on that award. Would you just keep your mouth shut? Smile and keep walking? Right. Do you say thank you, or do you say thank you? And he said, oh, okay, I get it. I get it. So he went back to his LinkedIn post and thanked people for their Congratulations. In their comments. So social media is designed to be social. It’s just like networking in real life, but online. So trying to think of it that way I think really helps people begin to get the idea for it and the feel for it.


That’s a really good point, it becomes like a conversation then instead of a one on one, feed, it dies. And the more you think of it as a conversation, probably the more successful you’re going to be.


Absolutely, absolutely. It just takes getting some used to, you know, one of my best tips for everybody if you’re unsure about it, is just to try to make LinkedIn or whichever social media platform you feel most comfortable with. Try and make it part of your daily routine. Put in your calendar 10 minutes every day, to just simply scroll your home feed. You don’t have to do anything. Just scroll your home feed, see what other people are saying, see how other people are using it. Make sure that you are connected with your target audience. And make sure that you’re connected with some of your colleagues that might do the same work that you do. I mean, I primarily work with advisors. But this advice can port over into any industry.


Really, let me ask you a question that you brought up something really important, that target audience term. So before you start using social media, and while you’re using it, you really should have your target audience in your mind, right? Absolutely. So you’re focused. It’s not just random conversation. How do you suggest someone go about doing that and also connecting getting followers from their target audience?


Sure. Well, there’s a couple of ways to do it. First of all, you want to do your due diligence, find out where your target audience are. And sometimes it’s on more than one platform. If you are targeting small business owners, depends on what they are selling. But more often than not, they happen to be on Facebook, and probably some on LinkedIn as well. So you’d want to use a combination of LinkedIn and Facebook. Retirees or pre retirees tend to love Facebook, but then some are also on LinkedIn. So you have to just do your due diligence, find out where your target audience is, and then post content that they want to read, that they want to see. What is it that they’re wanting, you don’t want to post selling your services, why you should hire me. I mean, maybe once in a while. You want to talk about what value you offer. But I know for me when I first began working with an asset management firm back in 2012, I was so disheartened looking for social media information geared toward asset managers, I only worked with financial advisors. So back in 2012, I ran for this asset manager, I’m thinking, gosh, how can I make this unique and I was researching all over the web, it was very difficult to find something geared toward asset managers. And so finally, I came across this FinTech company called Kurtosis. I had no idea what they did, what their product was that they sold, but they gave such great information about social media marketing for asset managers. I just I lived on their blog for months. And after learning so much from their educational information, finally, I took a moment to try and figure out well, what do they do, what value do they offer? And it turns out that they offer digital Fun Fact sheets for asset managers. So I was their perfect target audience. And they drew me in with content that they knew I would want. Never once were they selling their services, they knew what me their target audience would want. Right?


Okay, that makes sense. But it also sounds kind of intimidating for someone first starting out and really not knowing what their first through 10 posts should be. So what’s your advice to that total newbie? They open well, a Twitter account, and they start wanting to post.


Well, again, it would be part of doing your research and so to even take it a step back further, you don’t want to just start posting without a plan, right? Okay, number one, build, build out your social media strategy, and doing your due diligence, finding out where your target audience is, which platforms to work on, and what content that they want is all part of building out that social media strategy. I would suggest getting together with a coworker or other people in your team, sitting down together, making a list of potential topics and if possible, survey your target audience. If you already have existing clients, ask them what they might want to learn more about, ask them what intrigues them. Something that my friend Justin Castelli always tells his advisors that he works with is this, sit down and think about what are the common questions that your clients ask you in client meetings? There are your topics right there. Mm hmm. And then the next step would be to create your content.


Okay, well, you know, this type of social media strategy doesn’t sound vulnerable at all. It’s like, this is a well thought out, pre-planned strategy. So you could go on the platforms and start posting. So when you’re working with people, what makes them still feel hesitant about starting?


Well, I think it’s like any creator. When you first get ready to actually make that post, a lot of times are thinking, well, what do I say? Is this gonna sound dumb? Are they gonna like it? You know, it’s really feeling like you’re putting it out there permanently almost like shooting your video. You know, I still get a little nervous. I was a little nervous before we did this. Yeah, it’s etched in stone, in fact, you know, it’s also not age related, which I think a lot of people think that. I had a friend just last week, about 30 years old, and lives on Instagram and Tiktok, who asked me for advice on how to post something on LinkedIn, because she rarely ever posts on LinkedIn and she suddenly got very nervous. So you know, I think it just takes experience, doing it regularly, trying to switch your mind to think about how it relates to these into real life. You know, what would you say if you were at a networking event? What If you were having a client event and your clients were there, and they were asking you questions, think of it that way, because you’re just putting it out there digitally. You know what the right thing is to say in real life? Right? So you can have confidence in the fact that you’re going to know what the right thing is to say, when you post on social media. Of course, there’s certain strategies for the way you word your posts, which we can get into if you want to.


Yeah, talk about that a little bit. What is a strategy? I’m still learning.


Well, when you’re talking to people one on one, you have more of their attention and it’s easier to maybe tell a bit more of a story. When you’re on social media. You’ll notice as people scroll through their home feeds, it’s not necessarily a one on one conversation. It’s you’re putting information out there into the public, and you’re hoping it catches your target audience’s attention, right. So as you scroll through your home feed, how do you get through that deluge of information? How do you get your post to stand out to make somebody want to stop and read it? So when you’re writing your hook, as I call it, I always say, trying to put your main point at the very beginning of your sentence, the very first few words. Everybody has ADD, you know, we just have information overload. And I’ve seen some people begin their hooks with something along the lines of last week, I had the pleasure of speaking with world renowned for that, and already you’ve lost the people, right? Because what’s in it for me? So whatever the particular topic is, you just want to get to that point, you know, five top tips and five top tax tips for small business owners and then you can say that I learned from my conversation with you know, this well-known CPA or whatever it was.


The number tip thing really catches people’s eye, right? The five number tips, best ideas and that, or like my target audiences is single independent women. And I might start a post bag lady syndrome, how to overcome it. Whereas where it hooks them in instead of, are you single? Or I don’t know something more mundane. You just want to get their attention.


Exactly what are their pain points? And what value do you offer to help solve for those pain points? That’s what everybody wants, you know?


Yeah. So when you’re working with a client, and they’re telling you oh, I don’t, I don’t get social media. I mean, I’ve had colleagues tell me, I think social media is stupid. You know, they go on for a while and they’re trying to get it. Get the rhythm. Understand it and they just don’t. Yeah, yeah, I should that person that just I hear that.


I hear it all the time. And first of all, you have to want to do it and you have to understand the value. So I oftentimes share success stories with my clients. Every year, for the last six years, Putnam has put out an advisor survey asking them how they use social media for their business. And if you want to Google it, and you take a look at this, you will see the growth and the amount of success that advisors have had over the last six, seven years, that Putnam has put out this survey. It’s really, really powerful. And that’s just for our industry. But for any industry in general. The statistics are there, it’s grown. So I try to show success stories and show the numbers and then it just goes back to what I said originally. Try to make social media part of your daily routine, just 10 minutes a day. Each morning, when you check your email, scroll your home feeds, check your notifications, start to get a feel for it, see what the current trends are. And over time you begin to get comfortable, then start with one post and see what the reaction is. And keep at it. It’s kind of like a slow drip campaign. So you just have to keep doing it. And over time you get comfortable. And once you see the results, then it’ll definitely inspire you to want to do more. But there’s a ton of people told me they think it’s a waste of time. And then 99% of the time those people end up coming around. I guarantee it. Well, I


started using social media in 2008. So you could say I’m sort of a veteran of the medium of it has been. You are a pioneer. Yeah. It’s been amazing for me, brought me so many opportunities above and beyond prospecting for clients, just connections and people I’ve hired and you know, you know, presentations, I’ve been able to make all kinds of things. But you know, back when I started, I didn’t have a strategy. I was trying to build my brand, because it’s great for brand building right, getting your message out there. But I just started having conversations with people and it was so exciting when people started to follow me and engage with me and you get hooked. And I think if you can get beyond that fear stage and get started, like you said 99% of the people are going to love it and find some benefits about it. There’s another little angle I want to talk about with social media and this is once you get more advanced in it is, is finding your true voice like really being yourself open vulnerable on these platforms. And I mean, this is hard to do in real life, right. But what I found is the people that are the most authentic, are the most popular. They have the most followers they have the most people want to hear what they have to say. That’s not an easy thing to do.


It’s not, it’s not and that’s why those people get so many followers, I think because all of us who are a little more nervous, maybe a little bit more shy to actually let it all out like that actually give a firm opinion on something that might make some people mad or that others might disagree with. We admire those people. So because deep down we wish, maybe there’s a part of us that wishes they could do that. So it makes us want to follow them and watch them and hear what they have to say. Now everybody has a different style. And so what some people might feel comfortable putting out there, you might not. And that’s totally okay. That’s also part of this getting used to social media and what to say and what you feel comfortable with. And your comfort level will change. I, you know, I’ve historically been more worried about my clients’ social media than my own. Until last year, I thought, gosh, I better really get more active on Twitter. I need to start posting more for myself and engage with our FinTech community. And suddenly, I felt nervous, and I felt awkward and I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I know who I am. I feel like I know. But I felt weird and it’s taken, you know, over a year, but now I feel much more comfortable chit chatting on Twitter. I’ve built up a nice group of Twitter friends, our fin tech community. I’ve met so many great people really through Twitter. Yeah. Which is really, really cool. And thanks to Leslie Marshall over at Morningstar.


But just met so many. I met Leslie


Leslie years ago, like, probably 2009/10 because of Twitter.


So did I.




Leslie gave me advice on Twitter when I was at that asset management firm.


Right. You know, I noticed I think I started noticing you on Twitter about a year ago. So that’s probably when you started to really get into your own on Twitter, right. Like you said, you stopped thinking about your client. Well, you of course, you’re still thinking about your clients, but you will. Yeah, yeah. You’re developing your own presence. Yeah.


Yeah. Well, and the funny thing I think that really broke my nervousness was I’d written an article for City Wire RIA magazine, where I listed 10 RIAs to follow on Twitter. And that was kind of a hot topic that summer and I chose the 10 RIAs that I felt were most authentic and real. They didn’t have to have a million followers. But I saw them on Twitter. I’d never met them in real life. But the way that they came through was very authentic and they just seem like good people to me. So I listed these 10 people, and the magazine came out and one of them Nina O’Neill, tweeted, hey, thanks Courtney for featuring me. I’m so honored and she tagged the other nine advisors. Well, one of them Tyrone Ross said he responded and said, well, thanks Courtney. But you misspelled my last name. And because his name is Tyrone, middle initial V like Victor and then last name Ross with an R. And I don’t know why I just saw that the end for his last name. So I wrote it. This time was oh no, no, this is print magazines. I mean, they thought we fixed the web version. But here I am. I’m just getting comfortable with tweeting again, I write this article, I felt so good about it. And that had been Cathy, my heart went into mode. Oh my gosh. I thought, Oh my gosh, I want to die. And so I do. So to this, I didn’t really know what to say. So I just I responded to his tweet with the faceplant emoji, like, you know, yeah. And I said, oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry Tyrone. And he was really nice about it, of course. Oh, yeah.


Oh, you know,


print gets thrown out. So, you know,


naturally, but it actually turned into a happy accident like the painter Bob Ross’s because all the other advisors jumped in and they started making a joke about it. Oh, are we gonna call you Tyrone Voss now? Do you represent Voss water, and there were some pretty funny funny tweets that followed that I think all day long, probably 1000 tweets. Oh my god. But we had such a great time. It turned out to be so much fun, especially when the advisor sent me a case of Voss water.


That’s being vulnerable to mistakes. All those things don’t aren’t necessarily bad things right


now. Anyway, it was really a happy accident. And then when we all met in person, finally at a conference, we already felt like we knew each other. So that really, that really made it fun.


Okay, this is you just brought up another great, fantastic thing about social media, where you meet people online, and then when you finally meet them in real life, you feel like you’re friends already. And it’s just it’s actually easier to develop the relationship. Yeah,


it is. It’s really, really fun. In fact, I heard Nina O’Neill speak at a conference. And that’s what she said. She said, specifically when she meets clients for the first time or prospects. They all tell her that they feel like they already know her because of her social media presence, they know, she has two boys in baseball and it’s really it is a nice way of being able to build that comfort or like you said personal brand. Which, by the way, is the old school term for or is the new school term for the old school term reputation, right? Oh, yeah, personal brand’s, just the buzzword. And now you can build that reputation, aka personal brand through social media.


Right. So we’re gonna wrap up in a couple of minutes. So I wanted to make sure the audience gets like, your top three tips to being authentic and successful using social media and, you know, social media where it’s we keep saying this broad term, it’s actually a group of platforms that you post on, right? And one may be better than another for your purposes. So you might want to speak to that just a little bit too.


Sure, sure, sure. Well,


first of all, it depends on your bandwidth. And you don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. So if you’re really a newbie at social media, I suggest choosing one platform to begin with. But save your name, and your company name on all the platforms, even if you’re not using them right now, just because you don’t want somebody else to take that handle that username, like on Twitter, you have a Twitter handle, Facebook, your company name, and on your LinkedIn company page, even Pinterest, even on the platforms you think you’ll never use, just because they evolve so much. They change the way people use them. You know, in the beginning, nobody ever thought Instagram would be used for business but now it really is. So save your name and your company name across all the social media platforms just so that nobody else gets it, right. But if you’re really a newbie, choose one, if you think you can handle it, do two, which usually are Facebook and LinkedIn. Twitter is also a great way to network, check to see if your audience is there. But if not, it’s where the media is and PR, if that’s a goal for you, trying to get some PR interviews. And then just make sure you build out your strategy. Do your research, find out what’s involved in a strategy, you know, which is part of what we talked about before doing your due diligence so that you’re prepared, you have a content strategy, how often you’re going to post and you know what your target audience wants. And then really, it’s like, I call it nurturing your network. I think a lot of people call it that.


Every day going in and


being active, you can’t just post and disappear. You have to post, and you have to engage with your network. Comment on their posts, like their posts and be a part of the conversation. And of course, don’t forget to let everybody know you’re on social media. It always amazes me how many advisors take the time to build out their social media presence. But then they neglect to put their social media icons on their website, or their email campaigns, or in just talking to people, hey, by the way, are you on LinkedIn, let’s connect or, you know, have you followed my Facebook page. So make sure that people know that you’re there, the people that you’re speaking with directly, and that will help spread the word. Again, along with engaging and posting and commenting regularly.


Great. Those are awesome tips. I just have one other question for you. And that is, do you recommend people post themselves all the time, or use somebody else to post for them to schedule their posting events. What’s your thoughts


on that? That’s a great, that’s another great question. Um, listen, if you can do it all yourself, I highly recommend that because only you know, your connections and your audience the best. I’ve had people want me to manage their LinkedIn for them. And it just doesn’t work. It doesn’t come off as authentic. I can see what’s happening in their network, but I have no idea what kind of relationships they have with certain people. Maybe to a degree, maybe if I worked really closely with somebody, but it’s just never going to be the same. If you’re really busy, and you want somebody to help with the posting, okay, fine. Maybe they maybe you can do that. But you still have to go on there and engage every single day and respond to the comments and like the comments. It’s the only way to be truly successful, to be truly authentic. People can smell it a mile away. And while a few years ago, setting posts just can’t post me, it works, social media, the platforms themselves and the way we use it is evolving every day. And really, people are just being more and more authentic, and people getting sensitive, you’re not.


So if


you want to be successful, you got to be authentic.


Yeah, I’m saying that to more and more authenticity. So I guess that is the main theme of this podcast is, if you can strive to be as authentic as you can on social media, use it every day. 10 minutes is barely any time at all. Schedule it in first thing in the morning or in the evening before you close the day out. Right. Yeah. And hopefully have a strategy.


But yeah, you have to have a strategy.


Yeah. And it’s not too late to get a strategy right. Like I could have a new strategy right now. If I wanted to.


Oh, yeah, and that’s a great point. You know, Cathy, your strategy can evolve year after year. So you want to revisit it and it’s not a set it and forget it when you create your strategy, you need to go back to it, decide what’s been working, what’s not what you want to change or if your business goals change, so keep that strategy on hand and refer to it and updated as you need to.


Okay, great. Is there anything else you would like our audience to know about you? Let’s go over your Twitter handles and things like that.


Oh, sure. Yeah, I’d love to connect with everybody on Twitter. My Twitter handle is @CourtMcQuade and I’m on LinkedIn. So definitely feel free to link in with me.


And I’m happy to help answer any questions.


Great. And by the way, I hardly ever say my Twitter handle on this podcast is @CathyCurtis. A personal tidbit. I know you have a favorite food that you talk about quite often. I want you to share. Yeah. Well, this started is


Go for it.


Oh gosh, when I fell in love with buffalo wings.


Yeah. It’s been a long love affair.


And if you do follow me on Twitter, this is something that you already know really well about me. So I often get into Twitter discussions about it. I can’t remember the first time I had buffalo wings. Exactly. So I think I just must have been born with the love. But I love to try different kinds of buffalo wings and my favorite kind of buffalo wings. I don’t want to try lemon pepper. I mean, I’d like lemon pepper. I like the other ones, but my very favorite is the old school. tangy orangey Buffalo Wing sauce.




I don’t like the bread, just a little bit crisp and kind of meaty. Right now I live in the San Francisco Bay area near you. But I can’t, I haven’t found great buffalo wings in this area so if anybody knows of any in the area, I want to hear about it. The best buffalo wings I’ve had to date is in Cave Creek, Arizona at a place called Harold’s Corral. Their buffalo wings are perfect for me, exactly what I want. And my secret dream is to set up a little vacation to Buffalo, New York, and go to Anchor Bar where they were first invented a long time ago.


Oh that’s


when quarantine’s over. Of course, yes.


Do you ever make them yourself?


I did once, it’s not the same. I’m not the best cook so I’d rather leave that.


I was gonna say when this COVID thing’s over I want to come over to your house and have buffalo wings with you, but maybe we’ll find a place in the Bay Area that has awesome buffalo wings like that.


I like that. I’ve been considering getting an air fryer to try my hand at that. Some of my Twitter friends have been telling me that the air fryer works really well for wings. So I might try that. And if I do, I’ll let you know how it goes.


Perfect. Great. I would love that. Okay, Courtney. Well, thank you so much for your time. I really enjoyed talking with you. Me too. Thank you


so much, Cathy. Okay,


bye. See you soon. Bye. All right.

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Episode 6 Transcript: Social Media Therapy: Overcoming The Awkward and Vulnerable Feelings That Can Come With Posting Read More »

Episode 5 Transcript: What Advisors Do For Their Clients


Welcome to Episode Five of the Financial Finesse podcast. In today’s podcast, I invite you into my financial advisor mastermind group. If you don’t know what a mastermind group is, it’s a peer to peer mentoring group where you get support and advice on issues you may be facing in running your business or in your life.


My mastermind group has been invaluable to me in supporting me in building my financial advisory practice, keeping up on industry news, and deepening my knowledge of issues that affect my clients.


There are five of us in our group, and we live in all different parts of the country. And as we are all lifelong learners, we met through a professional development program. We all clicked, and we decided to take our meetings on a more intimate level and start this mastermind




And for today, we’re not going to do our usual masterminding. Instead, I’ve asked all the group members to share a story about how they’ve helped a client and a little bit about their firm. And this way, I hope you’ll get an insight into how financial advisors help their clients build really successful financial lives.


And Maura, why don’t you start?


Hey, thanks, Cathy. So, to introduce myself, my name is Maura Griffon. My firm is called Blue Spark Financial, and we’re based in New York City and in the Berkshires of Massachusetts, where we have been sequestered here during the shutdown.


So we manage about 130 million for 70 families, households, mostly headed by single women. So that is basically our clientele, is women who are on their own, either because of divorce, or death of a spouse. Sometimes it’s women who’ve always been single, and their parents have died, or they’ve adopted a child and that child is now going to college. But people who have something going on in their lives that’s caused a transition and a shift in how they think about money. Many of them have never managed money


on their own, for these big issues, maybe they’ve saved money, but they don’t. They’re now approaching retirement and they don’t know how to de-accumulate. Sometimes that’s a word, they’re like, oh, I love that word. I know how to accumulate but I don’t know how to de-accumulate.


So and it’s, it’s emotional. Money is emotional, especially in these times. And so if there’s a common denominator to all of all of our clients, it’s that,


again, mostly women, but also they’ve got a finite portfolio of money, a pot of money that they need to last them for the rest of their lives. And, you know, I think it’s that combination of emotional support, as well as, you know, deep understanding of the technicalities of taxes and estate planning, and basically all the components of what goes into true financial planning. And I you know, I also want to mention that we are, we’re fee only fiduciary firm, which means that we put our clients’ interests above our own, that we’re not salespeople. We’re acting on the, we’re on the same side of the table as clients.


The you know, we often ask questions like, what does money mean to you? And you know, often people are not even thinking about money. They’re thinking about having enough of it, but they’re not thinking about what money can do to get them their best lives. And so it’s you know, it’s peeling apart that onion of how to use the resources and create align your values with what they want, what they’re spending on and what their goals are.


So it’s a lot like coaching in that way. It’s helping people find their purpose, and then being able to create a financial plan around that purpose and goal, that aligns the financial planning and the investment planning as well.


Most of


My clients tend to be, you know, conservative because they are worried about, you know, having this money last. And so at the core of what we do is what we call an endowment method of investing. Some people call it a, it’s similar to a bucket strategy, which some of you may have heard of, but it’s basically it helps clients sleep at night because it approaches the investment portfolio, not from a position of are you conservative, or are you risky, it’s a matter of a timeline. And so say that from now to five years out, we have that is the safety portion of the portfolio. So they know they can pay their bills, and that no matter what the market does, it can have wild swings up and down, but they know that their income is steady, and they’re going to be getting that monthly paycheck. And that helps


A lot of people and then there’s that five to 10 year portion of the portfolio. And that’s got big cap stocks, dividend paying, it’s got REITs, it’s got, you know, kind of solid equities, but a little out on the risk scale from bonds and cash equivalents. And then that 10 years plus, which, as we all know, the economic cycle goes up and down. But that can be invested in riskier and riskier equities, like small caps and international and emerging markets and some of those things that have their cycles and have their day. But that’s and that feeds then into the safety portion of the portfolio. So it’s an ongoing dynamic strategy. Maura I love that you’re going into the details of this and


I really appreciate it so our viewers can get an idea of like a practical way that we help. Can you give


A brief story of a client situation that you where you really felt like you added some value to their financial life, given all of these things that that you do, and we all do for our clients. Sure. So I have one client who


lost her husband. And so again, had had a pot of money that was largely invested in US large caps. She hadn’t paid much attention. And you know, it, it was a time when the market went down. And so she saw her portfolio, go from one number to another number, and it was frightening and so to be able to reallocate that portfolio, according to her needs, and to see what she was going to spend it on. So that means untangling a lot. A lot of issues like, like spending and upcoming taxes.


And how to, you know, digging into the best ways to save on taxes. And basically creating that timeline using assumptions about the future because obviously we can never know. But that calmed her and to be able to see it as it’s not just a lump of stocks and bonds that this is it’s invested according to her needs and timeline. I’m sure she gets a lot of comfort out of that. Had she ever used an advisor before? I know her husband had, okay. Yeah, and that’s pretty common with women where the husband handles the financial matters solely. And then the woman’s on her own and really needs some support. Precisely she said that she would had never been invited to the meetings and when she did they, the advisor didn’t talk to her.


So she tells me that she


loves working with me because I listen.


Good listening skills are critical. And I think many of us women have them. Don’t you know you all agree? Yeah.


Anything else you’d like to add?


Just that I love this group. And thanks Cathy for putting this together. Great. Thank you, Maura, great stories. And good. I know you do great work for your clients. Thanks Bev would you like to go next? Sure, sure. Um, my name is Beverly Cox. I’m an independent Certified Financial Planner and a chartered advisor in philanthropy. And I’ll go a little slightly different direction than Maura and just tell you a story of a particular client but I have been a financial planner for 30 years. And I have lots of stories and the ones that I really appreciate the most are the ones where I’ve been allowed to be


for decades involved in someone’s financial and really their whole life because of that relationship. So they have grown up with me obviously over the last 30 years and accepted me into their lives and allowed me is which is the way I look at it to love and support and be of service to them as they evolve through their own lives. So in those days, 30 years ago, most people came into financial services business through the insurance store, and that was me as well. So


and then I’ve evolved into the CFP and of financial comprehensive financial planning, but I have a number of widow clients that I seem to attract and I have a great deal of affinity for them. As single women who are usually as Maura was saying not been at the table or not been as involved when they when they did have a spouse


and so they do appreciate the help and they need the help. And I like that situation. So this is a story of one of them. So her name is Jane, which is not her name. And she was happily married with two children, one in high school and one in in junior high school. Both she and her husband who was an older man were working at well-paying but high stress jobs. And one of the biggest financial goals that they had from early on was to pay the total cost of college for these girls and particularly at name brand schools they wanted.


Although he had some health problems, Jane’s husband tragically, unexpectedly died. And


it was a horrible time, I was there for that as well. And it was heartbreaking. And so other than taking care of her needs of the moment in terms of cash and


making sure she felt secure, I did very little planning, we really, I think it’s part of my job as a planner, to hold space for that experience that you have to allow the person I believe to go through. There is a process of grief and loss and, and it’s not where your head is right? It’s like you have to emotionally allow that process to happen. So my job is to be there and to stay with that and then to when that client  is signaling and allowing me to talk about her future then we can go more into okay, let’s make some plans. So and in my experience, it can take more than a year to get my particular widow clients to that point. And that’s fine with me. That’s fine with me. So a quick question here during that year, how often do you meet with this client and is it via phone, face to face


kind of setups? Coffee dates,


which she was probably an hour away from where I was living and we would, we talked a lot, we actually did and I in those days especially I was going to client’s homes, so we probably went together.


We probably saw each other four or five times that year, then would be on the phone. So it’s like, you know, what I think we represent is we are a safety connection, right? A connection you’ve allowed me in, you allowed me to know what’s going on with you financially. Now use me and use my strength when you don’t have it. Use me for questions. If I don’t know the answer, I’ll go find the answer for you. So I just feel like we are a resource that is so much beyond managing money as well, right? That if you allow us to, if you let us have this kind of relationship with you, then you get the full


foundation of talents and skills that we can bring to the table. So, that answer your question? Yes. Very good. So I want to go on with this story if it’s okay. Okay, so in the first few years after we, we made it through and she was ready to do some planning, we actually did a lot of the plans that are in place and solidified her future. And that and she was tenacious, and this was a wonderful quality and she deposited and contributed to her 401k to the max every year. And part of that was matched by her company, which was great. We took some of the insurance proceeds from her husband’s policy and purchased a permanent life insurance policy for her and that was to cover some of the responsibilities if she were not there for her girls. She also had a large policy through her employer as well for that


and but it also


There’s cash value life insurance provided a place to accumulate excess reserves money that she could get to if she needed to and was also not at risk. So we had this safety net again, emergency money if needed. So we obtained as well an investment that can be turned into a guaranteed stream of income for her retirement. If that were what we needed to do. We wanted to put the potential in place so that we knew there were these streams of income that could serve her. We reviewed long term care insurance policies, alternatives, and we chose a traditional Long Term Care Policy for her because now Jane as a widow with these two girls, she wanted very much to protect


any kind of devastation financially that might happen to her own future. So that was important to her and that policy gives her a lot of peace of mind and it still does. So those early investments have been the foundation of what


We have done as she has, has had more money, we have done more with her money in terms of investments. And again, she’s socking as much as she can into her 401k. Every year, we went to a good estate planning attorney together, and we had the documents drawn up. And through the years, she has gone now since two more reviews with that estate planning attorney and we are always involved in any changes, suggestions that estate planning attorney has. So we’ve kept her docs up to date, which also gives her a great deal of peace of mind. So we also did a lot with cash flow. So cash management and I have found this with lots of clients that allow me a lot of time in their lives is that a lot of it is about a transition that they’re going through at some particular moment where it’s like okay, how do we finance that? How do we find the money for that? So we were going from you know, they had two good incomes to now we’re at one


income. She does have a widow’s pension, but it was still a different financial situation. There was lots of jockeying and balancing for different conflicting things that are going on. How are we going to save for these girls’ colleges, run a household, buy and sell cars, she had some relatives that needed some financial assistance sometimes, and then maintaining and repairing, refreshing her longtime home through all these years. So all those extra expenses were identified as we could and planned for. And through the years, we did take advantage of the cash value in this life insurance that she had accumulated. A HELOC a home equity line of credit that we had in place on the home. And even credit cards with zero percent programs were taken advantage of over the years if you needed the money and that’s where you could get it. That’s a financial transaction to manage. And that was my job. So she was super helpful to me. Because


she was a good saver. So I worried about and planned for the big picture. And then she just kept plugging away. So that’s an important part of any of any relationship is to have that enthusiastic client that’s helping her own situation. So have you, what your story is telling a perfect example of what a truly comprehensive financial plan is, where you’re looking at everything, you’re looking at cash flow, you’re looking at risk, and you’re helping them with insurance, and you’re looking at their estate plan and all the other issues that go into a truly comprehensive plan. So I’m really glad that you shared with us that broad array of issues that we help our clients with. So thanks so much for that story. Thank you. And Steph, would you like to go next, Stephanie Bruno? Sure. Cathy, I love your podcast, and I’m honored to be here.


Part of it today and I’m really honored to be part of this group of women who are so smart and also bring me a lot of joy. I’m Steph Bruno, my firm is Sea to Peak Financial Advisors. We have offices in Denver and Seattle, and I too am a fee only firm. So I enjoy working with executives that are complex and busy. Most of my clients are first generation wealth, they have just worked hard and done very well and they just need really good help. It’s important to me to not only help my clients grow their wealth, but to also see that make a difference in their lives. So I’ve incorporated life planning, you know, Cathy talked about before, it’s sort of brainstorming our client situations. I look at it if you think of like a jigsaw puzzle. Some people can do a jigsaw puzzle without looking at the picture on the box which is really difficult but


I think if you look at the picture on the box, and you look at all these pieces that we have, and then you say, what’s the best way to organize these pieces to get to that picture? I think about that’s what we do. And that’s what we can do if we have a really good life plan.


I’ll give you an example of how I think this made a difference. And one of my clients lives, I have this great client, she’s an environmental engineer, loved her work, loved the purpose behind it. But she had been working 60 to 80 hours a week. She had a lot of international travel. And she was also a little tired of the corporate bureaucracy. So she wanted to do something different. So we engage a life planning process to figure out, well what do you really want your life to look like? And what we came up with is she really only wanted to work about 40%. She wanted to spend about 20% of her time doing some nonprofit work. She wanted to spend about a


another 20% of time working on a novel. And really then just having a lot of fun. So once we figured out what the end what she wanted it to look like, the next stage that we went to is she had to figure out what that work was going to look like. So we work through an encore career handbook. So that helped her figure out what is this work I’m going to do, that’s going to be 40%, but yet still really fill me up as a person and meet that purpose piece of it. So she enjoyed the work that she did. She just wanted to do less of it. So she decided she was going to do some consulting work. And that also she was going to serve on corporate boards as well. And so that would provide some income. She had been on her board at her company, so it’s going to be a nice steppingstone to doing that work. And so once we had these two pieces in place, then the next part was to look at what does the financial plan look like?


We had to look at a lot of different scenarios, you know, starting off, what if she doesn’t make any money the first year? Or what if over this timeframe, she makes enough money to support herself, but not enough to save for retirement. She also had corporate stock. So we had to look at, what if the corporate stock dropped by 50%? How was her plan going to be affected? We were working to reduce that concentration. But she still had some. And of course, we wanted to look at what if it all worked out, right? Like, what’s the dream here? And if everything goes according to plan, what is that going to look like?


When I think of this client, she is a rock star.


I think all of my clients are. I love the work that I do, and I love my clients, but I think she in particular, really embraced this process. And I think that’s part of what made it successful.


We also had to look at what were some of the technical issues around her benefits. So as I mentioned,


I work with executives. They’ve got a lot of complex benefit plans. And they have different distributions and payouts and those types of things as well. And so one of the things we knew was that at age 55, she got much better deferred compensation payouts. Also at age 55. As she stepped away from work, she would be able to withdraw money from her 401k plan without penalty, should she need those funds. And of course, we had to plan for the fact that she was going to need some liquidity, right. We wanted to make sure that we had some safe cash set aside. So as she embraced this next phase of her life, that she really wasn’t worried about the money. She was secure in that process and could really go for it.


So this client, she went through this process, and today she has a consulting practice where she


does consulting projects, but only the ones she picks and chooses. She does work for two corporate boards.


She’s about ready to send her novel into her agent. And this is not just a novel she wrote over the weekend. She’s worked for three years with a writing coach, and is sending it off, and her encore career has been so successful, that we just updated her life plan to include her home on Martha’s Vineyard where she’s currently spending the summer so


yeah, yeah. Yeah, it just shows to me that when you have really good planning, combined with a good vision of what you want your life to look like, what can truly happen.


Steph that is such a great story. And you know, it’s a perfect example of something that we all do called scenario planning, where you look at several different iterations of the plan, depending on what they want to do, you know, their most audacious goals and then maybe if that doesn’t work out a little lesser, but it sounds like she reached all her audacious goals, which is amazing.


I’m sure she loves you for it. I’m sure she thinks you’re a rock star too.




Okay, thank you. Tanya.


I am Tanya Nichols. I love being with you guys. This group is one of the most I look forward to our time together. Every two weeks more than just about any other meetings I attend.


I really get a lot out of just hearing just all of these ladies telling their stories, even today, you can kind of pick up all the strengths and talents that they have in their brain to their clients. So thanks for having me. Um, I run an investment firm for women within a few years of retirement in northern Minnesota and Duluth on Lake Superior. And


I just was going to my kind of story for today was about a new client actually. And she was referred to me and she’s not quite divorced, yet.


In the process of going through a divorce, and I loved Steph’s story where, where her, her client was able to really get clear about her vision. And then step by step get through it. And this client is in this phase of transition, where her vision is really clouded by uncertainty. Much like what Bev was talking about with widows for example, and the major transition with something like losing a spouse or, or even retirement, all those transitions can make things somewhat cloudy. And so she is getting divorced. And it’s been discussed, but it’s not quite. It keeps getting there’s hang ups and anybody who’s ever been through one kind of knows how that goes.


But she’s been in a situation where she has felt no personal agency over her money. She’s been a really successful executive. She’s been the earner in her family. However, she’s had no agency over her


wealth creation and the money that she’s saved over the years. Her husband has been primarily responsible for that. And so as a result, there’s like a lot of money avoidance going on for her. And so what was interesting about her and these kind of cases, I love to get involved with at this stage, just finding me by she asked some friends for introductions and referrals. And through a friend of a friend, she came to my website and check this. And


she scheduled this first call and just that exercise for her because she’s never had an advisor. She’s never even logged into her accounts at this point. Her husband handled everything and she’s a successful high-powered executive yet at home, she did not have this power. And so just purely making that phone call to me was


Like step one in her taking her financial life on and taking control of her future. And then by call two, she had every login for every single one of her accounts, and she had a list for me of her net worth and all of her assets. And watching that unfold for someone is really exciting because a lot of my clients are really successful, yet they don’t feel good about their money. They’re women in this retirement age who grew up and likely became successful in an industry, which most industries where leadership was dominated by males. And so they found a way to get a seat at the table, sometimes by shrinking and yet now here they are, and they’re successful, and they’re the ones who run the table. Yet they still are almost hiding their success or they feel almost bad about their money. And so part of the work that we’re doing or that we hope to do is really help all of our clients feel good about their money and their wealth and their success. So


This particular client, we’re just getting started. And some of the most important work we’re doing at the beginning, is just giving her permission to let go of you can’t do everything at once, which is what many of my brilliant colleagues have alluded, alluded to. So for her, I could spend all day talking about are you saving enough for retirement, even though she’s close to 60, it’s not the priority, the priority is getting moved on this divorce. And so stage one, we resolved that the first step is to build a reserves out of her investments and help her decide which investments she could use to fund a reserve account, so that she feels secure and that she’s got her own, you know, bucket of cash reserves to take care of these immediate expenses, like lawyers bills and a new condo and some of these things that she needs to act on. And then her homework is really to go meet with that divorce attorney and get moving on this divorce because until she does that, I think it’s


gonna be really hard to get clear about where she’s going. So, stage one for her is building these reserves and getting her all of her different accounts. She’s got like 13 different accounts at different places. And so we’re going to work to get all of those consolidated and simplified so that she can continue with this personal agency over her dollars. And then we’ve postponed some of the planning, like regarding retirement, and how much should she be saving and is there enough and where she’s going to live permanently, all that is kind of set to later, but I’m giving her permission to say or helping her give herself permission to say I’ll get to that. But right now we need to address these items first. So our mission really is to help our clients feel good about their success and their money. And as Beth mentioned, it’s like one of the greatest privileges to be involved in these stories with people.


So I feel grateful to be doing this kind of work with people.


I can’t tell you how valuable it is to hear you all share your stories. There’s been pieces of every single one of your businesses that I’ve brought into my own with my client relationships, and to brainstorm and solve for some of these issues with clients is just invaluable to me. So thanks for having me, Cathy. I agree with you, Tanya. This group is invaluable and I wanted to touch on something that you said and it’s a theme throughout as, as you could see a lot of us work with women, not exclusively not we don’t all work with women exclusively. But there is a common theme with women where they don’t own their power financially. And I think that all of us are really dedicated to helping women do that. And either in ways where they can feel more free to spend, or we also let them know when maybe they need to not spend so much and but in all ways we want them to get empowered around their


money. So thanks so much for that story, Tanya.


So now it’s my turn.


So I work with mainly independent women. And when I say independent women, I mean women that are responsible for the finances, and it could be whether because they’re widowed, divorced, maybe they’re in a partnership, but they make the money and they have the decision making over money, things like that. But mostly women, I do have some men clients. And a typical situation for me, is a woman who is retired and has lived in the family home for decades. And all of a sudden starts to think about how much longer do I want to live in this home? And, and do I want to keep maintaining it, the roof and the yard and you know, it’s hard as you get older, you lose your


strength you, you have to be careful of getting up on ladders and doing all those things. And but it’s such an emotional decision to leave the family home. So the first thing you do is you tackle that, right? You have conversations around, doing that making that big giant decision to sell the family home and move into more of a retirement community situation. So I’m there to support them through the thought process. And in doing that, secondly, it’s the financials. And this is where the number crunching comes in, where you determine whether they can afford to sell the family home and I’m thinking about a woman in particular that I’m working with right now. But this is fairly common situation for me and my clients. So I use specialized software to input all the numbers. What if you sold your home for this much or you got this much proceeds? And what can you afford to buy? Is your next place a retirement


community and will that work for you for the rest of your life. And we have such long lifespans, I usually use 95 to 100 for lifespans to make sure that they don’t run out of money if they make this big move. So I give them peace of mind over the financial decision. First, it’s helping them get through the emotions. And then next is the finances. And there are a couple of other issues involved with this move. And that is, what do you do with all the stuff you have in your house? This is a daunting thing. This one particular client was a single child and one of the only nieces in the family and she ended up with all the silver, like five sets of silver and five sets of China. Well, and you know, you can imagine all the furniture and everything else she inherited over the years. So that made this move even harder and more gut wrenching for her because her kids, nobody wants that stuff anymore. Her adult


children did want it, what do you do with it? So it’s working through things like that, helping them let go of things and, and issues that will help them move forward. So I find great satisfaction and in helping clients through situations like that, because I really feel like I’m being a helper to them and, it just makes them feel better about such a major life transition.


So I hope that um, now that we’ve all told our stories and let you know who we are, I hope that you’ve enjoyed this and got a little bit of a peek into the kind of issues that financial advisors help their clients with, and how we support each other through this wonderful mastermind. And I want to say to all of you, I love you all. And thank you so much for participating in this podcast. And maybe we’ll do it again sometime.


Thank you, Cathy. Thanks Cathy.



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