Podcast Episode Transcript

Episode 4 Transcript: Young Women, Wealth and Black Lives Matter


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.


Hi, I’m Cathy Curtis, host of today’s podcast, the Financial Finesse Podcast. This is episode number four. I’m also the founder of Curtis Financial Planning, an independent investment advisory firm based in Oakland, California. I am super excited about today’s podcast because it is full


of my students from a personal finance class I taught last summer. The class was so much fun. And mainly it’s because these women were so engaged in the material. And they just were incredible students. And I loved it so much that


I can’t wait to talk to them more about their experiences with money since the class, and their life, and I know you’re going to love their money stories. So, before we get started, I want them each to introduce themselves. And we’re going to start with Joy.


Hi, everybody.


Like Cathy said, my name is Joy. I’m Jocelyn Robinson.


I am married,


recently married. I have two boys.


One, soon to be 15, and soon to be 11-year old.


So, we are definitely in teenage years. I currently work for an


affordable housing developer and the accounting department as this has been accounting.


And I studied. I received my MBA from Mills in Business Economics and my MBA from Mills, and 2019 at 28.


Thank you, Rebecca. Thanks. Well, my name is Rebecca Castro and I really appreciate you having us here today to talk about money. I am 29 years old, and I live with a partner in Oakland, California. I don’t have any kids yet. But for work, I work at a company called nofal ed and I’m a customer success manager. It’s an ed tech




and I help customers learn how to use our products. So, it’s really fun job for me.


As for all of my educational background, I studied environmental anthropology at Stanford University for my undergrad and moved on to Mills College, an MBA and finished that last year, wrapping up with Cathy’s course on personal finance.


Great, thank you Tori.


So, my name is Tori, or if we’re using government names, my name is Tori Howard. And I am 26. I am not married, but I’m in a relationship. And I don’t have any children. But I’m the oldest of six kids. So, I feel like I grew up raising children. So


yeah. And so for work, I’m a legal interviewer with the Bar Association in San Francisco. And so mostly, that just means


listen to people’s legal problems and


Trying to match them with a lawyer who’s suitable for that problem. And then on the side, I’m a freelance digital artist. An awesome one, by the way. Thank you. And I, I actually didn’t go to Mills, I would say St. John’s, which is in New York, but I love taking summer courses. This is actually the first summer in a while, but I won’t be able to just because of the shelter in place, but I always enjoy the classes there. And the personal finance class was like a godsend. So


awesome. Shonda.


Hi, there. It’s happy to be here. Cathy, thank you for having me. Just a little bit about myself. She her pronouns, Shonda Williams. I originally hail from the Motor City, Detroit, Michigan, but have been in the Bay Area for several years now. And really similar to my classmates I’m just a lifelong learner. I didn’t attend Mills, I attended Grand Valley State University and Michigan, but truly believe in continuing my education.


On my undergraduate and taking the personal finance course at Mills was just a really amazing step for me. I work with the Oakland Promise under the Brilliant Baby program as the coordinator. And we’re committed to ensuring that children in Oakland from birth on through their educational career can graduate high school and attend college or pursue a career of their choice. And part of that is financial capabilities for our parents. So, I’ve been working in that field, but it really wasn’t until this Mills personal finance class that I found a way to incorporate that into my own life.


Excellent. So, speaking of this personal finance class, but prior to taking this class, do you feel like you had an education in strictly personal finances, your own finances, how to handle money, how to open accounts, etc, etc. Does anybody want to jump in and


I definitely had personal finance, education. Just I didn’t mention that I’m, I’m 43 going on 44 end of the year. So I, you know, this is my second marriage. Of course, I have children. I was a stay at home mom


until I started back to school in 2014. So I wasn’t the breadwinner. I was the one that took care of the household, along with my children, so I had to balance our checkbook. I had, you know, I wrote checks out for bills. I went and did the grocery shopping and things like that. So around personal finance, I knew what was in our joint accounts and I knew what was in you know, our immediate savings.


But I didn’t understand credit and I


Didn’t have any investments. My ex-wife had like a 401k and some other


investment plans through her working. But I wasn’t part of that because I wasn’t working. But as her spouse, I signed up in her pension plan. And then you know, we have our children. We got them an education plan. So, when folks wanted to give money for their birthdays, they could, you know, go into their scholarship funds or whatever. So that was the broadness of my understanding until the personal finance class when, you know, I was shocked. Just understanding IRAs, Roth accounts, the difference when you can pull money out when you can, which is the better place to put money in like that. That was mind blowing in your class, Cathy, and I really appreciate that because, you know, I didn’t I wasn’t working. I was out of the workforce for


Over 10 years, and so the only money base that I have is part of my ex’s pension plan through our divorce. And I had no clue. I really don’t know, like when I can start getting that money, how much money it was. And so taking your class that was like, one of my detective modes I went into and was like, Well, I’m gonna find out how much money I got coming to me. And I’m gonna know where it’s at. And I want to know, the finish points and I want to know who’s holding it. And it was just like, you know, I had all these questions. And as I was talking to the financial advisor, I was hitting him with a map, Hey, what about this? What about this us like, what


do you do? And I was like, you could thank Cathy for all of this knowledge. Thank you. See, that’s the power of knowledge. It’s not just knowing what a Roth or an IRA is. But in real life. When you learn these terms, you can really help yourself


right. I know that’s a great. That’s a great example. Rebecca, do you have any? Absolutely, I actually took one, one course in undergrad on finance. But I think for me at least, I absolutely loved the entire experience, but it was highly theoretical. Whereas our class was very practical and hands on and, you know, we looked at reports and went through things together, really analyzed in depth, like, what our retirement accounts were doing. I had no idea that my retirement account wasn’t doing anything. So did you have it in good? Is that right?


No, the biggest thing I learned from the course and this is something that we talked about at the time was that my IRA was basically in cash I had put money in but I hadn’t taken the second step to actually invest it. It was life changing for me growing


tremendously since then, just from that simple act, and I thought I was doing enough of just I was like, I’m investing I’m putting money into my retirement account. But I was putting it in and then not taking this because I just didn’t know I didn’t know I had to take another step. Which is amazing to me that people don’t know. You don’t you don’t learn these things anywhere. Unless you take a class, this is you know, you consciously decide you want to learn about it. Okay, Tori any stories.


Um, so as I mentioned, I am the oldest of six kids that means I always grew up in a big family and financially that is like, means that like money is hard, but at the same time, like my parents, they obviously you know, things like you need to save money for a rainy day. But like, one of the things that you really stressed the importance of is like making sure you have like three to six months of savings specifically like so number not just like saving


indefinitely, but like you know, like saving a specific amount so that if something happens, and I am


immediately thought about your class when the COVID


when the shelter in place started, and people were losing their jobs because I was like, man, for people who don’t have that savings, and if they lost their job, this is a hard time right now, this would be like the prime time to have to have had that three to six months of savings because where else you have to rely on credit cards or hoping the government gets the money to you in time on like all these other things. It is just


which one of the things that I’m learning in my job is that it is taking a long time for people to get those unemployment checks. So, I immediately thought about you and that class when Michel Tremblay started but outside of that


I learned so much in your class, like one of the biggest takeaways for me personally was about my credit cards. Because while I’ve always been good about like paying them, you know, paying the minimum or more if I can,


I never thought to check what my percent rate like my interest rate is. And that was a huge game changer.


Because one of my credit cards is like being near a scam is when I realized because the interest rate was 30 31%.


And it was a non-negotiable 31% unbelievable. Oh and


so as soon as I realized that first of all since I really like could check that, and then I checked it and then I realized what it was I was like I need to get a card. So yeah, and I’ve had this credit card for eight years now. So eight years of me paying this 31% interest. And fortunately I’ve been I’ve never missed the payment and I’ve always been really good but at the same time, I would have paid that card off so much faster. You


okay, and it’s because um, which is like an unfortunate thing, but my car that I had at the time was just like, it was a lemon basically. And so it was just like expense after expense after expense. Yeah, unfortunately I had a card that had developed security it but at the same time, that was the card that had the most extreme interest rate so just taking so long to pay it off. Even though it happened so long ago. I was like still paying it off.


31% It’s almost like


Never get paid that thing off. Yeah. So yeah, what did you do? What did you do? Did you close a card? Did you try? I didn’t close it. I didn’t close it because you that is still my credit history. It’s eight years of on time payments, would you talk? Otherwise I would have definitely been like forget this card. Yeah.


But no, so I left it open, but I transferred the balance out to a card that have a lower interest rate and a high cashback. So and I set the cashback for online purchases because I found out that that was also editable. And I am always buying stuff online. So I’ve been getting so much cashback so happy and I’ve been applying that directly towards paying down the balance. So my credit score has gone up a lot. So I really believe that right? Because of all that, like a simple change, just changing the card that I was using next. Rhonda.


Yes, I really identify with what Rebecca said around having taken courses in undergrad on the topic of Finance. And it was very theoretical or my major was public and nonprofit administration. So it was about nonprofit but you


And finance. And I didn’t really find ways to be able to connect that back to myself. And it was really similar and growing up, my parents had made the money mistakes, and they wanted better for me, but it was kind of going over my head. They’re like, I’ve opened up a credit card for you at 18, which I’m so appreciative of now. It’s my highest


tier, and just really able to see how that’s been able to grow and help my credit. But again, all of these concepts, I kind of knew of them. But to Jocelyn’s point, I didn’t have the education to be able to apply them to myself. And there’s been so many little lessons that have just really been beneficial since your course that biggest thing I think I’ll say is that I opened up a Roth IRA. So I’m starting a full time position in August with an excuse me a 401 K. But I’ve been working for several years and hadn’t been putting anything aside for retirement until I took your class.


I’m just building that habit, having a monthly amount that goes out and just really excited that I’ve been able to do that and keep it up. In addition to I’ve opened up an online high yield interest earning savings account, and this is where I’m doing that three to six months of saving. When I found out that I could get 2.4% on my savings account, and without it being risky, I was super excited to be able to do that you’re not getting my money. And I love that there’s no brick and mortar because that means I don’t go to the ATM to take money out. That’s right. That’s what’s great about online bank accounts, it’s not as easy to get the money. For sure. You know, I love it that you’ve all opened Roths, we talked about Roths a lot in the class because I think they’re the best account for younger people. Because if you really do need the money at some point, there’s less penalties and you could always take out what you put in. So like if you’re going to plan to buy a house and a lot of you


have house buying on your minds and things like that. So, super smart. Great. Well, thank you those are great things that you learn. Um, okay, so speaking of lessons, all of you have faced some kind of hardships as you’ve been on your journey to get independent right? Um,


I’d love you to share a story about something that you overcame, whether it you had credit card debt, or you tried to get a job, you couldn’t get it. Just something that you really learned a lesson from, like, kind of like me, I I felt deprived. And so I took things into my own hands. I tried to find ways to always earn money as I was growing up. And Rebecca, do you want to start? Sure, I think that I was very fortunate that I earned scholarships and qualified for at Furman undergrad. So I didn’t come out with a ton of debt after my undergrad. But I knew that I wanted to go to grad school and


I wasn’t going to qualify for a lot of aid for grad school. So I planned to work for about five years to save up that money. And I think one of the biggest mistakes I made was just paying out of pocket straight up instead of investing that money, taking out a loan, paying it down gradually, and like building credit.


Instead, I just spent all of my savings on grad school. So it wasn’t until the summer course, you know, after I walked in graduation, and I needed that one extra course to graduate that I learned from you. Why? mistake for me? And I kind of knew the whole time I was like, Oh, this doesn’t feel good. I’m just like, you know, losing all this money.


But I felt like I was investing in my education.


But I’d say that was one of the biggest financial hurdles, hurdles and or lessons


knowing that I’d spent about leveraging yourself like I’m paying for some of it taking up debt for some reason.


Exactly. So taking on debt for some investing some and just more strategically managing taxes.


You know, making some money earned back for me while continuing to work and go to school. And instead of just, you know, putting all of it from savings directly into school. Yeah. Great. Thank you for Shonda.


Yes. So one of my biggest money lesson so earlier on I shared I’ve always been this saver. So during my college undergrad experience, I knew that I wanted to study abroad. I was a first-generation college student. I’m really just setting a pathway and I figured I wanted to get the full experience so career. So between getting the finances and finding a location, it took, let’s say I walked across the stage and had one final credit, I think


Took abroad. But that was my goal, right, I wanted to study abroad. And when I went abroad, I also had plans. I’m single for tax filing purposes. But I do have a long-term relationship that I’m in and we had plans to move to California. So while I was studying abroad, finishing up my final courses, I was also looking for a job. And that’s when I found my current job at Oakland Promise. And what I’ll say about that is once I got back into the country, I had about four days to pack up my apartment, get everything set, move across the country, and then start my job. So I was really thankful I saved this money for my study abroad period. And I think to your point was when I love that if you pretend you don’t have it, you don’t have to spend it frivolously. So that’s really that kind of take. I’m


allowing myself to take on this new look diligent, and honestly, I’m really happy to hear that a few of you have college savings


accounts for your siblings or your children, because that’s another thing. I’m the first in my family to know to graduate from college to begin my career move across the country and I have great nephews and cousins, all under 10 that I want to be able to be an example for and encourage them to have a college savings account. I myself grew up with one and the power of it. Yeah. Congrats on being the first in your family. That must have been a big deal. Thank you. Yes, I it was a very big deal. And you know, that’s why I work with the organization I work with now to be able to support children to have an education. You know, research shows that having a pursuing an education your higher education is really an equity indicator as well as allowing our students especially our students, our black Indigenous students of color, to be able to gain social capital and excel and close that racial wealth gap. I love it. So important.


Okay, sorry.


Um, so


like I said, I’ve kind of been saving my whole life. But saving money and like knowing how to properly spend money are two different things. And so that’s something that like, I was, like I was pretty good about until like I was really independent, which is to say like when I went off to college because I went away to college. So originally from here, Oakland and the Bay Area, but went to college in New York, obviously, my family is not in New York. So my parents were not able to be


that they weren’t able to support me also, like I said, I have five other siblings, so they financially really couldn’t support me either. So


all I had to go off of was whatever was left over after school was paid for like whatever was leftover, usually from loans. And so that is kind of what I had to live off of.


However, one of the things I didn’t like fully like process once I got to college was like, the concept of like bills and depths and


and how, like, somehow magically like no matter how much they


Do you have like the bills seem to increase with your savings? Like,


I feel like that tends to happen. Like if I ever get a bonus at work, there’s like a new bill that pops up. They’re like, Oh, look at this, your bill change. And so, so that real-world aspect or the real-world application of like, what are you saving your money for was really important because sometimes I would save a bit of money and I’d be like, Oh, I just have all this money. So now I can buy something that I want. Not really thinking about the fact that like, there’s things that I need. So


and so that’s something that I really had to work through. And at one point, I’m at one point, at one point, I want to say like midway through my sophomore year in college,


I had $6 in my bank account, and it had to last me two months.


Well, I bought a huge bag of rice.


And I, whenever my friends would go out to eat, I would be like can I have your leftovers?


I had to throw away all my bread.


I was like, I don’t know. But anyway, so that was one of those hardships for me because I it made me really, like stressed the importance of like, what am I saving my money for, which is when I came like and when I got to your class and you told us about like saving three to six months of your expenses of the things that you have to buy your must buys. And also being mindful of like how much do you have coming in versus how much do you have to have going out? It’s something that I wasn’t really paying attention to before I just was like, Oh, I think I have I might think that I’m you know, like doing well because in college I might have like $2,000 in my bank account but if my bills for rent and stuff like that are more than that, that I’m actually like coming out with a deficit. I just happen to be getting money fast enough that I didn’t notice it right away. Yeah. And so that’s, that’s something that really hit home for me when I was on my own.


Now do you carry balances or do you pay everything off? Um, so like I mentioned before, because of that one card that I had, which I fortunately don’t have anymore, but I do have


Have some balances that are circular. So you’re still carrying over, but it’s significantly less than what it was before. And now it whenever I use my credit cards, it’s only for something that I know that I could pay off. So, for example, I recently bought a washing machine for my house, but I had the money already set aside in my bank account for it, and I had been saving for it. So I put it on the card just so that I can you know, build that credit and then like within the next month, I paid it off. Yeah, no credit at all. Yeah, it’s when it gets out of control that it’s the issue. Are you strategically paying down your credit cards? Yes, interest rates are still what are they now 14? I’m the one of them I think is 18. But that’s also it gives me cashback so it doesn’t hurt as much because when you balance it out the percentage that I get on cashback versus the amount that I’m paying an interest it’s, I guess it comes down to like $13 so or 13% rather.


And so yeah, so what I do, though, is that I am like I said I’m only paying and I’m only putting


Something in my cart if I know that I can pay it off in cash, and then also when I do pay that off so for example with the washing machine that I’m paying off extra on top of that, because I’m also still trying to, to, to pay down my total balance. And so anytime I get extra money


besides what I need to put into my savings, I put it onto my credit cards. That’s, that’s like the majority of where my excess money goes right now, just like I am aggressively paying down my credit cards now that it’s on a lower, more manageable. Yeah, lower, more manageable like payment each month. So for example, my credit cards before my monthly payment was actually like $300 a month and right now it’s like $50 a month. So I can still pay that $300 a month, which I usually still do, but it’s actually doing more for me, because I’m not just paying a minimum balance. I’m paying the minimum plus a huge, huge lump sum more so it’s you know, this thing with the interest rates on credit cards is so egregious is 18% and whatnot. I mean, if you can earn seven to 10% on your investments, you’re doing well. So think about that the critic inflation


so low, that it’s really smart to pay down those high interest. It’s just so much in your financial favor to be able to do that. Yeah. And it sounds like you’re doing it. I mean, you can’t just focus on paying down debt. You’ve got all these other things you need to do, but it’s still so important to the overall financial picture. Yeah, that’s what I’m working on. Right.




So having kids are expensive.


But what I went through was my divorce. Being a stay at home mom, I wasn’t prepared


at all. Everything was in my ex’s name, the house, cars.


We had a joint account, but she had a separate account.


And I went through it for


a good two years where I was not prepared when I’m moving


to Oakland from Cincinnati, only had a high school education.


And I’ve been out of the workforce for over 10 years, like I said, So, um, I didn’t have a savings. I didn’t we lit what was in our joint count down the middle. But she had income coming in and I just had what I walked away with, which was like 3500. Yeah. So, I think it was like $3500 I need to find a place to live. I need to furnish too that place, I need to get food.


And then I then I was in a battle of divorce and custody war for two years and I came out on the better end but it was two years struggle.


And so it was it was a drastic change for my family. I had to go work part time so I was away from when she had the boys I will work and then I had the boys. I wasn’t really


So, being a primary parent, I have four days out of the week. So I was only able to work three days.


And I fell back on, you know, a little bit of bookkeeping information that I had and wind up getting a really good job


through a temp agency at a family-owned business, I was like, oh, bring your kids in, you know? Yeah, you know, and so I was able to move from three days a week to, you know, five days a week and really get a nice, um,


you know, be able to work, unfortunately, that went away. And so I was just basically living off of my child support payments. And I moved us into a one bedroom, and we share that one bedroom and, you know, I’m super frugal, and, you know, I went on welfare just like I was, I was repeating the same things that my mom did, but


I didn’t have that, that down and out feeling. It was like, this is what I need to do. It’ll lead to my next question, and I’m about race and how you’ve been affected by that. Financially, job opportunities and all that. So


I know it’s a big question, but it’s really so relevant to ask you that, especially now, and I hope you don’t mind sharing if you do just don’t but who would like to step in and Tori


So, um, I believe I shared this story when we were in our class, but


as far as like myself as a black woman, especially as it pertains to finances the two major situations where


I guess where I was negatively impacted, and in both cases, I didn’t realize it at the time, like how much someone had taken advantage of me of the fact that like, they


knew that, you know, I most likely wouldn’t know about these, these lower opportunities or these, these better opportunities


and the fact that they even offered them so but so one obviously being my credit card, my credit card, like I said was had a 31% interest rate, it was non-negotiable. It was something that they offered me. And it’s something that I saw that they offered my sister more recently, but it’s something that they specifically offer only in lower income communities. They’re like, Oh, you don’t have credit, use this credit card, you can build your credit, it’s great.


But the reality is it’s highly predatory lending and like you said, it’s like nearly impossible to pay off. And, and I didn’t even I didn’t realize I didn’t know to check my interest rate. I just knew that I had a credit card I knew that I had, I had a card had to make sure that I paid the minimum balance because I didn’t want to default or anything like that. But the second one which Hit me harder, especially more recently is my car when I got my car, that lemon that you know, that kept breaking down and I had to replace eventually but


they gave me


interest rate that was like, so incredibly high for this car. And it was something like, again, I think it was like 22%. You know, like so these astronomically high interest rates, which I don’t know anything about, because I’ve never purchased a car before. And my parents, you know, to the best of their knowledge, they’re haggling, thinking that they’re helping, which they did because it could have been worse. But again, they only know from experience from what they’ve been offered, right. So they actually haggled down to 22%. Well, oh my gosh, it was like 27 or 28. At first, and the person was like, Oh, we can’t go any lower, you know. And again, that’s a lie. But I’ll be things but because my parents would have never been offered a better interest rate. So how would they know? You know, so?


And when I took your class, and everyone’s talking about Oh, my car’s 7% 6% 4%. I was like,


oh, and so when I got my car that I currently have, I bought it new, and I had to argue, and I sat there I went there for two days. And I was there for two full working days. While I was working with Oakland Promise.


Which meant that I wasn’t making money because I was physically at the auto dealership. I’m negotiating with them about what I should be paying, and they brought it down to 6%. It probably could have been less, but you know, they even still they, they were like, it could have been worse. So, um, and then


yes, compared to 20 something percent it was much more reasonable and my payments, I like I believe, and gladly. I’m like, it’s fine. It’s a brand-new car. It’s not gonna break down on me anytime soon. And if it does, it has a warranty. So that was that was the trade-off for me down to what did they start at?


Well, first, they tried to tell me I wasn’t approved. So first, they tried to tell me I could not get a car. They said that my credit was not good enough. And I had literally checked it that morning. And I was like, that’s a lie. And then they then they tried to show me the screen. They’re like, see, look, here’s a list of people that have rejected you. And I’m like, but there’s a list right over there. Who’s the list of people that accepted me so then they assumed I couldn’t read.


And you know, it was a process. So like I said, I was there for two full days. So I was there for 16 hours. Back to Back


days being in those places negotiating. Yeah. So, but yeah, so it was so frustrating. But I got my car. I’ve had my car for about two and a half years now and it’s great. never had any problems with it. Fast forward to maybe like three months ago, my boyfriend who is a white man, he went to go get a car, they were like, hey, do you know we had this discount today? Did you know that? You could actually get this low interest rate? Hey, how old are you? Has your grandfather ever? Do you know anybody who’s ever owned a car? And they’re like, Oh, well, if your grandfather owned this car, back in 19, whatever, then he can also get a discount. So they were just offering him discounts. That didn’t was not mentioned anywhere that these things existed. And so his interest rate is 2.5%.


And, and they offered he walked in and he said I’m not going to pay more than this much per month for a brand-new car and they’re like, okay, sorry, we can do that. Um, and it’s just it’s a completely different experience. So um,


Something that is just so unfair, it really is.


That’s my experience of bracing credit. Well, you you’re learning though, I bet the next time you won’t even accept 6% I’m not. Yeah, cuz next time I’m gonna have excellent credit and I’m gonna be like, oh no. Yeah, right. Right. Shonda, you had your hand up? Um, yes, I have this really early childhood memory that I wanted to share, as well. So I am a black biracial woman. My mother is white and my father is black. And growing up, we always would have different used cars. We did a lot of driving. So we needed a decent nice car. And I remember going to the dealership and my parents had different roles that they would play. So my dad would always go in first. He would always ask for the car that we wanted, he would get a price estimate and he say, All right, I’ll be back later, this time.


Afternoon. And later this afternoon was when my mom would come. And just hearing your story again, it’s just so familiar to this, my mom would go in and get a much better deal than my father. And then my father would come in, and it was almost like they knew they were wrong. So they would give them an even better deal once they realize that my mother and father were together. So they figured out how to play the system, if you will.


And you know, it’s sad, but there’s so many instances in my life where I remember my parents literally going in to see well how will they treat me? You know, my father, the black man versus my mother, the white woman. And the difference was night and day. The other thing I’ll say to that is just really lack of access to knowledge. It wasn’t until I got into college and actually joined my co-ed business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, the psi chapter, that I even started to think about these concepts with myself. So it’s when I first discovered the acorns app.


And then thanks to you, Cathy, for explaining what I was even signed up for. I just knew I was supposed to do it because it was recommended to me. But these concepts of money are very, very much a mystery and also taboo, especially in a lot of


people of people of colors, culture. And so we don’t talk about them, or it’s kind of seen as something you stray away from.


Yeah, and it’s just been, I’m really grateful, again, to be able to be in a space where you can have these conversations, and also be able to have these conversations with the lens of race and how they play into that because the more you know, the truly the more empowered you are to be able to have those conversations. And, you know, to Tori’s point, it probably wasn’t even initially thinking like this is this could potentially be a race thing. But on the other hand, I have the experience, I’ve always seen that it was a race thing. So I always have that in the back of my mind when I’m operating and being mindful.


Like, what is the situation and what am I actually worth? Right? Good, really good, Rebecca. Yeah, we’re talking about some really, too. And when I think about how race and wealth have intersected for me, it’s really about the


generational wealth. And I have an indigenous background, I mean, Native American from California, and our land is Yosemite National Park. And we’ve been in over for battle for federal recognition, and we have not been granted that permission yet. The court puts it out kind of every year and this past year, we had to prove that we were that we were all dispersed around the park not allowed to live in the park.


And all of our tribes’ resources and money and work has gone into these battles


and it started from you


the 1849 Gold Rush. First, there were massacres and, you know, natives were hunted legally and not granted religious freedom until 78. So there was in 1878 1919 Wow. Okay.




starting from, you know, the mid 1800s


kind of my community has not been building on wealth and didn’t really even building on the kind of wealth that exists and is what gets you ahead in today’s society. So, there’s an entire conflict in my background, the use of thinking about money that I’ve, I’ve been balancing of trying to live in today’s world and build wealth, where there’s no kind of historic intergenerational wealth or value put on that


In my community, so it’s very interesting.


Contrast that is, is where race and money intersect and contradict each other and you know, don’t connect as well, that I’ve had to educate myself constantly on how to live in today’s world, how to bring that knowledge back into my community, so that we can maintain our traditional values, our vision, our, you know, connection with, with our history,


of being able to be members of society, and fighting for ourselves to be people in the eyes of the government. It’s, it’s a very interesting relationship where we’re just recognized as, as people while also trying to prove ourselves and you know, build ourselves up and just live in our ancestral homeland.


Do you? How do you help your community learn


about building wealth and things like that.


I would say through


model I’ve given talks before at UC with my aunt or just my cousin. I don’t exactly know how we’re related, but I call her my aunt. And she’s a peasant somehow.


But I try and help out where I can. It’s more one on one and personal communication.


I try, it’s not that big. But


are you unusual in your tribe, your education and ambition and all that? I would say?


Yes. So from my family, my siblings and I, with a couple of my cousins have gone outside for, you know, for your college degrees or higher education as well. And it’s not super typical of my tribe in general. Yeah. How does your tribe support themselves?




one supports themselves individually and the board. My understanding is that it’s more of a volunteer basis. Okay. Yeah, that’s so interesting. That’s just a whole different world that most of us don’t learn about.


You know, did you ever feel like you lacked opportunity, being


who you are, I would say, um, I really felt like I lacked opportunity so much as I just had to work harder. Everything was about working hard and work ethic was the number one value, you know, Family first, and you work for what you have. And you always, you know, feed your friends and your family and whoever needs it. Food’s a big part of it. So I think that I didn’t necessarily lack for


opportunities. But I think that whenever I earned them through really hard work, I was criticized for them. When I got into Stanford people would tell me like oh,


Cuz you check the box, you know, because you’re native. I heard that from so many people, and I had so much imposter syndrome. And it took me a long time to realize like, no, I worked extremely hard for this. A lot of people work really hard and are rejected from great colleges.


And it’s kind of the nature of the system and it’s not great. But it took me a long time to recognize my value and my worth in that my hard work. got me to where I am. How do you float that little clock thing that you were someone’s doing? Let’s float that Yeah, there you go. Thank you.


So that’s all around. Yeah. If I recall, you were going to buy a house, right? I was, that’s my initial plan. I bought a car instead. So I was really, you know, listening to what Tori was saying, I started planning after we talked. Last summer. We met a couple times. After


But I kind of changed my plan around a little bit and decided how it was going to be more longer term planning and that I wanted to invest in a car and I started planning about six and a half months ago for exactly what kind of and I waited until they offered zero percent financing and then I went in and got it.


It’s all about knowledge, right? What car did you get at zero percent?


Toyota rav4 hybrid, and I am just through the roof excited. It’s my first new car


driving little stick shift like 1994 ford escort before that didn’t have air conditioning and crank windows. So I was thrilled. That’s so exciting. Congratulations. Thank you. I’m sure you’re gonna make the house thing too.


Yes, it’s in the plan. Yeah, that’s great. Thank you.




Um, yeah, Race has


always played a big impact in my life.


Every week, the first time it was financial


was the first time I opened up an account by myself


in Cincinnati, and it wasn’t a credit card, it was just a normal checking account and I had to jump through hoops.


You know, normal depositing of money should have been enough, but I need to bring in


they want a letter from my employer that said I actually work there that this was my check this and on the other and I was like, you know what?


I don’t have to do all this. And so and it was a national bank. It wasn’t like a local bank. And I’ll just take money out you were trying to put it in.


I was just trying to get a regular checking account with checks and I had never, I had never overdrawn a checking account. I’ve never been denied a checking account for and it was


I had to jump through a lot of hoops. When I bought my first car.


I was very, I didn’t have any knowledge whatsoever. I just needed a car.


And my mom took me. My sister worked at Ford, which is a big plant in Cincinnati, and she had a family plan. And you know, you get a huge discount and a bunch of stuff. And I went to the Ford dealership.


And, you know, was looking at all these cars, and it was just myself. I was like, 21/22. I


just wanted a small car that I wasn’t going to have to put a whole lot of money in. And they were showing me these people expensive cars for like, no reason and the interest rates were ridiculous. Now, but you know, hindsight, right?


And I did finally get a car and it was like it pulled up on the truck. And it was this spring


Money green card. I was like, I want that one. And I got it. But looking back on it, it was a $17,000 car and I’ve paid double for that, because I wasn’t knowledgeable.


Why we were gonna stay on this topic. We’re gonna do one last question because we’re, we’re long, this has been so great. I want to have more of these.


So the Black Lives Matter movement. It’s getting a lot of support right now. I hope it keeps going. I personally, I think it would be getting even more support if it wasn’t for COVID. Because I think more people would be out protesting, you know, because some people are afraid to be out. But if they’re still getting big crowds, lots of support. So do you all think that this movement is going to have any impact on people of color, financially, at all, or what impact do you think it’s going to have


Who would like to? Yeah, Tori? Um, so one I had a thought. The first thing was that in some ways, I think the ability for the Black Lives Matter movement to like,


to kind of balloon the way that it has in the last couple months is in part because we’ve been in COVID because a lot of people are not working. I know that like, myself, especially like, in this circle, a lot of people in my community one of the biggest points of fear when you’re thinking about going out and protesting is what if I lose my job? In this case, you remove that obstacle because I’ve already lost my job. So what are they gonna do now? They can’t fire me. So, um, so I think um, I would say that I would say that in a lot of ways its ability to amplify has been because people are spending more time on their computers, so they’re able to like message each other faster. You’ve been seeing people getting fired, which is something I have never seen before. Like people are getting fired like that for saying the wrong thing for the wrong person and they caught it on recording, which you know, sometimes happens anyway, but now


Everyone has seen it. Someone did their research, they’ve investigated, I know where this person lives now I’m going to message their job directly. There have been doing petitions like to get people fired at certain places. I forgot what it was. But my boyfriend told me that a company co fired his own daughter.


Because she said something gracious, which is like a level of commitment. You haven’t we only did it just because of, you know, the public side. But what that says to other employees is that if my daughter is not safe, you are not safe. So you need to keep that racism in check. So


I would say that like positive, yeah, I would say that. One of the things I feel like has been coming out of this is a little bit more accountability. At the same time, there are people who even still, I think, see it as kind of more like a trending thing, you know, and so, especially when it comes to getting justice for people who were wrongfully killed,


pretty much whoever gets justice is the person who is the most popular at this time. So I think one of the two people


Who you hear a lot about right now are like George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. But Breana Taylor her killers are still out there, you know, like in because she has now like, bumped and bumped down and in the headlines, there’s less accountability, there’s less pressure on the on that local police department to actually grab people in you know, put them through the proper legal channels so


die out or do you think anything’s gonna happen there? Ah, well, it’s hard to say but I would like to be optimistic. I lean towards optimism because realistically, I don’t see COVID you know, the shelter in place ending anytime soon. So I’m hoping that that helps to continue people to have momentum because as soon as people go back to work that is already like this last time that they have available. That’s, again, that level of concern about what if I lose my job because I’m doing this? Yeah.


So I’m hoping that more, not just conversations


about change, but actual change will come out of this. So right now we’re in that conversation stage. And I’m hoping that if we have this window of time where we, you know, where there are fewer people who are dealing with these extra constraints, I hope that that’ll help to really push forward the change that it’s on paper and in practice.


So, you know, that’s, I’m an optimist. I’m optimistic that there is this few possibilities that we can go through with this. I love optimism.


I unfortunately think is going to die down.


And not is because I’ve been through the Rodney King incidents. I’ve been through a lot of different


incidences of, you know, racial inequalities, protests and things like that. I think for George, for Mr. Arbery, the fact that it was on video, and that people are sitting at home and have nothing else to do and had to


watch these videos over and over, and watching George Floyd call out for his mother really pulled out harsh at the heartstrings of America. It’s almost


I correlated to what happened on Bloody Sunday during the marches or voting. When the news showed what happened on that bridge in Selma, Alabama. White people were like, Oh, my dear Lord, and it was like, what are we doing as a country? Because it wasn’t hitting them in their face right away. If you would look at news stories or you know, hear stories, but until you see it for yourself, it doesn’t have the same context. And so watching George Floyd die on camera watching on her




chased down and shot on camera. And I think Breanna, the difference is we don’t have that video yet. But once those cameras are released, she’s


she’s going to be right back up there. And every time there’s a police shooting, unfortunately has to be in that context, then you have black lives matter, but our lives are, are systematically oppressed every day, every day. And it’s not just a fear of police is fear of financial institutions or spheres of education systems. We have huge fears, but this is just the one that is focused on right now. And, you know, this is 150-200 years after slavery that we’re still fighting to be


not second-class citizens not treated as you know, three-fifths of a man. You know, we still don’t have every right that we are supposed to have as natural born citizens who were brought over here on slave ships, not distressed. You know, I am I am a fourth-generation descendant of a slave. Just for


In my 40 years, and I don’t have the same footing that my white counterparts have, I never have, even when my mom made sure that I was in the best schools and public school, even though you know, she moved us out of the projects, that’s where my life started was the projects. So I am always cautious around police. I’m always cautious around financial institutions. I’m always cautious with education systems. You know, I have to fight for extras for my son’s and he’s in a, you know, he’s in a great school, but I had to fight for tutoring, because his math skills coming from a public school system wasn’t the same as his counterparts at this predominantly white institution. And I had to fight. All right, he’s in a really good Oh, he said he’s in the best of independent high school and in almost the state of California, but you know,


Is the diversity thing for them, it looks good on paper to have him there. And I’m willing to support that, because it gives us the education that you need. But I shouldn’t have to. And that’s, that’s what we’re really trying to get through is I shouldn’t have to do these things, jump through these hoops or make myself stand out more, just to be counted the same. And unfortunately, the distractions are coming up, you know, basketball is coming back, baseball is coming back. Football is going to come back. So now everybody’s going to be like, Oh, I have all these other things do and I’m not going to be captivated by all the other stuff that’s going on around Black Lives Matter and racial injustices. I think the change is going to come in November. When we have to get the current resident of Pennsylvania Avenue out of there and start working ground level to get to the higher level. We always want to start in the White House.


But we have to start locally, and changing our policies locally changing our policies in our counties and then change on state level and then it’ll move federally, but we always want to start federally, when the federal doesn’t hit us as much as local hits us first. And so hopefully, as people learn political influences as they learn financial literacy as they learn about education, and how that all transformed your entire life.


And I’m looking to all of these, you know, Tori, and Rebecca, and my children, that what I’m suffering now, they don’t have to suffer as much and that’s where the change is going to come in that next generation below me because we’re scientists, 20 years and I think Tory is 20 years younger than I am. That’s two generations removed for me. My children are right behind them. That’s where the change is going to be effective is within


Their generation.


And I don’t I don’t know if we’ll see anything big happening right now. But we’re definitely going to see some big in there.




good points. Rebecca, do you want to add something?


Yeah, and Joy made such good points. Um, I think it’s well known that communities of color are being hit the hardest by COVID-19. And


what I’m afraid of is kind of the sensational or sensational aspect of people’s attention spans and so becoming desensitized to it


and putting it on the back burner as other distractions come back as you were describing, you know, sports come back and all of these other, you know, exciting entertainment, entertainment things.


And I do see the underlying issue as systems which I was just talking about in the systemic racism aspect of it. I’m really glad that you pointed out local policies as being you know, one of biggest


starting points. I do think that this, this movement will have a long-term positive impact on


on closing a little bit the financial gap


between communities of color and, and historically white populations.


I think that in the near term, the short, the short-term losses for communities of color are going to be devastating to the point where it’s going to take a very long time for them to earn back.


You know, capitalizing on any progress that we make with the systems and because I think that we’re only going to be able to change a couple systems at a time and that’s even being sick. You know, depending on what happens in November too, it might be even longer than that. But I do think long term there will be positive ramifications for this, which is why it’s so important


that people participate and you know, make their voices heard because it will make a difference.


It might be hard to see it in the near term. You know, these things always take so much time. But you got to do it anyway, you got to start and keep going. Shonda did you get a chance to say anything on this topic? No, but my colleagues have definitely done a great job. I think what I want to add in though is we talk about systemic racism. And I think what people have to realize is, this isn’t just a black issue. It’s not just an indigenous issue. It’s not just the people of color issue. This is an all of us concept and thing that we have to get behind and support because our systems are failing communities of color.


We know that but we also have to acknowledge is that they’re actually failing all of us, right? Because we have low income people. We have people across the board who are falling through the cracks. And so what I want us to remember is when we are talking about Black Lives Matter, yes, we’re talking about the needs of a particular group that will benefit the masses and


I think that that’s the important focus to be on. And I’ll even go ahead and say, you know, during the 60s and when we had the beginning of the civil rights movement, that also opened the door for the beginning of the she kind of rights movement, the beginning of the LGBTQ movement. And so just acknowledging the solidarity that comes into this, when we begin to address these systemic problems, we see the intersectionality that’s involved with it, and that it’s not just one identity that we’re carrying, we carry multiple identities and we begin to address that we all benefit. I also just, again, thank you, Rebecca, for acknowledging that what’s going on, and communities of color right now with COVID. And I think it’s also important to note that there’s so much community organizing going on, especially in the Bay Area in particular, not being from the Bay Area. I can say people from Oakland I love the energy and spirit on right with there were fighters for what’s right. And so really acknowledging


Right now as we’re talking about what’s happening in schools, proud to see so many schools, taking police out of them, disrupting that school to prison pipeline and really supporting our children, because as you all said, it’s my generation, it’s the generation coming. It’s these amazing passionate Gen Z’s who are calling out racism and sexism, and all of those things that are happening in our world. And it really just comes back to that point, this is an us issue. We are all interconnected. And when we do right by one group of people we do right by all groups of people, and it’s really remembering that piece. So that’s where I’ll say I’m optimistic. I think we have to, you know, remember that policy changes also come with this. So I am an advocate for local government, holding your city council responsible holding your school boards responsible. Those things matter those things affect policy and change and really starting there and just shout out to all the members


organizations that are doing work right now to support and advocate for our youth, our children, their education, and also for them to use their voice because it can be really scary right now to stand up and be afraid you might lose a scholarship for college, if you’re speaking up against black lives matter. So these are really real things that we have to acknowledge in the realm and there’s so much more I could say on this topic, but I think that really encompasses where we’re at. Oh my gosh, okay. All right. So the audience was I write about these women. I am like, so energized listening to you all, I can’t even tell you. Thank you so much. We’re gonna have to end the podcast, unfortunately, but it has been a pleasure. And thank you.

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Episode 4 Transcript: Young Women, Wealth and Black Lives Matter Read More »

Episode 3 Transcript: Women, Wealth And Social Change


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.


Hi, welcome to Episode Three of Financial Finesse. I’m Cathy Curtis, host of this podcast and also founder of Curtis Financial Planning, a financial advisory firm focused on the finances of independent women. I am thrilled to welcome my guest Haleh Modasser. Haleh is a senior vice president and


partner at Stearns Financial in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. The friend that introduced Haleh and me said we’re birds of a feather. And she was right. What we really share is a passion for empowering women around their finances. Haleh has taken this passion a step further and written a wonderful book called Women on Top: Women, Wealth and Social Change. Haleh’s basic message and we’ll get into it is to encourage women to invest their wealth with the mind towards doing good in the world by doing well themselves financially, to do good, but also doing well. In our conversation, you will hear the acronym ESG and the term ESG Investing often.


ESG is an integration of the E environmental


s social and the G governance into investment analysis that includes but goes beyond the purely financial sales, profits growth and things like that. For example, environmental factors determine a company’s stewardship of the environment. Are they concerned about climate change, pollution, resource depletion in their operations? It also looks at social factors. How a company treats its employees. Is the workforce diverse, is the environment safe for the employees. And lastly, it looks at governance factors, such as for diversity and executive compensation. Some also call this value-based investing or dual mandate investing. But before I get into it too much further, I want to welcome Haleh. Haleh, thank you so much for joining me on my podcast. It’s a pleasure, Cathy. Thanks for having me. I’m just thrilled that we can have a


conversation about something that we’re both so passionate about. So I thought we’d start, there’s always a lot of confusion around what values-based investing is both in the financial advisory community and the public, the public in general. So could you just give us a brief explanation about this type of investing? Sure. So the idea here is that you’re investing your assets in accordance with your values. And that has seen multiple iterations over time, historically speaking, people who did that really cared more about the change that they were creating than their financial return. And I think that kind of gave a bad name to this type of investing because they by definition, did have to take lower returns, and often paid higher expense ratios as well. But in the last five years, values-based


investing has just exploded. There is so much product out there. It’s inexpensive, it’s accessible. And recent studies have shown that ESG investing, which is the most current iteration of values-based investing, actually does as well, if not better than an unconstrained portfolio. Yes, I’ve heard that. I do invest some of my clients in an ESG manner. And I think what moved me towards this is one, the demand by my female clients for this type of investing. Women really want to invest with their values, if they understand it, which I think is one of the issues is women, when they hear that they’re like, oh, yeah, that sounds really good. But they don’t really know what it is. And I’m wondering why you think there’s this education gap.


And well, let’s first start with the


common perception out there that 80% of women are interested in ESG investing. That is a statistic that I’ve run across for several years. And in writing this book, I did an original research study, where I actually interviewed 500 Boomer women ages 55 to 75, with investable assets of 500,000 or more, and I was shocked to learn that 80% of these women, and remember, these are the women that have the assets right now. 80% of them didn’t really know what ESG was, a disconnect, it was completely opposite of what I had heard. And I investigated it further, talked to many experts in this and we’ve kind of decided that the millennial women are what’s driving that figure. But unfortunately, the millennial girls don’t yet have the asset


base to move the needle, the way that Boomer women do who currently control somewhere between 60 and 67% of the nation’s wealth?


Yeah. And your survey was Boomer women specifically, correct. The women that do have the 500,000 or more in assets? Yeah. Could I ask you, was the study a nationwide or was it a certain geography? It was nationwide, we actually wanted to make sure that it had a 95% confidence interval. So in order to find women meeting this criteria, that is Boomer women with investable assets of over 500,000, we had to go to about 5000 women and finally culled it down to who we think are the women that actually control the majority of the wealth or a sample of the women that control the majority of the wealth. And I think


it’s a pretty good representation of most Boomer women. That would be our clients. Cathy, right away. ESG investing unless they’re your client or my client. Well, yeah, and but the reason I asked about the geography is that I’m in Northern California where a lot of people know about it and have heard of it and kind of understand it. So that may be an anomaly a little bit. That’s not really like the rest of us. But even so, there still is a myth that the investment returns aren’t as good. I get that question all the time. Can we debunk that myth? Absolutely. There was actually a meta study done. That’s a study of over 2000 studies that showed that at worst, ESG investing returns the same as their typical portfolio at best it slightly outperforms. And I think over time, we would find


I mean, it makes intuitive sense if you think about it, if a company treats their employees well, if a company has transparent corporate governance, if a company has inclusion of gender and race within their ranks, they’re going to do better over the long term. That’s not disputable. Yeah. It makes complete sense to me that as time goes on, companies that are scoring higher on the ESG spectrum will outperform.


Well, it makes sense to me. Um, you and I are like preaching to the choir. So this is a challenge and question I have for you. How do we educate more of these Boomer women with the wealth that can, you know, make great change by investing in this manner and supporting companies that have these values? What do you think the answer


is in getting more people to invest this way?


Well, I think the first order of responsibility is the women themselves. As you know, I’m sure 95% of women die alone, regardless of marital status, and that’s because women have longer life expectancies. So suddenly they inherit wealth from their parents, from their husbands. They may have earned their own assets, you put it all together, and they’re faced with


a ton of money and the responsibility of prudently investing it. And so, my message to women is, please don’t put your head in the sand. You know, you have to read, you have to understand, you have to do your homework. But what I find is that most high net worth Boomer women prefer to use an advisor and I’m all about that. What is distressing to me


is that there are many advisors who don’t really understand or want to promote ESG options, and therefore they don’t really show that or educate their clients on that. And I feel like it’s a real missed opportunity for women. And not to get on my feminist flag here. But, you know, we haven’t had a woman president, less than 6% of Fortune 500 companies have a woman CEO, I mean, women still have a gender pay gap. And women still take time off to take care of kids and they don’t earn as much and they don’t have as much in retirement savings. And so here’s an area where women actually are already in the lead. They’re already on top. They control the majority of the wealth in the nation, and they can really leverage that wealth to leverage their voice. Okay, well, I have an idea. So both of us would like to


see more of this kind of investing? And what you’re saying is, it’s really in women’s best interest to do so. Right? Because so many of the values and issues within ESG investing match what women want. I know you found that in your studies, right, that it matches what women care about. And then for advisors, women control $22 trillion, is what I’m reading or 61% of the wealth in the country. So it seems like there’d be a motivation on both sides to invest in this manner. I want to step back a minute though and talk about why women may not be what about this, this phenomenon about women who are wealthy but never feel like they’re rich? And they you know, the bag lady syndrome is alive and well. I was surprised when I read that in your book because I see that many of my wealthy women clients, no matter how much they have, they still don’t believe


they’re wealthy. And that may be a little bit of a deterrent in investing in this manner. If there’s any inkling that maybe it doesn’t have the same returns for you mentioned or that their husbands may still be involved in the investment decisions, and they’re not enlightened about ESG investing. Yeah, I mean, generally speaking, Boomer men are not as interested in ESG investing as Boomer women, for example, or women in general. And if the male advisor is also not as inclined to promote ESG investing, then I would suspect that a boomer woman who’s delegated the investment management either to her husband or to their advisor, probably just has no idea that it’s even an option. Right? What I find is, the higher the net worth, it’s a little bit like Maslow’s hierarchy. You know, once you’re not worried


about food and shelter, you suddenly want to give back. And so my higher net worth clients are the ones that are coming to me and saying, look, I, I have an amazing life. I have had an amazing life. I have all of this wealth. And before I leave this earth, I want to do something. And to be honest, so many feel disenfranchised in this political environment. You know, and so my study found that less than 30% of women, regardless of political affiliation, feel that either the government or philanthropy can attack the social issues that we face as a country. So they really want to make a difference with their wealth. And I think the conclusion is that the real power brokers of our capitalist society are corporations. And if we can get corporations to view us as stakeholders.


Not just investors. But if we really as women care about the environment, if we care about how people are being treated during the pandemic, their working conditions, do they have time off? Can they work from home, then which is a social and ESG? Right? caring about the people in the company’s rank, as well as its master? I mean, there’s a social means the primary question I would have for your audience is, is a company required? Or is it incumbent upon a company to do more than just care about the shareholder? I mean, here we are buying their products at Target or Walmart. You know, is it is there a responsibility on that company to sell us something that’s safe? Mm hmm. You know, the food products, is there a responsibility to protect us? You know, are they responsible for treating


employees well, do we expect good corporate governance and transparency, diversity on boards and diversity in the workforce, things like that. There. In your book, you cite a couple of examples about companies that didn’t do these things and were hurt in their profits. So can you talk about that. Dick’s Sporting Goods comes to mind and a couple other examples that you mentioned. And the ones that I would point out immediately would be Volkswagen, okay. The amount of shareholder value that was lost because of that emission scandal was enormous. And MSCI had actually downgraded Volkswagen due to complaints, at least a year or two before the scandal ever hit. So if you were a Volkswagen shareholder, and you had been focused on ESG factors, you probably wouldn’t have held Volkswagen when that scandal broke.


That’s true also with Equifax. It’s true with Wells Fargo. I mean, there are a number of examples of that. I think the Dick’s Sporting Goods example that you’re referring to Cathy has to do with the weeks following the Marjory Stoneman gun shooting. You’ll recall that was when a 17-year-old in Florida went into a high school and opened fire on a group of students with a semi-automatic weapon.


Anyways, the country was outraged. But the difference this time was that people took to social media, and they started questioning, where did that gun come from? How did the 17-year-old get that gun? Mm hmm. And I know in my office, I had several clients calling and saying I want you to dump all gun stocks, anything that has to do with the gun industry. And so we did that. We found what


we were looking at some of our ETFs and mutual funds that both Walmart and Dick’s Sporting Goods to sell guns, they distributed guns. And within two weeks when these companies were faced with economic risk and reputational risk, they had both changed their rules. One


raised the age from 18 to 21, to buy a gun and the other stopped selling bump stocks entirely. And that’s when I had my aha moment, which was, wow, it took two weeks to change major policy, whereas the NRA and all the political wrangling over the years about gun control, which by the way happens to be one of the issues that Boomer women really care about, regardless of party affiliation. They did it in two weeks. Yeah. So was that the motivation to write this book? Was that one of them? It really was because I saw that


power being harnessed of economic harm and reputational risk by the consumer and by the investor toward a company, I started to realize that, you know, you could completely bypass politics, you just like go directly to the company and say, I don’t like that you’re doing that, and they will change. Yes. So this is the three pillars thing you talk about. Women traditionally have done charitable work, volunteer, give money to charities. They’ve gotten politically active and voted for their candidate. But what you’re saying that’s all good and that’s important work, charities do important work, but investing is a way to make an even bigger impact on and make change happen in a really astoundingly quick manner. All right. Well, for one thing, I love our charities, I mean, I love them.


But very few women have enough money to give away that they can move the needle. However, if you’re not giving money away, you’re investing your own assets, but you’re using your wealth to promote causes that you care about. That’s a lot more money that you can leverage. Well, it’s a lot more people investing in that same manner.


Yeah, pool women’s resources together. It’s as high as $23 trillion.


And just to put that in perspective, the entire GDP of Australia this year is about 1 trillion. I mean, this is a lot of wealth, and 7% of the nation’s wealth and so it can really move the needle if women will come together and vote with their pocketbooks, so to speak. Well, another interesting point you made in the book is that this is kind of a unique


time, there’s all these Baby Boomer women, right? And then there’s this one opportunity now to make some real change before we move on, right and pass on. And then new generations may have different ideas. So the time is really now. I also want to bring up another point about right now, we have the pandemic. And we also have all this social unrest with the George Floyd killing, and Black Lives Matter. And I also have my women clients who want to know, what can I do? Everyone’s wondering what can I do to help and this is a great way to do that is to invest in this manner. And so let’s get into more about the specifics of how you invest in this way. So you said earlier, one way is wealthy Boomer women work with financial advisors, right? So they rely on their financial advisors to help them make investment decisions or they just turn over


the investment decisions to their advisors. So one thing they can ask their advisors to invest in this way. Okay, so, too, so for the advisors listening, I want to just emphasize that you can do ESG investing and build diversified portfolios. As Haleh said earlier, it’s not just about negative screening or positive screening anymore. There is a way to invest in this way called best in class. And Haleh, do you mind just going on a little bit about best in class in ESG investing. Yeah, I’m interested that you asked because the Vatican just came out the Pope did and said that he wanted all good Catholics to divest of all oil stocks.


I read that and I thought, let’s, let’s logically play that through. You’re an investor. You own Exxon, you sell your Exxon and it goes to somebody else.


Who buys it? Does that in any way, shape or form injure Exxon? They don’t even know. You know, more than 6 billion trades are made a day. They don’t know whether you’re rebalancing your portfolio or whether you’re making a statement, they’ve already gotten their money at the IPO, you know, you’re not taking money away from them. So what is the best way to show Exxon that you would like for them to come up with alternate forms of fuel, cleaner energy, and leave a better carbon footprint? What is the best way? I would say that the best way is


to own some of their shares, and potentially vote by proxy, and pool with other people in writing shareholder resolutions. So that’s one option, that’s active ownership approach, right. The other option is simply to buy a fund


that has already been created that only incorporates the best in class, as you just mentioned. Mm hmm. Let’s say that you have an oil company that’s doing all the right things. And then you’ve got another oil company that just doesn’t care. That fund is going to wait, the better oil companies hire and have very little of the ones that aren’t doing the right things in the fund. And in that way, it’s more of a passive message to the companies that hey, look, if you want to be in this massive fund, which by the way has huge amount of market share, you better step up your game and start doing what this other company is doing. Ya see? I really, to me, that makes so much sense. Because then you can still build a portfolio that has a piece of every industry there is you don’t cut out oil companies you don’t cut out


companies that make junk food or you know what I mean, you, you have the diverse array of companies. So you can build a diversified portfolio. But you overweight the companies that are doing good, quote unquote. And I want to get to this doing good thing, because who determines which companies are doing better than others in this area? It’s the rating agencies. Right. And I think that’s also another area where there’s some, it’s a little bit gray, because it’s not truly standardized yet. But it’s getting there. Right. Can you speak to that a little bit? Yeah, it’s a lot better than it used to be. But, you know, some of your listeners may have heard the term greenwashing. Right, in order to curry investor favor, every fund and every company says, guess what? We’re ESG when they’re really not, you know, there’s a lot of deception


going on, because there’s a lot of self-reporting going on. And we have these rating agencies that are doing a phenomenal job, but because the, it’s not as standard as it could be, you might have one company rating the same company completely differently than another. So it’s really important. I mean, this is one of the areas I would say to, to, you know, any investor, if you’re really interested in ESG, it really is worth it to go to someone who understands the space and try to kind of weed out the greenwashed products and try to actually develop a diversified portfolio across all asset classes, not just stocks, but bonds, alternative investments, real estate, there are many, many companies that are doing good while also doing well. But it’s hard to access if you frankly, I mean, you almost have to be a professional to access them.


Some of these asset classes, yeah, certainly the private equity and alternatives and things like that. But I would argue that an investor can build an ESG portfolio using some of the fund families out there right now, who have really taken this seriously. And I’m, I’m so thrilled to see that you can build a diversified portfolio with large cap, foreign emerging markets, small cap, and, and it’s diversified and it performs well. And you know, sometimes it outperforms even. So it just depends. Yeah, and if you’re worried about returns, I mean, it’s very easy to look up the track record of these funds. You don’t have to take anybody’s word for it. You just look at how they perform. How did they perform in a bull market? How are they performing during the pandemic? Many ESG funds during this pandemic have outperformed, many are positive.


Yes, I’ve noticed that in my own portfolios and not just because of who I am. I’m absolutely thrilled to see that. So, you know, are we, is there any downside to this kind of investing that you can even




I Cathy, I really don’t think so. I think this is the wave of the future. I think we as investors expect more from our companies, it’s not just enough to be focused on the bottom line, we really, we can see that with the social unrest in this country after the George Floyd killing, you know, and the pandemic, the disproportionate numbers of minorities that have not only lost jobs but lost their lives, due to a lack of access to health care and education and, you know, jobs that are more secure and so really through ESG we can promote


and support companies that are supporting these minorities to kind of level the playing field. So it’s, it’s hard for me to see as progress is made over time and we become hopefully a more and more civil society at least that’s my hope that this just won’t become the standard. This type of investing is not replacing fundamental stock valuation, it’s an add on


to all the other fundamental criteria, it still has to be a good investment for you to invest in it. Right, an added bonus. And I would say that if a company is performing well in this added criteria, that they’re going to do better over the long term. Right. And, and also, many rating agencies are looking at ESG criteria now too I mean, S&P and Morningstar and all the big ones right? And it’s because


there is a demand for this kind of investing, maybe starting with the millennial generation. But there is a demand. But I think also we can’t discount the impact of social media. I mean, things are so digital, that if a company does something, quote unquote, bad, everyone’s gonna know it’s instantaneous around the world. So companies really have to protect their brand. Companies that have behaved well during the pandemic. I’m thinking of Ford, you know, converting some of their manufacturing to make face shields. People know that it’s warm and fuzzy. It’s US company. Yeah. And you think of other companies that haven’t done so well. Right. You know, and you don’t forget that when you’re at the grocery store, and maybe you don’t want to buy that product. So


we can’t lose sight of the fact that reputational risk has


gone through the roof in terms of its ability to


go across boundaries, and everyone’s going to know everything instantaneously. Yes. Well, I have to say I think your book is extremely timely. I know, I know, you published it when earlier in the year, it was February and I was thinking to myself, you know, is anyone going to be interested in ESG? Like people are interested in the E part, which is the environment, but who cares about social justice, right, but look at now, I know, I get out there and talk to as many people as you can, because people have their ears open and are listening. Yeah, I actually read recently that the interest in ESG is up 140% since the pandemic, that’s amazing. It is amazing.


So as an advisor, let’s say you’re an advisor, you haven’t done this kind of investing before, right? And you want




let’s say you can do it management approves a bit and all that right? And a client walks through the door and you don’t know whether they care about it or not. Would you offer it as an option? Would you educate? Would you do what you normally do? I think this is a question that advisors have. How do I dip my toes in if I’ve never done this before? Um, well, we at Stearns are launching our ESG platform to coincide with the publication of this book. Okay. Basically, we have a fund lineup and some private investments across all asset classes that is ESG focused. And when we have someone coming in off the street when they sit down and we you know, you chat with them, you find out what their goals are. We make that an option. I mean, it’s not something that they have to do. Some people immediately gravitate toward it.


You know, I mean, it kind of blows my mind that we’re in a capitalist society. And if I asked you, Cathy, for example, what did your portfolio do last year, you’d be able probably to give me the return and the standard deviation and return the whole thing.


If I asked you, well, what causes did your assets support, you know, you might be met with a blank stare. And so it really is an epiphany for potential clients, or even existing clients when you tell them that, you know, I know you’ve been really bothered about all the stuff that’s going on, you know, if you want to do something about it, there is a way and you know, and they don’t have to, but they need to know that that option is out there. Right. Okay. So your company is offering it as an optional type of portfolio. Yeah. And are you heading up that initiative? That’s fantastic. That’s very, very exciting. I mean, we work as a team and so I’ve got


my investment department who actually put together and researches the fund lineup, but, you know, I think and it’s probably because I’m a woman advisor and 95% of my clients are women, and I find that women really want to make a difference, they care about the greater good. Yeah, I can’t take credit for the concept because it started with my women clients, asking, you know, what can I do? Well, it’s just another piece of your toolkit. It’s another pillar to do something that supports your values. And I, you know, I agree with your message. I’m really happy that you have taken this on. It’s obviously a real strong passion for me too. And I hope that our listeners will take this as a starting point to dig in deeper, learn more.


You know, listen to their clients, talk to their clients.


And, and we can all create change together.


I love that message, Cathy, thanks for doing what you’re doing. And thanks for having me on. Thank you. Is there anything else you’d like to add? For example, where can people buy your book? And do you have a blog or podcast, anything you’d like to share with us on your public platform? We kind of deferred the official launch of the book because the pandemic hit and it didn’t even occur to me that, you know, my book would become more relevant. I was thinking who’s interested in a book when everybody’s worried about this Coronavirus, but it is out there on Amazon and readily available that way. Okay. We’re having a formal book launch


upcoming but it hasn’t happened yet. Okay, well, I’m excited for you. Thank you for taking the time to write this book and putting all the research and thought you did into it and I’m looking forward to hearing


more. Thanks Cathy.

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Episode 3 Transcript: Women, Wealth And Social Change Read More »

Episode 2 Transcript: The Value of a Good Financial Advisor


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.


All right. Hi, everyone. It’s Cathy Curtis. And this is episode number two of my new podcast Financial Finesse. Yeah, I am thrilled to be having a conversation with Melissa Joy, who is a financial advisor like me. We have a lot of similarities except she’s in Michigan and I’m in California, but other than that, we’re both independent businesses, women-owned firms. We do financial planning, retirement planning, investment management, we do holistic planning. And one of the reasons I wanted to have this conversation is I think there’s a lot of people out there that don’t really know what independent advisors do, and how much help we convey to people with their finances. People know about brokers and big banks and things like that. But there’s, there’s this whole other world of small, independent businesses, whose whole goal is to make sure that their clients leave really successful financial lives. And Melissa and I happen to be two of those people. So, we’re gonna share our experiences and why we’re doing what we’re doing and what kind of services we provide and hopefully you will find it very interesting. But before we start, it is cocktail hour. And it just so happens that Melissa and I are taking a little break from drinking this week. So we’re actually not going to be drinking any alcohol, but we thought we would share our favorite. For me it’s wine. So I’m going to start. And if I was drinking right now, I’d be drinking a Lynmar Estate Chardonnay. Lynmar is winery up in Sebastopol, California. It’s my absolute favorite winery in Sonoma County. They also make a wonderful Pinot Noir. And every Chardonnay they make is great. They’re not open right now. But they are going to be open soon and I can’t wait to go back up and sit on their beautiful patio. So, Melissa, welcome to my podcast. And hi Cathy. Hi. It’s so good to see you. And why don’t you share what you would be drinking right now?


Well, I’m dreaming of wines from California, but I feel like I need to be loyal to the home, the home state, the home field and mention I love IPAs and Bell’s Brewery here in Michigan makes Two Hearted which is just my favorite beer. We had it the keg in our wedding 12 years ago and still have it in the fridge today. So shout out to Michigan IPAs.


Yay. I love a good IPA. Definitely beer really hits the spot more when it’s super hot. And you told me you’re in 78 degrees right now in your office and I’m about to say


the office is warm.


That would be pretty tasty right now. Sounds good to me. Yeah. So also I want to add I am wearing my pearls in honor of Melissa because her firm is Pearl Planning. Am I doing that Pearl Planning right? That’s perfect. Yes.


Tell us about why you named it Pearl Planning.


Well, a couple reasons.


A pearl is something that is a challenge, a piece of sand, a grain that’s an irritation that turns into something beautiful. And don’t we know that our financial lives have those moments to where you need resilience, it’s not always perfect. And, and for me, it’s personal as well. So my grandmother was Vera Pearl and my daughter is named Josephine Pearl. And so there’s that legacy of the past as well as the possibility of the future. And that’s a perfect fit. So our tagline is no grit, no pearl.


I love that so much. I really do. No grit, no Pearl, it’s perfect. I have a Pearl in my life too. My dad worked for Rand McNally maps and you’re a map person. I love maps. Yeah. He worked for Rand McNally for many years, and his secretary was named Pearl. And she used to travel. We didn’t travel as six kids. We were homebound all the time. But his secretary traveled, and she’d bring back exotic stuff from like Japan and places like that. And so we always loved Pearl. So that’s a special name in my life too. Let’s get on with how we’re working with our clients right now. And, um, what kind of clients we work with and things like that. We’re very similar in a lot of ways. We’ve both been 20 years in the financial services business. We’re independent businesses. I, I work with women mainly. And the triggers that clients come to me for are usually they inherited money, and they don’t know what to do with it. And we all know how emotional money is, and they’re worried that they’re, they’re going to blow it. They want to really make sure they plan for their future, and also women who are nearing retirement and want to plan for retirement. Those are the triggers for me and the kind of clients that I work with. What about you?


I think you have a terrific focus on working with women. I find that oftentimes women reach out to me, but oftentimes they’re in heterosexual couples. So it’s a man and woman working together. And more recently, I’ve been starting to work with people who are younger. So more in Gen X and Gen Y or millennial. And I find people are reaching out to me because they say, Gosh, I’m maxing out my 401k. And what’s next? Like, I don’t know where this money that I’m accumulating should go. I also find, I have a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst designation and right now I I’m questioning whether that spike in divorces may be occurring because I’ve been talking to quite a few people who are going through a divorce and then word of mouth. You know, clients will mention me to other clients and it’s certainly I’m so appreciative that they feel confident to share my name in a way that they know I will help their friends. So those are some of the reasons that people reach out but there’s often a pain point like you described and how would you describe inheritance as a pain point? Yeah. Well, there’s so much emotion tied to taking, you know, doing the right thing for money. And it’s a, it’s a huge transition.


Oh, my gosh, I mean, I hear the word. I’m so anxious around this money all the time. But it’s definitely, there’s definitely a lot of mixed emotions around it. And same with heading to retirement. Oh, yeah. People are scared. I mean, you have an income coming in every month and the confusion around how am I going to get paid when I’m retired?


Right, totally. What does that paycheck look like and I can’t believe that we aren’t able to articulate that more easily. I make sure when I’m doing a retirement discussion to not only talk about the actual like which account what dates all that good stuff. Yes. So like some trends in retirement because I don’t think we’re educated enough on the life of a retiree.


I don’t either. And also, knowing that spending changes throughout retirement, you know, I’m sure a lot of it has to do with how energetic and healthy you are.


Yes. Are you younger than status age or older than status age?


Oh, I like that. I haven’t.


Because I mean, like I don’t know, we’re both young at heart. We met each other through kind of an advisor peer group where we probably are topping out at the high end of the age group but I feel like I’m just getting started and sometimes people start to kind of separate themselves into the stay at home a little bit more just you know, because of health or whatever.


But you know what, we have the experience, but we also have the joy and the enthusiasm. So we’ve got the best of all worlds. Right? Well


share with you a little bit. We’re pretty darn passionate about what we do.


Yeah, definitely. And so what are some of the ways that you help somebody through these pain points that they come to you with? Whether it be wanting to know when to retire, or they’re going through a divorce? What’s your process?


So my process is to first listen, so I want to hear what that pain point is. And I want as soon as possible in our discussions for the client to feel comfortable being vulnerable. So I, you can’t just tell somebody, hey, it’s okay to trust me. It has to be based on you know, what they’re hearing from me how I’m listening. I want to make sure that I’m able to listen to them and their needs, and hopefully also I can hear about that anxiety that you’re describing, or they feel comfortable enough articulating that to me, I find that so many people, women, especially, but maybe it’s just because women are able to articulate it. They think they’re not doing well enough. And I just described a lot of the clients that come to me are doing great. Yeah. And they need to hear that from somebody else because they see everybody else seemingly doing well. And you and I both know that behind the scenes, every American household is different and a lot of them are very financially vulnerable, even if they look pretty secure from the outside looking in. So


yeah, I’m trying to hear what they need.


Well, okay, so the listening thing is so big, and you share it a number of times, I think listening to a client more than you talk is so, so important, especially in the early stages of the relationship. And I think that’s, that’s why one complaint that I have heard from my female clients that in the past, if they’ve gone to an advisor, they don’t feel like they’re listened to enough, either. It’s a woman in a couple and the advisor doesn’t necessarily pitch themselves to them. Yeah, yeah, I think that’s changing because I think all of us advisors are so aware that women are involved in the financial decisions in the household and they need to be listened to too. But listening is a skill that not everybody has.


So I think you’ve told me that you kind of that’s your superpower, right? I


did tell you that is my superpower. And I love it. I’m a good listener. So if I interrupt you, I’m sorry.


I try really hard not to interrupt people.


But that’s terrific.


So okay. So you listen, you get all the information you can about the person situation and then what happens.


So then we do a data gathering meeting, and I also use technology to gather information from the client. And then we spend a couple hours in a plan presentation. So I will go over both those pain points that the client brought up, and hopefully answer them. And when I address them, I make sure I really work hard to make sure that I don’t tell them, here’s what you’re going to do. I’m making a conversation. It’s a consultation where they make the ultimate decision. I think there’s huge increase in buy-in. I think there’s huge increase in the likelihood of implementation. And it just feels like more that you’re the quarterback of your financial life. I’m a coach that’s helping you to call the play.


Okay, you know what that reminds me of a therapist relationship where you tell them something, they go, well, what do you think about that? You don’t do


that. Do you? No I mean, I usually know the direction we’re going to go but I want their input and feedback. So my Action List during that time presentation is blank. And I create the Action List after but to take an example in the retirement space, let’s say they’re approaching retirement, they’re ready. They think they’re ready. Well, I’ll look at how much money can we spend what you know, loose ends need be tied up with how would your money be invested? How do you coordinate your financial life with your life goals, and you may not have even explored what life looks like or feels like after you’re retired, so they may need a connection to someone that’s going to help coach them in how to be a successful retiree. And we’ll talk about the statistics in retirement actually, you end up sometimes spending less money in retirement and in successive years, there’s a deflation in spending, not an inflation. Yeah. So I’ll educate them on that and help them understand both you know, this statistical analysis but also the reality of what we’re seeing in terms of retiree behaviors.


Right. You know, another thing I tell clients that I think is really helpful when you’re planning is, okay, you do a plan. It seems like a static event, but it’s really not. It’s a live, ongoing thing. And both of us work with clients on an ongoing basis. I believe you do, right? I have a family there with me year after year after year, we revisit their plan every year, or when an event happens, something big changes in their life. So you don’t just do a plan, a one-time thing and go, okay, this is what it is. Good luck. See you. We work with our clients ongoing to make sure that they stay with the plan. Things happen. There’s always an unexpected event that will happen and we help them pivot and make the plan work. So I really think that’s one of the true many values of an advisor is helping a client stay on course, stick with their plan and when something big changes, help them through it to come up with a solution. And I know that’s probably exactly what you’re doing with your clients as well.


I call that the magic of financial planning because it’s not transactional. Although you can find a financial plan that’s just delivery. Here you go. You’re on your way. And I do think honestly that in many cases, people say they’re financial planners, and they’re using the plan to sell either an investment strategy or a product or to turn it into an assets under management relationship. And that’s not to say that we don’t manage investments, because you and I both do, but to me, the process the repeated once a year, or four in my case, process of revisiting the financial plan, refreshing, updating and upgrading results is a compound return of good financial decisions. And it’s that process that is amazing. It’s so powerful. It’s very difficult to describe, which is why I’m so excited that you thought this would be a good topic for us to


discuss. Yeah.


But it is really important. And you know, one of the things I should have mentioned, we’re not just talking about their pain points. We’re also, I know you do this too Cathy, we’re looking at the entirety of their financial life. And there may be a variety of things that are we see as low hanging fruit that they would have never thought of. So we are using the process of financial planning to uncover other planning opportunities that are important, important for them to be discussing.


Oh, yeah. And think about all the things we need to be educated on as CFPs. Right. It makes my head spin. And I do this for a living. I can’t even imagine how someone who was not educated in this, never had to be educated in it, can learn everything they need to know. I mean, both Melissa and I, today we’re on a webinar about Medicare. And I know people don’t know all the ins and outs of Medicare, and when they need a Medicare website, their eyes cross yet, and you can make mistakes. That’s the thing with a lot of these financial issues, you can make mistakes unless you get the best advice. So we help with a lot of different issues. Let’s talk about the investment piece just a little bit because I do manage investments for my clients, but I look at it as a whole. So it’s a process where you start with the financial plan, you determine what the client needs for return. So how much risk do they need to take in their investments to reach their goals? That’s kind of one of the most important things I try and figure out because unless somebody is really risk tolerant just wants high growth and can handle the volatility, most of my clients I put in an age and timeframe appropriate portfolio so that they can feel good year in year out. And they understand when things get volatile that they’re going to get through it and stay with it and they’re going to reach their goals. And I think that’s also another value add for advisors like us is that we keep our clients in the market through thick and thin even though it is so hard sometimes. I mean, this year is a perfect example of that. I’ve been doing this for 20 years like you I’ve never seen anything like it.


I agree I’ve been doing it. My first day on the job was June of 98. So I got a chance to see the end of the tech bubble. And then right into a bear market. So this is my third bear market if it ends up where we’re at then the shortest, for sure. But March was, and I you know, of course the story is not yet finished. But March was such a crazy month as an advisor. And just between you me and the audience, like financial advisors are not immune to feeling awful and like you’ve been punched in the stomach just like clients. Yes, I think I would, you know, mention that if you’re listening to this podcast and you’re talking to financial planners, you know, you want to be listening to their investment process to make sure that they are not their process. Is it vulnerable to behavioral biases of the planner themself. So I work really hard to kind of set some real defined process so that I don’t kind of bail on it because I know a lot of advisors that are like, well, this is what we do all the time. Except in a way where we bailed on everything and you know, went to cash for half of the portfolio and then spent the next two years trying to get back in. It’s not just clients that do that.


So, it’s so important to have a good process in investments because we’re all human,


totally. And I got my start first being kind of a research analyst on investments only. And then I developed an investment department at a registered investment advisor. So investing was my first love in this business. I loved the research end of the process, and it was fun to develop to build an organizational structure for how to invest. And then I woke up one day and I kind of felt like the world of investing didn’t feel that new anymore or novel and I’m someone who loves, you know, a new challenge, often. Mm hmm. I felt like I climbed that mountain. So I still have that love of investing but I feel like you know, making it something where you don’t need to change just like you said, and, and you’re really hearing from the client. And your goal is to get a portfolio that they can live with in March of 2020, as well as 2019. Two radically different environments.


Yes, it’s almost like


the investment piece should be the least complicated piece of this process, wealth management process we’re talking about. Totally, right. Yes, financial lives are so complicated because things can be unpredictable, and change happens. But an investment process can be set. There’s science around it, and you don’t fiddle with it too much and you’re going to be okay. And totally, it sounds simple. It is but it just takes discipline. It takes discipline in a process and the good financial advisors approach investments in that way. They really do. And I it sounds like we’re both on the same page. I, by the way, we have that in common too. When I was in my teens, I used to track stocks by hand. I loved stocks so much. I thought this is so fascinating. Um, I read Forbes and Fortune, just to figure out why some companies were more successful than others. I just loved it. Now, right now, I don’t do stock picking. I’m not that kind of an advisor, but I still love it. So it sounds like you’ve got that real love of the whole thing.


Yeah, and I, it’s interesting. I think we have a little bit of an advantage there. Because so many financial planners nowadays, especially if they are in a larger firm, may never have made the investment decisions themselves because as firms grow, they have investment departments. They have strategies. And I don’t think that gives us a superpower, like a different return set. But what it does is we can talk. I can get very technical talking about investments. But I don’t need to do that every day. Because for the most part, you know, our financial planning. conversations are, you know, really, they’re about financial planning. They’re about everything else in life. And certainly we’re addressing investments, but it’s not a 90 minute two hour conversation on investing only, right? But when we need to get deep on that investing, when you need a tax aware strategy, because you’re high net worth and you have taxable assets, when it’s time to rebalance, or when you need someone that you can have confidence in to help you say don’t sell your entire account in March of 2020. Then it helps to have someone that’s kind of, you know, made big investment decisions in the past.


You know, you brought up another really good topic, and that is tax planning. Neither of us are CPAs or accountants, and we do not do taxes. However, as part of the CFP curriculum, we need to know about tax and tax is so important. It’s almost like it’s the well, I think having enough insurance is kind of the basis of a good financial plan to protect yourself from risk. But I also think taxes are key and people care so much about taxes, they don’t want to pay more taxes, and they have to, and so good advisors know about tax. And the truth is most people who prepare taxes, don’t do the pre planning that you need to do before the end of the year to put into place tax saving strategies. They do the taxes but then it’s too late. You really need to do tax planning in probably October or November. And so I always have a special tax planning meeting where I look and see what techniques could they use whether it’s more charitable giving, Donor Advised funds, Roth conversions, tax loss harvesting, I know some of these terms are getting a little technical, but that’s another value that independent advisor can add is to, it’s almost like it’s an adjunct to your taxes, your tax professional, they can help you with that as well.


I so agree, so there’s so many things you just said where I’m just like, absolutely. So first, because most people just think that their tax preparer you know, it’s prepare the taxes, get it done one time a year, it’s after the year’s over so the calendar year deadline matters and so many of your tax decisions, then it’s a process for tax planning is not a part of the conversation and it costs more to do tax planning, frankly. In many cases, but and I’m seeing all the time that there are, especially if you were really more investment focused as a financial professional versus a holistic financial planner or comprehensive financial planner, then there are things that are occurring in taxable accounts where I just I see money just leaving the accounts or leaving, you know, the network statement. So, you know, some ideas that I always try to mention are, what is your strategy for cost basis reporting? Like, how have you selected that average cost? Is it minimum tax? Is it first in first out, so that’s a choice. Mm hmm. And oftentimes, I find that it’s not the most tax aware choice. Also, if you are managing, you know, if you have 10 accounts are they each managed with their own strategy or if you look at them all together, I call that household. Then you could be more tax aware by owning the assets that have a higher tax cost, maybe in tax deferred or tax-exempt account, making decisions for where you access your money before you’re required to take money out of your retirement plans. Again, that’s just location. Right? Yeah. So important. There’s so many things that I know that you and I would just do, as part of our process that if you’re just getting investment advice versus financial planning, even if you think you have a financial planner, in some cases, then that may be missing.


Yes, exactly. You know, a few things both of us have brought up is technology. Okay. I think for people to understand how advisors like us use technology is so important. Because someone might think, oh, well, you’re a small firm. Do you have the resources that a bigger firm has to help us. And the world of financial technology is so incredible, that literally we can do anything that a bigger firm can do. And it gets better and better and better. Tax planning software, financial planning software, investment management software, really the sky’s the limit on it. I know my budget for technology is quite large. And I want to keep it that way. Because when I find a tool that is useful to me and makes it easier to analyze a situation, I jumped on it. And I know you you’re a little bit of a geek, so you probably are exactly the same way. Right?


Yes, I am. I you know, what I find in your very large enterprises is there’s a big-money contract that gives software solutions across the board and as an independent firm owner, I’m allowed to look around and pick, oftentimes more modern technology. So like my financial planning software isn’t just like put your numbers in and the plan pops out, because so much of the plan is our conversation. I have an educational component that is more of a presentation. And then I have the analysis side which I use the software for. But it’s a newer software that didn’t exist five years ago. And it’s fantastic. And I like to, to evaluate, you know, what is the best user experience for my clients with the software that I use for myself, as well as what are the analytical capabilities. It’s really amazing what the FinTech world, that’s what we call it, is doing and it’s funny, I moved into my new offices when I opened my company in 2018. And across the hall from me, was a woman who had a FinTech startup. In our little town in Michigan. She creates financial literacy apps for banks. And there’s just fascinating things going on.


I’m so grateful that I can be an advisor right now because there’s so many wonderful tools for us to use. And I’m, I’m similar to you I find the technology is what I use to really understand my client’s situation on an analytical level, so that then I can talk to them about all the strategies that will benefit them. So the technology is really for me, um, a way of interfacing with the client. It’s as much as they want. I find most of my clients want conversation. Yes, they want to look at the numbers and I have the numbers all ready. Another trend that I really noticed, I don’t know about you, is I use hardly any paper anymore. I mean, paperless office for what’s been a long time. When I started, I read, um, Joel Bruckenstein’s book about the paperless office. I don’t know. Do you remember that?


I don’t remember the book, but I know him.


Yeah, it was a game changer. For me. It was such a game changer. I’m so grateful to him. Anyway, so I’m paperless. And I find more and more, my clients don’t want paper. So I usually do an interactive meeting with a big computer screen, showing them the data I need them to see. And I’ll say, now I can print out this view, none of them want to print it out. And that’s so gratifying to me because it means that the conversation was so useful to them. They take notes, we’ve got you know, follow up things to do and all that and I follow up with a to do list, but they don’t need a big stack of paper so that they feel comfortable with our relationship and what we’re talking about. My time.


Yeah, tying things together. First of all, I was just thinking about finding what we were the modernization of financial planning software. And just all of the resources we have technology wise, that used to be so much work, like when I first started in the business, and I was fortunate to be kind of trained by some pioneers in financial planning that had started in the early 80s. And they would be crunching numbers and entering the investments into let’s say, Morningstar. Yeah, and it would be hours upon hours. And then, in addition, the, you know, kind of the value of the financial plan, I feel like was by the weight of the number of pages that you printed out. And it was like a book. Yeah, and it was a lot of like, I don’t know, it was just dry language, where I use a lot of visuals and technology is a communication tool as well as an analytical tool and I agree with you. Yeah, I, in my office, we have a rinky dink printer that we almost never use. Same goes for mail, you know, everything is, other than my 94-year-old client, everybody else is fully good with email. Right. And, and, you know, I feel like even though the plans weigh less, the value has just skyrocketed of a financial planner. You can get that old school, you know, Excel technology printout from, you know, any little website. But there’s wisdom that you’re getting with financial planning with our analytical capabilities and our complex strategies that we can we can discuss with clients nowadays.


Yes, I so agree with you. So I’m going to circle back just to the beginning, and we’re both going to talk about why we became financial advisors. So why don’t you start with what motivated you to do this work?


Well, I say that completely, I’m a financial planner because of serendipity. So, you know, when I was growing up, I wanted to be an attorney. And I majored in political science. And frankly, like, I looked at the state of the world, and I was like, just not inspired in learning more about politics or political systems is, frankly, a little bit depressing. And I just stumbled into an office job and a financial planner’s office, my answer to a want ad, so they still had those. There were newspapers back then, that you bought that were physical papers and I circled want ads. Yeah, I, my dad was a mortgage banker and executive. And so I had experience in offices. I knew I was good with numbers. I liked research. I thought it could, you know, pay the bills for a while before and then I’ll figure out what I want to do when I grow up. And so I kind of had a job for a while, not a career, you know, I didn’t, I didn’t go to that office to say, hey, you just found your next financial planner. And thinking of filing, I was like, I’m the person who can file things I, I’ll do everything you don’t want to do because it was a two-person office. So I got to learn a lot of stuff. And I was happy to learn it. And eventually, I went to a larger firm that had an investment research department, or well they basically had one of their partners was doing investment research, and they wanted him to be focusing his time with clients. And so they needed to reassign that research job. And they thought I had some capabilities and was coachable or teachable. And so I got that investment research job in addition to my administrative assistant job, so I’m kind of a mailroom to C suite kind of story in a small firm.


This is how many people got jobs and worked their way up in the past, isn’t it?


Totally I mean, we need a, you know, we don’t have an ER kind of show to tell you how cool our jobs are. So we really need, you know, one of these new Netflix shows to be all about being a financial planner in a


way that can we go on it, we got to be on it.


Really? Yeah, it’ll be the next like, you know, Trading Places or you know, Home Improvement show. It’s a money makeover, right? So I didn’t even know my first day on the job. I didn’t know anything about investing. But it’s a really wonderful, extraordinary career. And the more responsibility I got, the more I loved things. And so I you know, got licenses and training and I always worked in a comprehensive financial planning firm. So there was definitely when there were possibilities that I could become a partner. Then I knew even though I was still doing the investment side of things, only that I needed that CFP in order to reflect the values of the company. And I’ll tell you the, the education component to me was less real world than I hope it will be in the future. And I think they’ve changed some things with case studies and things like that, but it was pretty clinical. But I feel like when you get through the Certified Financial Planner process, which I did mid-career,




something it just changed my perspective. And I knew quite a bit before but it just gave me such a more robust knowledge of how to approach talking about money with people.


Yeah, you know, I’m just wanting for our listeners, I want to explain a couple of terms. So we keep talking about comprehensive financial planning, and then yes, CFP. So when you’re a certified financial planner, CFP, you get to know, a lot of different things you need to know about investments and employee benefits and insurance and estate planning. That’s what comprehensive mean. So it means you’re looking at the whole person in all aspects of their financial life. And both Melissa and I are trained in that. And that’s what we love to do. And that’s what we mean about it being comprehensive. Like, it’s the whole thing.


Your whole world. Right and I think another difference perhaps, but I think we may share this. For me, the goal is not for you to have the most money at the end of your life. The goal is for you to have the most fulfilling life, the life that you wanted to lead, and to have your money be a resource for that. So it’s different than the goal. Certainly we want your account to grow. But we also want to expand your boundaries and if you have a dream, we want to help you make it happen if we can,


Right. Definitely. And that’s where the listening comes in, what do they really want? So we just have a few more minutes. I’m just going to quickly say how I got.


Yeah, I want to hear your story tell me.


Um, I was in another career for a good long time. And I was selling product. And I didn’t feel like I was really helping anyone. I was making money for a corporation. I wasn’t doing anything that was people to people. And I really wanted that and then combined with my love of stocks, investing personal finance. I decided to do this career and I found out that you can do it independently. So I started right off the bat on my own, which, when I look back, it was crazy. But my whole goal was to not have another bad boss, which I had many of in the corporate world. And I wanted to be independent and it was a struggle. It took several years to get it going. I’m so glad I stuck with it. And I just love what I do. I love this career so much. And I know we both totally share that love of helping people and feeling challenged every day and feeling good about what we do. I love it.


It’s an amazing career. It’s a helping profession. And you need to be in the right situation for that.


Yes. And we both share this too. We both want more women in this profession. What’s the gap right now on how many financial advisors are women. I’m talking about in the independent? Is it like 15%?


That’s the number I always hear, and I will always devote time to encouraging more women to join our profession. I think our voice makes the whole profession more prepared to work with the women investors. And of course, in many cases, women do reach out to other women and we need more of them. And if we can get, but we also are educating our peers, our male peers, about how to think on behalf of both of their clients that they’re working with a couple who’s a man or a woman?


Yes, absolutely.


And we, you know, same goes in this month with the need for more racial diversity in our profession, which is even more staggeringly low than the female numbers.


Oh, it’s so low, like 3% or something like that. Yeah, I am so encouraged by the activities of the last month in that area. And I know I’m going to do all I can to highlight other advisors, black advisors and other types, you know, and, and I know you are too. We’re both committed to doing that. And, yeah,


I’ve worked on some


volunteer councils for women advisors. And, you know, as you make a commitment to being active and changing the ratio, as we’re both discussing, then, you know, you can’t just pick, you know, one group of people and it is all about the we need to see a profession that we would be proud to encourage people to join. And there are some challenges when you’re such a minority, whether you’re female or people of color and black people, and we also need, it’s going to make our profession better it’s going to make working in our profession better for us and, and everyone, and it’s also going to have, I think, a huge impact on the wealth gap that exists in our country. Both for women as well as for black and people of color. Yes. And people of color. I just think from the ground up that financial advice access is one of the critical components.


Yes, I so agree. Thank you for bringing that up such an important issue. So it’s time to close but I wanted us both to share ways we could be contacted and I know you have a podcast as well. So why don’t you share your website info, how you can be contacted, all those things.


Perfect, then my website is pearlplan.com so pearl we already discussed and then just plan.com and I have a blog on the website that I frequently update so you can hear you know, new information about my webinar replays on the blog as well. And then our new podcasts which the company started, me and Melissa Fradenburg, my colleague, is called 52 Pearls: Weekly Money Wisdom. And we also do on social media, you could follow our page on Facebook Pearl Planning, as well as I’m on LinkedIn. And we do a weekly financial tip of just a bite sized piece of information that people could implement into their lives. So the podcast was a takeoff on that series, which we started in 2018.


Fantastic, I love it that you have a podcast we have to share podcast tips.


Well, I have a feeling you’ll be a guest on the podcast sometime soon.


If you would be willing,


Great, I’d love to. So I also write, I have a blog Of Independent Means. Curtisfinancialplanning.com. This is my new podcast, which I don’t think it’s on Apple iTunes yet because it’s new. But anyway, I don’t even know where it can be found to tell you the truth. But I hope you enjoy this discussion. I totally enjoyed it. Melissa, thank you so much for joining me. And I know we’re gonna collaborate on a lot of things in the future.


Time flies whenever we chat so


we got to keep it up. Definitely. Okay, well, you have a good night. I know it’s later for you than me. I’m gonna go enjoy some dinner. Good. Oh, and I’ll share the recording with you.


Awesome. Thank you so much, Cathy.


Bye. Bye.

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Episode 2 Transcript: The Value of a Good Financial Advisor Read More »

Episode 1 Transcript: Life and Work During COVID-19


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.


Hi. I’m really excited to welcome Sally Kuhlman, the first guest on my new podcast. Sally and I’ve known each other since 2009. Or there abouts when we met on Facebook. And then we gravitated over to Twitter, and we’ve been friends ever since. Sally’s also a client of Curtis Financial Planning. Sally is one of the most joyful and soulful people I know. And I’m thrilled to be able to talk to her today. Currently, she’s working for Beyond Differences, which is a nonprofit based in Marin County that is all about social isolation and helping adolescents cope during their middle school years. It’s a really wonderful organization. And we’ll hear more about it. Sally is also a multi-talented person. She used to help small businesses, she’s great at project management, digital marketing, so many things. She also writes her own blog, Sally Around the Bay, and she started an autobiography, which we’re going to talk about a little bit later. So, before we get started, I want to welcome Sally and we’re going to, we’re at cocktail hour right now. So we both have a red wine that we’re drinking. So I want to say hi, Sally. And Cheers. And Sally, tell us about the wine you’re drinking right now. Okay, well


I’m happy to tell you about the wine. It’s a Pinot Noir. And it is actually made. Can you see this label? Eric Kent. It’s a boutique winery, UK friend of mine, and they feature artists on each label. So every type of wine has a different artist on the label. And then for instance, I’m reading the label right now it says retro whale calm that’s the name of this artist. So then you can go look up and learn about the artist and I


love it. I love that. It’s so cute. And they have so many cute bottles and


the wine is always good. It’s 100% I know when I’m getting wine from Air Canada, it’s


gonna be good. So even more it’s my favorite wine ever. So I’m gonna have to look at that. Definitely. Well, I’m drinking a wine called sin so which probably many of you don’t know. And the reason I’m not drinking Pinot is this particular winery Picchetti Winery down and actually Silicon Valley was out of their Pinot and they demanded this. I still prefer paid more. But that’s okay. I’m still going to enjoy my wine.


Well, then I’m going to introduce you to Eric Kent because seriously Pinot’s their specialty and they’re local. And you will love them. Oh, great. You know what,


I’m definitely going to buy some. I really like to support local people, food producers, especially right now in this crazy time we’re in where people can’t go visit wineries, they can’t shop at their favorite stores. It’s just crushing this small business and so anything I can do to support you send me that. Um, so speaking of that, this is a great, great segue. I want to know how you are dealing with this strange time we’re in and coping with work and home and just generally, how are you feeling during the pandemic and COVID-19 and how is it affecting you?


Hmm, that’s a very big question. I am I’m very lucky. I still have my job, which I love, and I’m able to do it remotely. We all are. So we’ve been spending a lot of time on zoom together. And but we’re moving forward. So that is great. I have to say I’m coping pretty well, but it’s been a bit of a roller coaster, sometimes I get sad. Other times, I’m just so grateful I can work from home and that I have my own home office. And, and then I also try to limit my intake of the news because when I spend too much time on social media or reading the news. It kind of brings me down really quick because there’s a lot of horrible stuff happening, but um,


yep, just taking it one day at a time. You know, I’ve been reading some of your posts. Um, well, I always read your posts, but I noticed one of them that really struck me recently was that you were a little surprised about how much the media does not honor the people that have died from COVID, like it it’s all about the politics of COVID you know, and I feel the same way and I feel so bad about that. And I surmise that, and you did too, that maybe it’s because of the mix leadership we have going on right now in the States. I don’t know if you want to add anything about that not to get too political. But yeah,


no, I’m not gonna get political. I think a lot of it is because of our leadership. But a lot of the responses I got privately and publicly were people just can’t handle it right now. It’s too much. Yeah. And so I get that, like, I almost felt maybe I was a little insensitive because some people are going through some really intense times economically, or they’ve lost people. And the public mourning. I mean, last time I looked, it’s over 90,000 people in this country. We can’t even come when that public mourning right now. I guess. It’s, I don’t even know what to say. I feel like I need that like seeing those videos and learning about these people’s lives, but maybe not everybody’s ready yet to deal and I understand that,


yeah, it is pretty shocking and tragic. And it’s so new to us now that that’s a really good point that it doesn’t mean that they’re not feeling about it. It’s more the way of coping about it.


I think people have to categorize they’re like, right now, I just got to deal with my immediate situation. And I will deal with that later is kind of I think, what’s happening, but what gets to me is all the political rants and that the lack of the comprehension of what it’s not just about who’s running for president or who’s not, it’s too tense. So that gets to me. And that’s what triggers a


lot of my posts. Yeah, no, I, I can see that I agree with you. So speaking about work. I know you work for a nonprofit. And I want you to tell us about that, because it’s a really cool and interesting nonprofit. And I know because I’m involved in some nonprofits as well that nonprofits raise most of their money through live fundraising events. And it can be sometimes a third to a half of a nonprofit budget. I’m assuming that’s right. To Beyond Differences as well. And I know they just did a virtual fundraiser. So just give us a little how is like there and how is everyone coping with this new reality of raising funds for your good work?


Let’s see well, right. We had our annual gala scheduled on it was supposed to be on April 23. And so we went on lockdown before that, as you know, we were already big into the plans and everything. So we had to have that really quick and stop everything. And it is about a third of our operating budget. So that was a very big decision to make, but it was the right one and we made it right away early when we showed up. And then we came up with the idea to have a virtual gala actually, our founder, came up with the idea and I was thinking that sounds ridiculous. Who wants to go to a virtual gala? And she was right and people came, we had almost 300 people sign up and I actually did not look at the numbers. This just happened on Friday night. But at one point when I was logged on, I saw about 200 people at least. And then a lot of them were in couples. So people came and it was amazing event. So thank you to everybody who came


how many people usually come to the live event?


I believe it’s 250 to 300. Oh,


you got a good turnout. Virtually. I was there. I was. I witnessed it. I thought it was very cool. And it seemed like you hit your fundraising goal, and


we did hit our fundraising goal. And that is not what our goal was. That night is not a third of our operating budget. But we you know, we changed it for the current situation. But we exceeded our fundraising goal for the night and we are so grateful because we have so many loyal supporters and they all showed up.


Oh, that’s great. And so when I left the video, you were like 101,000 raised what it is.


And last I know I’m not actually on the events team. So I was observing like you, but when I left, it was at 116,000. And I was like, I know and I believe more have come in over the weekend. I’ve kind of been not looking at my emails, but sort of looking at them. So yeah, it’s been amazing. And it went flawless. So I’m really impressed with my colleagues pulled off.


Yeah, it went really well, because I’ve been on some zoom things, you know, people not using it before and it can be a bad scene.


And they pulled that together in about two weeks the learning curve. My colleagues were like going to webinars figuring out how to do it. And they, I’m blown away by how they did it and I were you on when Michael Franti presented and he said, No. Oh, you missed that part. Yeah. Oh, that was amazing. I posted it on Facebook. You can see the video but he did a performance for us. It was beautiful.


Oh, here it was without the duo, the man


Was there my son?


Yeah, sorry, I didn’t catch the name, but I was there. It was a beautiful day. But that was really lovely. You know, and also our SF mayor who I really admire, I think she’s handling this whole thing. her speech was very


moving. And it’s right now during this Coronavirus time hearing a leader to speak eloquently and with compassion is, is huge.


Yeah, for sure. So, let’s step back a minute. Tell me in your words, what Beyond Differences is about because I mentioned it when I introduced you, but I’d love to hear you talk about it.


Okay, Beyond Differences, and our mission is to end social isolation in middle school and create a culture of belonging. You know, most adults can look back at middle school and remember, it wasn’t, wasn’t probably wasn’t the best experience. And we want to change that because middle school doesn’t have to be a bad experience. And so that’s, that’s what our focus is and we provide free curriculum and resources to teachers all over the United States and they just need to sign up. And we actually ship them materials. And we have a bunch of online materials too. And we have teachers and schools in all 50 states participating.


That’s incredible. And how old is the nonprofit?


This is our 10-year anniversary. So that was, it was sad to have to give up our gala was going to be a very big fan. Oh, yeah.


So you’re director of national programs, so you’re responsible for all those schools, right. And as I’m the


point of communication, and I talk to over 6,000 teachers on a regular basis, and I also do online community, like all the social media and a lot of the communications too.


And I know you’ve been doing that kind of work for years, because when I met you, you were like social media queen. And so I’m sure you’re even better at all of that now, and do you think that’s one of the reasons that you’re so effective at what you do because you have that skill set. Or is it something else?


I think we complement each other at my organization like I have the social media skills that so I bring relationships online and carry them and it’s amazing there’s a lot happening on Beyond Differences online at all our social media sites and then our founders. You know, they’re amazing with the networking in person and we just we have wonderful supporters and relationships that I feel like they’re family actually all our supporters I’ve gotten to know everybody and it’s just wonderful.


Yeah, I know because you do have a lot of personal connection like local Bay Area people right but then you with what you do you reach a much bigger and national audience.


Right so I mean, I talk to all the teachers in all 50 states and then also on social media. Yeah, we reach everyone. It’s complicated, I have to say to do Beyond Differences’ social media, because usually when you’re a social media person like I was in the past, it was very focused like for you. For instance, for your business I would be if I were working for you, I would be focusing on women targeting women of a certain age and certain, you know, income trying to get that kind of client. But Beyond Differences, we have such a span we work with middle school students, we work with teenagers, we work with the dome runners we work with teachers will work with volunteers. So the social media has been, I’ve had to use my creative brain a lot to figure out how to not overwhelm everybody and talk to my whole audience.


Yeah, I know, nonprofit that’s tough because you there’s so many audiences and people involved, you’ve got your board, you’ve got the staff, you’ve got keyboard, right. You’ve got the donors, you’ve got the people you’re trying to reach. I think it’s it would be really, really challenging. The campaign’s that I love sorry. One of the campaigns I love that Beyond Differences does is No One Eats Alone. Your campaign and I know it’s not an annual thing now or


it’s annual. It’s every February It’s usually the Friday closest to Valentine’s Day. Okay, that was the founding program for this organization. And it’s because our organization is based on the life of Lily Rachel Smith, she’s the daughter of our founders. And she passed away when she was 15. And but before that when she was in middle school, she had a cranial facial situation called apert syndrome. And so she was isolated a lot. She wasn’t bullied, but she was kind of forgotten about like, nobody invited her to sit with her at lunch, and nobody invited her to parties, and she was just very lonely. And so after she passed away, her mother was reading her journals and talking with other classmates. And she discovered just


she talked to the classmates


are like, what could we do? Like they weren’t even aware, you know, you’re a seventh-grade girl. You’re not even aware that you’re ignoring someone you’re just worried about yourself. And so that’s how this organization started. A couple of those teams were her classmates wanting to volunteer and make sure it didn’t happen to anyone else. And so it grew from that. And that’s where No One Eats Alone came from because Lily always ate alone, and she’d like go into the bathroom and call her mom and begged her to come pick her up because she didn’t want to deal with the lunchroom.


That’s so sad. That’s the hardest time that what 12 to 13. And if you’re not a popular kid, or something goes wrong, like you break out and bad acne or your whole life just changes. Yeah.


Like, everyone feels different. Even the popular kids they’re putting on the front, but there’s still my who knows what’s happening in their home. So it’s, we found it. It’s like it’s everybody, not even the people, not just the people that look different. It’s everybody. I know, personal feeling.


Yeah, even kids that seem like they’re from stable homes as suicide rate is high, right. I mean, if there’s so much angst at that age, I don’t know if it’s, I’m sure it has something to do with hormone levels, but all the growing pains that you’re going through at that time? It’s so hard.


It’s a hard time in life. Yeah.


Did you, um, in your own personal experience? Were you drawn to this organization for any particular reason? Or was it as an opportunity that you just felt you wanted to be involved in?


And yeah, I was drawn to it for a personal reason. That’s kind of intense, but I’ll give you just a brief overview. When I was in high school. When I was in high school, my boyfriend took his own life to suicide. So um, that’s always kind of driven my career path. It’s, I made this decision when I was 17 years old that I want to work to help. Back then I was saying to prevent suicide, but you know, it’s way beyond that is like just to be there for humans that are feeling alone and let them know they’re not.


So you get a lot of personal satisfaction out of the work that you do.


I do and when I get really stressed out because there’s too much going on. And then I get a moment to spend time with the teenagers. It’s so nice. I like remember why I’m doing what I’m doing. And then I’m like, oh, yeah, this is what it is because I don’t work directly with the kids, my colleagues do. But when they come into the office, I get to interact with them. It really reminds me of what I’m doing. And then I get re


energized. Yeah, kids are so cool. I know. You kind of have a history of working with kids like you started out as a preschool teacher, right? Is it?


Your beginnings?


I did. When I moved to Marin County right after college. I end up the early 90s. I taught in Mill Valley at a preschool


and then I know you’ve raised three kids yourself. Right? Not by yourself. But yeah.


So yeah, I have a lot of kid experience.


And I’ve seen you with the kids even though you say you don’t work with them and I think you’re you do a really great job with them. I think it would be so much fun. And I’ve been to some of the events and the kids are so inspiring. And, and surprisingly, articulate and well-spoken at that age. And I think that just really draws people in to support what you’re doing. It’s really admirable. I love it.


Thank you. And that’s part of what we try to do is give students a voice because we need to start listening to the young ones, because they’re there. They’re the ones inheriting the world. And I feel like they’re smarter than us right now.


Yeah. Well, isn’t your whole board teenaged kids?


Yeah, we, we have an adult board of directors, but we also have a teen board of directors. And they’re very involved. And it’s a very big commitment, and they volunteer and we don’t just take anybody, you have to go through an application process and you have to really want to do it. You don’t do it because you want something for your job. You do it because you care. And so that’s why we get these amazing


kids. That’s great. Well, moving on. I’m going to go back to a little more personal topic, and it’s Something that you and I work on because I mentioned you’re a client at my firm and it’s about money. And just how would you describe like, what your relationship with money is at this point in your life?


My relationship with money, um,


I feel comfortable.


I’ve really worked on not stressing about money. I’m in a position where I’m employed and there’s money coming in. And I’m just trusting and trusting you and trusting the world that it’s all going to work out. I’ve really been trying to focus on just living in the present moment and I’m in anxiety about what’s going to happen when I retire. I’m aware I cannot afford to retire right now. But that’s okay, too. So yeah, that’s where I’m at. I see so many people around me in the same about equal love are more money having way more anxiety? And I just, I wish people didn’t feel that much anxiety around money.


Yeah, I know you’re you haven’t been one over the years to stress about the stock market too much. I think you’ve got a pretty good grasp on that. It’s volatile. You have to hang in there for the long haul. And I don’t get the panicky. And I remember I worked in finance for about three or four years too. So


yeah, they got me the world and understand it from the other side, too.


Right. You’re very fortunate because I think the scariest part for a lot of people is they don’t really understand it. And, and the media has this habit of freaking everybody out. And part of it is the 24 seven news cycle. They’ve got to talk about something all those hours and I think they make it seem sometimes worse than it really is. Mm hmm. And But so are you do you think you’re going to be happy working for one another? You like working? I like working I do. What do you envision your years when you’re not working to be like, or have you even thought about that yet?


I have thought about it. I mean, I ideally, I would like to work less. Because I do work for a tiny nonprofit that does really big things. I work a lot. But what I envisioned I was thinking about that, and I was thinking, I actually enjoy my life a lot. I would just like to have more time to do what I’m already doing. Like I I’m loving being home. I’m loving my garden. Yeah, I would if I didn’t work so much. I would write more. I like to write and, but I need time to write and, like, my blog would be way more thriving. I might actually, you know, write a book and put it out there because I realized I really love writing and I’m a really good


writer. You’re really that’s so interesting. I didn’t realize that about you that you would like to have more time to write. Um, I love your blog and I also read the start of your book, Other Mothers, right?


Yeah, I think I was calling Other Mothers. It kind of evolved, I actually wrote the whole book but then I stuck it on the shelf.


Okay, cuz I’m reading excerpts it seems like on your blog, you have the excerpts, I forget what platform I went to,


you know, and I’m all over the internet but for so I used to put on Sally Around the Bay and then I think I actually got the URL called Other Mothers and I started putting pieces of the book on there. And then I stopped because I just that’s the thing I stopped my writing because I work so I’m so like, I’m dedicated. I’m not complaining. It’s just there’s so much differences and so much need and people I care about that. I’ve kind of put myself on the side, and I and I missed that, but I


noticed you’re starting to write again. And so I’ve noticed this about myself during this time, too. I like you and really enjoying. I mean, believe me, I, this is a horrible time. And I feel so bad for so many people that are affected in a bad way. But for me, I’ve had to work at home. And I’m finding, I’m making room to do more of the things that I want to do, which is really exciting. And I noticed that you have written a couple of blog posts in the last couple of weeks and you worked for a long time. So maybe that’s one of the positive outcomes that’s gonna come out of this.


I definitely feel that. I feel like this is the time


I’m, I mean,


despite all the tragedy that we’re talking about, and the lack of mourning and awareness of but personally, I think this is a call for all of us to take a little time and reflect. Like, I don’t know about the rest of the world, but I know the Bay Area is like a rat race. And it was exhausting. And I was about to collapse. And I’m guessing I’m not the only one that was about to collapse. And just maybe that time that we were driving to work is where we’re finding time to write and be creative. Now it’s right. I don’t want to go back to the normal, I want a new normal and figure out what that new normal is for me. And I want everybody to figure that out. I mean, and this is not discounting all the unemployment and I know all that is horrible. So we do need to go back to people somehow being able to sustain themselves but for, for my personal situation. I’m not just sitting here waiting


for the doors to open, I can go back to my


life I want I want them grounded. I want to garden more. I want to write more. I want to do more, you know, and I just need to figure out the balance and also, I don’t know I’m really struggling personally right now with too much screen time.


Yeah, I don’t know


why they’re on zoom again. I know I’m on zoom all the time now to I don’t know how much more of that how many more hours we’ll be able to put on zoom.


I mean, and I’m actually this week I had so many zoom calls and events that I started having eye pain. I got really serious. I pained my eyes were on Friday, we had our gala, we had two other big events on zoom. I was icing my eyes in between events. It’s so stressful the screen is getting so this isn’t a sustainable way to live in.


Oh, it’s got into you have good I’ve noticed and I’m sitting on an exercise ball right now. Because when I’m sitting on a chair, my postures I don’t have a proper chair at home because that’s one of my problems, but I like sitting on


you’re silly. I checked my office I snuck in I have my mask on. I look like a burglar and I took my chair in my own personal chair and I was really missing, and I like was carrying on. Like, I look like I’m like stealing this China


mask on I’m carrying it.


But yeah, that’s important because we both of us have ergonomic chairs at work, but we don’t at home. So we’re sitting there on zoom all slumped over, you know, ruining our eyes and our posture. To your point about a new normal, um, and back to your books, I think this book, can you just talk about the book a little bit? It’s so well done the things I was reading. I love to see you finish that book. So


thank you. Um, I have to say the book worked like therapy for me. I started writing it right when the youngest child left for college. So it was an empty nest book. Um, and it’s called Other Mothers and I started interviewing women from all walks of life that weren’t your traditional mother. And because I’m not your traditional mother, so I was working on my own story because I’m married to a woman and she’s the biological mother. But I raised the kids with her, but always got discounted that I’m not the real mother. The bad now, but these kids are almost 30. So if you think about how it was 25-30 years ago, it was, it was a little rough. Um, and then I just started, I opened it up, and I met so many amazing women because I put it on social media call for women and I talked to so many women for various things. Maybe they adopted their child or they were an aunt raising their sister’s child because their sister died. I had all sorts of stories. And it was a beautiful experience. Yeah, it should be a book or if it should just be more blog posts. Because I’ve changed so much since I wrote that book. That was probably 10 years ago now. Oh my gosh, there’s you know,


it’s been that long.


One. Thank you because the youngest one is like married now. And so it was when she left for college so bad eight years ago, I think because she’s trying to Now so yeah,


see? Yeah, and it’d be interesting, maybe could turn it into a fiction novel or I don’t know. It’s just so I think so many women can relate to it on so much like me personally, I don’t have kids. And I still feel uncomfortable when someone asked me if I have kids and I say no. Um, and I feel almost shame still about it. Even though I’ve accepted a long time ago that that wasn’t meant to be for me. Um, it’s really hard. You think people think well, why don’t you have kids? What’s wrong with you? Don’t you like kids? So I can I can relate to that. Even though I’m not really, I’m not a mother.


Now, I remember talking to you about that.




I’m thinking the whole book and you and me and everybody else. It’s kind of relates to my work now. It’s like, I felt very isolated. Like I was doing a mommy role and driving the kids to school and the other moms like didn’t talk to me. They’re like, what is she a babysitter and lesbian I don’t know, it was like, there’s chitter chatter and, and it was very unaccepting. And back then the school databases didn’t even have room for me there was room for mom and dad. And so like, when they’re looking up at those little school phone books to schedule a playdate, and my


name wasn’t even there. And, yeah, it’s so hard because I know from the women I know, that are mothers, the community of other mothers is so important, because it’s so hard to raise from young kids. And you want to talk to other people and have a community around. It was


I remember me, it was very lonely because I didn’t have that support, like, and you’re going through stress of raising kids. I mean, I created that support. I have to say when I made friends like you and all our other friends that we met through Twitter and stuff, I found a community, but I didn’t have that community of moms when they were little. It was very low. Only and I also have my own shame because it was like, you know, the whole gay thing. So that was I could do it again now I would do it differently and I wouldn’t carry my own shame I just be like this is it you know if you can deal your problem not mine, I was so apologetic when I was younger, and I was very,


what I love about yourself and that’s what makes you, you. You’ve been through all that so much more than a lot of us have had to be because of the who you are and the life choices and the things that happen to you. And I think it makes you a better person. You have so much joy so much to give other people and so it didn’t I mean, I’m sure it was extremely painful at that time. But look at you now. What can I say?


You’re so nice.


Well, I think that is a great note to end this conversation on unless you want to tell us anything else or have anything else to share. I just enjoyed this so much. And thank you for being my first guest and I know people will really enjoy hearing about you, and I hope I didn’t leave anything out.


I don’t know if you have anything else, but I think we covered a lot and this was super fun.


It was fun. Thank you. So let’s have a toast. Thank you. Here’s to your Sunday evening. Hopefully I can gracefully exit this a zoom call without too much trouble.


Bye Sally. Bye.

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