My Road to Financial Freedom

by Neal Frankle, CFP ®

I don’t think my story is any more or less important than anyone else’s. But I think you may get more value out of this blog if you know a bit about my road to financial freedom.

My Experience With Risk

When I was young, my father was a real estate speculator who took big risks. Sometimes, he didn’t consider all the potential consequences. My family lived in constant financial fear and stress, and eventually, we lost everything. We were evicted from a beautiful big house in the suburbs of Los Angeles and moved into a dinky apartment in a lousy part of town. Shortly before we were evicted, my mother died. Within two years of this, my father was killed in an airplane crash.

I was 17 then, and for a short time thereafter, I was homeless and broke.

My Experience With Financial Professionals

Unexpectedly, I received a $25,000 death benefit from a term life insurance policy. (This was a miracle. My dad NEVER knew how much term life insurance he needed so he didn’t carry any. But when his bank insisted on it as part of a business deal, he bought this one policy, on which he made a grand total of one payment.)

I considered vocation schools but decided on college instead. I took the money to a broker and explained that my goal was to use it to get through college. Back in 1974, it was a reasonable goal. Unfortunately for me, the broker had different ideas. He thought it would be better to use the money to send his kid through college. He tried to churn the account. I didn’t know anything about investments at the time, but I knew a rat when I smelled one.

I fired the broker and got my degree in accounting. I finished college in four years and had $15,000 left over. I never took out any student loans, and I did not receive any scholarships. I was frugal, to say the least. As soon as I graduated college, I started working as a financial planner.


Working as a financial adviser, I get to talk to many people. I’ve learned how they’ve made or lost money. Over and over, I’ve seen how successful people invest and relate to money. I’ve also seen the common mistakes that folks make, both with their investments and in their relationship with money. I’ve learned (through my own experiences and from my clients’) that true wealth requires both financial and emotional skill.

At this point in my life, I consider myself financially successful. My family is in the upper levels of income and wealth in the United States. I am very blessed and I have a lot of gratitude.

I’m sharing this with you to demonstrate a few important concepts:

1. I’m a person just like you who has seen good and who has also had to overcome challenges.

2. You can be successful financially and emotionally if you do the work. I believe that you can be at peace with your life, no matter what.

3. This “Wealth Pilgrim” stuff is not a hypothetical exercise. I know what it’s like to have financial fear. I know what it’s like to live in the dark and cold because there was no money to pay the utility bill. I also know what it’s like to live in the darkness of my own mind, even after achieving financial success.

And since I’ve worked with hundreds of clients over the years, chances are good that I’ve seen situations similar to the one you find yourself in now. I’ve seen different approaches to financial issues (and the emotions that come with those financial issues). I know what works and what doesn’t.

Neal Frankle


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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

Olivia April 24, 2010 at 2:53 PM

Thanks for talking about your background. On some level we can all relate to at least some of your experiences. The scary bad places we don’t want to go to again. Context makes your counsel all the more valuable to us one on one.


financialwizardess April 22, 2010 at 10:46 AM

Neal, very interesting background. Thanks for sharing. As someone who came from a financially instable upbringing, I can wholly relate with your obsessive fears. I also wonder if I’m on the verge of homelessness even though I’m much more financially secure than most people my age. I consider my upbringing and the fear it created a gift. Sometimes if your parents really screw up or life hands you a bad deal, it teaches you what not to do. :) Glad you were able to channel your demons in the right direction.


FinancialBondage February 3, 2010 at 1:24 PM

sometimes lifes lessons are tough. but I’m glad you came through it all. thanks for sharing.


Sheri Laine December 28, 2009 at 12:34 PM

Thank you for sharing your thought provoking and inspirational heartfelt story.


Steve Miller September 4, 2009 at 3:56 AM

Neal, I just made my first comment on your site on your recent post. Then, I read your bio above. In my book on personal finances, I mention the need of some kind of 12 step program regarding finances. Exciting to see that you joined one! Thanks for sharing your wisdom with others. If you’d like a free copy of my book – perhaps to mention in your blog or give as a gift to clients – let me know and I’ll send you one. You can see it here on –


neha August 31, 2009 at 4:06 AM

The above things u wrote are very nice and interesting. Some will understand something from what u wrote u can keep it up.


Neal May 5, 2009 at 12:44 PM

Thanks Charlie. I appreciate the time you took to write. I also agree that each situation is different. Having said that, I’d welcome you to write a post about how the VA is appropriate and cost effective. I’ve made that offer to many people and they haven’t taken me up on it.

I respectfully disagree with you and stand by the article. It’s been 25 years and I’m still waiting to see a VA be a better choice for a client than other less expensive alternatives.


Gary Seidler March 14, 2009 at 8:13 AM


After reviewing your last several columns, l’ve decided to share your blog with my two
’20-something sons’…lf they learn just a smidgen from your blog, they will develop a 100% better understanding of money matters.

You are delivering a valuable service.


Neal March 14, 2009 at 10:29 AM

Thanks Gary. I really appreciate you sharing with the next generation of Wealth Pilgrims!


Bob Burg March 6, 2009 at 10:26 AM

Wow – thank you for sharing that part of your life, Neal. That is an amazing story and the fact that you got fought your way through the difficult times (both financial and emotional) as you did and have built the life you’ve built for yourself, is a great testament to your spirit, smarts and courage.


Dean March 5, 2009 at 8:52 PM

I finally noticed your website on The Big Picture article you submitted (and we had been exchanging messages) and decided to go to it. It is now on my favorite places for financial blogs and I have an RSS feed to my Yahoo home page. Thanks for some common sense dialog.



Neal March 5, 2009 at 9:00 PM

Thanks Dean. What a pleasure it is to continue our dialogue. Your comments were and are really astute and I really learned a great deal from our exchange.



Lisa Wintner March 1, 2009 at 7:46 PM

Thank you, Neal. I’m glad that you acknowledge the emotional skill involved in handling money. I don’t think that I’ve heard that aspect referenced quite like that. More on this?


Neal March 2, 2009 at 8:35 AM

Thanks Lisa. Sure….lots more on this. Stay tuned!


JoAnn Kepler February 28, 2009 at 5:40 PM


My heart goes out to you and what you’ve grown through. No child should have to suffer such tragedies. However, what you have endured and grown through has built upon your innate wisdom with solid strength and conviction.

It is clear to me that you have faced your sadness and fears and succeeded to become the man you are today. We love you and are certain that your parents are very, very proud of you.

You are a true story of success in life; spiritual and financial!


Neal February 28, 2009 at 10:27 PM

Very kind of you Jo Ann. I consider myself very lucky and grateful. We’ve all carried our crosses….


Gary Seidler February 14, 2009 at 4:01 PM

Good Day, Pilgrim (feel like John Wayne is in the house),

As one who has had MONEY issues since l can remember, l am finding your words informative, practical, and inspirational.

l believe one of the personal benefits of the economic downtown is that people like myself are coming out of denial and seeing the ‘truth’ of their life situation.

When the dust settles, again, we’ll all be better for it.

I applaud your efforts to help us on this journal. Keep it up, Pilgrim…


Neal February 14, 2009 at 8:55 PM

Thanks Brother


sandy matthew February 14, 2009 at 8:06 AM

wow Neal! very well written and interesting. thanks for sharing. i had no idea you had such an interesting story.


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