I am a Certified Financial Planner (R) and a Registered Investment Advisor. I will explain in a few minutes more about what these credentials mean. For the moment, let me share my experience growing up with you because it had a tremendous impacted on how I do what I do.
My mother died when I was 15 and my father was killed in an airplane crash two years later.
I must add that my father worked very hard, but he was a speculator.
He invested all he had (and even money we didn’t have) in crazy land deals that didn’t work out. Not the best investments to say the least. As a result, he lost it all. We were evicted from a very expensive home, and we subsequently moved into a small dingy apartment. He couldn’t even consider buying a condo; we were that broke. Whereas I grew up in a middle-income family, we became a low-income family overnight. I often used the money I earned as a teenager to pay bills to keep the lights on and water running.
After my father’s accident, my siblings and I bounced around to different people’s homes. I was homeless in the sense that I really didn’t have a home to call my own. I never slept under a highway overpass because I was very lucky. Just the same, it was a very weird feeling not to have a place to call home.
Ultimately, I went to college, got a degree in accounting, started my career in financial planning and have been working in the investment world ever since. I now have a dream family, wonderful business and beautiful home. I’m not rich…but I feel complete and financially secure. That’s wealth if you ask me.
I consider myself exceptionally blessed for a variety of reasons. I’d like to explain the core forces that helped me survive and thrive.
1. I used the resources that were available to me.
I contacted Social Security and the Veteran’s Administration when my folks died. (My dad applied for Social Security spousal benefits but didn’t qualify.) I learned that I could qualify for benefits from both agencies if I went to college. They told me that the payments would last until I reached age 22. Once I learned that, I came to the following three conclusions:
a. I better go to college.
b. I better finish college by age 22.
c. I better learn something that would help me get a job as soon as I graduated.
Looking back, I didn’t use all the resources available. I didn’t even know about financial aid at the time. I probably could have qualified, but I didn’t apply for it.
I inherited a little money, invested it and received interest on the bonds I bought at the suggestion of a stockbroker. I figured that together with the Social Security and VA benefits, I’d have enough. It totaled around $220 a month. (I’m amazed that I remember that figure after all this time, and I’m also amazed that $220 was enough to live on and pay for college in those days. I guess that just shows how old I really am!)
2. I was very lucky.
First, I was lucky because I grew up in a middle-class environment. No gangs or violence. I went to decent schools with decent kids. Lots of other people grow up in far worse conditions. My father “encouraged” me to work since I was 13 years old and find work on the weekend. I knew how to work and I knew the value of money. I grew up with the understanding that I should and could take care of myself and that nobody “owed” me anything.
Do you have a question about your finances? Email me please. I’d be delighted to help if I can.
Second, I was lucky because I was taken in by a family who became my family. All the kids became my brother and sisters. The older kids all went to UCLA, and even though I didn’t, I got the message that college was a good thing for me to do. I had no idea what I wanted to do or what I wanted to study but I knew I needed to learn a trade that would help me find work.
3. I was very focused.
I had no illusions. I knew that I had one chance to make something of myself and I could not waste it. I studied night and day in order to make sure I’d graduate in four years. I also worked hard in school because I wanted to be an attractive job applicant.
Focus and drive really served me well, and it didn’t stop when I graduated from school. When I started my business I would show up around 6 AM and usually go home no earlier than 8 PM. To tell the truth, it hasn’t changed much since then. I’m still a workaholic without a doubt.
4. When I hit a dead end, I found a different path.
The first job I had after graduating college was terrible. I was on the accounting staff of a major aeronautics company. I hated my life and my job. I left after nine months and decided I’d never work for a big company again. I didn’t know have any entrepreneur ideas at the time or know what self-employment was at the time, but I understood that I was young and had nothing to lose by taking a chance. I looked for small ponds where I could be a big fish.
5. I looked for mentors and took direction.
I was smart enough to know that I didn’t know squat.
I sure didn’t know how to succeed, and failure was not an option…mainly because I had nowhere to go.
I had to learn business survival skills and quickly. I found people who were willing to give me a job, work closely with me and train me. I carefully watched what they did and how they did it. I mimicked what worked and interrogated my mentors continually.
6. I took advantage of some opportunities and stayed away from those that didn’t fit.
I missed some business opportunities because I was afraid of making a mistake. I still carried a great deal of financial fear. While that fear cost me, on balance it served me well.
There were opportunities that I did take advantage of that worked out great (starting my business). And shying away from others were also good moves. I say that because those were not consistent with the person I am or the clients I serve. I understood that it’s not just about making the most money possible. I remained conscious of the risk side of the equation. That has helped me in my life and business tremendously.
7. I was very conscious of my spending.
Overspending for me was not possible – I didn’t have any money to overspend with. I didn’t even have a credit card until I was 25. The idea of spending money I didn’t have never occurred to me.
I’ve always thought that it’s dishonest to spend money that I don’t have and don’t have a way to pay back. I have always lived well within my means.
I have always understood that the very basis of financial security rests on appropriate spending.
8. I worked (and work) hard.
Excuses weren’t going to pay my bills, so I had to work hard. I learned that if I took care of clients in a way that other people didn’t, my business would thrive. It worked.
I am an extremely lucky man.
Did I grow up in an Ozzie and Harriet household? No. Neither did you or your children.
Sure there were very tough, frightening times. But it wasn’t Treblinka. Lots of people had and have it much worse than I did. Over the last 25 years I’ve met many people who have stories that make mine look like a day at Disneyland.
What’s remarkable about my story is that it is not remarkable.
Lots of folks have had to deal with much more severe handicaps and have done significantly better than I have.
I was simply given an opportunity to learn, and the only reason I did learn is because I had to.
My experience tells me that adversity really is a great tool. I’m not asking you to parachute your kids into Mogadishu on their 18th birthday. But I do believe we act at our highest level as parents when we let our kids grapple with life on life’s terms – whatever the consequence.
What I Believe
I grew up with a lot of financial fear and I couldn’t stand it. Now that I know something about personal finance, I understand that most people worry about money needlessly. I believe that no matter what, you don’t have to worry about money. You can learn to understand how money works. Contrary to what Wall Street wants you to believe, investing is not rocket science. I believe you can use your budget to gain control of your finances. And I believe you can have financial freedom no matter what if you are willing to put in the work.
What Has This Got To Do With Being A Certified Financial Planner(R)?
A CFP (R) is professional certification. To obtain the certification, candidates have to undertake a rigorous education program and battery of tests. The final exam last 10 hours. Between 42% and 63% of the applicants pass the exam. I decided to become a CFP (R) because I thought (and still think) it is the highest level of professional designation for a financial advisor. It also carries with it a fiduciary responsibility and obligation to put the needs and interests of clients first. Because of my own experience growing up, I decided clients should be treated as I would have wanted to be treated and the Certified Financial Planner designation is consistent with that belief.
People I Like Helping
I enjoy helping people get control over their finances so they can have the life they really want. That includes:
- Retired people who want to enjoy their lives and family without financial anxiety.
- Semi-Retired people who need to get more income from their existing portfolio.
- Working people who are not currently saving enough and are worried about their financial future as a result.
- Divorced and widowed women who need wise council to help them make wise financial decisions.
- People who want to maintain their lifestyle and aren’t exactly sure how to do so.
If you have a question about your own financial situation please feel free to contact me. I’d be delighted to try to be of service.