How do financial professionals manage their own money? Do they practice what they preach or make mistakes like everyone else? On today’s episode, Neela Hummel and Mary Beth Storjohann get candid about their personal finances, opening up about their strengths, weaknesses, successes, failures, and what they’ve learned in their careers about managing money as individuals, partners, and parents. They’ll also get honest about the nuances of managing finances with their partners, balancing their checkbooks and children, teaching their kids about money, and how they stay mindful about setting priorities while avoiding lifestyle inflation.
What You’ll Learn in This Episode:
- An inside look at how finances are handled in Mary Beth and Neela’s families
- How they align their money with their family values
- Different accounts Mary Beth’s family uses to allocate money to achieve her family goals
- Why Mary Beth and her family believe investing in experiences is so important
- Why you must invest in your future self
- The importance of finding balance in your discretionary spending
- Restrictions Mary Beth and Neela notice they place on themselves around finances
- Their approach to credit cards, the number of credit cards each has, and why
- The different investment accounts each uses
- The conversations Mary Beth and Neela have with their spouses around money (and why)
- The most important document most financial planning clients wait to do (and why you should get it done now!)
- The overall theme both advisors value when it comes to their finances
Resources Mentioned on the Show:
- Join the Abacus community by connecting with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and on LinkedIn
- Connect with Mary Beth on Twitter, Instagram, and on LinkedIn
- Connect with Neela on Twitter, Instagram, and on LinkedIn
Transcript of the Episode
Mary Beth [00:00:14]:
Hey there. Welcome to the If Money Were easy podcast, the show where we teach you how to expand what’s possible with your money. We are your hosts, Mary Beth Storjohann –
and Neela Hummel –
Mary Beth [00:00:24]:
Certified financial planners and Co-CEOs of Abacus Wealth Partners. Today on this show, we are going to go behind the scenes and do a deep dive into the financial, I don’t know, processes of workings, of how Neela and I manage our household finances. We figured it might shine a light, give you some ideas, or let you know how crazy we are. But that’s what’s happening on today’s episode.
And before we jump in and very important for this episode, a brief disclosure from our Director of Compliance. This podcast is for educational purposes and is not intended as investment, legal, or tax advice. Any opinion shared is not the opinion of Abacus Wealth Partners. Let’s dive in.
Mary Beth [00:01:10]:
Okay, so therapist couches are ready and I’m just going to lay back. Just kidding. Neela, you go first because I can ramble on forever about how I do this.
I don’t know if this is information providing or confessional.
Mary Beth [00:01:23]:
It’s going to be both.
Mary Beth [00:01:26]:
Both, I think. Before we jump in, the thing I want to share is that this may potentially, could be in some ways a “do as I say and not as I do” because there are only so many hours in the day and so many things we can control at this point in time in our lives and careers. And the finances for me really light me up. So I might spend more time there than necessary. And I don’t have my husband Brian here to confirm that, but I know he will agree.
That’s actually, you know, we don’t have the counterpoints.
Mary Beth [00:02:01]:
So we might have to get that at some point.
Mary Beth [00:02:03]:
We will. Right. But I know he would say that I spend way too much time and make it more complicated than it needs to be.
I think my husband Tom would say the same thing. And I think it’ll also be valuable for our listeners to hear this because we are both certified financial planners. We’ve been doing this professionally for a combined, what, 37 years, and that no one is perfect and that the best system is the one that works for you.
Mary Beth [00:02:27]:
Yes. Okay, so let’s jump in. Let’s start with cash flow and budgeting.
Mary Beth [00:02:32]:
How do you handle your paychecks? How do you handle the flow of money into your accounts?
Okay, so highest level, we always talk about giving every dollar a job, making sure that it’s being assigned. So the first thing that we do right off the top is make sure that we are deferring into our 401(k)s and so we never see that money. So we are putting as much as we can into those 401(k)s so that we don’t have to deal with that once the cash actually hits our bank account. So that’s the first piece, is always pay yourself first. So the retirement is putting an investment in your future self. So we do that. The second piece is both of our paychecks go into one account. So I’m not sure how you and Brian set it up, but when Tom and I first got together, we had this, like, staring at each other over the side of like, how are we going to do this? Are we going to do joint accounts? Are we going to keep things separate? And we ended up on kind of a hybrid approach, but mostly a joint finance situation. And so our paychecks go into one account. And then I’ll talk a little bit later about the little side accounts that we have and why we have that. And then the other piece is because we are partners at a firm, we don’t have our taxes taken out. And so the most important thing, we’ve talked about this a whole bunch, but if you are self-employed or you work for a company where taxes are not withheld, you better make sure you’re taking some money out of every single paycheck and putting that aside to pay Uncle Sam when the time is right – i.e. four times a year when those taxes are due. How about you two?
Mary Beth [00:04:00]:
You know, it’s so funny. Brian will tell anybody openly that I think within three months of us getting together, I was like, “Show me your finances. Show me your account.” And then I was like, “You’re doing this all wrong.”
And he’s like, “I’m in love. I think that’s what love is.”
Mary Beth [00:04:20]:
“You have a TSP here, man, why are you not using it?” So we got through that. When we got married, we merged everything. From early on, we just opted for the one account. And he was just like, sure you can handle it? Because I was like, this sparks joy. Let’s just bring all these things together. We’ll have the account. And so we opted from day one. We went joint for everything. Now, we did have separate credit cards, though, and that’s probably the thing that has changed over time. So both of our paychecks, everything gets deposited into one account. All of the bills come out of that one account as well. We have a separate tax savings account. The interesting thing for us, going back to what you said, every dollar has a job. So we have a variety of other accounts or goals that we will talk about in a moment when we get to that point. But what I have found is interesting that we do – I can’t remember if you do this, too? I think you do – I basically move all of the money out of the account so that we have no surplus, and I keep us on a very strict budget, an unnecessarily strict budget.
Mary Beth [00:05:24]:
Artificial scarcity is the motto in our house, which is only for me because I’m the only one looking at the finances. So sometimes I’ll have a flare up to Brian and be like, we’re spending too much, and he’s like, move the money from the savings account, but that’s not what I’m supposed to do. So that’s the interesting thing, I think, that I will say just from growing up in a very fixed income household and knowing that money was tight, I have created that very same environment for myself going forward. Even though money does not need to be as tight, I still create that for myself out of our cash flow budgeting system. So very similar. We are not, and I have a detailed spreadsheet of our monthly expenses where the first and the 15th, I know what bills are hitting, I know the kids gymnastics or sports that come out. And I have a general idea of how much we need to get through that two-week period before the next check comes. So that spreadsheet dictates a lot for us. And that’s probably the extent of the budgeting that I do. I know how much we need to have to get through those two weeks. We do go over every now and then and have to pull from savings, but that’s probably the cash flow. We haven’t used mint.com in quite some time. We did at the end of last year. We went through our credit card statement to see how much we actually spend on dining out. And I believe, I think it was dining out and Amazon, are the ones that you get from Amazon on your own as well. Those were two areas of interest, I think. And then maybe it was like gas. We were just kind of like eyeballing things. So we’ll go back and check our credit card statements since we use that for everything. But that’s the cash flow.
So it naturally invites the question. I know we’ve both read the book Your Money or Your Life, and this idea of lining up your money with your values because every time you spend a dollar, you’re voting for something. And so when you and Brian sit down in terms of your family values, what are the budgetary items that you prioritize?
Mary Beth [00:07:09]:
So that’s funny, that’s where all those sub accounts come in. He has his 401(k), I have mine. We have a separate travel account. Money gets transferred in there on a monthly basis in terms of funding our annual travel goals. Beyond our donor advised fund, which is an outside charitable giving account, we actually have a donations account in our own cash flow. Again, that I put money aside into monthly that we put money towards. And then we have kids college, we have future us, which is additional money going into our trust account. But the things that are important to us are making sure our children have experiences, life experiences, and making sure that we continue to have experiences and then we have dining out is a big one. We enjoy food, and so as parents of young children, and just, like, not a lot of time, we do prioritize trying to have a date night every other week. Most of those date nights just involve going out to restaurants and eating. If that could be a hobby, that might be one of the hobbies.
Maybe it’s a hobby. Oh, my God.
Mary Beth [00:08:02]:
I’ve been talking about not having enough hobbies, and I think eating. Eating food.
Mary Beth [00:08:08]:
Yes, I think so. Yes. Okay. So that would be one of the areas that I think we invest in. But we do talk about values from that perspective. The difference is with the money right now, our kids are having completely different life experiences than we had growing up. And so that’s really – we talk about values. We’re trying to balance that to make sure we’re not overdoing it. For them, it’s making sure they recognize how lucky and blessed they are for the opportunities they have. But that’s how we do it. The travel, the dining out, and the kids being able to just have extracurricular activities. I wasn’t really afforded that much of a luxury growing up. I remember doing one or two things, and then I remember not being able to do things because my parents couldn’t afford it, so I didn’t get to participate. So those are the priorities for us. How about you and Tom?
Yeah, it’s funny. We’re just over here. Proud elder millennials. The experiences, those are the big ones, and travel is a big one. I’ll never forget. I did actually get some good travel experiences as a kid, and they were completely eye opening because I grew up in a small, wealthy town, and I remember traveling with my whole family to Morocco, which, again, mom.
Mary Beth [00:09:13]:
I can’t even imagine now going to Morocco. That seems stressful planning.
I was like, do they have a travel agent?
Mary Beth [00:09:18]:
Can you give me your travel agent? Maybe?
I think it was mostly craziness because I’m like, mom, you really took just like a six year-old to Morocco. Like, I have so many questions. But I remember the stark contrast of what I was able to see, and that compared to the area and what I saw growing up, and it was eye opening, and it was so impactful. And so this idea of traveling, not just the standard, go to the same place every single year, but, like, adventure travel is something that we very much prioritize.
Mary Beth [00:09:47]:
Yeah, I love that you said that, because it wasn’t until I graduated college and I started traveling on my own, I had to pay for myself. I did that standard month long trip to Europe post-graduation, traveled around with friends, and that hit it for me. So going back to Europe every year, Brian, through his work in the military, has traveled a lot around Asia and a variety of countries as well. So being able to bring those experiences to our children is huge. But it’s interesting now, knowing that I had to work and pay for every trip on my own. My children have been to Disneyland more times in their life now at seven and five, than I ever was, and they’ve been to Mexico. They’ve been to Europe at this point in time. And just having those things in perspective and knowing how lucky we are to be able to do it. But again, wanting to not overdo it.
It’s so hard, and it’s this perfect bind that parents are in where you want the best for your kids, but you also don’t want to spoil them. You also don’t want them to have these very challenging experiences. But then we also know that the challenging experiences are also what make them. And so it sometimes feels like we’re walking this impossible tightrope of wanting to do these fun things together, but also we’re doing it wrong. I feel like that’s kind of the constant refrain that parents have. It’s like, oh my God, how are we screwing them up? Oh my God, this is a mistake.
Mary Beth [00:11:03]:
Well, I will say the other thing. Going back to the travel and the experiences and the priorities, Brian and I did a trip to Europe pre-kids, and then we didn’t travel internationally outside of Mexico. We’re in San Diego, so going to Mexico is literally 12 miles from me. Just for perspective there, everybody. We’re in a very southern area of San Diego, so it’s like going to Target. It’s going to Target literally. And it’s easier for me to fly out of Mexico than it is for me to fly out of the San Diego Airport. So just for perspective. But we didn’t go on a trip internationally, just the two of us, again, until last year when he and I went to Costa Rica and we debated taking the kids. Actually, we were going to take the kids, and our daughter didn’t want to have a layover for some reason on a flight. She was being very weird. And we were like, fine, they’re going to go to Grandma and Papa’s house for a week. And we went for eight nights by ourselves. We felt guilty doing that, leaving the kids behind. I think there’s a lot of, “Are we doing it wrong?” And taking that trip by ourselves was a big one. And then also so glorious because that was a true vacation. We talk about taking trips as a family with young children, but that was a true vacation. And I think, again, going back to the values, Brian and I are very mindful of investing in our relationship as well, because we always talk about the kids aren’t going to be here forever. There’s going to be a point when he and I are left to each other again and making sure that we prioritize that time together because it’s so easy to put it on the back burner and we have to be conscious and aware of it and talk about it. But I think it comes back to that we know if we haven’t had enough time to talk or have a conversation that we’re due for a date night or due for the vacations.
So, like, investing in experiences, investing in relationships. I know we made the joke about strategic eating. The other thing that I will spend money on is food. And that’s like food sourcing, food quality, and eating out, which is just personal value I grew up with. My mom’s a phenomenal cook, and she’s kind of like the mayor of every farmer’s market.
Mary Beth [00:12:50]:
And so she’s the one who’s like, “So you only go to one farmer’s market a week? Maybe I don’t feel like you’re in this to win it.? I’m like, “Mom, not everyone can actually go to three.” Literally, she’s got all the farmers on her phone. She’s like, “Well, I just text him, he brings those onions.” I’m like, this is not normal. Not normal, but it’s – you and I immediately go into talking about where we spend our discretionary money. But I think before all of that, we’ve also invested in future us.
Mary Beth [00:13:25]:
And that is the retirement contributions. You even talked about that as like a separate account that is just like you and Brian future money. But this idea of financial independence at some point, not being reliant on anybody else, either family or what have you, and make sure that we are paying ourselves first, full stop, right?
Mary Beth [00:13:45]:
Yeah. So just general overarching beliefs. For us, it’s been an interesting, obviously, career growth and trajectory. So we are Co-CEOs of a wealth management firm, right? This is peak earning years. This is the highest compensation that I’ve been at in my career. So we have been really aware of lifestyle creep and lifestyle inflation. So we got into our house, we bought it in 2015 at a great price point. And even now we talk about, oh, we really could have stretched that mortgage probably another couple of hundred thousand for a bigger space. Looking around now, even though we could afford it, I’m like, heck no. For us, we’re just like, this space works and we want money for travel. We want flexibility in our lives. And so our perspective is we don’t need a bigger house. We do have a car that we hold onto for five to ten years. Even if we invest in a nice car, we hold on to them for a long time. And so, we do prioritize the future. Flexibility is important to us and we actually, surprise, surprise, have a spreadsheet for every year for our annual goals of what we want to save, which will be our 401(k)s or retirement. So it includes 401(k)s plus additional surplus into a trust account. We have a set amount that we want to set aside for the kids for college each year, we have a charitable amount, and we have a travel amount. So Brian created this fund spreadsheet where it fills out percentage goals that we’re at. And it’s just monthly, though. Instead of doing chunks of money, it all comes out on a monthly basis. 15th or first. It transfers to the accounts and it’s like a set it and forget it situation. But I think for us it’s a balance. I don’t need that lifestyle creep for those things. Other people would spend money. My furniture up until probably a couple of years ago was from Ikea. Our couches are from like Ashley furniture I buy on Wayfair. I don’t know. Everybody else is buying their stuff, but I still have that mindset and so I’ll spend less on those areas so that I can spend more in others.
Right. I just love that because it’s like picking your spots. I mean, I think we’ve seen it before where people are like, I want the nicest and the best in every different area. And this idea of you can have anything you want, you just can’t have everything you want. And I think the delineation between physical purchases, things like cars and houses and stuff, versus experiences is a really interesting one because we often think, like, when I’m in that better house, everything is going to be better. When I get that nicer car, everything’s going to feel better. And the data really shows us that you hit that diminishing return of those big ticket items a lot sooner and then you end up having less for the other things that do bring you that joy. So it’s funny, in personal finance, I feel like the latte is the evil villain, where it’s like if you spend a little less on the house, buy all the lattes you want.
Mary Beth [00:16:17]:
Exactly. Treat yourself, your avocado and your latte, you can have food together.
And if you can make those adjustments on some of the bigger things, I think you end up having more on the other side. And especially as you keep growing in your earnings years, that does give you the ability to either up your savings, do some more of the discretionary, and kind of find a nice balance.
Mary Beth [00:16:41]:
Right. I will say the thing to be aware of is sometimes – you and I’ve talked about this offline – sometimes I’m too restrictive. And so what are you going to do? I got to save it. I’ll save, save, which is interesting. Can I unpack that on my own? That’s probably a result of my upbringing and I’m very debt averse and Nee will share that. Maybe she’s not as debt averse as I am. And so for me, having debt is uncomfortable and so I’d rather save, but I constantly move the goal post on myself. I am a poster child for like, what’s the enough? I do know the number that we need to have the work optional, which we’re working towards. But it’s this idea that I don’t allow myself necessarily to enjoy some of the surplus sometimes because I’m in the mindset of, oh, I should use this towards paying off that thing, or I should use this and saving, which is great. But again, you can’t take it with you when you’re gone either. And I’ve got some years ahead of me, right? I forget about that. So I think that’s probably one of my weaknesses is being too restrictive on myself.
It’s funny because a lot of times we set these goals of people to hit, like, a minimum savings goal or percentage or something. It’s almost like for others, a maximum might be what is stipulated, where it’s like, okay, at a certain point, you’ve done it, and then the excess is, okay, we’re going to give it away. You’re going to do something else here. It’s really funny because nothing is perfect and nobody does everything right. I think if we’re talking about things that we don’t always get right, my downside is probably over control. I want to get in there, and I want to – we joke about our crazy lady spreadsheet –
Mary Beth [00:18:10]:
They’re beautiful spreadsheets.
They’re beautiful spreadsheets.
Mary Beth [00:18:13]:
There’s probably too many of them with 20 tabs.
It’s like a control thing, and I worry about it sometimes. And I’ve talked to my husband a lot where I want to make sure he feels like he can live life, and we have family finances. I want to make sure he’s able to do what he wants. But the reason that we actually have one main bank account and then we both have our own little side bank accounts, the reason we have those is because I’m a crazy control person when it comes to money – one time looking through our expenses I see a charge pop up from, like, a local spa provider, and I’m like, “Did you get somebody a spa certificate? What is this? Is this a gift?” He was like, “That would be your Mother’s Day gift. That’s your massage for Mother’s Day.” And I’m like, oh my God, I’m a monster. And so where we started is we started to feed a chunk of money each month into these side accounts that do not enter my spreadsheets. They don’t show up anywhere so that he can have some agency to do whatever he wants.
Mary Beth [00:19:14]:
We have credit cards that do that. So I’m like, “What’s on the credit card?” I don’t know what the thing is, but I’m like, “What’s on the card?’ And then I factor that in. But it’s like around a birthday and a Mother’s Day, I’m like, “How much is on there? Slotted in?” Because I am in there. You can bet I am in that credit card statement. Looking at things, I caught a $15 fraudulent Amazon charge, even though we have 50 Amazon charges a month. Because actually, I have no idea how I figured that out. So going on to credit cards talk to me, talk to me, Neela, about how you handle credit cards. So, again, this is a hobby.
This is another hobby.
Mary Beth [00:19:49]:
This is your hobby label. This is a hobby. A little bit of a hobby.
It’s also maybe an illness, but we’ll stick with hobby. So I am one of those people who plays the credit card game. I don’t think it is a smart solution for many people. I do typically recommend whatever rewards you’re most going to benefit from have just, like, a couple of credit cards. Generally, like two, maybe three, so that you have some redundancies, right. If one gets declined or one isn’t working overseas or something like that, it’s nice to have some options, but in general, it’s good to have your heavy workhorse type credit card. I have too many credit cards. This is me, Neela, I am admitting that I have too many credit cards. I believe I have seven credit cards.
Mary Beth [00:20:30]:
Which is down from two months ago, which was a nine.
Mary Beth [00:20:34]:
Okay. I thought we were going to go into, like, the teens.
No, we’re definitely single digits. And it’s mostly because I am figuring out what rewards actually make sense for my family. So before, I always tried to go for, “How do we maximize cash back?” And so I was using this card for groceries. I was using this card for travel, this card for other things, and I was really playing that game. And what I’m trying to do now is really A), reduce the number of cards, and B), think about rewards from an enjoyment standpoint versus just a dollar standpoint. Does a card offer a perk that I end up flying a lot? Do I get upgraded more, which I am often too cheap to do, so maybe that actually is an enjoyment factor. So I’m trying to get better about what makes more sense knowing that I know how to play this crazy game. But it does, as you mentioned, it takes time and is not necessarily the best use of my time, but is also a little bit of a hobby. How about you? Enough about me.
Mary Beth [00:21:31]:
Moving on. Talk about moving on. Neela’s credit card hacks. To be continued in a new episode, we’ll do a spin off. Okay, so technically, I have three. I have three credit cards. Thinking about it, I had four. I just finally closed my old business credit card last week. A little behind there. So I have three. One of them is just there, not touched ever. We have one, which is the workhorse. That was a joint credit card for the two of us that everything goes on. And then I have a separate one that I use for work expenses that need to get reimbursed or other personal things. If I’m traveling, I want to keep the cost separate. I have that one that I use, too. The points can transfer back and forth. So it’s the same card actually, but I just maximize points for travel or cash back. Those are the two things. I’m just now moving back into the points game. I learned something recently, which probably everybody knows that I did not know. When you use hotel points to pay for the hotels, you save on the taxes.
So now I also did not know that.
Mary Beth [00:22:33]:
Yeah, right. I just learned that, and it’s true. I just did that recently for a trip to New York with my mom. I transferred the credit card to the hotel points. I used the hotel points to reserve the room and saved on the taxes so that was very interesting.
Mary Beth [00:22:46]:
I know. So I’m learning. I’m learning. But we have the one workhorse credit card. Everything goes on, gives transparency into everything. And then I used to have a much better system for cashing those points in. I’ve used them for travel. I’ve used them for cash back when there’s the double points reward type thing. I don’t have a clear strategy, though, but I should have a clear strategy. Maybe you can create that for me.
Yeah, well, once I was in sentence 17 telling you what my strategy was, I recognized that that strategy needed a little honing.
Mary Beth [00:23:15]:
A lot of people do that, though. I have a good friend who also very into the credit card and the hotel rewards, and I’m like, I need to hire somebody to do this. It’s a hobby. It is a skill that you have to hone and learn so I can appreciate the amount of time that goes into it.
Your money or your life.
Mary Beth [00:23:30]:
Where do you want to spend exactly? It is and that brings you joy. It brings you joy. That brings you joy.
Maybe not as much as it used to. What I should say, too, is we’re talking about points and optimizing, but at the end of the day, the most important thing when using credit cards is that you’re paying them off in full.
Mary Beth [00:23:45]:
Mary Beth [00:23:46]:
And the other hack that I started doing, I don’t know if it’s so much of a hack, I don’t know if most people do this, but set your payments up to be auto pay, and so you’re auto paying your statement balance so that you don’t miss it.
Mary Beth [00:23:58]:
Did that happen last year for the newer card? I was like, “Oops, it was like a little late,” but I called them and they waived it. But then I set up the minimum payments because, yeah, I was that person who did not do that. Most people should do that, just write the minimum, it goes, and you’re not missing it. But I didn’t do that.
And it’s a ‘just in case’, you can always go in and you can override the payment, but just set it up. And I think we’re both fans of this, is setting up the system so that they just hum in the background and so that when we’re doing our crazy spreadsheet lady things, the systems are already working. We’re just tracking it.
Mary Beth [00:24:29]:
Okay. Talk to me about investments. Do you have a variety of accounts? What’s your philosophy? Portfolio? If you want to share. Obviously we’re not sharing, like, the individual investments. But you can talk about overarching.
Yeah, I mean, I’d say big picture. We’ve got four main types of accounts. We’ve got our retirement accounts, which is a combination of 401(k)s, Roth IRAs, traditional IRAs from different rollovers, et cetera, which we really think about future us. So we’re not accessing those until we’re over 60. So we definitely want to have that money in there. We also want to have some money that’s a little bit more accessible. We talk about it being in, like, a trust account or a taxable account. That’s money that we don’t have those same restrictions on where we could access them before we’re age 60, but we still have that money invested. You mentioned college accounts. We do utilize the Section 529 plans for college savings, do auto monthly transfers in there with the hope that the kids will go to college at some point, and if they don’t, we can move it around them, or Mama can cash those out and go and get that MBA that she always dreamed about.
Mary Beth [00:25:34]:
There you go. So there you go. There’s the new – some of that can go into the Roth IRA.
And some of that can go in the Roth IRA. Thank you. Secure Act 2.0. And then the fourth account. You also mentioned this is a charity account, and so we’re using that to handle our charitable giving. And so we put together a strategy each year of the causes that we care about and want to make sure that we are giving to those. So those are from an investment standpoint, and we also have them invested differently based on when we’re going to use that money. You mentioned I’m not debt averse. I am also somebody who believes in the markets. And so I probably am invested more aggressively for the long term because I know that long term markets really work. And then, of course, in order to be having the investing conversation, make sure that you have a little bit of money tucked away in an emergency account in cash so that if things go awry, that you’re not forced to liquidate your investments when maybe the market’s down. So making sure you have that cash cushion. How about you?
Mary Beth [00:26:28]:
Tell me first your emergency fund, is that in a regular savings account.
Regular savings account. Having it separate so that it’s not in the normal checking account I think is really helpful. So we use a high interest yield savings account. And a lot of them these days, you can actually call them different things. So I bet this is what you do with your different savings accounts, but you’ve got them kind of out of sight, so they’re not in the normal checking account, but they are still in cash. The benefit of those, this is like American Express, Ally Bank, ING, a lot of those. The interest rate they pay is way higher than if you use just a normal bank savings account. Plus it’s just out of sight. So you can kind of do it. You can set up those auto pays really nicely. And with emergency accounts, we generally recommend three to six months of living expenses. If you’ve got a two-working spouse living situation, you can adjust that up or down, depending on how stable employment is and what you would actually do in the event somebody lost their job, for example. We aim to keep about three months of our living expenses in an emergency account.
Mary Beth [00:27:30]:
Yeah, I think ours is probably four- to five-ish maybe, four and a half months in the emergency account. And then we have our trust account as well, the taxable account that we could always pull from. We also have a HELOC.
Tell us what a HELOC is Mary Beth.
Mary Beth [00:27:44]:
Home equity line of credit so we can tap into the equity of our home. It’s a zero balance. It’s paid off because I hate debt, just to be clear.
Nobody asked, but I’m so happy that you offered that.
Mary Beth [00:27:55]:
Yes. I just wanted you to know that there’s nothing on it right now.
Tell us how you feel about debt. How do you feel about debt?
Mary Beth [00:27:59]:
Wonderful about it. There was a balance and I paid it off.
Because it kept you up at night?
Mary Beth [00:28:06]:
Because it kept me up at night. Awful. It’s a sickness. It’s great. It’s great. It works out well for me. Unnecessary stress, but keep it to me in line. Okay. So the high yield savings account, we have that as well for our emergency fund. About four-and-a-half to five months, I think, in there. And my quarterly tax savings payments also are in there as well, to maximize on the little interest that I can get during that time, because it does pay a much higher interest than regular savings account. So I put some of our quarterly tax savings in there and then move it back and forth. So, investment-wise, overarching strategy. We have our trust account, which is the taxable account, very similar to what Neela said. We have 401(k)s through the employer. And then we have our IRAs, Roth IRAs, et cetera, separately. And then we have 529 plans for college. We have a donor advised fund for our charitable giving. And then also for us, we have a separate account that I put money into, which is still in the name of our trust, but it is what I put money into each month for our nephews and our family. So I put in a small amount that is there. I didn’t do a 529 plan for them, but it gives them a little bit of flexibility for when they’re on the other side. I put money aside each month and they get a print out of the balance every Christmas. I let them know so they can see the growth of the account, they can see how investments work. It gets them talking about it. And they know that they have something that will help them with either a computer or tuition or books or something on the other side when it comes to school. So I maintain discretion over when we use those funds or don’t. But that is another account that I have there that I put money into each month.
Oh, I love that. How did that come to be? How did you have the conversation with your nephews around that?
Mary Beth [00:29:41]:
I’ve shared before, I paid my own way through college and had to figure out the loans and everything and work my whole time. And so with the kids, my nephews, so two of them, they’re 16, 18. One of them is five, so he’s kind of like, mom’s, like, “Thank you.” And then the other one is 12 and he’s special needs, so that one’s not going to be for his education. That one is my older sister. It’s letting her know there’s something in case she needs a little bit for his care at any point in time, or just other needs that he has. He’s autistic and he’s pretty far along the spectrum. So for the older two, though, I had the conversation, the account has been open for probably five or so years and just about like, “Hey, I’m putting this aside for you. It’s investing. I want this to grow. It’s going to be used for college or for education or trade school on the other side of high school.” And I really used it to start the conversation about future planning for them. I decided I wanted to go to college. I’m a first generation college grad for my family. And so I made that decision and pursued it on my own with some support, just in terms of applications and things. But I don’t know that they’re being talked to about it, to be honest, or even guided, because again, I’m the one who’s gone and has the lived experience. So basically I used it to plant the seed every six to twelve months as we’re talking about it, like, for your future and post-high school and post-this. And so they’ve responded, “Well, can I use it for this?” They’re trying to negotiate with me, which is funny, true teenager fashion, but I’m always very firm on it that I have the say, here’s how I will help them. And so even recently, the older one just graduated high school. And so now he’s looking at going to a trade school, is it going to be community college, and what does he want to do? He’s struggling with how am I supposed to know what I want to be when I grow up at this point in time, which I’m like, “True, I have no idea.”
That’s a huge ask, right?
Mary Beth [00:31:23]:
It’s a huge ask. I was like, “You are not supposed to know, Sir.” So we talked about using some of the money. Talked about, “Well, can the money help me get a laptop for school?” And I said, “Once you’re registered for classes and I see a print out of your classes, we can use the money to get a laptop. Right, but I’m not going to get you a laptop preemptively. I need to see what you’re registered for.” And then we talked about also that he still is going to have to get financial aid, because I think it’s important that he is invested on his own. And then when he finishes the courses and has a certain grade, then those funds can come and they’ll pay off the loan. So now we’re talking about putting the funds into use as to what it could look like. And Brian and I are kind of figuring out the parameters. I’m not using it as a front end, so it’s a little bit more trying to keep them invested and showing the value of going on this journey. I could be doing it wrong. People might be judging me for not just giving it all to him right off the bat and putting the pressure. But I think there’s ownership in knowing, as somebody who took out the loans, there was a fire under my butt knowing that was my debt that I had to pay off. I mean, I even struggle with my kids now, knowing that I’m saving for college. They’re going to have a completely different experience. Brian went to the Naval Academy, so he had to serve time post-graduation. Like, he owed years of his life to pay off his college and the training they gave him. I paid on my own. And so I think the balance here of what we’re trying to figure out, that’s how it all happened, and that’s where we’re at with it.
I think it’s really interesting because there is no right way. There is absolutely no right way. And hearing you talk about your nephew’s accounts, what strikes me is it’s very consistent with what you’ve said are your family values. It’s family experiences, and that goes beyond your two children. It goes beyond you and Brian. It’s kind of going down to this other generation that’s a little bit more distant and that you want them to have these experiences because you had such a positive experience with it. And then also just the security, growing up in a paycheck-to-paycheck house and having this baseline of, I can do it on my own. Because you’ve been doing it on your own for a long time.
Mary Beth [00:33:21]:
Yeah. And I will say, being that person who models something for the next generation, and I have a wonderful family but I will never forget my mom’s brother. My uncle runs a successful business, and when I came home from college, he gave me a job as an executive assistant at his business. I had two summer jobs. He got me into another one. I remember him for graduation, giving me $500 towards books and then helping me with just like another $500 towards tuition. At other points in time, he modeled that. He was able to do more than my family could, right. Just be based on his, like, where he was with his business and where he was in life. He could model that. He helped out in those ways to kind of show me what a different path could look like and show me the way for school and different things. And so that support from him was really important. And for me, it’s important for my nephews too, for me to be able to model that for them and show them there’s another way. You don’t have to go straight into a job. The mindset of these kids is they’re making $20 an hour, which is wonderful for a lot of people, but a career growth and trajectory, like, they’re not in it for the long term and they don’t necessarily know the payoff. I know there’s debates on whether degrees are beneficial or not, but I think getting them to think about this long-term aspect and see the variety of options in front of them as opposed to just being in that hourly wage work on an ongoing basis and just I want them to see other options are out there for you. Yeah.
Posing the question, if it’s not being posed elsewhere, you know, they’re getting it from you. And this idea of continuing to pay it forward sounds like your uncle did that and you’re doing that now too, which is really powerful.
Mary Beth [00:34:46]:
So tell me, how do you and Tom talk about money? How often do you talk about money? Is it always you’re on the same page? Are you sometimes not on the same page?
I think you can’t get away from the fact that I know a lot more about it, but I never want him to feel like he doesn’t have an idea of what’s going on. And so periodically we have these conversations where I’m like, “Hey, this is how things are set up. This is how we’ve got these different accounts, and this is what I’m thinking here.” But when it comes to the big decisions, we are talking about all of those. I like being in the weeds of the day-to-day stuff. But when we’re talking about what are our family goals over the next 5, 10, 15 years, those are joint conversations. Every time that we’ve decided to invest more in this business, those are joint conversations. And we’re weighing the pros and we’re weighing the cons. And I recognize that I know more about this stuff than he does. And so I want to bring him along, not because I want him to do what I think, but because I want to provide enough information where he can make an informed decision. And then between the two of us, we’ll land somewhere together. And it’s not always the same place, but it’s so important for us to have those conversations and connecting it back. We used to do it once a week and then we had all these children and it got hard to do that. So generally now we really have kind of a sit down, I would say every couple of months. It’s mostly when I’m freaking out and be like, “Do you know what would happen if something happened to me? Here, call this person. And here’s the information.” I literally have a document on our shared dropbox which is just entitled, “Dear Tom, just read this –” and I try and keep that up to date. Or I’m like, “This is the insurance information. These are the accounts out of sheer fear that I’m like –” I just want him to know.
Mary Beth [00:36:33]:
I guess nobody had to ask us to.
Mary Beth [00:36:41]:
Very thorough. I love that. Mine’s just got a spreadsheet on how to pay the quarterly taxes. That’s my fear if I go, is that he’s going to mess up the quarterly tax payment. It’s all going to come crumbling down.
The good news is we’ve told them, we’re like, “Just call the other one.”
Mary Beth [00:36:56]:
Yeah, exactly. We both know each other’s crazy system. Exactly. No, I think that’s really powerful, though, that the conversations and discussing additional investments – or any one-off things and changes revisiting that – we talk about, it’s like it’s standard practice and everybody does it, but I don’t think that’s the case. And I think it’s also when you’re so in it, like you said, you have more children when you’re so in it day-to-day, it’s so hard to zoom out and think about what you want long term. All Brian and I talk about, like I said in the beginning, is we need to make sure we invest in this relationship that we’re going to come back to in the future. Like, you just need to make sure we still like each other. I can’t tell you what that’s going to look like. The farthest I’ve gotten into retirement is I would like rocking chairs on a porch. This is the only thing I know. Yeah, I’d like that tomorrow actually, not even retirement, but I don’t know how to plan for it. So I’m like, I think this is right. This sounds fine. We talk about it. We’re kind of like a little shoulder-shruggy sometimes. I think it’s going to be like this big plan, me and like, stories and where it’s going to go, envisioning, and I’m like, too tired. Who knows? Like a logical thing to do. So I think it’s like anticlimactic.
Well, in the future, like you just said, it’s uncertain. And so what we’re doing is we’re doing our best with incomplete information, and controlling the inputs as much as we can, knowing that life is going to take some interesting turns, and we don’t necessarily know, but we’re going to try our best, knowing we’re like, “Okay, if we can plan for these different areas…” Nobody’s financial plan ends up the way they think it’s going to go. So you’re like, well, that’s the shoulder shrug. We’re like, “We’re going to give it the old college try and see where this wacky journey takes us.”
Mary Beth [00:38:27]:
Yeah, the biggest thing I would say is the thing that I struggled with – which is funny, because all clients struggle with this – that took us a while to figure out is our estate planning. That was the thing. Just like, I think a lot of clients end up dragging their heels on life insurance and estate planning. And that was hard once we had children, because that’s the thing you don’t want to talk about. I think that we come back to again and again is who would take care of our kids if we weren’t here? And we did it once, and then we did an update to the trust, and then yet we still have conversations because people change and life changes, and then you’re kind of hemming and hawing. You don’t want to think about it. And then when I do think about it when we travel, I’m like, “Does our executor have the things in which we talk about mortality?” I’m even 40 years old and I still struggle with it the most. Of talking about that future potential, I don’t know how it was for you, but that’s probably the thing that comes back to “What did we struggle with the most?
Yeah, that was a tough one. And honestly, like, the cobbler has no shoes. It took us way too long to do our estate documents because you’re also like, what estate documents? You’re contemplating your own mortality. You get to pay to document what happens in the event of your mortality. And so it is a huge barrier. But what got us to take action was I would like to have a say of who would raise my kids if something happened to us, full stop. Everything else could be figured out. But I want to make sure that when I’m picking a future guardian, that it’s somebody who has the same family values that we do. And that I think would really raise them in an incredible way. And so we ended up having my brother and sister-in-law. We just are very close with them, have seen them parent their own kids, and had a conversation where it’s like, “Hey, would you be willing to be that person?” And they fortunately said yes, but we had to really do some soul searching of who would that be? Our parents are older. Does that make sense?
Mary Beth [00:40:21]:
But it did get us to take action because we’re like we want to have a say in this. And we also want to make sure that we have life insurance in the event something did happen to us that whoever we selected would be able to afford raising those kids. Just like slapping three kids onto somebody and be like, “Good luck.”
Mary Beth [00:40:38]:
You got that right.
Enjoy. What happens to your grocery bill is a tough sell. So you just want to make sure that the money piece doesn’t come into play to the extent that you can control.
Mary Beth [00:40:48]:
Yeah, because you have people that will raise your children, then you have people who you want to continue to be present in their lives and to have a role. And they might not have that role if you’re not here. So being able to document that outside, so it might not be in a legal document, but you being able to document your intents of wanting to make sure that they visit certain people, certain amounts of time, or that this person has a steady presence in their life and that travel is covered for them. Whatever those things are, those can be documented in a separate letter. And that was the thing that gave me peace of mind, is making sure that those certain relationships, or I could at least express the intent, is that those relationships are maintained because people might not know what’s inside your head. And even the people that are going to raise the children, they might have a little bit of different values or time and priorities and the resources involved. So again, the life insurance and the funding and making sure that you’re expressing the relationship that you hope continues to grow.
I love that you mentioned the side letter because there’s the legal documents which are somewhat sterile.
Mary Beth [00:41:41]:
And then you have what’s inside your head and so you’re like, “How do you actually get that down?” And so the side letter of wishes, intense hopes, et cetera, is so important. I’m glad you brought that up.
Mary Beth [00:41:52]:
Anything else that we’re missing?
I feel like we should summarize your three main goals in terms of how you approach managing your family finances.
Mary Beth [00:42:05]:
I would say the first one is future security, which is huge. Two, lived experiences, and that’s through giving, travel, food, that’s all encompassed under there. We are a very charitable family in terms of giving, and I anticipate that growing. And three, independence. We talked about this in the very first episode we recorded. Maybe it’s the idea for me of being able to take care of myself and not being dependent on anybody to value my worth. And I think that happens. That’s what we all do as part of our careers. But that independence for me is separate from the security. So maybe it’s just choices. It’s just choices, choices, choices. Yeah, that’s probably the overarching. How about you?
I love that. Yeah, I mean, I think very similar. Taking care of future self is this idea of planning for the future, whatever that might look like. I’m a huge fan of automation. I’m like, “Let’s just keep it simple and automate your plans so that you don’t have to think about it.” So that the biggest questions you have are maybe on the fun stuff, the experiences, the discretionary expenses. But you almost have the permission to spend those once you’ve taken care of business, right? You’ve made sure that you’ve paid off your credit cards, you’ve made sure that you’ve put money in your retirement accounts, et cetera. And then I’d say the last one would be picking your spots. Picking your spots. Where do you put your money? If you try and put them in all of the spots, you probably won’t have the full enjoyment. And so picking the two or three areas that you really care about and knowing that there’s probably trade-offs in the other ones, but that you’re really opting to put your money where you want, where it’s most meaningful for you and your family.
Mary Beth [00:43:40]:
So hopefully we haven’t scared everybody away with the fact that we’re kooky financial planners.
Mary Beth [00:43:45]:
There’s so much more I was thinking we could talk about. But we’re going to wrap it here, y’all, in a minute. Maybe we’ll turn this into two episodes. You will find out if this is two or one, but thank you for going on this journey with us.
Love to know what you think.
Mary Beth [00:43:58]:
Thank you for listening to today’s episode of If Money Were Easy. If you’re looking for more information on how you can expand what’s possible with your Money, head to abacuswealth.com. That’s abacuswealth.com for more analysis and resources created by our team.