Rita Silvan, editor-in-chief of Golden Girl Finance, speaks with author and financial educator Kelley Keehn about her new book, Talk Money to Me.
GGF: Kelley, congratulations on your 7th book. You’re a high-profile financial educator today but, as you reveal in your new book, your early financial life was pretty tough. What was your earliest memory of realizing that your family was poor?
KK: My parents had separated and there was a lot of stress on my Mom. I would see her crying. I was pretty carefree until then. I went to a junior high where a lot of the other students had come from a wealthy elementary school. The first day of Grade 7, I became aware of brand labels. And I knew I didn’t have them.
GGF: What affect did this have on you?
KK: I desperately wanted to fit in. This was the first time in my life that I really started comparing myself to others.
GGF: How did the experience inform your educational, career, and even relationship choices?
KK: Education wasn’t discussed in my family and there was no money set aside for it. I had an uncle who were very wealthy. He was a self-made multi-millionaire with no education. The message I got was, “Education is not going to make you money; hustling makes you money.” I got a diploma in marketing and started working. I did regret not having the university experience—making good friends, learning for the sake of learning. I entered the adult work world very early.
GGF: You worked at a bank and had a good salary early on. Sometimes people who have experienced financial deprivation have a lot of pent up demand for spending. What was it like for you to finally have money of your own?
KK: I was paid a very high salary with an expense account. My job entailed dealing with high-net-worth clients and I felt I had to live up to their lifestyles. I also had a boyfriend at the time who was all about appearances, so I did spend a lot. So, yeah, I suffered from the “poor kid syndrome” of overspending. One thing I realized was that some of my clients were not who they seemed. There’s the expression, “you can’t fool a banker”; some of these high-living clients were actually $2million in-the-hole.
GGF: How has your personal relationship with spending changed?
KK: I guess I still have a bit of the “poor kid syndrome” from not having enough in those formative years. I’m pretty generous with myself! Before, if I had to give a presentation, I’d buy myself a new suit. Now, before I shop, I ensure that it’s something I really want, and I plan for it.
GGF: Everyone seems to be busier than ever and dealing with finances and budgeting are perceived as chores that often get postponed. There’s also a growing mistrust of financial advisors. What’s the first step in handling our money better?
KK: Your financial health is like your physical health. If you want to get fit or lose weight, you have to know where you’re at first and then create a plan of action. This might involve reaching out to a physician, nutritionist or a trainer. The same applies to getting our finances in order. Instead of counting calories, count where your money is going. Try it for 30 days. For most of us, it’s not how much we earn but what we keep that makes the difference.
GGF: What’s the best way to find the right people?
KK: Before you reach out to anyone, ensure that they are legit. Do they have the appropriate qualifications? Are their credentials up-to-date? Are they legally required to put your interests before their own? Then, arm yourself with the right questions so you can make informed decisions. Sometimes, it’s just not a personality fit. Don’t just hire the same person your friend or family member uses without vetting them yourself.
GGF: I know you’re a proponent of working with coaches. Can you tell us more about your experiences?
KK: I’ve never hired a “coach” per se, but I’ve always hired an expert in the field when I need to get a rapid edge. This way, I get concentrated expertise. I seek out the brightest people in their respective fields and I’ve always found this to be worth every penny. I’ve hired coaches to help me gain better health, be a better writer, and to use body language more effectively.
GGF: Let’s talk specifically about women and money. What’s the most common financial trap women face?
KK: I shake my head when I see how many millennial women, high earners, default financial decisions to men. Until someone understands the basics of finance, she will never be free.
GGF: One common refrain about why women earn less than men is we don’t negotiate for more. What’s been your experience?
KK: Early on, I was not at all comfortable negotiating. In my mind, you negotiated because you didn’t have the money; this is what I saw my Mom doing. When I began working with wealthy clients who negotiated, my attitude changed. Today, I’m self-employed and there’s no clear pay scale for what I do. I’ve had to learn to ask for what I’m worth. There’s a statistic that shows that over a career, women leave at least $1million on the table.
GGF: What does financial freedom mean to you?
KK: It’s the ability to do what I want, when I want, without any financial constraints.
GGF: Thanks for speaking with me today Kelley.