09 Feb 2015

The Wall Street Journal and The Smart [?] Way to Teach Children about Money

Author: Joline Godfrey / Feb 09,2015 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

Last week the WSJ printed a provocative headline (The Smart Way to Teach Children About Money). Author Charlie Wells grabbed reader attention by writing: “...the one theme that comes out of [the] research loud and clear is that we’re doing it all wrong.”

Wells was reporting on a new study that looks at state “mandated personal-finance curriculums in high school, and compared the financial health of students who graduated before the mandates to those who graduated after.”

The hypothesis: If personal-finance education worked, the students who graduated after the programs were implemented would be better off financially.

I am frequently asked: why aren’t we teaching ‘this stuff’ (financial skills presumably) in the classroom? In fact, 43 states mandate some sort of financial curriculum. I often try to deflect the question because the outcome of in-school efforts are so dismal.

And this study, demonstrates once again, why school based financial education still isn’t working.The study cited in the WSJ article found that “after controlling for state, age, race, time and sex, and analyzing a huge pool of historical financial data, the group found there was no statistically significant difference between people who graduated within a 15-year span either before or after the personal-finance programs were implemented. Graduates’ asset accumulation and credit management were the same, with or without mandated financial education.”

First, this is not news. Lewis Mandell (former Professor of Finance, SUNY/Buffalo and one of the most respected financial education researchers in the country) was writing about the deficiencies of financial education back in the 1990s. The same results are ‘proven’ repeatedly: financial education is ineffective and kids who struggle with math are especially hampered.

Shawn Cole, one of the principal researchers cited, maintains it's all about the math.

“Students required by states to take additional math courses,” he found, “practiced better credit management than other students, had a greater percentage of investment income as part of their total income, reported $3,000 higher home equity and were better able to avoid both home foreclosure and credit-card delinquency.”

This makes sense, but what was not addressed in the WSJ piece—or the study—is that, though math skills are critical and will have this impact, they are not sufficient.

At IMI we work with many math savvy, financially-challenged kids. And that's been an American problem for a long time—affecting our tech sector, STEM education, and all manner of US issues (can we talk about the problems this creates in the US Congress?).

The most well-meaning school districts know that effective financial education requires the engagement of family--to give financial skills context with expectations and values. Some families are naturally adept at this--others need their own classes and that can be expensive. Effective financial education is a process, not an event. It requires ongoing experiential practice (the researchers report that "one hour of financial instruction wore off after about five months"). Families we work with can probably lip sync me saying: it’s like learning to play the piano or mastering tennis. It won’t happen with a 60 minute class or a 45 minute lecture.

Another point made in the article is the importance of not making discussions of family money scary. We work with plenty of kids who are math whizzes—and still anxious about money. Math proficiency can help make awkward conversations about pre-nups, wealth transfer, cohabitation agreements, and budget issues objectively clear, but brilliant mathematicians are not always the best financial communicators.

So as earthshaking as the WSJ article appears to be, it supports the notion that the best financial education is holistic. It requires learning about financial mechanics at developmentally appropriate stages; building a context of values and relevant vocabulary and concepts, supported by open and transparent communication about money within the family. And yes, kids with the strongest math skills may have an advantage when all these other elements of financial education are present.

This is not breakthrough information—rather it is the way IMI helps children and their families acquire financial fluency as part of the process of helping families go from “good to great.” Financial education is not a walk in the park; it’s not acquired in a ½ day or ½ semester course. It’s not cheap.

But it’s not something to walk away from because it is not easy. Financial fluency is a national necessity; a family imperative. (Now if I could JUST figure out how to build a financially fluent Congress.)

04 Feb 2015

In Defense of Narcissistic Altruism

Author: Whitney Webb / Feb 04,2015 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

At a party last year, I was chatting with a guy who spent two weeks volunteering in Africa, teaching business skills to small start ups. For some reason, I felt myself putting virtual air quotes around everything he said, "giving my time," "living in the third world," "they were so grateful to learn." I interrogated that poor man, demanding to know if he had used a structured curriculum, what follow up was being done, etc. I don't remember his responses, I don't think I was even listening. He was irrationally marked in my mind as self serving and ignorant about international volunteer work. I woke up the next morning and, luckily but painfully, realized the wave of self righteousness and unfair judgement on my part. Over the coming months, I started noticing facebook posts and news articles such as "Humanitarians on Tinder," "Photograph Yourself Hugging Third World Children," and "The White Tourists Burden." The ALS ice bucket challenge fundraiser was under fire as a prime example of "narcissistic altruism". It hit me as a sad truth that the trend (including my own) is to criticize, and even mock, those who showcase humanitarianism. I began to ask the question: Why do we negate or attack well intentioned acts when they are shared with others?

There are, unquestionably, volunteer projects and charitable donations that have little or even negative impact on the recipients of these efforts. In certain instances, "voluntouring" is creating more trafficking and exploitation of vulnerable people around the world. Fundraising campaigns are being created with false pretenses and selfish motives. I am not arguing or ignoring any of this - I advise and guide all of the young people I work with to be relentless in their due diligence before giving their time and money, and to think about the reality of whether a project will be beneficial and sustainable in the long run. But even with everything that can, and will, go wrong in the philanthropic space - I am much more concerned about living in a world where it is no longer considered cool to care. I am fearful that a simple message being passed down to the next generation is that volunteering is self serving, donating money has little or negative impact, and that inaction is the safest course. Inaction will lead to ignorance, and a huge deficit of empathy. As we lose empathy, we become more polarized and self involved. Those with strong convictions can ignore the judgements and criticism, but I worry about the fragility and vulnerability of today’s youth - those who already have too many critics and bullies to contend with, and who may be persuaded to simply not try to make the world a better place.

Our lives, or at least a curated portion of them, are lived online for the world to see. I don't see that changing anytime soon, so I am going on the defensive here for those who genuinely want to do something positive for others, for those who want to better understand the world, and for the majority of people who are not, in fact, traveling 10,000 miles just to attain a new Facebook profile picture in the wilds of Asia or Africa. There are legitimate ways to help in this world, with the prerequisites of research, realistic expectations, and humility. I want to work to reframe the outlook on volunteering and charitable giving, and the way we share it with others, starting with my own skepticism and judgements. In turn, I hope that those with experience and knowledge in the philanthropic world can be thoughtful about guiding instead of criticizing, and praising small initiatives rather than belittling them. And I sincerely hope that you will all continue to pour ice on your head, post selfies with the kids you are volunteering with, write heartfelt blog posts, travel and learn, and don't let fear of judgement keep you from telling your story. Good acts should be shared, validated, and imitated, because I see little downside to goodness going viral.

21 Jan 2015

The IMI Approach

Author: Joline Godfrey / Jan 21,2015 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

The financial education approach IMI practices is unique: hands on, bespoke, and delivered by trainers who work with family members over time, using materials and methods designed to be engaging and impactful.

This means we talk a lot about the 'fun factor' in learning. Genine Iffla, a trainer who works with some of our youngest family members, has been thinking about this lately and shared her thoughts with me. I think she captures our point of view so well that I asked if I could share it with you here. Enjoy!

Fun. A simple word but something we all, in our own way, enjoy. Whether going to the movies, spending time with friends, riding roller coasters, etc. there are various forms of "fun". Fun is not meant to be something we have to do or a massive undertaking, it's meant to be a time when we can just enjoy being. But what happens when something many people think as needing to be serious, can also be fun?

I'm sure you're wondering where I'm going with this, so I will cut to the chase. That often perceived as "un-fun" thing I'm referring to is learning, it's "getting a formal education". However, most of the work I do for Independent Means, and have been doing the past six years [Genine came to IMI after teaching school in S. Korea], can seem more like "fun" than “learning”.

I struggle with this because I love what I do and I understand the responsibility I have, but since I tend to work with the under 18 crowd, specifically 5-12 year olds, many of my peers and industry professionals (adults if you will) do not quite get my chosen line of work. After explaining a typical session I run, I often get a sweet smile and the phrase, "That sounds like fun!".

Take for example one of my favorite sessions, a module called "Pigs Will Be Pigs": the children read a book about a discombobulated family of pigs who go on a wild scavenger hunt throughout their own house in order to scrounge up enough money for dinner at the Enchanted Enchilada Restaurant. While reading the book, the kids go on their own scavenger hunt - I have hidden money ahead of time throughout the room to mirror the book. They then have to add up all of the money, figure out the cost of dinner, and how much money the pigs have left (if any).

After all of the calculations are done, we have a conversation and I ask them if they think this is a responsible way in which to keep money (no), and what they think the pig family needs to do (use a bank). Sounds fun, right? Yes! It is so much fun, and this session is always filled with laughter and excitement. But it's also quite serious because the kids retain the information as a result of the enjoyment. They listen, they understand. It brings in tactical, visual, written, and verbal learning. The next time I see them, believe me, the kids always talk about the irresponsible pig family, how they needed to save their money in a bank, about all of the different denominations of money we used (penny, nickel, dime, quarter, half dollar, dollar coin, dollar bill, two dollar bill, five dollar bill, ten dollar bill and twenty dollar bill).

Now, I'm not saying we need to bring in a wild goose chase filled with rainbows and lollipops at every turn for children to retain information, because I can say from experience that this is simply not the case (and would be slightly exhausting :). There are a plethora of styles and atmospheres in which to learn (and like doing it). But when I am given the opportunity to present subject matter in a way that enables young learners to understand big ideas and enjoy using their brains, as I am so fortunate to do at Independent Means, do I? You bet I do. I help make learning fun.

And let me just finish off Genine's thoughts here by saying that GENINE and the trainers who are her peers, are what make IMI truly unique. I'm a lucky CEO, looking forward to a wonderful year with the IMI team, our client families and institutions. If you have a comment on the fun factor in learning, I'd love to hear from you.

11 Jun 2014

Parents, Kids and Cash…

Author: Kawai Sin / Jun 11,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

Every now and then Heidi Stevens, a reporter with the Chicago Tribune asks me to comment on something related to Kids and Money. Last week she wanted to talk about a survey that indicates how much cash parents hand out to their kids. Our conversation can be read here…


19 May 2014

Secrets to Talking with Kids about Wealth

Author: Joline Godfrey / May 19,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

by Joline Godfrey, CEO Independent Means.

Last week I delivered a talk for the Greater Houston Community Foundation. The group included grandparents, adult children, twenty somethings—and 7 pregnant moms! The questions from such a diverse audience tend to cover a lot of ground and had it not been for the dinner I could tell they were eager to get to, I might have spent several more hours covering the very broad topic of "How to talk with children (using the term very broadly) about money". But these dinners are meant to be appetizers for a bigger conversation so I stopped short for risk of losing my audience to hunger.

Later, over dessert, I was asked to expand on some of my comments. I know the hope is ever present that there is some secret to talking effectively with one’s children (whether 5 or 25). And I suppose there is—it’s just not a quick—or easy—or single secret. But wanting to be helpful, I promised I would reprise the key themes in my talk in my next blog, so here it is to share with you all. For the purpose of this column, I focus mainly on almost adult children, though the tenets are applicable at every age.

Eight Steps to Talking with Your Children about Wealth

Acquiring financial mastery, even at the most fundamental level that any beneficiary needs, takes three things: an understanding of context (who are we and what are our values in regard to the wealth); skill building (specific, concrete skills and language for stewarding wealth); and practice (an intention to get better over time).

They may not need the 10,000 hours that Malcolm Gladwell famously tells us we need for mastery, but they need more than an afternoon, a single conversation.

The steps below are offered in the hope that this will get a rich, challenging—and of course more rewarding—journey started.

1. Don't talk about wealth. Talk about values, purpose, family vision and goals. Often. Even when they roll their eyes or seem to ignore you. Keep talking. Start with your values, not the money. Then take the conversation deeper. Families get derailed when they begin with the money, not the purpose of that money; the values driving the money, and the story and history behind the money.

2. Introduce transparency on a micro-level. If you think you're aligned with your children (at any stage or age) on values and purpose (this usually takes a year or two), introduce transparency in a grounded, practical way; what is the cost of their current lifestyle? Not, how much will they inherit or what is the net worth of the family. Start on a practical scale: what does it cost to live the life they are currently leading; how do they want that to change and what are they doing to attain their goals?

Families providing invisible allowances (covering credit card bills, subsidizing rent, taking care of insurance, health costs, travel, etc.) are not giving the next generation the real data they need to learn how to manage more complex information later on. Reveal the cost of the things you and they assume are covered by parenting responsibilities. This is not a punishment or a judgment; it's just an acknowledgement of what is real.

3. Provide opportunities to exercise judgment, independence, resourcefulness. Make that invisible allowance visible and start a beta project to let them manage their independence. (This is much more appealing than asking them to manage a budget.) Give them data: what you spend to maintain the car; live in that apartment; eat out; shop at XZY Boutique, ski in the Alps, etc. Now hand over the cash that you have been providing behind the scenes and let them manage it. This is called practice and it's the opportunity you provide before giving them access to funds on a larger scale. If your 24 year old can't manage $25-$50K, or $75K; they'll be challenged to manage $100K, $1million, and more.

4. Up the Ante. Give them REAL Responsibility. Are they handling their personal finances fairly well? Invite them to co-invest with you in a fund, a project, anything that is understandable enough that it can be used to teach due diligence, cost/benefit assessments, balance sheets, growth (long and short term), stakeholder management (who are the stakeholders in this investment and what are their interests? What happens when interests are conflicting?) You may have started your kids on training wheels when they first learned to ride a bike. Co-investing is the financial equivalent of training wheels. Talking about wealth before they have a true understanding of how money works is a little unkind, like sending a 4-year old on a bike without the training wheels.

5. Support the Development of Character. If you don't have a family foundation they can easily participate in, invite them to set up a donor advised fund. Don't do it for them, coach them, advise them, help them through the steps. Then coach them through the process of thinking about what matters to them. (back to that values conversation; see Steps 1 and 2). And don't just give them money to give away. Teaching kids to give away money without developing the concomitant skills of developing strategy, purpose, and a connection to one's values is just teaching kids to give money away—it does little to develop thoughtful philanthropists. And, of course, philanthropy is not just about the money (see Step 2 again). It's about an intention to use one's talent, time, AND money in meaningful ways. How do they spend their time, as well as money and talent, making a difference for others?

6. Encourage an entrepreneurial spirit. Not every kid needs to start a business. But entrepreneurial skills are arguably the defining competitive advantage of the 21st century. Whether your offspring is planing a career the arts, third world development, sports or the sciences, it will be imperative to understand how to make one's career goals and plans sustainable. Knowing how to read and develop a business plan is critical for a young person with resources--as of course for those without.

7. Connect them to the world. The point of practice is to prepare them for the responsibilities of wealth. This includes participating knowledgeably in significant meetings; meeting potential mentors and colleagues (the better prepared they are the more seriously they will be taken). Read the news with them, include them in important conversations. When traveling, do more than vacation, use your trips to expand their worldview and give them context for the world they are investing in. They cannot vote or invest responsibly without understanding the world around them.

8) Now refresh your family vision with their input. If they have achieved the kind of financial fluency you hoped, now is the time to let their voice help shape a next generation vision. Review family governance policies to make sure there is room for next generation voices.

The odd thing about these steps is that if you commit to the process, you never really have a "conversation about wealth." Rather, you have a conversation about life, what’s important, purpose, dreams, hopes, the stuff of family, the stuff that has real meaning.

15 Apr 2014

Not Just about the Kids: Ten Ways to Avoid Being Tracked On-Line

Author: Joline Godfrey / Apr 15,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

Families often look at their young as a primary internet risk in the home. But this article from NPR’s Marketplace suggests that for those seeking privacy, there are more immediate–and manageable–dangers to address. We recommend: Top 10 ways to Avoid Being Tracked Online, by Stacey Vanek Smith.

We’re listing the Ten Ways Here, but go to the actual link to get more information on how. It’s not too complex–really!

1. Read the Terms of Service Agreements for sites you give your information to. Especially sites you give your financial information to. You maybe thinking:”I’ve been on page 5 of Freedom for 8 months, HOW am I going to find the time to read online agreements?”

2. Use a search engine that doesn’t track you, like DuckDuckGo or Startpage for searches you want to keep private. Google’s Incognito setting, Microsoft’s Do Not Track setting and other browser privacy settings are not always effective, because they typically leave the decision of whether to track you up to the website you visit. There are no regulations requiring websites honor a “Do Not Track” request.

3. Use a browser add-on like Ghostery, Privacyfix or Do Not Track Plus to see who is tracking you on any given website. You can use these tools to avoid being tracked altogether or to limit who can access your data.

4. Use a tool to encrypt your connection, like CyberGhost VPN or Tor (which routes your search through servers all over the globe, the way criminals in the movies route their calls to avoid having them traced). Be sure to use one of these tools if you are accessing the Internet through a public WiFi connection at a coffee shop, for instance.

5. Read the agreements for all mobile phone apps before you download them. Some of them are scary! They will track your location using your GPS and some (like Facebook) will download ALL OF THE CONTACTS IN YOUR PHONE. Can’t remember who you’ve handed your data to? MyPermissions can help.

6. Adjust your Facebook privacy settings so that only your friends can see your information. You know that 6 Degress of Kevin Bacon game? That should give you an idea of how many friends your friends have and how many thousands of people can see your information (not to mention the impressive scope of Bacon’s work)

7. Have different email addresses for different things, i.e. an email for work, a personal email, and an email you give to online stores. This makes it harder for companies to flesh out a profile of you. You can also use an email cloaking device like Gliph.

8. Use different passwords for different sites. A lot of sites store your password and know your email login name. You may be thinking that there is no way you will be able to remember any password more complicated than “Password,” but take heart! LastPass can help you with that.

9. Regularly clear out the cookies and caches in your computer. Many companies will track you for months if you don’t clean these out. Cookies aren’t the only way companies track you, but it will help. This site can be used to clean up your cache.

10. Use a service that removes your data from data brokers, like DeleteMe, Safe Shepherd and Catalog Choice. They usually charge a monthly fee and they won’t remove your online profile entirely, but it will help.

02 Apr 2014

Why Did the Market Sell Off Today?

Author: Kawai Sin / Apr 02,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

I hope you enjoyed the birthday card for Gloria Steinem on March 25. Happily that blog helped break the radio silence I’ve had for months. (The publication of the new edition ofRaising Financially Fit Kids killed my writing jones for awhile:) But this email from Daniel Rutnik, a funny, skeptical, talented financial advisor in Albany NY so tickled my funny bone I decided to use it to keep the momentum going.

Daniel sent me a great piece on March 13, the title of which is, “Why did the stock market sell off today?To answer that question, Joshua Brown compiled this list of explanations from various news agencies that day:

  • Wall Street Journal: Tensions in Ukraine and the Crimean peninsula
  • Yahoo Finance: Russians
  • Fox Business: Obamacare
  • CNBC: It didn’t sell off at all, it was actually a reverse rally
  • Forbes: Taxes are too high
  • Huffington Post: Taxes are too low
  • Fox News: Gay marriage
  • Motley Fool: Sign up here to find out!
  • Bloomberg TV: The opposite of whatever CNBC said.
  • Quartz: Chinese shadow-banks
  • FT Alphaville: Chinese derivatives
  • Washington Times: Fallout from explosive Benghazi revelations
  • StockTwits: Here’s a chart
  • USA Today: Let’s take a poll
  • DealBook: lack of M&A
  • Zero Hedge: Better question, why would it have gone up?
  • MSNBC: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the term “stock market” per se…
  • Financial Times: Please take a moment to register and accept cookies
  • MarketWatch: 1929
  • The Reformed Broker: More sellers than buyers
  • Buzzfeed Business: It’s like that time on Party of Five when Charlie was giving Julia the silent treatment…
  • Reuters: HFT
  • Barron’s: Valuations got ahead of themselves
  • Investors Business Daily: drop in momentum. And record deficits.
  • History Channel: Ancient Aliens

Then Daniel comments: “You have to be a financial nerd to get the humor in most of these. They are many different “hypothetical” answers to one question. All express a self-interest bias that reflects popularly perceived attitudes of the identified author. The fact is that sometimes things just happen when human beings act. Very little has just one simple cause. Many things evolve over time but do not move in a straight line. Nevertheless, we feel compelled to reduce complicated things to simple messages to express some mastery over the otherwise mysterious. Simple messages can reveal our biases or agendas. As for the specific question, I like this response: more sellers than buyers.”

Daniel’s take on the so-called news is the kind of clean, clear financial education I most enjoy.

Have a great week!

01 Apr 2014

Camp $tart-Up Press Release

Author: Kawai Sin / Apr 01,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

To celebrate 20 years of entrepreneurial spirit, California–based Independent Means Inc., a worldwide leader in financial education, is taking Camp Start-Up, a summer program for teens, across the pond to Oxford, England. Camp Start–Up offers the creative teen a unique experience in international social enterprise. This 10-day residential program introduces teens (ages 14-18) to personal finance and entrepreneurship, teamwork and leadership. Campers put creativity to work by building a business from the ground up. Emphasis is placed on developing plans that make ideas and visions viable and sustainable.

Read the entire press release by clicking here - CSU Oxford 2014 Press Release

31 Mar 2014

My Next Book

Author: Kawai Sin / Mar 31,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

In early January I mentioned to my Facebook friends that I’m working on a new book, a follow-up to Raising Financially Fit Kids, that, for now, I’m calling Great Families. It’s a topic I’ve been thinking about for a long time, mostly because ‘raising financially fit kids’ is easier in families with an intention towards family greatness. What that means, how they attain it, and what the impact on the rest of the world might be is the focus of this next book.

For the majority of us, achievements of individual family members were noted and celebrated. And having a parent, sibling, or other relative who achieved greatness of some kind might reflect on the rest of the family in some way. But family greatness, in the sense of a group of people bound by a shared vision that rests on the shared development of human and financial capital, is a notion that has only recently gained traction.

Dynasty might once have been thought of as a form of greatness, but dynasty, in the sense of power and influence for its own sake, is not what I’m interested in. Rather, I’ve become intrigued and fascinated by families who are as interesting, dynamic, and exciting as a Google or a Pixar. These are families with a purposeful mission statement, and a meaningful plan for realizing their mission statement, families that invest real time and money in the development of family.

I’m not writing ‘secrets of the rich and famous’ (trust is, after all, one of the most valued assets of great families), but I plan to share insights gained from the extraordinary families I have the privilege of working with. I’ll be interested in your thoughts, musings, and points of view. This is a big topic—begging questions like, what is family? What is family greatness? And, why does it matter?

Stay tuned. I’ll use this blog and my Facebook page to share some of my work and get your feedback as the work unfolds. Send me a note if you’re interested in hearing more.

25 Mar 2014

Happy Birthday Gloria

Author: Kawai Sin / Mar 25,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

In 1994, Gloria Steinem wrote the foreword to my book, No More Frogs to Kiss: 99 Ways to Give Economic Power to Girls.

She didn’t agree to write it with a breezy, ‘Sure, no problem.’ She was careful, skeptical at first, but open—willing to consider. So it was not until I met with her, submitting to a lively and pointed conversation intended to make sure my work had integrity and I measured up, did she gift me her words. It was an afternoon I shall never forget.

Discussing economic justice, capitalism and women’s empowerment with Gloria Steinem was surreal. Sitting in her upper east side Manhattan living room, I found my head flying between intense engagement (Gloria’s intellect is in steady 4th gear—you have to keep up) and that ‘pinch me’ wonderment of, ‘Am I really here?’

1994 was a fraught time in the quest for women’s economic power. Take Our Daughters To Work Day had just launched the year before and it was a controversial idea (really—we were JUST suggesting that showing girls possibility was a good idea—who knew that would cause such a maelstrom?). Women were economically invisible, though in the 90s there were already something like 10 million women entrepreneurs in the US who were making jobs, spurning conventional companies to take charge of their own lives. Entrepreneurs and single moms had been running their business and home economies for decades but were still battling glass ceilings and an either/or calculus that trapped women between roles as castrating feminists or subservient little women; sexy vamps and dull suited professionals.

At that point Gloria had been fighting the good fight for a long time and by the mid-90s had become a kind of godmother to young women who were trying to figure out how to make feminism relevant to their own lives without actually adopting their mothers’ feminism. They aspired to all the goals that earlier eras of feminists sought: how to be independent; powerful; socially responsible. And they looked to her to help them define what became known as ‘third wave’ feminism. One of the questions prevalent as I sat in her living room that day was, ‘What did economic power look like when practiced by feminists at the end of the 20th century?’

When it comes to economic power, one theme has been the base note throughout each era of feminism. Feminists have consistently held that it was not enough to be equal. Or as the lyrics of an old protest song put it:

“If I’m going to play the game, I’m going to change the __ __rules…”

Gloria wanted to know if I was using financial education to change the rules or just trying to get girls to play the same old game. Were we teaching girls about cooperatives, she wanted to know. Were we encouraging social enterprise not just enterprise? Did I really think women could run companies without being co-opted? Why companies? Why not non-profits?

These were questions I had spent years contemplating; there was nothing she could throw at me that I wasn’t prepared for that day. Yes, yes, yes, I could say. But I also said that my first goal was to create a new generation of economically powerful women—so they could create their own business models, determine their own ways of being financially fit, without having to bend to anyone’s rules: economic self-determination for women was what we were talking about. I didn’t/still don’t have an agenda for what women should do: only that they have the knowledge, the freedom, and the economic skills and confidence to choose what they want to do.

That afternoon she agreed to write the foreword. Gloria’s courage is inestimable and her ability to fuse the personal and the political for the sake of social justice is exquisitely well tuned. In the foreword she shared her story—and her mother’s story, infusing the small book I had written with the power of her voice and life experience.

In celebration of her 80th birthday I am sharing a part of that foreword here.

A foreword by Gloria Steinem,

excerpted from No More Frogs to Kiss: 99 Ways to Give Economic Power to Girls.
This was written two decades ago, in 1994.

It took me years to learn what the boys around me seemed to know in their bones, as well as to learn with every paper route and summer job: that $50 earned through one’s own efforts was more rewarding than $500 received as a dependent, that working in the world outside the home was a way to find an identity in the world as well as to survive, and that doing a good job could be a joy in itself.

It took me even longer to discover that the idea of an income of one’s own as just “something to fall back on”—which may be a more rare phase now, but is still one directed at girls—was a myth even when I was hearing it. Only when I was in my thirties and feminism had begun to challenge such myths did I realize that my own mother had loved her work and the independence it gave her. After earning egg money on a family farm as a little girl, doing bookkeeping and needlework as a student, and becoming a math teacher to please her mother (for whom teaching was the ultimate thing “to fall back on”), she finally found the career of her heart as a pioneer in the “masculine” profession of newspaper journalism. GIving up her work as a reporter to follow her husband and raise my sister was the beginning of the many sacrifices of the self that broke my mother’s spirit, even before I was born, and turned her into the sad woman I knew. She, too, had been made to abnormal compared to the “feminine” myth of subservience, and a little embarrassed by her working-class mother, who was always economically active, whether it was digging a kitchen garden, ghost writing sermons for the church next door, gambling on horse races, or saving money to buy a second small house as rental property. Though my mother greatly admired her mother-in-law, a pioneer in vocational education, suffrage, and elected office, she also absorbed this idea that this upper-middle class woman’s work was more acceptable because it was done under the ladylike disguise of volunteerism.

That’s the amazing thing about myths. They are so powerful that we internalize them even when they contradict our deepest experience. So we blame ourselves for not conforming to their impossible standard, whether it’s “happily ever after” (a marzipan coating on reality even when people only lived to be fifty), or the idea that an adult woman should be happy living in childlike dependency (even though an adult man could not).

No single book can dispel all the myths much less outline a better way in all its diversity, but the one in your hands takes on this task early, radically, and with spirit. For one thing, its pages are full of examples—real-life, imaginative, multicultural examples—of girls who are succeeding at enterprises that many would still think unlikely for adult women. GIrls themselves will be inspired by these stories. After all, unless you’ve seen a deer, it’s hard to see a deer. That’s why nothing is more valuable than role models. As a byproduct, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if adult women pick up this book for its value to the next generation and also find themselves moved to action by realization “If a girl can do this, so can I!”

I’m not privy to the personal economic journey Gloria continued on these last two decades, but I know she continues to make women’s economic self-determination part of our American Story, indeed, part of the global human story. She has shown us all ‘the deer.’ And for being a role model for so many of us, I send her love, gratitude and wishes for a Happy, Happy Birthday.


06 Feb 2014

Lost and Learned in Translation

Author: Kawai Sin / Feb 06,2014 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

By Whitney Webb

Taking a slightly different approach to Christmas, I returned to Cambodia this past December to run short financial literacy workshops for teens at two orphanages that I volunteered with back in 2010. In the last three years I’ve gained experience and appreciation for the power of financial education. Working at Independent Means, I’ve seen the impact that financial skills can have on a young person’s life. With a specific objective in mind, my coworker and longtime friend, Genine, and I decided to help teach teens living in those orphanages basic financial skills.

Cambodia is one of the poorest nations in the world and the teens living in those orphanages have little opportunity to handle money for day-to-day needs, or practice the skills they need for financial independence. That being said, the teens we worked with were savvy, intelligent, motivated and aware of the basics of economics and finance, even if they didn’t yet know how to verbalize it.

Genine and I adapted and created the following curriculum:

  1. What is finance? What is microfinance? What is a bank?
  2. Savings and budgeting
  3. Loans and interest
  4. Entrepreneurship
  5. How to leverage human, social, intellectual, and financial capital

Instead of focusing on the charts, vocabulary, and activities that we used to cement these ideas (you are welcome), I’m going to focus on my takeaways from the sessions:

1. Passion is great. But it is passion and a plan that leads to positive change. As a volunteer in Cambodia nearly 4 years ago, I think I believed that just being there was going to improve things. I taught English and helped with grant proposals, doing the only things I was semi equipped to do. I learned and gave what I could, but both of these contributions could have easily done more harm than good, even with the best intentions. Money without proper oversight and implementation can have disastrous results, especially in a country ridden with corruption. Education without structure and context can lead to confusion and frustration for those trying to learn.

I returned to Cambodia a bit older, more experienced, and much more realistic about the impact I could make, however small. I do understand the nature of financial services in developing countries from my work with Kiva and several microfinance institutions in Rwanda, and from my work with Independent Means, I understand how to teach financial concepts to adults, teens, and even children who can’t yet read. I assumed that my background gave me a fair shot at equipping these teens with the language and concepts to feel more confident about independent life, and at the least, help them know the right questions to ask.

If we weren’t excited about the teens learning these very specific words and skills, we would have lost them all at “interest rate”.

2. There are universal differences in needs, wants, and “givens.” Not surprisingly, there are commonalities in the short term and long term goals of all teenagers I have met: iPhones, laptops, cars, houses, families etc. The real differences started to appear when discussing wants versus needs. The needs that we generally have to coax out of our teens back in the US were readily apparent to these kids in SE Asia, for example: soap, money for doctors visits, school uniforms, clean water, shoes, and even giving money or food to those who are hungry. It’s not that the kids and teens we work with back home don’t understand wants vs. needs, it’s that they can assume so many more “givens.” I believe that this lack of awareness in our youth sometimes leads to a lack of empathy, an inability to imagine needs unmet.

3. Limited resources invariably lead to resourcefulness. The entrepreneurship session was a highlight of the program. In one activity, teens were split into groups; each group was given a box of scraps and random gadgets, and told they had 40 minutes to create a business (product or service).

I’ve run this session countless times and can usually predict that groups will brainstorm for 15 minutes, create a prototype using about 10-20% of the materials given, and will spend the remaining time coming up with a mini-business plan.

The kids in Cambodia took a different approach. With little discussion, each team member began cutting, taping, measuring, designing, and reworking the objects in the box. There were few unused parts out of each box; even the packaging for the scissors and tape were repurposed into another item. Some kids set up storefronts with signs and promotions: my absolute favorite being “Buy two items get one free fruit juice”. We had handed out the juice at the beginning of the day, and in true entrepreneurial spirit, they were trying to “sell” it back to us. While browsing the stores I saw colorful headphones, sunglasses, gift boxes, mini laptops with retractable headphones, dolls, doll clothes, toy rockets, solar powered motorcycles, and much, much more. These 13-18 year olds immediately showcased their interests and strengths, and proved that they could quite literally make something out of nothing.

4. The “soft stuff”, matters.All teens need concrete skills that they can utilize in day-to- day life. But I have learned repeatedly that there is nothing as useless (or uncomfortable) as talking about money without the proper context and understanding of why the conversation is being had. Making an inventory of the knowledge, values, and networks of all of the teens in the orphanage helped them understand their true wealth 

– and the benefits, value, and responsibilities of having such an extensive family. I never heard one of the teens use the word “poor”, and I don’t think anyone could label them as such after meeting them.

5. Personal gain isn’t necessarily selfish. At Independent Means, we are always looking for new ways to instill empathy, compassion, and the concept of paying it forward, for the single purpose of making life better for someone else. I believe wholeheartedly in solidifying this concept, but I know there are instances where an altruistic gesture can be more beneficial to all if gain is accepted on both sides. At the risk of sounding cliché’ – I probably did learn more from these kids than they did from me. They taught me which financial concepts are truly universal, and how to quickly adapt those that aren’t. I learned how to understand and respect the personal and private goals of kids who have nothing to fall back on, and I was inspired more than I can describe with their resilience, adaptability, and compassion for one another.

There were roadblocks, ingenious inventions, blank stares, a lot of laughs, and many mistakes made, but with the help of my family and friends who joined me in running these sessions, I think we managed to give the teens some tools to navigate the overwhelming world of financial responsibility.

I hope to take what I learned, and hopefully some other people who want to learn along with me, on another endeavor…coming soon.

26 Aug 2013

Radio Interview With Koren Motekaitis

Author: Kawai Sin / Aug 26,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

In the so-called lazy, hazy days of summer, nothing seems to be slowing down at Independent Means. I have several topics that are stirring around and are almost ready for print, but until those are fully formed, I thought I’d share this radio interview with Koren Motekaitis. Koren gave me a chance to muse out loud about kids and money. i’d be interested in your comments. And I hope you have a few hazy, lazy days left before the post Labor Day rush begins!

LISTEN HERE on how she really does it.com

16 Aug 2013

Mistakes From the Top Down

Author: Kawai Sin / Aug 16,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

The news today that Jon Corzine’s firm, MF Global, displayed “chaos and porous risk controls…rather than fraud” is yet another reason families are seeking financial education for their members. If management of investment firms continues to be so profoundly lax–and why won’t it be since the loss of a billion here or there doesn’t seem to rustle anyone’s feathers enough to bring about change–personal economic self defense is all investors can count on.

Rigorous due diligence and constant vigilance of company behavior–on an individual level–is pale comfort. But knowing how to ask probing questions and how to monitor the practices of investment firms you do business with is a sure sight better than remaining helpless and powerless to protect one’s assets from the reckless behavior of managers for whom the notion of ‘stewardship’ is at best amusing, and in its most extreme, viewed with contempt for those who lack the cojones to take ‘real risks’ like ‘real men.’ This is quite a case study and one we’ll be using to add yet another layer of ‘how to investigate’ to our Stage Five Great Families Curriculum.

10 Aug 2013

Bradbury’s Gifts

Author: Kawai Sin / Aug 10,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

To mark the landing on Mars of Curiosity this week, posting an article by Ray Bradbury seems fitting.

Bradbury died on June 5. We knew it was coming. Though his characters could defy time, he was after all, an old man. I’m just sorry the author of The Martian Chronicles died before this landing….

Bradbury gave me two gifts. The first was a love of science fiction. His flights of imagination across the universe inspired me to imagine the impossible and I have been a committed sci-fi fan since I was a teenager. Science fiction encourages openness of mind and that I seem constitutionally unable to think inside the box, is, I suspect, a function of the alternate realities I explored as a kid in the Bradbury tales. Later in my life, when Edwin Land, inventor of ‘instant photography’ and the Polaroid camera, said “For your life’s work only take on the impossible,” I figured he must also be a Bradbury follower and I’ve made the advice my life’s mantra. Oh the power of stories!

The second, which I’m sharing here, is an article he wrote for a business magazine published by USC in the 1980s. Invited by the editor, Jim O’Toole, to write for the magazine, Bradbury rose to the challenge with business advice on a par with–if dramatically different from– the business guru of that era, Peter Drucker. The article is a recipe for humanity. Because the piece was published pre-internet (hard to even imagine), there is not a digital version of it. But Prof. O’Toole graciously shared his scanned copy with me and I am passing it along to you here. Enjoy, and as you view the amazing photos now being sent back from Mars, remember Ray Bradbury.

01 Aug 2013

Summer Reading

Author: Kawai Sin / Aug 01,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

Books and beaches, what a perfect pairing. There’s nothing quite like basking in the sun, listening to the waves of the ocean or lake as they lap against the shore, and getting lost in the pages of anything from capital-L literature to guilty pleasure romance. We here at Independent Means encourage the passionate pursuit of quality leisure, and to that end, we have compiled a list of good stories, both fiction and nonfiction.

You can visit our GoodReads page to see our picks for great summer reads. And please leave your favorite summertime books in the comments below.

Here’s to warm days spent in the company of good words.

17 Jul 2013

Family Meeting BHAGs

Author: Kawai Sin / Jul 17,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

Sarah Frost (one of IMI’s Master Trainers) and I just returned from a memorable family meeting in Costa Rica.

I’m often asked what happens at a family meeting. For many people, an image that comes to mind is of gatherings around a conference table at which someone—often a patriarch—gives a business report, someone else gives a talk about a new investment instrument or some other topic that is supposed to be relevant to the family, and after that, if they’re lucky, they might have dinner together. If the meeting goes well, dinner could be a warm, friendly affair. If there has been bad news or unresolved conflict (stated or not), the meal may be more of a “grin and bear it” ordeal.

That was not the experience we had in Costa Rica.

Happily more families are getting creative about family meetings—using their gatherings to imagine and realize BHAGs: Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals. These are goals that galvanize people to reach high and contribute their best to realize a big vision. Those of you who remember Jim Collins’ book Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies, will recall his notion that those companies routinely imagined and sought Big, Hairy, Audacious, Goals. Landing on the Moon was NASA’s BHAG. The iPhone was Steve Jobs’ BHAG. These big visions are so exciting, so reality changing, that people line up to be part of something bigger than themselves. That’s the task Great Families set for themselves these days—developing a mission and goals that are so exciting, so engaging, that family members show up for the family meeting with joy and anticipation, not just a sense of duty or dread.

And that was our experience in Costa Rica. I won’t describe the whole meeting—it was after all a private family meeting and discretion is required. But two stories may inspire other families to ratchet up the scale of their family vision and re-imagine the nature of a family meeting.

The first is that of the family vision. I review a lot of family mission statements. Usually they cover an intention to do good, to maintain the integrity of the family, to sustain wealth, etc. All good goals, but nothing you would call a BHAG. This family has two BHAGs: to raise a new generation of mindful global citizens and to make a difference in real human ways.

To raise global citizens this family knows they have to do more than talk. So they have committed to one international trip a year. That is no small feat—it’s expensive, it requires a commitment of time, and it means a lot of time spent together. Anyone who has tried to travel with a best friend or just one or two other family members knows what a challenge it can be to survive a long trip! But in this family, 20 people, ranging in decades from under 10 to over 70 traveled to Costa Rica to experience what was probably more akin to a National Geographic tour or a Kellogg Fellows Study Trip than a conventional vacation. Though we had the advantage of beautiful surroundings and extraordinary service, the emphasis was on learning the local culture, not just traveling as tourists.

Because we believe that financial fluency requires international awareness, we provided the 20-and-under group with a model that can be replicated anywhere in the world and introduced them to tools that help them connect to, understand, and experience local culture, wherever they are. This is not the challenge it may seem to some families. Pre-arrival we had connected to a local school. The children learned the village school was free to students, but many students can’t afford basic materials for learning (paper, pencils, calculators, crayons, etc.). So the children of this family, using their own donor advised fund, purchased and filled backpacks with school supplies that were then taken to the school during one of our afternoon trips. Some of the grown-ups were a little apprehensive: how would this work? But we purchased a soccer ball on the way to the school, and it took half a nano-second for the kids to tumble out of the bus and into the school yard for an instant international match!

Eventually a little order was restored, and the children, fast friends with their new mates, shared the full backpacks and got letters and drawings of thanks in return. The school was “adopted,” and the children, blossoming global citizens, have a human connection to the lives of their peers in another country.

The second story is of lessons that came home. We had invited conservationist and thought leader Alvaro Ugalde to visit with the family to share the story of how Costa Rica’s National park system grew to encompass 25% of the country’s land. Ugalde spoke directly to the kids, never once talking down to even the youngest among them. His story was about the power of one.

Widely regarded as the father of Costa Rica’s park system, he described his epiphany when, as a college student studying biology he realized the country only had about 15% of the land still in forest; the rest had been cut down to accommodate ranchers growing cattle. 40 years ago, at age 22, Ugalde decided he needed to spend his life “saving the rainforest” and reforesting the land, or else there would be little left for biologists to study. Shifting his focus from cells to the macro policies of land use, Alvaro Ugalde became a force for preserving parkland in Costa Rica.

Today, concerned that the land around the parks is deteriorating from continued deforestation, Ugalde and his colleagues have set a new goal—foment a new consciousness about water and the importance of the watershed.

We’ll see how this session impacts the consciousness of the children as they grow, but this was an afternoon that provided a powerful role model for leadership, exercising passion, and making a difference. And the lessons about water that the children took away may well be part of their next “make a difference” projects at home.

As family meetings go, this was a model well worth replicating!

15 Jul 2013

My Pet Peeve and the Secret Sauce of a Great Family Meeting

Author: Kawai Sin / Jul 15,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

I just finished an inspection of meeting rooms in one of America’s most storied and glorious hotels. The hotel is to be the site of a family meeting for a client later this year, and as I walked from one soulless, dank, dark room to another I was reminded of a pet peeve and wondered (for the nth time) why the hotel/meeting industry is so slow to come into the 21st century. It is neither cutting edge research or new technology that reveals what people most dislike in family meetings: the structure and authority of the room set up, the discomfort of the furniture, ghastly lighting, and innumerable details that signal to meeting attendees they are held hostage in a room that, after the first hour, conjures up prison escape fantasies.

Meeting rooms are rarely created with the comfort and learning of meeting attendees in mind. What takes priority are the needs of the facility manager or site host. When I asked the hotel coordinator (as I always do) to set up the rooms “living room” style (to set a tone of informality and collegiality) I was told (as I usually am) that wasn’t possible because they have no room to store living room-like furniture. So the rooms will be set up as they have been for a hundred years: with tables and uncomfortable chairs that remind attendees of just how much they would prefer to be anywhere as long as it is elsewhere.

Great meeting space is the secret sauce of a fun, productive, and harmonious family meeting. A family meeting held in space that provides light, open windows, flexible and comfortable seating, room for whimsey and laughter, and seating design that invites participation rather than closing it down is the difference between a tension filled meeting and a meeting offering real opportunity for connection and communication.

I am getting militant on this subject. Increasingly, I refuse to run family meetings in board rooms and 20th-century “efficient” meeting rooms. Most families try hard to hold meetings in locations family members will want to gather—thus the use of the world’s great resorts and hotels. But those good intentions are undermined when the hotelier provides a 20th century box—albeit with fine carpets and shiny wood tables—for their guests to meet in.

Why spend time, money, and social capital herding generations of family members to one spot just to subject them to hours sitting in a room with too much or too little air conditioning, seemingly obedient, to an agenda created for a gathering of strangers rather than an assembly of family members?

Uncomfortable space is a breeding ground for tension, distracted attention, impatience and a growing impulse to escape. Let’s be clear. Attendance at the family meeting is often an unwelcome, possibly even dreaded, obligation for many family members. Too often one is required to give up precious time to sit in a room from which all comfort and pleasure has been drained. I think family members cannot imagine an alternative vision. They have resigned themselves to “just getting through” the family meeting and getting away.

It’s time for a disruption in family meeting space, a revolution in what families accept as normal. Family meeting planners have to start demanding more imaginative environments in which the family can come together to realize a vision, share purpose, and actually enjoy one another. Among my favorite meeting spots right now:

  • The living room suite of almost any great hotel. Avoid their meeting rooms and hold your meeting in a family member’s suite. Stay away from that nice table in the living room and move over to the couches. Bring in more comfy chairs if you need them. You’re meeting with family members, not errant children or corporate board members.
  • The outdoor terrace or porch of a family member’s summer place. If there’s a screen door that offers easy access and egress, all the better. If people are enjoying the meeting and one another the door won’t slam too often. If it does, you have data!
  • Catalyst Ranch in Chicago, this whimsical rendition of your crazy Aunt Sadie’s country farmhouse is a hard place to stage a family argument.
  • El Capitan Canyon Resort’s. This ‘glampground’ offers rustic tents, cottages and yurts as meeting spaces and it’s nothing like the last family meeting venue you were in. Very child friendly.
  • The barn at Fiddlehead VIneyard in Santa Barbara County. Especially at harvest time, this great old red barn, scene of many a vineyard gathering, offers an informal setting that reminds us of seasons and cycles and why we come together in the first place.
  • The Inn at Palmetto Bluffs–screened in porches and comfortable living rooms everywhere.

Let me know you’re own favorite meeting spaces. Let’s create a new normal for family meetings!

15 Jul 2013

On Finance

Author: Kawai Sin / Jul 15,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

Taming The Survival Instinct

Survival—it’s one of man’s strongest, most basic instincts. Yet time and again, I see families drive themselves to the brink of financial disaster following the death of a parent, because the parents didn’t realize this truth at the time of their estate planning. It’s become a rather predictable phenomenon in my practice to hear clients say,

“Not my family. My family would never do that. My kids would never treat each other that way. My brother would never do that to our family business. My second spouse would never treat my children like that after I’m gone,”

and so forth. As family members, we forget that an inheritance—be it a house, business, money, or anything valuable—tends to change how heirs view and treat each other more frequently than you might imagine. The problem is preventable. But not if one takes a naïve stance towards human nature, family roles, and perceived or real power within a family unit.

It’s understandable that we want to believe the best about our loved ones. It’s not that our families don’t love each other or are not inherently well meaning. Rather, it’s that we don’t realize the natural human survival instinct, influenced by complications of self-esteem, may manifest in many negative psychological ways, such as narcissism, greed, sibling rivalry, anger, rigid defensive behaviors, attempts for power, self-interest, and more. Through human evolution and other environmental influences, these characteristics have become so strong and ingrained in human nature that, more often than not, they supersede our most civilized rational intentions.

We can ruin our families for generations… yes ruin them… when we ignore or dismiss this fact. The good news is that now there are ways in the estate planning process to minimize the pitfalls of human instinct.

A Holistic Approach

Today, the wisest and most successful long-term estate-planning approaches for most families are holistic. This means they engage the whole family and embrace H.B. Karp’s philosophy in his book, The Change Leader. Karp states that, “No human being has the right to make a unilateral decision that affects the lives of other individuals without offering them a voice in that decision.” I can see many of you and your professional advisors responding with, “Ugh. I have to involve everyone in the family? That’s extra work. I could lose control of the situation. How much more would that cost me up front?”

These are reasonable reactions and questions. The answers are, “Yes, involve everyone in the family who matters to you. And yes, it’s a little more work up front, but the long-term benefits far outweigh the costs in time, effort, emotional trauma, and dollars. And no, you won’t lose control of the situation. I guarantee it.”

Here’s how the holistic approach to estate planning works (you can read more about this method of planning atwww.familiesandwealth.com): The senior generation keeps the control but asks the succeeding generation(s), in a structured and controlled environment, for their input on all of the issues that could impact them after the parents are gone. Before the process begins, a document is signed by everyone involved giving the lawyer permission to guide the process and interact with each generation. The document specifies who the lawyer actually represents (usually the senior generation) so that the lawyer’s legal and fiduciary responsibility to the client is clear. In our office, if an expert is needed to help everyone calmly reach an understanding about the goal, we call in a family communication facilitator. After the formalities are handled, the lawyer (and family communication expert, if needed) begins focusing, facilitating and managing the family’s communications toward an estate plan that works for everyone.

Ultimately, the succeeding generation presents their ideas to the senior generation and if those ideas are fair, just, and equitable, then those ideas may be adopted by the senior generation and drafted into the testamentary or other controlling legal documents. If the attorney is experienced at this holistic approach, he or she will know how to guide the process toward a harmonious and effective conclusion.

Bring Everyone Together

Perhaps the most important tip I can pass along from my many years of estate planning is to tell you not to ignore history. Estate planning processes are changing to this more precautionary, preventive approach for a reason. The toll on your family, both emotionally and financially, is far less the more you use a long-sighted, whole-family approach to estate planning. Like a good insurance plan, it’s not wise to leave these situations to chance. Too many things can go wrong. If you still find yourself hesitating, consider how much the average family fight can cost in legal fees. If a typical, litigated divorce these days averages between $15,000 to $30,000, with hourly lawyer’s rates running from $150 to $1,150, you can imagine how much more costly it could become with multiple litigants and lawyers and a case that drags out for years! I’ve seen cases where a single person will hire up to four and even as many as 25 lawyers to advise and fight their case for them if they think they’re entitled, or “right,” or feel they’ve been wronged.

It’s not a matter of what’s true. It’s a matter of what they perceive, feel, and want. While other kinds of cases can be grounded in fact, with estate plans you just have people getting upset and suing because their feelings got hurt! If we follow this line of thinking into the worlds of finance, sports and entertainment, even a $30,000 court case is cheap. The divorces of Michael Jordan, Neil Diamond, Harrison Ford and Steven Spielberg each cost more than $100 million, according to Reuters. And again, that’s just a contested divorce between two people! Remember, it is not just the wills of the famous, like singers Michael Jackson, Frank Sinatra, and John Lennon or oil magnates like J. Howard Marshall II (Anna Nicole Smith) that get disputed.

The key is to remember that no parent will ever be able to predict with 100% certainty who will feel what if they try to put together a simple, quick plan without consulting the rest of their family during the decision-making process. By bringing everyone together in a neutral, emotionally safe, respectful, structured & controlled setting, you at least have an opportunity to guide the next generation through the issues that might arise for them and mitigate the outcome. It’s too late after the family leader is gone. When the emotional, psychological, physical and financial “safety” net you (or they) provide is no longer there, the urge to survive is so strong it does outweigh human rationality. “Not my family?” I don’t know. Do you really want to leave it all up to chance when there’s a less fallible way of avoiding hurt feelings and family litigation?

by John Ambrecht, Esquire

John Ambrecht, JD, MBA, LLM, is managing partner of Ambrecht & Associates, a U.S. & international estate planning, trust, tax, & tax litigation law firm in Montecito. Co-author of the book For Love & Money: Protecting Family &Wealth in Estate & Succession Planning, Worth magazine listed him among the country’s top 100 lawyers. For more information, visit www.TaxLawSB.com.

01 Jul 2013

RFFK Book Party

Author: Kawai Sin / Jul 01,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

This Giveaway Guide shows you how you can win all sorts of prizes and discounts on Independent Means products. From games to financial education tools, the Raising Financially Fit Kids Book Party offers a wide variety of resources and ideas for parents and money mentors of kids of all ages.

We hope you will join us tomorrow

July 2, from 9:00am-3:00pm PST,

to celebrate the updated edition of Joline Godfrey’s classic. More prizes and activities are in store, so don’t miss out! Follow this link to join the party:


18 Jun 2013

Indie Girls 2012 – Who I Am

Author: Kawai Sin / Jun 18,2013 / Camp $tart-Up , Independent Means , Joline Godfrey

This is Krista, and I will be running Indie Girls 2012. I can’t wait to meet this year’s participants! In the meantime, I wanted to share a bit about myself and my own journey.

I’m a learner, a traveler, and a facilitator. I’ve spent the last decade studying, working, and traveling all over our world. With the Semester at Sea program, I found a way to be paid to circle the globe three times while working with university students, adult learners, and esteemed faculty members. After graduating from college, I studied International Relations and International Business, and I currently work with international students here in Santa Barbara.

I’m looking forward to sharing my experiences and learning with young women who are on the brink of financial independence. I want to encourage young women to not be afraid to take themselves and their economic education seriously. If there’s any secret to being a globe-hopping woman, that’s it.

If you’re interested in joining me and the Independent Means team August 13-14 as we navigate what it means to be an economically informed and powerful woman, click here to register or contact me with questions.