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Stephanie W. Mackara: “Why habits are the strongest foundation for financial wellness”

Habits are the strongest foundation for health & financial wellness. If a person consumes the above quotes and lives their life by them, they will not only be more financial literate, more importantly they will reach financial freedom. As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

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Habits are the strongest foundation for health & financial wellness. If a person consumes the above quotes and lives their life by them, they will not only be more financial literate, more importantly they will reach financial freedom.


As a part of my series about strong female finance leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Stephanie Mackara.

Stephanie W. Mackara, JD, CDFA™, is President & Principal Wealth Advisor of Charleston Investment Advisors, LLC. A financial socialization expert, Stephanie is a wife, mother, and author of the new book “Money Minded Families.” She teaches people that financial wellness begins with your mindset, not your bank account.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to the finance field?

Thank you! It certainly wasn’t a direct route, that is for sure! My academic background is in psychology and the law. Soon after graduating from college, one of the patrons at the restaurant I worked at in college asked me if I would like to interview for a position as a sales assistant at the Merrill Lynch just down the street. I said sure, and after a few quick months, went from not knowing what a mutual fund was to taking the Series 7 exam. With all my licenses under my belt, I was ready for more, but I felt pigeonholed into the sales assistant position and I didn’t much like that. I also didn’t like the brokerage side of the business — constant trading and pushing products. I decided that selling wasn’t for me; however, I loved the investment and client-facing side of the business. After about two years, I left and went to a start-up firm called Lockwood Advisors, where I say I grew up in the business. I found amazing mentors and learned the ins and outs of money management, and more specifically about the Registered Investment Advisors side of the business and what it truly means to be a fiduciary, instead of a broker. During my time at Lockwood, I decided I wanted more schooling; an MBA wasn’t of interest to me and so when a mentor of mine suggested I go to law school, I jumped at the chance. I continued to work and went to school at night. I attended Widener Law School in Delaware where I was fortunate enough to have Joe Biden as my Constitutional Law professor! Upon graduating and after spending several more years on the institutional side of the business, I felt like I wanted to get back to working directly with clients and investors. My family and I made a move from Philadelphia, PA to Daniel Island, SC where I found an opportunity to buy an existing RIA practice and the rest is history! I know it is a non-traditional path, but I firmly believe that my academic training in psychology and the law, coupled with my investment and advisory training are a powerful combination when working to help manage clients’ investments and goals, while also running and building a business.

Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?

Yes! I have a new book out this month called “Money Minded Families: How to Raise Financially Well Children.” The book explores how we can align our individual values with our finances, while planning for a more secure financial future for our families. It looks at how we can save, spend, share, and invest with a purpose. In it, I supply financial basics for families and direction on creating a family mission statement, in order to help drive mindful financial choices.

I offer holistic financial guidance, including how families can financially socialize and can take steps to live their best financial lives, rather than simply getting by. Today’s financial environment sets up unique challenges, including concerns over Social Security, sky-high college costs, and debt. It’s important that children’s knowledge about money begins in the home. When parents actively teach their kids about money, through positive financial socialization and good habits, it can significantly contribute to their chances of future financial success.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I think it stands out because it is an extension of who we are. Every client has their own unique journey and story. Each one becomes interwoven into our company’s story and our journey. Being a financial advisor is a wonderful profession; we help people identify and achieve their dreams! What could be better?

Ok. Thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main core of our interview. Wall Street and Finance used to be an “all white boys club”. This has changed a lot recently. In your opinion, what caused this change?

My Generation X may be the first generation of women who were taught that they could do and be anything we wanted. No one ever told me how high I could fly, so I just kept trying. I think that is crucial — that we have a network of people who let us fly. There are also some really great leaders in the financial world today who understand that we are all better and stronger together; we need more, but it’s a good start.

Of course, despite the progress, we still have a lot more work to do to achieve parity. According to this report in CNBC, less than 17 percent of senior positions in investment banks are held by women. In your opinion or experience, what 3 things can be done by a)individuals b)companies and/or c) society to support this movement going forward?

As individuals we need to continue to ask for what we want, and if the answer is no, we need to either create it for ourselves or find a new place to grow. Companies should create mentorship programs and be mindful of an inclusive culture. As a society, we need to stop pushing men and women into specific roles and chastising those that don’t fit.

Let’s now turn to a slightly new topic. According to this report in Fortune, nearly two-thirds of Americans can’t pass a basic test of financial literacy. In your opinion or experience what is the cause of these unfortunate numbers? If you had the power to make a change, what 3 things would you recommend to improve these numbers?

Now you have my attention! The antidote is financial education, in all forms, to give people the skills they need to make smart money decisions. 1. Positive financial socialization (it is a wonderful term that needs to be more widely discussed and understood!) by parents and in schools. 2. Engaging children early and often to learn personal finance — this should be done in schools as early as elementary school and a course should be required for graduation. 3. Spend less than you earn.

You are a “finance insider”. If you had to advise your adult child about 5 non intuitive things one should do to become more financially literate, what would you say? Can you please give a story or example for each.

Ever since I was a young girl, I loved quotes. I always am astonished how a few simple words can evoke such deep thought and emotion. Here are five of my favorite Financial Wellness quotes:

~Abundance is within you, not in things.~
~Spend less, search more.~
~What you appreciate, appreciate.~
~Think of savings as purchasing freedom.~
~Pay yourself first.~

Habits are the strongest foundation for health financial wellness. If a person consumes the above quotes and lives their life by them, they will not only be more financial literate, more importantly they will reach financial freedom.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I was fortunate enough to have several; believe it or not, they were all male, which was wonderful, but I do wish there were more women in the industry to mentor females coming up. Things have changed, but not enough. Many girls shy away from this field because they “don’t like math or working with numbers”; when I hear this I explain that being a financial advisor is so much more than numbers. Yes, you need a handle on math, but beyond that you need empathy, a listening ear, and an understanding of people and their behaviors — with those, you can run your own business and make a significant positive impact on your customers’ lives and your own.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This is something I have said to myself and say to my son often. “Everything you need is already inside of you.”

So often we search outside of ourselves for the things we think we need. We question whether we have what it takes and compare ourselves to others. This never turns out well. I have learned to face every day, give it everything I have, and understand that the privilege of our lifetimes is being who we are, not trying to be like someone else.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to see the concept of financial socialization become a movement at home to create money minded families. Research shows that children who receive positive financial socialization at home have better life outcomes.

Financial socialization is a learned process of acquiring knowledge about money and money management and developing skills in financial practices such as banking, budgeting, saving, and credit card use. This learned process, if done in a positive manner, can make the difference between our children living financially and personally rewarding lives or struggling to make ends meet.

As a society, we tend to forgo financial lessons until it is too late and bad habits are already formed; what we forget is that our financial wellness is inescapably intertwined with our physical, emotional, and social wellness. We emphasize subjects in our schools that have little impact on our children’s success in life, while minimizing or even excluding basic financial literacy. At home, many parents avoid discussing and teaching their children about money; this must change. Our children are facing a real challenge, one that is new to many of us. Many of the resources we and our parents count on for financial support will most likely be severely diminished or nonexistent for our children. Everything’s going to be on their shoulders, so it’s critical we learn to teach them early and often about personal finance. I hope my book can be the start of a global conversation, giving parents the tools they need to financially socialize with their children in order to create money minded families everywhere!

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