You can’t take it with you. People spend their lifetimes saving money for a rainy day, and for some it seems that the rain never comes. Then they realize that the money didn’t have to be for a rainy day, that they could have traveled more; helped more; and enjoyed more rather than being worried they wouldn’t have enough.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things Retirees Say They Wish They Were Told Before They Began Retirement” I had the pleasure of interviewing Tanya Nichols, President and Founder of Align Financial — an investment firm for women in retirement. After 21 years in finance, and starting a financial planning and investment firm for retiring women before she was 40 years old, Tanya brings a unique perspective to the financial industry. She is a Certified Financial PlannerTM and is the 2019 Chair of the Council on Examinations for the CFP Board in Washington DC. Her aim early on was to be on the leading edge of the profession; challenging the “we’ve always done it this way” cultures by constantly innovating.
Thank you so much for doing this with us, Tanya! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
I’ve been working in finance since starting my career with a position at Piper Jaffray when I was just 18 years old. I moved from the Minneapolis area to Duluth for college at the University of Minnesota, and worked hard through college, always having two jobs to pay my own way. I graduated from UMD with a Finance degree and a focus on psychology. I’ve always loved the intersection of finance and the psychology of money.
After many years with big institutional firms like Wells Fargo and US Bank, serving as an advocate for my clients when the big firms agenda conflicted with my clients, I now run an investment firm for women within a few years of retirement. We do our best work with independent women who want to feel good about their money.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’ve been to Washington DC nearly 20 times in the last five years! I think one of the most interesting things I’ve done is serve on the CFP Board Council on Examinations in Washington DC. I’ve gone out there 3–4 times per year for the Council meetings for the last five years, and before that I served on the Item Writing Committee where we traveled around the country teaching other CFP’s how to create content for the exam. I’m a self-identified nerd and I actually love the fact that for the last almost 10 years I’ve been helping to write, edit and approve the questions for the CFP® exam. It requires a lot of mental energy, but I’m so impressed with the brilliant people I get to share ideas with; I learn so much from each trip out to Washington DC.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
I remember sitting in a bank branch meeting with one of my first prospective clients. I had been trained at the bank to go through a “Pitch Book” with the client to tell the story of how we can help them and why they should hire us. I fumbled terribly through that sales tool. It was so awkward I turned bright red and even got a case of the giggles. I learned right then that I would never make it as a “sales” person. I recognized that I had to worry less about what I said and focus more on what the client was saying and what they needed. That was one of my first meetings as an advisor and I have never forgotten that lesson. Whenever a meeting goes sideways (personally or professionally) it’s usually because I’m thinking more about myself than the other person. Thankfully (and surprisingly), she became a client despite my fumbling and is still a client today many years later.
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 had a great co-worker at Piper Jaffray when I was 18. It was benefits enrollment time and I had to decide about signing up for my 401k. We were both in college at the time and were sharing a cubical. He told me to save 15% of my paycheck. At the time I didn’t even understand how much money that really meant, but I did what he said because his dad was a math teacher and I knew he was smart about money. My parents didn’t even own a stock or a mutual fund, let alone have a 401k. That laid an early groundwork for being a good saver and I became fascinated by how money compounds if it’s automated!
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
I think the best suggestion I could give is to create structure in a calendar that includes your professional AND personal commitments. I always found that if it made it to my calendar — it happened. A client meeting, staff meeting etc. So why not put the kids Christmas program or the bike ride with your friend, or a day to work from home on the calendar. These things could be just as important as that client meeting (if you decide it should be). Once I realized that my business was better, and I performed better when I had time to think and choose. I learned to slow down the pace and value the time and space I needed to have a big and diverse life and experiences. My clients expect me to be an actual human too. So why not set a good example of what a rich and satisfying life looks like.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
I try to always assume positive intent in all my interactions. When I assume that someone I’m dealing with has a positive intent with their behaviors it saves me from jumping to conclusions. If you can do that in all your interactions at work with clients, staff and vendors; you’ll have a better experience.
I asked my staff about this and he said one of the most important things we do to foster a great culture is to accept that there will always be mistakes, and rather than attaching emotion and shame to those mistakes; we see it as a system issue. Something in our system needs improvement. We’re always addressing the system, not the person.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact nearly every aspect of one’s life. Obviously everyone’s experience is different. But in your experience, what are the 5 most common things that people wish someone told them before they retired?
I’ve spent the last few months polling my retired clients asking this question. And I’ve had a wide range of answers — but here are the most common.
1.Take better care of your health before you retire.
Many people are surprised how quickly their health can change and make it harder to stay active
2. You can’t take it with you.
People spend their lifetimes saving money for a rainy day, and for some it seems that the rain never comes. Then they realize that the money didn’t have to be for a rainy day, that they could have traveled more; helped more; and enjoyed more rather than being worried they wouldn’t have enough.
3. Health insurance is complicated.
Whether you retire before Medicare starts or wait until your 65, the health insurance maze can be difficult to navigate. The biggest tip is to find an expert and do your homework.
4. You might be busier in retirement.
There are many retirees who can’t believe how busy they are today. Some end up filling their time helping family by taking care of grandkids, or aging parents. While others get involved in organizations to create regular commitments to get them out of the house.
5. It takes time to adjust and it’s a big change.
Go easy on each other in the early stages while everyone is getting used to the new normal.
Lets zoom in on this a bit. If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important financial issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
- Test run your budget. Figure out how much you spend before you retire. In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can do before retirement — understand your spending! Not just bills, but everything. I always ask this question and the funny part is they will give me their monthly expenses; but either they won’t add it up, or they will neglect to include major things like home improvement costs, car purchases, and travel. The more awareness you bring to your spending, the better most people will feel about their money. The trick is not to judge the spending, just become aware of it.
- If you’re married — talk about how you want to spend your time. And where you want to spend it. I often find couples can have very different ideas about how they want to spend their free time in retirement.
- Ask yourself if you find a lot of significance or meaning from your work or career. If you do find it meaningful, ask yourself how you might still find that when you’re done working. Losing that significance can feel like a surprise for many. So, it’s a good thing to think about in advance.
If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important health issues to keep in mind before they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
- Keep your body moving!
- Keep your mind moving!
- Ask for help when things don’t feel right. But don’t obsess. If you find yourself thinking about your health (or talking about it) all the time, it’s time to get some more to fill your mind and your time. Many of my clients have rules in their social groups that they are not allowed to talk about health and physical ailments so that it doesn’t dominate their discussions.
If you had to advise your loved ones about the 3 most important things to consider before choosing a place to live after they retire, what would you say? Can you give an example or share a story?
- Don’t overbuy! Property transactions are often the most expensive decisions we make. Making the a more expensive decision than planned later in life can be hard to correct, as there are far less earning years to recoup your losses.
- Don’t rush. Think it through and experiment as much as possible.
- Ask yourself if location is more important or the people and community that will surround you.
- Don’t underestimate how difficult it can be for some to create a new community and social life in retirement. While it can seem exciting to start over in a brand-new place, maybe a warmer temperature and lower maintenance living; it can be difficult to create new connections after 30 years in the same neighborhood. It takes time and commitment and doesn’t happen overnight.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I think everyone should feel good about their money. I believe that there should be significant mandatory financial management classes in school.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
Getting Things Done by David Allen
This book looks like it’s about productivity and how to get more done. But at a time in my life when I had two small children at home, was trying to grow my business — I was always staring at never ending stacks of things to do at work. It felt like I couldn’t get to my life until my stacks were completed. That book changed my life, because it taught me my personal life was as important of a priority as my professional commitments. And in fact, even more important in the long run.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
No problem can be solved with the same consciousness that created it. — Albert Einstein
I have always been intensely curious and crave new information. This attitude of constantly learning allows problems to not keep me stuck but be a reminder that I must always keep growing and changing.
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Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!