Carrie Sax is a financial advisor at EP Wealth who also has a degree in zoology and has earned a CFP and CFA. She has a regular yoga meditation practice and has been working in the financial services industry for twenty years.
Today, Carrie joins the show to discuss her journey from zoology major to financial advisor, the impact gender stereotypes have had on men and women’s finances, and the pivotal roles financial advisors play for their clients.
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00:53 – Jonathan introduces today’s guest, Carrie Sax, who joins the show to share her journey to financial planning and how she made an early association between money and goals
13:04 – From zoology to finance
21:25 – Stock selection
24:02 – Portfolio planning
28:59 – The most important things financial advisors do for their clients
31:44 – Finances, relationships, and gender roles
43:05 – Gender differences between how men and women approach finances
44:43 – One piece of advice Carrie would give to a prospective client to find financial success and one thing to completely avoid
47:08 – One thing people don’t know about Carrie that she would like them to know and one place Carrie has visited that had a profound impact on her
48:33 – Jonathan thanks Carrie for joining the show and lets listeners know where to connect with him
“Most of what I learned came from my mom, who handled the family finances. She taught me my numbers, she took me to the bank and showed me how to use the ATM, she got me a checking account. My dad was into his boat and his cars, so my mom was really the one who was really organized and managed the household expenses well.” (03:18) (Carrie)
“My dad did earn the money and he made good money at certain times in his life. But he really had no idea what he was spending. He really had no awareness or mindfulness around the spending. It was just, ‘money in, money out,’ and my mom was this gatekeeper, and I don’t think either of them had a grasp on what was possible.” (07:55) (Carrie)
“In my opinion, and from my experience and education, if you go from one advisor to another, the portfolio shouldn’t be that different. They really shouldn’t. It’s a bit commoditized. I think a low-cost portfolio, passive tense, research shows tends to outperform.” (24:20) (Carrie)
“It’s an exciting thing to talk about the hot stock of the day, but it doesn’t really ever get you the better returns in the long-term, I don’t think.” (28:46) (Carrie)
“Finances are not just for the guys. Sometimes women are more savvy with that stuff than men. I think it really makes for a more balanced relationship.” (36:52) (Carrie)
“Really it’s just saving. It’s living below your means, saving, and investing in a stock and bond portfolio for the long-run.” (45:45) (Carrie)
“I care about my clients. I think that’s the best way to be a successful advisor is to care, because then you’re in it for the right reasons.” (47:36) (Carrie)
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Jonathan DeYoe: Hey, welcome back. On this episode of the Mindful Money podcast, I’m chatting with Carrie Sax She’s an advisor with me at ah EP Wealth. Carrie has a degree in zoology, which probably more works better for financial services than my degree in philosophy. So that’s interesting. She worked at a local zoo in Tampa. She’s lived in France. She has a regular yoga and meditation practice. She’s been in the financial services world now for 20 years. She has both the CFP, which is a certified financial planner, and a CFA, which is a chartered financial analyst and is probably the most difficult designation to get, I would say, in almost anything, anywhere. It’s a very difficult thing to accomplish. So kudos. And as such, I’m fond of saying this, though she wouldn’t say it about herself, she is the smartest person in the Berkeley office of Ep Wealth. Carrie, welcome to the Mindful Money podcast.
Carrie Sax: Hi, Jonathan. Thank you. Yeah, I would disagree, but I appreciate it. Uh, I think we all have our strengths, and, um, mine might be taking difficult tests, hopefully, among other things.
Jonathan DeYoe: Oh, definitely. Among other things. First, where do you call home and where are you connecting from now?
Carrie Sax: I call home Alameda, California. I moved there about five years ago now from North Carolina, but I work in the Berkeley office, primarily in downtown Berkeley, and it’s a fun place to be in the middle of campus here.
Jonathan DeYoe: Did you grow up in North Carolina?
Carrie Sax: No, I grew up in New York state. My dad worked in the city. He actually worked in the World Trade center for my whole childhood. Yeah. So we went there for bring your kids to work day. So it was kind of, I mean, with the rest of the world a shock, but yeah, he was a stockbroker with Dean Witter. I think you were there, right? You were with Dean Witter for a time. And so I always had that part, the financial piece and my mom was kind of a hippie, so I had the two different sides represented by my mother and father. And, yeah, so we moved from New York to Florida when I was about 15. So that was a bit of a shock. In the middle of high school, then I worked at the zoo in Tampa, then I worked in Atlanta for about eleven years. Lived in Atlanta eleven years, uh, when I shifted to finance, then North Carolina. So, yeah, I hope to never move again, but I have moved around a few times.
Jonathan DeYoe: So when you were growing up in New York, what did you learn? I mean, your dad was a broker, so that’s interesting. But what did you learn about money and entrepreneurship as a kid?
Carrie Sax: Gosh, ironically, most of what I learned came from my mom, who handled the family finances. She taught me my numbers. She took me to the bank and showed me how to use the atm, got me a checking account. My dad was sort of, he was into his boats, his boat and his cars. So my mom was really the one who was just, she was very organized and not entrepreneurial, but managed the household expenses well. Mainly tried to rein my dad in because he liked to spend, he wasn’t a big spender, but he liked boats and he liked cars. Those tend to be expensive items, so she would put the brakes on for that. I did do a paper route when I was 14. For a while, the kid in the neighborhood was sick and I took over. I hated it. So I did that for about a month and never did that again. So there wasn’t that much entrepreneurial ship in my family. My mom was a nurse until she had her first child and then stayed at home with the kids. But I did get my first job when I was 15 in Florida at Haagendas. And I love ice cream. To this day, people would ask me if I am sick of ice cream yet. And I was like, no, never. Exactly. What a question. But interestingly, it wasn’t entrepreneurial. But I did get my first job because I really wanted to go to Europe. I had this travel bug at age 15. I saw signs for this school trip and I thought, I’ll get a job and I’ll save up money so I can afford this trip. So I really early on closely linked money with goals and I went to Europe. I had this wonderful trip at the summer after my junior year that I had paid for, and it was very satisfying. So that kind of got me into financial planning. It kind of planted the seed, I should say.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. So I want to go back to. You’re growing up. Your dad sounds like he likes to spend money on boats and cars. Your mom’s recognizing the limits of the finances and trying to rein him in a little bit. Can you name or can you point to a story like, this is something. There was a fight at some point. There was a car that my dad wanted to buy that my mom said, no, this is how that conversation went. Can you talk about a specific story and tie that to how you developed a belief about money?
Carrie Sax: Gosh, a specific story. Not one specific, because they were pretty private. They didn’t let their arguments always. They did a good job of keeping their personal affairs to themselves and not sharing with the kids when it was not appropriate. But I know, for example, the last boat he had while they were still married, because they did get divorced. When I was in high school and college, there was a lot of back and forth. From what I remember, it was a bigger boat. You could sleep on it. It was probably, I think, a 27 foot boat, and you could spend the night on it. Small cabin. But he wanted that early on, and it took him longer to get it. She was like, no, let’s wait. She wanted some bonuses to accrue because he was a trader, and he would get these bonuses. So I know as much as she could kind of delayed that purchase to make sure we had the cash to do it. I kind of learned that in a roundabout way, but he had a temper, and he had a strong personality. So I think it was how she knew how to manage him. And I love my dad. After a lot of therapy, we had a really good relationship, but he was a strong personality, and she wanted the family to do well and be comfortable. And because she was managing the operating budget for the house, I think it was a lot of stress off of her if she could rein him in. So there was a lot of that in, uh, a roundabout kind of a way.
Jonathan DeYoe: So I’m wondering, this is right out of direct personal experience, I’m wondering, and if you’ve seen this before, where one partner is out there earning, the other partner is sort of managing what is there. The one that’s earning might also be managing investments, so may have a better handle on what’s possible from those investments, so maybe a better handle on what could be spent safely, whereas the other partner doesn’t really have that. Um, and this is a topic we want to talk about a little bit more later, but I’m talking specifically in your case. Did they have conversations about what’s possible? Did they have a family budget? Sort of. Or was it just your dad saying, I want to get this boat? And your mom saying, no, not yet. Let’s wait for that next bonus.
Carrie Sax: Yeah, I know. It’s interesting because I think the topic we’re going to get to a little bit later is a little bit of a twist on this, because my dad did earn the money, and he made good money at certain times in his life, but he really had no idea what he was spending. He really had no awareness or mindfulness, if you will, around the spending. It was just money in, money out. And my mom was this gatekeeper, and I don’t think either of them had a grasp on what was possible. I mean, looking back, how I got to my job is kind of amazing because my dad was in finance his whole career. I don’t think he spent ten minutes looking at investments. He had pensions, so that was a huge help to him. And then, uh, he did save later on into a 401K. But it was like the least interesting thing to him. I never in my life. He passed away this march. I’d never heard him speak about investments, ironically, ever.
Jonathan DeYoe: And he was a trader.
Carrie Sax: He was a trader, yeah. And he had a lot of friends who were very successful, very wealthy guys who went on to start their own hedge funds. But my dad, he’s just an odd guy. I think he was like a sad, lost wannabe engineer, like auto engineer, because he just would talk about cars, any opportunity he could. And he retired comfortably because he had two pensions, his Social Security, and he did have a good investment account. So I know he put money away, but I never once heard him talk about it. And my mom, I don’t think, in fact, I know she didn’t know because they got divorced and they did split things equitably, but she really had to start over in terms of income, and she had nothing other than what she was given by my dad and then learned later on that she kind of spent that down and did not ask me anything about it, even though I tried to inquire. So they kind of both had this old generation mindset that was like the pension mode or my mom was the traditional housewife who, she did a good job managing the inflows and outflows in terms of paying the bills and making sure there was enough. But I don’t think she ever invested anything on her own. In fact, I know she didn’t because my husband and I recently had to help her out financially. So, yeah, it’s interesting. I got interested because I liked setting goals and I actually liked money, so I wanted some of that stuff but I didn’t really have that much help from my parents.
Jonathan DeYoe: Do you come out of that upbringing with a set of beliefs about money?
Carrie Sax: Probably. I think so. And I see it more clearly now that I’m married and my husband has his set of beliefs and we can butt heads because he is probably the most frugal human being. No, my brother in law may be the most frugal human being. He’s very frugal. He saves a lot each month. He’s a really good saver. In fact we had our company wide conference not too long ago, our EP well conference and I met who is it? One of the head operations guys, Ross who does all the money movements and Gail who’s on our team. Gail introduced me to Ross and he’s like oh, you’re Tim Sachs’s wife right. And I’m like what? He’s like he brings in more money than anyone because he keeps saving and he like every month puts lots of money into his sep and his taxable and I’m like that is just odd. Anyway, sorry that wasn’t aside but it was just like how does this guy know my husband? So yes, I definitely form beliefs out of that. I think I have a little bit of my father’s lack of I can sometimes have a lack of awareness around my spending and I see it more clearly now that I’m married to Tim and he’s so aware of every penny he spends. Although I am a good saver on the same like I have my goals, a lot of my beliefs came from them in terms of what not to know what I wanted to do differently. But I think there’s a little bit more looseness than I would like that. I realize that’s an area for improvement on my end.
Jonathan DeYoe: So just because we’re having this conversation and we don’t talk as often as we did when we both went to the office on a regular basis. But it’s very interesting to hear you talk about how in your relationship Tim is the one that’s the frugal one and you can kind of lose sight of an awareness of the spending. I am the same way. Kate is super frugal. I think we should stack him up next to each other and just say and I got to tell you, huge blessing we have a partner who’s frugal. I mean I love know she saves me from myself. I would spend money.
Carrie Sax: I know in some ways yeah. Because saving isn’t that much fun. I mean we want to enjoy our lives. We want to have what we want to have. And I see it. You see it too, with our work. When people get to the age when they want to retire and if they have not saved enough, they can’t or, uh, there’s a huge stress on will they have enough? So you’re right, it is a blessing. And it’s a good mirror because I see what he’s doing and then I see what I’m doing and I’m like, oh, wait a second. Someone’s got to change here.
Jonathan DeYoe: I got to keep up. So I want to look at your work as a financial advisor. But just before we do that, can you show us the arc? Like, how did you go from zoology to finance?
Carrie Sax: Yeah. I always loved being in nature and I didn’t know what to major in college, so I thought animals, and it’s hard. So if I want to go to med school or something, I’ve taken all the classes. I had a thing where I would always wanted to do the difficult thing. I thought that would be the right thing. As much chemistry and biochemistry, I don’t know why I really didn’t enjoy it, to be honest. I like the animals, but I could just go to the zoo and pay and see them. I learned that later, but, yeah, so the arc was I picked a major and then I graduated with that major and I wondered, what do I do with this? So then I went to graduate school and I got a degree in education, which turns out to be something that really resonates with me. I really enjoy teaching and, uh, that shows up in my work now. So then I taught high school. I did teach 9th and 10th grade science. High school didn’t enjoy that because a lot of it was classroom management. More than educating those kids were not that.
Jonathan DeYoe: Those 9th and 10th graders. Hello.
Carrie Sax: Yeah, and I probably didn’t look too much older than them at the time. I’m five foot one and I was young. Um, so that didn’t help. So then I thought, okay, saw the opening for the job at the zoo. Really enjoyed it, actually. I loved that job. But, uh, my starting salary was $19,700 with a master’s degree in 1999, which was a long time ago, but that was still a very low. I mean, the animals were eating better than I was, let’s put it that way. I had a lot of peanut butter sandwiches to make that work. So that time at the zoo, even though I love the work and I really love the people because they all were there for, because they loved it, not for the money. But I was like, this isn’t working. Financially. I had stuff with my dad, and he was still working, and he would help you out financially, but there always were strings attached, and I didn’t like that. I didn’t want that. I wanted to be independent. And around that time, I started reading Susie orman books. I think I saw her on PBS because I couldn’t afford cable. So I was watching PBS, and I’m like, oh, I like what this woman is. Know. I had that first experience at Haagendaz with the goals. Know, the money got me the thing that I wanted. So I started reading Susie Orman, and I loved it. And I thought, you know, I think I want to do finance. And then my dad, a friend of his, worked in Atlanta, and she had an entry level position open up. Want to? I love the zoo, but I can’t have a life. I can’t afford to be financially independent with this job. So let me try finance. And ironically, ah, I’m kind of an Od duck. But I also wanted to go to France. I had this dream of living in France. And I also thought, hey, if I get a job in finance, I can afford to go to France, of course. So that was my bizarre justification for also pivoting to finance. So I did get this job in finance with help, and I worked really hard. That’s when I started studying for the CFA exam. The chartered financial thought, you know, these people, I just came from a zoo. They think probably I’m an idiot. And I realized if I pass this test, they’ll think I’m smart. So I went ahead and passed the test. So it worked. And then I got promoted. I became a stock know, and it was a really good education, but I didn’t love it. And I knew that all, uh, know. And I did end up going to France. So I got the stock analyst job. I started doing well financially, but all along I was doing my goal setting. I had a spreadsheet for France, and it was like I wasn’t allowed to go until I passed level three of the CFA exam the third year. And I had to have x number of savings, and I had all these hurdles I had to jump through, and I did. And then it was like, okay, I can go to France. Except right after I took level three, the last year of the CFA exam, the guys I worked with, we were on a mutual fund team. It did well. They decided to form their own firm, and they wanted me to come with them and be a partner. And the catch was, by the way, Carrie, we can’t start this firm without you. Because we can’t bring our performance track record with us unless the entire team goes. And I was like, in my mind, hey, I’m done. I reached my goal. I’m going to France. I’m going to quit. I had no idea what I was going to do after that, but I was elated to go to France. And then the rug got pulled out. I mean, with something most people would be really excited about. Hey, I get to be a partner at this investment management firm and an know an equity owner, and it put me in a tailspin. Yeah, it was rough.
Jonathan DeYoe: So I didn’t know that was part, I don’t know that part of the backstory. You actually became a partner at this asset management firm. How long were you there?
Carrie Sax: Well, let’s see, in total, about five years. So I was there for a year and a half, two years. And I had such overwhelming anxiety and depression. I ended up quitting. Uh, and I went to France.
Jonathan DeYoe: Which was the goal all along.
Carrie Sax: Exactly. They thought I was crazy. They did not. They weren’t very happy. But eventually they understood because I was going anyway. I went to France, lived in France for a year. It was exactly what I needed. I came back to Atlanta, and I just got a job at New York life selling insurance, because I’m like, I need some income. And then about a year into that job, less than a year, my old partners called me and said, hey, you want to come back? And I was like, yes. And then they paid me more. It was awesome. So I didn’t become a partner, though. I never felt like I had earned it in the first place. Probably I did because I was working pretty hard, but I don’t know, we had kind of a weird dynamic, but it was actually really quite good. I went back, they paid me more. I really turned towards the work when I was kind of trying to escape it early on for so long, because I’m like, I’m not a finance person. I just want to go to France. But it was really when I finally started to engage with the work that I really started to enjoy it and learn a whole lot. Did. So I was there with them five years until I went to Carolina.
Jonathan DeYoe: And so that was the time when you were actually managing assets, you were managing portfolio, and then when you moved to North Carolina, that was when you started doing the CFP work and everything?
Carrie Sax: Actually, no. When I was in Atlanta, I was a stock analyst, so I worked for a portfolio. Yeah, I covered x number of companies, small cap companies, and I would give him my recommendations. Hey, we need to buy this, we need to sell some of this, we need to, whatever. But he was always calling the shots, right? When I took the job in North Carolina, I was director of research, so I was the one managing it. So it was an RIA, about 2 billion, and I was the main investment person. And I had an analyst under me and, uh, a team, but not a very big one. I mean, I did a lot of the work myself, but I was picking the stocks myself, along with the analyst and the funds. But I really, at that point, was starting to realize, hey, I really want to be an advisor. So whenever they needed someone to talk about anything, I’ll talk. I don’t know what it is. I’ll just show up, tell me what I need to talk about. And that way I was feeling that educational or communication bug that I had. And so, yeah, from there, that’s when I started to shift to the advisor role, and I started studying for the CFP certified financial planning exam. And they were wonderful. I finally told them, hey, I don’t think I want to do the research anymore. I really would like to be an advisor. They were very supportive. And right as I was about to make that shift, then I met my husband. And then another rug, uh, got pulled out, a better one. I never really was an advisor there.
Jonathan DeYoe: It’s very interesting to me the way you talk about Rugs getting pulled out. It’s always a positive thing. Like, I got this huge promotion, but that pulled the rug out of the trip to France. I got this other opportunity, but the rug got pulled out so I could get somebody. Not too rough. Really?
Carrie Sax: Yeah. Good, good.
Jonathan DeYoe: I’ve always kind of wanted to ask you this question because. It’s because I think I laid a bias when I first learned about your transition from being a stock analyst to being an advisor. So I thought the reason for that was because, and I think this because this happened to me. Not that I was as professionally a stock analyst as you, but I was a broker. And what I learned being a broker was, I can’t pick stocks. I learned that it’s not really possible to add Alpha by stock selection. Was that part of your decision process? Like, I don’t know that I’m really adding value in stock selection and I want to add value. Is that part of the reason, or was that learned later?
Carrie Sax: It, ah, was huge. Okay. From the beginning, I started as a portfolio assistant, and it was a professional money management firm that would manage pension funds, foundations, a lot of big money, and they had their own stock portfolio, and it would do well, and then it wouldn’t. And I kept seeing this over and over again for a time. These folks could outperform, deliver some alpha, and then they wouldn’t. And then they tried every. So, no, I would be looking around wondering, does anyone else see what I’m seeing? This doesn’t seem to be working on a consistent basis. And then I was doing it, and I had that awareness of, um, that pattern that I kept seeing. And it was a little bit of a headwind for me as an analyst. I felt a bit like a fraud, because here I am doing the thing that I’m having a hard time believing people can do, but it’s my job, so let me try to do this. But no, it was a big stressor because I never drank that koolaid. And the difference was, the guys I worked with, they loved it. They could talk about stocks all day long. They go to lunch and they talk about stocks, and I was like, let’s talk about the weather. I don’t know, something else. Yeah, cheese, some tv show, I don’t care. So I think they were a little bit good at diluting themselves because they really enjoyed the work so much. It is very interesting. I can understand now, at the time, I didn’t find it that interesting, but it’s a very dynamic world of companies, fitness and success and all this. But no, I never really had strong conviction that you could outperform with an active portfolio, because I’d never seen it happen, actually. And then all the research, it doesn’t really support it. So it was no problem for me to make the switch.
Jonathan DeYoe: And you said you saw this kind of repeatedly, they’d do really well, then they wouldn’t. They do really well. And then obviously we can quote research every day, all day long. So I want to talk about what falls within an advisor’s circle of competence in the context of, uh, all the things advisors do for clients. How important is investment selection and market timing to those long term outcomes?
Carrie Sax: Yeah, I would say not very, in my opinion, and from my experience and education, I would say if you go from one advisor to another, the portfolio shouldn’t be that different. They really shouldn’t. It’s a bit commoditized. I mean, I think a low cost portfolio, passive tends, research shows passive tends to outperform. I will say my caveat now is the concentration in some of these indices, the S and P 500 in particular, makes me a little nervous. So that’s where I don’t mind a mix. We have our passive portfolios and there are a few actively managed funds in there, which I don’t mind, because sometimes I think maybe it’s not so bad to have someone behind the wheel if these top ten holdings in an index are comprising a much bigger percent of the overall than they’ve ever in the past. So that’s just my two cent. But I don’t think the portfolio is a big differentiator. And if someone is telling you it is, I wouldn’t believe them. I would be very skeptical. I think the differentiators are the services, and that’s why I really enjoy working at EP, because I feel that there is really good value for the fee. I mean, we have the financial planning, the estate planning, the tax team M, and the investment management, of course, and we have some really good portfolios, but a lot of places will just do investment management and they’ll charge you 1% or more where it’s like, what am I getting for this fee? And the better from the client’s perspective, in my opinion.
Jonathan DeYoe: Right. I think there’s a bit of a catch 22 in this, because when you first meet with a prospective client as a percentage, how many of those first meetings does the conversation tilt towards, even modestly, towards, tell me about your performance. Tell me about how do you manage money? I think that the public doesn’t get the search for good advisors right. I think they often are thinking, well, yeah, an advisor’s job is to provide investment performance.
Carrie Sax: Yeah, I think you’re right. I think that has not been debunked yet. That, you know, I’m in an interesting spot in that. Our office is in Berkeley, so the Berkeley people can be know in that. Not very many really ask that question, whereas most everyone else would. It’s Berkeley, quirky Berkeley. And they’re smart people, but they’re artists or academics, and they want me to do it, which is brilliant. It’s a wonderful partnership because they’re trusting me to think of all those things. So I find the folks who are more interested in the performance, and I think this is the vast majority of people. I think we’re just in this weird little niche of Berkeley, that the thinking here can be a little different than maybe the rest of the country in some ways. But a lot of the engineer, like I tell my husband, well, he is my client, but I tell him, if he weren’t my husband, he wouldn’t be my client. Because engineers are tough, they’re very analytical, and they do want the performance. Those are always the prospects who ask me, what’s the performance? Have you guys outperformed. Will you be outperforming? I want to make sure you can. And I’ll tell them up front, I said, I may not be the right person for you because I’m never going to promise I’m going to outperform. I think over the long run we’re going to deliver strong returns because our internal fees are very low. We’ve got you in a diverse mix of investments that are aligned to your financial plan and your goals. So we want to get you to your goals with the least amount of volatility. We want to manage the risk along the way. But I’ll just be upfront and say, I’m not going to focus on performance. I’ll give you the numbers, of course. And I’m invested in the same portfolio as my clients are because I want to do well. But I believe in the process that we have at EP, and I believe we’re doing the right things with the low cost investments with a sprinkling of actively managed funds in there, or we have our core stock portfolio where there’s no internal fee. So I kind of love that it’s actively managed in house, so you don’t have an extra fee. But, yeah, it’s usually, no offense, the guys who are much more performance oriented.
Jonathan DeYoe: My experience, too. I agree. Absolutely.
Carrie Sax: Yeah. And a lot of it is kind of like it’s an excitement. It’s a sexy thing to talk about the hot stock of the day, but it doesn’t really ever get you the better returns on the long run. I don’t think I totally agree to want to trade that.
Jonathan DeYoe: So if investment selection and market timing are not the things that advisors do for clients, what are the most important things that advisors do for clients?
Carrie Sax: Everything else. I mean, there’s so many things. I like what a colleague of mine said. She said we charge our fee on the investments we manage, but we provide guidance on your entire balance sheet. We provide advice on your debt, your assets, your income flow, your expenses. I mean, we have a spending tool. So what the services are getting your financial lives organized, knowing what you have, finding, identifying any gaps in what you have, what you don’t have. Do you need long term care insurance? Do you have an Umbrella policy? Do you have all your money in pre qualified, pre tax dollars? And you want to retire early, but you don’t have a dime in a taxable account that you could tap. So it’s opportunities and holes to me. It’s really looking at the entire picture of someone’s financial life. And, um, maximizing it not just from a return perspective, which is our goal, but one I’m never going to promise I can deliver on. It’s just going to be good performance on par with the market at a low fee. But it’s really all that other stuff that really provides the peace of mind. Do I have the right account types? Do, uh, I have beneficiaries? Do I have a trust? Are my accounts titled in the trust? There’s a lot of moving parts, there’s a lot of administrative work that your advisor should be helping you with, in my opinion, and a lot of them don’t. And that’s where there’s a lot of low hanging fruit. I feel like for me and the other advisors at EP, because we look at everything more than maybe clients would like sometimes, but we do that so that we don’t miss anything or we really can make the most of what you’ve got.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah, I know. Just a personal anecdote. And you came on board when we were mindful money. I know you knew the transition was coming when you came on board, but, uh, we used to tell clients all the time, you’re talking to this other advisor at this other firm, we do much more in depth planning, and that was true. We honestly did, at mindful money, much more in depth planning than most of our, what I’d call competitors or most of the other advisors in the local area. But post merge with Ep, I learned just how little we did relative to EP. Like, we had one software package that we used. Some of they’ve got 20 different software packages, all they use in severe, in real depth. It’s really quite impressive, the kinds of things that they can do. I wanted to talk about a delicate subject, and we kind of referenced it already because we already talked about our partners a little bit. Uh, but I think your partner’s probably, I think Tim’s probably a little bit more involved than I am, than my wife is in the process of managing family finances. But this needs to be talked about because it’s ridiculous. Maybe you’ve had the same experience. I go to these financial services conferences, and they will today, 2023, have a breakout session where they talk to all the advisors, 95% of which are men, and they look at them and say, hey, when you’re talking to a couple, make sure you pay attention to the female partner. And it blows my mind that that has to be brought front and center. But then I have clients, and I’m a good example where one partner, usually a woman, doesn’t have any interests or doesn’t engage at all in the financial planning, in the investing, in the budgeting, in anything. So could you speak to your experience on this topic? And then what have you seen as risks with this?
Carrie Sax: Yeah, I have three sisters, so I’m one of four girls. Well, actually, until recently, my three sisters were all stay at home moms. One just went back to work part time, and she’s pretty savy financially, so I’m not going to count her. But two of my sisters, who I love dearly, really, I don’t think have any idea financially what’s going on. Their husbands handle all of that, from the taxes to the investments to the day to day. I think my sisters have a role for sure, but it’s really interesting. We’re very different in that regard. I mean, I had that experience growing up with my dad where he always did pretty well and had money to share, but I didn’t want the strings that came with it. So it was a real big motivation for me to become financially independent. And I didn’t get married till I was 43, so I was single and on my own, bought and sold two houses, sold the second one because I moved in with the husband, but I had built my own financial life as a woman and got to make my mistakes, but also knew, hey, it’s on me. I don’t have a partner who’s going to bail me out. I can’t not look at this stuff. I need to pay attention. And the more I do, the more successful actually I’m going to be and the more I can enjoy my life and steer it in the direction I want it to go, financially and other things. So it’s really interesting because my two sisters are, uh, maybe as polar opposite from me in that experience as one could get in terms of just not even engaging with the financials at all. And I do worry. I mean, they’re okay for now, but I don’t know, I worry about what’s going to happen because I see my mom. My mom was actually, she’s sort of the front runner of this because she did manage the budget well. But then my parents got divorced. She did get alimony, but then my dad stopped the alimony right before she retired, and the alimony was supposed to have gone for her entire life. So this was money she thought was coming in forever and was gone a year before she retired, if that. So it was a huge blow financially. And then she was collecting a very small Social Security, living in these apartments that were very sketchy. And this is my mom and I do fine financially. So then we had to step in and help. But I think my mom, hopefully my sisters, their marriages are happy, and I hope that stays that way. But I did see the repercussions of what happened with my mother. And she just, without a daughter who could help her financially, I think would have been in a very bad situation. I mean, as it stands now, we bought a house in Raleigh that she lives in, so she’s got that stability for her. But not everyone has a family member who can do that. And I just worry. I don’t know, it’s a weird, uh, not only financially, but a balance of power. Know, it’s like, why don’t my sisters get more engaged? There’s this kind of old traditional mindset, which I think there’s a lot of benefits and good things about traditional roles of a husband and wife. But when you’re the wife and you’re not bringing in an income, I think it’s almost more important to know what’s going on because your family’s well being is wrapped up in that and you’re an equal partner to your husband, to your wife. Especially in California, we’re a community property state, so it is 50 50 whether or not people want it to be. I just think it’s having a level of awareness and stepping up. I think it’s stepping up and taking responsibility. And finances are not just for the guy. The women sometimes are more savvy with that stuff than men are. You just don’t know. But I think it really makes for a more balanced relationship. And I think with women outliving men most of the time, my sisters are likely going to be having to handle this on their own at some point. And they have zero training in how to do that now. And it’s going to be a, uh, rude awakening at an age when maybe they’re not as mentally sharp as they are now. So it’s learn it now, and I think it can only benefit your family to do that, and yourself.
Jonathan DeYoe: So I think we’ve spoken about a couple of things. I’m just going to pull some things apart. So the one thing is there’s risks. Like, what happens if in your mom’s case, there’s a divorce, you want to be engaged in your family’s finances in the case that there’s a divorce.
Carrie Sax: Right.
Jonathan DeYoe: In my own life, my brother died two and a half years ago, and he managed most of it. So now I’m doing reviews with his widow, Judy, and she’s not really, uh. I mean, she’s getting a lot better than she was after he died. She’s learning a lot, but she’s had to come up to speed and really learn a lot, which is rough, because partners die, people get divorced. It’s a thing. But you also talked about the power dynamic, the idea that if in my relationship, I make most of the money in the household, I manage investments, I pay bills. We have these little sessions where we kind of talk about stuff. But Kate never really engages or has a deep interest or remembers. And it’s not a judgment of Kate or her ability or anything like that. It’s a thing I look at all the time. She doesn’t look at it as she’s very. I think we talked about this a second ago. She’s very limited in her spending. Like she’s wanting to not spend, because I don’t think she sees the big picture the way I see the big picture. Right. And I’m super happy. Super happy that she’s limited in spending, because I would ruin us probably, if it was up to me. But, uh, it’s just that there’s a balance of power.
Carrie Sax: Yeah.
Jonathan DeYoe: And I think that if people really want to be partners, as you said, they got to step up and learn some of this stuff. Let’s say you’re talking to a couple, and he’s engaged and wants to hear all about your services and all about the planning and all this stuff. She’s not. As an advisor, what do you do with that?
Carrie Sax: Yeah, it’s hard. And I’ve had a few recent new clients come on board who fit that description. So what I find, too, is when I always try to ask, uh, each partner in the relationship a question specifically to them. Sometimes the other partner will answer because that person knows the finances better, and they speak for the other one. And I’m like, no, I asked Susie. I didn’t ask you, John. So that has happened. I’ve actually gone to the point where recently a newer couple who became a client, I did separate phone calls because the one was talking over the other, and I couldn’t hear what you’re trying to tell me. Or they were too timid about financials or embarrassed, ashamed, because they really didn’t know what was going on. And I wanted them to know, hey, I’m a safe person you can talk to about this stuff. You have a voice. I need to hear it, actually. And so I did two separate calls because I couldn’t hear from each of them during the meeting together. So I’m like, okay, I’m scheduling a Zoom call with you and a separate one with you, and that’s helped. And then I’m like, okay, now you guys go talk to each other, and then we’ll do another meeting, all three of us together. But it’s interesting being an advisor, you’re really privy to very sensitive areas of your clients lives. And that’s another thing. When the woman who’s been a stay at home mom and didn’t have any role in the financials and her husband does die before her, hopefully she can find an advisor who is going to be sensitive and not take advantage. I mean, that’s a whole other thing, and I think that’s rare, and I hope so. But, yeah, it’s tough. You asked the question, what did my upbringing teach me about money? We really have a lot of baggage that we bring to our relationships and our adult lives and connections with money, and that unconsciously creates behaviors that we don’t even know we’re doing, hence our unconscious. So the advisor can be the person to shed some light on that. And I, unfortunately, will corner my clients in a nice, gentle way. But I need answers. Like, if I’m going to do a financial plan for someone, I need answers. And I need both of you to be on board with this plan that we’re doing and these spending guardrails. So I show up at houses, whatever. Uh, but, yeah, sometimes you’ve got to separate them. Like, you’re in this corner. Let me hear out. And then we get back together. So some of my work is more like psychology than financial.
Jonathan DeYoe: I have clients that say, jonathan, I need you to take your finance hat off, put your psychology hat on, and let’s talk. That will actually bring that to the surface. So we’ve covered some gender. Oh, uh, before I go there, do you think this is changing? Do you think the younger generations are more equitably handling their finances than older generations?
Carrie Sax: I do. I actually do. And it’s anecdotal, but I worked at Merrill Lynch. I don’t know if I’m allowed to say names. Anyway, I worked at Merrill lynch before I joined your team, John Nep and I had some younger clients, women in their 20s, who were so on the ball and engaged and wanted to learn. And it was so encouraging, and it was great. So I was seeing a lot of that. I think my client base now is a little bit older, but I think it does feel more equitable, and I see a lot of examples of that.
Jonathan DeYoe: So I agree with you. I think it is younger generations, whether it’s millennials, even some younger Gen X’s, I think, are sharing that responsibility a little bit more. But we have pointed to a few interesting gender differences. One is just the pure interest, especially among generations. Second is like, investment selection, market timing. That’s largely a gender thing. Do you see any other big gender differences?
Carrie Sax: Well, and you kind of said it, but I think the women tend to be more conservative, and the men are a little more risk. Know, I don’t know. Sometimes when I was at Merrill, it was a lot of almost akin to gambling stock trading. So there was that I, uh, want to get my gambling fix out on my investment portfolio, which was just terrifying to me. Like, oh, my God, no, we’re not doing this here. Go to the horse track or whatever it is. That’s why I think when the husband and wife, or the partners, whatever gender they be, I think people really can complement each other well. We were talking about our relationships, where if the woman tends to be more conservative, she can rein in the guy who wants to put all his money in bitcoin or whatever. It makes for more harmony, I think, and better success in the long run, when everyone’s on board.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. And just, I think that there is actually academic research about corporate boards. The more diversity you bring to corporate boards, the better decisions you get. I think that’s true of your household finances, too. If you’re actually listening to both partners, you end up getting better, more down the middle. You may not be really aggressive, may not be really conservative. You get more down the middle, better decisions that way. I think that’s worth pursuing. So I ask every guest to do this. There’s a ton of noise out there. Now, if you were sitting with a new potential client, what is one thing that you would recommend that they would do that would lead to greater financial success?
Carrie Sax: A client or just a personal potential client? Oh, potential client. Now, I have, like, 20 questions for you. How old are they and what? Anyway, let’s say they’re working still. This is so boring. But it’s really spending. I mean, that’s the bucket. You can control the easiest and can lead to the best outcomes. I mean, being able to retire, building wealth, it’s not a lottery ticket. It is day in, day out. Know what you’re spending, saving regularly. And, uh, is my money going to the things I care about? Do I even know? It’s just having that mindfulness, honestly, around your money so you can decide if this is working, and really it is saving. It’s living below your means and saving. And I think investing in a, uh, stock and bond portfolio for the long run, but that’s it.
Jonathan DeYoe: So there were three things in there. Knowing what you’re spending, there was saving enough, and then there was a stock and bond portfolio.
Carrie Sax: I know. Live below your means. Live below your means and have a simple life and enjoy it. And all those other things that. I’m not going to say.
Jonathan DeYoe: All those things are important. It’s just one thing that we want to focus on. So we swim in this financial soup. We hear all kinds of things. You mentioned some of them. What is one thing that people might have been told they should be thinking about, that you think they should just ignore? Don’t do that. Don’t worry about that.
Carrie Sax: Back to the performance thing. Am I in the right five star Morningstar fund? Uh, I don’t think it matters. I think having exposure to the market, adding to your portfolios regularly, that’s what matters. Low cost. You say it all the time. Don’t get caught up in the hype. If there’s a recession. So what, uh, it’s time to add more to your portfolio. If the market’s down because it’s cheaper. Sometimes it’s good to bury your head in the sand and just keep doing that. Live below your means and save and add to your portfolios.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Okay. Perfect. I like to loop back to the personal. So, is there anything people we didn’t cover today, or people just don’t know about you, or maybe you’ve told them they don’t remember that you really want them to know about you?
Carrie Sax: No, nothing. In fact, coming on today was making me a little nervous, because I want it to be about the client. I like this job because it doesn’t have to be about me. It should be about my client. So I really signed not for people to know. I shared a lot, so I’ll leave it at that. But I guess I would say I care about my clients. I think that’s the best way to be a successful advisor, to care. Because then you’re in, uh, it for the right reasons.
Jonathan DeYoe: Yeah. Beautiful. I couldn’t agree more. So, is there, uh, a place that you visited that really had an impact on who you are today? And what was the impact?
Carrie Sax: A place I visited. France. Yeah, that trip to France, it was beautiful. Well, I lived at a buddhist center there for about five. You know. Just having time with my mind was disturbing and very illuminating. What? It was one of those. I didn’t even know why I needed to go, but I really needed to go. What it did for me ironically, was help me step into my life. I turned back towards my life. I was done running away from it. And it’s like, what do I have? What’s in front of me? Let me work with that. And it was a huge gift.
Jonathan DeYoe: Uh, beautiful. So tell people. I mean, somebody who’s going to listen to this, how do they find you? How do they connect with you?
Carrie Sax: Sure. Epwealth uh.com and you can search under Carrie Sax That’s probably the best way. Or just ep wealth. I think I have my own little website on there. But yeah, I’d love to hear from you. That’s probably the best way.
Jonathan DeYoe: We’ll put a link in the show notes so everyone has access that way. But Carrie, it’s been great to have you on. I really appreciate you coming on.
Carrie Sax: Thank you. Thanks for having me.