How Do You Get Ahead in America?

Sep 12, 2019 6:00 AM ET

by John S. Adams, CFP, UBS Financial Services  

“What creates financial success?” “How do you move from zero savings to financial security?” Those were my burning questions for many years. Now, things have improved personally. We have a city home with sweeping views of the skyline, and a country cabin set beside a quiet fishing stream. The desire to own a home and to have financial security springs from a circumstance I have not confessed to before writing this introduction. When I was young, I was homeless for a while. My parents were born to wealthy East Coast families and chose simpler lives as teachers. At age 16 after a quarrel with my father, I was out on the street, with nothing but a pack on my back. It was riches to rags in three generations. 

After a while, a school friend’s parents took me in, and I slept on a basement couch for several months while finishing high school. That summer I worked nights at a grocery to pull together the first dollars to attend college and in the mornings, slept on an abandoned sofa atop an apartment building. This created an indelible imprint. From that point forward I asked the question “How do you get this right?” “How do you get ahead in America?”

For the next four years I worked my way through college. I figured out how to paint and roof houses, worked as a laborer loading ships on the docks and played music to earn my way and pay tuition. After college I married young and had a child. The financial pressure was on to provide for them. My wife was working on her degree, so it was up to me. I got a job with a firm that promised to train me as a “financial planner”, a brand new buzzword in 1982. Little did I know that management just wanted me to sell insurance and did not actually employ any financial planners! 

Five years later I had earned the Certified Financial Planner™ certification from the College for Financial Planning. By then, I’d built and owned a small employee benefit company and developed a specialization in setting up retirement plans for small and mid-sized companies in the Olympia-Tacoma region of Washington State. It was a thrilling time from a career perspective as the 401(k) plan had recently been invented. Financial Planners help people to save and invest in a way that truly has long-term impact.

Over the years I’ve prepared financial plans for hundreds of individuals and couples. This has included blue-collar workers and executives of public companies. Every one taught me something. I kept asking the questions, “How do you get this right in America today?”, “How do you move from the bottom of the heap to attainment of financial security?” 

When working with clients, the conversation turned more and more to their question “How do we live a satisfying life with the resources we have?” And a key component of that was investing sustainably, as most people want a better world for their children and grandchildren. For 25 years now, sustainable investment management has been integrated with client financial planning.

The key thing I found is that managing this life stage well, and managing your finances to set up your next life stage, is the clearest path to financial success and life satisfaction.

Read the rest of John's post here 


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