A few weeks ago, we met Allison Beacham, a young woman who helped us negotiate the world of renting. Like many Money Under 30 readers, Allison knows quite a bit about money for someone still in college.
In her case, there’s a good reason why.
Allison is the daughter of Susan Beacham (pictured), founder of Money Savvy Generation, a business dedicated to financial literacy for kids. Beacham has dedicated much of her adult life to making kids cash-smart. But her helpfulness isn’t limited to students, or her own progeny. I consider Susan one of my financial mentors, a person who’s helped me learn the ins and outs of finance since I first interviewed her for the Chicago Tribune in 2009.
Back then, I was a budding personal finance columnist — though not by choice. My Tribune editors were probably thinking: “Who better to tackle financial literacy for dolts than a financial dolt?”
As such, I badly needed help with two things: explaining best practices and applying those lessons to my own life. To this day, Beacham never hesitates to share what she knows, and send me to smart experts who can teach me even more about her four cornerstones: saving, spending, donating and investing.
By her example, Susan Beacham convinced me that you can benefit from having a financial mentor. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a parent or sibling who makes checkbook digits dance like a ballerina, or can turn a few extra pennies into profitable investments worth 1,000 times as much. If so, that’s fabulous and I hope you’re making the most of that intellectual treasure trove.
But mentoring involves so much more — including a willingness to guide and lead. And for those of us hailing from dysfunctional family backgrounds in terms of finance, money matters often appear clear as mud. To share some of my own story: My paternal great grandmother accumulated more than 20 rental homes in her lifetime. My grandfather squandered them all, and his son (my father) went through adulthood without learning how to balance a checkbook. He declared bankruptcy at least once that I know of, and perhaps twice. And his salary — let alone how he invested it — was always a mystery.
After emerging from horrible debt in my late 20s (a story I wrote about in a previous column), I made it a priority to seek financial mentorship and guidance. Susan Beacham isn’t the only money mentor I’ve had, but she certainly fits all the requirements on this eight-point checklist that I invite you to consider and adapt for your needs.
When looking for a financial mentor, ask yourself:
1. Who’s in your circle of acquaintance?
I met Susan Beacham through my work as a journalist. Who do you know, or whom have you met, that might make a good money mentor? The answer could be as close as your LinkedIn connections, or mobile phone address book. Start there — and if you come up cold, ask someone you trust who they turn to.
2. Does this person have a teaching personality?
Let’s face it: Some money-smart folks don’t relish the teaching role. With Susan Beacham, I knew from the start she had a passion for sharing the secrets of money management with kids. If you find someone already in mentor mode, your chances of a successful search increase. As a journalism mentor myself, I can tell you that some days, I’m looking for folks to take under my wing, because I love nurturing talent. Look for that eagerness in your mentor.
3. If you find a prospect, can you play it cool?
I’ve blown some potential relationships because I said to the prospective mentor, “Will you mentor me? Please? Pretty please?” No wonder I scared them off. It’s better just to jump in with a real-life situation that requires mentoring, without calling attention to it. “Could you explain to me the difference between a Roth I.R.A. and a conventional I.R.A.?”
4. Is your prospective mentor generous?
A chimpanzee with the right product at the right time can make money. Only a generous person knows that wealth is a state of mind as well as bankbook. I’ll never forget the day Susan and I went out for lunch at a fancy restaurant, and I wanted to pay for the meal. But she had already grabbed the check. That little action said so much about her investments not just in stocks or commodities, but in people. (Thanks, Susan.)
5. Can you identify with some aspect of the person’s story?
Clicking with a mentor is not — definitely not — a matter of you bending over backwards to earn their time and attention. You can cement the relationship much better simply by learning about how your stories line up. In Susan Beacham’s case, she worked extra hard to get herself through college. I could identify with that, because I had to pay for 90 percent of my college myself, with no savings or trust fund to draw on. When we shared our stories, we realized we had something in common, and that grew the bond.
6. Do they listen?
The bad stereotype of mentoring involves sitting at the desk of Worthington Bigbucks, CEO, as he dispenses advice and checks his BlackBerry while you talk to him. That’s actually pathetic. A great mentor listens. A great mentor puts away the e-toys. A great mentor wants to understand where you’re coming from before they tell you how you might act. Think about how often we go through a day when no one really listens to us, whether it’s a boss, a so-called friend or a parent. In listening — deeply listening — financial mentors may perform more magic than through the advice they dispense.
7. How does this person embody financial success?
No matter how many times I stress this, some reader will secretly disagree: A wealthy person who makes money by cheating, bullying, or unethical means makes for a worthless mentor. In our culture, we tend to glorify the winners, and “It’s all about the Benjamins” has become a motto for far too many. It’s as though we’ve forgotten what “sell out” means. Your mentor isn’t a sellout. When it comes to integrity and character, he or she can’t be bought. When you’re trying to learn the secrets of wealth and financial competency, that’s priceless.
8. Can you see yourself growing with this person?
Having a mentor isn’t about treating that person as a one-stop shop for advice. It’s about the relationship. And it works both ways. Great mentors know how to grow people, because they can see right from the start the potential you’ve got. But it isn’t going to work if you see the person as a shortcut to riches. Hopefully, this person represents a role model, someone you look up to an want to emulate for all the right reasons. The mastery of money and finance should rank as just one.
But if so, what’s the other?
The late tennis great Arthur Ashe once said, “From what we get, we can make a living. What we give; however, makes a life.” Chew on that for a bit, because within that quote, you’ll find the mojo that makes a money mentor more than just wealthy, but wise.
Who in your life is your money mentor? How did you find him or her?