Ballin on a Budget

“In an ideal world, what are your goals [financially]?”

John sat diagonal to me in his office on Gervais Street. I immediately knew the answer to this question because I’ve spent the last few years really trying to get my shit together, finances included. Your thirties are fun.

“I want to pay off my debt, I want a safety net, a savings account, and to travel.”

“To where?” He had his pen to the paper.

“Greece, Italy, Hawaii, Antelope Canyon…”

“What else?”

“…and a Lexus RCF…a blue one.”

Time and time again I’ve tried to implement some sort of budget but after a week or two, I’d be lost. Something would come up, needing new tires or a cart full of random items like household products…which quick side rant: why are paper products so expensive? Paper towels and tissues?! I have organic fair trade coffee hand ground from a Kenyan woman who walked across the Serengeti that costs less than f-ing paper towels do. And I’ve tried to take a stance. I didn’t buy them. That’s right, I went two weeks with no paper towels or tissues, and I have to tell you: it was horrible. It was barbaric. Don’t ever do it. Go a day without eating and buy paper towels instead.

Anyway, whether it was an unexpected expense or my lack of knowledge on how to actually budget and live by it, my lack of interest in really digging in deep and getting answers prevented me from…well, doing  just that. Numbers have never been my thing.

It’s taboo to talk about money. Recently though, I thought about it. Am I the only one who isn’t rolling in dough? Not at all, I certainly know that. But let’s not ever talk about it, because we should be embarrassed. It should be a secret. We should always make sure no one ever knows that we’re ballin’ on a budget or struggling or that their present came from the clearance section in TJ Maxx. We only tell those closest to us how much we make. People ask me to go out, and I politely decline, instead of saying “Can’t, it’s not in my budget.” When did money get so uncomfortable?

Is it because we  don’t want to be told how to spend our money since we’re the ones earning it? And we don’t want to be called on our shit, “Amy, you don’t use coupons, you don’t bargain shop…stop spending $5 on blackberries, and no, spending $30 on tacos and margaritas does not count as part of your “grocery bill.” Lock it up.” << Things I say to myself. But let someone else say that to me?!?! Nahh, not ok.

Is quietly being embarrassed about my financial situation changing anything? You never get answers to questions you don’t ask. So I recently did a podcast about my income…and my outcome. Sharing this part of my life led to people sharing the balance in their bank account with me. $11…$48…$12.52…and a plethora of “me too” and “same!” It also led to me getting a Snapchat from John Stackhouse, Partner and Financial Advisor at Modern Family Asset Management here in Columbia. “I can help!” Which is how I ended up in his office.

The questions I asked him:

A: First let’s talk about how dope your location is! Your office is in the former Model T building on Gervais, how cool is the history of that place?!

J: The DuPre – built in 1919 as a Ford dealership is a historic building with its original heart-pine floors, exposed beams and bricks, and metal-coffered ceilings. The main entrance on the west alley of the building where you have double brass doors that were reclaimed from a bank in New York City and the copper cornices from Christie’s on New York’s Fifth Avenue.

Upon entering you will see in the middle of the lobby the buildings original elevator motor. The entire first floor of the building was the showroom for the Dupre Motor Company. The second and third floors were where the cars were lifted to for repairs. The hardwoods get their character from the oil stains that have created dark patterns throughout.


A: You started as a teller in the banking industry, how did you get here? What caused the birth of Modern Family Asset Management?

J: I got my start in the financial industry about 15 years ago. I graduated from Newberry College with a degree in sports management with every intention of eventually working in the sports industry. I then enrolled at USC to get a masters in Sports Marketing.  While in graduate school at USC, I worked at a local fitness gym doing front desk sales. One of the members of that gym was a guy that I know from a rival high school. He also was a former athlete and also went on to play in college. Just in conversation, I asked what he was doing now. He invited me to stop by his office for lunch one day.  I took him up on the offer.  I walked into his big corner office on Main street and he told me that he was a private banker. This was a career that I never thought about even looking into. He introduced me to the Market President of the bank and I left that day with a job in their management training program. In that, I learned every aspect of the banking industry. I started as a teller, then graduated to customer service rep opening accounts. My progression there lead me to become later a credit analyst helping underwrite commercial loans anywhere from 100k to 25MM. I then became a commercial lender with my own portfolio of loans. From that position I became a treasury and cash management banker. I helped our large business deposit customers find ways to get more interest on excess cash that they had sitting in bank accounts with us.

I got burnt out of banking and decided I wanted to do something different. No clue why. I had a great salary (guaranteed), raises every year, corporate card, etc.…

I left to start over as a financial advisor at Merrill Lynch in the advisor training program.  After being in that program, getting licensed and building a small book of business, I got to a point where I was looking to grow faster. I moved my practice to Wells Fargo (100% commission) where I partnered with an advisor who had been in the business for 28 years. I continued to grow in the business and build my book.

One day I went to my partner and asked if this was where he wanted to work forever. He said no and we began looking at opening our own firm.  

Here we sit a year and a half later in our beautiful office space and have since added one more advisor and an office branch manager.


A: What is/are something(s) people may not understand when it comes to the importance of asset management? 

J: One thing that people may not understand about the importance of asset management is that anyone can benefit from planning.


A: What does your client base cover? 

J: My client base is diverse. Someone just starting a new job and has their first 401k, someone in job transition and needs to know options about their old 401k, a couple starting a new family, someone retiring and wanting to put a plan in place for income in retirement, a corp executive with a stock bonus plan, someone who has won the lottery.


A: Is asset management only for a person of a certain financial standing?

 J: Asset Management/ Financial Planning is not just for a person of certain financial standing. If you have $100 or $1,000,000 the process is the same.


 A: What can people expect when they come to Modern Family?

What people can expect when sitting down with me is someone who is ready to help you with whatever situation you may have. Having a background in banking, lending and now investments there is something that I may be able to give you advice on. If I don’t have an answer, I have resources that do.


A: If people take away one thing from this, what would you like that to be?

J: It does not cost a thing to schedule a time to sit with me and talk. If not me, talk to someone. Conversations about money for whatever reason are Taboo but need not be. Have the talk! Start where you are with what you have… main thing is to start.


So I was in John’s office, talking about the money I didn’t have and telling him about all the places I wanted to go.

I asked “Am I poorest person you’ve ever met?”

I knew I wasn’t, I was being dramatic, but I had just filled out paperwork that asked me to check a box if I had assets totaling more than $50 million. $50 MILLION?! If I had $50 million I still wouldn’t be able to check that box because I’d blow a million and have $49 million. Are you thinking “This is why you had $16 in your bank account last week, Amy”? Seriously though, if you had 50 Skittles and you dropped one on the floor, are you eating it or throwing it away? Exactly. Sit down. Unless you said eat it, like c’mon man. Actually, if it was the floor at my house, I’d eat it too, you right, you right.

It was a little refreshing to know that the only difference between me and a $50 millionaire (you can tell I don’t have it, I don’t know how to say it properly), is getting to check that box.

…Just let me think this is the only difference…

I had went in there with spreadsheets of my last three months of spending. I listed EVERYTHING. Even the things I didn’t want to admit to buying (but the wine and pizza night was much more needed that you realize). We went over my income, my expenses, and listed everything. John then created an online account for me that will connect all of my accounts, show current and future goals, and how I’m contributing to (or taking away from) those goals. I will be able to track progress and spending in real time.

While money doesn’t rank at the top of my list for priorities, financial freedom does. I’m not trying to be a millionaire (it’d be nice), but I am trying to get rid of the weight of debt, to stop living paycheck to paycheck, and to be financially independent. I understand this is is not going to happen overnight, but I’m happy to have a working plan and be on my way.

Also, John, I spent $30 on tacos last night. This is going to be a process.

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