When it comes to assisting people with their finances, I work with a wide variety of people in a wide range of ages. Each one means alot to me, but I have to share a story about one of my favorites who recently passed away. She was both my oldest client (living well into her 90s), and with an 8-figure net worth, was also my wealthiest. We spent a lot of time together, particularly in her later years. I’ll refer to her as Helen.
The other day I was thinking about my conversations with Helen, and all the stories and wisdom she liked to share. And I thought it would be neat to list some of her most prominent themes. I’d also refer to this as the things my oldest client would want to share with my youngest client.
1. Start early.
It’s a basic investing concept, but an important one. It’s the premise that time is on your side and you should have the power of compounding work for you over long periods of time. There are no guarantees when it comes to investing but you can be disciplined, patient, and understand the long game.
This is a woman who was taught at an early age some of the basic principles of personal finance and used that to her advantage. She would encourage everyone to do the same.
2. Invest in Yourself.
Helen always talked about the value of a good education. In a time when few women went to college at all, she earned her undergrad degree and then got her Masters (from Penn State, a common bond we had). Her passion for learning can probably explain why she got involved on several boards of local Universities.
For a period of her career she taught her specialties in high school, then went on to assume leadership roles in civic and community life. She even started her own business.
3. Be Careful Who You Trust.
In general, Helen gave benefit of the doubt and always saw the best in everyone. However, over the years she learned some hard lessons by becoming overly trustworthy in certain individuals.
Her advice was always to remain on-alert, and be aware of others motives. Particularly as she got older and people knew she was wealthy, she shared many instances of “stock brokers” and care-takers who tried to take advantage of her. But she remained keen and wise to pick up on such things.
4. Build Strong Relationships.
Helen had no kids but had fond memories of her late husband who she cherished very much. They were active in their church, local museums, political parties, and alumni groups. They had built a solid network within the community. She shared stories of their travels together, and dinner parties where she rubbed elbows with well-known CEOs and politicians.
She outlived most of her family, so for the final 10-15 years of her life she considered me her “family”. I was grateful, and it helped me strengthen my relationship with my own family too!
5. Live Within Your Means.
One of the things I liked about Helen was her ability to remain humble and live simply. She loved sharing stories of her days growing up in the great depression, and how her family struggled to get food on the table.
At a young age, she learned the importance of hard work. Sure she lived in a nice oceanfront apartment in Boca Raton, but it was decorated with modest furniture. The box television set and kitchen appliances were 20 years old, but still “did the job” as she would say. She drove her cars for 10+ years. She might have been the wealthiest person in her building, but no one would have known it.
6. Be Kind to Others.
Helen’s message to always be kind to others and make the world a better place. It wasn’t like she would come out and say it – she led by example.
In addition to being very charitable, she was always mindful of big occasions for people. She’d order gifts for people in her circle who just had a child graduate from college. She’d send boxes of chocolate for birthdays. She would order a ham and send to her out-of-state cousin for Thanksgiving. And she enjoyed giving me a bottle of booze every Christmas.
I wanted to end with “be kind to others” message because it’s exactly how Helen left this planet. I was very familiar with her last will and final instructions, so I had firsthand knowledge of how kind she was. This is because Helen left her money to causes that meant the most to her. She left millions to her church. Millions to her sorority. A number of charities were no-doubt delighted to have a 7-figure check show up in the mail.
But the largest piece went to her alma mater. I had a huge smile on my face when I read her school’s announcement that they received “the largest single gift in the University’s history”. Wow. That school will soon have a new auditorium, lecture hall, and various facilities and equipment due to Helen’s philanthropic legacy.
Helen was an inspiration to me and should be to others as well. We can all learn a few things from Helen, and it’s not too late to start.