My True Story:
” I am sharing my story and my why with you, hoping that it will have enough of an impact for you to react. The only thing you can ever be certain about is that life doesn’t play fair. Proper planning for the low probability, highly impactful events can alleviate a little uncertainty, provide peace of mind, and at the very least, ease some afflictions.”
– Ashley Nichols
We all have a story that creates our why. Our stories mold us, build our point of views and provide a foundation for us to decide what, in life, is valuable to us. We then create our lives around those values and beliefs. This is what we call being reactive, which isn’t necessarily bad. It allows us to be more creative, react to new ideas, and make decisions based on newly-received information. The problem is, all too often, most of us live with the notion that tragedy or misfortune does not or cannot happen to us. It happens to other people. Until it strikes home and we’re unprepared. I am sharing my story and my why with you, hoping that it will have enough of an impact for you to react. The only thing you can ever be certain about is that life doesn’t play fair. Proper planning for the low probability, highly impactful events can alleviate a little uncertainty, provide peace of mind, and at the very least, ease some afflictions.
I grew up in an average middle-class household in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both of my parents worked full-time. My mother is a realtor, and my father was a Baccarat dealer for the better half of his career and then switched to Blackjack, or as he referred to it, Twenty-One. I grew up in a four-bedroom, three-bathroom house with three sisters, a fish, a lizard, two love birds, a dog, a cat, and the occasional injured pigeon that my younger sister would bring home to nurse. We owned two family cars. By society’s standards of the word “normal,” we were that.
My parents did many things to raise the four of us that I admire; however, if I had to list one thing, it would be that their children never wanted for anything. Sure, there was the occasional bratty melt-down at the grocery store because they said no to buying the candy or ice cream we wanted or the brand-new Nikes that just came out that my mother (dad usually caved) would always say no to because our feet grew way too fast. But what kid doesn’t throw a fit when they don’t get their way!? Nonetheless, we participated in every sport we wanted to be in without question. Every birthday and Christmas list made in that house was, dare I say, happily fulfilled. The kids were happy, at least! I can’t speak to how my parents’ wallets felt afterward. But I can, without a doubt, tell you that they were grateful to have had the opportunity to afford us the kind of childhood that they, themselves, did not experience. We weren’t rich, we were merely comfortable, and my parents worked hard to ensure it stayed that way.
And then, as “normal” families do, my parents divorced when I was seventeen. My father suffered from COPD for a couple of years before the divorce and finally had a double lung transplant shortly after their divorce concluded. It was that pivotal moment in time; for the first time, I was able to see my parents as people. Often, we hold our parents on these pedestals and expect nothing less than perfection from them. They must keep it together at all times because…because we simply can’t see them in any other way. We forget they are also just people navigating life the best they know how. They experience trials and tribulations, sadness and defeat. And with that, I watched my father slip into a deep depression after the divorce and surgery and simultaneously watched my mother become a single parent. Because mentally, my father couldn’t be there consistently.
The crash of 2008 was soon upon us, and my mother’s career came to a sudden halt. This year had a significant impact on real estate agents, but real estate brokerages also suffered. The brokerage where my mother held her license decided to make a “cost” cut. That “cost” was my mother. The verbiage in her contract read that should she leave or be asked to leave the firm, the properties that she managed, even the ones she had procured on her own, were to stay with the firm. She was now a single mother left to build her business back from nothing in the middle of one of the largest economic downturns since the Great Depression. What did she have to fall back on? A small amount of savings kept in a regular savings account and credit cards. That was the extent of her financial planning.
…where my mother held her license decided to make a “cost” cut.
That “cost” was my mother.
On the other hand, my father was fortunate enough to keep his job and continue work. However, he dissolved his entire 401k in fear of the market crash. The one major rule that we instruct our clients to NEVER do is to pull out of the market when it’s down! Ergo, my father violated the number one rule of investing. Soon after, due to my father’s depression, health issues, and what we now know was the early onset of dementia, most likely not fully cognizant of what was happening at the time, the bank foreclosed on his property. By the time he told me what was happening, he had one week to move out. I frantically drove my dad around town, trying to find him an apartment to rent. Because of his now less than acceptable credit, I also had to co-sign for him on a new place. I then had 48 hours to rent a U-Haul, grab one of my sisters, and move as much of my father’s belongings as possible before his home was sold at auction. Needless to say, we didn’t get everything.
A few years passed that were seemingly ok. He still suffered from depression but was managing, or so I thought. One night, I received a call that would drastically change our lives. The hospital called to inform me that my dad had been in an accident. I rushed down to the hospital and was told that he was experiencing acute hyponatremia. Basically, his sodium levels were critically low, and it had most likely caused a seizure while he was driving. He had not been taking care of himself, had not been taking his anti-rejection medication required from his lung transplant, and drinking heavily. I also found out that his place of work had terminated him earlier that day for “strange behavior.” For those as unfamiliar as I was, he described it as a “fishbowl” like perception where nothing really makes sense. He simply couldn’t understand what was
happening because of his health.
The hospital discharged my dad, and at that point. He had no job to return to, and his dementia was progressing, forcing him to retire. He was 63. So here we were. After growing up in a household where money wasn’t an issue, it now seemed to be an issue. And how quickly and drastically things changed after that. I was now my father’s caretaker. At twenty-four, I sat at his dining room table, trying to navigate the dreaded Social Security/Medicare System. After waiting on hold for what felt like an eternity, I finally reached someone on the other line. Half listening to the customer service employee, I was finally able to ask the most crucial question, “How much will he be making?” My jaw near touched the floor when she responded, “Ralph will be making $1800 a month.” Suddenly the little light I thought I would be seeing at the end of this long dark tunnel disappeared. My father’s rent alone ate up half of his monthly benefit. That left $900 for groceries, medications (anti-rejection medication is not cheap), his car payment, car insurance, cell phone, utilities…I could go on, but I think you understand that it wasn’t nearly enough.
Anything he couldn’t afford, I made up for it. It was not easy, but he was my dad, and I would make sure that he was ok.
I remember sitting at that table feeling overwhelmed and helpless. It didn’t matter that my dad had consistently brought in $6000 a month or more while he was working. He would not be making that now, nor did he have an option of going back to work. He had no retirement, no savings; there was no coffee can hidden in a cupboard with a rainy day fund. Remember that 401k I told you about? Yea, that had been gone since 2008. Oh, and by the way, social security decided to stop paying him for six months at one point to add to everything else. I, still to this day, could not give you a comprehensible explanation for why the payments stopped, and neither could the social security department. What was even more incomprehensible to me was realizing that if my father didn’t have a family that he could lean on, he would have been homeless for at least six months.
The question presented itself, how many other seniors have found themselves in my dad’s situation? By the grace of God, I was in a position where I was making enough money that I could help him. Anything he couldn’t afford, I made up for it. It was not easy, but he was my dad, and I would make sure that he was ok. I was pretty much my father’s supplemental income from there on out. As he aged and his health deteriorated more, I moved him into a senior 55 and older apartment complex. He was pushing 70 at this time. He was so mad at me for making him “live with “old” people”! My dad was funny and the comedic moments made things a little lighter, but as he aged, things got harder.
I got into law school and had to move away. I now would not work for one year. However, I still had to be my father’s supplemental income and caretaker. I would drive back and forth from San Diego to Las Vegas to take him to his doctor’s appointments; I had to find creative ways to remind him to take his medication, coordinate when groceries would be delivered to him, etc. I cannot tell you how we managed that, but again, we did it by the grace of God.
A few more years passed, and I continued to care for him. Then in November of 2019, a week before Thanksgiving, he suffered a stroke. His health never recouped after that, and I was forced to put him in a nursing home where he could be adequately cared for. He hated every minute of it, and so did I. The last thing you want for your parents is to take away their independence. His dementia worsened, his health diminished, and my father died after being taken to the hospital on June 23, 2020. He did not have life insurance. His funeral was the last thing I paid for.
My dad was my best friend. I don’t tell this story to make you feel sad or pity me. I love my parents dearly, and if I had to do it all over again, I would. I know they would have done the same for any of their children. The lack of financial planning doesn’t only create a problem for the individual; it also has a substantial impact on your loved ones. What if things were different? What if there was a savings plan, life insurance, disability insurance, and a financial strategy? What if my parents came across an article like the one you are reading now, and it created the awareness needed for them to react and realize that life, in fact, does not play fair? There are a lot of “what ifs,” and it’s my job to eliminate those what-ifs for my clients.
So, how do we make a plan? Everyone’s financial picture and overall goals are going to look different. However, where we start is pretty standard.
Get very clear about your balance sheet. Figure out what you own and what you owe. The number one answer I get as to why some don’t do this is, “I don’t make enough” or ” I don’t have enough.” You do not have to be raking it in to identify these two things. It is essential to know what you have. Once you have a clear picture of this, you can decide what you want your future balance sheet to look like. Then, identify short, mid, and long-term goals. It is critical to be very clear about how you want our money to work for you.
Identify what forms of asset protection you have in place and what you think you need. Think of asset protection as the roof over your balance sheet protecting what you are building. You wouldn’t have a house without a roof, so why should your balance sheet be any less protected? Umbrella insurance, life insurance, disability insurance, and overall estate planning are some of the things you want to look for. Once you identify what you have, you can locate the holes you may have in your roof.
You want to identify what your cash flow looks like. How much are you bringing in for the year before taxes? Ideally, the goal is to save twenty percent of your gross income. Don’t worry if that number seems too large at first. Twenty percent is what we are working towards; it is not where we have to start. It is also not a hard cap. If you feel like you can and want to save more, that is a personal preference.
Create a budget sheet to know your fixed and variable costs each month. It is advantageous to see what you have left after your expenses. You can now identify where you might be overspending and what you might be able to cut back on.
These four steps may sound obvious and trivial, but they are crucial to creating an efficient financial plan. I have found disorganization to be the biggest proponent of stress and confusion, which leads to a paralysis of financial decision-making. A clear-cut picture of your net worth, protection, and cash flow can indicate where to pivot next.
We share our stories in hopes that they will impact others. I hope this article encourages you to act.
Ashley Nichols J.D.
In analyzing where my strengths lay and where I thought my time would be of most value, I realized that most are in need of financial planning and guidance. That is when I decided to pursue finance and is where my passion thrives. My responsibility as a financial representative is to ensure that my clients have an understanding of where they are today financially and to assist them in creating a roadmap of where they want to be, whether it be in the near future or long term.