Something magical happens when we dare to get real and speak the truth about money. In this intimate conversation series, Money Memoirs, I chat with people from all walks of life about their money journeys: the good, the tough, the soulful, and the nitty-gritty. We share this beloved series every year to celebrate the opening of The Art of Money, which you can read all about here. Curl up with a cuppa as we pull back the curtain … and get ready to get inspired.
We are now open for registration to my year-long, global money school: The Art of Money 2020. YESSS!
More on that in a jiff.
But first I want to celebrate our doors opening with our beloved Money Memoir interview series!
Today I’m thrilled to introduce you to Cait Howerton.
Cait is a Financial Coach, Accredited Financial Planner, Student Loan + Relationship and Money Specialist, and LGBTQ+ advocate.
A true Millennial, Cait is self-aware, smart and switched on.
Over the course of our conversation, we talk about therapy and the art of managing money in relationships, we explore all the ways being LGBTQ+ has impacted her financial decisions and her life — and of course, how she now strives to support her LGBTQ+ community through her work.
In her clear and honest way, Cait shares personal stories and insights about:
- How coming out was tough, and triggered one of her biggest financial flashpoints — and how being a lesbian shaped her relationship to money, family and her hometown community in positive, negative, beautiful and challenging ways.
- How she sees money as a first generation College student, and an LGBTQ+ person. (Read: money provides power)
- The fractious relationship her parents had around money, and how that inspired her to do the Financial Counselling and Financial Therapy work she does today.
- The #1 thing her Dad taught her about how to get rich (HINT: It has something to do with reading romance novels — and it works!)
- How watching her Mom’s struggle with consumer debt impacted the way she approaches money in her relationships today (+ why she is proud of her ‘woke’ younger self for breaking up with two early girlfriends over their approaches to spending).
- The app she recommends for couples sharing their finances.
- How she and her current partner approach money in their relationship — why they have a “Oh crap’ fund so they can each keep their autonomy.
- Why she strives to find a balance between frugality and fun.
- The worst fight she’s ever had with her honey about money — and how they moved past the initial flame-throwing and door-slamming, to having a productive heart-to-heart.
- The importance of community (for both your finances AND your mental health) and how she supports hers.
Bari Hi, everyone. Welcome to my Money Memoir series. Today, I have the honor of interviewing Cait Howerton. She is a financial coach at Smart Path in Atlanta and the 2019 FPA Diversity Scholar. Cait is a financial coach, accredited financial counselor and candidate for her CFP, which is Certified Financial Planner Certification. She just passed that, so we are going to congratulate her and talk about that for a moment. She infuses authenticity and inspiration with proven financial processes to yield innovative, ideal and sustainable financial plans for each of her clients’ unique journeys. She is a student loan and relationships and money specialist. Her ideal niches include the XY generation, LGBTQ+ individuals and progressive and unconventional professionals. Her additional interests include trauma informed financial practices – which we love – emotionally focused coaching, LGBTQ+ advocacy, podcasting and her golden retriever, Charlie. Because money plays a crucial role in most aspects of an individual’s daily life, it is imperative to understand and acknowledge the relationship between identity, diversity and finance. Cait has chosen to pursue financial planning because she believes all individuals should be afforded equal access to financial coaching and financial planning. As a lesbian financial planner, she strives to provide each of her clients equitable access to the tools and information which are necessary for them to understand their financial options, most effectively manage their money and accomplish their financial goals. Cait, I’m so honored and happy to have you here today. Hello! Cait Hi! Thank you so much for having me. Bari Yeah! You came on my radar in the last year or so – it might have been Facebook. I just started watching you and then I saw that you were closed up behind doors, studying for the Certified Financial Planner test for the last year and that you just took that test and passed it. Cait I did! I did. I passed on Monday, thank goodness. Bari Congratulations. Cait Thank you. Bari That’s amazing. That’s amazing. Okay. I have so many questions for you. I’d love, as we begin, if you would give us a snapshot of family life and work right now and what’s most important to you. We’ll start there. Cait Yeah, sure. I guess we’ll start with the less wordy topic of work. I work as a financial coach for an organization called Smart Path. We serve middle-class Americans. We are a subscription-based financial coaching service and we also provided employer wellness benefits as well. What does all of that mean? That essentially means that we do anything as far as budgeting, all the way up to the point of investment advice, accountability work. It’s a crossover between… some mindset work, yes, but then also some accountability and we have certified and trained professionals that – I can dig into the numbers as well. It’s a really cool area to be in because I get to use all of my EQ every single day and then I also get to use all of my quantitative skills that I have. That’s something that not a lot of people have. It’s stepping into both sides of the realm of feelings and thinking. I get to do that on a daily basis. As far as other professional pursuits and so forth, as you mentioned, I have been locked up for a year. I pursued this CFP certification right at a year ago. The first part of the year I was doing the education requirements and then I had to review. I can almost assure anyone out there that wants to go through this certification that it’s worth it, but man it is so hard. It was tough. On my personal life, with my family and friends and so forth, I reside in Atlanta. I live with my significant other, Katrina, and I have my pup, Charlie, and two cats who definitely run the house. The cats just allow us to live there. I grew up in Arkansas, so I really lived most of my life in Arkansas until I relocated to New Orleans for a large part of my 20s. Then relocated to Atlanta for the position with Smart Path. Most of my family is there. We have about 100 acres of land, which is something that most people don’t have. I have the experience of growing up on a farm in a very, very tightknit community. My family still lives there now, so I go home several times throughout the year. Definitely going home for Christmas. I’m looking forward to that. Bari Okay. As a proud cat owner, we have three cats in our household and then one community cat that visits daily and now a second community cat that is starting to visit. Cait Yeah. I watched on Facebook all of these little community cats that you all have befriended and I love it. I love it. Bari I also want to make sure that I’m saying the LGBTQ+ – he plus, the plus part – correctly. Cait Yeah. Bari I grew up in Chicago and grew up with my mom and dad and then my two uncles were life partners. I grew up surrounded by the gay community and my family owned all the original gay bar – Christopher Street, Vortex, Manhole – in Chicago in the 1980-90s. There was LGBT and then Q and then Plus. Please explain that for me and then we’ll continue. Cait Yeah. Honestly, identity is an incredibly nuanced piece. The way that we identify is complex and intricate. At one point it was simply LGBT. Then it was LGBTQ, then it was LGBTQIAA squared and so forth. For anyone listening that’s like, “Whoa, that’s a lot.” That’s okay. Even for me being a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I sometimes struggle with this as well. Knowing and not necessarily knowing is quite okay. For the LGBTQ+, the L is for lesbian, the G is for gay, B is for bisexual, T is for transgender, Q is for queer. While that was originally used as a hate term, many within the community are reclaiming it. Some still find it offensive. It’s definitely a term that has a lot attached to it. Within the academic community, it is becoming readily accepted to refer to the LGBTQ community as the queer community. As far as the plus, there are different definitions and many people can say that it’s one thing or another. But to my understanding another Q would be questioning. A person who is still kind of exploring. I is for intersex – a person whose body is not definitively male or female. They may have XX or XY chromosomes or their genitals/reproductive organs are not considered “standard.” A is for allies, A for asexual – someone who is not attracted to someone in a sexual way whatsoever. Then lastly P for pansexual. I’ll send over a resource so that you can throw that into the notes as well. Bari Thank you. Cait Of course. Bari So many of my friends over the last few years have been identifying as queer, so I’ve been seeing that more and more and more. Thank you so much for explaining the plus and all of that. I do want to segue into a little bit about student loans and then more into your money story, which will tie in all of this together. I want to move into student loan debt because it’s such a huge issue. I’ve had such a hard time finding an expert on this. There’s someone who I’ve been referring to for years, Heather Jarvis, – I’m not sure if you’re familiar with her – an attorney. Cait I am. Bari Okay. My community has been going to her, but sometimes she’s hard to reach. It’s such a specialty because it’s different than credit card debt and all other kinds of debt. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to take this on as one of the main focuses and a little bit about your work and supports in this area. Cait I actually wasn’t a student loan specialist until coming to the organization that I’m currently with, Smart Path. I personally have student loans. I actually received a full ride for my undergrad degree, but for my MBA I had to take out loans. I knew quite a bit about them. I knew how they were calculated; I knew the income-driven repayment plan. That is an option for paying off your loans. When I started Smart Path, because we serve middleclass Americans, we see the gamut of financial issues between money avoidance and money worship – generically – to simple issues as far as, “Can you help me with a debt management plan?” That’ a very complex issue as well. For us, we actually started seeing quite a few individuals coming through and asking questions on student loans. The organization itself is a startup. We serve several universities and we also serve a med school department, which are very complex student loans with more complex issues of having a residency or fellowship. What do you do with your loans? My colleague, Alex Wilson, joined the team and she’s absolutely brilliant. She went through and designed a quantitative model for our organization. I broke it. Along the way, I was like, “Alex, this is wrong. This is broken.” I was definitely the guinea pig as far as launching this. We have streamlined this process with our leadership team and with the rest of the staff here to be able to really answer any student loan question that someone has. We go through and run a full analysis on loans and then go through and discuss with them their current cash flow, upcoming purchases or life changes – moving, marriage, children. Those are sometimes questions that can’t be answered, so they have to be reincorporated into this payoff plan. What are your feelings on debt? Then come up with individual payoff strategies for each of our clients along the way. It was born out of a natural need of just really serving our clientele in a way that they really needed/wanted to be served. Bari Cool. I am going to be sending people to you. People have questions about consolidation. They did it years ago at a high interest rate or they got in on some of those lower ones, which is great. My community has just so many questions and concerns and so many emotions around having student debt. Also, it sounds like you’re working with middleclass folks. I’ve done so many interviews on this with financial planners and this makes me so happy. I’d love to hear if you’re talking about a certain range, what are the numbers that you consider middleclass and the concept of, “We can’t go to a financial planner if we have a million dollars.” Then I started finding folks that you can start at $50,000. There’s a lot of people that are changing this, which we have to do. How are you defining middleclass? Is it an income range, net worth range? Is there a beginning number or can people pay you to sign up to do coaching sessions with you, which is usually hourly or via package? Tell us more about that. Cait Yeah, for us right now, I would say that we kind of base middle class on net income. Net income to gross income, just depending on whatever we’re looking at – whatever type of financial issues someone is facing. Overall, I would say somewhere along $50,000 gross income to about $120,000ish gross income individually. Really, when you start getting up into the six figures, that starts to be kind of the point to where you may not be an appropriate match for our services unless you want ongoing accountability work on the financial coaching side. We actually have two sides of our business. One is Smart Path, which is for financial coaching. The other is for Smart Path Advisors. That’s going to be a registered investment advisory side. With this, we provide more segmented financial planning. We’re going to look at if you’re ready for retirement. We also have something that’s called our Money Mix, which is reallocating investments. That’s appropriate for people that may not have that one million in investments, but they have no idea when it comes to their 401K or the 403B or this or that. “What do I put all of them money into?” and they just want to talk with someone. Our organization doesn’t sell any financial projects. We are 100% fee-only and we are a fiduciary. That word meaning that we provide all of our advice fully on the best interest of our clients. The other question is feelings on serving the middle class and have investment minimums, etcetera. Our founder of our company, his mom immigrated to the United States with, I think, like $1 in her pocket. It was nothing. By the time that she retired, she had a million in investments. She did that simply from – not just from the bootstrap mentality, which we’re seeing that you can’t just pull yourself up by the bootstraps. That’s not going to solve the racial wealth gaps and gender wealth gaps. But, really, she did that by relying upon her community and continually growing her education and also spending less than she made. That’s kind of what we have built this business based up. It’s the premise of diversity and spending less than you make. I hope that answers that question. Bari It does. It does. Thank you. Thank you. Okay. Let’s dive more into your own personal money story. I’m wanting to know – before I go into my standard questions – why did you get into financial planning and personal finance yourself? Share a little bit more about your journey. So many financial planners were saving from such an early age. I wasn’t. I was like, “There’s so many things to spend money on! I want to buy my mom a ring. I like candy.” I just had so many things I wanted. My financial planner friends, early on, just wanted to save. Tell us a little bit about your journey and how you stepped into this work. Cait For me, I think I had two parents who were very opposite of one another in their spending styles, their money mindsets – even the scripts that they held. Sorry, Mom, but my mom is a spender. I would say that my dad is a saver, to an extent. My dad likes to play, so he has toys and gadgets and he does things with his money that – he will save up for something, but he also saves up long term. I watched my dad growing up sit down at the kitchen table and pay bills – back when you had to pay bills when the bills came to you in the mail. I watched him balance a checkbooks, which that’s something that most millennials or younger won’t necessarily know about either. I watched that. I also heard my dad say, in jest, to my mom that if you’d spend as much time reading investment books as you do reading Harlequin romance novels, we would be rich. He would say that probably once or twice a year; some format of that just joking around with her because my mom was an avid reader. Oftentimes, it was just reading trashy romance novels on the weekends. I think I took that to heart because I was like, “Well, I guess that’s how you get rich. You go study investments.” Even after that, I got into college as a business major and thought I was going to go the route of marketing. It was supposed to be fun. As an ENFT, I wanted fun. I wanted to be able to do something that was enjoyable. I got into marketing and was working primarily in tactical marketing – not strategic marketing – and I hated it. Along the way, as I was in the business world and completing my MBA, I found that I was really good with money. I think part of this stems from, also, I had a sixth grade teacher – two teacher, actually – who coordinated a class fully on money for an entire year. We had to keep a checkbook, we had funny money cash, each Friday we could use money that was paid out throughout the week for particular deeds or behavior/grades/etcetera. They had different ways that you could get paid. You could buy a candy bar, a soda or this or that at a concession stand, or you could squirrel your money away. At the end of this, there was an auction. I would say, for me, that I had never had a name brand pair of shoes. My family at the time was fairly low income and they were like, “No, you’re going to get shoes from the general store down the street. That’s where it’s going to come from.” I saved up my money to get my first pair of Adidas shoes in sixth grade. I think that’s where it began. You said that most financial planners are savers. I’m a saver to an extent in real life now. As an adult now. I always keep a savings account with an emergency fund, I invest into my retirement, etcetera. But I’m also very balanced within my money story. I set a budget to eat out, to buy clothes, to go on vacations and trips because I try to find a balance between living today and savings for tomorrow. Bari Got it. You’re not the saver who is on the very frugal end. You like the balance. You like to have fun, which you’ve said a few times. You also like to enjoy clothes and eating out and travel. You’ve made sure that’s balanced with all of the other savings and investment accounts. Cait That’s right. Bari Yeah. It sounds like you’ve got a few different versions from your parents, like we all do. Any couple is going to have different money styles of earning, spending and saving. Your dad was a saver, but then he would also then spend on big-ticket items. My husband is like that. He likes his gear. He will save for something. Then, your mom, I heard that she loves reading and that she’s a romantic. Yeah? Cait Yeah. Mom was… mom struggled a bit. Mom struggled with money and mom grew up way too soon for her age. She had to come into a position of supporting her family at 16 to help her own mom. I think, for my mom, she really struggled with debt – credit card debt – for several years of my adolescence. I think, for my mom, it was very much wanting to have the things that she couldn’t have and then just didn’t quite have the means then either – within her 20s and early 30s – to go get those things. It was definitely a challenging time for our family, for my parents. They were able to work through it. They’re still together today. It’s almost 32 years. They’ve managed to move through it. Bari Wonderful. I appreciate how you’re honoring where she comes from and her story. She grew up – she had to grow up too young. She had to take care of other people, so her response/reaction/bellyache/rebellion against that was that she still wanted to be taken care of. She still wanted some things. She still wanted some nice things. I appreciate how you’re going back further to see why and how some of her patterns came to be. They’ve been able to work that through. Do you think by doing your own money work and stepping into the profession that you have that you’ve encouraged them or initiated more conversations? Do you feel that you’ve helped them or do you feel you’ve all just grown? Cait I want to go back to your former question of why I got into this. I think part of it was my parents, as to why I got into this. I watched a lot of years of strife and difficulty. Part of it was that I wanted to help couples understand how to have conversations between one another about money and how to understand the differences between one another and honor those differences while also finding ways to collaborate. I think the other part of this for me, also, was that as a first generation college student and as a LGBTQ person, I see first had the power of money. It can be used for good; it can be used for more…I don’t want to say evil, but not for good. As we can see in today’s politics and so forth. I really wanted to understand the influences that money has upon our lives. I resisted it for quite a while. I went into marketing and finally succumbed to the fact that I’m fairly good with money and I also have a huge desire to understand human behavior and human interaction. I didn’t come into this profession first for financial planning. I came into it first for financial counseling and financial therapy. I discovered your book along the way and discovered the financial therapy association, Brad Klont and other financial therapists. I started seeing that this field is the real deal. I got into financial planning backwards. I only do the math because you have to. I actually hate it. I really don’t enjoy the compound interest and the this and the that. I do it because it’s a tool, but I really want to get into the mindset and the behavior and the story first of what’s going on with someone and what their experience is of money. As far as my parents, I think we’ve evolved. My mom is very willing to have conversations with me about money. My mom has really leaned on me a lot as she’s nearing 60 – she’s 57. She may get on to me later because I don’t 100% remember if she’s 56 or 57. As she’s getting closer to retirement, she’s asking a lot of questions. Dad was resistant at firs. I think his kid knowing a little bit more about finance maybe was tough for him. He started calling and asking some questions and having conversations with me about it. I think it’s just an evolution. Bari Yeah. I’m wanting to go back to that 14/15/16 year old kid. I’m amazed that in Arkansas you had this money class. That’s pretty amazing that you had that class that you were talking about that led to the auction, led to you saving for Adidas. It’s also when you said it was a really hard time and your mom was overspending. Anything more about that time for you and what you were watching and feeling and learning and what money beliefs were created or what choices? What decisions were being made at that time? What was that experience like for you? Cait I think it was around sixth grade was the class. That’s around 12, maybe 13. As far as ever spending and credit card usage and debt was somewhere around nine or 10. A little bit before that. A lot happened. It was a lot of strife in my family between my parents, a lot of fighting. I definitely think it cemented many financial flash points. For me, I know that what came of that was I would never allow my finances to be in the hands of someone else fully. I would always have a stake in them. I work with a lot of women and – not all – many turn over their finances to a significant other – heterosexual or not. That’s something that, for me, I really try to work with my women clients to help them feel more confident and brave with money. I think that’s driven by my own bias. The other part of it is that I knew that I would want a partner that I could have very open conversations about money with, even when it’s hard. It was important to me. I broke up with several partners over it. That was probably the wokest thing I did as a 20-21 year old was seeing their money behavior and accumulation of debt and so forth. I was scared of debt, consumer debt primarily. I know there’s more there to be unpacked, but it definitely influenced how I feel. Bari Yeah. It’s a lifelong journey, right? Even though this is our work, we’re going to be learning new things about our own relationship to money and money story for years and years to come. Cait Absolutely. Bari It’s interesting because I also – from different circumstances – declared at some point that I have to make my own money and I’m not going to rely on a partner for that. There was so much power over me, I felt so controlled around money from my father. I wanted a partner who it would be more equal. A little different from you, but similar. I had to make my own way and not be dependent on someone else. I don’t know if that’s what you’re saying. You’re saying a few different things that were way more advanced than where I was at 21. We need to have good money conversations; I can’t have you overspending to the degree where there’s going to be a significant amount of debt and so on. You were aware of all of that at 21. Would you say that that was one of the big money challenges that you had to overcome? Is there another big story or was that the main one that shaped you? Was there another? Cait Oh, yeah. I think that that’s one. I think another was coming out. I think that it – I went into undergrad with really good financial habits from learning how to budget in sixth grade, from understanding what money is, understanding that student loans have to be paid back. Fortunately, I didn’t have any from undergrad. However, I did have a difficult coming out. That sense has been repaired and is continually being evolved – the relationship with my family over coming out. At the time, it was tough. For me, it was a huge attachment wound even as an adult. I grew up in Arkansas. For those who have misconceptions or thoughts about what Arkansas is, it probably is most of the stereotypes that you know. It’s small and it’s more closed-minded than a lot of the nation. It’s lower as far as the education scale goes. The public schools there are not as great as on the coasts. Not just with my family, but with my greater community, there was an acceptance. I remember going to college and I was one of 10 LGBTQ people on campus that was out. It was tough. It was tough. If you look around and you’re thinking about dating and parties and going to class and all of those things that college is, well, there’s not a lot of dating when seven of the 10 people that are LGBTQ are men and you’re a lesbian. It was coupled with me coming into myself and my figuring out who I am and I’m also losing this sense of safety at home. When you lose the sense of safety of home, you go back to that lower rung of Maslow’s hierarchy of trying to figure out where you’re safe. Money was part of that. I knew I had to have money in my savings account because if stuff hits the fan, I’ve got to be able to take care of myself. I was very cognizant of credit. I had financed my car in part with my father in high school and I paid it off throughout undergrad. I already had developing credit. When I graduated from college, I went and took a small personal loan just to supplement my savings and to build my credit up a little further. I also moved to New Orleans to get my MBA, but also to get the heck out of Arkansas. I think that was another big financial flash point to me. From there, I have always had an understanding with myself that you have to have X amount of dollars in your savings account or you’re not safe, you’re not okay. Bari There’s so much here. There’s so much here. How old were you when you came out? Cait I was 18. It was my first semester at college. Bari Okay. That’s a lot. That’s a lot in one moment, in one year of your life. You had some understanding of money or systems in place and then you’re transitioning into being a college student and you come out. It sounds like there was a big shift in family dynamic and that took time to come back again to safety and homeostasis. Meanwhile, you’re very aware of your relationship to money. There’s more here, if you’re open to sharing. Did you identify that time as lesbian and do you still identify as lesbian or do you say queer? Cait Yeah. I primarily identify as lesbian. There are times when I toy around with queer, but it’s been used against me a lot with myself. It’s one that to reclaim it also comes with pain. I primarily identify as lesbian. At the time, at 18, I didn’t really know. I was like, “Well, maybe I’m bisexual. Who knows?” I knew young. When you’re going through puberty, there’s so many feelings happening. Guys are okay, they’re good friends. I had feelings for girls. I didn’t really know what was going on. I couldn’t truly embrace that until I was away from home. Because of that safe place being home, you can’t step outside of what’s expected of you until you’re further away. Yeah. I do still identify as lesbian. I think you had another question as well. Bari It’s still being formed. I’m wanting to hear more from you just how being a lesbian has shaped your relationship to money in positive and negative and challenging and beautiful ways. I know that’s a mouthful. You’ve already said that safety is so important to you. What that means to you, finding safety in your body, finding safety in your bank account, finding safety through developing credit. I think it was so smart of you to have taken out a personal loan during that time. You knew you needed to do that. I want to hear more about that for you, both on a personal level and I know you work with the LGBTQ+ community too. There are probably certain patterns and support that you need to give. Cait Yeah. I knew that I needed to have some funds available within that move to New Orleans because for several years there was not a safety net. If I feel, I fell on my own. Granted, I could have gone home. My relationship wasn’t so tattered that I couldn’t have moved back, but there was no way in hell that I was going to allow myself because of my own mental health and wellbeing. That shapes you. Knowing that you’ve got to do it by yourself. That’s not just for the LGBTQ community. Single moms, etcetera. Anyone that is without that support network. Furthermore, being away from home has a lot of impacts on your finances in general. For me in particular, for my own personal story, I grew up in a community that was very tightknit. Most of my dad’s side of the family lives within about a mile from one another. It’s almost a subdivision, but with family. I grew up in a community where you take a lasagna when someone has passed away. There were several churches nearby and everyone goes to one of them. People know one another’s birthdays and when you’re building a house or working on a vehicle. There’s someone always there to help you. I gave that up. I let go of all of it because it was too painful to receive the judgement for who I was from the people that I love the most. It was tough, primarily emotionally, but also financially because I was having to do it on my own. There was rent, groceries, if your car breaks down you have to take it to a mechanic versus your dad or someone else. All of the normal costs of life, so much of that within the way that I grew up was supplemented. You had someone to help cover those costs. You didn’t have to go pay for all of it. That was part of that within the timeframe when I was in New Orleans and in my early 20s. There were costs with came with going home. If you’re the one that has to travel to go home, you’re typically bearing the brunt of that. Then, of course, therapy. Thank goodness for therapy. For me, that’s where I found most of my healing and acceptance of self. At minimum, it was at least $150 an hour because I didn’t go to a therapist that accepted insurance. They were the best in the state, so it was expensive. Bari How many years? Cait Of therapy? Bari Yeah. Ongoing, I’m sure. Cait Yeah. It’s off and on. I would say it was definitely several years in a row. I moved a bit, so I saw a therapist again when I moved. I’m actually currently not in therapy because I’ve been so much into the CFP, but I do have a financial coach currently. I find, for me, that I’ve maintained a therapeutic relationship that’s virtual. I can call her up at any point when things get too much. I also find for me that I do therapeutic work after that a really, really heavy timeframe. I do it in stints – three/four months at a time. Then I take several months off – three or four months at a time. A lot of that comes from that fact that it gets to be too much and I can’t stick with it. I have to take a time for healing thereafter to go do the work and push through the work. I take some time. That’s obviously not recommended. Oftentimes it’s stay with it ongoing, but for me I’ve found that it’s the best routine that I can stick with. Bari I think initially it’s important to go often for a long period of time. But after that, I think that coming and going and the concept of titration – which I know you know is taking it in small chunks, taking breaks and then coming back – that feels healthy to me. We all need to do it in our own way. There’s no right way. Have you been able to recreate some of that community in New Orleans and now Atlanta? Do you now go back to Arkansas and to your family and community? Is it different now? Cait Yeah. I was able to create that to an extent within New Orleans. I have some wonderful friends there that I still maintain. Within Atlanta, I have some really, really good friends. The difficult part about Atlanta is that it’s about an hour and a half anywhere. It’s a tough drive to get across town. That’s something that my partner and I are working on quite a bit, the building of community here. I have a wonderful work community, because it is a startup. There’s a family environment that comes with working at a startup. My best friend actually works here. We started out as coworkers and now we talk to each other twice a day. Even if she’s not at work, I’m going to give her a call on the way home to catch up and see what’s going on with her. I attended her child’s first birthday party a couple of weeks ago. It’s something that’s always there in the back of your mind. My partner grew up with a very similar community as I had. Her family is from North Georgia and same thing. Very close-knit and a very difficult coming out. I think that’s definitely one of the things that attracted us to one another. We understood what it’s like having a small town family and being LGBTQ, having experience with higher ed – she’s a PhD student in mathematics. She was the first PhD student ever in her family. It’s something that we always go back to. This isn’t what life is supposed to be. We were supposed to have this huge family and big community, help and people nearby. There’s a lot of grief that continually exists. That’s the next thing for me that I’m going to embark upon with healing. It’s rectifying the dissonance that I carry of my current life and having family back home but not wanting to move back home, etcetera. To the second question, I haven’t gone home fairly often this year, but I typically go home three to four times a year. About three is my typical frequency. The relationship there is much better. Mainly it took a lot of very hard boundary throwing. I say hard at first because it was hard. It was hard to do and they were executed very poorly. There was lots of anger that came up with that grief and I very much claimed who I was with my family after a lot of time of them expressing them wanting me to be different. I started throwing boundaries that came with consequences. If they did not conform, I would remove myself from their life. I know I didn’t do those as well as I would have wanted to, but in time they became very effective. A lot of anger, a lot of grief, a lot of sadness and then finally more heart-to-heart conversations came of that. Now, I have a good relationship. I’m out with all of my family, friends, community in Arkansas. I think I’ve finally come to accept that this is who I am. Bari You’ve done so much hard work through therapy. I don’t know any type of boundaries at the beginning that don’t have anger. Ultimatums are really strong. That’s how they come out. That’s just sometimes how it is. You have to be so strong. Then, as you said, it moves into more deep heart-to-heart conversations after the initial really strong anger. I call it flame throwing, you called it… what did you call it? My husband calls it flame throwing when I flame throw. Then it moves into the deeper conversations. It sounds like it’s been just deep, deep, hard, hard work and commitment to that. I’m just so touched that you go back three times a year still. That feels like a small amount to you. That’s still so much deep connection. Cait Yeah, I really do think that the overall love overcame the initial lack of acceptance and understanding. Bari Beautiful. So different from me growing up in Chicago and growing up with my gay uncles and they were my beloved, beloved uncles. I just know it was different for kids growing up in Chicago coming out with an enormous community. I’m not saying it was easy. It’s just such a different version than your story and your experience. Thank you for sharing all of that. I’m so happy to hear – I hear that it’s not easy, but you’ve done so much hard work. I’m just so glad that the love has overcome all of it and that you still go back there so much and that you’re with a partner that you both understand each other – the pain and the beauty. How long have you been together? Tell us a little bit more about how you two do money at this point in time. How do you have money conversations? Is that easy? Do you have some rituals in place? Let’s go there. Cait Yeah. We’ve been together now… gracious. It will be two years in a couple of months. We met one another somewhat long distance. Not really super long distance, about an hour and a half away from one another. We dated on the weekends. We went to go see one another after the week had ended. We moved in together – we picked out a place and I moved into it first because she was still finishing up her masters at a university nearby. She moved into our place in June of this year. We actually have been living together for a short amount of time and discovering our money dates and our money rituals. We currently are – and being fully honest – she has her own individual checking account and I have mine. I have my own savings and she has hers. We’ve sat down and we’ve discussed all of our bills that we each have as individuals. We’ve discussed all of our expenses and bills that we have as a unit – the things that we share for rent, utilities, groceries, so on and so forth. Our plan going forward is we will be opening a joint account that we’ll both transfer money into based upon… it will be a percentage of income, but it’s going to be a little bit more convoluted than that because I have a lot more expenses than she does. I am fully into the world with a car payment and insurance and student loans and so forth. For her, she has a car that she’s had since she graduated from high school. She’s a PhD students, so she’s on a stipend. It’s very, very low income within her fellowship as well. It covers her tuitions and fees and so forth. She doesn’t have a lot of expenses going on. It will be somewhat a percentage of income going into a joint account and we’ll each maintain our own individual checking and savings. But for now – and full transparency – she’s been sending the excess money that she has towards our utilities and so forth and I’ve been taking care of them. We’ve been having full-on honest conversations about our money. The biggest thing is we have not had time to go into a complete money exercise because of the CFP. Even as a financial coach and a financial planner, sometimes we put it off. Sometimes there’s just not enough time and that’s been our experience. I’ve been studying and I work about 50 hours a week and pretty much two hours a week during the weeknights and then about eight to nine hours a day on the weekends studying. We just have not had the opportunity to do our full-on money exercise to further discuss things. But, we have had some fairly good fights over money that did result in a lot of tears and a lot of good conversations initially about how we’re going to manage this, where will the accounts be opened, how we want to open accounts, co-habitation agreements, term life insurance, etcetera. We’ll be getting term life insurance shortly on my life because I am the higher earner between the two of us. We want to make sure that if something happens to me, she is not in a position of having to move back home, which might not be the best situation for her emotionally. Bari This is all real, so real. You’re not having weekly money dates. Whether you have kids or you’re studying for a CFP, you’re doing all the work. You know that. Also, as you know, there’s no right way. I’m hearing so many conversations around money and all the different parts. Cait Oh, yeah. I mean, it’s a lot of piecemealed money dates. She is a very structured person. She’s a mathematician for Pete’s sake. I’m a financial coach and financial planner. We will be having weekly, if not monthly money dates. It’s actually on our calendar for the weekend after next. It was already on the calendar for it right after the CFP was concluded. We budget with groceries, she’ll go into my wallet and go, “I’ve got the debit card. I’m going to go get groceries.” We set a budget for that and the amount that we’re spending. We’ve discussed how much we’re spending on eating out. We agreed to eat out once a week as a unit and then if we want to eat out anymore, it will come out of our own individual money. It’s like, “I’ll treat.” Otherwise, it’s going Dutch instead of coming out of joint money. We’re having a lot of the conversations, but it’s very broken up. Bari I call them quickies in the kitchen, but it could be just like 15 minutes in the car, 15 minutes out for a meal. It’s all these different moments of piecemeal conversations. Was it date one? Was it three months, six months in when you said, “Let’s talk about credit scores and debt?” How did you approach that? Cait We actually talked about it before we went out on our first date. We met online like any well-respecting millennial. We started talking about because we were about an hour and a half away from each other, it was texting first and then it was, “Hey, would you like to just hop on the phone and chat?” I love to talk on the phone. I really hate texting. I know that that’s not normal for most millennials. I hate it. She however, hates talking on the phone. Somehow I convinced her to talk with me on the phone and we chatted and we had amazing conversation. It was something that we actually started really looking forward to as we were in the giddy/infatuation stage of dating. We had conversations about this, that or the other. All sorts of stuff. Gender studies, diversity research and money and finance and so forth. Religion. Probably about the seventh or eighth day of talking on the phone each night, our schedules were in conflict with each other on meeting up. We couldn’t meet up until literally about three weeks after being introduced and meeting one another online because she was a professor – a TA. It was finals time and it was just too much. We were just like, “Let’s just chat and see how it goes before we can meet up.” That’s where it came out. We discussed religion one night, we discussed why we were on a dating site, what we were looking for – everything. We had some fairly good, transparent conversations upfront so that we didn’t meet up and waste our time. We were both at a point where weren’t looking to just date casually. We wanted to date to find a long term partner. Bari I love it. My husband and I had separate accounts for seven years. Even though we were transparent about everything and even do that, “I’ll pay for groceries and then you pay for groceries,” and then we would total it up and it would be the same amount. We realized this was ridiculous. At some point I got pregnant – intentionally- and it was time to merge. There’s no right way, but I love that you have separate and then you’re going to do a joint and then it’s going to be a percentage of where each of you are at income-wise. You’re in really different place right now. Then go from there. Okay, tell us – I know we’re getting towards time, but tell us about one good fight you had and how you got through it. Then I just want to hear more about what’s next for your work. Cait I think one money fight that we had was we were vetting a budgeting software. This was right before I got into the review portion of the CFP. There’s a timeframe where you’re in the education portion and then you go into the review portion. It’s like you’re at two times speed and then you go to 10 times speed. When you’re on the two times speed, you think that you’re managing. You’re like, “Oh, this is okay. We can do this.” I’m busy, but the stress level is not uncontrollable. We started looking at budgeting software. This was around July. I was like, “Why don’t you link your account here.” It’s an amazing software. I love it. It’s called – I can’t think of it. I’ll think of it in just a second and give them plug for them because they’re so good as far as for couples. They’re great because it’s – Zeta. It’s called Ask Zeta. Bari Never heard of it! Cait Yeah. It’s a great app because you can link individual accounts, you can link joint accounts, you can show what you want to be able to show to the other partner, you can hide what you don’t want to show if you’re at a point to where you’re cohabitating, but not fully incorporated with money. I was like, “Hey, why don’t you throw your checking account in so we can see how the functionality works.” For me, as a financial coach to tinker with it and apps were my forte. She’s like, “I don’t really feel comfortable with that.” I was like, “What do you mean, baby?” She’s felt comfortable with everything along the way. In my mind of her projecting her trust level with me and so on and so forth, we’ve had everything fairly seamless financially and conversations that we’ve had. She’s like “I don’t want to do that. I thought we were going to set up a spreadsheet and you were going to build it out and just do the charts. I thought we were going to do the joint account and I have mine and you have your individual accounts.” I was like, “Okay, what’s going on with this?” She said something and I said something, I got triggered and she got triggered. It turned into a fight. We don’t yell at one another. We’re not a couple who yells. We yelled and screamed and slammed doors and slammed closets and she grabbed a suitcase and she was gone. She was gone. Finally, I got back into my window of tolerance and I put my hand on her back. That may not always be the greatest thing for some, but for her she is someone that when she is out of her window of tolerance, if you touch her she is then able to breathe and come back into her body. I touched her and I was like, “Slow down.” I used my – she calls it my Cait charming voice. I was like, “Baby, slow down.” We breathed and I held her and I said, “Let’s just set this aside for half an hour and come back to us and come back to our love for one another. We can discuss this again when we’re ready.” We discussed it again a little more. Briefly that night, we agreed to table it. We also aren’t really a couple that stonewalls or isolates or ignores. We intentionally set things aside. We intentionally set it aside for the next day and I finally was like, “Are you ready to discuss what happened?” She mentioned some of her money story and some of the things that happened for her. I won’t go into great detail with that, but a piece that I do feel like she would be okay with me sharing was that she hadn’t always had control of her money either. It was triggering for her to even just show that. That could potentially mean losing her autonomy. I was like, “Oh, honey. The feminist in me is never going to allow that.” We even discussed before she moved in that she would have an oh crap fund. She’s always going to have her, “How do I get out” fund. That’s very important to me that each person is able to keep their autonomy and freedom amidst the relationship. Bari But it go triggered. It just got triggered by you presenting what you thought was this great couples thing where you both could hide what you wanted to. We never know what it’s going to be, whether it’s a spreadsheet or just the concept of merging. It can trigger. It can just trigger all of that old stuff. Wow. What a great fight. Thank you. Cait Yeah. Absolutely. Bari I really appreciated it when you said, “I put my hand on her and I know that that’s not always the right move.” For some people, when they’re angry, if a hand – even if it’s just gently, gently with love and intention put on someone – that’s not the right move. But you know that for her, it is. Cait Yeah. We even giggled about that in bed this morning. If I lean over in the morning and check my phone – I try not to. I have ADD, however, and sometimes – the phone is like the greatest opening hit for me. We make a lot of agreements with one another that I won’t be on my phone at night – nor will she – in the first few moments in the morning, etcetera. But I was rubbing her back this morning as we were cuddling in bed before work and I grabbed my phone. That’s her kryptonite is her head or her back being stroked. She was like, “You can pretty much get away with murder just if you rub my back.” I’m like, “I know,” and she’s like, “I know! That’s why I won’t let you touch me most of the time if I’m angry with you because I can’t be angry any longer.” Yeah, for her, I knew very intentionally that it was safe and that I was a safe person. But not for everyone. You have to be incredibly cognizant of your partner or of your friends and family so that it doesn’t make a difficult situation even more difficult. Bari And when to use it. You knew after going through the fighting and the screaming and the slamming doors and being triggered when it was time to actually pull that out and calm it down and come back. To be continued in another moment. I’m going to check out Ask Zeta. It sounds like you probably have an article on your favorite list of all the apps because of who you are and because you’re a millennial and all of that. I’m still like, “I love the bookkeeping systems! I love Mint and YNAB and QuickBooks and Money Minder.” I have yet to explore all the apps and to hear how that’s working for you both down the road. I’d love to hear that. Cait Yeah. Absolutely. Bari Yeah. As a way to complete – there is so much here – in the next six months/year what are you excited about? Whether it’s with Smart Path, with your work – share more about how folks can find you and what’s happening with your work over the next year. Cait Yeah. The next six months – oh, my goodness. I’m at a point of who knows because of passing the CFP now. That was my next big accomplishment. I would say that passing this exam was the largest thing that I have done professionally in general. I would say that it was even bigger than my MBA because of the amount of tenacity and work that has to be put in to be able to prepare for this exam. Bari Can I read what you wrote on Facebook? Cait Oh, yeah. Please. Bari It took one year, 2000 flashcards, 800 hours of studying on your own, 288 hours of lectures, 250 hours of review on your own, 70+ missed social events, 40+ hours of YouTube tutorials, 10 poster-sized flashcards, six text books, three review text books, two online CFP support forums and one fulltime job and on and on, one incredibly supportive girlfriend, unlimited support from family and friends and you passed. Cait I passed. Bari You passed. You can watch Netflix; you can go on more dates. You don’t even know what you can do. Cait Oh, yeah. That’s the big thing. Katrina told me that I owe her a lot of dates. We will probably do a lot of time discovering one another personally. We know one another personally, but on a fun level. Since we’ve been dating, I’ve been working at startup and I was building that at night. Then I started the CFP curriculum and she’s in a PhD program. We’ve gone through a lot of strife from the beginning of our relationship. A lot of what many couples get into later and are tested later, we were tested up front. I think we’re going to use this time to have fun. We have a wedding to go to this weekend – a couple friend of ours. It’s going to be a weekend away in the mountains. I’m doing some pro-bono student loan talks for different universities. I’m going to get to just network and see. Fortunately, with my employer, we’re very, very transparent. They know and I know from them that if the opportunity unfolds here to progress and move into further leadership, that’s the route I’ll go. Or, if there’s an opportunity that’s presented that is more aligned with my long term journey, that’s also the route that I would go. I think it will be kind of two-fold. I’ll either be continuing to move forward with Smart Path and Smart Path’s leadership or going with an incredibly diverse financial planning or financial coaching firm where I’m really a cultural add. We will see. As far as where you can find me, I definitely encourage – if anyone is interested in monthly financial coaching and it’s something that aligns with where they are, it’s $39 a month. It’s incredibly affordable. My employer is JoinSmartPath.com. I also recently launched a blog website which is fairly rudimentary right now, but it will be expanded upon as I move more of my writing there. It’s DiversifyFinancialPlaning.com. And I’m all over social media, so please feel free to follow me. Bari Cait, congratulations on passing. Congratulations on arriving in this moment in your life and career. Enjoy and celebrate and best wishes on all this extra time that you’re going to have with Katrina and where you’re going. Thank you so much for sharing some of your stories with all of us today. Cait Of course. Thank you. Thank you for having me.
I loved this mature, thoughtful and grounded conversation, and I hope you do too, dear friend.
Cait is a Financial Coach, Accredited Financial Counselor, and Candidate for CFP® Certification who infuses authenticity and inspiration with proven financial processes to yield innovative, ideal and sustainable financial plans for each of her client’s unique journeys. She is a Student Loan and Relationships & Money Specialist; her ideal niches include the XY Generation, LGBTQ+ individuals and progressive and unconventional professionals. Her additional interests include Trauma-Informed Financial Practices, Emotionally Focused Coaching, LGBTQ+ advocacy, podcasting, and her golden retriever Charlie.
Because money plays a crucial role in most aspects of an individual’s daily life, it is imperative to understand and acknowledge the relationship between identity, diversity, and finance. Cait has chosen to pursue Financial Planning because she believes all individuals should be afforded equal access to Financial Coaching and Financial Planning. As a lesbian Financial Planner, she strives to provide each of her clients equitable access to the tools and information which are necessary for them to understand their financial options, most effectively manage their money, and accomplish their financial goals.
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