A financial powerhouse on turning 50, feminism, money + mental health.

written by Bari Tessler January 14, 2020
My chat with financial powerhouse Manisha Thakor {Money Memoir}

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.

Dearest community:

We just opened the doors 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 have the absolute pleasure of interviewing Manisha Thakor, who I have known about for so many years — watching her on TV, and reading her books — but we have never met in person!

Manisha is such a high-profile person in the financial world. A real powerhouse.

A Certified Financial Planner, 25-year veteran of the Financial Services industry, and armed with an MBA from Harvard, she is super-passionate about financial literacy for women…

…so that is going to be part of what we speak about — though not all.

Manisha is also on the cusp of her 50s (I’m so excited to welcome her to this wonderful club!) so we touch on what that means for us both.

… We also delve into too-often taboo topics like the impact of mental health on money — and the similarities between dieting and budgeting (yes, there’s a big thick gooey emotional layer to each!).

Plus, the #1 thing she’s learned from managing money for the uber-wealthy.

So, listen to my talk with the one-and-only Manisha Thakor — and hear as she shares in her bright, brilliant and thoughtful way:

  • How turning 50 has sparked a bit of a “soul-based crisis” — and in turn a significant shift in her identity, her career, her relationships, her life, and her ego. (Her very own Eat Pray Love moment!)
  • How she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder; why her extreme symptoms were seen as “normal” during her time on Wall Street; and the journey she’s been on in her head and her heart since.
  • The different ways our mood affects our relationship to money, and how it doesn’t (…plus I touch on the common patterns I’ve seen in my clients, with complete compassion.)
  • 3 things Manisha did consistently over the years that will cover up a lot of financial mistakes — you don’t have to be perfect if you focus on these!
  • How visiting family in India instilled in her a joyful frugality she still practices today. (Including why toilet roll is a real source of abundance for each of us!)
  • How important it is to be in financial alignment with your spouse — and the extent to which this was a painful part of her own marriage, pre-divorce.
  • The 3 books that were fundamental to her approach to finances (we share one of these from childhood, which was delightful) — and the impact Virgina Woolf had on her relationship to money as a woman.
  • The biggest money mistake she made that still haunts her — and how she works with the difficult emotions that flare up to this day.

Also available on iTunes!

Transcription Here:

Bari Welcome, everyone to my beloved Money Memoir interview series that I’ve been doing for many, many, many years now. Today, I have the honor of interviewing Manisha Thakor, who I have known for so many years in the field and we have never met. Which is just amazing to me. I’m so honored and excited to have her today. I’m going to read a little bit about her bio and then we’ll dive in.   Manisha is a certified financial planner. She also earned her MBA from Harvard Business School. She is a 25 year veteran of the financial services industry and she is very passionate about financial literacy for women. She started off on the institutional side of the business, working at various points as an analyst, portfolio manager and client relations executive for institutional money management firms with billions of dollars in assets under management.   In 2009, she switched gears to focus on individuals; launching her financial education consultancy. In 2012, she started her own female-focused registered investment advisory firm, Money Zen Wealth Management.   In 2015, she merged that practice into Buckingham Strategic Wealth, where she took on the role of Director of Wealth Strategies for Women. Today, she serves as the Vice President of Financial Education at Brighton Jones. She sits on the Board of the National Endowment for Financial Education and on Faculty at the Omega Institute for Women’s Leadership. She’s also the co-author of two personal finance books for young women in the 20s and 30s called On My Own Two Feet and Get Financially Naked.   Manisha very happily lives in Portland, Oregon. She’s visited over 37 countries. I am so excited to have you here today. Welcome.   Manisha Bari, it is such a pleasure to actually get to talk to you after all of these years of knowing about your wonderful work.   Bari I feel the same. I feel the same. It’s amazing that we haven’t actually met. I’ve known about you for so many years. You were such a high profile person in the financial planning world and you did so much TV for a long time. I don’t know if you’re doing that any longer. We can talk about that. I have your books and so on. It’s so wonderful to have you today. Thank you.   Okay. Where are you at right now? If you’ll give us a little snapshot of family, work, life. Where are you at and what’s really important to you at this time?   Manisha Oh, my. I am turning 50 next year and I can’t believe how quickly that has come up on me. I am smack in the middle of a midlife crises. I got divorced a couple of years ago. My family lives on the east coast and I thought about heading back, but that felt like announcing I failed adulting. I did my own version of Eat, Love, Pray and I rented places on Airbnb. In my crazy divorce brain, the metric that I used to pick cities was the density of good coffee per capita as defined by Third Wave Coffee Houses.   I landed in Portland in August and anybody who has ever been to Portland, Oregon in August knows it’s like love at first site. I moved here without knowing a single person. I’m telling this story because it reflects back in many ways on money and the rest of the things.   I left with my Mini Cooper, my books and my clothes. That’s what I left my marriage with. I wanted a clean slate. When I moved to Portland, I didn’t even have a fork with me. Everything that I brought into my new life was a conscious decision to bring it in. From possessions to work to hobbies, the only thing I left consistent were family and friends.   I’m in Portland, Oregon right now and I work for a wonderful wealth management firm based out of Seattle called Brighton Jones. I’m living my dream life because my role at the firm is really to help spread the word about the power of financial education and financial well-being.   Bari Amazing! I turned 50 at the beginning of this year, so I will welcome you to the wonderful club. I’ve been celebrating the entire year. It’s been travel, there was a photo shoot in Montreal because I just wanted to visit a new city. I met my photographer there and did photos of me now and a little boudoir even. It’s been a year-long celebration.   I love that you say for you that it’s a bit of a mid-life crisis and a big transition from getting divorced and moving across the country. I know Portland in August because we’ve always been there in July and August and think it’s the most ideal place to live It’s so sunny.   Manisha One thing that just hit me is I forgot to mention the crisis part of all of it. Not that getting divorced isn’t a crisis. Approaching 50, I don’t have kids and I’m thinking, “What is my purpose here? What am I supposed to do?” The politically correct answer would be to say to keep doing what I am doing and just to keep educating. But I’m really having a soul-based crisis. What happens in this world that I was orbiting in when I was doing a lot of TV and all of that is it’s like your ego gets sucked out of your head by this gigantic magnet. It’s right in front of you all the time.   I don’t want to be that person anymore, so I’m trying to figure out – we all have an ego. I’m trying to figure out how to quiet mine and really figure out what I want to do for the next 50 years.   Bari Real honest. I appreciate that about you. I could sense just from afar that you have been going through a really significant shift in identity, in your work, in your ego. So much. You were someone who did so much TV and that always impressed me. I’m not someone who could do that.   You did so much and you were everywhere. You were on every single media outlet; you wrote two books young. It’s all relative. We all have different timelines for success markers. You wrote those books.   Could you share a little bit more about that journey? You share it, but just how your work has shifted from working and managing such large investment portfolios to moving more into financial literacy for women to having your own first and business. Then choosing – what I saw on your website – is an ideal job for you. There’s such a journey in there for yourself and your work and where you’re at.   I hear that you’re still in the process of discovering that. Can you just share a little bit more about that journey?   Manisha Sure. I feel like when I left the institutional world, I had a really strong desire to help individuals. I loved my time on the institutional side, but you’re managing portfolios for endowments, foundations, corporations and you establish wonderful relationships with your counterparts on the client side, but you never really get to – you don’t really get to see – the end client, the person who is benefiting from that portfolio that you’re managing.   I wanted to see what kind of difference I could make in real people’s lives. I feel like there’s so much – I don’t know if I would call it pressure – to be an entrepreneur these days. I decided to start my own wealth management practice. This was while I was still married and living in Santé Fe New Mexico. It turns out I’m a really crappy entrepreneur. I just am. I love the piece of the business which is helping people manage their money, but when you have your own practice, you have employees and compliance and payroll. There are all of these other bits and pieces of it.   I bring that up because I feel like entrepreneurship has been such a wonderful path for so many women, but it’s not right for all of us. I felt a lot of shame when I put up the red flag and said, “I can’t do this. I’m really bad at this.” I realized that I’m what I now call an intrapreneur. I’m great at building businesses within an entity. I love being able to use the resources of an existing entity to create something new.   It was really hard to admit to myself, especially coming from business school where that’s Nirvana to start your own company and see it grow and flourish and IPO. Realizing that was not going to be my path because I was not good at it.   Once I made peace with that, I finally settled in and realized the real question is how do you help people? The financial services industry so often is set up to help wealthy people, but how do you get to be wealthy if no one will help you? That’s been the piece that I’ve been focused on. One of the things that I’m most excited about with my work at Brighton Jones is we’ve historically managed money for people with a million dollars or more, but we have launched a division where we can manage money for anyone who is out of debt and starting to save and wants high quality advice and guidance.   For the first time in years, I feel really proud to say that I’m a part of the financial advisory industry because I feel like I’m at a place and a firm where we can help everyone.   Part of the reason I have kept Money Zen going as a separate entity – or side gig – is I needed a vehicle where I could help and teach anyone. I’m excited to see both worlds, my corporate job and my side gig, all come together in terms of being able to make a broader impact irrespective of income level and asset level.   Bari It’s so important and I think it’s changing. I’m seeing a few more companies pop up where they’re willing and want to support people at all different income levels. If you’ve got 50,000, if you’ve got 100,000. That’s so important because it’s been so inaccessible to so many people. You’re getting to work with people from all different lineage, economic backgrounds and income levels. Wonderful.   There’s so much more there. But I also know there’s been such an inner journey for you. You spoke about it. Realizing you’re not that kind of entrepreneur, you’re more of an intrapreneur and some shame around that. I think it’s a psycho-spiritual practice for all of us when we’re starting a business. No one talks about that, but it is.   In your own personal journey, I know you have a spiritual practice. I sense you’ve been to therapy.   Manisha A lot. A lot of therapy.   Bari Share some about that. Again, you were in such a high profile, out there so much, and I know you’ve had a big inner change and transformation and journey that you’ve been on along the way. You chose to get a divorce and are moving into different work that combines so much.   Tell us about some of the inner journey that you’ve been on as you’re heading into 50.   Manisha The biggest piece – and I’ll start at the end of this story – is that three years ago I was finally properly diagnosed as bipolar. Starting in early college – which is oftentimes when you see onset of bipolar or schizophrenia, I was having these wild swings between depression and then feeling like everything was fine. When I was depressed, the first thing I did was go to the student clinic at Wellesley where I did my undergrad. You start with talk therapy and blah, blah, blah. Then I moved on and graduated and kept seeking therapeutic help in the form of talk therapy, which definitely helped. I feel like all of us – it’s the rare individual that doesn’t haves stuff to sort through. In my case, this is a little bit of a long answer but I want to explain how the stuff meshes with the mental health diagnosis and why I’m so public about saying that I’m bipolar.   Growing up, I was fat, chubby – I’m of Indian heritage and Indian women often have hair in parts of their faces where no woman should have hair. I grew up in a small town in Indiana and there were no threading boutiques. I was an odd duck from the very beginning. I didn’t fit in.   The only place I found solace was with adults. I found that the harder I studied, the more accolades I would get from teachers. Because I wasn’t invited to the slumber parties or the dances or anything else, my identity became very, very tightly linked to work.   Then, when I got to college and beyond, I would have these periods where I would work like a maniac and pull all-nighters and just be so intense and driven. But in the institutional Wall Streety world, that’s just called being a good employee. As I was vacillating between depression and these periods of crazy intense work, no one thought that was abnormal. Who wouldn’t crash after months and months of 100 hour weeks?   It turned out – and I actually had to see several different psychiatrists before I was actually properly diagnosed. I feel like my inner journey has been on two different levels. One is psychological and making peace with the little girl who felt unwanted. I think so many of us have that person. It blows my mind that it literally has taken 40 years to get over what happened to me when I was in fifth and sixth grade.   Then, the chemical journey that I’ve been on and getting properly diagnosed. It’s just given me such awareness of how little emphasis as a society we place on helping the traditional medical establishment identify individuals with chemical imbalances who truly have a mental illness and need to be, in my case, on atypical anti-psychotics in order to function.   It’s been an interesting path because it’s been both in my heart and in my head. Literally and figuratively.   Bari Thank you so much for sharing that openly and honestly. I saw that you shared that on your website and facts about you. Everything from your favorite warm drink to how many countries you’ve traveled to and things you’re working with. You share that you’re bipolar. That’s just so real. It’s so real that, for you, in the financial world is normal behavior; the amount of hours, the mania. It’s just all part of it. That was so normal, which says so much about our culture.   I’m just so happy that, however long it’s taken – some of us, it takes a long, long time. That was part of why in my 20s I went to train to be a therapist. It was to work on childhood and to make it through those years. I don’t think I would have if I hadn’t have done my own therapy and trained to be a therapist. The fact that you found talk therapy, which works to some degree. Then there’s trauma therapy and there’s other modalities that may be more beneficial in addition to talk therapy.   Manisha I feel like there’s no one right answer. It’s such an overused phrase, but it really is like peeling back an onion. In my personal case, I needed talk therapy to clear off that outer layer so it could be clear that there really was something fundamentally wrong at the core of my onion – chemically wrong. Had I not had talk therapy and worked through all of those issues, there might have still been confusion about what really was the root cause in my head.   I want to make sure that it didn’t come across as if I was saying that talk therapy is not a useful tool. I think it’s incredibly valuable. Any method that brings you peace and helps you get closer to identifying whatever pain is inside of you and help expunge is invaluable. For each one of us, it’s different. For some people, it’s cranial sacral therapy. For some people, it’s somatic. It’s so individual, but it’s also so universal. It’s the rare person who doesn’t have some pain inside of them. The question is: are you going to be a person who acknowledges it, addresses it and, like a splinter, helps it move out of you over time or are you going to form a cyst around it, close in around it and let it be inside of you and be painful for your whole life?   Bari Yes, true. True. I just resonated that talk therapy was the doorway in. It’s so important. It was for me, too, until I found my way to somatic therapy. I wouldn’t have found it if I hadn’t had started with talk therapy. Whatever the doorway we’re in, it’s all part of peeling back the layers, as you’re saying.   Do you find that you have made connections around mental health and relationship to money for women in that more women have come to you with mental health issues? There’s a spectrum, so that’s almost all of us. We’re somewhere on the spectrum there. Can you share a little bit about any connections – I know that’s probably a huge topic.   Manisha It is and it’s one that I feel I want to spend as much time talking about publicly. You can look at somebody’s resume and think, “Wow. That’s a fancy resume.” But I want people to know two things. One, having a mental illness does not – or having chemical imbalances in your brain – does not prevent you from accomplishing things that you want to and dreaming big and achieving those dreams.   At the same time, there’s so much stigma around it. I try to talk about it as much as possible because I want people to talk about it like, “I have a cavity.” Or, “I broke my arm.” I wish it would be a less judgmental type of topic and it’s not. I have to say, it’s not that I’m so brave. I started talking about it the moment I stopped working with clients one on one. Once I had merged my practice and I started taking on more of a thought leader type role – both within Money Zen and within my corporate jobs – then I felt free to speak openly about it.   That’s tough. If you had worked your tushy off and had $7 million and wanted to come to a wealth manager and then said, “By the way, I’m bipolar,” how would that feel to you? Is that something that I should disclose? I have a lot of mixed feelings around it, but I can understand why so many people, for so many reasons – societally or professionally – struggle with whether or not to be open about their mental challenges.   Ironically, so many people with mental health issues are so talented. To have those gifts of theirs to be curtailed because they’re not getting care because we don’t talk about it enough, I think is a state of affairs that if I pass my time on earth and I’ve made a tiny little bit of progress in terms of changing that algorithm, I’ll feel like I did something.   Bari Yeah. I mean, I can see if someone is looking for a wealth manager… I don’t know. It depends if they’re working with a mental illness themselves or their own chemical imbalance, they may want someone like you who has been through it and knows that experience. Certainly, if you’re a financial coach, financial therapist, money coach – in those roles – then I would think people would flock to you.   It’s different. Its unique. We’re all individual and we’re all unique and then we share patterns as well. Any money patterns – and then we’ll start moving more into your own money story – but any money patterns as we begin that you can identify that have been impacted by having a chemical imbalance and a strategy of how you’ve learned for yourself how to work with it.   Manisha That’s a really interesting question. I’ve never thought about it that way. Let me rewind and maybe answer it in two parts. You asked earlier and I didn’t address this: whether talking about it led more people to come and reach out. That has absolutely been the case. I found it all over the place. I find it with people who have read something I wrote and ended up on the website and saw I had it and reached out. Anytime I mention it, it’s a magnet for anybody who is struggling because we don’t hear people talk about it.   I have found that, without a doubt, many women – particularly those who struggle with deep depression and anxiety and have felt shamed by their families or their broader communities for having widely fluctuating moods really have felt comfortable talking with me.   In terms of money habits, though, what’s fascinating is that those of us with mental health challenges are the same as everybody else. There are savers and there are spenders. There are people who open the menu and look at the left side first and people who look at the right side first. People who are interested in the experience, no matter what the cost, and the people who are interested in the cost, no matter what the experience.   Bari I love that.   Manisha In that way, I think the human condition is the same when it comes to dealing with money in that there’s a wide range of a spectrum. Nothing I’ve noticed specifically other than to say one of the signs of bipolar – in some people – can be when they’re in mania they engage in either excessive gambling or excessive – way over the top – spending. That’s one trait that sometimes you see with mania. That, literally, is the only thing that I’ve noticed is different.   Bari I would say that one thing I did see more with depression, I think, with some clients is they couldn’t stick to any kind of bookkeeping system or paying their bills on time. I remember that over the years. There was a lot of procrastination. That’s a really interesting term in itself. We all have that in varying degrees. I don’t even think I like that word, really.   Yeah, I noticed that some of my folks who were more in a deep depressive state, they just could not get themselves to have a consistent bookkeeping practice where they were looking and paying bills on time. It was really hard to create a practice, a money practice with money dates. That’s what I noticed on that side.   With mania, we could see the extra spending in certain phases or gambling. I don’t know if that resonates with you.   Manisha It absolutely does. I was interviewing Laura Vandercam, who is a time management expert. If people haven’t heard of her work, it’s wonderful. Her signature books is 168 Hours, which is how many hours we have in a week. She helps people time leaks, places where they could be better allocating those 168 hours.   She was saying that when people say, “I don’t have time,” what they’re really saying is that it’s not a priority. When you’re in deep depression, of course it’s not a priority. You are in so much pain, all you can do is try and get out of bed, stop crying, put one foot in front of the other. I think people who don’t have or experienced depression don’t understand. They’ll say it’s in your head. It’s in our heads, but in a very different way. We’re in self-protection mode, oftentimes.   That would make total sense to me.   The line between financial coaching and a lot of the institutional work that I’ve done is a fascinating one to me. I think the really fun, interesting part is on the financial coaching side because that really gets to the intersection of money and life and your heart and everything that you really care about.   As I’m thinking about it out loud here, I’m realizing I probably have not seen that as frequently as you have. In the environment in which I have, up to this point, worked with people around money, they have what I call their glossy face on. People don’t walk into a portfolio manager’s office oftentimes and be as honest as they would with a money therapist and a money coach. They feel like, “Okay, this is a safe place to let myself be myself.” The Wall Streety world is really not a safe place to be yourself.   Bari Right. Right. Exactly. I don’t work privately with folks anymore. I typically teach in my large group program with a lot of folks each year. I’m giving them all the tools so when they show up to that glossy place, that glossy meeting, they can stay in their bodies, they can ask the new questions that they didn’t know that they could ask before. They can stand up for things or they can say, “Really, where is my money going? Is it in line with my values? Trying to give people so many tools and skills and practices and strategies so that when they show up – and that they find someone that they feel safe with, too.   Let’s go into a little bit about your money story and how it was created and formed. What’s worked and what’s hasn’t? Any challenges and successes and things you’ve had to overcome and how you’ve done that.   I’d like to start with: What are the main set of emotions that come up for you around money? That could be what they are now and then we’ll start moving more into what they were and you’re childhood. I’d love to hear more about that.   Manisha Now my biggest emotion around money is: Should I take the plunge or not? I have hit the point where I can afford to retire and I’m really struggling. Do I want to retire and devote myself to volunteer work? Do I want to continue to work full time? Do I want to figure out some type of part time arrangement?   I feel like I’m at a point where I’m trying to figure out – Okay, I climbed the summit. I saved. I invested. I did all the things that you’re supposed to do and they involved a lot of sacrifices over the years. Now I’m at the top of the summit and I’m looking around and I’m thinking, “Now what?” Do I go down this path or do I go down that path? How do I want to get back down the mountain? Do I want to get back down the mountain?   That’s where I am right now. I say that because a lot of people think, “Oh, if I just get rid of my debt. If I could just earn more money. If I can just be sure that when I run my retirement simulations it shows that I have 99.9999% odds of not outliving my money and suddenly you won’t have any conundrums. You do. Also, even though when I run – in the industry we call it a Monte Carlo simulation where we do lots of different iterations, assuming different rates of returns of the market in different orders, different levels of inflation and assuming you live to 80/90/100/110. Even though my Monte Carlo shows that I could spend twice as much money as I’m currently spending, I still worry about being a bag lady.   I would say that that’s the other piece that I find so fascinating. I did all the right things to end up in a really financially stable place and I know in the rational side of my brain that I’m borrowing something completely catastrophic and my odds of ending up a bag lady are exceptionally small, but that’s the biggest fear. I feel like I’ve got a conundrum and a fear right now around money.   Bari I want to know how you work with that. I’m assuming that you’re a saver. You were a saver as a little girl. That was your role. You took that on. I’d love to hear more. You mentioned your family is from India or is Indian. I don’t know if your parents are from India. Please share more about that.   Yeah, let’s go back there first and then we can move into how you work with that. There’s enough. There’s more than enough. All the algorithms are telling you. You still have some mind chatter and some fears that come up.   Manisha Terror. It’s not just mind chatter. It’s terror when the bag lady thought comes in.   My dad came over from India to go to grad school. It’s the classic story with the suitcase the $100. He climbed up from the bootstraps and had an amazingly successful career. He ultimately ended up becoming the Chief Financial Officer for a Fortune 500 company. At the time, it was a company called Arvin Industries, which made mufflers for 90% of the cars in America. It’s since been in a variety of conglomerates. It was world headquartered in Columbus, Indiana where Cummins Engine Company is also headquartered.   My mom is American from upstate New York. I come from a mixed race background. I would say that my parents have had such an influence and I feel so blessed. My dad, contrary to a lot of fathers, particularly in Southeast Asia, always talk to me about money the same way he’s always talked to my brother about money.   One of my earliest money memories that is really seared in my brain is this father/daughter bonding exercise we had where my dad sat me down with his HP12C calculator and showed me how to use it to compound out if I saved the max in my IRA – which at that time was $2000 years ago. I put my babysitting and lawnmowing money in there hypothetically speaking and it grew at 6%, 7%, 8% how much I’d have. Just seeing and using that calculator to get a visceral and tactile sense of compounding at such a young age was massive.   My mom was total bra-burning feminist in the ‘70s when I was born and in my early formative years. She had me play with gender neutral toys and one of my favorite books was Free to be You and Me.   Bari Me too!   Manisha My mom taught me that money gives women voices and choices. That’s what money gives women. I had tools from my dad and the emotional encouragement and logic to become a good steward of money from such a young age.   What’s interesting is that it was never about accumulating a lot of stuff. It wasn’t until I graduated from high school that I realized what an amazing job my dad had. Deliberately, we always lived beneath our means. Always. That’s a whole other story we could talk about, living beneath your means. As a result, I feel like I started with really positive money influences. That’s part of the reason I’m so passionate about helping young women get this information. It’s useful at any point in your life, but the earlier you can get it, the better.   Bari Yeah. I love what you were taught by both of your parents. I mean, how beautiful, how special. Really, you got such important life skills from each of them. That father/daughter bonding, were you 12?   Manisha I was 11.   Bari Eleven. My son’s age. Wow. Wow. Free to be You and Me, younger than that.   Manisha Right.   Bari The father/daughter, “This is compound interest” meetings. Amazing. Okay. What were you going to say?   Manisha Now that I reflect back on it, one of the things that really crystalized it all for me was when I read Virginia Wolf’s book A Room of One’s Own. That kind of brought it all together, this notion that essentially she says that a woman can’t create without space and she used a number of 500 pounds at a time – the UK. The point being that you need some space to yourself and some money to yourself in order to be able to create. In 1917, when she wrote the book – or whenever it was – was a revolutionary thought. That really pulled it all together to me.   I was always a saver, but it was with the idea – not that I wanted to acquire a bunch of stuff, but that I wanted to acquire as many options to be able to leave a relationship if it’s not working or a job if it’s not working or help somebody and do random acts of kindness. It wasn’t ever about stuff for me.   Bari Yeah, I get that. It’s about choice. It’s about giving. It’s about having the time. I read that same book and didn’t notice anything about the money. I noticed about the space and really having your own space. I didn’t quite get the money thing until later. I love that you saw both of those clearly in there.   So many women that I’ve met over the years are terrified to leave a marriage because of money, because they don’t have their own or they’ve raised the kids – which is equal contribution, but they don’t have the resources sitting for them to feel comfortable to leave.   Manisha That’s terrifying. I mean absolutely terrifying. When you think about it, in years past, we used to have so much – when I talk about years past, I mean 100/150 years ago. We controlled so much more of our individual life in the sense that we grew our food, we built our own homes. Obviously, one person didn’t do all of that on their own, but collectively we engaged in life-sustaining activities ourselves.   Today, the way we engage in life-sustaining activities is by using money to get them. The thought of leaving with that understanding of money is essentially the thought of leaving without the tools for survival in the modern world. I think that has never been easy for women to leave a bad relationship. In any time, there have been different societal issues going on. But I do think these days that it’s an even deeper trigger, the fear of leaving without understanding money or worrying about having enough. It’s an even deeper fear.   Bari Yeah. Do you think there’s other strengths or challenges that you received from your lineage from either side?   Manisha Yeah. I think there are a couple that come to mind. There are some classic stories that my dad would tell me when I was growing up and he still tells me them these days when I need a reminder.   One in particular that really sticks with me is this story of the icebox repair person. Back in the day, long ago in the day, they called refrigerators iceboxes. The story goes that there was a villager who had the first icebox in the village. It was a huge deal and he was really proud of it, but it broke. His wife was down doing the washing at the river in the village with the other women and lamenting about this and one of the women says, “Hey, I heard there’s this amazing icebox repair person three villages away.”   They sent word for the repair person to come. Finally, the big day arrived and the repair person shows up. The husband is so excited and he brings him into the eating area where the icebox was and the repair person lays out all of their tools. The husband goes out to the fields to work and comes back in at lunch and it looks as if the repair person hasn’t moved. He trusted that this was an expert and goes back out to the fields and comes back in at the end of the day. Now there’s dust forming around and it’s very clear that the repair person hasn’t moved. Just as the husband was about the lose his marbles and start screaming, the repair person jumps up, hits the icebox with a hammer and suddenly the icebox starts working.   He turns to the husband and says, “That will be 500 rupees.” At this point, the husband totally unloads and he’s like, “500 rupees?! I could have done that.” The repair person goes, “No, no, no. I’m only charging you 1 rupee for hitting the refrigerator. I’m charging you 499 rupees to figure out where to hit the refrigerator.”   As it relates to money, what I find is the actual action steps required to be a good steward of your money, logistically, are pretty straightforward. The hard part is unraveling all the emotions to allow you to get to the point where you can act on those basic timeless principles.   I think what I always took away from that story was how important it is to find the handful of things that really matter and that you can control and the intersection of that is where you should be focused on when it comes to your money. That has definitely stuck with me.   The other thing that has stuck with me is we went to India probably every other summer when I was growing up. I saw India long before the economic reforms. I remember back in the day we would take these huge samsonite suitcases full of toilet paper – the non-scratchy kind – because that was such a delicacy. We would arrive and we would gift our family soft toilet paper. They were so excited.   We would bring things like Prell Shampoo for those who remember back in the day. Dove Soap and Kellogg’s Bran Flakes. These were such items that were treated with such joy and used so sparingly. Now, you can be in an airport in Mumbai and you would have no idea if you were in Mumbai or if you were in the airport in San Francisco, things are so modern.   Having seen that, it’s been seared in my mind. I also feel that there’s a level of frugality that runs through my brain from a result of having at a young age seen what a third world country is really like. My family in India was solidly upper middle class. We had it way better. Just traveling around the country, you see so many other people who are, quite literally, part of the huge portion of the population – even still today – living $5 or less a day. Once you see that, you can’t unsee it.   Bari Whenever I tell stories of little, little things that make me feel abundant, I talk about toilet paper. I feel like that seems odd, but you’re revealing that it’s not. Soft toilet paper and having a full basket of that is what me, personally to this day, I feel very abundant. Along with the flowers and good chocolate. Just a basket full of soft toilet paper. It’s like I can remember times in my 20s when I didn’t.   You’re sharing so much. I’m having so many thoughts. Let’s see. Okay, one is that I was asked recently why when a financial planner gives their client this perfect plan with all the calculations perfect – this is exactly what you need to do to retire. Why do people not do it? Your first story is a metaphor for that. Your first story shows that, yes, there are very clear series and this is exactly the habits or strategies or the framework for what you do to be able to retire at this age or that age.   Then there’s all the emotional points or pain points or how we work with our own emotions that come up around money to help us navigate so that we can work with some set of a financial plan to get us to this future or longer term goals.   Manisha I think people need to be gentle with themselves around any difficulty they might experience in putting in place a financial plan. For me, it’s super easy for me to follow those instructions. But the instructions: eat less, exercise more – that I’ve been struggling with my entire life. I bounce between a size 6 and a size 12. Back and forth.   I can remember one time I went to do at TV hit and I hadn’t been in the studio for a year. The last time I was there, I was at the 12 end and this time I was at the 6 end. One of the associate producers said, “Oh, you had the baby!” I remember just thinking that we all struggle with different things. I know the formula for staying at a healthy weight. For emotional reasons, I’m a binge eaters. I work at it, I read all the books. It’s a constant practice that I have to engage in on a daily basis to eat normally.   I think for many people, that’s what happens to them with money. What’s underlying binge eating when it happens to me is emotions. When people aren’t sticking to a financial plan, underlying that is some type of emotion. Be gentle with ourselves. It doesn’t mean that we don’t have to do the hard work, it just means that we don’t have to self-flagellate while we’re doing the hard work.   Bari Exactly. As women, we shapeshift. Our bodies shapeshift. Hormones change. Perimenopause happens. It changes our bodies. Sometimes emotional eating is okay. I’m adding in gentleness to this as well. In a long life, we’re going to go through different phases and we’re going to go to different relationships to what our appetite is, what size our bodies are. Similar to what size our bank accounts are and the ebbs and flows we have there as well. It’s a long term and fine-tuning journey of how to work with all the ins and outs and the emotions of this.   Please, let’s detour into a challenging money experience that you had that you got through. Now, I know for a lot of my financial planners – because you’re natural savers, because you’re natural at being frugal, because you’re so natural at future and long term planning, sometimes I interview a financial planner who says, “No, I’ve been planning since I was so young,” and he came from a permaculture background, that he could not come up with a challenging money experience where there was a curveball. He’s such a good planner, that he’s planned for everything and he works on resilience.   Do you have a story for us?   Manisha I do. I have an extended family member, who I adore, who was going through some financial challenges – I’ll use gender neutral pronouns here in case any of my family are listening – challenging issues of their own creation. I was trying to help out financially. I helped and then I was asked for more help and I gave and I was asked for more help and I gave. Every time that I gave help, I gave financial guidance as well. Pretty soon, I saw that there was no behavior change going on here.   I love this person and they’re part of my family. How do I… do I cut them off? What do I do? Especially in the Indian culture – in any culture – family is so meaningful. It’s deeply inculcated in the Indian community that your extended community is like your limbs. Your cousins are like your brothers and sisters. In fact, they call them cousin-brother/cousin-sister. It was really painful for me to have to tell this person that I could not help them anymore with anything other than advice and guidance until I saw some change in behavior. That just ripped… that was so hard. I kept thinking, “I am so fortunate. I could solve all of this person’s problems tomorrow. With one check, I could solve them all.”   I remember crying and crying about it and asking the universe what I should do. I’m happy to say that without the lifeline of financial help from other directions, people are resilient and this family member is now doing great.   Bari That’s a whole thing. It wasn’t so much about you, but it’s about the people that are closest to you and their own money relationship and their own patterns and their own habits and their own money story. For this person, they may have been a pattern of needing to be saved, asking to be saved, asking for others to help.   There’s nothing wrong with sharing money or passing on money or giving gift money or giving a loan. There’s moments for all of that. But it sounds like there had been some of that in many different forms and you came to a place where it felt like it would be enabling or it felt like it wasn’t the right move for you to write them the check. It may have solved some issues, but would habits or patterns of behavior have changed? We don’t know. Or maybe there was history where it didn’t.   The person was able to come to their own change and move through it on their own?   Manisha That’s exactly what happened. When I think about it, because I’ve always lived beneath my means – I remember when I got out of Harvard Business School, for my first three years working, I had two black suits, two pairs of heels – I was living in Houston at the time – and I had two sundresses and a pair of jeans and two t-shirts. I had barely anything.   I was saving, saving, saving. As a result of that saving habit and because my profession was investing before I moved into the individual side with the financial planning, I didn’t accrue debt, I saved voraciously and I started to invest early and often. When you do those three things, you can cover up an awful lot of other mistakes. There have been periods of time where I spent money on stupid things, but my mistakes had a deeper safety net because I was doing those things right.   Where I’ve had extreme pain around money has been in relationships. My ex-husband is an amazing human being. His goal is to die with exactly zero in his bank account; to maximize every last ounce of joy of the money that he has. My goal was to live off of my dividends and interest and pass on the money I had to charity and my nieces and nephews. We could not have been further apart on our outlooks on money. That was really painful.   I think what I want to say is there are a variety – I made a mistake. I thought I could change him and he thought he could change me. We divorced amicably, but we made mistakes in misjudging how important it is to be in financial alignment in relationships. I guess what I want to say is that we all make mistakes and struggle with money in different ways.   The last example that I’ll give – and I’m not proud of this at all; in fact, I’ll tear up as I say it because I always do. I didn’t go to my grandmother’s funeral because I was in San Francisco with my fancy big job, staying at the Four Seasons and I thought these meetings that I had were so important. In my quest to build my career and move forward and be an executive, I didn’t go to my own grandmother’s funeral. I look back and I think, “How effed up was my value system?” In my mind, this is what I thought: She’s passed. She loves me. She’s up there. She knows I care.   It never even occurred to me that funerals are about the living and my mom needed me and my aunt needed me and my grandmother’s partner needed me.   I’ve made a lot of money mistakes. They may not be that I screwed up my credit score because of this, but they’ve been painful ones because they involved love and the heart and emotions and humanity.   Bari Right. You had the money, clearly, to go. That wasn’t the issue. You were choosing…   Manisha I made a very, very bad choice. I did and I can’t take it back.   Bari How do you work with that? You tell the story, you cry, you feel the pain of that misstep and that choice. I can see your face. I can see you.   Manisha You can see. Yeah. I try and not fight the feeling. I try and let it be a good reminder. That’s my grandmother sending a message down to me. “Honey, it’s okay. You screwed up. Let’s just not do that again. Don’t put work and career ahead of family and friends and what really matters in life.” I try to take it as a message, but it still makes me incredibly sad when I think about that. I don’t think that the goal should be to make the sadness go away, but to think, “Okay, what can I do with this?”   I can help other people by sharing this story in hopes that they don’t make the same mistake in terms of prioritizing things in an order that they may come to regret down the road. I don’t want to say you shouldn’t put career ahead of this or that. It’s different for everyone. The question is: At the end of the day, will you be happy with the order of focus and priority that you’ve put on things?   Bari It’s different at all times. What I’m hearing is that for you it’s telling the story, sharing it and really learning a lesson through it so that you have made different choices since then; really living the lesson and doing it differently. Yeah. Really talking with your grandma still.   Manisha Yes. Yes.   Bari I can see that. Let’s go full circle a little bit. With all of this, how are you working with the emotions of the terror or the fear of the bag lady coming up? That’s not what the numbers show, that’s what the retirement accounts show. You can retire now, as you’re stepping into your 50th year. How are you going to continue to work with those emotions around that?   Manisha First, I want to acknowledge that it’s a highbrow problem to have. I meet so many incredibly smart, hardworking people who are drowning in student loan debt, struggling with financial burdens that come about because they’re dealing with elderly parents while trying to raise children, while trying to work. Hearing somebody whine that they’re afraid their going to run out of money when they have plenty can sound really annoying.   For me, I think it comes down to trying to remember what the whole purpose of having money was in the very beginning years of my life when I first learned about it. That was to have a voice and to have choices. I feel very blessed that I haven’t always made the right choices, but I have had the ability to have a voice and make choices. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s there for.   I also remind myself that the things that bring me the greatest joy in life are always small, daily joys – really simple things. When we started talking, I spoke about how when I moved to Portland, I didn’t even have a fork. Everything that came into my life was a deliberate addition. I was really mindful about what I chose to bring in.   We can live on a lot less than we think. That’s what I learned from starting all over again. How little it I need to be happy. I remind myself that I hope that doesn’t happen, but if it were to happen, most likely I would bounce back like a Weeble Wobble. Would it be fun? No.   There’s a core resilience in most of us. Especially if we at least know the financial steps. I don’t know if there’s a better way to think about it or expunge the fear. I try not to fight it. I try to just be like, “Okay. I have fear flowing through me around this,” and know that I also have an energetic flow of strength too.   I don’t have a clear answer, and I think that is the answer.   Bari No, you just shared quite a few things. You don’t fight it. You don’t push it away. You sit in it and let it move through you. At the same time, you also have a different version of the story or a different part of you that’s there holding… you will bounce back. You have the strength. You’re resilient. You’ve been through lots of things. That probably won’t happen, but even if it does…   You work with it. I hear that you work with it. You sit with it. You feel it. You say hello. We all have different things that come up. Is the tape going to completely go away? Sometimes they do, but sometimes they just get quieter and quieter and say, “Oh, hello. I’m here. Miss Bag Lady is saying hello.” I really appreciate you saying that it may sound annoying to all of you to have this. But this is your story. You’ve been working on this since you were really young. Some things have come natural for you. Then, you’ve had other challenges, as you spoke about. About having a chemical imbalance.   It doesn’t mean that we have saved so much money or we have so much money in our bank accounts that we have no issues. You know that, I know that. We’ve seen that for years. Yes, it helps to have all of your basic needs met and go from there.   What’s on the horizon for you? I know you’re on the verge of 50, as we’ve said. You’re on the verge of some unknown, too. You don’t know. Any visions coming through? You’ve shared a lot, so anything else?   Manisha Yeah. I love Martha Beck’s book, Finding Your North Star. My north star right now is a podcast that I launched that came about very serendipitously in a conversation with the CEO of Brighton Jones. It’s called Truth Wellth. It is the most enjoyable professional experience I’ve ever had. His point was after 20 years of managing money for really rich people, he knew without a doubt that money does not bring happiness and that happiness comes from aligning the way you spend your money and your time with what matters most to you in life.   We wanted to figure out how you do that. If you define wellbeing as social, emotional, physical and financial components, what are the steps – the baby steps, the radical reboots – that can help people get that money, time, meaning alignment with what they want out of their life.   I am having the best time and I’m hoping that I might be able to convince you to come on. I really am enjoying having people go on this journey with me because I’m trying to figure out what is true wellth.   That’s the thing that’s been bringing me the greatest joy.   Bari I love it. I love it. I think in almost every interview, I’ve talked about the equation of money-time-energy-family and health. My last interview, she added in social/political parts. She’s a black woman, a single woman of four boys. She said that’s the sixth part of the equation that she would add in; her view, her experience. Does that resonate with you? Is there another one that you would add?   Manisha   I feel like when I boil it down to managing your time and your money, I highlight those two because those are the inputs that enable us to have this space to do the activism that we want, have the space and the resources to take the time to participate in the kinds of community activities that will make the difference that we want to make.   I feel like when I hear all of those, to me, those are just beautiful slices of the pie that I would call meaning. Meaning is different for all of us. To me, the goal is – I call my side gig, my side operation Money Zen. To me, it’s this sense that you are able to take your scarce resources in terms of time and money and squeeze as much meaning and joy out of them as you can.   I think we’re all saying the same thing in just different ways.   Bari Yeah. I love it. Everyone can find you at… Is it Money Zen?   Manisha MoneyZen.com   Bari Okay. Beautiful. Anything else to complete anything about your money story, this time in your life? Anything else?   Manisha I think the biggest thing I want to share is that I had worked for two self-made billionaires when I was on the institutional side of my career. Both amazing, amazing human beings that built their businesses from scratch. Incredibly generous.   But what I’ve come to realize is it doesn’t matter how much money you have. The most important things to both of them were their families. There were deaths and pains and divorces and all kinds of things that happen within families and it doesn’t matter how much money you have. When it comes to money, I think the thing that I’m finally realizing is that in the first half of my life I spent so much time focusing on the mechanics of money. What I’ve had as a result of being able to see up close people with exceptional amounts of wealth is the mechanics are important because it’s not fun to be drowning in debt. It feels like you’re being smothered.   But on the same token, you don’t want to have false thinking that the elimination of money problems is going to solve everything. There’s a road between it that’s all the emotional muck inside of us. Whether you’re super rich or you are on the verge of foreclosure, you can have the same amount of financial muck inside of you. It doesn’t feel good. That’s the human journey. It’s getting that out and sorting through it and taking away what should stay and letting go of what needs to be let go of.   It’s trite to say money doesn’t bring you happiness. Well, it does when you can’t pay your bills. It really brings you happiness. It relieves stress. I think that’s a ridiculous statement.   I want to say there are a lot of similarities in terms of – when you look back on your life – what matters and what doesn’t matter is much more soul-based than we may give credit to in our busy, busy 24/7 always on social media world.   Bari Manisha, thank you so much for being on with me today. Thank you for your story. Thank you for your wisdom. Thank you for all that you’ve gone through and are willing to share so openly and honestly. Thank you so much. I’m so excited to finally get to meet you as we’re both… heading into 50th, as we’re both stepping into and are in our 50th year. Thank you, thank you.   Manisha Bari, thank you so much. You have done such amazing work. It’s just unbelievable to see how many lives you’ve touched with your work, so it’s a real treat and honor to get to speak with you here today.   Bari Thank you.

Blessings,

Manisha Thakor is a Certified Financial Planner. She also earned her MBA from Harvard Business School.

A 25-year veteran of the financial services industry, Manisha is a passionate financial literacy advocate for women. She started off on the institutional side of the business, working at various points as an analyst, portfolio manager, and client relations executive for institutional money management firms with billions of dollars in assets under management.

In 2009, she switched gears to focus on individuals, launching my Financial Education consultancy. In 2012, she started my own female-focused registered investment advisory firm, MoneyZen Wealth Management as a member of The BAM Alliance. In 2015 she merged that practice into Buckingham Strategic Wealth where she took on the role of Director of Wealth Strategies for Women. Today she serves as the Vice President of Financial Education at Brighton Jones.

She sits on the board of The National Endowment for Financial Education and on faculty at The Omega Institute’s Women’s Leadership Center. She is also the co-author of two personal finance primers for young women in their 20s and 30s called On My Own Two Feet and Get Financially Naked. Manisha happily lives in Portland, OR and has visited 37 countries.

P.S. What’s a Money Memoir? In this interview mini-series, I talk to folks from all different backgrounds and walks of life — and ask them to share real stories about money. The good, the hard, and the triumphant. Because we ALL have money wisdom and gems to share. And sometimes, just hearing someone open up lets our own healing begin. As is tradition around Art of Money headquarters, each year we publish a new series of Money Memoirs to give you a taste of the kinds of things we help people within inside my flagship program:

Art of Money 2019

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We only start this journey once a year (so it’s kind of a big deal!)

If you’re ready to create a more on-your-game and in-the-know, swagger-in-your-step and sleeping-like-a-peaceful-baby relationship with money in 2020 … this is for you.

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