Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profiles series, where you’ll get the inside scoop on their best money tips.
In the Guatemalan Highlands, a stove is a luxury. Most people cook over wood burning fires on dirt floors inside their homes. Women spend hours every day just gathering wood to make the fires. The smoke that fills their homes causes respiratory illness. Children suffer from burns on a regular basis.
Installing something as simple as a stove for families in these communities makes an impact that can improve the future of an entire community. That’s what inspired Northwestern Mutual Wealth Management Advisor Karin Larrave to make a trip to Guatemala, where she was born, 16 years ago and spend a week installing stoves.
Each year since, Larrave, who lives in Dallas now, has returned for week-long mission trips, eventually, inspiring others to join her. Many of her clients are medical professionals — doctors and dentists — and they join her on the trips and provide free healthcare to people who might otherwise not have access to it.
You have a strong passion for the charitable work you do. Where does that come from?
Years ago, I sat down and wrote out what I really wanted in life. As I thought about what was important to me, I realized it was to make an impact on people’s lives. That’s true about everything I do, whether it’s financial planning or the work we do on the mission trips.
The trips are one week out of the year. And that week is amazing. But when we leave, we’ve made an impact that will last much longer. Our work gives entire communities the tools to lift themselves out of poverty. The stoves mean the women in these communities won’t have to deal with their families' illnesses or their children’s burns. The women won’t have to spend days gathering firewood. Our work frees them to do other things.
Years back, when my clients started to come with me, a surgeon fixed a man’s cataracts. The man told me he’d been contemplating suicide because his blindness was a burden on his family. The medical treatment restored his sense of self-worth and saved his life.
“Money’s just a tool. You are who you are, with or without money.”
And these doctors, who are your clients, take time off work and travel at their expense for these trips?
They tell me it’s the hardest — but most meaningful — work they do. And they make no money doing it! Fourteen years ago, when I first brought a doctor on a trip with me, we got to the airport and a man in a wheelchair came up to us. He thanked us because the doctor was going to give him prosthetic legs. His joy inspired me to want to inspire others. Today, I challenge the doctors I meet with to give me a week to go on these trips. Last September, a group of 120 of us went to Guatemala. The group saw 1,600 patients and did 144 surgeries in six days.
Another doctor fixed a cleft palate for a child. The child is now perfect thanks to the doctor’s generosity. You see the happiness of the people we help, the smiles on their faces and that happiness becomes something you want. Often, the doctors tell me that the work helps to keep them grounded.
You’re from Guatemala, but you didn’t grow up there?
I grew up in Mexico City. My mother moved us there when I was five years old, after my father was kidnapped and killed in Guatemala. He was an architect and civil engineer and had run for mayor of the city where we lived, and there was a lot of political unrest at that time. My mother was understandably scared, so we moved in with my grandfather, who was an ambassador in Mexico City.
I came to America when I was 35. I have been a citizen here for 20 years. I have two wonderful children and a granddaughter, Sophia.
What did you learn from your mother about money?
I learned that it can come and go. I also learned that money doesn't define you. Money’s just a tool. You are who you are, with or without money.
What’s really important is your integrity. It’s who you are. Money can be built again.
What have you taught your kids about money?
I’ve tried to educate them. I taught them about the power of compounding, the dangers of credit card debt and some investing lessons like making sure they rebalance their investments. But most importantly, I want them to be good stewards of money and to give a little of what they make to people who are not as fortunate.
What’s the biggest mistake you see Americans making with their finances?
I think some people see money as happiness. Don’t get me wrong, it can help you be happier. But when I go to Guatemala, the people in the Highlands are some of the happiest people. You see them and wonder, How can these people be so happy? These are people who have nothing. Then you realize that you can’t buy happiness, love, health or friendship. You can’t buy the things that we’re really looking for in life.
I think in America, time is money and we work, work, work. Sometimes we don’t take time to smell the roses.
What’s your favorite part of the day?
The early morning. I like to see the sunrise. It’s makes me realize that the day is a new opportunity.
What’s the best $20 you ever spent?
Giving money to the children in Guatemala. I give a dollar to each of the kids we meet. Money can be an amazing tool that leads to conversations. Sometimes they just talk about how they want to go buy candy. But sometimes it leads to something deeper as they imagine what they could do with money. You see all the great potential in these children.