When Shayne Corriea-Fernandez was growing up, talking about money was largely taboo. Her parents were children of immigrant farm workers and money was always tight, so “the only time it was ever really talked about was the fact that we didn’t have any,” she says.

It wasn’t until Corriea-Fernandez experienced what she calls “a perfect storm” of events — including a divorce, her father’s death and experiencing a short-term disability, among other things — that she realized she needed to talk about money and finances with someone. She started working with a Northwestern Mutual financial advisor and about six months in, decided to start the training to become one herself. She recognized how having a financial plan was helping her, and she wanted to help others — especially women of color — experience the same.

Nearly five years later, the Sacramento, California–based financial advisor shares who influenced her personal financial planning journey, and how she’s passing those lessons along to her two children.

Why do you think money was such a taboo topic growing up?

In my family and my culture, financial planning, or finances in general, wasn’t discussed. My father is Portuguese and my mother is Mexican. They were both farm workers and their parents were immigrants. They struggled to make money, so that’s why it wasn’t talked about. It wasn’t even fathomable that I would need to know about financial planning or even own my own practice or business. Looking back now, I get it.

How did you shake yourself of that mindset?

I had a brilliant stepfather in my late teenage years who instilled in me the dream of going to college and explained how it would afford me opportunities and options.

Then in college I took a class with a judge who taught a course on family law. She became my mentor. She taught me about the professional world, about owning a business and what it was like to be a woman in a man’s industry. I would have these conversations with her about money and finances, and that’s how my mindset started changing. I started broadening my horizons and learned there was more to me than just following in my parents’ footsteps.

When she left the bench and started doing mediation and arbitration, she needed somebody to run her business development team. She gave me a chance. I started out for four hours a day, minimum wage, and then I just grew. I worked there for 17 years; I climbed the ladder and became an executive. She took me under her wing and saw something in me that I didn’t. She’s retired now, but to this day, she’s still my number-one cheerleader.

My daughter is being immersed in finances — so completely opposite from how I was raised.

You’re a single mom to your son, Jesse, 24, and daughter, Maya, 10. How have you tried to instill financial values in them?

When Jesse was about 10 years old, he came home one day and said “I need to earn money.” I said something flippant like, “Well, go mow the lawn.” But then he came back with a slogan and logo, and started printing out flyers, walking around town and asking to do people’s lawns. Then in high school, fashion was his passion, so he started a fashion line. He had that entrepreneurial spirit, and I encouraged it. Everything I gleaned from my mentor, I started relaying to him. I taught him that if you’ve got the work ethic, the money will come.

My daughter loves to bake and was always in the kitchen baking for friends. She came to me one day and said, “Mommy, you own your own business, I’m going to own my own baking business.” From there, I helped her create a logo and promoted her on my Facebook. Now she’s doing parties every weekend or so. I’m helping her learn about financial planning with the money she earns. We created a bucket for spending, a bucket for investing and a bucket for donating. I’m trying to instill philanthropy in her. The more she makes, the more she has to give back to the community. She’s being immersed in finances — so completely opposite from how I was raised.

How do you like to give back?

I started a nonprofit called SWAG, Sacramento Women Achieving Greatness. We offer personal and professional development workshops, we do a lot of philanthropy and we also host advocacy events. When I was going through troubled times, I realized I was looking for that sisterhood that could help me. I’ve noticed strong women don’t necessarily reach out for support. So as I was learning about financial planning, it inspired me to want to give back to women — not just emotionally, but with tools for how to run your own business, or run your family and your finances.

What’s the biggest problem you see Americans making with money?

I think we just have an insurmountable amount of debt. We get plagued by credit card requests all the time, and folks are living beyond their means. A lot of the people I meet with are people of color, especially women of color, and I find they don’t have a lot of access to information, just like I didn’t. They don’t always know the right way to pay down debt or how to get started with a financial plan. So I come into a client relationship asking, how do I educate and teach first?

What’s the best piece of financial advice you have ever received?

Take it one baby step at a time. Tackle your debt or saving in small, incremental amounts, until you’re able to take those big leaps. Those small steps will start compounding. You don’t have to have it all in order to do financial planning. You just need to start somewhere.

What’s your biggest personal financial goal?

As soon as I started with Northwestern Mutual, I told Jesse he should do an internship. So he did an internship with Northwestern Mutual and when he graduated, he went full time. He’s been in the business for three years now and is doing great things. My biggest goal is in 2021 to merge businesses with Jesse. We’re trying to create that mother-son dynamic duo. And after we do that, I’d like to purchase my retirement home.

How do you like to spend life living?

We love to travel. Any time I go to a meeting or summit or wherever I’m asked to speak, I always tack on two to three days to play. I am all about living life. My biological dad died when he was in his late 50s. He worked so hard every single day and didn’t get to live life fully. I don’t want that to happen to me. So when I’m working, I’m going nonstop, and then usually every other week I take a day off or leave work early. For single parents, I think work-life balance is an illusion; it’s more about how you master your time. You have to carve out a sliver of time to meditate, a sliver of time to help the kids with their homework, etc. I can’t work nonstop and not enjoy life.

What’s the most satisfying moment you’ve had as a financial advisor?

It’s when clients tell me that if it weren’t for me, they wouldn’t be out of debt or have a plan in place. I have one client who I met three-and-a-half years ago. She had a number of credit cards and she was making really good money, but she didn’t have her debt under control. We worked together, and today she has all that debt paid off. She is covered with disability and life insurance for her and her entire family, and she’s putting away for retirement. She took the trip of a lifetime to Egypt. She’s living the life of her dreams. And she now happens to be one of my best friends.

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