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.
Many adults couldn’t tell you what an amortization table is. Cindy Gunawan’s mom first showed her one when she was 10. You could say she got a more advanced financial education from her parents than most kids get.
Gunawan immigrated to the U.S. with her parents from Jakarta, Indonesia when she was 10.
Gunawan recently got married and now splits her time between Lafayette, Louisiana (where she grew up)and Houston, where her husband teaches special education and coaches high school football. She works with clients in both cities.
When did you first start learning about money?
I was 7 or 8 when my mom took me to a bank and opened an account. She taught me what interest was. I’ll never forget it. Then a few years later, when my parents were buying their home in Louisiana, they taught me about paying interest on debt. My mom actually pulled out the amortization table to show me the benefits of paying down a loan faster at the start when you’re paying more to interest than what you actually owe. Most people don’t even really know what an amortization table is; here I am, 10 years old and I understand that it’s easier to shorten the life of a loan when you pay more up front.
By the time I was 14, my dad, who worked on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, used to expect me to know his 401(k) balance so I could tell him how he was doing financially when he called in from the rig. He’d get upset if I didn’t know it or if I didn’t calculate everything correctly.
My parents also spent a lot of time teaching me the importance of saving. When I was in college and working part time at a retail store, I had the opportunity to buy company stock. I jumped at it. From a very young age, I had a really good grasp about how you pay interest on money you borrow and you make it on money you save. Those lessons helped me save early and to be very deliberate about when I took on debt.
"Most people don’t even really know what an amortization table is, and here I am, 10 years old and I understand it."
Congratulations on your recent marriage! How did you meet your husband?
We met randomly while I was at a meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio. We dated long distance for about six months before he proposed. We got married a year later.
For our honeymoon, I was hoping to go to all seven continents — that’s a goal I’d set when I first started with Northwestern Mutual. It took me 14 years to find the right guy. Once I found him and we started planning, we realized that taking six months off work to do it all at once wasn’t going to be realistic, so we’re breaking up the trips into 3 parts. We went to Asia and Australia in 2016, Europe and South America last year and we’re planning to do to Antarctica and South Africa this year.
Who is your role model?
Her name is Sharon Moss. She owns three car dealerships in Lafayette. I kept seeing her commercials and heard great things about her in the community. I thought she was such a great role model, a woman in a business which is dominated by men. She was very generous in the community and just seemed to have a great lifestyle, so I called her out of the blue one day and asked if she would be my mentor. She said, “Yes!”
We developed a great relationship over time. It’s funny. She was teaching me about developing a business, and I never actually talked to her about financial advice. One day she called me out of the blue and told me that she needed life insurance for some of her key employees and asked if I could help her. Now she’s my client too!
What’s the first thing you do each morning?
I check my accounts. I watch my money very closely. I had my identity stolen a few years back, so I watch for suspicious activity. I also frequently catch my credit card companies charging different amounts than what I signed up for.
What mistakes do you see people making with money?
When I talk to people about money, they often don’t know what they’re paying in interest on debt or what they’re making in interest on savings or investments. Someday, I hope to teach my own children what my parents instilled in me at a young age. Debt — which can be good when used wisely — costs you money. Saving, makes you money. When you pay attention to both, you have a great financial foundation.