Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profile series.
The summer after graduating from Valparaiso University with a degree in political science and international relations, Sarah Tinkler was waiting for the results of her LSATs and the exam she had taken at the State Department so she could pursue her dream job of working in an embassy abroad. So when she landed a job as an associate financial representative (AFR) for Northwestern Mutual in Madison, Wisconsin, it was just to pay the bills. Instead, it sparked a profound realization.
“Until that point, I didn’t understand that anyone armed with the right knowledge can achieve whatever they want financially,” Tinkler says. “It was a light-bulb moment: Oh, this can be learned. This is how people have really nice homes, make big philanthropic donations and send their kids to college without student loans. I really didn’t know that it was just a knowledge gap.”
Tinkler spent the next 11 years racking up multiple financial certifications and building relationships before opening her own office in Denver where she works as a wealth management advisor. Below she shares the personal realizations that have shaped her career, how she’s focused on building an all-inclusive practice and why she believes financial planning is ultimately about making dreams happen.
What are your earliest memories about money?
I was the youngest of five kids growing up in a blue-collar town in southern Wisconsin. It was a happy, healthy home, but money was always extremely tight. The subject was so contentious that, as a family, we all avoided talking about it. I didn’t even know my sister had a financial advisor until she introduced me to him because I needed a job and he knew the Madison office was hiring. I have since found that families avoiding money conversations is really common. I have a lot of clients who say they love their partner so much that they don’t want to talk about money with them because it might invite contention into the relationship.
What was the best piece of financial advice you’ve ever heard?
Earn more money. That may sound flippant, but I work with a lot of women. We have to get righteously frustrated that in our society, the standard financial advice messaging for women is to cut costs: clip coupons and skip your daily latte. But for men, it’s typically focused on how to ask for that promotion or start a business. Anyone can — and should — feel empowered to earn extra income from a side hustle or negotiate for higher pay from their employer.
What do you say to someone who is on the fence about financial planning?
Most human beings are not wired to be budgeters so it’s important to normalize that. You may think you can’t meet with a financial advisor because they’re going to put you on such a strict budget that you’re going to be eating cat food every day. But a really good financial advisor helps you do all the things that bring you joy and satisfaction today — and makes sure you won’t be eating cat food in your retirement years.
What does successful financial planning look like?
It begins with having a safe place to talk about your money psychology and mustering the courage to go through all of your goals and dreams and take ownership of what is important to you. Then, you need to take action. Having a trusted advisor is like having a personal trainer who can show you the great things you can achieve and then push you to do it. Left to our own devices most of us won’t go to the gym unless we have someone who’s holding us accountable — and doing that with compassion.
Your office staff is mostly women. How did you build your team?
During the pandemic, I realized that what I thought was a trailblazing approach to empathetic planning was not unique, and that there was a national hunger for this style of planning from national and local colleagues, my clients and my potential clients. We've created a community of people of color and women financial advisors. I discovered this is true no matter who you are: feminist finds feminist and queer-friendly, gender-nonconforming, nonbinary people can find like financial advisors. You may have to do some searching, but your community is waiting for you.
What are the biggest mistakes you see Americans making with their money?
Most Americans don’t pay their dreams first. So many Americans are not taking the vacation because they’re spending their money on quick hits of enjoyment or distraction as opposed to putting that money into a savings account and going on their dream vacation every year. They’re frittering away their money on tiny, imperceptible monthly expenditures.
Do you have a big financial goal for yourself right now?
In my personal financial planning, my emergency savings, my retirement plan and my long-term goals are all on track. Therefore, every other dollar that I make can go into my savings and investment accounts, which gives me the freedom to take epic vacations. The best part is that I take one of my 13 nieces and nephews on a big trip every year. My three oldest nieces have picked Fiji, Bali and Tahiti. The next one on my list is a nephew who wants to go on a snowboarding trip in Revelstoke, Canada next winter. The adventures have been incredible and the one-on-one time talking about life for a week was precious.
How do you like to give back?
I’m on the Board of Directors for Project PAVE, a local nonprofit here in Denver that is dedicated to ending violence by empowering youth to build healthy relationships. They focus on prevention training and education, with programs that provide additional school counselors and help high school students understand what’s OK and what isn’t in relationships.
We also had a huge presence at Denver Pride last year with a booth for both days of the festival, a 5k team, and a float in the parade. We wanted to show that Northwestern Mutual is a safe brand where folks who may identify in the LGBTQ+ space can become clients without fear of judgment and can become financial advisors and build their careers here with a sense of inclusion and safety.
What do you love most about your job?
I love sitting down with someone who’s been feeling hopeless, scared or anxious and getting them to articulate their goals and then running the nerdy financial analysis to show them that with hard work and supportive accountability, they will be able to achieve them. To be able to tell someone, especially a woman, that you’re going to be OK — I’ve got you. Seeing that moment of relief wash across someone’s face is so important and poignant. This is particularly true with widows and divorcees. They’re often terrified because they don’t know where they stand.
But everyone, even those who don’t want to admit it, has some money anxiousness. Being able to pivot anyone of any gender, any age, any walk of life, from that state to a place of positivity and optimism is why we do this. It’s about making every single one of their dreams happen.
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