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.
Mindy Wilke has been fascinated by money and finance for as long as she can remember — she started helping her dad do his business taxes when she was 12.
Wilke, who lives in Franklin, Wisconsin, with her husband and 5-year-old son, turned her passion into a career by becoming a wealth management advisor at Northwestern Mutual, and was recently voted Milwaukee Magazine’s Best of: Wealth Manager.
Here, she shares how she learned about money at a young age, and what she’s teaching her son about it now.
What’s the best financial advice you ever got?
It was pretty basic: Don’t ever buy something you can’t afford and always save your money. My mom and dad drilled that into me to the point that I have been a saver my entire life. Money wasn’t taboo in our house. We talked about it a lot.
My dad wanted me to be fiercely independent financially. He never wanted me to depend on anyone else for money. My mom actually got me my first savings account. We opened it when I was seven. My mom taught me early on the importance of earning interest on my savings balance.
Were you interested in money from that early age?
I was fascinated by it. And that grew quickly. By the time I was 12, I would sit at the kitchen table with my dad and do his business tax returns with him. He was always an entrepreneur. I used to go to work with him, and I would watch him fill out his general ledger and write out all his income and expenses. I loved it. It just all made so much sense in my head. It inspired me to start my own businesses when I was in high school. It also made me extremely aware of the impact taxes have on your income and the importance of managing them.
What businesses did you start?
I looked at babysitting as a business. I made myself a weekly schedule of available hours that I could babysit for people and I would make sure I had them all fully booked to maximize my time and earning potential.
But I also learned about computers and I would coach executives at a big local company in Racine, Wisconsin, where I grew up, about how to set up their home computers so that they could use their business programs at their house.
Did your parents ever become your clients?
It’s an interesting story. In the beginning, my dad wasn’t happy about me joining Northwestern Mutual. I had a really good job at an investments firm when I decided to make the switch. He thought I had a lot of job security and didn’t understand why I would leave it for something different. Because of his reaction, I didn’t initially bring up the idea of working with him and my mom.
I’ll never forget what happened that finally moved me to call my parents. About three years after I started at Northwestern Mutual, I had a conversation with a new potential client. He and his wife were about my parents’ age. They were business owners like my dad. They even lived near my parents. When I talked to them I asked all my usual questions: What would you do if someone got hurt, or if you became wildly successful? When we got to the end of the conversation, they told me no one had ever asked them questions like that. And no one ever helped them see how everything they had fit together financially.
Specifically, the wife wanted to cancel an old life insurance policy. I helped her see why it made sense to keep it as part of an overall plan. She died a week later. It was totally unexpected.
After that, the husband moved everything over to us and became my client. I helped him take care of everything. That’s the reason I picked up the phone to call my parents. They told me they’d been waiting three years for me to call them.
So they became my clients. My dad passed away a few years ago. We knew it was coming and he and I had a lot of conversations in his last few months, so I knew exactly what he wanted from a financial perspective. Today I handle everything for my mom.
What’s the biggest mistake you see Americans make with their money?
Families don’t talk about it. And specifically, they don’t talk about what they want it to do for them. Husbands and wives don’t have important conversations. And parents and kids rarely talk enough about it. When we meet with clients, we make every effort for couples to meet together, even if we have to do a conference call.
Why do you think it’s so important for couples to meet with you together?
We find that often one person in the relationship tends to understand the couple’s finances better. But each person has similar questions, like whether they’ll be able to pay for their kids’ college or if they can spend money on a home renovation and still be OK. Despite having similar questions, we find that couples oftentimes aren’t talking compatibly.
We help our clients bridge that gap. We spend time trying to really understand where each person is coming from and what they want. And then we also like to involve adult children in the conversations. That way, in addition to helping husbands and wives get on the same page, we’re also helping generations of a family understand how everyone’s financial lives come together.
How are you teaching your son about money?
He already knows a lot. But the most important thing is that he knows he’s never given it. He has to earn it. It’s simple things like helping me set the table or getting clothes from the dryer. That’s going to be our approach throughout life.
We tell him that he will have to earn his education. He’s going to have to pay for it. He has a money jar where he puts money that he earns from us. Next year, I’m planning to start conversations with him about spending his money on two things: saving for the future, mainly college, and spending on himself now. He has to feel that current reward while also saving for his future.
We are saving into a 529 for him, but I’m not telling him about it, and I’m not sure that he will get it. I want him to go through college believing that he will pay for it, even if he has to take out loans. I think that’s the only way he’ll truly understand the value of his education. But I have this dream that I will write a very heartfelt card for his graduation that will tell him what a wonderful child he has been and how proud we are of the adult he has become. That’s how I’ll tell him that we paid off his student loans.
I wouldn’t even necessarily recommend this approach with my clients, because I’ll have to pay a penalty since you can’t currently use a 529 to pay for student loans. But that’s how important it is to me that he believes he’s paying for his education.