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.
Erik Gomez is just as serious about taking time off to restore and unplug as he is about working hard. The Newport, California-based financial advisor for Northwestern Mutual is an avid baseball fan and likens the way he works to the baseball season: You play hard for nine innings, five or six days a week, for six or seven months. Then, when the season is over, no matter what happened, you give yourself downtime before you get back in the gym and go at it again.
Gomez presses pause on his hectic life between Memorial Day and Labor Day, when he’s “90 percent unplugged” from daily work activities. He considers that time a summer sabbatical where he can spend time with family, reflect on the past year and think about what needs to change for the upcoming year.
Read on to learn how he makes that happen, the biggest money mistake he sees people make, and how he thinks a shift in mindset can help people reach their goals.
Who first taught you about money?
In my family, money wasn’t ever really talked about. I think that’s common in a lot of cultures. It was one of those taboo topics like sex, religion or politics — it was just something you didn’t discuss. I would say that ended up being one of the motivators to start my own financial planning practice. I wanted to empower myself and my family around money, but I also wanted to empower others who were aiming for the same financial security I was.
The person who taught me about money early on was my grandfather. He built an international manufacturing company on basically a fifth-grade education. From the age of 5 he had me start working with him. I obviously wasn’t doing any major work, it was more the idea of getting up every day and sticking to a routine, putting your work boots on, going out to the machine shop and grabbing some tools for him. From the time I was 5 until I was 18, I was working with my hands. It taught me what it’s like to earn a dollar and how hard they come, so I think that gave me an appreciation for hard work.
What I wish I’d learned more about was the value of saving. While I’ve always known what it was like to work hard, until I became a financial advisor, I was like a lot of people who think financial security comes simply by making more money. But the reality is you have to think through your end game and goals, and plan financially to get there.
What’s the best piece of financial advice you’ve heard?
The one that really comes to mind is the idea of paying yourself first. As responsible adults, most everybody pays their bills — their car payment, house, electric bill and so on. But then what most people try to do is save what's left over every single month, which can be very little or nothing. Then you say you’ll save a little bit next month instead, and the cycle continues. But the concept of paying yourself is that you create a “bill” for saving and just make it a monthly budget line item. I really adopted that philosophy myself, but it’s never easy. It just becomes easier because you're building that savings habit, that discipline.
What’s the biggest mistake you see Americans making with money?
People tend to have limiting beliefs around their money, like thinking, “I don’t make enough to save” or “I'll get around to it tomorrow.” In addition, I find that people do things financially just because they think they should do them. They aren’t clear about what they want to accomplish with their money. But the biggest mistake is that people don’t think they need a guide.
I compare it to climbing Mount Everest. Someone who decides to climb Mount Everest is likely very clear about why they’re doing it. And when they go, they’re going to get a guide. Who would do that on their own? The guide is going to help them climb the mountain and get back down it. When it comes to financial planning, so many people think they don’t need a guide. Or maybe they just think they need one to get to retirement, which is like climbing the mountain. They forget about getting through retirement, which is like going back down.
What’s been your most satisfying moment as a financial advisor?
I love meeting new people, especially when they're open, because most people initially aren't super excited to talk to financial advisors. But I love hearing their stories and what makes them tick, what they're trying to accomplish, what their goals are and the dreams they have for their kids. Then what I enjoy most is giving them a degree of hope — that hey, this doesn't have to be the end of the story. We're actually in the middle of the story. So many people beat themselves up. The “woulda, shoulda, couldas” aren't going to change your trajectory. What is going to change your future is the realization that you want something different and you need some help.
I'm really focused on working hard and planning from a business standpoint so that I’m in a position to work because I want to, not because I have to.
How do you plan for the summer sabbaticals, and what do you do?
When I’m working, I’m 100 percent locked in. I try to eliminate distractions and things that encroach on my time. Then when I’m not working, I unplug; I let my team handle things and I take my time off. I truly believe that your staff can handle 98 percent of things if you empower them. Last year when we let our clients know via email that I was getting ready to take time off, we got great responses back. Some even asked how I could do it, saying that they couldn’t even take a week off. And I’m like, you can do this. I hope I inspire them to think differently.
Generally, as the summer begins, I’ll take a short trip alone to reflect on what’s working well, what we could do differently to improve our clients’ experiences and to recalibrate my team’s vision. This year I ended up going to Newport, Rhode Island.
When I get back, I try to get into a routine and catch up on things around the house, like reorganizing my closet or cleaning the garage. I do everyday stuff like taking my kids to school. I also make time for each person in my family individually. This summer I took a trip with just my 15-year-old son. Then we always take a trip with the family.
I go to Northwestern Mutual’s annual meeting, then I start what I like to consider spring training, as I get back into my work routine in August. Then come Labor Day, I’m back with the intensity of the regular season.
What’s your personal financial goal?
I don't know if I ever see myself retiring, but I'd say I'm really focused on working hard and planning from a business standpoint so that I’m in a position to work because I want to, not because I have to. I want to be in a position where I’m spending time with the people and activities that matter most. I’d like to get to that point by the time I’m 50.