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Let’s Talk Money

An Interview with Financial Education Specialist Ashley Fox

Hey goal achievers, Kristin here. On a recent Elite Achievement episode, I had a guest on to talk about a sensitive subject – money! I know money can be a topic that evokes a wide range of emotions and beliefs. Some might even believe talking about money is taboo. However, it’s apparent that we need to increase our financial literacy and become more comfortable talking about money. According to a Forbes article that references US Federal Reserve data, the top 1% of US households hold fifteen times more wealth than the bottom 50% combined. 

That’s why I was excited to introduce Ashley Fox to the Elite Achievement audience. Ashley is a financial education specialist on a mission to teach one million people how to make a million dollars. She is a former Wall Street analyst, Howard University graduate, international speaker and financial journalist and CEO of her company, Empify. Empify represents the merging of the words empower and modify and is an education-based organization created to help adults and children understand financial literacy.

Let’s Talk Money (and be Comfortable About It)

I am so grateful to chat with Ashley and start by asking her what she thinks we can do to become more comfortable talking about money.

When it comes to becoming more comfortable thinking about money and talking about money, I think it’s associated with our belief in our capabilities,” Ashley begins. “We may grow up not having a lot of money, not learning about money. And we’ve made mistakes in the past, which makes us feel guilty – shame pops up. So, we’re not comfortable talking about it. You have to realize; you are not your past and you can ultimately create your future. One of the biggest things you can do to make yourself feel comfortable talking about money is surround yourself with people looking to grow wealth just like you. It’s very uncomfortable talking about money and the things you’re trying to do or the things that you want to do with people who are still uncomfortable talking about it. I recommend finding a group of people, finding a friend, someone who is on that wealth-building journey and doing things you want to do so that you can start to have uncomfortable conversations. You can’t heal from whatever you’re suppressing, right? You can’t heal from it if you’re not going to talk about it. So, you have to talk about it. You have to seek advice, seek information, and literally just immerse yourself in the language of money because that’s the only way you’re going to get fluent in it. Because if you’re not comfortable talking about it, how could you be comfortable even having it?”

Wow, I pick up on that statement and repeat it. “If you’re not comfortable talking about it, how could you be comfortable having it?” It’s powerful and I love the great points Ashley has just shared, including surrounding yourself with people who have money or who are comfortable talking about money. I’m curious how she recommends seeking out individuals to build those relationships with to talk about money.

“To be honest, I noticed a gap while working with millionaires and billionaires,” says Ashley. “Their conversations were always about wealth building. Conversations were different –  always about passing down wealth and finding businesses to invest in. As I left my Wall Street career and went on to become a financial advisor, I realized people were uncomfortable talking about money. And I realized there was a disconnect not in just the amount of money that individuals had, but the mindset that they had around money. Not having a lot of money causes you to feel like you’re not deserving of it. So, you don’t feel worthy of investing. You don’t feel like you can understand the language of investing. Because I saw the disconnect, and I realized it’s not that people don’t have access to information – because in all honesty – everything we teach at Empify, you can Google or take a class on. But the issue is there is a mental barrier that stops people from obtaining information – not even just obtaining it but actually implementing the information they’re looking to get. I created WealthBuilders Community, which is an app that brings together like-minded people who may have made mistakes in the past and desire to build wealth and may not know how to do it. And maybe they don’t have enough money to go talk to a banker or talk to the Wall Street banks that I used to work for. They may not come from money or have a network of people who are looking to change financially, but these people do exist.”

Ashley shares that often, the problem is that we don’t think others have made the same mistakes we have. Or that they have the same goals, like paying down debt, building wealth, or investing for kids. As Ashley explains it, the reason we think that is because we’re not talking to others about it! “I realized, as a financial advisor, we all had the same questions,” she says. “We all had the same problems, the same fears, the same doubts, the same worries. What if I could get everybody into a room, and we just talk about it? What if I could create a safe space where you can learn about money, talk about money, where we can celebrate your wins? That is ultimately what I want for this community. Just imagine the Netflix of finance. So, you have access to financial education in the palm of your hand. But you also have access to people from all over the world who are taking the same classes as you, investing just like you, learning just like you, figuring it out just like you. Sometimes you have to create that space. And so that’s what I did. Building Empify, building our WealthBuilders Community is because we don’t talk about money.  And like I said, how can you not talk about it, yet you desire to obtain it? We have to first talk about it, learn about it, read about it, speak about it. But you have to do it with people who want to be better. And that’s not everybody.”

Ashley is 100% right. Not everyone wants to be better. I heard a couple of powerful points and one is that a lot of what she teaches and talks about, we can find on Google. In my work as a coach, a lot of the value I bring centers around helping people take action and it sounds like Ashley does the same through her company and app. Even though there’s a mental barrier to wealth and money, she’s created a community and safe space for people to share stories or experiences they have had in the past. I’m curious what prompted Ashley to take action herself and ask her to share the motivation behind launching Empify.

Launching Empify: Taking Financial Literacy to the 99%

So, when I was on Wall Street, my job was to keep rich people rich, if you had at least $25 million or more,” Ashley starts. “If you had an address in New York City, there was a high probability that I could type in your name and see the assets that you held at the institution I worked for. And, it was a great experience because that was the first time I was exposed to money. I saw how people were buying every day, where they were shopping, traveling, how much they were saving on taxes, what they were passing down to their kids. And I realized that for something we use every single day of our life and have a desire to obtain, it’s not taught in our school systems. But we’re using it all the time. You shouldn’t have to have a major assignment on Wall Street to learn the things that I was learning. And you shouldn’t have to come from money to learn how to make money, save money and invest money. I realized during my time there that I deserved to be wealthy but no matter how long I stayed at my job, I would never be like those clients. I also realized that I was talking to the 1% of the population and wondered who was servicing 99% of the population. The population who’s afraid, who doesn’t have the confidence, who doesn’t have resources, but has the desire to build wealth and become wealthy – or to live the life that they desire, without having money be an issue. So ultimately, I got to a point where I needed to create what I felt the world deserves. And for me to reach the levels of what I was constantly surrounded by, I needed to invest in my own idea – I needed to figure it out. I ended up leaving my Wall Street career with the intent to serve the world, not knowing how exactly but knowing why. That was back in 2013. So, we fast forward today, Empify has evolved into a social enterprise that focuses on both adults and children. We have programs that have been within the prison system, programs in middle schools, high schools, colleges. We also now have our WealthBuilders Community app where we’re educating adults, giving them classes and access to people, tools, resources, experts, accelerated programs, so that they don’t have to go to a bank and say, hey, I want to learn about money and instead be sold a product. Or be told they have to have at least $25 million for someone to help them build wealth for your family. It’s literally for the individual who wants to be better but just doesn’t know where to go. The reason the word Empify has nothing to do with money is because I realized there was a mental shift that people had to make in order for them to believe they deserve to be wealthy. So, it’s not that we can’t go out there and make the money or do the things that we’re reading about or hear about; it’s about our ability to say, ‘I deserve to be in that room, I’m going to do whatever it takes to put my family in that position.’ And that is an internal desire, not a mental, not necessarily a fundamental desire, right? You can’t just Google how to be great, you have to feel like you deserve to be great, and then your actions will speak for themself.”

Ashley said she realized on Wall Street that she would never be like the wealthy clients she served, and I ask her to share what led to that realization.

“I think I got to a point where I was more intrigued on how these individuals made their money versus showing them how to keep their money. I also knew the trajectory right out of school; I was making over six figures and it was great, but when you look inside the account of a billionaire and realize your annual salary is the annual fee they pay in one of the 500 mutual funds in their account – I realized I was shooting at the wrong basket. Like hey, if I’m sitting here, helping you build your wealth and sustain your wealth, who’s out here, showing me what I need to do to become you? Who has given me those tools and resources? And this job was phenomenal because it allowed me to take what I learned and give it to people who have no idea what the bank account of a billionaire looks like. Individuals who have no idea how to open an investment account for their child, while I watched trust funds be created for kids just so that individuals could avoid paying taxes. I got to a point where I was more intrigued by how they built their wealth than how to sustain their wealth. I wanted to be them. And I realized that for me to be on the other end of the table, I would need more than the increases in my salary or a bonus. How long would it take me to get to a bare minimum of 25 million so that I could walk in those doors and say, ‘Hey, I want you guys to help me maintain my wealth, pass out my wealth to my children in the most strategic way, limit my tax liability and make as much money as possible? I knew I couldn’t be on that end of the table until I built something because that was a commonality. None of our clients had the job that I had. They may have started that way, but they didn’t finish that way. All of them built their company or were the beneficiary of someone who built a company. And I realized I wanted to do that for myself.”

“Put Your Foot in the Water:” Investing and the Stock Market

Ashley has not only done that for herself but clearly made a massive impact in educating and empowering others to understand finance and become comfortable with being wealthy in the process. I’m curious what things Ashley has done to grow her money mindset since she shared that people need to believe to be wealthy.

Ashley starts, “One of the biggest myths in finance, when it comes to building wealth, is about investing. I don’t care what you do or what you read; you cannot save or spend your way to wealth. It will not happen: you have to invest, and you have to invest in either your idea or somebody else’s idea. That’s the first thing, letting go of what society has told you is the way to go. Because society makes you think if you go to school, you get a job, and you get a job that will pay for that school. They also tell you that you have to work really hard. But many of us know people who work really hard, but are not where they want to be financially. So, working hard is not the only thing you need to do. You have to work smarter, you have to literally convince yourself that you deserve to and should and will make money while you’re sleeping. And you can do that by allowing someone else to build their ideas, and you become an investor in it.”

Ashley continues, “The other thing we have to start thinking about is you don’t need a lot of money to invest. We have this misconception because wealthy people invest that if you don’t have a lot, you can’t do a lot with your money or can’t become an investor. I always tell people that the easiest way to start, the easiest way to enhance your belief, is to literally think about who you spend your time, money and energy with. So, if you sit and think about today, when you woke up, what company did you give your time, money and energy to? I woke up late in my bed, picked up my cell phone – my cell phone is made by Apple and I have a Verizon bill. I brushed my teeth – I got my toothpaste from Whole Foods and I use Unilever. Go through your day and think about every company that benefited from your physical presence, from your time, energy and money, and make a list of those companies. There’s a high probability that more than half of them are publicly traded. When I say publicly traded, that means that the public can invest in that company, which is ultimately what a stock is. You can own a piece of a business, just like a piece of pizza – you can buy one slice, two slices, a million slices. Make your list of companies to really understand that ‘Hey, I’m not going to stop paying my cell phone bill, stop using social media, or stop buying something on Amazon every other day,’ and really start to think about these companies – they are billion dollar, million-dollar businesses because of you. So just imagine, if you could invest in these businesses and start small, how would that make you feel if you were on track to put yourself in a position to make money while you’re sleeping? Understand that you don’t need a lot of money and you don’t need to be a rocket scientist – financial experts have big old textbooks to tell you what companies are winning right now.”

Ashley shares how much you could learn if you sat in on a meeting and learned what companies were struggling, versus making money during the pandemic. She explains that turning off the news and the negative talk can help you see how every day is the best time to become a wealth builder. “There are people who are suffering – businesses that are impacted,” she explains. “But I know that my portfolio is up over 100% because of the pandemic. So, I think it’s about putting your foot in the water. We’re so busy looking at the pool, watching everyone have fun in this pool. We don’t know how to swim because nobody taught us back at home, or at school, or we feel like we don’t deserve to get in the water. And all I’m saying is take the first step, get your feet in and realize, ‘Hey, I actually understand a little bit about what they’re talking about.’ If I keep on listening, reading, and actively going into the water, I can ultimately teach myself how to swim and I can also interact with individuals who are learning as well. The biggest thing is you have to get in; you have to understand that we are watching the game while the players are winning the game. And if we realize that we are the players (because there is no game without us spending our money), then we deserve to make money while these companies make money off of our time, energy, and consumption.”

I think about what Ashley has said and know that we often wait until we have all the answers, especially for women. We have to understand everything and feel perfectly prepared. But what I’m hearing Ashley explain is that it doesn’t need to be complicated. We can take a look at how we’re spending our time and make a list of all the companies that we’re using. And that can be a really great place to start if we want to build wealth. I ask Ashley if she has some additional ideas around making the stock market less intimidating.

Ashley jumps in. “The easiest way to make it less intimidating is to look up a company. We don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us that Nike makes sneakers and sports apparel, right? We don’t need a rocket scientist to tell us that Nike is who they are because they align themselves with the greatest sports players and every individual sport. Go to Nike’s Investor Relations page, which you can just Google, and learn about the company as an investor. Nike will tell you, this is how much money we made this quarter. This is where we’re taking this company. This is how much we spent this quarter. You’re able to see from an investor perspective the key things and honestly, if you really just take the whole finance head off, think about if your friend was to say, ‘Hey, I want you to invest in my business.’ What information would you want to know about the business? You will want to know what their vision is – you want to believe in the CEO. You will want to know how much money they have and what products they’re making. We don’t need anybody to tell us that Amazon is taking over the world. So, when you look at Amazon financials, or you read about Amazon in the news, you know what they’re talking about because it’s not some random healthcare or pharmaceutical company that you’ve never heard of.”

Ashley starts with a second point, “The other thing you can do to ease intimidation is just read the news. Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I would say literally go to CNBC, Business Insider, MSNBC, Bloomberg. You can download these apps and set an alert for them to pop up on your phone when something comes out. Just read one article every other day about a company that you know, and see what they’re talking about. People feel like they don’t have money, but they have so much time on their hands. So, all they’re doing is spending money online, which is why companies like Shopify, PayPal, and Amazon, are making a killing – even Nike. Nike sales were up 82% online. So, while the world is making you feel like no one has money, we do have money. We don’t have as many brick and mortar places to go spend it, but we do everything on our phones. So, data centers are making money, entertainment companies that have online streaming platforms are making money. Companies are revamping their model because of what happened in the pandemic. So, understand that you’re smarter than you think. But you have to start to speak the language of money. And just like a foreign language, you’ve got to speak it with other individuals – you have to read about it. If you stop speaking it and reading it, you no longer want to be fluent. So, you have to read the news and Google certain words that you don’t understand. You’ll really start to see the news is what dictates the stock prices and the news is what dictates the money that individuals are making in it. It’s easier to read the news about a company when you know what they’re doing. And if you start there and make an investment in that company, it makes you a part of the game. So, you take it even more seriously.”

“Wealthy People Make Time:” Repurpose Your Time & Pay Yourself First

It’s fascinating how Ashley points out that we can repurpose how we are spending our time. I think so many of us are very quick to say, ‘Well, Ashley, I don’t have time to research a company. I don’t have time to understand how stocks work.’ But that’s not the truth. We can repurpose how we’re spending our time and become familiar with the stock market. It’s as easy as reading an article every other day and researching companies that interest us. So, taking a couple minutes out of your day to make sure you’re moving in the direction of your goal is absolutely critical.

“Definitely,” Ashley confirms. “And I also think you can’t say you want to be wealthy, but you don’t have time to build wealth. You have time to work all day at your job. You have time to watch TV. You have time to scroll through social media, you have time to go out and just have fun and do whatever, but you don’t have time to dedicate to you and to invest in you. So yes, you can tell yourself it’s hard. But that is a narrative and a belief you chose to believe. All a belief is is just a thought you told yourself over and over again. You can unlearn that thought and create another thought. So, if in fact you don’t have time, you don’t want to be wealthy because that’s the difference. Wealthy people make time because building wealth is important. Maybe for some – building wealth, changing your financial situation, building wealth for your family and breaking generational curses – is not a priority. And those are the people that you don’t want to hang around. Because you get to a point where you’re so frustrated with being frustrated, that it causes you to take action. You don’t have to be ready to build wealth, but you’re a walking contradiction if you say, ‘I want to be wealthy, I hate my job, I want to make money in my sleep, I need additional streams of income,’ but you’re not willing to put in the work. It goes back to you; you not believing in you, and you believing you don’t matter. So, you feel like TV is more important to you, when in all actuality, my wealth, my last name, my legacy, and my financial future is way more important than any television show. Because that television network, someone put in the time to create that production, someone put in the time to build that billion-dollar business, which is continuing to be a billion-dollar business because you chose them, and you did not choose you.”

So clearly, some of the beliefs that we have can impact our ability to build wealth. Also, some of the choices we make can impact our ability to build wealth. I’m curious what mistakes Ashley has seen people make when it comes to building wealth.

“One of the biggest things I see is people buy what looks exciting,” Ashley explains. “Like ‘Oh my gosh, I see everyone talking about it, I’m gonna buy it.’ But they don’t do their research. Just because it sounds sexy doesn’t mean it’s a profitable business. And just because a company is not sexy, that doesn’t mean it’s not a profitable business. One of the things is getting so excited that we just take action because we think whatever someone else does is right for our money. I need people to understand this, so ask yourself, ‘How much of my money do I care about?’ In fact, you should say all of it. And if you care about all of it, you should know where all of it is. But what I do with my money is not the same as what you do with your money. We’re two different people, with two different goals, two different incomes, and two different lifestyles, and you have to understand what works for you is for you. My job is to show you all the things that are out there, but you have to decide what is best for you. And that takes time, energy and dedication for you. The other mistake that people make is they don’t pay themselves first. So, the moment we make money, we give it away to everybody. We pay our rent, we pay our cell phone bill, we go shopping, we spend it online, we give our money away to everybody else. And it’s a high probability that those companies are already millionaires and billionaires. Then we look up and all of our money is gone. What if you paid you first? What if every time you got paid, you set aside $25 every other week just for you, just so you can invest, just so you can save? When you make you a priority, and you say, ‘Hey, before I give away all this money and before I go shopping at this store, let me pay myself. Let me invest in something that can grow my net worth before I try to spend my money, which ultimately decreases my net worth.’”

Pay yourself first. I love this concept and based on what Ashley has just described – it doesn’t have to be a lot of money to get started. One of the big things I’m taking out of our conversation is how Ashley has simplified this entire process and made it feel really doable. Personally, I think one of the ways that we can start to change the narrative around money starts with how we are talking about money with our kids and I ask for Ashley’s recommendations for parents as they teach kids about financial independence.

Let’s Talk Money with Our Children

Ashley jumps right in. “So, when it comes to working with children, just be cognizant that a child subconsciously picks up on every habit you have, even though you may not recognize it. The same habits and wording you use around money, you got that thought process and those feelings from your parents. As a parent, you need to be very cognizant of how you talk about money. I also think it’s great to save for your kids, but even better to save with your kids. I grew up in a household where my parents set aside money for me, but nobody taught me what they were doing. Maybe they didn’t feel comfortable. Maybe they just thought I was too young. But if you’re going to the bank, take your child to the bank. If you’re paying a bill, show your kid how to pay a bill. If you’re opening a credit card, show your kid how credit cards work. The other thing you can do is make a list of all the things your parents did not do for you that you wish they would have. Now, granted, our parents did the best that they could. But what if you did everything your parents didn’t do for you for your children? So, you wish that someone would have saved money and invested in money for you, so you didn’t have to take out student loans and pay them back all these years after college? Be that person for your children. Outline all the mistakes that you have made, all the mistakes that your parents have made, or the things they did not do, and teach those to your kids. Do those with your kids. Because while we may not be perfect with money, we all have made a lot of mistakes with money, which means if we made a mistake, there was a lesson learned and a lesson that can be taught to the next generation. So that should be our core focus: learning from our mistakes, teaching lessons from our mistakes, doing for our children what our parents weren’t able to do, and figuring out how we can avoid passing down these generational curses and generational debt. Instead, pass down generational wealth because you are the person that is going to change the dynamic in your family. Not a book, not your financial adviser, not this class you’re going to take. You are the determining factor that will change the trajectory of your family and that’s what’s most important. So, when you continue to work on yourself, you change your talk around money, your thoughts around money, your actions are different around money – your kids will subconsciously pick up on what you do or want to be and who you are. Doing it with your kids is what’s most important.”

I close by asking Ashley where people can find her if they are inspired to build wealth and learn more about what she is doing. She suggests her personal and business instagram accounts at @ashleymfox and @wealthbuilderscommunity. You can also learn more on her website at www.wealthbuilderscommunity.com where you can get access to the WealthBuilders Community app, classes, tools, and resources covering all financial topics from investing to paying down debt to saving.

With that goal achievers, keep celebrating your weekly wins, learning from your lessons, and identifying your priorities so you can consistently pursue progress in the direction of your goals.