Nearly 22 years ago, Elisabeth Dawson faced a family crisis that made her rethink her entire life. Or at least her career. She had just given birth to her second child, a son born with complications.
The job she loved, and had been devoted to for more than 10 years — a buyer for Nordstrom — was both fulfilling and very demanding for her. “I worked 10 to 12 hours a day, sometimes for 14 days in a row,” she recalls. “But my son needed my attention and he also needed a lot of medical attention.”
Since Dawson was her family’s breadwinner, she knew it was time for a change. She started looking for opportunities that would let her use her skills in a transformative manner.
“I was always working with money in retail and with big numbers,” she says. “Yet I was helping the bottom line of a company, not an individual.”
She discovered a mentorship program at MetLife where she was able to learn about insurance and financial services, and soon she became licensed to sell life insurance, annuities and mutual funds. Shortly thereafter, Dawson discovered the (LEAP), Lifetime Economic Acceleration Program an economics-based process that teaches individuals about every financial decision they make, and what they mean for their future.
It all clicked for her. “The process allowed me to take very comprehensive financial information and make it really simple to understand,” she says.
Today, Dawson is President and CEO of Copia Wealth Management and Insurance Services and Copia Wealth Management Advisors, Inc. in San Diego and author of Wealth by Design. As it turns out, the LEAP process is very much in keeping with the decade’s worth of retail-industry training Dawson had.
“Working for the Nordstrom family taught me how to put people first. Ultimately it taught me how to bring customer service and great values to the financial industry.”
Uncomfortable talking about money? Not your fault
Our grandparents, and in some cases our parents, were never really taught about retirement planning or a good relationship with money, Dawson says. In fact, not too long ago, the whole concept of retiring seemed strange to many Americans.
“You worked until you died, or until you were unable to do your job,” she says.
Then Social Security came along, and in some cases, pensions for retired workers. But pensions are uncommon these days, and social security is rarely enough to live on for many individuals.
Still, talking about money is uncomfortable for many, if not most, people, Dawson says. In fact, when it comes to discussing finances, “there is a lot of anxiety and disdain,” she adds.
And that can be problematic for anyone who wishes to plan for a secure future. Many of our attitudes about money formed when we were children. “We watched what our parents did with their money, and how they managed it,” Dawson says. “We were told how important it was, or wasn’t, and those memories are ingrained in us.”
Visualizing an Ideal Future
Dawson’s goal is to change how we think about money, how we talk about money, and how we spend money. To that end, one of the first things Dawson does with new clients is have them visualize their ideal life and retirement.
“I want to know what they work so hard for, every single minute of every day, what they have chosen to make sacrifices for, and what they want their legacy to be.” From there, she works to turn that “wish list” into a “reality list.”
Planning for the future requires thinking about finances like a pyramid. A solid foundation makes it possible to reach higher to other dreams and goals, she says. “Too many people start a 401K and then forget about the protection foundation.”
Can you account for every dollar that makes its way into your bank account? How about every dollar you spend? If your answer to those questions is “No,” you may need to reassess.
One of the first exercises Dawson does with clients, and one she recommends for anyone who is planning for their financial future, is to be aware about “lost opportunity costs.” What is that, exactly? “Any dollar you have ‘lost’ due to a fee, have given away unnecessarily or unknowingly, and that you can no longer invest, is a lost opportunity cost,” Dawson explains. She includes bank fees – including ATM fees — expensive habits like that daily latte, credit card interest and fees, and so on. Those little bits can add up to thousands of dollars a year. Over time, those thousands per year represent tens of thousands lost.
“My talent is finding money for clients that financial institutions, banks, the government and your lifestyle are taking away in excess,” she says.
We are such an instant gratification culture, but that’s not how we should think about growing wealth, Dawson says. There is nothing instant about growing wealth. She challenges people to think about whether they are buying things they need, or just filling time and space.
“My goal and mission,” she says, “is to explain where the money is and then help you make decisions about how to recover it and build wealth from there.”
Formula for Success
“It’s an incredible honor to help people plan for their dreams,” says Dawson, who, by the way, is a fiduciary, which means she is legally required to make financial decisions that are in the best interest of her clients. Financial advisors who are not fiduciaries often recommend products that have higher commissions for the broker. In other words, when choosing between two investment products, one of which has a higher commission, a fiduciary, like Dawson, cannot recommend a pricier investment because paying more in fees is not in the best interest of the client.
“I am not here to sell a product, I’m here to create solutions,” she says, “and there are solutions out there that you might not know about.”
So whether you’re reading this at 35, 45 or 55 or beyond, “It’s never too late to get educated about money, and bring a new respect and realization to your future plans,” she concludes. “We should respect money, not idolize it, but if we take it for granted, it will disappear.”
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This article was edited and published by Rick Weinberg, California Business Journal’s Founder and Editor-in-Chief. Click here for Rick Weinberg’s biography.
If you would like to speak with Elisabeth, you can reach her at 619.640.2622.
License # 0C72164, 0G81294
2333 Camino Del Rio South, Suite 240
San Diego, Calif. 92108