Jeremy Quittner: Welcome to Teach Me How to Money. I’m your host, Jeremy. On this week’s episode we’ll be talking with the financial advisor, Winnie Sun, but before we get to the interview, our jargon hack this week is IRA. IRA stands for an individual retirement account and it’s essentially a savings vehicle for your retirement that comes with significant financial advantages. Just about anyone can set one up and an IRA lets you put money away on a pretax basis until you turn 70 and a half. The money you contribute comes from your gross income and your contribution can lower your annual tax bill by lowering your total income. The money you’ve put away can then be invested in stocks, bonds, mutual funds, money market funds, ETFs and index funds or other kinds of investments. Your balance in the account can grow tax-deferred through retirement when you’ll pay taxes only on the disbursements from the account. There’s also something called a Roth IRA as opposed to a Traditional IRA, which is funded with pre-tax dollars. It’s (Roth IRA) funded with after-tax dollars, like a Traditional IRA, however, once you’ve funded the account, your earnings grow tax-free. You can put up to $6,000 away each year in either account, but once you’re age 50 or older, you can contribute up to $7,000 annually. So that’s our jargon hack for the week. Now let’s get to the interview.
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Ever wonder how you can up your financial savvy and become a money ninja? Well, today we’ll be speaking with our guest Winnie Sun about what she calls the financial habits of the mentally strong. Sun is the managing director of Sun Group Wealth Partners, a financial consulting firm, and she is a member of the CNBC financial advisor council. Welcome to the show Winnie!
Winnie Sun: Thank you, Jeremy. Thanks for having me!
Jeremy: It’s our pleasure. So tell us a little bit about your background. You got your start as an entrepreneur in TV and audience production. What is that and what did that teach you?
Winnie: Yes, it was quite a long time ago, but while still in college I started working on a television show called “Jones and Jury” and initially it was really just to do legal research. But I soon got tapped to work in the audience department, which is really a very, distinguished role of walking audience members to and from the audience from the restrooms and various shows, so that they would clap or participate. And soon, I started working on several shows and eventually started my own company in the television audience world and soon we were moving thousands of people per week, and that’s really how it started. And eventually, I did sell the company, we were one of the largest television audience production companies in the United States and I was still my early twenties. It was really just to, help my parents out financially and make some money to help pay for college.
Jeremy: Wow. Well, it sounds like it was a lot of fun too. And then so how did you go from that to your work as a financial advisor?
Winnie: Well, Jeremy, to be honest, it was in many ways to please my parents. I have very stereotypical Asian parents that didn’t feel that their daughter accomplished enough by attending a good university, but working on television. They just felt like, “I didn’t send you to this school to work in television.” So I started taking financial planning courses in the evenings during hiatus periods when we weren’t filming television shows because I felt like my parents, who were first-generation immigrants needed more financial information and if I could to do this, I could help them and help the rest of my family.
Jeremy: That’s really interesting. So what were some of the deficits, if that’s an appropriate word that you thought or operative, I guess, in immigrant communities that you wanted to address? Like basic financial literacy?
Winnie: Yes, definitely. They were such great savers, but they didn’t understand sort of key financial topics, they didn’t understand accounts really well and really how to ask the right questions and how to take their money to another level because they really only understood simple bank accounts.
Jeremy: Great. So, you’ve had a long track record in finance, as an entrepreneur, as someone with a certification around finance. This idea of being mentally strong, it’s something that you’ve written about and talked about. But could you explain to our listeners what you mean by that and how that can apply to their own financial lives?
Winnie: Well, I think the concept of being mentally strong is to have that self-confidence. Having that awareness of self-worth where you’re not being defined by money and you do feel like you’re in control of your money, your financial situation. You’re not stressing each and every day of when that next dollar is going to come in when that paycheck’s going to come in like you actually feel whole with experiences and relationships over sort of your bottom line and how that number would define you. And I think as it pertains to the mentally strong in the financial world that’s definitely where you know your bills are going to be paid off and you’re going to be fine each and every month. You just focus on what you love to do, your personal growth, maybe your work, maybe your family, whatever that may be.
Jeremy: Right. So a lot of our listeners are probably struggling with things like debt or student loan debt or credit card debt or you know, maybe their income isn’t potentially sufficient for their monthly lives, et cetera. And I was wondering what about people who are struggling more with basics, perhaps living paycheck to paycheck, how can this apply to them?
Winnie: Well the good news is that it affects so many of us. My parents went through bankruptcy right before I started college. And so I think as it pertains to the mentally strong, it doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, you can certainly get to the point where you feel like you’re getting control and one of the best things you can do, especially when you’re struggling with debt and just that overwhelming feeling like you just can’t get out of water, is to piecemeal it. You want to put it down on paper, like have a good realization of where you stand financially and most importantly figure out a way that you’re going to get out of this quicksand. So I always say, debt happens to the best of us. I had tons of student debt too and you just don’t know where to turn. But instead of focusing on being depressed and being overwhelmed, focus on activity, focus on productivity, figure out, “okay, I’m making this much and I can’t make ends meet but maybe I could figure out another way to make a little a bit more money, maybe, have that second job or third job.” And I remember times when I was in college and I didn’t even know if I was going to be able to feed myself that day never less pay for gas to get to work. So that realization is real and so many other schools do that. But the good news is if you can pull through, if you can see the light and there is always a light, focus on activity. Focus on, instead of being depressed, focus on looking for another job, figure out how to make money online, maybe even in your pajamas out of your apartment, whatever you need to do. If you focus on productivity you’re going to feel a lot better.
Jeremy: Where do you stand with budgets? It’s kind of a controversial topic. It’s not that controversial, but how people budget or the mode of budgeting is, and a lot of people have different ideas about that and some people say, “Oh, you know, budgeting, that doesn’t work.” For example, just, prioritize better or some will say stick to the 50-30-20 budget. Which we’ve written a lot about. What’s your stance on budgeting? Is that something that someone should sit down and try to apply themselves to making one?
Winnie: It is a great question. You know, I think that everybody should have an understanding of what a budget is and I think the financial industry makes this whole budget thing really, really overwhelming. I would step back and just say, it’s simply figuring out what you’re spending each month and how much money you need to be able to survive. Actually we have on our website these free budget worksheets and it’s the most popular part of our site.
Jeremy: Okay. So walk somebody through or could you just describe kind of some of the things that we’d be looking at?
Winnie: Yeah, definitely. There’s a general budget worksheet that helps you plan for your overall financial life. That’s the simple one. And then there’s one that helps you if you’re about to start college, so those things to think about. If you’re about to get married, some of the things that you should think about, that you’re going to need to spend and what that’s going to mean in terms of money. I think it’s a great exercise initially to do this and then use it for, I always say use it for as long as you need it. Keep on using that budget until you feel like you don’t need the budget anymore. What I mean by that is you’re going to get to a point where you kind of just know what you should be spending money on and what you shouldn’t be spending money on. You’re going to get there. Everybody gets to that point, but initially, we all need different things. If you’re the type that needs to take a picture of every receipt that you spend then go for it. Do it that way. If you are just the type that’s just going to track your checking account and maybe check every Venmo transaction, that’s cool too. Whatever works for you. The gist of it is just to make sure that you basically spend a lot less than you make.
Jeremy: Why don’t you get back to this idea of mental strength, developing your mental strength around finance. You’ve written that the mentally strong are typically voracious learners and they’re constantly hungry for knowledge and self-improvement. Can you talk a little bit more about that? How can that help you with your financial life by becoming a voracious learner?
Winnie: It’s such a true point. And I’ll tell you, having been in my position so long, I have interviewed so many successful CEOs of publicly traded companies, and worked with them as clients too. And the commonality I found with many people is that we don’t have time to watch television. We barely have time to watch movies. When we’re not working, we’re spending quality time with our families or we are reading, we’re reading everything we can, whether it be books or online articles or listening to podcasts like yours. We’re figuring out different ways where we can get that information to us as quickly as possible in the most efficient manner. I always joke that the only time I actually watch TV is when I’m on TV, just to see how I did. And I only watch movies when I’m on a plane. The rest of the time I’m on social media, I’m on YouTube, I’m reading, learning constantly on ways to better ourselves because technology and information moves so quickly. It used to be sort of a luxury to be able to spend time and just read news and kind of digest this information. But in this day and age with all the competition globally, it’s a non-negotiable. But the cool thing is once you get in the habit of constantly learning each and every day, you’re going to get to a point where you will be like, “wow, this is so great” and your community is going to be people who are learning new things too.
Jeremy: Where do you go for knowledge? Where could you recommend to some of our listeners, great places to go to learn about money and finance, for example?
Winnie: Great question. So I think with money and finance it has to be a place that you’re really excited to go to. I contribute on Forbes, on CNBC, on Cheddar, and on Good Day LA. So I think that if you like to watch, we even have a daily 90-second financial tip every day. You can just literally watch it or even read the 90-second subtitles to get that information. I think that’s really helpful. I think Forbes has great content, Yahoo Finance is great, Cheddar I love because it’s very relatable finance. Podcasts like yours, I think are super helpful because you can put this on in the car and you can just kind of drive to work. But wherever you think makes sense. You might even find a money mentor, someone who’s really savvy with money, who can talk you through it and who you can riff with, that works.
Jeremy: So you’ve talked about how money can provoke really strong emotions in people. Yet at the same time, you think it’s important to “divorce yourself” from your emotions around money. Can you describe that a little bit? Like how can you make money less emotional? We’ve just been talking about how to make money more exciting, but I think you mean something else by divorcing yourself from emotions, from money,
Winnie: So I think we need to get to a point where we don’t feel like we need to keep up or we don’t feel like the money defines us as people and instead focus on loving people and less on loving things. I always say, think about this on your last day here on earth, most of us are going to be in a hospital bed or a bed somewhere. Think about the six people that are going to be surrounding you at that time and focus on those people. You can spend so much time with people and not spend a penny. You can just hang out at home, you could go to the park, go to the beach and you could picnic, whatever. It doesn’t have to always be surrounded by money. Don’t worry about the needing to “gram”, everything sort of philosophy. It gets old really fast. But once you can figure it out that, your most valuable assets are the people that are around you. You’re going to feel so empowered and then when you’re spending less, and your bank account starts to look a little chubbier you’ll start feeling good again because so many times we get stressed out with the market changes or we don’t have much money in our bank account. That’s like a real stressful thing that will not only impact you mentally, but it will impact you physically. You’ll start to feel sick. You got to love yourself a little bit more, stop doing that and focus on people and then focus on productivity. Get out there and learn and figure out what else you can do and soon you’re going to find another way to make money. Beautiful thing about being in America, there’s no shortage of making money if we really want to. This is actually an “aha” moment for me, I just found out from a colleague in our office that they met a homeless gentleman in the neighborhood and believe it or not, he makes $2,000 a month panhandling here in Orange County in Southern California. I was in shock.
Jeremy: So he’s homeless and he makes $2,000 a month panhandling.
Winnie: Yup. So what he does is every single morning, he’s extremely disciplined. Every single morning he gets on a bus, goes from where he currently lives to an affluent neighborhood. Every day he goes out there, he works at eight hour shift panhandling and he brings in $2,000 a month. I was in complete shock. This is tax free, Jeremy.
Jeremy: Okay, so are you telling people to panhandle or what’s the lesson? Kidding! What’s the lesson from that?
Winnie: Oh no, no! The lesson is that, in this day and age, if you want to better your situation, do it. Figure out a way, find friends, find an online community, whatever that may be, whatever gets you up and excited. Figure out ways to team up with people and figure out a way that you can make money. Even if it’s creating a blog and talking about your miseries, which a friend of mine did. He wrote a blog about when his girlfriend broke up with him and it got so popular, he started getting advertisers and all of a sudden, and in that short amount of time, he was making like $15,000-$20,000 a year on advertising income. So figure out what you’re passionate about and figure out how to make money. Even if it means that means an extra $20-$30 a week, that’s going to mean something to you because mentally it feels good to bring in money.
Jeremy: That’s so great! So, Winnie, I was wondering if you could help us with a listener question this person writes in to say, I’m having a hard time seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when I’m making minimum wage and barely have enough money to put aside for retirement. Do you have any tips?
Winnie: I totally understand. I remember making minimum wage and not making or having money at all. I would say this, making minimum wage is your reality right now, but it is not your reality forever. So what I would say is while you’re in this situation, don’t stress about making money to put away money for retirement right now, that can wait. What I would do is spend this energy right now, learning, going online, figuring out what other skills you have and ways that you can improve so that you’re no longer making minimum wage. Is there another job you can take? Is there another skill? Maybe, learn from a whole bunch of videos on YouTube on things that you can do that maybe don’t cost that much money. The beautiful thing about it is, in this day and age, many of us have something called a smartphone. If you have one of those, awesome, and maybe figure out how you can make a little bit of money. For example, there are awesome sites like Fiverr, fiverr.com and if you just actually Google fiverr.com, you’ll see there’s a whole bunch of competing companies like that. Task Rabbit, and even Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, you can literally create what they call a gig. Which is something you could do for somebody right now? I was talking to my Uber driver last night and he was telling me how he’s so happy driving for Uber. Find out a way that you can make money on something that you are comfortable with doing. On Fiverr they give you these gigs where you can charge people $20 maybe $30, to edit someone’s resume or even, you know, a letter for someone here in the United States. Do that and then set it up so it goes to your PayPal, hits your bank account. And guess what? Just like that, now you are no longer making minimum wage because now you’ve become self-employed.
Jeremy: So part of being mentally strong here is being imaginative about your own situation. Getting a little creative about how you can make some money.
Winnie: Absolutely. Go out and hustle. Life is good.
Jeremy: We’ve been talking to Winnie Sun. Thank you Winnie for joining us on Teach Me How To Money.
Winnie: Thank you so much for having, I appreciate your time.
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