I’m Dawn Starks, a Certified Financial Planner™ Practitioner with over 20 years of experience in financial planning. While helping clients achieve their financial dreams has been my passion all these years, I’ve also harbored another passion … simple living. I believe there’s a direct correlation between achieving financial dreams and living simply, and that’s the purpose of SimpleMoney. It’s been a long and interesting journey for me to get to this point. Part of my journey, of course, had to do with my own finances. Needless to say, I’ve had my ups and downs like everyone else.
My first revelations about simplification came during college and graduate school. Having helped my college boyfriend move his enormous history book collection multiple times, I remember thinking “I never want to pack up a roomful of books again … ever!” So, after the relationship ended, I streamlined my possessions and with my two dogs moved into a smallish attic apartment. Shortly after that, I found the book.
In 1996, I read Simplify Your Life by Elaine St. James, and I never looked back. While my life has changed over the years, my commitment to working toward a simple, streamlined life has never wavered. I was finishing graduate school at the time I found Elaine’s book. I don’t know what possessed me to pick it up. Prior to that day, I hadn’t read anything like that before. But I was electrified by her book and it began to change my thinking about living simply. Right after Elaine’s book came The Simple Living Guide by Janet Luhrs. I have lost count of the number of times I have read both Elaine’s and Janet’s books over the years!
After finishing my MBA degree in 1996, I went to work for a small financial planning firm. It only took a few weeks before I started planning to go off on my own and start my own firm. I had spreadsheets! I had a budget! (Ok, it was an imaginary budget, but that counts!) It takes a special kind of naiveté and crazy to start a business, but I didn’t seem to know that then. I had the innocence and enthusiasm of youth to get me through! (Ok, and wine.)
This is where financial planning and living simple came together for me. Throughout my training in financial planning, I was always attracted to simplicity. How could I make things easier for clients? How could I explain things in a simple way, so that they were immediately and intuitively understood? How could I provide extra value to clients so that they felt cared for and could acknowledge their financial life became easier because of my help? This became my complete focus.
It took three years at that small firm for me to get my ducks in a row to start my own firm. Starting a business was (and is) hard – really hard. It didn’t help that I struck out on my own right before a three consecutive-year downturn in the market. Debt was my constant companion for several years.
I got married in those early days, and getting married changed things. Somehow, sharing your home with a spouse was a way different experience than sharing it with a boyfriend. Since I was into simple, streamlined space and belongings, wasn’t everyone? Apparently not. I’m happy to report that almost 20 years later, Greg and I are still married. (In another blog post, I give some tips for dealing with different money styles in relationships. I learned from experience!)
Despite the invasion of a non-minimalist spouse, my love for streamlining my life and our finances persisted. Our life was not very simple – at one point our pet population topped out at nine dogs and two ferrets. Our house was definitely not a sleek, clean haven of minimalist serenity. I was running a business, for Pete’s sake! No time for housework. And no time for simplifying all the crap that started accumulating. During that period of our lives, I would say I talked the talk of simplicity, but did not always walk the walk. It was a THEORY I liked, but a PRACTICE that I had difficulty following.
Years passed – 10, to be exact – and somewhat on a whim we decided to have a child. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you that having a child is not conducive to minimalism. My business was rolling along nicely, and my doctor pointed out that I was getting old, and if we were going to start a family, we’d better get cracking. I approached the arrival of our baby with military-like precision. I had a spreadsheet of expenses and gear needed. I figured if I was organized to the hilt, the process would be simpler.
My daughter is now nine years old, and she is becoming more money savvy as the days pass. Seeing her lose her mind over finding a penny in the parking lot is, I admit, a thrill. My husband and I have been homeschooling her from the beginning, and that is a big source of joy and fulfillment for me. My financial planning business is thriving, and I have an amazing team of talented folks to keep it humming. In other words, I’m ready to start SimpleMoney.
Now I’m able to turn my attention to merging my two passions – simplicity and financial planning. I believe managing your finances doesn’t have to be complicated. I know because I’ve learned lots of lessons myself. These are the lessons I try to impart to my clients in my financial planning practice every day, and they are the lessons that I intend to share with you.
So, join me on this new and exciting journey! I am certain we have much to learn from one another on the road to simplifying our finances.