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My parents both worked downtown El Paso. They had a small 4-bedroom house (pictured), two cars, two kids, a few dogs — pretty normal, right? Depends whose eyes you’re looking through. As a kid, I don’t think I had enough of a point-of-reference to know where my family stood financially — I remember thinking we were middle-class during thatSocial Studies lesson in school. This likely came from what I could see. Despite what I saw, by no means were we a family who had money in the bank. Yes, my parents paid our bills (mostly on-time), but were often spending more than they made in order to do so. I could safely say that their measure of success was that they werebetter off than their parents.

We lived beyond our means.


A good friend of mine, Covington, recommended I speak with Professor Ackermann before I graduated college — he said he would teach me about personal finance before I started earning money. Carl is a Finance professor in the Business school and I was a liberal arts major headed for a career as an educator — of course I went to meet Professor Ackermann! That conversation and those following changed the trajectory of my life. When I meet with clients for the first time, I let them know that one conversation with me isn’t going to solve all their money woes — it is the work that follows that first conversation that will help them build their capacity and shift their mindset around money.
The very first book that Professor Carl Ackermann recommended I read was The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William DankoHe told me that he could give me all the advice in the world but it would be worthless if I didn’t believe my mindset around money had to be adjusted. He was right — I learned what I knew based on what I saw growing up. As I read, I had one of those moments where I could picture my own life being discussed in the text. I was reading about my family.
Aptly named, the “better off” theory, discussed in the book, suggests that those who grew up in a lower socioeconomic status have a tendency to feel the need to be “better off” than their parents — larger house, better car, fancy degree, etc. The danger here, however, is that while the child may live a more comfortable lifestyle in terms of possessions, they may still be uncomfortable when it comes to financial security. Mind. Blown. My parents were no exception. They wanted us to have better than what they had. If I were to fast forward this picture of our home 30+ years to today, I think you’d likely see that where I currently live and what I drive is not any more glamorous than what my parents had in their 30s. The difference, however, is in what you do not see.


What perceptions do you have of others based on what kind of car they drive or the house they live in? What if we could see the intangible? What if you could see how much (or how little) debt someone has and how much they’ve saved for retirement or specific goals? Do you think you’d have the same perceptions?
It is easy to measure our level of success based on a comparison to our closest family, friends and colleagues. And, unfortunately, it is easier than ever to compare ourselves to one another — just scroll through social media. Our connections are oftentimes sharing only the best and most glamorous parts of their lives for us to see. And yet, that is all we see. Professor Ackermann and books like The Millionaire Next Door challenged me to adjust my perception and continue to do so. Don’t get me wrong, I still dream about a vacation home by the beach and about which car I’ll drive next — my approach to getting there is just a bit different.


I know that you’re busy and it’s not always easy to make sense of your personal finances. There is no substitute for having a plan. Whether you’re just starting out or interested in learning more, I am happy to be a resource along the way.

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Jesse is a graduate of the University of Notre Dame and earned his Master’s in Education from Harvard. In his education career, he served as a teacher, counselor and Director of Alumni for YES Prep Public Schools. He is a member of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas (TRS) and takes pride in helping fellow educators better understand their pension and plan for their future. Learn more about Jesse.