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Elementality Podcast

Living With Intention With Jeff Wolniewicz

Helping clients live with more intention means helping them identify their core values and then aligning those values with the way they live. It’s about keeping them from just living on autopilot, educating them about their choices, and showing them why they are the masters of their own destiny. Living with intention brings balance to work life, financial life, and real life.

On this Elementality, Carl talks with Jeff Wolniewicz of Under Par Planning about how advisors can help clients learn to be more content when it comes to their money. All clients face numerous financial choices, by living with greater purpose they can more clearly see how to connect the dots between money and happiness.

Show Notes
UnderParPlanning.com


Podcast Transcript

Jeff Wolniewicz:
Do you ever go somewhere and you get to your destination or you’re at a stoplight and all of a sudden you think it’s like, “Whoa, how did I get here?” Like you just kinda slept-walked through that part of the drive. And on a broader scale, I think if we’re not careful, sometimes that happens, especially when we’re busy and going through that phase of our lives with trying to get the next promotion, or grow our family, buy the next house that sometimes that moment happens, where it’s like, “Whoa, how did I get here right now? And what’s next?” And I think just pausing a little bit, there’s some real impact in us having a deep conversation with people about where they’re going.

Abby Morton:
Welcome to Elementality. I’m Abby Morton, CFP and producer of our podcast here at Elements. I love being a financial planner, but I know it’s a challenging profession as well. That’s why the number one goal of our show is to help you prosper as an advisor as you better connect with your clients. We know your time is very valuable. Plan on a good return when you spend it here with us.

Carl Richards:
Greetings, and welcome to the Elementality podcast. So excited for our chat today with Jeff Wolniewicz in Buffalo, New York. Jeff, welcome to the podcast.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
Thanks, Carl. Appreciate it. I am equally as excited to be here. It’s a real pleasure.

Carl Richards:
Yeah, so you know what I’d love to do, is just back up and start at the beginning. And maybe you can just walk us through a little bit. What was the dream? Why did you get into the business of giving financial advice?

Jeff Wolniewicz:
I’m gonna have to answer this in two parts. If I’m gonna be poly…

Carl Richards:
That’s why. You can’t have three. You can have two.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
I’ll go with two; the why I got in, and the why I stayed in, because there’s an important distinction between those two. The first phase of my life was about athletics. I played college sports and was very focused on that as good life and being as successful as I could be. But it also mean I didn’t have a lot of relevant job experience, so when that phase of my life ended and it was time to grow up and be a real adult with a real job, candidly, I had trouble, and I didn’t have a lot of experience in a lot of different fields. And then an internship with Northwestern Mutual, not even an internship, a full-time position with Northwestern Mutual popped up, and they were willing to accept me. So it was a job that I could get, was really the bottom line. And it was something that I was interested in because I was strong in math and finance and enjoyed those topics, but the truth is, I was just like, “Oh okay, you’ll actually hire me? Great. And I’ll see how this goes once I’m here.”

Jeff Wolniewicz:
It ended up being a fortunate accident, which I’ll kind of go into phase two of that answer, why I stayed in. I love it, and I love the work. Intellectually, I find it really engaging learning all the different topics, whether it’s insurance, investments, planning, the psychology aspect of the work we do. The work with people and the interpersonal relationships, it’s awesome seeing people, kind of where you start from building that relationship and seeing that grow and change over time, and just even seeing progress like, “Okay,” even from a network statement from where we start to where we go, and the change in people’s personality around money, and where they are in their lives, there’s so many aspects of the work itself that is so rewarding that I couldn’t have ever anticipated at the very beginning, and that’s why I stay in and why I find what I do so awesome, frankly, today. But it was an accident at the beginning or something that just kind of fell into my lap, and then today it’s something that I’m really passionate about and I see the impact of on a day-to-day basis, which is cool.

Carl Richards:
Yeah, it’s funny how often that answer comes up, sort of like, “I got into this kind of by accident. I didn’t really know… ” I mean, I applied to be a security guard, and I didn’t realize the ad set securities instead of security. I actually didn’t even know the difference between the two anyway. But so many people get into the business by accident. And then there’s this moment. It’s actually probably a series of reminders of like, “Hey, there’s deep impact here.” And so I’m curious, I’d like to kind of circle back to some of those moments in a minute.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
Yeah.

Carl Richards:
So be thinking about that. But what I’m curious about is how would you answer, who is your work for?

Jeff Wolniewicz:
I think I do my best work and not coincidentally enjoy the work with busy professionals or young families typically in their 30s and 40s, household income, 200,000 or more, typically love to play golf and…

Carl Richards:
Let me ask you real quickly, ’cause I know… Is that actually the right phrase, typically, or is it like, “They must love to play golf?”

Jeff Wolniewicz:
For me, it’s typically, on that side. ‘Cause I realize it is a little bit thing, and I’m not just gonna limit the business to that world because there’s so many wonderful people in different things. My business underpart planning certainly has that golf niche to it, but what I’m interested in is the passion, that comes a lot with that. So just people that have certain things or aspects of life that are kind of experienced-driven. Like, the way that golf is something that is such a big part of my life, I think a lot of my passion actually is supporting people that certainly wanna make golf a part of their lives, but also spend… Maybe this will come up later, but they don’t spend less time worrying about money and more time doing what they love, whether that thing is what they love, whether it’s golf or whether it’s another passion or another aspect of their life. So I’m gonna go with typically, if that’s okay.

Carl Richards:
Yeah, totally okay. I love that last phrase though, like want to focus… Rather than focusing on… And I can’t remember exactly what you said, but rather than focusing on money, focusing on the experiences or what they love.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
Yeah, and I think the last thing, kind of a behavioral descriptor, I guess, or what I would describe is like, people who wanna create their future rather than simply participate in it, and… I don’t know. The way I phrase this is like, do you ever go somewhere and you get to your destination, or you’re at a stoplight and all of a sudden you think it’s like, “Whoa, how did I get here?” Like you just kinda slept-walked through that part of the drive. And on a broader scale, I think if we’re not careful, sometimes that happens, especially when we’re busy and going through that phase of our lives with trying to get the next promotion, or grow our family, buy the next house that, sometimes that moment happens, where it’s like, “Whoa, how did I get here right now? And what’s next?” And I think just pausing a little bit, there’s some real impact in us having a deep conversation with people about where they’re going like, “What is the intention right now?” And once we start being thoughtful about the destination, then understanding the financial aspects and helping guide and coach around how to connect those two dots, kind of the Google Maps version, if you will, of understanding where you’re going, where you are today, and then helping make the financial decisions to connect those two, and just bring some intentionality back to our lives and kind of building them on purpose rather than just being along for the ride.

Carl Richards:
It’s so good. So good. Tell me, if you could, does a story come to mind, an experience that you’ve had recently or in the past with a client where it’s been like, “Oh geez, that’s what I’m talking about?”

Jeff Wolniewicz:
Yeah. Yeah, a couple actually. This is fairly recent too. He worked for a company. They do kinda like dairy manufacturing type products. And he was in a pretty prominent position, but frustrated with it. And boss was kind of checked out, felt kind of a ceiling on his role. And I remember very specifically, this started pre-COVID, so this was December, I think, 2019. They came in, we had lunch in my office at the time, him and his wife, and it just started talking about what possibly. It was kind of it as wits end about his current position. And started talking about taking time out, about starting a business, what would be possible, where they could pull certain levers, and we just talked through that. And fast forward to today, and he had left that company with a couple other executives and went out, found a bunch of Venture Capital money and they built a 100,000 square foot plus facility. They’ve launched a business, they’ve got VC backing, and now even before the first unit of production, they are in the black. They’re positive, just from contract sign before they even produced anything, and north of 150 employees. And all that work was his, him and his wife. I should credit the wife a lot as well, because what she did at home supporting everything that was going on during the business formation was incredible, ’cause they have two kids that are high school at the time.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
But he figured out all of the business stuff, but it was the conversation over lunch in our office where we really went through and understood, and I just said, “Yeah, you can do this,” where it went from this crazy, I think it was like, “Oh, what if we started a business?” to, “No, really, let’s have that conversation. If you were going to do this, what could we do, and how could we make this happen?” And it went from, “Oh, this is some wild thing. I’d love to do this, but I’ll never do it,” to, “Oh no, if we’re gonna do it, let’s do it.” And it was just the spark, the kindling for the flame that went there, and now it’s incredible. It was a lot of hard work that he put in, but now it’s real. And that’s one example that’s worked out well, but in small versions or medium versions or big versions, I think that transformation over time is kind of the cool part of this work with clients, if done well.

Carl Richards:
Yeah. No, I always think of that as like… Sometimes I even call it the unspeakable thing. Like often, clients come to us with a thing that they wanna do. And what most people don’t realize about real financial advice or real financial planning is that so much of the value is around framing that unspeakable thing into something like, “I just had this feeling that I wanna start a business. We thought we wanted to move here. I’ve always wondered what it’d be like to spend some time in another country.” And I remember a client coming to me saying, “Hey, we wanna take a sabbatical and live in the RV and home-school the kids across the country for six months while they’re still young,” and I remember saying to them… I already knew. I already knew the answer. I mean, what they were asking for was permission.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
Yeah.

Carl Richards:
Right? And they were like, “Financially, could we do that?” And I already knew the answer. The answer was, “Of course,” ’cause I knew them well enough to know, but I remember saying to them like, “Well, wait before I go spend a bunch of time doing all these calculations, if it’s not… If the numbers work out, would you go?” I remember that feeling of them looking at each other like, “Whoa. Yeah.” So it’s so cool to hear a story about that same idea, like there was a thing. Sometimes I call this goal clarification, just clarifying what the actual goals are, and that they change over time. Tell another story. Can you think of a conversation you had with a client that was like… You know, Steven Covey has this little quote, and I’m paraphrasing. “Last thing you wanna do is spend your whole life climbing up a ladder only to realize it’s leaning against the wrong wall.” And you’ve sort of pointed at this idea of like, intentionality is the word you used.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
Yeah.

Carl Richards:
Have you had any experiences you could share with us around where that intentionality became more clear for people and it changed something? And I know I’m putting you on the spot, but I’m doing it…

Jeff Wolniewicz:
No, it’s okay. It’s fun to think through these things. And remember, honestly, candidly, it’s good for myself too, and like self-confidence, thinking through about some of these things and you remember conversations of this. But there’s another client, who’s become a friend, honestly, that we have been working together for a long time, probably six or seven years, and he was just a very, very diligent saver and was very dead set on retirement at 50. Okay, a very, very, very young age, traditionally speaking, and not ultra high income, just a very, very low mean, high saver, but to the point where it was almost excessive delayed gratification. And we finally started having… I have my RLP from George Kinder and went through the life planning program. And after I did that, we kind of restarted the relationship, for lack of a better way of framing it, and went back to some of those conversations.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
And what he was able to find out through good questions and just good listening was that it wasn’t really about… The whole goal of being able to retire early, retire at 50, was just because he was more frustrated with some of the current situations, both professionally and things along those lines, where he decided to make changes. He decided to pull back a little bit from a work perspective, not take so much on his plate, but to the intentionality part, loves camping and loves travel, and decided with COVID actually to take more time and work remotely, like went and found and rented a cabin for a month that had Wi-Fi signal and just went and worked out in the cabin by the lake and started doing and bringing more of those things where like, “Okay, I wanna quit work at 50 so that I can do this stuff,” but just brought more of that back into his present now. And this goal of retirement at 50 is now kind of fading away a little bit because there’s more of this balance and more of these things that he was truly aiming for in his current life now, rather than it’s just some distant goal.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
And that’s, I’d first say it’s still a work in progress for him on that side of what he feels he can do, ’cause there’s still a good deal of identity tied to his career, but he’s made dramatic changes from two, three years ago l, and feels much more balanced, I’d say, in his life, even though it’s not really the best world, but he feels, like he’s doing much more of what he wants to do now, instead of trying to work, work, work and save, save, save just so we can do that maybe later.

Carl Richards:
Yeah, so good. So good to me, ’cause I think that, again, you’re pointing at things that I don’t think people always understand about the role of a real financial planner. This goal clarification over time, the idea that you don’t know where… None of us do. We don’t know where we’re… We’re all making this up along the way. To have somebody help you frame those things up is so cool. As we sort of wrap up here, let me ask you, if we were to look back, let’s just go five years from now. Actually, let’s go three years, December 19th, 2025, right? Yeah, three years from now. If it was that day and you were looking back over the last three years, what’s… And this is just a moment. Nobody else is listening to this, Jeff. It’s just you and I. What would you hope your impact would be if we were looking back three years from today?

Jeff Wolniewicz:
It’s a great question.

Carl Richards:
I know. [laughter] I’m just kidding. Okay, thank you. [laughter] No, I meant to say. [laughter]

Jeff Wolniewicz:
I’m gonna be a bit repetitive. I said something earlier, that just kind of what I feel like is at the core of what I think our purpose is in work, and it’s that every client that we work with incremented from the time I started with them to that point in 2024 is spending less time worrying about money and more of their time doing what they love and with the people that they love and feel… I think the kicker I’ll add to that is they feel good about doing it. They feel content and present in their lives. And that’s a few different influences. That’s you, that’s Morgan Housel coming through on that side, but all of those things coming together, but just that people feel more purposeful, intentional, in control of their lives and money so that they can worry less about that and spend more time doing what they love.

Carl Richards:
All right. Listen, I think the only thing to say to that is hey man, Jeff, thanks so much for taking the time to chat with us.

Jeff Wolniewicz:
My pleasure, Carl. Hope that was great, and I really enjoyed it. Hope you did as well. And thank you for having me on.

Carl Richards:
Cheers.

Abby Morton:
Next time on Elementality.

Carl Richards:
I think what you’re pointing to, and for people listening, this is… If you remember nothing else, please remember this, that the story and the spreadsheet are two different things, and rarely do they line up. But they’re both really important to understand. Like we often think the job is just, “Oh, build the spreadsheet, find a bigger calculator,” just like all the… And that technical job is incredibly important, but it’s really just table stakes now for real financial advice, because it’s the story that matters.

Abby Morton:
 You can learn more about the Elements financial monitoring system at getelements.com/demo and schedule a time to talk with one of our friendly financial planning experts. Elementality’s executive creators are Reese Harper and Carl Richards. Elementality is produced by Abby Morton and directed by Jordan Haines. Have a good one.

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