I really enjoyed meeting Lori -- she was energetic, optimistic and very smart -- and I think we both wanted to make the best possible first impression, given we would be working together for 6 months. We had our first meeting early one morning -- Lori needed time to get to her final interview for a full time position, which would come with a salary would make a huge difference in our planning. She was excited about the job, but was realistic about her chances given the number of people competing for the opening.
We spent most of our hour together discussing what she wanted to change about her financial situation and some of her ideas on how to begin to make this happen. With her feedback, I listed three broad areas of focus I envisioned for our work together:
1. Strengthening her current situation.
The first step toward financial independence will be for us to assess the condition of her current finances and support structure, and Lori’s mom is currently a huge part of both. Because Lori and her two kids are living at her mom’s home, her mom is an integral part of the family and her financial and physical health are important considerations. I explained the importance of discussing her living arrangement with her mom -- setting out expectations for shared and individual responsibilities and providing an opportunity to address potential problems before they develop -- and the idea of creating an agreement, which they currently don't have. The kids don’t stay with her mom during the day, but her mom is happy to watch them to give Lori a chance to get out from time to time. We talked a little bit about who helps Lori with the kids and what back-up systems are available, about her relationship with her ex-husband and the children, and the type of support he was able to provide at this time.
I sensed Lori was a bit uncomfortable at first discussing personal details with me, but she clearly understood the value in doing so and was candid in her responses. I briefly shared that my mom-in-law lives with us and that while it is very difficult to discuss household finances, it can be done and I'll help her to do so.
2. Building a path to her goal of financial independence.
In addition to building a budget that reflects all of her current obligations and income, we'll create a plan for one of her specific goals: moving with her children into their own home as quickly as practical. The good news is that her mom is not pressuring her move, so we can be strategic in our planning. The budget will answer some of Lori’s questions about her spending decisions. She'll see the long term impact of her current spending habits, and hopefully will develop the good habit of sticking to a budget. Her coaching and writing skills may provide a great opportunity for a home-based business with the flexible work hours she wants, but a regular paycheck and benefits from a "job" may allow her to move into a place of her own more quickly. We'll work through the trade-offs like this one, and develop a process she can use for making other financial decisions.
3. Providing encouragement, enthusiasm, and direction
I also told Lori I want to make sure she is not on a path to burnout -- that otherwise all of our planning work may fail. Building in mom-only time for social activities, physical activity, and emotional / mental well-being is important, and Lori definitely understands the importance of balance. We talked briefly about her kids, and how they are able to continue to attend the same school as last year, minimizing disruption in their lives (even though this is a bit of an added burden for Lori who must drive them to and from school). In the future, I'd like to know more about their activities and friends, in addition to how they're helping with the family chores.
As Lori headed to her interview, we agreed that she will send weekly cash flow summaries (she uses Quicken), and that we'd check-in after the interview. I don’t want to be more excited than Lori about this job possibility, but I can't help but focus on the possibilities it would create for us!