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Ep 24: Financial Lessons for Kids & Adults :What you should know at 16 to 56 - Bina Shah, Engineer

Updated: Jul 16, 2023


Hello, This is Sirisha, welcome to my podcast!

What should you do with your first paychecks? How do you start investing? How do you work with a financial advisor? How can I enjoy life while still investing in my financial future? What is some important career advice to have a successful worthy career? The answers can be found in Bina's personal story and from her practical advice.

Bina Shah is a fiercely single independent woman who started working at 16 and continues to invest in her 40-year career while simultaneously taking care of her ageing parents. Bina's conversational style makes it easy to follow a simple financial path and imparts lessons we can all benefit from.

Come, let's #paintlifetogether!

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Below is a transcript of the episode, slightly modified for reading.


[00:50] Meet Bina Shah [Jump to section]

[01:28] First Job at 16 [Jump to section]

[02:19] Financial Lessons Learnt from Parents [Jump to section]

[04:54] Credit History... Enjoying Life[Jump to section]

[06:48] Investing...Financial Adviser...Long-Term Investing [Jump to section]

[12:51] Risk Tolerance...Other Investments [Jump to section]

[13:20] Talking Money with Friends and Family [Jump to section]

[14:48] Long-Term Care Insurance [Jump to section]

[17:10] Career Advice... Negotiating...Life Long Learning [Jump to section]

[20:13] Note to 21-year-old self [Jump to section]

[20:53] One word to describe yourself [Jump to section]


[00:50] Meet Bina Shah

Sirisha: Welcome to today's episode. Today, I have with me, Bina Shah. She's a strong, independent woman, single, who's been working for many years, and we are going to talk about her financial journey, how she got started, what she's doing and how she's getting ready for the next stages of life. So, Bina, thank you for joining the podcast today.

Bina: Thank you Sirisha.

Sirisha: Can you share a little bit about your journey, how you got where you are and what you do today?

Bina: I'm a single, independent woman working in the IT department. Before that, I moved from India in 1979 with my parents. I've done high school and college in the DFW metroplex. I work in the healthcare industry and have been independent since I've been 16 and working since then.

[01:28] First Job at 16

Sirisha: That's amazing. Since you've worked from 16, do you remember what your first job was?

Bina: My mom took me as a summer intern at this bus company. It's called a tree, this no longer exists. And I worked as a data entry clerk and then I actually stayed on and went from a summer intern to a full-time job, working to pay to college and expenses. And so full-time work from 2 to 10 in the evening and I would go to college in the morning. And I enjoyed working there and they paid for my college and getting my independence that I have.

Sirisha: What did you do with your first paycheck?

Bina: Actually, my first paycheck, my dad opened a bank account for me. I thought it was just a summer internship, why do I need a bank account? He said, nope, it's your money, you're going to learn to manage. I was really excited that i'm going to the bank and opening an account at 16.

[02:19] Financial Lessons Learnt from Parents

Sirisha: That is awesome. Did you have financial conversations before that with your parents? Or what did your dad teach you once you open your first bank account?

Bina: So, my parents, both have seen, they were at one time went from very rich to poor because of the business that their parents had went bankrupt. So, they've seen the hard life. So, since then, they always value, almost I used to say frugal, but I would say it is very smart. Now that I see back, they always value money and they always taught me. My father said, don't waste, live within the means, you never know what's gonna happen to you next. Since I was like 15 or even younger, I would balance and tally how much money he makes and how much goes into savings or anything like that. So, I've had an early education in managing.

Sirisha: So, as you got your first paycheck and you were working, what did you do with your money?

Bina: I knew I had to go to university. And, I think somewhere during the first year my father got laid off from the company that he worked for. And that was our first, what we're going to do, financial challenges. So that's when I actually decided to work full time, but I knew I wanted to go to university. The reason we moved to the USA from India is to get a better life and better education. So, I was very determined that I have to pay myself through going to a four years university, which is UT Arlington. So, I was very good with money, since 16. I think I didn't take any money from my parents. I paid for my first car, my college fees, and my pocket expenses. So that's where my financial challenges started, saying I gotta make money for myself. I would like to pop in when I can. My father got a job, within a few months, but it was a rude awakening for the family like, oh, what are we going to do with that money?

Sirisha: It's pretty amazing that not only did you get your first job, you paid for your first car, for your whole college education. There are not very many instances that you hear of someone having to manage all of those pieces. So how did you go get your first car? Did you take a loan?

Bina: I was working a second shift, like 2 to 10 downtown. So, my parents, they just went and bought the car. So here, you have your first car and here's your booklet to pay every month and make sure you pay it, and then for six months, they wouldn't let me drive it. So, my dad would drop me off and come back, but I started to drive until he got very confident that I can do my own driving downtown. As far as the spending money, I did spend. I did like fashion, so I would buy clothes and things I like, but I liked the independence, and my money, I can buy whatever I want. So, that was a good feeling.

[04:54] Credit History... Enjoying Life

Sirisha: And did you make your car payment?

Bina: I did, very much. I have a very good credit, I paid the car payment. Here, in the United States, it's like you have to get a loan and pay your loan on time to get credit. I learned that early on. So, that's something I would advise people, that's not a bad thing to get a loan and pay off on time, make some instalment and that's where your credit rating goes up.

Sirisha: True. Credit history, you need for making a loan for a house or for a car or any big purchases. So, starting that history, building early on. Counter-intuitive to your point, you have to borrow money and pay it on time to build a credit history. Otherwise, you're almost invisible to all the systems for them to lend you any money in the future. You were going to college full-time, and what were the next steps?

Bina: Out of college, the first year was a struggle, you need the experience to find a job. So I did odd jobs, to sending computers through phone support. I struggled until I landed my first job at EDS in 1987. I'm like, wow, it's hard to back that money. So, it was a very good feeling to get that professional job. We were on-call, so I had to move out and get my own place. So, that was another learning, move out, make sure you at least have three to four months of savings before you start spending money. Cause, I was like, I can't wait to travel. I've always worked. I wanted to do something with money, spend money. But, that was good advice from family and friends, to make sure you have three to four months. You can survive without a job, save for the rainy day. Three, four years or maybe longer, I didn't save much, other than three, four months of saving, and that's okay, i'm going to enjoy life. So, I travelled the world, created a lot of interest in outdoor activities like skiing, rollerblading, and all that. The first couple of years, it was scary, but then as it went on, I got addicted to different situations and different lifestyles.

[06:48] Foray into Investing...Financial Adviser...Long-Term Investing..10k to Half Mil

Sirisha: So, enjoying and having fun, which is what we all want to do when we first get our jobs. What are the next steps? Did you start to invest?

Bina: That took a little longer, I did 401k because they used to match. So, some people said, you got to do it. At least minimum, to try to 401k, but not like missing everything. So, I tried for one. And I take advice from friends and people that I trusted, then they'll say, okay, invest in this stock or that stock. So, at first, Iblindly did that. So, that was first journey. I used to just give people money to friends and family. They have the money that I will never see back. So, that one went on first five years. Maybe second, third year into my career, I had money, always, in a checking account. So, I made a friend, she had a financial advisor, who's a friend's brother. So, he came to visit her, that's my first intro to investing and the person worked as the financial advisor, I said, look, it's trustworthy and all that. So, then he told me, give me 10,000, I'll see what I can do for you. So, that's how I started, but that was like seven years into my career. So, that's how I got into my first financial journey and he would have guidance, here are ways how you can invest. I would read about it. So, that's how my journey started. I wish I'd started earlier, but hey, you never too late to start anything anytime. And that 10,000 is actually at this point, is half a million, just to give you idea that you can learn and keep investing, keep learning about it.

Sirisha: What is really fantastic is two things you mentioned, you feel like you might have got it a little late start, seven years later. You've hit the nail on the head, talking about compounding and investing, the 10,000 now you're saying is half a million. Gosh, what? 30, 40 years later, and that is eye-opening for anybody, investing can be intimidating. We don't think of ourselves as investors though. You were doing 401k, it was investing. It's just a mindset that we don't think of it like that. We can tend to keep the money in a bank account and not take action on it, but having a financial advisor, who's a fiduciary, who, you can trust and feel comfortable with, sometimes that may be the way to go. Sometimes, you can choose to do it yourself and, I liked that you were learning as you gave him the money, but also you are invested in the journey yourself. You just didn't give it to somebody and let them manage it themselves, but you were learning along the way independently, and also with your financial advisors. I think that's something for everyone to remember and take away that there are so many ways to tackle this, address this when you're doing it. Just the length of time that you take to do this investment, just learning the process and having your hand in it, I think will make us all feel comfortable as time goes by.

Bina: Other things to see, what made a point is, because a lot of people, my friends would sell, buy, sell, buy, and he said, don't look at finances now, you're going to have to look at it as a long-term. So, you saw, since you started what your portfolio looks like, versus one year or six months. So, look at big picture conservatively knowing, invest. So I've learned that Long-term plans instead of short-term, don't look at it like one year or so. I've not removed any money from any of my investments over the last 30 years, even though there was a need at times, right when I bought my house and just take it out from my 401k and I'll take it out from here, and I can do it. I did not do any such things, manage from what you've got and then leave the savings for long term.

Sirisha: So, you managed your financial journey, you look at your short-term needs, big buyings like your house or car or whatever purchases between managing with what you have in any loans and within your financial big picture. You said you left your long-term investments to do their work independently without touching them. This is the active part of you investing money and not looking at it, but passively you're letting the system do its own thing and keeping an eye on it.

Bina: I have two financial advisors, from two different portfolios and I meet with them on a regular basis. I was 50, when I met with first one, at least to do my long-term retirement planning. What does it take? What other insurance, looking at everything? So, I met with them like, both financial advisors, and have a long journey. So, I'm 57 now. So, I'll have it, when can I retire? Do I want to retire? So, having that back in mind, it helps.

Sirisha: So you have two financial advisors helping manage your portfolio so that they're managing part of your portfolio, but they're also getting you ready for the future. So, what advice would you have for someone who's thinking of a financial adviser? So, in the middle stages or later stages?

Bina: Think of having a financial advisor, if you're not good at managing your own. I try to manage, but it is too much information, too much volatility with the stock market or the bonds and all those things. So, I have it as a backup, I have a couple of things I managed on my own, but I think I like what they've done with it, at least one of the investment companies. If you're not good at it, doing your own, I will say have a financial advisor. Yeah, they do take some commission, but the return on investment pays for itself. So, from that perspective, because that's all they take money, don't talk to them. But if someone you trust or someone that someone has, that's how I went with multiple financial advisor reviews. That someone used them, they liked it, they have a good reference, so I went with them. So, I think I would advise to definitely try that route if it's possible.

Sirisha: I like that because it's a journey that I've been on myself where I've managed some of it myself and then eventually decided to go the path of the financial advisor because. It's not that I couldn't manage it. It's not a question of ability, it's a question of just time and what you can do and how often do you want to do it. You have to be consistent if you're managing it, even though it is passive. When you talk about financial investments, it's really not just investing, helping you look at, do you have all the other pieces of the picture together when you're looking at retirement or you want to make a big purchase or you have some other goals in life, be it travel, be it a side hustle, what are your goals? You've touched on this a little bit, what have you learned since then? What mistakes have you made that you would suggest someone do something differently than what you might have done?

[12:51] Risk Tolerance...Other Investments

Bina: When I moved, it was 1989, the land and properties were cheap. I didn't want to manage the houses or properties too much headache, but I could have pure land, and then turn around and sold it later and I could have made three times as much. So, that's the only thing that you can always start, I could have been a little more risk-taker, but no complaints, no regrets. That's the only thing, advice, but anybody out here, it's never too late to start at any given time, to invest.

[13:20] Talking Money with Friends and Family

Sirisha: I like the fact that it's never too late. So, do you talk to your friends about money? The reason I ask is it's something that not all of us are comfortable with, what do you learn from them?

Bina: My approach on money is different. With my close friends, I advise, and I get advice from people that I know. If I know someone's doing relevant business or finance, I straight up say, 'Hey, I want to meet with'. So, I have a couple of good friends that I thought, know, how much money I have and where it is. So, they sometimes guide me. I had one friend, just hand-to-mouth spending, and I said, Hey, do you have 401? She had no idea what it is, how it is and so I said, okay. So now i'm putting my photo on the street. So, I do advise people on that.

Sirisha: That's good, helping your friend on her first few financial steps, sounds like you build confidence and join her now. She feels not only vested but also more independent and more confident, so she can take the next steps, as she goes. Data shows that women tend to be less risk-averse, which is good actually for the long term, but just taking those first steps on managing their money, just someone helping them along and saying, these are the first things to do. And once you start, walking that path, you will take off later on.

Bina: And life is unpredictable, you should always rely on yourself. There's twofold, mentally independent and financially independent, go hand to hand. So, you never know what happens, so you should always have control of as much as you can in your power. Because end of day, there's bills, they don't go away, you got to pay, you've got to survive.

[14:48] Caring for Aging Parents... Long-Term Care Insurance

Sirisha: And now you have your parents living with you. How is that going?

Bina: That's been challenging. My mother was a stroke paralyzed and dad is, I think, legally blind. So, I have a challenge with both of them physically and, just getting adjusted because of their savings. They worked here, all their life, pension and whatever savings they have, were able to afford full-time caregivers. So, we are able to afford the caregivers, which when I think about people who cannot and won't, I don't know what. So I think, saving for the rainy days is good, you never know when you're going to have rainy days, so that's helping. So we are doing good, actually, overall.

Sirisha: I'm glad you have your parents with you and that you're getting to spend time with them. It must be quite hard. I'm sure for them as well, at times, when they're being independent, just managing. Through the medical challenges, as you said, being able to have a caregiver.

Bina: Being independently living, and then I have three people just moved in all of a sudden. So, it's a challenge in itself, but we're doing good. We're balancing, of course. I have support from my siblings, so I definitely. And it's gratifying, I thought I had no reason, like what's the purpose of my life and then when I'm doing that, I keep telling people, I think I was meant to do this. It definitely gives me, immense gratification that I am doing the right thing.

Sirisha: I'm sure they are happy to be with you and spend time with you. I recently visited my parents. It's just nice to see them and be there for them and they need help as well. So, looking at this long-term now, you're seeing your parent's journey. In a few years, you will probably think of taking the next steps towards retirement or whatever the next parts of your journey are. What would you suggest for long-term care that people need to do as next steps there? And when should they start thinking about it?

Bina: Definitely in the fifties, I think, look into long-term insurance. There's a lot of insurance out there because I manage my money, i'm financial, independent. I decided I will just manage myself because I invest and I have pretty good savings, so I can have to full care, in the house. If someone doesn't have that financial independence, they would look into long-term care. Cause, my sister did that. So long-term care, where if you can be in your house independently living, then you have the ability of insurance helping you to, get a long-term plan in place.

[17:10] Career Advice... Negotiating...Life Long Learning

Sirisha: So I'm switching topics, you worked for 40 years, you've worked in different companies, some organic and some inorganic moves on your part. So, let's talk about your financial journey through your work. Have you negotiated for a raise, what's been your learning experience there?

Bina: Yeah, it's interesting. So, when I started working, my dad was very content in what he gets, so he's always told us, don't beg money, don't ask for it. So, I have this mental thing that asking for a raise or asking for more money is like begging, you should be just grateful that you have a job and they're paying you. Went on for half my career journey with that. But, I had one really good manager, and he told me, you're not getting paid for what you're worth, and it's okay to ask for what you worth. Be confident and the worst that can happen is they'll say no, but you've got to advocate for yourself. Nobody else will do it. I actually had an incident where I keep asking for money or what do I do to get me this way or that way? So, I had a journey for five years, and I got what I wanted, I promoted myself. I tried newer, more technology, challenging work. So, I did that. I didn't do it earlier. I would advise that it's okay to, ask for what you're worth, knowing what you're worth. Have confidence, be hardworking and be ethical and it will get you there. The current job, because I'm taking care of my parents, work-life balance is important. I've been lucky as far as my career is concerned, for people out there, looking for a job or trying to make it somewhere, have confidence and it's never too late to negotiate, worst can happen is they'll say no more. We can give you this money or, we cannot afford to give you this much money.

Sirisha: What I find really good is that your manager advocated to you and talk to you what you should do as a next step strike. It was very nice of him to mentor you through this process you've taken that lesson to heart and you have learned to advocate for yourself and the advice that you gave is spot on, be confident when make sure you get what you are worth. It's not just negotiating for the sake of negotiating or asking for a raise, but understanding what your worth is and working hard and all those transitions you're making, it's your personal brand that you're carrying along. If you go into a new role, and I think it's probably happened to you, you've gone into different companies and it's your personal brand, that's travelling with you, setting you up for the journey.

Bina: I've learned that we have this thing called continuous improvement, just keep improving yourself, be confident. I'm always skilling myself, rebranding myself all along the journey, someone's not going to hand it to me. I learn, and I'm always open to people telling me something. I take what I can, it's not like I have to listen to everything they have to say. You pick everything, you filter it and you take what you think it's going to need for you as far as advice is concerned. Be open to everything. So, that definitely helped.

Sirisha: Feedback can be hard to take, but definitely needs a filter because, it is still a person's opinion and their perception so, it actually helps to have different disparate feedback to tie all that, where the common threads are. Then, you can have a more holistic way of what the perception of the impact is and what you can do to change that and to upskill yourself.

[20:13] Note to 21-year-old self

Sirisha: This is a final question I ask everyone I interview. What advice would you give your 21-year-old self to set them up for, this journey on finance, career, and life in general?

Bina: Be mentally and financially independent, they'll take you a long way. And also be ethical and hardworking, I think it has its own reward. So, I think with a combination of that, and, along the way, don't forget to enjoy life. It's not all, work and money. Even though this is a financial conversation, I do enjoy life to the fullest. I travelled the world, spend with my family and friends, do the things I like. I spend it wisely, I don't like designer shoes, but I like sports cars, so I spend it on that or any outdoor activities. Yeah. So it's a balance.

[20:53] One word to describe yourself

Sirisha: And what is the one word you would use to describe yourself?

Bina: Someone gave me this one, and it's called fiercely independent.

Sirisha: That probably captures you. You started working at 16, you've been working for close to 40 years now. You have managed to balance your finances, but you've really had a blast travelling, doing your things. You said you're into cars and just enjoying life, and still putting all those pieces together. Now, you're spending time with your parents as they need your help and you're able to spend time with them as well. Thank you, Bina. This was great. I really enjoyed chatting with you and I learnt a lot as well. I didn't start working at 16, for sure. I was well into my twenties when I started. So, it's a different perspective and you had a lot of good points to talk about just about investing, financial advisor and just balancing all the different pieces of life as we go through it.

Bina: Thank you, Sirisha. I enjoyed talking to you and talking about my journey, my financial journey, and my life journey too as well.


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