Senior Profile: Investment adviser counsels public on wise spending

FOR THE BELLINGHAM HERALDJuly 14, 2014 

Name: Laurie McClain.

Hometown: Bellingham.

Age: 68.

Family: A son and two grandchildren.

Passion for financial literacy: With her Accredited Investment Fiduciary designation, McClain expresses great love for her mission to teach financial literacy to anyone willing to learn.

She became interested in financial advising and gained training in her early 40s while living in Eugene, Ore., following a career involving a variety of jobs in Southern California and Eugene. She moved to Bellingham in 2009 to be near family.

Teaches priorities: McClain volunteers through the Opportunity Council to lead monthly seminars titled "Prioritizing Your Spending," part of a five-part program conducted at WorkSource Whatcom Career Center, 101 Prospect St. Other experts teach monthly seminars in four other financial topics.

From their 20s to their 80s, McClain welcomes adults of all ages to her seminars. People are welcome to bring spouses, other family members, and friends, too.

At her 90-minute seminars, McClain asks people to be honest with themselves about their spending priorities.

"What does money mean to you? How were you raised with regard to money? I ask several questions during my seminars. I learn a lot from the participants in my seminars," she says. "A lot of brilliant, accomplished people have scant financial literacy. It's just not an important part of our culture for them."

Track spending: McClain asks people at her seminars to account for all of their spending during a set period, typically a month. That enables people to discover just how much they spend on items that should or should not remain priorities.

"A lot of people are surprised by what they're spending," she says.

Tracking expenses, creating a budget, recognizing "buy it or not" impulse decisions, and setting short- and long-term financial goals are all part of what McClain calls the "financial wheel of life."

Personal topic: McClain has long since discovered how difficult it can be for Americans to discuss their finances.

"In our culture, money is extremely personal," she says. "It's tied in with issues of self-respect and success for many Americans." So to make people comfortable, she starts by discussing her own money history.

Knew poverty: The personable McClain says she is open with people - whether those attending her seminars or her business clients -- about the challenges she has faced.

"I've been poor, I've been a single mom, I've been on government subsidies," she says of her younger days when she sometimes struggled. "I don't put myself above anyone. I can relate to most people. I always tell people I've been where many of them are."

Her own business: In 1988, McClain began a business in Eugene, Socially Responsive Financial Advisors. She still operates the business on a smaller scale in Bellingham.

"Before I opened my business in Eugene, the original firm I joined trained me," she says. "I was also very active in the community and in liberal causes.

"I love helping people invest in socially responsible ways that reflect their ethics and values. SRI (socially responsible investing) is a rapidly growing field that uses standard accepted investment principles under an overlay of screening research reflecting the ethics of the individual investor."

Know thyself: "The first thing I have to say to a client is, 'Know thyself,'" McClain says. "Financially responsible investing asks a person to evaluate what really matters to her in the way of values and ethics, so that person can be most comfortable investing. In addition, a person needs to honestly evaluate the degree of risk tolerance he or she has."

"It's still capitalism and it's still not perfect," she says of socially responsible investing. "But it's nice to have a job that reflects my own values. Life's too short to sell schlock to people."

What the queen would order: "If I were queen of Bellingham," McClain says, "I would want the financial community to offer senior-specific financial literary programs."

In other words, she believes you're never too old to improve your financial literacy.

Michelle Nolan is a Bellingham freelance writer.

HANDBOOK FOR SENIORS

The Senior Legal Wellness Program of Legal Voice has published the "Handbook for Washington Seniors: Legal Rights and Resources," covering financial and other topics, including health care, long-term care, financial benefit programs, planning for the future and dealing with death.

The handbook, $10 on paper or $5 on CD, can be ordered at http://tinyurl.com/order-handbook.

Legal Voice is a nonprofit organization in Seattle formerly called the Northwest Women's Law Center. To learn more about Legal Voice, go to http://legalvoice.org/focus/srwell.html.

Reach DEAN KAHN at dean.kahn@bellinghamherald.com or call 715-2291.

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