Interview #014: Kelley Long of KCL Financial Coaching

by Jay Delaney

Kelley LongAbout Today’s Subject:
Kelley Long

Creator of: KCL Financial Coaching
Location: Chicago, Illinois
Website: KCL Financial Coaching
Twitter: @kclmoneycoach

Leaving the 9-to-5 Life

Kelley Long spent years working in estate planning at Fifth Third Bank and PNC before deciding to launch her own financial coaching practice.  When she came to the realization that a desk job wasn’t what she wanted the rest of her life, she spent about two years preparing to venture out on her own. When a friend mentioned the idea of coaching to her, it only took her two weeks to file an LLC, create a website, and print business cards.  Since she had spent time so much time preparing to leave the 9-to-5 lifestyle, when the right idea came along, she was ready to be decisive and take action.

A Quick Snapshot of Kelley

Kelley is a CPA and has been featured in CNN Money,, and MSN Money.  She provides one-on-one financial coaching highly customized to each individual’s unique needs.  That may be budgeting, reducing debt, cash flow analysis, helping people through financial transitions, setting and achieving financial goals, or just helping people to develop the right mindset about money.  She’s also adding a new service – tax preparation.

A Few Insights from Our Conversation

  1. When you have freedom, you might not even use it all that often, but it’s still nice to have it. When Kelley was working 9-to-5, she’d look out her window on a sunny day and wish she could be outdoors.  Now that she has more freedom with her time and isn’t restricted to 9-to-5 hours, she rarely uses that freedom to be out in the sun during the daytime, but she loves knowing she has the freedom.
  2. “Now is not the time to play it safe.” Depending on where you’re at in life and how many responsibilities you currently have, now may not be the time to play it safe.  For others though, you have responsibilities that won’t allow you to take the full plunge into something.  If now’s not the time for you to play it safe, then why are you?  If now is the time for you to play it safe, then how can you create on the side?
  3. Expect to make sacrifices. If you’re thinking of embarking on some new venture, you need to be well aware of the realities.  Kelley was able to take this risk because she didn’t have children and didn’t have a mortgage.  She knew there would be financial sacrifices, and she talks in detail about how she always makes sure she has a 6 month cushion, and when she doesn’t, she cuts her expenses dramatically.

A Brief Word from the R&D Team at Create the Map

The Research & Development team at Create the Map has been busy lately, and this week we’ve decided to try something a little different.  Our studies have shown that some people prefer books over movies.  So in addition to sharing the filmed version of our conversation, we’re also going to share it in written word as well.  Today you have the option of either reading or watching – it’s up to you!  Scroll down below the videos for the written version.

For Those Who Prefer Moving Images

The Big Kahuna (The Full 14-min Conversation)

Just a Taste (4-min. bonus clip)

For Those of You Who Prefer Words

JD: Hi this is Jay Delaney, and I’m sitting here with Kelley Long.  Kelley, thanks so much for chatting with me.

KL: Glad to be here.

JD: To start with, can you just give me the cliffs notes version of your bio and tell me something you’re currently working on that you’re excited about?

KL: Sure, cliff notes version.  I’m a Certified Public Accountant and personal financial coach, self-employed.  I live in Chicago and I help people with day-to-day money basics, budgeting, debt-reduction plans, and setting and achieving long-term goals. From northern Michigan, and I’m loving living in Chicago.  Right now, I’m excited about two things actually in my business.  More immediately I have seen a lot of need for basic budgeting, so I’ve kind of made that into a product, and I’ve been working with a lot of spreadsheets and downloading people’s banking information and telling them where their money is going, and I’ve found that that’s been a huge boon for me in terms of revenue and also helping my clients get past a big road block that often stops them. On a bigger scale, I’m going to be preparing taxes starting tax year 2012, so believe it or not I love doing taxes.  I always avoided it in the past for reasons we might discuss later, and I’ve decided to take the plunge and be a tax preparer so that’s in the works.

JD: So, I want to talk in a minute about the budgeting and how you focused in on that specifically.  But before we get to something that specific, can you just talk a little bit about why you decided to become a financial coach and the decision behind that?

KL: Sure.  We’ll back away from the nerdy stuff and talk about the happy stuff.  I spent the first 8 years of my career working in a bank as a bank trust officer. And it was a pretty simple job to do, challenging in its own way.  But what I found from two regards was working with clients, I learned what money can do to people. From a good regard, I had clients who suddenly became wealthy, and I saw them handle it really well.  I saw people who suddenly became wealthy and it crippled them. I saw people who had been wealthy their whole lives, and they were just the worst people in the world to deal with. And of course the people doing well psychologically weren’t the ones who called me for help. It was the ones who were miserable and cast all their problems on me.  That coupled with the fact that I am losing faith more and more every day in the traditional American work ethic that you have to be at a desk feeling miserable in order to be productive in our society. I found myself spending my 20s sitting in really nice offices and making really good money, staring out on sunny days and going, “I just wish I could be out there.”  What’s interesting that I’ve learned is that since I have the ability to go out and enjoy those sunny days, I’m really not doing it anymore than I was when I couldn’t, but the ability and the freedom to do it when I want to is a world of difference for me.  So those two things coupled together I guess paired with the fact that I don’t have any kids and didn’t have a mortgage and I was in a place where I could take a risk, I decided to.  When I was considering career moves, I talked to one of my parents’ friends in her 50s who was a financial advisor and she said to me, and I still have the quote, “Now is not the time to play it safe.”  She said I work with people in their 50s and 60s who are very wealthy but wish that they could go back and do it all over again and take a totally different path because they feel a responsibility now to this wealth and their families.  That was always my driving. I have years to play it safe; now is not the time.

JD: So let me ask then, in terms of the journey you’ve been on since you struck out on your own, do you deal with doubts?  Do you deal with this inner critic?  How do you deal with that kind of thing and questions like, “Should I be doing this? Is this the right path?” or do you feel confident in the path you’ve taken now that you’re further along?

KL: There are doubts, absolutely. I have a very high need for approval, but I also believe in the law of attraction.  I was raised in a family that raised all of the children, all of my cousins, to go to school, get a good job, and make as much money as you can.  Partially because we came from families where our parents didn’t necessarily have that ability or they were working their way up.  I come from such a typical American family, all about work.  You didn’t really look at whether or not you liked what you did. It was how much money can you make with the skills you possessed.  So I have a lot of doubts from that.  My family supports me, but there’s a little bit of an element of, “What in the hell is she thinking?” But not in a, “She’s going to fail kind of way,” but, “It’ll be really fun to see if she can do this,” so that has its element.  But anytime I’ve ever gone down the path of, “This will never work,” I’m right. So I don’t allow my mind to go there.  If I have bad days, I told you I have an “atta girl” file.  I have a thick file called “Kelley’s motivation.” I go there and I read cards where people said, “Congratulations, I’m so proud of you.”  I look through those gifts and those pictures, and I remember there are people who believe in me.  It’s not just me.  I’m not the only one with this crazy idea.  The beauty of being on my own is that I have the flexibility to change my business model.  My biggest struggle has been finding a profitable business model.  When I first started, I really wanted to stay away from people feeling like they were limited by time. I didn’t want to do an hourly rate thing because as a trust officer, I had dealt with clients who hadn’t gotten their questions answered by their attorneys because they didn’t want to pay for their time. But when I say sessions, people don’t see the value in that.  “Well what do you mean, a session?  Are you a therapist?  Where’s the couch?”  So I’ve gone from all different types of attempts at models of sessions or packages or so many hours bundled up, and I’ve come right back around to straight up, I charge by the hour.  I’m not making any more or less money.  It’s all about how I’m presenting what I do.

JD: What would you say on the whole has been the best part of this and what’s been the worst part for you?

KL: The best part has been feeling completely in charge of my own success. “If it is to be, it is up to me” is a mantra that I use.  Ten little two letter words.  Sometimes I have to be really brutally honest with myself and say the reason I’m not making a total living is because I’m not doing the work.  But the best part is that I can make changes there, and I have the power to say, “Okay, I lost 5 clients last year because I couldn’t do their taxes.”  People see CPA after my name and automatically think, “Oh great, she can do my taxes.”  And I was like, oh I don’t want to do taxes.  There’s so much liability involved, and I don’t know that much about it.  Well in the process I’ve had several clients asking me to review their taxes.  So they send me their password on TurboTax.  Sure, okay, and I look it over and I realize first of all I could absolutely do this, and I should be doing this.  There’s no way I can tell them that they did it right from that regard.  And they would have been willing to pay me to do it.  So that was the best part, is being able to go, okay I’m going to start doing taxes.

The worst part has been the daily almost completely changing of my lifestyle, in a good way.  I’m a huge fan of the book Your Money or Your Life where that book defines money as what you trade your life’s energy for. So I stopped trading my life’s energy for a commute everyday and for sitting at a desk surfing the internet and for having to buy a suit and having to eat out. When you think about what goes into your work, you don’t just think about those hours that you’re in the office. You have to think about decompression time. How much time on the weekend do you have to recreate to forget your work stress? You have to vacate your job at least two weeks a year. How much time do we really dedicate to having a capital J Job. The book talks about letting go of some of the material things.  That has been probably the hardest part for me, not being able to buy new clothes when I want them. I have to only buy them when I need them.  Really really really coming down to prioritizing where my energy goes and my money goes.  Good and bad, but it’s what I preach, so it’s absolutely necessary.

JD: Is that specifically scaling back expenses for yourself to try to adjust to the new level of income?

KL: Yes, on certainty in income. I like to take my monthly expenses, add them up, and know how much money I absolutely need to stay out of trouble, to keep my good credit is what I say. And I want 6 months of that set aside. If I don’t have 6 months of that money set aside, I’m not spending money on anything. I’m talking, I’m looking for free coffee.  I’m not getting my hair cut.  I’m not eating out. If I go out for a meeting with a client at a Starbucks, I don’t order anything if I don’t have to. If I do, I find the cheapest thing on the menu. It’s been absolutely just about crunching those down and crunching those numbers and staying afloat so I don’t ever find myself having to put my resume together. But there are times when it’s a little humiliating to go out on a social event and have to limit myself to one happy hour drink.  But it’s motivating, and it’s also exciting to watch myself grow out of that self-induced poverty into okay, I can have a little more wiggle room financially so that I can help give other people hope.  They might not be quitting their jobs to start a business, but they might have to scale back to pay off their debt.  And that’s actually a lot harder to stop going to Starbucks everyday so that you can make an extra $3 a week payment on your card.  It’s not as easy as a tradeoff.

JD: I’m just curious, how do you define success as a financial coach or as Kelley?  How do you define success?

KL: I have a micro version of success and a macro version of success. So success in the moment for me, is am I healthy?  To me, healthy means being not only disease-free, but am I eating right, am I getting enough sleep, and is my house clean?  Those are my definition of health.  Being able to have those pieces means that I am being successful in my life.  When I get too busy, those things are the first to go – exercise, eating right, sleeping enough, clean house.  Macro version of success is more, do I feel like if I look back over the last year, the last 5 years, the last 10 years, I want to be able to say that I took advantage of the opportunities that were out there. There have been times in my life when I’ve lived from a place of fear, and I’ve looked back and gone, if only I’d known I was going to be alright, I would have enjoyed that moment. So breaking free of that barrier and looking back and going, I did enjoy that moment.  I was there.  I took advantage of what was there instead of being afraid of not having enough later.  For my whole life, being a success to me would be at my funeral, people would say, “Kelley really made an impact on me.” I’d like to make an impact on the world, but it’s individuals, many individuals, not just one.  So a ton of people show up and say she really made an impact on me.  That’s how I define success.  It has nothing to do with money.

JD: The last question, what advice do you have for people who out creating their own path?

KL: My biggest thing is to not worry about what anyone else is doing.  Tony Horton in the P90X program says “Do your best, forget the rest.” When I’m doing those programs and it’s kicking my butt, and I cannot keep up with Dreya, I remember that mantra. It applies to so many areas of life. Do what feels right to you and forget what everyone else is saying. I see so many of my friends and colleagues and acquaintances living these lives of quiet desperation because they’re so worried what everyone else thinks.  Who freaking cares? Show them wrong.  I don’t necessarily promote self employment for everyone out there. And in fact, I don’t consider myself to be an entrepreneur because I’m not in this to build a big business and sell it and then start up another business.  I really just want to live a life, and that’s different for everyone. Embracing your strengths, finding out what makes you tick, and making the best of those, and just, do your best, forget the rest.

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