Today we’d like to introduce you to Theresa Gray.
So, before we jump into specific questions about the business, why don’t you give us some details about you and your story.
I came to California in 2000 with an environmental engineering degree from the University of Michigan (UofM) and a job as an auto show spokesmodel. I lived in Huntington Beach for several sunny years – enjoying the boardwalk and surf culture; interacting in the community with the Newport Beach Jaycees, OC UofM alumni club and working as both an environmental engineer and an actress. In the midst of this busy schedule, I decided to add: getting a Masters degree in Public Relations at Cal State Fullerton to consolidate my disparate careers.
However, once I got my Masters degree I realized that I had been prioritizing my career falsely – I really wanted to have a family and be a stay at home mom. So, I changed my focus from career building to finding Eric, my husband! We married in 2005 and I moved south along the coast to beautiful Carlsbad.
We had a lot of fun playing beach volleyball, remodeling our house, traveling, and spoiling ourselves. We were in a hurry to start a family, but sadly, like so many older couples, we needed expensive IVF. We happily spent the money (and now have two beautiful children ages 9 and 11).
Due to a combination of overspending, bad luck, poor decisions, and medical issues – we were struggling to pay the bills. Eric made a great income but we spent everything we made plus a little bit more every year. Financial worries were adding stress to our lives.
And our lives were already stressed – normal stuff from having toddlers and a traveling husband; multiple medical issues for our daughter who was born prematurely at 24 weeks; plus dealing with sometimes crippling grief from the death of her twin sister (she was 10 days old). We were holding on but it was often painful.
When I was pregnant with our youngest, we started looking for a church with a great children’s program. I grew up in a church and wanted to make sure that my children had that same firm foundation. One day we found a flyer for Daybreak Church’s “Eggapalooza” – an Easter-themed over-the-top event in Carlsbad that was awesome! It was a joyful experience and we felt like we found ‘our’ church.
I jumped into volunteering in the children’s ministry and making friends. My husband and I signed up for enrichment classes (but took them separately because of baby issues). Eric took the “Bibles for Dummies” class while I took the money class, “Financial Peace University” (FPU).
FPU was devastating. It made me truly realize how badly off we were financial. I had convinced myself that we didn’t have credit card debt because I would frequently pay the credit card bills down to zero. But, sometimes I had to pay them off with our taxes or sometimes using our home-equity line of credit. We even refinanced the house. Twice.
Once, during the first class, we were asked, “how much debt do you have?” I was pretty smug about not having a credit card problem. We did have that home equity line of credit, often known as a second mortgage. We had used it to pay off medical bills, school loans, an IRS penalty, and those occasional credit cards. We thought we were pretty smart to have consolidated it all and at a low-interest rate, too!
In my mind, at that moment, I thought debt was just credit cards. I hadn’t included our two car payments or the big home equity line of credit. I started to cry when I realized that we really owed over $100k plus the house.
Fast forward a little. I repeated the class with Eric attending. Once we were on the same page, we were able to agree to hate our debt and vowed together to make changes. We learned to communicate about our spending and created a working budget that limited our spending to (gasp) only what we made. We made paying off our debt a huge portion of our budget.
Within the next four years, we paid off $110,000 and became debt-free except for our mortgage. We were so excited and empowered by gaining control of our finances that during that journey we became volunteer facilitators for the class and have now helped hundreds of people in our community take control of their finances. We are starting our 12th class this fall (you can join us by using this link: https://www.financialpeace.com/classes/1069195/registration).
This year, two of my past students paid off all of their debt too! Helping people was what I had always wanted to do. That’s why I had gone into environmental engineering back in my idealistic youth. Leading FPU in our community helped us to stay focused and helped people learn to handle their money. Because I found the process of seeing peoples lives being changed so rewarding, I wanted to go deeper into the whole process and decided to become a financial coach.
I went to Dave Ramsey‘s headquarters in Tennessee and took his Financial Coach Master Training seminar in February of 2017. My goal was to become a financial coach and help people in a one-on-one format by providing in-depth analysis and restructuring of their finances.
That process of education (classes, homework, reading assignments, mentoring program) was electrifying! My mind shifted into overdrive and I was fired up! My husband recollects that he saw my happiness levels soar during this time.
I have always loved learning. And teaching. After the coaching education, I realized how much I needed to still learn and taught myself some basic web-design, blogging, graphics, marketing, and social media. Thank goodness for easy to use programs like Canva and Wix!
It was certainly a change from full-time mommy/school volunteer/church volunteer!
We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
Personally, I’ve overcome a lot of obstacles in my life and I’m proud to have come out the other side as a healthy loving individual. All the bumps in the road helped me to mature emotionally and spiritually to have the self-discipline to be a debt-free entrepreneur.
I already had a full calendar when I decided to attend coaching training. I’m a full-time stay-at-home mom with a traveling husband about 30% of the month. I have become accustomed to volunteering a lot at church and school. It was a process to figure out how I could incorporate reading, learning, blogging, editing, writing, web design, advertising and meeting with clients – and still get the groceries!
I became obsessed with reading other people‘s blogs about how to blog or blogs about money. I was engaged and electrified and it was hard to limit the amount of time I spent working or thinking about coaching and blogging.
The process that we took to become debt-free is what is helping me to become a good business owner. We needed to prioritize and then make sacrifices. The things that we chose to sacrifice to make our budget work were things that were wants instead of needs. It took quite a lot of thought and effort to achieve the goal. We had to be persistent. We needed a pervasive attitude of hating debt and yearning to be debt free. We cut back on spending in every category.
Each purchase had to fit within a pre-determined limit. If we went out to eat we only ordered water to drink. We didn’t take vacations for three years. We purged our whole house to sell as many things as possible on eBay, Craigslist, Amazon, and local consignment stores. We even lived with a disgusting couch that had fraying ‘leather’ pieces! We had friends sit on it and pull a loose piece off by their legs and say, “this is gross, you need a new couch!”.
It was difficult to transition from dining at restaurants and having cocktails with friends to eating on a budget. We went from having the kids in baby gymnastics (yes, that’s a thing) to be very mindful (i.e. saying ‘no’) about any extracurricular activities.
Learning to prioritize and make sacrifices has been great for our family. We have learned to communicate clearly about our wants. It has helped us to model healthy finances for children because they hear us debating the merits of spending on this or spending on that. They see that they cannot have everything and that sometimes you need to wait to purchase something. If it’s true that more is caught than taught, then we are being good role models for them in healthy communication about money and the importance of delayed gratification.
My husband and I have a better relationship now because of going through this bumpy time, and we are equipped now to speak about our money in a way that doesn’t reflect back negatively on each other. There is no “I deserve this” or “I make the money” or “you spend more”. If we want something, we put it on a list and prioritize it against the other wishes and we see where we can fit it in the budget.
I struggled this last year with a desire to be profitable. My business, MoneyMatters. Life lost money in 2017, but because we had budgeted money for ‘my hobby’ of blogging and being creative, it didn’t impact our personal finances. I was disappointed that my big dreams didn’t go as planned, but realized that I don’t have time to go as big as I had initially thought and I enjoy the creative process as much as coaching.
There was so much expense in starting up – training, travel, advertising, business cards, getting a website – all of those things were expensive cumulatively. It took a lot of perseverance to not be demoralized by the lack of clients! Luckily, I was having fun and my entrepreneurial mission was to help people so I wasn’t hindered exactly by not making money.
I knew I was helping others – I was hearing positive feedback from the articles on my blog, and having great conversations about debt with more people than ever. I even branched out and wrote an interactive family book on gratitude that’s for sale on Amazon and Etsy.
I stayed engaged to overcome these obstacles. I gave myself grace to let go of pre-conceived notions of what I was supposed to be doing and just enjoy where I ended up. I love getting to work with people one on one, I love creating inspirational graphics for social media, writing articles for my blog, and brainstorming new products. As long as I am increasing awareness of financial fitness and daily gratitude, I’m happy!
So let’s switch gears a bit and go into the MoneyMatters.Life story. Tell us more about the business.
I’m a financial coach, blogger and author.
In case you don’t know what a financial coach is, a financial coach works with a client to change behaviors around money. That might be helping a client see where they can reduce spending or earn more income to create more savings. A financial coach helps to create a plan to get out of debt. Sometimes it’s important to help understand a client’s emotions around money, which may have created obstacles to good financial management in the past.
I have a varied background and multiple life experiences that help me relate to most people. You could say that I specialize in meeting people and learning their stories – I enjoy it. In my life, I have been a student, teacher, parent, actress, field worker, model, janitor, professional engineer, public speaker, ice cream vendor, and more! A common thread through all those jobs was making money and spending money, probably a lot like you! In the last few years, I have become fascinated with how much of our culture has become entitled and how our society is built on debt.
I look at personal finance as a heart issue first and then as a numbers issue. Each person has a history that impacts how they relate with money and a story behind their current financial situation. My job is to listen non-judgmentally (and with Christian love) and provide a third person, non-emotional, view of the situation. Together we come up with your spending goals and your life priorities and I recommend a plan to get there – starting with having a balanced budget.
I personally know the benefits that come from developing and using a balanced budget and they far outreach ‘just your finances’! My husband and I eliminated 90% of our money fights, paid off all of our debt, and now know that we are financially secure – ALL because of having a balanced realistic budget. We now have an emergency fund, a plan to pay for college for the kids, and a plan for retirement. We found hope in the mess of our finances and life is SO much more peaceful now!
As your financial coach, you can trust that I have your best interests at heart and that I am not trying to sell you anything. I will provide an objective third party look at your finances and make suggestions on how to create a new approach to the way you use your money.
My goal for each client is to provide hope to people that they can pay off their debt and live a life of their own choosing. So many people are stuck working jobs that they don’t like because they have massive debt from buying things that they didn’t need. What they do need is some help to find their path to freedom!
My website and blog is at https://MoneyMatters.Life. That is where you can get more info about my business, me, and read articles about my opinions on the “Comparison Lifestyle”, and get some encouragement on becoming debt free! I wrote my book, “Family Gratitude Journal” as a way to battle the entitled feeling that is so pervasive in our culture. I created it for all ages, from children to seniors, and have heard great things from so many people! It’s especially important to focus on joy and gratitude when you are cutting back your lifestyle to become debt free.
After recently completing a bible study, I was motivated to start keeping a gratitude journal and wanted to include my family. However, I didn’t know how to go about it and was concerned that my children, ages 9 and 11, would simply repeat a list each night! I decided to create a guided journal that would make them think and encourage a range of answers. I made it flexible for our schedules, so we wouldn’t feel guilty for not doing it every day. I wanted to lead them into an attitude of gratitude by having them acknowledge all the little joys in their lives.
My book is a 132 page, 5×8 paperback, with a glossy cover. Each left page contains questions to inspire family members of all ages to pause and reflect on their life and blessings. Each family member should have their own book to record their answers on the right side, in list or prose form on the provided lines, or sometimes in sketches in the provided drawing space.
I believe that this book is unique because it is accessible to all ages and provides fodder for uplifting family sharing. It is a good value (it better be if it’s offered by a financial coach) because unlike many similar gratitude journals it does not expire in a year (you date each entry on your own timeline) and each entry guides you through a specific gratitude oriented thought process (unlike journals that simply ask “what are you grateful for?”).
It was also really fun to create! I’m modifying it right now to be a special journal for Disney Cruise passengers.
Has luck played a meaningful role in your life and business?
The role that has played in my life and my business is such a tricky question. I almost don’t know how to answer. At times I feel that I have lead a remarkably lucky life. I was born into a loving family in a small, safe, mid-west town in America. I was nurtured by strong values and attended a wonderful public school. I certainly was lucky there! I did nothing to earn that placement.
Conversely, I also did nothing to earn some of the bad things that have happened to me. My dad struggled with mental illness and it wreaked havoc on our family. My twin daughters were born prematurely and survived ten days, then the healthy one died from an infection. Bad luck?
We were very fortunate to find FPU when we did. Money fights are one of the leading causes of divorce. We were blessed to weather the loss of a child and to then overcome debt. But, my husband likes to say that luck is when preparation meets opportunity. And I can see that happening in my personal life and business. I studied hard and was able to get into a wonderful college.
Sometimes timing is so fortuitous that things are easy! My book was like that. It wrote itself in a weekend. I had been doing a Bible study about how important it is to find joy in everything. In its conclusion, it touted the importance of keeping a gratitude journal. So, in an effort to help my family record their blessings and foster an ‘attitude of gratitude’, my Family Gratitude Journal was born.
- Financial Coaching – 1 session – $175
- Financial Coaching – 3 sessions – $450
- Family Gratitude Journal, $7.99
- Website: https://MoneyMatters.Life
- Phone: 760576HOPE
- Email: theresa@MoneyMatters.Life
- Instagram: @theresa_m_flynn
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Moneymatterslife-1852377135087284/
- Twitter: @theresa_m_flynn
- Other: https://www.etsy.com/listing/630680481/family-gratitude-journal