A hearty welcome to Grandma’s Wealth Wisdom with your hospitable hosts, Brandon and Amanda Neely. This is the only podcast for strategies to grow your wealth simply and sustainably like grandma used to. Without further ado here are your hosts.
Brandon: Hey, I'm Brandon and welcome to Grandma's Wealth Wisdom where we work with you to build wealth grandma would be proud of. And today is Episode 33 where we get to interview one of our favorite people, Mark Willis.
Amanda: Yeah. So hi, I'm Amanda, I'm going to tell you the official bio of Mark Willis, and then Brandon is going to tell you the real story. So Mark is a certified financial planner, he's also a number one bestselling author, and the owner of Lake Growth Financial Services. I know that's hard to hear like on audio, Lake, LAKE, like Lake Michigan, and then Growth, like you want to grow your money, Growth Financial Services. Based here in Chicago, Illinois, where Brandon and I live too. He's been around doing this for years, and he's helped hundreds of clients take back control of their financial future and build their businesses. [0:01:24.8]
Brandon: Including us.
Amanda: Yeah, including us. That's the real story part. Build their businesses with sophisticated tax efficient financial solutions. He specializes in building custom tailored financial strategies that are unknown to the typical stock jockeys, attorneys and other financial gurus. He has his own podcast too that he co-hosts with the lovely woman named Holly and his wife Katrina. It's called The Not Your Average Financial Podcast, and on that podcast they share a lot of the same kind of thing that we share here, but in a much more technical, detail oriented kind of way, so they've got stuff about investing in real estate, saving and paying for college without going broke, create an income in retirement you can't outlive and so on and so forth. [0:02:10.6]
They're in the 90 episode range as we are recording this interview, so they've got a lot more episodes under their belts too. And they just keep getting better and better. Long story short, Mark works of people who want to grow their wealth in ways that are safe and predictable, becoming their own source of financing and creating tax free income in retirement. That's the official bio for Mark Willis CFP.
Brandon: I would also add a couple things that I think are very relevant, is he has a master's of divinity, which is kind of strange for a financial person. We met him when we were running our brick and mortar cafe, and he came in through a mutual friend, and we also ended up having office space together. [0:03:02.8]
So we shared an office, or actually he rented an office from kind of close to where our coffee shop was, and we became really good friends. At one point we were doing a documentary film screening and documentaries, and we knew Mark was an expert, we didn't know of what really at the time, but we knew he had this really cool movie filmed, we're like, "Hey, will you do documentaries, would you be an expert for us and we'll watch this film?" We watched the film as well as the participants that came and we were hosting it, and we learned a ton from this whole thing and our minds were blown actually. He hadn't really told us what he does, he was kind of like, "I do finance and money stuff." but we did know, it was kind of odd. We watched this film, we were like, "We need to talk to this guys, we need to find out more." and we became clients of Mark actually at one point. Right, Amanda? [0:04:08.4]
Brandon: Amanda was more of the skeptical one for sure at that point, and that we went through the whole thing, learned a ton and we were actually able to leverage this vehicle that he helped us create to take care of most of all of our business and student debt, and the only debt we had was owed to ourself, and it's all because of our relationship to Mark who's now our mentor and a friend in the business, and now that's what we get to do, is help others become financially free, but it's all because our relationship to this amazing guy who is here.
Amanda: Yeah, so we're excited to introduce Mark to all of you faithful listeners. We know that you're going to enjoy this episode. So please join us in welcoming Mark to the podcast.
Brandon: Hey Mark, welcome to the podcast.
Mark: Man, I love it, glad to be with you guys. [0:05:01.2]
Amanda: Glad to have you here, Mark. Are you ready to jump into the questions we got for you today?
Mark: Hey, you know I've been waiting my whole life. Not my whole life, but a lot of my life.
Amanda: A lot of your life, okay.
Brandon: The last few minutes to an hour.
Mark: Yeah. This is exciting, glad to be with you guys. Yeah, let's jump in.
Amanda: Okay. Let's go, let's go in the time machine back to you when you were growing up as a child. What was money like for you back then?
Mark: Okay, so I have a really interesting weird story to tell. I'm sure lots of folks have weird money stories when you're a little kid. But I had a fairly interesting one. I remember starting to collect coins, a little dollars here and there from chores or little lemonade stands, that sort of thing that we would do, and I had a little paper bag in my top drawer of my chest of drawers in my little kid room, and I would put money in there when I would earn it and, I would collect and collect and so forth and spend when I needed to. You know, it sort of like my little bank account for myself, and I don't really pay much attention to it, but at some point once we hit $50 I think in there, my mom brought me to a bank to deposit all that money into the bank. [0:06:09.3]
And I remember this really weird feeling like I don't want to give that stranger all my hard earned money so that they can say I have an account at the bank. I know my mom thinks it's a smart idea, I think this guy, you know, thinks it's probably a smart idea for me to give him all my money, but I don't really trust this banker to take all my money and do something like open up something called a checking account. I just didn't really understand how the whole banking thing worked, and to be honest, you know, now that I've kind of grown up a little bit I kind of realize how spot on my little four year old mind was at that age, or a five year old, whatever it was. You know, handing over a bunch of money to a banker doesn't exactly keep it safe and secure in their vault.
Brandon: Just like the character from Mary Poppins. It's the little boy.
Mark: Yeah, yeah, the story kind of goes similar, yeah. Paper bag in some ways was sort of my own little bank savings account, and I kind of I could see it, I could count it. That's right, he kind of the start of the run of the bank. [0:07:10.7]
Brandon: Yeah, because his dad wanted to make sure he puts his little toppins ends in the bank and he was a little freaked out about it and he was saying, "They're taking my money." and then the run happen.
Mark: For folks who want to see something funny on YouTube, look up South Park Bank And It's Gone, just type those words in YouTube, "and it's gone", you'll love it.
Amanda: Okay, I'm going to do that when we're done with the interview so that we can put maybe that link in the show notes.
Brandon: Is it a South Park episode?
Mark: Yeah. It's a little clip if you just look it up on YouTube you'll see what I'm talking about, it's pretty hilarious.
Brandon: Got you. We'll put in the show notes for sure. I don't know if grandma would watch that show, but you know.
Amanda: Maybe she'd watch the clip, we'll have to filter and see.
Brandon: So how did your money story transition as like a young adult or when you started doing the adult thing in life, you know, when you have to start actually have a checkbook, pay bills, that kind of thing. [0:08:14.3]
Mark: Yeah, I'm really thankful now for all the little jobs that I had as a little kid. I remember as a young adult I had several different tiny little businesses that we all kind of start doing when we're young kids and young adults. I had a snow blowing business, lawn mowing, that we'd advertise in several neighborhoods and made some decent money doing that, and a lot of landscaping work and that sort of thing. I worked you know for one of those driving ranges where you have to drive that little cart around to pick up all the golf balls and people would aim their golf ball line drives at you. So all those little jobs here and there really kind of built up a little muscle and me to think like a business owner. And what's funny is and interesting is somewhere along the way I really get that squeezed out of me and was really preached out to go get a job, to be an employee. [0:09:02.6]
So I was really taught the employee mindset as I went through traditional education, and then going through my college degrees and everything, yeah, you're really just told and taught and it sort of expected that we're all just going to leave these college years behind us and go get a regular day job somewhere, punch a clock, work for somebody else. I guess I woke up to that fact and slowly, but surely kind of regained, reclaimed the entrepreneurial mindset a little bit and learned that the riskiest kind of job you can have is where you only have one customer. In most employee situations they only have one customer, their boss, and if they don't please that one customer they might lose that one customer, i.e. get fired, whereas when you're a business owner if you're an entrepreneur you might have 200 or 300 or 2000 or 3000 customers that you can enjoy working with and consider good friends, have a little bit more financial security. [0:10:02.3]
Strange and as backwards as that sounds, that's one of the things I learned. Another thing, I guess I just quickly say is that debt is a big deal, and that when we went through our college years I remember taking on student loan debts and not understanding what those were or what exactly the ramifications were. I remember sitting in a little hotel room outside of our college and signing away my life basically, getting into the student loan debts before I even stepped foot on to college campus. I was already in debt as I started my first semester in college, and that carried with me all the way past college and ended up, my wife and I carried with us out of our college degrees $120,000 of student loan debt. We graduated in 2008 with no money in our bank account really, no jobs because it was 2008 don't forget, and no real plan to pay off all that student loan debt. So it literally did feel like a giant weight around our shoulders dragging us down. [0:11:02.6]
So that was one of the big aha moments, I guess, is just you're signing up for a lifetime of payments when you get into debt, it's important to realize. That was another part of, a big part of our story with money as a young adult.
Amanda: Yeah. So I'm just picturing 20 something year old Mark with this big debt, with this just finishing, coming out, looking for jobs and they're hard to find and it's, but like looking for that one customer that will pay you. How do you, like what happens along the way that transforms you from that person to who you are today, and especially like how that influence, how you thought about it and used your money between then and now?
Mark: Yeah, I think the biggest piece was my really supportive wife Katrina really opened my eyes back up to the business owner mindset and took us some time. [0:11:59.9]
It took us some hard points in our in our journey where we had to call on our parents to help us out financially, and I remember at one point as young adults it's a hard thing to do if you're already living independent and that sort of thing. Yeah, it was a few moments of prayer and anxiety and so forth to kind of get us out of where we are to get us into where we wanted to go, which was the entrepreneurial track that we have never looked back from since. We love the transition that we went through, it was difficult, it was most difficult to try to explain ourselves to our friends and family and our former employers. But we would never trade it. I mean it's such a fun adventure, and you know, it's tricky the first year or two, but you get past it and you're on to bigger and better things.
Brandon: We wouldn't know anything about that, right Amanda?
Mark: You guys know a few things about it, you probably could teach me if a thing or two about running your own business. [0:13:00.2]
Brandon: One thing I want to come back to is in your most recent podcast, his podcast is Not Your Average Financial Podcast, you talk about imagination and how you have imagination as a kid in and then we're taught to be a part of the system, or you know, get a job, go to school, work for one employer, one person. And then you kind of, sounds like you regained your imagination. I think with entrepreneurship that's part of what we're doing, but then what hinders us is money. Right? So how did you regain your imagination when you had all this debt and whenever the powers to be around us was saying, "This is what you need to do." How did you transition into where you're at now?
Mark: Yeah. Well you're referring to a TED talk we watched, Dr George Land with Beth Jarman were commissioned by NASA to help the space agency identify and develop their future creative talents for their organization, for NASA. [0:14:09.8]
We're talking about NASA here. They found out that the younger the individuals were and the less they'd been exposed to traditional educational systems, like public school and so forth, a private school, the traditional institutionalized educational system is systematically removing creative, imaginative and innovative solutions from our children. It's not my opinion, that's the scientific result of their study that they did over a decade. The creative innovative solutions of five year olds, 98% of five year olds had genius level answers to problem solving questions, but by the time the kids were through high school, at age 15, they were down to like a really pathetically small 12% of students had genius level innovative solutions. [0:15:08.0]
That's a terrible precipitous drop, and I guess Dr Land blamed the industrial revolution and the factories model on how we approach our education for our children. That's the study and the result and folks should totally check out that very, very compelling TED talk. Yeah, I'd say it comes down to, it really does feel like when you take the red pill, when you wake up from the Matrix sort of speak, if all you ever do is see yourself as a cog in the factories' machine or system, you won't question anything. You just go through life without even realizing you're in the system. It's like a fish that doesn't notice that he's wet. You can go your whole life and not ever notice the water if you're not careful. So it's about, mostly I'd say it's by listening carefully to other mentors that you respect and believe are heading in the direction you want to go. [0:16:07.4]
I certainly can think of a few mentors that sort of showed us the way outside of the normal, traditional pathways that we're all introduced to when we're young, young adults and kind of got us out of the rat race sort of speak.
Amanda: They were your Morpheus, if we're using the Matrix.
Mark: Yeah, exactly.
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Brandon: I feel that you are one of those that Morpheus to us as we were being, doing the entrepreneur thing but also when it comes to money and some of the things that you are being woken up to, because we've known each other for years, and then you are sharing with us and I'm like, "Wait, what is this that you're talking about?" and then we were kind of like, you know, sometimes you wish you didn't know what you didn't know. But then at the same time, I'm like man, I'm so glad we know this and we are aware of what's happening.
Amanda: Yeah. I want to take a slight detour for a second and talk about that system that Mark here were referring to, and then come back to kind of what the lessons are that you've learned that are kind of anti establishment or are unique and imaginative. But first, with the system, I was wanting to ask you. So your last name is Willis, there's a not so famous Willis that's really helped shape the system that we follow here in the last little over a 100 years in the U.S. and I want to just check to see if you're related to this Willis and see what kind of can of worms that opens. So are you related to Henry Parker Willis? [0:18:13.1]
Mark: I got to be. Yeah, if we're Willis, we run in a tie pack if we got the same last name, totally, yeah, all the way.
Amanda: Okay. Would he be your grandfather or great grandfather you think?
Mark: Looks like he was born in 1874 according to Wikipedia here, so yeah, American financial expert, it says. So 1874, yeah, a couple of greats in there. Sure.
Amanda: Yeah. Okay. So maybe a direct descendant or maybe distant cousin, not really sure, but like tell the audience who are like, "What are they talking about? Who is this guy?" What does he have to do with the establishment and how we use money in the United States? [0:18:57.3]
Mark: Well, I'm just reading straight off of Wikipedia here, I'm learning about this guy literally moments before our podcast started, but I see he served as an expert to the Ways and Means in banking and currency committees for the United States. He also was the first secretary to the Federal Reserve Board, which was established in 1913, so he served those first years right before World War One and he served in that position with the Federal Reserve. So that's who Henry Parker Willis is, whoever he is.
Amanda: If you Google him you'll also find on this archives of University of Chicago publications, because he worked with them, that he was part of the National Monetary Commission back in 1912, and then together with this man Carter Glass who as a representative from Virginia, he helped draft this very instrumental legislation back in 1912 that ended up creating the Federal Reserve System as we know it, he then became the secretary of the Federal Reserve. [0:20:05.0]
Mark: He kind of wrote his own job description then it sounds like.
Brandon: There you go.
Mark: That's funny. Yeah, no clue from related to him, but it's fascinating, the history of the Federal Reserve. I think a lot of our grandmas would have a few things to say about Federal Reserves, neither federal nor reserve discuss.
Amanda: And not a bank, if you know the Federal Reserve Bank, not a bank at all. Give us with your credentials as a certified financial planner and your expert knowledge at how the banking system works, how the money system works, give us your like a couple sentence take on how the Federal Reserve has shaped the world we live in now?
Mark: Well back to my a little paper bag, I really do still believe that the paper bag was a safer place to keep my money than with the bank down the street. Now we all like to say that the FDIC would come in and save our deposits if a bank went belly up, but yeah, take a look at that, review it, read the law, the current law of the land, the DOT Frank Act has instituted essentially a rule where if another bank failure happens, which is only a matter of time, it's not like we're all living in an immune world to bank bankruptcies, but the next time there's a bank failure there will not be a taxpayer bailout like we had in the last financial meltdown. [0:21:31.1]
Instead the rules, as they're written today, is that we would essentially become, if you're a depositor with the bank that's gone bankrupt, essentially your deposit will vaporize, it will turn into stock ownership in that failed bank. So you'll get a nice letter saying, "Hey congratulations, you are an owner in XYZ bank, but know, by the way, the XYZ bank is filing for bankruptcy. Sorry, there goes your deposit." And it's gone, as it said.
Brandon: Wow. That doesn't sound very secure, in my opinion. [0:22:07.2]
Mark: Well we all, again, we think the FDIC is there to save us, but remember the FDIC does not have a reserve, big old pile of money like Scrooge McDuck or something just laying around. They hold less than 1% of all deposits that banks are supposedly backed by, so that means that if just one percent of banks fail, they don't have, the FDIC doesn't have any cash on hand, and remember that happened in 2008. We had hundreds of banks fail at once and the FDIC had to go to Congress to ask for a bailout from them, from their own failure to have anything on reserve. So yeah, there are better ways to put money aside in safe places, paper bags, just joking, is one place you can put it. But there's lots of places to keep your cash. And sorry Henry Parker Willis, but I'm not a huge fan of your Federal Reserve. [0:23:07.5]
Amanda: Okay. So tell us, what should we learn, like if you were talking to your grandchildren, where would you tell them to put their money, what kinds of lessons would you pass on to them?
Brandon: You have a daughter now, I am thinking about this a lot with our one year old, is what are you thinking about money or even imagination for your daughter, and then also the legacy for your granddaughter?
Mark: Yeah. Well there's probably more to this. I've got a whole written out like list of like rules for life and principles that I have ready to give my children and grandchildren someday. One of the big things, I'll just mention three of them. The first habit or the first principle I'd pass on is that habits are destiny, habits are destiny. You become what you think about all day long. [0:24:01.3 ]
So I really believe that strongly. You are what you think about all day long. And I'd say two, that dreams, your dreams, plus your reality, plus your determination is the successful life. So your dreams, plus engaging with reality, plus a grit or determination will lead to the successful life. Not forgetting any of those three ingredients you might say. Yeah, letting your habits inform the kind of life that you want to live will to you become the kind of person you want to be. The first principle I'd pass along to my grandchildren are that habits are your destiny. The second thing that I would say is look to nature to understand reality. Nature is really good at smacking us across the face. It's both beautiful and dangerous at the same time. If you can learn to iterate and adapt with rapid trials, like figuring out, "Okay, that didn't work, let's try something different." that's what nature does every single year there is another crop of this, of that, bugs trying this or that, or viruses or flu, viruses or whatnot, it's all iteration, adaptation, learning to take the errors of last season and try something new with a new trial and being willing to throw stuff out if it doesn't work. [0:25:20.6]
One of the best things that nature has taught me is something called post-traumatic growth. That's where when you experience pain you can grow. It's the old phrase "whatever doesn't kill you only makes you stronger", the fancy word here is "hormesis", and there's a lot of people out there who are studying hormesis right now to like figure out what are the ways in which when I work out, for example my body is actually literally being ripped apart so that it can grow back stronger. And every time you prune a rose bush it grows better than if you just let it grow wild. So that's the second thing I see in nature, is post-traumatic growth. And then I'd say you always want to let your future be bigger than your past. [0:26:02.0]
That's something I see nature showing us all the time. You always want your future to be bigger than your past. it doesn't mean growth for the sake of growth, but what it means in my opinion is that you're looking to something that keeps you hungry. Nature is always hungry, it's always looking to let its future be bigger than its past. Let nature define what you believe to be true or see is your reality. So that's the second thing. The third thing that I'll just mention quickly is that you really, I guess the way I'd like to say this is nothing is as important as you think it is while you're looking at it. Let me say that again. Nothing is as important as you think it is while you're looking about it, while you're thinking about it. So I'll say it one more time because I kind of messed that up. Nothing is as important as you think it is... Nothing is as important as you think it is while you're thinking about it. In other words, you don't need no drama. Alright? So when I'm looking at the problem dealing with a flat tire that I just got on the highway, yeah, that's a problem, but it's not as important as I think as it is while I'm thinking about it. [0:27:10.7]
In other words, there are bigger fish to fry, and if I overreact in the moment of that flat tire I'm going to be emotionally pulled from one thing to the next all day long. So nothing is as important as I think it is while I'm thinking about it. That's the third thing I'd pass on to my grandkids regarding money and life in general.
Amanda: That's really great, that's some really good grandma type wisdom there that we love bringing on this podcast, so thanks for bringing that to the audience, Mark. I hope listener, if you did not catch those that you rewind, you write them down, you record them in your notes on your phone, whatever it is, and then be sure you hit subscribes so you continue to get those kinds of values and wisdom that we share on this podcast. We're running short on time Mark, but I want to make sure we do two things to wrap up. First, in one sentence, I'm going to challenge you to keep says to one sentence, how do you see your future being bigger than your past as it relates to money? [0:28:13.0]
Brandon: In one sentence? That's hard, I can't do that.
Mark: I want my family to be glad to be with me. Period.
Amanda: Cool. I love that. Great. And then, if people want to find out more, they want to hear more, like maybe hear more about those lessons that you want to pass on to your kids and your grandkids, maybe see if they can borrow your one pager, whatever it is, how do they find out more?
Mark: Keep listening to Grandma's Wealth Wisdom, because it's chock full of awesome stuff, and if you had extra time at the end of the day listen to our show too, Not Your Average Financial Podcast. We are supporters of one other and love the work and the message that you guys are getting out there. Makes me want to hang out with grandma all the more.
Amanda: Yeah, great, thanks Mark. We'll be sure to include a link to The Not Your Average Financial Podcast in the show notes, and definitely encourage, I never miss an episode, I've listened to every single of your 90 plus episodes, I think you're getting close to 100. Right? [0:29:09.7]
Mark: Yeah, we're going to be bringing back Henry Parker Willis from the grave and we're going to interview him. So that's going to be pretty cool.
Brandon: If you go to their podcast too, you might see Amanda and myself on that podcast as well, so if you go to their podcast look up our episode.
Amanda: Great. Well thanks Mark, we'll talk to you again soon.
Mark: Awesome. Keep up the great work, go grandma.
Brandon: Go grandma.
Amanda: So there was a lot of value that Mark just brought. and I know he could have brought a ton more value to this podcast, we're going to totally have to have him on again. Some of what I'm taking away, that regaining imagination. I know Mark, I think when you listen to his podcast you'll hear him reference the Matrix a lot, and that's kind of one of his things that he does and sometimes I'm like, "We need to think of other ways talk about this." but you know like, is reality the only reality. [0:30:05.2 ]
You know, that kind of idea, and being able to have that imaginative look and that open mind with your money I think is really important. Something that I don't know if enough people do, they stick with the average established ways or what they feel are the established ways that everyone else is doing, but are those really the best. I love that Mark brings that question it, even if we think about the banking system and the Federal Reserve Bank that's not federal, there's no reserve really and it's not a bank, but we take that for granted in what we do. So if this episode does nothing else, I hope it blows our minds, like that there could be something different, and if you're willing to say there could be something different there could be something more that you actually go seek that out and find it. [0:31:00.9]
Brandon: I also think from our listeners, a lot of our listeners are kind of taking that blue pill or red pill or whatever pill color it is, and they're like, "Man I don't want to work for The Man or The Woman, whoever it is. I want to be my..."
Amanda: It's The Man.
Brandon: The Man. "I want to be my own boss, I want to do things differently. I saw how my parents did it and it didn't work out so hot for them." Hence why our tagline is sometimes it skips a generation in some areas. So they have their opening up their imagination and I'm hoping with the episode that what Mark shared is, it's also not just your imagination about your job or being an entrepreneur, but your imagination of how you allocate your resources and your money and your time. I think that was a big thing. [0:31:55.8]
Amanda: For sure. One thing I'm going to come back to and study on more is that looking to nature to understand reality. I've definitely heard like when you're in nature your mind thinks differently just from the shapes that your eyes are taking in compared with just all the manmade things, and I think that's a good reason to get out in nature, but also just study how it's working to get into the sciences and learn things that can apply to money and whatnot. So that something I think you're going to hear more about on this podcast going forward is how nature can inform what we're doing, because I know that can also bring us to a even more healthier respect of the world around us and of the plants and animals and environment that we live in.
Brandon: Like grandma would. My grandma.
Brandon: My grandma, she did all kinds of planting and we were outside of a lot. I mean, that's just the way it was, I feel like. [0:33:07.9]
Amanda: Yeah. Well I think we need to wrap up today. We've got another great interview coming to you next time, so be sure to subscribe so you don't miss the next awesome person that you're going to want to hear about and to follow, maybe listen to other things that they do and keep going after what is important to you.
Brandon: Build your imagination yourself. So until next time, keep building your wealth simply and sustainably for your own future and the future of our grandchildren's generation.
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