It’s 2021, the 34th Women’s History Month, and International Women’s Day. You would think by now women would have an equal seat at the financial planning table. Sadly, that’s just not the case. The finance sector remains heavily male-dominated (not to mention its strong “wealthy member’s only” vibe) with few avenues of pursuit for independent, forward-thinking women seeking holistic financial planning. Add to the mix a lower income, single parentage, or atypical life circumstances, and well, better luck next time.
"Financial planning is self care, period."
That is until women like Molly Berger decided to carve out space for women traditionally left out of the financial world. As a financial advisor, Berger specializes “in socially and environmentally conscious investing to help clients from all backgrounds, careers, and economic status align their dollars with their values.”
A member of the Fred and Far movement since 2017, we recently spoke with Berger to learn how we could better invest in ourselves through purposed financial planning.
What inspired you to become a financial planner, and how did you get to this point in your career?
I've been in the finance industry for a long time, in a variety of roles, and have always had an interest in personal finance. For years I managed my own financial plan, I was always confused, unsure of what to do with what funds, not sure if I was on track for the early retirement I desired, not sure where or what to invest in, feelings that a lot of women have. I sought out my own financial advisor several times and continued to have horrible experiences. I most often met with older men (exactly who you picture when you imagine a financial advisor) who were judgemental, disrespectful, and obviously did not care about me or my unique goals. I left more than one meeting in tears! I couldn't understand why people like me couldn't get financial help without being treated like we were worthless. I was laid off from my last fintech startup and knew I wanted to work for myself but in a way that truly impacted the world and, specifically, women. I saw firsthand all of the inequities and issues with the financial services industry and figured that there had to be a better way. I committed to myself that I would become an advisor, join this traditional, conventional, male-dominated industry, and be a change agent within. Now I offer feminist, holistic financial planning for those of us who are traditionally left out of the financial world but desperately need our own empathetic planning. My goal is to help my clients feel empowered by their financial plan, not ashamed or confused by it.
Can you give us a story that exemplifies why you get fulfillment out of the work you do?
I believe in building wealth because wealth provides women with options. I work with so many amazing women (and our allies), doing such beautiful things out there in the world, I get to be proud of them every day. One of my newer clients recently decided to quit her 9-5 job to pursue her photography business full time. She knew she could do it because we had a solid financial plan in place for her, she had her business and income goals locked in, she had insurance, emergency funds, and other risk mitigation pieces in place so she taking the leap to full-time entrepreneurship was less scary. She is a single mother of color, earning more money than she ever has in her life and running her own business. She is changing generational wealth for her family and being the most amazing role model for her kids. Being a small part of her plan is exactly why I do what I do!
Is there a roadblock you had to overcome to get where you are today? How did you do it?
When I started as an advisor, I interviewed a lot of agencies and felt I had done my due diligence in choosing which firm to join. I initially joined a firm that seemed great from the outside but once I was in, I was horrified at their practices. I knew I had to get out but moving licenses and registrations in our industry is a pain. I found my new company and took yet another leap of faith to undo a lot of the work I had done to move to a better company. It was super emotional because I felt like I was letting down my clients, who were many of my friends, but I knew I had to move for my sanity and my success. It took a long time to make the move and really get started with my new company and every day during that period was incredibly hard but I came out the other side running faster and working happier than I ever had in the past.
"Money trauma is so prevalent I think most of us don't even realize we've experienced it."
Many are intimidated to pursue financial planning or think they need to have a certain amount of money to do it. Can you speak to these concerns?
Many advisors and agencies do have asset or salary minimums. This is a big issue with our industry and a large reason that the wealth gaps and financial literacy gaps are so persistent. But this is just a preconception! My practice, by design, does not have asset or salary minimums. I want to be able to provide literacy and support to everyone who wants it, not just the wealthy. There are lots of advisors out there who have no minimums and are not fee-based, you just have to find us!
Talk to us about money trauma.
Money trauma is so prevalent I think most of us don't even realize we've experienced it. We experience money trauma on a macro level by living in a patriarchal, capitalist society. And we experience it on a micro level in our childhoods, families, and communities. If you grew up with money insecurity or poverty, that can parlay into a hoarding mentality in your adulthood where you are scared to ever spend or feel incredibly guilty when you do. Money also plays its role in other forms of trauma. Financial abuse is present in all kinds of relationships. If your money trauma is keeping you from saving, investing, planning for your future, or meeting with a professional, then its negative impacts compound further. It is quite revolutionary when we face our traumas, work through them, and rewrite our own money stories.
Why is financial planning especially important for women, and how does it relate to self love?
Financial planning is self care, period. Women carry so many generational financial traumas, we were not allowed to participate in wealth building or financial literacy activities for most of our existence, and that oppressive history is still haunting us today. Not too long ago women could not legally own or inherit property. Women could not have bank accounts or credit cards. We were deliberately withheld from controlling any of our own wealth. Women have been told we are bad at numbers, or if we care about money we are gold-diggers or shallow. Women are often stuck in abusive or violent situations due to economic oppression. We still have a massive gender wealth gap, gender pay gap, and discrepancies when it comes to retirement savings and planning. These discrepancies are even worse for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ communities. This is why I say that financial planning for women is revolutionary. We are confronting that oppression, we are flipping the narrative and saying we control our own futures, we are not afraid of our finances, we are empowered by them, we are changing generational wealth for ourselves, our children, our communities, we are giving ourselves options for our own futures.
If there's one small step someone can take after reading this profile to start securing their financial future, what would it be?
I think a really profound first step can be just to write out a budget. I've found that most of us have no idea how much money we spend in relation to how much we earn. Writing out a budget is an awareness-building exercise. Figure out a realistic budget and be sure to pay yourself in that budget. Paying yourself means saving and investing every month or every paycheck no matter what. Before you buy a plane ticket or go out to dinner, you pay your future self and the future goals you have for yourself. That has to become a priority for you.
You joined Fred and Far in 2017. How did you discover our movement, and why did you want to join it?
I somehow stumbled across the Fred and Far Instagram, I am not sure exactly how! I know when I read about your mission and the rings, I sent them to my best friend and told her how much I loved the idea. I suggested to her that we buy each other our self love rings as a commitment to ourselves, to each other, and to our friendship. Our rings are really special because they symbolize so much of what we stand for and fight for in our lives. Self love, commitment to self, being powerful badass bitches who treat ourselves to beautiful, meaningful gifts because we want to and we can. I feel like I am connected to all the other women out there who have rings too, we are in this together and we are part of an amazing movement.
How has your Self Love Pinky Ring empowered you to love yourself and embrace/honor your authentic self? What impact has it had on your life?
The saying, you cannot pour from an empty glass, is so true and I try to remind myself of that all the time. When I look down at my ring I remind myself to care for myself first, so I can be the best for others. My best, happiest days, and most impactful work come when I honor myself, be authentic to who I am and what boundaries I need.
What does choosing yourself mean to you?
I have one life to live. It makes no sense to me to waste it in unhappy relationships, jobs, or circumstances. I want to drink life up for as long as I can.
What brings you joy today?
Connecting humans who can help and support each other. A massive part of my practice, what I believe is important in life, what I find joy in, is connection. I love to connect my clients and colleagues and friends with one another. I believe that through relationships and community building we are all happier, healthier and wealthier.
How do you practice self love and care on a daily/weekly basis?
Taking care of my physical body always helps me feel better emotionally and spiritually. I work out regularly, prioritize eating plants, read great books, and always try to take a pause and ask myself what I need or what I am desiring in the moment before any big decisions.
What is your advice to your 10, 18, 25, 30, 35, and 40-year-old self (pick three, as applicable)?
I would tell my 10-year-old self that the world is mean to women in bodies like yours but you are going to grow into a badass, sexy, strong woman who runs her own successful business, just like you have always dreamed of. And the same people who are mean to you about your body are just reflecting their own insecurities on you so, even though it is incredibly hurtful, try not to take it personal. I would tell my 18-year-old self to drink more water and get more sleep, you are not invincible and your mental health issues do not define you. Keep discovering who you are without being so hard on yourself for not knowing quite yet. And I would tell my 25-year-old self to have a little bit more discernment when it comes to who you share your emotional and sexual energy with. And to not get that one tattoo (you know the one!)
"I believe in building wealth because wealth provides women with options."
What do you love most about yourself?
Quite frankly, I think I am amazing. The fact that I have so much confidence, believe in myself and my capabilities so much, is truly the revolution. It took a lot of work for me to get myself to this place. A lot of heart-wrenching and painful work. I am so proud to have done it all though because, to love my body, my home, my work, my flaws, my community, when everything in this world is telling me not to, that is the revolution.
What is something you're willing to be vulnerable about with us?
I am a big cry baby! Where my emotional Pisces sisters at!? I am in a very tough industry, working my ass off every day, doing my best to help my clients and some days are just hard. I am a classic empath, so working in a tough industry, I end up carrying the anxieties and worries of my clients in my heart alongside my own. This is a lot to carry, it impacts my mental health and sleep schedule all the time, and sometimes I just need to cry it out. No shame in the crying game though!
What is your parting message for our community?
No matter your income level, background, level of knowledge, life circumstance, you deserve a financial plan. And you deserve to work with a professional who respects you and honors your unique life. Don't let your past decisions or mistakes hold you back from taking the steps to achieve your future goals. You can overcome anything this world throws at you and you deserve to have a team cheering you on. If your financial advisor makes you feel like shit, fire them.
What is the best way to get in touch if someone wants to consult with you about putting together a financial plan?