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Today we're excited to introduce Hayley!
She's a Millennial mom with active young boys and a home-based business.
She shares many interesting tidbits with us from lessons she learned from her parents to a cross-country move with her family.
If you’d like to be considered for an interview or to share your story, send us a note.
Inspiring Money Stories: Hayley
1) Introduce Yourself to The Women Who Money Readers!
Hello! My name is Hayley Rohn. I’m 36 years old and my husband is 37. So I guess we’re Millennials who love avocado toast? We celebrate our 10-year anniversary this September! We have two amazing, sweet and energetic boys – ages 5 and 2. Our oldest starts Kindergarten in the Fall and we’re so excited for him!
We currently live in a suburb north of Dallas called McKinney. We’re both from Michigan – I grew up in East Grand Rapids, Michigan and my husband grew up in metro Detroit. We met in college at the University of Michigan and Ann Arbor and always knew we’d be back to live there.
After we got married, we moved to Ann Arbor where he worked as in-house counsel for Toyota. Several years later, when our oldest was about 3 years old, Toyota relocated us from Ann Arbor to Dallas. To say moving here from a liberal college town was a big adjustment would be an understatement!
2) Did your family’s money situation influence you as an adult?
Oddly enough, I don’t recall my parents ever talking about money directly with us. They were actually private about our family finances (and still are!) except for sporadic conversations about debt and college savings. I learned by modeling their behavior and reading between the lines.
My Dad is an Ob/Gyn and my mom was a stay-at-home mom who always had a part-time side job. I had an amazing childhood growing up in East Grand Rapids, Michigan. It’s quite possibly the best place in the US to raise a family.
We were fortunate to have a lovely home my parents bought as an inexpensive fixer-upper for $75,000 when I was 5 years old and sold it for $450,000 when they were ready to downsize. They (mostly my Dad) put in so much money, blood, sweat, and tears into it.
My parents simply refused to go into debt so they did most of the work themselves and rarely ever hired help. They invested in the Michigan Education Trust for our college funds too so that we could graduate from college without student loans. That is a huge gift I hope we can give our sons.
They also had only a 15-year mortgage on that house and have been mortgage free ever since paying it off. So ultimately, they showed you can set yourself on a solid financial future by saving, doing much of the work yourselves, and avoiding debt altogether.
My parents probably had it a little easier than young families do today. For example, my Dad’s entire medical school education cost only about $2,000 at the time and his parents easily could pay for it for him. The cost of education today is a major hindrance!
So when my husband and I bought our first home in Ann Arbor, it was just natural we’d buy a fixer-upper and when we sold it less than two years later, we sold it at a great profit after doing a lot of work in it (although we did have to hire out SOME help because we were both working and had a 2-year-old).
That’s kind of why I have a hard time with the idea of buying a new, move-in ready house when we moved to Texas! But you know what they say – everything in Texas is bigger (and newer).
Despite growing up in an affluent suburb, I was acutely aware of how fortunate we were, as well as how unfortunate others were and how others still were even more fortunate. We didn’t get to buy all the things our friends had (I’m sure that’s what every typical teenager feels). We bought our sports equipment used.
While many of my classmates had nice cars, my first car was a hand me down from my grandparents: a gigantic, powder blue Buick Station Wagon and I LOVED it. My mom bought our clothes at TJ Maxx and really didn’t like paying full price for anything and I’m still kind of the same way.
I have a hard time buying my kids new clothes – my oldest still wears holey jeans that are probably too small, I’m embarrassed to say. And my youngest wears his older brother’s clothes. I figure they’re still too young to care. I also have a hard time buying things for myself.
And I appreciate my parents always instilling in us the importance of education and working for money. My first jobs were babysitting and mowing my neighbors’ lawns. I also worked in restaurants and at the mall. And I worked in my Dad’s office stuffing envelopes at one point in high school after school.
There was somehow always this need to earn the money for myself. I even competed with my brother over who got to return our pop cans at the store because I wanted that cash! My parents were on my tail about having a job, especially in the summer.
One summer when I was home from college, I had such a hard time finding a summer job that my mom showed me an advertisement for a truck driving job across the country for college students and seriously suggested I try applying….
I ended up working at a country club in a pool grill without air conditioning, frying up french fries and microwaving frozen pizza. These were all humbling experiences that helped shape me who I am.
I can’t guarantee our sons will model our own spending and saving priorities by watching us like I did with my parents because some kids are always just not as observant like I was (I was born deaf – and received a cochlear implant in 2005 during law school so that probably is why I observe and read between the lines more than the average person). So we try to talk to them more directly about it even though they’re only 5 and 2. Financial literacy is so important these days for kids.
3) Describe your post-secondary education and career path.
I went to law school at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan with my husband. We both graduated from college at the University of Michigan in 2004, but he took a year off to work at a nonprofit and I went straight to law school.
I graduated in 2007 right before the economy collapsed, but I found a job as an estate planning associate at a mid-sized law firm and was so grateful for finding a job right out of law school without ANY experience in estate planning – it was a great firm, the pay was great and the people were great.
I started out doing advanced estate planning – diving right into the sophisticated tax and estate planning techniques, without even really knowing the basics. Flash forward almost 11 years later, I’m still doing estate planning for my own clients.
When my husband’s job relocated us to Texas in 2015, I was pregnant with our second son and working at a large bank at the time. We decided I would take time off to help the family get settled in.
While I really didn’t want to leave Ann Arbor and move to Texas, I was very excited and grateful to take a break and spend more time with the kids but figuring out a way to go back to work was always in the back of my head.
I felt uneasy putting 100% of our financial future on my husband’s shoulders and relying on him completely. When we moved to Texas, knowing I wasn’t going to have any income we:
- bought a house well under our budget so that we could afford to live on one income (which is actually not a bad idea for everyone, even for two working parent households),
- increased our life insurance policy payouts (even mine because if something were to happen to me, god forbid, my husband would need the insurance payout to help with childcare costs, college savings, and whatnot)
- continued maxing out my husband’s 401K contributions and allocated extra savings towards savings and investment accounts.
- immediately updated our estate planning documents to conform to Texas law.
In my estate planning practice over the past 10 years, I’ve seen too many couples where the working spouse is suddenly unable to work. This leaves the non-working spouse and the whole family in a bad situation – especially if there wasn’t enough life insurance.
Always thinking about the worst-case scenario, I had to figure out a way to get back into the workforce while caring for two little kids in Texas where we didn’t know anyone.
After my youngest was born a couple months after we moved, and as the new baby haze started to wear off, I researched how I could continue to provide estate planning to families in Michigan because I was only licensed in Michigan and hoped to return to Michigan.
I came across the idea of a virtual law firm which is actually not all that new and felt this would really appeal to busy working families! And that is where I am now still doing it over a year later.
I actually have a small side job too! I work part-time for Stitch Fix – a clothing subscription company and I love it. It’s really just a creative outlet for me and besides it never hurts to have a tiny bit of extra income. And 100% of it automatically gets deposited into our savings. It’s only 15 hours a week that I do in the evenings or in between other work – my estate planning clients always come first.
4) Tell us about your income performance over time. How is your partner involved in your financial matters?
Quite honestly, my income has declined over the past 11 years and has since stayed stagnant. I just wasn’t willing to sacrifice time with the kids when they were babies to make more money. But as my kids get older and more self-sufficient, it will get easier to put more time in my career aspirations and that is where I am today.
My husband and I work on our finances together but being the more organized one, I do the bill paying and update our expense spreadsheet regularly. I’ll also research whether we should cancel cable and things like that.
We currently have no debt aside from our mortgage. We are so incredibly fortunate to have paid off our law school loans as soon as we could.
We do our own taxes on TurboTax but probably won’t much longer because our finances are getting more complicated with my business expenses/income. All of our accounts are joint which makes us accountable to each other. We have a Joint Revocable Living Trust.
5) What do you think is one of the most difficult career challenges for women?
If you’re a mother, balancing workplace flexibility (i.e., which usually means a reduced salary if you had to negotiate to work part-time) and family is so hard. It’s trying to balance long-term financial goals with the short-term. I honestly don’t have any specific advice about that and it’s different for everyone – just that I sympathize and know it’s hard.
But I will say one thing I’ve learned in the last 5 years as a mother – I’ve worked part-time, full-time and been a stay at home mom – it’s actually all hard, even being a 100% stay at home mom is hard! Grass is always greener on the other side. It’s about perspective and balance.
6)Did you have a big “aha” moment related to your finances?
My first job out of law school was my first annual salary ever and it felt amazing to have a regular paycheck in a consistent amount. But I felt frustrated with my student loans, totaling $82,000, which is not all that much compared to most law students I graduated with at the time.
I had only taken out government loans and no private loans so the interest rate was fixed and low. But it did mean that during law school after most of the loans went towards tuition, I only had $3,000 of spending money every semester (and none in the summers). And almost all of it went towards rent, gas, and food.
It was so tough and I never wanted to live like that again so once I started getting paid regularly, I was super motivated to save and pay down that debt.
I don’t know if that qualifies as an “aha” moment, but to make a long story short, getting my first real annual salaried paycheck was a big deal! I realized I had control over my future starting right then. And I had the choice to stay in debt or get out of it as fast as I could. The sooner, the better.
That being said, it wasn’t like I had credit card debt which is worse than student loan debt. But to me, any type of debt is not always a good thing.
7) What tools, apps, or programs do you use to keep track of your finances? What money tips can you share with our readers?
For a while, we used Mint and then YNAB and we’re always willing to try new apps but eventually, we just end up going back to our old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet. Currently, we use the Empower app on our phones which we love and check almost every other day to track our balances on all of our accounts.
8) What does your work-life balance look like? How do you stay healthy?
Since I have my own firm, I’m fortunate that I’m my own boss. The workload fluctuates a lot. Sometimes I spend a great deal of time and energy on marketing and networking (virtually) – but that’s the nature of being a virtual lawyer. It’s harder to network that way.
Case in point: last summer I was visiting Michigan and met another mom at the park and she very quickly became a client. That wouldn’t have happened online as quickly! I’m getting there though!
My husband travels a lot and we have no family nearby so it is just a huge help to be able to be in complete control of my own schedule.
As for staying healthy, we have a treadmill and a TV in the spare bedroom we use in the evenings sometimes. Or I use it during a break from working while the kids are at school (I work from home in our home office).
There’s a gym we go to on the weekends that has a childcare center we can finally use now that my youngest is old enough to enjoy. Sometimes while we watch TV in the evenings my husband and I will do planks and crunches together.
And lately, we’ve been trying some healthy meal planning services like Daily Harvest, Freshly and SunBasket. We do it mostly for fun because I feel that I cannot cook a family meal with a 2-year-old wanting to be entertained and picked up all the time (but it’s getting easier as he’s getting older.) And I think it actually helps us save a little more money on groceries and avoid wasting food.
9) An important piece of advice?
Automate your savings. Consider it an expense or a monthly bill payment. You owe it to yourself to save. It’s just so simple.
The WwM Team’s Key Takeaways from Hayley’s Interview
- Talk with your kids about money often (and start when they are young), rather than taking the chance they'll model your good financial behaviors.
- Buying inexpensive homes and having the ability (and drive) to fix them up is a lot of work but can definitely pay off!
- You can set yourself on a solid financial future by saving, buying less house than you can afford (and doing work on it), and avoiding debt altogether.
- Even if you are affluent and earn a great salary, you don’t have to buy everything new. And your kids don’t need everything new either.
- There are incredibly important things to consider when making life changes such as moving to just one income (stay at home parent in this case) – housing costs, life insurance, retirement accounts, estate planning documents.
- With some research, inspiration, creativity, and work you can often create your own business or job to meet your family's needs.
- Getting the first “real” paycheck is time to start with positive “winning” money behaviors, not a time for more debt.
- Pay yourself automatically each month, just like your future is a bill!
Thank you for sharing, Hayley! We wish you all the best with nurturing your beautiful family, your business, and yourself too.
Drop Hayley a comment below, visit her website to find blog posts/resources on various estate planning topics and learn more about her virtual law firm, or send her an email.
If you’d like to be considered for an interview or know someone else we should connect with, please send us a note.