Catie Hogan | Who says “Finance isn’t Funny?"
Catie Hogan had put off this moment for long enough. She sat on the couch in her parents’ home, clad in gray sweats from head to foot. She had just graduated with a Master’s degree and therefore could no longer call herself a student. The year was 2011. She was 24 years old. And it was time, she realized, to pay back her student loans.
She stared at her laptop screen. A six-figure number stared back at her. Six figures is a phrase referenced in movies about rich men who live fast-paced lives and travel the world. Six figures is more of a concept than a number, one that represented the cost of houses in upscale neighborhoods, lavish cars, expensive bottles of champagne, and engagement rings for millionaires—an egregious amount of wealth.
Six figures was how much money Catie owed to the banks who paid for her college education.
In that moment, Catie began to cry. Hysterical, ugly tears dripped onto her sweatshirt. It was one of the lowest points in her life: being unemployed, in debt, and utterly clueless.
“I realized I had lived my whole life completely ignorant about money,” she’ll say, reflecting on memory several years later. “and it was now going to bite me in my sweatpant-clad behind."
Catie resolved to get out of this mess. She dedicated herself to learning everything she possibly could about personal finance. Although she found these books to be incredibly boring, the subjects themselves were actually quite fascinating. She dove into her studies with the enthusiasm of life-long student, and learned about hybrid investments, her 401(k)—all these terms that once seemed so intimidating and . . . well, “adult-like.”
Jumping forward to the present day: Catie has grown far beyond that low point in her young life. She now runs her own business, a financial advisory firm that primarily focuses on helping millennials gain control of their money. She has also published two books, hosted her own podcasts, and given a TED Talk—all in the name of her new mission, promoting financial literacy among millennials.
This is not at all what Catie had imagined for her future career. She studied journalism in college and dreamed of becoming a sports writer. (As an undergrad, she was even given the opportunity to cover the 2008 Olympics.) Also, if you knew anything about her chosen school, you would equally be surprised by her career change. Catie graduated from Emerson College, which she has described as “the most liberal of the liberal arts colleges” in this country. For reference, she once took a class called “Listening to Music”—and that is still not the strangest academic course they offer. The students at Emerson are artistic, and are bursting with imagination: they are writers, actors, filmmakers, and creative thinkers in every sense of the word.
Catie holds her alma mater—and her fellow classmates—in the highest regard, but it’s safe to say that Emerson and “math” do not exist in the same universe. Which was why Catie could have never predicted that her first full-time job would be at a financial advisory firm in downtown Boston. It wasn’t her dream job, but it gets her out of her parents’ house.
Still, she didn’t quite agree with the “old school” practices at her firm. She says, “I was very disheartened by the traditional financial advising—how they only wanted to service rich, 80-year-old people. They had no interest in helping young people, and they had no interest in helping people who didn’t already have a lot of money.”
In the back of her mind, Catie knew that, if she, a woman of reasonable intelligence and a college degree, had graduated with such an abysmal knowledge of how to manage her personal finance, then chances are, so had most of her generation. In fact, statistics say that two-thirds of Americans would not be able to pass a basic financial literacy test. Student loan debt has reached a total of $1.52 trillion, which roughly amounts to $37,172 per person. This knowledge worried her greatly.
She wanted to help those people, not her current clients—rich men looking to get even richer. “I’m not someone who wants to make a quick buck,” she says. “I truly want to help people and I just didn’t feel that I could do it in that traditional format.”
Catie left her job in late 2015, which was about six months before she started her own business. At the time, she and her husband were moving from Boston to Atlanta Georgia, so she was already contemplating her next move. Through some research, she found a group called XY Planning, a network that primarily focused on helping young adults better manage their finances. Their mission was based in a sincere desire to help others, to promote honesty, transparency, and to choose the best plans to benefit their clients. Essentially, they represented everything that Catie, herself, stood for. Everyone within this network ran their own financial advising firm, which both intrigued and impressed her. She signed up for the service, and the XY Planning community walked her through the process of setting up her own virtual firm.
In April 2016, at 28 years old, she opened for business.
Business, as it turned out, was slow. Very slow. Her early mistake was simply following the traditional marketing strategies of other personal finance firms.
“I just didn’t stand out from anybody else,” she remembers. “I was very much just like any of the financial planners out there . . . And frankly, people might see a young financial planner, not even 30 years old and think, ‘Well, what could she possibly know? How could she possibly help? She’s only been in this industry a few years.’”
“I have to do something different,” she continues. “I have to really establish myself in a nontraditional way. Because that’s what I built this business on—that’s what I have to do to market it.”
If you look at Catie’s company today, you’ll see that she’s not just a financial planner. She’s a public speaker, hosting seminars and workshops all over the country. She’s a self-published author. She hosts a podcast and runs her own blog.
To top it all off, she’s funny. Catie has a natural talent for comedy writing: it started off as a hobby, but she’s published satirical pieces on Funny or Die, McSweeney’s, among other sites. She also performs at a local theater in Atlanta. Now, she uses her comedic voice to broach the subject of personal finance in a non-intimidating way.
In August 2017, she published her first book: The Millennial's Guide to Getting Your Sh*t Together. It shares her journey from college to early adulthood, from being financially illiterate to starting her own advisory firm. Her writing is genuine and personable. She’s not afraid to crack jokes or throw in a few curse words.
Her public speaking engagements operate, more or less, in the same way (although with less cursing). Mixed in with the anecdotes and the humor, Catie imparts valuable lessons on how members of her generation can proactively combat their financial issues—and also stresses why it’s so important to educate themselves.
In January 2018, Catie gave her first TEDx Talk, an incredible milestone that also provided her with a huge platform to spread her message. Reflecting back, she remembers the experience as both nerve-wracking and rewarding. “I worked for months to perfect the talk, and as I was delivering it, was still worried it wouldn't reach people the way I wanted it to,” she says. “My talk doesn't have millions of views, but the people who've watched it and said it resonated with them really made it all worth it.”
It’s assumed that millennials are blissfully ignorant about their money. While statistics do confirm that a majority of young adults are, in fact, financially illiterate, that is not the same as being blissfully unaware. They want to learn these skills. Most of them just need a nudge in the right direction.
Millennials, as a whole, think differently about how to spend their money. The preceding generations seem to have taken a more utilitarian approach to their finances: you work, you pay your bills, save what you can, and then you die. Generation X, on the other hand, want to embrace life and have memorable experiences.
“There the whole misconception that millennials are just buying avocado toast and not caring about their 401(k),” Catie says. “It’s totally not true! We care about both. We love brunch but we also love our 401(k)’s.”
She adds: “We get criticized a lot because we want to travel the world and find ourselves. We want to do creative things. We want to pursue passions and have a whole life—and good work-life balance. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that.”
Her generation is not without faults. Millennials are also hesitant when it comes to investing, which Catie suspects is a result of growing up—and graduating college—during the 2008 recession. This is one misconception that she hopes to change because investing can be an effective tool for accumulating wealth over a long period of time. Working millennials also tend to be confused by their 401(k), and are unable to take advantage of all it has to offer.
This is the reason why Catie decided to open her firm in the first place: to help young people, just like her, maximize their earning potential. She’s not the typical financial planner, one who works at a large corporate office and only cares about making a modest salary. She’s in a rare position, where she can say that she has found her purpose. Not everyone knows what they want to do with their life at age 24 . . . or 27 . . . or even in their 30s. Catie certainly never expected to run her own financial advisory firm. She thought she would be covering sports games, or writing for the Boston Globe, but somehow she found a way to combine her lifelong love for writing and humor, with a new passion—finance.
“I’ve been kind of able to use my degree, but in a weird way,” she says. “Like writing books, and writing articles, writing blogs. I still use those journalism skills, but in a way that I didn’t know I was going to use them, ten years ago.”
Catie’s business does not have the same growth structure of most companies. She is still a one- woman operation. But now, she has about four or five years of experience in this industry. She has also just announced a partnership with Element Financial Group, a women-owned company based in New York City, which she hopes will be both a lucrative business venture, and a meaningful work-relationship. She still runs her own practice full-time and performs at speaking events on the side.
For anyone in her shoes, who want to start their own financial planning firm, but don’t know where to start, Catie recommends you do your research and ask for help from a larger network. Join Facebook groups and reach out to members of the industry; that is exactly what she did, in preparation for every new venture. She says you’ll be surprised by the amount of support you can find: female entrepreneurs specifically are a great resource, because they want to see young women succeed.
However, all the planning in the world still isn’t enough. When it comes down to it, you have to just take the plunge. Catie strongly believes that experience is always the best teacher. She says everyone should take bolder risks in life, be open to unexplored avenues—be open to failure, even. Perhaps this will come across as surprising, but running a failed business can still look impressive on a resume: it shows ambition and drive.
Moreover, coming from someone who launched her own company with two years of industry experience, Catie’s biggest piece of advice is akin to the words of Nike and the eccentric Shia LaBeouf. You just have to do it.
“If you wait until you’re ready,” she points out, “you’re never going to do anything. You gotta jump in.”
To contact Catie, visit here.