If the COVID-19 pandemic has made you more anxious about money, you’re not alone. Over 75% of individuals are significantly more nervous about their personal finances and financial future, according to a Thrive Global original survey of 5,000 Americans. In these uncertain times, protecting ourselves from the harmful physical and emotional effects of money stress is more critical than ever — and hearing the financial stories of others can help. In this series, as we navigate our new normal and prepare for what’s next, Thrive is asking personal finance experts, business owners, and other savvy professionals to reveal the hard-earned money wisdom they wish they could go back and give to their younger selves.
Winnie Sun has made a career out of helping people make better financial decisions. She’s the host of the financial lifestyle show “Level Up With Winnie Sun,” which films at NASDAQ, and managing director and founding partner of Sun Group Wealth Partners, where she advises individuals and companies on how to better manage their money and grow their wealth. She earned her degree in personal financial planning at U.C.L.A., but her desire to take control of her money began as early as elementary school, when she was selling avocados out of her friend’s yard in her Los Angeles neighborhood and working at her parents’ pizza shop.
There’s an expression she uses often when giving financial advice today: “‘Money’s like a bar of soap. The more you touch it, the smaller it gets,’” Sun tells Thrive. “Even when I was young, I remember thinking, ‘I’m just going to make sure I have a lot of bars of soap.’” She took jobs wherever she could, working through college to help her family financially.
Over the years, Sun’s perspective on finances has evolved, and today her mission is to pay it forward and help others learn from her hard-earned wisdom. If she could go back, this is the financial advice she’d give her younger self:
On asking for a raise: I wish I’d known that everybody else is asking for raises. And if you don’t, the only person who suffers is you. But before you ask, make sure you prepare, and go above and beyond with your work. Another great way to get a raise? On top of getting your job done, find ways to help others, too. And most importantly, make sure that your employer knows everything that you’re doing.
On mindful giving: I’ve learned that the most valuable gifts are the ones where you spend very little, but you go right to the heart of what someone needs. For example, over the last two weeks, I’ve been sending out masks to people that I know. (My dad’s been in the hospital for the last six months, so I had a lot of them before the coronavirus hit.) In terms of giving to charities, it’s not always about writing the biggest check — you can always write another check. Instead, it’s about giving in a way that brings you joy… and that means not putting yourself at financial risk. By the way, even charities don’t want you to go broke — they want you to be an avid supporter over the long haul.
On having a money advisor you trust: My accountant is literally one of my best friends. I can call on them for everything — from “What kind of car should I buy?” to “Should I get this loan?” to anything and everything in between.
On saving: I’ve learned that saving money doesn’t just “happen” — you have to make it happen. The best way to do this is to automate your savings and route a portion of your paycheck directly into a savings account. Also wise: Open an investment account with a financial advisor. The more of a hassle it is for you to access your savings, the more likely you are to leave it alone and let it accrue.
On fully understanding the terms of your financial contracts: I wish I had known that when it comes to earning money, you have to understand what you’re getting yourself into from the very beginning. This is a lesson I learned when I was very young. When I was 8 or 9 years old, my parents’ friend and his son came over with huge bags of avocados and the great idea that we should sell them in the neighborhood and make money. We spent all day selling every single avocado — and it was mostly me that made the sales. But then, at the end of the day, my mom and dad made me give all the earnings to my friend. I knew that it wasn’t fair. It taught me that in business, you need to understand what the terms are from the start and not just wait until the end.