February / Amanda
Updated: Apr 28
Name: Amanda Secen
Age: 27 Alma mater: Asbury University Studied: Media Communications and Business Graduated: May 2016 Takes her coffee: Black or a cappuccino Last book read: Lethal White by Robert Galbraith Works at: Northwestern Mutual as a Financial Representative and Haute House as a Media Services Supervisor Responsible for: Meeting with clients to understand their financial goals, creating a financial plan based on those goals, finding new prospective clients, and calling them to set up meetings.
She Is Balanced: Finances can be overwhelming! What are the first steps to move toward financial wellness?
Amanda Secen: It depends on the person. Everyone is at a different stage in their financial journey. For anyone who is starting from scratch and has not yet worked with a financial representative, find one that you want to work with. I am not just saying this because I am in the industry! There are so many benefits, rules and regulations that a financial representative knows and understands. It's their job! You don’t self-diagnose and treat yourself with cancer. You go to a doctor for that. Unless you have 40+ hours a week to do the proper research, reach out to a professional for financial planning. [A few years ago], I was under the assumption that you had to have a certain amount of money before you could work with a financial representative. This is not the case! There are many representatives out there that can work with you regardless of your net worth.
While you find a representative, there are a few things you can start on your own. First, look into protecting yourself and your income in the event that you become sick or disabled and can no longer earn an income - or die prematurely. Start by saving 3-6 months’ worth of expenses as quickly as you can. If you’re not sure what your monthly expenses are, it’s time to make a budget.
Next, figure out what benefits you have through your employer. Do they have a retirement savings program? How much of your contributions do they match? Do you have short/long-term disability coverage? What percentage of your base salary is covered, and how much life insurance do you have through your employer? If you’re unsure, contact your HR department for more information. If you do not have any of these benefits through your employer, that's okay! A financial representative can help you find and obtain those benefits.
I am very passionate about this stage of planning because it happened to my sister. In 2017, she was diagnosed with Postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). This disease affects your blood circulation and central nervous system. Common symptoms effect everyday things like breathing, regulating blood pressure, digesting food, eyesight, hearing, etc. In the beginning stages of the disease, we would find [my sister] passed out on the floor because her body would “forget” to send blood to the brain. She had to walk with a cane in case her muscles “forgot” to work, causing her to fall. She could barely work at the young age of 21. It is possible to recover from this disease, but recovery takes 2-10 years. My sister did manage to graduate college during all of this, but I had to walk with her during the processional in case she passed out and I had to catch her.
After a year of being sick and barely able to work, we had to start having the hard conversations. If she was sick much longer, her employer was going to have to let her go. We started looking at moving her back in with our parents and her options of getting disability through government channels. Thankfully, she made a full recovery in May 2019. But what if she hadn’t? What if this disability had lasted the full 10 years? I wish someone had reached out and told me about disability income insurance. Had I known that this existed, all the hard conversations could have been a little easier. We would not have had to deal with the financial trauma on top of the physical and emotional trauma.
Some food for thought: you have car insurance. Do you expect to have a car accident within the next 5 years? No. But do you have insurance in place to protect yourself in case that does happen? Yes, of course. Do you expect to become sick or disabled in the next 5 years so much so you can no longer make an income? No. Do you have insurance in place to protect yourself? For most, the answer is no. I know these first steps are not fun or exciting, but they are the most important to ensure your financial plan has a solid foundation. And the good news is, once you do it, you don’t have to do it again!
SIB: What’s the best way to tackle debt?
AS: Again, this depends on the person and what kind of debt they have. There is good and bad debt. Good debt is usually student loans and property mortgages - you’re putting money into something that will most likely have a return on investment. Bad debt is credit cards, auto loans, unpaid bills, etc. Bad debt should be tackled first, especially if an unpaid bill is in collections. As soon as an unpaid bill goes to collection, it will start hitting your credit score hard, and that will limit your ability to do some things like refinancing a mortgage or personal loan. Even your phone bill is determined by your credit score.
Also, I just want to make sure that all my fellow millennials with FEDERAL student loans really understand their options on student loans forgiveness. If you are a public servant or in a job that the government lists as eligible for student loans forgiveness, you are not automatically enrolled in the forgiveness program. There is a certain payment plan you must be enrolled in AND the government needs to see that you made a certain number of payments within a certain timeframe for you to qualify. You can't just pay on the loans for 10 years and have them forgiven. I have met so many people who work at a job that qualifies them for student loan forgiveness and either they don’t take advantage of it, or they don’t think they have to do anything else. If you’re unsure if you qualify, reach out to the federal student loan department or your financial representative.
SIB: What’s the difference between an IRA and a Roth IRA?
AS: The main difference is when the money you put into that account will be taxed by the IRS. Traditional IRAs are funded with pre-tax dollars. For simplicity's sake, let’s say that you are making $100/paycheck. Now let’s say you’ve opted into your employer’s retirement fund, and you fund 3% per paycheck. First, they’ll take that $3.00 and put it into your IRA account. So now instead of being taxed on $100.00, you are being taxed on $97.00. When you start taking money out your IRA after you turn 59.5, you will have to pay taxes when you withdraw the money at whatever the tax rate is in that moment.
Now a Roth IRA is funded with the portion of your salary that has already been taxed. So when you start withdrawing money after 59.5, those withdrawals will not be taxed. If you have more questions, reach out to your financial representative.
SIB: You dream of working with filmmaking professionals! What unique financial challenges do self-employed or project based businesses face?
AS: First, I know how hard these people work because I have done it myself. [Amanda has a background in media production.] They can work crazy long hours, and there is so much more involved when you are a freelancer instead of an employee. I’d like to alleviate some of the extra work they must do to find benefits that an employer usually offers. I also work for myself, and a lot of the industry is based on freelance, so I understand not getting a steady paycheck and how to navigate that. Also, I miss working in production, so this is a way for me to work with the industry while not in it.
SIB: How do you stay motivated when working from home?
AS: Working from home is so difficult. My biggest temptation is taking a nap...and I usually give in. But I have found that working at a desk, or part of my space that is not a couch or bed, I can get a lot done.
SIB: You love exercising at Burn Boot Camp! What’s it like going to an all-women gym?
AS: Actually, they have added classes that men can attend as well! The gym is set up in a class setting with an instructor, but it’s small enough that all the trainers know you. You can ask them anything. I have knee issues, so one time I went wearing my knee brace. A trainer came up to me and asked about my knee and if I was okay. The setting also encourages me to work harder than I would on my ow, and we all encourage each other during the workout. If you can’t do the exercise like it is intended, no problem! They show you modifications, and no one shames you because you can’t do the un-modified version. Also no body shaming. There are people there that are more fit than others, but everyone understands that everyone is on their own fitness journey. We are all trying to do the best we can.
A lot of the same people go to the same classes, so I have seen people’s improvements. That gives me the push I need to keep going. I try to work out at minimum three times a week. I know that doesn't sound like a lot, but I can already tell the difference in my body. I feel stronger, sleep better, and can tell I am losing weight little by little. And it makes you crave healthy foods. Unless it’s the weekend, I don’t crave fast food anymore.
SIB: For those who can’t join a gym, what exercises would you suggest trying at home?
AS: I love doing yoga at home. You don’t need a lot of space and the only equipment you need is a mat. There are so many great videos on the internet that I use.
SIB: It’s Valentine’s season! What’s your favorite way to celebrate with your boyfriend?
AS: We love going out to eat, so we usually try a restaurant we haven’t tried before and get whatever we want off the menu. It’s a great way to try all the foods and share a fun meal and experience together!
SIB: You said you enjoy TV shows more than movies because a show can explore its characters further. What show do you think has done this the best?
AS: This is a hard question. I have two examples, and the reason I’m listing these two shows is because I cried at the final episode. I guess if I cry when the show is over, that means I’m sad I will no longer follow those characters. The two that did it for me are Big Bang Theory and That 70s Show. I know these are supposed to be dumb comedies, but the characters grow and change so much throughout the series, you can’t help but be sad that the journey together is over.
SIB: You’re working towards being social media free! What inspired you to begin that? How do you spend your time instead?
AS: At the beginning of 2021, I did not want to know what was going on in the news. I was over it. And, I needed to free up that time I wasted scrolling through social media for my business. A lot of the news I get is on Facebook/listening to a podcast. So I figured if I stopped checking social media, I would not get as much news. I feel so much better not constantly looking at social media. You don’t realize how much you compare yourself to others and how much time you waste scrolling until you stop. Instead, I have downloaded some games on my phone to play and try to be more present in the moment like actually paying attention to the movie or tv show I’m watching, engaging in a conversation by calling someone or talking with my boyfriend, or playing with my dog.
SIB: You've said you hate journaling. Why do you do it daily??
AS: It was something I was recommended to start doing to help process some emotions and feelings. I was depressed at the beginning of the year. I think all the rapid change from the past year caught up with me. I appreciate journaling because I can look back at the person I was versus who I am today. And sometimes I forget stories or experiences, so I get to relive those as I read them in my journal. So I don’t really hate journaling. I think I hate the fact that it's just one more thing that I must do on my already large list.
SIB: Did you make any New Year’s resolutions?
AS: I have never really believed in New Year’s resolutions. If I wanted to start doing something, why not start it right then and there? But this past year changed things. Before, I took for granted how much time we have in a year. This year, I am working on becoming more efficient with my time. So let’s say I have a fifteen minute car ride. Instead of just jamming to music, I try to listen to a podcast or call someone. It’s amazing what you can get done when you realize how much free time you actually have.
SIB: You got snowed in this winter! What are your favorite activities to wait out (or dive into) the snow?
AS: My favorite thing to do is curl up on the couch with my dog and a nice, fuzzy blanket with something hot to drink. I really want to get married in the snow. I think that would be so romantic.
SIB: What do you hope 2021 brings?
AS: Growing and deepening some of my friendships as well as growing my business. After this year of having minimal social interaction, I am dying for the normalcy we had before COVID struck. I developed several deep friendships [over 2020], and I want to keep those friendships alive and strong as we go back to the busyness.
SIB: How would you describe yourself in three words?
AS: Determined, kind, and thoughtful.
SIB: What are you proud of yourself for?
AS: Honestly, for my friendships. I am so proud of the people I know. I have friendships all over the world, and I keep in touch with them. I know a lot of that has come from the fact that I love to travel, and that may seem snobby to say, but honestly every person I have met in my travels have been amazing. There was one lady in particular that I met and worked with at the Olympics in Rio. Then Christmas the same year, I was in London, England (where she lived) so we met up. She was able to give me (and my roommate from Rio who I was visiting) a private tour of the BBC and got us on a show as an extra. I would have never done something like that if I hadn’t met these people. People are important to me, and I love them. I want to know everyone’s story because [each one is] so unique and different.
SIB: What does balance mean to you?
AS: Haha so honestly, I am still trying to figure this out. I think balance means something different at each stage of life. Like what all do you have to balance? How much do you think you should spend on those specific activities? For me right now, balance means I am working my butt off, getting enough rest, working out, making sure my home is nice and clean and there is food to eat, and continuing to strengthen my relationship with my boyfriend. I also work at a local gym as their videographer and editor. What do I do to execute this? For me, my life is guided by my calendar. Over the Christmas break, I sat down and figured out on my calendar how much time I was going to spend on each activity, then I wrote in on my calendar. Whenever I look at each given day, I know when to do what and how much time I have for that activity. Now, this will not work for everyone, and there are days where I do not stick to my routine. But the comfort of knowing what I must do each day ahead of time gives me peace of mind that I don’t need to worry about forgetting something or what is coming next because it’s there written down if I need it.
Northwestern Mutual is the marketing name for The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company (NM) Milwaukee, WI and its subsidiaries. Amanda V Secen is an Insurance Agent of NM. This publication is not intended as legal or tax advice. Taxpayers should seek advice based on their particular circumstances from an independent tax advisor.