What happens when a financial planning firm is both Autistic-centered and Autistic-owned?
Planning Across the Spectrum is what happens.
Planning Across the Spectrum is a full-service financial planning firm that can help you do all the traditional things like plan for retirement, establish life insurance to take care of your children after you’re gone, and manage your investments. But they do so much more on top of these traditional services.
They can help you navigate benefits, Medicaid waivers, and plan for unique situations like getting the supports and savings your child may need to move out of your home and live independently. They’ve even got a neurdiversity index fund!
Joining us to educate us about all the services is Liz Yoder, CFP, Director of Financial Planning.
Full episode transcript
Brynne: Welcome to Mom Autism Money! Today, we’re talking to Liz Yoder from Planning Across the Spectrum.
Liz studied Speech Language Pathology and Audiology at Loyola College in Maryland. She moved soon after graduation into a supportive group home, where she was a live-in caregiver to four adults with Intellectual and Development Disabilities – which we all know can be shortened down to IDD. Liz got introduced to the IDD advocate community and became determined to work for families and individuals who were often scared to save or earn too much so as not to disqualify themselves from government benefits.
Liz became a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ to join their advocacy efforts. As Director of Financial Planning at Planning Across the Spectrum, Liz and her colleagues serve clients across the country, many with high support needs and many with few. The company’s goal is to provide more pathways to financial wellness and inclusion for neurodivergent individuals and disabled people.
Now, in the past we’ve talked about retirement planning (see season 2 episodes 6 & 7) and we did touch a bit on estate planning when we talked supplemental needs trusts in season 1 episode 2.
Planning Across the Spectrum can help you orchestrate all that. But because they are focused on holistic financial planning services for Autistic people specifically, they also provide other services that can do things like help you navigate benefits, help you navigate Medicaid waivers, or even life events like moving out of your parents’ home.
Not only is the company focused on Autistic individuals and their family, but the owner, Andrew – who Liz references throughout the episode – is on the spectrum himself. So it’s autistic-centered and autistic-owned. That allows them to offer some really unique and frankly super helpful services.
Get ready for Liz to teach us all about them.
Brynne: We are here today with Liz Yoder from Planning Across the Spectrum. How are you doing today, Liz?
Liz: Doing well. How are you?
Brynne: Wonderful, wonderful. So I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about Planning Across the Spectrum and what your guys’ mission is over there.
Liz: I’m Liz Yoder. I’m actually the director of Financial Planning at Planning Across the Spectrum, and that gives you a little idea of what kind of office we are.
We are a full scale financial planning office. I can speak a little bit about who we work with, but our, our mission is really to provide support and empower people with neurodiversity and neurodivergence to be more included in their own financial planning. We were founded kind of with the idea that we would be mostly working with autistic individuals and their families, and we have continued to work with people with disability however that shows up, whether it be neurodiversity or or not, to make sure that people understand kind of the ins and outs of how their financial planning might be different than a typical household’s will be.
Joyce: Where are you guys located? Is it, it’s your service online that you can help in the United States, or is it just specifically in a particular state?
Liz: Yeah, so our office is located in the state of Connecticut. I am physically located in the state of Maryland. We have other professionals who are working out of Massachusetts and Arizona, so we are across the country.
I had a conversation with someone in Ontario this morning and we just try to kind of fit where we fit cause we’re talking to a specific group of people. People who may or may not be receiving disability benefits or may or may not be using kind of government support programs. We need to know as much as we can about those specific locations, but because we know how the whole system is structured, we can figure out what the support system is pretty quickly for individuals where we’re not actually based. That might take 10 years for our family to do on their own.
So that’s one of the benefits to working with someone like us. We understand the questions that families are asking of how to get help beyond financial advice. We’re very much more looking at what is the life planning that we’re needing to address? What kind of support are we looking at? Is there any support or is it just kind of a, a neurodivergent family looking to do their own retirement planning? Cause we do both.
We work with a wide variety of different kinds of people. So, so first off, we work with neurodivergent people themselves. So if someone, if, or an individual or a family is looking for financial advice, financial management, we work with those families and individuals to just do what we do, which is again, investment management.
It’s supporting individuals and their questions around money. Usually there’s investments involved. Usually there’s looking at purchasing homes or purchasing some, some big financial project. Looking at financial goals and looking at long-term retirement, expenses and planning. So that’s, that’s one group of people we work with.
Another is the families who have dependent supported children or family members, and that’s a different conversation because these aren’t going to be necessarily, individuals who are able to support themselves and invest on their own or make really any decisions. Sometimes they’re under guardianship and conservatorship, and we’re helping these families with the same questions.
What does retirement look like? What does investing look like? What does taxes look like every year? But there’s that layer of, okay, there’s this other family member or loved one that we need to consider that needs, we need to do planning for, for beyond the lifetime of the supported caregiver and we need to layer in support, whether that be governmental support or other family or any other kind of support systems.
We are kind of helping people build that picture and look at it from a financial framework. So those, that’s the second kind of group. The third is people who employ people with neurodivergence. We do work with companies and, and understand benefit packages. We encourage people if they’re working with and employing people with neurodivergence, we wanna make sure that people are able to be paid in a way that actually makes sense to them and that they’re not afraid to take a job because of the potential to lose benefits.
So we, we work with companies as well. And then just families who are interested in the neurodiversity movement. We work with them in their investment kind of structure to help them because we kind of are unique in that we are looking at the lens of investing through a value mindset as well when people want that.
So we created an index of companies that are leaders in the neurodiversity movement. So people who are actually interested in investing in that way can really put their money behind their belief system that people with neurodiversity belong in corporate leadership and corporate employment as much as as they can be.
So we’re kind of working on that as well. That’s all kind of investment management, financial planning, life planning. We also have a smaller group of people that we work with on just financial wellness. Understanding what financial decision making looks like to them, making sure that people understand the groundwork, the basics of financial decision making, paying bills on time, taking care of debt.
We have a small group of people who we work with at a time on, on those kinds of decisions. Oftentimes, it’s a young person who’s trying to get their feet under them. But sometimes it’s a, a middle-aged person as well, who’s just not been able to kind of put two and two together for themselves to understand how to really know where the money is going.
So we try and work with those folks as well to, to help them with the next best steps for understanding their money patterns and, and addressing what they can do to change that.
Brynne: You have an index fund? This is incredible. I didn’t, I did not know this about you guys. So you have an index fund that centers companies that work well with neurodivergent individuals, if I’m understanding correctly?
Liz: Yep. We call it the neurodiversity index. Um, it’s, it’s a specific to our company. We compiled a list of, we’ve kind of narrowed it down to 79 companies who are the leaders. So people who have celebrated the fact that there’s neurodivergence in their company corporate structure, that there’s people who are leading the company with neurodivergence.
Then people who are maintaining people who are employed with them, who have neurodiversity, autism, dyslexia, anything like that. And we’re focusing on companies that are really making change. Who are focused on making sure that their employment structure works for people with different minds, different abilities, different backgrounds and are, are kind of working on being better for our clients.
We’re able to help people invest in that as well. In the future, we are discussing making that a public offering so that anyone can invest in neurodiversity as a impact support structure in their own investment management decision making. But right now it’s just for the clients that we work with.
Joyce: From, you know, having children in the spectrum.
What is the benefit of having a professional, handling their financial planning, someone like you, and also what is a misinformation that you see? Cause online there’s a lot of “professionals” talking about, you know, retirement and how they did it, and the reason why we created this podcast is because it didn’t work for us.
You know, as parents with children in the spectrum. And, um, what do you think it’s the biggest misconception out there and what is the benefit of working with a financial planner?
Liz: So definitely the, the biggest thing I would say of working with a financial planner is that they should, and this is where kind of the certified financial planning background comes in, they should have a large picture of how different decisions have impacts that ripple across your whole financial life.
So a certified financial planner is one that has years of experience. So they have to have three years of experience working in the financial planning and and service industry. They have to have an extensive education background to accomplish the, the actual goal of passing the exam, which is a, it’s almost a full day of work, which is the exam, which covers insurance, investments, taxes.
Estate planning, including investments and, and just general financial best practices. So the financial planner knows a lot about a lot. It’s their job to. It’s, it’s what they have the stamp next to their name saying Yes, you know what you’re talking about when it comes to financial things.
They are able to coordinate the support and services of other financial professionals, like a tax accountant, like an attorney, and make sure, and, and life insurance and, and mortgage people to make sure that an individual’s life is not, they, they don’t have to find all those pieces on their own. And it’s really our job to kind of put everything into place and to manage it and to understand, okay, these, this is how things are going.
We review tax returns every year to, to the extent that we can and say, okay, this is what your accountant missed. This is the planning that we need to do for this year so that, that this, this bill changes in the way that that is meaningful to you. So we coordinate everything so you don’t have to, that’s the biggest thing of working with a planner is that it, it’s not on you.
When working with a planner like myself and our firm is that we not only know what it means to do financial planning to coordinate taxes and insurance and investments, but we also understand neurodiversity, and that’s not something to kind of take lightly. We have calls every week where people kind of introduce themselves.
Hi, my name is so-and-so, and this is my son and he has X, Y, Z. And I’m like, okay, okay, continue. And then you don’t have to go into like, okay, this is what that means for him. This is what — we just understand. Um, my background is, is care. I came out of college with a bachelor’s in speech therapy and lived in a community where I was a caregiver for three years.
And lived in a supportive environment myself and loved on people who I really care about who have intellectual disabilities and just was in that life of, of doing with and for others who were living their own lives and, and having their own dreams and missions and life, and just kind of fell in love with advocacy and, and saw others kind of in the same world of understanding that this is a different life than most people live.
It’s one of value and meaning, and we wanna make sure that everybody has options and, and decisions that they’re able to make so that it’s the biggest value of life to them. That’s my background. Other colleagues of mine are autistic and have come to the practice of doing financial planning from the extent that that’s their special interest.
They’re interested in investments and insurance and they love talking about it, and so, they are intensely ingrained in the very different professional aspects of what the, what the job entails. Other people do have practices that are focused on making sure they understand specifically special needs planning, planning for families who have supportive needs, and I truly recommend them above all other CFPs or all other financial professionals because the others just don’t understand the life that you live.
The questions that you have, the, the, the deepest concerns and fears of your life of, can I retire? Should I retire? And can I die? And what happens when that happens? That’s a conversation that’s going to be best had with someone who actually understands the life of supported individuals, the life of people who have neurodivergence and the lived experiences that we’ve all seen and and shared.
Brynne: I just gotta say, I love that question. Can I die? Because it’s so true. You look at your, your investments and then your responsibilities, even after you pass. And sometimes that really is the question. Of course we’re all mortal, but can I actually afford to die?
Is a completely different question.
Liz: Yeah. And it’s one that mostly families who have supported loved ones ask themselves. It’s not necessarily a question that everyone asks themselves, but it’s definitely one that is the highest concern for our families who have supported loved ones is what happens when I’m gone?
What kind of life will they have? And we want to be the ones to walk people through. There are things to do . To release that stress and to see that there is a path that people can take to make sure that that is planned for. It’s not just a fear.
Brynne: I do have some questions about like those day-to-day things that you help neurodiverse individuals with.
We gathered a few of the things off of your website. One of the things that looks like you help people with is being autistic and finding new living arrangements. In that scenario, what do you look at? What do you help people through? What do you encourage them to consider?
Liz: The perspective that I’m thinking through with this one is, this is gonna be possibly a supported individual or somebody who needs a little bit more help with home life.
Now, that could be so many different things. So the first thing is we just have to talk to the individual. What, what are they needing support with? What are their interests and, and what do they want to do? So we always go in from the life planning mindset of what is the desire of this person’s life? When we are talking to families, oftentimes they’re saying, well, they’ll just stay in this home.
They’ll inherit it when I’m gone, and then they’ll be here forever. Okay? And I’m like, okay, so where are their friends? Where is their family? Where are they going for groceries? Or who’s coming to visit them? So that’s, that’s like number one. What does the life look like when they’re on their own? When we’re encouraging people to find new places to live, we wanna look at the, again, the life plan of, okay, so is this a place where you can go and still get to your job?
Is this a place you can go and still get to family and to the resources that you care about, to your favorite bowling alley, to various different places that are important to you. And is it affordable? And so we look at the actual financial plan of is this a good decision? Are there supports that can help you with being able to afford somewhere?
And how many steps do we need to take before this is a place that you can live? A lot of the time, it’s looking at the local state resources to see if this is a low income individual or someone on government benefits. They’re likely eligible for housing assistance. They’re likely eligible for home care supports.
And so making sure that people are on the right Medicaid waivers, making sure that people are on the right housing programs or the wait list at least, so that we can transition someone from being completely at home and with family and, and doing all of that to finding a place where they can call their own.
Now that could be living with them alone and in their own individual apartment. It could be living with others in a community that is a supportive community, or it could be even just living at college or some other program. But the way that we kind of work is. It’s looking at what is the goal first? What do we know about what their support needs are, and do we know of a community in the local area that would fit some of those?
Because sometimes we’ll know of resources that families don’t. We’re constantly meeting people like you, like yourselves, who are educating families and nonprofits and other organizations across the country to get a sense of what all the choices are for people and help people understand that there are options and sometimes it’s a financial resource need, and sometimes it’s not.
That there are, there are things that are in place for individuals who have support needs to find what they’re looking for, but it, it does take some time. And it’s not a quick decision. It can be a 10 year process from deciding, yes, I wanna move out of my family’s home to, okay, I’m in a comfortable spot in this place that is now mine.
So that’s, that’s kind of the process we go through when it comes to new living arrangements.
Brynne: I noticed another thing that you help people with is the college application process. Are you looking at that as a guide to navigate through the paperwork, or are you looking at that in ways where, okay, these schools actually have adequate supports that meet your needs and here’s how to get financial aid and here’s what to consider.
How do you kind of fit into that process?
Liz: Yeah, so kind of similar to housing. It’s, it’s, what’s the goal is if, if going to college is the goal, then we wanna make sure that there are resources available. Now, some people will have, uh, a college in mind and they’ll be kind of ready to go and, and we’ll kind of encourage families.
And part of our kind of recommendations will be to find the resources on campus to use as much as, uh, resources as possible that the school offers because the college in higher education will not have the same structure and support as, as a high school with an IEP or a 504 plan in place.
So we wanna make sure that students and families are aware that there are different but as helpful services and supports on university campuses. We do recommend a couple of college coaches. So we we’re connected to a couple college coaches to help people think through the, the process of transition. We also do the financial question of what does it look like to get someone to college financially?
We help people kind of understand the FAFSA in a way. We don’t fill out paperwork, but we help with the details of it. Every student should be filling out the FAFSA when they’re intending to go to college to see if there is a financial aid component available to them. And just encouraging families to find, there are so many unique opportunities for children, young adults who are neurodivergent or have special interests to receive scholarships that aren’t student aid based, but are kind of more unique to them.
There are organizations that are putting out all kinds of scholarships for special interests and like Left-Handed Association of America. I don’t know exactly if that’s what it is. There’s like random, random interest groups that give people scholarships and it’s just finding the right one for the right student.
We know that our Neurodivergent students are often some of the most creative or some of the most intensely committed to a subject area. So it’s finding an association or a club that is offering scholarships to that kind of student, to a student who’s interested in learning about either it’s entomology or if it’s anything really, there’s opportunities for students to, to find resources beyond what’s typical.
We work with our clients to find the right path for them. And to encourage them to look after everything that they can for college so that the resources aren’t completely coming from the family themselves.
Brynne: And I noticed another area that you help with is acquiring consistent mental health support.
This is something that I feel like whether you’re autistic or not, this is something that’s very difficult for Americans to access. How do you go about finding access to that mental health support that they may need?
Liz: So for us that means looking at their health insurance and being aware of all the different health insurance aspects that come with disability or that come with the family and the options that they’ve been given.
Making sure that they’re Medicaid eligible if they are making sure that they are able to use the resources of Medicaid for the health insurance side of things, oftentimes there are healthcare providers, mental health included, that will take Medicaid.
Now across the country there will be different access to Medicaid providers and some states and locations will have better access to healthcare providers, um, than others. It’s an unfortunate way of our country that that is part of the Medicaid system that some states will have more than others. But then it’s just looking at the family’s health insurance, making sure that individuals are aware of the different health insurance that they’re eligible for at different times in their lives.
Someone with a childhood disability who will be on disability benefits for forever will have access, not only Medicaid, but Medicare. Um, and so making sure that families are aware that there’s a transition there that can happen with health insurance as well, so that they’re being offered more supports.
And our health insurance specialist is one that will do the digging on who is the local professional who will take your insurance and just kind of give a list to folks so that if they are trying to find someone new or if they’re recently aware that they have a benefit or have a need, they could quickly find a new professional to work with.
Brynne: What are some of those financial decisions and milestones that are unique to the Neurodiverse community? So maybe there are things that if you’re autistic, your neurotypical peers wouldn’t have to think about maybe. But there are decisions that tend to be integral to autistic lives. Like what? What kind of are some of those financial decisions and milestones?
Liz: Definitely. We often will encourage people whether they think they’re going to be independent or not in life, to consider applying for disability benefits at 18. This is kind of a different idea than a lot of people will offer. As long as it’s not a mental health barrier to a young person kind of moving on into adulthood, it’s highly encouraged that they start to become eligible for the various different benefits that could come to them.
The biggest one is Medicare. When someone becomes eligible for Medicare, they don’t get off of Medicare, and the way they become eligible for Medicare is to be on various other disability benefits prior to that, and to have a childhood disability. A childhood disability is defined as having a disability before the age of 22.
So if someone can get on benefits just to have them until they get on Medicare. They can kind of take a slower progression into adulthood. That’s sometimes recommended. Now think about like what does it mean to go from an 18 year old to a 22 year old? Well, that’s the college years. Some students aren’t going to college. Some are getting maybe further education.
Some might be working part-time. That won’t disqualify them for disability benefits. If they have disability benefits already. Working does not disqualify people from having disability benefits. It’s working above a competitive level, which is according to the Social Security Administration, $1,350 a month.
So when we’re talking about young people, full-time, students already have a little bit of a pass. Some of their income is disregarded for social security from the get-go. So then it’s just a matter of, okay, how long do you wanna be on benefits? How long are you gonna be working part-time? How long can you kind of, almost delay, but not completely, um, launching into a fuller work experience.
We do this work a lot with our clients, playing with the idea of becoming eligible for different benefits that they may actually need when they are 25 years old, when they’re having more difficulty finding employment or, or something like that. It’s not that we’re telling people to get on benefits that they don’t need, but to see how it goes as a transition to adulthood.
It’s much easier to get off of benefits than it is to get on benefits, and so for a young person, again, at 18, if there was a 504 or a or a IEP in place in high school, just apply for benefits and see, see what happens. If so, keep them until you feel like you’re comfortable working full-time and, and being in a place where you feel like you can be out on your own.
So that’s the biggest one. Now, another that is for most families is, is the age of 26 is when health insurance is a decision point as well. So families are no longer able to pay for health insurance for their students if they are the young people, if they don’t have a disability. Some companies will extend dependent care health insurance if there’s a disability in place, and that’s a decision point to look at the family’s health insurance.
Whether or not it’s actually a good decision to keep, or if the individual themselves should be getting onto their own health insurance, which may very likely if they’re low income, be subsidized by the state. So we would be looking at individual health insurance if they’re not on Medicare yet to kind of supplement anything that Medicaid would not pay for.
So that’s another kind of decision point is 26. There’s just so many different things that neurodiverse families have to consider that aren’t ever going to be on age based timeline, they’re going to be on a specific need based timeline. So families will likely have the, the question of when does someone want to move out of the house sometimes will be with everybody and with the peers, uh, with the peer group, and they’ll wanna be out on their own.
Maybe that won’t be possible at that time. And kind of working through what independent living looks like and building those skill sets before that happens. But then also kind of what older life looks like, what life looks like without parents, and those, those are the, the long-term kind of planning questions that we try to ask our families is, what is the life you want to live for yourself?
And how do we get there?
Brynne: And now you guys also work on the retirement planning side of things, too. So there’s this day-to-day life management, what benefits do I need? Like what benefits should I be planning for? But then on top of it, there’s retirement, there’s investing, right? And so I’m wondering if you are autistic and you do have some type of income, you do have some type of job and you’re thinking about your own, retirement, like Joyce was saying earlier, there’s a lot of advice out there and a lot of times the advice will be like, this is blanket, everybody just needs to do it the same way.
And if you follow this formula, and I feel like our community is one where we absolutely need individual solutions. As an autistic individual saving for retirement, is there anything that kind of varies from that standard advice that neurotypical people might see and follow and works for them that maybe doesn’t work if you’re autistic and you should plan a little bit differently?
Liz: So I think that the biggest thought that comes to my mind is that there’s literally no blanket financial planning advice that works for everyone. There’s a lot of free online advice that that kind of makes sense to most people, but everyone should really be doing an individualized plan of understanding who they are as individuals, what their goals are, and what they’re looking for in life, what they expect out of their health, what they expect out of their, their family, and their obligations to their family and their commitments.
And everything should be an individualized decision-making opportunity. The biggest challenge that we have is when other professionals don’t look at the unique needs, particularly again, of supported individuals within a retirement plan, and they just say, okay, if you have a million dollars when you’re gone, that’ll go to your son and that will be enough for them to live on.
But they didn’t ever look at the son’s actual needs, making sure that there’s actually a look at what expenses are. What the goals are, what the income is of that individual, making sure that everything is not just projected out to 30 additional years, but that the 30 additional years is actually qualified and quantified as an expectation of a life.
When it comes to kind of professionals who are autistic and looking at financial planning. We always do wanna be cautious of the fact that maybe sometimes there’s a disjointed career if someone has, uh, the habit, and this is just again, individually. Understanding our clients, whether they have habits of going from career to career, having gaps in employment, understanding what that looks like for them, making sure that that’s part of their expense expectation that we’re building in more liquidity into their financial plan as opposed to everyone else who we would say filter that into long-term retirement planning.
If we know that there are going to be kind of shifts in employment because people have different interests or they burn out quickly on, on professions. We wanna make sure that’s part of the plan and that we can kind of cater to that lifestyle and that flow that has been in the past, so that not only is it not a surprise because it’s not a surprise to the individual necessarily, but it’s also not a financial burden to them when they do need resources that they can access as opposed to locked away in retirement accounts where those funds might be penalized for being taken out before a certain age..
So we definitely wanna make sure that kind of the cash flow plan makes sense for an individual who’s moving around a lot in their career. Now that’s again, just one type of neurodivergent person.
Not everyone has that experience, but I just wanted to kind of highlight that person, that type of person’s experience and, and how we would claim differently.
Joyce: I was on your site and you already mentioned that you work with employers to support retirement plans for autistic individuals. Can you share more information on exactly what you guys do?
Liz: So we do a lot. Um, so this is one of our specialties. We will do the business side of the planning, as well. So when we meet with a company or an employer, We’ll again, do a full financial plan, deep dive of the company itself, not necessarily the financials of the company, but what are the goals of the company?
What are the goals of employment? How do the employers want to compensate their employees? Is there a way to compensate them that that gives them more of what they need versus direct financial compensation? So when we’re looking at individuals with disabilities or neurodivergent individuals, we might be talking about more training in the HR team of how to work with being more aware of sensory needs within the office space.
But primarily we’re looking at the benefits package, making sure that their options for employers to offer resources that might be included in what’s called a cafeteria plan in retirement planning. Where employees can kind of pick and choose different benefits. Things that are often in a cafeteria plan are legal benefits and sometimes financial planning benefits, and sometimes other kinds of savings plans that people can have access to, like, a flexible spending account or a health savings account.
We connect companies to not only payroll, but insurance companies to protect the company themselves. Um, and then we also work with the, the 401k provider to make sure that people are enrolled in the 401k plan. Now we do primarily work with nonprofits and companies who are specifically addressing employing people with autism and other neurodivergence.
And so we want to make sure that they’re getting what they’re paying for in kind of the, the company benefit side of things. When we work with companies, we are also offering ourselves as financial educators and we provide resources to the company. So that we can be available to the employees when we offer 401k planning support to the company.
We’re basically working with all of those individual employees who use the 401k plan or who would be eligible and encourage them to kind of ask us questions or use us as kind of a sounding board when they have high level or detailed questions on what to do with retirement planning. Oftentimes that looks like we will offer kind of once a year or twice a year financial education webinars.
And sometimes it’s general and sometimes it’s more specific to people who might be eligible for ABLE accounts and just making sure that people understand employment and things of that nature. So we, we kind of do a lot with companies that are a little bit different than typical kind of personal financial planning, but we try and get into as much as possible.
The personal side of things while we’re working with companies as well.
Joyce: Your services sound amazing and I never heard of an agency until basically until Brynne sent me the link. Why aren’t people hearing about your agency? What do you think is stopping people from reaching out to your agency or to any professional to help them?
Liz: So there’s a couple things. Number one, we’re not a nonprofit. We are a full service business. There are a lot of people who are afraid of working outside their comfort zone and outside their understanding of what they need for their family. Because we do so much, it’s hard to kind of inform people of what they need and how we can address it.
So oftentimes people will be calling us and they won’t even know who we are. They’re like, I got your name from this organization. And they told them, they, they told me to call you because I have this question. I’m like, okay, tell me more. How can we help? And they don’t even know the answer to that question.
We know we’re very different. We’re different for a reason. We’re different for a purpose. We’re trying to address economic exclusion. We’re trying to address people’s identities in a way that they’re actually supported in a way that makes sense for them.
And we’re not just trying to do investment management, though that’s how we get paid.
Joyce: I completely understand. I think that people still have this stereotype of investment. Or if they hear investing or financial planner, they think, okay, oops, that’s outta my reach or…
Joyce: They wouldn’t understand my situation.
Joyce: And when you have, you know, like a family like mine who is autistic, it can be challenging because.
We all have the stereotype that if you have a child in the spectrum, then it kind of like, you know, already know it’s path, basically. Like we don’t need to spend, and I’m not trying to sound rude, it just, it doesn’t, it just has like a general pathway. Well, he’s at the age of 18, he’s gonna go to this and then when it, and even when we get respite services, it’s the same narrative.
So , maybe, you know, having someone challenging and say, okay, well that’s not what I want for my child. Can we have like your company or what you provide? And I don’t think people understand that there’s another alternative to what people keep telling us to do. Like, you have to have this and then you’re gonna have to get this.
And then at the age, because that’s not what I want for my child. I don’t want my child to live in poverty.
Liz: And it’s, it’s really tough because, that’s, that’s the path again, that’s the path that’s defined and that’s clear. I kind of, uh, equate it to like continuing special education. In some ways it’s like, this is, this is the structure that the government has created in your local area, and that’s what the path is, and that’s your option.
We try to kind of encourage people to say like, who are you? That’s the biggest thing. Who are you? What do you bring to your life? And how do we address that? Because everybody has a different need. Everybody has a different desire in life. And it’s not necessarily gonna be found in those programs. Maybe it is, maybe it’s not.
Maybe it’s another local program. Maybe it’s not a program at all. Maybe it’s finding a job at a theater because somebody loves music and they would be happy standing in an audience as an usher for two hours, just so that they can hear the play. It’s not necessarily the path that we, so that’s that we always will bring up.
What is the path? What is the path forward? It’s always gonna start with the individual. It’s always gonna start with the family. And it’s not gonna start with the program. We are often saying you have to know where you’re going before you know how you’re going to get there. So we have to start with you.
We have to start with what your interests are. We have to start with what you want out of life, and then we can try and figure out, well, how does it work with what you’ve got and how does that work with what’s in your area? And how does that work so that you’re building your circle of support and yes, that is financial planning in our perspective.
Joyce: It’s a conversation because it, it seems like, you know, working families have children in the spectrum and that number’s gonna grow. So maybe we need to start, instead of separating us into a different category, maybe we should just be bringing this in and have a discussion just like we have with no one knows about the ABLE account unless we talk about it.
Or no one knows about your services. Only we talk about it. And I understand that, but I think that in order for your business to grow, I’m just gonna give you an example. Maybe the respite services should know about this. It’s part of education because instead of having you know, or the case manager should know about this, or what exactly do you do instead of sending someone just to you to answer a question.
Does that make sense? So I think that this is important, um, because like I told Brynne, my, my future is completely different than her future. And, you know, another thing too is probably the vocabulary too, because we use capitalistic financial, like big numbers, and this is what I tell Brynne, like sometimes you lose people with the vocabulary.
Sometimes people are so like, like I said, investment. It’s like, oh, you know, I don’t know if I need a financial planner or you know, like they see it differently. But if we start talking about it more often and use the vocabulary that really will resonate with the individual and the families, I think we’ll have more success stories.
Because I feel like coming from my experience, every time they know my kids are in the spectrum, or my husband’s in the spectrum, they assume something different, but we are good working family. But they assume like, okay, well, you know, have we tried and apply for SSI? Like that’s a solution for everything.
You know what I mean? But we are working family, we just haven’t found what we need because I know that two of my children will be independent versus two won’t. So I need to come into, you know, the decision of how I’m gonna retire that includes them. So I hope this makes sense. That’s what I’m, I was asking cause I feel like people don’t understand that concept and they have a different, when it comes to us versus them and you know, your path might be this way, but in reality it’s not.
We can have a successful life. If we’re included or have services like yours that we can go to. Instead of going to someone that doesn’t understand us or our finances.
Liz: Yeah, it’s, it’s really interesting too, and when you talk about like your family and your different, the different needs of your children, I always find it amazing to be looking at a plan and saying, you know what, your son on SSI?
Will be more secure financially in, in his twenties than your daughter who’s not. So like, kinda like resetting the like framework of thinking. We, we always worry about our kids who have more high support needs, but a lot of the time it’s, it’s the kids who have fewer support needs, who, but are struggling through something.
That need more help than the kid who’s gonna be on resources all their life. And it’s amazing to think about that, but it like, we can’t forget that there are, there are kids who struggle with other things that aren’t neurodiversity. It’s mental health or it’s something else. It doesn’t have to be documented.
It doesn’t have to be defined necessarily to know that there’s gonna be some trouble there and that maybe they’re gonna be the one that needs more support.
Joyce: Yeah, absolutely. Or if they do get service, but, and they’re working, they can’t do, they’re afraid to lose you know, insurance, because the insurance will not cover, cover what he or she may need.
You know what I mean? So it’s different. It’s, it’s, it’s a struggle that my adult children are suffering. You know what I mean? Like are going through right now, like, the insurance won’t cover this, but I need this. You know?
Brynne: To that point I’m wondering about, because here, here’s a big hurdle that I think people face whenever they’re trying to access financial planning.
It’s kind of like what you were saying, Joyce, I don’t really know what this is. I am not rich. Like even if you’re, even if you’re just like a middle-income family and you could be working and having a job, and you feel like that’s something that’s unobtainable or out of your reach.
I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about how you do get compensated as a business and what parents can kind of expect, and if we can maybe help people overcome those fears that there’s some type of financial barrier that prevents them from accessing services like yours.
Liz: We personally get compensated in in a number of different ways. We are not a fee only business, but we are mostly compensated with fees of our services. So what does that mean? We primarily, the people that I’m talking to are coming for financial planning only, so they’re not interested necessarily at the beginning of our conversation of investment management.
Either, like you’re saying, either they don’t feel like they, they need it, that they don’t have enough, or they’re not retired, so they don’t need someone to manage their investments, or they already have an advisor. Thank you very much. So there’s that. So, so oftentimes we’re starting our, our conversation as, okay, I know that you have maybe not that need right now in your mind, but let’s look.
What are the next steps that you can address with your family to make sure that you have the supports and structures and systems and and ideas in place for you to move forward with the questions that you’re asking right now? And we’ll do a financial plan. A financial plan could be for a young person themselves that are an individual themselves.
It could be for a whole family with mom, dad, grandpa, and three kids, two who are gonna be supported and one who’s not. And that looks like a fee structure between $2,000 and $6,000, depending on other elements of the plan. So usually it’s kind of like a, a complexity structure. We charge usually half upfront and half at the end of the engagement.
Sometimes we charge monthly if that’s something that, that if the high cost of putting $3,000 on the table is gonna be hard, we wanna stretch that out. We always are looking at the people’s income and asset levels to see, okay, is this going to be a financial burden? If so, we still wanna give them information.
We don’t want to turn people away. Sometimes we’ll just say, okay, these are the resources you need to look up and go ahead and, and do that on your own. But other times you’re gonna just say, okay, we’re gonna discount this fee to a reasonable level so that it’s not a burden on your family, or we’re gonna split it up throughout the year.
So that’s one thing that we’ll do. When we do investment management, we currently have a minimum of $100,000 to invest, and so that often it then we charge a fee on the underlying investments. Between, I think our minimum fee is 0.45% of the assets across, uh, throughout the year. And our maximum right now, I believe is 1%.
We decrease the fee when the assets increase, so like we’re talking about, the higher net worth families will have a lower fee because then we’re not charging them hundreds of thousands of dollars for their financial planning every year. So, so that’s kind of our two main structures of being paid for planning and investment management.
And when we work with people in investment management, there’s no planning fee. The planning fee is wrapped in to the investment management base. We’re continually having conversations of employment and of making sure benefits are the way they’re supposed to be structured and of finding the next home that they’re going to live as a family and making sure that the mortgage is, is paid in a way that makes sense for the family’s goals and things like that will come up with our investment management families.
We do also do work on the insurance side. And in that case, we do have different compensation models for those policies that are being issued. But we always wanna make sure that it makes sense to a plan. Oftentimes someone will come with an insurance question and we’ll say, Nope, not the time, or, Nope, that doesn’t make sense for you.
Or, this is really gonna hurt your budget. I don’t think this is the policy you want. We always wanna do the plan first to make sure that it actually fits within the plan. We are not insurance agents in the strictest regard. We are planners. We wanna make sure that, um, people’s needs and, and goals are being met.
So when people follow through with an insurance plan and then we’re compensated that the agent themselves is compensated for that sale, and that’s a commission based fee that the individual never that it, that it’s kind of baked into the premiums of the actual policy that they’re picking up. So that’s how that works.
And then we work with other professionals who might have other fees. We work with attorneys and, and tax accountants, tax preparers, and they’ll have their own fee structure that we encourage people to use, uh, when, when needed.
Brynne: So, Liz, I’m wondering if you can just tell us a little bit about where we can find you, where our listeners can find you.
Your website, I don’t know if you’re active on social media, but we’d love to know where we can learn more.
Liz: So our website is PlanningAcrosstheSpectrum.com. We are active, Andrew, our founder, is a, a daily contributor to social media. He posts on Planning Across the Spectrum at Facebook. We also have a LinkedIn page, so you can find us either place sharing our, and it’s not just him, it is, it’s a shared account.
We’ll be sharing our opinions and thoughts on disability employment, on neurodiversity initiatives, on community resources, on legal stuff that’s coming out that impacts our community. And if you’re interested, please follow. There are a couple other places that we are in, and it’s mostly Andrew who’s, who’s gonna be sharing his personal thoughts.
He can also be found at, we have a podcast: Two Autistics Talk Money. And he, he shares his thoughts on different topics throughout the month. Um, he also sponsors a podcast with Autism Speaks called Adulting on the Spectrum where he and another individual interview other adults on the spectrum and share adult perspectives that are going to be very different than kind of the perspectives of children and parents.
Brynne: Thank you so much to Liz for just a really cool episode. Those resources she mentioned can be found in the show notes below.
We are also grateful to you for tuning in every week. If you enjoyed this podcast, please leave a five star review on whichever platform you’re listening on.
Next week we’ll be talking to Sara Bradford of the SJ Childs Show about her Autistic family’s experience navigating a world in which so many systems have failed them.
We’ll see you then.