Melissa Mittelstaedt, AFC® CandidateGetting to know Melissa Mittelstaedt, AFC® Candidate

Melissa is a Money Coach for women entrepreneurs, whether they have a side hustle, a full time 1099 operation, or run a small business –she partners with them to ensure financial stability. 

AFCPE: What led you to a career in personal finance? And what inspires you to continue doing this work today?

Melissa: My personal debt journey is what led me to this place. Having next to no financial literacy while growing up I got myself into trouble early on with a lot of credit card debt, student loans, plus a car payment. I was operating in the red after I got my first “real job”, and I felt like I was drowning. I had no clue I was stuck in a paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, and I didn’t have the vocabulary to describe what was happening to me. 

I found myself crying to my colleagues. I had my dream job as a sign language interpreter within a secondary education system, but the pay was far from a dream. I was faced with what felt like an impossible decision: quit the job I loved or figure out how to manage my money. Luckily, an amazing colleague of mine pointed me in the direction of some debt resources. I am beyond grateful for her.  If you happen to read this, Connie, thank you! I owe you BIG time!

Thinking about what I went through, I wanted to help others avoid that feeling of helplessness.

AFCPE: You offer visitors to your website, a free mini course. Tell us why you developed this course and how it has impacted your business? 

Melissa: The mini course came to be for two reasons. One, if someone is looking for a first step in creating a healthy relationship with money, they can start there and not have to jump into a full coaching program. Two, I wanted a place for people to get to know my style. Finding the right coaching fit is like finding the right therapist. You want your personalities to mesh. This way they can learn a bit about me and determine if I might be the right person to partner with!

In creating the videos, I started by determining the four most important items I coach on: Mindset, Spending Awareness, Budgeting, and Accountability. Once I had the scripts drafted, I hired a videographer/editor to film the sessions (don’t forget to ask if they have a teleprompter!). Once I had the videos back to me, I sent them out for captioning and added the completed items to my website.  

The videos have served the purpose of being a good intro to me and what I have to offer. Granted, the videos were created prior to me starting my AFC® journey so there are certainly things I would add if I had a redo.

AFCPE: A lot of our members have started their own business or are considering it. Can you tell us a little bit about your journey to launching your own private practice? Any advice for those starting out?

Melissa: The journey into private practice has been quite the roller coaster. I decided to take my first step into the world of being an entrepreneur by hiring a Branding Coach. Mistake #1. The firm I hired cost me $399/month with a 12-month commitment (mind you, I was making zero dollars) and they knew nothing about the personal finance space. I’m sure I have a laundry list of things I would do differently but that is definitely one of them. But I have no regrets. I’m a firm believer that things happened this way for a reason.

My advice is to join organizations, network with other personal finance folks, and check out social media groups to get yourself familiar with this industry. And, if you haven’t taken advantage of what AFCPE®  has to offer, make sure you start there by joining the Mentor/Mentee program, attending member meet-ups, seeking volunteer opportunities, etc. – and no, AFCPE® didn’t pay me to say that – I truly believe it has been one of my best resources! 

AFCPE: Next month (September) is Deaf Awareness Month. As a sign language interpreter, what advice would you give to other financial counselors to make financial counseling more accessible to clients who are deaf or hard of hearing?

Melissa: I think I’ll start with five tips that can make the experience better for everyone!

Tip #1: Don’t use the term hearing impaired unless that is how someone identifies themselves, instead use the terms Deaf or Hard-of-Hearing.

Tip #2: Ask the individual what their communication preference is – some Deaf folks prefer written English, such as captions/email while others prefer American Sign Language (ASL). PS… sign language is not universal, it’s based on the country/region.

Tip #3: You can call most people who use ASL directly. When dialing their phone number, you will get routed through a Video Relay Service that connects to an ASL/English interpreter. You may experience a slight delay in the conversation, as the interpreter is relaying information, so don’t let that throw you off. Oh, and never use the phrase “tell him/tell her”, speak directly to the individual like you would anyone else.

Tip #4: If you are not fluent in sign language (fluent meaning you can hold a complex conversation in ASL) make sure you know a financial counselor who is so you can refer the person to someone who can communicate with them in their native language.  If you need a list of counselors who are fluent you can always ask on the Community boards to see who is. 

Tip #5: If you have videos on your website, make sure they are captioned. And, make sure the auto generated captions are turned on if you use Instagram.

AFCPE: You are currently an AFC candidate. How did you learn about the certification and why did you decide to pursue the AFC?

Melissa: First, I’m hoping you’ll take a moment to celebrate with me… I passed my test just over a month ago! 

As for certification, I learned about it after launching my business in early 2020 and having conversations with others in the personal finance space. There is one person in particular who seemed to be frustrated with folks calling themselves Money Coaches all willy nilly (me included) without having anything to back that up. It was an honest and appreciated conversation. If I wanted to be legit, I knew I needed to consider certification. So, I joined AFCPE® Membership last December after researching several certification options. I was a member for several months before I decided that this was the path I wanted to take. Everyone I was meeting in the organization had this “we want to be better” mentality, and I love that. I knew that this was the place for me to take that next step. 

AFCPE: Tell us about a project or initiative you are currently working on? 

Melissa: This is a great segue question because the person I mentioned who was honest with me about their industry frustration and guided me toward certification was Jenn Uhen, Founder of The Pledgettes. She created a community for women to talk about money with the goal of eliminating the gender wealth gap, a space for women to gain confidence with money. I am honored to be leading a three-month money experience within The Pledgettes, where a member looking to level-up their relationship with money can do so with the added bonus of an accountability partner. The experience runs September-November, with a virtual gathering scheduled in December because taking any financial action deserves a celebration!

Melissa Answers the Friday 5:

  1. My Why: When we have financial freedom, we see freedom in all aspects of our life
  2. My Favorite Quote: You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step. ~Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
  3. My Hero: Ruth Bader Ginsburg – she’s a badass and I like it 
  4. My Favorite Personal Finance Resource: Lynne Twist webinar on Scarcity Mindset – she provides some incredible insight as to why Americans feel the way we do about money 
  5. My Best Advice:
    1. For someone starting the journey to financial well-being: Be willing to try several approaches – if something fails, try another… it means you’re getting closer to the right solution for you
    2. For a new professional entering the field: Figure out who you want to serve. Trying to help everyone will only make you good at helping no one. 

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