Shay James is a CPA who specializes in helping people save money, save their business, or save their relationships. She does this through a variety of strategies, most recently adding the AFC® certification to her professional arsenal of resources.

AFCPE: What led you to a career in personal finance?

Shay: My journey into finance started as a small business owner. When I graduated from college, my husband and I opened a retail bike shop in San Luis Obispo, CA. Neither of us had any business background – my undergrad degree was in literature and his was in philosophy – but, very quickly, one of us had to learn how to manage the finances.

I also learned that small business owners have a lot of financial troubles. Because they put lot on line for business, this can lead them to make bad decisions. This was true for us as well. The personal pressure it created was a real stressor.  At one point, we had $250,000 in revolving credit card debt just to manage our retain inventory. I was always robbing Peter to pay Paul and had an elaborate calendar of payment schedules just to keep things straight.

After we sold business, I worked in financial management for a few years, but realized that I still wanted to work for myself, and that to do so, I would need a professional credential. So, in 2010, I made a pivot, earning my Certified Professional Accountant (CPA) designation.

AFCPE: As an Accountant, what made you decide to pursue your AFC®?

Shay: In my practice, taxes are the thing many of my clients think they need help with, but most of the time it’s so much more. While strategies can be put in place to make future tax improvements, there is often little that can be done to change past tax implications. Personal finance conversations often uncover deeper seeded issues: Arguments about money lead to stressors in a marriage. Crushing student loan debt becomes a barrier to everything a client wants to do – and now they find themselves behind on every payment.

While my intro into personal finance started with Dave Ramsey – which is a good, digestible plan for some people – I wanted to pursue a credential that was on par with the standards of my CPA. That is what led me to AFCPE and the AFC. I was attracted to the organization for its academic background and its focus on conducting and managing bodies of research.  AFCPE is committed to maintaining high standards to push the personal finance field forward and it is leading the way in legitimacy. I hope to see the credential and the organization continue to grow in the public’s knowledge. There is so much research that needs to be done in this field and that can be applied to personal finance practice.

AFCPE: What tips do you have for others who are looking to build a private practice?

Shay: I think I’ve probably done a lot of things poorly, and a few things well, but my best advice would be:

  • Manage your growth based on organic sales. What I mean by that, is that it is not, and should not be, super expensive to start a practice. You do not need to resort to debt to fund it. Walk in with a little bit of a buffer, but then rely on sales of services to fund your practice. This gives you the flexibility and peace of mind to know that you can continue to grow or shut your doors tomorrow, because you don’t owe anyone money.

  • Don’t get distracted by unnecessary tools that take you away from your core mission. That’s been an area that I’ve wasted money, time, energy. A private practice should be simple. You don’t need a ton of equipment. Businesses in some ways are a more captive audience to people looking to sell you unnecessary products. They know we’re willing, and have some capital, to invest in those things. Don’t get distracted.

  • Don’t think you need to know everything to get started. This is advice I give to my own children. If I waited until I knew everything to start, I never would have got going. At some point you have to start and realize that you need to figure it out as you go. We are always learning.

AFCPE: What do you do when you’re not solving accounting problems (i.e. in your free time)?

Shay: My husband and I have been married for 20 years, we have two kids – ages 12 and 13, and a busy family life. Much of my free time is spent with church and family activities. I do still enjoy riding my bike, but these days most of my bike time is spent on an indoor spin bike. I find it both fun and therapeutic! I also read a lot and I’m an avid knitter and sewer.

AFCPE: As a financial coach, what part of your work has you most excited right now?

Shay: I get most excited when I see clients win! They set goals and they follow through with them. While I never tell my clients what to do, our sessions provide opportunities to see what changes can be made and how to take the steps to achieve their goals. I love helping people understand their budget – how it works and why it matters, allowing them to be accountable to the decisions they make with money. I recently had a client who was spending too much eating at restaurants. I love seeing that moment when there is a shift in ownership and a relief in working with someone who is holding her accountable.

I also love when someone commits to meet with me regularly, instead of a “one and done” meeting. Behavior change doesn’t happen all at once. It’s incredible to see someone stick with something long enough to see the changes. You’re not going to see it on the first try, but once you start seeing wins, you build momentum. Personal finance is similar to physical training. Just like with diet and exercise, the changes take time, but the results are worth the effort.

This is why I love seeing the work being done in behavioral research – studying habit formation and behaviors and how that plugs into personal finance. It feeds perfectly into what we do!

Shay Answers to Friday 5:

  1. My Why: To give common sense solutions to problems that seem really complicated.

  2. My Favorite Quote: “In your actions, don’t procrastinate. In your conversations, don’t confuse. In your thoughts, don’t wander. In your soul, don’t be passive or aggressive. In your life, don’t be all about business.” – Marcus Aurelius

  3. My Hero: My husband. He’s put up with me for a long time, has stood by my side through both the highs and lows of life, and we have a really good relationship. He’s patient. He’s a great dad. He’s great with his job. And he’s a great husband!

  4. My Favorite Personal Finance Resource: You Need A Budget. As a CPA, YNAB is super useful and a fantastic software. I also love Google sheets – it’s easy to plug in and manipulate data.

  5. My Best Advice:
    • For someone starting the journey to financial well-being: Don’t overcomplicate it. It’s so easy to get overwhelmed by your end goal and not focus on the next small step to get there. I always tell my clients that “Nothing I tell you is going to be revolutionary.” The math isn’t hard. Many people know what to do. The most important thing is to take the next simple step. Get the wins, and suddenly you’ll find yourself 3 miles down the road.”

    • For a new professional entering the field: There is an important balance between having a professional credential and having life experience. You need the credential. Personalities sell and help you market well, but there is a level of seriousness that needs to be respected when people trust you to talk about finances. Earn your credential from a respected organization that has a body of research and a strong network and professional standards that you can draw upon when you have a question. That is why I chose AFCPE and the AFC.

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