You have stumbled onto another episode of Get Your FILL, Financial Independence and Long Life where we explore ways to achieve those two goals. You’ve been listening to an original score created by Carl Zukroff of the band, Blue Hotel. They’re an amazing band playing the standards and are available to play at your special event, once special events are allowed to happen again. Follow the link on my website, GetYourFILLPodcast.com or go direct TheBlueHotel.net.
Today’s guest is one of those rare people who grasped at a very early age how money works. Before the age of 10, she understood the difference between asking for a pair of sneakers and asking for a share of Nike stock and what that choice would mean to her in the long term. She’s the author of the book, The Baby Billionaire Guide to Investing and is well known in the investment community for her excellent seminars and training classes where she really breaks down the fundamentals of investing to make them accessible to even the youngest in the audience – and to the oldest because sometimes the older we get, the harder it is for new ideas to penetrate.
Ionnie McNeill, the Baby Billionaire, thank you so much for joining us today.
I: My story begins with – like you said about the three-, four-, five-year-olds – my story began with my mother, it also began with my father. It really began with my grandmother, we’ll go all the way back. When I was actually three, four and five up until I actually graduated kindergarten, I lived with my grandmother, my mother’s mother. I have the memories of the house, I know where it is. My uncle, my mother’s brother, doesn’t live too far from the house. I remember fond memories, but about seven, I remember moving with my mother and watching her go through this thing called probate for my grandmother’s house.
Now, my mom is very transparent about the process she goes through, she’s always been like that, so although she was a budding entrepreneur at the time, this probate process really opened her eyes to the other side of assets and finances that she did not know about: money, the world of money that she did not know about. And we ended up losing my grandmother’s house but she ended up taking it as a big learning lesson and admitting how much she didn’t know and started to read books and get connected with organizations so that she could begin to educate herself.
So to me, at the time, at the elementary school, the middle school and I always was with my mother, and being alongside of her and being a kid, I was engaged. I think my mother helped me stay engaged, she never let me just be a child that just played and wasn’t aware of what was around me or what she was being involved in so consequently I began to pick up certain lessons quicker than her, which then allowed her to start relying for certain lessons. It just became this never-ending reinforcement loop of: Ionnie, figure this out. Ionnie, please teach me that. Ionnie, please help me figure this out and in a sense, at the time it was definitely joyful to be able to help my mom and I was a kid, so learning was still fun for me. Learning is still fun for me now, I work at a library.
But I will say it was probably one of the greatest things. Like something that you find in the rubble after the fire, like a diamond in the rough. So, at an early age, I always liked math. I always liked a lot of subjects, but I always liked math and the reason I also bring my dad into it is because when I would go shopping with my dad, we always bought stuff on sale, but he always had me calculate what the sale was before we would get to the register. I remember being in Burdine’s or Macy’s, and JCPenney and seeing 50% of with an additional 25% off and literally having to do that calculation and just in everyday life situations, getting familiar and comfortable with numbers, with math, with money, and how it works and how it really works, why pay full price for something when you could wait a little longer, and allow it to go off-season, especially if you don’t need it and save more money because you bought that for less. And when I started going to BetterInvesting classes, I was very supported and encouraged by everybody that saw me and their recurring theme to me – or I should say words of wisdom to me – was: If I had only started when I was your age.
Yeah, and I’m looking at them like: but you look good right now. I mean, how old did you start?
And they would tell me they started at 25 or they started at 30 and now they’re 50 and retired, 60 and retired. I remember this one lady very vividly. She was like, “Oh yeah, I’m retired now, so I’m gonna do this Alaskan cruise with my grandkids and this Caribbean cruise with my grandkids. She was basically cruising around the world with her grandkids.
It’s always just like: wow! It was a very different world.
Well, you know this because you’ve been exposed to the world of real estate brokers and then you probably have also been exposed to the world of other types of investors and you’ve been exposed to the world of professional speakers, and you can literally see the differences in the people, the lifestyle, the conversations, what’s important to them. I don’t know if you’ve ever talked to anybody about these things.
C: Well, you’re right, there are different… There’s a club, an unofficial club out there, and you can tell when you’ve met somebody in that club because instead of talking about: Oh, I wonder if we’re all gonna die of the coronavirus, they’re talking about this book they read, they’re talking about gratitude and abundance and it’s just like a whole different… it’s a whole different vocabulary, and you either have it or you don’t, and that’s… you’re either in the club or you aren’t.
I: I think what was amazing for me and then I feel thankful for my mom every time I get interviewed, and I get to this part of my story because a lot of times we don’t wanna admit it, but exposure is everything, it’s a lot of things. I’ve just been watching a documentary on NetFlix called babies. It’s a six-part, beautifully-, phenomenally-done series on babies from when the mother is pregnant with them. How they affect the fathers during pregnancy and surprisingly the fathers are just as happy as the mothers because they were tested for the happy hormone during different stages of the pregnancy, even after the baby was born. There’s so much research now out about the different stages of the baby and how the baby grows. Old scientists used to think that babies grew a quarter of a centimeter every single day, and that’s not really how they grow, they grow in spurts.
So two days, no growth. And then next thing you know, one night, they grow an inch. So it was found out to be that they actually grow in spurts. The sleep cycle, how important sleep is to them, how important language is to them. And really, again, why I brought it up – how important exposure is to them. One of the couples and it was a baby – let’s say like a nine-month-old baby and a four-year-old girl. The baby was a boy.
I think the mother only spoke English, and the father spoke English and French, so in the household, Mama only spoke English and Papa only spoke French, so that both children would learn both languages. And you see in there where the daughter has to sometimes translate to the mother what Papa said in French.
So I thought it was a very interesting documentary but to me, it really proved the point of exposure. Exposure to different things. I think that’s why people love to travel so much, because it gives them exposure to different environments, people, culture, food, all that wrapped into one, but also exposure to, like you said, different ways of thinking, and that a lot of times comes from different groups. I mean, how exposed are you if you only go from home to work, to home to church, to home to grocery store and back home to work and you’re not a part of any professional organization. You’re not a part of any social club outside of your socioeconomic group.
Because a lot of us are in other extracurricular activities, but we’re around people that only look like us, that only think like us.
C: That’s it. No one to question and no one to challenge your beliefs and thoughts.
I: Or to show you that there’s another way of being and that’s what I learned when I was around the investors because up to then, I was around workers and entrepreneurs – who are lauded workers. Entrepreneurs work harder for what they have and fully show up, and work for what they have.
But there was this whole other group that were investors that were making money based on decisions alone, not based on trading time for money, not based on making something work, making an idea work. None of that, not based on punching a time clock. But by lending their money to already successful ideas and companies, and getting a return on their money, I just thought that idea was phenomenal.
And of course, as a child, sometimes you see something you’re like: How do you not see that? I see this. How do you not see this? Look! Look!
C: But you can see it without realizing that it could be you. And that’s where I think some of us bring a lot of baggage to that kind of a situation where you see someone and you see that they’re very successful, and you just think: Oh wow, I wish I could be really successful, but you don’t ask the question. What did you do to find that success and then to emulate it but some of us just don’t realize that it’s within our power to actually have that same life.
I: I do definitely credit where I am, to how I was exposed and I usually tell people that I think I got it as quickly as I got it, as easily as I got it because I was a child and I didn’t have the mental and emotional baggage of an adult to say: Oh I shouldn’t get this. I didn’t go to college, I didn’t study business.
And just this whole litany of reasons why you shouldn’t get it. Or then immediately get mad at your parents or somebody else because they didn’t teach it to you. It’s like: does it matter? It’s right in front of you, right now.
C: And maybe they didn’t know it to teach it to you.
I: It’s almost always that they didn’t know it to teach, exactly.. I think when I see it, and even now I’m in those environments and I’m immediately asking the question: How can I do that? And I’ve been fortunate enough to be in supportive communities, like really BetterInvesting, where everybody’s a volunteer, and everybody wants you to succeed. And so, they freely gave me the information, they showed me how to do it, they walked me through how to do it, and I’m asking questions like, well, what is P/E? Can you explain that again? Well is it like this? And I have been known to take over presentations but I was asking too many questions but I just really felt like I needed to get it right.
I know one of the things I said in the other interview, which is like I saw how hard my mom was working and I didn’t wanna work that hard. It’s not that I don’t like to work hard. It was that I didn’t wanna be dissatisfied with life or complaining about certain things that I felt like if I learned, I probably didn’t have to complain about those things. Like at the start the podcast talking about the book Ikigai, because this is also the other part of my decisions is, because I do want a long life, I wanna a comfortable type of life.
Yeah, I want a certain quality of life and that is evident in the types of choices that I make about where I work, how I work, the type of work I do and being able to make my money work for me, so that I don’t have to put myself in a bind to go work for it.
C: Yeah, so you talked about BetterInvesting, you wanna just tell folks what it is and how you became involved with them.
I: Sure, BetterInvesting is a non-profit organization focused on investment education for individuals and investment clubs. And I became involved with them through the Southeast Florida chapter, which is now renamed as the South Florida chapter. Phil Keating and Ellis Traub, Irving Roth, Lewis Adrian, Dr. Barbara Cobb, these are people that, when I was in grade school, were helping me to learn this stuff. When I was showing up to my monthly classes at BetterInvesting, and then every year going to the BetterInvesting National Convention and just being around these people and reading the magazines.
At the time, when I was growing up, they actually had a kid/teenage magazine that accompanied the BetterInvesting magazine. If you had a youth BI membership, you got the youth publication and my mom had an adult membership so she got the regular BI Magazine, and I used to use her bathroom. I used to read both there and I just remember reading that type of information and being amazed because kids were being featured, young adults were being featured about investing, and about going to college. I was always gonna go to college, but seeing somebody closer to your age that was doing it – that is doing it, and that’s how I became a part of BetterInvesting, a member of BetterInvesting.
I don’t remember the year. That is something I probably have to find out from BetterInvesting. One year we were at the national convention. And again, this is where math and life skills come in. So my mom and I walked down the little aisles and stuff, and we come across the BI booth at the convention, and they’re talking about the membership, renew your membership here, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. They started talking about membership levels. So they had a lifetime membership level. Now the cool thing about a lifetime membership is that it’s a lifetime. For me as a lifetime member… I was maybe 10 years old, maybe less. So how much is this membership? I got like 80 years to go.
C: That had to seem like a no-brainer.
I: I’m just like: if you divide that number by this many years, and I think the membership was only like $1,000 or it could have been like 700-something dollars. I’m so glad I talked my mom into that because they don’t even offer a lifetime membership any more.
C: And you clearly got your money’s worth already.
I: I’m a lifetime member. What are you gonna tell me – I can’t get my magazine? That was a great investment, because when you think about it, most of the people, especially at that time, were like 70-80 years old. Young was 50.
C: Yeah, well that’s still the case. I mean more than half the room when you’re there is over 60, wouldn’t you say?
I: I know, but I think that’s why they stopped selling lifetime memberships.
C: Because of you.
I: Can’t run an operation on loss leaders. Sometimes you realize, you think back on your life, you think: that was a good decision. I’m so glad I made that call.
C: So I have some questions, I actually wrote down to ask you.
So your introduction to investing is because you when your mom was going through this whole probate situation or how to actually learn about the fact that there’s a stock market and that you can buy stuff and how it all works?
I: Well, I think even before BI when my mom was going through this situation, she realized that she didn’t understand money as well as she thought she did. So that’s where all of the self-education came. Not to mention, she got taken by somebody. She kinda gave them her money to invest. One of those we all kinda did when we don’t know any better and when we don’t trust ourselves.
She never saw that money again, she didn’t even know to ask for statements. So she was like: Yeah that was a $10,000 learning lesson but I’ll just sit right there and watch.
C: Glad I got to learn by watching your money disappear, not my own.
I: That’s how I feel because again like you mentioned in your interview: We all do that, especially as kids, we’re watching what our parents are doing. We’re constantly making decisions about how we want our lives to be, based on what we see.
And so, I was no different, I saw my mom doing certain things and learning certain lessons and I was like, “I don’t feel like or believe I need to make that same mistake. Now, it’s okay to make other mistakes, but I think if you look hard enough, and are really honest about your observations, you can learn from other people’s mistakes and it’ll just put you a little bit ahead, know where to go, know what to ask. So, all that being said, I was a part of… I think she put me in a kids’ finance group, a kids’ stock group, and that was how I started learning about stocks.
And then after that group, or even during that group, we found out about BetterInvesting ’cause I think where we were meeting, there was a BetterInvesting meeting in the same venue that we actually happened to just run across it.
C: How old were you at this point?
I: I was in second grade, seven or eight years old at the time. I remember my friends, Addison, I haven’t said his name in a long time. Elementary school friends. And so that was the beginning.
C: Do you remember the first stock you bought?
I: That’s a story in and of itself. I’ll get to that story. This is the first story. The first story is after my first day, we come home, and I go and get the newspaper because in my class, we’re able to actually read the stock section of the newspaper. We learned what price was, what change was, percent change, dollar amount change. We learned what a 52-week high and low was. We learned what P/E was and what earnings per share was. So that’s really what the whole line is. If you look at the newspaper. So I go home and I’m asking my mom for the business section of the newspaper, and then I’m looking at the stocks that I know.
As a kid I played basketball and I knew all the kids had Nike shoes. I also knew my dad was like, “Well we’re not buying those shoes unless they go on sale.” So I went and I looked up Nike stock and I think I remember it being like $72 and something cents and I was like: a pair of Jordans costs $100. Do you mean to tell me that a share of Nike stock costs less than Jordan shoes? And my mom was just looking at me doing all this private investigative research and thinking to herself: I can’t even do this. And I was just really stunned and affected that the stock price was this low. I’m asking for the wrong thing. I’m asking for shoes, I should be asking for stocks.
And then, of course, when you realize what earnings per share really is and you realize that that’s how much profit your share is worth, and then when you find out what dividends are, you realize that’s how much you get paid for holding the stock and that did not compare to those Nike shoes.
I wasn’t getting the shoes anyway. You know what I’m saying? You gotta one-up the kids on the playground.
If you’re too poor to be like, “I can’t get them shoes.” You gotta be like, Oh, I own your shoes! I own the store you bought your shoes in! You’re a kid, you gotta figure your way out. It’s a tough world out here, you can’t be no sucker.
C: But that’s so smart. To be fair to you, you sort of say: Oh, I just got this great education, but a lot of kids – you could have taught them that at seven years old and they still would’ve wanted the shoes. They wouldn’t have seen the bigger picture. You had that wisdom, even at a really, very young age.
I: Well, thank you. I felt like it was just a certain level of hunger, though. Kind of like when we are talking about not wanting to live at our parents’ house. I didn’t wanna be poor, you know, I didn’t wanna struggle like I watched people struggle.
When I saw, literally saw, the way that these investors were living and being in the world: Happy, content and looking like they had it versus entrepreneurs always trying to go get it. It was almost just like: Y’all are working too hard, just do what these people are doing. They don’t look that stressed out like y’all looking like. Yeah, it’s interesting ’cause I’ve been thinking recently about… I watched a documentary on Quincy Jones, I watched another one on Miles Davis and both of them knew in high school that they were gonna be playing their instrument.
Yeah, and sometimes, sometimes you really just know, like you knew you really wanted to be in real estate and as much as I didn’t wanna admit it, I just knew I wanted to be an investor. It’s just seemed like a no-brainer.
C: It is a no-brainer.
I: It’s just so clear to me. And again, maybe the age I came at it with or whatever, but to me, I didn’t know another way I wasn’t exposed to real estate investing, I wasn’t exposed to flipping houses, I was exposed to the trauma that people feel when they don’t have money in the suffering they go through when they don’t have money and the easiness of the people that have it. And it’s not like my parents were giving me what I wanted anyway. You know, I thought I was poor, because I didn’t get this, I didn’t get the latest this, I didn’t get the latest that and I was just like, “this is for the bird, I gotta start stackin’ my money.”
C: I don’t see you going on getting the latest thing, and chasing some kind of fad even now, right?
I: Yeah, I mean I think it wore off on me. When you realize that that stuff isn’t even important or you start to actually analyze why are you doing those things?
Yeah, I think even in me being raised by my parents, I learned, even though I asked for things I never went without.
I found out much later why I wasn’t given those things I asked for, and it was because – especially my dad – it was because he valued money in a different way.
Yeah, and I learned later about that, he wasn’t about to buy me these shoes or these clothes unless they went on sale. But when I went to Howard, he was not about to let me take out loans.
C: Priorities, just different priorities.
I: Yeah, it took me a long time to realize that. But even though those are other things too, that you’re exposed to because when it happens a lot of times you’re a kid, so you ask why, and sometimes at the time, you don’t get sufficient answers but then when you see all unfold, you realize: Oh, that wasn’t his priority. His priority was this, his priority was education and his priority was providing a certain ease of life and not just racking up material things, and then having to work and not spending time with me. But that’s also what I mean about learning the ways of money, learning the true cost of money and the true cost of certain decisions.
I’ll cite two quick examples. If you buy something on a credit card that you can’t afford now, even if you bought it on sale, is it really worth that amount because it’s about to cost you a lot more than what you originally paid because it’s taking you so long to pay it off. And I don’t think people think about that when they go to buy that thing.
And then on the other side, my brother called me and I was saying: Hey, how much is your savings account giving you in interest? And he was like .01%. On 10,000,. he’s making one dollar and 10 cents, and I literally screen-shot him from my broker’s account. I said, I got the same $10,000 sitting in a money market account that makes 06% and every month I’m making six or seven dollars. whereas every year you’re making a dollar. What we were really talking about was a savings account, an emergency fund. So the money is gonna sit there anyway, but do you want it to sit there only making a dollar for the whole year or making quadruple that every month.
So go back to your original question. One of my very first stocks was Citrix systems. It’s a company in Fort Lauderdale. I remember that group that I started out with, we went and toured it and was hosted by the CEO and the CFO and the COO, and we’re sitting in a big board room and we’re asking questions and we’re doing all of this.
I go home and I say, “Hey mom, can you buy me some shares of this Citrix stock? At the time, this was like when the US government was bringing an antitrust lawsuit against Microsoft, ’cause they were getting too big, I think they were trying to buy Citrix at the time. Anyway, that gives you the time frame.
So anyway, I asked my mom, she said Okay. Does she buy it? No. I asked again. Does she buy it? No. And that was the story of my life until she went to buy it, and I was like it’s beyond the buy range. Don’t buy it. She buys it anyway and then it plummets after that.
So the first lesson was: don’t wait on your mama. And most of the other individual stocks I had bought after that were through – BetterInvesting used to be called NAIC, National Association of Investors Corporation, they had a kind of corporate collaboration agreement partnership with a lot of investor relations departments with a lot of Fortune 500 companies to allow people, especially BetterInvesting members, to buy at least one share of stock, what was called a Low-cost Diredt Stock Purchase Program, and they introduced people to DRIP, Dividend ReInvestment Program or Dividend Reinvestment Plan. And so I bought Pfizer, I bought Home Depot, I bought CVS, I bought Limited Brands that own Limited2 and Victoria’s Secret, Wendy’s and maybe a few others, Caterpillar. So that’s how I got started.
C: That’s fun, it’s great. That program is great. Does that still exist?
I: The whole industry is changed. That was before online brokers and that was when, in the world of investing, you needed to have $10,000 to have a conversation with somebody at Charles Schwab or Merrill Lynch.
It was a whole different world. Now, most companies outsource all of their stock stuff, investment-related stuff to ComputerShare or Amstock, or BNYMellon. Those are the three players and the main players in the game. And then there’s the whole online broker now. And then even now, there’s a whole slew of apps that make investing or buying stocks, even buying fractional shares, available to the common man. But when we started learning when I got started, none of that existed. I feel so antique, ancient, old. But I mean that was another one of the things where you do the best of what you have.
Yeah, it was price prohibitive to get into investing, but BI made a way. Now that I think about it, their low-cost direct stock purchase plan is what apps are doing now. Literally, you would mail a check in to the BI headquarters for the price of one share of stock on that day. plus maybe $10 just in case the price goes up within that range and a $7.95 shipping and handling fee and you send that check in with your form filled out, and then they would process it. Next thing you know, you get in stock statements from the company for the exact amount that you gave them.
So you’ve got a share and a fraction and next thing you know, every quarter you’re getting this statement. That was like gold, I was getting mail as a kid. I was voting on the board of directors of Kelloggs as a kid. I wasn’t even able to vote in the US, but I was voting with my stock.
It was like the coolest thing. Yeah, it’s still cool.
I hope that you enjoyed hearing some of Ionnie’s story. Be sure to join us next week, where she’ll share more of her investing style and tips and in the meantime, check out GetYourFILLPodcast.com to see the video chat, find links to books and resources that we talked about today and other stuff that we thought you might find interesting. Be sure to stay healthy and happy and eat good foods, and get lots of rest. See you next week