Run­ner-up: In­tel­li­gent Ad­vice

Didi Dorsett uses an­a­lyt­i­cal skills she learned in the mil­i­tary to aid low-in­come fam­i­lies.

Financial Planning - - CONTENTS - BY ANN MARSH

Didi Dorsett uses an­a­lyt­i­cal skills she learned in the mil­i­tary to aid low-in­come fam­i­lies.

As 2015 drew to a close, Déshaun Monique Stafford and her hus­band, now both 30, found they didn’t have enough cash to pay their rent, a mys­ti­fy­ing de­vel­op­ment since they both brought in steady in­comes. “Usu­ally, if we were short, we could get help from our fam­ily, but it was the hol­i­day sea­son and funds were re­ally scarce,” Stafford re­calls. “We had no idea where our money was go­ing.” At a fi­nan­cial coun­sel­ing clinic run by Britepaths, a non­profit in Fair­fax, Vir­ginia, which helps low-in­come peo­ple near the na­tion’s cap­i­tal, Stafford learned she could get free help from a mem­ber of the FPA of the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Area. That’s how she met Dolores “Didi” Dorsett, a newly minted CFP and a for­mer in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer with the United States Navy.

An Eye-opener

With the sup­port of Dorsett and other Britepaths ser­vices, Stafford de­vel­oped a pas­sion for bud­get­ing, paid down debt and built up an emer­gency re­serve that sur­vived the cou­ple’s 20% to 30% loss in in­come af­ter her hus­band took a dif­fer­ent job. Along the way, she and her hus­band dis­cov­ered that as a house­hold, in­clud­ing their two young sons — now 5 and 7 — they were spend­ing $500 a month on fast food. “That was an eye-opener,” she says. By cook­ing at home, they brought that down to $120 right away and, over time, to $50. “Now eat­ing out is a treat,” Stafford says. “I’m so grate­ful for Didi. I never want to get back to that point where I don’t have enough.” For her de­vo­tion to serv­ing as many as 75 peo­ple, largely through tightly fo­cused one-on-one pro bono plan­ning ses­sions over three years, Dorsett is the run­ner-up for the 2018 Pro Bono Award. The award, jointly spon­sored by Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning and the Foun­da­tion for Fi­nan­cial Plan­ning, rec­og­nizes plan­ners who have pro­vided ex­cep­tional ser­vice, ad­vis­ing peo­ple who oth­er­wise could not af­ford to hire them. “Didi has been our go-to. She is one of those peo­ple who com­bine com­pas­sion and laser fo­cus,” says Mar­celle Miles, Britepaths’ fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy di­rec­tor. “Bring­ing to­gether vol­un­teer fi­nan­cial ex­perts with non­profit clients, our fam­i­lies and the en­tire com­mu­nity be­come stronger.” Britepaths pro­vides emer­gency ser­vices to help pay for clients’ food, car re­pairs, rent and util­ity bills. How­ever, the or­ga­ni­za­tion also teaches long-term em­pow­er­ment via sev­eral fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy pro­grams. “The fi­nan­cial lit­er­acy piece is one that few non­govern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tions have fully de­vel­oped,” Miles says. When other non­prof­its need help from plan­ners, Britepaths con­nects them with free ser­vices from CFPS, CPAS, MBAS and peo­ple with fi­nance de­grees. It also of­fers workshops, a fi­nan­cial coun­sel­ing clinic, sin­gle one-on-one plan­ning ses­sions and a fi­nan­cial men­tor­ship pro­gram. Last year, 64 low-in­come peo­ple worked with Britepaths’ fi­nan­cial men­tors for six months or longer.

Learn­ing by Shad­ow­ing

Dorsett started at the non­profit by shad­ow­ing other plan­ning vol­un­teers, while study­ing to take the CFP exam, which she passed in 2015. Dur­ing those first en­gage­ments, she would pull credit re­ports and oth­er­wise lis­ten in. In that way, she used vol­un­teer­ing to help carve her tran­si­tion into

“As a for­mer naval in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, I feel I’m well-qual­i­fied to pull to­gether rec­om­men­da­tions and guid­ance based on your cur­rent sit­u­a­tion,” says Dolores “Didi” Dorsett.

the pro­fes­sion. Af­ter 20 years in the Navy and an­other seven with a de­fense con­trac­tor, Dorsett says, she was ready for a change. “I wanted some­thing dif­fer­ent and more mean­ing­ful,” she says, “a sense of be­ing able to give back.” Most of her plan­ning ses­sions are one-offs, without fol­low-ups, she says, by de­sign. Her ap­proach is sim­i­lar to the one she uses with her pay­ing clients, most of whom meet with her for only a sin­gle full ses­sion af­ter an ini­tial “get-ac­quainted” meet­ing. If some­one is go­ing through a com­plex di­vorce, she refers them to a plan­ner who is a cer­ti­fied di­vorce fi­nan­cial an­a­lyst. If they have a spe­cial needs child, she finds a CFP with the right back­ground.

‘The Right Path’

Dorsett is a NAPFA mem­ber and part of the Gar­rett Plan­ning Net­work. When she works with pay­ing clients at her firm, Safe Har­bor Fi­nan­cial Ad­vi­sors in Oc­co­quan, Vir­ginia, she charges clients hourly or by project. Her clients, many with mil­i­tary back­grounds, tend to come to her at in­flec­tion points, of­ten on the cusp of re­tire­ment. By gath­er­ing the right data and ask­ing the right ques­tions, she in­tends her short-term guid­ance to of­fer long-term im­pact. “There’s a set of clients out in the world who aren’t look­ing for on­go­ing ad­vice to man­age their as­sets,” she says. “There are a lot of do-ity­our­selfers and folks who are just seek­ing val­i­da­tion that they are on the right path.” “As a for­mer naval in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer,” she says, “I spent 20 years tak­ing dis­parate pieces of in­for­ma­tion and weav­ing them to­gether into a co­her­ent story that some­one could take ac­tion on. I feel I’m well-qual­i­fied as an an­a­lyst to pull to­gether rec­om­men­da­tions and guid­ance based on your cur­rent sit­u­a­tion.” Dorsett set up Stafford and her hus­band with Sim­ple, a mo­bile bud­get­ing app and ser­vice of­fered through nu­mer­ous banks. Stafford used it to cre­ate en­velopes into which she be­gan sav­ing for spe­cific fu­ture ex­penses. Stafford took to track­ing her ex­penses in real time on her mo­bile de­vice so avidly that “now bud­get­ing is my way of my life,” she says to­day. That new skill proved in­valu­able when her hus­band left a man­age­ment po­si­tion and took lower pay­ing work. By closely watch­ing and man­ag­ing their cash flow, “it’s been OK,” ac­cord­ing to Stafford, a med­i­cal as­sis­tant, who does life coach­ing on the side. “We’ve even man­aged to save up an emer­gency fund, which has been tremen­dous, but we haven’t had to tap into that.” In De­cem­ber, Stafford vol­un­teered to teach a Britepaths class ti­tled Hol­i­days on a Bud­get. “She’s truly been a su­per­star,” Dorsett says. “I got at least as much from them as they did from me,” Dorsett says of the cou­ple. “I’m eter­nally grate­ful for get­ting to meet them. I’m hop­ing they now will have some new tricks in their tool­box.”

Plan­ner Didi Dorsett (right) helped Déshaun Monique Stafford mas­ter savvy fi­nan­cial habits.

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