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America Saves Week Spotlight: Nicole Hamilton

Nicole Hamilton
Nicole Hamilton is the CEO and Founder of Homeownering, a site for homeowners to get good financial outcomes. She is also the author of the book “Avoid the Money Pit, Turn Your Home Into a Financial Powerhouse” on how to get the most out of homeownership financially.

As a child, Nicole’s parents always paid their credit cards on time and had really good credit, but when it came time for her education and activities, they sent her to a very expensive school 20 miles away and enlisted her in a high level competitive swimming program with workouts that were often both before and after school.

“I was aware that there was constant tension in our family over money,” she explained. “At times, it felt overwhelming and unmanageable – I was worried for us as a kid.”

As she got a little older, Nicole’s parents were pretty explicit that she work for her spending money: she had a newspaper delivery route at the age of 11, worked in the snack bar at the local pool at 14, and later became a lifeguard and swim instructor in her late teens.

Nicole was always nervous asking her parents for money. “I was in fourth grade and my friends were giving each other presents. I was afraid to ask my parents for money to spend on my friends, so I ‘regifted’ items I found in my closet! That didn’t go over so well at school,” she laughed.

Wanting to take charge of her own finances, Nicole hopped on her bike one day and headed to the bank to open her own account when she was just 12 years old. Since then, most of the money she did save from her jobs went straight into her account.

In highschool, Nicole had a clothing allowance from her parents, but it never seemed like it was enough. “Girls clothes cost more than boys clothes, and I felt like it was unfair that my brother and I got the same amount,” she explained.

Working jobs from an early age and opening her own bank account played a big part in her being independent when it came to money. “My parents came from a more lower income life, so there was never any sense that they would pay for me when I left home,” she explained, “They themselves had to support themselves from early on.”

In her eyes, having to get jobs and not having enough spending money was a gift. “That’s what made me feel confident my whole life in being able to get work, even if it was strange work,” she explained. When she moved to New York, Nicole managed to get a wild assortment of jobs to pay for things like her housing, something her parents didn’t pay for.

“I moved to New York when I was 23, as I was contemplating going to graduate school to major in neuroscience. I got this shoe modeling job that paid $225 for the day which seemed like a fortune for such basic work of standing around in a tight catsuit!” she laughed,

Nicole learned to become financially independent through the jobs she had, the bank account she opened, and from hearing conversations her parents were having, but she still built a negative relationship with money over the years. “What I absorbed from my upbringing is that living in a constant state of stress about money is normal,” she explained.

“I think for many years, I recreated that in my own life until I realized it didn’t need to be that way,” she said. “Emotionally, I was in really bad financial shape despite being able to support myself independently, because I created and tolerated a stressful relationship with money for many, many years.”

Though she had many jobs over the years, she didn’t think long term. “I remember enjoying the work that I was doing. I never really thought long term about a career or money while I was in college,” she said, “My parents were academics and for a long time, I didn’t conceive of any other path for myself. I didn’t even know what ‘business’ was or what ‘business people’ did.”

Despite her wanting to become a neuroscientist, the PhD path felt incredibly restrictive to Nicole. Instead, she got a job running clinical trials at a tech company. “That was thrilling to me,” she said excitedly, “Technology! And that’s where I’ve been ever since.”

Nicole’s “Aha Money Moment” happened when she was a 29 years old product manager of a telecommunication software company, making a lot of money. While on an international business trip, she realized she didn’t have enough money in her bank to pay her reimbursable work expenses. “That was a real awakening – how could I be making so much money but have none in my account? It made me reexamine my strategy. “

Nicole started to keep track of her spending. “I had a pretty freewheeling lifestyle in New York – working hard and going out late with friends,” she recalled, “It’s fairly easy to spend a lot of money in New York. I started tracking where my money was going and then put myself on a budget. That’s how I was able to save money.”

Nicole saved $10,000 fairly quickly and started to pay her credit cards regularly without maxing them out. “Before that, I would say I had terrible money habits,” she said, “I realized that I was unnecessarily living in money stress because I was comfortable in that state, having equated money with stress when I was growing up.”

Today, Nicole is very cognizant of where her money goes. Her current business is all about homeownership and the finances of it. “I am personally fascinated with my own spending habits – how much goes to improvements, savings, investments,” she said excitedly. “What I do well is being really aware of my money – how much debt I have, how much home equity I have, income projections, etc.”

Although she still wants to improve the percentage of money she puts towards the future for investments and retirement, what’s even more important to her is for her eleven years old daughter to not make the same mistakes she made. “She is actually very good with her money, always looking for ways to make it and generally saves most all of it,” she said proudly.

“I love asking her why she doesn’t buy a specific thing,” Nicole said. “She always answers that if she buys, it then she would have less money in the bank. It’s the idea that she can have more stuff, but that she would have less money in the bank. Next, I want to get her a little robo advisor account and put $100 in there so that she can get a sense of how money grows if you leave it. I’ve explained it to her in concept but it’s a powerful thing to see with your own eyes.”

The lessons Nicole learned over the years always lead her to encourage others to review their spending on a monthly or quarterly basis for things they can cut out. “Take that money that you realize you are spending on things you don’t need or want and reallocate it into investing,” she said. “That way, you are taking money you are wasting on things you don’t care about and putting it into something that grows, which is more satisfying.”

She also emphasizes the importance of being really aware of how much interest you are paying on your credit cards. “Don’t be afraid to call up your credit card company for a lower rate. Just ask!” she said. “The worst they can say is no, but, in many cases they have wiggle room. I’ve gotten interest rates reduced by as much as 7% which is huge.”

“Also, if you make a late payment, call them up and ask them to waive the late fee. In most cases they will. Same with overdraft fees from your bank. Be proactive!” she advised.

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