Who's That Gal? Nondini Naqui of Society of Grownups
We know you've seen the T ads, who could miss them? They're eye-catching and witty! We had the opportunity to go to the launch party last month for Society of Grownups, a Mass Mutual initiative that presents classes, 1:1 sessions and socials with those of all ages to learn key "grownup things" in an approachable way. I've already signed up for my first class, and plan to stop by for a 20-minute financial check-in, something I know is necessary for me before the holidays. Nondini Naqui is the Director of the Society of Grownups and recently briefed us on all of the amazing things SoG is doing. We think they'll change millennials and other grownups think about and act with money! Serious life lessons here, gals...
JUGs // You have a somewhat non-traditional background for someone in finance, can you please tell our readers about how you found yourself as Director of Society of Grownups?
It has been far from a linear path. I started off as an anthropology-spanish double major and didn’t really have dreams of going into banking or financial services. When I graduated in 2002, I ended up securing an offer to go into a management and development program for a bank. While my main interests were still in people and culture, I realized I could spend a year learning from the opportunity. That one year turned into five years, during which I did work at the branch level and then helped lead the banks online efforts (you have to remember the Internet was still relatively untapped at that time!)
Toward the end of that job, I had a chance to stand back and look at what I wanted to do with my life. I have always been an avid volunteer so I asked myself, ‘if I had a whole year to do whatever I wanted, what would that be?’ I started volunteering full time for an organization called TROSA, which is a self-sustaining non-profit that works with recovering drug addicts and felons and helps them reintegrate back into society. TROSA runs numerous businesses and reinvests money from their businesses into the program. During my time at TROSA, I also had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia with a small group and started a project with HIV-positive women.
Looking back, I realize my experience at TROSA and time in Ethiopia helped me figure out what I wanted to do. I decided to enroll in business school to gain more exposure to marketing strategies and blend my passions for helping and empowering others with financial services. Following business school, I had the opportunity to put my education and experience to work in the “real world” at ING Direct, and now, more so than ever, at Society of Grownups.
What advice do you have for a gal looking to shift careers to a completely different field?
Now that I think about it, I made a transition from banking to non-profit at 27 years old. At the time, I really thought that my life would never be the same again. I thought once you step off that “corporate” path, there’s never a chance for you to go back. I think what I learned myself -- and what I would want to share with someone exploring a similar trajectory -- is that you can take risks. You can absolutely follow your passions and dreams, and doing so doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re closing yourself off from a more traditional path later in life.
You actually have a lot more room and latitude to learn new things and make mistakes than you think you do.
There’s a lot of talk about how millennials are taking longer to take on their own financial responsibility (e.g., 25 is the new 21). Why do you think it is important for millennials to start educating themselves on personal finance?
When we were doing research before launching, we surveyed a lot of people and found an interesting trend that we called an “avalanche moment.” It’s a time in most people’s lives where several major moments present themselves … where you’re asking yourself “So, wait, in the next 5 years, I’m supposed to find my partner, go to graduate school, find a great apartment, get that great job, know all about wine, pick up 8 hobbies, etc.”
We realized it’s when people have this avalanche moment (or are about to), that we need to be having these larger, broader conversations about how to ask for that raise, how to manage your 401(k), or whether to rent or buy a place. Traditionally, financial services companies have viewed this group of adults as not having much money, and therefore typically don’t spend much time or effort supporting them. But if you’re not there when people need you, what makes you think they’ll be there later on? It’s time to change how we approach and have these conversations!
What is the first thing someone new to finance should do?
The first thing that I believe someone should do is to find out if their employer has a 401(k) match -- and start contributing.
I am not a financial advisor or planner, but that is the one thing I am grateful that my parents mentioned to me. The earlier you start, the better off you are. Start somewhere because no matter what you can contribute, it can make a difference.
How would you define being a “grownup” in 2014? How do you see this evolving as we age?
I don’t know about you guys, but when I was younger, all I wanted to be was a grownup. It just sounded like the most fun thing! As I got closer and closer to having to make adult decisions, it just lost some of its luster and appeal. I found myself thinking “hmm, I wish I wasn’t a grownup sometimes.”
Society of Grownups recognizes the fact being a grownup can be scary and hard, but there are some really exciting parts to it. You do get to make the decisions you want to make, you can lead the life you want to lead. To me, that’s what I think of when I think about “being a grownup in 2014:” figuring out what is important to you and living on your terms.
Be honest. Do you think there is a gender gap in financial awareness? If so, why do you think it exists?
Well we’re new; we opened only a few weeks ago so we see these next few months as a huge learning curve; we try to be humble and recognize we don’t really know what all the answers are. I think what we’ve found is that everybody is trying to navigate this part of their life, whether they are male, female, in their 20s, in their 30s, or their 40s. Even people in their 60s walk in here looking to take a class.
I think people have a lot of questions about their money, about what they should be doing and having a place where they can have an open conversation about that is something that has been missing until now.
I haven’t seen one particular age group of adults seem to have overwhelming confidence and really have it together, in fact, they all assume that the other is the one that has it together.
Once you actually start to scratch the surface, you can see that everyone has questions -- including us! I come in every day with questions for our planners trying to understand something.
Best resources for a young gal looking to gain financial independence?
We have classes, chats, supper clubs (class over a meal), and guest speakers. The most interesting thing we’ve observed so far is if we ask people before they come in where they think they’ll do their learning, they typically say they’ll learn from the instructor and, across the board, within 5-10 minutes into each session, everyone around the table is learning from one another.
For many of the grownups in our classes, this is the first time they can talk with other people openly about money and ask the questions they’ve been wanting to ask. Take our “Couples and Money” class, for example. Hearing how another couple handles things and having the opportunity to ask ‘how did that work for you?’ is huge. We believe there can be that sense of community around something like finances and money, which we see as our last taboo topic.
Society of Grownups stresses happiness over wealth, how do you think young adults and recent grads can achieve true happiness in such a competitive environment?
That’s quite a big question. I mean, truthfully, it’s about making sure that you’re not so much looking at other people and comparing yourself to those around you constantly. Once you stop doing that and start looking at the things you want to do and the life that you want to lead, that’s when you can start feeling more and more confident about your own decisions. That’s really what young adults -- and older adults -- can do for themselves to feel happier about their life that they’re leading.
What are some of the classes SoG holds?
We’ve designed everything so that there is no set curriculum. You can come in for a 20-minute checkup, a chat, class, supper club or 90-minute session. We’ll engage with you however you want to engage with us. Coming in for a quick 20-minute checkup is a great way to start, or even pop in to tour the space and hear about what we offer.
We have a class called “Getting Better with Age,” regarding investments getting better with age and wine getting better with age, so if you’re looking for something that has that social component with learning, that’s a great one. We also have a class called “Beyond the Hostel,” about how you can travel on a budget and it’s taught by an acclaimed travel writer. Most of our classes are on weekends and evenings, to cater to a working person’s schedule.
If you think about all of the grownup things people want, they all have a strong financial core to them. What we discovered is even something like negotiating a salary for your next job is extremely emotional and difficult -- no one talks about how much money they make, or what a raise should be, or how to ask for more. Opening these things up is unique and different. This is why the topics present tools people need to make the decisions they want to make.
If you could tell your 21-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
I would tell her that it was going to be okay. It’s not like I’d give her a long speech, I would just tell her all of the things that you’re terrified about today, you’re actually going to be able to figure it out. So, have confidence in yourself to move forward to make decisions and mistakes, because...
...you’re going to end up being a person who you couldn’t even imagine but is better than who you thought you were going to be.
When you’re talking about who these grownups are, they’re not just an age group. I feel like setting an age or limit on the term “grownup” doesn’t cover the complexity or variety of interests that people have.
If you’re looking for a place for people who are really smart, have a sense of community, are trying to figure out what that thing is -- meaning they know they should be doing something to prepare for the future and are ready to take action but are not sure what the first step is -- that, to me, is where the grownups are.
To be honest, they are here in Boston and Brookline, and from what we’ve seen, the grownups here are excited about having these conversations, about having these questions answered, about having a dialogue and discourse.
As a learning initiative, we’re building Society of Grownups as a partnership with those who walk through the door, or visit our website. Brookline is the perfect kind of community to do that. Sometimes learning is a painful experience, sometimes it is joyous, and you need people who are going to be straight with you.
What can readers expect next from SoG?
We have an idea about where we’re going, and where we’d love to go, but as I mentioned, we only just started. So, come in the door, sit with us, have a free 20-minute checkup, experience Society of Grownups in some way, and let us know what you think of it. It’s accessible, it’s open, and it’s a place we want to engage people in conversation.
Favorite restaurant in Boston/Brookline:
I just moved back here after 12 years, but Fairsted Kitchen is across the street, and I go there for brunch an embarrassing amount. I also order the same thing every time ... and I never go to the same place and order the same thing! But Fairsted Kitchen’s red beans and rice is comforting to my soul.
Something that surprises you about being a “grown-up”
I thought I’d have a lot more figured out by now. I thought I’d have things figured out by 25, then 30, and now I’m 34… My grownup moment is realizing that this is probably the way things are going to go. There will always be things to learn.
Best thing about Brookline:
It’s a community, people stop in, they’re curious. You can see people out and about in the evenings, which is one of my favorite things.
Actually this morning, I picked up Confidence Code, and I’m halfway done. I’d heard about it and what the authors were doing for the project previously, and I literally cannot put it down -- it’s speaking to me. It has the scientific piece to it, it has great conversations with female leaders, and young college students, and there are so many themes that it’s kind of hard to read and focus on one, but I’m hopefully going to get to the part of how to deal with it all very soon!
Be sure to visit Society of Grownups in Washington Square and give yourself a finance makeover. Tell them the JUGs sent you!