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(Photo courtesy of Al Emmert)
This week we have: Fred from Money With a Purpose!
Fred does not hold back with this story. I have some thoughts that I’ll share below, but for now – let me get out of his way…
My name is Fred Leamnson. I’m a financial advisor at Leamnson Capital, a firm I started in 2011 after many years in the brokerage industry.
I also have a blog, Money with a Purpose, where I focus on three major areas – personal finance, lifestyle, and overcoming adversity.
The overcoming adversity articles are mostly in done via interviews. Mike, the author of this great blog, allowed me to interview him to tell his story of overcoming an injury that set him back. It’s an inspiring story that I encourage you to read.
Like many of us, my wins and losses are correlated
What do I mean? I learned from my losses (especially the big ones) and did my best to turn them into wins.
With that, let’s get the losses out of the way first.
Loss #1 – Learning our son was a heroin addict
Yup. Doesn’t get much worse than that.
It happened over Labor Day weekend of 2007. Our best friends of close to thirty years were at our house for our annual vacation together. They’re from our hometown of Indianapolis, IN. We’ve been vacationing together for close to twenty years.
In previous years, we went to the Outer Banks, NC. After a string of bad years of weather and decided to hang it up for a while. The alternative was for them to come to our house and make various day trips from our base. We now live outside of Washington, DC in northern Virginia and there are tons of things to do within a very short distance of the house.
Anyway, back to the loss. Cathy, my wife, came outside to the back patio where my friends and I were hanging out.
She was white as a ghost and said, “Freddy. I need to talk to you.”
I knew from the tone, and the look on her face something terrible was about to happen. I was hoping the bad did not involve me. As it is, I wish that would have been the case.
Before I tell you the next part, let me give you some background. Faith is a huge part of who we are. We believe God through Jesus Christ is active in our lives. He has guided us in and through many challenges in our lives; through all of our wins and losses. You’ll understand why I offer this in what follows.
God speaks to Cathy in her dreams.
It’s OK if you don’t believe that. As I said, it’s part of our story. There have been several occasions where she’s had dreams about things that have come true. Usually, by the time she talks to me about it, she’s had the dream several times. So, when she talks to me about a dream, I’m all ears.
Cathy had a series of dreams where she saw Jason (our son) as an addict. I’ll spare you the details of these dreams as they aren’t pretty. Many times in the past, these dreams have come true. So, she called our son to confront him about his drug use.
At first, he vehemently denied it. After a few hours, he called back and told her the truth
Nice way to start off a vacation, huh?
This was the beginning of an eleven-year battle he’s had with heroin addiction. He’s been in and out of jail during the last seven years. Much of that he served in the local county jail, which is set up for short-term stays. When the charges mounted, the judge gave him seven years, half of which was suspended. He ended up serving thirty-three months in state prison.
What I’m about to say may seem very strange to those reading who haven’t experienced anything like this. Cathy and I were relieved when he was in jail. As bad as jail and prison can be, we at least knew he was off the street and not using. It relieves every parent’s greatest fear for their addicted loved one – an overdose. Every parent in that scenario prepares themselves to receive the “dreaded call” from a police officer.
I’ll pause here and move on to loss #2 which, as you might imagine, is related to Loss #1
Loss #2 – We made some incredibly bad financial decisions during the early years of our son’s addiction
That’s where loss #2 originates.
When we first discovered his addiction, the initial emotion was the shock. We knew from prior years that he did drugs. In the fall of 2000, we got a call from his college roommate saying Jason, our son, was in trouble. His roommate called Cathy (her nickname was Mama Lemon) and said, “Mama Lemon, I wanted you to know that Jason’s hooked up with some bad people and is in trouble. He owes them a lot of money, and if he doesn’t pay, I’m not sure what will happen.”
At the time, he was still living in Indianapolis, our hometown before coming to NOVA. I hopped on a plane for a surprise visit. When I got to his house, it’s hard to describe what a mess it was. Dishes and trash piled up in the kitchen. Dirt, dog hair, and grime everywhere. It stunk. I called Cathy to tell her what I found. We decided it was best to bring him home with me (along with his dog, Rubin, a lab mix). We loaded up a U-Haul and hit the road.
That was the beginning of our journey of bad financial decisions. We paid off the drug debt ($6,000 as I recall). Jason and Rubin moved in with us. Little did we know, we brought him closer to his drug suppliers. They were here in the DMV (DC, Maryland, Virginia).
That was the extent of the financial damage until 2008. Things happened fast and furiously after that. Jason met, dated, and married a girl he met in Charlottesville, VA. His arrest in 2008 started the financial tailspin.
Here’s a partial list of financial mistakes:
We paid the $6,000 debt he had to his dealers back in 2000. The first big mistake that started the snowball.
In 2008, after his first arrest, we spent several thousand dollars on an attorney. He went for a couple of years without using and with decent jobs. The court required him to get drug tested randomly and the judge told him if he so much as got a parking ticket, he’d go to jail. It worked… For a while…
The addiction kicked into overdrive in 2011. Behind on rent, car payments, utilities, you name it. We covered it all.
He married and took on a stepson as part of the package. The stepson was nine or ten at the time and he was the innocent victim. Addicts are master manipulators. They used their son as leverage to get our help.
Here’s an example: “Don’t do this for us. We know we’re screw-ups. Do it for him. Don’t make ____ suffer too.” So, we bought in to the lies and manipulation> When I say bought in, I mean that literally.
We cosigned a lease for a condo rental. You know how that turned out. We ended up having to pay off the contract.
We tapped our investment accounts, including retirement plans, to bail them out.
The total damage was well into 6 figures.
As of this writing, Jason is back in the local county jail. However, stay tuned. There is a win associated with this…
Win #1 – In 2011 when I left the investment brokerage world and started my own firm, Leamnson Capital.
I spent most of my financial advising career either in retail or bank brokerage firms. I started in Indianapolis with a regional brokerage firm called The Ohio Company. Based in Columbus, Oh, they opened a branch in Indianapolis. That’s where my brokerage career began. It was all smiling and dialing at the time. Cold calling to sell some product.
I chose municipal bonds. Some people excelled at it. I stunk. I hated cold calling. I hated getting those calls. So, I figured the people on the other end of my calls felt the same way. Most did. I had limited success that lasted around four years.
That’s when I entered the bank brokerage business. Hired by a local savings bank, I had an office inside a bank branch. Rather than cold calling, I worked with local bankers to build relationships and get referrals. I also had access to depositors to call on. The broker-dealer for this bank was independent and allowed us to do business our way. It was more client-focused than any other bank I would work with.
For a variety of reasons, we decided to move out of the area and ended up in Northern Virginia
The bank brokerage job continued. I won’t bore you with the details of my discontent with the industry. Suffice it to say that the DMV is a different animal than Indianapolis. The competitiveness is off the charts.
Bank brokerage, especially out here, is all about sales. You have referral goals you’re expected to keep for your bankers. You have sales goals to meet for the brokerage firm. The clients were at the bottom of the list of priorities. I always took care of my clients and balanced the demands. Those that excelled (by bank and brokerage measurement) were all about the sales.
High commission products that generated lots of revenue for the brokerage arm and referral fees for the bank were the name of the game. I was not good at the game. I couldn’t do it. I won’t go so far as saying the high commission products sold ruined anyone’s life. I will say that there were a lot of lower cost, lower commission or fee-based options that would have been much better.
A friend of mine left the brokerage world in late 2008 to start his own RIA (registered investment advisor) firm. An RIA is not attached to a broker-dealer. They choose a custodian to hold client assets in safekeeping and execute trades. Charles Schwab, TD Ameritrade, and Fidelity are the three most well-known.
From an income standpoint, you get to keep everything you make. You don’t share it with the brokerage firm. In the bank and brokerage business, the broker only gets around thirty to up to fifty percent of the revenue they produce. So, at the outset, you’re giving yourself a nice raise.
The difference is you’re responsible for every aspect of the business. Things like forming your company (S-Corp, LLC, etc.), finding an office space, choosing technology, payroll, etc. I was able to do that reasonably inexpensively. At the end of the day, after netting everything out, I got a nice raise.
More importantly, I had full control over how I operated my business.
I chose the RIA model to remove as many conflicts of interest as possible. I am fee-only. I don’t sell products. I don’t take commissions. I don’t have anyone telling me how to work with clients. I can now focus on taking care of my clients in the way I believe they deserve and need. My clients and I both are much happier. It’s honestly been a win-win.
Win #2 – A result of our son’s addiction
Believe it or not, win #2 comes from our son’s addiction as well. Yes, he’s still in jail. And no, we don’t think he’s ready to live on his own. Hold that thought for now, and I’ll come back to update.
Here’s the big win for Cathy and me. Dealing with an addicted son or daughter is brutal for parents. You’ve seen that from the description of loss #1 earlier. In addition to the financial pressures, parents always prepare themselves for the “dreaded call.” You know that one, right? It’s the call (or visit) that comes from a police officer telling you your son has overdosed.
When I first shared our story on my blog in June 2018, I was blown away by the responses. The first one I got was from a woman who had received that dreaded call one month before. Her daughter fought this disease for eleven years, the same amount of time as our son. She lost the battle.
For parents, there is isolation. You’re embarrassed you have an addicted son or daughter. You question what you did wrong. In almost all cases, parents have spent untold amounts of money trying to save their loved one. When you finally get the courage to talk about it, the advice train leaves the track. These are well-intentioned folks who are trying to help. In most cases, they aren’t helpful.
How can you give advice to someone when you’ve never experienced what they have? In short, you can’t. So, after a few conversations like this, you crawl back into your hole of isolation and deal with it as best you can.
Right about now, you’re all wondering where the win is, right? I would be too. My wife will tell you, I like background info before getting to the point. A bad habit? Perhaps. (Mike: my wife would tell you the same thing… Good company, Fred)
Support at last
My dad passed away in July of this year at the age of 96 ½. I always include the half because, at that age, everything counts. He had a great life. He lived the way he wanted. For the most part, he died that way too.
When we went back to Indianapolis for the services, we arranged to have dinner with some long-time friends. David, the husband, runs a counseling center at our old church. They know Jason well. Robin, the wife, had Jason in her youth group from junior high through high school. They were two of the friends who walked through this journey with us.
I expressed to David how frustrating the lack of support for parents of addicts was. He introduced me to an organization called PAL (parents of addicted loved ones). The PAL Group offers education and support specifically designed for parents of addicts. I’d approached our church asking to set something like this up seven or eight years ago. Nothing happened. I had been praying for God to bring something like this to our area for parents. Seven years later, he answered that prayer.
I visited their website and found their mission is to help start groups around the country for parents. I found the closest group to us was a ninety-minute drive. I reached out to inquire about starting our own group. They told me the process and introduced me to the training.
On September 17, 2018, we had our first meeting at Reston Bible, our church. It’s the same church I approached seven years ago.
By all measures, it’s been a massive win for us and everyone who attends.
And there’s more…
In late August, I got an email from a reporter at Money Magazine saying she read my article where we told our addiction story. Another reporter read it and told her about it. She asked if I’d be willing to do a phone interview. Of course, I agreed. At the time of the meeting, she said she hadn’t approached her editor about it and didn’t know if he’d approve it.
You might be asking yourself, “why would Money be doing a story on addiction?” And that’s an excellent question. She was struck by the depths of the financial issues Cathy and I faced during the process. That was going to be her approach to the article. I introduced her to the PAL Group and suggested she get in touch with Kim, the executive director with whom I’d developed a relationship.
Fast forward to early October. The story of addiction is going to be the feature story, on the cover, of the December 2018 issue of Money Magazine, both print and online. They are featuring four families, ours included, in the story. Though we aren’t on the cover, the story of the financial consequences of addiction is. It’s a story that needs to be told. It’s a story that will potentially help hundreds of thousands, if not millions of people.
Cathy and I believe this would not have happened without God orchestrating it. We prayed about it for years. We’ve prayed for our son for years.
Which brings me to the final piece of this last big win
Our county just introduced drug courts into the system. If you’re not familiar with them, drug courts divert people fighting the disease of addiction to an alternative court system. That system is focused on treatment and recovery, rather than incarceration. Jason’s probation officer recommended him for long-term treatment rather than more time in jail.
I got a call from our son this afternoon. He told me the judge approved the request for him to be moved to the drug court and into long-term treatment. He still has a couple of hurdles to climb. We are optimistic. It’s something else his mother and I have prayed about for him for eleven years. The battle isn’t over. However, no matter how we slice it, this is a win.
As I’ve told Fred multiple times, I simply cannot imagine what this reality could’ve been like to actually live through… As a parent, I don’t want to imagine it. But I think that’s the problem – and why I’m so grateful to be able to share Fred’s story with you.
The issue of addiction and overdose is one that’s affected many lives in our country. And undoubtedly there is someone out there right now looking for direction. For support. For help. And rather than turn away and brush it under the rug, because it’s dirty – and nasty – to bring out into the open, I commend Fred and his wife for shining a light.
It’s because of strong folks like this that others can get the help they need. And while Fred’s story may not reach everyone the same way – if they can help just one person, they’ve done the world a great service.
I’m extremely grateful that Fred allowed me to publish their story and now I want to know your thoughts. Let us know in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!