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Michael G. Thomas, Jr., AFC® Husband, Dad, Servant Leader

by Team Sammy


Back Story In His Own Words

My name is Dr. Michael G. Thomas Jr. I am originally from Gary, IN. Yes, the home of Michael Jackson. Here's a fun fact. My great-grandmother's home is seven houses down from the Jackson family home on 2300 Jackson Street. I have never met anyone from the Jackson family. Still, many of my uncles and aunts had relationships with the older brothers.

Growing up in Gary, IN, felt restrictive as a child. I always had to be mindful of my surroundings. There were colors that I could not wear for fear of being associated with a gang. There were streets I could not go down and parks I could not play at it because they were unsafe. I don't want this to come off as sad, but I spent a lot of time alone. My formative years were kind of lonely.

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Team Sammy: Share with us a little about one of your first money experiences.

Michael Thomas, Jr.:  My first money experience occurred when I was around eight or so. There was a particular toy I wanted from the local toy store. My mother decided that she would pay me an allowance for any tasks I completed around the house. To make a long story short, I earned around $5 the first week. My mother took me to the toy store, but she told me that she would not help if I did not have enough money. I would have to earn more money to get what I wanted. As you probably guessed, I did not have enough for the toy. And, instead of working another week to get what I wanted, I decided to buy something else. It was one of the biggest financial mistakes I ever made. 

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When we got home, I started playing with the toy and soon realized I made a horrible mistake. To make matters worse, I had to wait two weeks instead of one to get the toy I wanted. I'll never forget that moment. To this day, I would rather wait to get what I want instead of settling for anything less. 


Another impressionable money story occurred when I rummaged through a box of books at our home one dull summer day. I am probably 11 or 12 at this point. I stumbled across a personal finance book. I don't know what it was about that book, but I pulled it out of the box and read it. It intrigued me. I had no idea at that time that I would venture into the wonderful world of personal finance. But, looking back on it, it was telling of things to come.


Team Sammy: Please share with us an early saving memory.

Michael Thomas, Jr.: I did not start saving money until I got my first job at the local grocery store that I had no clue I was getting. My mom came home one day and said, "You have an interview." Things were tight with money in my household. Setting up the interview was an indirect way of my mom saying I need help. 

Saving money, for me, was more about fear than anything else. I feared that we would need money to pay a bill or for groceries. So I saved money, a lot of it, as a way to buffer anything that my mom might need. As a 16-year-old, at one point, I had over $2,000 in cash sitting in my shoebox. It was our rainy day fund, and I always felt a sense of comfort knowing that it was there.

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Team Sammy: Did your parents talk to you and/or teach you about money / personal finance growing up? What do you remember? What, if anything stuck?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: We always talked about money in my household; however, we did not talk about the value of creating a spending plan, saving, or investing. Our talks were more about how you only live once. Get what you want – tomorrow is not promised to anyone. If someone is in need, you help them out. The most important lesson I learned was the more money you have, the more problems you have. So, yes, I was educated on topics about money. But these messages were rooted in how to survive with money – not how to thrive with money. Because of this experience, I assume that everyone has financial literacy. The question, instead, is whether their knowledge about money is optimal.

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Team Sammy: At what age and how did you come to realize money had a value?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: I did not realize the value of money until I started working at an accounting firm after college. A good friend of mine, David, spent money on experiences. He would go on family and couples trips. Money, for him, was a conduit for connection. It was not the main thing - family and friendship were was and still are.

At that moment, I realized I was free to use my money to live out my values. I did not have to manage money from a fear-based mindset. I could do so joyfully. My relationship with David completely changed my paradigm about life, which also transformed my perceptions about money.


Team Sammy: One question I ask everyone is: If you could only teach a child one money habit, what would it be and why?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: The most important lesson I teach about money is that money should express love and connection, not how you seek love and connection. We live in a world where social media, advertising, and innovative marketing campaigns create emotional and psychological deficits within us. We then spend money on a product, experience, or self-help seminar to help us feel a void created within us. When those things don't, we get lured into the next thing to help us feel whole. My biggest money lesson for children is not about money at all. It is about loving our children unconditionally so that they do not fall into the habit of having to validate their self-worth by the way they spend money.


Team Sammy: Is it important to teach kids about money? Why? At what age should parents start?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: It is essential to teach kids about money. But it is equally important to teach kids that they can affect change for themselves and others with their money. Every kid wants to feel empowered. Money is an excellent tool to teach children how to claim their power with patience, wisdom, and joy. We can do a much better job of associating mindfulness and self-control with money. We can show them that discipline means you get to do more – not less. 


Team Sammy: Should personal finance be taught in schools?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: I believe personal finance should be taught in schools; however, the way we currently teach about money topics is not sufficient. We do not factor in culture, personality types, systems, psychology, and brain function. Principles about money should be taught holistically and honestly. Telling someone to create a budget or about the magic of compound interest isn't enough. We have to develop meaningful on-ramps rooted in trust and relationships to affect change. Money conversations should be both transactional and relational. If we only teach the transactional side of money, we miss a big part of the conversation - connection. Their why. Not the why of the instructor.


Team Sammy: Do you have a favorite book on personal finance?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: My favorite book on personal finance is "The Sneetches" by Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss shares a cautionary tale about the pitfalls of divisiveness and the pursuit of unhealthy social acceptance. Unbeknownst to us, as with the Sneetches, very powerful people, like McMonkey McBean, are profiting from our dissatisfaction with others or ourselves. I do not think that Dr. Seuss intended this book to be a personal finance book. Still, I certainly see that way: How might we spend money differently if we were completely comfortable in our skin?


Team Sammy: What is one of your favorite quotes on money?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: If it is okay to quote myself, this is what I would add, 'Financial vulnerability is the optimal financial growth strategy.' In other words, we can't begin to heal what we are unwilling to reveal. Most people, whether they see it or not, spend most of their lives hiding. It doesn't help that we have a culture that prides itself on shaming people. That said, there are financial coaches, counselors, planners, and therapists who create spaces where people can come out of hiding and take the necessary steps to achieve the life one desires. It's time to start being intentional about our financial vulnerabilities.

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Team Sammy: Do you have any financial pet peeves?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: My biggest financial pet peeve is many of us think that financial shaming leads to changed behavior. It doesn't. It leads to secrecy. And hidden suboptimal financial behaviors can completely wreck a family financially. Empathy is a much better strategy. You can check out my Ted talk on Financial Empathy above. Shame causes people to hide. Empathy encourages people to rise.

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Saving is a great habit!


Team Sammy: Is there anything else you would like to share with us?

Michael Thomas, Jr.: When I am not teaching, I enjoy finding creative ways to spend quality time with my family. Laughter is my favorite sound, and it invokes my favorite emotion. I try to do things with the family that creates moments for it as often as possible. Other than that, I am an avid reader. I try to steer clear of non-fiction, though. Fantasy has become my go-to for escapism. My favorite series right now is the "Children of Blood and Bone" by Tomi Adeyemi. It is eloquently written and feeds a longing of mine to see Black protagonists comfortable in their skin. 

I want to say thank you for allowing me to share tidbits of my story. I would also like to encourage you to continue doing the fantastic work that you are doing. Stay blessed!

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