Around the Island

Island bookshelf: Investing in a good life 

The father-daughter financial counseling team of Walter Wisniewski and Allison Vanaski have learned a lot over their years working together. In their new book, “The Millionaire Within,” they share many strategies for handling money, but in an interview with the Reporter, they said they’ve also learned quite a bit themselves from dealing with clients.

“Financial decision making,” said Walter Wisniewski, “is much more about emotions and behavior than about money. It’s about your life style. Money is life.”

The authors said they find a very interesting and challenging group to work with is what they call “WITs,” for women in transition. There are so many challenges facing a widow or divorced woman, they said. Some are financial, but some reflect deeply personal concerns, such as who will care for her when she’s aging.

“It’s important to get the person to feel comfortable and trust you,” Allison Vanaski said. “If she’s hesitant, we take it really slow, and get her to open up. Our recommendations have to come from the client’s needs.”

In addition to guiding their clients’ financial strategies, the counselors will call upon professionals in the community, grief counselors for example, to deal with widows at a crucial stage in their lives. They will take a client to a car dealer if she is fearful of navigating that process alone, and see her through the transaction.

Ms. Vanaski said she has learned that many senior citizens have difficulty spending money, even if they are comfortable in retirement, or even wealthy. After a lifetime of working and saving, they may find it difficult to loosen the pursestrings. “I tell them ‘you can’t take it with you,’” she said. “Get used to spending money – go on trips.”

The authors practice their philosophy of enjoying life especially when they spend time at their Silver Beach home. Mr. Wisniewski recalled fishing with his father by the South Ferry since they first came here in 1968. “We’d catch flounder by the bushel,” he said. “Out by South Ferry we’d get blowfish and weakfish.” His daughter, Allison, said she loves bringing her children to the Island now; “It’s where I learned to ride a bike.”

From the vantage point of being a male-female team, they were asked who were better clients to work with. Ms. Vanaski said she found that women are better at investments. “They will study a brokerage account statement,” she said. “They will listen to financial advisors. They’ll get a higher rate of return. Men are more likely to act on a ‘hot tip’ that they pick up by the water cooler.”

The team will also work with clients who wish to structure their philanthropy, possibly by setting up a charitable fund, with the flexibility to give a lot in one year or spread out their giving.

One tip they share with their clients involves the regulations for individual retirement accounts (IRAs). Beginning at age 70 ½, the retiree is required to take a minimum distribution from the account. If the holder of the account wishes to make a charitable contribution and has the funds transferred directly to a charity, that money will not be taxed as income, as it would be otherwise.

That is one of many bits of valuable advice this father-daughter team will share with their Shelter Island neighbors on Friday, June 28 at 7 p.m. at the Library.