The Health and Wealth Connection, with Sharon Epperson
Episode 158: The Health and Wealth Connection, with Sharon Epperson
Through her interest in storytelling, Sharon Epperson, Senior Personal Finance Correspondent at CNBC, found herself in the world of money and business - with a passion for reporting stories of individuals and their personal finances. After having a ruptured brain aneurysm, Sharon realized the value of her health, and through this opened a new door in her life. On this episode, Sharon shares how she learned about money and business, why talking to other women about finances is important, and how assumptions may be very dangerous. She also shares her tips on talking about how much money you are making and why it’s important to have discussions around personal health.
00:00 Speaker 1: Welcome to the Ellevate Podcast: Conversations With Women Changing the Face of Business, and now, your hosts, Kristy Wallace and Maricella Herrera.
00:12 Kristy Wallace: Hello and welcome to the Ellevate podcast, this is your host, Kristy Wallace, with my co-host Maricella Herrera, how you doing today? Maricella.
00:21 Maricella Herrera: I'm good, how are you?
00:22 KW: I'm doing excellent I'm having a great day. Lots of, lots of work, but high energy and getting stuff done so that always makes me happy.
00:32 MH: That is awesome.
00:33 KW: Yes, and I also, I'm really excited about our podcast guest today. I know, I actually say that a lot, and I have the great honor and pleasure of meeting some pretty unbelievable people. This is by far one of my favorite parts of my job but Sharon Epperson is a true inspiration for me, just the career path that she's taken to be just truly influential when it comes to wealth and money.
01:03 KW: She worked hard to get there.
01:05 KW: Learned a lot along the way, but is a great force within that conversation, and beyond that her story around being a survivor of brain aneurysm, and what that looks like in terms of managing health managing the expenses around health, workplace re-entry and identity and becoming an advocate for change around something she really cares about. And so, just the sheer level of greatness that I found in Sharon was pretty inspirational.
01:41 MH: Yeah, that's amazing, I think it's extremely inspiring and the fact that we are hearing her story and that she's doing so much to as an activist as well as really an advocate for change, it makes a difference when you start hearing people's stories and how, what they've been through and what they've faced and how they've leaned on others to get out of it. I think it changes your perspective and I believe that Sharon's story is, is one that does that.
02:20 KW: It absolutely does. Well, let's hear it. So here is my interview with Sharon and we'll see you here next week, on the Ellevate Podcast.
02:38 KW: Sharon, thank you so much for joining us today on the Ellevate Podcast.
02:44 Sharon Epperson: It's my pleasure to be here, I'm glad to be here.
02:45 KW: Yey, so I wanna start with just a little bit about you and your story, which is incredibly interesting, and I know inspiring to our community.
02:55 SE: How I got started?
02:56 KW: Yeah.
02:57 SE: And what I'm doing?
02:58 KW: Yeah.
02:58 SE: Well, I've been at CNBC for a long time, I like to say for decades, like it's hard to believe that, but I got started wanting to be a journalist when I was in high school, I knew for a long time that I love to tell stories at that time, I was just talking to the phone and talking about people, but it's moved on to telling like some serious business stories and really trying to uncover what people need to know about money and business. And I started doing that when I was working as a reporter out of graduate school at Time Magazine and I was afraid of money, I was afraid of doing a business story, but I was working in the New York Bureau and my bureau chief said, If you're gonna be in New York and cover New York, a New York's business, you have to have some business stories. And I found a story about a philanthropist, a woman who had worked actually for the IRS for many years, just as a lay person, not really making hardly any money but, invested in what she knew and invested in film companies invested in consumer goods companies and things that she used.
03:58 SE: And she, amassed millions of dollars and then upon her death she didn't have any kids or didn't have a spouse, she gave all her money to a University that she never attended, but she just thought that they needed to have more women in their university. And I thought this is a great story. It's about money, but it's about people. And so that's kind of the way that I pursued my journalism career, is to do stories about money that really are about people and affect people, and I got interested in covering personal finance because it's more personal than it is finance and you get to learn a lot about people. But in between there, I've covered many things, from mergers and acquisitions to mutual funds to eight years covering commodities on the floor of the New York Mercantile Exchange. So I've done a lot of different things within the business and finance reporting world, but my love is personal finance.
04:49 KW: There's so much talk these days around women and money. And you even said it, as you were starting out and like, "I don't know about business" and you had to learn but what are you seeing when it comes to women and money and their interest in this discussion and getting more involved and how has... Or has the discussion changed at all as we're seeing more diversity within investors?
05:20 SE: Well, I think it always started with... And it continues with people talking to one another about it, and women being as open talking about money and how they made money or lost money as they are about where they found the best deal for the pair of shoes they have on or the dress that they just bought. And so actually, for my own personal finance finances, the first discussions that I had about my 401K were with women that work with me at Time Magazine that were saying, "You're part of this big corporation. What do you mean you don't have a 401K yet? Or what are you investing in the 401K in? And this is who you need to talk to." So those were some of my first discussions and that's unusual and the benefit of having some women in the workplace to talk to at that time was that I could talk to them about that, I think we're seeing more of that now.
06:07 SE: I think that particularly with millennial women, there's a lot of discussion about where they are, what they're doing, but not just about how to make money, but how do you use money, make enough money to have the experiences that you want and not just to buy things, but how do you... You went to where? How did you... How did you manage getting to go on that trip, taking that vacation, having that experience? And I think that's a great, great thing. And so, we are seeing some progress, or it needs to be more, but we have to be more open. And those who are able to do things they may have money, and explain how that happened and be frank that, I think, particularly in the New York area, I think that there... It's hard. It's a very expensive place to live. So in one of the best financial Vice tips that I got when I was looking for a house, or looking to buy an apartment or something. I was living in New York and I was living on the Upper West Side, and I happened to run into Barbara Corcoran walking her dog and of course, she's a self-made real estate mogul...
07:09 KW: Yes. Amazing.
07:10 SE: Amazing woman. And I said, I'm just so frustrated. I'm looking for apartments, and they're going for cash to someone's au pair like not even... I wanna have a family, and I wanna be able to have... And she said, "Honey, no one in New York buys their first apartment with their own money." And I said, "Well, all I have is my own money, so that means I may not."
07:28 SE: And so therefore, I live in a suburb but... I bought a house in the suburbs. But I think she was right, and you have to be honest. And so I had that discussion early on with my husband when he said, "Well, our colleagues, so and so... Because we met at Time Magazine, he said, "They have a summer house." I said, "But that's a summer family home." We let's tell the whole story.
07:47 KW: Yeah.
07:48 SE: And I think that's really important, so that we don't feel like that we're missing out on something, or that we're not doing anything right. We're doing it right. It's all about your circumstances, your exposure and that's why talking explaining and really being honest about where money came from, how it was lost, how we got it back, it's really important.
08:08 KW: I couldn't agree more. I mean, especially in this day of social media. And I'll see people have connected with on social and they're going to Hawaii. And then a few months later, they're going here, and then they're going there and I'm constantly... Like, "How do they afford that? What are they doing?" But it's... We make a lot of assumptions around wealth and money and how people spend their money and assumptions are dangerous things. And so the more we actually have a conversation and ask and be transparent about it.
08:39 SE: It's really important. I found my financial advisor at a journalism conference, and there was an older man who's byline I'd read before, I don't know if I'd actually met him in person before this conference, and he was so excited to retire, and he was excited to retire financially set as a journalist, as a print journalist.
09:00 SE: And I thought, "That's kind of unusual." Because a lot of print journalists are worried that they're gonna have enough money, because they're not making as much money as they hoped, or any. So I have a great financial advisor, and that's how I found my financial advisor. But just having that discussion and being open and being able to ask someone, not just for career advice, but for life advice is really important.
09:22 KW: I was speaking at a panel recently on equal pay and everything you're saying really resonates with me, and one of the things that I had piece of advice I'd shared was, "Okay, talk to other women about what they're making." And one of my fellow panelists spoke up and she said, "No. Talk to men about what they're making, 'cause we have a pay gap, so don't base your money on someone else who's facing that same gap, talk to the men about it."
09:51 SE: That's very true.
09:53 KW: And men are more comfortable about talking about money, right? Do you see as well?
09:57 SE: I see that. I see that as well, and I think it's just... I think men can figure out a way often to make a work situation, a social situation, whether it's in the workplace or outside of the workplace. And so through that, become their discussions, it's fostering discussions about a lot of things, and that money can be included in that. Women don't necessarily do that as often, at least in my career of what I have seen. And when I was particularly... When I was working at the commodities exchange, they're not that many women I talk to about it. So there's not that much opportunity to have those discussions. So when we're not there in strong numbers, that can be difficult. I find it to be also true as an African-American woman, if you're looking for people who may have had like circumstances just because of your ethnicity, because of your race or what have you, if they're not very many of you, you may not feel comfortable either talking about it. So we have to kind of figure out and that's so true. We can't talk to exactly who is us, who we think that person who seems just like us. We really need to expand and expand those discussions, so we can learn more about how they did it.
11:10 KW: Did you... What was your financial education when you were younger, growing up?
11:16 SE: So my memories of money in the Epperson house was my mother at the dining table, [11:23] ____ brow, checkbook open, and like that's not the time to talk to her about anything. It wasn't a happy-go-lucky time, it was trying to make things work. My father worked full-time, my mother stayed at home and worked part-time in her family business, and she managed all the money, which is also, I think at that time, might have been a little bit unusual. But she really did all of the bill paying, found all the... And I remember one time, as a first-time homeowner, asking my dad about my windows. I said, "I think I need to get new windows. Do you know who I should go to?" He's like, "Well, your mom did all that." So she found them, paid them, made sure that everything was done on time. So those are my memories. And it was not living paycheck to paycheck, but it wasn't investing in stocks and figuring out what equity options to trade. That was not anything that was happening in my family. So what I've learned about investing, a lot of that has come from, frankly, from working and working at CBC and covering a lot of the things I wanted to know more about.
12:27 KW: What are some of the exciting stories that you're working on now?
12:33 SE: I think right now, I'm so excited about the new initiative that I'm working on for CNBC and for CNBC multiple platforms, and it's called Invest In You and it's kind of exactly what we've been talking about and what I think personal finance is really about anyway, it's about financial wellness it's about trying to make sure that you are financially secure financially independent. And what is the best way to do that? And it's not being narcissistic it's being practical and it's being thoughtful about what you need to be successful and therefore when you're there, when you're able to succeed, you're able to help others. And so it's a really powerful campaign, and it allows me to talk to a variety of people about how they've done it and people who can be frank about the missteps that they made along the way.
13:25 KW: Do you have any recommendations around when we're first starting? And we talked about that first story around philanthropy, and then here, and I agree, I think we have a weird love-hate relationship with money guilt over having it and what you do with it but more and more I'm seeing contemporaries of mine, who are giving back, donating, money, supporting causes. Do you have any insights or recommendations around what that balance looks like? Any stories you've heard of people who are donating a specific portion to philanthropy or good causes.
14:05 SE: So I think it varies, I think it really depends on what your priorities are, and what your financial obligations are. Some people may say, "I don't have money to give as much as I like to give." And so there is the famous saying that my dad used to always say that. "You give and to be philanthropic is not just dollars, it's time, talent, and treasure." And so I think there are many ways to do that, but it can be so much more fulfilling what you have, if you are able to give some of that away, and if you are able to and that can be your time if you don't have the dollars, but if you have the money to do it, to find there's not a specific amount, I think, or a specific percentage but it is the amount that makes you feel like you've made a difference. And I've been a really interested in that for a long time, but never really found what my passion was gonna be in that world. And I've recently done that, but it takes research, and then, as a financial journalist and someone who does a lot of reporting and doesn't wanna be scammed by anybody, I do a lot of research into what are these, this is what their materials look like in the marketing of it.
15:14 SE: Or this is what the event was like, but what is the financial situation of this non-profit, or this? And so I go to Guide Star I go to charity navigator, I looked them up. I wanna know what the executive director makes what the CEO makes how much money goes to programming. I think it's very important, 'cause you wanna make sure that the money that you're giving is really going to the cause that you believe in.
15:35 KW: Yeah, and just everything you've been saying so far, is just this great advice around do your due diligence be transparent talk to people.
15:45 SE: Yes.
15:46 KW: And connect with advisors that you can trust.
15:48 SE: Yes.
15:50 KW: And when you have the guidance you have the transparency and the market research and the due diligence become more comfortable making those decisions.
15:57 SE: Right.
15:58 KW: You're giving yourself that power and that confidence to really manage your finances.
16:05 SE: Yeah, you think about the teams that you put together as you're looking for work or creating your own business and there's so much effort to that to make sure you have the right players on your team. So when it comes to your financial life, it's the same thing, you may be more comfortable being in control, but you have support systems just like you would at your job, so maybe there's a particular app or there's a particular online platform that you use that helps you or there are just a couple of people maybe you don't do much on your own, with that. You really love being part of a team, you have the idea, the vision, is I have to get to Bally by 2020.
16:40 KW: Yeah.
16:41 SE: And how are you gonna get there? That financial advisor might be the person that's gonna help you figure out how you can do that. So I definitely think that it's important to consult with other people.
16:53 KW: Tell me more about the Brain Aneurysm Foundation and your work with that.
16:58 SE: So that's what I was alluding when I say I finally found my passion and I'm a survivor of a ruptured brain aneurysm and I almost lost my life in September 2016 and I didn't understand when I came home after being in the hospital for a month, exactly what had happened to me, and I was just Googling I was like, brain aneurysm, and then I was actually wondering What are the statistics for African-American women who are in their 40s who have to get... Not exactly that specific, but I was interested in just knowing and immediately the Brain Aneurysm Foundation website came up, and so that gave me, some of the background on what... How many people get an aneurysm? And so 30000 people may have an aneurysm rupture, every year. 1 in 50. People actually has an aneurysm. Sometimes nothing happens and you don't need to worry about it, but that those 30000 that's a concern because often if it ruptures you die immediately, and if you are a survivor, you have serious neurological deficits, for a long time. And so I am definitely one of the fortunate people but one of the things that I've learned is that as I was doing my research is that women are more likely to have aneurysms than men and that African-Americans are twice as likely as whites to have rupture and that family history in about 25% of the cases.
18:23 SE: And so again, having those discussions, we talked about having with other women and friends and colleagues family, it's also important to have discussions about wealth as well as health. And so I knew that my grandfather had passed away from a brain hemorrhage, but I didn't know that my great-grandfather had as well. Sorry.
18:46 SE: I knew that my grandfather had passed away of a brain hemorrhage but I didn't know that my great-grandfather had as well until a year and a half after I'd had mine and then I realized that my mother's elder sister also passed away of a brain hemorrhage. So I have four generations of family members, and I have two children one is 16-year-old son, a 13-year-old daughter. And so, more research about why this is happening, how it can be prevented, how it can be detected early is just so important to me and the foundation a large part of what the foundation does is research and funding research. And I'm excited to go to Capitol Hill actually at the end of the month to meet with some Congress people, about and just tell my story, just so that they understand how many people in their districts are impacted and hopefully decide on their own to increase federal funding so that we can have more research about this, but finding out what it was, how many people are affected. And then the other part that's been so helpful is for myself and for my family members.
19:49 SE: People who care for you is Why does she act this way, why is she more emotional? Why is she having trouble focusing why are these things happening? And so to have it laid out very, very simply on the Brain Aneurysm Foundation website, bafound.org was really helpful to me so, that I realized I'm not alone, this is normal. This happens to people and then to find through them a support group of other people who are either living with an aneurysm trying to figure out, how to get the right treatment or have suffered a rupture. And our survivors like myself we talk about how we're feeling we share information about our physicians about rehab about all of those things. And so I just found it to be a great resource, but I didn't stop there, 'cause I'm like... I still wanna make sure this is too good to be true [20:38] ____ and I went to Guide star went to Charity Navigator and I talked to people who were on the board because I wanted to... If I'm gonna invest my time, talent, and treasure with an organization, I wanna know that they're really... Their mission and my passion are lined and in this case, it's truly the case.
20:54 KW: And I think especially beyond your passion, it's just the incredible skill you have that telling a story and connecting with an audience because a big part of this is getting the message out there too. How do we... Everything you just said and I have a family member that had a brain aneurysm as well, were not blood family, but everything you said, I didn't know. And like Why don't we know this, we should be talking about this more.
21:22 SE: Yeah we should be talking about it more. People don't talk about it. And I think now, coming back to work, I did not work for a year, it took a long time to get in a place where I could physically and neurologically, come back to my job, but now I realize how many people that I work with have something and a part of me feels like maybe I hear it around the office, but sometimes, you feel it and you can... Or sometimes you see it. And so I've talked to colleagues who've had colon cancer and breast cancer and everyone's going through something and many people are, and they don't talk about it, then they don't know where to get the help from then they don't know what the company benefits are. So we have to talk about it, again, the communication about all of this health and wellness is so critical and being honest, I have found has helped me be able to... It's been a big coping mechanism for me but it's also been a great way for me to maintain my livelihood to be able to come back to my job saying, "I love my work, I love the company that I work for, but these are my limitations."
22:30 SE: And having documentation from a neurologist say, these are her limitations and this is what could happen if she doesn't follow the right guidelines.
22:39 KW: So connecting all the dots and ending on a topic that's important that I think about a lot 'cause I have three kids, which is this idea of money and health and there's obviously been a lot of discourse over the... Over the past couple of years, around access to health and how many ties into that and, or ties into lack of access as well, and advice for our listeners on ways to give themselves a strong foothold when it comes to money and health. Meaning, unexpected expenses or should you... Is it as simple as an FSA or HSA or is there's something else that there's... The dollars can add up and it's oftentimes unexpected.
23:34 SE: So the key thing is those unexpected expenses having money for them. And so financial advisors and pundits and experts. And say it all the time, you have to have your rainy day fund, you have to have your emergency fund. And I will say from my experience that saved my financial life, having a reserve having some resources was definitely needed. The scary thing is trying to figure out how you get there. You have three kids, they have all these different activities and childcare and all these things to pay for. It just has to become a priority of putting a little bit, not the six months that you're eventually gonna wanna have if you can, but just one month. Do you even know how much it cost to... The first time that I actually wrote down all the expenses for our two kids and so my husband can see how much it really costs to have kids. It's so expensive and that's with healthy kids. That's not with having medical expenses that are unexpected or medical expenses that are for chronic illness, or anything like that. So I think that's an important place to start. And then knowing that if you can get access to the best comprehensive health care you can afford do it because you never know when you're gonna need that.
24:52 SE: So that health insurance plan is not something that you can particularly if you have children, because you never know when someone's gonna get sick, you need to really have that. And whether you're able to do a high deductible plan and then, put a health savings account with it to save where there's some other type of plan that you have to use, but ideally if you can do that, and you get a savings account that you can tie with it that's a great, great thing to do. And then for yourself and moms I think we always, we always put our kids first many of us. You have to put yourself first when it comes to health because you have to be able to take care of them. So having disability insurance, when you are self-employed is so expensive and people always look at me. Like are you nuts? But that's your livelihood and you need something if you're not able to work so that your family can be taken care of. And so buying disability insurance on your own. If you're self-employed, or you run your own business, you gotta do it, and if you're... If you're an employee somewhere that has it make sure, you get the most that you can get from that company.
25:57 SE: I think those are really, really key pieces of health-related financial work that people need to do that they may not think of, and they may put on the back burner, but it's really important.
26:09 KW: Well, thank you, Sharon we... I'm so in awe and inspired by you and really appreciate all of the great advice and insights and really personal stories you shared with us today.
26:20 SE: I love being here, thanks so much.
26:25 KW: Thanks so much for listening to Ellevate, if you like what you hear, help a girl out.
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