In this new series, Behind the Advice, we ask advisors about their relationship with money from a young age, lessons learned over the years, and how their experiences influence the advice they give clients today.
Brenda Hiscock, certified financial planner at Objective Financial Partners Inc. in Cobourg, Ont., discusses growing up in poverty, being an alcoholic and the emotional turmoil that kept her from buying a home until a few years ago.
What was your experience with money growing up?
My parents split up when I was three years old, which left my mom to raise four kids on her own with little and then eventually no financial support from our father. We quickly went from being a middle-class family to living in government-funded housing. My mother worked two jobs to try to support us until she suffered a massive stroke when I was 12, leaving her paralyzed on a ventilator. She was hospitalized for 18 months before dying when I was 14. Not surprisingly, given our financial position, she didn’t have life insurance, which resulted in financial ruin. We were evicted from government housing and I had to take on two jobs to help support our family, including my younger sister.
I immediately started to drink to take away the pain of losing my home and mom, and I became an addict. After several attempts, I finally got sober in July 2004 at age 38. I had a son when I was 25, and have raised him on my own with no support. I was in the same position as my mother. For many years, I believed being a single mother meant I could never get ahead.
How did these experiences shape your financial decisions?
I didn’t realize it until many years later, but I subconsciously decided I would never own anything that could be taken away from me. That’s why I didn’t buy my own home until 2021, at age 55. Even after becoming a financial planner and helping others save and buy their own homes, I was blind to how my experiences drove my actions for so long. I kept making excuses – that I was a single mother or that I didn’t want to be tied down to one place – but the truth was that I was terrified of having the rug pulled out from under me again. It was after I went to therapy that I realized I was still carrying these old beliefs. Therapy helped me better understand why I was interfering with my success and how to recognize and manage that going forward.
How did you get into the financial services industry?
I have been very lucky to land and maintain a career in this industry despite years of alcoholism. My high school teachers knew I had to work to support myself and my family and found me a co-op placement at a local credit union at age 17. The manager there took me under her wing. I later moved on to work at a bank and then an insurance company before I started working with advisors and then becoming a financial planner. I’ve had amazing leaders throughout my career who believed in me, even when I didn’t believe in myself.
Waiting so long to buy a home. Even when I finally bought my condo, I found the process very stressful. Until the day it closed, I was sure the deal would fall apart for some reason. I learned from that how deeply our financial actions are affected by our life experiences. Purchasing a home has helped heal the part of me that deeply craves security.
What is the hardest financial advice for you to follow?
In response to financial trauma, some people either oversave or overspend. I fall into the emotional overspending category. I have to work very hard to stop myself from making emotional purchases. There are times I slip and buy something that I shouldn’t. Instead of beating myself up about it, I try to understand why I did it so I don’t repeat the same mistake.
What are you best at when it comes to money?
I’m good at ignoring market activity and staying true to my investing strategy. I’m also good at making incremental increases to my automated deposits. That’s how I work with my clients, too, because I find that if you jump from saving nothing to saving a whole bunch of money, it can be overwhelming. But if you ease into it, then it’s much more manageable.
What do you worry about when it comes to money?
I worry about outliving my savings and relying on my son in the future. I believe I’ve set myself up to avoid that, but it’s always in the back of my mind. I’m doing everything I can to ensure he’s never responsible for me.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to be an advisor?
You don’t have to come from wealth to be successful in this business. I believe that my personal experiences with poverty and homelessness give me a much clearer perspective on what overall financial well-being looks like and how the events in our lives can impact our financial health and habits so strongly. For years, I felt I had to keep my personal history a secret. I was ashamed of it. I was also afraid of it being exposed. Then in 2017 with my blessing, my son published an article on what it was like to grow up with an alcoholic mother. I realized it’s important to be authentic. You need to believe in yourself and ensure your words align with your actions.
This interview has been edited and condensed.