Jul 17, 2023 | Podcast, Your Business

Finding Financial Independence with F.I.R.E. with Brandon Clark

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About the episode:

I’m excited to have another BNI connection on the podcast today, Brandon Clark, a CPA and a coach who partners with people to gain control over their most precious resources: their mindset, time, and money. Our conversation dives into his journey with Financial Independence, Retire Early – or F.I.R.E. You’ll hear how he moved from working at a big 4 accounting firm to eventually becoming a coach using the principles that he learned from F.I.R.E. I love this conversation because it’s such a good reminder that you can be truly prosperous as an empath!  

Topics discussed:

  • How Brandon moved through the transitions of working at a big 4 accounting firm, into financial planning, and then landing on coaching 
  • Why Brandon chose to join the F.I.R.E. movement and how it’s changed his business and his life 
  • The first place you can begin if you want to learn more about F.I.R.E. and start implementing change in your own life 
  • How Brandon helps his clients shift their internal relationship with money as it impacts their external relationship with and possession of wealth


About Brandon:

Brandon Clark, CPA is a coach who partners with people to gain control over their most precious resources: their mindset, time, and money. This allows his clients to pursue a life of their own design and to truly be free. As a coach, he works with people to create a life (work, business and personal) filled with joy, purpose, passion, impact, connection and fun. He’s also a financial planner who helps his clients build the financial plan to underwrite their dream life. He loves working with clients on both mindset and the more tactical financial details of their financial plan.

He currently works in his own coaching practice Reexamine Wealth and as a Financial Advisor at Financial Planning firm Toler Financial Group. He enjoys traveling and has built a lifestyle that allows him to travel multiple months during the year.

Prior to his current roles, Brandon owned an accounting firm. He built the firm from a solo-practice into one with a team of 4 employees.  He exited the firm through an acquisition in 2021 to pursue his current path. Brandon has worked as a financial professional in various firms and roles for over 15 years.


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Click here for a raw, unedited transcript of this episode


Catherine A. Wood  00:02

Brandon, I’m so excited to have you on the podcast today. Welcome.


Brandon Clark  00:06

Thanks. I’m really glad to be here. Thanks for having me.


Catherine A. Wood  00:10

I was thinking, as we were getting ready to record I was thinking about when we first met each other and where I mean, I guess where each of us would have been in life when we initially connected, but I can say that when I first met you, it was in BNI. We were both in chapters in DC. That’s true. And I am imagining that I was still fully employed at the government in the government.


Brandon Clark  00:38

I don’t recall I do definitely a coach. Yeah, yeah. But I didn’t know all the background, you, you kept it. Like, it wasn’t the thing that came that I knew about you, you know,


Catherine A. Wood  00:49

certainly not the thing I wanted to talk about. But this is about you. So let’s shift gears, I’d love to invite you to share your pronouns with my audience, and a little bit about your story.


Brandon Clark  01:04

Let’s see. So I’m Brandon Clark, my pronouns are he him, I must say, I am a DC native, I was born and raised in DC and still reside here. Um, you know, I guess I kind of went through a professional change, if you will, but like, I spent most of my adult life as an accountant, and decided that, you know, that wasn’t quite for me. You know, there were things that were really cool about it. I really loved, just sort of, like the order and systems piece of that. And I was gonna say, I think one of the other things, too, is just like money itself, and how money, like, what it can do for you was really interesting to me. So that, that basically going down that path kind of opened up this broader world of, like, finance, and how people deal with money, and all of those different things. And so that’s definitely a key piece of, you know, of who I am, I guess I started that part of my life back in like, 2005, when I went to business school. And so from there, I knew from the start that the thing that I wanted was to be a CPA, I knew that I wanted that, whatever it was that kind of life where, you know, I could create my own path. And I have this, you know, this knowledge that so that, like, no one could really take it from me that I essentially, I’d have skills, where I’d be able to write my own ticket, and I’d be on demand. That was a key part of like, you know, that decision and why I went to it, and I guess I would say like, that’s also a part of what’s drawn me to what drew me into fire, as well, which is one of the things we’re going to talk about. So at any rate, you know, fast forward a little bit, I had the opportunity, when I worked in big for public accounting, I had the opportunity to later on, you know, make some changes in my career, just trying to figure out, you know, what’s the spot that really resonated for me. And so move through big for public accounting into smaller regional firms and trying out government accounting, and good thing, the key piece was that I was looking for a bit more impact, or connection to people, and so forth. And through that, I ended up moving into owning my own small business, which was a really great opportunity. You know, I grew by a grew that practice into a team of about four people, which was actually a lot more fun than I think I even realized that, like, they would all be, and I think at heart, like just working with people and kind of like nurturing them, and like growing people is like a big part of like, who I am and the work that I do, and, and so that was, you know, definitely a piece of that I got to hone that ability like that, through that experience. And anyway, but at any rate, you know, at some point, I just realized that that path wasn’t totally for me, and decided to exit that business and start on this newer path to financial planning. And, you know, financial planning was always something that was kind of in the back of my head. And through gaining a bit of space. I was actually able to realize those this other thing um, That was out there for me, which was coaching. And so part of what I do now is I work in financial planning as a financial planner and investment manager. And so I spend about 75% of my time there, and then 25% As a coach now, and I was gonna say, basically, I would have never come to that place, if I had to give myself space took about nine months off after I exit my firm and just really focused on like, being a person, like, who didn’t work for, and relaxing. And the thing that just kept coming back as like, both scary, but really interesting was coaching.


Catherine A. Wood  05:43

I mean, I love that I love I mean, I can appreciate both of us having spent many of our career career years in DC, like there’s such a focus on on your work in DC that taking that space and time away from work can really illuminate where your true passions are. And, and I really appreciate you sharing the trajectory of your career and the turns along the way. Because it sounds like even when you were managing your firm, that you still got a lot of joy from building people, and connecting and the collaboration aspect of it, which not surprisingly, or you know, some of the key qualities of being a coach. So it would make sense that when you would allow yourself that space from kind of the grind that you’d be able to connect more with all of your gifts and all of your passions. Okay. Well, let’s let’s jump in, because I have never had anyone on the podcast today to talk about fire I’m myself, not an expert in it, although I love some YouTube YouTubers who talk about fire. So why don’t we just start from the beginning and and I’d love for you to educate my audience what what fire is and also what your relationship and experience with fire is.


Brandon Clark  07:17

So fire stands for financial independence retire early. And so it is a essentially a movement where people you know, a lot of people are kind of typically come to it because they’re tired of like the the American dream. And I guess there’s this idea that, like, when you think about in some ways, a lot of what we’re seeing, especially kind of post pandemic is just that the American Dream is a little bit broken. So people, you know, I guess just like all of those pieces of like house, the college, all of that, like big weddings and things like that people end up accruing a lot of debt. And so a lot of what happens with fire is that people become really intentional about their spending, and you know, where they want their life to go. And, you know, obviously the goal, it’s, you know, it says it in the title is retire early retiring, you know, putting yourself in the position to 10 to 15 years out from starting to really save and get your money together, to be able to, you know, retire and, you know, leave the workforce and do whatever it is that you want in life. You know, I guess one thing I’ll say is that the, you know, a lot of people who’ve heard of it, they see these kind of, like the poster boys for which are these, like, you know, maybe tech Bros and people make really high salaries, and they, you know, save a ton of money. And so the idea is just like, well, you know, that doesn’t resonate with me, that’s not me, of course, this person who makes two to 300 grand, can spend a single without kids can save a ton of money and then retire in 10 years. That’s not me. But I think that the movement has evolved a bit and gotten less from that sort of media view of, you know, of what’s kind of sexy. And instead, it’s just people who are like, you know, that exactly what I said, we’re wanting to be a lot more intentional about their money and want to learn, like, what are the tools and things that you know, that I didn’t have exposure to kind of growing up or in school like enough to actually build, you know, that’s financial stability for themselves to, you know, to do what they want in their lives. So that’s kind of a you know how I’d summarize fire. My own relationship to it is just that I’m a money nerd at heart. And so there was it was just like, it was cool. Like I found that thing where it’s like cool to talk about money and all these nerdy things that you can do about it and investment accounts.


Catherine A. Wood  10:06

I love how your face is lit up.


Brandon Clark  10:11

Yeah, so that’s like a part of me, that is definitely, you know, it was like, Oh, wow, these people are speaking my language sounds wonderful. So that’s one part of it. But I definitely think the other part was a little bit of that story that I was telling you about the misalignment with, with, with my field where it was, like, you know, it was good, and like, accounting was good enough for me, like I had a good life there. But there was always just something a little bit missing. And I think that might, that’s probably something that people who move towards fire have in common is just that piece is just kind of, there’s something missing, and I kind of want to run towards retirement. And I would say that definitely describe a portion of my career. But, you know, ultimately, you know, I think I, you know, as I started to figure out some of the other things, and I definitely used, like this financial stability that I created for myself and my life, I use that as a platform to go out and experiment, experiment in other areas, you know, I was able to leave larger firms and very stressful, you know, boring, you know, maybe a little bit toxic positions. And, you know, I only I was able to do that, because I didn’t have to worry about my own financial stability, I always was, you know, I’ve saved and I continued to save, and invest. And those investments really end up being a very nice platform, to make it so that you, I guess, for lack of a better word, fu you have fu money, and you can do whatever it is that you want in your life.


Catherine A. Wood  11:51

I really appreciated how you started that share with just the invitation to consider that. For many of us, the American dream is broken. Because I think with money in particular, like, if you’re not intentional with your money, and designing your relationship with your money, and how you want to invest and save and spend your money, you can truly become controlled by it, whether you’re indebted, or whether you spend based on comparison, and what the neighbors have, or what your siblings have, or what you didn’t have growing up. And I think it’s so easy to lose sight of what matters to you most. It also makes me think of the book. Have you heard of the book, The Millionaire Next Door?


Brandon Clark  12:42

Yes, definitely.


Catherine A. Wood  12:45

Love that book, Brandon. And one of the things that I most appreciated in that book was like the invitation to consider that so many of the millionaires that we see around us every day, are the people that are least likely like you or are the ones that you would be least likely to think, are the millionaires because they’re the ones with the smaller square footage homes in the large neighborhoods are the ones who drive the Honda’s, you know, in the neighborhoods with all luxury cars and like, and what a beautiful reminder that when you’re really connected with your values, and what’s important to you, and how you want to prioritize your money, that it’s so much easier to make the natural next decisions with your finances.


Brandon Clark  13:34

Yeah, I was gonna say you’re speaking my language. And I guess, you know, just to echo that point. And, you know, kind of also, like, double recommend that book that you just mentioned, that book is like, a great kind of lens into, you know, what building wealth for a lot of people who are who are able to do that really looks like, you know, and when we’re like, we’re on the Financial Planning and Investment management side, like, that’s the way a lot of our clients look, because you would never know. But


Catherine A. Wood  14:07

I also just want to be responsible for naming that that book is a bit outdated. It was written in the, I don’t know if it was like the 90s or the early 2000s. And it’s two white dudes and you know, white dudes are often the people that we learn about finances from and like blah, blah, blah, and there’s many other more diverse and inclusive people who are talking about wealth today.


Brandon Clark  14:32

That’s true. I was also gonna just say that his daughter updated the book more recently so just another one and I also wanted to do a quick like, another book written by Vicki Robbins called your money or your life is another great one.


Catherine A. Wood  14:48

Isn’t she the one who’s really kind of dubbed the grand mother of fire?


Brandon Clark  14:54

Yeah, she’s definitely one of the kind of like she was before fire was even a thing she was I guess I would say she’s a little more hippy. But just really, like really aligning your money with your life and your time and just knowing the value of, you know, really, really up, I’d say more your time in the grand scheme of things, but Yep, definitely.


Catherine A. Wood  15:17

Very cool. Well, so for, you know, for my audience, so, you know, my audience are typically Empath entrepreneurs, or leaders in corporate who are really looking to break out of the mold or live a more purposeful values aligned lifestyle, whether that’s shifting into entrepreneurship or just pursuing a passion project on the side. So if, where would you recommend someone begin if they were interested in exploring fire, whether it’s as a financial goal or a lifestyle readjustment?


Brandon Clark  15:58

Um, let’s see. So in terms of resources, I guess I’ll go to sort of like resources, and then maybe I’ll go to, you know, just some things that people can do, like on their own even. So, you know, I did mention that they’re like, fire is kind of this, you know, larger movement, there’s lots of different podcasts out there, I’ll tell you some of like, it’s as far as a place to start. One of those great places is a podcast and website called choose by seven, it’s like, choose and then FYI, you know, basically it. But they have actually like a beginner’s section to their website. And I think there’s maybe like one or two podcast episodes that just introduce you to fi and then also set you up with, like, some of the, you know, financial tactics to just kind of get yourself going. One of my other favorite podcasts is called afford anything. And I think you’d really like her, the host of this cat, but her name is Paul pan. And so that’s personally one of actually, it is my favorite Financial Independence Podcast. And a lot of that show is not only about kind of, like, what do you do with your money, but it’s also a bit more about, like, what do you do with your time and your life. And so she has guests that are both in the finance, sphere, but then also in just, you know, all other sections of just how to live a great life. So that’s another on especially if you don’t want it to be all finance. But over time, I would say if you’ve listened that wants to stay in you’re gonna learn a lot about finances. And then there’s another resource called Mister Money Mustache. He’s kind of like one of those grandfather’s of financial independence as well. And so his post it’s something like this shockingly simple math behind early retirement is one of those posts that you can like you know, just see some of the simple math and you know, see what a fire timeline for yourself might look like. So that’s a few resources. I was gonna say I guess I’ll also throw myself in there not that I’m really a huge influence at all but I did a webinar recently on on fire and like, I guess the three stages to fire and so I’ll make sure I give cat that my my content is a little bit more about how to live how to decide to go into fire but to use that as a platform to you know, to propel yourself to find whatever your life of impact is. So those are a few things


Catherine A. Wood  18:55

you did share you did share the afford anything website with me before because she was promoting her real estate investing course and you shared it with me and I love her she’s bold and large and in charge, but I think the the one and I know the other ones but the one that you didn’t mention that I also think we’ve talked about before is Amen and Christina of our rich journey.com


Brandon Clark  19:20

Oh, yeah. Got a couple in Portugal. Yes. And I think the reason


Catherine A. Wood  19:24

I have always liked them is because both of them were former federal government employees. Okay, and they achieved fire so their journey always resonated with me and and I also love their teaching approach.


Brandon Clark  19:39

Okay, I was gonna say I haven’t watched there’s as much but as if I decide to move towards that expat in Portugal lifestyle I mean, that’s not totally out the cards for me yet some


Catherine A. Wood  19:54

nice well, but but let’s like jump in like because, you know, you and I are both trained coaches. And something I have really come to appreciate over the years, particularly pertaining to money is the difficulty to follow through on any money plan or financial planning, project design, without shifting to some degree your relationship to money. Yeah. So I’m curious how you support clients and really beginning from that internal transformational perspective, and what have you found really supports people and not only shifting their internal relationship with money, but as it impacts with their external relationship with and possession of wealth? Loaded question,


Brandon Clark  20:58

is a loaded question. And I guess I, let’s say there, I think you’re totally right, and that there’s this like, it, it takes a concentrated sort of awareness of, like, where that client is, and, you know, what are the things that they’re working through. So I guess I like, you know, particularly the reason why I like both coaching and financial advising, and like putting those two together is because I do feel like they both, you know, they play a role in working with people around money. So there’s a lot of awareness that, that, you know, helping people become aware of some of their own, I guess, money scripts around money, and then really supporting them and showing them like, alright, so while you’re over there, and you’re kind of afraid of money in or you have this, or whatever, that may be disempowering view towards money as, like, let’s still go ahead and do the things and like, you know, as a financial advisor, that’s part of what I do is like, alright, so that thing is like, drawing up a budget. And like, you know, cleaning up some of your accounts. So you don’t have 10, and bringing that down to like, two, because I’m sorry, people, you really don’t need 10 accounts, or some businesses do, but you as an individual probably don’t, especially if they’re not saving savings accounts. But anyway, I digress. So just getting in there and really, like, understanding both like, the emotional and kind of mental components of what’s going on in people’s heads, but then also supporting them to, like, actually make progress on whatever their financial goals are, I guess, when we work with most clients, you know, we start from a place of like, doing a deep dive any clients we work with, we start from a place of like, doing a deep dive on, you know, what is their spending look like? You know, looking at their cash flow for a given year, and then, like, kind of projecting out from there to see, you know, wherever the holes, like, are they like, are they actually in a place where they can save or, you know, do they do, they need to clean up some issues with debt, because they’re on, they’re on a horse to just continue into debt perpetually. So, so it’s things like that, you know, after we leave that kind of cash flow area behind simplify things a lot for them, we start to move into protection. You know, those are making sure that people are covered by wills, and like, like, their families actually don’t have the secure if something were to ever happen to them, and what things if they’re protected from any sort of like anything going wrong, if that were to ever happen, and then we usually move into investing, trying to make sure that people like whatever their goals are making sure that people are saving towards shorter term or longer term goals. And that it really is a thing of like, once we’re able to set processes in place, your money can be much more set it and forget it, it isn’t this type of thing, where I guess ultimately, if your life changes, of course, we go in and update your plan. But you know, a lot of the things that you do are just kind of like building blocks and then once we leave that room behind the can kind of move on to the next thing. And so it’s definitely kind of project but it’s the same way that coaching can be


Catherine A. Wood  24:45

you know, as you were speaking, something that came to mind is the Parkinson’s Law, the idea that our work expands to fill the amount of time that we allot for it. And and I think and I think What money works similarly, but I think it’s easier to understand with time because I don’t know if you’ve ever experienced like, you know, you have this very time consuming commitment. And then all of a sudden, the projects completed or you I don’t know, like training for a marathon, you gained back eight hours in your week when you complete the marathon or something like that, right? And then you’re like, oh, I have all of this time available now. Now, what am I going to do with all this free time, and then just like that, like, just like, lickety split, the time that free time has evaporated. And I think that, that, that amassing wealth, or saving often works in the same way, like, you know, we’re both entrepreneurs, I’m sure. Perhaps you can relate that. We both experienced, like ebbs and flows, where our income can be abundant. And then it can feel very restrictive and tight. And there’s, there’s this experience, like, you know, gosh, how could I, how could I be affording myself this lifestyle and now I’m affording myself this lifestyle, but I think, coming back to what you said around leaving it and forgetting it, that when we can create a plan and automate the plan, then we can be living towards our financial independence. Or leave it living out the plan, regardless of those ebbs and flows in our disposable income from any month to month.


Brandon Clark  26:37

Yeah, and I was gonna say, I think there’s two things that you mentioned that I just want to speak to a little bit. So like, first is what does that? So the first one is? Sorry, I don’t brain fart. I don’t think you can edit that out.


Catherine A. Wood  26:52

We can. Cool.


Brandon Clark  26:57

So the first thing is were you Sorry, you were just talking about Parkinson’s? Yeah, compound didn’t like the idea of compound interest was the one thing that was kind of coming to me. The other thing was, oh, yeah, fluctuations in cash flow. Okay. So the first thing is, fluctuations in cash flow, I think that that’s one of the big things that really gets people about budgeting. So like, when you look and just cash flow, in general, is those kind of one time expenses. And so like, that is one of the things where, if you’re on your own, and you’re trying to do it yourself, or you’re working with a financial planner, making sure that you’re really taking, like inventory of just kind of like those one time expenses and factoring that into your your life or your budget. Because I feel like that’s the thing that usually gets people demoralized is just like, they feel like they’re doing so well. And then the trip comes up, or the wedding, you know, the wedding travel comes up. And so like, that’s one thing that we’re very careful of when working with people, it’s just to make sure that we’re anticipating the full gamut of what’s coming up, to really help people to, to, you know, understand that. And then the same thing for business owners. You know, for business owners, the there’s that income in, you know, inconsistent income can be a really big thing as well. And so helping them to really normal, like, figure out what their normal income is, and to plan for that is also a big thing. But then, also, I think that, I guess what I was gonna say about compound, like things, compounding is the same way that I feel like a lot of business owners start to like the way that they their business, like once they put certain processes in place they can, like marketing, or whatever it is, they can start to see the results that come from that over time. And, you know, I think that, you know, money is definitely one of those things where, like, you put something in place, and then you step away two years down the road, and it’s grown more than you even realize, and the more that you put in that work initially, the more results you’ll see down the road.


Catherine A. Wood  29:18

Oh, totally. Totally. You know, as you were speaking, I think meet Sethi came to mind, not only because he’s all over social media right now, because he just published his Netflix special, but also I just love his definition of, of being of having of prioritizing your rich life. Right and like the idea of just really getting connected with your values around what’s important to you, and what you determine living a rich life to mean and just how much easier it is to achieve financial independence if you’re really living in alignment with your values and what fills you with the most joy, like I know, you and I both really share a passion for travel. And that’s certainly a huge component of, of my rich life is prioritizing travel. And I love playing the credit card game to travel for free and use those credit card miles for flights. That’s like a passion. Passion hobby.


Brandon Clark  30:23

Yeah, yeah, I was gonna say I guess back to fire. There’s like a whole section of fire people who are like, super into all the travel hacking. I personally have never had enough, or like enough personal bandwidth to get into that. So but I guess one of the cool things is just that there’s kind of like a fire path for everyone. You know, I guess that that is one thing I really do enjoy about it all.


Catherine A. Wood  30:47

Yeah, I mean, I love that. I love that, that invitation to, to just remember that there are always mentors, and experts and passion printers out there who are living the values aligned lifestyle that we want to follow or learn from or esteem. For sure. Well, Brandon, I feel like this conversation is likely going to really kind of open open the doors of people’s interest in learning more about fire. If if people are interested in connecting with you, where would you invite them to start a conversation?


Brandon Clark  31:33

Sure. So I guess probably my social media presence is reexamined wealth. And that’s also my website for my coaching business. So that’s one place. I was gonna say, it’s also I, like the Financial Planning and Investment firm I work for is called Toller Financial Group. So that’s Toller fg.com. So either one of those places is great. Awesome.


Catherine A. Wood  32:01

And as we wrap today, what do you think has made the biggest difference for you and becoming a prosperous empath?


Brandon Clark  32:10

Hmm, so I was I told Kat that I was gonna give a disclaimer that I’m newer to to being a prosperous empath. But the biggest difference for me is that I think probably just gaining a lot more comfort with myself, and in my own voice and like been valuing that, you know, I think for for a long time, I was so focused on just kind of, you know, other people’s needs and what’s going on on their side. And, you know, like I said, as I’ve focused more on, you know, what is that I really want? You know, I’ve just noticed that I’m able to serve, serve people better, I’m happier in my own life. There’s just a lot more kind of love and joy to spread around all over the place.


Catherine A. Wood  33:03

Random that’s like the textbook journey of an empath. Perfect. Thank you so much. It’s been so fun reconnecting and I’m so glad to have had you on the podcast and just to have had this excuse to reconnect.


Brandon Clark  33:22

Thank you, cat. I appreciate you for inviting me. I was gonna say at any point, I’m always glad to share my knowledge of things all things finance buyer, coaching all the spin. Great, thanks. Awesome. Thanks.


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