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Emily Piehl Portillo

In 2017, Emily shared her strategy to “hit the ground running” with nine financial to-dos to implement before turning 30. Learn how well her approach to personal finances has served her.

Emily Piehl Portillo: Still hitting the ground running

EmilyWe met up with Emily in 2017 after she had met with one of our financial planners. For a 20-something in her third year of teaching, she was very self-aware financially and was taking advantage of her young age. In the article, we shared Emily’s strategy to “hit the ground running” with nine financial to-dos to implement before turning 30.

The 9 To-Dos

  1. Launch your career. Actively exploring or pursuing a career path that considers your passions, skills, and personal goals. You may get lucky and find the perfect job right away but chances are you may have to dabble a bit. These are opportunities to learn about yourself, pick up some additional skills, and gain experience you can take with you on your journey.
  2. Take charge with a budget. Immediately after you receive your first paycheck, sit down and set up a budget. Not having a budget—and not knowing where your money goes—is a critical (and common) mistake that can cause financial woes that are difficult to rectify.
  3. Secure your lifestyle. Take some time to learn about how insurance fits into your financial picture, what insurance coverages you need (ask about umbrella insurance), and then build it into your budget.
  4. Reduce debt, build credit. Not all debt is bad. Learn the difference so you don’t fall into costly situations. Get to know your student loans and set up a repayment plan.
  5. Listen and benefit from the financial knowledge, experience, regrets, and mistakes of your elders. When it comes to finances, the economy has changed over the years, but the fundamentals of money management remain the same.
  6. Plan for emergencies. Stuff happens and sometimes it’s expensive. Having a little cash set aside for such emergencies can alleviate some stress. Work toward creating an emergency fund that could cover your living expenses for three months.
  7. Start to save for retirement in your 20s. It’s probably the single best thing you can do financially that you will never regret. The fact that retirement is decades away is exactly why you should start saving for it now. Money invested in your 20s has much more time to grow, so you have a longer timeline to reap the benefits of compound interest.
  8. Cut the cord. Your 20s are the years to build your independence and get off your parents’ payroll.
  9. Be proactive. Plan ahead. Establish goals, get organized, and seek help if you need it.

Four years later…

We caught up with Emily to see how she is doing, how her life has changed, and how well her approach to personal finances has served her.

Q&A with Emily Piehl Portillo

We last talked with you in 2017. A lot can happen in four years. Fill us in.

Indeed. A lot has changed. I got married, bought a home, and took a new job. I am now in my third year as a bilingual speech pathologist in the Verona Area School District and my 7th year as a K-12 educator. That was all in 2019—a big year.

In 2020, I earned my license in English as a Second language and our son Milo was born. He has been the greatest joy I could ever ask for, especially in the past year with so much public health uncertainty.

Four years ago, you seemed pretty on top of things and you shared your approach to finances as a 20-something—nine financial moves to do before you turn 30. As you move closer to your 30s, how will you rate yourself financially in these areas?

I feel pretty good about where I’m at in each of these areas. Having a good foundation in my 20s was critical to feeling secure and financially confident now.

What other things should be added to the list of things to do before you turn 30 based on your experience?

I think that a component related to each of these areas is having a level of financial literacy and vocabulary that helps to “talk the talk” with advisers, insurance agents, real estate agents, mortgage lenders, bank associates, etc. It helps to be able to anticipate what kinds of talking points will come up and the vocabulary associated with those things. I also think that it’s important to be able to identify trusted individuals (family, friends, district staff, or financial advisers) who you feel can be part of your team and who you can approach without feeling nervous or overwhelmed.

What’s been your greatest financial challenge over the last four years?

The home-buying process was huge for us and just came with so many new considerations. With that said, I’m really happy with our house and proud of the plan that we developed to ensure that we would feel secure in our decision.

What has been the most important financial decision you have made over the last four years?

Probably developing a budget and priorities with my husband before we got married. We talked extensively about what is important to us and what kinds of timelines and decisions made the most sense.

Finances between spouses can often be a struggle. And it’s not uncommon for one spouse (historically the husband) to take charge. How do you and your husband share the responsibilities?

What has helped most is formally dedicating time for us to talk exclusively about finances and saving. We sit down routinely and discuss where things are at and what changes we need to make, even making graphic organizers or charts if needed. We started doing this even before we were married, so now it feels like a natural part of our relationship and keeps us on the same page with financial decisions.

Have you had an opportunity to share financial tips with your colleagues? Mentor new educators?

Actually, many colleagues have noticed my photo or interview with WEA Member Benefits and this has served as a talking point for my experience.

Do you still contribute to your 403(b) account with Member Benefits?


What goals do you have for the next 5 years?

I’m excited about our house and the home improvement projects that we have planned. I’m also elated to get to share experiences with my son as he grows. Professionally, I really enjoy growing as a bilingual speech-language pathologist and working with bilingual students. I am so fortunate to have amazing colleagues in wonderful schools, in a fantastic district.

What concerns you most from a financial stand point as you look to the future?

Life, I realize, has gotten and will continue to get busier. I want to prioritize the meetings and conversations with financial advisers to ensure that we stay on track and make smart decisions. It can be challenging to fit one more thing in, but it’s really critical.

Are there any tips or words of advice you would give to other educators, aspiring educators, or young adults?

Being well-rounded and enjoying diverse interests, including those outside of education, really helps to stay motivated and energized throughout the school year. You can’t continually give to your school and students if you haven’t dedicated time to yourself, too. It sounds simple, but educators, as intrinsically giving individuals, have to be reminded to keep that balance.