By Genevieve Morgan
Photographs by Cara Slifka
Cold, hard cash may not be the first thing that comes to mind when we think of wellness, but after listening to the gospel of Tom Shepard—holistic financial advisor, life coach, and owner of Shepard Financial in Yarmouth—it should be. When you step back and consider what the primary cause of health-busting stress is in modern life, money is often the culprit: the lack of it, the pursuit of it, and the inability to manage it. And let's not forget the recession and its ripple effect on our lives.
Study after study, including landmark research published by the National Academy of Sciences in 2004, reveals that chronic stress is the most pervasive saboteur of wellness and quality of life. It is also a primary factor in premature aging and conditions that accompany it, such as cardiovascular disease, metabolic disorders, obesity, cancer, and inflammation. Learning how to manage stress is probably the single biggest life preserver you can have onboard when it comes to your health. And that's where Tom Shepard can help. A three-time All-American lacrosse player at Rochester Institute of Technology, where he studied engineering and business management, Shepard uses his diverse life and financial expertise to counsel clients from all backgrounds and tax brackets on how to make the most of what they have. And this is a man who knows financial stress: in the early '90s, he accepted a pay cut from $30,000 to $6,000 to teach math at Kents Hill School; and then fought his way back up the pay-scale ladder, like the true athlete he is.
"Money is energy, pure and simple," he explains. Shepard has brought a piece of paper and begins drawing a sloped line across it, revealing his drafting skills. Below, he writes the word "diet" and above he writes "exercise."
"Like food, money is a resource to draw on to fuel our lives." He taps on the word diet. "This is input—how much money is flowing toward us." He moves the pen above the line. "And this is output, or spending and investing. In order to be healthy, you have to have a balance between the two. Too much input without action leads to bloating and stagnation; too much output exhausts resources." He draws a circle indicating movement between the two words. "Both have to work together to sustain vitality over time. Financial problems arise because it's hard for most people to find a balance without some guidance, discipline, and practice," he says.
I mention that I wouldn't mind a little more bloating when it comes to my bank account, which prompts Shepard to start drawing again. This time it's a roller coaster with seven waves that represent the major stages of a human life. Shepard traces the dips and rises with his finger and cocks a wise-looking eyebrow at me.
"That's because you've been trained to think of your finances like the game of Life when it's more like Monopoly." He scribbles seven little circles between each stage. "There has to be movement—buying, selling, swapping—and, hopefully, improvement the whole way along. Our motto is 'Evolve With Your Money' because our idea is to create a flow that energizes whatever life stage you're currently in while keeping in mind that the stages are ever-changing. You want to be able to adapt." He makes another swoop with his pen and grins. "It doesn't matter if you're 15 or 50. The question to ask is not 'How much do I need to retire comfortably?' but 'How can I support myself so that I am able to engage fully in what I value right now?' That's making the most of your assets. That's good wealth management." And good health management, too.