SASM 011 – Becoming an Accidental Daily Money Manager with Jen Koontz

Smart and Simple Matters

I was both terrified and thrilled to hear her story.

At first I just heard it second-hand from my mom. I remember thinking:

“Wait. They horded how many years of paperwork?! Hold on. They had how many credit cards with unpaid balances?! Get out of here. The Fire Marshall condemned the house with zero notice?!”

Then I thought that this was a story that needed to be told. My mom knew I was all about Daily Money Management, so she encouraged me to contact her friend and former co-worker that the story was about.

Jen Koontz and I exchanged emails for a month until we first spoke in early August. She had every reason to be wary of me because we had never spoken and I was asking some rather probing questions about her family.

After an hour on the phone, I asked Jen if she would be willing to be a guest on the Smart and Simple Matters (SASM) show and she was game. It took three months to coordinate the episode and involved my first field report with new equipment. The podcasting gods smiled upon us because it worked out better than either of us hoped.

In this episode of SASM you’ll hear about some things that, frankly, are shocking. Jen’s an open, honest, and very good person, so I won’t be ruining the surprise when I mention that her mom and step-dad were:

  • Years behind on tax filing and payment.
  • Happy to have debt collectors call Jen at 6:00 am instead of them.
  • Prime candidates to be featured on the TV show Hoarders.
  • Not having anything to do with being “fixed.”
  • Refusing to take responsibility for any part of the situation they created.

This is a horror story without ghosts or physical harm, but the emotional, mental, and spiritual anguish is probably worse. Heroes show up on the scene and the situation does partially improve with some valiant efforts. I can’t promise a happy ending because the story is ongoing.

But there’s a lot to learn from Jen and a number of actions to take after listening to the tale of “Becoming an Accidental Daily Money Manager.”

She deserves a special thanks for her courage and desire to help people avoid or deal with unpleasant family madness. Let Jen know how much her story means to you in the comments and how you plan to help her spread the word about her ordeal.

What You’ll Learn

This one is all Jen. I don’t teach you anything other than how to facilitate an interview and ask good questions, but Jen makes up for it.

In this episode you’ll learn about:

  • How many layers of debt someone can withstand (especially on a fixed income).
  • What it’s like having your house condemned by the Fire Marshall with no notice.
  • Why compassion is essential to surviving tough times.
  • How to play the parent role to your parents.
  • First steps to take when you uncover a financial or organizational time bomb.
  • Why uniting with your support team is critical.
  • How to dive into the “need vs. wants” and “them vs. me” discussions.
  • Why simplifying and automating is so valuable when you have major debt.
  • Having stress-free money conversations with family to prepare for the stressful ones.

Resources and Items Mentioned in This Episode Include:


  • [03:19] Just how bad Jen’s parents financial and organizational situation was
  • [11:40] Jen’s team that helped relieve her of some financial responsibility
  • [20:07] Sound first steps to take when you uncover a financial or organizational time bomb
  • [24:00] Holding your ground and staying consistent in your message
  • [34:00] Self-compassion and feeling it’s OK to lose your mind periodically
  • [41:46] Recap of lessons learned

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10 Responses to SASM 011 – Becoming an Accidental Daily Money Manager with Jen Koontz

  1. Shanna Mann says:

    Wow. That’s amazing. And lady, you’re a saint (and so is your husband). You can really be proud of yourselves.

    What I was most impressed with was the clear and articulate boundaries you set. When I’ve seen this happen before, people didn’t set clear boundaries at the outset, and that REALLY made it difficult to encourage and enforce change, because the person in charge had never formally spelled out “I’m in charge. I will help you, but you have to do what I say.”

    • I too was really impressed with the boundaries Jen set with her mother and stepfather. All I know is that if I ever catch a whiff of a smoldering fire that resembles what Jen faced, I’ll be listening back to this episode for strategies to put it out (or at least stop it from spreading).

  2. Amit Amin says:

    My goodness. What a story.

    Praise to you, Jen, for taking on a responsibility I’ve seen many ignore, and just as important, dealing with it without letting it ruin your own life. Really, an amazing story. Good job!

    Great find Joel!

    • You hit on something important Amit. Some people could handle a situation like this and restore balance to a dysfunctional situation. But normally the cost would be introducing dysfunction or chaos into their own life. Somehow, Jen managed to make things better for her mom and stepdad without making things worse for her other family members. Now that’s an accomplishment! It’s also the compassionate thing to do…but doing the compassionate thing isn’t so easy.

  3. Oh man, I thought some of our relatives were hoarders. They seem like minimalists in comparison!

    That’s really a great story of a family willing to tough it out for one another. It’s tough to set and maintain clear boundaries for yourself. I can’t imagine how tough it would be to get your parents to follow your lead.

    • I couldn’t imagine how tough it would be either Michael…until Jen told me her story. Now I can imagine vividly what it would be like to be in her position. Empathy can lead to a lot of useful things and I’m hoping that people’s empathy for Jen inspires them to take action now to prevent a similar situation.

  4. Erin says:

    Wow, this was really eye-opening to listen to. Thanks to Jen for sharing this personal story with the VoS community.

    The ideas of support systems and catching things early really stood out to me as takeaway lessons for anyone, not just those facing such a drastic situation. Both pieces can be super helpful when you’re dealing with anything potentially rough, I think.

    • I’m glad I’m not the only one trying to live the old saying, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” The problem becomes prioritizing what you need to prevent. As Jen mentions in our chat, you only have so many fingers to plug the holes in the dam. When you run out of fingers, it’s time to build a better dam, right? But that takes a lot of work.

  5. Tania says:

    I’m a new listener and I’m catching up on back episodes (I was the excel geek that also listens to Simple Life Together).

    As I listen to her story, one thing that really sticks out for me is her tone. She went through hell. I’m absolutely sure of that and have no doubt she had a wide range of emotions during this whole process.. But her tone is lacking judgment or anger. She did what needed to be done. I’m the same way and so is my father. We sometimes get mistaken for not caring because we’re rather stoic but it’s quite the opposite. We push forward and we save our energy for what needs to get done to fix the problem. Quite the opposite of not caring in my humble opinion.

    A great cautionary tale and a good listen for anyone caught in this situation. I personally know so many people that have experienced something similar with either a grandparent or parent.

    • We’ll take all the Excel geeks, dweebs, nerds, and geniuses we can get around here, Tania. I applaud your efforts in what might be a slog through some of the rougher initial episodes of the show.

      Jen’s tone really struck me as significant too. She spoke like a woman who had accepted her role, acknowledged the reality, and did what someone simply needed to do. I have yet to be tested in a way that Jen has and, honestly, I hope that I never will. I doubt I could handle such a tough family and financial situation with half the grace and grit that she did/does. Kudos to you for having a similar amount of fortitude, Tania!

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