These are times of financial uncertainty. I’m sure in hindsight most of us wish we had planned things out better to ride out the emotional and economic tsunami, but there is still hope for the future. Money, and the discussion of, are very sensitive topics for most people. This week’s portrait is someone who is dedicating their career to helping our community find stable financial ground. River Nice is the owner of Be Intentional Financial, a remote, fee-only financial planning firm based out of Philadelphia that specializes in working with trans, queer, and polyamorous individuals and families.

Tell me where the River started…

I’m from Toms River, NJ. I come from a small family, my parents, a brother, and me. But my extended family is huge. My mom is one of 7 and my dad’s one of 8, so I have twenty something first cousins. 

What’s a fun family time together?

When my mom’s side gets together it’s usually around Grandma’s table. She still lives in the house that she raised her kids in. There are so many of us that now we have to add an extra table to the already big table to fit everyone. My mom and her siblings tell stories from their childhood and shock grandma with how much stuff they hid from her growing up.

Ha! We still do that. 

My mother’s youngest brother is significantly younger than the other 6, so most of the stories are, “Yeah, remember the time we did so and so to the baby?” My Uncle Mike is like, “Oh yeah, I kind of remember that” and my grandmother is like, “Wait! You did what?”

What was your ‘hood like?

I was the only girl in a neighborhood full of boys, so I was always trying to prove myself. I was also a big tomboy, and it took me a long time to realize, “Oh, I’m actually non-binary!” I also would make the neighborhood kids play “school” with me and I would be the teacher. I would use the printer in my dad’s home office to print math quizzes.

You weren’t playing around! What did you want to be when you grew up?

When I was really little I wanted to be President, mainly because I got such a positive reaction from adults when I said that, but then when I figured out what the job actually entailed, I was like nope, not interested. I always wanted to be a teacher, until I got to college when I realized that being a teacher came with a lot of regulations and forms to fill out. 

What did you go to school to study?

Computer science. I’ve always been a numbers guy, so I started as a math major but then switched over to computer science which seemed more practical. 

Where along the journey did you start figuring things out about yourself?

I guess in college. I spent a lot of time on Tumblr and that’s where I started learning about social justice stuff. I learned that bisexual didn’t mean that you had to be 50% attracted to men and 50% to women. I started thinking, wait, I really like boys, but I’ve been told I’m a girl, so I must be straight. I started learning what transgender meant and that there were options outside of Man/Woman. It took me a while, but that’s when I started wondering about myself and what was going on with me. I bought my first binder when I was a senior in college and I wasn’t quite sure what it meant for me, but I knew that I kind of liked it. 

College is the time for exploring, where did you go?

I went to The College of New Jersey (TCNJ). 

What was a favorite class?

Introduction to LGBTQ Studies with Dr. Nelson Rodriguez. He was awesome. His class was really interesting and he was cool and real with us. I learned a lot about the history of the LGBTQ community, about queerness from a political perspective. At the end of the semester, he said, “Okay, now let’s talk about polyamory, and kink and non-monogamy, etc” and I was like, “Whaaaat?” And that’s how I figured out that I was polyamorous too! 

Alright Dr. Rod! How did you end up in Philadelphia?

After graduating, I moved back to my parents in Toms River and that became a little suffocating because all my friends had left and the town is kind of conservative and an older population. I’d go on dating apps and there was nobody to swipe right for. I was also trying to tell my parents that I was bisexual and what that meant to me and they weren’t thrilled about it. So I decided I needed to find a city with more queer people. I didn’t have a job lined up but I grabbed two friends from college and the 3 of us just up and moved here.

Tell me about what you do now and how you got there.

I was working at a company doing website design and it wasn’t fulfilling. Then Trump got elected and I needed to do something. I looked at my friends and asked myself, what do people need that I could do? I decided to go into financial planning. My partner at the time had accumulated a lot of debt, student loans, credit card debt, and so on. She had thought she wasn’t going to live long and then she transitioned and things got better, but then she had all that debt. I helped her make a plan, because I just have a brain for numbers. They just make sense to me so I threw together some spreadsheets, showed her what she could do with her current income to eventually get out of debt. Once back on track she said, “You need to do this for other trans people.” So I took a job at Ameriprise for a couple of years, got my certifications through them, and a year ago I launched my own company, Be Intentional Financial. I wanted to do things my way and specialize on helping queer and transfolk.

Has the pandemic had much effect?

Not really. I actually launched my practice as a totally virtual company from the start. I work out of my apartment and meet with clients over Zoom. I joke that I was ready for the pandemic before it happened. Actually, I just didn’t see the sense in paying overhead for an office and making people travel to me when we could meet virtually. So my day to day isn’t much different. 

What makes you feel warm and fuzzy about what you do?

At the beginning of each meeting, especially with a new client, I’ll ask them, “How are you feeling about this?” Because money is such a loaded subject. We’re stressed or full of shame about it. There are all these negative emotions associated with money. Often people will say, “I’m really anxious,” or “I almost didn’t show up, I don’t like talking about finances,” but by the end of the meeting they’ll say, “River, I’m so glad we did this. I feel so much better now.” Because I’m all about the numbers and finding a path to help people. There’s no judgment involved. 

Give me the 101 of what you do.

Sure. Most of the people I work with are trans and queer millennials who have never worked with a financial advisor before. We meet for about an hour each month for 6 months and I give them homework in between. The first thing we do is organize all their accounts, bank accounts, credit cards, etc. Figure out where all your stuff actually lives, what your pin numbers are, the basics. Just getting things in order is a big deal, then we work on a budget, and make sure what you’re doing is also in line with your values and priorities. We work on plans to pay down the debts, what you need to survive, and then discuss short term and long term goals and how to achieve them. There are a lot of other things like making sure you’re taking advantage of and understanding what workplace benefits you might not be utilizing, etc. We talk about credit scores and how they actually work, and we also talk about retirement. Often, people 30-40 years out from retirement don’t really conceptualize what that might look like, but I try to show people how what they do now can influence their future. 

Why was it important for you to come back and serve the community?

I always say I pitch the community first and the service second. I knew I wanted to do something for the community, because it’s me, it’s my friends, and I saw a need for financial literacy and empowerment. So many of us have been cut off from our families and can’t look for financial support there, or we may come from families that are struggling. I believe that capitalism is bad for humans, that it’s oppressive and makes things worse, but we have to deal with it, so if I can help people navigate it with a little more ease and less shame, I want to do that. 

And what do you do outside of work?

I sit on the board of Girls Rock Philly. I love GRP. Despite having “Girls” in the name, it’s been the safest place for me to explore my gender. It’s allowed me to try out different pronouns and different names. Before I settled on one name, GRP was the social space for me to work out what suited me. 

How did you choose River?

Well, as I said, I grew up in the city of Toms River near the Toms River. I spent my summers sailing on the river. My parents would drop us off for day camp and say, “Go learn how to sail.” I loved it, so when I decided to choose a new name for myself, River fit perfectly. It was gender neutral, easy to spell, and based on something that was important to me, like nature. 

I like it. Tell me a little about your journey. 

Yup, I bought that first binder I mentioned in about 2013, then I moved back with my parents, which was not the safest place to try out stuff, so I back-burnered it for a while until I moved to Philly. I actually had a pregnancy scare and at first I was like, “Hell no! I will not go through a pregnancy!” and I thought, interesting, why do I feel that way? I know I really, really want to have kids someday but I was really uncomfortable with the idea of my body during pregnancy. And I realized that I didn’t want this [gesturing to chest]. Then I went to the Philly Trans Wellness conference and to a few workshops on non-binary people. As I listened to other people talk about their experience and what being genderqueer or gender fluid meant to them and all the options, I realized that I was in the right ballpark. It still took a while for me to be comfortable calling myself trans, but I started using she/they pronouns. This past October I found a doctor I liked and had top surgery done. I legally changed my name to River in February and, well, I’m doin’ it!

Who’s your partner?

My partner is Sydney and they’re a paralegal for a big architecture and engineering firm. We met on Tinder and went for a drink at Tattooed Mom’s. Neither of us wanted anything serious but after about 5 months we had to concede that it was a thing and we really liked each other. 

What’s a guilty pleasure?

Sydney and I both love to watch TV. Especially during the pandemic, we keep picking series of things and binge-watching them. We started with the Vampire Diaries and then did all the Harry Potter movies and then tried to do all the Marvel movies but we got burned out on them because they’re not good. We recently watched all of Euphoria, which was really good. 

I’m glad to see you’re a true patriot. Whenever people tell me they don’t watch TV, I tell them it’s un-American! We’re supposed to get at least 5-8 hours a day! It bonds us. Ever play any sports?

As a kid I tried a bunch of them but nothing panned out. I even tried softball, but was like nah. I was not gifted in that department and my hard work was not paying off. The only thing that really took was sailing. My high school had a sailing team, we were a public high school, but the local community college would let us borrow their boats. And we traveled up and down the east coast and competed against prep schools and stuff. I was pretty good, I was a varsity starter for 3 years. 

What superhero trait would you want?

Oh I want to fly! There are more practical powers, but flying would be so cool. 

Ever have any recurring dreams?

I have been having a recurring stress dream that I’m back in high school and I don’t know where I’m supposed to be. I can’t remember my schedule. I also have dreams where I keep having to come out as trans to different people from my past. “No, my name is River now and here’s why.” 

My first HS reunion they sent around a questionnaire beforehand asking, “What’s something you know how to do now that you didn’t in high school?” I wrote back, “Pick up girls” and that was my way of coming out to the whole class. It was fun. 

That’s awesome. 

Pet Peeves?

Whistling really bothers me. Maybe I’m just jealous. 

Me too! I hate it when someone is in line behind you and won’t stop whistling. It’s presumptive! 

Yes! I had a boss who would whistle when he was nervous and he was nervous all the time! It wasn’t even a song, it was just aimless noise! 

Song that makes you melancholy? 

There’s a song by “Adult Mom” that has a line, “If I’m a man would you hate me?” That can bring up some feelings. Especially since it is sung by a trans-masculine person. 

If you could enter the world of a painting, which one would it be? 

It would have to be something by an impressionist, probably Monet. 

Favorite holiday?

Hmmm, Pride? I was never big on traditional holidays. Even as a kid I thought when I grow up I’m going to make up holidays that make more sense to me. Easter did nothing for me. Christmas and Thanksgiving were too close together. I did like 4th of July because seeing the fireworks over the water was exciting, but the more I think about the history of the U.S. the less I like celebrating the 4th. I’ll stick with our own traditions like Pride and Outfest. 

What traits do you get from your parents?

My mother is a school psychologist. She works with disabled preschoolers to develop plans to help them get the educational experience they deserve. My dad is an entrepreneur. He is a partner in a software company and has two wine-related businesses. My parents own a winery in South Jersey and they have a do-it-yourself winery in Cherry Hill called The Wine Room. So I get my entrepreneurship and independence from my dad, and the focus on helping individuals from my mom. So I guess I’m a good combination of both. 

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