Skip to main content


Federal Employee Financial Planning: Meet Your Hosts (EP20)

You’ve been listening to Michael, Tommy and John for 20 episodes now, but do you really know them? Every episode, they come together to share their knowledge about financial planning with you. However, they each have their own background and unique introduction into financial planning that they will be explaining today.

Listen in as this family business is described, including how Tommy got involved in the business and why John decided to join the firm. You will learn why Michael decided to start the business, a bit about each of their families and the importance of finding a work-life balance.

Listen to the full episode here:

What you will learn:

  • Who makes up Mason & Associates. (1:30)
  • How John got involved in finances. (2:45)
  • How Tommy got involved in the business. (5:00)
  • When Michael decided to learn about financial planning. (8:00)
  • What Michael, Tommy and John are most proud of. (12:15)
  • The importance of making the most of your life. (16:00)
  • Michael, Tommy and John’s favorite thing to speak with their clients about. (19:30)

Ideas worth sharing:

“Financial planning can be powerful in people’s lives when it’s done the right way and with good intentions.” - Mason & Associates, LLC

“We treat our clients like family.” - Mason & Associates, LLC

“A big part of life is not the dollars in the bank but the lives that you’ve changed.” - Mason & Associates, LLC    

Resources from this episode:


Did you enjoy the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast? Never miss an episode by subscribing on Apple Podcasts, AmazonSpotify, Stitcher, and Google Podcasts.


Read the Transcript Below:

Congratulations for taking ownership of your financial plan by tuning into the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Mason & Associates, financial advisors with over three decades of experience serving you.

Michael Mason: Welcome to the Federal Employee Financial Planning Podcast, hosted by Michael Mason, I'm a certified financial planner; John Mason, certified financial planner, and Tommy Blackburn, also, a CFP and a CPA, certified public accountant.

Mason & Associates have over three decades experience helping federal employees with their financial plans.

Folks, this is episode 20, and we thought it's a perfect time to just take a break, do a short episode, and introduce you to your host. Know a little bit more about Mike, John, and Tommy, and Mason & Associates.

So, hey, John, how about we start with you? Tell us a little bit about your family and what brought you into this business.

John Mason: Well, I just first acknowledge it's a little bit weird being interviewed by my father. So, as we're doing this short episode today, Mike, you and mom, Bobby, we work together. Ken, my uncle, we work together. So, we see quite a bit.

And one of the things I think it's good for our listeners to know is one, let's acknowledge that, yes, this is a family business that started with you and your brother. Let's acknowledge that your spouse, my mother, a sister-in-law, Sarah, my wife, who does some project work for us as our project manager — this without a doubt's a family business in the initial formation.

And then, we've grown and we've got Tommy and we've got Ben, and we've got our other support team. So, yes, it's a family business. Yes, we have that history.

I think one of the coolest things about my 12 years here is how you’re Mike at the office and you’re dad on the golf course, and how nothing has changed other than our relationship. And I think our relationship with my mom is better now than it's ever been. So, 12 years in, I'm pretty proud of that.

And as far as how I got here, I kind of, in high school, was the typical son. I didn't want to necessarily be like my dad, didn't want to necessarily listen to my mom, went to Virginia Tech, thought I was going to be an engineer, and quickly found out that I was really bad at that.

And over time, I just remember sitting in your F-150 or driving on vacation, and we're talking about finances. Mom’s in banking, you’re in financial planning. You're telling me stories about Roth IRAs. Our vacations for family were work trips for you.

And I just started thinking about how I was kind of born and then raised in this business. And as I made that transition at Virginia Tech into their certified financial planner program, it was a really good fit.

So, I never interviewed anywhere else. I never thought let's go work for another firm, knock on doors, make cold calls, learn it the hard way, and then come here. And I don't think you and Ken necessarily wanted that for me either. So, it was a really nice fit in 2010 when I graduated.

That you guys were kind of hitting a ceiling at Mason & Associates, you kind of capped out your technology, kind of capped out some of your capabilities, and being able to bring me into the fold a little bit younger, newer mindset, ability to implement some technology, see things in a different way.

You guys were very receptive to that. And I'm just very appreciative that you didn't send me out onto the streets to knock on doors and do cold calls. You let me come in and just basically come into the machine that was working and add value and enhance all of us as a team, rather than making me feel like I needed to go to a booth at the Parade of Homes or something like that.

Michael Mason: Yeah, many people that I grew up with in this business when their brother would come into it or their son or their daughter, and they're like, we're going to let them learn the ropes with XYZ big company. And I'm like, so you're going to let somebody screw them up for the next five years. And then you're going to have to undo all that. That doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Tommy, again, what brought you in the business and a little bit about your family, if you want to share that as well.

Tommy Blackburn: Absolutely, so my wife is Jess. She's doing great. She works for a mortgage company in Richmond, Virginia. But thankfully, our family's been blessed and that she works from home, which has just provided a lot of flexibility for us. And our daughter, who will be two at the end of July, Zoe, she's doing great.

And it's amazing to watch the changes in the short amount of time of being a parent, just how much they're developing in these first two years. I can only imagine what's to come, but she's more and more entertaining by the day. Vocabulary is expanding rapidly, all of a sudden, and just very entertaining. So, we're all doing good. We appreciate it.

And what got me into this business is I did not grow up around financial planning. I think my parents were pretty solid in their knowledge of the fundamentals, and really, it was, you always save for a rainy day. You spend less than you make; the foundations of finance. But beyond that, I didn't really know much about it. Definitely didn't know what a financial advisor or a planner was.

And a little bit, I probably did know about it, probably wasn't truthfully a good taste because there was a lot of salesmanship and not necessarily planning. It was usually just trying to get an insurance product in place, was the vast majority of people traditionally doing this, I think.

Then when I got to Virginia Tech, I didn't know what I was doing. I was in the business school, and I was trying to figure out which major to go in. Met with a counselor and I said, “I think I kind of like finance and would enjoy helping people maybe with their finances.” They said, “We have this financial planning program. You should check it out. ”

Got into it, fell in love. It was always like a puzzle. I was learning so much that I just was unaware of. And realized very quickly it felt like a calling. And I realized how powerful it could be in people's lives when it's done the right way and with good intentions.

And, of course, that's how John and I eventually met was at Virginia Tech. And we hit it off our senior year. We did our senior project together, which was designing a firm, and which is pretty cool that we now work together and get to run a firm and serve the clients together. So, that's a little bit of my background.

I guess, the other thing I think about is when I was there going through financial planning classes, I was very intrigued by the tax side of financial planning. And I had this epiphany that it's related to everything financial planning. So, I wanted to take it a little bit further, got a master's degree and a CPA, as well as my certified financial planner.

So, that's a little bit about me. I think now, Mike, if you could tell us kind of how you got into this business, a little bit about your family and really, what built the situation, laid the foundation for where we all are today.

Michael Mason: Oh, it's great. It's always an opportunity. I've got a few more years to talk about, but we'll try and get it in a shortened version.

First and foremost, my wife, Bobby, continues to say things like, “If we're still together December 5th of this year, it'll be 41 years.” So, high school sweethearts, went into the Air Force pretty much right out of high school, and knew that I wasn't going to make it a career. We loved our time in the Air Force.

A financial planning class while we were stationed overseas in England got me thinking about it was a compound interest table that had me thinking about the power of compound interest.

And when Bobby and I were married young, fortunately, we didn't have children that young and she was working. We had money and we saved money, and people that made much more than us asked for our help.

So, when I was transitioning from the Air Force, what will I do next, I saw an ad for financial planning and I said this maybe it. Actually, I made a prayer the night before. I said, “I don't know what I want to do.” And I saw this ad the next day, and that started it. And then was fortunate enough to hire my brother in the business with me back in ‘89.

And then, of course, Ken has this epiphany, we don't want to be making cold phone calls, we don't want to be knocking on doors. How about we specialize with federal employees, we see some of the holes, see what they don't know, we see how we can help.

And then an epiphany after an epiphany, let's send flyers, let's do a radio show, and now, it's let's do a radio show, and let's do a podcast, and let's make ourselves the smartest planners for federal employees in America. And it just all happened.

And then I was blessed with two wonderful children. John has made such difference as you know in this business. When I look back on the struggles, it wasn't easy. There was times where I thought there might have been a better way, an easier way to make a living.

But helping people and the family business — John, you talked about the family, the biological family. I think it's a family business because not only the biological family, but the extended family and the rest of the Mason & Associates team, which includes our clients. So, it feels like a big family all the time.

John Mason: We really enjoy the relationship with our team members, we really enjoy the relationship with our clients. And a lot of businesses say it. I think we're going to say it right here on this podcast episode, episode 20, that we treat our clients like family.

Now, that doesn't mean we don't show up prepared. That doesn't mean that we don't treat the meetings with a sense of formality. We want it to be formal. It is business, but we love our clients. We treat them like family, but it's still a very professional relationship at the same time.

And I think the three of us, we loop Ben, Ken, and the rest of our team members. A big thank you to all of our spouses; Bobby, Jess, Sarah, Christine. The spouses are huge and the support not only for our business, but for us during the busy times.

And that allows us to spend more time in the non-busy times with Carter and Zoe and the grandkids, and all of that is just such a big win. And having a family business that's structured around family values allows us to have time where we work hard and we play hard.

And that is a big focus of Mason & Associates, is we want to provide tremendous value. We want to work really, really hard when we're here. And then we want to get out and enjoy some time just to be humans and family members, fathers, sons, parents, spouses, et cetera.

And that's the foundation of everything that we're trying to build here, Mike and Tommy. So, maybe we can talk a little bit quickly about some things that we're most proud of that we've accomplished either professionally or personally over our careers here at Mason & Associates.

Michael Mason: Yeah, I'll take it first. And you guys run with it after that. It's so hard to pick one thing, so I'm just going to pick the career.

And when I look at the amount of lives that we've changed, starting with one of my first clients, mom and dad, 35 years ago, and how the advice we gave changed their plans.

It's almost like the movie Back to the Future and you had this track that you were on, and then a little change and how that changed their finances. And the hundreds of clients that we've made, the radio show, people that we've never seen that take survivor benefits that wouldn't have taken it without us, and now, the listeners out there on the podcast.

Folks, if you don't believe that part of life is helping people, a big part of it is not the dollars in the bank, but the lives that you've changed, then you're missing something.

Every person that wants to add clients to their financial planning practice is probably going to say things like this. But listen to the other 20 episodes, the other 19 episodes, and continue to listen to the future ones; you'll know that we built a firm around those values.

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah, and I think about it, Mike we just got some pictures from a client that I know you and I both really enjoy working with. And these were their trip to Hawaii and the RV that they bought, the RV/van. That's the kind of relationships that we're building with our clients.

And also, I think I'm most proud of that I love what I do, and I love who I come to work with every day and I love the clients. So, those are examples of those relationships with those clients.

There are challenges, certainly, with running a small business and doing financial planning. But overall, it's a very fulfilling, just very satisfying job because you get to work with people you love and you get to help them.

One of the other things I'm pretty proud of here is that we are an RIA. So, we are 100% independent, we made that change, and that we're fee-only. That may not mean a lot to many. What that means is we're only paid by our clients.

And the reason we think that's important, I almost have thought about this is, it's like when you go to the doctor. You don't necessarily know everything that doctor's done professionally, but you want to believe that profession as a whole is policing itself. And that you can trust doctor means I'm going to get good medical advice.

To me, that's what we've built here. We're 100% independent. We're going to put your interest ahead of our own, and we're only paid by you. And it's important to us to do it that way. And that's why we do it this way.

John Mason: And the way we get paid is more transparent arguably than the way the doctor gets paid. Because nobody understands how …

Tommy Blackburn: Maybe it wasn't the best example.

John Mason: How health insurance reimburses and whatnot. But we do trust that that doctor's going to give us good advice, and we do trust that profession as a whole. The financial planning industry's not there yet.

There are still way too many people out there calling themselves financial planners that are financial salespeople. So, financial planning has not been elevated yet to the status of doctor, to the status of lawyer, to the status of CPA.

Tommy Blackburn: And if I can, it wasn't meant to be an attack on commission financial advisors. I do believe that they can do a wonderful job as well. We just believe that this is a more transparent way, as you were saying.

John Mason: Very transparent. Guys, what I'm most proud of, and it kind of also is why I do what we do, which I think is another question; I’m most proud of we are able to empower clients to act on something.

Whether that is getting their estate planning documents in order, retiring, lowering their 401(k) or TSP contributions, so they can go on more vacations. It is just empowering clients to know the score of the game, giving them the ability to act.

So many people when it comes to finances do not have the ability to act because they're fearful, they don't know what the next step is, they've overanalyzed the situation. And I'm very proud of being able to deliver that quality of advice.

And one of the questions I like to ask clients is — and this is like the more emotional side of me that'll come out in these meetings, is I've had eight clients pass away in 12 years already.

And sometimes I'll ask clients who can retire; “Have I done everything that I can do to show you that you can retire? Have I alleviated or eliminated any concerns whatsoever about the financial aspect, so you're only working for milestones or for personal satisfaction? You're not continuing to work because I haven't done my job correctly.”

And these are the type of conversations we want to make sure that we're continuing; one, to be self-aware, are we doing a good job, but we need our clients to also say, “John, maybe you could tell me a little bit more about that social security strategy to get me more comfortable.”

So, I'm very proud about those conversations that we're having. And the reason I do what I do is because we only get one shot at life, period. And I want clients to retire as soon as possible, I want clients to enjoy as much time with their family as they can.

And if we can do that through financial planning and give them a pathway to do all of that stuff just a little bit better, that's what I'm proud of. And that's what motivates me.

Michael Mason: Yeah, and I would just add to that, Tommy, you said, “You do what you love.” There's a country song, “Do what you love and call it work.” We have to recognize it every now and then we might run into a federal employee that loves going to work, and that's part of their persona.

But let's make sure that if there was a vacation they wanted to take that they know they can take it because you never know when you're going to wake up with a diagnosis.

John Mason: And that's the hardest part. And I don't want to deviate too much from the Get to Know Your Host segment.

But the hardest part is I'm about to retire, but I'm not yet. And all my liquidity and I have a million or $2 million say for retirement, but I'm not retired yet, so I can't spend it yet.

So, it's like those last two or three years, we have to help clients realize that we can make changes and start being retired while we're not retired. That's a really, really fun time. So, getting back to Get to Know Your Host, maybe let's go around the table guys.

And Mike, we'll start with you; what's your favorite area of financial planning or what topics do you enjoy speaking with your clients? The one you're the lead advisor — what do you enjoy the most?

Mike: I would have to say that, of course, always being prepared allows you to, like you said, John, “Deliver the boom.”

I would say that these strategic planning meetings when something is on their mind, whether it's their own financial plan or their parents or their children, I've got the answer. And instantly, I can take a burden off their shoulders. So, I would guess taking the burden off their shoulders.

Tommy Blackburn: Yeah, I think that's a great answer, Mike, because I think I feel fairly similar. I always have an interest in tax, but it's not because I just enjoy taxes, it's because it's more of a lever to empower the rest of the financial plan. I love being able to connect all those dots so fast for a client.

Being able to see how this all connects together, how we solve to empower what it is they want to accomplish. And as I think about really what is like financial planning to me, and it's funny, we manage money. Everything we do is so tied to money, but it's all about minimizing the importance of money in my mind.

It’s about putting money in its place, putting a plan there so that that's no longer driving all of our decisions. And knowing that you have your team here to turn to who can help you figure out how this all comes together, and how we maximize what we want to maximize, but to live life and not let money control our decisions.

John Mason: I agree with both of you. I think taxes, like if I was to pick an area, core area of financial planning, tax would be probably one of the areas that I'm most passionate about. I’m also pretty passionate about estate planning documents and making sure that house is in order.

But going along with y’alls thoughts, I met with a client a week ago and she asked me, she said, “John, I'm going to be 62 next year, can I retire? ” And we've been doing this financial plan for five years leading up to 62.

And my response was different than most advisors, I guarantee you. Most advisors would've showed MoneyGuidePro or some sort of simulation about how she was going to be okay, and I flipped it.

I don't know if you know the story yet, Tommy, I flipped it. I said, “Are you asking me or are you asking yourself? Because we've been doing your financial plan for five or seven years now, you know financially that you can do this. So, what are you really asking? What are your concerns as you lead up to this one year before retirement? Because I don't necessarily think it's financially motivated. I think there may be something else there.”

So, I would say getting to the root of the question or getting to the root of the problem, because oftentimes what's communicated is really not the issue. Most of the time, it's kind of like that iceberg. You're only seeing that top little, little bit, and there's so much below the surface that we really have to be intentional in the questions that we're asking. I enjoy that aspect very much.

Michael Mason: You enjoy being the detective. Find out why they ask the question, not necessarily what the answer to the question is.

Folks, I'll just say, as we wrap this up, I think when we look back in time, this podcast is going to be one of the things that we're most proud of.

Because we can't help everybody directly, but hopefully, what we get across to you is multiple episodes of financial planning that maybe you can just do it yourself until you meet somebody that has the credentials and the knowledge that Mason & Associates does.

And don't keep this to yourself. We're not keeping a combined 100 years of knowledge helping federal employees to our self. That's why it's on the podcast. Tell your friends, tell your family, even if they're not federal employees, they can listen to this podcast and they can get some good, solid financial planning from it.

You can also listen to our radio show and call in from anywhere in the country. The radio show is the first and third Tuesday of every month, Eastern time six to seven o'clock.

Give us five stars if you like what we're doing. Send us an email at Tell us what you'd like to hear in one of our podcasts and look forward to the next episode, which will be released in the next month. Thank you.

The topics discussed on this podcast represent our best understanding of federal benefits and are for informational and educational purposes only, and should not be construed as investment, financial planning, or other professional advice.

We encourage you to consult with the office of personnel management and one or more professional advisors before taking any action based on the information presented.