Like most of America, Julia Lorenz-Olson and her husband, Philip Olson, are stuck at home, waiting out the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But that hasn't stopped the creative duo from educating consumers about how to manage their money through the crisis.
Julia and Philip, who is a certified financial planner, are best-known as the creative force behind "Two Cents," a popular weekly personal finance video series that publishes on PBS Digital Studios and has 330,000 subscribers on YouTube. Each segment breaks down often-complicated financial topics into easy-to-understand explainers and tutorials.
The 30-somethings also run their own financial planning company in Austin, The Art of Finance.
While Julia and Philip adjust to working from home during the pandemic, they have continued shooting and editing videos to help their viewers. "Unfortunately, like this virus, anxiety is also contagious. So it's only natural that a lot of us are asking the same question: 'How do I survive a financial storm?'" Julia says in a recent "Two Cents" video, published 25 days into their quarantine.
Part of what makes the couple so fun to watch is that they are easy to relate to: Not too long ago, Julia and Philip were struggling creatives with inconsistent income who didn't know much about money. By drawing from their pasts as performers and workers making minimum wage, they're now in a position to help others.
"We don't come from these suited-up, traditional backgrounds," Julia tells Grow. "We know how to talk about this stuff so that it's empowering and accessible."
Julia and Philip met as theater students at the University of Texas in Austin, initially noticing each other while working backstage on a school production.
"I had my eye on him for sure," says Julia. "He was real cute, and I thought to myself, 'I needed to figure out where he's hanging out.'"
Not long after, the two started dating, and within 18 months, they were married. Now, 13 years later, they're still going strong. Their daughter, Clementine, is almost 2 years old.
The two graduated in 2008, the midst of the financial crisis, and took whatever jobs they could find. Julia worked at The Container Store and Philip was a server at a local restaurant. A little while later, Philip took a job teaching children acting lessons at a private theater school.
"Philip was doing his teaching work and would have to drive all around the city to do it," says Julia. "And then one day, he stumbles upon [personal finance guru] Dave Ramsey on the radio. ... That's how it happened."
Philip says he found that Ramsey's approach to money "really resonated" with him, especially the way that our thoughts, feelings, and emotions influence financial decisions.
When it became clear that his theater teaching job would never pay a "decent salary, no matter what," Philip pivoted and became an intern at a financial firm in Austin with the goal of becoming a financial advisor. He worked his way through his company's training program and eventually earned his certified financial planner marks.
Over the next several years, Julia became an entrepreneur, running a Craigslist-based organizing business and starting an online vintage store.
Meanwhile, he and Julia were "geeking out about money," learning to budget, plan their purchases, and mastering other facets of money management. In 2015, the couple launched The Art of Finance.
At The Art of Finance, Philip works with clients on financial planning and advisory services related to investing and retirement preparation, while Julia teaches young creatives and entrepreneurs to master financial basics like budgeting strategies and paying down debt. The firm is "fee only," meaning they charge a set fee for financial advice, and don't take a commission for investment products they sell.
"Julia and I very much run the business together," says Philip. "It's very much a team effort."
As their business grew, the couple started brainstorming ways to help other people learn about money. There seemed no better way to do that — especially for two theater majors — than to start creating videos.
"We wanted to create some video content so we could build some brand awareness," says Julia. "We knew we could do well on camera: We had training for it." So the two began producing short, funny, educational videos on a variety of personal finance-related topics.
It was a pretty low-budget operation, with Philip learning how to edit videos and Julia writing short scripts. Early video uploads to Facebook and YouTube didn't see much engagement — but they did catch the attention of an old theater buddy of Julia's who was working on a show for PBS Digital Studios. He suggested they pitch a financial education show to the network, which distributes educational web video content through 20 YouTube channels reaching more than 22 million subscribers.
"A year and a half later — it took a lot longer than we thought — we had an executed contract for the show and started making it," Julia says.
In the beginning, though, it was a low-budget operation: They shot the video in a spare bedroom with a piece of paper tacked to a wall as a background. They had to buy and learn to use editing software.
But then the couple started working with Two Cents co-creators Katie Graham and Andrew Matthews, with whom they split the cost of producing a pilot episode. That debuted in January 2018, and covered "cars being a bad investment," Philip says.
But their efforts paid off. When the show's YouTube channel launched in September of that year, it took off — Philip says they topped 100,000 subscribers within a month or two. Now, more than two years later, "Two Cents" has produced more than 60 episodes that have collectively racked up more than 16 million views.
The series helps them tackle some of their clients' and viewers' most pressing issues and questions, like how to properly save and budget, what to do when the stock market crashes, and, most recently, how to survive an unemployment crisis like the one America is experiencing right now.
Empowering, accessible, and useful content seems to be exactly what audiences are looking for right now. "The ultimate goal is to serve as many people as we can," says Julia, "because I truly believe this work can help create a more generous and joyous generation of people."
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