In March, a couple of weeks after the stock market had plummeted to what would turn out to be its low point for the past decade, financial advisors David Yeske and Elissa Buie felt they needed to counter the mass hysteria by reaching out to clients. So they sent out an e-mail.

The message, however, didn't have anything to do with the Dow Jones index or the importance of sticking to modern portfolio theory during difficult times. They didn't talk about investments. They hardly mentioned money.

What they sent was a list of things clients could do that, in fact, didn't cost much money at all-a manifesto called "Live Big" that explains how to live on a frugal budget. "Live Big is not about the size of your wallet; it's about the size of your life," the advisors said in the e-mail. "In these crazy economic times, it can sometimes be difficult to remember the areas in our life where we can Live Big without spending (much, if any) money."

What followed was a list of about two dozen fulfilling, yet cheap, things that clients could spend their time doing. Walk a dog-even if you have to borrow one. Write someone an "old-fashioned" letter. Watch a thunderstorm. Donate blood. Hug someone.
It could have been viewed as a somewhat risky e-mail. It's not typical, after all, for a financial advisor to tell his clients to go walk the dog at a time when their life savings are eroding.

But the reaction turned out to be overwhelming-in a positive way. Clients became so engaged by the list that they offered activities of their own. Soon after, a writer at BusinessWeek got wind of the list and wrote about it in a blog, leading to further responses.
The number of activities on the "Live Big" list has since grown to more than 60.

The list turned out to be something liberating, both for the clients and for Yeske and Buie themselves. The underlying message: Yes, money is important, but not as important as living life to the fullest and appreciating the precious things that money can't buy.

Buie describes it as almost a return to a Depression-era mentality. "I think the nerve we struck was the feeling people get when they do in fact have control over major parts of their life, even when it seems the external world is coming apart at the seams," she says.

More Than Money
Like many of Yeske Buie Wealth Management's 192 clients, Penelope Williamson of Mill Valley, Calif., feels comfortable with the amount of money she's put away for retirement, but not to the point where she's oblivious to market performance.

Like a lot of people, Williamson was concerned about the plummeting stock market last year. She reached a point where she purposely avoided the daily financial news. But the "Live Big" list she got from Yeske Buie, she says, helped her keep a healthier perspective.

"For a while, things were scary and it was easy to get caught up in the bad news reports," says Williamson, a professional writer whose novel, The Outsider, was made into the movie with the same title in 2002. "I stepped back and realized the most important things in life aren't in a stock portfolio or in the bank."

The list, she says, reinforced attitudes she held before the financial crisis. Williamson says she grew up in a military family that was frequently relocating and selling a lot of its possessions in the process. It was a lifestyle that didn't leave much room for materialism, she notes.

"I spent my life easily giving things up. I think that's a healthy attitude to have," she says.

She's been a Yeske client for 15 years and credits him with sticking to a long-term plan with her investments. Williamson still recalls his adamant refusal to move assets into risky technology equities during the dot-com boom in the late 1990s. "He kept saying they were overvalued and had no product, and he turned out to be right," she says.

Ann Rutherford, a retired corporate administrator, feels the "Live Big" list has resonated with Yeske Buie clients like her because the firm's advisors encourage clients to pursue the goals that will make them happy. "They have a wonderful philosophy of focusing on the individual and investing in a personal relationship with each of their clients first-and looking at money second," says Rutherford, who lives in Arlington, Va.

She enjoyed the "Live Big" list so much she made additions of her own, recommending, for example, that people should read stories to their children or grandchildren. Rutherford says as long as she can live comfortably and be surrounded by her friends and loved ones, her life goals have been achieved.

"My priorities are a little different than most people in that those I love [are] all that's important to me," says Rutherford, a three-time cancer survivor. "David and Elissa allowed me the income to retire and be with those I love."

Robin St. Clair, an executive with a West Coast aerospace company, took the "Live Big" list and ran with it. She added about a half dozen of her own favorite activities: cleaning out the closets and donating unused items to the poor, volunteering at a homeless shelter or soup kitchen and teaching a class of 3- to 5-year-olds.

St. Clair decided that when her family got together for photos this year, they would all do it on their own with digital cameras, rather than going to a professional studio. That day, she says, turned out to be enormous fun. "I'm in line with their philosophy anyway, so it wasn't a big change," she says of Yeske Buie's mailing.

She recalled, with a laugh, one of Yeske's monthly newsletters that she received in the midst of the stock market decline. The heading of the mailing read simply, "Don't Look."

"Their philosophy is very synergistic with mine," she says. "I'm not into getting hung up on things we can't change. I like to stay focused on doing what we can to be positive."

The 'Live Big' Philosophy
The "Live Big" philosophy didn't just start with the list mailed out in March. The philosophy reflects the approach both Yeske and Buie used as planners before they merged both as business partners and as husband and wife.

Yeske started his business on the West Coast back in 1990 while Buie had been an advisor since 1983 and started her own firm in 1993. Both had held prominent positions in the advisory field and served as chairmen of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) by the time their parallel career paths eventually intersected into a personal relationship and then marriage in 2006. Many people thought it a no-brainer that they would merge their firms, which they did two years later. But in fact, Yeske says, it was one of the biggest risks of their professional lives.
"We did it in spite of the fact that we were married," he says with a chuckle.

After all, both had spent years building up their own businesses, and both had their own clear visions about how things should be done. In fact, both have retained their original offices. Buie spends most of her time in the firm's Vienna, Va., office while Yeske splits his time between Virginia and the firm's offices in San Francisco. The ultimate plan, however, is to settle into a home in the latter city. "Let's face it-it's always a challenge to work with your spouse, especially when each fill a lot of space in a room and like to be the center of attention," says Yeske, eliciting laughter from Buie.

Nonetheless, they went ahead with the merger because they shared, as Yeske put it, "a comparable if not identical philosophy with respect to financial planning." That philosophy, they say, is grounded in the belief that financial planning fundamentally changes lives.

"It was always the cornerstone of our individual firms," Buie says.

The "Live Big" tagline was adopted when they founded their firm on January 1 of this year. The message was that Yeske Buie Wealth Management was interested not only in helping clients with their money, but also with their ability to use money as the fuel for achieving their dreams. "It was not about living big in a gross way, but living big as in living a rich, full life," Buie says.

One reason it probably struck a chord with clients is that Yeske Buie's client base represents a mix of wealth levels. Their average client has between $1.5 million and $5 million, but many clients have less while some have as much as $20 million under the firm's management.

They also shared the belief that investment management should be conducted scientifically and that the investments should be serving the goals identified by the clients with the firm. The firm relies heavily on ETFs and index funds and on products offered by Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA).

The client portfolios typically tilt toward value and small-cap equities (an investment approach influenced by the research of Eugene Fama and Kenneth French) and are managed with a heavy emphasis on strategic rebalancing and tax-loss harvesting. "We still believe in this notion of market efficiency," Yeske says.

That strategy also meant, however, that when the market fell in the fall of 2008, so did client accounts, with diversification providing little protection in the broad downturn. Yeske Buie was determined to stay the course. But to relieve the stress clients were enduring, the couple beefed up communications with them, making more phone calls and spending a lot of time explaining their thinking. "During the worst of the crisis, we found that the feedback from clients was [that] it made them feel better," Buie says.

One of their messages was to remind clients that, despite the losses, they were invested more heavily in securities that would do better than the general market in an upturn-and this has helped clients enjoy market-beating returns during the recent recovery.

Yeske says the Live Big list, which arose out of this "beehive of activity," was largely the brainchild of his wife. Buie says the list was a natural outgrowth of the philosophy the firm has been trying to preach, which was "never about money anyway."

The original list contained many of the things Yeske and Buie were doing to tighten their own belts. More got added when Buie passed it out at a family gathering. Then it was sent out to clients and took on a life of its own.

Yeske and Buie have been putting the list to use in their own lives. Yeske says the list made them aware of the use of home exchanges for vacationing, and the couple used an exchange to save costs on a one-week London vacation. "We preached and then turned into the choir and did some of it ourselves," he jokes.

John Charnon, whose San Francisco-based firm helps attorneys set up their own law firms, says he was well acquainted with the "Live Big" philosophy even before the list was mailed out. Yeske has been his advisor for about a dozen years, during which time, Charnon says, many of their discussions have been about things other than money, including life goals and what Charnon wants to do after retirement.

Although he lost roughly 32% of his retirement savings during the financial meltdown, Charnon, 69, says he's already recovered much of the loss and feels secure about his retirement-whenever it happens. "I don't have immediate plans to retire because things are going so well for me," he says. "My attitude is, keep on sailing and see where the wind takes me."

Expressing a similar view are Dick and Mary Jane Gantzler, a couple from Williamsburg, Va., who retired in 2006. "In regards to the list, that's how we live our lives anyway," Dick says.

In the case of the Gantzlers, who have been clients of Buie since their retirement, they haven't had to make any lifestyle changes as a result of the financial crisis, despite the fact that they did decide, on the recommendation of Yeske Buie, to slightly reduce their withdrawals.

The important thing, they say, is they have enough money to enjoy life. For Dick, a retired executive at an executive search firm, that means playing five and a half rounds of golf a week, in addition to his hobby of crafting and repairing golf clubs for both himself and friends.

"I don't charge for labor," he notes, also adding that he recently started a chess club in his community and is playing online chess with opponents in Poland and Austria.

Mary Jane, meanwhile, is busy with her favorite crafts, including quilt-making. They also both take classes at the College of William & Mary. Mary Jane recently took a course on the history of circuses, while Dick is attending a course on comparative religion.

"We tend to live fairly frugally. We're not extravagant people," Dick says. "The key to us is doing the things we want to do."

The 'Live Big' List
A sampling of activities for a frugal, yet fulfilling, lifestyle.
Start a gratitude journal-every morning or evening, write down five things for which you are grateful.
Read all those books you've been collecting while drinking all that tea that has accumulated in your cupboard.
Get Skype and call friends all over the world.
Write a poem, or at least read one.
Continue to make your charitable contributions.
Watch It's A Wonderful Life or Love Actually or some other super feel-good movie.
Make a game out of cooking dinner for a week using only ingredients found in your pantry or freezer (adding fresh vegetables).
Have a book swap party.
Write a letter to a soldier.
Join Netflix and watch hundreds of movies.
Teach a teenager to balance a checkbook.
Listen to music.
Make a hobby out of finding free weekend activities and planning outings with family friends.
Feed someone's parking meter.
Pay a true compliment to someone who annoys you.
Visit monuments and museums in your area.
Discover a new park. Go for a hike.

Source: Yeske Buie Wealth Management