His Close Encounter With Fame
As a child actor, Cary Guffey became an overnight sensation. Protected by his parents, his acting career lasted almost a decade and he now applies the financial lessons learned then in his current role as an advisor.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – It might not seem like a natural progression, but Cary Guffey is confident his Hollywood experience led him to a career in finance.
You often hear about film stars and former stars making one financial misstep after the next. However, Guffey learned at a relatively young age how important it is to manage money smartly and later parlayed that knowledge into a retirement planning role with PNC.
Guffey rose to stardom in 1977 at age 5 playing the role of Barry Guiler in the blockbuster sci-fi movie “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” His acting career, which began in preschool, spanned almost a decade. In his last major on-screen performance, he played the young Billy Hazard in the TV miniseries “North and South” in 1985.
Now 45 years old, Guffey works as a certified financial planner and financial advisor, joining PNC in 2012 as a result of the bank’s acquisition of RBC Bank USA.
As a preschooler in Douglasville, Ga., Guffey was classmates with the niece of the Close Encounters casting director Shari Rhodes. As Guffey tells it, the casting director spotted him one day in the classroom and said, “That’s him – the kid I want for the role.”
“It was dumb luck,” Guffey said. “I was in the right place at the right time.”
Guffey became an overnight sensation. Offers for roles in other major productions began to pour in, including one to play alongside Jack Nicholson in the R-rated “The Shining.”
“My parents turned it down,” he said about the role. “They said I couldn’t play in a movie I couldn’t watch.”
To Guffey’s parents, it was more important that he focus on his education and enjoying his childhood than succeeding in Hollywood.
“Acting was never a job for me,” Guffey said. “It was a hobby. I was limited in what Hollywood could offer and the time I could spend pursuing acting, largely because my only free time was in the summers when I wasn’t in school.”
Looking back, he is thankful Hollywood did not become his focus. He credits his parents for keeping him insulated from a Hollywood lifestyle.
“I feel very fortunate that my parents approached it that way,” he said.
Learning from Financial Mistakes
Thanks to his acting roles, Guffey “built up a little nest egg,” which helped pay for college.
“I gained an early appreciation for how money works,” he said. “But that doesn’t mean I didn’t make mistakes.”
Guffey recalled getting access to his savings when he turned 18 and feeling as if he had money to burn. He admitted to some frivolous spending but said it quickly became apparent that he needed to be smart about how he managed his finances.
He indicated that experience served as an impetus for getting into financial planning.
After graduating from University of Florida, Guffey earned an MBA from Jacksonville State University in Alabama.
He talks with clients about the pitfalls of retiring at a young age that many may not recognize, such as the cost of paying for health care, which constantly is increasing.
“Retirement is a personal decision for everybody. I have clients who are in their 70s but are still working because they enjoy it. At the same time, I have younger clients who are semi-retired and who are struggling to figure out where they fit in the world. There’s value in working.”
Guffey describes his professional role as “educator,” adding: “I have to teach people how to manage their money.”
While Patrick, 13, (left) and Griffin, 11, have not pursued acting, they frequent the nearby movie theater with mom, Michelle, and dad, Cary Guffey
Outside of work, Guffey spends the bulk of his free time entertaining his sons, Patrick, 15, and Griffin, 13, and enjoying life with them and his wife, Michelle. While neither son has followed him into acting, the family goes regularly to the movies.
“We live half a mile away from the theater and as you can imagine, with 13 and 15 year olds, we spend a fair amount of time biking or driving down to the movies,” he said, estimating they see one or two movies every month.
Asked if he misses acting, Guffey said he wouldn’t change the path his life has taken. He joked his acting career gave up on him as much as he gave up on it.
"Two things happened,” he said. “When you turn 12, suddenly you’re not as cute as you once were and Hollywood isn’t as interested. On top of that, other things — sports and girls, for instance — held my interest more.”
Cary Guffey thanks his parents for turning down an offer to be in a movie he couldn’t watch.
I don’t want the greatest thing I do in life to be something I did when I was four years old. I am trying to grow and develop all my gifts and talents, not trying to grow into a shirt that is too small for me.
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