In another lifetime, I lived and worked in Rome. It was quite an adventure and last week I returned to the city after an absence of some 30 years. Unfortunately for me, Thomas Wolfe is definitely right.

But notwithstanding the changes (all for the worst, I am afraid to say), I did come across a rather interesting set of circumstances surrounding a young couple who has set themselves specific business and personal financial plans. To say that they are on a wildly successful ride would be an understatement. Any financial planner hearing this story would indeed smile.

After meeting her husband, Alessandro Bisceglie, on a Roman holiday, American Elyssa Bernard moved to Italy and in 2001, the two of them opened the three-room Daphne Inn by Trevi Fountain. Since then, the accommodations have expanded to 15 rooms with another property acquired near the Via Veneto. Their plan is quite intriguing.

First, they rented the three rooms at the Trevi in a condo building. They decided that the emphasis would be on a sanctuary for the weary traveler after a day of running from site to site. So, they opted for no television, no radio, no phone -- nothing that would distract the visitor from a quiet, restful stay.

They divvied up their savings into three areas: renovation of the inn with the inclusion of specific items; a retirement plan; and, an everyday private living plan. The couple was in their late 30s when they embarked on this road.

Now, five years later, they have two places (both under long-term leases in private buildings) that are booked almost 52 weeks a year and have received exceptional praises from a number of different sources including top travel magazines, many of the prominent newspapers in the United States and England, and a No. 1 rating by Trip Advisor.

Where did their money go? They decided on a rather minimalist approach so that the rooms are adorned with unpretentious furniture, yet with top quality bedding, a modern bathroom, the latest in heating and air conditioning, and an obsessive emphasis on cleanliness. You could literally eat off the floors.

Instead of televisions and telephones, they offer guests cell phones on their arrival with emergency numbers cranked in, just in case the guest is either lost or is in need of something. Instead of check-in personnel, they decided to put their money toward obtaining key people who could serve as check-in, checkout, registration, money changing, and concierge...all in one.

That was one third of their income. Another third went to setting up proper estate, retirement and financial planning with a specific succession plan. The final third went toward their general daily living expenses away from the inns. Whatever income they derive from the inns they plow right back into them to add specific touches to their facilities such as expanded breakfasts (all for the price of the room), free wireless hookup, free use of computers, fluffy towels, top quality bed linen. "We focus on customer service, not on expensive lobbies and unnecessary extras," says Elyssa.

To cite one example, when a couple decided to drive to Florence from Rome and were uneasy about the traffic patterns of the city and how to get out of the it safely, Alessandro gave them a motorcycle escort to the city limits to send them on their way and Elyssa packed them a lunch.

Moreover, they make sure their bank account is equally funded for the future. This was all set in place by the time they turned 40.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did stay at the Daphne Inn Veneto and paid the full, normal rate. For more info, take a look at

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