Financial Life Focus

How to clearly navigate your financial life

THE Financial Conversation

Talking about money is rarely easy

Does just thinking about your money issues make you want to put your head in the sand? You’re not alone.

The conversation typically starts off with "I just couldn't avoid this any longer!" or "My __________(insert: Mom, Dad, Brother, Sister, Cousin, Pal, Boss, etc.) just_______(insert: died, was in a terrible accident, lost their job, retired, had a baby etc.) and it scared me. I think I need to do something!"

When I ask why they have waited so long to explore their options, I hear "I was waiting ________(insert: until I did my taxes, paid off my credit cards, changed jobs, felt more secure in my job, vernal equinox, etc.)” or "I didn't ______________(insert: know who to call, know who to trust, what to ask, have the time).”

The stories vary, but they hit some common themes:

1. We procrastinate.

2. We have a great deal of fear.

3. We are so consumed with life, career and family that there's simply no spare time.

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4. We feel overwhelmed by what we do not know about money and financial decisions.

As a financial life planner, I see the last one most often—people feel overwhelmed by their lack of financial acumen.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

There are four triggers to financial overwhelm that you can nip in the bud.

1. You have no financial education. Chances are you’ve learned the basics about money and budgets at some point in your life, but where are you getting your training in tax, investments, risk management, estate planning, college cost planning and retirement planning? Unless you have passed all the Certified Financial Planning courses, you probably haven't been exposed to enough information to make sound decisions in all these areas of personal financial planning. It’s not your fault and it’s more common than you would imagine: you are not the only one who doesn’t get it. Find yourself a fee-only planner who DOES have all that training and will partner with you to create your financial life plan.

2. You have a money history that has convinced you this is not your territory. What you heard about money growing up plays a huge role in your current thinking, even if you don't realize it. You may have grown up hearing that money is the root of all evil or rich people are bad. Or where money is used to provide security or nice things, or to help others. Your money history sneaks into your subconscious and resides there, guiding your adult beliefs, habits and decisions. You can—with some insight and guidance—rewire your money thinking for success.

3. You’re on information overload. Banks and brokerage houses are constantly touting their wares. The media fuels 24/7 yammering on Wall Street and the economy. The constant droning becomes nothing more than noise that can easily distract you from your overall picture of financial health and well-being. In order to get to what really matters for you, you’ll have to turn down the volume.

4. You don’t know whom to trust. Just like the dad bragging about his four-year old “genius”, everyone wants to believe that his/her broker holds some special, magical knowledge. But they don’t. And it’s also not about the hallowed mahogany walls, hedge fund sexiness or the cachet of the “Private Client Group” exclusivity either.  It’s about listening, understanding and the willingness to work through the obstacles that each situation invariably holds. Trust must be earned and relationships built. Where to start? Find yourself an advisor who has no conflicts of interest, charges a fee and holds to a “fiduciary” standard of care.

If any of this feels familiar, give yourself permission to move in the direction of your financial happiness.  Any financial planner who is serious and knowledgeable will make sure you don’t feel judged for what you don’t know.  A skilled, caring planner will listen, support, educate and help you work on the issues that are important to your financial wellbeing. 

Whether you have reached the point of maximum frustration or have been witness to a dramatic life event, starting THE financial conversation is an important step to greater happiness and life satisfaction.

Michael F. Kay, a Certified Financial Planner, practitioner and a CPA, is president of the firm Financial Life Focus.

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