I did it. I completed high school, graduated college, and landed my first job as a teacher. I learned everything that I was taught the best I could. I could speak Spanish, manage my meal plan to maximize its use, write a convincing cover letter, pump out essays like a well-oiled machine, and play a game of flag football without asking what the rules were. I was fully prepared for the life ahead of me.
Only not really.
Once I got into the “real world,” I quickly learned that although I knew how to save by simply keeping extra money in my bank account, I had no idea that inflation would outpace the interest I was receiving. I learned the hard way that car warranties don’t actually cover the entire car and that my school district employer’s retirement plan had a 5 year cliff-vesting schedule, meaning I was not entitled to any employer contributions until 5 years of service. I learned that after I had switched my job.
I also had no concept about the numerous insurance policies I would need and the costs associated with them. I knew I needed car and home insurance, but I also learned I needed to consider health insurance, short and long-term disability, and life insurance – not to mention the overwhelming amount of options within each type of insurance! It felt like the saying “more money, more problems” was ringing true for my life.
I was confused by how some people used their money to enhance their “happiness factor” in life, while for others, money was a contentious topic, and basically taboo to talk about. I began buying dozens of books and reading articles online. I called some relatives and friends’ parents to ask them for their financial advice. I wanted to figure out how people made talking about money acceptable and how it made their lives less stressful, rather than more.
Growing up, my family avoided talks about money. We usually brought it up only when there was a concern. Some family members advised me to not get a credit card because those would ruin my credit. Other friends advised me to save every penny I could because I’d thank myself later. Some people told me to avoid the stock market (I turned 18 just after 2008), and others told me that a house would be the greatest investment I would ever make.
When I began paying for myself and managing my own finances, I began to read up on articles online. I learned that credit cards can significantly increase credit scores under certain conditions and if used appropriately. I learned of banks that give 100x (not a typo) the interest rate I was receiving, which was the national average of 0.01%. I learned that I could continue accruing service years to reach the minimum 5 needed if I returned to work under my previous retirement plan. I learned that insurance companies with agents have higher overhead costs and thus higher premiums and that I could get 3x more insurance for cheaper elsewhere!
At the end of 2014, my now-husband proposed to me. This seemed to be an appropriate time for us to get some professional advice. We hired a fee-only CFP because we wanted someone who would not be incentivized to recommend one product or strategy over another and also someone who would be a fiduciary, which meant they would be held to the highest standard at all times. I researched how much financial planners cost, and I found a few that had no minimums for investable assets (some firms have $500,000 investable asset minimums, for example) and who charged based on income and net worth. I interviewed a few planners and found that I could receive basic service packages at around $1000/year and comprehensive financial planning for between $1,500-$2,500/year. My fiancé and I believed that the cost of receiving professional, unbiased, fiduciary advice was worth the prices we were quoted.
I quickly learned that the advice I received through most my life was through individual perspectives, much of which was in response to unfavorable experiences, such as accumulating credit card debt and then paying high interest on the debt. I now know that mismanagement of financial opportunities does not make the opportunity itself bad. Our financial advisor taught us the benefits and risks of every financial aspect of our lives. She taught us about insurance, investments, taxes, retirement, estate planning, and the details as to why buying a house is not a good financial decision simply by default. She also advised us on career moves and how that would affect student loan repayment strategies and how to create lives of purpose that would inform our financial choices.
With our advisor, we identified the best strategy of where to put our first $1,000 of savings, the next $10,000, and beyond. She explained to us financial instruments we had never heard of, but were available to use immediately! Some financial instruments we had heard of, but she explained how to maximize the benefits they provided.
I can say that for my husband, the peace of mind about our present finances, and for me, the peace of mind about our future finances is worth far more than the fee we paid our advisor. If I could change one thing about our experience of hiring a fee-only financial planner, I would have hired her much, much sooner.
If you’d like to find out more about fee-based financial planners near you, check out the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors.
(c) Autumn Campbell
Autumn Campbell, Candidate for CFP® Certification, joined Upperline Financial Planning in 2016 as a financial planning resident. She completed Southern Methodist University’s CFP Program and is now serving clients to help their finances match their values.