Friday, October 21, 2011

A Word About the Financial Planner Dude

I know I've mentioned him here before and how I've known him for a long time though I only recently started using him professionally. You might be asking, "What are you doing spending what little money you have on this dude?" Well, I questioned that myself a time or two. That is, until I actually started meeting with him.

It goes beyond him giving me such "advice" as "Don't spend. Save." Sure, that's part of it, but it's only a small part. He's helping me consider my psychological and emotional relationship with money. Why I panic when it comes time to spend money. The other thing is accountability. Much like this blog was when I was $20K+ in debt, having him gives me someone to answer to.

Mind you, he's also been helpful. He helped me redistribute my retirement fund through work, which has saved me a fair amount of money given the swings in the market. I've now also got a Roth IRA. And he's helping me see the bigger picture (and relax about it) instead of obsessing about the short term.

Despite all that, though, I debated about paying for another year. Now that I've got things in place, I wondered if I needed it. But since I have literally no one else in my life who knows a thing about money, I figured I'd at least do his minimum service -- basically I pay half his full rate and have fewer visits during the year. But given the low complexity of my financial situation, that shouldn't be a problem.

So when I went in yesterday, I had prepared myself for him to persuade me to do at least another year at the full rate. But no. In fact, he didn't even discuss that issue until the very end, and when it did come up, he reminded me that I was absolutely under no obligation. I told him that I understood that. And then I told him that given how simple my situation is, and considering the amount of money I'm dealing with (very little, I'm sure, compared with what he's used to working with), that maybe the minimum service would be better.

Which, he said, was exactly what he was going to recommend, and for those same reasons. It made me feel good knowing that he wasn't trying to take advantage of me and it just confirmed that he has my best financial interests in mind. And it feels good having someone with his knowledge on my side, especially as I get older and my needs change.

Be the Turtle

I met with my financial adviser yesterday. I hadn't talked to him since summer, before I received my home buyer credit. Back then I had this notion that by October, I'd have a good $10,000 in the bank -- after buying my couch. So it was humbling when I went in yesterday with my paltry $5,500.

I'm still not sure what happened. Sure, there was the couch. And I paid off the mattresses. There were the unexpected car repairs, from both the accident and the battery problem (which was confused for a starter problem, causing me to spend $$ for two repairs). And I've bought a little of this, a little of that for the condo: good-quality covers for the balcony furniture, a trunk to hold my gardening stuff (and the materials to help weatherproof it), funded my HSA to pay my copays, and so on and so on.

So. Yeah. Not $10,000. $5,500.

But I'm still debt free. And that's a big thing. Mind you, I have used my credit cards, but I pay them off every month.

My planner, Ted, is awesome, though. He didn't balk at the amount or reprimand me for not having what I had thought I'd have. Rather, he reminded me of my accomplishments: I've remained debt free, I opened a Roth IRA and started funding it this year,  and I've maintained my savings. He thinks I'm in good shape.

In fact, he said, he wants me to loosen up and stop freaking out every time I have to spend a significant amount. He's concerned about my psychological and emotional relationship with money, the anxiety I feel when it comes to letting the money go. For example, my computer is old and needs to be replaced: the disk drive doesn't work, I can't use it without the power cord because the battery is so old, and it picks and chooses when I can use the "P" key. Likewise, my cellphone is about 8 years old. Parts are actually starting to fall off of it, and it no longer allows me to make calls when I go visit my parents. But I keep delaying these purchases.

We talked about that at some length, and he was very patient. His worry is that by my putting off a few occasional purchases out of fear of spending the money, I will be hit down the road with having to spend a much greater amount of money when I have to replace a lot of things. Go ahead and take care of these things incrementally, when I can and not when I have to. Take care of the computer and cellphone now, he said, and next fall I can focus on getting more furniture for my place. When I grimaced at his advice to get the computer now, he laughed. "Most people would be thrilled for their financial adviser to tell them to go buy a new computer." He told me I can afford it, and it's also about my quality of life.

"You're in a good position to do it," he said. I told him that I didn't feel like I was, that the market was doing crazy things and that it didn't seem like anything was changing, no matter what I did or how much I saved. He basically told me to chill. The way we've structured my investments benefits from volatility, so when things start to level off -- be it 18 months from now or three years from now -- the balances are going to take off. "You'll be amazed. We're going to look back and you're going to say, 'Remember when I was complaining about my balances!'"

In the end, he said, I'm in good shape. I need to relax. I need to stop rushing things. "It's like the story of the tortoise and the hare. Slow and steady wins the race."