SHOULD A FINANCIAL GURU BE DICTATING YOUR MONEY MATTERS?
Financial guru or not, the key thing is to find a method that encourages you to take action towards a more financially stable future.
Dave Ramsey, Mary Hunt and Suze Orman are a few of the finance superstars who offer tips on everything from how to save for retirement to when you should pay off your house.
They may have bestselling books behind them, but is it really smart to follow advice doled out by a TV or radio personality? According to some finance professionals with lower profiles, the answer is yes and no.
Budgeting by the Book: Good Advice for Those Starting Out
Dave Alison, founding partner and investment advisor at Prosperity Capital Advisors in Westlake, Ohio, says generic advice can be helpful to some people. “If you’re younger or just starting to save, there’s not a lot of danger in making a costly mistake,” he says.
The concepts of saving up an emergency fund, eliminating debt and putting money aside for retirement are almost universally accepted as sound financial practices. Alison says there is little harm from following this type of advice during what he calls the “accumulation” phase of life.
John Sweeney, executive vice president of retirement and investing strategies at Fidelity Investments, adds that the basic steps outlined by financial systems make it easy for people to build a solid foundation for retirement. “By and large, if people follow these action steps, they’ll be in pretty good shape when they reach retirement,” he says. Fidelity offers its own Retirement Roadmap program. Like the plans touted by famous financial personalities, Fidelity’s system suggests specific numbers for savings, expenses and investing.
When to Seek Personalized Advice
While generic financial advice has its place, it may not work for everyone. Alison advises personalized advice for people who fall into the 20-year period starting 10 years before retirement and ending 10 years into retirement. “There’s a lot of irreversible damage that can be done with poor advice given during that time frame,” Alison says. Deciding when and how to pull money from retirement funds can have serious tax implications, and generic advice can’t take into account a person’s tax situation, assets and legacy goals.
Sweeney likens financial planning to taking a cross-country trip. While everyone has the same destination, not everyone will get there the same way. “Sometimes you hit a traffic jam,” he says. “Sometimes you stop along the way.” Just as you might consult with a map, Sweeney suggests checking in for more personalized advice from time to time to make sure you are still heading in the right direction.
Those with significant income or assets can also benefit from personal financial advice. People who have unusual financial situations, such as compensation including stock options, may find it more helpful to sit down with a professional rather than try to manage their money based on the advice of a talk show host.
Some Say, Trust No One but Yourself
Of course, not everyone wants put the fate of their retirement into the hands of others. Some say no amount of planning can make up for an unpredictable stock market.
Michael Ellsberg, author of “The Last Safe Investment: Spending Now to Increase Your True Wealth Forever,” notes the S&P 500 index fund has averaged only a 1.5 percent gain each year for the last 16 years when you factor in inflation. He says that number isn’t anything to get excited about.
“For those who are more interested in succeeding, even if unconventionally, then I recommend ditching the generic advice which has failed so many,” Ellsberg says. “The best investment is not the stock market, with its high risks and meager returns, but rather it’s your own earning power.”
To that end, Ellsberg advocates that workers focus less on the advice of financial professionals and more on developing leadership, sales and networking skills. Those skills, he says, will help people create wealth greater than what can be found by relying on traditional investing strategies.
Find Your Preferred Way of Learning
While some, like Ellsberg, are not fans of the generic advice given by famous financial personalities, Sweeney argues they meet a need. “It’s trying to reach different people with different learning styles,” Sweeney says. Some people prefer to read about how to manage their finances and use tools like online calculators, while others would rather meet one-on-one to have their questions answered personally.
Celebrity financial advice might motivate some people to get out of debt and start investing, but it certainly won’t work for every situation. The key is to find the method that has you taking action for a financially secure future.
Maryalene LaPonsie is freelance writer who has been reporting on personal finance, retirement, higher education and insurance for more than seven years. You can connect with her on LinkedIn, circle her on Google+ or check out her personal website at The Mighty Widow.