Due to the nature of my profession, I am solicited for financial advice in all aspects of my life from all types of people. Similar to a doctor who gets asked about symptoms at birthday parties, people often ask for my opinion or input on financial matters, particularly investing. As most doctors will tell you, it’s hard to give advice when you don’t know the particulars.
However, if someone is really eager or serious for guidance on investing, I will suggest that they do their homework. The information they’re looking for isn’t found on the stock exchange or the Finance section of a newspaper. Most times, the information you need to start with is found a lot closer than you would expect.
The first thing to take into account are your financial goals. As I’ve mentioned before, being aware of your financial “why” can highlight good habits, change inefficient patterns, refocus priorities and ultimately develop a plan to help you achieve your financial freedom. Therefore, you need to be specific. Do you want to retire in 30 years? Perhaps you want to buy a house in five years or start a business in two. In these scenarios, your goals act as targets, and with the help of a good financial planner, you can develop an action plan with measurable steps to incrementally achieve them.
Another thing to be aware of is your risk tolerance. This isn’t a measure of whether you like to bungee cord jump or skydive. Rather, this is an indication of how much volatility in your investments you are comfortable with. This is something that needs to be determined for the individual as well as the household. Risk tolerance is a very personal indicator, and there are times that couples don’t see eye to eye. When new clients come in, we have them complete a risk tolerance questionnaire to not only to see how individuals may or may not be working together but to also figure out the most effective plan to achieve their goals. The last thing we want you to do is tackle investments that won’t achieve your goals in a timely.
As you can tell, these items are all very personal. What you’re saving for, how long and hard you’re willing to work towards your goals, and what your income and lifestyle needs are, both current and future, will all be factors in planning how to invest. I bring this up because so many clients come in referring to the advice their friends, neighbors or coworker gave them. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m all for educating one’s self. Let’s discuss your options. But please don’t think that investing in what your child’s Little League coach is investing in is automatically the best option for you.
Let me put it another way. I’ve been athletic all of my life, playing high school and college baseball and an avid golfer. Knowing that, I’m not going to start a new exercise regime with a leisurely walk around the block or bench pressing 400 pounds. It’s not that I don’t believe these fitness goals are valid – they’re just not valid for me. The same idea can be applied to your finances. If any of the factors I’ve mentioned are not aligned, you may discover that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and that you need to be wary of the barb wire in between.
I know it sounds odd, that investing should be more complicated. But the truth is knowing your financial self is much important than knowing the stock market when you first start investing.