If you go and seek out financial advice, you will find a lot of people ready to give you their opinion on the best thing to do with your money.
And they might actually have great advice that is sound, reasonable, and wise. The problem, however, is that it may or may not apply to you… and it’s not always easy to tell the difference.
Here’s the truth about financial advice: Without first taking the time to understand what it is you want, no one can give you the best financial advice for your situation.
That’s the big secret that most experts don’t want to tell you:
When it comes to financial advice, the right answer usually doesn’t come in the format of, “I know exactly what you should do, and it’s this.” At least, a direct, conclusive answer doesn’t come right away.
The real first answer anyone should give you, before digging deeper, is, “it depends.”
Financial Success Isn’t Dependent on One “Right” Answer
Telling someone “it depends” isn’t very flashy or sexy (which is probably why it’s rare to hear this from an expert or a professional).
It’s kind of boring. It might even be a letdown, considering the pros are supposed to have all the answers.
But the truth about financial advice is that it is the best answer you can give someone until you understand their:
- Goals and values, and what matters most or what they want more of in their life
- The priority order of all they want to accomplish
- Specific challenges that need to be overcome, and any opportunities to take advantage of
Only with that kind of context can you then take a look at the financial reality — a balance sheet, cash flow statement, net worth, specific equity or assets, and so on — and begin mapping out a plan to make the best money moves for that specific person and their desires.
Notice that what motivates you, or what you want, or how you want your life to look is what leads the way with financial planning.
The numbers matter, and yes, you have to pay attention to the fundamentals of good money management.
But beyond the basics that you probably already know (like paying down debt, building up savings, and investing wisely), the path you choose can’t be determined by someone else.
You need to know what you want and articulate that to a financial expert who can then engineer you a plan to get it.
The Truth About Financial Advice: It Doesn’t Really Matter What Path You Choose
Here’s another secret most people who want you to see them as the end-all, be-all experts don’t want you to know:
It doesn’t matter what you do.
Seriously! You have endless options for what you could do with your finances, your time, your life.
(Which is why one of the real values in hiring a professional to help you is not in having them tell you what they know: it’s having someone to guide you through the process of choosing from endless options!)
Of course, your choices have consequences and someone helping you to build a financial plan should walk you through the tradeoffs, opportunity costs, downside risks and potential upside rewards, and more.
“It doesn’t matter what you do” doesn’t mean you can just do whatever you want and things will be fine.
What it means is that most people tend to focus on the wrong thing when it comes to making financial decisions.
The precise path you choose doesn’t matter so much as whether or not you deliberately, mindfully made that choice.
The specific action doesn’t matter so much as whether or not you took an action at all — because you can always iterate from there, but you can’t build on something you never do.
The exact goals you set or things you decide to pursue don’t really make or break you on a path to financial success… it’s whether or not you set goals that matters to you. That you valued, and wanted to achieve in your life.
Once you decide what it is you truly want to do (which is incredibly hard and something most people ignore because it is hard to do that kind of honest soul-searching), there’s another pitfall you need to avoid:
People also fail to spend the time necessary to develop a vision and them commit to it.
Only once you understand what it is you even want for your life — and are willing to commit to making it happen — can you effectively back into, “what’s the best financial move for me to make here?”
It’s reverse engineering.
Knowing what you want and identifying what’s most important to you is the biggest, most critical step in the whole financial planing process.
It’s also the hardest thing to do, and something that most “financial experts” aren’t equipped to help you handle because they’re only thinking about the numbers.
Again, the numbers are critical. None of this means you should ignore opportunities and advice that could help you optimize the financial moves you make.
But what you can input on a spreadsheet (assuming you can accurately assess the value of intangible things that are hard to quantify but are no less important than any other piece of this puzzle) is only a single component of a truly comprehensive, well-designed financial plan that will work for you and get you to where you want to be with your wealth and your life.
It’s Your Choice That Makes All the Difference
Let’s say you know what you want. You’ve evaluated the options ahead of you; you understand the costs and benefits, risks, and rewards, opportunities and trade-offs.
How do you decide?
Here’s one last secret, one last truth about financial advice you should understand: you just pick one.
When we face “hard decisions,” they feel hard not because they are inherently difficult to make.
They feel hard because we’re choosing between equally-good options. There’s no clear-cut answer, and when that is the case, what’s most important is not “getting it right.”
Because there is no one path that is objectively correct, making all others wrong.
What’s important is what you choose, because you chose it. It’s your choice that makes all the difference.
Want more financial advice you can actually use? Check out Beyond Your Hammock, a fee-only financial planning firm that specializes in helping 30- and 40-somethings get clarity and start building wealth.