Are you an expert? Do you rely on anyone else as an expert?
I was recently featured in GoBankingRates.com’s 12 Days of Finance poll to find the most popular personal finance expert.
I’m flattered to be listed in the poll.
But it’s crazy that I would even be on the same page with any of those folks. They each impact hundreds of thousands to millions of people on a daily basis.
So when I was asked to explain what makes my brand of personal finance advice different from the others, my answer was easy:
I don’t present myself as an expert.
My goal is that readers will be able to see themselves doing what I do and become inspired to take control of their own finances – ultimately becoming the expert of their financial life.
Here are my thoughts on expertise and some ways that you can be more proactive in becoming your own financial expert.
No License Required
You should know that it doesn’t require a degree or a special license to be your own expert. The CFP, CPA, and other designations (which many of the experts in the poll have) are helpful, but not required. I’m actually a CPA, but I can tell you from personal experience that being a CPA did nothing, by itself, to improve my financial life.
Sure, I picked up a bit of knowledge about business structures and retirement investing tools. But I still need to reference IRS guidelines before I make any financial moves. Ironically, the one thing that a CPA designation actually allows me to exclusively do – sign off on required public company audits – is something that has nothing to do with personal finance and something I’ll never do.
More importantly, a CFP or CPA designation do nothing for you when you can’t spend within your means or pay yourself first. These core concepts aren’t taught in school (I graduated with a Master’s in Professional Accountancy and I had credit card debt and no savings). You have to learn the core personal finance concepts through living.
It Can’t Be Completely Outsourced
It’s cliche at this point, but it’s called personal finance for a reason. At any given time, each of us in going through our own unique life situation and each of us has a different net worth. This is why it’s so important for you to become your own expert. Only you know the full extent of your financial situation. Only you can apply financial advice to your situation correctly.
My advice to buy and hold target date funds doesn’t apply to a widowed woman in her 60s. My advice to only own term life insurance doesn’t necessarily apply to someone who has a child with special needs that may need long-term adult care. There are countless examples of financial advice that only applies…if. Only by becoming your own expert can you appropriately decipher the financial headlines of the day.
You Are the Expert of You
An important part of becoming your own financial guru is learning (or accepting) who you are. What are your natural strengths and weaknesses? Does making extra money come easy to you? Are you prone to save all of your money vs spending it frivolously? Your financial decisions should be made honestly, with your strengths and weaknesses in mind.
Does this mean you should never rely on information from outside sources? Certainly not. I’m glad you’re here, perusing the pages of PT Money. I’d encourage you to check out other blogs, and the sites of those other experts. Read as many personal finance books as you can get your hands on. Take all of this information, vet it, and use it as a filter with which you view your own unique situation.
Expertise Takes Time and Consistent Action
The next step to becoming your own financial expert is gaining confidence in your decision making. This can only be accomplished through a series of actions. Try something! Open up the account. Apply for that rewards card. Get that insurance quote. These actions create awareness and momentum in your financial life.
“Doing something” is not always the answer to problems. But it’s certainly the answer to learning what to do when you encounter problems. In the 2007 Harvard Business Review article, The Making of an Expert, it was noted that:
“Consistently and overwhelmingly, the evidence showed that experts are always made, not born.”
It’s going to take time and a lot of action for you to become your own financial expert. But you are the only one that can fill the role properly. So you better get with it.
So what’s the secret? The secret is three-fold as I see it: (1) only you know the detailed ins and outs of your financial situation, (2) no one cares more about your money that you, and (3) all you need to do is keep learning and try new things!
Here’s to becoming your own personal finance expert!
The Best Financial Advice I’ve Ever Received
For the record, the best advice I ever received was “making savings automatic.” That’s been a big one for me. I’m a disciplined guy to some degree, but in my early to mid 20s I wasn’t saving enough.
For the most part I took what was left over at the end of the year and threw it towards a traditional IRA. I guess that’s better than nothing though. Still, I wasn’t contributing to a 401K, and I wasn’t building up a decent emergency fund.
The problem was that I was trying to rely too much on my on discipline to spend less, then take the leftovers and dump it into savings.
Sometime in my late 20s I started catching on to the idea of automating my savings contributions by direct depositing a percentage of my check into a separate account before I had a chance to spend it.
Who can I credit for kick-starting me on the road to automated savings? My Dad sure did tell me a lot about paying yourself first and dollar-cost averaging back in the day: two concepts that automation builds upon.
David Bach’s Automatic Millionaire also really took the concept to the next level for me, I think.
Since that time, my savings, both short and long-term has really taken off. I now contribute automatically to a Roth IRA and separate savings account for my various things, like our property taxes. My goals are being met by making savings automatic.
This post was a little more conceptual than the stuff I typically like to write so for those of you like me who like specific steps for taking action, here’s a big list I put together last January: 31 Days to Improve Your Financial Life.