4 Things a Financial Planner Thinks You Should Know

published Mar 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Joe Lingeman)

Think of the term “financial planner” and what comes to mind? Somebody in a suit talking about complicated money matters with somebody rolling in dough. Think again, according to Certified Financial Planner Professional Shannah Compton Game, host of the Millennial Money podcast.

I got to chat with Game about all things financial, and ask her my embarrassing money questions—which actually didn’t feel at all embarrassing with her.

Is it worth having a financial planner? How do you know if you should see one?

You might think financial planners are for wealthy people who already have their act together, so they can “build their portfolio.” But Game told me those of us who don’t have it together and who do struggle with money are among those who could benefit the most from seeing a financial planner.

“It’s great for everyone to at least once have somebody be their navigational guide, particularly if you don’t have a ton of excess cash,” Game said. It doesn’t have to be a huge deal. “The financial planning model is changing quite a bit so there are people now you can hire for an hour ‘pick my brain’ session so you’re not forking over thousands of dollars.”

That one hour would be enough to see if there’s a better way to allocate your money that you just can’t figure out, she said. “You don’t have to be wealthy.”

And for anyone really struggling, Game suggested looking for financial planning “pro bono days” in your community, where you can get some help looking over your finances with a certified financial planner, without paying a cent. Your local library is a great place to start; the New York Public Library, for instance, is having a financial planning day in April.

What’s the difference between a financial advisor and a certified financial planner?

“Financial advisor” can be used broadly to describe anyone who helps a client manage their money. Certified financial planners—often designated officially with the registered mark of CFP® in their title—are certified by the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Inc.

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What does a financial planner do?

Well, kind of like it sounds, they work with you to put together a financial plan. Game described how a financial plan begins as just a document where you outline the goals you want to achieve, like paying off debt or saving for retirement.

Those goals—and they can be small and big—then provide you and your planner with a roadmap for how to move your money to achieve them. “So many of us say, ‘my goal is to save for retirement,’ but how? How are you going to do that? The financial plan is action steps to get there,” Game said. Reaching those goals without a plan is like trying to get somewhere without a map or GPS, she added.

Now, do you really need a financial planner to come up with this plan? Not necessarily. “It’s something you can do yourself,” Game said. “But the beauty of a planner is it’s somebody who is trained in all of these different areas of finance that is looking in on your situation and can see things that you might not be able to see.”

Your financial planner can also be valuable as an outside perspective on your spending. If your goal is to save money to buy a house, for instance, and you’re finding it challenging to save enough for a down payment, your planner will start to look for patterns. “Let’s look at where your money is going. Let’s see if we can spot any trends. Let’s see if we can find that black hole of spending that we all have,” Game said. “A financial planner can help you spot those trends or areas of weaknesses that you just can’t see.”

When is the best time to see a financial planner?

While a financial plan will always be evolving (because things change!), Game said, there are a few key times it makes the most sense to see a planner.

“When you’re going through a life change—that’s the easiest entry point,” she said, “So getting married, having a baby, changing careers, getting a raise, starting a business, getting divorced, buying a house. Those bigger life changes are a great time to have somebody help you figure out how to tighten things up.”

Another great time? Right now, especially for anyone getting a tax refund. If you’re getting some money, Game said, “Save some, invest some, have fun with some. Use that cash infusion to propel you forward. If you leave it in your account it’s going to vaporize.”