Awhile back I came across a New York Times article entitled, “Beware Advice That’s Generic.” It immediately grabbed my attention. “What’s wrong with offering advice that may apply to readers broadly?” If people mistake it as advice directed toward them specifically, it could end up being a disservice. Which brought up an even bigger issue, whose information and advice can you trust? How do we go about getting information that helps us make better financial decisions?
Here are four ideas that will put you on firmer ground when seeking and evaluating financial advice. First, take responsibility for your financial life by educating yourself. Second, selectively use just a few sources of information. Third, research specific topics. Lastly, establish a relationship, or two, with trusted financial professionals.
Taking more responsibility means educating oneself and is crucial to making better financial decisions. The ability to make informed decisions is predicated on having a knowledge base to draw from. Sorry if this sounds trite, but we often need to be reminded that no one cares as much about our money as we do. Commit to reading an article each week, or at least start with a goal you know you can achieve. Build from there.
Choose Information Resources Carefully
Selectively choose your sources of information. I would encourage people to avoid the television and radio, unless you have found a particular commentator worthy of your attention. There is frankly too much “white noise” being passed off as valuable information about the markets. Some people I respect call the financial media “financial porn.” It has an unfortunate ring of truth to it. And be wary of generic advice that doesn’t apply to your specific situation.
Focus on Specific Topics
Being selective means not only paring down quantity but also narrowing the focus of your information gathering. Pick a topic and research it, for example, learn about bonds, asset allocation or what an ETF (exchange traded fund) is. I personally like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal personal finance articles. There are many good sites on the web too.
Start a Relationship With a Financial Professional
While we do ourselves a favor by becoming better informed, we will inevitably need expertise beyond our own. Look at the role played by a family doctor. This person occupies a position of trust and provides advice on important health issues. But, he will not be the one doing your knee replacement. He will direct you toward reliable help.
Establishing a relationship with at least one financial professional, whom you trust, is as valuable as the family doctor. This person could be your banker, accountant or estate-planning attorney. Find out if one of these professionals knows a financial planner. Many planners offer free initial consultations. Subscribe to their newsletters. Find ways to get to know who they are and how they might help you.
People want sound bites and easy answers. But, in personal finance there are few easy answers and sound bites can lead you astray, if you are not careful. Educating ourselves is the best response to the skepticism and mistrust we might feel. Seek out a few good sources of information, focus on specific areas of learning and start to develop a relationship with a financial professional. Don’t wait until something happens and you are scrambling to find help. By taking all of these steps you will begin to trust your own knowledge and intuition and ultimately make better financial decisions.