Managing your money is not rocket science. Many argue that much of it is just common sense. And so much has been written, broadcast, and podcast about it that you’d think any reasonably intelligent person could figure out the rest. So why would anyone – much less a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®) – pay for financial advice instead of taking a do-it-yourself (DIY) approach? I’m a CFP® who does just that, and I’m not the only one.  Here’s why.

Competency

As a new financial advisor, the first piece of advice I got from veteran CFP®’s was “Hire your own financial advisor.” The reason was much the same as it’s said that an attorney who represents himself has a fool for a client. The law has become an arena so broad and so deep that most attorneys have to specialize to be effective. This doesn’t leave much time to keep up with other practice areas.  And as the law and culture evolve, so do best practices.

It’s similar for CFP®’s. Anyone holding the designation has to have a firm grasp of everything from cash flow to taxes to investing to estate planning and beyond. But maintaining expertise across the board is a daunting task, prompting most to specialize.

In my case, I am a former engineer versed in investment math concepts like standard deviation.  That plus a CFP® education should more than qualify me to select individual securities such as stocks and bonds. However, I have neither the time nor, frankly, the inclination to do all that’s required to do that job well.

Fortunately, myriad Chartered Financial Analysts (CFA’s) and others make it their full-time job to assemble diversified portfolios. I’m more than happy to pay for that expertise.

Access to the Best Resources

These days, I’m a writer. Although I maintain my CFP® certification, I don’t practice financial planning on a daily basis.  So I no longer have ready access to the latest and greatest people, tools, and information needed to get reliable money answers.

Sure, there are plenty of answers out there. If you Google “how much homeowners insurance do I need,” you get 1.24 million links to articles, calculators, videos, etc., in .37 seconds.  The perfect answer might lie within, but good luck finding it in the sea of too much information (TMI).

“The reality is one size does not fit all,” says Alexandra Cock, JD, CLP, founding principal of Wealth Plus, Inc., San Rafael, CA. “And the need to get help is greater now than even a decade ago because there’s so much more information available. How do you parse through it to know what’s true?”

In financial planning, there are no cookie cutter answers, and the devil is in the details.  Maybe it’s not rocket science, but this stuff can get pretty complicated. And the stakes are high.

Take, for example, the plight of homeowners affected by last year’s Northern California wildfires. A survey by non-profit United Policyholders puts the portion of underinsured at 66%, adding widespread financial devastation to the personal losses wrought by the fires. Cock surmises that the cause is threefold:

  • use of inadequate tools for calculating replacement costs,
  • infrequent review of homeowner policies,
  • distaste for higher premiums.

“The instinct to save money is totally understandable,”she notes.“But there are ways to reduce insurance costs without incurring so much risk.”

That’s why I don’t DIY when it comes to property and casualty insurance, or for that matter, income tax and estate planning.  There’s simply too much benefit to working with specialists. These people deliver better answers faster by using time-tested procedures, robust software, in-house experts, and professional networks, as well as the insights that come from years of tackling similar cases.

Objectivity

No matter what your field, it’s hard to give yourself unbiased advice. “Professional objectivity may be compromised when… the physician is the patient,” according to the AMA Code of Medical Ethics. “The physician’s personal feelings may unduly influence his or her professional medical judgment.” Any Grey’s Anatomy binge watcher could have told you that. Still, I failed to accept that the same forces hampering Meredith, Derek, and the rest of the gang would plague my efforts to do my own financial planning.

That is, until recently when I was on the phone with the Enrolled Agent (EA) doing my taxes. Then I heard myself resisting her advice, which was – almost word for word – the exact same argument I’d made to clients in the past. After having a chuckle at my own expense, I thanked my lucky stars for hiring her instead of going DIY.

Accountability

I am also grateful to my EA (and her relentlessly persistent software) for shepherding me through tax season. If the cobbler’s kids wear no shoes – or the CFP®’s finances are in disarray – it may have nothing to do with competency, access, or objectivity. It might just be good old-fashioned procrastination.

In that case, a little accountability is a wonderful thing. There’s nothing like being pushed by someone with a checklist of milestones and a reminder app set on repeat. So, yes, I am admitting I pay someone to nag me. That’s because I know myself and I know the opportunity costs associated with ill-timed money tasks.

And nowhere are the costs more easily quantified than in the realm of investing. “Self-directed investors net at least 3% less per year than those who utilize proper professional advice. Yes 3%!” says Lewis Chamberlain, AIF™, CIS, with Next Level Investment Management in Redding, CA. According to a 2014 Wall Street Journal article he references, “quality investment advice boosts the value of an investment portfolio 79% over a lifetime.” Why the gap?

Industry research firm Dalbar “cites irrational behavior as the primary cause for chronic return shortfall,” according to Chamberlain. “A long list of classic psychological factors like loss aversion, narrow framing, anchoring, mental accounting, herding, and media response cause investors to skip or short-cut prudent practices,” he adds. In other words, having a firm grasp of investing mechanics pales in comparison to managing human nature, a job that’s exceptionally hard to DIY.  

Just Do It (But Not By Yourself)

If you do the math, you can’t escape the obvious conclusion. There are some things worth paying for, and objective, professional financial advice is one of them. So feel free to ignore the endless cultural messages about how much you can save if you DIY and get the help you need.  That doesn’t mean abdicating your responsibility as primary steward of your personal finances. Whether you’re a CFP®, doctor, lawyer, or Indian chief, it just means making sure you’re surrounded by the expert guidance you need to make the most of your money.


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Sherrill St. Germain

Sherrill St. Germain

Sherrill St. Germain, MBA, CFP®, is a freelance writer specializing in financial independence. A former fee-only planner, she brings a decade of financial planning experience to content she develops for financial professionals, publications, and her blog TheFISide.com Follow Sherrill St. Germain on Twitter.