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For your finances, getting organized can be the greatest challenge Thumbnail

For your finances, getting organized can be the greatest challenge

It’s a common nightmare: You walk into a classroom to take a test, sit down at the desk, and when you look down at the paper in front of you, you have absolutely no clue what you’re seeing. The topic. The material. Nothing. You panic…before waking up in a cold sweat.

Over a year ago, Susan called me asking for financial help. “The closer we get to retirement, the more we argue about money,” said the voice on the phone. “I’m scared. I don’t want to end up as a bag lady!” We made an appointment for Susan and her husband to some into the office for an initial meeting, and I asked her to bring their financial statements along to start the conversation. It seemed like we were off to a good start.

Then the day of the meeting arrived. My phone rang at 8:00 a.m. and Susan’s voice was even more desperate than before. “I think we have to cancel.” She sounded like she was almost in tears. “I’ve been trying to pull stuff together all week, and I can’t find what you need. I don’t know where to start.” I felt terrible. I realized I’d given Susan an assignment she was wholly unprepared to complete. She was living the nightmare.

When it comes to financial planning, the challenge of getting organized is as common as nightmares themselves. And unfortunately, it keeps people who need help as far away from a financial advisor as they can get. If you’re in the same boat as Susan, you might be thinking: “If I can’t even organize my finances, how can I ever hand it over to an advisor?” Or worse: “Any advisor will think I’m completely incompetent if they see what a mess I’m in.” So the fear of not being able to do it “right” and the fear of being judged stands in the way of getting help. Taking that first step can feel like climbing Mount Everest (including the lack of oxygen!), but knowing these facts can help:

Your finances are complicated.
You may feel they shouldn’t be, but they are. And unless you’re a financial planner yourself, you may not even know what all the pieces of the puzzle are—much less where they are.ideally in a concise, single-page overview) but you also don’t have to worry about the unknown any longer.

Procrastination is a killer.
As complex as your finances may feel today, the longer you wait to get help, the more complicated and out of control they’re likely to become. Don’t wait to clean out your files, pay off your debt, or put money in the bank before getting help. Woody Allen’s Alvy Singer stopped doing his homework was because: “The universe is expanding!...and someday it will break apart and that will be the end of everything…so what’s the point?!”And while I believe there is a point, he’s right: your universe is expanding. Next year you’ll have more assets (hopefully), more financial needs, and more complexity. Ten years from now, your challenges will be that much greater. Don’t procrastinate. Time is of the essence!

The older you are, the more help you may need.
Yes, finances often get more complicated with age, but there’s a bigger issue that comes with getting older. Unfortunately, the ability to understand and analyze your finances decreases with age. Even if you’ve always managed your finances in the past, as you (or your spouse) age, the task will inevitably become more challenging, and mistakes and misjudgments can happen more and more. It’s never easy to recognize changes in your abilities, but if managing your finances is getting harder, it’s time to ask for help.

There are only three prerequisites. (Hint: Being organized isn’t one of them!)
The only requirements for working with a financial advisor are 1) the desire to improve your financial health, 2) a basic understanding of how a financial advisor can help, and 3) a willingness to pay for that help. An advisor will help you make sense of your finances and then work with you to create a plan to help build your wealth and protect your assets in the future.

When Susan called that morning, it wasn’t difficult to calm her fears. “If you ask for directions to my office, what do you think my first question will be?” I asked. Without hesitation, she replied, “Where are you coming from?” Exactly. I assured her that to help her and her husband move forward, all I needed to know was where they were now. “Just bring what you have, and we’ll take it from there.” I could hear her sigh of relief. She didn’t have to live the nightmare after all.

Susan and her husband showed up that morning with three bulging boxes of files. But we didn’t start by diving in right away. Instead, we talked about the even more important and much more simple aspects of their financial lives: their ages and years until retirement, their children, their living situation, and their estimated savings. We discussed their goals for retirement, and what each of them felt would truly make them feel at peace financially. It was just the first step in the right direction.

Are you ready to take the first step toward a more solid financial future? Let’s schedule a time to meet. Bring your file boxes if you’d like, but the only thing you need to know for certain is that you need—and want—help.

Photo credit: Nels Highberg
Illustration credit: Carl Richards