By Alden Wicker
If you have an appointment to meet with a Certified Financial Planner™, you may be feeling a mix of emotions ranging from excited, hopeful or even anxious about what could happen on that first big date to discuss your finances.
One way to ease your mind: Do everything that you can to be fully prepared. And we’re not just talking about organizing all of your tax returns, bank statements and investment account info.
There are actually several experts and smart strategies that can help smooth the path—and boost your confidence—for a successful money talk with a financial adviser. From consulting a credit counselor to familiarizing yourself with your financial weak spots, these nine to-dos can prime you for a productive sit-down with your planner.
Step #1: Talk to HR About Your Benefits
One thing that you can be sure your financial planner will talk about? Retirement. “Surprisingly, I’ve found that there are a lot of people who have no idea what their retirement match even is,” says Katie Brewer, a CFP® with LearnVest Planning Services. “So it’s a good idea to spend some time figuring out what you already have in place when it comes to your benefits.” That includes retirement matching, of course, but also life insurance, health-care benefits and HSAs, to name a few. And it’s easy to do: Just place a call to your HR department contact.
Step #2: Get a Grasp on Your Money Weak Spots
Brewer also appreciates when clients already know what some of their financial weaknesses are in advance of that first financial planning session. This way, she can spend less time playing detective and more time strategizing with someone to help mitigate the damage.
So what’s one of the best—and easiest—ways to go about this? Brewer recommends reviewing a few months’ worth of bank account statements to pinpoint any troublesome trends. “It allows people to help identify a weak spot, like emotional shopping or habitually sending money to a relative,” she says.
Step #3: Sync With Family Members
Your loved ones can have a big impact on your financial goals and potholes. For example, have you discussed with a spouse how much of your child’s education you plan to fund? Does Alzheimer’s run in your family? Have your parents saved enough for retirement or will they need your financial support? All of these things will determine how much you need to save—and how. “If you can think of these issues beforehand, your adviser can then better plan around them,” Brewer says.
Step #4: Work Out Money Issues With a Partner
Fighting with a significant other over finances? To a degree, a financial planner can help you sort through your sticking points, such as disagreements over joint budgeting and saving. “Couples who have conflict may need a financial planner to get an interpretation of what their numbers mean,” says Susan Zimmerman, a chartered financial consultant, licensed marriage and family therapist, and author of “Mindful Money for Wealth and Well-Being.”
But do your CFP a favor and have a one-one-one conversation with your partner before you get on the phone. “Talk about what works well in your financial life, as well as in your communication about your money,” Zimmerman says. “Think about not just the problems that you’re bringing, and the challenges that you have faced, but also what your strengths are—as individuals and as a couple.”
However, if you’re getting into extreme fights over money, finances may just be a proxy for deeper issues. So it might be helpful to see a couples counselor before treating your CFP to a screaming match. “I’ve been part of the unfortunate experience of couples arguing while I’m on the phone with them,” Brewer says.
Step #5: Digitize Your Documents
This is by no means necessary, but it could definitely help to streamline your first session with a planner. “If somebody wants to get organized, and they don’t have a system in place, it helps them feel in control,” Brewer says. “And the more in control they feel, the better they will feel about working with a financial planner.”
Digitizing isn’t just a method for clearing out space on your desk, either—it can also make your financial planning sessions go faster. Case in point: When your CFP asks what your renter’s insurance covers, you can quickly pull up the paperwork and tell her. As an added bonus, you can back up important documents in a cloud service, so if your computer dies, you’ll still have access to them.
Step #6: Seek Out a Financial Therapist
A Certified Financial Planner™ is a great resource for running the numbers for you—and can even give you pep talks and strategies for how to help get a handle on financial faux pas, like overspending. But some issues that cause chronic under-earning, marital money conflicts and emotional- or stress-induced spending run deeper.
So if you know that you need to save $1,000 a month, but you keep throwing it away on late-night Internet shopping sprees, that’s when a financial therapist—a licensed professional tasked with helping people understand the emotional and psychological reasons that lead them to make bad money decisions—can get to the root of your overspending.
Step #7: Talk to a Credit Counselor
If you’re swimming in debt, a great move for your money may be to consult a credit counselor—who can create a plan to help pay down your debt for free—before you meet with a financial planner. It’s important to note that a credit counselor doesn’t replace the services of a CFP, but simply supplements them by devising a debt repayment plan that will free up more money to put toward retirement, savings and other future goals when you do meet with a financial planner. To find a reputable credit counselor, check out NFCC.org.
Step #8: Meditate
“When I get on the phone, I tell people that this is just a benchmark, with no judgment,” Brewer says. She also encourages clients to forgive themselves for past mistakes, opening them up to work on what they have today.
The same can be said of meditation, which can also help you purge bad feelings, leaving space for positive progress. “Meditation clears the mind,” says Catherine Tingey, a meditation instructor based in Santa Monica, Calif., who often works with high-profile money managers. “Any kind of deep breathing and mindfulness technique is helpful before going into a stressful situation, like a job interview or a meeting with a financial planner,” she says.
Ready to breathe? Tingey recommends this simple, 10-step meditation.
Step #9: Have Fun
Managing your money is important, but you should allow yourself to have a laugh too! So if your heart still races when you think about your finances, try a light, fun activity to help put things in perspective—like taking a friend to a tarot card reading, with an emphasis on “large sums of money heading your way.” (Don’t they always seem to say that?) Or try tapping, which looks silly, but it can clear away anxiety, so you can work with a financial planner without having a stress-induced panic attack. Intrigued? Read our interview with a financially-focused tapping expert.
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc. that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Please consult a financial adviser for advice specific to your financial situation. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies.
Provided by Joshua C. Harper, CFP®, CLU®, of WealthMD (877-Our-MDPlan or firstname.lastname@example.org).