As I stare at the hundreds of pages of notes, several programs (including a seemingly endless series of discarded macros and source code), numerous spreadsheets, piles of academic articles, endless websites, a shelf full of finance books and of course years of effort, I can't help but think this all would have been a lot simpler if I had just hired a financial planner.
I actually think that it makes a lot of sense to use a financial planner. I've interviewed a few financial planners over the years and even hired one once and although the experiences left me cold I'm willing to chalk up the results to bad luck rather than financial planners being a bad idea. But there is still a fundamental problem with using a financial planner – how do I know if the plan the planner came up with is the right one for Marina and I?
I would compare this situation to visiting a doctor. (I'll leave Marina out of this example since she's a pharmacist.) When my doctor gives me a diagnosis and a proposed course of action I am able to ask questions and understand the answers. This makes me a good health care consumer.
But in order to be a good health care consumer I do need a basic background in human health. I received this background from my classes in High School on Biology, Chemistry, Physiology and Health. In College I took a quarter of Chemistry and during both High School and College I was an avid reader of Scientific American which did an outstanding job of explaining many basic processes of the human body. I have also read a number of books on human health and keep up on health news. The effort didn't make me a doctor but it did give me enough knowledge to ask hard questions and fully understand the answers.
Which brings me back to financial planners. If I'm going to get maximum value out of a planner then I have to be educated enough to know what questions to ask and to be able to understand the answers. However, other than a dimly remembered project on the stock market in Junior High, I have no formal personal finance or even general economics education what so ever.
A Bargain at 1/2 the Price
The price I have paid for my financial education is a high one but I'm convinced that it didn't need to have been. All that I've learned could easily have been put into a 1 year High School course on personal finance or maybe a two quarter College level course. Certainly, given the importance of finance in our lives, such courses would be time well spent. But unfortunately such courses weren't available to me and the books I've read on personal finance and retirement planning were mostly bad. I did find a few gems and I listed them in recommended reading but even they are far from complete.
What kept me going through this process, other than my innate interest in the subject, was the goal of finishing our retirement plan. So the irony is that now, when I'm finally ready to benefit from a financial planner is the time when I don't need one as much. I wouldn't be surprised if I don't eventually end up hiring a financial planner to review our plan but until then let's see how well the good folks on the Internet do the job.