January 13, 2015

The Right Answer

Credit: nongpimmy
With all of the great college football bowl games that have been on television recently, I have seen a lot of fans doing some pretty strange things. Some fans are flat out in costume. Some are chanting the same words over and over, while some are constantly jumping in place, and some even make animal sounds during kickoffs! I can’t help but think of that old Bud Light commercial showing fans doing similarly strange things in an effort to somehow help their teams win the game. The slogan reads, “It’s only weird if it doesn’t work.”

In my world of financial advice, people ask me questions all the time. Sometimes I know or can find the “correct” financial answer pretty quickly, but most of the time I need to develop some sort of probability analysis or perform a calculation or projection before I can offer the “correct” numerical solution. The thing is, my initial “correct” financial answer or “correct” numerical solution isn’t always right for the client who asked the question, and it’s not because of faulty research or incorrect math; it’s because it doesn’t yet factor in my client’s feelings or emotions. The slogan for the financial advice I try to give to people would read, “It’s only correct if it works for you.”

Let’s say someone has $10,000 to invest and asks me if they should invest it all in gold. Let’s say a retired person who has more assets than they likely need to continue to live comfortably is really concerned about the world situation and asks me if they should invest $10,000 of their assets in gold coins to put in their safe deposit box. My long-term investment advice would probably be the same to both parties, but it might not be the right answer for both parties.

One of the questions I’m asked most frequently is when someone should begin drawing their Social Security. Someone can choose to start at age 62 or wait until age 70 and likely receive a higher benefit for each year they waited, but it is not always an easy question to answer. If two 62-year-old clients with the exact same assets and retirement incomes asked me if they should start Social Security, but one of them is losing sleep because they are concerned that the government might change their benefits if they wait to start drawing Social Security, my Social Security advice would probably be the same to both clients, but it might not be the right answer for both clients.

If two people can finally pay off their low-interest student loans or make their annual IRA contributions, but one of them has really been struggling with the fact that they still have student debt, my cash utilization advice would probably be the same to both people, but it might not be the right answer for both people.

My point is that almost all financial decisions are double-edged. There is often an analytical or numerical “correct” answer and an emotional “correct” answer. When those are the same, it’s easy to decide what to do, but when they are different, it can be quite the conundrum. Some of the deepest and most meaningful conversations I’ve ever had with clients have come from discussions where financial expertise seemed to suggest one thing and emotional credence seemed to suggest another. I take the privilege of being a part of such conversations very seriously, and it is because of conversations like these that I know no software, no app, no robo-advisor, and no strictly commission-based broker can completely replace my role in helping people think through the tough financial decisions to find their right answer.

When you find yourself facing a tough decision where your emotions and finances seem to be pushing you in two different directions, proceed with caution! Be careful relying on what you’ve read, what you’ve heard, what your computer says, and what Bob told you he did that time in the break room. Remember, it’s only correct if it works for you, and I’m happy to try to help you find your right answer.


1 comment:

  1. I think it is interesting that "the right answer" in financial management is not the same answer for everyone. Although there are common principles like do not borrow and get in to debt, what you do is not necessarily what others need to do with finances and vice versa. I think finances are a huge part of being successful and progressing. mortgages