Sunday, August 21, 2005

Garage doors and financial planning

Shortly after moving into our first new home we decided that electric garage door openers were an affordable luxury, especially if I installed them myself. After all, the box did say "Installs easily in an afternoon". Well, complications arose and the weekend was wasted trying to get them to work properly. I finally caved in and hired a professional who had them working beautifully in 30 minutes and for 50 bucks. The lesson: There is great value in hiring qualified professionals.

As I am not always the best student, this lesson was repeated to me a couple of short years later in the form a plumbing project gone bad. Trying to save a few bucks on a plumber resulted in a day without running water and a $500 repair bill. Life would have been so much simpler and cheaper in the long run had I just hired a professional from the start.

Shouldn't this same principle be applied to money and investing? And if so, why do so many middle-class Americans opt to go it alone when it comes to financial planning?

An article in the August issue of Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine (not available online) titled "Equal Opportunity Planners" suggests that many don't seek out professional financial planners because they are embarrassed.
Concerns are shared by many Americans who need financial planning help, but who believe that financial planners won't go near them if they're not already wealthy. For families that barely sustain their lifestyle, the idea of a financial planner may seem even laughable. Many middle-income people either do no planning at all, or try to do it themselves. The results of such efforts can range from disappointing to disastrous.
More plausible reasons for bypassing professionals are the issues of trust and value.

Much of the mistrust in financial professionals has been brought upon them by the industry itself. A long history of fraud and abuse by a very small minority has scarred the profession. It's important to note that these occurrences, while they generate big headlines, are actually quite rare.

The value a qualified expert can add is immeasurable but the popular financial media has convinced Americans that they should never pay for financial advice when all they need is to do a little research on their own. While always important to do some of your own legwork, it's impossible for an individual to stay abreast of tax law changes, global economic developments and new investment opportunities the way a professional can.

As with garage door openers and plumbing projects, be sure to consider all possible outcomes when deciding whether to work with a financial professional. You might be surprised.

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