No man is so foolish but he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master. – Hunter S. Thompson
Many years ago after a particularly difficult winter, I decided that I needed to have a 4-wheel drive vehicle in order to safely get around. There are lots of mistakes I made in that process which can be topics for another day. For a while though, it seemed like I had made a good choice. At least that is until things started to break. And more things broke. And more things broke. As I continued to take it back to the dealer for repairs, the totals continued to add up. I calculated that I spent nearly $9,000 in repairs over the final 12 months I owned it. Ugh!
There were a couple things that became evident to me during that time.
First I am not particularly mechanical. There are many things that I can do well, but diagnosing car issues isn’t one of them. My lack of knowledge meant that I had to just go with whatever the dealer told me. While I have no proof that I was taken advantage of, I have often wondered if some of the repairs were as necessary as they indicated.
Second, because of that, I realized I needed to find a mechanic that I could trust not to lead me astray. After asking around, I did in fact find a local mechanic that is reasonable and did quality work.
Through my experiences with that SUV, I became painfully aware of what I did not know.
I am convinced that one of the reasons that many people spend much of their life struggling financially is they don’t know a better way of doing things.
Part of this is simply our natural personalities. There are some people who are totally geeked out by a 4 tab spreadsheet, and then there are others whose eyes start to glaze over a bit if you just asked them to add 2 numbers together. There is nothing wrong with that. It is just how you were made. But if you are in the latter camp you may find yourself struggling financially
Second, even those who are good with numbers make mistakes simply because they have never been taught a better way. It is common for young people to graduate high school never having had any kind of personal finance training.
Often there is even less training at home, sometimes because parents are uncomfortable discussing financial matters with their children, but more often because they don’t understand personal finance any better than their children.
The need for financial help
The bottom line is that no one is an expert at everything.
Even if you are generally good at handling money, you may still not be an expert at all the in’s and out’s of things like insurance or investing. The wise person understands what they know and what they don’t know and they seek counsel in those areas.
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes,
But a wise man is he who listens to counsel. Proverbs 12:15 (NASB)
The keys to finding wise counsel
Find a teacher, not a salesman
Often times there is a conflict of interest created when not so great products earn the salesman large commissions. Your adviser should always be willing to do what is best for you not what is best for their wallet.
When you are looking for assistance, you want to find someone who will teach you what you need to know. Never do something because your adviser told you so. If they are unwilling to explain it in a manner that you can understand, then you need to find a different adviser.
Remember there is no shame in not understanding. No one can be an expert in all areas.
Ask your friends if they have someone who they trust. This is how I found the mechanic that I spoke about earlier. If your friend has had good experiences with the person, then likely you will too.
Better still, find someone who is older and successful in that area. If I wanted advice on how to have a good marriage, I wouldn’t ask the guy who had been married 8 times. I’d find a couple that had been married 50 years and pick their brains. In the same way find someone that has been financially successful and see how they did it.
Involve your spouse
If you are married, make sure you bring your spouse to meet anyone you plan to work with. I don’t care if you have a doctorate in finance and your spouse has never balanced a checkbook in his or her life. God often works through our spouses to provide us with guidance. If your spouse distrusts the person or has a bad feeling about what they are recommending, that probably means it isn’t a good deal.
I list this last but it probably should be first. Ask God to guide you to the right person. Before making major decisions ask for guidance.
Trust your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right. If it sounds too good to be true. If the person you are dealing with feels just a little scummy. It may well be that the Spirit is telling you to move on and find someone else.
Be willing to ask for help
No one can be an expert in all areas. The wise person knows where they need help and is willing to ask for it.
If you have never had someone who could show you how to make smart financial decisions, then there is no shame in finding a mentor. But, ultimately it is your responsibility to take care of your finances. Find a financial coach. Take a class. Read some books. Financial matters affect too much of your life to remain uneducated in these areas.