Advice about Financial Planning

Parent Q&A

Financial coach Mar 6, 2019 (2 responses below)
Looking for local/regional expert on kids and money Aug 13, 2018 (1 responses below)
Seeking Financial Planner and Financial Software Program Nov 29, 2017 (2 responses below)
  • Financial coach

    (2 replies)

    Hi all: I am looking for a financial coach -- not someone to help with investments, etc., but someone who has experience helping create budgets, living within ones means, financial health/freedom, etc.  If you have any suggestions, please do share.  Many thanks!

    RE: Financial coach ()

    Do you mind if I make a book recommendation?  Every friend who asks me for advice gets pointed to "I will teach you to be rich" by Ramit Sethi.  It is a simple six-week step-by-step process to get you on the right track.  It sounds a little sketchy as a title but the book is extremely solid financial advice - something any Boglehead (if you know what that is) would adore.

    RE: Financial coach ()

    Not financial coaching exactly, but everyone I know who's tried it swears by You Need A Budget for creating budgets and savings plans and implementing them. The core principle is to put every dollar to work, and to spend last month's income for this month's expenses. (Even if you're currently living paycheck to paycheck, this will help you get there.) I used it for a couple of years after my divorce and it was very helpful.

  • Hello--I am helping to organize an educational event for middle school parents, and we are looking for a local person to give a presentation on helping middle schoolers develop good money habits. I would love to hear if you have recommendations for people who live in the East Bay or the greater Bay Area. It's fine if this person has worked with families that have kids of a variety of ages, but optimally the ages should include junior high and high school. Thank you!

    Next Gen Finance is a nonprofit based in silicon valley that does this very thing. They are excellent and have been featured in the NY Times. https://www.ngpf.org/

  • I have been looking for a class or workshop on personal finances for a 16 year old and haven't been able to find anything. This surprises me because this is such an important topic. Does anyone know of a class or workshop on financial literacy that is for teens? Or can anyone you recommend a financial advisor / consultant who might be willing to lead such a workshop if I got a small group of teens together? 

    Thanks!

    This is aimed at college aged folks, not teens exactly, so it may not be useful, but some of my friends took it (who were graduate school age) and found it really helpful. You could contact them and ask? http://www.wendlerassociates.com/

  • I'm sure that the new tax bill has hiked up my anxiety about money but in any case, I need to get things in order and I'm very bad at this stuff.   Has anyone worked with a financial planner they liked who can help lay out the numbers in the long and short-term, e.g., all income, expenditures, retirement scenarios, etc.?   I don't need someone to take over investments but just to lay it all out for the future especially.   

    Second, although I use Mint, I wonder whether there isn't some kind of software that could accomplish this as well.  I'd appreciate any suggestions.

    Many thanks!!!!

    I just started using You Need A Budget (www.ynab.com).  It seems more geared to people struggling with debt/overspending (which I'm not), but I still found it useful for laying out expanses and doing some medium-term planning. Takes a lot more leg work than a financial planner . . . but it's also a lot cheaper. 

    Sean Burgess, who is based in SF, is a fantastic, fee-based financial planner. [ https://www.burgessfinancial.com/ ] This is an important distinction, as if you visit a planner associated with a bank, brokerage, etc. they make their money on commissions, and will be enticed to sell you their products regardless of if you need them or where your money currently resides is a better option.  (I have friends in these roles, view them as important jobs and my friends as people of integrity, but unless you already have all your products at that institution, and substantial investments, they simply aren't the right partner for most middle class folks!)   Sean charges a flat fee of $360 for the first session, and sends you prep documents to return in advance so your time is 100% purposeful (he already knows all the details of your situation when you walk in).  He also sent us many helpful follow-up documents.   We have recouped the fee several times over in both peace of mind and better financial choices.   If you do need help with investing, he does offer a service where he will manage investments for a commission, but he never once suggested we do this with him, as he knew it wasn't advantageous for our current situation, which we found to be a strong mark of his integrity.   We've visited 3 times over 7 years as our situation changed (purchasing a home, starting a family) and each time got great counsel we were able to immediately put into practice.

    To your note on a budget, you're right - Sean or another planner can only help you if you have some sense of your incoming cash flow and what you're spending it on.   Personally I dislike Mint as the auto-categories don't help you pinpoint and track your bad habits (mine is eating out - very different from a 'food' that includes groceries and eating out!), and as it automatically processes your spending, it doesn't build accountability for the consequences of each purchase.  (Ex: If you don't check it before swiping your card - it's not really a budget, it's a tracker!)   I would highly recommend an envelope-based budgeting system (think Dave Ramsey books) that has grace for moving money category-to-category during the month and keeping you on-track for long-term saving goals. (Think, you save $800/month for property taxes so when December comes you already have the money you need, and you're not scrambling to find $5K to pay the bill!)  You Need a Budget (YNAB) is a great, sophisticated tool that is inexpensive but requires 4-5 hours watching their videos/webinars to learn their unique system for budgeting.  My favorite is Pear Budget - it's intuitive with no training, and easy-to-use but has *no* import features, so you do need to enter every receipt.  We find it takes 1 hour per week to enter them, and the 'go card' feature let's us check how much money we have to spend before we walk into the store with a quick glance.   It's ~$50/year.   www.pearbudget.com.  If you're cash-strapped, they originally were famous for their free budgeting spreadsheet which is still free - www.pearbudget.com/spreadsheet 

    Happy planning!

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Questions

Do-It-Yourself Financial Planning

Jan 2010

someone posting a response to a recent question ''Can't afford financial planner'' mentioned a few blogs and forums where they got ideas and advice. What sites do people recommend? I'm particularly looking for: most of our money is in low cost index funds. what is the next step if we want to add something other than stocks into our portfolio? . looking for what to do next


Might want to get familiar with decisionmoose.com, ''a proprietary asset allocation and market timing signal provided to internet users for free by its creator, William Dirlam.

This site tracks Index Moose, an automated market timing mechanism developed in 1989. Updated weekly, Index Moose relies on technical analysis to time exchange traded index funds (ETFs). It has two objectives: to consistently outperform financial market averages, and to minimize the risk of doing so.''

Basically uses just index funds (long-only) to capture broad moves in the equity, bond, and commodity markets. Usually sufficient just to check the Sunday night posting for any change in allocation. Not sure how comfortable you are with timing entries, but might be a good place to start. Good luck. tk


Dec 2009

As a much-needed cost-cutting measure, my husband and I are looking to shift our dwindling retirement accounts from being managed by a financial services person/firm to something safe, but less expensive. We are both self-employed, so it has been helpful to have someone paying attention to our savings, helping with tax reminders and meeting with us to figure out how our financial lives might unfold. We really appreciate this person, but the service is very expensive (a percentage of our accounts), and we can no longer afford it. We can deal with our taxes ourselves, but we're not in a position to spend a lot of time and effort moving money around, analyzing the market, etc. Any suggestions on an alternative to a financial planner? Penny Pincher


At this point, with the Dollar as weak as it is, interest rates being super low, and the economy not recovering, this is what I do: After losing $12,000 last fall, I pulled all of my money out of the stock market before it went really downhill. My retirement money is in UC savings and my 3 months (yes, it should actually be sixth months of household expenses!) emergency money is in a cash maximizer at my bank. In fact, I put everything into my bank (checking, savings, cash maximizer) to have it FDIC insured. Faith in the Dollar as a currency is very low - just look at how the price of gold has risen! Nobody wants to put their assets into the Dollar. I did not run out for gold coins (now I wish I did two years ago) each time you buy or sell them there is a $50 commission involved, but I make sure I have my cash insured. I do not plan to go back into the stock market for many years to come. The last depression lasted 25 years and that was without the existence of credit default swaps. I think most people don't understand the magnitude of what is unfolding and maybe it's better this way. Residential real estste is dropping, commercial real estate is next to fail. Any building contractor has a sense of that. Just picture loans of buildings under contruction to go bad. If you keep your eye on the big picture, you will realize that you don't need a financial advisor. Do it yourself, insure your cash - and maybe buy some gold. Anonymous


We used several financial planners and were not satisfied with any. there are probably a few good ones out there, but finding one or getting them to take you on is not easy. all the ones we have used only guarantee their own service fee stream.

We now manage our money ourselves. We have some targeted funds, and some index funds that track say the SP500. Most importantly, we only go into low overhead funds. none of those run by designer-name money managers who make millions a year, but charge hefty mgmt fees.

We monitor our funds a few times a year, and plan on switching from higher risk to lower risk as we approach retirement. Retirement accounts are not meant to be fiddled with that much. We follow a few blogs and forums where people with families, businesses, etc do this on their own, and they do not exactly move money around too much. In fact, transaction fees are the biggest money maker in their industry. Many of them do this on their own for significant amounts, i.e., over $500,000 and manage to be parents, and business people. We are nowhere near that kind of money, btw, but once we cleared up the mess of the specialized funds we were put into by advisors, it now takes us very little money, and we know exactly where we stand.

Take it from a consumer who has worked with many of them, and has asked the really hard questions. You could do just as well, if not better by doing this on your own.

You may need to go into an advisor once in a while, say every 5 years, but if you do, find one that will charge by the hour, rather than a percentage of your account.

Buy a book or two from the For Dummies series and read up a little bit on it, over time, and you will see how easy it is. They will even tell you of tax changes, etc, so that you can do whatever smart thing you are supposed to do.

There is nothing that will make us ever go back to a financial advisor. We didn't know any better, and kept with them for a number of years, but eventually when we started asking the real questions we realized they are a highly unregulated industry, and there is very little you can do to keep them in line (unless you consider class action lawsuits a regulatory mechanism). Particularly with Ameriprise, we still get settlement checks from them, for various class action lawsuits, even though we moved our accounts from them years ago.

If you do decide to take on another financial advisor, always ask and definitely check many references, ask for Form ADV they need to file with the SEC (even though that doesn't tell you all that much), and check with the licensing board their credentials. Nic


Fee-Based vs. Commissions

Oct 2009

Re: reviews of independent financial advisors
Hi - I'm not personally familiar with the financial advisor you asked about, but she appears to be an advisor with Ameriprise. Ameriprise is a broker/dealer that charges commission on investment products. Your posting said 'Independent Financial Advisor' and I don't think that's what she is. You might want to ask her how she's compensated so you fully understand. Just my 2 cents anon


All advisors expect to get paid one way or another. Whether it's through fees, commissions, or a combination, or whether they are ''fee-only'' or ''fee-based'', you WILL pay them for their service, and you WILL pay them for the products they recommend.

Ameriprise advisors typically do commission-based work in their early years as they build their business, then shift to fee- based, but are able to offer either. What I don't like about Ameriprise is that the only insurances you'll be offered is their own - RiverSource. Nothing wrong with that - hey, Safeway sells its own products too. But I prefer choice.)

Whether commissions or fees are better depends on a lot of factors. Don't get hung up on one or the other because you read ''never pay commissions!'' or heard all the ''no-load'' and ''low- cost'' mantras. What is important is not what you pay, but what you get. Too often, we tend to judge products and services on ''cost'' rather than ''value''.

Often paying commissions are better than fees (almost always cheaper in the long run). (Take a look at FINRA's mutual fund analyzer, for example: http://apps.finra.org/fundanalyzer/1/fa.aspx)

Whatever you do, choose someone that you LIKE and TRUST. And ask a lot of questions to make sure that person will always put you first, ahead of him/herself). Have the advisor explain whether fees or commissions are most appropriate for you and your circumstances. cessnagreg


Expectations for A Financial Adviser

August 2008

Does anyone out there have an idea of what kinds and how much service I should expect from a financial adviser? I inherited what I have learned is a small amount of money a few years ago (though it seems a lot to me), and have had a financial adviser manage a small portfolio since then. Maybe it's the woman herself, or maybe it's my ignorance But I feel that she collects a rather large sum from me every quarter, and yet does relatively little beyond overseeing the various mutual funds and bonds. I constantly feel I am asking too much of her, even when I do not ask for anything more than she is giving. She often reminds me of the limits of her engagement with my account, and that any extra services would be on a hourly basis. My portfolio rises and falls with the market, so I'm not sure what she's providing to me in real terms I'm beginning to feel that I work for her. What should I expect from a financial adviser? How much should I expect to pay her for her services? Is there any good time to switch advisers? I ask because, really, I'd like to switch but I'm afraid of the costs I'd incur with a new set of eyes choosing a new set of funds not a numbers person


Hi - I'm a financial planner myself and am concerned about your arrangement. You have entered into what we call 'assets under management' with your advisor. You have accounts/investments that she actively manages for you for a fee (most likely a % of your portfolio).

In a typical arrangement, an advisor charges an annual fee of 1% (this is negotiable) of your portfolio value, paid quarterly. In exchange for this fee, you normally get someone actively managing and adjusting your investments to market conditions or your needs (ie withdrawals, deposits). In addition, that fee should cover regular reporting on your investments, any meetings or phone calls, as well as advice on any financial questions you may have.

When you pay someone a retainer, as you are doing, you are essentially buying financial assistance for all your needs and should feel free to ask any questions or request a meeting when necessary.

The big question is - what is your fee arrangement? Why does she say she will need to charge you hourly fees in addition to your asset under management % fee? If she is charging you much lower than 1%, say 0.20%, then it may be fair to ask for hourly fees. If she is charging anywhere close to 1%, that is not a standard arrangement to charge hourly fees in addition to your investment management fee.

Also, you are paying HER. You should never feel hesitant to ask what the fee is, what it covers, and what charges there are to move your accounts. If she works for a broker/dealer, you may be able to call an 800# to find out any costs associated with changing advisor.

It sounds like its time for a frank re-evaluation meeting with her where she can go over her services, her fees and what she's done for your portfolio compared to a benchmark index over time. By the way, these are very common annual meetings so it shouldn't come as a surprise to her if you request this meeting. Hope that helps Julie


If you are questioning your financial advisor's fees, I recommend getting a second opinion. My husband does financial advising. He charges either by the hour, or a percentage of your portfolio at the end of the quarter. There are no other hidden fees. He does this part-time and has a regular full-time job that really pays the bills. He does this because he enjoys helping people and if he can make some money, even better. The problem with many advisors is they have multiple fee structures, wrap fees and other items, many of the hidden from the client.


I am a financial advisor; your message is a good reminder about setting expectations and listening carefully to clients. Advisors charge for their service in different ways; one thing they should make clear up front to you is how they get paid and what you get in return. In your case, if you are paying a fee every quarter, you probably have what is know as a ''Wrap'' account - you are paying a % of your assets under management for this person to manage your portfolio. The more $ you have invested, the lower the % fee- it's economy of scale to a degree (small accounts take as much work as large ones, but earn less for their manager) THe rationale is if they invest wisely so your investments grow, they get paid more; likewise, if you hurt they do too. What they cannot do is control the markets, so if the overall situation is chaotic as it is currently, you cannot expect to make huge returns so much as limit the damage. In terms of other services, that should have been spelled out when you signed up. In my practice, a client with this type of account gets complimentary financial planning as part of the annual fees, after the initial start-up planning fee (the first plan is the most work). You should feel comfortable with your advisor and understand what you are paying for. If you are not happy with your advisor or level of service,you should interview some others. Ask about the tax implications of moving your investments.A.


Yes, you should switch financial advisers: switch to yourself. There is nothing magical about an adviser; they cannot foretell the future. The fact is, that over the years, the stock market goes up more than money left in the bank earning interest. The trick is, when investing, to spend as little on fees as possible, and ignore the investment after you have made it. Most people who watch their money make emotional decisions that work against them. If a fund is on the way down, they get worried and sell it. If an investment is on the way up they get giddy and buy. This is the opposite of buy low and sell high, the ancient advice that still holds. I recommend Vanguard Funds because of the low fees. http://www.vanguard.com/ I don't work for them and I have nothing to gain by suggesting you use them. Good luck. anon


Sounds like you need a financial advisor that fits you better. Not knowing how much in assets you have I can only give you some vague estimates of cost but there are a few hard and fast guidlines that I recommend. 1) You are the customer so you need to feel comfortable. 2) do not allow your portfolio to be invested in Load (of any kind) funds, or funds with lock-ups over 90 day with out being absolutely clear about how long and why (that is different from early redmptions fees which are put in place to prevent day trading in mutual funds) 3) You should be paying your advisor a % of assets (Ranging from 1% to 1.5% annual fee for an account of less than $1 million). Some good advisors will work on an hourly basis if there is Financial Planning involved. For this you should be getting an asset allocation analysis, Investment Policy Statement, periodic portfolio rebalancing, investment recommendatons (stear clear of organizations that will recommend only or mostly thier own funds), quarterly perfromance reports and regular meetings. Usually semi but on less seldom than annual meetings. You should be able to comfortably ask for other assitance throughout the trem of the relationshsip without feeling ''guilty'', like: answers to questions about statements, documents ect., tax discussions like tax loss harvesting at the end of the year or throughout, cash transfers, changes to the account, explanations to what has transpired in your account, market comentary, and many other misc. investment and wealth management questions that come up. My clients all have my cell phone for emergencies. These are the basics you pay an advisor for. OH! and the right time to change advisors is when you feel you need to because you are not getting what you want from your current advisor. Then go find a good independent advisor or visit a Fidelity or Schwab office. Good luck Keley


I used to have a fin advisor (Ameriprise). I was too busy with work, etc. When I started asking questions (why fund X and not fund Y, how is it a 19% gain when your fees make it a 2% loss) I got no answers. It took 3 years to untangle the confusion & move my money out. Someone lived very well on the fees I paid.

You CAN do it on your own. You will know where you stand financially and save tons on fees. A recent study found you'll have about 1/3 more at retirement.

Eric Tyson has written excellent books. Vanguard & others have very good no-load low-fee index funds. Websites like boggleheads let you post questions and get almost instantaneous response and feedback from other very informed individuals who do it on their own also.

bankrate smartmoney and yahoo finance will tell you the best bank interest rates lowest acct fees, etc.

If you must get an advisor interview them extensively and over several weeks. Ask them for a copy of Form ADV, speak to as many of their clients as you can and check with the regulator they all belong to. Even then be very careful.

A large firm isn't a guarantee you'll get honest and trusted service. Google around and you'll see what tactics they employ if and when you decide to take your money elsewhere or manage it on your own. They will use many scare tactics they'll want to talk about ''your relationship'' with them and will even come up with huge acct closing fees to dissuade you. And you won't be able to figure out the fees you pay by looking at your statements. Congress hasn't managed to beat back the huge lobbying by the fin. services industry that would force them to disclose to you in detail where you money is going.

Unless you find this rare gem of an advisor who balances their interest in making lots of money with your interest to preserve/grow yours you will be paying fees and in exchange you will be in the dark about who your money is working for. If you have been trying to do it and can't find time, go to an advisor who charges by the hour and pay them to tell you what you (not them) should do. Open an account on your own with a discount broker and do it all there.

Another study showed that if you invest in an index fund over 30 years it will grow more than any managed mutual fund run by a money mgr who brags about their amazing market insight and makes a 7+ figure salary. Nick


Disappointed that financial advisor is so expensive

May 2008

I'm new to the BPN, and am in need of a Financial Advisor. Before I joined, I looked through the BPN website and found several recommendations for a particular financial advisor. When my wife and I went to see her, we were impressed with her thoroughness, but were disappointed that she wanted to charge 3-5 thousand dollars for her service. Does getting good, comprehensive financial advice have to cost that much? Is it better to choose an advisor that charges by the hour? Is it important to choose an advisor you can meet with, face to face? Can anyone recommend an advisor that is knowledgeable, thorough but affordable? I'm hoping to spend less than $1500. Rob


Try Jarrett Topel in Oakland. We found his name on BPN also.He put together a financial plan for us for close to $1,500 and we were really impressed with the results, and even more impressed with his follow through. He has kept on us to implement the recommendations, and has been very patient with us as well. In the research we did, 3-5 thousand sounds a little high, but to get comprehensive advice, we couldn't find anyone who we felt comfortable with for less than $1,500. Jarrett's number is 510-655-4400. Good luck. Jennifer


Hi - We worked with a financial planner and were surprised at the cost as well. The person we worked with did charge on an hourly basis. I think her fee was around $200/hr. Our first (free) consultation with her was 2 hours. Her 'process' consisted of face to face meetings, emails and phone calls.

The whole thing took about 2 months and was pretty detailed. We were really happy with the results which pretty much covered all our issues/questions. She also included follow up and implementation in the same fee. All this cost us about $3500. We met with her for at least 5 hours plus about 2 hours of follow up.

It was definitely worth it. Now we can go back to her with questions anytime and she just bills by the hour. We didn't understand the time involved on our part or her part when we started the process and now have an appreciation for it.

It might be worth it for you work with a planner who charges a flat fee, rather than hourly basis as time = money.

BTW, we worked with Asti Financial who we found in the BPN archives. Finally on track


We had an excellent experience with our Financial Advisor, Rick Prime. He is really knowledgeable, but very down to earth and a good listener. He's not slick or pushy and doesn't try to sell you things you don't need (and is not affiliated with any products, etc) and will patiently answer all your questions. He charges $2,000 and you get a very comprehensive review of all things financial. It was well worth it for us for the peace of mind to get a good understanding of where we stood and what we needed to do to meet our goals. His phone # is 384-1009. (He also has a web site if you google his name). His office is near Claremont and Ashby in Berkeley. karen


Brandi Bernazzani is a financial advisor we can recommend with great enthusiasm. She charges an hourly fee and provides advice free of any bias or linkage to financial institutions or financial products. Her process began with an in-our-home (if you wish - we found it very convenient/easy/even relaxing) interview to ascertain our financial objectives and resources. She follows up with an in-depth presentation of strategies to consider, and with as much specific advice/direction as is appropriate for your needs. She's a master of the subject matter, warm, funny, and was wonderfully adept at helping us focus and prioritize within a complex financial picture, covering our immediate needs to finish a major house remodel, our near-future need to see our children though college, and our long term retirement plans. Think of the last time you wrote a check to pay for services and felt great about the exchange, certain of the value. This is how each of our sessions with her concluded! . Contact information: Brandi Bernazzani, Scalisi & Bernazzani Financial Services, LLC, 415-664-5884


Is financial planning worth the expense?

July 2007

I am looking into getting some help with financial planning, but am wondering if the cost is worth it in the long run. I'm not looking for people who provide these services - I have a list and am shopping around. I want to hear from people who have used financial planning services. Did you establish a long-term relationship with one person who got an annual fee or did you use services on an hourly basis? Have there been any times when you looked back thinking how glad you were that you followed this or that advise and how it really saved you in the long run? Are there examples of when you really saw a return on your investment of time and money in these services or was it more just about having the piece of mind knowing things were taken care of without having to stress about all the details? I'd also like to know what you used financial services for - decreasing tax liability, picking insurance, preparing wills or trusts, investing in retirement, stocks, bonds, savings, education.... financially challenged


After years of thinking about it, we hired a financial planner to do comprehensive planning. It cost about $2500 for the first year (unlimited access and a very comprehensive review of our finances) and will probably be about $1000 for this year. It was COMPLETELY worth it! For the first time ever, we have consolidated our money, keep track of it on Quicken, have a budget, have a plan, and have adjusted many aspects of our investments etc. We realized that we are WAY behind on retirement and got excellent advice on how to plan for the future. I am pretty certain we got at least some of our investment back already just in budgeting, but the money was well spent if only for piece of mind and a feeling of control over our financial life. It was essentially like therapy for my husband and me. He was inclined to ignore our financial situation and I was perpetually stressed about it and nagging him. Now, our planner has gotten him completely on board and he is watching his pennies more than ever. Our planner is Rachel Robasciotti in SF. Good luck. happy client


I'd say yes! My husband and I started seeing a financial planner right before we got married and it has been great. Neither one of us want to take the time to do all the research and have no problem paying an expert. We get a great return on our money and we like having a neutral party help us set and meet financial goals. It's like couple therapy, in a way, because the financial planner gives us advice objectively. It's helped us work together to make financial decisions and I have to say financial problems in our marriage are next to NIL because we feel like we have a plan. We don't always follow the advice. For instance, we were on a four year plan to save for a house but something came along so we bought ahead of schedule. Often, once you get the plan, everything changes. HOWEVER, because we work with a financial planner, we always know where we stand financially and when we stray from the plan, because we have the plan, breaking with it means we made an educated decision rather than an impulsive decision. So many people who fancy themselves self-reliant will poo poo the idea, but I think it's money well spent and by shopping around, you should be able to find someone who cares about your goals and all that. for the record, we live on one income (my husbands) and it is about average for a family of four and we do all right. We live modestly, but our retirement is taken care of, we have life insurance, and we try not to obsess about money and I think the financial planner is responsible for this. anon