“I don’t know what I don’t know…”
Craig had called me out of the blue. I’d known him when he was a college student, then a young single man.
“Bachelor till the rapture,” he’d say about himself. Until he met Kathy. She was a single mom with a gentle but determined spirit and wiggly three-year-old. Kathy imagined her life raising Kade alone. Not perfect, but she could manage. She would manage. Kade was worth it.
Friends insisted they meet and they fell for one another. Craig never called me for relationship advice…they were married before I knew they were dating. But with two lives, households and incomes combined…and a new future in both of their lives…Craig was calling about money.
“I don’t know what I don’t know!” He kept saying, a little more urgently each time.
I could feel his stress coming through the phone. New marriage, two incomes, three lives…and they just got the news that she was pregnant. Make that four lives.
I let him ramble a bit.
“I just don’t know where to start,” he said. “Our companies both offer 401Ks, with a match. We bought a house. Should we pay the house off? Put more in the 401K? How do I know if I’m saving enough? And don’t even get me started on insurance…talk about a confusing mess…do I need a financial planner?”
I laughed. I had to tell him I was laughing with him, not at him. But the truth was, I was laughing at him. But I could only laugh because I’d been there before.
“Craig, one way to handle this is to learn HOW. You can learn how to manage your 401K, how to calculate your retirement needs, how to determine how much to save, how to diagnose your insurance needs and how to manage the whole process.”
“How does that sound? I paused.
“Exhausting,” Craig said.
“I agree,” I said. He was silent.
“If I was going to build a house, I could learn all about home foundations, carpentry, cabinetry, roofing, HVAC work, plumbing and interior design. In theory, I might save a lot of money doing that, but I would spend a lot of time. And energy. Who knows what I would miss?
“Or, I could hire a contractor. Now, I probably just Google “contractors” and pick the first one at the top of the page. In fact, I might even ask friends with lovely homes who built theirs.
“And I imagine that after I’d built the new home (or, paid the contractor to build the new home for me), that I would know a lot more about home building than I did before.
“But I would never imagine I would know as much as the contractor. I do not personally have the interest and I’m quite sure I don’t have the time, energy or motivation to learn.
“So, I would focus on hiring a contractor who knows what I don’t know and whom I can trust to do what I cannot do.”
In Craig’s case, my answer was, “Yes, you need a financial planner.” This was his Who.
Spend time asking friends whom they use. Read their qualifications online. Most importantly, interview them and ask them specifically how they would work with you, what you could expect from them and what the costs would be.
What do you do when you don’t know what you don’t know?
Focus on Who. Not What or How.
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