Discussing our finances has never been a fun conversation in our house. I guess unless you have an overabundance of income, and you are discussing trips and second home purchases, it never is. So, like many others like us, we just avoided the conversations. And the years moved on….
Well, this past summer we took a hard look at where we are financially. We are in our late forties with 3 teenagers. My husband earns a very good income as a surgeon, so one would think we would have plenty of savings for college. Not true!
Many factors contributed to our inability to save over the years – most of which were out of our control. Take the simple fact that my husband was in medical school, residency, and fellowships, until he was 35, racking up loans while in school and earning a mere stipend while in the latter half of his training. Add to this the overall decrease in physician salaries, and the cost of childcare that made it difficult for me to find a job that made financial sense, and you have a recipe for a high income bracket family barely scraping by – a common theme in today’s economy.
We had done the best with what we had, and what we knew. As each of our 3 kids were born we opened 529 Savings Plans for them and saved as much as we could monthly. But as we realized this summer, our 3 kids are all in high school now and it is just not enough. We knew there were things we could be doing differently, and we knew there were things we could be doing better. We just seemed to always get so caught up in the daily chaos of our lives, that we’ve stuck with the status quo and haven’t moved forward.
We knew enough to be worried that we would not be able to afford college with the way we were currently saving. We also knew that our income bracket made it virtually impossible for us to qualify for need based financial aid. We felt guilty over the possibility that we were not going to be able to send our 3 kids to college without them amassing large amounts of student loans. We needed help and we hoped we weren’t too late.
Over the years we had reached out for help and advice periodically, but never got too far. It seemed that all the financial advisors we spoke to were mostly interested in investing our extra income. Once they spent time with us, looked at our overall picture, and realized we didn’t have that much extra income for them to play with, they lost interest. We wanted someone to work with us over the long haul. A true financial advisor that would look at our habits, make suggestions, show us where to save, and where to invest. Our idea was that this person would work with us through college and then into retirement helping us remain financially healthy and independent throughout our life.
After much searching, we found what we were looking for in our own backyard! A friend of the family recommended a local Financial Advisory Group and we immediately made an appointment. During our initial consultation, our Advisor explained to us that, if hired, the group would provide “financial advisory and integrated tax services in a fee-only, personal relationship model.” Put simply, for an agreed upon annual fee our financial advisor and his team will work closely with us, developing and implementing a personalized financial plan including college savings, investing, tax planning and preparation, retirement planning, estate planning, and whatever else we determine is necessary.
To the friends and family I’ve spoken to, many are initially put off by the annual fee. However, it is important to understand that the fee encompasses tax preparation, all stock and investment handlings, and anything else that is necessary to implement your financial plan annually. For example, this year our Financial Advisor helped us set up a home based business entity for consulting work my husband and I do. They took care of all filings, dealings with the state and IRS. Once complete, they advised us of the benefits of using this entity for tax benefits and setting up an IRA for retirement planning. Further, the annual fee creates complete objectivity in all investment dealings as there are no charges for individual stock purchases, sales, or transfers.
We have been working with our Advisor now for almost 6 months. In that time we have put together a retirement, an education, and a tax plan. Most urgently for us, with college on the horizon, we have put together an education plan that gradually increases the funding of the kids 529’s over the years remaining before college. Together we figured out how to draw from our income and other savings and make this happen without jeopardizing other short and long-term goals.
For any of you considering how to make the most of your current financial situation, but are too busy or too unsure of how to go about it, I highly recommend finding and working with a fee based financial planner. Their big picture approach has made us feel good about our financial independence now and for the future.
Stacy Ross, our guest contributor, is a free lance writer and yoga instructor with an undergraduate degree from Cornell University and an MBA from the University of Rochester. Stacy has held Corporate Communications jobs in the Insurance and Cosmetics industry. With three teenage children, the reality of having all her kids in college at the same time has forced her and her husband to take a good, hard look at the road ahead and make better plans. Stacy can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.