Finance professionals aren’t just for high-income earners.
- Financial planners help their clients with budgeting, strategizing debt repayment, and achieving money goals.
- If your financial situation has changed or you’re struggling to manage your finances, it’s a good idea to talk to a professional.
I fell into working with a Certified Financial Planner® (CFP) by accident, just a few months ago. We met on social media and decided to trade professional services, with me agreeing to edit two books he was writing and him agreeing to provide three months of planning services and financial counseling in exchange. I had never talked to a professional about my finances, so I was unsure of what to expect.
Career change leads to financial paralysis
In 2021, I switched careers, changing from museum operations and management to digital content. After 12 years of only making enough money to focus on the present — and still often only scraping by — I suddenly had more income potential and was working from home. It’s easy to think financial literacy doesn’t matter when you’ve never had a lot of income to worry about.
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To make matters worse, I was feeling a bit panicky about figuring out how the rest of my life was going to look. I’m in my late 30s, I don’t support anyone else with my income, and I also don’t depend on anyone else financially at this point in my life.
I was having a hard time figuring out what I should do first. As a renter, my first impulse was to try to buy a house. Surely it made sense for me, a person with no real savings to speak of, and with some credit card debt, to plan for a leap into the currently overheated housing market, right? Well, no.
Paying off debt
The work of a CFP can look different for different clients. In my case, I wanted to learn how to use my income to make my life better in the ways that are important to me. This includes paying off debt, saving for emergencies, saving to buy a house, and planning for my old age. I wasn’t sure in what order to tackle these issues. We began by discussing budgeting and looking at my income, bills, and debts.
Debt payoff was the first order of business. I already knew from past experience that I get a lot of satisfaction out of paying off individual debts (for example, I was thrilled to pay off my auto loan in 2014). So we decided the snowball method of debt repayment was going to be my plan for this area, with a goal of being debt free within a year, if possible.
Thinking about buying a house
We also discussed the benefits of making at least a 20% down payment on a house, including qualifying for better mortgage rates and avoiding having to pay for private mortgage insurance (PMI). I went down the path of homeownership early in my museum career, with family help, an FHA loan, and an additional income-earner in my household. Getting laid off and divorced two years later meant that particular adventure ended badly for me, with a short sale and a return to renting.
Renting made more sense for my previous career; museum positions are both competitive and location-based. This meant that every time I wanted to change jobs, I had to relocate, resulting in multiple moves between states and usually time zones.
So I took my chances with landlords and housing situations, agreeing more than once to rent a house or apartment without seeing it in person. It’s difficult to look at rentals in advance when you’re moving from over 1,000 miles away, on a bare-bones moving budget. Under these circumstances, you can probably understand why buying a house again has such appeal for me, a perpetual nomad. And with my new remote career and love for the area where I live now, it’s my hope to begin saving up that 20% down payment in 2023.
Working on the present to improve the future
My CFP gave me some great advice for making my present circumstances better, too, instead of just hoping and saving for the future. After listening to me talk about how much I wanted to buy a home so I can make it my own, he encouraged me to make my current apartment into a place I like living and working in while I pay off debt and save to buy a house.
I decided to turn a spare bedroom in my apartment into a home office. This involved adding comfortable furnishings and a coat of paint. Working from this space has been wonderful for my productivity. When I feel happy in my surroundings, I get more work done.
For all of these reasons and more, I can definitely say: working with a financial planner has changed my life. For the first time, I feel optimistic about my financial future and achieving the goals I’ve set. If you’re struggling to make sense of your finances and want to create a plan for a happier and more secure future, I encourage you to speak to a finance professional and get on the right path for you.
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