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Financial planning for middle-income people.
Stop the bleeding!

"The most important thing for middle income people to overcome is their concept that, 'I don't make enough money to warrant the need for a financial planner.' I find it's the opposite. Since you don't have excessive income, it's most important to get a handle on what are your expenses, where can they be cut and what can you do to meet your retirement goals."

Those words are from David Bohannon, a certified financial planner at Consultant's Corner in Louisville, KY. A self-serving attempt to drum up business? I don't think so. Why are so many people ready to throw money at Lotto tickets or the hottest stock when a sure-fire way to pile up money is to quit wasting it? Paying for a few financial planning sessions with a good planner might beef-up your bottom line.

CFP James Knaus of LaBrecque, Jackson, Price & Roehl in Troy, Mich., says he, also, doesn't base financial planning on the size of the assets.

"I base it on the problems or concerns they want to have addressed. I have a no-obligation meeting that probably lasts 30 to 45 minutes to see if we can connect and if there's something I can do for them. I tell them how long it will take and what I charge. It's a low-key approach."

Do your homework
If you decide to see a financial planner, be prepared to do some homework in advance. Knaus asks clients to bring in an approximate balance sheet consisting of assets and liabilities and a cash flow statement. He says most people are able to put them together reasonably quickly if they don't have them.

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"What's really important for you is to have an idea of what you want to accomplish -- goals and priorities," says Knaus. "I ask an open-ended question and let 'em rip. It's amazing how much people will divulge. My job is to shut up and listen and take notes."

David Bohannon says a lot of people may not need to see a financial planner on a routine basis, but they need to sit down with a planner and do a complete financial makeover to get on the right track.

"I try to stop people from doing things such as maximizing their before-tax or after-tax contributions while they're paying the minimum on their credit card debt. Or, maybe they're not refinancing their house and getting a home equity line of credit. One of the things I see most often is not knowing where their money is going. They don't budget and pay themselves first. If you don't know where your money is going, how can you possibly tell me where you want to go?"

One of Bohannon's pet peeves is car leasing -- people getting a new car every two or three years.

"Look at the cost of the lease vs. the benefit. Look at the cost of insuring a new car -- it's quite high. I say to them, let's project out the next few leases vs. if you bought a car, paid it off so you have an asset and now you're paying less insurance."

Get ahead of the game
Bohannon's also a fan of homeowners paying off more on principal each month -- it's easier, he says, than making an extra monthly payment. For example, if the monthly mortgage payment is $560, Bohannon suggests rounding up to $600.

As for maxing-out the contribution on the 401(k)

"It's a balancing act. See how much debt there is in terms of the individual or the family. Typically, what's the interest rate they're paying and how do we stop the bleeding? Let's say I'm going to average 8 percent on my 401(k). If I'm paying 18 percent on credit card debt, I'm not getting anywhere."

Jim Knaus says a lot of people just don't pay attention to the details -- what it takes to properly run their financial lives. That leads to careless mistakes that last for years.

"Overpaying insurance, failure to take advantage of employer matches in their retirement plans, paying too much in fees for investments, continuing to pay PMI when they have enough equity in their house," says Knaus.

If you decide to work with a financial planner, get ready to make a commitment -- to yourself.

Be prepared to do some budgeting.

"I bet fewer than 20 percent of people use a budget or a cash flow statement," says Knaus. "They say 'It's too much of a pain or, I don't have enough, why bother?' It's a tool that lets you know what's coming in, what's going out. I'll work up a financial plan and it'll be a massive undertaking, but I want them to be as self-sufficient as possible. It takes a lot of effort for the rocket to get off the ground, but I want them to get to the point of not needing me."

And get ready to do without some of the things you think you can't do without, says Bohannon.

"It always amazes me that people think a new car every two or three years is a necessity. It's mind over matter -- if you don't mind, it doesn't matter. But you came here telling me it does matter -- you want financial freedom. You have to make it happen, and these are some of the steps you have to take."

-- Updated: May 12, 2004

 

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See Also

Financial planning for the unmarried

Securing your stash
Splurge or save as you approach retirement?

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