Originally appeared in USA Today and The Indianapolis Star
Whether you know it or not, there’s at least one particular person’s financial life you are observing, even studying, on a regular basis.
No, I don’t mean Facebook stalking.
This is a person you admire and even benchmark yourself against — from a financial perspective. They display characteristics you hope to emulate, and give you a destination to gravitate toward. They are your de facto financial mentor.
Formalize this dynamic.
Armed with a reasonable amount of maturity, you should be able to enhance your chances at financial contentment by deeply engaging with a person who has a relationship with money which you hope to have.
I’ve been gathering financial mentors since I was 17 years old. Early on, I absolutely found myself seeking out the wealthy, but I quickly discovered wealth wasn’t what I was looking for, and the characteristics I was looking for weren’t necessarily present in those people who displayed as outwardly well-to-do. I asked very blunt questions, expecting honest answers. Sometimes the questions were painfully personal, but I always made sure to ask the questions with the respect which was both earned and required.
It quickly occurred to me that I didn’t just want all my inspiration and tutelage from one person. I wanted lots of good stuff from lots of different people.
I remember years and years ago that Sports Illustrated did a piece on building the perfect NFL quarterback. They claimed if you added this guy’s arm to this other guy’s body, and then pasted them on another guy’s legs, combined with yet another quarterback’s brain, you’d have the perfect quarterback. Basically, they were building a football Frankenstein (although we all know Frankenstein was the doctor, not the monster). This Frankenstein would have been everything you ever wanted in an NFL quarterback.
It’s time to build your financial Frankenstein.
Think through your relationships and acquaintances, and grab a little bit of each of them. Add Charlie’s financial confidence to Melissa’s minimalism, combined together with Don’s planning. Sprinkle in some of Julie’s restraint and Sarah’s determination, and you’ve got yourself quite the role model.
Even people you disagree with will impact you greatly.
I have two particular financial role models who absolutely refuse to invest in the stock market. Despite the fact that I disagree with this strategy, I both respect and understand how they are able to build a very well-structured financial life without the benefits (and risks) of the market. Both of these people have influenced me and challenged me to look at my assets differently.
You’re not necessarily looking for a rich guy, although the person you identify may in fact be wealthy. You can respect and appreciate all sorts of financial characteristics. You might be tempted to start with someone who has the car you want or the house you want, but that’s a fool’s errand. As material items are the easiest manifestation of wealth that can be observed, they’re often used to gauge the success of an individual. Do what you like, but I’ve never really been attracted to people with stuff.
You’re looking for the practical application of knowledge. You can Google everything else. There’s enough technical financial advice floating around out there.
You need real life examples in your face. You need to know how your buddy who is 15 years older than you was able to pay for his kids’ college education without ruining his retirement. Or better yet, maybe he did ruin his retirement, and you’ll learn where he went wrong. You’ll be surprised how much people want to help you and how much they’re willing to share.
I’m not talking about replacing your financial adviser. You still need your adviser. But gathering financial role models will give you something real to talk to your adviser about.
As it stands now, you likely don’t know what questions you aren’t asking which you should be asking. Your financial Frankenstein will change that sad fact instantly.
Have a question for Pete the Planner? Email him at AskPete@petetheplanner.com or visit petetheplanner.com.
Peter Dunn a.k.a. Pete the Planner® is an award-winning financial mind and a former comedian. He’s a USA TODAY columnist, author of ten books, and is the host of the popular radio show and podcast, The Pete the Planner Show. Pete is considered one of the foremost experts on financial wellness in the world, but he’s just as likely to talk your ear off about bass fishing.