Financial planning shouldn’t be a nightmare — here’s how to get started

The hall was terrifyingly quiet, and I could hear the thunderous doors close behind me, as if for good, when I stepped through them.

I took a deep breath as I ascended the stairs, following my tormentor with obedient, yet hesitant steps. Searching for a sign of humanity in the faces that passed me, but finding only plastic masks returning my furtive glances.

“Have a seat here. Make yourself comfortable, Ms. Van Court.”

The word “comfortable” clearly belying the true intent: to make me as uncomfortable as possible, to demonstrate how much I needed the system and could not survive on my own, to clarify and solidify my inferiority.

And then the verbal assault started. I winced, closed my eyes, tightly clenching both hands and gnashing my teeth in an effort to ensure that my eyes were the only things that watered.

“What’s your risk profile?” (Is this similar to the “Love Profile” quiz I took in Cosmo last week?)

“Have you opened a Roth IRA yet?” (No… not yet. But it was definitely on my “to do” list today… what is it again?)

“Do you have life insurance?” (None to speak of, although I’d make a dollar bet that one of my ex-boyfriends took some out on me.)

“What are your financial goals?” (To have enough money that I don’t need to sit in this office and worry about money anymore.)

“Do you have an investment account?” (Is that like a savings account or a checking account? Or somewhere in between, kind of like “brunch” is to “breakfast” and “lunch”?) 

This was my first meeting with a financial advisor. A meeting that I felt wholly insecure about having in the first place. It was clear to me… and certainly must have been to the rest of the suited-and-booted fellows in the big, fancy brokerage office… that I wasn’t of the ilk that they typically saw. In truth, I wasn’t really “qualified” to have a financial advisor, was I?

I was the child of two elementary school teachers who never talked about money, bills, finance, net worth, retirement or investments, so I knew almost nothing about anything that carried a dollar sign (unless it was a Pottery Barn price tag).

My last name was neither Rockefeller, Kardashian or Bieber, and I was nowhere near a millionaire.

I was the granddaughter of a whip-smart, yet eighth-grade-educated matriarch who worked as a clerk in the post office and gave me only one piece of financial advice in my life: “Make sure you get a job with a pension.” I didn’t follow it.

And so here I was at age 32, wondering how on earth I was supposed to: 

  • Retire by 55 (without the pension that I clearly missed out on)
  • Pay a mortgage
  • Put a kid through college (I went to Stanford… but Antioch City college for the kid was sounding mighty fine.)
  • Put a kid through New York private elementary school (more than college… I’m just sayin’)
  • Go on vacation
  • Help my extended family
  • Eat

And I needed help.

But not this kind of help. Not the kind of help where I felt like I was being set up for a co-dependent relationship with a partner that exploited my vulnerabilities. Not the kind of help where I wondered if I really needed that life insurance policy, or if my advisor really needed the bonus that he received when he sold it to me. Not the kind of help where I felt like answers to my questions were intentionally presented with as much complicated financial jargon as possible (“Would you prefer long-term securities or short-term asset-related annuity-style blah blah blah?”).

So I did what all strong women do when they realize that they’re in a bad relationship: tell their friends that they need a new guy.

And get a new guy, I did. Enter my new financial advisor, Bill, in 2007.

I’m not sure about you, but when I get a new guy, the first question I ask myself is, “What would my mother think?”

Six reasons my mother would have loved Bill (financial advisor B) better than Abe (financial advisor A):

  1. He came to me instead of making me come to him on our first meeting (clearly an indicator of moral fiber).
  2. He held my hand through the entire process (figuratively, that is… literal hand-holding with your financial advisor qualifies as creepy).
  3. He asked about my goals and dreams instead of just my money (no gold diggers here).
  4. He didn’t make me feel like I had to be the prettiest girl in the room (or the richest, in this case) to get his attention.
  5. He drew me pictures (granted, they were pictures depicting the power of compound interest, but pictures nonetheless).
  6. And last, yet first, he communicated in words that didn’t leave me feeling lost, mystified, poorly-reared or financially feeble-minded. Quite the opposite, he made me smarter. What mother wouldn’t want that?

And so, after eight years of working with my financial advisor Bill, my life has been changed. I feel in control of my personal finances, I’m proud of the decisions I make, I’m on track to reach my goals and I worry less. Much, much less. (Just ask my “wasbund,” you know, the ex who was my husband… ) 

And I want to transmit that feeling of freedom and empowerment to every woman in the world.

So, with the help of SheKnows, I’ll use this platform to share what I know, and together we can eradicate the financial Freddy Krueger from all of our lives.

Financial lesson #1: Financial advisors are for both royalty and regular folks, so send out a Facebook post asking your friends to give you a recommendation for a good guy, or gal, right now.