How to Find the Best Financial Planner for You

My husband and I were on the hunt for a financial planner for years.  We started out using one at our local credit union, but that one seemed to talk (and talk, and talk) more than he liked to invest.  Every time we saw him, the visit would last well over an hour as he chatted about everything under the sun, except investing.  When our investments with him remained stagnant over a two year period, we decided to move on.

Over several years, we interviewed several different financial planners and received either terrible advice (like investing all of our rollover retirement money in an annuity despite our relative youth) or didn’t feel comfortable with the planner.  Finally, last summer, we found a financial planner who gave his advice based on our unique situation and the goals that we have.  All our hard work searching for a planner finally paid off!

If you’re searching for a good financial planner, here are some things you might want to ask yourself:

Best financial plannerDoes the planner come recommended? Stumbling upon a good financial advisor independently may be possible, but our planner came highly recommended from several people in our neighborhood.  In fact, one had been working with him for over 10 years!

Does the planner give advice based on your own financial situation? Some planners have stock and trade investment advice that they never deviate from regardless of your situation.  (Think of how Dave Ramsey always gives the same advice regardless of the caller’s unique situation.)

Ironically, one thing that made us go with our current financial advisor is that he disregarded the traditional advice that one should NEVER take money out of a retirement account to pay off debt.  Because we couldn’t seem to get out from under our debt no matter how gazelle intense we were, our advisor recommended that we pull out enough to pay off the debt in full.

Doing so was scary, but he was right–the tax implications were not as terrible as we had thought and being free of that debt gave us energy and confidence to achieve our financial goals including adding to our retirement every month and creating a good size emergency fund.

Is the financial advisor a teacher? Of course, I don’t mean teacher in the traditional sense, but does he take the time to explain why he is recommending specific actions?  Does he want you to understand basic investments so you feel more comfortable with his advice?

Our first planner never did this, and we were quite clueless about why he made the financial investments he did.  Our current planner will take the time to explain, and if necessary, explain again until we understand why he is suggesting the investments he is suggesting.

What are the planner’s credentials? Every planner should have some initials after his or her name.  Look these up on the web to see what obtaining them entails.  CNN Money suggests, “The ones you want to look for are the ones that take a significant amount of time and expertise to master before the designation is awarded.  These include the CFP (certified financial planner), the PFS (personal financial specialist) and the CFA (chartered financial analyst).”

How is the planner paid? There are several ways planners can be paid, but in general, be cautious with those who are paid on commission based on what products they sell to you.  While there are honest planners paid on commission that care about you and your interests, many are interested in selling the product with the fattest commission regardless of whether that product benefits you or not.

Do you use a financial planner?  If so, what criteria did you use to find the planner?

5 Ways to Have a Frugal Halloween

While the marketers would like us to think that Halloween should cost a fortune, it doesn’t have to.  On average, Americans in 2013 planned to spend $75.03 on Halloween candy and costumes.  (My guess is those with more than two children will spend significantly more than this, especially if they choose to buy costumes.)

If you use some creativity and resourcefulness, you and your kids can have a fun Halloween without spending a fortune.  Here’s a way to have a ghoulish Halloween without frightening your wallet.

Save Serious Money on Costumes

5 Ways to have a frugal halloween

If you have the cash to spend, you can certainly find costumes at a discount by visiting second hand stores or perusing Craigslist.  However, if you don’t have the money to spend or you simply choose not to, there are still plenty of adorable costumes for your kids:

Use costumes you have around the house.

If you have dress up clothes, those are fair game for a Halloween costume.  Another idea is to use your child’s clothing from extracurricular activities.  Does your son have a little league uniform?  Great, he can be a baseball player.  Does your daughter take dance classes?  She can be a ballerina.  Does your child have a pair of skeleton pajamas?  They could easily double for her Halloween costume.

Marketers want us to think that a child should be able to pick any costume he or she would like for Halloween.  However, you can limit this to whatever type of costume the child can find around the house.

Create your own costume.

With a little creativity (and maybe some face paint), you can likely find a good costume with things you already have around the house.  An old white sheet makes for a great ghost costume and your child’s clothes along with face paint can help create an adorable hobo.  With the help of Pinterest, you’ll find plenty of costume ideas you can make at little to no cost using items around the house.

Have a costume swap.

If you have old costumes that the kids have outgrown or no longer want, why not get together a few of your friends and have a costume swap.  You may leave with a new-to-him costume for your child, and you will have decluttered your home of a few costumes you’ll never use again in the process.

Save on Candy

Reuse candy.

Now, before you get upset with the wording “reuse candy” hear me out.  Buy a bag or two of candy to give to the trick or treaters.   If you have young children, take them early in the night.  When you get home, go through the candy that your kids don’t like.  (As a kid, I hated any candy bars that had nuts in them.)  This candy will likely go in your own mouth if the kids won’t eat it.  Instead, put it in your candy bowl and give it to the trick or treaters at your door.

Turn off the light when the candy is out.

I know some people who live in subdivisions popular with trick or treaters.  These people will buy five, six, seven bags of candy.  That adds up fast!  Instead, buy whatever amount of candy your budget allows.  When you run out, turn off the outside light, turn off the lights in the front of the house, and go settle in to watch a movie or read a good book in the back of the house.  Don’t feel pressured to buy more candy than you comfortably can financially.

What are your favorite tricks to save on Halloween?

Grocery Shopping Once a Month – Can You Do It?

My husband and I recently bought a house, and we’d like to plump up our emergency fund just in case we have a large house expense.  (Because, of course, when you have little savings, expensive things start to break.  It’s the law of nature, right?)

To inspire myself, I reread America’s Cheapest Family Gets You Right on the Money by Steve and Annette Economides.  One strategy of theirs that I latched onto is once a month shopping.  The Economides shop once a month for their family of seven and right after shopping day, they make 15 to 17 freezer meals to help them on nights when they’re too busy to cook.

Alright, I already regularly cook freezer meals, so how hard could it be to shop once a month for my family of five?

As it turns out, very tough, at least the first month.

Grocery Shopping once a monthBreaking Bad Habits

I have a bad habit of making a big shopping trip on the weekend and then running to the store for this or that several times a week.

Do you do this, too?  From all of the harried shoppers I see at the store at 5 p.m., I’m guessing I’m not alone.

The problem is that each time I run to the store, I buy more items than I initially went to the store to buy.  The Economides recommend once a month shopping to avoid this kind of impulse buying that blows up the grocery budget.

Making the Big Shopping Trip

This month, eager to change my bad shopping habit, I scouted the deals and made my big, once a month shopping trip.  I spent two days afterward cooking up meals to put in the freezer.  I was set, or so I thought.

Turns out, limiting the impulse to stop by the store is more difficult than I thought.

There are a number of reasons why we’re struggling:

  • My husband likes fresh fruit and veggies.  Our family wiped these out after a week, so back I went to the store to pick up some more.
  • I’m an impulse eater.  If something sounds good to me, I want to make the recipe and have it for dinner.  I don’t want to wait until my next monthly shopping trip to get the ingredients to make it.  (The whim would have passed by then, which is the point, I guess.)
  • Eating up odds and ends at the end of the month is not fun.  Sure, trying to make meals out of what food is left is fun, but the last few days, most of it doesn’t taste good.

Taking Baby Steps Moving Forward

While it would be easy to give up on the idea of once a month shopping, I haven’t yet because I know it can be a big money saver.  Instead, I’m going to back up and move to twice a month shopping.  This will allow me time to plan out our meals for two weeks, making sure we have all the ingredients we need.  Many fruits and veggies stay good for nearly two weeks, so my husband will have the fresh fruits and veggies that he wants.

I don’t know if I’ll ever fully implement once a month shopping, but if I am successful with twice a month shopping, I will still significantly reduce my impulse shopping trips and improve my grocery budget.

How often do you grocery shop?  Are you a multiple trip, impulse buyer like I am (was?), or are you a grocery store ninja?