It was two months after my college graduation, and I was unemployed and feeling lost. I was going through the typical post-college quarter-life crisis, and definitely didn’t feel like I was good at handling my money.

Besides occasionally checking my banking app to make sure I wasn’t overdrafting my checking account, I knew next to nothing about personal finance. I had never made a budget; I didn’t know the difference between a 401(k) and an IRA. I couldn’t even tell you what a “good” credit score was (or how to even check your credit score).

I was lucky enough to graduate debt-free, thanks to tuition breaks and my parents’ generosity. I had some extra money saved up from jobs and internships throughout my time in college and was hoping to use that money to move out of my parents’ house once I got a job. I knew I definitely needed outside help getting my financial game plan together.

Doing my own research online proved to be fruitless — all I found was conflicting advice and unrealistic financial success stories. I wanted advice that was personal to me, which is why I turned to a professional. 

Why I chose a certified financial planner

A certified financial planner, or CFP, helps clients make sense of their money and establish long- and short-term financial goals. I found my certified financial planner, Jared, through my parents, but a quick Google search can yield plenty of options for those on the hunt.

Use SmartAsset’s free tool to connect you with a certified financial planner in your area »

Jared is a fee-only planner. Like other fee-only planners, he does not make commission and is a fiduciary, meaning he must act in the best interests of his clients. I had limited funds and wanted to work with someone who would give me honest recommendations (and not push unnecessary products on me).

Our first meeting

First, Jared helped me understand my personal financial situation. What was I wasting money on? Did I have enough money to invest? His patient and optimistic attitude instantly alleviated my initial money fears.  

Here are some of the basic things Jared and I covered in our meetings:

1. I created a budget and learned the average amount I should put into each category (like rent, food, etc.)

2. He encouraged me to open a Roth IRA. I didn’t have a job at the time, so a 401(k) wasn’t an option. When I got a job, he recommended I contribute enough to meet my employer’s match.

3. Any leftover money I had, I invested. Jared helped me find the right stocks to invest in based on my savings goals and level of risk tolerance.

Lastly, we discussed long-term plans. I had big dreams to buy a home and retire comfortably (the American Dream!) and Jared mapped out a reasonable strategy to get there. I like the reassurance of knowing I have a plan to reach those far-off goals. Something as lofty as buying a home seemed a bit more attainable once I had a list of manageable steps to get there.

By the end of my two meetings with my CFP, I had a budget, an investment plan, and a long-term game plan. In short, I had a better understanding of my financial situation and felt empowered to make decisions with my money.

Why going to a financial planner was absolutely worth it

In total, I paid $300 for my CFP, which included two in-person sessions. Besides providing me with a complete financial plan, Jared was also available by phone or email if I had any lingering questions.

When I received my tax refund more than nine months after our meeting, I emailed him to get a recommendation on what to do with the money. He responded promptly and gave me a couple of great recommendations – I ended up investing it.

The cost of going to a CFP was absolutely worth it. Money can be a delicate and personal area of someone’s life, and hiring a professional can help provide an objective assessment of your money. 

After graduating college, it’s easy to feel lost. Having someone to hold your hand through the process of becoming financially independent can be essential. I feel like I now have the tools to make smart money decisions without calling my parents.

You don’t need to earn six figures to hire a CFP (I certainly wasn’t earning that much). If you’re looking for ways to save more, or establish better spending habits, a financial planner is definitely for you.

I have saved back that $300 I spent and more, and plan to visit with Jared again in a couple years to make sure I’m on track to reach my long-term goals.

Want to talk to a financial planner about your money goals? Use SmartAsset’s free tool to connect with a qualified professional today »

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