Adulting Is Easy was created out of a passion for finance. My undergrad is in Business Finance and I’ve read at least a dozen books on personal finance. Does this make me an expert? Nope. I don’t have a master’s degree and I’m not an accountant. I hold no certifications on this topic. That’s why my husband and I recently met with a couple of financial advisers who were recommended to us by friends. Meeting with two allowed us to compare approaches, communication styles, and fit. Generally, the more information you can provide, the better the adviser will be able to help.
Here are some steps you can take when preparing for such a meeting:
1. Overcome your fears of talking about and being honest about your finances.
Talking about your finances is not easy or fun and you’re meeting with a financial adviser for a reason. Keep that reason – your “why” – in mind as you get ready for your first meeting with an adviser.
2. Know your income from the last couple of years.
A financial adviser will want to know what you make so they can help you plan for the future. Get your W-2’s or 1099’s together from the last couple of years. Don’t forget to include side hustles. Have your tax returns available if you can. You don’t have to be exact, just make sure for each step you have information at your fingertips to make a good approximation.
3. Be prepared to share your budget (or at least your approx. inflows less outflows)
Once the adviser knows what you make, they will want to hear where that money goes. Your gross income is your salary (plus commission and bonuses if applicable), and health insurance, employer-sponsored retirement accounts, and taxes are taken out of this amount, then what remains is deposited in your account. Your cash outflows will include your bills – like mortgage/rent, utilities, student loans, car payment, car insurance – as well as entertainment, food, household purchases, etc. Hopefully, when you subtract your outflows from your inflows there is money left that you can put into savings or invest. This is a key part of what an adviser is interested in, along with how much you’re putting into retirement.
4. Compile your account statements.
One of the advisers we met with immediately asked us to send over statements from our accounts, so you might as well have them saved and ready. These statements include retirement accounts (401(k), IRA’s, 403(b), etc.), brokerage accounts (holdings outside of retirement), checking accounts, savings accounts, and more. The adviser will be interested to know what the balances are and where they are invested (if applicable). Also be aware of any disability or life insurance you have.
5. Put a “balance sheet” together.
Your adviser will probably create a “balance sheet” for you. I suggest creating one as well to see if yours matches theirs. They will use the accounting equation: assets - liabilities = equity to do so. In step 4, you compiled all your account statements. Next, get an approximate value of your house using Zillow and your car using Kelley Blue Book. You may have additional properties, vehicles, boats, and other assets. Estimate a value for those as well.
Next, figure out what the balances are on your debt, including mortgage(s), student loans, personal loans, credit cards, and auto loans. Then add up the balances of your debt and subtract the sum from the value of your assets. This number represents your net worth. (If you’re curious how your net worth compares to others, check out this blog by Intuit.)
6. Get ready to express your goals.
Picture, as of right now, how your see your life playing out. If you’re in a relationship (especially if you’re married), have a conversation with your partner. You should come to the meeting with a financial adviser with an idea of when you’d like to retire (and whether you’re both going to retire at the same time). If you want to have kids, talk about when that would be and whether you want to pay for school, and whether that means private grade school and/or college. Talk about whether one parent will stay home for a time with the kid(s). Thanks to step 2, you’ll know about what you’re spending each month/year and you should think about whether your current lifestyle should stay the same or not when you retire. One last thing to consider is your stance on social security, i.e. whether you think the benefit will stay the same, increase, or decrease. You could elect not to include it at all.
7. Do not stress yourself out.
Taking control over your finances can seem overwhelming. Do the best you can when compiling the information about your income, expenses, statements, balance sheet, and goals. Get an approximation. Any financial plan is a moving target that needs to be refined over time anyways. Remember that the resultant relationship with a financial adviser will give you piece of mind and a more certain path forward than you’re on right now. It will be worth it. Breathe.