Tom Henson is a senior consultant with Infinity Financial Solutions and one of KL's most sought after financial planners. Married with a young son, Tom enjoys family life and is an ace on the golf course.
Last year, a survey by Wells Fargo & Co included a question about the topic of conversation the Americans fear the most. While politics, religion and even death were up there as tricky subjects to discuss around the dinner table, they are deemed easier to chat about than the poll’s clear and surprising winner: money.
It is ironic that despite our society becoming more and more consumerist, we continue to find it very difficult to confront the subject of our financial health. This taboo is so strong that huge numbers of people are simply burying their heads in the sand when it comes to having a financial plan – two-thirds of Americans don’t have one. And yet many of us are also consumed by worries about the state of our finances. Thirty-three per cent of those interviewed in the survey admitted that they lose sleep worrying about money. So what are the reasons for being unable to get a handle on our financial situations?
Money is an emotive subject – it is wrapped up with happiness, power and personal achievement, as well as often being used as a marker for success. Many people avoid talking about it because of embarrassment, and that is just as true for the wealthy who don’t want to be seen as showing off as it is for those who are struggling financially and may fear criticism.
Couples often avoid discussing finances through a fear of conflict. The survey revealed that 33 per cent of those in a relationship admitted that they found it difficult to discuss money with their partner and 25 per cent said that financial discussions ended up getting heated. Rather than descend into a shouting match, many couples simply avoid the subject altogether.
Finally, many people just don’t know where to start with putting together a financial plan. Talk of investments, tax, pensions and savings can seem frightening and are shoved aside rather than being tackled head on. If one partner takes control of the family finances, the other might be quite happy to relinquish any responsibility but that could backfire if the relationship breaks up or when the savvy partner passes away.
Taboos are there to be broken and in this case, doing so could result in a much healthier financial life for many people. If you had an issue with your physical health, you would no doubt seek help from your doctor, a pharmacist or a specialist, or at least check out your symptoms online. In the same way, you can get help with your financial health issues. You can certainly glean an awful lot of information about managing your finances online but a financial adviser can be invaluable in looking at your situation from a more objective point of view and helping you to clarify your financial goals.
Many people labour under two common misconceptions about financial advisers – that they are for the extremely wealthy, and that they are expensive. Neither of these are true. Most people – and perhaps especially those on tight budgets – benefit from having an expert on board who can give professional and impartial advice on both managing and protecting your money. The key is to choose someone who is independent, client-focussed and does not try to combine financial planning with investment management (a role which requires a completely different set of skills and knowledge). You will also be sharing some extremely personal information with them, so go with someone you trust.
Finally, let’s make a concerted effort to avoid passing on the taboo nature of money to our children by involving them in financial discussions and money management. I’m not suggesting they have access to information regarding all your wealth and investments, but nurturing an understanding of the concepts of budgeting, setting financial goals, saving and managing money in them will sow the seeds for a future generation who can be more open and confident about their finances.