Is it time to get your financial house in order? In this Conversations with Smart People interview, I talked with financial expert David Bleiweiss of Edward Jones in Issaquah, WA to learn about how to achieve financial harmony.
My personal definition of financial harmony is living in balance–spending no more than I earn and having some jingle left over for giving. Living in financial harmony also means living without the stress of looming debt or the fear of losing those basic human needs like food and shelter. After all, chronic worrying can take a real toll on our health.
To put it simply, we achieve financial harmony when we are satisfied that we have enough, however you define your enough. Here’s what David had to say about this topic:
Q: What are some of your favorite budgeting or money management tools?
David Bleiweiss: Step one, no matter what the circumstance, is to create a budget. Being “on a budget” doesn’t mean you’ll be eating beans and rice, it simply means you know where your dollars are going – what’s coming in and what’s going out. You’ll feel pretty powerful by making decisions before they occur. I often encourage clients to run their home finances as if it were a business. While it might sound cliché, one simple guiding principle is to live below your means. But you must first understand your means. The most basic tool for creating a budget is pen and paper. You don’t need expensive software or apps to get started. That simple act of writing down the details of our finances forces us to be more aware. Many people don’t even know how much money they spend each month because they rely on automatic payments and online tools. We’ve lost the feel of money. Plastic may be easier, but it disconnects us from reality. That’s why creating a monthly budget is one of the single most important practices that can help you move toward financial harmony. Next, you’ll want to prioritize your expenses. Having a place to live is the top priority, so rent or mortgage should come first. Next in line is food. Then you’ll need to get to work, so transportation is a high priority. And finally, utilities are essential. The rest of the budget is based on individual preferences. One person may not be able to live without cable, while another person couldn’t imagine not having a monthly massage built into their budget. That’s why it’s equally important to sit down with your significant other or roommate to go through the budget and come to an agreement. Dave Ramsey is right. In most relationships or partnerships, there is usually a free spirit and a nerd. Take advantage of those tendencies. Work together. The important thing is that all parties need to be on the same page for a budget to function successfully. And remember, when you’re starting out you’ll make mistakes. That’s true for anything. But it will get better over time. Don’t give up.
Q: Which financial strategies do your most successful clients employ?
David: First of all, they have a purpose behind their money. In fact, many of them set up separate accounts for each of their goals. Someone who loves to travel might set up an account to save a pre-determined amount of money for a future trip. Someone else might focus on retirement goals such as establishing a financial target to retire by a certain age. Successful clients are purposeful while less successful ones lack a clear sense of purpose. Lazy money does exactly what lazy people do – nothing. Another common trait among successful clients is that they enlist the help of a trusted advisor, and they keep an open dialogue with that advisor to keep them informed of life changes – even potential ones. They proactively seek guidance before making financial decisions, and whether or not they choose to take the advice they always ask questions, listen and learn. Passion is another unmistakable quality of clients who have good financial health. Whether they are passionate about their family, their job, a hobby or cause, they are driven by that passion. They are also givers and genuinely care about something beyond their own interests. Successful clients tend to keep things simple. Some might even say that their investment strategies are fairly boring, but they understand that money is sort of like a bar of soap – the more you touch it the less there is.
Q: What would be a good starting place for someone seeking financial harmony?
David: The most important step would be to find a financial coach or accountability partner. Managing finances is a process, not just a one-time conversation. Talking with a financial advisor in a face-to-face, open dialogue is priceless. Life is a series of changes, which is why it’s so critical to form a trusted relationship with someone who can help you navigate those changes.
Q: What advice do you have for families struggling to pay off debts?
David: Managing debt can be scary. Making the decision to regain control of finances is a big step because we’re afraid of it. The debt keeps getting bigger and bigger and it’s a huge source of stress. A great place to start would be to write down a list of all of the debts you owe, to know where you stand, and then prioritize them. To get out of debt, we have to set goals. The goal may be to eliminate a quarter of it, half of it or all of the debt. But thinking about it as phases or steps makes it seem more manageable. It’s also important to establish a timeline for paying off debt. Start with the smallest debt first, and you’ll start to see progress and that helps with motivation. Work from smallest debt to largest and seek guidance along the way.
Q: Can someone talk to you as an advisor even if they don’t have an account with Edward Jones?
David: Absolutely. No matter what the circumstances, I’m always happy to talk with people to help them rebuild or optimize their financial strategy.