It’s the season for saviors. If you’re a member of a Christian church, then you’re worshiping at God’s altar, honoring the resurrection of Jesus. If you’re a member of the church of college basketball, then you’re celebrating (or cursing) the ascent of another team to the realm of national champions.
There’s just something about American culture that makes us love to look up to other people. Whether it’s young boys looking up to their favorite baseball star, adorning their bedroom walls with his poster and carrying his rookie year baseball card around in their back pocket, or little girls singing along with every word from Lady Gaga, hero worship is just as American as apple pie.
But at what point does having a hero turn into worshiping a false idol? And how on earth does that affect your financial adviser?
Choosing A Financial Adviser
When my grandparents first sought a financial adviser for what was already an extensive investment portfolio, they looked no further than a neighbor they’d known for years. He helped guide my grandparents’ investments through their retirement years, and has ensured that my grandmother has been able to live in comfort for the nearly two decades since my grandfather’s death.
These days, a lot of Americans are taking a DIY approach to their financial planning – another trademark American trait. Why pay someone to do something you can do yourself? That’s why sites like eTrade, TD AmeriTrade, and T. Rowe Price are so popular, because they give investors the rudimentary tools to do it without pricy professional assistance.
Then there’s the group that, for whatever reason, isn’t quite ready to take complete control of their investments. Yet, this group is still unwilling – perhaps unable – to hire a financial adviser. So, what do they do? They turn to the Jesus, Mary, and Joseph of financial professionals: Ramsey, Cramer, and Orman.
The Road To Financial Sainthood
There’s no doubt that Dave Ramsey, Jim Cramer, and Suze Orman are all qualified professionals. While Ramsey and Orman largely focus on money management skills – illustrated by Ramsey’s famous (or infamous, depending on your point of view) Financial Peace University and Orman’s “Can I Afford It?” segments on TV – Cramer is more of an investment expert, focusing on ways to solidly build your portfolio.
At times in my financial past, I’ve sought the not-so-holy trinity’s advice via radio shows, TV shows, websites, and magazine articles. I tried to freeze my credit cards in ice like Dave Ramsey suggests; I ended up spending more money in cash that month. I bought several of the stock picks Jim Cramer recommended; they tanked. I applied some of Suze Orman’s logic to figuring out whether or not I could afford a new car; her website’s tool said I could, experience later proved I couldn’t.
Although I dabbled with all these financial advisers, I never found myself becoming a diehard disciple of any of them. But I know others who have taken a far different path.
From Financial Adviser to Financial Hero
Hannah, a friend from my church, was deeply in debt when she married her husband Rick five years ago. Despite their obvious financial setbacks, Rick and Hannah decided to start a family almost immediately after their taking their wedding vows. Within three years, they had two children, even more debt, and a bleak financial future.
That’s when a mutual friend introduced them to Dave Ramsey (not literally, just his financial advice and website). Hannah and her husband embraced the tenets of Financial Peace University, but were nonetheless slow to climb out of the red. Two years later, they’re still in debt – yet, they pledge allegiance to Ramsey every chance they get.
“He’s amazing,” Hannah gushed one morning during a play date, as though she were divulging the bedroom secrets of her marriage. “You’ve really got to listen to his teachings. He’s, like, my financial savior.”
Did she really just say that?
Here was a good Christian woman, comparing Dave Ramsey to a savior. I knew what she meant – she wasn’t talking about a literal savior, just a finance professional who had helped her navigate a dicey financial point in her life. Yet, where was the proof? Hannah and her husband were still looking at some pretty substantial debt, a situation made worse by Hannah’s determination to remain a stay at home mom until her two children were in school.
Worshiping False Idols
My argument here isn’t that Ramsey, Cramer, and Orman don’t have wonderful advice to offer in their areas of expertise. For every person I know who has misinterpreted some of their advice, I know another person who has experienced tremendous financial success because of it. My argument, rather, is that it’s downright dangerous to turn a financial adviser into a financial hero. Hero status should be reserved for your grandfather who stormed the beaches of Normandy; your sister-in-law, who has raised your two beautiful nephews to adulthood despite the early death of your brother; the inner-city school teacher who, beyond all obstacles, manages to bring her students’ reading scores up to grade level year in and year out.
We can – and should – turn to a financial adviser if and when we’re able. My own adviser has been able to help me expand my investments, diversify my portfolio, and increase my contributions. But I’d never call him a hero – a financial guru, maybe, but not a hero.
Who in your life helps you navigate your finances? Would you consider him or her a hero? Why or why not?