It's a dream assignment, to be sure. Work with a half dozen "Life coaches" and report back on the findings in the pages of a major magazine. It didn't take long for me to identify areas I needed "coaching" in, and procure the necessary people.
But one area vexed me greatly. I had written in my proposal that I would look for a "personal finance" coach, because, as a freelance writer, I am perpetually a dollar short. But unlike the ease with which I found a home organization coach, a life coach, a cooking coach and a wardrobe coach, I kept coming up empty on the personal finance front. Why?
Not a lot of personal finance coaches work with broke people.
A lot of financial planners are in fact investment planners. They work with people who want to preserve or maximize their wealth, and in particular, they want to sell them financial vehicles they themselves are selling. Certified financial planners (CFPs) must have extensive education and experience, and undergo testing to receive the certification. CFPs are more focussed on the planning end of personal finance as well, planning your retirement, figuring out what kinds of insurance you need, etc.
I'm not interested in investing because I don't have anything extra to invest. I don't have a portfolio. I have no money set aside for retirement because what I take in goes right back out again, in the form of rent, food, utilities and kid expenses (clothes, shoes, camp, classes, etc.). My thinking about retirement runs like this: When the kids are grown I'll move to a cheaper state, and when I hit 65 I'll sign myself up on the waiting list for low-income senior housing. That or I'll find a nice trailer in Mexico. Right now it's all about paying the rent and keeping my kids fed and shod.
What I am interested in is paying off my $10,000 in credit card debt. When I've done that, maybe I can start salting away a few hundred at the end of every month, provided my medical insurance premium doesn't go up, or my car doesn't break down, or my landlords tell me I have to move again because they're selling my rental.
It took a while to find a financial coach who could work with the likes of the working poor. I wanted to find someone who could teach me how to budget effectively (the feast or famine lifestyle of a freelance writer means I never know exactly how much I'll earn in any given month. Teach me some basic skills about how to make the most of what I do have.
After a lot of asking around and searching the internets, I think I may have found her. Lynnette Khalfani-Cox is a former WSJ reporter turned personal finance guru. She got herself out of crippling debt years back and wrote a book about it. Since then she's given seminars and written more books. She promises she can take me by the hand and help me out. "A lot of people in your situation just never learned the right way to handle finances. I can teach you," she told me in our first phone conversation.
My finances may look bleak, but on the other hand, I don't have a mortgage to lose, and I have a solid car with no car payments. My student loans were paid off years ago. Myself and my kids have health insurance, and life insurance as well. I also have education and experience and skills (and talent) that enable me to eke out a middle-class living. I may never own a home in my native state of California, but with no other debt in my name, maybe my financial salvation is doable.
Watch this space for some of the lessons I'll hopefully be learning. Stay tuned!
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