The Financial Physician Is In

Financial fitness isn't hard to achieve. It involves learning some essential concepts that are logical and easy to understand, but only if they are properly explained.

Most people neglect their financial fitness, sometimes because they simply don’t know what to do or where to turn. Meanwhile, others bury themselves in denial. Millions find monetary matters too intimidating so they ignore them. They resist and refuse to think, talk, or learn about finances. All they want to do is spend, spend, spend, pile up more debt, and pretend that everything is just great. Their inaction turns coughs and sniffles into terminal diseases.

In their ignorance, people fall into destructive habits that can ravage their financial health. Instead of building nest eggs, they build debt; instead of adding to their net worth, they subtract. Over time, lucrative opportunities slip by; people live month to month and don’t accumulate enough for their retirement years. When they try to catch up, they grasp at straws, take foolish risks and follow horrible advice.

All the while, stress piles up, which can seep into their home lives, alienate them from their families, and wreck their health.

My approach

For most of my 30 years as a financial advisor, I’ve been a Certified Financial Planner. In that time, I’ve met with thousands of clients and witnessed the pain and suffering ignorance inflicts. In 14 years, as the host of a top-rated radio program on finances, I’ve answered questions for thousands more callers and discussed their concerns. In the process, I’ve developed a unique approach.

When I first tried to advise people, many didn’t understand or resisted my suggestions. So I decided to try a different technique. I became the Financial Physician and began explaining finance by using analogies to physical health. Suddenly, they understood. I emphasized that physical and financial fitness are both crucial, and that their financial wellbeing is second only to their physical health.

Medical analogies have enabled me to get through to people in ways they could quickly understand and accept. Talking about finances in terms of health lowered their resistance and helped them see the light. They became more open and willing to learn. Their newfound knowledge made them thirst for more; they became eager, cooperative and increased their role in charting their own financial lives.

Health and finances

Physical and financial health share many similarities, but substantial differences also exist. Let me explain.

When it comes to physical health, the options are clear. Everyone knows the big picture: exercise and avoid smoking, drinking, eating poorly, and taking on too much stress. Although those facts are drummed into us, how many of us do what’s best? Fortunately, we usually have a safety valve. When medical problems arise, our bodies rebel. So we hustle off to the doctor, because we know about medical resources and where to turn for help.

With finances, most of us are also aware of the big picture: limit our spending, watch our debt, save, and invest. But with finances, ignorance and resistance intercede. Most people don’t have safety valves—they don’t know what to do or who to see. If a limb isn’t broken or their blood isn’t gushing out, they don’t seek help. They keep on spending, maxing out their credit, and digging deeper holes. Their pain may be excruciating, but they won’t seek help unless they’re close to death. And by then, it may be too late.

Good financial health can help us enjoy long, productive, and happier lives. Poor financial wellbeing can damage our physical health and jeopardize our futures. Unfortunately, most people don’t try to learn about money, fiscal planning, saving, or investing, and they block out much of what they hear.

The problem

Most people know little about finances and have no direction or plans. They live from paycheck to paycheck and month to month; whatever it takes to get by. In dealing with finances, they rely on their instincts and on tips from friends, articles, and radio and TV pundits. Many blindly follow the advice of stockbrokers and insurance agents, who are salespeople working for brokerage, banking and insurance firms. Since brokers and insurance agents are paid on a commission basis, they have an inherent conflict between their clients’ interests and their own.

In contrast, wealthy individuals are acutely focused on their finances. They know the amount of their net worth down to the penny, how it’s invested and how much it should earn. They understand markets, investments, and are as devoted to making money as athletes are to maintaining their competitive edge. Wealthy people are in the business of making money; they work at it. They read, study, learn, hire top advisors, and stay actively involved.

Ironically, financial fitness isn’t hard to achieve. It involves learning some essential concepts that are logical and easy to understand—if properly explained. Financial health also requires planning, discipline and continued attention. Unfortunately, those in the financial establishment—individuals who are in business to make money, not to educate—have made learning about finances too complex. So most folks are intimidated and remain in the dark.

To enjoy a healthy financial life, people must learn how to manage their money. They must approach it as preventive medicine to build their financial muscles and increase their financial strength. Just as they must exercise to bolster their bodies and brains, they must learn how to improve their finances and take control.

In my columns here at Physician's Money Digest, my goal is cover important financial topics in an easy-to-understand and no-nonsense way. I will cover personal finance topics as well as comment on the economy and financial markets. My weekly radio show "The Financial Physician" as well as my daily blog can be accessed at my free website www.thefinancialphysician.com and I welcome emails at lou@thefinancialphysician.com.