December 1, 2017

Sometimes The "Expert" is You


Whether retired or not, we all tend to gravitate to experts. If we want help managing our money we find a financial planner or adviser. For our health we consult not just doctors, but specialists. There are experts ready to tell you how you save your marriage or put the spark back in your love life. The magazines by the checkout counter of your favorite supermarket list easy steps to solve every sticky problem in your life. Our society worships experts. If someone is an expert, whatever he or she says must be right.

Yet, time and time again, we rely on experts and find the advice doesn’t work the way we have been told it would. Then we question ourselves up and assume we must be incompetent because “it worked for all those other people.” Yet, the economic mess of ten years ago should be proof enough that the experts can be as clueless and wrong as the rest of us.

My non-expert advice: don’t do this to yourself. Sometimes advice doesn’t work because it’s bad advice. Of the hundreds of personal development, financial planning, or retirement books I’ve read over the years more than a handful contained bad advice. The ideas and suggestions simply did not work for me in my situation. They produced zero results or even had negative outcomes. They were not just useless, but potentially harmful to my satisfying retirement.

This doesn’t mean the authors were lying. In most cases I could see a reason why the advice might have worked well for the author but wouldn’t work for me. We’re all different. What works for one person or even a group of people doesn’t always translate well to every individual. We can't out-source our life to others.

It really doesn’t matter how well schooled an expert is or what studies he has to back up his claims. Unless the author has spent time with you personally be suspicious of any advice that comes from averaging different types of people together. Do studies on “average” people apply to someone who isn’t average? Are you average, or are you a unique human being? Do you completely fit the average mold in terms of your genetics, diet, upbringing, education, finances, family situation, residence, hobbies, etc? Probably not. No one person does. That's why it is an average. That means the step-by-step approach to solving your specific problem won't necessarily work like you hope it will.

Unfortunately, there are lots of people who try to separate older folks from their money with investment schemes that are little more than scams. A claim of legitimacy, a fancy title, a slick brochure, a four color mailer, or a well-designed web site is all it takes to separate lots of people from their hard-earned money.

At this point, stop and consider: experts certainly know less about you than you do. They want you to stop worrying and just do what they say, buy what they recommend, and live how they have determined is best. An expert is often self-declared. He may have no track record or experience to have earned that label. She has no idea what works best for you in your unique set of circumstances. Consider that maybe you are the best expert in figuring what is right for you. 

Study yourself as an individual, and use expert advice only as a general guide for new experiments of your own. Notice what works for you and what doesn’t. Trust your senses. If the experts say one thing, but your personal experience suggests the opposite, put more faith in your own experience. Stop listening to every talking head. Start listening to yourself. That will take you much farther down the road of a satisfying retirement lifestyle.

How specifically could this apply to you? Without coming across as an expert (!), here are a few obvious examples to make my point:

Health care.  If any doctor said I need surgery or a course of treatment that is expensive, possibly debilitating, and risky I am going to get a second opinion. I am going to do my own research on the Internet. I am going to attempt to talk with others who have had the same medical issue. I very well might do what that first doctor suggested. But, not just on his say-so.

Finances. My financial adviser suggests I purchase something, sell something, or consider a new direction. Nothing happens until I have enough time to think about it, research it, and consider other options. It is my money and future at risk, not hers.

Blogging. There are thousands of bloggers ready to tell me and sell me something so I can be a "successful" blogger. They have a plan to add 10,000 new readers in a month, or 20,000 Twitter followers by tomorrow. All I have to do is buy their book or sign up for an on-line course, and I'll be the next big thing. Or, maybe it is better for me to continue the way I have been: slow, steady growth with plenty of missteps and mistakes. Only I can decide what I want this blog to be and how to get there.


What decisions have you made and steps you have taken that were counter to "the experts?" Do you have examples of some piece of advice you followed that turned out to be all wrong for you? What is keeping us from trusting more of our own sense of what is right and wrong for us?


Thanks to fellow blogger, Steve Palvina for the inspiration for this post from an article of his several years ago.

23 comments:

  1. Yes, "move closer to your job, where you can bike or walk to your job"....then I changed jobs ....lol. Moving is very expensive, even if you do it yourself. You have to pay deposits, deal with closing costs, or rental agreements and downpayments either way.....you cannot just "move" closer to your job without financial costs.

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    1. I gather that was a piece of advice you receieved from someone. It is a good example of a generic tip that probably wouldn't work for many people. The costs and consequences of a move for that reason must be carefully thought out.

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    2. Exactly.... that person was adamant, and there were no exceptions to his rule of living close to your job.....and it did not work for me, since I changed jobs over three hours away .....lol

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  2. I had a fairly clueless financial advisor in the late ‘90’s in California. After a couple questionable pieces of advice that I followed, I decided I knew my situation and risk aversion better than he and took over my own research and investing. I haven’t regretted it. And we have hired an independent fee only advisor twice since. I appreciated that neither was trying to sell me anything.

    As well, DH decided to have his portfolio managed for a year and at the end of that year realized he did better on his own with no deductions for “expert advice.” You might say we’re cynical about financial advise in general. :-)
    —Hope

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    1. At present I have special section of my IRA being managed by a "specialist" organization. I don't really see the advantage or any increased growth. I am likely to end the arrangement in 2018.

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  3. My Financial adviser told me the market would never crash, about two weeks before it crashed! Fortunately for me I have always been a very bad advice taker. Much advice found on the internet is simply click bait. It's interesting to see how many followers those blogging advisers have - often not many!

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    1. Just like any source material you might consult on any subject, multiple ones are better than just one. If you find consistent answers you can feel more comfortable with the advice.

      Remember the saying, "well, it must be true, it was in the newspaper?" Applying that to the Internet can be a costly mistake.

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  4. Oh Bob, you are a man after my own heart! My personal mantra is, "Nobody knows what's best for Kathy like Kathy does." We have to go with our gut, instead of always listening to our head. If something doesn't feel right, it probably isn't right for you. I know I must drive my doctor nuts because, if I have symptoms or drug side effects, I read everything on the Mayo Clinic site before even going to my doctor. I show up with a list of questions for her and the expectation of a conversation. Many years ago, I fired a doctor because all he wanted to do was prescribe another drug! Ditto with a financial planner who constantly wanted to buy and sell and kept pushing an annuity at me. I was fortunately educated on the investment ins and outs to realize all of this made them more money than what they were already charging me. I found someone more interested in serving me as a client. And, oh the people trying to sell we bloggers the 'secret' to getting more followers or making more money. There's always someone who thinks they know more than you do. My best advice...keep your own counsel! Great post! K

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    1. I always wonder how somebody on Twitter has 100,000 followers, or some such ridiculous number. They must be bought or from bots, but they come with no value. Same with blogging. Unless I suddenly I want to get serious about monetizing Satisfying Retirement, I avoid all those come-ons. The only guy I really like is Darren Rowse. Yes, he sells stuff, but also offers plenty of actionable, basic material.

      I depend on the Mayo Clinic app, too. I trust their take on something.

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  5. I've never monetized my blog. Not because I didn't want to maybe make some money but, it felt awkward to me. Plus, I don't have a specific blog type and some advertisers might not like what I write. So, I keep it simple. Sometimes I feel I'm missing out but, the primary reason is I don't want anyone limiting my scope. I don't follow a schedule, which I'm sure you know, and sometimes topics just jump out at me and I have to write about it. I've never liked having anyone tell me what's best for me.
    b

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    1. Both you and Kathy have hit on the blog angle of this post: all sorts of experts with all sorts of hints and tricks to get the money flowing in. Over the years I have bought a few e-books that have been helpful. But, like you, I simply don't want to chase the dollars...it would be like another job. If someone wants to advertise, great. Otherwise I am quite content with my small checks from Amazon and Google each month and the steady base of readers and comments. They are my experts.

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  6. Something I heard many years ago: "No one cares about your money as much as you do." It was regarding understanding investments with the basic advice of don't buy anything you don't understand. The same is true with your health and for most other things.

    Remember that experts aren't necessarily wrong or just looking out for themselves and they can be very helpful, I wouldn't want to be in court without a lawyer that's for sure, but understand what is being proposed and that it makes sense to you. If you don't understand it, don't do it. That advice kept me out of a hedge fund that was being recommended as a great investment just before it blew up.

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    1. Yes, an important point. Experts and those with experiences can be very helpful. But, you have to do your due diligence. A fancy diploma on the wall or large office doesn't equal what is best for you. As I have written before, there is no "one size fits all," especially when it comes to our retirement finances.

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  7. I struggle with this one a bit. I agree that we can, and should, all come to our own conclusions when dealing with experts, especially when those experts are offering what is purely an opinion. But I retired from a professional position that dealt constantly with the public. I had a university degree, was a registered member of a professional association and worked 30 years in my field. I still had members of the public refuse to accept my statements of facts (not opinions) on issues, simply because they "read it on the internet". That grew frustrating.

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    1. Look at the state of public discourse and distrust of some of the media at this stage in our country's life. People are only accepting whatever currently supports a position already held, from a media source that feeds that belief, including the Internet. Unfortunately, that is easier than thinking something through and considering all sides of an issue.

      I guess I position myself as a type of "expert" with this blog and with what I have to say. I hope that no one accepts my position on anything without verifying it makes sense for them.

      Thanks, Dave. Your point is an important one. It reminds me of the "pointy-headed liberal" phrase of several decades ago. Apparently, there was nothing worse than being well educated and, therefore, disconnected from reality.

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  8. Hi Bob! I DEFINITELY agree with you on this. I think it is important for us all to research and collect as much knowledge about things as possible--and that includes talking to experts--but in the end we are the ones who must live by any choices we make so it's important our thinking is in alignment. As you say, we are all very different with different needs and thoughts so there is no one solution that will fit for us all. I've found specifically with my own health and with my finances it is definitely best to make my own decisions. ~Kathy

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    1. A good example of the point you make was a recent health challenge of mine. The first doctor took a guess after talking to me, prescribed some pills and sent me on my way. That did nothing.

      The second time around he took another guess with a different set of pills. Nada.

      Next, a specialist had a shot. No better.

      Finally, I decided to try a different tack. I did a fair amount of research on my own and came to a conclusion about what may be the problem. I approached yet another specialist and discussed my thoughts. He ran a few tests and agreed. He came up with course of action that worked. Even so, I had to do a bit more digging on my own to add a missing piece to the puzzle. 6 months later, the problem was solved.

      We must be active partners in every important area where others have input.

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  9. There is a famous book from the era just before the Great Depression, when the stock market was run by experts who were only experts in stock jobbing and separating people from their money. It was entitled "Where are all the customers yachts?", and summed up who was really getting rich, namely the people dispensing advice. I have never had an adviser, hopefully never will, and make all my own decisions. Have I made big-time mistakes? Sure, but I have made enough good ones as well to know that I have more now than if I trusted my $ to a so-called expert who would have separated me from a good portion of my assets.

    One time a doctor told me to stop running completely, that my ankle only had a short time left due to all the basketball sprains I had over the years. I ignored that expert and talked to another doctor who told me the first was full of ----, so I have been running for these last 25 years or so with no issues. I wonder what kind of shape I would be in if I blindly listened to the first "expert".

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  10. Right now, I am facing this problem. A person is an expert on my life and what I should do. His only expertise factor is he is a Christian and as such, he knows what is best for everyone. He does not know all the facts about my life and ignores the ones I tell him. So, why tell him anymore since he shares my problems with the world around this small town. So, I guess we are not friends anymore.

    I have lost friends who considered themselves experts. They could not manage their own lives, so took my problems on with poor advice. They all told me to sell every stick of furniture I had, including appliances to make my mortgage payment because that is what they did. Well, several years later, they lost their homes. Thirty years later, I still have mine. my problem was that sold in a panic or need mode, all my furniture and appliances would make one payment. What would I do next month? I had to think future, long term.

    I read Mayo site too. I even figured out what a health problem was when doctors could not or would not. A friend ridiculed me for spending time on the internet reading about health issues. She said she trusted her doctors. Well, she died, too.


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    1. You make my point very strongly! There are times and places when experience is vital to our well being. I wouldn't want to trust a first year Resident if I needed serious surgery. But, it is often a self-styled expert that causes the most trouble.

      We have to be discerning and sometimes trust our gut.

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  11. Bob, I agree with your point that it is important to be a critical consumer and to research important personal decisions rather than blindly and passively following others’ advice. However, I worry about the way that so many people in our contemporary society have lost respect for professional expertise, trusting instead non-credible sources like a random link on Facebook, self-appointed online experts, or media celebrities. When so many out there are trying to sell you something, often overstating their credentials, it becomes even more important to critically analyze the source of the information. I am more likely to trust information that comes from an educated, accredited professional — a teacher, physician, lawyer, registered speech-language pathologist, and so forth, than a self-appointed “expert.” I am also aware that I am not and cannot be an expert in everything.

    Jude

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    1. Unfortunately, in today's society too many people only listen to someone who believes what they do or supports a decision that may not be best. There is a distrust of education or different opinions that trouble me.

      As you note, "passively" following any advice, from whatever source, isn't wise. We have an internal filter that we shouldn't ignore.

      Thanks, Jude.

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