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DIY Money: How to Make it Happen on Your Own

George Grombacher September 21, 2022

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DIY Money: How to Make it Happen on Your Own

Can you successfully navigate your own personal finances? Can you DIY money? Yes. 


Financial planning is determining your financial goals, looking at your current situation, and devising strategies for achieving those goals. It’s best viewed as a process because it will need to be updated as your life changes. 


The tangible result of a financial plan is a document which details your goals and the strategies for achieving them. The purpose and value of financial planning and its fundamental goal is providing peace of mind knowing your affairs are in order. 


While there’s no doubt personal finance is a broad field with a lot of complexity, it’s possible to do it yourself. I’m going to talk about everything you need to know in order to make it happen. At the end, should you decide it’s prudent to outsource a portion of it, I’ll talk about how to think about working with a financial advisor and the questions to ask. 


Over my 20+ year career as a financial advisor, I’ve helped countless people become successful with money. I’m honored to be named to Investopedia’s list of the top 100 financial advisors many years running. 


Here’s what we’ll cover:


  • Where you are

  • Where you want to be

  • Closing the gap

  • The three stages of our financial lives

  • Working with a financial advisor


Let’s get started.


Where you are


It’s important to have a clear and accurate picture of your current assets, liabilities and perspective on money. You should gather any current statements, policies and documents. Keeping a spreadsheet will also help you get and stay organized.  


Cash flow and budget. Your current income and expenses and your personal budget. 


Assets and liabilities. This is a very cut and dried accounting of your current financial situation. What accounts and assets do you have, what is their value, how much debt do you have. You’ll determine your current net worth. 

Risk management. This is referring to your existing insurance policies and legal documents.


Planning tolerance. An understanding of how you like to receive and process information. Do you prefer visuals or spreadsheets, do you want all the details or a broad overview? This is particularly important if you’re going to be working with professionals; the process will be more effective if you’re clear in your expectations and wants. 


Values and beliefs. Your values inform your priorities and where you’ll focus your attention. Your beliefs about money play an integral role in how you interact with it. If you’d like to dig deeper into these, you can access our Values Course at no cost.  


Appetite for planning. Are you ready to start this process? It will be time and attention intensive and it’s important that you’re going to be fully engaged. We are after all talking about your money and your future.  


Where you want to be


Without question, this is the most important part of the financial planning process; your vision for the future. You’ll need to think about what you want for your “future” self, your “future” family, and your “future” life. I put future in quotations because it’s difficult and abstract to think about ourselves getting older. But it’s happening to all of us. 


So, what do you want the future to look like? I encourage you to think about these six key areas


  1. Family. What do you want for your family?
  2. Community. What does your community look like and how are you active with it?
  3. Money/Career. What will your financial and work future look like?
  4. WellBeing. How will you nurture your physical, mental and emotional health?
  5. Personal Development. What will you learn simply for the sake of learning?
  6. Contentment/spiritual. What will you do to secure peace of mind? 


If you’d like to dig deeper into these, you can access our Goals Course at no cost.  


Time horizon is a valuable tool in financial planning


Short-term. When thinking about short-term priorities, think three years and less


  • What’s the value of your emergency fund?
  • Will you take annual vacations? 
  • Will you be debt free?
  • What are your other priorities? 


Mid-term. When thinking about mid-term priorities, think 3 to 10 years


  • Will you own real estate?
  • Will you start a business?
  • Will you help a child with educational costs?
  • What are your main priorities?


Long-term. When thinking about long-term priorities, think 10+ years


  • When will you stop working full-time and retire? 
  • How much income do you want to have in retirement?
  • How long will you need it to last for?
  • Where will you live?
  • Will you work?
  • How will you spend your time?
  • Will you leave a legacy to your family or someone/something else?
  • What are your other priorities?


Closing the gap


We explored your current situation, you thought about where you’ll be in the future, and now it’s time to close the gap. There are five key areas to address. 


Risk tolerance. This is a measure of how comfortable you are with risk. How do you think and feel about market fluctuations? How do you think and feel about investing versus speculating? 


It’s important to take into consideration both thinking and feeling because while we may intellectually understand something, we make a lot of our decisions emotionally and we need to be mindful of that. Your risk tolerance will dictate the types of investments and asset classes you utilize.  


Right coverages. You’ll need to ensure you have the proper types as well as the proper amounts of insurance including but not limited to health, life, disability, long-term care and property and casualty.


Right accounts. There are a lot of different types of accounts to save and invest in. Selecting the proper account based on purpose, time horizon and taxes is imperative. 


Right vehicles and asset classes. From stocks to bonds, real estate, cryptoassets, mutual funds, and commodities, there are a lot of vehicles available to save and invest in. Taking your preferences and other important variables into consideration, you’ll choose which to utilize to reach your goals.  


Right amounts. Once you’ve decided on which accounts and vehicles to save and invest in, you’ll determine how much to contribute and for how long. You’ll run projections and make assumptions in order to ensure you’re on track to meet your goals. 


The three stages of our financial lives


Whether you’re building a building, or creating your financial plan, it’s imperative to start with a strong foundation. Without that, the rest of your plan is at risk. It’s for this reason the first stage of our financial lives is protection. 

Once we’ve set our foundation, we want to proactively save and invest for our goals and objectives. This second stage is the accumulation stage. 

The Third stage is distribution. When you’re no longer earning an income from working, where will your income come from? And finally, where would you like all of your assets and possessions to go when you’re gone? 

While you may not move directly stage to stage, it’s a helpful framework for understanding all of the considerations to keep in mind for your financial plan.  




You’re setting the foundation upon which you’ll build your financial plan. Along with making sure you have the proper insurance coverages, you’ll make sure you have a solid understanding of your cash flow, your personal budget and your emergency fund. You’ll put a plan together for getting out of debt and put the appropriate legal documents in place. 


  • Cash flow. It’s important you understand how much money you have coming in each month, and how much you have going out. 


  • Budget. This is simply a process for making a plan for your money on a monthly basis. Budgeting allows you to forecast and make financial decisions, and it lets you know if you can afford to spend and invest. 


  • Emergency fund. Your initial emergency fund should be $1,000 and should be in a savings or money market account which is separate from your everyday checking account. I strongly encourage you to get to six month’s worth of expenses saved in your emergency fund. If you’d like to dig deeper into this, you can access our Get Out of Debt course at no cost, where there is a section that walks you through this process.


  • Debt reduction. Paying off credit card and consumer debt needs to be a top priority. 




  • Health insurance. We most commonly obtain this coverage from our employer, but can also obtain it from other places which we will list in the Additional resources section. 


  • Life insurance. While there are many different kinds of life insurance, the most important consideration for this section is the death benefit. Having a minimum of 10 times your annual income is a good rule of thumb. Having 20 times is considered “full coverage” because it would essentially replace the insured income in perpetuity. 


  • Disability insurance. As with health insurance, this is commonly acquired through our employer. If you’re a highly skilled professional, protecting your income with this coverage is imperative. 


  • Long-term care insurance. This coverage pays for the cost of care (commonly in our later years) should you require it. 


  • Property and casualty insurance. It’s imperative to make sure you have the proper auto, home as well as umbrella liability protection. 


  • Identity theft protection. As our lives continue to expand online, some form of this coverage is required. You’ll find information on this in the resources section. 


  • Legal documents. Creating estate planning documents such as a will and or trust, as well as creating an entity if you’re a business owner is an essential part of your financial foundation. You’ll find information on this in the resources section.




Before we get into the accumulation stage, I want to quickly go over the accounts and vehicles which are available to help you accomplish your goals.




  • Checking, savings and money market accounts. These are bank accounts which can be opened at no charge, where you can access the money whenever you need it.


  • Taxable brokerage accounts can be opened at institutions like Robinhood, Charles Schwabb and most banks. They allow you to buy and sell investments like stocks, bonds, mutual funds, ETFs and cryptocurrency. 


  • Qualified accounts. These are accounts that receive special tax treatment and are commonly used for retirement planning. Common examples include IRAs and Roth IRAs, 401(k)s and 403(b)s, as well as pensions. These are traditionally used for long-term saving and investing because of rules around when you can access the funds. With traditional IRAs and 401(k)s, withdrawing funds prior to age 59 and a half can lead to a 10% penalty. 


  • Managed accounts and roboadvisors. These are accounts where you pay a fee to have your money professionally managed by a human (or humans) or through technology. 




  • Stocks. Also known as equities, represent a fractional ownership in a company. These are traditionally thought of as more aggressive investments than bonds. 


  • Bonds. Also known as fixed income, it represents a loan made by an investor to an entity. These are traditionally thought of as more conservative investments than stocks.
  • Mutual funds and EFTs. These are companies that pool money from investors and invests in many different equities and fixed income. Owning a mutual fund or EFT allows for diversification. 


  • Target date funds. These are age based investments which correspond to your retirement date. For example, if you’re 40 years old, you intend to retire at 65, and it’s the year 2020, you would invest in a 2045 target date fund (years till retirement + current year). Each year as you get closer to retirement, the fund automatically becomes more conservative. 


  • Annuities. There are many different types of annuities. I’m going to talk about annuities that pay a fixed sum of monthly income for the rest of your life. This is known as a guaranteed lifetime income annuity. 


  • Real estate, businesses and commodities. These are very popular asset classes and proven means to build wealth. That being said, I’m not going to spend time talking about using them in this post. 


Now it’s time to put your saving and investing plan together. To keep everything organized, it’s helpful to think about your goals in terms of time horizon, short, mid and long-term. For each time horizon, I’ll share common goals, the available accounts and vehicles, and then talk about developing your strategy for achieving your goals.


In order to successfully plan, you’ll need a way to calculate your values. You can utilize a free trial from one of our Certified Partners, OnTrajectory to do this. You’ll also find calculators to accomplish this should you open an account at a financial institution, or your 401(k) provider may also have one. 


  • Short-term goals. Building your emergency fund, eliminating credit card debt, saving or annual vacations or a larger purchase are examples of goals which fall into this category.


  • Accounts. These are accounts which are suitable for short-term goals. 


  • Checking, savings, money market, taxable brokerage accounts


  • Vehicles


  • Cash, CD’s
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Mutual funds and ETFs
  • Managed accounts
  • RoboAdvisors


  • Strategy


  • For each priority, select the account(s) and vehicle(s) you’ll utilize, decide on the amount you’ll need to accomplish it, and then utilize a calculator or tool for determining how much you’ll need to be saving. 
  • For example, if you’d like to pay off $1,000 of credit card debt over the next 12 months, you’ll need to contribute at least $90 a month. 


  • Mid-term priorities.  Saving for the down payment on a home and funding a child’s education are common examples of goals which fall into this category.


  • Accounts and assets. These are accounts which are suitable for mid-term goals. 


  • Checking, savings, money market accounts, taxable brokerage accounts, and 529 plans. 


  • Vehicles


  • Cash, CD’s
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Mutual funds and ETFs
  • Managed accounts
  • RoboAdvisors


  • Strategy


  • For each priority, select the account(s) and vehicle(s) you’ll utilize, decide on the amount you’ll need to accomplish it, and then utilize a calculator or tool for determining how much you’ll need to be saving. 


  • For example, if you’d like to purchase a $100,000 home and you’ve decided on a 20% down payment, you’ll need to save $20,000. If you’d like to have it saved in 5 years, you’ll decide on an interest rate and that will determine the monthly amount you’ll need to be contributing to the account. 


  • Long-term priorities.  Retirement is the most common goal which falls into this category.


  • Accounts and assets. These are accounts which are suitable for long-term goals. 


  • Qualified plans (Traditional IRAs, Roth IRAs, 401(k)s, pensions) taxable brokerage accounts, real estate, businesses. 


  • Vehicles


  • Cash, CD’s
  • Stocks and bonds
  • Mutual funds and ETFs
  • Target date funds
  • Managed accounts
  • RoboAdvisors


  • Strategy


  • For your retirement accumulation strategy, select the account(s) and vehicle(s) you’ll utilize, decide on the amount you’ll need to accomplish it, and then utilize a calculator or tool for determining how much you’ll need to be saving. 
  • For example, if you’d like to have $50,000 in retirement income starting at age 65 and lasting to age 95, you’ll need to decide on the interest rate you’re comfortable using. Once you’ve done that, you’ll be able to create a projection for how much you’ll need to start saving this year.  




This is the time you’ll take all the assets you’ve accumulated and turn them into retirement income. 


What we want in retirement is predictable income. We don’t want to be worrying about how much we can be taking out any given year because of market conditions or other factors. We don’t want to be worrying about running out of money if we live longer than expected. Designing your retirement income strategy is extremely important so you get the results you want. 


It’s also important to develop a plan for how you’re going to be spending your time and attention during retirement. 


You’ll also finalize your estate plan when planning for the distribution phase. 


  • Designing retirement income. This is one of the most challenging aspects of your financial plan, because there is no definitive “right” answer or formula for doing it. In fact, if you we’re to ask 100 financial advisors, you’d probably get 100 different answers. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind.


  • Have enough guaranteed lifetime income (GLI) to cover your fixed expenses. You most commonly get GLI from Social Security, pensions and certain types of annuities. If you know your fixed annual expenses are $30,000, and your annual Social Security benefit is $20,000, you’ll look to find $10,000 of annual income from a pension or an annuity. Another major benefit to these income sources is that they will last for your entire life; whether you live to 85 or 105. 


  • To cover your remaining expenses, you’ll tap into the other vehicles and accounts you chose to accumulate assets for your retirement. You could withdraw funds from your qualified accounts, take income from rental real estate, take income from fixed income assets like bonds or CDs, or dividends from stocks. 


  • You should also keep your six month emergency fund in place.


  • Retirement lifestyle. Developing a plan for what you’re going to do with your time is essential for a happy retirement. You may think playing golf everyday is a good idea before you retire, but could find that daily golf is too much. I encourage you to think back to the six areas of goals planning, and look into the future again to determine what you’d like your life in retirement to look like. 


Family. What do you want for your family in retirement?

Community. What does your community look like and how are you active with it?

Money/Career. What will your financial and work future look like?

WellBeing. How will you nurture your physical, mental and emotional health?

Personal Development. What will you learn simply for the sake of learning?

Contentment/spiritual. What will you do to secure peace of mind? 


  • Your estate plan. You’ll need to consider medical, financial and legacy matters when designing your estate plan. What do you want your end of life medical care to consist of? Who will handle your financial matters? Do you want to leave assets to others? These are some of the key questions you’ll need to answer. 


Identifying gaps


Thinking about your financial plan as though you’re building a house is an appropriate analogy. If you intend to do your own planning, you’ll take on the most important role; the general contractor. 


As with any project, there has to be someone whose job it is to get everything done. To understand what the overall plan is, and to ensure all of the subcontractors (Accounts, vehicles, legal documents) are doing their jobs. 


A good general contractor has experience, expertise, and can make the project run more smoothly. 


If you find you need additional help, I wanted to share some thoughts on how best to engage with professionals. 


The different types of financial professionals


There are upwards of 300,000 people working in personal finance. There are over 200,000 financial advisors. 


When you think of a financial advisor, what comes to mind? Is it a buttoned up professional in a big office? That’s what I think of, and there are certainly a lot of professionals who fit that description. But there are also many who do not. Here are some of the different kinds of financial professionals.


Financial planners


A financial planner helps you create and implement a financial plan. They are trained to help you get clear on your financial goals and objectives, and then put plans together to help you reach them. They have a working knowledge of many aspects of personal finance. 


Investment advisors


An investment advisor’s job is to help you with your investments. They’re trained to help you determine your risk tolerance, financial objectives, create an asset allocation, and help you to make investment decisions. 


Financial services professionals


A financial services professional may represent a specific company, or they may work as a broker of several companies. They may assist with you one aspect of your financial situation like insurance, or they may take a more comprehensive approach. 


Financial coaches 


Financial coaches are a relatively new type of professional. They focus more on helping their clients with their financial behaviors and habits. They don’t provide advice or sell products. 


FinTech options


FinTech (Financial Technology) companies are technology-enabled. Larger companies wish to cater to and help ordinary investors by offering investment advice through something called a Robo-advisor. Robo-advisors are low-cost investment managers who utilize software to make investment decisions. Oftentime, clients of a robo-advisor will have access to dedicated financial professionals who can answer questions.


As the financial services industry continues to grow and evolve, I think consumers will continue to benefit.  


The best questions to ask a financial advisor


Going through the different kinds of professionals, you no doubt have a lot of questions. If you’re serious about engaging with a professional, it’s really important to be crystal clear of everyone’s expectations. The more work you can do on the front end, the better off you’ll be. 


Here are the best questions to ask:


How are you compensated?


Many people are uncomfortable asking others how they’re paid (I used to be). But this is one of the most important questions you need to ask. It will tell you a lot more than the dollar amount. This question will help you determine what their motivations are (if they’re product or commission driven). 


Also, if they’re not comfortable or unable to answer this question, that’s a major red flag and you should not engage with them. 


Some professionals will earn commission from the sale of products. Some will earn a percentage of the assets you have invested with them. Some will charge you a flat fee for creating a financial, some will charge you hourly, and some will charge an annual fee. 


Will you, the client, be paying them? Or will another financial company be paying them?


What kind of work do you do?


You need to know what kind of professional they are. Will they help you create an entire financial plan? Will they help you with your 401(k)? It’s essential to know their scope of services and what you should expect. 


Can I see your work product?


They should have a “finished product” their clients receive. It could simply be a PDF document, but it’s important to ask what you’ll get from working with them. 


What software do you use?


This will also help you determine what kind of work they will actually be doing for you. 


What products do you sell? 


They may not sell any products at all, or they may sell many products. It’s important that you know the full scope of the work they do.  


Do you earn commission from the sale of products? 


This may seem repetitive, but you want and need to know the answer to this question. 


Do you earn compensation from companies?


Again, you want to know where their compensation is coming from. 


What do you do when your clients need a product you don’t sell?


If they don’t sell products, will they introduce you to another professional who can help you? 


What does a successful client relationship look like for you?


How do they interact with clients? What are their expectations of you?


What will our relationship look like?


How often will we meet/communicate? 


What if I have a question? 


Can you call or email them anytime you like? How often can you meet with them?


Are you a fiduciary? 


Being a fiduciary means you’re legally obligated to act in your clients best interest. When hiring a financial advisor, investment advisor, or financial planner, I think working with a fiduciary is essential. There are enough of them out there, there’s zero reason to work with someone who is not. 


Asking the questions


This is certainly something you can email to them in advance of meeting with them. Simple say this, “I’m looking forward to our conversation. Please take a look at this list of questions I’d like to cover during our time together.”


How to find your financial professional


I think the best way to meet anyone is through a referral or personal introduction. Ask someone you like and trust who they work with, and ask them to make an introduction. 


Should you work with a financial advisor?


We all have biases and blindspots. We’re carrying a lot of baggage around with us. Working with a professional can help us avoid missteps. 


Then there’s the reality that the world of personal finance is immense. There’s investing, insurance, tax, and estate planning to name a few. There aren’t too many of us that have a high level of literacy in every area. 


You can certainly learn it on your own. 


For example, if you lack literacy on investing, you could read blog posts and listen to podcasts, read a book or take a course, or work with an advisor or a coach. 


For example, if you are experiencing gaps in your planning, you’ll need to learn more about creating a cohesive plan. You can do this through personal research or through engaging with a coach or an advisor. 


To overcome what’s holding you back may require resources. 


Where can you get the new knowledge you need? Knowing where you can go for information and knowledge is extremely important. 


Do you want to spend time on this? 


Some people really enjoy personal finance and investing, while others would prefer to not spend much time on it. There’s no right or wrong answer to this question. Again, it’s important to be honest with yourself. 


Will you spearhead this effort, or will you find partners?


I think these are the questions you’ll need to answer. If you’re not going to do it, then it may be prudent to find someone to work with.


The three models for achieving financial success


Whatever you’re trying to get better at, if it’s personal finance, relationships or your leadership skills, there are three models for doing it. 


  1. DIY Model. Information and raw data is everywhere. I’ve certainly combed through it all to learn new skills. You can listen to podcasts, watch YouTube videos and read blogs on literally every topic and personal finance is no different. 


  1. Invest Model. Tapping into the knowledge and teachings of others can greatly enhance the learning process. I’ve paid for and benefitted from many courses from college to online learning. There are a lot of courses for improving your finances. 


  1. Partner Model. Wisdom is more valuable today than ever. Getting the support and expertise in the form of coaching, advising or a mastermind can get you where you want to go a lot faster. Working with a financial advisor, a financial coach, or joining a mastermind can help you get where you want to go a lot faster. 


Obviously, the more you can interact with an expert, the better. But if you have the time and attention, you can most certainly piece everything together on your own. 


You can connect with one of our Certified Partners to get any question answered. 


If you’re ready to take control of your financial life, check out our DIY Financial Plan course. 


We’ve got three free courses as well: Our Goals Course, Values Course, and our Get Out of Debt course. 


Stay up to date by getting our monthly updates.


Check out the LifeBlood podcast.


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