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Free advice is usually worth exactly what you paid for it

There are few subjects as intimidating as money. Almost everyone has an opinion about it, but how many know with any confidence or degree of certainty what to do about it?

It's not uncommon for individuals planning their finances to base their direction on myth, hearsay, what their parents did or advice provided by friends, neighbors, co-workers, internet forums or the media.

Does any of this advice that we seem to hear on a daily basis sound familiar to you? "Buying a home is the best investment you can ever make." How about this one: "Nothing is safer than money in the bank." Or this one: "Closing unused credit accounts will increase your credit score."


Fortune Cookies advice
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Others love to give "detailed" investment advice. "You need to buy a home to get a tax deduction." "Bonds are always safe." "Everybody should own gold." "Don't put money in the stock market." "All adults need life insurance." "You should always take Social Security at age 62." "Buy real estate — Uncle Joe made a killing at it."

Proceed carefully, as free advice is usually worth exactly what you paid for it.

If you haven't already amassed the fortune you'll need for the rest of your life, you probably can't afford to make big mistakes with your money. You can't afford to think short-term or pursue foolish financial strategies. You shouldn't settle for underperforming or overpriced investments, or pay huge commissions.

Rules of thumb can be just plain dumb and cost you dearly in your quest for a comfortable future. These myths may be entertaining fodder for social media sites or social gatherings, but they are still myths.


"A lot of the stuff we hear about money from other people is dead wrong. Or more commonly, it doesn't apply when you consider all of the facts."

How do these myths develop? Some of them we inherit. As we come of age to make adult decisions, we may refer to statements made by close family and friends along the way. Some of them grow from our egos, like the idea that we can determine the right time to buy or sell an investment (buy low, sell high).

Some of them are wishful thinking, like the belief that we can buy a piece of real estate, fix it up and sell it for a huge profit in a short period. Or gambling at the local casino — we have to win sometime, right?

Some of the myths reflect our fears, like the need for a lot of insurance or maintaining a large portion of assets in cash. And some myths are old truths that may have been appropriate at some point in time but have since become obsolete by different circumstances.

The fact is, a lot of the stuff we hear about money from other people is dead wrong. Or more commonly, it doesn't apply when you consider all of the facts of the situation at hand. And it can mess you up, especially if you use the advice on a piecemeal basis. This is where the value of financial planning becomes apparent.


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Nearly every financial decision you make (or don't make) can impact some other aspect of your financial present and future. True financial planning looks at your whole picture and how all the pieces connect.

It's about developing coordinated strategies to encourage discipline to weather the inevitable bad days and the flexibility to adjust your direction as needed … intelligently. It can also provide the wisdom and courage to ignore the incessant financial pandering by conflicted financial firms, the media and others — including Uncle Joe.

(Editor's note: This guest column originally appeared on Investopedia.)

— By Matthew R. Etzler, independent, fee-only advisor and founder and managing member at Etzler Financial Advisors