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Monastery to money advisor: Doug Lyman explains his unusual journey

  • Doug Lyman has been a hippie, a monk, and now a financial advisor.
  • As a member of a Benedictine order, Lyman said he got a 'kick in the teeth' that prompted a dramatic career change.
  • Lynam gives pro-bono financial counseling to the needy to help improve their finances.

If life is a journey, Doug Lynam is well traveled.

He has been a hippie, a Marine, a monk and, perhaps most surprisingly, now works in finance. Lynam was a Benedictine monk for nearly two decades, but recently left the brotherhood for a new calling.

"What I found in the monastery was I wasn't very good at giving spiritual advice, so I had to find some other way of being of service," he told CNBC's "On The Money" in a recent interview.

The journey to becoming a money man started when Lynam's brotherhood faced its own financial troubles.

"Our community faced some really difficult financial struggles and ultimately had to go through a bankruptcy, which was very, very painful," he said.

However, there was the cliché silver lining.

"Looking back almost 20 years in the past it was maybe the best thing that happened to me. It was the sort of kick in the teeth that I needed to get my act together and take responsibility for my own finances," said Lynam.

Lynam realized he was not alone in facing financial struggles.

"Most of the people who were coming to the monastery with deeply disturbing personal problems, if you dig behind them and you really start to get to know people well, there is typically a critical financial issue lurking somewhere in the background," he said.

These realizations led Lynam to seek out financial training.

"The first thing I did was went to a bookstore and grabbed every book on personal finance I could find and read every single one of them," he said. "And realized I still had a lot more to go and I've subsequently sought out significant amounts of training to be able to operate effectively in this profession."

'Really make a difference'

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Now, Lynam has left the monastery and is a registered financial advisor who heads LongView Asset Management's Educator Retirement Services.

Still, the switch was not automatic. Lynam has been giving pro-bono financial advice to the needy since 2005. During his time as a monk, Lynam taught at Santa Fe Prep, including personal finance.

"I loved working with the students, I loved teaching the material and I found I could really make a difference in their lives," he said.

Now, he has a new mission: To help his fellow educators get on track financially.

"I had one really horrific story where a colleague came to me in her early 60s and asked for advice in planning for her retirement," Lynam recalled. "We opened up her retirement account, and this is maybe the first time she had even looked at it, and it was only $16,000 and I was just shocked."

That teacher is not alone. Most teachers have 403(b) plans instead of a traditional 401(k). These plans are less regulated than more common plans, and often come with higher fees and an overwhelming number of investment options.

"Obviously there is personal responsibility here, but my question was more fundamental. What was wrong with the system, with the plan design that it didn't sort of catch this and warn people hey you're not on track and there is something we can do to help," Lynam said.

To help solve the problem, Lynam now works with schools to set up better retirement plans. In addition, he works with educators and their families to get them on the right financial footing.

Here are a few of Lynam's tips to make sure you're on track to retire:

  • Start saving for retirement early in your career.
  • Pay attention to fees.
  • Only work with an advisor who is a fiduciary, so you know they are looking out for your interests.
  • Keep it simple and use target-date retirement funds and index-based funds.

On the Money airs on CNBC Saturdays at 5:30 am ET, or check listings for air times in local markets.