Everything you didn’t know you needed to know about your financial support team
Please say it with me:
I do not have to know everything.
I can ask for help.
Sometimes, getting support is the strongest, bravest thing to do.
Years ago, I was a diehard DIY’er, when it came to money stuff.
Back in the early days of my Financial Therapy work, I advised everyone to keep their own books -- essentially, to be their own bookkeeper -- at least for awhile.
You see, so many people (myself included!) spend years with their heads in the sand about money. Before I hung my shingle as a Financial Therapist, when I did bookkeeping for healers, coaches, and creative types, Most of them would eagerly hand their books to me like a load of hot potatoes. “Here, you do this, OMG, thank you, ick!”
Actually engaging with your numbers, on a daily/weekly/monthly/yearly basis is a huge step towards creating a relationship with your money.
It’s incredibly empowering to give yourself the financial education most of us never received, growing up. To learn the language of money, how to work with a financial tracking system, what an “asset” or “chart of accounts” is … and most of all, that you really can do all of this money stuff!
So: yes, yes — I’m all for empowering yourself with financial literacy, know-how, and savvy. However, when the timing’s right …
Crafting and growing your financial support team can be incredibly empowering.
We all need support from financial professionals. After all: we can’t all be experts in everything.
Plus, the idea that we need to do / be / learn / master absolutely everything in our lives is part of what’s keeping so many of us overwhelmed and exhausted. Delegating and allowing ourselves to receive support can be so healing. (Not to mention incredibly smart!)
So … where do you start building your financial support team?
Here’s the rub: there are so many different kinds of financial professionals out there, it can be hard to know where to start. Bookkeepers, accountants, financial planners … what do all of these people do, anyway? And how do you know if you need one (or the other, or other?).
If you don’t know all this already — please don’t feel bad. Most of us don’t. I certainly didn’t, until a few years ago! But now, I know these roles like the back of my hand, and demystifying it for you is (no joke!) one of my favorite things.
(Don’t worry. This won’t hurt a bit.)
Your first step: simply read these simple definitions, for now. See what jumps out at you. Notice your bodily (and emotional and mental) responses, as you read. Jot down notes, if it helps you. We’ll get to next steps at the end of the article.
A quick note about finding the right fit …
For each role, I’ll be sharing some helpful questions to ask, before you hire. But there are a few general guidelines that apply when choosing any member of your financial support team. Keep these in mind, as you begin to build or refine your team:
Start your search with friends and colleagues. Referrals from people you know are often the best. Not only can you hear their personal experiences, there’s a good chance you’ll share similar values and/or financial needs.
But remember: it’s so personal. Your best friend might adore her accountant, but he might rub you the wrong way. Give yourself permission to find the right person for you.
Check credentials. How long have they been doing this? What type of training and experience do they have? Are you satisfied they know their stuff? Ask them what they love about this work, and see how the answer sits with you.
Include Body Check-Ins galore. Do you feel safe, comfortable, and trusting in their presence? Do you like their personality and attitude? Keep an open dialogue with your body.
Consider values. Maybe you’re looking to get into investing, but you don’t want to profit off of things that harm the environment, like oil. It might be important to you that the members of your financial support team see eye-to-eye with you, on this or other matters.
Talk money. Don’t be shy about asking how much their charge and how. (Hourly? Set fee? Retainer?) You might even ask them about their own relationship to money. Notice their responses and how comfortable you feel talking about money with them, too -- after all, talking money is why you’re here!
Remember: if you lined up ten accountants, money coaches, or financial planners and asked each of them these questions, you would get ten different sets of answers. As with any kind of financial professional, do your own research, ask for referrals, and move forward with the person who feels like the best fit for you (knowing you can revisit, shift, and refine as you go).
Without further ado, let’s meet these amazing professionals!
What They Do
Bookkeepers do your financial tracking for you. They set up a system for you, create categories, and track and organize all the ins and outs of your income and expenses, savings, credit card transactions, investments, and more—on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and yearly basis.
And then … they produce reports for you: Income and Expense Reports; current year vs. previous year reports; projected vs. actual reports — oh, my! With everything all nice and neat and reconciled, as you gaze up at your bookkeeper, with a tear of relief in your eye, saying, Thank you, I love you! (Truly: this monthly support is just wonderful!)
These reports are wonderful for you and incredibly helpful for doing your taxes (whether you do them yourself or hire a tax professional). Some bookkeepers will even pay your bills and invoice clients for you, if those are things you’d like to delegate.
Bookkeepers have widely varying levels of experience, training, and rates. Some will simply set up your systems and run reports—but others will sit down with you, review your numbers, and help you plan a bit.
Not everyone needs a bookkeeper: you might choose to do your own bookkeeping (because you want to get more intimate with your numbers, because your finances are quite simple, or simply because you do not wish to spend the money on a bookkeeper).
I did all of my own bookkeeping for twelve years, and it was a priceless education about money and business. At a certain point, however, my business grew large enough that I knew it was time to graduate to an outside bookkeeper — and I love that she does all that tracking for me! It’s all about finding the right timing, for you.
Questions to Ask a Potential Bookkeeper
Consider the general questions listed above (ask about their credentials, rates, length of experience, what they love about this work, and more). Additionally, you might ask:
- Do you have any suggestions to help me decide whether I should hire a bookkeeper or do my own books?
- How do we do this? Do you prefer to do all of the bookkeeping for me? Or do you want me to jump in for parts?
- Do you offer virtual bookkeeping, or will we work together in my home or your office?
- If you offer virtual bookkeeping, how do you get my information?
- What type of bookkeeping software do you like to use?
- Will you send me monthly reports and teach me how to read them?
- Are you open to teaching me how to use a bookkeeping system and pull, read, and understand financial reports? (If you want this.)
- Do you offer both personal and business bookkeeping? (If you need both.)
- Do you work with a lot of people in my profession/age range/lifestyle?
- Can I have three references from current clients?
What They Do
Let’s say you’ve decided you want to do your own books — but you’re tired of pulling your hair out trying to learn Quicken or Quickbooks. Did you know you can hire a bookkeeping trainer, to help you with this? It’s true! And it’s so empowering.
Just the other day, someone in our Art of Money community shared that she hired a bookkeeping trainer back in January to help her learn QuickBooks. Now, almost 9 months later, she feels clear and confident in tracking her own finances — plus, when she gets stuck, she can pick up the phone and get the help she needs. Oh, yes!
Bookkeeping Trainers can charge anywhere between $50 and $175 per hour, depending on their level of expertise.
Bookkeeping trainers often charge a higher rate than bookkeepers, but over time this is usually less than working with a bookkeeper on an ongoing, monthly basis. More than anything, a bookkeeping trainer must be a good teacher, able to sit down, hold your hand (figuratively), and show you how to navigate a system.
Questions to Ask a Potential Bookkeeping Trainer
In addition to the general questions above, you might want to ask:
- What bookkeeping systems do you teach? Just one, or many different ones?
- Are you able to help me choose the best bookkeeping system for my needs?
- Why do you feel you’re a great teacher? Do you think you’re good at patiently and clearly explaining concepts that are new and complex to me?
Accountant or Tax Preparer
What They Do
Accountants and tax preparers are the people who are thrilled to no end when you show up with all of your numbers and data all neat, organized, and categorized according to standard tax deductions (thanks to your bookkeeper, even if that bookkeeper is yourself).
Then, accountants typically ask you some additional questions, and take all of that data and file your taxes for you. They study accounting rules and tax law, and keep up on all of its rules (which change slightly, each year). Some accountants are even hip to the laws that will change in the next few years, so you’re really covered! Seriously: these folks live and breathe and love tax law. (Imagine that!)
I think it’s wonderful to meet with an accountant a few times a year. Not only do they file your taxes for you, they can help you with your tax strategy as well. Should your business be a Sole Proprietorship, LLC, S-Corp, or C-Corp? Some specialize in business consulting, others specialize in real estate or other areas.
Whatever their specialty, accountants take all of that great data you have from your bookkeeping and find as many legal tax deductions as possible, so you’re paying the right amount of taxes — not too much, not too little.
By the way: last year, Forest and I renamed our “Taxes” category “Community Contribution.” It feels so much better to us this way!
Questions to Ask a Potential Accountant or Tax Preparer
- Do you work with a lot of people in my profession/age range/lifestyle? Do you have a tax specialty or preferred area of work?
- How do you charge? Can you give me a range or estimation of your fees? Do you charge for phone calls and email support?
- Do you handle my case personally, or outsource it? Will I deal directly with you, or a variety of people in your office?
- Do you consider yourself conservative or aggressive with deductions? And can you help me determine what strategy might be best for me?
- What would you advise me to do if my tax situation was in a “gray area”?
- How do you handle audits? Can you represent me in front of the IRS?
- How can you help me get the information you will need from me?
- Do you like to teach and educate your clients? Or do you prefer to just do things for me?
- Do you have a preference of what bookkeeping system I use? Are you cool if I choose a different one?
- Will you meet with me twice per year to discuss my Chart of Accounts and advise me on how to get the most deductions throughout the year? If so, how do you charge for this?
- If you are an entrepreneur: will you help me determine the best business entity structure and set up any new entities I may need?
- How long is your turnaround time?
Financial Coach/Money Coach
What They Do
A financial coach will help you become aware of your spending habits, create and maintain a budget, and better manage your cash flow. These folks tend to get ultra-practical, dig the numbers with you, and help you decide: What do I want to spend on each category, each month? How much should I save, what pace should I pay down my debt, and what can I put toward an investment? Which categories are negotiable, and which are absolute musts? Some financial coaches (depending on their training and focus) can also support you with the emotional and psychological aspects of money and help you incorporate your goals and values into financial planning.
The term “money coach” has recently gained in popularity and encompasses all of the practical financial coaching listed above and, often, more behavioral and emotional support, as well. Specifically, a Certified Money Coach specializes in helping people understand and change their money patterns and behaviors, drawing from extensive training in neurodynamics, behavioral modification, and more.
You can find a financial coach or money coach who specializes in personal or business finances or both; others specialize in working with women, creative entrepreneurs, or couples. These coaches are fabulous at creating short to mid-term goals and plans for the next six months, year, or even five years. They can be a precursor to working with a financial planner, whose job is to think more long-term.
Always take a look at the person’s background, speciality and experience. Some of us come from Psychotherapy backgrounds and some come from Accounting or Financial Planning backgrounds. It’s very important that you find a well-matched person based on skill set, personality and experience. Do your research.
Questions to Ask a Potential Money Coach
In addition to the general questions above, you may want to ask:
- Do you specialize in personal, couple, or business finances?
- Do you address financial behavior in addition to the practical aspects of money?
- Do you have a strict, one-size-fits-all philosophy about debt, savings, or other money areas? Or will you guide me into the best choices for me, personally?
- What if I get overwhelmed, anxious, or upset as we’re working together? Can you hold space for a bit of the emotional side of money, too?
- Do you specialize in working with people of my income level/goals/profession?
- Do you tend to do a single session with clients, several, or work over longer timespans?
- Are you open to collaborating with my accountant or financial planner?
Financial Planner / Financial Advisor
What They Do
These folks specialize in investments and long-term visioning. Thinking about retirement planning, long-term savings, paying for your toddler’s college? This is who you want. They love thinking about the big picture, and where you can be in 5, 10, 20, 30, or even 50 years. Many will help you choose the right investments. Should you invest in the stock market, based on your risk levels, values, and life goals? If so, where? How about real estate, startups, or microfinance loan funds?
Typically, a financial planner will help you examine your whole financial life in a holistic way, including your budgeting, savings strategy, tax and estate planning, and more. A financial advisor, on the other hand, might do some financial planning but focuses much more on managing investments, typically a portfolio of marketable securities, but also community development, private debt, and equity opportunities.
If you inherited money from your family, you may have inherited a family financial planner along with it. For some people, this works beautifully—and for others, they reach a point where they need to find their own financial planner who better understands their values. Socially Responsible Investing (SRI) is a growing field that explicitly specializes in values-based investing. Make sure you find a financial planner who will honor the investment values you hold, and will work within the parameters that matter so deeply to you.
Questions to Ask a Potential Financial Planner or Financial Advisor
In addition to the general questions above, you will want to ask:
- Are you a Financial Planner or a Financial Advisor?
- What range of services do you offer? Will you only advise me on investments, or do you offer more comprehensive planning, including retirement, insurance, and estate planning?
- What is your investment approach? Do you consider yourself conservative or high-risk/high-reward? What kind of market volatility can you handle?
- Do you specialize in Socially Responsible Investing (SRI)? If so, what does that mean to you?
- How do you charge? By the hour, initial fee only, annually (including a set number of consultations), or by percentage of investment/assets under management? (This is a particularly important question to ask of a financial planner or advisor. Some earn money by selling you specific products, which may create a conflict of interest. Not only should you know how much the service will cost you, but you should determine whether they have an incentive to sell you things, and if so, if you are comfortable with that.)
- How much contact do you have with your clients?
- Could you share one or two clients I could talk to?
What They Do
While all of the financial professionals on this list may offer a smidgen of emotional support, most of them aren’t trained explicitly for this. Financial therapists are the exception. They will go deep with you into all of the inner, emotional “money stuff”—and they are trained in the practical, nitty-gritty aspects of money, as well.
Financial therapy is a relatively new (though growing) field, and does not have one, clear definition. When I began calling myself a Financial Therapist in 2001, only one other person was using this title. In 2010, the Financial Therapy Association was founded, and they define financial therapy as involving “the integration of cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and economic aspects that influence financial well-being, and ultimately, quality of life.”
As a Financial Therapist, myself, I describe this work as integrating deep psychotherapeutic training with practical skills, tools, and financial training. In my world, this includes Money Healing, Money Practices, and Money Maps.
Some financial therapists work with individuals, couples, or both. Some of us also adore the practical aspects of working with money, and teach about money practices, choosing a tracking system and money maps (or budgets) along with the deeper work, healing, forgiveness, and re-telling of your money stories.
Finding new patterns is key when working with a financial therapist. It can be so healing to have a caring, objective, wise person witness and hold you as you go through those deep, scary places with your money relationship.
Financial Therapy isn’t something that replaces working with other financial professionals. In fact, Financial Therapy can lay the foundation for work with other professionals, or make it smoother or catalyze it to move deeper and faster. I’m a huge advocate of getting the right financial support team in place, and updating it as needed — including a bookkeeper, accountant, financial coach, and/or financial planner. This is all supported by Financial Therapy.
Some financial therapists have a primarily therapeutic background, later receiving financial training; others start out as accountants or financial planners and get additional training in counseling to become financial therapists. Both sides of this equation are very important in a financial therapist.
Many financial therapists work with both individuals and couples. Some specialize in small businesses and creative entrepreneurship.
Unfortunately, most private financial therapy services are on the middle to high end of the pricing spectrum, which means they can only serve the middle class on up. That’s one of the core reasons I’ve created a more affordably priced year-long group program. And I’m thrilled to hear that my book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness, is finding its way into the hands of people from all income levels.
Questions to Ask a Potential Financial Therapist
In addition to the general questions above, you will want to ask:
- What is your therapeutic background/training? What is your financial background/training? How have you combined the two?
- How do you define financial therapy? Do you focus more on the emotional side, the practical side, or a balanced combination?
- Have you done your own “money work”? What is your relationship to money like?
- Who do you love working with? What aspects of this work do you particularly enjoy or feel skilled at?
- What does a typical session look like? Will we simply talk, or will you look at my financials with me?
More on this: What in tarnation does a Financial Therapist Do?
Bonus + Unconventional Players
One of my favorite aspects of my own work and teaching model is getting to collaborate with a wide variety of financial professionals. So believe me when I say: there are so many types of people you can draft onto your financial support team!
Beyond the main financial professionals listed above, you may also consider adding to your team:
- An estate planner
- An attorney
- A consumer debt advocate
- An insurance professional
- A somatic therapist
- A therapist, couples therapist, or coach
- A healer (massage therapist, acupuncturist, shaman, etc.) to help you manage the stress and integrate the steps you’re taking along your financial journey … so you can get the most out of your work and keep going.
· · · ·
That’s a lot of information! If you’re feeling at all overwhelmed, checked out, anxious, or irritated — deep breath. Time for a Body Check-In.
Here’s a handy reframe for any of you feeling overwhelmed by all of these roles: just look at all the beautiful support available to you, out there!
We cover so much of this material in The Art of Money: my year-long money school. I made sure to add fabulous guest teachers from each of these categories, because it’s so helpful and important to learn from them!
Remember: you do not have to implement all of this at once.
You will fine-tune and grow and evolve your financial support team your entire life. At some point, you may want to have each of these roles filled on your own financial support team. You might want to start with one, and add another each year (or every few years). Go at your own pace and honor where you’re at, financially, logistically, and emotionally.
This is your journey to navigate and define. You’re the captain of this ship and crew! Give yourself the gift of a few moments to feel into the right timing, the right alignment, the right fit for you, right now.
Who is already on your financial support team? What’s your current lay-of-the-land?
How do you feel about your financial support team? Do you feel good and supported? Are you floundering alone, out on choppy waters? Is there someone on your team who doesn’t feel like a great fit, anymore?
Is one of these roles tugging at your sleeve, begging to be filled? Is this your moment to get some kind of help? What kind?
What’s your timing, on this? Are you ready right now? Do you want this role filled by the end of this year? Or do you know it’s best to wait ‘till next year for this?
What’s your relationship to support, in general? Do you need to look at some deeper, emotional issues in order to move forward?
Go Deeper …
This article was adapted from the Financial Toolbox chapter of my award-winning book, The Art of Money: A Life-Changing Guide to Financial Happiness. Learn more about the book and get your copy right here.