Finding a financial guru

At certain stages in your financial journey, you need a catalyst to get you to the next stage. Perhaps right now you are coming out of the zeroth stage of personal finance, deep in debt and trying to take that first step to turn things around. Maybe you are debt-free, but you have no clue how to invest in the stock market. Or maybe you're at the third stage and wondering, “What do I do now?”

Guru Defined

When you aren't sure what to do, a financial guru can help you move to the next stage. Being a yoga nerd, I want to take a moment to talk about the term guru. Guru is a Sanskrit term that is often interpreted as gu meaning darkness and ru meaning light, therefore guru is the one who brings you from darkness to light. Some sources contend that since guru is an adjective that means heavy, guru means “the heavy one.” Texts describe the guru as destroying the darkness, swallowing ignorance, and my personal favorite, shattering the illusion. I think you get the idea.

In those descriptions, we're talking about a spiritual guru. But a financial guru (or teacher, to be more accurate) can do similar things in your financial journey, swallowing your ignorance and shattering the illusions that you have about money and happiness.

You might have more than one teacher, or you might follow one for a time until you've progressed and need a new one. Even people who are horrible with money can be your financial teachers (more on that in a minute).

Friends and Family

Most of us have one or two people in our lives who are good examples of how to manage money. Maybe your uncle is a self-made millionaire and entrepreneur, or perhaps your cousin is an astute investor. These are the people you take to lunch for sound advice. If you're buying a car, these are the people to ask to accompany you to the car dealership, which have a number of tricks to manipulate buyers.

A teacher isn't necessarily someone who knows more than you, though. If you have a group of friends with common financial goals, you could organize a standing dinner date to learn from each other. Maybe all of you are trying to pay off your credit cards and want to swap tips and commiserate. Maybe it's an investment club that meets once a month or a frugal buyers club. Spending time with people who have common goals is a sure way to keep you on track.

Finally, we have the group of family members and friends who are horrible with money or are bad examples of the money and happiness balance. Yep, you can learn from them, too. You can learn from the sister who lives paycheck-to-paycheck and has to borrow money for the smallest unexpected expense. You can learn from the friend who has tens of thousands of dollars in consumer debt, yet stands in line for the iPad launch. Maybe the relative who earns plenty of money at the expense of time with his kids teaches you something, as well. Learn from them, and avoid undesirable actions in your own life. (Also, reserve judging and lecturing the people who fall into this category. Unsolicited advice is rarely appreciated.)

Financial Writers

There are a lot financial writers out there, and GRS has covered the topic quite throughly with the following articles:

You also can check out past reviews and discussions in the GRS Gurus category.

Besides book authors, bloggers are another great source of guidance, and often easier to relate to (and some, like J.D, are both book author and blogger). Find a voice that resonates with you, and dig in.

Be Your Own Guru

No matter how much you learn, there will be times when you'll feel like the financial village idiot. “What could I possibly know about any of this? I'm in over my head!”

The truth is that you have a rational, thinking mind. Your gut instinct tells you not to trust the sheisty salesperson trying to suck you into a pyramid scheme. Trust that. If a book rubs you the wrong way, find other sources and compare the advice.

Do not blindly follow anyone when it comes to finances. Read, research, and question. After all, nobody cares about your money more than you do.

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Joseph | kickdebtoff
Joseph | kickdebtoff
10 years ago

These two quotes came to mind while reading this article:
“Advice is what we ask for when we already know the answer but wish we didn’t.”

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together”

Snowballer
Snowballer
10 years ago

Interesting blog post. I think this gets down to having a plan of some kind vs. no plan at all and the whole idea of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

I try to expose myself to multiple ideas about this stuff. I’ve read things on value investing, stuff from Dave Ramsey, stuff from Harry Browne, etc. and ultimately I decided that what Jack Bogle has to say makes the most sense to me.

Anthony
Anthony
10 years ago

For nearly 2 years now, my financial teachers have been PF bloggers. They have provided me with great advice and have been motivators ever since I’ve started reading PF blogs.

I’m not sure what I expected 2 years ago, but I am definitely in a much better place now.

J.D. Roth
J.D. Roth
10 years ago

I really liked this article. Ever since I turned my finances around, I’ve made a point of trying to learn what I can from those around me. Sure, my “real millionaire next door” is an important guru, and I try to absorb his advice (“frugal frugal frugal”), but I also try to learn from folks who aren’t millionaires. I try to learn from my brother, who has lost two houses to foreclosure. I try to learn from my friend who works a minimum-wage job 11 hours a day. And I try to learn from another friend, who’s just as much… Read more »

Patrick
Patrick
10 years ago

You never know where you can pick up nuggets of wisdom. I was a bit critical of my neighbor growing up and didn’t learn much from him until the day I was leaving for college. He made an effort to stop by before I left and looked me in the eyes and said, “kid, be smart out there, and don’t do what I did.” Suddenly, I realized that a possible trove of information on how not to do things was slipping out of my reach. He had already made all the dumb mistakes and I could avoid them, too, if… Read more »

Frugillionaire
Frugillionaire
10 years ago

My financial gurus are Vicki Robin and Joe Dominguez, who wrote “Your Money or Your Life.” I first read the book ten years ago, and keep coming back to it for inspiration and motivation.

quinsy
quinsy
10 years ago

“Sheisty” is an interesting word. I believe it is not an actual dictionary word, but a slang word that I like that seems to be up and coming. I’m assuming it’s a derivation of “shyster”. I wonder who came up with “sheisty”? 🙂

ami | 40daystochange
ami | 40daystochange
10 years ago

April: thanks for posting on this topic. I like the way you took a concept from yoga and applied it to personal finance. I particularly like the idea of a club where members might share their tips and wisdom and recommendations with each other. If you collected a group of people at a similar stage of their financial development (or perhaps just having the same global objectives, whatever stage each member was at), the group would create additional motivation and incentive for each member to stay true to his/her own objectives, as well as provide more ideas for how to… Read more »

Nicole
Nicole
10 years ago

YMoYL (thanks for the rec, JD and GRS), was great financial wisdom for us this year in the third stage of financial development wondering what to do next.

I don’t think I would look for wisdom in an investment club that meets monthly. That sounds like dangerous trades waiting to happen. It’s hard to buy and hold (thus avoiding transaction fees) when you’re meeting once a month.

Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
Budgeting in the Fun Stuff
10 years ago

My parents taught me the financial basics and I’ve learned the rest through research, personal finance blogs, and those around me.

A coworker explained Roth IRA’s to me 3 years ago. I have multiple friends that are the perfect examples of how NOT to manage your money. I learn new things from blogs like this every week.

Are all of these people/blogs considered guru’s? Or is the financial guru the one that gives the best advice?

April
April
10 years ago

@Quinsy–It’s definitely a slang word. It’s also spelled shysty, and you’re correct, it’s a derivative of shyster. I like the way it sounds. 🙂

Moneymonk
Moneymonk
10 years ago

I take each personal finance guru with a grain of salt and combine my own gumbo mix.

I like Dave Ramsey on some things, I love Suze Orman on a lot of other topics.

David Bach on a few. I combine their knowledge to my own personal situation

bummy
bummy
10 years ago

re: investment club that meets once a month

does anyone else remember the beardstown ladies investment club?

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beardstown_Ladies

when it comes to gurus, i think the author had it right “Do not blindly follow anyone when it comes to finances.” there’s a lot of good and bad info out there, and many times, from the same person. pf blogs have a lot of good basic info, but i feel a lot of pf blogs are like these investment clubs… the blind leading the blind.

Bryan Sr
Bryan Sr
10 years ago

Great advice to seek out others and work with what they give you. There are many who claim to be very good at investing , but in my opinion there are few that are really good. I have been working at it for years, it is tough. From a living perspective I try to use both the good and bad for the children to teach them good money management.
Thanks.

Poultry in Motion
Poultry in Motion
10 years ago

That April’s one good writer…definitely my favorite guest writer here on GRS. Anywho, this was another great article, and it definitely makes me think about opportunities that I miss daily when I don’t give any thought to things I view as mistakes.

sarah
sarah
10 years ago

My friend has a cat named Sheisty. He’s the tamest cat I’ve ever met.

I can’t think of any finacial gurus or even teachers I really have. I definitely developed my strict anti-debt stance from my parents who lost their house when I was young due to my dad being injured and then laid off during the market crash in the 80s. It’s taken me a long time to learn to spend even a little.

E West
E West
10 years ago

Definitely agree with the advice to “be your own guru.”

Most of what we learn from family and friends is going to be by observation. As much as I may judge or envy my friend’s situation in my own head, I think I am with most people where we just don’t talk about money with friends. They could be a guru I don’t even know about.

Anyway, thanks April!

Manisha Thakor
Manisha Thakor
10 years ago

April – LOVE that you pointed this out: “Nobody cares about your money more than you do.” It’s so true. While it’s tempting to think there’s one magic solution out there… the “right” personal finance advice for each one of us will be highly personal, so while absorbing new information think it’s vital to keep your wise words in mind! Also, 100% agree with Frugillionaire (Hi Francine!)… after my parents my next biggest financial guru / influence by far and away is the book YOUR MONEY OR YOUR LIFE. For anyone who hasn’t read it… highly, highly recommend it (along… Read more »

Shel
Shel
10 years ago

Good one April.

brooklyn money
brooklyn money
10 years ago

I was just complaining to my (kind of) financial adviser yesterday that he needs to save me from myself because I keep making bad investment decisions. I need an investment guru to recommend good investments and to help me learn to not fold and sell when prices are low.

Lindsay
Lindsay
10 years ago

Great article! I love “Your Money or Your Life.” I reread sections and keep coming back to it for inspiration and motivation. I also love to read money blogs (Like this one!) But I have no one guru. I piece together all the info I see, hear and read and follow what works for me. Like my husband and I have some consumer debt, student loan and a mortgage, so if we listened 100% to Your Money or Dave Rampsey we would not go on vacations till our debt was gone. Well are vacations are important to us, we go… Read more »

The Biz of Life
The Biz of Life
10 years ago

Financial gurus are way overrated. But when it comes to money, people tend to be very unsure of themselves, lack control over their emotions and impulses, and seem to have a need to have someone tell them what to do, delegate the responsibility to others, or just ignore the issue completely.

Paul
Paul
10 years ago

This was a wonderful article! PF blogs have been my guru for quite some time, helping me get out from under 25k in debt. Right now I’m searching for a new guru. Someone to help me use the framework I’ve built and take it even farther.

Diane
Diane
10 years ago

April – I really liked this post, especially the definition of guru. I believe that most people, if shown the light, can make good personal financial decisions. My company named after Alexandrite; a precious stone that changes from pale red (indoors) to emerald green (outdoors); has a similar concept. Understanding your personal finances takes you outdoors into the green from being sheltered indoors and in the red. Addressing personal finances is something that each of us handles a little differently. This is one the reasons why there are so many different books on the subject. For the most part, there… Read more »

JenK | Sex and Money
JenK | Sex and Money
10 years ago

It also helps to pay attention to where a potential guru is coming from. Someone who’s thriving on $10k-$20k/year is going to have a different perspective than someone who’s generally had at least a $50k/year income. Someone without kids often isn’t going to worry about how quickly kids outgrow clothing and shoes and such. Someone who hasn’t been burned by credit cards is going to have a different perspective from someone who has. It may not be a dealbreaker if a potential guru has a different viewpoint or belief system. I was able to use the principles of Your Money… Read more »

DreamChaser57
DreamChaser57
10 years ago

I am a sponge and soak up good info from wherever I can – I am not a zealot for any particular person. From Bach, I automated my savings, transferring a set amount from my checking to savings weekly. From Orman, I really like her estate planning advice while I completely ignore her advice about how to approach marital finances. While I loved Ramsey’s TMMO, and consistently listen to his podcast (although his political rants are annoying and are starting to overshadow the value of the radio show, in my view). I wholeheartedly agree with Lindsay (Poster #21) that vacations… Read more »

Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
Kent @ The Financial Philosopher
10 years ago

With so many financial sources and so much information available, the idea of “being your own guru” is absolutely the best route.

This does not necessarily mean “do it yourself.” Is simply means “know yourself.”

In absence of self-knowledge, all other knowledge is fleeting and potentially self-destructive.

“True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.” ~ Socrates

Allen
Allen
10 years ago

Actually, I was hoping the article would give advice on finding a good financial planner or other professional. Books (authors), friends, and acquaintances can certainly be useful, but I wouldn’t consider any of them “gurus”.

David/Yourfinances101
David/Yourfinances101
10 years ago

These “gurus” are one of the most important things to have in your life.

Let’s face it, we can’t all be expert at everything.

Were lucky to be able to be an expert at one.

You should have a finanical guru, a computer repair guru, an insurance guru, and any other guru you can think of.

Goes back to the old saying….It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.

Preston
Preston
10 years ago

I’m a fan of Elizabeth Warren. And her approach is similar to Dave Ramsey, but she seems much more in tune with what regular people are going through. I’ve been turned off by Dave Ramsey because he wants to spend half his radio show complaining about the government. There are already enough talk radio hosts who do this. Warren’s approach is to first get your money in balance — 50% to “needs”, 30% to “wants” 20% to savings/debt reduction. I think it’s a good concept, but I tweaked it to my situation (40% needs, 10% wants, 50% savings/debt reduction). Oddly… Read more »

JohnMLM
JohnMLM
10 years ago

I agree with “learning from the people that are bad examples of money and happiness”. My financial education really started by looking at my family and learning from their mistakes.

Now I am piecing together information from PF blogs and books, and becoming my own guru. But even with all the potential gurus available, you have to be consistent.

Thanks for the post April!

Todd
Todd
10 years ago

Good advice, but the Sanskrit reference made me cringe. This story of the origins of ‘guru’ is often told by yoga teachers and the like, but it’s factually lacking. As a Sanskrit veteran, let me help you out.

The etymological claims that ‘gu’ means darkness and ‘ru’ means light ­ therefore ‘guru’ literally means ‘the one who brings you from darkness to light’ ­ is an idea popularized by frauds and is complete nonsense. Guru is an adjective in Sanskrit meaning heavy. So literally the guru as teacher is ‘the heavy guy’.

Kristin Harad
Kristin Harad
10 years ago

Great article and lots of lovely comments. I’d add that if you’re going to hire a financial guru of any kind, it is important to remember that Personality fit is often an over-looked factor. You want to make sure that you share the same basic philosophies with your planner. For example, if your planner is going to insist that you cut out your lattes each day, but you find them to be a $3 slice of heaven, you may not agree on larger issues either.

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