By: John P. Napolitano, CFP®, CPA, PFS, MST

I know firsthand that a lot of people like to talk about money with their friends, family and darn near anyone that will engage in that conversation. We call this water cooler talk, and I know how powerful and engaging that it can be. It may be helpful for a DIY faucet change, but not usually for finances.

Just a few weeks ago, my wife and I were out for breakfast when I couldn’t help but hearing the rather loud conversation that 6 men were having about their personal finances. They were talking about when to collect social security, their accountants, personal investments and how our new president may impact that. I used to find it amusing. It is flattering to know that so many people want to talk about what I do for a living when they’re on social time. What is really annoying however, is when the conversation is way off base and leading someone down a likely wrong path.

I can’t explain the rationale or the benefit of such conversations. In fact, water cooler talk is often the number one reason why people eventually seek out a financial professional. There are too many dissenting opinions to vet out what is right and what is wrong. Plus, what is right for one family may not be right for another. Everyone’s situation is different, and their context and life experiences which give rise to their system of financial beliefs are also different. Maybe even worse than all of the different opinions is when everyone unanimously agrees on a particular course of action. In fact, many investment professionals often get concerned when the consensus opinions are all pointing in one direction.

Water cooler talk can be damaging for generations when it comes to hearsay about estate planning. I’ve seen new clients talk about keeping their valuable rental property in joint name with their kids just to avoid probate, and thinking that this strategy was brilliant. One, however, learned differently when her ex-husband also became an owner of this valuable real estate. But water cooler talkers rarely have the guts to admit their failures.

If you are stuck in a water cooler conversation or genuinely want to get an opinion from someone who has been there and done that, do it more purposefully rather than just chewing the fat.

First, do your homework on the topic where you’d like opinions. There is no shortage of information in this internet world. Next, be very specific about your question. Don’t be wishy-washy and talk about yourself in the third person. Get right down to it.

Ask your conversation partners how they’ve handled the situation. What alternatives they’ve considered, and what they did before that to lead them to believe that they needed to fix something. Learn about the professional help they sought which was helpful and that which was not helpful. Then pour yourself a cool glass of water and bring your situation to a professional who can really help close the loop.

 

This article was published in Gatehouse Media Publications on March 25, 2017.

John P. Napolitano CFP®, CPA is CEO of U. S. Wealth Management in Braintree, MA.  Visit JohnPNapolitano on LinkedIn. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.