When Baltimore native Josh Scheinker got his first paycheck as a teen working at a basketball camp, his financial adviser father offered up some free advice.
“He told me to put half that money into an IRA,” Scheinker says. “When we were kids, he ingrained in our heads that we should be prudent with what we have, not spend excessively, and plan for our future wisely.”
Now a financial adviser himself, Scheinker credits his monetary know-how to his dad. “I see peers who make a ton, yet don’t have a dime in savings,” he says. “I’m only 41, but thanks to my dad, I have always maxed-out my 401(k) and IRA, and have already built up a nice retirement nest egg.”
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Scheinker had to look no further than the dinner table to find someone with whom he could talk money. But for many of us, it’s much harder to pinpoint someone who we can trust with one of the touchiest subjects out there: our finances.
And that’s a shame because “most people were never taught how to manage money and are left to their own devices when it comes to making financial decisions, which is a skill that may not come easily,” explains Marty Martin, an associate business professor at DePaul University and author of “The Inner World of Money: Taking Control of Your Financial Decisions and Behaviors.”
Enter the money mentor: a financially confident person you look up to who can help you sort out your money hopes, dreams—and woes—by offering up advice, inspiration and honest feedback.
As with Scheinker, your guru-to-be could be someone in the family, or simply a friend with a brain for budgeting.
Not sure how to suss out the right money mentor for you?
We've rounded up five of the most common mentors to have in your financial corner—from the earnings power pro to the cash coach.
The Financially Savvy Friend
We’ve all got one: the friend who was the first to save up for a home, who’s been urging you forever to build an emergency fund. It's the buddy who always seems to have his money act together—and he could be a good go-to source for financial intel.
“Friends can be powerful mentors because they’re familiar with your history, goals and intentions,” explains Hilary Hendershott, CFP®, founder of Hilary Hendershott Wealth Management. “Many people tend to be self-critical [about money], and a friend’s nurturing words can stop this negative feedback loop.”
How to Kick Things Off: Before you ask your buddy to be your money maharishi, make sure that he’s as qualified as he comes across.
To test the waters, get together over coffee or drinks and strike up a casual conversation about finances. Start by saying something like, “I’m struggling with saving money, and you seem like you know what you’re doing. Do you mind if I ask you a few questions about how you handle your finances?”
If he can’t give you direct answers, then he may not be as savvy as you thought. But if you get smart and thoughtful responses, Hendershott suggests broaching the idea of a once-a-month meeting or phone call specifically to get your friend's thoughts on your financial progress.
“Talk about what would happen if you missed a call or didn’t follow the person’s advice. And agree that, above all, preserving the friendship comes first.”
Then try to bring some formality to what might otherwise stay a too-informal relationship. “Propose a six-month commitment to start,” suggests Hendershott. “If you don’t have an end date, chances are one of you will eventually forget to call and the arrangement will fade away.”
Finally, acknowledge up front that the mentorship might change your dynamic, so agree to nip any weirdness in the bud. “Talk about what would happen if you missed a call or didn’t follow the person’s advice to make sure you’re on the same page,” Hendershott says. “And agree that, above all, preserving the friendship comes first.”
The Fiscally Skilled Relative
In many ways, asking a family member to be your money mentor just makes sense. “Presumably, they are already concerned with your long-term growth and development, so guiding you in this realm isn’t a far reach,” Martin says.
Martin's paternal grandfather, who finished college during the Depression, was hugely influential in how Martin handled his finances.
“He often told me, ‘It’s not what you make that matters, but what you save,’ ” he recalls. “After I got my first job in high school, he took me to open up a bank account and, at his urging, I funneled 20% of what I’d earned into savings and 10% into stocks.” Today, Martin passes similar values along to his 16-year-old son.
How to Kick Things Off: Martin suggests presenting a potential family-member mentor with a specific issue you’re facing in order to gauge what she’d be like as a coach. “Does she listen, ask questions, and disclose how she’s dealt with a similar problem in the past?” he asks. All of these are signs of a top-notch potential mentor.
A week or two later, fill your relative in on what happened when you took her advice. Then tell her you’d love to hear her input on another situation, which lets the mentorship progress organically. “Eventually, ask if it would be all right if you heard her take on a money-related decision or opportunity from time to time,” Martin says.
There is, however, one downside to having a mentor who’s a family member: the person who may have once changed your diapers might feel as if you’re challenging her authority if you decide not to take the advice.
“Never say that you will do something that you have no intention of doing—that will only create discord down the road,” Martin says. “Instead, explain up-front that you see the point, but you’re still inclined to go in a different direction—and you hope your decision won’t impact the relationship.”
The Earnings Power Pro
One of the biggest things affecting your finances is, of course, your income. So why not get a mentor who can tip you off to some strategic income-boosting moves?
Preferably, this would be a professional contact with whom you have a good relationship, like a former manager, a former coworker who’s more senior than you, a college alumnus in the same field, or an HR professional with whom you’re friendly.
How to Kick Things Off: Send your would-be mentor an e-mail outlining a decision you’re grappling with and ask if he’d be willing to discuss it. For example, it could be something like: “I’m thinking about asking for a raise in my upcoming review, and since you’re so knowledgeable about how these things work, I’d love to get your take on how to ask for more.”
If you come away from that conversation with a good game plan, suggest a mentorship setup by clearly stating which professional hurdles you’re trying to overcome.
“Maybe you’re hoping to increase your earnings, or you found out you’re underpaid,” Martin says. “Then mention how valuable his feedback was to you, and ask if you could check in once a quarter to strategize getting your salary on track.”
When Martin was the HR director at a hospital, he remembers an assistant whom he thought was underused. “She was a strong communicator, was good at conceptualizing ideas, and had a fantastic skill set,” he recalls.
But she wasn’t happy with her pay or position, so he advised her to tie her salary request to the dollar amounts she had saved for the hospital through her work.
“I saw wasted talent," he says. "So I helped her perceive herself differently and work through the politics of the organization so she was able to land a better position.”
The Formal Cash Coach
Not all money mentors have to be people in your personal or social circles. There are many community nonprofits that offer up trained volunteers, such as local business owners, to work one-on-one with people who want to improve their financial situation.
“[These types of mentorships] tend to be very organized, with a structured curriculum of milestones you’re working toward,” Hendershott says. “This means there’s a measurable way to assess whether the strategies are working for you.”
“Adopt their worldview with regard to finances. Listen to the language they use, and learn how they approach wealth-building at the root.”
How to Kick Things Off: To find someone in your area, Google the name of your state, plus the words “nonprofit money coach.”
Once you’ve found an organization that looks promising, don’t blindly accept the first counselor they assign—you want to weed out someone who may not be a good fit, or who may not take the mentorship seriously.
“Explain that you’d like to make sure that you and your mentor communicate in the same way,” Hendershott says. “Then interview [the potential coaches] about their prior experience with investing and money, their coaching style, and their expectations for the relationship.”
Hendershott suggests establishing a monthly meeting, along with the option for real-time feedback—perhaps being able to call or text if you’re, say, tempted to spend retirement contributions on a new tablet. This allows you to be in touch just enough to stay motivated, without feeling like you’re being micromanaged.
Another tip: “Keep a running checklist of goals you hope to accomplish, as well as things you’ve already achieved together, and go through the list at the start of your meetings to see where you stand on each item,” Hendershott says. This helps remind you of previous wins, and holds you accountable to future objectives.
The Virtual Guru
Whether it’s a bigwig on cable news or the author of your favorite money book, there’s no shortage of talking heads you could look up to as virtual mentors.
Although it’s highly unlikely that you’ll be able to set up one-on-one advice sessions—at least without shelling out a pretty penny—you can still incorporate their words of wisdom into your life on a regular basis.
How to Kick Things Off: “It’s always good to learn what language effective and successful people are using about money,” Hendershott says. “Reading great content, listening to podcasts, etc., can provide excellent structure for good [money] messaging.”
You can build that structure by ritualizing “alone” time with your money pundit. Perhaps you read that person's blog over breakfast every Monday morning, or listen to the virtual mentor's podcast during your evening commute. Also, follow your money celeb on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram for motivational tidbits throughout the day.
And when absorbing the advice, try to focus on what the person's big-picture money mantra is. “Rather than simply using their tactics to handle a specific issue, adopt their general worldview with regard to finances,” Hendershott says. “Listen to the language they use, and learn how they approach wealth-building at the very root.”
That deep-seated fiscal understanding could help guide your future monetary moves. After all, that’s the ultimate aim of money mentors: getting to the point where you start to absorb their wisdom and confidence through osmosis—and can one day pass along some sage insights as a mentor yourself.
LearnVest Planning Services is a registered investment adviser and subsidiary of LearnVest, Inc., that provides financial plans for its clients. Information shown is for illustrative purposes only and is not intended as investment, legal or tax planning advice. Unless specifically identified as such, the individuals interviewed or otherwise listed in this piece are neither clients, employees nor affiliates of LearnVest Planning Services and the views expressed are their own. Please consult a financial adviser, attorney or tax specialist for advice specific to your financial situation. LearnVest Planning Services and any third parties listed, linked to or otherwise appearing in this message are separate and unaffiliated and are not responsible for each other’s products, services or policies. LearnVest, Inc., is wholly owned by NM Planning, LLC, a subsidiary of The Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company.