Letter to the Editor: The Importance of Advisors, Early Financial Literacy & College Financial Planning

By Paul Curley | paul.curley@strategic-i.com | March 2, 2018

How does Sheryl Garrett, CFP, the founder of Garrett Planning Network, help families in the college financial planning process?

Editor’s note: The vision of the 529 Insiders website is to provide industry relevent news, product training and best practices to those that help families in the college financial planning process. Sam X. Renick has been championing an initiative that broadens awareness and raises the importance of college financial planning through early financial literacy programs. Sam introduced me to Sheryl Garrett, who is a fellow supporter of this important initiative. As such, thank you Sheryl for the letter, and please continue to promote this important initiative. Also, thank you for helping so many families and all that you do.

Letter to the Editor: I grew up in a very typical middle-class household. My father was an entrepreneur and he impressed upon me the work-reward relationship long before I had any idea what was happening. I highly recommend these teachings and share them with others every chance I get. Unfortunately, my father never wrote his lessons down, but you can get a great summary and fantastic supporting materials from my financial cartoon superhero, Sammy Rabbit.

Some of my earliest memories about making my own money were when I was around seven or eight years old.  If there was something that I wanted, I’d “negotiate” with my parents to obtain support and ideas or suggestions on ways to earn the money I needed to purchase the item or experience I wanted.  As most young children, I had a very short-term goal… every time.  I need to raise $27 to buy a skateboard!  I did everything from washing windows, polishing shoes, giving backrubs, to selling Christmas cards to raise my $27. As I grew, so did the ambitions, and the corresponding finances needed.  I’m so grateful that I started learning these lessons very young.

By age 19, I was reading Money magazine cover to cover each month. I read personal finance self-help books as a hobby. By age 24, I discovered that people provided personal financial advice for a career.  I wanted to know everything they knew.  I wanted to help people master their own financial destiny and get paid for it! 
I worked as a financial planner for 18 years, and now work with the member advisors of the Garrett Planning Network, modeled after my personal financial planning practice, which catered to people from all walks of life on an hourly, as-needed basis.

Our mission is to help make competent, objective financial advice accessible to all people.  We are holistic financial planners first and foremost.  As such, we assist clients in articulating their goals, prioritizing, compromising and executing strategies to achieve their most cherished personal and family financial objectives.  Our clients commonly ask whether they are saving enough and in the right way to retire someday, and how best to fund their children’s college education, while balancing the cash flow needs of today with those of tomorrow – and getting the whole family on board with the plan.

Quality communication is key.  The advisor and clients need to be to discuss the entire financial situation and explore options and opportunities that may be available to them.  As I mentioned before, we work with people from all walks of life.  Some have very limited education and/or interest in personal finance.  Financial literacy education is a cornerstone of many of our member’s practices.  Working by the hour, clients can receive as much or as little education as they desire, in addition to specific advice.  Some clients appreciate that education while others would simply prefer to leave that subject matter to experts.

I’ve found that it’s often far easier to teach young people the principles of financial stewardship then adults.  This is where my financial superhero, Sammy Rabbit, comes in to play.  Have a copy of Sammy’s Big Dream! book in the waiting area.  Deliver copies of the book to other professionals’ waiting rooms.  I have copies of this book, sponsored by our organization, at the major family dentistry and doctor’s offices in town, CPA’s office, etc. – any place people who have children in their life may frequent.

When I first saw the Sammy Rabbit materials, I asked my 5-year-old daughter to join me and give me her young person’s expert opinion.  She hopped up on my lap while I reviewed a few of the activities, messages and songs.  She requested (begged) that I print out everything, so she could have it.  The Crayola box was coming out!  I played one of the songs and oh my, my daughter and I were hooked.  We listened to just one of the songs two times that day and bopped around singing it together.  About a month later I overheard her singing that same song to herself!  She recalled, “out of every dollar save a dime” one month after hearing the song.  Too bad all of us can’t remember to save a dime out of every dollar every time.

Her reaction to the book, the activities and the songs has been awesome.  This year we’re delivering this program to all students in her school – pre-K through 12th grade.  We’re working with the older students to teach it to the younger students.  Through the exercise of teaching they are learning not only the lessons in the books, but we’re having conversations about money, goals, and achievement.  The students are sharing this activity with their parents.  And, it’s no different than what we do with adults, it’s just a fresh and very playful way of sharing the information.

My daughter and I became so impressed with the materials I chose to sponsor a special printing of the books and I’ve provided 3 copies to all 200+ members of the Garrett Planning Network.  I want each member advisor to have a copy of their own and have a couple to give away. I believe that this resource is one of the best tools in financial literacy in the marketplace today. It’s designed for the 4-7-year-old audience and that’s what makes it so appealing. Adults read the stories to children and perhaps the adults get as much or more out of the experience as the little ones.

After over 30 years in the business I’ve come to believe that the most important thing a financial advisor can provide to their client is to serve as an information filter and change agent.  Serving as a catalyst to help clients achieve their financial dreams most effectively and efficiently is our highest and greatest good as advisors.  Increasing our clients’ financial literacy is important but far too limited.  We strive to help make competent objective advice accessible to all people.  Utilizing tools, games, stories, and strategies, like I mention above, help achieve that mission in a fresh and very fun way.

To learn more about Sammy Rabbit and his creator, Sam X. Renick, check out SammyRabbit.com.  For more information about me or the Garrett Planning Network please visit www.GarrettPlanningNetwork.com.

Dare to dream big!

Sheryl Garrett, CFP®