Do You Know What You Don’t Know?

“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just isn’t so.”  Mark Twain

I’m a people person. I love people and economics (in exactly that order).  I’m a good listener and my friends and family (also known as “clients”) often ask my advice on personal as well as financial issues.  I know what issues I can give advice on and which I can’t.  That’s a very important distinction to make.

A few times a year, I’ll have requests by clients to meet with their high school or college-aged children to discuss finances and investing.  I’ll meet the young man or woman for lunch and ask them open-ended questions about what they want to be when they grow up.  This is a lot of fun for me, and I often give financial advice to these children as they become adults.

Once a client’s child called and asked me a question that absolutely stumped me.  

“Mr. Black, I need your advice on a very important decision I have to make.” 

“Of course, anything I can do for you.  What are you trying to figure out?”

“Well”, he replied sheepishly, “I think I’ve found ‘the one’.”

“‘The ‘one’ what?”

“The girl I want to marry.”

“Well that’s great!  Congratulations.” I said.  “But what does that have to do with me?”

Then he asked me, “How does one go about buying an engagement ring?”

I laughed and told him, “You’re outside of my expertise.  You’ll have to ask Mrs. Black about that!”

I’m not qualified to give advice about a lot of things (particularly jewelry).  But I know someone to ask or to refer my friends and family to for just about every conceivable piece of advice they are seeking.  I’m always looking for the best qualified, nicest people to turn to when I get a question I don’t know the answer to.  I’m not a jack of all trades.  I’m a good wealth manager and I do my best to take care of the families that have entrusted their futures to my care, and they deserve to have the best advice possible for their unique situations.  I have a lot of very smart colleagues who specialize in investments, taxes, estate planning and insurance.  I read voraciously and it’s all I can do to keep up with my area of expertise.  Consider carefully the source of your advice and the values that your advisor holds because they do flavor the recommendations that he or she is giving you.

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