You know what I’m talking about; those “educational” pre-retirement planning workshops, courses and seminars that we get invites too in the mail and email inbox simply because we registered our kids in the school district at one time. Are these worth going to?
I would say both YES and NO. (But mostly NO.)
These courses are probably safe enough – they aren’t going to steal your money or try to get you to invest in some wildly inappropriate investments or schemes. Although sales pitches may be presented, the decision to invest with them will always be yours to make.
These seminars are generally conducted by known members of the local business community that have (often) worked with city and/or school board members in order to be able to conduct their meetings in public buildings (i.e., libraries, city buildings, school auditoriums or lecture halls, etc.).
Therefore, those putting these courses on have some credibility in the community to lose if they lead you astray with overly-risky investments or planning techniques that are outside conservative norms.
Also, they want to be able to run this seminar next year (or next fall, next spring, etc.) also, so they aren’t going to say something so unexpected or so far out in left field that people will not come back and will warn others not to come.
So, assuming the above is true, you can expect to hear well worn, very conservative advice presented with respect to saving money, tax considerations and general retirement planning strategies – often repackaged into tempting “5-point strategies” or “optimal allocation techniques”, etc. to make them sound new and different.
Not Looking Out For Your Best Interest
However, the advice you get won’t necessarily be any good at all for your situation. Why?
First, although it may sound like just a free public service seminar, it is not. These programs generally are put on by well-meaning but enterprising accountants and/or financial planners and others that ultimately have an interest in getting you to buy into their investment and insurance products, regardless of whether these are a good fit for you, your goals, financial position, future considerations and investing style.
So they are not necessarily working in your best financial interest from the get-go. They have no interest in doing or saying anything illegal of course, but they have a job to do, and they are usually good at doing it.
Insurance salesmen will try to convince you of big uncertainties and risks out there in retirement that must be laid-off with their insurance products. Planners might try to get you to move your money out of (or “convert” from) your current IRA investments into theirs, or from a traditional IRA into a Roth IRA, which has tax advantages and disadvantages, regardless of whether that is a good idea for you or not.
The event may truly be free to attend, or they may charge a nominal “tuition” fee (note the use of a word meant to make you think of a college or university), and then let you take home a “textbook” (note that the “textbook” isn’t really free then).
Just “Planting Seeds”
These courses are often only one or two sessions long, and therefore the instructors are unable to really get to know anyone’s financial picture in any detail – certainly not enough detail to (in good faith) recommend specific investment products.
Only you know your current situation really well – and so what those putting on such courses may be hoping for is to plant seeds of discontent in your mind associated with your current situation.
They know that you have a certain amount of pride and investment in your own ability to manage your money; therefore, if they can get you to question what you are doing, they have a better chance of selling you, either at the seminar, or later after you go home and think about it for a while.
There are a myriad of important topics when it comes to planning for retirement. These seminars often promise to cover them all; investment products, taxes, Social Security, Medicare, “life planning”, etc. Any one of these can be presented in a way that will make your head spin – so you are likely to not feel exactly qualified in the subject once you’ve heard them discuss all of them in a short one or two-session class.
Therefore, you are more likely to just turn over the whole planning process to someone else (for a fee of course) if you’ve been to a class and can’t make heads or tails out of the material presented. And, once you’ve done that, it is much easier for them to sell you on their particular financial products.
The other big technique being used to sell you at these courses is peer pressure. Those putting on these sessions know that you are pretty likely to know other people in the audience at the meeting, or even plan to attend together with people you know and trust. You’ve driven their kids to soccer practice, they are your neighbors and friends. If the hosts of the seminar can strike a chord with one person that has some influence over you (and maybe others in the crowd), they can sell a lot more of their investment and insurance products than they otherwise would. There is nothing wrong with this, it is a shrewd sales technique; however, shrewd salesmen aren’t necessarily looking out for your particular financial situation.
At best these financial seminars will get you to see the broad range of issues and topics that you must master at least to some degree to develop a workable financial plan. Then, you can begin investigating these topics and options on your own with your own financial details and plans, or with a financial planner you trust already.
Do not attend a course with the idea you are going to understand all of the material presented, or that you will come back full of knowledge and understanding about what to do to put your finances or investments on track for retirement. It is more likely that you will come back more confused and worried than you already are. At worst you might come back sold on an expensive new insurance plan you didn’t need, or with an expensive financial consultant on retainer. Remember, in almost all cases, nothing drastic needs to be done RIGHT NOW – you can take the time you need to evaluate the topics and make your life changes deliberately and invest wisely.
Let me know what you think. Post a comment below – I’ll respond! Or, check out my Wealthy Affiliate profile page and leave me a comment there.