What I learned at Ukulele Camp that applies to finances

I’m pretty die-hard about DIYing everything I can. Yes, I know there’s a lot of argument that you should pay someone to do things while you’re out earning more per hour at something else, but I don’t buy it entirely. First of all, most of us spend plenty of time scrolling Facebook, binge-watching Netflix, and staring into the refrigerator. None of that is billable time.

There are a lot of projects that just require brute force and minimum skills—I’ll paint my bedroom over a weekend before I pay someone $800 to do it. However, I draw the line at danger (painting the trim on my second floor from a loooong ladder), back-breaking difficulty or heavy hauling (digging post holes and installing a fence), or things that I’m not confident about learning from YouTube (installing a new kitchen faucet and drain).

I’ve had quite a few music lessons over the past, um, decades, so I have been pretty convinced that I could teach myself to play ukulele and guitar from the huge number of books, YouTubes, and online courses available. And, they’ve worked pretty well. Feeling somewhat confident, I went to a few jam sessions at the Old Town School, where I discovered I had miles to go before I cheep. I definitely needed some real-time instruction.

This weekend we trucked up to Midwest Uke Camp in Olivet, Michigan. I came home, not only reinvigorated about playing, but about the place of music in life in general—playing, performing, singing, dancing. With all the grinding away, I had lost sight of the pure joy of it all. And since November, 2016, I think I’ve lost sight of some of the joy available in life. As so many blues masters knew, no one can take music away from you.

But, like everything else I do, I did see some parallels between the very delightful Uke Camp experience and our financial life:

  • When there are a lot of choices, you can’t swoop up everything.

For some time slots, there were 3 or 4 classes I wanted to take. I tried to find out who was a good teacher (all of them!) or offered something particularly appealing. No matter how much you wish, you can’t take more than one—and you probably can’t afford to hook on to every good investment. Go with what you can, given what time and knowledge you have available.

  • It’s not possible to make the optimum choice every time.

There was one class where, maybe, I could have chosen better. The teacher’s style just wasn’t right for me, although his music, omg… But that doesn’t ruin the whole selection, nor the other seven or eight choices I made. Similarly, for every given number of choices (investments) you make, some will not turn out as well as you expect. And some will perform far better—who knew I loved Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz? You have to look at the total experience (performance), incorporate what you learned, and try to do better next time, where you will make mistakes again. Improvement is not perfectly linear, but it should lurch in the right direction.

  • In person makes a difference.

I adore self-study. I can make all kinds of mistakes and make them LOUD, and no one will hear me, except for my dog. When she sees me grab the uke, she immediately asks to go out.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be gained from the personal interaction with a good teacher. They can correct subtle mistakes in real time, come up with a trick that solves your individual problem, and there’s the serendipitous addition of techniques and information they just happen to think of that’s not in their books or videos. A good teacher always knows more than they’re putting in print. That’s the chief benefit—the individualization. Sure, you can learn a lot about playing (and financial planning) from a pre-fab program, but at some point, you need it to apply to you, particularly. I think online lessons, websites, asset allocation programs, and all that jazz are great, but everyone has some unique challenges. In fact, if you come to the professional already having a good background, you can probably get more benefit from the one-on-one.

The interaction with other people can often give you new insights and ease your mind about how you compare. It’s oddly comforting to see other people struggling or making and recovering from mistakes. I’d love to see more opportunity for people to be part of investment clubs.

  • Seize the opportunities when offered

The best teachers may not be back. The event probably will not go on forever. It can be hard to find fiduciary, fee-only advice. The crowd was mainly older than 50 and so many said they wished they’d done it, younger. I hear it all the time about financial planning, too. Don’t put it off—neither playing an instrument nor making a financial plan are as difficult as they seem in your imagination.

About the author

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Danielle L. Schultz, CFP®, CDFA

Danielle L. Schultz, the principal financial planner of Haven Financial Solutions, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a NAPFA-registered Financial Advisor, and a Registered Investment Advisor in the State of Illinois. She studied financial planning at Northwestern University’s Certified Financial Planner™ certification program. She also holds a Series 65 license (Registered Investment Advisor Representative) and a CCPS (Certified College Planning Specialist).

She writes a regular column for Better Investing magazine and is currently working on a revision of their mutual funds handbook. In addition to academic training and professional experience, Ms. Schultz has personally managed Social Security, Medicare, retirement and long-term care issues; college funding concerns; and cash flow and transition planning in self-employment and divorce situations. Her social work background gives her an innovative perspective on financial planning issues; for her, financial planning is not only about money, but also a key component in a satisfying and well-lived life.

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