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‘Somehow we live check to check.’ We make over $200K a year, but owe $100K on HELOC loans, never learned to save money and feel like we’ll never be able to retire. Do we need professional help?

Do you need a financial adviser?

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Question: My wife and I are looking for help. We have never really learned how to save money, and we are really terrible at it. We both come from poor families who lived off government assistance. She and I now both make over $100K a year, but somehow live check to check. We have refinanced our home and pulled out two HELOC loans that we owe $100K on. At this rate, we’ll never be able to retire. What should we do — and who can help us? (Looking for a new financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.)

Answer: The first step in this process is awareness of your issues and acknowledging that you need help. You’re doing exactly that, and we applaud you. As for whether you need a pro to help you, the answer is maybe.  Here are a few options, including the DIY option, to help you decide what might make sense to you.

Have an issue with your financial adviser or considering hiring one? Email your questions or concerns to picks@marketwatch.com.

You may want to think about either a money or financial coach or a financial therapist to get to the root of your spending issues. “Many people are spending money they don’t even realize,” says certified financial planner Lauren Lindsay at Beacon Financial Planning. And a money coach or financial coach may be able to help with that, especially one who specializes in cash flow systems and processes.

“A money coach will help you automate your money, prioritize your most joyful expenses and help you pay off debt and get in control of your money,” says certified financial planner Kaleb Paddock at Ten Talents Financial Planning. To be clear, money and financial coaches are not financial planners or advisers. Money coaches aren’t usually certified as a fiduciary nor are they affiliated with a financial institution — so instead of telling you how to invest money, they’ll focus on helping you understand personal finance basics. “If a money coach sells insurance, offers to manage investments or provides any specific investment advice or insurance recommendations, they’re not a money coach,” says Paddock. 

Looking for a new financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.

Financial coaches can be found many places, but a good starting point is the Association for Financial Counseling and Planning Education or the National Financial Educators Council.

Another alternative is a financial therapist, who can dive a bit deeper and address some of the underlying issues that could be contributing to your propensity to live beyond your means. “You’re aware you have an issue and you have an inkling that it could be due to how you were raised and how your respective families handle finances,” says fee-only certified financial planner Danielle Harrison of Harrison Financial Planning.

As such, Harrison says, “A skilled financial therapist can work with you to uncover more of your story, determine your current money scripts and work to rewrite them together. Traditional financial planning will not work until the underlying behaviors are addressed first.” To find a financial therapist, visit the Financial Therapy Association’s Find a Therapist tool and look for professionals with a Certified Financial Therapist (CFT-I) designation.

Of course, working with a financial planner could also be beneficial — especially since you feel like you have no path to retirement. The planner could help you weigh dealing with your debts, while investing smartly for your future retirement. But remember that you will need to get a hold on your spending and emotions around money or these strategies may not prove effective. 

Looking for a new financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.

You can also do this yourself: If you learn best from books, pros recommend “I Will Teach You to Be Rich” by Ramit Sethi, “The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing” by Mel Lindauer, Michael LeBoeuf and Taylor Larimore, and “Rich Dad Poor Dad” by Robert Kiyosaki. Additionally, there are many free online courses available including Finance for Everyone, How to Save Money: Making Smart Financial Decisions (an archived University of California, Berkeley course)  and Purdue University’s Planning for a Secure Retirement.

However you decide to tackle this issue, there are some important things to remember about your situation. Certified financial planner William Holliday of Elite Wealth Management says, like a lot of people, you’ve learned how to earn money but you have yet to learn what to do with it. “It’s most important to understand that whatever dollars are spent today are dollars that can’t be spent tomorrow. Additionally, dollars spent today can’t earn more dollars, which may mean that a dollar spent today may equate to two, three or four dollars that can’t be spent tomorrow,” says Holliday.

Because this sounds like more of a behavioral issue than a financial one, Holliday recommends using your current income to cover essentials like household expenses and debt payments. “The next step would be to see where you can reduce expenses, what’s essential and what can you survive without? Once you’ve made that determination, you can eliminate those discretionary purchases and use that income towards reducing your debt faster,” says Holliday. 

Looking for a new financial adviser? This tool can help match you with an adviser who might meet your needs.

Something else to consider is whether you might be able to earn even more money. “By no longer increasing your debt, eliminating expenses and possibly increasing your income, your net worth has to increase,” says Holliday. Indeed, this all starts with taking a look at your behaviors which is a process that will require patience, discipline and likely some sacrifice.

It can also be helpful to pay yourself first by putting money into savings if you can, before you start spending, so you prioritize your savings. “Remember, you have control over your money and not the other way around,” says Lindsay.

Have an issue with your financial adviser or considering hiring one? Email your questions or concerns to picks@marketwatch.com.

Questions edited for brevity and clarity.

The advice, recommendations or rankings expressed in this article are those of MarketWatch Picks, and have not been reviewed or endorsed by our commercial partners.

Credit: marketwatch.com

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