I have blogging on personal finance issues for over 3 years and actively reading personal finance blogs for well-over 4 years. Writing the blog has certainly helped me keep track of my own personal finances, but one unforeseen outcome has been my love of helping others with their own. Over the past year I have been able to help at least a dozen other people with student loans, investing, and the like. And every time I get to help someone I come out of meeting with a high like no other. I love it. It is the kind of feeling that I only get professionally from teaching.
At the same time I was helping people I felt like a little bit of an imposter. I mean I am personal finance blogger. I am not a certified finance professional. And while I have a disclaimer to that effect on the blog and tell other people to do their own research people asked for my advice anyway.
Imposter syndrome is a fairly common one when you are a professor. In fact, I still have it to this day. Questions in my head arise such as how is it that I have the authority to teach a particular subject to my students? What right do I have to grade their papers? I have to actively remind myself that I have the credentials to do so. I have a Ph.D. in my field, which is the highest degree one can obtain. I am a published author concerning specific issues in my discipline a few dozen times over. And I have been teaching, at some level, for over 20 years.
When it comes to issues surrounding money my feelings about being an imposter are heightened ever further. I am not a millionaire. I haven’t created a great product that other people want to buy. I have debt. I haven’t devised some great system to get out of it. I am in deep student loan debt, where I am relying on student loan forgiveness to get rid of the bulk of it for Mrs. ROB and I. And in the pantheon of personal finance bloggers I am certainly on the low-end of the totem pole when it comes to net worth. So what gives me the right to discuss personal finance issues with you? What gives me the right to offer some authority on specific subjects? How do I create some credibility surrounding these subjects?
Sometimes I have real concerns that the posts I write aren’t any good and that I should just shut my mouth and move on.
Therefore, to give myself a bit more gravitas, a little more credibility on the subject, I decided to enroll in more education. Education doesn’t necessarily make one an expert and I am certainly no personal finance expert, but having more education and credentials can set one apart from others.
So earlier this year, in about March or so, I enrolled in the Certified Finance Education Instructor program from the National Financial Educators Council. I had to pay a small fee for tuition and engage in continuing education each year in order to keep my certification. The program is 12 lessons, done on your own, where you learn different techniques for delivering financial lessons. The CFEI program seems to really be geared to people who want to teach financial literacy courses or workshops. After the 12 lessons you take an exam where you can become a certified instructor.
Over about a month I took the course, which really consists of sitting down, listening to the lectures, and taking a quiz at the end. At the end of the course I took the test and I passed.
Anybody can become a CFEI. There is no requirement of a bachelor’s degree or something like that. But I felt like if I was helping people with certain personal finance issues that some kind of credential would be in order. So that is why I became a CFEI. In some respects, it was a decision for my own ego. It was a decision to enhance my own credibility and to partially get rid of the imposter syndrome.
I can’t say that when I passed the exam that something deep inside me changed. However, I feel a little better that I can point to this certification as a partial justification to engage in talking about financial literacy.
That CFEI designation hasn’t necessarily led to more business either. I don’t charge people when I help them with their finances. The most I ever get is a hug and promises of a beer or two. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I like helping people.
In the future, I think I would like to do more financial coaching for people. I am thinking about setting up a little side business where I do some consulting for some folks on personal finance issues concerning budgeting, student loans, investing and the like. I really like financial coaching and might want to make that a partial encore career from where I am at now.
There are some limits that I would have in that respect. For example, I can’t handle people’s investments because I am not a Certified Financial Planner. A CFP designation requires a much longer commitment, an apprenticeship, and a passing of a lot more certifications. I am not licensed to sell any specific financial products and I wouldn’t want to anyway. I don’t buy many financial products anyway and would be a hypocrite if I sold them. If I ever wanted to do something more with personal finance as a career I think I would have to become a CFP. But again that would take a LOT of study. A LOT of time. And a LOT of money to do so. Plus, I would only become a fee-based CFP, which means that I would be one of those people who you provide a fee and I write up an economic plan for you. Additionally, I might manage investment portfolios for a specific fee, but I would try to avoid selling specific financial products, even if it made me more money. I just don’t have it in me to become a snake oil salesperson when it comes to things personal finance.
Where Do I Go From Here?
The big thing now is what do I do with that CFEI certification. Do I do anything with it? I mean I am busy already with my job, but I like helping people with their financial issues. I like listening to their stories. In order to do that I would have to set up more workshops. I would have to hustle to find venues for this stuff. I would have to create curriculum for my particular presentation. There are already certain kinds of curriculum built in for certain lessons, but to make it work for me I would have to practice it and find ways of delivering it to my specific style. It took me years to develop my teaching philosophy, but I have a built-in audience as a professor. Using the lessons I have learned as a CFEI might require me to find those audiences on my own and I am not sure where to look or to begin.
I guess this is also a question for my blog. Where do I go from here? Can I continue to find interesting things to write about that I haven’t already covered? Is it worth the time and energy to do so? Am I helping people at all?
After 3 years of writing I still have blog posts to write, but nothing lasts forever. How long will I continue to write this blog and issues surrounding it?
The Bottom Line: I became a Certified Financial Instructor to give myself some extra credibility when I talk to others about certain finance issues. That doesn’t make me an expert, but it makes me feel a little more credible. That said, I am unsure where to go from here with that certification. How can I turn the high I receive from helping people with money into more sustainable efforts? Should I become a part-time financial coach? If so, how? Where?
I don’t have the answers to those questions yet, but they are certainly part of my thought process as I make my way on this personal finance journey. As always, thank you for reading. And please leave any comments you might have below.