Why I Became a Financial Planner

Aug 28 / Jay Zigmont, PhD, CFP®
My path to becoming a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ may be different than most. I was raised in a family that could barely make ends meet (we were broke). I have made more mistakes with money than most. My background isn’t in finance, it is in Adult Learning and Public Safety. I’m not a ‘finance bro’. I’m just a guy with a passion for helping others to achieve their dreams.
Growing up, my father was a bus driver, and my mother has been medically disabled for most of my life. The money went out as fast (or faster) than it came in. As with most people, I did not learn great money habits from my family, and in school, I only learned to balance a checkbook (which is useless). What I did learn from my family was to work hard. The rule in our family was “I don’t care what you do, just be the best at it.”

Coming out of high school the one thing I said I didn’t want to do was computers. It was the mid 90s, and that ‘Internet thing’ was just catching on. So of course, I ended up in the ‘dot-com’ world, moved to NYC at 19 and made my first million before I was 21, and spent it before I was 25. I did a lot of fun things with the money (including buying a ‘real’ Hummer in cash, back when the only person who had one was Arnold) but learned that getting more money does not make you better with money.

Everyone should live in NYC once in their life as it teaches you a lot of things. It taught me that making money isn’t everything. I worked on Wall Street (not doing finance, but that was where our office was). I lived in Chelsea and eventually moved to Jersey City. One winter I watched people stepping over a homeless person who had died and frozen to the street as if he was just a piece of trash. I couldn’t take it. I left NYC in 2000, and it was a good thing.

I have always lived my life by a simple mantra by Zig Ziglar: “You can have everything in life you want, if you just help enough other people get what they want.” I have dedicated my life to helping people and thought the best way to help people after I left NYC was to become a Paramedic. That was a great job, but I soon found that I could help more people by teaching others to help people (simply pay it forward).

The other mantra I live by is from Scrooge McDuck (Ducktales for those people who don’t know) and it is simply “Work Smarter, Not Harder”. So, to find a way to help people learn better, I went back to school. I only had a high school diploma at this point and knew I would need a lot more if I wanted to make a difference. I started my Bachelor’s at 27 and finished it 9 months later (yes, I did my entire bachelor’s degree in 9 months, and it only cost me $8,800). At 32 I would have my Masters and Ph.D. in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut.

With my degree in hand, I ended up working in healthcare leading learning initiatives (particularly with Simulation). I had a lot of success inclining reducing infant mortality, building teams, and reducing nursing orientation costs. I went into healthcare to help people (patients). The further you go in healthcare, the more you realize it is all about finance. Education is seen as ‘non-productive time’ in healthcare and as one finance expert told me ‘education is non-productive and should be limited if not eliminated if at all possible.

What I did find while I was working in healthcare is that I had a skill in coaching. My Ph.D. specifically was focused on experiential learning, a coach is a mentor that helps you learn from your experiences. Specifically, coaching has the goal of changing mental models and behaviors to get a different outcome. Over the past decade, I have had great success coaching in leadership, academics, life, career, and finances.

Coaching is what brought me to be a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™. There are way too many people out there, just like me when I started out, who don’t have great behaviors with their money and are making mistakes. In no way do I assume I am better than anyone else with money, but I can help people learn from my mistakes. I can also help people to learn that life is not all about money. I can help people achieve their dreams.

I look at being a CFP® professional, and an Investment Advisor, in a different light than most. My job as I see it is to help people to learn how to manage their money, not to take it over from them. I don’t offer Investment Management; I only offer advice. I meet with my clients monthly and help them to learn to make small changes over time. It is these small changes that result in long-term improvements. I encourage everyone I work with to only invest in things they understand.

In the U.S., most people will go through 7 significant career changes in their life. I’ve still got one left if that math holds. My winding path to become a CFP® professional gives me a wider look at finances than just the dollars and cents. Everyone says money does not buy happiness. I had a million at 21, and while it was fun, I can’t say I was happier then. Happiness is about what matters most to you, and if money is what matters most, what do you do after you have it? Maybe retirement shouldn’t be the goal but living a full life should be. 

Jay Zigmont, PhD, MBA, CFP® is the Founder of Childfree Wealth, a life and financial planning firm dedicated to helping Childfree and Permanently Childless people. Dr. Jay is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Childfree Wealth Specialist, and author of the book “Portraits of Childfree Wealth.” Dr. Jay is the co-host of Childfree Wealth Podcast. His Ph.D. is in Adult Learning from the University of Connecticut.

He has been featured in Fortune, Forbes, MarketWatch, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Business Insider, CNBC, and many other publications.