Should You Hire a Money Coach?

Money influencers and the free content they post offer us no-cost inspiration and education. But when is it worth it to pay for sessions with an online money coach?

Once upon a time, Nereida Gomez, 30, struggled to pay off a $16,000 personal loan, and sunk deeper and deeper into credit card debt. Living paycheck-to-paycheck, she wasn't quite sure where her paycheck was even going.

One year later, that personal loan is long gone, and she's on track to pay off the rest of her credit card debt, student loan, and car loan within two years. More importantly, she's putting money toward retirement and owning a home. "Maybe in the future I could have my own small business," Gomez says. "Now that I'm on track with my debt and I'm on a better footing, I can actually start to expand my goals."

The catalyst for this personal-finance 180? A money coach Gomez met on Instagram named Valery Vargas (aka @thedaintydollar), one of a growing crop of personal finance influencers. Instead of supporting their small social media businesses with sponsored content the way a fashion influencer might, they sell coaching services. They're often young adults (predominately young women) who use their personal stories with money to inspire others. Working with clients one-on-one or in groups, they help them create (and stay on) a budget, pay down debt, and get on track toward financial success.

For example, when Vargas originally started her account in 2018, her goal was to simply keep herself motivated as she worked on paying down $43,000 of debt. "My Instagram was anonymous at first. It was too taboo to even say: Hey I have this much debt," she says.

But after buckling down on her budget, Vargas started opening up a bit more. She shared the account with friends and family, and they noticed her success. She started informally coaching them for free, and then realized she had a business on her hands. Today, she sells 90-minute, one-on-one meetings for $225, and offers three- and six-month, one-on-one coaching programs (offered on a sliding scale between $800 and $2000) as well as group coaching programs.

While money influencers like Vargas offer free content to inspire and educate us, some of us need a more intense, customized experience. If you're interested in taking the plunge with paid coaching and wonder if it's right for you, here's what you should know.

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A money coach is not the same as a financial advisor.

Vargas, like a lot of influencer-coaches, is not certified as a fiduciary or affiliated with a financial institution, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. "I'm not a financial advisor," she explains. "I'm more like, I want to set you up on a clear plan so you can understand your money." It's important to know this because, before you pay for coaching or advice, you should be aware of exactly what you're getting.

And one is not necessarily better than the other, says Misty Lynch, certified financial planner and life coach. It's just that they do different things. "A money coach isn't necessarily going to tell you how to invest the money you make or what to do with it. That's outside of their realm," she says. "Their focus is creating a structure, on helping you get more out of your money so you can pay debt or increase your income."

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A coach can offer a shortcut to learning the basics.

Unfortunately, too many of us don't know the basics of personal finance. According to a survey from The Penny Hoarder, one-third of American adults can't recall ever discussing the basics of personal finance—credit reports, debt, savings accounts, and budgeting—with their parents. When you look at it this way, it's no wonder business is booming for coaches who make personal finance topics accessible.

If you need help with the foundations of personal finance, a coach can be really helpful. "Valery had the tools already there and she gave me the shortcut," Gomez says. "I was really overwhelmed at the time, but I felt like I could count on it working because it worked for her."

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A coach can help hold you accountable.

Managing your money is more than just dollars and cents. You have to be honest with yourself and, for a lot of people, money is a highly charged emotional subject. Those with debt often feel overwhelmed or ashamed, Lynch says. Many of us shop when we're feeling down, or let our desires get the best of us in the moment, and that's where a coach can really help.

"Having that outside neutral third party to talk to about your money issues is really powerful," says debt-free money coach Ayanna Campbell Smith (aka @millennialmoney.guide). "When it comes to managing our own money, it's easy to make excuses for ourselves, to tell ourselves in the moment we'll save or pay down our debt later."

When you work with a coach, you know that next meeting with them is on the calendar, and you're going to have to explain yourself—and that can be just the thing you need to make better choices.

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Success still depends on you.

Coaches are not miracle workers. Like any other self-improvement journey, getting better at managing your money takes commitment and work. If you're going to spend money on a coach, you can expect to get personalized help and advice about your situation, but it's still up to you to follow through. This is why it's important to watch out for guarantees that seem too good to be true. "A coach can't guarantee a football player is going to win the game," Lynch says. "They're not the one playing."

If you feel like you're ready to commit, coaching can pay off. One way to improve your chances of success is to find someone whose content really speaks to you. Most coaches offer free discovery calls (in addition to free content) so you can get to know them first. Don't skip that part. "It's important to find someone you enjoy working with," Campbell Smith says. "I always say it is an investment that you're making, one that is more likely to pay off if you find the right person."

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