A few columns back, I did a piece about the risks of taking tips when investing, whether from friends, family, or even financial planners. I always ascribed to the theory of not plunking my money down on any product or service with which I have not had some relationship.

Sometimes that is good and sometimes it is not. And sometimes, you are just dealing with pure luck. Taking tips has burned me too often but I have not been damaged when I go with products and services that I actually use and like.

In my own family, I remember that my mother and father (both deceased) were big stock market investors although their patterns of investing and educational background were quite dissimilar.

My father, who came out of Temple University in Philadelphia and was in the medical field, was one of the sharpest knives in the drawer. He invested considerably and lost a lot of money. For example, he was a major investor in the Tucker automobile, a gorgeous piece of machinery that lacked only one thing…an engine. The engine manufacturer pulled out at the eleventh hour and this beautiful body of a car had nothing to drive it. My father nose-dived on that one. Then, he invested heavily in something called Flock, which was textured wallpaper that was all the rage back in the 60s. Today, flocking is the application of fine particles to adhesive coated surfaces. Again, he lost.

As for my mother, she graduated high school and that was it for any further formal education. She did little reading (as opposed to my father who devoured books) and only liked to look at newspaper and magazine ads. So, without the benefit of any college (let alone post-graduate education), my mother invested in the likes of AT&T, IBM, and Consolidated Gas and you know what? She made a bundle. She decided upfront that she was not going to put her hard-earned money to risk. The money she had came from her allowance in running the household for her husband and her three sons. My mother never worked in a formal job (as opposed to homemaker) a day in her life so whatever she could save had to come from that allowance. Granted, my father was generous in that regard and my mother also knew how to wheedle additional funds out of him.

Well, after this short tour through family history, I came to the conclusion that brainpower doesn’t automatically mean clever moves in the market. My father, with all his smarts, took giant risks…and lost. My mother, without the benefit of advanced book learning, took no risks, played it safe…and won.

As for me, I tried to learn from the two of them. Although I made my share of mistakes (my father's blood running through), I did learn how to play it relatively safe as my mother did.

Bottom line? With any financial planning, you have to pick the road that suits you best and you have to understand that there should be a philosophy to what you are doing. But that should be your philosophy and not someone else's. It's akin to the interior decorator who may have a bent toward certain styles but it is still the client who must be kept happy.

In that regard, whenever you talk with a financial planner or if you are that financial planner, keep one thing in the forefront of your eyes, courtesy of Jack D. Kahan: "He who pays decides."

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