Seeking Alpha

How Versus Who

by: Russ Thornton
Russ Thornton
Registered investment advisor, ETF investing, portfolio strategy, investment advisor

If you have a bad toothache, what's the first thing you do?

You might give it 24 hours to see if it begins to feel better. Or you might go to WebMD and search for your symptoms in an effort to self-diagnose.

Let's assume for a minute that with the help of the internet and talking to a friend or two, you're 90% sure you have a tooth that needs a root canal.

For me, the next step would be to schedule an appointment with a dentist to get a second opinion on my amateur diagnosis.

The dentist might confirm that I do indeed need a root canal. Or she might diagnose something completely different that I hadn't even considered before.

Ultimately, regardless of the final diagnosis and prescribed treatment, are you going to attempt to perform a root canal (or whatever needs doing) yourself, or will you go ahead and book your next appointment to get the toothache taken care of by a professional?

If you search YouTube for "how to perform a root canal on yourself" you'll get over 450,000 resulting videos. Yikes.

Personally? I'm booking my next dentist appointment ASAP.

And while I shouldn't have to even write the following words, in order to keep my compliance officer happy - let me be the first to encourage you not to attempt dentistry or any other medical treatment on yourself.

9 times out of 10, speaking with a medical professional makes the most sense. You only have one life, and one body - why would you leave something as important as your health or your happiness up to chance?

And I'm sure you'd agree that this makes sense for any scenario involving your health and well-being - not just determining whether or not a root canal is in your near future.

What About Something Less Obvious?

What about fixing something around your home?

Now, while I'm not willing to DIY a root-canal, I am willing to spend a few minutes on YouTube trying to figure out how to fix odds and ends jobs around my house. YouTube has truly been both a time and money saver for me and my family over the years.

With the help of various how-to videos, I've been able to repair our washing machine, re-grout the tile in our shower, learn how to properly lay carpet, do all sorts of things with our TVs and other gadgets, and more. I don't consider myself to be super handy around the house, but through a variety of summer jobs growing up, and with the help of YouTube, I'm willing to tackle many smaller jobs inside and outside our home.

I've replaced light fixtures and ceiling fans, fixed plumbing issues, and transplanted azaleas in our yard.

But let me be clear - our home and our yard will never grace the cover of Southern Living magazine. And there are many times when I haven't thought twice about calling in a plumber, an electrician, or other professional to make sure the job gets done right the first time. When I attempt to fix something around our home, it's driven more by a desire to learn something new or figure out how something works. It's not a frugal move to avoid paying someone else to do something I think I can handle.

As I write this, there is a long list of things Elizabeth and I want to "upgrade" at our home. Among them, building a new patio off the back of our house. We envision gray flagstone, maybe with some built-in seating around part of the perimeter.

While this stone patio is technically in the realm of something I could do, we're definitely going to get estimates from at least 3 folks that can do it for us.

Sure, we could save money if I did it, but whereas it would take an experienced contractor and crew a few days, it could take me weeks. And there's a possibility I'd still make a mistake and be left with a finished product that was just so-so.

I'd way rather spend my time and energy elsewhere and pay someone else to knock out this particular job for me.

I can make more money, but I can't make more time.

How v. Who

This really boils down to an issue of "how versus who."

I can either figure out "how" to do something and attempt it on my own. Hoping I get it right the first time.

Or I can instead identify "who" can do this for me at a reasonable price and with the expectation that they WILL get it right the first time.

When it comes to your toothache, the one that may very well need a root canal, I hope we can agree that it's a "who" issue. In this case, your dentist would be the who.

When it comes to repairing the water pump on your washing machine, that can be either a "how" or a "who" depending on your preference and your comfort level.

What about grocery shopping?

Traditionally, we've always taken care of that ourselves because we know how it's done.

But with services like Instacart and Amazon Fresh, we can now choose someone else to do it for us. And have it delivered to our homes.

Just so we're on the same page here, I'm not passing judgment on when it makes sense to figure out "how" versus figuring out "who." That's a personal decision, and only you can make that call.

How v. Who And Your Money

For some of you, money is a "how" matter. You'll read a book or some blog posts, and take it upon yourself to handle your financial planning, investments, estate plan, and more.

Most of us start this way early in our careers when we're dealing with our first 401k plan or have some savings we need to deal with.

Or maybe it's dealing with planning your retirement, student loans or other forms of debt, and you've decided to figure it out on your own.

But there are some of you, including my clients, who have instead decided to find someone (a "who") to partner with and help you with your personal finances.

Maybe someone like me.

Again, there isn't a wrong way or a right way to do this. There is only your way of doing this, and only you can decide the best way to address your personal finances.

There isn't a certain income level or net worth that makes the hiring of a financial planner a foregone conclusion. I've met multi-millionaires that handle all their financial planning and decision-making on their own.

I say, good for them.

But what's good for you? What makes the most sense for your money-related decisions and more importantly, your life?