Money pro tips: A Q&A with financial planner Roger Ma

by Myelle Lansat
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Money pro tips: A Q&A with financial planner Roger Ma

Each week, we ask a personal finance or business expert for their money pro tips. This week we talked to Roger Ma, financial planner at lifelaidout and author of "Work Your Money, Not Your Life." Want more money pro tips? Sign up for the Easy Money newsletter to get exclusive tips from money experts in your inbox each Friday.

What’s your current money goal?
There’s a great quote from the movie “Moneyball,” where Billy Beane (played by Brad Pitt) says, “I made one decision in my life based on money and I swore I would never do it again.” Early in my career, I did that as well, and ever since then, I swore I would find a way to spend my time and money based on what I want and value, rather than focusing simply on the dollars and cents.

How are you working toward it?
It’s an ongoing process — it’s periodically checking in with myself to make sure I understand what’s most important to me, and what may not be as important. Staying abreast of those preferences, understanding the trade-offs I’m willing to make, and getting the fundamentals of saving and investing right enable me to spend my money and time (mostly) how I want to.

What’s the best financial advice you ever got?
Focus on what you can control with saving and investing, and tune out the noise. For investing, that means understanding what you’re investing for, and then figuring out what to invest in and where to put those investments, while keeping costs low.

What's the worst financial advice you ever got?
Anytime someone says, “You gotta check out this hot new stock or investment.”
Name one money thing you’re most proud of:
Even though I’m a financial planner, I’m proud that my wife and I enlisted a financial planner a couple of years ago. It put my wife and I on equal footing with our finances, allowed us to get unbiased advice from a third-party, and helped us identify any blind spots. It also gave us the confidence to move forward with some important money and life decisions that we had been grappling with.

Do you have any money regrets?
Oh yeah — I’ve made all of the textbook money mistakes, including choosing investments based on what “sounded good,” listening to talking heads on TV to try to figure out when to buy and sell investments, and having my employer’s stock make up a large portion of my net worth. For a long time, instead of being in control of my money, I let my money control me. Thankfully, I’ve come a long way since those days :).

What would you do with a $1 million windfall?
I’d probably set aside some amount so that my family could fly first/business class on long-haul flights. I’d also donate some money to organizations that rescue homeless pets and place them in loving homes, like KittyKind and Best Friends Animal Society. Then I’d put the rest into a mix of index funds (VTSAX and VTIAX).
Any book, podcast, newsletter or blog you recommend to help people be better with money?
I think "The Bogleheads’ Guide to Investing" does a great job of helping people understand what they need to know about their money, while drowning out the extraneous details.

Biggest money mistake you see people make:
Chasing after financial goals they think they “should” achieve, such as buying a home or a fancy car, rather than taking the time to think through their own preferences and priorities. It’s easy to get distracted by daily stock movements, the latest investing craze, and what everyone else is doing when you don’t know what you want.

Best money you’ve ever spent:
Most recently, I’d have to say getting Apple airpods. I wear earphones a lot throughout the day, and previously, struggled and fought with my wired headphones several times a day. These airpods have made me feel much freer, whether riding the subway, walking on the street, or working out - so, so worth it!

Image: Nastia Kobzarenko