Get to know the people behind the financial advice in our Planner Profiles series, where you’ll get the inside scoop on their best money tips.
You’ve probably heard the stories about people who win millions in the lottery only to lose everything several years later. Suneel Garg thinks he knows why.
Garg is a wealth management advisor for Northwestern Mutual in Los Angeles, California, where he and his wife live with their 4-year-old son, infant daughter and sheepdog. Here, he shares his top money lessons, including what you can learn from lottery winners who weren’t so lucky with managing their finances.
You didn’t start your career as a financial advisor. How did you get into this?
I was always interested in money and finance. But it took me a few tries to find the right career. I started as an auditor for a big five firm in the mid-90s. After several years, I realized that I really excelled in the finance part. So, I went back to business school and attended the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business.
After I graduated, I moved back to L.A. and got a job as the chief financial officer of a family-owned trucking firm. I actually ran the firm because the owner wanted to step back. I did that for a while and grew the firm, but I felt like I’d hit a ceiling.
That’s when I found Northwestern Mutual. I really liked that this job gave me the ability to be my own boss and there were no limits to what I could do here. I love that every day I get to help people make better decisions to reach their goals both for the long term and what they want to do now.
What’s the best financial advice you ever got?
If you have two dollars, save the first and spend the second. That has been my dad’s mantra for his entire life. He and my mother immigrated from India in the 1960s. He had a good job — and a pension — but he was still always a good saver. And he passed that on to me and my brother. We used to work for him helping with a business that he ran on the side, doing people’s income taxes. He’d put some of what we made directly into a savings account for us and then let us enjoy the rest.
Who is your role model?
I love how Jeff Bezos of Amazon took an abstract idea — that you could make it easier for people to get anything they need — and make it plausible and realistic for people. I love people like that who have the courage to think differently. I also really admire my parents’ courage. They could have had a comfortable life in India. But they decided to come to America for the opportunity to do something bigger. They sacrificed so that my brother and I could have what we needed to thrive here.
What are the biggest mistakes you see Americans making with money?
Credit can be a good thing if used properly, but too many people carry credit card debt for a long time. And once you get into that kind of mentality, it can be hard to get out of.
“I often hear people say they think they don’t have enough money to have a financial plan or work with an advisor. They’re wrong.”
What would you say to someone who is on the fence about financial planning?
It’s never too early to start. I talk a lot about the lottery winner’s dilemma. These are the people who win big and then lose it all several years later. The problem isn’t that they win tons of money. It’s that when they do, they don’t have a plan for what to do with it. And then people come out of the woodwork, asking for money. Because these lottery winners have no goals and no plan ahead of time, they often make bad decisions.
When you have a financial plan before that point, you begin to build a strategy and understand how everything works. Then you can slowly start to implement all of it as you get money. And if you did win the lottery, you’d just add to your plan. It’s why I always prefer to plan with people sooner rather than later.
I often hear people say they think they don’t have enough money to have a financial plan or work with an advisor. They’re wrong.
What’s your biggest financial goal?
By my mid-50s I want to be financially independent. I don’t want to stop working. But I want to work because I enjoy it, not because I still need the money. My dad technically retired in his late 50s, but he still works and he day-trades. Financially, he doesn’t have to that. But he enjoys it, and it keeps him sharp. I want that for myself, because I think it will help keep me alive and mentally “in the game” for a very long time.