The Big Problem with Money Courses

Many financial “gurus” are in the seminar, coaching, and classwork business. They come up with course materials and attempt to sell them at a very high price to individuals who are scared for their financial future.

Some of these coaching programs are reputable ones. Many of them are not. Almost every week, I receive an email or a note from someone telling me about how these courses have made their life worse. Here’s one such story, from Ann (with specific references edited out, because I’m not interested in a specific libel war):

I take responsibility for the mistake I made in signing up for the coaching program, after expressing interest in [his] programs on his website. I was vulnerable after the death of my mother and wanted some guidance in dealing with a small inheritance.

The more I engaged with the various people at [that organization], the more I felt I’d been completely scammed. Overpriced, simplistic e-courses, coaching that is nothing but more sales pitches, shady business practices … you name it.

In the end, at least it woke me up and I took back some power by insisting that they give me my money back. I did eventually get most of it back, though still feel ripped off. These guys employ the worst business practices I’ve ever seen in my life. Refusing to respond to phone calls. No refunds after 3 days after enrolling, when how could you possibly know the program would be like at that point? Any reputable business is happy to keep their customers happy. Talking to these guys was surreal.

Through this experience, I lost every ounce of respect I had for [that person]. It truly was simply a scam. […]

Like I said, I know it was my responsibility that I made the mistake of getting into the stupid program. It’s just horrible to see how these people prey on vulnerable types. They literally refused to provide me with a breakdown of the costs for the program components. What they were pro-rating me broke down to something truly outrageous like several hundred dollars an hour for coaching. A total scam.

For anyone who fell for the sales pitch, go after your money! I stood up to them and it did work. It also helped that I disputed the charges to them on my credit card, based on the fact that I didn’t receive the product I was sold. This did work.

This happens with an uncomfortably large number of personal finance courses out there. I have heard many, many horror stories that match Ann’s or worse, including people who have dumped (literally) tens of thousands of dollars into coaching and classwork only to find themselves worse off than they were before.

What’s the reason for this? Quite simply, such programs are sold as having all of the answers you need – but they don’t provide answers that you don’t already have. The material that makes up almost all of these seminar and coursework programs is information that you can gather on your own on the internet or from your local library. They’re just packaged together well.

The biggest thing that such courses provide that you can’t always find elsewhere is cheerleading. They take ideas that are already out there – like spending less than you earn, avoiding debt, and so on – and couple them with a strong “you can do it” attitude. Many of them also include some one-on-one coaching.

For some people, that’s really helpful. For many people, though, that same coaching benefit is available on blogs like The Simple Dollar for free My twice-weekly mailbag, for example, is the equivalent of someone standing up at a seminar, telling their problem, and having the people in the room talk about it.

My simple advice is this: never, ever invest in a course or a coaching system where it’s not absolutely clear in writing what you will gain from that course or coaching system. Make sure that you’re actually gaining something far beyond what you already have access to for free (or minimal cost) via sites like The Simple Dollar or the books at your local library.

If you want additional help or are interested in camaraderie, try to find a money buddy in your life or see if there are any personal finance groups at your local library or your local community center.

The route to personal finance success is not found by dropping hundreds or thousands of dollars on classes and coaches. It’s found from a desire for change inside of you and a willingness to step up to the plate and make changes in your own life. Spending thousands won’t give you that, and the exact things you need to do to actually make financial success happen can be found for free or very low cost elsewhere. That money spent on coursework is money that could be better used putting your financial life together.

Yes, there are good courses out there that help people, just as there are some sharks in the water. Even with the good courses, though, there’s a lot of expense for the coaching and coursework and, at the same time, a lot of opportunity to do it yourself.

Telling you this is literally costing me thousands of dollars. I’ve been asked to be an “affiliate” for many such courses, where I get paid a chunk of the money earned in order to convince people to take such courses, and I’ve even sat in on a few and read the materials from several of them. I won’t do it for one simple reason – I don’t talk about things on here that I myself wouldn’t use. And, to put it simply, I never have and will not use money courses until I’ve exhausted every resource available online or at my local library.

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