Financial Planning FAQs with Etty Surkis and Yitzchak Goldsmith, CFP

Etty Surkis is CEO of Excelsum Capital, a boutique financial services firm. She is a member of the Legally Links Financial Planning Division. 
Yitzchak Goldsmith is a certified financial planner (CFP) with Goldstar Investment and Insurance Services. He is a member of the Legally Links Financial Planning Division. 

Legally Links is available to help surviving spouses and children. Please do not hesitate to reach out to

How do I set up a budget?

It’s simpler than you think. All you need to do is take out a sheet of paper and divide it into four sections:

  1. Monthly income 
  2. Monthly expenses
  3. All debt 
  4. All savings and investments

If your expenses are less than your income, then the goal is to begin paying down any debt. If you have no debt, then the goal is to start saving as much of your income as you can right away. 

If your expenses are greater than your income, the goal is to close the gap as rapidly as possible. 

What should I do if I’m financially strapped every month?

First, we have to figure out what the discrepancy is (i.e., how much money are you earning every month and how much money are you spending every month?). Once we know that, we can start working toward closing the gap. 

The first 2 critical steps to take are: 

  1. Make cash your primary funding source for items that aren’t fixed (e.g., food, clothing, miscellaneous spending, etc.).
  2. Review the prices at the grocery/supermarket. 

Hands down, we spend too much at the grocery store without paying attention to prices. This doesn’t mean you should go price hunting or shop at different stores. Just look through your receipts. You’ll probably find you’re wasting your dollars on items that don’t matter much, rather than products that can add significant value. 

With proper planning and budgeting, learning to live within your means can actually be quite liberating.

Do I need to buy life insurance?

Every time we consider buying any type of insurance, the question should be, “If I were to lose xyz, would I be able to recover from that loss?”

If the answer is yes, then purchasing insurance isn’t necessary. If the answer is no, then purchasing insurance is a wise decision. 

When considering life insurance, the question is, “If I were to pass on, would my family be able to maintain their current lifestyle in my absence?”

Friends and family members are managing the investments held for my children. Is there anything I need to be aware of?

A lot goes into a sound financial plan beyond finding the investment with the highest return. The 4 most important factors are: 

  1. Risk tolerance 
  2. Time horizon 
  3. Tax planning 
  4. Diversification 

These factors are unique to each situation. Family and friends, no matter how well-meaning, may not have the tools to assess these factors. Additionally, their emotions can play a role in how they invest, leading to bad financial choices (like selling at the wrong time). 

If you do decide to allow family and friends to invest for you, you should try to have at least two people review any transaction.

I’m getting pitched by many different people to help manage my investments or to sell me financial products (e.g., life insurance policies, etc.). How do I know whom to trust?

1. Look for someone who is licensed (a CPA, CFP, RIA, etc.). That will add a level of fiduciary responsibility. 

2. If they are transactional oriented (just selling a product, as opposed to looking at the whole situation) or only offer one product as a solution (only stocks or only life insurance or only real estate), make sure to get a second opinion.

3. A fee-only advisor (who charges an hourly fee for advice) may be a good option for impartial advice. Just make sure that you actually implement the plan after the recommendation.

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