This article originally published in The Northern Daily Leader on 6 July 2013.
On a recent holiday at the coast, we were pleasantly surprised to find that the holiday home came with a wood-fired heater. An absolute necessity in Tamworth, wood heaters tend to be quite rare at the coast, even though winter night-time temperatures can drop to the low single figures. Not freezing certainly, and nothing like a cold winter morning in Walcha or Armidale, but a bit chilly nonetheless. Anyway, on seeing the wood heater, I popped down to the local petrol station to buy a bag of wood, looking forward to a few warm nights in front of the fire, with the sound of the surf in the background. Eighteen dollars (!) later, I hauled the bag of wood into the car boot and headed home.
I should have known something was wrong as soon as I picked up the bag of wood – it seemed too light and not nearly ‘chunky’ enough. Unfortunately the bag was not made of the usual plastic which you tend to find, but was made of the same material as a chaff bag; you had no way of knowing what was in there until you opened it. A sort of a firewood ‘lucky dip’. On this occasion, I was out of luck, as the entire bag was full of kindling, with no piece of wood any larger than an over-sized toothpick. Clearly the relaxing night in front of the fire would last no longer than an hour, about as long as it would take to burn my expensive bag of kindling.
In many ways my unfortunate experience with the firewood is no different from the experience of many people who seek the services of a financial adviser. They pay a significant amount of money upfront for advice which they won’t be able to determine the value of until long after they get home. In some cases they may have been sold a lemon, as the saying goes. Hopefully however, the advice is clear, comprehensive, accurate and appropriately priced, and the client ends up feeling as though it was money well spent. So when looking for financial advice how do you tell the bag of kindling from the bag of hardwood, so to speak? As with most things, the best way is to ask friends or family who already have an adviser. If they’re happy with the level of service (regular meetings, an appropriate investment strategy and a relatively conservative approach to making money), then you can be reasonably confident in arranging that first meeting. Don’t do as I did however, and grab the first available option without checking first; if you do, a cold night without a fire may be the least of your worries.