When it comes to financial planning, Clint and Diane Lancaster of Chico have always been do-it-yourselfers.
They subscribe to Kiplinger's personal finance magazine, listen to financial radio programs and faithfully read their newspaper's business section.
But last year, with their two sons finishing college as they themselves neared retirement age, the couple decided it was time to get a personal checkup with a financial professional.
"We'd always done it on our own," said Diane Lancaster, 59, a former elementary school teacher whose husband is a heating/air/plumbing systems salesman. "But we wanted to make sure we were on the right track."
The Lancasters drove about 85 miles to West Sacramento to attend the first-ever Greater Sacramento Financial Planning Day, part of a nationwide event that offers free, one-on-one sessions with a financial planning professional, as well as classroom-style workshops on everything from mortgage refinancing to retirement planning to creating a will or trust.
This year, the second annual local Financial Planning Day is Saturday, Oct. 13, in West Sacramento.
It's one of about 25 similar sessions occurring in October across the country, from San Francisco to Seattle to Miami. In each case, the one-day event is sponsored by local city governments and a quartet of national financial planning organizations.
"Last year, people were lined up out the front door when we opened," said Debbie Grose, a certified financial planner with Lighthouse Financial Planning LLC in Folsom who coordinated last year's event, which drew about 170 people.
For many consumers, the need for financial guidance is acute, as they struggle with the aftermath of job and income losses.
Roughly two-thirds of middle-income Americans said they had made at least one "really bad financial decision" in the past, according to a study released this month by the Consumer Federation of America and Primerica Inc. The average cost of those financial mistakes: $23,000.
At the Financial Planning Day, the emphasis is on free advice. "There's no selling; no strings attached, just solid information in a safe environment," said Grose, the West Sacramento event's chairwoman.
In fact, she said, the 30 or so financial planners who volunteer their time and come from El Dorado Hills, Elk Grove, Folsom, Roseville and Sacramento are strictly prohibited from handing out their business cards.
"People are a little suspect about who they can trust or who's trying to sell them something," said Grose. "By partnering with the (West Sacramento) mayor's office and the state, it gives this event more credibility."
In addition to the personal sessions, there is a series of free, 50-minute workshops on varied topics, such as "Financial Fire Drill" (how to handle financial emergencies like job loss or a natural disaster) and "20 Tips for Becoming a Smart Investor," as well as sessions on retirement and tax planning.
Walk-in signups are available, but online registration is recommended at www.financialplanningday. org. Those who register in advance get first priority for the one-on-one sessions.
Grose said many of last year's attendees had very specific questions: Should I refinance my mortgage? What should I pay off first: my credit card debt or my car loan? Should I be in a target-date fund with my 401(k) or something different? Should I open a 529 to save for college?
The list of money topics that can be addressed by attendees is seemingly limitless: Buying a home, avoiding foreclosure, saving for college, managing health benefits, coping with divorce, deciding insurance needs, figuring tax and investment strategies, as well as looking at IRAs, pensions and Social Security.
"There are so many people who are unaware of financial planning. They're used to being sold something in a pressured situation," said Grose.
"Financial planning is so much bigger. It's about establishing savings goals. Once you have clarity around your goals, then you figure out how to best save for (them)."
The Saturday event is truly open to anyone.
"We don't have a target audience," said Grose. "Some people who come out are already working with a financial planner and want a second opinion. Some are younger people whose only asset is a 401(k) plan at work."
If you attend, bring any pertinent financial paperwork, such as your most recent pay stub, tax return, a 401(k) or IRA statement, and documents like life insurance or annuity contracts.
For couples like the Lancasters, it was a chance to fine-tune their financial strategies.
"It was the first time we'd ever sat down with a financial planner," said Diane Lancaster. As a result of the sessions, she said, the couple made adjustments in her husband's 401(k), got out of an annuity they weren't comfortable with and reviewed their family trust to make sure it was in order. They also started seeing a certified financial planner on a regular basis.
"It was well worth it," said Lancaster. And not just for baby boomers, she added. "The workshops would be good for anyone of any age, from 20s to seniors. You don't get this kind of education in high school."
FINANCIAL PLANNING EVENT APPROACHES
What: Greater Sacramento Financial Planning Day
When: Saturday, Oct. 13
Time: 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Where: West Sacramento City Hall, 1110 West Capitol Ave.
What's offered: One-on-one counseling with professional financial planners on any money matter, from mortgage refinancing to college savings to retirement planning. Also, 50-minute workshops on financial topics such as investing, insurance, taxes, retirement and estate plans
How to register: Walk-ins are OK, but advance registration is recommended at: www.financialplanningdays.org.
Local sponsors: State Department of Corporations, West Sacramento mayor's office, Financial Planning Association of Northern California
National sponsors: Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards, Financial Planning Association, Foundation for Financial Planning and U.S. Conference of Mayors.