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Financial planning expert Bonita GraffSetting aside enough money to sustain one's lifestyle for six to nine months should precede any attempt at investing, said financial planning expert Bonita Graff during a guest lecture appearance at Lakeland College on Monday morning.

"The first mistake some people make is putting everything they have at risk," said Graff, a founding partner at Provident Financial Consultants in Oshkosh and successful personal wealth planner for almost three decades. "After you set that money aside, the next thing you should do is participate in your employer's 401k. And third, participate in a Roth IRA."

Those were just a few of the investment nuggets offered by Graff, who graduated from Lakeland in 1984 with a bachelor's degree in business administration and accounting. She spoke on Monday to about 20 Intermediate Accounting II students.

Graff provided an overview of several different investment vehicles with the students, and she told them more about her role as an investment advisor.

"I can tell you that you will receive the best education at this school," Graff told the class. "Lakeland College is the reason I am who I am."

Graff is a certified public accountant (CPA), a certified divorce financial analyst (CDFA), an investment advisor representative and a general securities registered representative who works with individual as well as business clients in all facets of financial planning.

"As financial advisors, we're responsible for helping you through life to retirement, from getting the kids educated to making sure things will be OK if you die," she said. "We have a mantra at our firm, which is that I always work for my clients. Everything we do is based on your best interests. If we follow that, how can we go wrong?"

Graff handed out copies of a pamphlet titled "Investing Essentials" and a one-sheet 20-year "snapshot" of investing ups and downs to the students. She discussed the differences between stocks and bonds, calling the latter the "ballast in your portfolio; they're boring but important." And she called mutual funds "the optimal tool for most investors."

When she was finished with her hour-long guest lecture, Graff received an enthusiastic ovation from the class.

"It's always great when successful Lakeland alumni come back and share their expertise and experiences with our current students," said Brett Killion, Lakeland assistant professor of accounting, whose class Graff visited. "We try to bring the real world into the classroom as often as we can, and Bonnie did a fantastic job relating our textbook material to the students' lives."

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