How to Study for the CFA® Exam as a Parent

It sounds pretty ominous: A 300-hour study commitment over the course of four to six months, which works out to be roughly between 12.5 and 18.75 hours per week. Oh, and that 300-hour assumption is an average; any individual might need to put in considerably more effort in order to master the material well enough to pass the test. Now, even young, single people can have some trouble juggling this schedule. So just imagine if you have young children in the house and commitments to family. Children probably won’t understand your need to escape frequently for some quiet time. They’ll only see that you’re basically absent for a few months and may be confused about why that is.

If you’re wondering how to manage all of these things together, I have some insight. You see, when I began studying for Level 1 in 2013, I had a three-year-old daughter in the house, and in March of that year my second daughter was born. I was working full-time, serving as Secretary (or other executive role as my journey progressed) of the local CFA Society, and being a husband and father, but I managed to find the time to properly study for all three exams. So if you’re telling yourself you don’t have the time to study and keep your family happy while doing so, you may want to reexamine your strategy. Make no mistake, a strategy is required if you want to do both.

Get Your Family on Board

The following picture was taken in the hospital when my second daughter was born. It’s the cover of one of my CFA curriculum books, and it displays a bit of my strategy to recruit my family to the cause.

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The footprints were taken at the same time the hospital was taking prints for my scrubs and their official paperwork—so, right after she was born. Of course, this was at the end of March, and I was on Equity and Fixed Income, the fifth book, so I was nearing the end of my Level 1 journey. And this highlights an important point that I’d like to spell out directly: Let your family know that you’re going to be using every scrap of available time to study, but find a way to do so with them. In other words, make this single-player game into a team sport. No one was surprised or upset that I had my books with me at this time (and, obviously, not during the main event).

Set the Expectations

Long before this, I had a conversation with my wife and firstborn daughter to let them know the gravity of what I was doing. We talked about how the charter would give me more opportunity, and how that would improve all of our lives, regardless of the outcome. Maybe a more appropriate term for this is "generating buy-in," and it is immensely important if you want to keep your family happy while you compete with some of the best minds in finance.

Here’s an example of a method I used to generate family buy-in and include them in my studies:  I had a stack of flash cards that stood at least two feet high by the end of Level 3 study, and my older daughter (almost eight now) would be there while I was going through them and my wife was quizzing me on them. (I’m convinced that my daughter still thinks studying with flash cards is a fun game.) By setting the expectations up front and sharing parts of the journey, everyone is going through it together, and sees the reasons why. And that equates to a (hopefully) happy family, one that is focused together on achieving and sharing success.

I’ll leave you with a thought: When I was studying, some would incredulously ask, “How do you manage to do all of that with a family distracting you?” I’d just smile, because those people are playing the wrong game. When you have your family’s full support, you are stronger, and you are making your family stronger, too, while you chase your dreams. This works for other areas of life as well. By making your family a part of your process of self-improvement, my experience is that your load is measurably lighter, and the important people in your life don’t feel neglected, even at those times when you do have to disappear to study or take some other important action.

About the Author

Pete Baksh is a CFA charterholder, and currently serves as Chief Investment Officer for the Trust Department at the First National Bank of Mount Dora. His team manages approximately USD 570 million in discretionary assets across all asset classes, for private clients and institutions. He’s been an active member of the award-winning CFA Society of Orlando, where he’s held various executive roles. A graduate of the University of Florida, Pete is currently back at it, displaying his passion for lifelong learning, in the MBA program at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business (graduating in fall 2018). You can connect with Pete via LinkedIn.

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Pete Baksh