It’s A Bad Idea to be a Scrooge on CFA Materials. Here’s Why

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By Zee

CFA materials can sometimes seem rather expensive, especially if you’re a student, or just starting your career. I know it certainly seemed so to me when I was a candidate.

However, like most things in life, you get what you pay for. My CFA Level II experience taught me a lot about smart spending on CFA materials. Being a scrooge when it comes to the CFA exams is likely not to end well, but spending like a maniac doesn’t necessarily work either. I’ve had the crazy opportunity to try it both ways for my CFA Level II – hopefully you can learn from my mistakes!

Studying for the CFA exam on a shoestring budget, with disastrous results

It took me two tries to pass my CFA Level II. During my first try, I was just laid off (you can read the experience here), and saving money was big on my agenda.

I decided to be aggressive in cutting the budget, and since I passed Level I with study notes and some practice exams, I decided I would stick with my winning formula. I searched for the better part of a week for cheap CFA study materials (and I do mean really cheap, I was broke!), but didn’t really come up with anything that was really legit to use. 

So I decided to save money by getting my things second-hand from eBay. As second-hand material would be slightly outdated, the plan was to work with a list of syllabus changes that I got from a friend, patching things as I go along.

Failing is the most expensive option, wasting time and money

As you may know, not only did I choose arguably the toughest CFA level to experiment with my money-saving tactics, but I’ve since learnt that the savings you get are definitely not worth it. You get to save a few hundred bucks at the expense of increasing the risk of failing. And if you do fail, not only do you have to reregister (costing money), reinvest in materials (even more money) but you’ve lost out a year (costing a load of time, which is even more important than money).

In other words, as  far as the CFA exams are concerned, you’ve got bigger fish to fry. Prioritize your passing chances first.

The CFA exams are tough. When studying, you want to concentrate on the material, and my hodge-podge approach simply added more complexity to already what was a difficult activity. Rachel’s written about how investing more time than the standard 300 hours in studying saves you more time overall, and this concept also applies when investing your money on materials. Don’t skimp, get what you need.

So predictably, I didn’t pass, and ended up having to reregister. But the second time around, I got my firm to pay for my course, and that’s where I also learnt that too much isn’t great either.

I next got corporate sponsorship, and went a little overboard. That’s a bad idea too

When I retook my CFA Level II, I managed to convince my firm to sponsor my studies (an advertising firm, no less – you can read my guidelines on how to approach your company to sponsor yours here) and had a more-or-less carte blanche to purchase whatever materials I needed.

I admit, I did go a little crazy. Reeling from my failure the year before and my newfound budget, I adopted the ‘better safe than sorry’ approach with a heavy, golden-gloved hand. I bought premium suites of everything, adding all the trimmings. The only thing I stopped short of was going for live lessons, as I couldn’t make the times (my work hours were pretty insane at the time).

The truth is that everyone has their own preferred style of studying, so buying all the formats doesn’t necessarily prepare you any better for the exam. And with the avalanche of materials that I bought, I had way more material to go through than I had time to spend on.

In the end, I pretty much stuck with my tried-and-tested study notes and practice exams, but of course the current ones this time (and a lot more practice exams than Level I).

Lessons learnt when spending on CFA study materials

So what did I learn from my experience at the two opposite ends of the spectrum?

  1. Do not cut corners just to save money. You need to prepare yourself properly for the exam. If you make tradeoffs in your preparation to save money, that’s fine, but be aware that you’re raising the risk of failing by an unknown amount. And the cost of failing will always be more than what you’re saving.
  2. Do not buy extra stuff just because you can. Your time is limited and precious. Honestly ask yourself which study formats will benefit you the most, and get the best quality you can, but don’t go crazy over everything that’s on offer. 
  3. The best ‘bang for buck’ expenditure outside of study notes are practice exams. If you want to be better prepared, get more practice exams, and review specific trouble spots as you go along. That method worked the best for me.

Always check the Offers section to see if you can save money without compromising your prep

We’ve continued to save candidates thousands of dollars each year through discounts and free material in our Offers section. And unlike my ill-fated experiment, this is money you can save without any tradeoffs. Make sure you have a look when shopping for materials to see the latest offers!

You can also save money by checking out our Guides which contain our free Practice Tests and lots of free CFA study material.

Do you have an experience to share about spending on CFA materials? Share your story with us in the comments below!
Zee Tan
Author: Zee Tan


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