“Someone’s sitting in the shade today because someone planted a tree a long time ago.” (Warren Buffet)
As a financial life planner, my underlying assumption is that planning is a “good” thing. Planning is widely acknowledged to be a pre-requisite for business success. However, Benjamin Franklin’s advice that “by failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail” frequently falls on deaf ears in the personal environment.
This is usually, in my experience, because people feel they have neither the time nor the skills for personal financial planning; nor do they want to spend money on hiring a professional financial planner. And a few people I have met have such confidence in their ability to make and retain significant fortunes that personal financial planning is deemed unnecessary, even spineless.
So this article is about why financial life planning is important. I will share with you some of the current approaches to planning, show you how to plan in practice and highlight the outcomes.
To plan, or not to plan?
I am passionate about planning because it leads to success. I recall my first sales job in financial services, cold calling to make appointments to sell insurance. I had an excellent manager who made me plan my target market, pitch, call strategy, everything. The first call I made was spot on, leading to an appointment in minutes. I knew it was going to work, my manager knew, my colleagues knew. And it did.
So why should we plan our lives and money? In my view, for four reasons:
1. To develop a practical framework for running household finances
2. To achieve profound goals as fast as possible
3. To ensure long term financial security
4. To deal with life’s setbacks
Lets look at each of these in turn.
1. Financial framework
Many people today lack a financial framework or system. When it comes to expenses, the core of financial planning, we often enter a fantasy world. Even if families can give a reasonably accurate set of current financial statements (assets, liabilities, income, expenditure and estate), they are rarely able to project what those statements will look like ten years, or even five years into the future.
Financial planners will usually tell you that clients come to them for these reasons:
- ‘We are not fully in control of our finances’
- ‘I don’t understand money; all I feel around money is fear and anxiety’
- ‘We don’t know where we are now or where we will be in the future’
- ‘We seem unable to live the lifestyle we aspire to’
When families do achieve clarity it usually provides great relief, even if the picture does not look good. They at least know where they stand and can take appropriate action.
Unfortunately, we live in an era where wealth is frequently generated for its own sake, rather than as the means to live a fulfilled life. Money is used to make more money – it becomes a proxy for the ego, and financial decisions are often made to protect or massage our egos, not to support the achievement of our deepest life goals.
Life and money are deeply intertwined. Identification of clear life goals is essential to provide direction, and enables sound financial decisions to be made. So when asked to comment on an investment someone is considering, I always pose another question: “Will investing in this product enable you to achieve your goals more quickly and efficiently?” Very often the answer is that it won’t.
3. Long-term security
The impact of increasing longevity on family finances is profoundly important. The keys to addressing this are the Three Drivers of Financial Freedom: savings, compound interest and asset allocation. While saving implies a reduction in spending, and potentially the hijacking of those important and immediate life goals, financial life planning can help to resolve these difficult conflicts between the short and long term.
4. Dealing with the unexpected
Life will have kicked you in the teeth in the past and it will do so again in the future. Accept it, and plan for it. Life can throw a huge range of fastballs at us, from the irritating yet not too serious car breakdown to the death of a close family member. Put in place contingency plans centred around a Security Fund and insurance. No one likes insurance (though I have yet to meet a widow who complained her husband was over insured).
What you are really going to achieve from well-formulated goals and a structured, considered life and financial plan to achieve those goals can be clearly expressed in one word – freedom.
Freedom is a central theme of my work, so what exactly is it? True freedom comes from defining and setting boundaries and living a life dedicated to achieving your goals within those boundaries. Greater freedom comes from personal growth, the means by which we can expand our boundaries.
Lianne’s story illustrates this perfectly. A mother of two on a modest salary, Lianne had gone through a difficult divorce and when she first came to me for help, she was consoling herself with a compulsive spending habit.
However, her goals were to love, support and educate her children and to be a really good mother to them to compensate for the breakdown of the marriage. I worked with her to plan her boundaries. We established her life goals, tackled her spending and developed an annual spending plan.
One Monday morning she called me to talk about her weekend. She had taken the girls to London to see a concert and had done so without any feelings of guilt or anxiety over money. It had been in her plan. She had achieved her goal of bringing happiness and fun to her children. Within her boundaries she had achieved real freedom, to be there in the moment with her children, simply to be.
It’s the process that matters
Plans rarely survive contact with reality, to misquote Moltke. Reality for many of us can cause a change of direction. However, the process of planning is as much a benefit as the plan itself, often more so.
There are a number of planning processes around, often developed by professional bodies such as the Financial Planning Association or the Kinder Institute in the US or the Institute of Financial Planning in the UK. My own process is a six-stage process for called FUTURE:
- Foundation: a full inventory and analysis of your life, including assumptions and an analysis of your risk profile
- Utopia: establishing what you want to have, to do, to be
- Transformation: identifying and dealing with the obstructions on the road to utopia
- Utilisation of resources: establishing the best option for your existing resources
- Roadmap: creating the plan to get you from where you are now to where you want to be
- Execution: implementing and living the plan
Having developed a plan it is important that you continue to monitor and renew the plan each year. Planning is dynamic, a habit, not just a couple of sheets of paper to be drawn up then relegated to the bottom draw and forgotten.
The fruits of the process
We all in the financial community trust our processes, because we know they bring results, results that are more than just a written plan.
Initially you will develop a personal inventory of your life. This will include a detailed set of accurate financial statements comprising a schedule of assets, liabilities, income and expenditure, as well as data about yourself and the environments you inhabit.
Self-understanding builds on this base and by the time you are well into the process you should be able to articulate your deepest and most profound goals. In doing so, you will find yourself energised, focused and far sighted.
Finally, you will learn about money. If you are working with a coach or adviser you will have a raft of financial principles and products explained to you. If you are alone on this journey you will need to educate yourself, and there are plenty of resources out there to help.
What is the alternative to planning? Well, you can wing it; with a good deal of chutzpah, a hefty dose of confidence, a wing and a prayer and a bit of carpe diem you might well achieve great things, and get a real thrill and sense of achievement when you do. However, I do believe in the importance of living in the moment. The present is where we can really ‘be’. Crucially, financial life planning will actually help you to achieve this state by removing regrets for the past and fears of the future.
A well-structured plan will give you a thorough understanding of your situation and ensure you always have the right money in the right place at the right time to achieve your deepest life goals.