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Financial Life Planning: A Roadmap to Your Best Life

January 18, 2024 | By Matthew Gordon, CFP®, RLP®
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 As financial planners, we get to assist people on a quest. Simply put, our job is twofold. 

1) Figure out what someone’s goals are and 
2) Set them on a proper path to achieve their goals.

It is important to be good at both aspects. In this Insight, I will focus on the former.

Goal-Setting in Financial Life Planning

I have seen and used plenty of questionnaires. What I have learned is that while there is no one perfect way to establish goals, there are some clear signs when a goal is on point. Meaningful goals carry some emotional response just thinking about them. The response could be powerfully upbeat, or it could be tear-inducing. If the goal is not delivering emotion, we should keep working on it.

There are a few questions I like to ask.

  • What gets you excited to jump out of bed every day?
  • What does an ideal day, week, month, year look and feel like?  
  • Is there some aspect in your life that you want to change?  

After asking these and some other classic questions, the key is to listen to the answers. I understand that we may not want to engage in such introspection all the time, and that is fine. What we can do is offer up the space and pay close attention when the moment is right.

Balancing Time and Money in Financial Life Planning

I have had the privilege to witness some wonderful breakthroughs with clients. In one case, a client expressed how his work was too demanding. He wanted to have better control of his day. He was not able to spend as much time as he wanted with family. It sounds like the typical work-life balance issue, but as we explored further, we uncovered where he felt the effects of loss of control the deepest. 

In another case, our clients were nearing retirement. The notion of not having a routine made them anxious. The husband and wife shared the hobbies that they wanted to pursue and described their vision for what would be their “best lives”. What a joy it was to uncover aspects of what they wanted, many of which were a surprise even to one another.

In both instances, our discussions went beyond financial matters. Still, money plays a role. In the latter case, we got to show them how their hard work has led them to be able to afford the freedom to fulfill their dreams. In the former case, we were able to set a path to secure more resources in order to delegate some work responsibilities. Money can buy oneself time.

Taking Action on Your Financial Life Plan

Wealthstream Advisors’ mission is “To Help People Live Their Best Lives.” A financial life plan can touch on any number of elements including relationships with family and friends, raising children, advancing one’s career, having certain experiences i.e. travel, and achieving some level of freedom and flexibility. The list is endless!  

It is so much easier to embark on a plan when we have goals that motivate us. I used to spend too much time asking my clients to complete a particular task e.g. provide expense data. I realize that it was the old story about pushing on a string rather than pulling.  

Everyone is unique, and the approach to goal-setting needs to be different in each case. We have experience, abundant curiosity and an established process to help you. 

Financial Life Planning: It’s Not About the Money 

As a financial advisor, I am supposed to live in a world of numbers. I strive to help my clients efficiently grow, preserve and transfer wealth. But it goes way beyond the numbers. Understanding the purpose of one’s wealth and whether there are trade-offs to consider are some of the central components of the role we play as planners.

What is the Purpose of Financial Life Planning?

I’d like to meet that dentist who recommends gum with sugar over sugar-free gum. Just like that contrarian, I’m here as a financial planner who believes that money can get in the way. Money can cause family conflicts. Money can make life overly complicated. Of course, there are positive aspects to having money but as many have already studied and written, money doesn’t buy happiness.

I have witnessed when a client has held back on their dreams due to a perceived lack of funds. It can be disheartening. My response is to explore their goals further. 

How to Align Financial Life Planning With Your Goals

What are the attributes that they are seeking in their dreams? Is it a striving for more social interaction? Is it a desire to help people? Is it a quest for more freedom? We break it down and really dive into those attributes. 

Embarking on this Financial Life Planning process can lead to solutions and best of all, ones that are affordable.

Managing the Tradeoffs of Financial Life Planning

Inspiring clients in this manner is why I love being in this business. Rather than letting money get in the way, we help flip the narrative – dream big and then let’s discuss a plan to make it real. This process can also help clarify what takes priority when there is a situation where we cannot have it all.

I am currently in the middle of renovating my apartment. There are so many decisions to make that it is almost funny. Who knew that there are hundreds of varieties of cabinet door handles to choose from? When it came to picking a backsplash for the kitchen, we liked a particular look but of course it was much pricier. We also needed to pay rent for temporary housing. Our trade-off was to opt for housing in a fourth-floor walk-up, and by saving money there, we could splurge on the backsplash. I was also hoping that our built-in stairmaster would help me get in better shape but that hasn’t exactly happened. The point is that we decided it was more important to us to invest in our kitchen which hopefully will give us enjoyment for many years at the expense of suffering a walk-up for a few months. 

When it comes to managing trade-offs, it is helpful to have a plan. And anticipate that there will be unexpected expenses and delays. Emotions can run high.  Joint decisions are not always easy and it can put a stress on relationships. Fortunately for me, I have a wonderful wife and we have communicated well on these matters. I am excited as we near completion and can’t wait to see the backsplash.

Ready to Start Your Financial Life Planning Journey? 

The role we play in our client’s lives is to help manage their financial situation according to their goals and dreams. Don’t get me wrong, we enjoy when we help you save a few thousand dollars in taxes by employing a strategy such as a Donor Advised Fund or we help you make the right call on when and how to take Social Security. There are infinite ways that we can improve your financial health. 

But the ultimate thrill is when we help you figure out what you want to achieve and we listen to understand what will give you purpose. More often than not, the answers are not simple statements like “I want more money.”

If you are interested in learning more about how we can help take a holistic approach to managing your financial life, please reach out to our team.

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