Understanding the importance of "Why"

Part of the process of developing a long-term financial plan includes helping people establish meaningful, values-based goals for which the plan will be designed to achieve. To quote Yogi Berra, “if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.” But, what good is it to have goals if you don’t know why they’re important to you?

Everyone has their vision of the future they desire for themselves and their family. That vision is most likely not a monetary figure. Though the conversation inevitably involves discussing finances, I’ve have never heard a client express that their ultimate goal is to have an exact amount of money, simply because after reaching that figure they would consider themselves fulfilled and self-actualized. 

Rather, the dreams described invariably relate to the quality of their life, rather than the quantity of their assets. For example: 

  • being financially free from a career by a certain age; 
  • providing a safe and secure home in which to raise their family; 
  • sending kids or grandkids to the college of their choice without their becoming burdened with student debt; or 
  • having the freedom to travel, start a business, or contribute to society in a meaningful way. 

These are all things which money can provide, but they are the ends while money is the means. 

Recently, it occurred to me that perhaps by relating the significance that my family and I place on money, it might encourage you to become a better steward of your finances. Hopefully, you’ll also learn more about what the financial planning process is about and the conclusions at which the process seeks to arrive. 

Family

My wife, Emily, and I are in our mid-30’s. Our son, Kingston, is 18 months old and we have plans to have a second child within the next year, God willing. My widowed mother lives with us here in Colorado and is in good health, financially and medically. Emily’s parents live elsewhere and we do not anticipate needing to provide care for either in the future. 

Occupation

Emily is a bedside nurse in a demanding and intense ICU unit and, while literally saving lives everyday gives her much satisfaction, in such a career, burnout is common. A professional goal of ours is for my business to grow to the point where we can completely replace her income, leaving her opportunity to work on a much less demanding schedule if and when she chooses. This will give her more peace of mind and energy to devote to other areas of our lives together. 

My career, on the other hand, has different types of stress but is something I envision doing well past the normal retirement age of 70. I truly enjoy the intellectual challenge and the satisfaction in serving as a trusted advisor to so many deserving families. The idea of a traditional retirement does not appeal to me, so my true retirement period may be determined more by my health than by a particular age.

Recreation

For recreation, we enjoy traveling to see family and friends in Florida, Nashville, and other parts of Colorado and when our children are old enough, we envision traveling to more exotic locales. We both love spending time outdoors doing Colorado activities and we place a high premium on our leisure time.

Neither my wife nor I tend to spoil our son with new toys and games and most of his clothes are hand-me-downs from friends and family. We would simply rather not lavish our children with things for which they would have no meaningful use at their age, instead when opportunities to experience fun activities as a family we are very comfortable spending money providing for those. 

Money 

Neither Emily nor I are overly materialistic, though we do appreciate that paying extra for higher-quality is usually worth the money. In the past when money has been tight, we have both been willing to tighten our belts and sacrifice short-term pleasure for long-term success. We also hope our children learn to forego immediate gratification for long-term enjoyment and security.  

My wife is naturally more conservative and places a higher value on financial stability and the importance of the long-term plan. This attitude developed during her childhood and was part of the reason she chose nursing as a career. 

I tend to be more comfortable taking on risk, both in career and in finances, so we've found compromise and communication is important when planning short and long term financial decisions.

We both started working during our teenage years, so the value of hard work and self-reliance is something I expect my children to learn.

Important to us are providing our children the opportunity to receive the best education available; financial security and freedom to enjoy a comfortable lifestyle without being a burden on anyone, including society; and making fun and memorable experiences as a family. 

Conclusion

You may have noticed in the paragraphs above I did not mentioned a monetary amount. Instead, our financial goals relate to the lifestyle we wish to enjoy, the values and principles we would like our children to learn, and the differences in attitude and beliefs about money my wife and I have had to discover about ourselves. 

These considerations are the true objectives of a financial plan. Your financial plan is more than a document full of charts, graphs, and tables; and the focus shifts away from which investments or insurance you should buy and towards whether or not it aligns with your values and objectives. Your actions will have a purpose to which you can relate, helping you to make good decisions and choices about your money. 

Put it into action!

As you set goals for the future, go one step further and ask yourself, “Why is that important to me/us?” Keep repeating the question until you reach the genuine reason behind each goal and not only will you learn more about yourself in the process, but you’ll discover the motivation and focus you’ll need to stay on track. When you feel overwhelmed or off-track, don’t just review your goals but remind yourself why those goals are important to you. Money, and all of its complications, becomes simply the tool you employ to achieve what’s important in your life.   

-Brett Walters, CFP® is the founder and principal of Trident Financial Planning, LLC, an independent, fee-only firm located in Colorado and serving clients nationwide. 

Trident Financial Planning is a Colorado domiciled Registered Investment Advisor.