Financial Planning To Live Your Intentions Today While Responsibly Planning For Tomorrow
When I was a college student at BYU I was focused and determined to do well in my coursework. Part of this meant that I spent a lot of time in the library. My whole life was ahead of me and I didn’t want to mess things up.
So every day I walked the same path to and from school and to and from the library. Utah is a beautiful place, especially in the spring when the mountains are green and in the fall when the leaves change color. And so it occurred to me one day as I made my trek to and from campus that I had been so focused on working hard and studying that I hadn’t noticed the leaves change color and fall to the ground. I looked around and saw barren trees everywhere. I was shocked that I could walk the same path every single day and be so caught up in my head that I wouldn’t notice this beautiful change in season.
It’s possible that we can get so distracted by the future that we fail to fully live in and enjoy the present moment.
The Traditional Approach
If you’ve ever sat across from a financial advisor, you’re likely to find that some of the first things they ask you about are your goals for the future. A lot of times they’ll begin the conversation by asking you to discuss your short, medium, and long term financial goals. All in all, this can be a productive exercise, but only to the extent that information is applied in helping the client live a fuller, richer life.
I’m not entirely convinced that this type of discussion most often leads to that outcome.
A Problem Most of Us Face
The conversation around goals can be difficult because we often aren’t so good at understanding what actually makes us happy. Sure, we have a few goals. Early in my career when I asked this question, people would often tell me that they wanted to buy a house by such and such a date, or wanted to be making so much money, or to have moved up in their job. Sometimes they would talk about getting married, or having kids. Generally a discussion like this with a financial advisor often leads to a conversation around accumulating money and stuff. You are talking to a finance person after all.
But accumulating money and stuff doesn’t actually make life fulfilling. In his fantastic book, How to Think About Money, Jonathan Clements writes, “[w]e are inclined to use our money to buy more and more possessions, because we value possessions for their ongoing value. But in fact we are often happier when we spend our money on experiences rather than things” (26). We tend to chase after stuff, but that isn’t actually what makes us happy. Spending time with friends and family, building relationships, and good conversations over a meal enrich our lives in ways that the newest communication technology, a bigger house, or more money can’t.
An Alternative Method
I believe that a suitable replacement for the traditional goal-centered discussion is for financial planners to help you determine, and then plan how to live, your intentions and values today.
Financial planning should help you do this while responsibly planning for tomorrow.
A discussion around values and intentions will likely get us to the heart of what makes you happy, rather than a discussion of your short, medium, and long range goals.
There may be some who read this article and assume that I’m advocating for indulgence in the moment over sacrificing for the future. I’m doing nothing of the sort. My argument is that many of the life experiences that most enrich us have less to do with making a purchase, and more about making a human connection. We aren’t attempting to say that money isn’t important, or that we can put off taking care of our future self. We absolutely must do that as well. But we need to be conscious and careful that in doing so, we make sure that we are enjoying the beauty that life affords us now.
What should you do about it?
So that you don’t wake up one day and realize that you’ve metaphorically missed out on watching the leaves fall to the ground, I encourage you to spend some time thinking about how you’re living your life now. Try to notice throughout the day what brings fulfillment to you. If you’re concerned that you aren’t deriving satisfaction from relationships and experiences that maybe should--such as being with your spouse or your kids--have an open conversation about that with your loved ones.
If you’re working with a financial advisor, or thinking about doing so, have a conversation with them about what you most value in life. Review with them what you’ve discovered about yourself that truly makes you happy.
Good advisors can help you plan accordingly so that you enjoy a full life today, without discounting the life you are building for the future.
These are my opinions, unless I’ve specifically cited other material. The information and ideas I’ve presented are for information purposes only. Before you implement anything, make sure you have a thorough discussion with a qualified professional who understands your situation.