"Plans are nothing; planning is everything." - Dwight D. Eisenhower
Why do so many financial plans go unrealized over time? Is planning no good? Was the plan developed poorly? Was the planner incompetent?
Of course, many financial plans do produce results, and the planning process provides the bright light critical for identifiying the pathways to achieving life's goals and dreams. Yes, a lucky few ring the bell of success via inheritance, lottery winnings or a fortunate stock option plan. But the reality is that most people do not follow that path to financial success.
Throughout my four decades of working with clients, I've seen the vast majority of people get there by taking a thoughtful, planned and disciplined approach to their finances. They've carefully made decisions that have enabled them to meet educational needs, save on taxes, improve investment returns and achieve the ultimate goal—financial independence. With the right planning process in place, you can give yourself the freedom to make decisions that improve the quality of your and your family's lives.
In my observation, five critical elements have caused some financial plans to flounder. Eliminating them will dramatically improve the opportunity to have your plan put you successfully on your way to achievement.
1. Your assumptions are off.
Many people establish assumptions that are unrealistic and unlikely to be achieved. For example, if you are earning a salary of $200,000 a year and saving $15,000 a year, it is very unlikely that you will be happy living on $75,000 per year in retirement. Is it possible? Of course; many live on less. Yet few people will enjoy or endure the drop in standard of living. Assumptions on investment returns can also be suspect. Expecting to earn 10% on a portfolio that is 30% to 50% in fixed income is simply unrealistic.
The old saying "garbage in, garbage out" is appropriate. Consider your assumptions carefully and put them through a reality test before using them.
2. You practice selective implementation.
A curious observation I've had over the years is that, on some occasions, recommendations or plans are implemented selectively. For example, a client might rush to get the homeowners' insurance or auto coverage I recommend, but drag his feet on adding the umbrella coverage or changing the allocation on his 401(k) plan. Leaving holes like that means the coordination of the plan is compromised.
A long-term financial strategy by its very nature works best when the plan is fully implemented. Selective implementation is like purchasing a complete place setting for your dining room and only putting out the soup bowl, fork and knife. You need to use every tool to complete the whole financial structure.
3. Your plan is too focused.
Some, in a perceived effort to save money, focus on only one or two components of a plan—most often retirement or investing. While most people would consider these sections to be their driving financial priorities, this focus often leads to plans that are incomplete and that won't meet their overall financial needs. How should accounts be titled for estate planning purposes? Will you be able to handle some critical challenge that may suddenly present itself? Can you do so in the most economical way possible? Comprehensive analysis can be the best strategy to enhance overall financial security.
4. VUCA is not a part of the plan.
The acronym VUCA originated in the U.S. military to describe situations that are: volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.
All of theses words clearly describe today's financial environment. The antidote for these challenges is to have a plan that allows for constant adaptation to changing circumstances and evolving targets. Of course, we would all prefer to live in a world with more stability, but change is unavoidable. Without a plan to cope with it, you may bounce constantly from one idea to another with the only likely outcome being becoming financially bruised.
5. You shelf your plan.
Just like some who join a gym in January and start off with tons of enthusiasm, some plans are craftily put together and then put away for another day. Unfortunately, as you have likely already surmised, plans need discipline too. Regular updates and reviews of the plan are critical to accomplishing your overall goals. Unexamined plans aren't worth the paper they are printed on. Working plans, regularly reviewed, are effective and will provide ongoing motivation for accomplishing your established goals and dreams.
As Warren Buffett has said, "Investing is simple but it's not easy." The difficult part is overruling our human tendencies when it comes to our emotions. Change can be challenging, but a comprehensive financial plan forces us to face the realities of our situations and provides us with a path to navigate them. Those who focus on the dreams they want to achieve, not just the challenges, provide themselves with the vision and motivation to get the job done.
Bob Klosterman, CFP, is the Chief Executive Officer and Chief Investment Officer of White Oaks Investment Management, Inc., and author of the book, The Four Horsemen of the Investor’s Apocalypse.
Robert Klosterman, CFP® is the CEO and Chief Investment Officer of White Oaks Investment Management, Inc., a fee-only investment management and wealth advisory firm. Bob is the author of the book, "The Four Horsemen of the Investor's Apocalypse. White Oaks has been recognized by CNBC.com as one of the "Top 100 Fee-Only Wealth Management firms in the country.
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