Retirees, Build a Financial Plan That’s Based on You

Financial life planning helps retirees identify their core values and connect them with their financial decisions and life goals.

(Image credit: Abel Mitjà Varela)

When John Hirt and his wife Dianne first met with RTD Financial Advisors in Philadelphia, they were a little unsettled. Instead of just reviewing their investments and budget, the advisers asked more wide-ranging questions about the couple’s values and beliefs, and whether their financial goals reflected them.

The advisers also spent considerable time making sure the Hirts understood and agreed with the firm’s philosophy. RTD founder Roy Diliberto believes in an investing approach known as financial life planning, which helps clients identify their core values and connect them with their financial decisions and life goals, along with managing their portfolio. “They wanted to make sure we weren’t just looking for someplace to put our money to invest,” says John, age 78. “I was taken aback by that in the beginning, but it was very effective in the long run.”

Advisers like RTD represent a growing movement in the financial planning industry, focusing on the human side of financial planning, including anxiety and other emotions tied to money and wealth. “People generally think they just need a ‘money guy,’ but when we start asking questions, they realize they need a lot more,” says Dave O’Brien, a fee-only planner in Midlothian, Va., with EVOadvisers (opens in new tab). Clients struggling with retirement and other finances “really need advice that covers their attitudes, goals and resources.”

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RTD advisers, for example, asked the Hirts about their priorities, such as spending time with adult children, volunteering and traveling. In subsequent meetings, both sides shared personal details such as upcoming weddings and the arrival of grandchildren. “My fear as a new retiree was whether we would be able to live our life in the same way as when we were earning a steady paycheck,” John says, but RTD advisers put that worry to rest. “We started to feel like good friends and very comfortable with them and with discussing all this.”

Dianne, 77, says she now looks forward to the sessions. “We really pay more attention to our life and living goals than to the investment portfolio,” she says.

Your experience working with an adviser who uses this approach will differ from working with an adviser focused mostly on your portfolio. You typically start with several intense sessions where you describe your life history and priorities, before working up a financial plan based on your beliefs and goals for financial well-being and a meaningful life. You might tackle issues such as your emotional motivations for spending or your fear of debt. Advisers work closely with you on personal financial decisions, from buying a home to moving elderly parents into assisted living.

Create a Bond

For the Hirts, the early sessions at RTD led to a 12-year relationship, where advisers helped them navigate the difficult choice to sell their home and move to a continuing-care retirement community. RTD referred them to a geriatric care expert, who helped them understand what kinds of arrangements they could afford and even joined them on tours to potential communities, a level of service they hadn’t expected.

The couple moved into their new community in May. “It was a really intimate experience,” Hirt says. RTD didn’t charge additional fees for the work; the Hirts pay a flat fee of $10,000 annually for meetings, phone calls, and other services, John says.

There’s no specific title for these kinds of planners. Some call themselves life planners and financial coaches, financial life planners, holistic financial planners, or just financial advisers. They may be Certified Financial Planners and fee-only advisers, or have other credentials. Review the websites of potential advisers or firms to understand their background and then meet the leading candidates. If a planner first tries to sell you products rather than ask about your values, it’s a red flag, O’Brien says.

Research Your Adviser

Ask about an adviser’s training. The Kinder Institute of Life Planning, whose founder, George Kinder, is considered the father of life planning, has done workshops, consulting and training with more than 3,500 advisers and financial coaches; find advisers who embrace this approach at (opens in new tab).

MoneyQuotient is a nonprofit educational and resource organization that trains advisers in helping clients consider the practical and emotional factors that affect how they handle money. Find an adviser through its site at (opens in new tab). Maggie Kulyk, founder of Chicory Wealth, a holistic financial planning practice in Decatur, Ga., trained through MoneyQuotient; Kulyk says she’s walked clients through signing up for Medicare enrollment, deciding on a car down payment and helping grandchildren with college costs.

Sometimes retirees struggle with particular money and emotional issues. You may feel guilt or anger, for example, over supporting an adult child and putting your retirement at peril. If so, you may want to consult a newer kind of adviser called a financial therapist. A financial therapist is a financial professional who has some training in counseling, such as a certified financial planner who also is a licensed mental health professional. You might seek help if you have the kind of financial stress that can’t be resolved by talking to only a financial adviser, says Sarah Swantner, a financial therapist at Kahler Financial Group in Rapid City, S.D., and president-elect of the Financial Therapy Association.

She sees clients who are dealing with loss of their identity in retirement or spouses trying to navigate spending more time together as retirees. Some clients get anxious dealing with their finances; others are spouses who have been keeping financial secrets. “People often don’t know there is somewhere to go to talk about these kinds of things and there’s a relief when they find a place where they can,” she says.Find a professional through the Financial Therapy Association (opens in new tab). Ask potential advisers if they lean more heavily in their training toward the financial side or the mental health side, to figure out whether they would be a good fit for the problem you are dealing with.

Mary Kane
Associate Editor, Kiplinger's Retirement Report
Mary Kane is a financial writer and editor who has specialized in covering fringe financial services, such as payday loans and prepaid debit cards. She has written or edited for Reuters, the Washington Post,, MSNBC, Scripps Media Center, and more. She also was an Alicia Patterson Fellow, focusing on consumer finance and financial literacy, and a national correspondent for Newhouse Newspapers in Washington, DC. She covered the subprime mortgage crisis for the pathbreaking online site The Washington Independent, and later served as its editor. She is a two-time winner of the Excellence in Financial Journalism Awards sponsored by the New York State Society of Certified Public Accountants. She also is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, where she teaches a course on journalism and publishing in the digital age. She came to Kiplinger in March 2017.