How Writing Your Own Eulogy Can Help With Financial Planning

What does your eulogy have to do with financial planning? Simple: It’s a good way to discover what your goals in life are, and that’ll help guide your planning.

A man writes in a notebook at his desk.
(Image credit: Getty Images)

What constitutes a life well lived? Is it a life where you let your principles guide you in your decisions? Is it a life full of accomplishments and awards?

Finding your answer to these questions can guide you in crafting a financial plan that can help you lay the foundation for successful goals-based financial planning.

One way I’ve helped myself answer these questions is to sit down and write the eulogy that I would want someone to read at my funeral.

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This isn’t a particularly fun exercise. After all, who likes thinking about their own death? But it is a helpful exercise to identify what’s most important and meaningful to you. That, in turn, can help you figure out what your goals are.

Let’s take the story of Darrell Green, an amazing and humble person I once had the honor of interviewing. He’s a devoted father, husband and steward of his community who constantly gives of his time and resources. He also happens to be one of the NFL’s top 100 players of all time.

There’s a reason I wrote it that way. He said that what matters most to him is being a devoted father, husband and steward of his community, so I listed those things first. His professional accomplishments are important, too, but they aren’t the things he wants to be remembered for.

What do you want to be remembered for? Let’s dive into how answering that question can help you jump-start your goals-based financial planning journey.

The goals-based planning framework

Oftentimes, you’ll hear this question from a financial professional: “What are your financial goals?” People don’t usually know how to answer.

To answer this question, I advise you to first look toward goals-based planning, which is made up of three steps: first explore your aspirations, then identify your personal goals, then build a financial plan that helps you make your aspirations reality. With this framework, you can answer the question about financial goals more meaningfully.

There are some important nuances here. First, your aspirations are your vision for the future and the long-term impact you want to make. Your goals are specific milestones to track your progress on your way to achieving your aspirations.

Let’s look at an example: You have an aspiration to have well-educated, financially free children who are able to support themselves and plan for their future. Your goal to reach that would be to set up a plan to fund their education or help them get scholarships.

Goals-based financial planning requires introspection. It’s important to start with an honest look at yourself so you can gain clarity about your long-term aspirations and vision for your future.

Identifying your aspirations

Start by blocking off some time in your schedule to do some reflection on the things that matter the most to you. You can start by examining your finances, career, education, relationships, family, health (mental and physical), spirituality and community.

You can go back to my exercise of writing your eulogy. Think about how you want to be remembered in each of these areas. Then you can get a clearer picture of what your aspirations might be in the areas that are most important to you.

For example, upon reflection, you might realize you want to create a legacy for the next generation wherein they have financial freedom and are able to be generous to their community.

Setting your goals

Being a goal-getter starts with writing down your goals. Dr. Gail Matthews of Dominican University found that doing so can help you achieve your goals.

I like to use a modified version of the SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time bound) goal-setting technique. I add an extra A, for “actionable.”

In determining your goals, ensure that:

  • The goal is not general.
  • You can measure whether you’ve completed it.
  • You don’t set yourself up for disappointment by making the goal too lofty.
  • It's relevant to your future aspirations.
  • You set a deadline.
  • There’s an immediate action you can take to start achieving the goal.

Your goals should be tied to your aspirations. Continuing the example from the previous section, if you have an aspiration to create a legacy of financial freedom and philanthropy for the next generation, you could set a goal to get your children or nieces or nephews involved in a specific charity, or volunteer for their favorite non-profit program in your community this summer.

You don’t have to be Darrell Green to do great things, but you do have to set goals to achieve great things.

Putting together the financial plan

The last step in the framework is to put together your financial plan. Your plan should be constructed in a way that supports your goals that track your progress toward your life’s aspirations.

There’s no shame in being a do-it-yourselfer. You’re not alone if that’s the case. According to Northwestern Mutual, only 35% of Americans worked with a financial adviser in 2022. But working with a trusted financial professional is one of the best ways to put together a personalized, goals-based plan that’s right for you.

On the plus side, doing the first two steps in this article before meeting with a trusted financial professional can help you make the most of your time when you do connect with one.

Disclaimer

This article was written by and presents the views of our contributing adviser, not the Kiplinger editorial staff. You can check adviser records with the SEC or with FINRA.

Jamie P. Hopkins, Esq., CFP, RICP
Director of Retirement Research, Carson Wealth

Jamie Hopkins is a well-recognized writer, speaker and thought leader in the area of retirement income planning. He serves as Director of Retirement Research at Carson Group and is a finance professor of practice at Creighton University's Heider College of Business. His most recent book, "Rewirement: Rewiring The Way You Think About Retirement," details the behavioral finance issues that hold people back from a more financially secure retirement.