“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where–” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
-Alice in Wonderland
The financial world is full of plans: retirement, investment, estate and financial plans. They’re offered all too often as the solutions to all your problems, the keys to your successful, happy life. The problem is they’re only a tool, a way to organize your thoughts, goals and actions. The roadmap if you will of a journey we all have to make. Any plan is better than no plan, unless of course it’s a bad one.
Think of how you planned your last trip; you didn’t simply go online, pick a good review and order your tickets. No, if you’re like most people you probably had conversations with friends, compared destinations that were within budget (and were probably tempted by a few that weren’t). You narrowed it down to a couple of locations and started doing your research. Maybe you called someone you know had been, maybe you signed up for a forum and started a conversation or went to Tripadvisor and started clicking through other people’s experiences. Whichever way you went, your goal was to gather as much relevant information as you could, so you could make an informed decision.
Now you’ve sketched out the bones of the trip: you know where, you know when – now it’s time for the details. You’ve narrowed the flights to a couple of options that will get you there in reasonable comfort and without spending 12 hours in Denver Airport. You’ve selected a hotel based on price, location and proximity to the beach. You’ve written down the rough price of everything and have a pretty good idea of what the trip will cost you. Now it comes down to availability and pricing.
The next step is the tough one, committing your hard earned cash.
So no you’ve done it; you paid the deposits, booked the airfare, arranged ground transport, booked a couple of side tours or shows and chosen a few restaurants. You’ve printed all the confirmations and before you lays a great stack of papers outlining your journey. The question to ask, is will this stack of papers guarantee you a great trip?
No, what makes the trip great is the time you put into the planning process, the accuracy with which your choices reflects your desires, the timing of the different parts of your journey and your ability to know what to give up and what to hold onto. Without all that, it’s just paper.
A financial plan, like a travel plan, is only as good as the time put into it; in order to be effective it must reflect what you really want out of the rest of your life. It must balance your needs and wants with the funds and assets you have at your resource. When there are shortfalls, you must either make adjustments to your life or look for creative solutions and work-rounds. It must be up to date and most importantly must reflect your reality.
Don’t leave your future to chance or some company’s software program; make sure it’s what you and your family want for yourselves. Make sure it covers off the surprises along the way and leaves you with enough wriggle room to ride out the bad times. Make sure it addresses the things you really want to accomplish, the places you want to go and the things you’re hoping to do. Most of all make sure it’s based on reality, not historical forecasts, pretty charts and generalizations. If you are doing this hands on, be thorough and be honest with yourself; if your using a professional, make sure they take the time to ask all the questions, to gather the facts – both the good and bad, weigh the options and ultimately put forward a plan that doesn’t confuse or confound you.
Make sure it’s a plan you can live with, you may not have a choice once the plane has taken off.