Financial Planning: It's Not Supposed to Mean the Same Thing For Everyone.

I read somewhere that if you could achieve your financial goals by simply putting your money away in the bank you wouldn’t need a plan.

That’s silly to me. That’s like saying as long as you have gas in a car you don’t need directions to drive to a place you’ve never been to before.

Yet, this way of thinking represents a common mindset when it comes to managing money and preparing a financial plan. And, in my opinion, it is why so many people don’t get as much as they could from their money.

Today is the last day of Financial Planning Week – the 13th Annual one no less! Granted, this factoid may not make your heart stir and go pitter-patter. But, I thought today would be as good a time as any to share what I believe financial planning is really all about. I suspect if more people adopted this perspective, more people would get excited about preparing and editing a financial plan. Imagine that!

Besides b.o.r.i.n.g., what usually comes to mind when you hear or read the words “financial planning?”

In no particular order, I bet you think about some if not all of what’s listed below:

  • Budgets
  • Savings
  • Investments
  • Your lifestyle
  • Your career and current & future earnings
  • Insurance
  • Retirement
  • Children and their education
  • Parents and their well-being
  • Your own well-being

You may even wonder if and at what point the help of a financial professional makes sense.

I also bet for each of the above bullet-points (and others I may have overlooked), your focus has been on the numbers – the numbers you know and the numbers you forecast. It all comes back to the numbers because the presence or absence of money is what typically drives your decisions.

Financial Planning: The Movie?

But what if instead of looking at financial planning as an exercise in making the numbers work, you thought of financial planning as the telling of a story through a collection of vignettes? Vignettes that when woven together resemble a long-format television series, with many seasons, about your life – the one you have and the one you want.

Not only are you the star of the series, but you also play the role of producer, writer and director. And you become a quadruple threat for the small screen the likes of George Clooney for the big screen. Much more exciting, right?!

You may be rolling your eyes right about now. But hear me out…

There are a number of benefits to viewing financial planning through the lens of making a critically-acclaimed and successful series. To start, you begin to recognize that even if everyone follows the exact same steps (think of all the long- format shows on HBO), the results won’t be precisely the same.

Thus, the reason I say financial planning isn’t supposed to mean the same thing to everyone.

By thinking “story” over the numbers, you’re invited to connect the dots that represent the pieces of your life in a more profound way. The result: You have to bridge the gap between your vision for the future and your present-day reality and consider the tools, resources, and people that will help you close the gap between here and there. That includes:

  • Using money as a tool, but not the only tool!
  • Remembering that emotions are not black-n-white. And neither are numbers. True, the numbers may be negative or positive, but the “story” behind the numbers is rarely as black-n-white as you might think (or wish).
  • Viewing financial planning as less about planning for retirement and more about planning out your entire lifestyle cycle (the on you have, the one you want, and the one that will help you bridge the gap).
  • Embracing ambiguity and the practice of scenario planning via story-boarding.
  • Using scenario planning to help you identify the likely obstacles you’ll encounter and manage the ones you’ll actually face.
  • Learning to objectively observe your patterns, habits, and anomalies.
  • Learning to objectively see the relationship you have with money, and how and where you need to work on it.
  • Remembering you never do it alone.

There’s a term in the film industry called the “cutting room floor.” It pertains to what’s been omitted from the final footage. The way I connect this to financial planning is how the results you see reflects a lot of the intangible choices and decisions you’ve made but others can’t “see.”

If you’re like most people I know and clients (before they became clients), you’re really much more interested in being with family and friends; focusing on your career; and enjoying your leisure time and a lot less interested in managing your money and creating a financial plan. As a result, you either don’t have a plan or you have a one that was haphazardly put together and may not be current.

However, when you don’t have a plan (or a current one), you don’t know what you need to do consistently and you don’t know when and where you need to evolve in order to achieve your financial goals.

So, in honor of financial planning week, I ask: do you have a viable and or current financial plan? If not, what are you waiting for? And, how might thinking of it as a tool for making a critically-acclaimed and successful long-running series about your life help you get started?

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