Picture this: You’re on a road trip to a place you’ve never been before. You have directions, because you’d never take to the road en route to an unknown place without some guidance. So, you aren’t too concerned about getting lost. But, you’ve been driving for several hours and now not only has fatigue set in, so has darkness. And, you still have a ways to go before you reach your destination.
Hold onto that image…
Yes, I’ve spent all month espousing the benefits of having a financial plan (you can catch up here, here, and here). But that doesn’t mean I’m unaware of a widely known truth about plans: They become outdated almost as soon as you complete them.
It’s one of the reasons people wonder, “Why bother?”
However, this is when it is helpful to remember the words of Dwight D. Eisenhower, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”
It’s also when remembering what happens when driving at night – especially to someplace you’ve never been – becomes useful: If you drive or have ever been in a car at night, especially on a dark road, you know that the car’s headlights enable you to see but so far ahead. So if your destination is 20 miles away, you can’t see that end-point from where you are; you can only see about 350 feet ahead. The end point becomes visible as you get closer to it and ultimately reach it.
To me, thinking of your financial plan and the process of creating it as you would a road trip is extremely beneficial. And it makes the process by which you create your financial plan akin to a road map.
You’ve got goals, which reflect your vision and represent a place you’ve never been to before.
Your financial plan is the equivalent of your driving directions – complete with information about your starting and end points, details about how long it might take to get “there,” incremental markers to help you track your movement forward, and anticipated turns and useful ways to respond to “detours.”
The projects and tasks you create shape the choices you make and the actions you take as you work to get closer to achieving your goals – to ultimately fulfilling your vision. These projects and tasks tie everything together and keep you focused.
Let’s go back to the imagery I painted at the beginning…
When it comes to money, don’t you sometimes feel like you are “traveling” in the dark?
Notice I didn’t ask, “do you…?” That’s because everybody has a turn at being in the dark.
Sometimes “dark” is defined as having more bills than money on hand; sometimes it is feeling overwhelmed by debt and not seeing your way out; sometimes it is managing the tension between short-term and big, audacious long-term goals; sometimes it’s having a loving relationship, but feeling frustrated that you are not on the same page financially; sometimes it’s feeling stuck in job you don’t like, but the money is “good” so you don’t rush to make any changes. The list could go on.
These examples can happen to anyone, so having a lot of money doesn’t preclude you from experiencing any of these scenarios from time to time. (Although they are certainly amplified if you are struggling to make ends meet.)
Your financial planning process is what pulls you through the “darkness.”
I highly recommend documenting your process in writing because…
- It’s a great way to select, collect and interpret information.
- It gives you something visual to reference.
- It refocuses your attention when required.
- It helps you track your progress, so that you don’t just measure how far you’ve yet to go but also how much ground you’ve already covered.
- It helps you become aware of the skills you need to sharpen.
- It helps you know when you need to raise your hand for help.
- It invites you to be persistent and stubborn when you most need to be.
- It re-motivates you when it naturally begins to wane.
And…it helps you see 350 feet ahead.
I keep coming back to the road trip as a universal analogy because most people would never embark on a trip – especially to a place they’ve never been – without some sort of a game-plan. Yet, somehow, a lot of people don’t look at this activity as a necessary “tool” once you start talking about dollars and cents.
For some, creating a financial plan is thought to be hard, cumbersome, time-consuming and overwhelming. Or, people don’t do it because they don’t know where to begin. Or, they rely on the notion of, “it’ll work out.”
But even a driver-less car needs direction.
So, too, does your money. It needs you tell it where you want it to go; how you want it to get there; whether you want to take the slower or faster route (because there’s always more than one way); and, it needs you to be focused.
It needs for you not to get side-tracked by distractions that cause you to put money on the back-burner: Like boredom (yes, it’s possible!); over-scheduling, or not adjusting your schedule on the heels of major life events/shifts; and, the perils of multi-tasking.
That is why your financial plan is like driving directions, and your process like the drive itself: Your plan states your starting and end points; the choices you need to make along the way; approximately how long it will take; and what alternatives you might need to consider if your “road” conditions change. Plus, it helps you to see 350 feet ahead as you move along bit by bit until you are “there.”
So, if you find yourself at the end of January still without a financial game-plan for 2018, get going. And remember this: It’s only too late to get started, if you don’t start.
p.s. I’m really looking forward to welcoming my guests to the table for this month’s Comfort Circle™ dinner. To see upcoming themes and get notified of when we start accepting RSVPs, click here.
p.p.s. If you’re in the San Diego area, I’m coming your way to speak at the “Think Better, Live Better” conference – February 10 – February 11th. I’d love to see you there! Click here for conference details and the speaker line-up.