Thursday, 12 November 2009 19:57

Looking at the Road I Left Behind

Written by  Steven Wightman
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When our founding fathers assembled in Philadelphia in 1775 to gather all the states’ citizens under one roof they would soon call a nation they understood that there must be a glue to hold this disparate house together in face of the enormous challenges and rocky times that surely lay ahead. They created a constitution that has served as a beacon of light to guide and shelter each and every citizen. In good times and bad, in war and peace, people of this house would look to this document to decide the best course of action for all concerned. It has kept our house together longer than any other as the oldest continuous existing democracy on Earth.
Like our constitution, a financial plan has the same effect: It is the charter that governs our behavior in good times and bad. It helps us live up to our highest values by transcending selfishness to accomplish a good greater than ourselves. It guides us from going off the deep end, shelters us from storms, and provides us with a roadmap for being and doing more than we now are. It is this constitution that has guided me to act morally, live by principles and strive for dreams I never dared to dream before. I know this because I am a financial planner who has personally walked the talk.

Looking back, the most important thing I have done in my lifetime, bar none, is to create a financial plan and live by it. It has made all the difference; not because money solves all problems, it doesn’t, but because it prevents the most serious ones. Sometimes these problems work like a chain reaction, for example, cascading from a debt blowup to divorce and into depression. Life without a plan is like home plumbing without a pressure relief valve. When the inevitable failure occurs, there can only be a singular explosive and disastrous result.

By sharing this experience with clients, sooner or later they come to understand the power and magic of a living, breathing, financial plan. When they see that their kids are past college, weddings paid for and that their mortgage burned, early retirement on the horizon in a beautiful new home whose shelves still have room for more photo albums of travel, friends and family, they often ask, “how ever did we do it?” It is usually then when they recall that it was all part of the script I helped them rewrite many years ago. This is the moment when they truly understand the difference of a life view from forty thousand feet verses a prior life in the trenches with no constitutional purpose, just living day-to-day, script-to-script to “see what tomorrow brings”.

Less than one percent of adults, by my estimate, have ever made the big leap of creating a professionally written, comprehensive, personal, financial road map. That means the vast majority in our society have nothing to compare to. They may argue that the best thing they have ever done is to raise a family. Of this group, half the people saying it are divorced. More than half suffer from preventable and or treatable chronic diseases such as depression, drug and alcohol abuse, eating disorders and obesity. I would also add an insidious, growing pandemic, money mania. It’s the inability to have a functional relationship with money so that it supports ones values and the freedom to do and simply be true to oneself. I have lived on both sides, I have made the leap and I can say the view from here is fine now.

I believe a financial plan is a road map to a great life. I have learned that the greatest limits in our lives are not financial, but our beliefs. These beliefs, I call scripts, change little from our childhood days where we act either like or opposite from our parents. Unless disaster strikes close to heart, like cancer or sudden death, most never look in the mirror to think to rewrite the remaining chapters of a new and meaningful life. Even following disaster most slip back into old scripts. Like old recipes, old friends and old clothes, we are most comfortable with the familiar. Our lives are SOS, same old stagnancy.

Best investment? Privately and often during speeches, people often ask me “what is the best investment to make today?” I tell them to look in the mirror. You’ll never top the investment you see there.ith or without a financial plan, we become pretty much what we believe we can. The difference is that planning provides vision followed by purpose. The planner provides the nudging needed. With a road map in hand, money may slow us down from time to time, but it cannot stop us. These principles put to the pen have made an enormous difference in my and my wife’s lives and those we love. For loved ones it has helped us rescue them from pending personal bankruptcy, pick up a wedding tab, vanquish despair, fund past and future college educations, and make a 40th anniversary Alaska dream vacation a prepaid reality. A financial plan can save more than money, it can save souls.

Our financial plan is like our personally crafted constitution. It defines who we really are, our purpose, our principles, values and actions by which we live. It has not prevented problems from occurring, but it has cut them down to manageable size and provided us with vision and clarity toward a brighter future. Based upon vision and revision, it is a living road map to doing and being our best. The driving force behind any financial plan is the financial planner. He or she sheds light on our paths, keeps us from making wrong turns, and helps us choose the high road. When thinking of whether or not to create a financial plan, ask yourself this: Where would our nation be today without a constitution?