I have heard every excuse—except the dog eating their homework—of why folks just can’t get their financial life in order. Any of these sound familiar?
- I am so busy with the kids that I just don’t have the time.
- I am working so many hours at work and we’re short-handed, it’s like I’m working 2 jobs.
- I started getting organized then our washing machine broke down and we had a flood.
- I finally got everything put in files and organized—then we moved and I couldn’t find that box.
- My parents are elderly and I spend a lot of time helping them.
- I just started watching “The Good Wife” and I’m a season behind on Game of Thrones, so I’ve been binge-watching non-stop for 4 months.
OK, OK, I get it. You’re busy and work and family take first place. But the reality is, in most cases, all these reasons are just a nifty cover for the fact that you are probably overwhelmed and feeling like you aren’t equipped with the knowledge and/or experience to make meaningful financial decisions. Not the ability to reconcile your bank account or even fill in the boxes on the Turbo Tax screen—chances are you’ve got that covered. We’re talking about the bigger decisions.
Let’s walk through something as straightforward as deciding what investments to choose for your company-sponsored 401(k) plan. At one end of the spectrum, you go on the website and take the risk tolerance questionnaire, put in your age, when you expect to retire and how much you’re willing to contribute from your salary. You might even read the description of the funds available or perhaps you’ll take the recommendations that spit out automatically. Voilà! You’re now on the road to retirement success.
Or you might skip the website and go right to the Target Fund that is closest to your expected retirement date. Or you might just go with a few names that “sound” successful. You might even look at the 1-5-10 year performance results. That was easy, right?
But let’s look beneath that simplicity. Past performance is about as useful as dryer lint. And your “risk tolerance” is not static. It changes with a bunch of factors, such as what’s going on in the economy, your particular experiences and whether you are optimistic or pessimistic.
My point is that something as basic as choosing your investments for a retirement plan requires some thought and knowledge. Ditto when it comes to other high impact financial decisions—like the size of your emergency fund, the amount of insurance you carry and the percentage of your income that needs to be captured for other important goals. All of these choices are chock full of variables, questions and maybes. There’s very little cookie-cutter about your financial life, despite what the brokerage firms would have you believe.
Creating a vibrant, meaningful and personal financial life plan is normally a give and take affair.
“I want this, so I am willing to give up that.”
” I value this now and can give up this until later”
” I worry about X so I will do Y”
To get to the place where your wants and needs are clear enough to even make a decision, you need to have information, communication and options. And those require time, knowledge, understanding your point of view, your mindset about money and your fears (we all have them).
The answer lies in first admitting that those excuses are just that—excuses. And that there’s no need to feel blame or shame over not knowing how to make these decisions. Once you figure that out, find a real advisor with whom you can build trust. Don’t trust them because it’s easier than not trusting or because the office is in a swanky building or they work for a company who spends millions in advertising (and billions in fines for misdeeds). Build trust slowly, over time.
Your financial life is yours to navigate, but it doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.