Thoughtful wealth management is more than just maximizing net worth. It also gives us the best chance of meeting our life goals. Wealth is only valuable because it helps us make a significant impact on our world. It doesn’t give us meaning.
Life planning takes a holistic look at what you truly value. And for most people, their life is more important than their money. Only after exploring your life goals can you structure your finances to help you realize your dreams.
A fee-only fiduciary wealth manager sits on the clients’ side of the table. With a deep understanding of clients’ goals, the professional can manage their money just as the clients would if they had the same expertise.
We begin the process with a preliminary questionnaire that poses a series of easy questions to help us learn about a client’s goals and values. We ask, “What charitable and/or professional organizations do you support? What interest/hobbies do you enjoy? What gets you out of bed in the morning? What would you like to be doing five years from now?”
This allows us to begin to know our clients at a deeper and more revealing level than what we learn from a tax return and net worth statement. It is difficult to write about life planning without sounding religious or moralistic, which is the point. Ultimately, our financial decisions are spiritually based. The process of financial planning pushes us to articulate which values we want to live by and motivates us to adjust our daily monetary decisions to fit those values.
Spiritually sensitive financial advisors, regardless of their specific perspective, ask astute questions that reveal these values. Christians, Zen Buddhists and many other perspectives share this common framework that spiritual concerns are critical. For example, George Kinder, author of “ The Seven Stages of Money Maturity: Understanding the Spirit and Value of Money in Your Life,” approaches life planning from such a perspective. He uses a series of three exercises to help people sort out when they might need to change direction. Each one is an experiment in which you ponder one potential scenario and imagine all the possible ways you might react.
The first one, called “Plenty of Money,” starts with one of Kinder’s famous “three questions”:
“Imagine you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. How would you live your life? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back on your dreams. Describe a life that is completely and richly yours.”
This scenario is playful and fun as well as revealing. I’ve seen several variations, such as “What would you do if you won the lottery?” or “What would you do if you had a million dollars that you couldn’t spend on yourself?” But Kinder’s format is probably the better one because it purposefully focuses not on the money but on your life’s calling.
Like Eric Liddell in the film “Chariots of Fire,” we are searching for meaning in our lives. He says, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” We are looking for a life so completely and richly ours that we feel God’s pleasure. This is our area of genius. This is our calling.
This exercise may not result in a practical life change when you are done. But it will begin to uncover some of your inner longings that currently may be eluding you.
Another excellent way to explore this process is Barbara Sher’s book “ I Could Do Anything If I Only Knew What It Was: How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It.” Subtitled “How to Discover What You Really Want and How to Get It,” it offers practical ways to expand on Kinder’s scenario and find your heart’s desire.
You’ve probably heard the saying “Find a job you love and you will never work a day in your life.” Studies show that deep joy comes from knowing exactly what you want and feeling like you are moving toward getting it.
Sher suggests the next time you are with a group of strangers, tell them the most offbeat idea you can think of. Say your dream is to raise Dalmatians in the Himalayas, but you have no contacts in Tibet.
People’s interest perks up. They may even try to solve your problems. Some may react negatively, but most suggest ideas. But describe the same scenario to your family or friends, and they will try to save you from your folly. And that is one reason why we find it so difficult to dream long enough to determine what our dreams really are.
Another of my favorite exercises in the book comes after you create an ideal scenario. Sher then asks you to act on it for only an hour: Get the application. Find out about the job. Call some contacts. Make an appointment.
She says that planning is mostly science fiction, just a hopeful prediction. But following a plan gets us out into the world where something can happen. Anything that moves us toward what we want makes room for serendipitous events. It also forces us to confront any hidden resistance within us.
Finding our life’s goals requires quiet times of thought and reflection over a long period to learn about ourselves and our place in the world. And often it takes experiences we can only have by trying a number of different endeavors.
All of this may sound too fuzzy or creative, but nothing is more important in the wealth management process. Balancing a family’s financial goals and making financial choices according to those values is at the heart of comprehensive financial planning. Financial woes often come not from a lack of income, but from our failure to live according to our true values.
Take some time to imagine how you would live your life if you had plenty of money. Next week we will discuss the second life planning exercise.