Many people assume that financial planning primarily deals with cold hard cash. Most financial planners would disagree. Financial planning is the process of aligning your financial choices with your life passions. And although financial planning can tell you how to accomplish your goals, it cannot tell you what your goals should be. Values transcend the cash and the numbers.
The financial planning process helps families prioritize their core values and structure their finances to better meet their goals. Balancing a family’s financial goals and making the financial choices according to those values is at the heart of financial planning. Financial woes often come, not from a lack of income, but from a failure to live according to one’s desired values.
Our culture seduces us into believing happiness can be packaged into a commodity that can be wrapped and put under the tree. Consequently we spend money on fleeting goods and services that jeopardize the long term goals that could have provided a deeper fulfillment.
Financial planning begins with life planning. Everyone faces the challenge to purposefully decide what they want to accomplish with their life and then structure their finances to help them reach those goals. Individuals who have given some contemplation to the spiritual side of life are much closer to being able to provide an answer to the meaning of their life. Without some spiritual sensitivity it is difficult to even formulate the right questions.
One common temptation is to judge our well-being not by what we have, but by how much we have in comparison to others. Today’s borderline poor live as well as the upper-middle class did a few decades ago. But, that does not stop them from feeling poor. Luxuries ultimately disappoint us as we become used to the higher standard of living. But the luxury loses its luster and the happiness it brings is short-lived.
The old saying is true: Money can’t buy happiness. Families earning $25,000 a year spend money as though they were trying to keep up with those making $50,000 per year. While those making $50,000 per year often go into debt trying to live like those making $100,000. For many families, the lure of “Joneses” wins out over deeper values that require the foresight, discretion and patience of saving.
Financial decisions tug a lot at the conscience. Sometimes the battles of the soul grow into the all out war of a sleepless night. It is difficult to live life with your head, your heart, your words and your actions all in alignment. When they are not, we live in the pain caused by misalignment. In that regard, comprehensive financial planning touches our soul.
It is difficult to write about family financial values without sounding religious and moralistic, and that’s the point. Ultimately, our financial decisions betray our practical theology. The process of financial planning brings families to decide which values they want to live by, and causes them to adjust their daily monetary decisions to fit those values.
To illustrate, imagine a female executive working for a biotech company earning a six figure income. Her desire and passion though, as she has grown to see, is to become a park ranger by age fifty.
Focused on her goal, she makes financial decisions in harmony with her values. She keeps her lifestyle expenses low to provide her the freedom to save and invest the difference so that she can reach her goal. Simultaneously, she takes the appropriate continuing education classes in the evenings to make her an attractive candidate for the position.
Financial planning is ultimately about gaining the maturity and the freedom to do what we think we should be doing with our lives. The goal is a profoundly spiritual goal even when the financial planning to support it is mundane.
This season can be either a time of spiritual reflection or a time of senseless consumer spending. For most families it is a mix of both! Take some time during this holiday to ask what you believe you should be doing with your life. Then ask how you can structure your finances and your career to support that calling.
Photo by Megan Marotta