This post was originally published on Beyond Your Hammock
It’s pretty easy to give basic financial advice or to create your financial plan outline from broad rules of thumb and generic suggestions that you can find online.
Things get trickier, however, when you start getting more specific; when you start digging into details and wanting to know the answers to far more complex questions.
General rules of thumb don’t always get you to where you need to go when you try to apply them to a complex goal or scenario from your life. Generic advice that’s easy to Google an answer to will begin to fail you when you ask detailed, nuanced questions about your unique situation.
While blogs and forums and books and even conversations with friends and colleagues can help provide you with a baseline of information to build a rough sketch of your financial plan, you may find that a critical piece of the puzzle ends up missing if you never dig to a deeper level.
You need to not only gather the detailed, nuanced information you need and understand what does or does not apply to your situation — but you also need to know how to interpret the info you find, determine what’s useful for you, and implement it in a systematic way consistently over time.
Information Is Easy; Interpretation Is Hard
Getting information is the simple part. No one’s financial plan lacks facts.
If you don’t know what a Roth IRA is, as a basic example, there’s a Google search for that. You can easily pull up information, from the basics (contribution and income limits on a Roth, for example) to the more sophisticated and complex (like how to do a mega backdoor Roth conversion).
But the problem — and the issue of the critical missing piece from most financial plans — is never resolved by a simple question-and-answer session with Google, because there’s no interpretation of the facts you may find, specifically as they may apply to your life.
And I don’t just mean your financial life. I mean the overall life you want to experience and enjoy.
Anyone can tell you how to make more money.
Very few people can tell you how to leverage your financial resources as tools for accomplishing what you want to do with the time you have here.
Understanding how to choose between equally good options is incredibly difficult. How to evaluate potential outcomes and think rationally through cost-benefit analyses is incredibly difficult.
Accurate and objective assessment of risk, precise weighting of opportunity costs, the probabilities for success not just in a year but in 40 years form now — yes, you guessed it, all incredibly difficult to do.
While numbers might be objective, your life isn’t. Your life isn’t linear, either, and things change. You change. Your life, your experiences, your values, and your goals — and how those may shift over time — are entirely up to you.
Your money shouldn’t drive the decisions you make about life. The life you want to create should drive the choices around your finances.
So the very first thing anyone who claims to be financial planner — or an advisor or a coach or an expert you should trust — should say when you ask them a question or request advice is not, “Here is the One Right Answer.”
The very first thing they should say should actually be a question back to you.
They should ask you why.
The Missing Piece Most Financial Plans Don’t Include
Understanding “why” is the critical piece of financial planning that most people (even financial experts) completely miss in their rush to give you more information or facts or suggestions to prove how much they know.
(This probably makes complete sense to anyone who has heard Simon Sinek’s TED Talk, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action” or read the follow-up book, Start With Why.)
Think about it: how on earth could anyone give you great advice if they don’t understand what’s most important to you? If they don’t know why you want to achieve the goals you have?
And perhaps even more importantly, how are you supposed to ask the right questions or seek the information you need if you don’t understand your own why?
In reality, this may be the real challenge for most people.
It’s not that people giving financial advice aren’t any good at what they do… it may be that you can’t yet articulate why you want more money, why you want to grow wealth, why financial success matters at all (and what that even looks like to you).
Without a why, you’re operating without purpose and without context.
A financial blogger who tells you to just contribute money to a total market index fund because it’s “diversified” can’t give you more sophisticated advice… because they don’t know why you want to invest to grow your wealth.
They can only give you a baseline good idea for making more money over time than what you have today.
The seemingly simple question of “how much money should I save” is impossible to answer precisely if you don’t know why you’re looking to save in the first place.
Without why, you’ll always be limited to general rule of thumb.
But when you start asking this question, you begin to unearth what you need to build your financial plan and have it serve as a compass that will always point you to the right answer for you.
The Power of Asking Why When Building a Financial Plan
This is precisely why our process for clients in our financial planning programs never starts with just looking at the numbers. We always begin by asking what it is you want to do with your life, not your money.
Because more money isn’t a goal — so we need to understand what is.
Why do you want or need more money? What is it you want to do with greater financial resources?
When we can start having questions about why, then we can start mapping out a better course for you to take… one that you’ll actually enjoy along the way (instead of something you feel like you have to slog through now just to get to your dream life later, tomorrow, after you save X amount first).
We can start understanding the precise actions you need to take to get to what matters most.
We can, for example, evaluate what investments make the most sense because we understand the purpose your portfolio really serves beyond “just grow bigger.” Or we can determine the optimal way to launch your own business for you because we understand what you want to create in the world.
I have never created the exact same financial plan twice because no two clients come to me with the exact same “why.”
They can have the same income, similar jobs in comparable industries, equal desire to succeed, the exact same risk tolerance and time horizon — and yet their motivation for optimizing their finances and growing wealth will be completely, entirely different.
And therefore the specific advice and guidance they need doesn’t look the same across the board.
Unless your financial plan accounts for your why, you purpose and your values and what it is you want to experience along your path from today to tomorrow and beyond, there’s a critical piece missing.
Make sure you identify what that piece is for you, and snap it in place so you can complete your ideal financial picture.
Want more financial advice you can actually use? Check out Beyond Your Hammock, a fee-only financial planning firm that specializes in helping 30- and 40-somethings get clarity and start building wealth.