Life Planning: When Real Life Trumps Technical Financial Planning

Contributed by: Matthew E. Chope, CFP® Matt Chope

A meeting I had recently with the daughter of some long-time clients reminded me that sometimes what matters most in what we do with clients isn’t the dollars and cents and the detailed tax analysis, but what we call life planning. What am I talking about? Well let me tell you a little bit about the kind of planning we did.

The client’s daughter, a successful, single 30 year old woman, came in for a basic financial check-in after finding out that her job was being discontinued with her employer. She seemed somewhat relieved, because her job was not challenging her intellectually and she needed a change. She wanted to make sure she was making the right financial decisions, and needed some guidance on planning for her next stage of life. What she really wanted to know was if it was okay to take four to six months off from working, and what the financial implications would be on her short and long term goals. It seems that her primary objective at this point in her life was to find someone to spend her life with and to ultimately build a family, and taking the time to do this was a higher objective than saving for retirement—if she could swing it financially.

This young woman had been on the path of multi-generational financial planning for years.  Her parents had been guiding her based on their good habits, and we were able to provide some financial education before she went off to college to help build a strong base of financial knowledge and etiquette. In addition, she was able to get a solid college education and had been earning a good income, saved very well, and had lived below her means up until this point. Upon termination from her employment, she would be receiving a severance and health care for a couple of months, and had built a very comfortable nest egg in taxable, Roth and traditional IRA’s. She had a home with over 50% equity and was very flush with liquidity and confident in her financial situation.

After reviewing all the things in her financial life, we came to the conclusion together that she was in a strong enough financial position to pursue her primary objective of finding a life partner and building a family.

What’s Next?

We came up with a temporary travel budget for the next four to six months so that the sabbatical could take place and she could feel comfortable with it. She could travel abroad and around the United States, visit different places and experience new adventures; all while being creative to find someone that she could spend the rest of her life with. We talked about the things that needed to be done during her time off:

  1. A Belief Statement:  Write down at the top of a blank piece of paper, “What Do I Believe.” By writing this down, capturing at this moment in time how she felt, she’d be able to return to it in the future. This will help her realize when she is close to finding her partner—does this person fit her values and belief systems. Or she can decide if it's crucial that they do or don't believe in the same things as she does.
  2. 100 Thing List:  List of the 100 things she wanted to experience in life so that the money, she has spent all this time earning and saving, has some reason and goal behind it in order to be used for experiences that matter to her. Ideally we don’t just work to grow a big pot of money, but grow it and use it for life fulfillment. We want no regrets later in life. 
  3. Vision Statement: Her idea of where she wanted to be in one year, three years and in ten years. Vision statements help guide current choices and offer a great reflection tool to check personal progress.

So, while we talked about some financials at this meeting, it was only enough to know that she was going to be okay to take time off from work. The majority of our time was spent on things that were not financial topics but were life planning issues—those non-financial issues that were most important to her at this point in her life. Sometimes we have to look at the big picture and go beyond money in order to dig deep into life planning issues, because how you chose to live your life and use that money in meaningful ways trumps the financial nuances or details of taxes, savings, and investing.

Matthew E. Chope, CFP ® is a Partner and Financial Planner at Center for Financial Planning, Inc.® Matt has been quoted in various investment professional newspapers and magazines. He is active in the community and his profession and helps local corporations and nonprofits in the areas of strategic planning and money and business management decisions.

Any opinions are those of Matthew Chope and are not necessarily those of Raymond James. This case study has been provided for illustrative purposes only. Individual cases will vary. Every investor's situation is unique; prior to making an investment or withdrawal decision; please consult with your financial advisor about your individual situation. It is not known whether the client referenced in this case study approves or disapproves of Matthew Chope or the advisory services provided.