Financial Planning Like Using a GPS

I like to ask people I meet if they have a retirement plan.  Nearly all of them tell me they do. When I ask more about it, they tell me they have a 401(k) plan at work, or an IRA plan. Business owners often tell me they have a SEP-IRA (self-employed IRA or 401k).
Contrary to popular belief these aren’t really retirement plans. They’re tools to help you save for retirement, defer taxes, and have funds available for retirement.  They’re not actually retirement plans. A plan would include: both current and expected income and expenses; life goals; available resources, etc. Look at it as a map or GPS. In order for a GPS to work you need to enter a destination (goals, projected income needs).  The GPS will then determine where you are (Current income, expenses, resources such as savings and investments). Finally, the GPS will go through the various different possible streets, roads and highways and come up with a plan for getting from where you are to where you want to go (Determining how to optimally utilize current resources, future savings and investment earnings, tax code issues, to develop a financial plan to get you where you want to go).
Now, I know what happens to me when I’m on one of these long road trips. I’m happily going down the road and I get hungry, or thirsty, and I don’t want to stop at the regular spots along the road because I’m trying to be healthy, or because I feel like something different, or I see a sign directing me to something that looks really good. For instance, I was passing through Redding on a trip to Ashland when a sign touted their mutli-million dollar bridge designed by my favorite architect. In a case like this I follow my distractions and either shut the GPS or reprogram it to take me to the bridge. Financial planning is similar. In the presence of the best written and executed plan, life happens and unanticipated changes take place. No problem. We simply go back into the planning process to deal with the life issues that arise. For instance, one of my clients’ sons contracted MS. It was clear that he was not going to be able to work for very much longer, and eventually wouldn’t be able to take care of himself. Assistance would be required. In such a case we needed to execute some long-term care planning for the son, and rather than simply leaving a portion of their assets to their son to do as he would with it, we needed to create a special trust instrument to more cost-effectively resolve the situation.
Once that is complete, just as once the trip to the bridge is completed, we reset the GPS towards our goal and move on. We review all the elements of the financial plan to see if we’re still moving in the right direction. This is something that I do for my clients annually and/or whenever life events occur.