Planning in One Page

Posted on Sep 14, 2015 in Blog, Community, Family, Planning, Simplicity

Colleague and sketch guy extraordinaire, Carl Richards, has a new book called The One-Page Financial Plan. My work is all about organizing, simplifying, and getting clarity around what really matters for you, and a one-page plan sounded awesome. As I often do, I test-drove this process myself and here’s what my One-Page Plan looks like:

To be able to take care of myself:

1. Own my home

2. Financial freedom at 70

3. Ability to participate in the communities I love

What you’ll see right away is that the plan is very focused, and simple. But for any of you who have practiced yoga or tried meditation, steadying the wiggly body or calming the monkey mind is harder than it looks.

But this is exactly what you must do to have a plan that works: You must get to the “why” of what you’re doing. I call what I do “values-based” financial planning, and at its core it’s about what you value, what is important to you. The “why” will become your litmus test for financial decision-making.

The “Why”
Carl’s one-page plan starts where I also start the planning process, with the “why.” The Why is your financial mission. His question is: Why is money important to you?

To have a secure retirement?

To take care of your family?

To die with the most toys?

The Why is totally internally-driven. If you are looking for external validation, your “why” will always fail, because you’re not directing it. When it’s externally-driven, you’re looking to the outside for validation, and you won’t feel a sense of calm when you answer the question. When you answer truly, you relax, you feel a relief from anxiety. You’ve answered the question.

What Gets in the Way of The Why
Part of getting to The Why is digging into what money means to you. My financial mission is to be able to take care of myself.  My process looked like this:

Money is important to me because I want to be financially secure.
Because I want to be able to take care of myself.
Because no one else will be there to do it.

In those three sentences, I got to one of my core values: self-sufficiency. I came from a working class family. My parents bought their first house on the GI Bill, my dad went to school and worked part-time, and money was a struggle. I worked my way through college, and graduate school. There was a lot of messaging in my early life around my family not having any support outside the four of us — my parents, brother and me — and how we could only rely on ourselves.

Being able to take care of myself financially – pay my bills, never get in over my head, take educated risks but don’t bet the farm, have a little money socked away, a few staples in the pantry always– is at the core of how I run my financial life.

For you, it might be thinking you “should” have a house, but you’re really fine renting and would rather put your savings into a business idea. It might be feeling you deserve a certain standard of living, when the fear is really not living up to someone else’s (or your) standards, of not being as good as your peers. Only you can know why money is important in your life.

The “What”
Once you figure out why you’re working hard and saving – or spending your nest egg in a certain way – then you can get more specific about the actions you need to be taking to work towards these goals. What Carl notes – and embraces – is the certainty of change. Don’t wait around for the perfect answer or the “right” decision. Good planning is a lot like living your life fully: you start where you are, with what you can do today, and do it. You have to translate The Why into actionable goals. You need to list everything you want to do or have, then prioritize in terms of how “The What” supports the Why.

To live up to my Why, I want to own my own home, save enough to be financially independent at age 70, and participate in the communities I love.  Taking care of myself doesn’t mean spending all my time at the office, it also means having a good life today, and so I’ve included how I’ll spend my time in addition to what I’m doing with my money.  Your plan is about you and building a meaningful life.

The What is the top three specific things that you need to do to fulfill your financial mission. You’ll note that not all these goals necessarily require financial resources: two of the communities I love involve dogs and books, and I’ve volunteered in animal shelters, libraries and school reading programs. What is your What? What are the three goals you’ll work on now?

Putting Your Why and What into Action
Once you have your Why, you have a measure against which you can evaluate the financial decisions you face. When you wonder how to spend your money or how to save, ask yourself, is this action supporting your Why? For me, I ask “Will this action enhance my ability to take care of myself?” Then test the decision about which of your three top goals it’s advancing.

OnePagePlan_napkinv2That’s it. Write your Why and your What on a post-it or an index card (Carl wrote his, shown here, on a napkin with a Sharpie). Put it on your mirror, keep a copy in your wallet. This isn’t about other people telling you what to do, this is a talisman of your creation, your money mantra to keep you centered and on track to get what you really want out of this life.

Get out your Sharpie and get to work!

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Dearly Beloved, We Are Gathered Here

Posted on Mar 31, 2013 in Blog, Community, Family, LGBT, Relationship

I’m adding to the already crowded blogosphere with the intent to explore the following question: how do we deploy our resources – financial and otherwise — in a way that makes us happy?  And how do we do this with eyes wide open to the distractions and detours that lead us astray?  It’s one thing to have money; it’s another to have a rich life.  I’m operating on the premise that money alone doesn’t do it; it’s our connection to others – partner, family, friends, community – that makes life worth living.    

There’s not a better time to start the thread of this blog, with the Supreme Court hearing two cases on the future of marriage.  Technically it’s about same-sex marriage.  But at the core of this issue is our ability to partner with someone who lets us be our best self, supports us in good times and bad, and helps us build a life based in love.

We all know how imperfect heterosexual marriage is.  Ok, every relationship is imperfect. But that struggle to find someone who will hold you, fight with you, defend you, love you despite bad hair (or no hair), embrace who you are and challenge you to be your best –THAT is what it’s all about.  The idea of denying that when someone has found it is beyond my understanding.

When I was married, I loved my husband with my whole heart.  And I wondered how life would be if I couldn’t love him because he was blond, like me.  It didn’t make my feelings any less strong. It just made me feel incredibly sad to think that as a society we were denying others love. I didn’t love him because he was blond.  I loved him for who he was, and he happened to be blond.

Under the marriage contract as it stands, we have laws that make it difficult if not impossible to allow us to protect spouses who are victims of domestic violence.  That is the kind of marital bond we should be working to end.  But instead we fail to recognize another couple’s commitment to care for one another and deny them this right often at the most vulnerable time, at the end of life.  The closest comparison I can make from personal experience is being with my canine companion, my dog, Katie, when she was humanely put to sleep several weeks after a diagnosis of terminal and painful liver cancer.  I don’t know how I could have left her in a strange room, with strangers, in her last moments.  I cannot fathom that we would deny someone the right to be with the person to whom they’ve committed their life at the end of it.

Some of the fretting over same-sex marriage has to do with “”redefining” the institution.  It’s about time.  You promise some lofty things in a traditional marriage ceremony, but there is little to back up performance under this contract. (All you men can relax, I’m not talking about THAT kind of performance.)  It used to be that women were property in a marriage.  It used to be that sex was a husband’s right and a wife’s obligation. 

Those things have changed – we have already redefined marriage. Now let’s bring it into the 21st century.  What would a newly redefined version of marriage look like?  Maybe let’s set some performance standards and look at how a couple “loves, honors and cherishes” each other.  When was the last hug?  The last compliment?  The last kind act?  We want to foster long-term relationship, so let’s evaluate this over time: When was the last compliment after 10 years of marriage? After 30 years? If having children is one reason for marriage, many same-sex couples have met that requirement — and as I’ll hit 50 this year, I’m past that life stage. Am I to be denied marriage if I find a man I love? In a traditional ceremony, you promise to “forsake all others.” In no fault states[1], being a faithful spouse doesn’t count for anything under the law, and there’s no penalty for cheating.  Perhaps under a redefined marriage contract you’ll lose those tax benefits of marriage if you stray? 

As a happily divorced person, I’m more inclined to channel Mae West’s philosophy on marriage being a great institution — and how I’m not ready for an institution. In the end, what I support is finding love, partnership, community – wherever it leads you.  To live without those things is to be exiled to a half-life.  This is an opportunity to look at actions over words, at what we want to cultivate in each other, and define marriage in those terms. 

Love, respect, safety, integrity, equality.  We could start there.

[1] “No-fault” divorce is one in which a finding of wrong-doing is not required by either party. Prior to passage of no-fault legislation (first signed into law by California Governor Ronald Reagan in 1969), divorce required a party to prove breach of the marriage contract to sue for dissolution.  Passage of no-fault laws effectively eliminated the marriage “contract.”

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