Financial Planning

How Exactly Does Financial Planning Work?

“What is it you do?”

“I’m a financial planner who works with millennials.”

“That’s cool!  But what do you actually do for millennials?”

It’s a great question, and one that I get regularly.  The short answer:

  • I help my clients take stock of where their finances currently stand and work with them to plot out short, medium, and long term goals for the future.
  • We then come up with actions steps to address any potential shortfalls in meeting these goals.
  • I partner with clients to hold them accountable to the plan. Here’s a sample calendar showing how I do so for millennial clients:

sample-client-service-calendar

 

But, how do we come up with a financial plan?  What exactly does that mean?  Let’s go through step by step:

Dream Big

The first step in our financial planning process starts with a big picture discussion.  Talking about where you want your finances to take you is a broad conversation, but it’s that way intentionally.  The beauty of financial planning is that no two people are the same, so everyone’s goals will be different.

That being said, we have a structured process in place to work through the goals discussion.  With each client, we sit down together and develop short, medium, and long term goals.

Long term goals as usually retirement focused, but we don’t stop there.  We talk about savings goals- whether it be for an emergency fund, a new house, or even your child’s college education.  We talk about growing income and monitoring spending.  We talk about goals to pay down debt.  And we talk about goals around credit scores to help make buying your next car or new home more affordable.

This isn’t a comprehensive list of goals that go into a financial plan.  Everyone’s situation is different.  Some of these goals above might not be relevant to you at all, and that’s perfectly ok!  Or, you might have several financial goals that I didn’t mention.  Great! Let’s add them to the list.  My point is that in the process of going through short, medium, and long term goals, I work with my clients to develop a comprehensive picture of where they want their financial journey to take them in life.

People often think of finance as being overwhelming, detail-oriented, and maybe even just plain boring.  But these big picture discussions are often an inspiring way to start the planning process.

Let’s Get Organized!

Now that we know where we’re trying to get to, it’s time to map out where you are financially right now.  The second half of my initial meeting with a new client is to help them get their financial life organized.

I can’t tell you how critical it is to gather all the loose ends of your financial picture in one spot.  When you do, you’ll probably be amazed at just how much you have going for you financially!

And when I say everything, I mean everything.  That money your employer takes out of your paycheck that goes into your 401(k) each month?  Awesome, let’s get a copy of your 401(k) statement and document how much you have saved there already.  Vaguely remember your company sending you a notice about a long term disability insurance plan that you have through your job?  Great, let’s find out how much it’s worth for you.  These details are easy to overlook, but they’re important.

One important note: this is a team activity.  I’ve seen way too many people in my profession begin their first meeting with a client by simply sending them a questionnaire to document what investment accounts they have, how much they want to spend when they retire, how much they owe on their mortgage… the list goes on and on.

Nobody likes to begin a meeting with someone they just met by getting a huge, difficult homework assignment.  I pride myself on helping my clients get organized financially rather than just telling them to do so.  I provide software that helps to aggregate all of your bank and investing accounts in one place.  I’ll help go through your employee benefits with you.  I’ll help you brainstorm other financial items that you may have working for you, but might not even realize it.  Going through these details isn’t always fun, but I do my best to make it painless!

Develop a Plan

After we set some goals and get you organized, we conclude our first meeting and set the next one.  In between, I come up with a draft plan to tie together your goals with the information we got organized to see whether you are on track.  If you are, that’s great!

But usually, there will be a few things that you may need to adjust in order to meet some of your short, medium, or long term goals.  Based on our conversation and analysis, I’ll brainstorm some ways we may be able to help get you to where you want to go.

Plan Discussion

Then, we get back together and walk through your draft plan step by step.  From income to retirement to investments to debt to credit scores- we will cover each of the planning areas relevant to your goals.  We will review where you are now, identify what you’re currently doing to meet your goals, and discuss whether you are on track.

We then will flag the goals you aren’t on track to meet unless we make some adjustments.  I’ll walk you through step by step the potential adjustment options I identified, and invite you to add any that you can think of as well.

Then, we have some decisions to make.  Which adjustment is most important to make?  Which is the easiest to implement?  I don’t believe it’s effective to try to make changes to everything at once.  So, I recommend making one or two changes immediately, and putting together a schedule for when to implement the rest.

Implementation

After our call, I’ll update the plan based on our discussion, send you the “final” version, and set our next check-in meeting.  I put final in quotes, because a good financial plan is a living document.  We will review the plan each year and make updates based on your progress.

The first page of your financial plan will specifically call out the action items to take, in the order you should take them.  You’ll leave our plan delivery meeting with an easy-to-understand list of steps you should take 1) now, 2) in the next few weeks, and 3) in the next few months.  By implementing the changes gradually, not only will you take meaningful steps to improve your financial life, but you’ll do so in a way that will be easier than trying to do it all at once.

Depending on the items in your financial plan, we sit down again anywhere from two to four times a year to review progress and make updates.  See the calendar above for an example of what that schedule might look like.  Regardless of your goals, we will meet at least twice a year to review your budget and rebalance your 401(k). Of course, we’ll also review your progress toward your most important goals and make sure the changes that you implemented are working.

Just like a personal trainer at a gym, it’s my job to do everything in my power to make your financial dreams a reality.  These check-in meetings serve as accountability touchpoints for you, to help make sure you are taking the steps you want to in order to achieve your goals.

And, Of Course…

…you never need to wait until our next meeting to touch base with me.  I’m only a phone call or email away!

I hope this is helpful to show you what working with a financial planner is really like.  Next Thursday’s post will detail an example of how I can help prioritize goals.  If you’re interested in learning more, you can schedule a free introductory call here.