Most of us believe that true happiness in life is not about the big things that cost the most money. Not the big screen televisions, the big house or even the big trip to Australia! It’s easy for all of us to get caught up in these material items though especially around this time of year when shopping and boxing day sales are all we hear about!
Another way of looking at it is to consider that there are three variables to our overall well being. These are time, money and happiness. Time to spend doing things you love, money to do the things you love and having a sense of personal happiness or fulfillment. We won't get into how to achieve the "happiness" state of well being but we are suggesting that it is not based on time or money.
To have all three of these things at the same time is arguably what we are all looking for. But why can’t we get there more easily? Well, from our perspective the financial or money aspect is a big culprit. Working in our younger years can take up our time and over-spending during those years can prevent us from having the funds to retire earlier. When we are retired, we have the time but not necessarily the money.
So, what is the answer? We believe that it is possible to be in the sweet spot at each stage of our life. The Planning Pyramid™ illustrated here is a guide to get organized and prioritize our actions which can help us work towards achieving balance. Contrary to the typical financial planning model, we believe in creating a strong base of what we call “guiding principles”. These guiding principles encompass five core principles including personal values and beliefs, passions, skills and goals. Developing these guiding principles take some thought and self reflection but once you know what they are you can start to align all your other financial decisions around these. For example, perhaps the thing that you value the most is having more time to spend with your children, but you simply feel you don’t have the time or money to do this. But what if you cut something else in your spending so that you could take a job that paid less but required less time away from home? From my 25 years working in the financial industry, it is clear the majority of people are not spending in line with their most cherished values and beliefs.
Often, we are tempted to skip ahead to other stages in the Planning Pyramid™ model without completing the guiding principles. We think if we just get our debt paid down, pay less taxes or change our investment strategy we will be successful. This may be true in some cases, but this can often come at the expense of other things like personal happiness or time.
Do you PASS the test? The next stage is getting your finances organized. An easy way to look at this is to consider the four pillars of the PASS strategy. These include paying less tax, avoiding debt build up, saving more of what you earn and spending less on unnecessary items. Once you have set your goals in the base stage, you will be able to make better decisions around these four pillars. You will even perhaps feel more motivated to save or cut spending since you can see now how this benefits your life. Doing these four simple things repeatedly over time can really add up to financial success!
At this stage it can be helpful to start by taking a close look at where you are spending money today. Using a cash flow model which helps you prioritize your expenditures into five key categories can be helpful. We suggest that these five expense categories include basic living, emergency/risk management, basic lifestyle, goal funding and additional lifestyle expenses which are in order of priority. Often, writing down your expenses in an easy and simple format, opens your eyes to areas where you are really overspending. Until you see it in black and white, it is easy to just ignore. Don’t feel you have to save every receipt or track every single item. This can be daunting so instead, just start by writing down the areas where you spend the most money such as Costco, cash withdrawals or groceries.
Why not start off the new year with a new way of thinking about your finances. Plan a day early in the year with your spouse or family and work on setting some guiding principles for your year. Why not book a day off work and make it fun at the same time by going to lunch or a walk? What are the activities you are doing, or you would like to do that will bring your family the most joy and happiness? What expenditures could be cut out that would not impact overall happiness of the family? What could you do with that extra money that would get you closer to living closer to your guiding principles or your long-term goals?
Leave comments if you have any other ideas or models you have used in the past.
Susan Brown CLU®, FEA, CFP®, RRC®, CIM®
Insurance Advisor ǀ Propel Insurance and Advisory Inc.
T: 403-616-7699ǀ email@example.com