planning

First Light

firstlight

Each one of us remembers some new beginning. Perhaps your first thought at seeing the phrase might be of a first day of school, or first kiss, first day at a new job, new relationship, life in a new neighborhood, or something else.

Beginnings are all about potential, anticipation and excitement: a journey on roads we’ve not traveled.

I often take walks in the first light of dawn. The quality of the light in that hour can be magical, whether in the village of Louisville or the banks of the Platte River, along San Diego Bay or Michigan Avenue or in Pinellas County, Florida.

But the meaning of first light is more special to me than the beautiful scenes it might envelope. First light is a new day dawning, another step on a path never before taken. It is fraught with potential, anticipation, and excitement. Each day is a beginning.

This perspective may be helpful to move forward from past hard times, or to change things we would like to change. But it can also be useful as we seek to strengthen new habits or build on recent successes. Whether things are going well or poorly, a beginning is a chance to reset.

What new beginning excites you? Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Rocks, Pebbles, and Sand

© Can Stock Photo / Elenathewise

I recently heard the simple lesson about rocks and pebbles and sand again. You probably know it.

If you take an empty jar and fill it with rocks, you can still add pebbles and shake it until it is full again. Then you can fill it again with sand. The pebbles fit in around the rocks, and the sand fills in around the pebbles. Everything fits.

But if you empty it the jar and try to refill it first with the sand, then the pebbles, and finally the rocks, it comes out differently. The rocks will not all fit.

The moral of the story: focus on the big things, and do not let the little things get in your way. We each are happier and more effective when we have thought about our priorities and acted on them first. When we have time to take care of less important matters when they fit in. When we aren’t focused on little things that just bog us down.

We have rocks – priorities – in our personal lives, in our relationships with others, in our work or business. Our best lives may be when we can put all of our rocks from all parts of our lives into the jar, thinking about priorities and taking action. And keeping the sand out of the works, no matter the source.

Narrowing the focus to you, what are the rocks in your financial plans and planning, the big priorities? Let’s work on them first, and get to the fine points later.

In our work for you, the rocks are doing our research and taking care of portfolios, handling the service you need so your money connects to your life, and communicating with you every way we can.

Rocks – pebbles – sand. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Life and Savannah, Georgia

© Can Stock Photo / SeanPavonePhoto

Traveling recently, I had the chance to spend 24 hours in Savannah rather than drive right by. This is a new thing again for me; my life has been too full for side trips most of the last few years.

At best, 24 hours does not even scratch the surface of a city like Savannah. The largest historic district in the country included markets, churches, temples, homes, and mansions. Now it is also home to museums, shops and restaurants.

The unique and beautiful squares or parks, more than twenty, were originally laid out from 1733 to 1801. Many have fountains or statues or otherwise commemorate notables from history. Ancient and stately oaks grace the squares, and indeed the entire city.

The river features shops, entertainment, and dining housed in the centuries-old brick buildings originally used to service a working waterfront.

In preparing for this day, it took some time to understand what all there was to see and do. And then, how to make the most of it? Trolley tours, boat tours, guided walking tours, solo hiking, or some combination?

(I won’t bore you with my decisions; they suited me. Yours would be, or will be, different.)

The task of figuring out how to spend 24 hours in Savannah, Georgia is akin to how we live our lives. When we choose to focus our time and energy, we forsake everything else for a time. And we can never get around to all that the world offers. And the span of our lives in the world is every bit as limited as 24 hours in Savannah.

I did learn that with planning you can see a great deal in Savannah in 24 hours; I am still in the process of learning that with planning you can do a great deal in life.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

S.M.A.R.T. Goals?

© Can Stock Photo / PixelsAway

We’ve all hard about SMART goals, haven’t we? The acronym stands for “Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound.”

Perhaps SMART goals should be balanced with GUT goals: General, Unbounded, Timeless.

SMART goals are all about what we do. GUT goals are all about who we are.

Great thinker James Clear talks says the key to lasting improvement is to change who we believe we are. This is key because we humans are always in the process of becoming who we believe we are. This is a general concept. For example, we might come to believe we are a person who prioritizes exercise.

Compare that to a SMART goal like ‘walk two miles every day.’ Life has a way of getting in the way of our plans; the specific plan to walk might fall to inclement weather, or an upset schedule. But if we believe we are a person who prioritizes exercise, we will usually figure out a way to get exercise despite the disruptions that inevitably pop up.

The SMART goal of walking two miles every day is specific, so involves failure when it is not met. But the GUT goal of becoming a person who prioritizes exercise, being general, does not chalk up a failure when the inevitable lapse occurs.

On another parameter, SMART goals can only be applied to things that are measurable. Many of the most important things cannot be measured. Try to quantify empathy, love, a sunset, or the work of an inspired person. A GUT goal might be about things that cannot be measured. One example, to be present in the presence of others: more empathetic, more attentive, more closely connected to the moment. If we come to believe we are that person, our actions will reflect it.

There are corollaries to personal financial planning. If we believe we are people who put something away every payday, who think twice before committing to large expenditures, who live below our means, who balance long term goals against impulsive spending, then our daily actions may support our key objectives.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Where Did the Decade Go?

© Can Stock Photo / Konstanttin

We experience life as a series of moments. The future approaches, then becomes the present for a moment, and passes into history.

The dawn of the third decade of the 21st century is upon us; the current decade is nearly history. The moments we had!

In the first days of 2010, my wife Cathy flew to Florida to furnish and outfit a newly purchased condo; I joined her after a couple weeks. We began our life as snowbirds, skipping some cold weather weeks in Nebraska. (Planning to work to age 92, we had to figure out how to have some fun along the way.)

Our Office Manager Greg Leibman agreed to help in the office here at 228 Main during my absence, January 2010. It did not take long for me to get a glimmer of the potential of that association for the business.

Our planning, disruptions, and adaptations led to surprising growth and development. We focused more tightly on investment advisory business, performed under the auspices of LPL Financial’s RIA (registered investment advisor). That side of the business now accounts for over 70% of assets, $70 million now. That structure elevates our desire to serve your best interests to a binding obligation upon us, the way we like it.

The family health challenges we worked with for most of the decade brought us to a revolution in communications, forced me to learn how to delegate effectively and figure out how to build a team to serve you. The lesson I learned from my life with Cathy, make the most of what you have, enabled us to keep things running so we had the health insurance and resources she needed in her illness.

We had more than full measures of pain and joy in the decade. That is what life is made of.

And now a new decade looms. We hope to be able to make an interesting report to you about it, ten years hence.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Important but not Urgent

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On the advice of a speaker at a conference, I am in the process of re-reading Stephen Covey’s classic book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This 1980’s staple of business literature is surprisingly timeless.

One of Covey’s theories is that time management is really self-management. He suggested that all tasks might be categorized according to urgent or not urgent, and important or not important. Those things that are both urgent and important must always be handled: production, emergencies, project deadlines.

But many important things are not urgent:

  • Building relationships.
  • Increasing productive capacity.
  • Looking at new opportunities.
  • Planning.
  • Recreation.

On any given day, these non-urgent things might be ignored without huge cost. But in the long run, the time we spend on them might be a key indicator of success, health, and happiness. A balance between production (urgent and important) and taking care of productive capacity (important but not urgent) may be a hallmark of sustainable enterprise.

This seems to apply to our personal lives as well as business. (If we are doing it right, we lead integrated lives – being the same person off the job and on the job, anyway.) Many things that give us a chance for a longer, healthier life are important but not urgent.

Working on your plans and planning, whether for retirement or estate planning or whatever, falls into that ‘important but not urgent’ category as well. Easy to put off, not a big cost to ignore for a short time, but with a huge impact on long term outcomes.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

 

Taking Stock

© Can Stock Photo / gajdamak

One of the things we do periodically with you is take stock. Having a periodic review helps us stay in touch with what is going on in your life. It’s also a good time to review your holdings, the economy and the markets as well. The items to discuss fall into these two basic categories.

  1. Planning – connecting your money to your life.
    1. Cash flow needs, saving, spending and lifestyle.
    2. Thinking on retirement.
    3. Plans for residence, if any, moving or major remodeling.
    4. Estate and trust considerations.
    5. Other objectives, special considerations, taxes.
  2. Investing – your portfolio and the markets.
    1. The role of volatility in long term investing.
    2. Risk tolerance discussion.
    3. Time horizon review.
    4. Our assessment of opportunities and risks.

Of course, we spend a lot of time working with you when a money question comes up. You can ask us anything, any time. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll do our best to find it.

Clients, if things are happening we should know about, please email us or call. Otherwise, we’ll be in touch by and by.

What Are You Looking At?

© Can Stock Photo / sanayamirza

In planning, we take a look at the world in which we operate. Our plans need to be grounded in reality to have a chance to work out. If I plan to learn to fly by flapping my arms vigorously, the laws of biology and physics are going to have an impact.

When we look at the world, two kinds of things are especially pertinent. Challenges are the obstacles to our success. The stuff in between the challenges are possibilities. The Wright brothers evidently spent no time trying the arm-flapping thing, or fussing about the challenges of physics and biology. Eventually, one of their possibilities was converted into the accomplishment of flight.

The way some people talk about challenges, fighting them or overcoming them seems to be a key element of success. In that line of thinking, challenges occupy a central role.

I have been in a situation where the challenges seemed impossible. In fact, many have failed to overcome the same kind of challenges. Reflecting later on this chapter in life, a surprising realization emerged.

Under the pressures of the situation, I had no time to think about anything but the possibilities. After the initial planning, the challenges turned out to be totally irrelevant.

The realization: when you focus on your possibilities, your challenges disappear.

Thus the question in the title. What are you looking at? Your focus, your perception, these things change the world.

We’ll be thinking about this more. There are applications to other parts of our work for you. In the meantime, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Life in Four Dimensions

© Can Stock Photo / fredmantel

Kurt Vonnegut wrote about a race of beings who could see in four dimensions. The fourth dimension is time. “All moments, past, present, and future, have always existed, always will exist.” They could look at different moments from the past or future the way you and I might look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains.

This is an interesting way to think about the work we do together with you, planning for the future. It requires us to see the future we want, and do what is needed to make that plan potentially become reality. People in their working years need to see ahead a decade or two or three, and envision the future.

Our investment process relies heavily on history, being able to see the past. Most conditions in the economy and markets repeat from time to time in one form or another. We can better understand these things when we know what has gone on before. In other words, seeing the past may provide clues that help us in the present.

The Vonnegut quote contains an implication with which we strongly disagree. The idea that the future is already set implies that nothing we do matters.

In fact, our whole philosophy is that the choices we make are crucial in shaping the future. There are many things beyond our control, but we control our actions. We do not control the future, but we can work to make the best things more likely to happen.

Putting this all together, we can formulate our own idea about life in four dimensions: learn from the past to shape the future we desire. When we work together, we have a better chance to pull this off.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this, or anything else, please email us or call.

Sacrifice or Joy?

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The ability to delay gratification is supposed by some to be the key to reaching our goals. And it seems to make sense.

If one can spend less and save more day by day, greater wealth results over time. Skipping dessert and taking the stairs instead of the elevator over the weeks and months may improve our health over the years and decades.

This framework casts our future welfare as something that contends with current enjoyment of life. “Sacrifice today for a brighter tomorrow,” and all that. It takes willpower to struggle against today’s desires for distant benefits, somewhere down the road.

We believe there is a more productive way to think about this.

The key is to find the immediate gratification hiding inside deferred gratification. If you are broke but begin saving a little bit of money every payday in a systematic way, you have the immediate gratification of changing your trajectory, of moving in the right direction.

Imagine the gratification of getting your act together in the way that most needs it. You have known it needs attention, and its neglect nags at you. Embarking on a plan gives you the immediate gratification of taking action to improve your life.

In short, you can struggle and sacrifice today for benefits in the misty future, or reframe it so that reaching for your goals brings you immediate joy. It’s a matter of the narrative you choose to tell yourself, the framing in your mind.

Clients, if you would like to talk about your goals or anything else, please email us or call.