I’ve gotten a bit personal here recently in this mini-series on what helps me unwind, so I thought it might be appropriate to share what I’m taking a break from. I’m very fortunate in that my job rarely feels like work because I love what I do, but we all need to escape the grind once in a while.

After almost 17 years of doing this, building a financial plan never gets old. Every family I work with is different, so each case offers some suspense as to how the numbers are going to come out in the end.  So, what is this financial plan that I have such high conviction in? That’s a story for another day. For now I thought I’d briefly mention the process I use to create one.

Many people have been hesitant at first to get started, not really understanding what goes into the process and how a financial plan might help them. I completely understand that and honestly don’t blame you. My industry certainly has its share of pretenders, so it takes work to find someone you can trust.

There are almost 40 specific steps that I walk through for each family to ensure nothing is missed and everyone gets my best effort. I’ll just hit on a couple of the most important parts of my process here.

The journey always begins with an intro meeting. This is one of the two times where I tend to talk a lot….outlining my process, the final deliverables, a timeline, mutual expectations, and the cost. I do this to ensure you know exactly what to expect right up front, because I would want that if I were in your shoes.

Now that everyone is on the same page, you are off to gather your data. If there is going to be a hitch in the process, this is where it always shows up. Some families find it difficult to compile their statements, tax returns and estate planning documents, but I assure you this simple task is the hardest part. Just throw it all in a shoe box and bring it to me, and I’ll take it from there.

Next comes the factfinder meeting, which is my second most favorite part of the process. By now I’ve reviewed all of your data, formulated a bunch of questions, and am ready and eager to learn. I don’t need you to explain your 401k statement or tell me what’s in your trust, because I can decipher those facts myself from the documents. This meeting is all about subjective information. Here are just a few of the topics we dive deep on…

  • Your exposure to money and wealth growing up
  • Your views and perceived importance of income taxes vs. other financial concerns
  • What you’d want for you family if you were not around tomorrow
  • How, in an ideal world, the remaining years of your life will play out

These are often very deep conversations that I eagerly look forward to. At times they can get emotional and I welcome that. I need that side of the story in order to construct a financial plan that is meaningful and appropriate for you.

Now I’m off to crunch the numbers, model different scenarios, identify risks and opportunities, consult with other professionals where necessary, and develop recommendations specific to your unique family. I then build the deliverables that make up the tangible portion of your plan. This part of the process requires the majority of my time, but it is neither the most important nor impactful. That comes next.

The ‘presentation meeting’, for lack of a better name, is my favorite aspect of my work. If I could choose one task to do every day for the rest of my career….it would be this. The time leading up to this meeting for me is both nerve racking and thrilling, full of angst and expectation. An average plan presentation takes me over two hours to walk through, but it’s not as bad as it sounds. I’ve designed my deliverables so that the family I’m working with has no obligations during that time….except to be present. To listen and ask questions and begin to develop in their minds their ultimate path forward. For up until now they often “don’t know what they don’t know”. I love to teach, and this meeting is where that enthusiasm really comes out.

The basketball coach Jim Valvano gave a very passionate speech during the 1993 ESPY awards right before he passed away. If you have a few minutes, please go watch it.    https://youtu.be/HuoVM9nm42E

To paraphrase Coach Valvano… “there are three things that we should all do every day. Number one is laugh,  number two is think, and number three is you should have your emotions moved to tears. That’s a full day!” These meetings often have me walking away thinking about that speech. I am certainly no Coach V, but in these plan presentations we very often laugh, we sometimes cry, and we always think. And when they are over I am emotionally spent and I love it!

Unfortunately, we can’t all be like my Red Cherry Shrimp that just had 14 babies and walked away with no responsibility! She isn’t taking care of them, but she is having an impact on me. The meditation that arises from watching her new family enables me to better help the families that trust me. The grandparents that want to structure an efficient legacy, or the parents that want to ensure their children can go to college even if they aren’t around to see it.

Now you have a little taste of my work, and why I need to paddle around chasing bald eagles and mindlessly watching my shrimp be shrimp. I’ve realized I must do those things so I can continually put forth my best self to help the families who trust me with their financial future.