Spring puts me in the mood to organize the yard. In this way, nature encourages people to clean up the clutter and prepare the garden for new growth. This approach is a great way to view your finances as well. Take a step back and look at your financial plan the way you look at your garden. Is it overgrown with weeds? Does it have to be trimmed a bit? What do you hope to plant and where? Will it grow well with the others you planted? Each of these questions serves as a simple metaphor for retirement planning.
First we need a plan. Just like in your yard or yard, randomly planting tomatoes or bushes doesn’t work well. There are considerations: is the light right or does the place make sense? To answer some of these questions, we need to see and sketch the big picture before we begin. I suggest starting with the “why”. What do we want from our garden? Vegetables and herbs? A nice lawn to play on? Maybe something that is low maintenance?
What is your “why” for investing? Maybe it’s about achieving a goal, making a purchase, or funding an education. Perhaps you would like to donate the results of your work to help others achieve their goals? Or maybe you just want something that is low-maintenance, but grows with you and cares for the future. Whatever your desired outcome, you first need to understand what you are looking for. Without an end goal in mind, your finances are likely to end in overgrown chaos.
Next we need to create a game plan, a method of achieving what we have designed. The goal here is progress, not perfection. As with elements of your budget, it can take years for part of your landscaping to mature before your design is realized and perfected. The job is to keep things on track. We encourage people to have a written, date-specific, and dollar-specific game plan for accumulating retirement capital. With detailed planning, you can determine how much you have to put away or save on a regular basis, what your assumed return on investment could look like over what period of time and how each element contributes to the overall picture. This will help you get from your current location to your desired location.
Finally, we need to understand how. It can be difficult here. I am certainly not a gardener, nor do I understand the needs of certain elements in good soil, or all of the other important but specific information required in growing a spectacular garden. But there are plenty of people out there willing to lend a hand. They have the experience, the know-how and the method to bring your idea to life.
Like professional gardeners, financial advisors can help you shape your plan, make sure all elements work together, and grow as expected over time. However, growth is not without its setbacks. Just as a professional gardener cannot control the weather, neither can a financial advisor control the market. Markets can fluctuate, the economy can strengthen or weaken, and politics can nibble on your carrots. But what is really important is knowing exactly where you are relative to where you want (or expect) to be and that you are adapting accordingly. Adjust your savings, spending, and behavior. Control what you are in control of.
This is where our metaphor breaks down a bit, because if your garden doesn’t grow the way you’d like, there’s always next year. This does not apply to retirement provision. Every year you wait or don’t make saving a priority or promise to get it done soon, you have one less year to make sure you have enough. With that in mind, your financial future is the most important garden you will ever grow. If your only source of food was your yard, you would probably spend a lot more time making sure everything was going right. Why should your finances be different?
Let’s talk about weeds. Nobody likes them. They are difficult to control and, once firmly rooted, can have a profound effect on the rest of the garden. The weeds of the financial world come in different varieties. One of the worst is the noise that surrounds you, be it from social media, messages, friends, etc. It’s the equivalent of floating a few random weeds in your garden.
These seeds are bad ideas and doubts. Maybe you are not getting the best return? Maybe you should have invested in this hot stock? Why didn’t you sell when everyone else bought? These messages are only there to distract you from your goals and to raise doubts. Doubt leads to unnecessary change, and unnecessary change creates income for financial firms. Mercilessly pursue the weeds in your garden and work hard to prevent new roots from taking root.
When you have clarity about what you want, get involved by developing a written plan for someone, have the courage to implement and stick to that plan, we believe you will succeed. It’s a formula that sounds simple, but is much more difficult in practice. Fortunately, there are more and more tomato plants in kindergarten when it comes to a garden.
The same does not apply to your retirement. So take the time to visualize what you want, set a goal and a game plan, and then have the courage to work towards it. Don’t be afraid to ask for help with the details. We do that as consultants. Design, plan, and build something that will bring you joy and happiness for years.
Steve Booren is the founder of Prosperion Financial Advisors in Greenwood Village. He is the author of “Smart Investing: Your Guide to Growing Retirement Income”. He was named Best in State Wealth Advisor by Forbes by 2021 and Top Advisor to Barron by State in 2021. This column does not contain any specific investment recommendations or recommendations.