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Are you on track?

Puzzles. Symphonies. Synchronized swim events. The car you drive. What do these have in common? They are made up of many pieces, each of them requiring mastery, that blend together to form something beautiful and coherent.

Financial planning fits into this category. I know, you’re thinking, “Financial planning and a puzzle are completely different. One finishes with an interesting picture, the other with a bunch of hard-to-understand computations on paper.” And while it’s true a puzzle has much to do with art and financial planning with numbers, the process of each is taking parts of a whole and organizing them in such a way to bring clarity, coherence, and contentment.

Financial planning is a complex process designed to help determine a person’s financial goals and needs and develop strategies to achieve them. Tax, legal, risk management, investments, and retirement accounts all need to blend to support our goals. Special-needs planning has an additional layer to consider – governmental benefits.

The biggest question I get from people is, “Am I on track?” Financial planning will give you that answer.

Often, “financial planning” happens by accident. We accumulate the pieces of our financial and legal lives without it being coordinated. It happens like this:

  • Someone told me to sign up for the 401k and now I have one.
  • My Mom told me to get a will when I first married – 15 years ago. It’s in a box from the last time I moved, maybe in the basement…or garage…or got recycled.
  • I heard about special-needs trusts and think I need to have one but don’t know why.

It’s easy to accumulate financial products – mutual funds, stocks, employer plans, insurances, and bank accounts. It’s harder to know if they are working for you to help you know whether you are on track to achieve financial security, retire comfortably, pay for college and achieve your other life goals. Done right, your financial and legal tools support the life you want to live, reduce the stress you feel about an uncertain future, and work to move you towards feelings of security and optimism.

Financial planners start by talking with you about your goals and why they are important to you. They focus on what you want to do with your life and then build a plan to help have the money to pay for what you want and need. Along the way, good planners talk about your experiences, the financial messages you carry around, the roadblocks in your path, and the happiness you will feel by hitting certain milestones.

Plans include a list of your goals and timelines for when you need funds. Do you want to retire at 55, 60, or 65? The choice will impact how much you need to save now, what rate of return you need to achieve, and impact how you pay for healthcare before Medicare kicks in.

In special-needs planning, we highlight certain ages and events for the family member with a disability. Most people apply for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) at 18. School transition programs end at age 21 and we need to think of what happens at that time. The planner generally won’t have a list of community organizations; he or she will help you understand that you might have additional expenses to pay for at that time like transportation, career training, or continued education and recommend account types and strategies to save and invest.

Do you expect your family member with a disability to live independently? If so, you need to accumulate resources to pay for assistance, buy a condo, or have other expenses as a result.

Planners help you focus on the long-term while recommending strategies for today. Getting out of debt, building reserves, and investing for the future take time, and the more you can connect intellectually, emotionally, and financially to the future, the easier it is to stay on track.

Make sure to interview a few different people to understand their backgrounds, education, way of working, and compensation when hiring a planner. There are a variety of ways to go.

We measure financial success with numbers. The size of our retirement and bank accounts. The amount of debt outstanding. Those figures give us tangible data to help us understand if we are making progress.

True success in financial planning comes when you are comfortable knowing you’re headed in the right direction financially. That you’re on track.

Planners take complex systems – investing, tax, estate, benefits – and blend them into a format designed to meet the needs of individuals and their families. It can be a personal, rewarding experience for you to meet with a planner giving you both financial and peace-of-mind benefits.