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Secret Sauce

Is there a “secret” to planning for your future? A special sauce few know that everyone desires? A key to unlock the treasure chest? One tip or technique that makes special-needs planning simple, lucrative and done?

If so, let me know. I can tell you it’s not the $2 lottery ticket to win hundreds of millions of dollars. That’s not a strategy and with Powerball odds at something like one in 292,000,000, it’s barely even a fantasy. It’s not digging in the backyard in the hopes of finding a long-lost pirate treasure chest. Both would be nice, though.

Last year, I participated in a research project with the National Leadership on Developmental Disabilities Consortium’s future planning efforts (I know, it’s a mouthful). The research team wanted to dig into how to help self-advocates and their families engage in future planning. Great work, important work in a complex area of life and the researchers sought to find the top ideas to help propel people into planning. See here for more information: NLCDD Publications (

The researchers asked what helped to make it easier for someone to have an account to fund future needs. This simple question tries to get to the heart of the “secret sauce” that leads some families to plan and others to fall behind.

At events, parties and kids’ soccer games, people ask me what “hot stock” to buy. They ask about the economy, the global crisis of the moment and when will gas prices go lower. And while all of that matters to the health of the stock market and the values of our 401(k)s, none of those showed up as one of the top three factors for those in the poll.

What were those tips?

The top three factors indicating success were the following:

  1. I have a clear vision for my family member with disabilities.
  2. I went to a class about future financial planning.
  3. I have strong family support/involvement.

The good news from this survey is that two of the three top reasons why people have moved forward are under your control, even if they don’t always seem easy.

A vision for the future comes from an important step – taking the time to sit quietly to dream and then to take what comes from those dreams and write those thoughts down. Crafting a vision takes time and it starts with this initial step (then repeated as needed). Some people get caught in the emotions that arise from thinking about the future and stop themselves. Others have not given themselves the permission to ask for what they want. Those issues need to be addressed as you go along though they do not have to stop you from taking the time to try.

Classes on financial planning pop up as you look for them. Many local nonprofits host special-needs planning workshops and there are online ones as well. You don’t have to start with a special-needs workshop – any general financial planning workshop should cover the basics that can get you started. Next time at therapy, ask other parents if they know of classes. Or fire up the search engines and see what you can find.

The third item is a gift when it comes but not one you can always receive. Many families just don’t talk about money, or the messages passed down are ones of mistakes and failure. These messages can be turned around, once you are conscious of them. One exercise I go through in my workshops is to have people write down their money messages – good and bad. If you are part of a couple, work together to support each other as you pay off debt, build reserves and invest for the future. The support will help you through rough times in building your financial health.

At least once a year, I review my vision of the future. Life changes as my children and I grow, learn and develop. The secret sauce is the process of thinking ahead and having something to go back to when making decisions. The vision gives structure to decision making and a blueprint for success in all aspects of life. It’s never too late to start and the benefits are immense – less stress, more finances and a plan for your loved one with a disability can all be in your future.