The best time to live

“Remember the past, plan for the future, but live for today, because yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come.”

The best time to live is in the present. It’s easy to get lost in a daydream of how life could have been different or how good life used to be. It’s equally easy to succumb to the speculative dreaming of what might happen in the future.

Believing in a better future is hope, and being confident of what we hope for; that is faith. Faith is grounded in the reality of the past; hope is looking to the anticipated reality of the future. In this way, to truly live with purpose today, we need to remember our past and plan for our future.

But there is a difference between thinking about the past or future and living in it. Sometimes we live in the past because it’s familiar; we know what happened; there are no surprises. So too we might live in the future because we are deeply dissatisfied with where we are.

When we dwell on thoughts to the point that they consume most of our energy and attention, this is when we move from thinking to dwelling. As the old proverb goes, “home is where the heart dwells”.

When the past was really good, we can be tempted to live in our memories because just thinking back on it gives you a feeling of comfort and happiness. And, if the past was really bad, we can live in the future seeking the same comfort and happiness.

We need to identify this in our lives because we can’t change the past and we cannot predict the future. The only place we can make changes is in the present moment. No matter how certain our plans might be, if some major event happens, that can all dissipate into the ether with the snap of a finger.

Being present to our present is where we regain and maintain control of our power to choose. When you speak to people with children or people on their deathbed, a common regret is missing their kids growing up or wishing they’d spent more time with their loved ones.

If you feel like you’re not quite focussed enough on the present, grab a journal and a pen and jot down one of these questions on each page. When your mind wanders and you find yourself dwelling on something that is taking you away from the present moment, jot it down on that page. This will help you release it from your focus, but still, be able to recall it to help you in your planning.

  1. Is there one particular period from the past that you find yourself clinging to?
  2. Are you frustrated with where you currently are in life?
  3. What causes you to be anxious for the future?
  4. What are you most grateful for in life?

Whilst these are helpful life questions, they’re also rooted in the core motivations for how we work with our money. When we can slowly break these questions apart and work through them, we can start to understand our money better and embrace what it means to remember the past, plan for the future and live for today.

Ask yourself these questions BEFORE switching funds

As financial planning conversations deepen and explore more value, we find ourselves moving from the empirical to the emotional, from processes to perceptions and from products to people. It’s an enlightening journey that takes us away from numbers and allows us to reflect and reconstruct our future planning approach.

But, it’s also extremely challenging as we find questions we can’t easily answer; but, that’s still healthier than having answers we can’t question! This point of reflection helps us form questions that enable us to navigate the flow and rate of change around us. The questions empower us to see choices more clearly and engage with our life and financial plan in a significant and impactful way.

But, before we make any changes to our investment portfolio, there are some helpful questions to ask. A recent article from fbfs.com offered several questions; here are some of them.

Am I working with a financial adviser I can trust?

In the same way, our personal and professional relationships depend on strong bonds of trust; our relationship with our money needs the same foundation. And, this begins by working with a financial adviser we can trust.

We all have blind spots (which is why financial advisers ALSO NEED financial advisers for their personal portfolios!), so it’s not just about working with someone our bank recommended; it’s about working with someone who we know, like, and trust.

How have my circumstances changed?

Some life changes are apparent, and we don’t need someone to help us spot them, but other life changes are slow and gradual. When we’ve been working with a trusted financial adviser, they can help us track and identify the gradual changes that will impact how we invest and plan for the future. Not all life changes require a shift in funds, but some might. This is how we build an investment strategy that consistently reflects what is important to us.

Has there been a change in my risk tolerance?

Various factors influence risk tolerance, but one of the most significant is our investment horizon. Ask yourself: “Has my financial timeline changed?” For example, if you’ve decided to move your financial independence (retirement) date, this might change your investment strategy. Your financial situation or a change in your risk preferences could also trigger tweaks to your investment portfolio.

Are any of my funds underperforming?

This is probably the question we ask ourselves most… but it’s also one of the most detrimental if not answered correctly. A bad week, month or even year may not be a valid cause for concern for long-term investment strategies. However, consistent poor performance over several years may yield a legitimate concern and reason to reflect on your fund selection. But, even so, it still needs to be taken in the context of the entire portfolio and the outcomes for which we’d hoped.

No matter how much we plan and how meticulous we might be, things generally never go directly according to plan. So there will always be reasons to feel like we need to switch funds; some will be valid, others won’t be. Hopefully, this blog helps you prepare for your next financial planning conversation!

Making goals easier to achieve

“If I had a penny for every time I put something off until tomorrow, and never got to it… I’d put them all in a sock and hit myself with it.” Unknown

In our digital age, it has become increasingly easy to create lists of things to do and remember. We can just call out “Alexa!” or “Hey Siri!” and add to a virtual reminder list that, for the most part, just adds more stress and clutter to our lives.

If you’re smiling, you’re not alone. All of us have lists filled with great intentions and a serious challenge regarding follow-through. This is not necessarily because our lists are too long (although that may sometimes be the case); several factors can influence our ability to see our goals through to completion.

Take a moment to breathe in some kindness and let’s look at a couple of tips together.

Whether you’re sitting with a diary for a new week, month or year in front of you, here are some great ways to create goals that are easier to achieve.

  1. Measurability is massive!

Vaguely huge goals, such as “get out of debt” or “go on an overseas holiday”, seem specific, but they’re not measurable.

“My best advice is to write down your goals in SMART format,” says Kate Mielitz, an accredited financial counsellor and assistant professor at Oklahoma State University.

As a reminder, the SMART acronym stands for specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic and timely. In other words, you want your goals to be something that you can see progress towards and achieve in a relatively short period. This is how goals become measurable.

So – instead of saying “get out of debt”, it is better to set a weekly goal to pay 500 bucks towards your credit cards. Setting something as specific as this helps you determine how sustainable that goal is. If you meet this each week, you might want to increase it; if you can’t meet it, you might want to reduce it, making the goal more realistic and timely.

  1. Visibility is valuable

One of the issues with virtual lists is that we can’t always see them, and they’re tucked away neatly behind an app or in a folder in the cloud somewhere. Many of us are visual beings, and we like to see things. Remember that phrase when we were kids – out of sight, out of mind? It’s true for our goals. 

There are plenty of coaches who advocate using a vision board for our goals. This is because it makes our goals super visual and keeps us present to them throughout the week. If a vision board is too grandiose, have a pile of post-its that you can jot your goals on and stick them inside your cupboard. Then, every time you meet a goal, rip off the sticky square and toss it away in the bin.

Another helpful way to meet our goals is to have an accountability partner. Financial goals are no different – having a financial advisor who is in your court, knows how you make choices and what you want to achieve in life is highly beneficial to making your goals easier to achieve.

At the end of each day, remind yourself that you’re not alone and that tomorrow is a new day where you can keep working towards something new and awesome!

How much time is your money worth?

As we build businesses and seek to create various income opportunities, we are always confronted with the challenge of pricing. It’s a challenge because all of our situations are different.

Those with qualifications and experience often charge more for their time. But it’s not a sure way to work out billing and costs; sometimes people feel very confident in the value they’re bringing, so rather than looking at the time and experience they bring to their hour of work, they look at the value it brings to the consumer. 

Another differing factor is how much money we all need to make each month to provide for our families and responsibilities.

Regardless of how we reach that “golden number”, the underlying view of all of these approaches assumes we will work out our billing based on a finite amount of hours in the day. So – if I need to earn forty grand, I need to earn x-amount per hour. The problem with this approach is that we lock ourselves into a certain amount of billable hours to cover our costs and make a profit.

The flip side of this coin is that we could say that if we work more hours, then we can earn so much more. If we’re not disciplined, we can become caught in a situation where we become overworked and unbalanced.

So – perhaps, instead of asking how much time we have or how much money we want, we can set a baseline of determining what our time is worth to us. It’s a simple change in perspective that places value on our time rather than how much money we can make.

This immediately places us in a position to start asking new questions about how we perceive and assign value. We start to think about other things that we would rather do with our time if we didn’t need to earn off each “working hour”.

It separates us from the spreadsheet of hourly rate vs hours worked and looks at questions of physical, mental, relational and spiritual health. Instead of weighing up the value of an hour against how much money we earn, we can consider how it has benefited our overall well-being.

As we open ourselves to these different questions, it’s much easier for us to start creating a life and financial plan to which we can feel fully committed. We can set metrics that are independent of market performance, intuitive to our goals and in line with the journey we’ve chosen.

So – how much time is your money worth?

Setting benchmarks

Whilst intentional reflection may happen at the end or beginning of a year or personal growth journey, unintentional reflection happens all the time. And, we barely notice it, most of the time. But, several times a week, if not several times a day, we measure ourselves against something or someone; we’re either measuring ourselves against others or ourselves.

Whether consciously or unconsciously, we set benchmarks all the time. It’s how we discern how well we’re doing, and we can either set internal or external benchmarks. There’s a place for both, but it’s important to start to acknowledge where we’re dropping our anchor. Like a boat on the ocean, we can’t healthily remain anchored in one place all the time, but there are good times and places to drop anchor between floating or sailing.

When it comes to setting benchmarks for growth, it’s often healthier to spend more time with our internal benchmarks and maybe use external benchmarks for lighter references. It’s almost like saying: Look where I am now (external) versus look how far I’ve come (internal).

For someone like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, earning millions a year or selling a company for tens of millions is not really a big deal. But for most of us, it would be life-changing! Likewise, if we look at the performance in specific funds and compare it to the growth in our personal investment portfolio, we may not see a correlation. These are all external benchmarks that are easy to internalise and, if we anchor there, we may feel extremely disheartened in our reflection.

So, when we create a plan, we’re essentially creating a framework for internal benchmarks. These could relate to our financial situation, but they can also apply to every other area in life; personal relationship goals, studying, health, hobbies and community outreach. When we work on our internal benchmarks, it’s helpful to have reference to what’s going on in the world around us.

A poignant example of this is the COVID-19 pandemic that changed the world forever. If we had only considered our internal benchmarks and ignored what was going on externally, we would have felt enormous pressure to perform better. But bringing in the social, economic, political, and health issues of that event helps us to adjust and review our internal benchmarks in a relative context – and still be able to say, “Look how far I’ve come!”.

And, if we’d only anchored in external benchmarks, soley focussed on what was going on around us, we would have been completely overwhelmed. One of the reasons for this is that when we see the success of others, we only see the spotlight on the end achievements and don’t see the hard work, frustration, dissapointment and failed attempts that went in behind the scenes. We then assume that our own journey is not matching up.

If we want to measure our progress in a relatable and balanced manner, it’s important to understand the role of both internal and external benchmarks and learn to be comfortable with moving freely between the two.

Don’t derail your finances

“As you slide down the bannister of life, may the splinters never point the wrong way.” Irish Blessing

When everything is going right, we often feel that something is about to go horribly wrong. Sometimes, it’s helpful to smile at our human traits and do all we can to avoid derailing our plans!

It’s so easy to fall into a self-sabotaging state, especially when things don’t turn out the way we’d hoped. But just because things don’t go the way we want them to doesn’t mean we need to derail everything. We can get back on track and stay on track.

First: Recall your intention

Getting intentional with a financial goal means creating a clear connection between what we’d like to accomplish and why we want to accomplish it. This connection is important to investing our time and energy into our success.

When you get off track, take a moment to step back and revisit why you set this financial goal in the first place. When we recall the inspiration behind our goal and why it’s important, we are encouraged to get back to working on it.

Second: Set realistic expectations

There’s nothing wrong with “hoping for the best” from your investments, but you could be heading for trouble if your financial goals have unrealistic assumptions. Working with investment professionals and financial advisors are key to setting realistic expectations.

Third: Anticipate tough times

Whether you want to get out of debt or you’re hoping to lose weight, change isn’t easy. You’ll encounter some days that are harder than others, and it’s important to accept that there will be a rough road ahead (or some splinters on that bannister).

Consider potential pitfalls and develop a plan for dealing with those times when you might want to give up. When you have a plan, you’ll feel more confident in your ability to keep going.

Fourth: Don’t do it alone

It requires a level of vulnerability, which is why many of us avoid this, but asking for help in either getting started on a goal, or to just be held accountable, can be exactly what you need to see it through.

Whether it’s your partner, friend, family member, coach or advisor, an accountability partner can help kickstart and sustain your progress. Don’t do it alone; appoint people you trust to be there to cheer you along when you’re feeling down or give you the push you need when you’re feeling stagnant.

Five: Mistakes are part of the process

Progress never comes in a straight line. Sometimes we may think that one step back means that we’ve gone back to square one.

Remember, you’re going to mess up sometimes. But rather than declare yourself a dismal failure, use your energy to create a plan to get back on track.

Don’t derail your finances when things go wrong or seem overwhelmingly impossible. Reach out to your support structures, be kind to yourself and take breaks when you need to. You’ve got this!

Avoid being overwhelmed by change

One of the biggest challenges with change is that it can be overwhelming. There are many reasons why we might be averse to constant change, but when it is just simply too much all at once, we will find ourselves overwhelmed and in this space, our ability to make healthy decisions is seriously hampered.

The secret to sustainable, non-overwhelming change is to approach it with the 1% rule. This rule basically recognises that we don’t need to be twice as effective to achieve twice as much. We only need to be a little bit more effective, every single day. Improving 1% and sustaining that change, and then building on it 1% at a time, means that our change will be exponential over the long term.

When we procrastinate and avoid change, we start looking down the barrel of a very intimidating gun and think there’s no way we can survive what faces us. But, if we choose to make small changes every day, we can avoid being overwhelmed by change altogether!

Consider two plants in a forest that have just broken through the soil and catch the early rays of sun on their leaves for the first time. If one plant will grow and take over the area, it doesn’t have to grow twice, three times or even ten times faster than the other one. All it has to do is grow a tiny bit faster each day.

With each day, the plant that grows faster will soak up a little more sunlight, absorb more nutrients and very soon, it will overshadow the other plant. It will most likely be significantly larger and healthier within a few weeks, just by growing a little faster every day.

If you want to change your financial situation, you don’t need to earn double your income or half your expenses. If you want to improve your personal relationships, you don’t have to find twice as much time in your day; you can improve by showing a little more interest every day and showing up 1% more than you do already.

If you want to improve your health, you don’t have to cut sugar, meat, dairy and gluten all at once. You can start by eating clean one day a week (which is actually 1/7, or 14%), then two days, then three, until you reach your healthy sweet spot. Within a few weeks, you’ll realise that you’ve achieved a goal that would have completely overwhelmed you and derailed your plan to change if tackled full-on at the start.

Changing your financial situation could mean changing how you save and spend or changing how you feel and talk about your money. These changes can be daunting, but you can avoid being overwhelmed by change if you can commit to making small changes every day.

How do you measure financial success?

In a recent article from Morningstar, they raised two excellent points about measuring financial success.

Like so many of us, Morningstar believes that great investing advice means understanding our hopes, dreams, and ideals to determine what really matters. It doesn’t just focus on the finish line — it focuses on the journey. Great advice can help people reach their goals.

But what exactly does this look like? How do we measure financial success and reach our goals?

According to the latest research, true financial success comes from two viewpoints: actual financial progress (the numbers) and financial wellbeing or empowerment (the feeling of success or security). These are both important to this conversation as the evidence shows we must achieve both.

A good place to start is to consider our financial progress and our financial wellbeing on a scale of 1 to 10. They can be independently rated as the one will be fairly objective (based on the numbers) and the other will be fairly subjective (based on our feelings). Looking at it in this way can also help us understand which we currently value more than the other and help reframe our perspectives.

For some of us, we will find that if the numbers are good, our feelings are good. For others, we might find contentment regardless of the numbers.   

To demonstrate the evidence, the graph below compares people who feel empowered by their finances with people who don’t. It shows empowered people had mostly positive experiences with their finances, even in the lowest income ranges. Those who felt disempowered were less happy than their peers and didn’t reach the positive range until their annual earnings were well above $100,000 (US-based stats).

 

Source: https://www.morningstar.com/lp/when-more-is-less 

Traditionally, financial planning and advice have centred around “crunching the numbers”. This was because it was perceived as more of a management function and not a relational function. In recent years we have seen a shift from financial planning being a transactional engagement to being more relationship-centric, with products and services taking a back seat along the journey and the advisor riding upfront with their client.

Instead of being on the sidelines, we are partners in prosperity on your road to financial success. The lesson here is fascinating: A sense of financial wellbeing—as well as the money itself—may be the key to success in our financial lives. So, please reach out to me if there are some behavioural traits, such as reinforcing good investing habits, that we can help with. 

Even if you have enough assets to withstand a reasonable economic shock, it doesn’t mean that you won’t be anxious about your finances. On the other end of the spectrum, some of us aren’t in the greatest place economically, and despite best intentions, we still spend with abandon because we feel fine about our finances.

If we want to be truly successful, we must find a balance between the two.

What’s an annuity?

Have you ever heard someone say that you need to make your money work for you? It seems like an impossible achievement for many of us because we immediately think we need a stack of dollar bills to leverage this strategy.

And, that’s not entirely incorrect. We do need a large sum invested, but we don’t necessarily need it all at once, and it’s certainly achievable with a long term plan.

Here’s a quick overview:

  • Annuities are financial products that offer a guaranteed income stream (used primarily to fund retirement)
  • Annuities exist first in an accumulation phase; this is when we fund the product with either a lump-sum or periodic payments (which is why we don’t necessarily need all the money upfront)
  • Once the annuitization phase has been reached, the product begins paying out to the annuitant for either a fixed period or for the annuitant’s remaining lifetime.
  • Annuities can be structured into different kinds of instruments. These are commonly defined as fixed, variable, immediate, and deferred income, which gives investors flexibility.

Let’s dive a little deeper…

Annuities are contracts sold by financial institutions where the funds are invested to pay out a fixed income stream later on. They are mainly used for retirement purposes and help individuals address the risk of outliving their savings. Upon annuitization, the holding institution will issue a stream of payments at a later point in time.

Annuities are appropriate financial products for individuals seeking stable, guaranteed income. Because the lump sum put into the annuity is illiquid and subject to withdrawal penalties, it is not recommended for short term savings or for those with liquidity needs to use this financial product.

A big benefit of well-structured annuities is that holders cannot outlive their income stream, which hedges longevity risk. So long as the investor understands that they are trading a liquid lump sum for a guaranteed series of cash flows, the product is appropriate. Some people hope to cash out an annuity in the future at a profit, however, this is not the intended use of the product.

Immediate annuities are often purchased by people of any age who have received a large lump sum of money and who prefer to exchange it for cash flows into the future. The lottery winner’s curse is the fact that many lottery winners who take the lump sum windfall often spend all of that money in a relatively short period.

Annuities can be structured generally as either fixed or variable.

Fixed annuities provide regular periodic payments to the holder (also called the annuitant) and are often used in retirement planning. Variable annuities allow the owner to receive larger future payments if investments of the annuity fund do well and smaller payments if its investments do poorly. This provides for less stable cash flow than a fixed annuity but allows the annuitant to reap the benefits of strong returns from their fund’s investments.

It’s important to note that annuities are not a sure thing – nothing is! But, inside of a well-built financial portfolio, annuities are helpful products to ensure income at a later stage in life.

The best place to invest

Somehow, despite all the messages to be kinder to ourselves, we have this predisposition to put ourselves down. Along the line, the early messages of “You can do better” become “You’re not good enough.”

We live in an age where the focus is on self. As we scroll through social media, we see countless selfies, all the time hoping to find a like, mention or comment on one of our own posts. Slowly, we begin to see our lives through the lens of everyone else. Some people call this the ego; it’s not who we really are. But this is how we show up every day, and it influences every decision we make and every cent we spend.

In the bestselling book “Eat, Pray, Love”, author Elizabeth Gilbert recounts when she walked into a building in New York City. She was hurrying toward the elevator when she caught a glimpse of herself in a mirror. She didn’t immediately recognize herself. Instead, she thought: “Oh, look! I know her. She’s my friend.”

As Gilbert moved toward her reflection with a smile, ready to hug this person, she realized that she was looking at herself. Later, as she remembered this incident, she was journaling and wrote the following at the bottom of the page:

“Never forget that once upon a time, in an unguarded moment, you recognized yourself as a friend.”

This is a wonderful first step in reminding ourselves that we are good enough and worthy of investment. Ultimately, it’s the best place to invest.

Investing in yourself is an integrated and ongoing practice. It’s not just about mental, physical, emotional or financial kindness; it’s about all of them in a healthy balance. In one sentence, one might say: Spend some money on yourself to do what you want to do to feel better and think happier.

Everyone has a different budget and a different lifestyle, so for one person, it might look like a spa day at a luxury resort; for another, it might be a quiet cup of coffee whilst reading a book for an hour at your local deli. Perhaps it’s going to a movie by yourself or taking a drive along the coast with your family. When you recognize yourself as a friend, you’ll be more willing to invest in yourself.

Whilst these are smaller, day-to-day ideas, you can also invest in yourself by starting a business and believing that you have what it takes to provide your own income. You can also ensure that your medical cover is in place to get great medical care when you need it. As you review your medical cover, you can add other products like GAP, income protection and dread disease benefits.

These are all powerful ways to invest in your best asset: you!