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When to hire a planner

Prospective clients sometimes tell me they’ve been thinking about hiring a planner for a while, and finally there was a reason to do it. Often that reason is a big decision, like a home purchase or a career change, or needing to understand things like equity compensation or how to handle an inheritance. There’s a sense that there needs to be a specific problem or question to be addressed before working with someone. But in truth there’s been some low-grade anxiety and worry playing out in the background for a long time, maybe a feeling that “things seem ok, but I don’t truly feel like I’m in control of it”. It doesn’t seem big enough to prioritize, but it never really goes away, either. And in the meantime, life’s other complications and distractions multiply. But the experience of working with a planner is meant to ease the stress of feeling like you aren’t really sure things are working like they should.

So what happens in a planning engagement if you don’t have an explicit time bound decision to make, you’re not about to retire, and you don’t have a substantial investment portfolio?

A comprehensive financial planning process reviews your cash flow, your existing investments, your insurance coverage, and your tax projections, and puts some things together:

  • First of all, what do you, personally, want out of your money? What are your dreams and your visions for the rest of your life? What is most important to you?

  • Are you making the most of what you have? Are there strategies or ideas that are appropriate to pursue? Is there a gap somewhere (in insurance coverage for example, or in investment accounts) that could be filled?

  • Are you on a path to achieving your ideal future, or for giving yourself the flexibility to determine what that might be? Do some adjustments need to be made?

  • Could you reduce fees or inefficiencies somewhere? Are the dollars doing their respective jobs the way they should?

When there is something urgent that prompts someone to reach out, that gets prioritized, within the context of the broader plan. But having that priority is not a prerequisite for the rest of the work. In a lot of ways, it’s preferable to work through these points when you don’t have the pressure of a looming decision deadline! Then you and your planner can really take the time needed to consider your thoughts and construct the best plan. And this is a process that should be revisited and reworked periodically, to ensure the plan remains viable and current as new rules and ideas emerge, and certainly as your life evolves.


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