In this article, we examine a real life example of financial planning in action.
Several years ago, one of my clients came to me with a question.
Can I afford to retire early?
Jacki, she said, I really want to retire early. Can I afford to? (Some details have been changed to preserve client privacy.)
I did what financial planners do – I investigated. I asked a lot of questions, and did a lot of research. Let’s call my client Megan. I asked her: What do you imagine your life looks like if you’re not going to work each day? Would you stay in your current home, or live in a different style of home or even different state? What might you be willing to cut out of your current expenses, if you had to?
Then I did a lot of research. What social security or pension benefits, if any, would she qualify for? How much would it cost to live the way she wants in retirement? What would she do for healthcare, and how much would that cost? How much did she have accumulated in savings through her employer’s 401k and other resources?
After walking through several detailed scenarios and discussing the merits of each, Megan decided to retire. It might require some scaling back but at the end of the day, Megan felt the trade-offs were worth the extra time freedom she would gain by retiring early. She told me that she had confidence in her decision, and when her co-workers and loved ones questioned her (What are you going to do with all that free time? Are you sure about this?) – she could answer them confidently and with enthusiasm about what her life would soon be.
Can I afford to buy a sailboat?
Fast forward a couple years, and Megan’s enjoying retirement very much, but life is always different than you think it’s going to be. Megan called me with a new request: she really wants to buy a sailboat. She’s researched it, she says, and knows how much it will cost, where she will store it, how often she’ll use it, etc. She’s even been taking sailing lessons to brush up on piloting skills learned in her youth. She wants to know, can she afford it?
Fortunately, she had been following the initial financial plan we created a couple years earlier: living within her means, cutting back on unnecessary expenses, and investing the money she had available for potential compound interest growth.
After some more research, I was happy to be able to say, yes – spend the money on the sailboat! She was so excited to let me know when the boat was purchased, and has since spent many happy hours enjoying the boat with her friends and family.
When I think of what financial planning can do, I think of Megan’s sailboat.
I imagine Megan piloting the boat with confidence on a beautiful breezy summer afternoon, surrounded by good friends. The financial planning work she and I did together gave her the clarity to feel confident about some big decisions she made in her life. She understood the trade offs she might experience due to possible lower income in an early retirement. But she was able to make the decision that was best for her, with all the knowledge that a good financial plan can offer.
In the best case scenario, spending the time to work on a financial plan can deliver clarity around your finances in a way you never had before. And that clarity can lead to making more informed choices about what you do now with your money.