Why Getting Your Story is Important

Lewis Walker |

When a person thinks about contacting a financial planner, often he or she has a money question; perhaps how deal with a short-term situation, or long-range planning for major life events such as buying a home, funding educations for children, dealing with issues of aging, retirement, starting or selling a closely-held business. Decisions about major life challenges and transitions transcend money. Emotions, feelings, and values come into play and must be understood. What makes you happy? What makes you nervous?

If multiple people are involved in a decision, such as a spouse, adult child or other family member, a business partner, for example, it’s important that a financial advisor have a deep understanding as to everyone’s values and emotional relationships with money. Your advisor needs to know your story before a plan is developed and recommendations are made.

Growing up, this writer never received an allowance. If I was to have money, I had to earn it. Plus, I grew up with two very different childhoods, both of which shaped my attitudes toward money and life itself. From birth to age ten I was raised by my maternal grandparents in Flushing, Long Island, New York. World War II was raging and a “junkman” would come around and collect materials such as metals, glass, rags, paper, and rubber, anything that could be recycled to support the war effort. I took my red Radio Flyer wagon around the neighborhood, collecting items to sell to the junkman. I found that I really liked getting paid and having money.

From age ten until I left home at age eighteen for college, I lived with my mom and stepfather in Jacksonville, Florida. My stepfather, a Greyhound bus driver, was an authoritarian and expected me to do a variety of chores, which included yardwork, housework, and care of a dog kennel as he raised hunting hounds. While I did not get an allowance, when a momma dog had a litter of puppies, I could select one pup to sell. I hated selling the dog but I liked getting paid for my labors. In addition to school and a myriad of chores and caring for the animals, I was always thinking of ways to make money, such as selling potted plants obtained from a wholesale nursery up the street, a comic book exchange, and part-time jobs. In college I worked for the university and for three years also had a paper route on campus. I learned that hard work has rewards, which had a great deal of influence on my choice of self-employment and entrepreneurship for most of my career.

My mom and stepdad worked hard but my mom frequently joked about “too much month at the end of the money,” except she wasn’t kidding and that caused constant stress and anxiety. After paying off my college loans, and after I left military service as an Air force officer and married, I resolved to accumulate enough liquid capital as soon as possible so that I and my family could live for a minimum of one year with no paycheck.

Think about that. That’s financial freedom, knowing that you can deal with setbacks such as loss of your job or some other interruption in your income stream. It gives you the flexibility to change jobs or careers if you wish. Financial security confers freedom of choice and that’s worth working towards.

That’s my story. What’s yours?  Where and how did you grow up? What has shaped your relationship with money? How soon would you like to be financially independent, to have the choice of working or not working? That may be a far better question than, “When would you like to retire?” Some people regard “retirement” as the ending of something; they worry about losing purpose, being bored. Financial independence, and the choices and options financial freedom provides, reduces anxiety, boosts energy, and funds purpose-fulfilling generosity, whether to family, other loved ones, friends, charities, and other causes that you care about.

Of course, there’s a downside to success and having ample money, especially if it fuels bad habits and destructive behavior. Religious underpinnings and solid values often are important to the prudent uses of money and talent, and that’s a part of your story that an advisor should understand. “Financial life planning” encompasses far more than investment policy and money questions. What’s the next chapter in your story?