On Making Financial Change

 

present
What gift will you give yourself?

 

I was chatting to a friend of mine over a cup of coffee one day when we got around to the topic of spending. He mentioned that his father had a phrase he would say to his mother on occasion. When she was thinking of buying something new, he would turn to her and say, ‘well dear, what do we have to throw out to make room for that?’

With this question, my friend’s dad had interrupted his wife in the middle of what marketers call the sales funnel and brought her back into the reality of her life. Somewhere the marketers try to take us out of. Instead of thinking about what could be, the dream that we are sold, her husband had grounded her in the reality of what is – and whether there was any room for this potential new purchase in their life.

This conversation highlighted a very important part of financial planning – how we spend the income we currently have.

As part of the big question that we ask our clients, we also ask them what has to change financially to ensure that they can reach their goals. The money we spend is an enormous resource that we rarely examine. When we do look at it, we can tend to do so in a negative way. However, examining our spending patterns can provide us with an opportunity to make considered decisions that can be potentially life changing.

Our income is usually a finite resource. If you work for somebody you know that at the end of each month you will take home X amount of money. You may get a bonus at the end of the year, which is Y and the two of them combined is the amount of money you have available to you. If you run your own business, you may be able to draw more income, but you will have to drive your business harder to achieve that extra income.

When we talk to someone about reviewing their expenditure they usually begin with the obvious expenses. They look at their utilities, the interest rates on their lending, their phone and internet providers to check that they’re getting a good deal for their money. There are always deals to be had when you shop around. These expenses usually show up on our bank statements at the end of each quarter and so are easy to remember as recurring expenses. But what about the cash?

It’s not so easy to see where cash goes and what we’re spending it on. Some of us stop at a cash machine multiple times in a week, we may withdraw twenty or fifty quid and before we know it, it’s gone – and worse, often we don’t know where it went. Finding out where that money is going is of vast benefit when trying to get a handle on our finances. This pattern of spending is so ingrained in our daily activities that we don’t even notice the action of putting our hand into our wallet and taking out the cash at the train station, while grabbing a bottle of water on the way to the gym, having a coffee mid-afternoon, or even in the evening when we pick up some groceries on the way home from work. We spend on auto-pilot much of the time and that liquid resource seeps through the cracks without us even realising it.

When you make the decision to record where you are actually spending your money – instead of estimating, or guessing where you spend it, many people find it is a liberating activity. Yes, it takes time and effort, you need to record each and every purchase, down to the tiniest detail, such as a packet of chewing gum.

The process by which we encourage our clients to record their spending is as low-tech as you can get. But it works! All you have to do is collect your receipts, just as you would if you were spending petty cash belonging to your company. Take two empty jam jars and at the end of every day deposit your receipts into the jar for household expenses or for business expenses. You may find that even if you are an employee, at times you shell out your own cash to cover work expenses, if you do, that’s something you need to be aware of.

In order to get a thorough picture of your spending patterns, a week’s record here or there won’t suffice. You need to commit to this for a three-month period to really see where you are spending your money. You may find that during the first few weeks of your experiment, you don’t spend that much outside of what you had budgeted for, much like on the first weeks of a diet we behave ourselves, we’re full of enthusiasm to do this right, but before long our resolve weakens and we slip back into our old habits – and those are the habits you want to record, even though they may be a little uncomfortable to acknowledge. There is great power in knowing just how in or out of control our spending is. As long as we keep our heads in the sand about how we spend our money, the less chance there is that we will achieve those things in life we want for ourselves.

At the end of the three months, allocate some time to sit down and go through the receipts. You can either input them into a spreadsheet, or a record book, if that is your preference. Create as many categories as necessary and input all expenses into the relevant section. There is no need to be critical at this point, you are simply capturing the information to see where you are right now.

Having collected the raw data and put it into a digestible format, when you do begin a review of your spending it should not be about berating yourself or others for this resource was used in the past. It is about how to use it better in the future. It is not productive to focus on the negatives here. Try to be as objective as possible and learn from what you see rather than judging it. You can ask questions of yourself, such as ‘do I want to spend that much money on a given expense going forward?’, ‘Do we get the benefit of that money?’, ‘Would we prefer to spend that money in other ways?’

You may also discover that you are spending money that you didn’t even realise, there may be a standing order that you forget about for a subscription service you don’t bother with anymore. When you discover these expenses, you essentially get more money in your pocket as now you can make considered decision about how to use this resource.

This exercise is not intended as a way of reducing your capacity to live a good lifestyle. It is intended to help you make informed decisions about your lifestyle, eliminating elements that are not important in order to make way for things that are.

For example, there’s a deli counter nearby where I could get a sandwich made up on a daily basis for under €5. They have a ‘meal deal’ where I can add on a drink and a packet of crisps for an extra Euro. That’s fine, except that I would normally choose water, which I could just as easily take from the tap and I don’t need the crisps. And, I’m not actually that fond of the sandwiches. If I was a little more organised, I could make my own, more enjoyable lunch each morning and save the money. That doesn’t restrict my lifestyle, it enhances it!

Having done all this hard work of examining where the money is spent, and clawing back some funds for yourself to spend elsewhere, it is important to put a plan in place so that you can make the most of that surplus you now have access to. Whatever you decide to do with it, you want to feel some real benefits as a result of this choice. The benefits must be tangible, so that you can feel and appreciate them. Otherwise, what’s the point?

This task is not exactly fun for most people, it’s a chore to have to remember to collect receipts, but if you can capture and reallocate some funds for you and your family and choose carefully what to do with them, the results can be life changing.

Sometimes, it can help to get an independent person to help you make the decisions around what to do with that hard-won money. We all need encouragement and support from time to time and it can be of benefit to work with someone over a sustained period of time who understands the goals that you’re trying to achieve. They can also nudge you to continue when it would be easier to fall back into your old familiar ways.

Small consistent changes are the things that change lives. It is not one big act that will take you from where you are today to where you want to be, but consistent action every day. The cash flow models that we use enable us to show our clients how the small changes they make today can yield huge benefits in terms of lifestyle changes in ten or fifteen years down the road.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but a solid foundation today can pave the way for a bright future tomorrow and in the years to come. What are you waiting for?

 

Advertisements

On How to Approach Personal Change

personal change swing

One of the questions we ask our clients is a rather large question that comes with a difficult set of answers. Sometimes it poses a great challenge to our clients.

The question is “if having completed financial planning with us over three years and it has worked for you, looking back over that time, what had to change personally, professionally and financially to achieve that success?”

When you are talking to someone you have never met before the question of personal change is not an easy one to discuss. Nobody likes change, it’s uncomfortable, we like routine, we feel better when we know what’s coming around the corner, we prefer to stay within our comfort zone.

However, to achieve goals we must allow change, or we’ll never reach our goals.

Quite some time ago, an old friend of mine, Martin Toner, The Golf Specialist, introduced me to golf.

Martin gave me the gift of enjoying the game. He’s not your normal ‘swing guy’ who teaches you to knock a ball down the fairway. Instead, he helps his students to understand how golf works and how to extract more enjoyment from their efforts.

Having developed my swing, he went on to teach me a crucial lesson. We were on the golf course one afternoon when he asked me “what are you trying to do?”

We were standing on the tee box, and again he asked, “what do you want to do with the ball?”

I thought the answer was obvious. “You want to get the ball as close to the hole as possible in as few shots as possible”.

His response to this was no. He explained you want to get the ball in the hole. Not near the hole, not beside the hole or close to the hole. In the hole.

The hole with the flag sticking out of it on the greenway in the distance is your goal. Get the ball in that cup.

Your goal may be three years away now, but you know what you want, you can see it in the distance. You can taste it. But how do you get there? You could close your eyes, swing, and hope for the best.

Or you can be strategic about it. To do this, you have to work back from that flag waving in the distance to the point at which you’re standing. This helps you to see where your interim goals are. You can decide how many shots it will take to get to the hole.  You can spot obstacles in your way and also you can choose which clubs are the best ones to help you send the ball in the right direction.

With that one key objective in mind, you can swing with defined purpose. Personal change is the exact same. The journey from your starting point to the end goal needs to be mapped out if you want to have your best chance of success.

There will inevitably be unexpected obstacles as you make your way along your course. Your view may get obscured at times, a breeze may pick up along the way which sends your ball in a different direction than you had intended. Life gets in the way and so you may have to consider altering your strategy in the short term until you get back on track.

Though you have a goal in mind, there is never only one way of achieving it. Our minds work differently and so the approach that seems apparent to us is not the only way. If you run into obstacles, thinking outside the box may help you to think differently about how to get to where you want to be.

Even just having an open conversation with your loved ones about the best approach to take can help open up other options. At the end of the day, we have to remember that personal change more often than not affects more people than just ourselves. It’s always a better idea to discuss your hopes and plans with those who will feel the impact of your decisions on their lives. When you have support from the sidelines it spurs you on when the going gets tough and means that you have people to celebrate your achievement with when you reach your goal.

Though personal change can be difficult, when the outcome is something that truly resonates with you on a deep, meaningful level, then in my experience, the discomfort of growing pains are worth it in the long term.

Family Comes First

Family Comes First

When I started out in this business back in the 1970’s, I had to learn my trade and how to negotiate the sale of life insurance, pensions, and investment products. One the realisations I had at that time, was that people actually die. This may sound like a late realisation on my part, but I was a young man who had never experienced the death of a loved one. Thankfully, death hadn’t been on my radar at that point in my life.

As the old saying goes, there are only two certainties in life, death and taxes.

I read a lot during those early days and a couple of books impacted on me during that period. Sitting here at my desk many years later, my eye is caught by a row of books I have. There are titles on smarter investing, the tricks of the rich and passing on the family business among others. I have these books as they help me to help my clients. They keep me informed and provide new ideas which can make a difference in people’s lives. But one book that has stuck with me more than any other has been How I Raised Myself From Failure to Success in Selling. It was written in the 1930’s by an American named Frank Bettger. Bettger entered the insurance business having first worked as a pitcher for the New York Yankees. Due to an injury, he had to give up his beloved sport, and then entered the world of financial services.

In his book, one of the things that struck me was a piece of advice he was given by an older member of staff. This senior member of the team took him aside when he saw Bettger struggling in his attempts to increase sales. His advice was this – when you get a family in front of you, you may be the only representative of the financial services industry that this family will ever meet. The advice that you give them, may also be the only advice that they have access to. The Life Insurance money that you garner for them may be the only money they see – and they may have to live off that. Therefore, what you do – or don’t do, will impact on this family for years after you have left.

This statement is now truer today than it has ever been.

 I didn’t understand it’s meaning in full until we had a regulator imposed on our industry. At around this time that a great number of qualified people left the industry and now there are significantly fewer professionals available to go and talk to families about their needs.

Everybody will die, it’s just a question of timing.

The joke in the business back when I joined it was that it was better to be 60 than to be 50. That’s because the average age of death is 57 to 58 years of age. Astonishingly, 97% of all claims under life insurance policies are paid without question. Our industry provides for families without question faster than any other industry does.

Recently, one of Irelands foremost Life Companies confirmed that they pay out an average claim value of €120,000 across all the range of Life Insurance products they have.  A paltry sum. This money can include payouts to cover home loans and debt. So, what is left for families to live on?

Life insurance is one of those things, you either have enough, or you don’t and judging from the above figure, most people do not have enough. The amount of life insurance that people should carry depends upon their own personal circumstances. €120,000 is not a lot of money, it’s about three years’ income for an average worker. Is that sufficient to take care of a family?

Some people may feel better about the fact that they have a house which they can leave, but I like to remind them that you ‘can’t eat a house’, especially when the family needs to live in it.

Life insurance does not cost a fortune. This is the foundation stone of financial planning. Before we explore any question of investing, we must examine the question of what happens when you’re not here. What will the financial impact of your death be for your family? Hopefully, it won’t happen for many, many years – but there is little point in pinning your family’s financial future on ‘hopefully’.

If you do not begin your financial health on this one key step, then if something goes wrong today, or tomorrow, the whole financial plan can come tumbling down around your family’s ears. Start with the most important step of life insurance and then go from there. Savings and investments are important, but they should never be put ahead of your family’s security.

Family always comes first.

In his book Enough, Paul Armson asks the question ‘how much is enough?’ If the answer is ‘I don’t know’, then take the time to talk to a professional. All it takes is a phone call to start ensuring that your family will be provided for if something were to happen to you. If it’s taken care of now, you won’t have to worry about it in the future.

The Three Hats of a Financial Planner

Financial planning is a complex process involving a lot more than numbers. As financial planners, we address our clients’ deepest hopes and fears and help to craft the best outcome for them. In doing so, we could be said to wear three hats. Let’s see what each of them involve.

Problem Solver

When our clients meet us sometimes they’re over-extended with insufficient income, lacking pension funding sources and they have significant levels of debt. These clients may be losing sleep over financial worries. There may be a concern in the back of their mind which they haven’t felt able to vocalise with anyone for fear of spreading the worry. They may be worrying about bills that are due at the end of the month. Or they may be feeling disheartened that they have worked for so many years and have nothing to show for it at the end. Many people reach the latter years of their working lives with less money in their bank accounts than they expected and thus feel disillusioned and disappointed.
worrying-about-money
Our job is to bring these worried clients to a place of understanding where they stand right now. Through listening and asking the right questions, we can figure out what lies at the heart of the concern. As the old saying goes, a problem shared is a problem halved. This is definitely the case when the person you have shared that concern with can see that the issue isn’t insurmountable. When we’re overwhelmed by a problem it is more difficult to think it through objectively. In this state of panic, solutions don’t make themselves known. But, by sitting down and examining the concern from a calm perspective with your financial planner, a way through can be found and planned for. At the most basic level, in meetings such as this, a stressed client goes away knowing that they’re not in this alone – and that, in itself, can be very comforting.
There is nothing wrong with facing financial worries or problems, it is a part of life which most of us come up against at some point or another.
In our business, we use all the financial tools in the market to find the best match for our client’s particular needs. Our clients don’t want products, they want solutions and we deliver that by taking the time to understand the complexity of our client’s situations and with them, choosing the best course of action for them. We ensure that if someone gets sick or dies that there will be enough resources available to ensure that the family’s lifestyle doesn’t have to change as a result of lack of funds.

Future Planner

We help people to envisage what it is that they want for themselves and their families in the future. It is easy to get lost in the details of setting up financial arrangements, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to the lifestyle you desire for yourself and your family.
When a client presents their vision for the future, we play devil’s advocate, questioning it to make sure it is what they truly want, rather than a vision that they think they ought to have. This is part of the benefit of being outside the emotion of the situation, we can be impartial.
Once they are clear on what it is that they want, we can help them to achieve it. We also cling onto it for them. When the bustle of everyday life takes over, it can be easy to lapse into autopilot, forgetting the plans we made for, and the promises we made, to ourselves. We can remind you of these plans when life gets in the way.
financial-freedom

Mentor

We mentor our clients to keep their vision in the forefront of their minds as they go about life. Sometimes our vision needs to change in line with developments in life and so building a vision for the future is not a once off event, but an on-going process. Problems can arise when we least expect it in life, but sometimes a problem can be flagged before it has become a difficult one. We aim to spot these hazards before they crop up so that our clients are best prepared to deal with them when they do. We help our clients to keep their vision alive while taking care of the bumps along the road.
In line with this way of working, we charge fees so that we don’t have to sell our clients anything unless it is what is best for them. This way, we act as our clients’ right arm in planning their finances and are happy to continue as such for as long as they are happy with the situation. It is a position of great trust and it is fantastic to see our clients come closer to reaching their dreams and saying goodbye to stress and worry.

If Not Us, Then Who?

When Legislation Restricts Access to Important Advice

legislation_0

Irish people have long held a reputation for being generous to those less well off. The number of charitable donations made in Ireland each year have secured us a place at the top of the World Giving Index year after year. Historically, we have come from a place where hunger and poverty were the norm. As a result, communities often banded together to help one another in times of crisis. Luckily, our little country has come a long way since famine times, yet the drive to help and support each other when things go bad remains.

A recent example of this was seen in the media following the tragic death of a Dublin City Council worker while on holidays on the Spanish island of Majorca with his family. In the aftermath of his death, the man’s colleagues got together to support his partner and children when they did not receive the benefits of the pension arrangement. This need not have happened in Dublin in 2016.

How did we end up here? The population of Ireland today is comprised of a diverse group of people living in many different family situations. When I started in the business 40 years ago there were two types of people, those who were married and those who were single. Variations on those two situations were as rare as hen’s teeth. Today, while family life carries on, day in, day out for those who are separated, divorced, remarried, cohabiting, in a range of gender combinations, the legal ramifications for these diverse families are very complicated and need to be considered. Simply put, the legislation has not kept up with our changing social landscape. It is a fact of life that people don’t often think of their legal situation until something happens that forces them to deal with it.

Professional financial advisers deal with clients in a range of family situations every day of the week. What happened to the family mentioned above could have been avoided with a simple declaration of wishes being signed. But without someone to tell them what to do in order to protect their family in the event of death, how would they know what to do? If things do not change, these cases will arise time and time again.

When, in 2001, legislation was introduced in this country with the aim of protecting the public, a set of circumstances has arisen whereby we, as professionals, can no longer make contact with ordinary folk unless they are referred to us first. The unfortunate result of this is that they can no longer access the advice that they need. This results in the situation mentioned above.

The financial regulator is currently undertaking a review of the remuneration packages available to intermediaries. A similar review was carried out in the U.K. in 2012 by the FSA’s RDR which eliminated the remuneration packages available to intermediaries. As a direct consequence of this, and the reduced profitability in the industry, vast numbers of people left the industry. The banks exited the life insurance and advice market with the result that whole swathes of British people can no longer access advice from financial professionals except at very high costs.

Once the review is completed in Ireland there may well be negative consequences for ordinary people here. And this is something we ought to be seriously concerned about as a State. As the level of uninsured people increases (beyond the statutory mortgage protection policy) there will be a demand for more financial supports for widowed people and their dependent children, a demand which will ultimately fall to the State.

The law of unforeseen consequences comes into play when we start fiddling about with the market. The consequences of our well-meaning decisions have long reaching effects. The legislative changes implemented in 2001 have brought about consequences which have still not been ironed out fifteen years later.

Everybody in this industry knows that life insurance is sold, not bought. People don’t come looking for it early in their lives as they, understandably, have other priorities. This  goes back to the time of Julius Caesar, when soldiers had to be forced to sign the forms which would deduct funds from their wages to provide for their families in the event of their death in battle; funds which would mean the difference between a life of relative comfort or one of abject poverty.

If we in the industry are not allowed to contact people to help them navigate the difficult terrain that comes with diverse family situations, then who will do it? All of the stakeholders have a responsibility to ensure that we avoid these kinds of traps. Our businesses need to be viable so that they can continue, and be accessible to all, so that we all have the opportunity to provide for our loved ones when the unforeseen arises.

Financial Planning

What is it? – (and what is it not?)

When I meet people for the first time and they ask what I do, the usual response I get is ‘Oh, I’ve got all the life insurance I need, I’m putting money away in my pension and I’m happy with my broker’.

That’s not an unusual response because the insurance industry has promoted the idea that financial planning is about having enough money in pensions, about saving enough money, buying life insurance, protecting your income etc, etc, etc. When it comes to investments all the talk is about the value of money going up & the value of money going down. The industry has fed this idea to people for years.

A popular view of a financial planner is that ‘he wants to sell me something, he’s got great ideas & the latest whizz-bang which will turn my world around and make me wonderful’. That is not what financial planning is about.

So, what is financial planning? It’s about making sure that the things that you’ve got – your income, your assets, and your expenditure – delivers for you what you want out of life, the way you want it.

It’s about giving you the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you will be able to afford those 3rd level fees and that you can take those holidays every year. It assures you that you can change the car on a regular basis while looking after your family, and makes it possible to be able to retire at the time that is right for you.

Family Holiday

It’s about delivering what you want out of life, the way you want it – and making sure you have enough of what you need, at the right time – when you need it, to deliver what you would like to deliver for your family. It brings the peace of mind that arises when you know where you are at the moment. It has very little to do with investments and pensions and savings. They are the building blocks of your future financial life and they have a place in financial planning.

But planning your life in line with your vision is more important than anything else.

I can’t count the numbers of times in my career, of 40 years, that I’ve heard the same question – ‘Where does all the money go?, We never seem to have any.’

This question is usually followed by ‘What are we going to do?’ and ‘Will we have enough?’ Those are the foundations of what financial planning should be about. It’s about answering those questions. It’s about making sure that the income that comes into the house actually does what it’s supposed to do. It shows up where the holes are that the money falls through. It reveals what you need to put away over a long period of time and makes sure that you’re actually delivering the lifestyle you want for yourselves.

stock-footage-active-retired-couple-enjoying-a-leisure-day-out-cycling-by-the-water

After 40 years in the business, I know that retirement is not about pensions. It’s about a new kind of life, one that exists on the other side of not having to work anymore. And to make sure that your new life is a great one, it needs to be planned for – and that takes time and effort. It requires a lot of thought to deliver what it is that you need.

Once you know where you want to go you have a road map, and then you can put all the other bits & pieces in place to make sure that it delivers what you want, as you need it. And that is what financial planning is really about.