The beginning of each new year beckons us to keep the good from last year and shed the bad. “New year, new you!” they say. Try a Dry January. Make a resolution to take 10,000 steps each day. Less red meat? More water and sleep? Consider reading a new book each week.
What if you just want to remember how to make smart decisions?
Unfortunately for the world, 2022 started off with omicron zipping through communities like wildfire, reminding us all that our intentions to get back to normal may be stymied for a bit longer. The uncertainty of omicron forces us - once again - to make short-term decisions based on limited facts that we don’t like. Whether it’s a family deciding to keep their children home from school or a business dealing with sick employees and customer protocols, omicron offers us another round of spontaneous decisions that seem to shift by the day and by the hour. And apparently, it’s exhausting.
Many people are struggling with making decisions of all different magnitudes, from what to eat for dinner to where to live. The American Psychological Association conducted a study last year and found that “...nearly two-thirds of adults (63%) agreed that uncertainty about what the next few months will be like causes them stress, and around half (49%) went further to say that the coronavirus pandemic makes planning for their future feel impossible.”
According to a recent Wall Street Journal article, decision fatigue is real. Even if you keep plowing ahead and making decisions, the rules may change again, making your once-grounded decision a poor choice. After two years of an ever-changing environment, it’s understandable if most of us feel like we no longer have a natural decision tree that leads us to an answer that feels right for us. The WSJ cites a recommendation from Dane Jensen, author of the book “The Power of Pressure.” Jensen says that when you are dealing with day-to-day decisions, “Try replacing individual choices with overarching principles that do the work for you.”
When a family comes to us to design their financial plan, we know that they are expecting to cross an item off of their “to do” list, as if having the plan is the end result. The truth is that a well-designed financial plan is a beginning, not an end.
At BFS Advisory Group, our plan design starts with a conversation about the vision that our client is seeking - not the delivery of a plan, but the result of having a plan in place. We discuss our clients’ values from the very beginning, so that we know that the plan will serve their long-term goals for their lives. The next step is a litany of questions… How do you want to spend your time in your life? Do you have the type of job that will give you that life? What stress do you want to relieve? What relationship do you want to have with your money? What can help you be more confident about your money?
The key is to truly begin with the end in mind, with a clear vision of what a properly designed financial plan will mean in your life - not “sell my company for $xx million” but rather “build a company that can thrive under a new owner and will allow me to be financially independent and able to travel the world.” The goal to sell a company for a dollar amount may result in you working until you are 80 years old to achieve that goal. The latter goal may encourage you to make different decisions to expedite growth, to understand what you value about financial independence, and how you can achieve it in your own life. This is how a plan (especially a financial plan) can simplify and motivate your decision-making.
Once you have a financial plan that is grounded in your values and designed with the end in mind, your decision tree springs to life. I recently spoke to a client who was asking if she could afford to buy an asset that was outside of her normal spending habits. She really, really wanted it, and she could - on paper - afford it. But her financial plan is designed to support a dream to retire early and travel the world. I asked if she would delay retirement or forego a trip to buy this asset. Her immediate response, “No.”
While the ability to make decisions in the moment has been necessary over the past two years, it’s crucial to train your focus on what you are really trying to achieve over time, even if that time continues to offer a shifting landscape. As you navigate the next few months and possibly years with decisions that seem to shorten your horizon, we encourage you to keep the following in mind:
- Start with the end in mind.
- Consider your values.
- Run your decisions through your decision tree.
If you are ready for strategic thinking with your money so that you can have the life you want, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Debra Brennan Tagg is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional and the creator of the DBT360 Financial Plan, a proprietary program that helps her clients prioritize their goals, leverage their resources, and address their risks. She is the president of BFS Advisory Group and teaches the public and the financial services industry about the importance of values-based financial planning and investor education.