Inviting someone in to assess your financial circumstances and then help you get your financial house in order, can be as attractive as going to the dentist. You know it is the right thing to do, but after possibly years of not seeing the dentist you are embarrassed to open your mouth and dreading the inevitable pain as the hygienist asks you how often do you floss?
Financial professionals may not poke your gums with sharp objects, but it does not always feel good when they ask you to divulge the financial details of your life, especially if you feel your finances are a mess. Underneath it all, you can feel evaluated at a very personal level because what we do with our money can be a reflection of who we are and the values we live.
For the past three years, my practice has focused on individuals with disabilities and their supporting families. I have found that financial planning has its stressful moments for us all, even in the most ideal and optimistic circumstances where resources are abundant. Many families in the middle income bracket earn reasonable salaries, but few feel they have enough to accomplish everything they want or need. Parents of children with disabilities have additional concerns, especially if their child will require financial support into adulthood and for the duration of their life. For them, the choices can be that much more challenging
Ironically, often times the embarrassment is not the result of bad decisions; it is the result of decisions not made and action not taken. Generally speaking, people know what they need to do for the short and long-term, at least at basic level. It does not take an expert to realize you should save money so you do not have to work so hard (or at all) in your sixties, or that you should have life insurance if you are raising three kids under the age of 10. When everything looks important, we are apt to shut down because we can’t afford it all, yet we don’t want to sacrifice anything. As a result, parents who think they have to do everything ASAP are at risk of doing nothing.
If financial planning were only a numbers game, people would be in much better shape. Planning would be a mechanical exercise and decisions easily made. The reality is financial planning is not just a numbers game; it is a human one as well. When you have more responsibilities than resources to match, it is a challenge to separate emotion in order to make clear-headed decisions. When faced with making tough choices, it is a very human reaction to not make a choice at all.
Parents of children with disabilities have added responsibilities and often times fewer resources. With more responsibilities they have more tough choices to make, some of them quite challenging. Often times, the choices are not a matter of determining what is the right decision versus the wrong one; they are choices about multiple priorities. All are important, but the resources are not there to satisfy all of them, at least not at the same time. Do they direct their resources and efforts to save for the future, buy the right insurance, pay down debt, save for a needed purchase? It is difficult to feel good about taking a step in down one important path when they feel they are abandoning the others. No wonder we don’t like to talk about our finances.
Realize that not everything can be done at once. A financial plan is not devised and fully implemented in a day or a matter of weeks. Yes, it requires thoughtful and sometimes difficult choices, but it also requires thoughtful, coordinated action which may take as long as one to two years to implement, followed by regular maintenance. If a mix of priorities is blocking you from moving forward, try to realize that most people and families are not able to do everything at once either, however, the families that approach planning in a measured, thoughtful fashion will accomplish much more in the long run. Maybe even more than they originally thought possible.
If you think it is time to see a financial professional, find one who has the knowledge and skills to understand your circumstances, the challenges and the priorities. They should also understand the human aspect and act accordingly. If they don’t, I would question if you have invited the right person in to poke around in your finances.