Tending to the Garden of Your Financial Plan

Until I bought my house, I never in my adult life had a yard. A yard was never a goal of mine either.  City parks, beaches, and vacations have always been enough nature to satisfy me. I’ve killed a houseplant or two in my day. In the last five years, I have learned a lot about my gardening style. One of our first garden projects included ripping out every plant and tree in the backyard. We ordered a dump truck filled with topsoil and two pallets of St. Augustine sod. We demoed the huge deck with plans to replace it, only to find that we enjoyed the extra space.

I focused on the big picture, the long game of trees and plants that would take years to grow to their planned size and shape. My husband, meanwhile, was planting a myriad of small, food producing, annuals amongst my long-term plans. At first, he placed pepper plants between the three small Confederate jasmines I envisioned growing together on the back fence. In the three years it took for the jasmine to grow into that beautiful wall of sweet smelling, early spring flowers, we enjoyed a host of delicious, hot peppers. But eventually, he had to concede the space to the jasmine. He loved to plant squash, cucumber, or melon near my young gardenia. We would enjoy a few vegetables before I would insist he remove the perpetrators threatening to smother my flowering hedge. This month, he finally pulled the ginormous pepper plant next to my lemon tree. The tree took over the space and has no less than 500 fruit this season.

lemon tree

Five years in, my long-term plans are finally taking shape. But I am thankful for all the delicious food  we grew along the way. We still have room for edible delicacies. I look forward to cooking hearty mustard greens for Thanksgiving in a couple of weeks. Maybe we finally have the right combination of blueberry bushes to see a meaningful harvest this summer.

mustard greens

Much like my eclectic backyard garden, financial plans will shift and change over time. Financial goals are nothing more than a best guess about the future. This is the main reason I no longer print 25-50 page reports when presenting a plan for the first time or when reviewing one with a client. The moment that ink dries, something has already changed. This is also the reason we review financial plans multiple times a year with clients. There is always new information; a goal to be deleted here and a new one added there.

A relative dies and leaves an unexpected inheritance. A job opportunity arises for one spouse in a different city.  As your carefully planned and previously announced retirement date approaches, your boss approaches you with a sweetheart deal to work part-time for a few more years. Your son is applying to college this fall, does it make sense to pay off the mortgage before filing the FAFSA? Your elderly mother is having serious health issues and you need to take time off to care for her. You thought you could work another four years, but there’s no joy in going to the office anymore. Does your plan still work if you retire next year? The kids are grown and you no longer need life insurance, but you bought a whole life policy 25 years ago with $50,000 in cash value. What are your options for utilizing this asset?

These are all examples loosely based on real life situations I have encountered in financial planning. Gardens need weeding, and so do financial plans. Sometimes, entire plants get scrapped, dug up, and thrown away. So do financial goals. But the process of planning is invaluable. It provides a roadmap and a peace of mind that your are on the right track, or at least headed in the right direction.

Life will throw you curveballs. A financial plan is not a beautiful report in a fancy binder that collects dust in your drawer. It is a living and breathing instrument that should be maintained throughout the years. If you are not doing planning this way, it may be time for a change.




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