5 Failures of Financial Planning (and How to Fix Them)

If you’re wondering how you are supposed to save for a distant retirement when you’re struggling to pay off debt and make ends meet right now, you’re not alone. I think financial planning has failed a lot of people. The promise that if you work hard, save 10{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} of your income, invest in your 401(k), have a diversified investment allocation, and have an emergency fund everything will be fine has left a lot of people frustrated, discouraged, and even a little angry.

Early on in my career I did a financial plan for a client. I told him that all he had to do was to cut his cable bill, stop going on vacations, eliminate eating out, and bring a sack lunch to work every day, and that he may have enough to retire in 40 years. I said this with a straight face. He looked at me like I was a moron, and I was. I was basically saying, “Sacrifice your life for the next 40 years and then possibly you’ll have enough money saved that you can retire.” Not my finest moment, but then again, the traditional financial planning strategies didn’t provide me with any real solutions for his situation.

It was at this point I realized that when financial planning works, it works really well, but when it doesn’t, it’s a disaster. Here are five significant problems with traditional financial planning:

  1. Sophie’s New Choice. Should I skimp and save for the next 40 years so I can then squeak by in retirement or should I enjoy life a little now and pray I hit the lottery when I retire? These are your options? The choice is as subtle as Vinny asking, “Would you like it in the head or the chest?”
  2. Age-related issues. During your prime years — the years when you are the most vibrant and healthy, you’re working. But when you retire your health can begin to deteriorate so you can’t do all of the things you had planned. One retiree said, “Now that I’ve finally got the ability, I don’t have the mobility.”
  3. Late start. The traditional approach just doesn’t work effectively if you start too late. If you’re 22 and diligently contributing 10{54c12dad2cc2b53ae830e39915b1a3e70288dbcbbeb8bbf8395437c5dc3c512c} of your income to a 401(k), time is on your side. But if retirement is nearing and you don’t have anything saved, you’re not going to make it with traditional financial advice.
  4. Retirement focused. Instead of looking at ways to improve life today, traditional financial planning focuses almost entirely on retirement, which could be 20, 30, or 40 years in the future. If you’re working overtime just to pay this month’s bills, you need solutions and strategies to live a richer life now, not 40 years from now.
  5. Expense-only focus. Traditional financial planning focuses exclusively on just one side of the cash-flow equation — expenses. What can you reduce, eliminate, or postpone? There’s nothing wrong with reducing excess and unnecessary spending, but that’s where most traditional financial planners stop. You want to grow, expand, achieve, and experience, but traditional rules tell you that you need to reduce, contract, and limit your life.

Let’s be clear, I’m a big proponent of the traditional approach. I am a Certified Financial Planner and have a Master’s degree in Financial Services. I am the president of a financial planning firm and wrote a bestselling personal finance book based on the traditional approach. It can and does work. You should cover the basics and implement the traditional strategies to improve your finances, but if you run your own numbers and realize traditional financial planning can’t bridge the gap between where you are and where you want to be, you must do something more.

That “something more” is to increase your income to match your goals and dreams instead of shrinking your goals and dreams to fit your income. The solution is to shift your focus from just cutting expenses and saving money to learning how to make money by capitalizing on your free time. Whether you have two hours or just 20 minutes a night, you can boost your skills to increase your income at work or find clever ways to capitalize on your passion. It’s about leveraging your time to produce a bigger and better future for yourself. It’s about shifting your focus. It’s not just about finishing rich, it’s about living rich. Call it financial planning 2.0.

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Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

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