Putting Life First in Financial Planning

Before you dive into the numbers and spreadsheets of financial planning, you have to know where you are going. When you put Life First in your financial planning, you prioritize life before money. The secret to achieving financial success and happiness lies in aligning your financial goals with your life’s purpose (not achieving some number at the end of a statement), a concept that’s simpler and yet more profound than you might think. This can seem overwhelming at first, but it doesn’t have to be.  

Step 1: Find Your Go-To Peaceful Spot

Whether it’s your garden sanctuary or a quiet nook in your house, claim it for yourself. Grab a drink of choice and turn off the notifications and disconnect from the digital noise. Take a few minutes to simply relax.

Step 2: Write Your Story

Now think forward into the future. But before we start one rule here, throw away “How”. Now isn’t the time for letting How get in the way. And be honest and genuine with yourself through this.

What would your perfect moment look like? That place that you can feel true peace, contentment, joy? Fill that mental image with as much detail as you can. Where are you? Who are you with? What time of day is it? What smell and sounds are in the air? Take your time. Just scribble down these ideas as you go; don’t edit yourself; just let those things come to you and record them. Take a step back and read what you put down. You’ll start to paint a mental image in your mind of that moment. Take these thoughts and Write Your Moment in a few sentences. One of the beauties of these visions lies in their uniqueness. No two visions are the same, just as no two lives are identical. Yet, each vision holds the power to shape the course of your path.

  • You’re by a campfire on the edge of mountain lake with your family and closest friends sharing stories as the sun sets. Smelling the pine and cedar trees mixed with the campfire smoke after setting up a tent camp following a hike in.  
  • You’re on the front porch of a cabin, coffee in hand, at sunrise. The campground that you built up with tents and small cabins is just starting to stir with activity with people starting their outdoor adventures. You can feel the satisfaction that you helped make these adventures happen for these people in your own way.
  • It’s fall and you are on the sidelines of a soccer field. The sun is out, you’re smelling the cut grass and falling leaves. You are watching your kids or grandkids running up and down the field; watching them have joy and focus in the playing. Afterward, you are heading to your traditional after game lunch at your family’s favorite restaurant.

Notice that these examples aren’t complicated or extravagant, but they are true to that unique person. They have overwhelming power to them. As one person put it so clearly, it’s describing your Happy Place.

If you have a significant other, design this vision out separately, then make a date of it and share it with each other. Spend some time talking about it. Find how they are the same, different, and how you can support each other on your own vision and how you can make a combined vision for the both of you.

Bonus hint: If you want to be a superhero to your partner, actively help them get to their vision and moment!

Step 3: Build Your Roadmap

This isn’t mere fantasy; this isn’t about “putting this out into the universe” and hoping. By doing financial planning right, we can take this story as your destination and build a roadmap to actually make it happen. By fully understanding your vision, where you are today, we can chart an actionable, practical course to get you to that moment as soon and as often as possible. What can we do today to point us in the right direction? Maybe it’s investing in some self-education to switch careers, saving for a sabbatical, moving across the country, saving up a target amount for that down payment for the land for the campground.

Step 4: Your True North

Your vision isn’t just a fleeting thought or an abstract dream; it’s the ultimate guidepost for your financial journey. There are no straight lines in real life (sorry spreadsheets!); real life is filled with twists and turns and innumerable choices along the way. The noise and waves against your ship can make it really difficult to stay the course or even know what course you should be on anymore. Your vision can serve as your True North that helps you navigate the seas of decisions and events in life. Whenever you’re faced with a choice or a crossroads, go back to your vision. Does this decision steer me closer or farther away from that cherished moment? It’s a simple litmus test that can guide your financial choices with remarkable clarity.

Step 5: Bring Pieces of that Moment to Today

Patience (and planning and work) is the virtue that bridges the gap between dreams and reality. While you work towards the grand dream, infuse your days with pieces from it in the here and now. Buy a firepit and have a backyard campfire in the middle of the week with the kids; take the grandkids out for breakfast on a Saturday morning; go spend a longer vacation at a campground like you’ve envisioned for yourself one day; start a routine of coffee on your porch every morning. That joy and peace from that envisioned moment doesn’t have to wait until finally achieving it. Let those benefits infuse today along the journey.

Step 6: Embrace Change

Your vision isn’t confined to a snapshot in time. It’s the nature of life to evolve, and as it does, your dreams may take on new shades and dimensions. Every few years, revisit your vision. Don’t be taken aback if it has shifted slightly; this is a natural and anticipated outcome of life. Just as you adapt and grow, so do your dreams. Adjustments are a testament to your resilience and willingness to engage with life’s ebb and flow. When done right, your financial roadmap is a flexible tool, allowing detours and recalibrations along the way. Embrace the opportunity to refine your course and go toward new destinations.

Step 7: Enjoy the Moments

True success of “life first financial planning” is getting you to your unique, beautiful moment as often as possible in the clearest way. Your Return on Life is way more important than any Return-on-Investment calculation. By putting your vision and life first it transforms your finances into a tool to achieve your purposeful life. So, sip your drink, embrace the dream, build the roadmap to get you there, execute that plan, let your intentions steer your actions, and adapt as life happens.

Your vision is your “why.”

It’s the heart and soul of your financial journey. As you weave this vision into the fabric of your life, each financial decision becomes a step towards its realization. It’s not about wishing on dreams; it’s about walking purposefully towards them, armed with a roadmap that reflects your life aspirations.