It’s amusing to watch a dog running around in circles chasing its tail; it’s less amusing to witness your money life going around in circles without direction. That’s precisely what happens when you’re not clear about what matters most.
Your specific long-term goals are the foundation for your financial future. If you lack clear goals, your financial future doesn’t have a focus or purpose.
Think about a river and its banks. The firmness of the riverbanks gives energy and direction for the water. Without these banks, the water spreads out and soon resembles a lazy lake instead of a river. The things that matter most are like the banks of the river that push you along in the direction you desire.
WHY YOUR REAL-LIFE GOALS MATTER
I can attest that most investors struggle with real-life goals. Are you among this group? Do you have difficulty crafting long-term goals? Do you have clarity around your most important priorities?
Think about why you’re investing. What are you trying to accomplish? Who are you trying to protect? The answers to these questions provide the core of what matters most and form the outline of your goals.
When you align your career and financial capital with clear goals, you expand the range of your future financial possibilities.
After you have clear goals in place, you can properly assess financial decisions and the inevitable trade-offs. Perhaps you want to retire early, but also want to own a vacation house. What’s more important? If you decide the vacation property is the most important priority then you may have to forgo retiring early - that’s the trade-off.
Everyone has different priorities, and our job is to help clients think realistically about the cost of these priorities. Every decision you make has a cost in terms of the goal itself and in terms of other choices you could have made.
From time to time it’s also important to re-examine your priorities to determine if anything has changed. Very often what you thought was a priority a few years ago isn’t a priority now.
HOW TO FOCUS ON WHAT MATTERS MOST
Financial trade-offs can be difficult and are prone to error. The more clarity you have about your priorities, the easier it becomes to make decisions and align your resources with these priorities. The financial planning process provides a framework for setting priorities and helps you make better decisions. The planning process helps keep you on track.
If you have “fuzzy” goals, you aren’t clear about what really matters. If your primary goal is simply to have more money, you need to re-examine what matters again.
Author Morgan Housel in his bestseller The Psychology of Money writes about why clarity of your mission matters: “what the market did this year, or whether we’ll have a recession next year – is part of a game I’m not playing.” If you follow this advice, all of the unimportant and unrelated stuff melts away; you’re focused only on what’s important.
Having clarity about what matters most shields you from emotional behavior that is contrary to your long-term goals. Focus your mental energy on what you want to accomplish and why it’s important. Start there.
Related: More Money Will Never Be Enough