Financial flexibility is valuable because it allows you to quickly adjust to changing circumstances. Are you flexible enough?
The first maxim of financial planning is that things likely won’t unfold according to your plan. Professor Scott Sagan says, “things that have never happened before happen all the time.” Flexibility provides you the tools needed to modify and course-correct along the way.
Things within your life will change – the world around you will change too. Flexibility permits you to embrace the reality of changing your mind.
HOW FLEXIBILITY NEUTRALIZES UNCERTAINTY
In a very real sense, having flexibility in your financial life is a tacit acknowledgment of future uncertainty. If you're like most investors, you're probably not a good predictor of what your future financial life will look like. Flexibility provides you with the ability to ride out internal and external challenges that can create short-term heartburn.
Flexibility empowers you to sit tight and do nothing while taking a longer view of your financial life.
You directly benefit from flexibility by being able to plan around uncertainty instead of reacting to it. Flexibility gives you a way of dealing with the rapid pace of change.
A quick glance back to 2021 provides a practical example of how flexibility can help you stay focused on the long-term. The threat of higher marginal income tax rates hung over the entirety of 2021. If you were retired and only had tax-deferred accounts, you couldn't do anything – you needed to withdraw funds regardless of the tax rates. If instead, you had a more flexible mix of taxable and tax-deferred accounts, you could make adjustments by matching portfolio gains and losses to mitigate taxes. As you move into retirement, flexibility is highly desirable and valuable.
One reason some people resist financial flexibility is because it flies in the face of precision. Investors crave precision but many things involving money are imprecise. You never know exactly how much money you will need and when you’ll need it. Flexibility rules!
WHY FLEXIBILITY SMOOTHS THE ROUGH EDGES
Think about what could possibly break within your financial life – make sure that you haven’t bet everything on a single point of failure. As the saying goes, "things will go bump in the night."
Another practical reason investors shun flexibility is that it doesn’t conform to the optimize and maximize mindset. In my opinion, that’s a positive attribute since it’s easy to have your financial life damaged by trying to optimize and maximize everything. Flexibility can smooth the often-sharp edges of optimize and maximize strategies.
Flexibility lets you widen the target area around your planning expectations. It helps protect you from the illusion that everything will happen just as you imagine. Building in room for error increases your probability of experiencing good long-term outcomes.
The world can be a scary and chaotic place – the financial markets too. Sometimes, the trajectory of your personal financial life can be even scarier. Flexibility can be a valuable multi-tool that has many uses both now and in the future. Start there.
Related: What You Don't Do With Money