Everybody should have a financial plan. Very few people do. A scientific poll of me, my girlfriend, and our infant daughter reveals that only 33% of Canadians have a financial plan (margin of error of +/- 2.2%, 19 times out of 20).
A financial plan is a broad sketch of how you’ll use money to achieve your definition of success. It should take stock of where you are today and where you want to be in the future. Your plan should include “big picture” financial goals and basic contingency plans.
If you don’t already have a plan, relax. Making one is easy. Go find a free template.
If you already have a financial plan, read this article. Then consider revising your plan because the chances are high that it sucks.
6 Reasons Your Financial Plan Sucks:
1) Your financial plan sucks because it reads like the love child of a math exam and a James Joyce novel.
Good financial plans are only a few pages. Your plan should be focussed on the strategic level. Everything centres on your money goals. Your financial plan is the place where you enumerate these goals. Some might include:
- Retire by 55
- Travel Europe like you’re in a Sun Life commercial
- Pay for your kid’s education
- Not pay for your kid’s education and disappear without a trace when he turns 18
- Eliminate your consumer debt, if you’re foolish enough to have any
Your plan should look a lot more like Dave Ramsey’s ‘Seven Baby Steps’ than a pro forma financial statement.
Sure, your plan needs some numbers, including your assets, liabilities, and net worth. Don’t forget to include your gross income and to calculate your savings as a percentage of your income. With this information, take a look at your short- and medium-term goals. Does this savings rate need to change if you want to send Junior to university in a decade? The sooner the event, the easier it is to figure out.
Run some numbers for your retirement scenario, too. List any pension incomes that you expect to receive – check out CPP projections online or, if you’re lucky, just look at your defined benefit pension statement. If you really, desperately need to calculate “the number” (that is, the amount of savings you’ll need for retirement) then you’ll probably want to read a book or consult a planner. Personally, my number is “as much as possible”, but I have thirty-one years until I can collect my pension – assuming, optimistically, that it still exists.
2) Your financial plan sucks because you didn’t even read it.
If your investment advisor wrote your entire financial plan, I’m going to guess that you weren’t enthralled by the binder spit out from his computer. At best it’s sitting on your shelf collecting dust. At worst you round-filed it.
Preparing a basic financial plan doesn’t require a degree in finance or a special credential. I’m not telling you to fire your advisor. They’re extremely useful details people – they can fill very large gaps in your financial plan like tax planning and portfolio allocations. A good Chartered Accountant’s advice is more than worth the cost. What I’m saying is that you owe it to yourself to walk into your investment consultant’s office with a big picture already in your head.
3) Your financial plan sucks because it ignores your mortality.
Do you have critical illness and disability insurance? If you said “I think I have it through my work,” then you just failed the test. Find out. Get it. Same goes for term life insurance. These should be written into your plan because they’re essential components of your financial health. Reviewing your plan from time to time will remind you to reassess your coverage levels. And unless you don’t care about your family, spend $300 and get a will.
4) Your financial plan sucks because your assets blow.
Real assets generate an income.
Sorry, your primary residence doesn’t count. It doesn’t produce cash flow unless you have a basement apartment (in which case, enjoy the parties you aren’t invited to). And if you’re relying on hypothetical capital gains, think again. The Canadian housing market is in a bubble. Ignore that. Let’s look 20-years down the road. Boomers will be selling their houses en masse. Do you think the debt-laden, unemployed Echos (this blog’s namesake excluded) will be able to afford their parents’ homes in Podunk?
If your home comprises over 40% of your “assets” and you want to retire anytime soon, you’re screwed. Still got a mortgage? You’ll be joining the 59% of retirees who are in debt. Want to be triple-screwed? Buy a cottage with your HELOC.
If you want to include your vehicle, make sure to put it under a separate heading: “Faux Assets”. We’ve all heard the obnoxiously-repeated truism that cars lose most of their value in just a few years. But it’s a truism because it’s true. Do I put my 2003 Chevy Malibu (a glorious American-built machine) on my balance sheet? Not since the left fender got a dent that matches the right fender. If you have a car loan, please don’t click on the link to visit my blog unless you’re a glutton for punishment.
If you don’t have any real assets to list, start building wealth. Save up cash. Buy a junk bond index fund. Construct a dividend-focused stock portfolio. Buy an apartment building in Florida. Just please don’t flip condos and call yourself an investor.
5) Your financial plan sucks because you’re counting on an impossible rate of return.
Financial plans get very complicated when there’s something to hide. Usually it’s the fact that a person’s current savings rate is insufficient to fund their goals. The non-solution? Increase the fictional rate of return.
Investors face a new reality of lower returns on the open market. You can plan to beat inflation. You can plan to earn inflation plus two-percent from dividends or corporate bonds. Squeeze everything from your returns by reducing your investment management fees. Just don’t plan on 10% annual returns from the TSX.
Direct investments (e.g. buying a rental property or a business) and leverage can help super-charge your returns. Nevertheless, they’re risky. If your financial plan has a funding shortage, fill it with increased saving. Speaking of which…
6) Your financial plan sucks because you’re not pushing yourself to save more.
The National Film Board should do a Canadian history moment about saving money. It’s part of our heritage and nobody does it anymore. Unless you have a gold-plated pension, saving 20% of your gross income (an unimaginable amount for most people) is insufficient. You must max out your RRSP and your TFSA while you’re working, each and every year. It doesn’t get easier.
If your financial plan doesn’t suck, congratulations. Put it into action. If you’re drafting or revising a financial plan, follow these rules and don’t make it an excuse for failure. That would suck.
Joe Wood writes at TimelessFinance.com, a personal finance blog that’s focused on proven strategies for building wealth.