If you were to do certain things, consistently well, consistently over time, would this increase your odds of success? We believe that this phrase is universally true. But when it comes to financial planning and financial decision making, what are those things that we should do and what does it mean to do them well?
Building on the concepts discussed in the Master Your Retirement book, the monthly plan is a deeper dive into 12 specific areas (one per month) consistently applied each and every year. This is all about creating new habits and creating consistency.
Hi! My name is Doug Nelson. I am a financial planner based in Winnipeg, Canada, and this is my story.
I joined the family business, Nelson Financial Consultants, in July of 1992. My father, Vernon, began his career in the financial services area in 1966. At the time of writing I am in my 29th year and we have been providing financial advice to Canadian individuals, families and businesses for over 54 years.
Looking back on these years you can’t help but ask: “what have I learned and what would I want my children to know so that they can navigate this world better than I?” Have I just lived the same year over and over again, or can I say that I have actually learned something over these years?
Thinking of this in another way, what would I do if my very best client came to me and said “hey Doug, I will do whatever you say, regardless of the time or the cost, just guide me step by step so as to most effectively reach my goals.” If this happened, what would I do? What process would I want to take them through? What would be step 1, step 2 or even step 3? In reality, this IS what happens to me virtually every day. This IS what my clients ask of my team and I and so we have worked hard over the years trying to answer this key question, the result of which is a body of work that we now call: The Road to Mastery.
I feel very lucky to say that I have experienced many “lives” over the past 29 years. In the beginning I was working with 30 year-olds who are now 59 and 59 year-olds who are now 88. I have seen how, through no fault of their own, their lives were suddenly impacted when changes occurred in their health, career and relationships. I have seen people make great decisions that served them well and other decisions that did not work out so well. Some were just lucky while others were not.
Such is life. Life is challenging and unpredictable. Yet there are things that we can control so that we minimize the impact from things that we can’t control.
The primary theme of the Road to Mastery is the following statement: If you were to do certain things, consistently well, consistently over time, would your odds of success be greatly enhanced?
When it comes to your finances we want to think about what those really important things are and what it means to do those things well.
Now let’s consider this same question, but in the opposite manner: if you were to do a random series of things, in a random manner, randomly over time, how might things turn out? If you applied this question to your health, your career and your relationships, what would you expect to be the outcome?
This is no different than what Steve Covey talked about in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Mr. Covey talked about the importance of “beginning with the end in mind”. From my perspective, this means being “purposeful” and “forward looking” in everything that we do, especially when it comes to your finances.
I would describe it in the following ways:
The first thing I learned is that there are certain things that work against our best efforts each and every day. We now refer to these things as the 5 Great Killers of Wealth: Taxes, Fees / Expenses, Long Term Debt, Market Volatility and Inflation. We need to pay attention to these things on a continuous basis. Every time you evaluate your current situation or every time you make a financial decision, the question should always be: to what extent does this decision help to reduce the negative impact of the 5 Great Killers of Wealth? I talk about each of these areas in more detail in the Master Your Retirement book.
The next thing I learned is that there are 7 Key Truths about Money and Life. The first of the 7 Truths is that “something is only as good as to what you compare it to”. Over the years I have found that every idea, concept or strategy had its merits, but to determine if this was a good idea for you today, we needed to compare it against something. But what do you compare it to? This is where the 2nd key truth comes into play: “In any analysis you do, always go broad and deep”. In other words, anything can be a good idea, except when you evaluate it across a broader and deeper spectrum of ideas, concepts or criteria. Comparing three cars from the same manufacturer is one approach, but why not compare three cars across multiple manufacturers and then, for each option, look at the incentives offered for a cash purchase vs. financing vs. leasing?
The 7 Key Truths About Money and Life is available to our clients as a core educational tool to assist them in making informed decisions.
As a result of the 7 Key Truths, my team and I were able to nail down what we feel are the 6 Key Financial Skills that everyone should have. These are the 6 things that you should have learned about money in high school and form the foundation of financial literacy. These 6 key skills can be learned by everyone at any age or stage in life, and are a large part of the financial education program we provide to our clients. These 6 key skills tie in perfectly with what I refer to as Your Financial Core.
Along the way we also began to realize that we needed to have a clear starting point. For example, life begins when you earn an income. You can earn money in a lot of different ways, but you can’t do much with this income until you pay tax on this money. Once you earn an income and pay your taxes, now you have money left over and you can now decide what you are going to do with this money. Over time you can measure your success by looking at something called your Net Worth statement. The Net Worth Statement is a chart that shows you the things you own vs. the debts you owe. The Net Worth statement is the scorecard of how well you have a) earned an income, b) efficiently managed your taxes, and then c) deployed your hard-earned resources into things that grow in value. The Net Worth Statement is an indication of how well you have protected against the 5 Great Killers of Wealth and about how well you have followed the 7 Key Truths About Money and Life. Therefore, your Financial Core is always your starting point: a) what is your income, b) what taxes do you pay on this income, c) how are you then deploying your hard earned resources, and d) as a result of all of these steps, what is the outcome as shown on your Net Worth statement?
Your Financial Core should be measured each year and should be measured again whenever you do forward looking projections. In that way you can begin to see how the decisions you make going forward will either positively or negatively impact your income, expenses, tax picture and net worth. Since “something is only as good as to what you compare it to”, every financial decision you make should in some way improve your income, reduce your taxes, reduce your expenses and improve your net worth. If this outcome doesn’t occur, then is this really the best decision to make with your money? The Financial Core is the cornerstone of all of the financial planning and financial analysis work we do each day and it is always the best place to start. The Master Your Retirement book applies this approach in what we call an “income first” orientation.
Finally, most of what I have learned, I have learned from my clients. Over 29+ years I have observed many lives and the resulting good decisions, bad decisions, great outcomes and sometimes just rotten luck. Over my career I have seen clear patterns emerge regarding the core beliefs of those clients who have continuously met their goals while protecting against unforeseen events. As a result, in the beginning of the Master Your Retirement book, I talk at length about those things that “the Masters” believe and therefore apply to how they think about money. For example, Mastery Belief #3 is “The Masters are Forward Looking”. This means that I have witnessed over and over again this common trait between those clients who have been consistently more successful than others. These people are always looking ahead and considering the consequences or benefits of different options, ideas or scenarios. Another common trait is that the Masters are very purposeful in their actions and they make gradual changes over time (Mastery Belief #1). The Road to Mastery is like flying an aircraft or sailing a boat: you continuously assess and adjust your course, in small, incremental and purposeful steps throughout your journey.