April 14, 2020

You are HERE

With all of the current chaos in the world, I was reminded recently of a blog I wrote years ago in 2008 that is all that much more relevant today.  As I went back through it, I realized that it is actually ALWAYS relevant and therefore, timeless, in the sense that regardless of all the things that have changed and will change around us, the core message below will still be true 20 years from now, as well.  Enjoy!

Sandwiched between New Year’s Day and LSU’s BCS Championship game in New Orleans, my family and I traveled to Orlando where we became ensnared in the ‘world’s largest mouse trap’, otherwise known as Disney World.

With several different theme parks to traverse and with specific ‘must-see’ attractions to get around to in a limited amount of time, Disney World is perhaps the perfect analogy for the benefits of having a road map and a well-thought-out plan.  I mean…one wrong turn at Space Mountain and the next thing you know, you’re stuck in a 30-minute wait for the Barnstormer in Toonland that I swear to you lasts only 33 seconds!  Yes sir...it pays to have a plan in Disney World.

There are several tools available to you in order to help you navigate this expansive jungle of joy.  First of all, there are books and guides written by experts who have painstakingly figured out every detail, right down to when to ride certain rides, when to watch certain parades or shows and which trash can to throw your ice cream wrapper in.  In addition, not only are you given a pocket map when you pass through the gates but throughout the park, maps are strategically posted on signs so that you can get your bearings straight if you get turned around.  And in perfect anticipation of your main question as you approach such signs in a confused state—Where the heck am I?—you’ll find a big dot with the words ‘You are HERE’.  Put it all together and it sure makes figuring out where you want to go a lot easier when you know where you are.

The same can be said of planning your financial future.  Sure, the first step is figuring out where you want to go.  But once you’ve got that covered, you shouldn’t take one step in any direction until you figure out where you’re starting from.  When looking at your financial plan and what you want to accomplish for you and your family, somewhere near the beginning of the conversation is that ‘dot’ that says ‘You are HERE.’  Good, bad or ugly…that’s where you are as you sit here today.

Likewise, it’s important to refer back to that ‘map’ from time to time to make sure you’re still on course.  The landscape often changes, and it’s not safe to think you know where you’re heading.  You need to know!

In my experience, the main frustration people have with their financial situation is not wondering whether their funds are beating ‘the market’ or whether they are performing better than their neighbor’s funds.  The main source of frustration for most people is in not knowing where they stand in relation to their financial goals.  They’re standing there looking at a map that shows roads leading to all kinds of wonderful destinations, but they can’t seem to locate their ‘You are Here’ dot.

Just like Disney World, your financial life has some ‘must-see’ destinations to it.  Most people aspire to have a secure retirement where they won’t have to fear running out of money.  Most people want to help fund the higher education of their children and maybe even their grandchildren, if they can.  Most people want to protect their families if they die too soon or become disabled.  Some want to build businesses that create value for others.  Most would prefer to leave their estate to their heirs and leave nothing to Uncle Sam and some even hope to be able to leave a legacy to an institution they care deeply about.

These are all noble and worthy financial goals that require a map to get you there.  But surely the details will be different for all of us.  How much income will you need each year in retirement?  How much and where do you have to sacrifice now?  How many people do you also need to take care of?  Which trusts do you need to have in place and what are their true purposes?  What if one of your path’s gets blocked in a few years by some unexpected turn of events, say death or divorce?  One could go on and on like this, but you get the point.  Your journey is uniquely yours.

The truth is, there are tons of books and guides on those subjects written by the experts.  But, just like our guidebook for Disney World, I’d say most of them are only moderately helpful.  And the main reason—it’s just a lot of information to process.  You will still have to figure out so much of it for yourself and how it pertains to you personally.

What would have been really valuable on our vacation was a real-life person to guide us through it step-by-step after closely listening to what we were interested in seeing and doing.  Being able to turn to that person to ask things like, ‘Where are we?’, ‘Fill in the blank is no longer important to us and we want to change directions—so now where do we go?’ and ‘Where’s the nearest restroom?’  I imagine a service like that would cost more than the little book we bought.  Although, I also imagine it would have paid for itself in the form of less stress, less waiting around and more joy from maximizing our experiences together while we were there.

Likewise, all the ‘how-to’ financial books in the world won’t help much if you can’t figure out how or when to implement the recommendations they make in your own life.  Having a guide to walk you through it can add all the value you need to help you achieve whatever it is you want to accomplish.  A guide who is knowledgeable about the terrain, knows the tools of the trade, and can make appropriate adjustments along the way.

As we turn the page on another calendar year, many of you—and those around you—might be asking yourselves, ‘Where are we?’ in relation to where you want to be or go financially.  In order to figure out how to get there, you must be able to find that ‘dot’ on your own map that says boldly, ‘You are HERE!’

As I close, times like these remind me that the confidence, clarity and sense of direction that comes from knowing where we are versus where we should be (or would like to be) on our journey will never be a permanent state.  
Like Vitamin C, the body doesn’t store Confidence and so it needs to be replenished. In every great adventure movie, the hero runs into challenges, gets lost or has to get back on track, which usually involves some help from someone or something showing up at exactly the right time to guide them. You are the hero, and this is your journey.  
If you find yourself in need of a map, or a bit of timely advice so you know you are on track, or just a booster shot of the “Vitamin C” of Confidence, let this be your “sign” that showed up at exactly the right time in your story.