The Myth of Financial Goals: Most People Don?t Know What They Want

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA Friday, 16 March 2018

The Myth of Financial Goals: Most People Don?t Know What They Want

You have seen it a thousand times: “We help you reach your financial goals.” It is the tagline for the majority of financial advisors. And before you say to yourself, “Well Kathy, we have seen you use those exact words too.”, I will fully disclose that I am as guilty as the next guy or gal. We use it all the time. But it got me thinking about the relationships that we have with our clients and what financial goals planning really means. When we ask people what their goals are we are often given pretty broad answers that don’t quite get to the heart of the situation, much less provide enough information to set an action plan. Answers like, “I want to retire comfortably.”, “I want to save enough to leave money to my kids or to charity.”, or “I want to make sure that what we’re doing is right for the long-term.” are pretty common, but we strive to dig deeper.

These answers are powerful in their vagueness because they actually shed light on the fact that goals are often broad and identifying the tiny milestones that get you to those big and vague goals are really what is important in the planning process. Breaking down the big picture into day to day, and year to year activities, objectives and milestones is what makes the planning process exciting for us, but also daunting for those who meet with a planner or wealth advisor for the first time or for the first time in a long time.

Financial Goals Matter

The irony of it all is that financial goals do matter a great deal. We start without clearly defined goals and hope we can make it to the place where you can confidently say that you are going to achieve broad financial objectives. We help clarify what it means to retire confidently with a plan in place for your legacy, define a strategy for your retirement spending, and identify what else truly matters when it comes to your wealth and well-being.

Goals planning is really about determining what you really want in life, in relationships, in experiences, and putting a plan in place that can help you achieve that. Asking the right questions in order to discover what you really want is the cornerstone of uncovering what your financial goals are. Chances are that if someone were to ask you, “What are your financial goals?” you would probably respond by saying, “Well, what do you mean?”

The mistake that financial planners make in general is that we assume people have financial goals because we know that will help us make a plan for them. Helping people achieve their financial goals is what we do day in and day out. Developing your financial plan is critical to that end and it’s our job to guide you on the journey to discovering and clarifying those goals.

It’s the Journey, Not the Destination

Talk to any thrill seeker and they’ll tell you that it is the experience that fulfills them not the end. For people who enjoy skydiving, it isn’t landing on the ground and saying they’ve done it that keeps them going back for more. Skydivers live for the flight in the plane, the step out onto the wing, the first moments of being in freefall and the beauty of seeing the world from a bird’s eye view as you glide down in the parachute. I haven’t personally jumped out of a plane, although my college daughter showed me the video from her first dive, which was enough to get the idea. The experience as a whole is what brings them joy and fulfillment. They feel good about what they did from start to finish.

Financial goals planning is little different, people want to feel good about themselves. It’s not the goal you want, it’s the feeling that you get when you have prepared for and journeyed in a way that has brought you to a new sense of confidence and self-worth or self-awareness.

Related Content: Swimming the Current | Rewiring Your Retirement

Visualizing Your future

If you could picture your life in five years, ten years, or twenty years, what would you see? If you could be a guest at your own funeral, what would you want people to say about you and your journey through life? Asking yourself these powerful questions can help get to the core of what your financial and life goals might be. In a study done by NYU, participants were shown computer-generated images of what their future would look like in years to come. This exercise was powerful enough that it substantially increased their ambition to save more responsibly for their retirement.

What do you see yourself doing after you decide to retire? Leave aside limitations you have set for yourself financially, physically, and emotionally. If you could picture yourself anywhere, doing anything, with anyone, what would that image look like?

You Are Your Most Important Asset

When it comes to your financial future, you are your most important asset. Human capital is not given enough weight in our service-based economy, but it truly is what drives greatness, accomplishment, and innovation. You are no exception. Visualizing what you want in your life and then developing a course by which to get there has one major contributor and it’s not us as financial advisors, it is you. You are the “Visioneer”.

Ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are you seeking advice because you want someone to make decisions for you or because you want to know the value of the decisions you are making or are planning to make?
  2. What do you want to be remembered for when you pass?
  3. What are you most thankful for?
  4. What do you do that is most fulfilling?
  5. Why is it most fulfilling?
  6. Are there things that you would like to accomplish beyond what you have done so far in your life?

If you can successfully answer these questions, then you are on your way to establishing a roadmap to achieving your true financial and life goals. That’s why our clients come to us. It’s not necessarily that they need to know the ultimate outcomes of their finances and accounts. It’s that they are seeking fulfillment in their life and they know that the means by which to get there is to have a good compass that will lead to an established destination. Financial planning and investment management is more about fulfillment and less about a sense of accomplishment. When you are fulfilled there is a sense of satisfaction and wholeness.

So, on behalf of my colleagues, I apologize for being so vague and talking about financial goals as though everyone has them or really knows what they are. What I mean to say is:

What fulfills you? What are you grateful for? What brings you joy? What would you like to accomplish that you haven’t already? I’m here to listen and I’d love to help you map a course to your destinations.

About the Author

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA

Kathy Longo, CFP®, CAP®, CDFA

Kathy Longo brings over 25 years of expertise and experience to Flourish Wealth Management. Kathy is wholly dedicated to improving the life of each client and finds joy in making complex matters simple and easy to understand. She excels at asking the right questions, uncovering new possibilities and implementing the most advantageous strategies for success. Playing such a pivotal role in her clients’ lives remains an honor and a privilege. After earning a degree in Financial Planning and Counseling from Purdue University, she began her career at a small firm in Palatine, Illinois where she worked directly with clients while learning to build a viable, client-centric business. Over the years, she gained extensive knowledge and wisdom working as a wealth manager, financial planner, firm manager and business owner at notable, various sized companies in both Chicago and Minneapolis.


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