Better Together: Part 2 - Getting Organized

Better Together: Part 2

I intended to have this blogpost ready and posted weeks ago but I’m sure you can all relate and understand how this time of year works.  The past few weeks saw Christmas, New Year’s, a round of the stomach flu, my husband’s 40th birthday and our baby’s 1st birthday.  I was all excited to jump right into the New Year and now the first month is almost in the rearview mirror. 

I wanted to take a few minutes of your time to talk about the experience my husband and I recently went through as we worked through some personal financial strategy.  

First, thank you to those of you who have engaged in our Better Together Facebook Group and for those of you who are following along. I am excited to be discussing more topics that are relevant to all of us women! Part of my idea behind this group is that I wanted to have a place to share what my personal experience has been like beginning with the financial planning process. Full disclosure: I am not an expert (you’re shocked - I know), I don’t have everything in order and I am probably behind on quite a few things.  But I want to encourage YOU by helping you see that NO ONE has it all together.  It’s OK if we are starting our financial planning journey “late” or later than we think we should be.....

The most important part is that we are STARTING!

I’ve worked (off and on) in the financial services industry for over 10 years now.  Whoa!  Never thought this would be my journey.  On top of this experience, I have been able to learn from my Dad who has spent his whole career in the financial services industry and the last 24 years building his own business that has a holistic approach to personal finance.  Having the privilege in our office to walk alongside individuals and families to help them find their path on their financial journey is one of the most gratifying experiences of my job. I have developed a passion for this business and industry because it’s about so much more than money and numbers.  We get to listen to clients’ stories, encourage them, collaborate with them, educate them, go deep with them, celebrate with them and grieve with them.  It’s an incredibly intimate relationship and ultimately the goal is to leave our clients, who become more like family, better off than they were when they first came to us.

Despite all this experience (and working in the family business), I must admit I am guilty – like so many others -  of not understanding our own personal big picture or financial dashboard.  We (my husband and I) always found reasons to put off meeting with a financial coach/advisor. Some of the most common things we hear from prospective clients are:

"We don't have enough money to have a financial advisor"

"I don't want someone to see the messy reality of my financial life"

"I need to save more and get my finances in order before I meet with someone"

"I have credit cards and student loans I need to pay off first"

I could go on but you get the point.  There is - and will always be – something keeping us from getting started.  We’ll never be perfect or have the perfect financial picture.  Personal finance is, by definition, a deeply personal topic.  It brings up a lot of other issues, it’s messy, it’s much easier to put it off, avoid it, and do nothing. 

So, my husband and I (OK it was mainly me) decided that it was time that we dive into the planning process with The Johnston Group and get on the right path that will take us to where we want to be. For the past few years I had heard so many of our new clients talk about how their experience was therapeutic, relieving and that they wish they had come to us sooner.  Finally, the thought occurred to me, “what the heck are we doing?  I work here and I want to know exactly what that relief feels like!” 

We began a few weeks before Christmas.  The process started by filling out our Personal Strategy form that allowed us to define our personal mission, vision and values.  We also completed a Document Checklist that asked us to pull together all of our financial statements and documents (i.e. bank account, retirement accounts, tax return, insurance information, spending habits, etc.).  This first step was a little daunting since it required some time to pull everything together (and confirm that we in fact knew where everything was).  But I knew it was necessary so that our first meeting was as productive as possible. 
The exciting thing about having to do this is that now we DO have so many of these important documents in one central shared drive! 

We were all set for our first meeting, where the focus was going to be on our goals, priorities and dreams.  Going into this meeting, I was super excited while my husband was still pretty skeptical of the process.  He was willing to come along because he knew it was important to me but I don’t think he saw it as a necessity.* 

* I just want to quickly point out that this is super common in clients who come to us. Women often want to delegate this piece of their lives.  They crave the organization and structure and they want someone to help them make financial decisions. They want a family Chief Financial Officer, someone who can take this piece of their lives and run with it, so they can focus on their important job whether it be their career, families, marriages and kids.  The men are often hesitant, stubborn and don’t like acknowledging a need for help.  This is like how people joke about men not wanting to ask for directions when lost.   They’re often not wanting to ask for help with their finances. This isn’t always true, but we do tend to see this stereotype reinforced. The exciting thing is that most of the time those partners who come in reluctantly are often happily on board once they’ve had their meeting and can see a plan forming. 

OK so back to me - ha!  We pulled our documents together, sent to The Johnston Group and scheduled our first meeting.  We met with two of The Johnston Group advisors.  They started out by explaining to us what their process is and why they feel so passionate about how they can help us get clear on our finances.  Brad explained how our savings is pumped into investment accounts, given a specific combination of investments (based on our needs) and those investment accounts are the fuel that we will need and use to reach our goals - college for 3 boys, home updates, a cabin, increased charitable contributions etc.  This was such an exciting visual that Brad provided us and was a very enlightening part of the meeting. We were really able to see in a clear way how we have the ability to reach our goals, they are attainable but it’s all about how we choose to spend/save/invest our money now. We then talked about our goals -- we threw everything out on the table, not just college education but possibly a cabin or opening a business. They instructed us that now was the time to think big and then we will see what it will take to reach those goals and when we see what that looks like we can decide which goals are most important and most attainable. I felt such a range of emotions during this meeting but mostly I felt excitement. I was excited that we were getting organized, getting clear on our goals, discussing what we really thought we could accomplish and also were able to see that some of these things that we often think are just dreams of ours, can really become reality.  We just have to follow or get ON the right path!  We also talked about less exciting, but equally important, topics such as: taxes, estate planning and insurance. We were given the assignment to go get a Will (gasp - I know I know - we really should have done this already). There was no judgement, no shaming just encouragement to get all of this taken care of now so that the things that are important to us are protected and we can relax about that and focus on other things. We currently work with a CPA for our taxes and we both have life insurance so we were good on those areas.  But it was nice to get confirmation from our advisors, who also mentioned a few other planning ideas in those areas that were new to us.  

So, I know you’re dying to hear more but this is where I must leave it for now.

The team at The Johnston Group is currently taking all of the information we gave them – our goals and personal information – and will analyze and review to determine next steps and ultimate recommendations to find the path that makes most sense for us.

I’m learning that we dread this stuff, put off handling our finances, and worry about it all the time only to find that when we actually go dig deep and deal with them, we feel excitement, relief and I personally feel empowered. Why do we (or should I just say I?) do this with so many areas of our lives, avoid things like the plague assuming the worst and dreading the response and yet when we decide to take action we’re pleasantly surprised and wishing we would have started sooner.

Now, as a married couple, the added bonus of this process is that we started conversations that we weren’t choosing to have on our own. We were thinking about things in a different light. We could see how we actually do have the choice to do a lot of the things we want to do but that also means that we need to choose to let go of or forgo things/projects/trips that were not as important to us. This also sounds very.... well, duh!  But I promise you it just feels different, more organized, more exciting, and less painful once you’ve laid everything out there, seen what you have, and have some ideas of how and why to make big important decisions and choices.

We can focus on budgeting and our monthly spending until we’re blue in the face but I am seeing now that having a clear idea and picture of our household finances on a larger scale makes me feel more empowered and encouraged when it comes to our monthly expenses. I don’t think I have many friends who go over their budget on purpose or spend excessively without thinking but after you go through a process like the one we have started I see how you start to think, “I could totally get these new pillows, sheets and wall decor at Target or if we don’t really need them now I could put that $200 into our monthly savings and investment account and each time I save even just a little bit more, I am getting us closer and closer to hitting those bigger goals we have in mind (and now on paper) - hello vacation!!

I could ramble on about this and I know I have already said too much. Please, I want to hear from you on questions you might have for me, what didn’t I address that you are still wondering about? What is stopping you from meeting with someone and getting on the right track when it comes to finances? Those of you who have already done this, how has your engagement with a financial advisor helped you?