To win a gold medal in financial planning, use an athlete's SMART plan.
Today, the options are far more limited. Fencing could be a possibility, because as a parent, I have become a relative expert in things such as counterattacks and disengagement. But I am kidding myself when I think about my Olympic potential. To be an Olympian, I would first have to think like an Olympian.
What are some of the traits that Olympians have that would be useful in financial planning? Olympians are clear about what success represents. The goal of making it to Beijing this year for dedicated athletes was "SMART'' -- specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, timely.
Have you determined what your objectives are? Saving for college is easy to fit into the SMART system. You can estimate costs, you know the time horizon, you can start saving early.
Most of life's goals are not that definable. Retirement involves replacing not only earnings, but things such as community, connections and purpose. If you only focus on the financial, you may have enough assets but not achieve significance. Success in life is multifaceted. Every financial decision you make has a social context.
Olympians understand ups and downs and how to track progress. Every Olympic athlete has had to stare down disappointment and overcome it. When you look at your investment statement in this difficult market, are you constantly comparing it with the highest it ever was? If you had taken on more risk than you had realized, your high point was never real. If you had taken appropriate risk, then recognize your portfolio would never have reached those highs had you not been invested and it certainly won't return to them by putting it in cash.
Your financial progress is measured by your asset allocation, the percentage of your income that you dedicate to savings, your ability to spend appropriately on the things that matter the most to you and your ability to have money serve its appropriate role in your life rather than allowing it to take over your life.
You inevitably will go through periods where work is difficult, markets are problematic and you have regrets about things that you should or should not have done. Your resilience is what matters.
An Olympian balances technical expertise with emotional strength. Athletes know that, no matter how skilled they are in their sport, they still have to manage their emotions. In his book, "How Doctors Think," Dr. Jerome Groopman writes: "Cognition and emotion are inseparable."
Connecting all the dots
We had clients come in who recently retired. They were so nervous about the stock market that they wanted to make radical (and unnecessary) spending changes to preserve their nest egg decades from now. While we had shown them through our analysis how much more volatility they could undergo with their portfolio and still be fine, they were having a difficult time relating to this emotionally.
Our job is to connect the technical with the emotional. We went through all of their concerns and came at things from a few different angles until they were comfortable. If you are so emotionally distracted by your money, you will be certain to make poor decisions.
Olympians rely on outside advisers to help them meet their goals. Almost all Olympic athletes have coaches. Some have nutritionists, trainers and sports psychologists. Are you going it alone? You can buy a will-drafting kit and make your own estate plan. But a lawyer who focuses on estate planning may provide you with additional insight.
Many financial calculators can give you formulaic responses about how to invest or spend your money. While these serve a purpose, getting high-quality advice from someone who works with people in your situation will undoubtedly help you think about things in a broader context.
Many athletes change their coaches. If you have had a bad experience with a financial planner, it simply means that this planner was not the right one for you. Try to understand where things went wrong and create safeguards before you hire another one.
There are many more athletes than Olympians. Not every dedicated athlete makes it to the Olympics. But almost all were better off for trying.
Life may get in the way of your financial plan. We can't control for health or longevity. Sometimes people get divorced. But no matter what has gotten in the way of your objectives, you will be better off by incorporating a formal financial planning process in your decisions.
Taking the time to analyze why you are making your choices and determining which are most appropriate for you will help you in all facets of your life.
For me, I think I may not have the reflexes that I used to, so fencing is a long shot. But there's always curling.
Spend your life wisely.
Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. He is a certified financial planner and author of "The Wealth Management Index." His Gains & Losses column appears on the fourth Sunday of each month. His e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org.