Sailing into the Future
Most of us will start the year with some New Year’s resolutions. I’m sure that getting healthier by going to the gym is probably highest on most people’s lists but financial goals are also a popular choice. Whether it’s saving for something important, reducing credit card debt or being more careful about what we spend.
But how many of us will be thinking longer term and setting up a plan for the future? Do you ever find yourself thinking about what you would like to do with the little time you have left on this planet? Will you have enough money to enjoy your future? Could you afford to help your family financially when they need it most?
A financial plan can certainly help answer these questions or show you how they could be achieved.
Embarking on a financial plan is like sailing around the world. The voyage won't always go to plan and there'll be rough seas, but those who are prepared, flexible, patient and well-advised greatly increase the odds of reaching their destinations. A mistake many inexperienced sailors make is not having a plan at all. They embark without a clear sense of their destination. And once they do decide, they often find themselves lost at sea in the wrong boat with inadequate provisions.
Likewise, in planning an investment journey, you need to decide on your goal. A first step might be to consider whether the goal is realistic and achievable. For instance, while you may long to buy a holiday home in a warmer climate, you may not be prepared to sacrifice your needs today to satisfy that distant desire.
Once you are set on a realistic destination, you need to ensure you have the right tools to get you there. Is everything you’ve acquired fit for purpose? Have you planned for multiple contingencies? What degree of "bad weather" can your plan withstand along the way?
Key to a successful voyage is a good navigator. A trusted financial planner is like that, regularly taking coordinates and making adjustments, if necessary. If your circumstances change, the planner may suggest you re-plot your course.
As with the weather at sea, markets can be unpredictable. A sudden squall can whip up waves of volatility, tides can shift and strong currents can threaten to blow you off course. Like a seasoned sailor, an experienced planner will work with the conditions.
Once the storm passes, you can pick up speed again. Just as a sturdy vessel will help you withstand most conditions at sea, a well-diversified portfolio of savings and investments can act as a bulwark against the sometimes tempestuous conditions in markets.
Circumnavigating the globe is not exciting every day. Patience is required with local customs and paperwork as you pull into different ports. Likewise, a lack of attention to costs and taxes are the enemy of many people’s finances.
Distractions can also send investors, like sailors, off course. In the face of "hot" investment trends, it takes discipline not to veer from your chosen plan. Like the sirens of Greek mythology, media pundits can also be diverting, tempting you to change tack and act on news that is already priced in to markets.
A lack of flexibility is another impediment to a successful investment journey. If it doesn't look like you'll make your destination in time, you may have to extend your voyage, or take a different route to get there or even moderate your goal.
The important point is that you become comfortable with the idea that uncertainty is inherent to the investment journey, just as it is with any sea voyage. That is why preparation and planning are so critical. While you can't control every outcome, you can be prepared for the range of possibilities and understand that you have clear choices if things don't go according to plan.
If you can't live with the volatility, you can change your plan. If the goal looks unachievable, you can lower your sights. If it doesn't look like you'll arrive on time, you can extend your journey.
Of course, not everyone's journey is the same. Neither is everyone's destination. We take different routes to different places and we meet a range of challenges and opportunities along the way.
But for all of us, it's critical that we are prepared for our journeys in the right vessel, that we keep our destinations in mind, that we stick with the plans, and that we have a trusted navigator to chart our courses and keep us on target.