The level of public disagreement in the financial kingdom—which adds financial media, gurus, educators, authors and bloggers on top of the behemoth financial industry—has become so prominent that the public doesn’t know who or what to believe.
Disagreement—or put more politely, differentiation—pays the bills. It puts us on the map, drawing attention to us and our ideas. Differentiation isn’t inherently bad, but it’s certainly not always good. “The thing is, differentiation is selfish,” says Seth Godin, marketing author/guru extraordinaire. “Most customers, of course, don’t have the same selfish view of the market, the same obsessed knowledge of features and benefits.”
We, as financial experts, might consider acknowledging that those whose patronage we seek don’t care nearly as much as we do about that which differentiates us. Their lives do not hinge (as ours often seem to) on the difference between passive and active investment strategies, term and permanent insurance, fee-only and fee-based planning, fiduciary and suitability standards, capital gains and ordinary income tax rates, and the list goes on and on.
Even though we may be willing to sacrifice our very livelihood, devoted to differentiating on one or more of these issues, most people who seek the opinions of financial experts just want a better life.
THE FINANCIAL COMMON GROUND PROJECT
The differentiation frenzy came to a head a few weeks ago when Dave Ramsey reared back and threw a round-house tweet at a collective of financial planners who aggressively questioned the validity of his investment approach. I wondered in a blog post response if a diverse group of financial experts would come together to find common ground, to affirm what we jointly believe to be the foundational principles of personal finance, to momentarily set aside our differentiation and speak in a single voice for no commercial benefit.
Over 30 experts from a wide variety of specialties and four different countries answered with a resounding YES. Together, we co-authored a list of 12 Unifying Principles of Personal Finance that we hope experts and consumers alike can support and benefit from.
The only question now is, are we the only ones? Please read the list below and click HERE to show your support for this initiative:
THE UNIFYING PRINCIPLES OF PERSONAL FINANCE
- Progress: The benchmark for success in personal financial planning is progress, not perfection. Excellence is more a product of good habits than a revolutionary event.
- Discipline: A household must consistently spend less than it earns, regardless of the level of income. The foundation of financial success is a disciplined cash flow system (such as a budget), which is designed to make household spending decisions purposefully and in advance.
- Debt: Debt wisely used can help build wealth, but fueling unsustainable lifestyles with borrowing is the quickest path to financial ruin. We are well-served to pursue an eventual debt-free path.
- Buffer: Changes, surprises and failures are guaranteed, but their impact can be minimized through the creation of a financial buffer. This buffer—a cushion of cash savings—will help lessen the burden of emergencies and other unexpected events.
- Risk: It is better to make an informed risk management decision than to act on a consequential reaction. Many risks can be adequately managed through risk avoidance, risk reduction or self-insuring through risk assumption. However, the potential for catastrophes from which a household could not survive financially should be transferred through insurance.
- Investing: Investors have succeeded utilizing strategies on a continuum ranging from entirely passive to surprisingly active. None succeed purposefully, however, without following a disciplined strategy.
- Taxes: Taxes are an important element of financial decisions, but rarely the most important. Tax minimization is wise while tax evasion is illegal.
- Giving: Giving of time and money is good for everyone, donors and recipients alike, and may also result in a reduction in taxes.
- Future: Plan for tomorrow, live for today. Failure to plan for major expenses, such as education and retirement, is folly; but deferring all gratification for the future strips the joy from life today.
- Estate: Everyone, with very few exceptions, should have well-conceived and clearly written estate planning documents including, at minimum, a will (with or without a revocable trust), a durable financial power of attorney and advance directives (including a health care power of attorney and living will).
- Legacy: Leaving a legacy—a relational impact on friends, family and community—is as or more important than leaving an estate—the sum of your assets less your liabilities at death.
- Guidance: Whether from a book, blog, article, class, radio program, TV show, advisor or specialist, financial advice is only beneficial to the degree that it is consistent with your values and goals and leads to action.