This is the last in a September series[i] that has featured guest posts from some of the most prolific bloggers and authors in the realm of money and life today. If you missed any of them, I encourage you to revisit the wisdom Derek Sivers, Chris Guillebeau and J.D. Roth shared with us on TimMaurer.com. And we complete this series of superstars with the person who I believe has taken the most unique approach to enhancing our understanding of personal finance—certainly the most artistic!
Carl Richards is a financial planner, blogger and the founder of the elusive Secret Society of Real Financial Planners. Armed with a Sharpie and cardstock, Carl used his limited artistic skills to communicate some of the more complex and profound truths of financial planning and investing to clients with simple sketches. His building body of work at www.BehaviorGap.com received more notice than he expected, and he was invited to become a regular contributor to the New York Times. In January 2012, Portfolio/Penguin will publish Carl’s first book, Behavior Gap: Simple Ways to Stop Doing Dumb Things With Money.
Thankfully, I’ve also had the privilege of getting to know Carl personally, and through that relationship, I can certify beyond any doubt that Carl’s means, methods and message are not merely a smokescreen for attracting followers or selling books, but based on the foundational values upon which he grounds his life at work and home. He’s been kind enough to share a sketch and a few words with us:
It seems like making important financial decisions should be easy. After all, it’s just simple math, right? We’ve all been taught that one plus one equals two. Consequently, we often think that the process of making good financial decisions is as simple as plugging a few numbers into a spreadsheet or an online calculator. After hitting enter, we’ll have the answer.
The problem, of course, is that it doesn’t seem to be that simple. Making good financial decisions requires that we consider the implications of those decisions within the context of our lives. My life and your life do not look the same; therefore, they don’t fit into a spreadsheet.
What may be a good financial decision for me may be a disaster for you and vice versa. In my day job as a financial planner, I’m often asked by friends or people in the media, “What are you telling your clients to do now?” Recently I found myself becoming increasingly agitated by that question. Because of course the answer is, “It depends on the client you’re referring to,” because the answer will be as unique as their situation.
Real financial planning happens at the intersection of your life and your money. The problem of course is that this intersection is an emotional place. I think this is a challenge because most of us were raised with the idea that money, sex, and politics are not things that we discuss openly or in polite company.
Most of our parents felt like it was their job to protect us from the financial side of our families. We didn’t talk about money at the dinner table and chances are we didn’t talk about money at all. Our parents’ well-intentioned desire to protect their kids has left most of us ill-equipped to deal with the emotional issues that surround financial decisions and with the distinct belief that financial decisions can and should fit into a nice clean spreadsheet.
But they don’t. Dreams, fears, and our most cherished goals for our children don’t fit into a spreadsheet. Often those things are what financial decisions are really about. It’s not about finding the best investment; it’s about asking ourselves why we’re investing in the first place.
So in light of this fact, how do we go about making good financial decisions? It starts with taking the time to get really clear about where we’re trying to go and, maybe even more importantly, about why. So my suggestion is to stop watching Jim Cramer scream about nothing important and to put down the latest research report you received from the brokerage firm. Instead, take that time to have meaningful conversations with the people you love about money, your values as a family, and the kind of life you want to live together.
The subtitle of my first book was “The Intersection of Money and Life,” but I’m not sure I’ve seen anyone encapsulate it better. Many thanks, Carl!