‘The One-Page Financial Plan’—Simple, But Not Simplistic

Originally in ForbesSimple is hot, even fashionable. But in many cases, it’s for all the wrong reasons. Simple is easier to pitch, explain and sell, and therefore also easier to receive, understand and buy. But when simple devolves into simplistic, becoming a one-dimensional end instead of a user-friendly means, it’s no longer an advantage and may actually be doing damage. Not everything can be turned into a tagline, a rule of thumb or a short cut.

Therefore, when my colleague and New York Times contributor Carl Richards first asked me a couple years ago to think about what a financial plan might look like if it was constrained to a single page, I was skeptical. After all, I’d dedicated my life and work to helping people, primarily in their dealings with money, wholly through the written and spoken word. The fullness of that education seemed impossible to responsibly confine to a single page. Then I read Carl’s new book, The One-Page Financial Plan

At 208 pages, it may be a tad shorter than most personal finance books, but it’s obviously longer than one page. There is, however, a single page in it that I believe will help you understand why the book was written and how it could benefit you. On page 11, toward the end of the book’s introduction, Richards shares with us his family’s first attempt at an actual one-page financial plan.

Simplicity Overdose

Decisions The other night I got together for a drink with a good friend to pause and reflect on our lives… especially how we can best serve our families and vocational missions.  He’s an excellent listener and a graceful inquisitor with a tendency to ask the kinds of questions that lead me towards meaningful realizations and occasional revelations.  As I was answering one of those probing questions, I realized that I’ve spent the last couple years yearning for a greater level of peace in my life through simplicity.  I’ve read books and blogs on the subject and asked mentors and gurus how they have and have not found this peace in their own lives.  But despite (or maybe because of) my vigorous search, I’ve taken very few steps in benefiting from any of the wisdom I’ve internalized.  Why?  It appears that I am at risk of reaching the point of “analysis paralysis” regarding simplicity.  How ironic—a simplicity overdose!

How often do you think that we reach a superficial level of satisfaction in some area of our lives—our job, family, health, finances or education—simply because we have improved our understanding intellectually in that arena?  I see this often in my vocation…  Individuals and couples breathe a huge sigh of relief after they consume a comprehensive list of recommendations.  But this false sense of security decries the reality that it’s not until they implement the recommendations that a tangible benefit will be derived.  In my case, I’ve concluded that the glimpse of a future benefit from a more simple approach to life is actually preventing me from gaining that tangible peace I seek.

Yes, there is inherent value in knowing and understanding what we need to do to improve an area of our lives.  Without that recognition, positive change is only incidental or accidental.  But the benefit of knowledge and understanding is diminished nearly to the point of irrelevance when not accompanied by tangible, deliberate action.  So in keeping with my simplicity resolution, I’ll subvert the urge to suggest, say, “three steps” towards benefiting from this particular insight and give only one: Know LESS; Do MORE.  (… or was that two?)