My wife Beth and I decided to venture on another road trip with our girls this summer, so we booked a cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. This will be our fourth family road trip. We figure we don’t have many years left before the girls become teens and may think places like Dollywood are too “uncool” to visit, especially with their parents.
The process of planning a vacation is in so many ways a similar exercise to the process of financial planning. Each year when we plan our family vacation, the biggest challenge is deciding where to go. Planning a trip initially seems daunting for us because we only have a limited amount of time and we want to make the very best of it. I always find it amazing though that once we choose our destination, everything seems to immediately fall into place. The actions we have to take instantly align with our chosen path – where to stay, how to get there, even what to pack, all become perfectly clear. In many ways this process is so similar to planning the rest of our life. I know that way of saying it may sound strange, but after doing this for over 35 years it’s my new way of referring to what the financial industry commonly calls financial planning. I think it captures the essence of what the process should be. Financial planning sounds so outside the realm of humanity. The focus is put almost exclusively on the financial part leaving out the most important element, the human element. To me, financial planning is the intersection of planning the rest of your life and then figuring out how you’re going to pay for it.
When my family and I go on vacation, we spend time and money on things that we find important, or stated differently, the things we value. Having a budget for a vacation is not much different than having a budget for living. It is uncommon, however, for people to think of their monthly budget within the context of their values. Similarly, thinking about our life’s destination is not a practice that comes naturally for most of us. It is so easy to get caught up in the day-to-day that we focus the majority of our time and effort on things that are urgent, but not deeply connected to that which is important to us, our values. It’s easy to get very focused when it comes to planning a vacation because the time we have “away from it all” is very limited. The limited time frame helps us focus because we don’t want to blow it. Yet we treat the remainder of our life like time is limitless. Perhaps it begins with looking at the fact that our lives are more limited than our vacations. You can take many vacations, and some will be better than others, but you are only given one life. You might want to consider expending the same focus, effort and energy on planning the rest of your life that you spend planning your two-weeks out of town. You wouldn’t want to blow it.
Alice says to the Cheshire cat “I just wanted to ask you, which way I ought to go?” he replied “well, that depends on where you want to get to.” She responds “oh, it really doesn’t matter, as long as I….” he interrupts and says “then it really doesn’t matter which way you go.”