As someone who works at a financial planning firm, and who spends much of his day helping create and improve financial plans, what I’m about to write may seem strange: plans are worthless, but planning is everything.
Sound familiar? It probably should. It’s a quote by former president Dwight D. Eisenhower, recalling his experience as a staff officer in the lead-up to World War I. Some of his fellow officers, confident that America wouldn’t be pulled into a European war, tossed out their detailed military maps of the French countryside. It was far more likely, they decided, that the army would be fighting enemies in Kansas and Pennsylvania than France. Fortunately, the vicious and warlike Canadians never invaded. Unfortunately, many of those same officers soon found themselves in bloody trench warfare on the Western Front. Most of the cities, roads, and forts they fought for tooth and nail in 1918 were clearly labeled on the war plans they had discarded only years before.
Eisenhower’s point was this: a plan can very easily fall apart when it encounters the unexpected or the unknown. You can make a plan to visit a city, or prepare dinner, but you cannot make a plan to fight an entire war, or to meet a future spouse. More variables introduce more uncertainty.
In situations like these, the process of planning is far more important than the plan itself. The former president described it like this: “…if you haven’t been planning you can’t start to work, intelligently at least. That is the reason it is so important to plan, to keep yourselves steeped in the character of the problem you may one day be called upon to solve [emphasis mine].”
Financial planning certainly isn’t as dangerous as the Western Front, but it still involves many unknowns. People change their minds about how much they’ll work and when they’ll stop working. Sometimes they have no choice in the matter. Health problems flare up. Some relatives might need help. Others might leave money. And that is saying nothing about bigger and broader unknowns: politicians change the tax code, markets fluctuate, and the Social Security Trust Fund may deplete within a few decades. We can make estimates about how long money will last, or how much it will grow, but change any of these variables and it may have a substantial impact on the overall picture.
That is why it is critical, in spite of how reassuring the cold hard numbers on a projection may feel, to “steep” yourself in the problem of financial planning, or to find an advisor to do so on your behalf. No piece of paper or bytes of software can ever replace a human mind. They are tools to an end, “planning” rather than “the plan”. That is, unless I have to spend a long time formatting them to look nice. Then they are most definitely “The Plan.”
Here at Winch we have advisors with decades of experience, who know everything from mortgages to estate planning inside and out. Call or e-mail the office to see one today.