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When it comes to financial planning, I have found that a systematic approach is needed to make important decisions, focus on what matters most, and evaluate options. In previous posts I introduced the guiding principles of wealth management:

  1.  Make your balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio your friend
  2. Compare your finances to standards of excellence
  3. Stress-test your financial plan
  4. Know what is holding you back and spurring you forward
  5. Be specific and proactive to make permanent changes

To achieve the desired consistency, I find that people need a well-designed structure. I strive to provide this structure in my role as a financial advisor.

In my previous four posts I introduced my guiding principles of wealth management, along with the first four principles (links to one, twothree and four). Today I will discuss the fifth and last guiding principle:

Be specific and proactive by identifying and implementing the actions that will result in the best permanent changes

PrintOver the years, I have had the privilege of observing how clients meet challenges and tackle opportunities. Some have a knack for succeeding in any task they take on, while others seem to struggle more than they need to. Eventually, I saw a key distinction between these two groups: Successful people are usually very specific and proactive, while those who struggle tend to be vague and reactive. They set goals, but they do not follow through with a plan of specific actions aimed at meeting those goals. Consequently, instead of controlling events, they wind up responding to events. Getting stuck in reactive mode is another example of the 85% Trap.

By contrast, when successful people see a need or set a goal for themselves, they develop a specific plan of action. In keeping with the concept of the Essential 15%, they strive to find a permanent solution to every challenge, as opposed to a solution that requires ongoing effort.

In my previous four posts I introduced my guiding principles of wealth management, along with the first three principles (links to one, two, and three). Today I will discuss the fourth guiding principle, which is one of the most enjoyable for me to use as a financial advisor while helping clients:

Know what is holding you back, spurring you forward, and serving you best

Road cartoonThis kind of self awareness is essential to have the energy, confidence, and focus to support your financial plan. Wealth mastery cannot be pursued with out a degree of self-mastery and self-knowledge. You need to know what is working against you and deal with it. You need to know what you have in your favor and use it to the best possible advantage.

In my experience as a financial advisor, I have found that people often lack such self-awareness. So, I have made it one of my guiding principles to take proper time for reflection. With weaknesses especially—habits of mind that can hold you back—people often need a third party or a sympathetic ear to surface issues.

In my last few posts I have discussed my first few guiding principles for wealth management: make your balance sheet your friend and compare your financial plan to standards of excellence. Today I will discuss the third principle:

Back-test and stress-test your financial plan under various scenarios to further reveal strengths, weaknesses, and possibilities.

Checklist

The “Elastic Limit” is a term I’ve borrowed from engineering because it has tremendous relevance in wealth management and financial planning. It refers to the amount of stress a material can withstand before undergoing permanent deformation. For example, if you stand on a wooden bench, the wood may sag a bit and bounce back when you jump off. However, if several NFL linemen stand on the same bench, the wood will probably warp, crack, or break.

In a previous post I introduced my set of five guiding principles for managing finances, the first of which was “Make Your Balance Sheet Your Friend.” Today I will discuss the second principle:

Compare your finances to standards of excellence and use them to make enhancements

Apple Orange

When people with wealth describe to me how they view their current position, they use a wide variety of yardsticks to measure themselves. Some are troubled because they are comparing their finances to friends, family, or associates who appear to be much better off. Others are troubled because they have lost a large portion of their net worth through market declines, bad investments, or business setbacks.

It is more common, though, to meet people who feel quite confident and secure because they’re doing much better than they imagined they would when they were younger. Their confidence may be fueled by the good opinion of others around them, since wealthy, successful people are often accorded tremendous respect and kid-glove treatment.

There is nothing wrong with these benefits of success, but you can’t allow them to lull you into false assumptions about your financial position. If you want to know where you really stand in terms of financial strength, you need to employ objective standards of excellence.

In this article, I will discuss what I call the first guiding principle for managing wealth:

Make your balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio your friend

Accounting

There is a critical distinction between possessing a high net worth and having a strong balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio. Problems in these three areas can give rise to huge frustrations and mistakes. The predicament of a gentleman I’ll call “Harry” illustrates this point.

In terms of net worth, Harry was in an excellent position, with total assets valued at somewhere north of $60 million. I would have thought it safe to assume that his balance sheet, cash flow, and portfolio were spectacular, but that was not the case. A very high percentage of his assets was locked up in a private company he owned, or in his homes and other personal property. In fact, when I first met him, his liquid and semi-liquid assets were not sufficient to sustain his rate of spending for much longer. Though he had a $3 million portfolio, he was beginning to tap it at an unsustainable rate. Harry was wealthy and he felt wealthy, but he was heading toward an inevitable cash crunch.

Part of Harry’s problem was that he needed to be more cost conscious. A lot of his cash flow problems came down to over-paying for various goods and services. His mortgage payments were much higher than they needed to be. He was bleeding cash in the form of high brokerage fees. He was paying far too much for financial advice and services that were focusing on the 85% Trap and missing the Essential 15%.

Principles for Devising a Robust System

Henry Ford’s solution to paying workers for time spent “walking about” was a new system, the assembly line, an idea he adapted from the overhead trolleys used in the meat processing industry. “The first step forward in assembly came when we began taking the work to the men instead of the men to the work,” Ford later wrote. That slight but critical shift in thinking led to a huge leap in productivity. Average production times for a car fell from 21 days to 9 hours. The price of a Ford-made automobile fell from $950 in 1909 to $355 in 1921.†

Like any successful system, Ford’s assembly line was designed around guiding principles.

  1. Each worker would have one task and one task alone.
  2. The line itself had to be “man high” so that workers would not waste time and get fatigued by constant stooping.
  3. The speed of the line was calibrated to ensure that a worker was neither rushed nor left biding his time. “He must have every second necessary,” Ford wrote, “but not a singe unnecessary second.”


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