Financial Ambitions

It is good to have the desire to improve your financial situation. You want to keep moving forward, even if you are happy with your progress to this point. Where do you turn for guidance? Your neighbor with the latest stock tip likely doesn’t understand the full scope of your needs. And the Saturday morning money show might just be a front for selling insurance products.

The challenge with creating your own financial plan is removing yourself from the situation. What do I mean by that? We as humans are often our own worst enemy when it comes to money decisions. If you’ve had recent investment success, you are likely to continue taking aggressive risks. An investment mistake will leave you cautious and more conservative in the future. Not knowing where to start may leave you paralyzed in the present moment.

So how can you lay out a plan and avoid behavioral mistakes? Whether you create your own financial plan or work with a qualified advisor, take these four steps:

Educate yourself. Making the right decision on anything requires a basic level of knowledge. Personal finance is rarely taught in a formal education program, so you are left on your own. The quickest way to build your financial knowledge is combining three different paths: personal experiences, learning from others, and formal education. Financial knowledge comes in a cycle. First, you test your knowledge in real time. Follow this experience with valuable feedback from others. And finally, take the lessons learned and apply them in a better way.

Know your journey. If you want to drive to a specific destination in an unfamiliar place, you will likely open Google Maps on your phone. The app will ask you where you are starting from and where you would like to go. Creating a financial plan is no different. You first need to understand where you are today and where your final destination is -- or what your goals are. The more precise you are with the inputs, the more accurate the directions will be.

Interview experts. The best way to learn from successful people is to talk with them directly. If you want to understand your personal finances better, reach out to the experts. Can’t get in contact with Jack Bogle, the founder of Vanguard? You can rent his books from the local library and learn most all of what he has to say. If career advancement is part of your financial plan, find the leaders in your industry and connect with them.

Build your financial map. Review what you have learned during this process and start to create your plan. Not everything you come across or everyone you talk to will be relevant to your situation. But that is okay. I have learned that knowing what you don’t want is just as valuable as knowing what you do. Your plan should be part financial data and part lifestyle ambitions. The data will drive how you invest and with which accounts. Lifestyle ambitions will tell you where you’re headed and when you will arrive.