When cooking up holiday treats or your financial future, smart planning is key

I’m not the main cook in our house (I give my wife full credit for putting amazing meals on the table every day!), but I do love to eat—and cook. Of course, my passion for all things food is in full swing this time of year. Whether I’m baking up some pumpkin spice bread at Thanksgiving or this super crumb coffee cake on Christmas morning, I’m thrilled to be in the kitchen even more than usual.

One of the things I love most about cooking is the magic of turning a few basic ingredients into a delicious treat. That process, from start to finish, is a lot like creating a financial plan. Both tasks require the perfect blend of proven methods, creativity, and the right tools.

Whether you’re working in the kitchen or working to build a stronger financial future, here are 6 rules of thumb to help you succeed:

  • Focus on the end product. It’s happened to every cook I know: halfway through a new recipe, you realize something needs to be marinated or refrigerated or cooked down for hours—and you only have 30 minutes to get food on the table. The problem: you were so focused on the task at hand that you lost sight of the end-goal. To keep the same thing from happening to your financial plan, start by defining your goals and what you want your money to accomplish. By focusing on your goal (and carefully reading that recipe through before diving in!), you’re much more likely to produce the result you want.
  • Remember that timing is everything. If you cook, you know how challenging it can be to get everything on the table at the right time. If your timing is off, you can end up with cold mashed potatoes, overcooked prime rib, and undercooked Brussels sprouts. In financial planning, it’s easy to make the same mistake. Focus too heavily on funding your kids’ education and your retirement plan may not be fully “baked” and funded when you need that money most. Work with your advisor to coordinate all the pieces of your puzzle and get the timing right (without trying to time the market!).
  • Don’t keep secrets. I’ve heard the story of my great-grandmother’s amazing gingerbread my whole life, but I’ve never tasted it. Why? She died without sharing the recipe… with anyone. It was her cherished secret, and she took it to her grave. That’s sad, but it’s not nearly as tragic as when a family member dies without sharing their estate plan with their heirs. Or, even worse, not building an estate plan in the first place and squandering the family wealth. Talk about money as a family. Create a solid estate plan, talk to your parents about their plans, and talk to your children about your own as soon as they are old enough for that important discussion. Make it a rule: no money secrets!
  • Cook what you know. On the cooking show Chopped (one of my favorites), chefs compete by turning baskets of mystery ingredients into a three-course meal. It seems impossible when items like squid ink and pickled pig lips (yes, really) come into play, but it seems the contestants always make it work by focusing on the basics and incorporating even the weirdest ingredients into recipes they know and trust. In financial planning, it’s just as vital to understand exactly how each ‘ingredient’ in your plan fits into your own big picture. Never purchase an investment or insurance product that you don’t fully understand, and work with an advisor who is a fiduciary that is dedicated to always working in your best interest—not to earning a hefty commission for themselves. Unlike the contestants on Chopped, you always have the freedom to leave it out of the recipe.
  • Don’t get flashy. Beginning cooks have a tendency to over-spice every dish. After all, the more spice there is, the better it will taste, right? Wrong. Experienced chefs know that subtle ingredients, careful preparation, and proper execution allow the main ingredient to really shine through. When cooking up your financial plan, instead of adding too much “spice,” focus on the basic pillars of financial planning—investing, tax planning, insurance, retirement planning, and estate planning—and work with your advisor to blend these ingredients to match your own situation.
  • Be flexible. My coffee cake recipe calls for a key ingredient: buttermilk. But what if there’s none in the kitchen? That’s when smart cooks get creative to make substitutes like this with the ingredients on hand. When your financial life throws you curveballs, you can use a similar approach to create a recipe that works. Remember that your financial plan is a living, breathing, dynamic strategy that can (and should) be adjusted to meet your needs. Work with an advisor who will sit down with you at least once a year to review your plan to see if your recipe is working as is—or if it’s time to apply some creative solutions to help you reach your goals.

My grandmother always said that the secret ingredient in every recipe is love. I couldn’t agree more. I also know that when a financial advisor loves what he or she does—and loves helping clients build stronger financial futures—it shines through in the end. To create your financial plan, choose an advisor and a team that clearly love what they do. Once you have your team in place, start planning as early as possible, gather your ingredients, create a careful plan, and (most important of all) leave sufficient ‘baking’ time to be sure everything is timed just right. Whether you’re cooking up holiday treats or your financial future, it’s the best recipe for success.  


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