Stick a seed in the ground, sprinkle some water on it and let the sun do its work. Before long you’ll have a bounty of fresh produce and a bouquet of beautiful flowers! Sounds easy, right? Those of us who have spent any time gardening will beg to differ.
Gardening requires a consistent and ongoing effort throughout the year: planning, planting, weeding, feeding, watering, harvesting and composting (don’t forget about the insects). Then, as the winter months approach, you can expect another round of planting, pruning and winterizing. The effort can easily overwhelm or inspire procrastination. I’ll be the first to admit to planning a well-intentioned garden whose ultimate fate became a quagmire of overgrowth and rotten fruit. If you’ve ever read my pieces in the past, you can probably sense the analogy taking shape. So, what’s the parallel of finance to the tireless and ongoing effort required by gardening? You guessed it: financial planning!
My cohorts have a mantra we often repeat to ourselves (and to our clients): Financial planning is a process, not a product. Before the ink dries on a financial plan, it’s already out-of-date. Here’s how a few of the elements of planning remain dynamic over time:
As markets shift, your portfolio follows. Your needs may also change, as may your appetite for risk. Periodic rebalancing is advisable, and there is often an opportunity to harvest a loss, take some gains or change strategies altogether. If neglected, a portfolio can become overgrown with weeds and unable to thrive in even optimal conditions.
Over time, a well-crafted estate plan can become burdensome or lose relevance. First off, our own lives are far from static; our families, dependents, beneficiaries and objectives are subject to change. Second, a shifting legal or tax landscape can alter the need for specific provisions or protections. Adapt to the changing conditions and pay attention to the health of your plan.
Even in calm waters, no two tax years are the same. Pay attention to your income picture, consult with a professional, and make needed adjustments throughout the year.
Just when you think you’ve got it under control, the roof caves in! Even the most well-designed budgets are subject to chance and “surprise.” Resist the temptation to swipe your card and look the other way. Periodic reviews of spending will help you to understand your needs, wants, and habits.
When it comes to personal finance, it pays to keep your hands in the earth. Stay engaged with the process as the seasons change and the fruit comes to bear. And, hopefully, you’ll enjoy the bounty throughout.
Scott Mazuzan is a certified financial planner for F.L. Putnam Investment Management Company, an independent firm that provides investment management and financial planning services. You can follow his blog at flputnam.com/blog