"Mornin', Hank." "Mornin', Jeb." The weathered dairy farmers standing by the cash register had grown up tending their families' Herefords just outside of Blair in north-central New Hampshire. More acquaintances than what you would call friends, they have been exchanging routine Saturday-morning pleasantries at Granite State Feed & Supply their whole adult lives.

In their late fifties now, Hank and Jeb see each other at the Grange on Wednesday nights, and on Sundays, they nod across the aisle in the white clapboard church their great-grandparents helped build in "aught five." Neither has seen the "new" airport in Manchester that opened in 1996. Farming is their life.

Leaning against the checkout counter, Jeb asked casually, "How's the cash flow, Hank?" "Cash flow's fine, Jeb. Jest cain't seem to stop none of it," the other allowed. "Yep," Jeb pursed his lips and nodded knowingly.

Later that same summer, Jeb and Hank happened to be loading Saturday supplies into their Ford pickups behind the feed store. "Mornin', Jeb." "Mornin', Hank. I hear you won $2 million in the lottery. Whatcha gonna do now?" "Well," Hank began thoughtfully as though considering the question for the first time, "s'pose I'll jest keep farmin' till it's all gone."

Don't Ask Me To Do It!

Whether your clients are dairy farmers or doctors, you probably recognize Hank's casual, almost helpless attitude toward cash flow. It has been my experience as a personal financial advisor that many families are unsatisfied with the quality of life they have built for themselves. But it doesn't occur to them to take a fresh look at how they spend their money. Most seem to have more or less stumbled into their particular pattern of spending through a series of unrelated, not especially thoughtful decisions. People tend to get set in their ways, and the older we get, the more we seem to resist change ... even when we're unhappy with our circumstances.

Rare is the household that actually prioritizes its wants and needs and makes a realistic plan about how to spend its income. The very word "budget" has fallen into serious disrepute. It smacks of self-denial, never a very popular concept. In its worst interpretations, it implies penury and financial failure, as in: "They have to budget every nickel."

As an advisor, you understand that the classic idea of budgeting is to thoughtfully allocate a predicted level of income across a range of possible uses in a way that will produce maximum personal satisfaction. Its purpose is to empower, not to confine. In our practice, we have discovered that calling this exercise a "spending plan" makes it considerably more acceptable to clients because it changes the focus from what we cannot have or do to what we can.

An Exciting Process

Most prospective retirees come to our offices looking for help with investments and estate planning. And we're glad they come because we love to do those things. But our preretirement interviews very often lead us to what has always been the foundation of the financial-planning process ... cash flow.