Susan bradley, founder of the Sudden Money Institute in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., sees “financial transitions planning” as a specialized area of practice. Accordingly, she created a training track leading to the designation “Certified Financial Transitionist.” Beyond the designation, value lies in the experience that she and her faculty bring to the table in creating a disciplined process to understand the issues and human dynamics involved in a transition from one state or place in life to another.
Aging starts the second we are born, and technically, nine months or so before that. Through age 16 or so we don’t give much thought, if any, to planned processes. We are too busy dealing with growth spurts, periods of awkwardness and trying to figure out who we are. Somewhere around age 16 we get a clue that planning for life’s transitions may be wise when someone in authority asks, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” If we are thinking about a college education, we are asked, “What major will you pursue?”
Once we are about to graduate, we are asked, “What kind of a job do you want?” For many, serendipity plays a huge role in career development. It certainly did in my case.
Getting married and having children is the beginning of multiple long-term life transitions. For those who have been there, done that, in each situation you did not get an operating manual; most of it was learn as you go. You made mistakes, the building blocks of wisdom. You learned from contemporaries, mentors and coaches. Perhaps you read books like Viktor Frankl’s classic Man’s Search for Meaning or Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Life and you decided that having a plan to tackle the slings and arrows of life as well as opportunities might be a sound idea.
Somewhere around age 50 to age 60 you receive more than a few wakeup calls. Career decisions become more important as you contemplate what it takes to fund financial independence and a secure retirement, whatever that turns out to be. In your late 40s and early 50s you still may have kids in the nest with high-cost events ahead of you—education, cars for Suzie and Junior and weddings, someday, perhaps.
Avoiding The “Middle Age Crazies”
While 50 no longer is considered “middle age” by many, nevertheless the odds of health reverses, job or career challenges or the death of a spouse or parent increase. You may be dealing with significant caregiving challenges for an aging parent or another loved one. In the life transitions playbook, these are the big ones—the downsizing or loss of job or career; divorce after a long marriage; the death of a spouse or some other loved one; challenges involving health, disability, caregiving and special needs; and retirement and the search for meaning and purpose after kids and after career. Susan Bradley has said, “When money changes, life changes; when life changes, money changes.”
While a “money event” often compels a person to seek financial advice, a financial planner attuned to the dynamics of human motivations will “go beyond money” in helping to craft a plan. A holistic financial plan is both a road map and a role map as a person navigates a life transition—getting from where they are to where they wish to be.
Take the term “financial independence” or “financial freedom.” People see money as foundational to self-sufficiency, autonomy and peace of mind. As one ages it is normal to worry about outliving one’s money and becoming a burden on adult children or other loved ones or being forced into an unsatisfactory living arrangement. Giving up driving is a feared loss of freedom.
Notwithstanding the quest for independence, relationships are a factor in any life transition such as retirement, being laid off or downsized, the loss of a spouse or another loved one, a serious illness or injury. We need people in our lives. We seek to be connected; we miss friends and colleagues when we are separated from people important in our life.
How does money play into our need for connectedness, maintaining or renewing relationships, realigning our life to new roles? How often does a newly retired client sell their home and move to someplace else to be near children and grandchildren? How does aging in place play into scenarios?
Questions arise about passion and meaning when retirement is contemplated or experienced in a way that we did not expect. Maria C. Forbes is a Kolbe Certified Specialist in Johns Creek, Ga., (www.firepowerteams.com) who has worked with clients in my practice in helping them to realign career goals, find their passion in retirement pursuits or put together family teams and expert resource teams to help tackle the challenges involved in caregiving and other life transition challenges. Life transitions planners will by necessity become concierges, assembling resources and confidence-building resources aimed at getting people to the next phase of their life.
It is in our nature as loving human beings to want to give to others. Stewardship and altruism encompass the gift of time, talent and treasure. How does giving play into a client’s plan? Are they helping or potentially helping family members, children, grandchildren, parents, grandparents, other loved ones, friends? Is charitable intent a factor? Does such intent go beyond money? How is “legacy” defined?
A dear friend, an adventurous widow in her 70s, is a coordinator for Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). MSF is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. Today, MSF provides independent, impartial assistance in more than 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care or natural disasters. My friend has served in some of the poorest, most deprived and sometimes chaotic and dangerous places on our planet, in difficult and uncomfortable conditions. In her case, altruism and meaning goes way beyond money.
The Quest For Renewal And Energy
Often, in discussing matters of life and life transitions, when a person is coming off of a rough patch or a difficult challenge, rejuvenation is a motivation. A person wants to “feel alive” again with renewed energy and resolve. This may involve physical fitness, a positive attitude adjustment, roles in which you, and possibly members of your expert resource team (ERT), can make a vital and appreciated contribution. Sometimes money is involved, sometimes not. You may have personal trainers, therapists, grief counselors and experts on working with widows or widowers as part of your team of outside professionals. Travel often is involved in rejuvenation and a good travel agent may add to the team.
A lifelong quest for personal growth is a major motivating factor that seems to sharpen as we age, especially when children leave the nest. That is not just confined to those who have had a professional or business career. A stay-at-home parent had one of the most important jobs in the family unit. When the last child finally leaves the nest and achieves a measure of independence, the nurturing parent is “retired” in a very real sense of the word. Strong emotions often are involved, unrecognized by the working spouse and advisors.
Perhaps we spent the first 50 or 60 years of our life running hard to advance, at times merely staying in place. We worked to serve others, doing what was expected of us, delivering on promises made. At some point we may ask, “Where’s the ‘me time’?”
We may take courses, learn a language, write a book, take up a hobby or sport, get better at something, get more involved with church or charities, travel. As advisors we hear about “bucket lists” and the funding of dreams.
We have to get better at asking what the money is for. As Simon Sinek postulated in his masterful TED talk on ted.com, start with the why. Before you delve into what the client wants to do or how they should do it, determine why they want to do something and why your advice is appropriate to what they believe and want.
Money is just one of myriad tools. Ask the client, “What do you want your money to do?” “How does money play into what you want to be, what you want to experience going forward, the outcome that you desire?” At the completion of your life transition, what will your “new normal” look like?
The utmost in altruism, autonomy, true freedom, liberation, connectedness, personal growth, wisdom and revitalization is when you truly can say, “It’s not about me anymore.” Your definition of net worth has just moved from the material realm to a spiritual dimension. That may be the ultimate life transition.
Lewis Walker, a financial planner since 1975, is the founder of Walker Capital Management Corp. in Norcross, Ga.