This discussion of possibilities is usually wide-ranging and exhilarating! We ask clients to consider each spending category without thinking about its impact on the total; this encourages more open-ended discussion of possibilities and feelings about alternatives.

Eventually, we total all the "What Can Be" spending categories and compare it with the expected income in the section we call "calculation of surplus or deficit." This is the reality check. If there is a surplus after funding all the dreams, eureka! Often there is an operating cash-flow deficit on the first pass. Sometimes this is OK. To see if the result is workable from a long-term perspective, we plug this spending-plan data into our long-term cash-flow worksheet. If it appears to jeopardize the clients' lifetime security or other personal goals, we go back to the income and spending assumptions and work on trade-offs and priorities until our clients have successfully described their affordable dream. Spending Plan

J. Michael Martin, JD, CFP, is president of Financial Advantage in Columbia, Md.

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