If You Can’t Eat Your Own Cooking… A Personal Narrative of Change

By Mike Branham

If there is one common theme during which our clients, or prospective clients, often rely on our skills as financial planners, it’s in the transitions that life provides.

These transitions come as both positive experiences and challenges that require careful thought and consideration. I recently had a prospective client suggest that meeting with us might be poorly timed given some employment changes they faced. In reality, that was the perfect time for us to engage in conversation and planning work!

For the optimist, life is full of positive surprises. Frequently our clients get married, have children, receive a promotion or raise, or experience a change in employment geography. And, of course, retirement itself is a major change for all.

On the flip side, we also help clients navigate the challenges of divorce, job loss, death, and disability. These can be particularly difficult times, and always bring a mixture of emotional and practical considerations. Clearly, there are too many transitions in life to name here, but clients often recognize when to ask us about the changes they face.

At other times we rely on training, expertise, and a keen ear for listening to identify threats and opportunities. With all this in mind, it’s not just clients that face these transitions!  As planners, we often find ourselves with the same planning needs our clients face on a regular basis.

And as an individual I’m in the throes of change at this very moment! Professionally I’ve been afforded the opportunity to serve clients not only in my home state of Minnesota, but also to join an established practice in the great state of Alaska. While there are many details that will become clearer over time, my own experience as a planner can help with our transitions, and it’s likely a good opportunity for me to get objective third-party advice.

Here’s a list of some questions I’m asking myself and my family as our lives evolve:

  1. What are the ideal objectives, outcomes, or goals my family has for the changes we face? Starting with the end in mind can help build the road map to success for all involved.
  2. How do we prioritize what to deal with today, and what decisions we’re able to put off to a future, yet appropriate, time? The introduction of transition can cause uncertainty and uneasiness. It’s important to realize that we don’t have to have an answer for every detail or to all questions at the outset. We use a tool developed by the Sudden Money Institute™ to create a “Now, Soon, Later” list with clients….and for ourselves.
  3. How does change affect me personally? How might it affect my family? I’ve made the commitment to clients in both Minnesota and Alaska to be personally available and responsive to their various needs. But what does that mean for my wife and kids?

Mike-Julie AKWith two kids in high school, and another moving into young adulthood, how can we manage change while maintaining a reasonable amount of stability in the young lives of our children?  When, and to where, do we move?  Do we have a family footprint in two places? How do we consider our obligations and relationships near and far?

How do we treat the travel challenges of being a dad in multiple places over time? My wife and I talk about this frequently, and make these decisions together to ensure we have congruent goals and input. Successful transition often relies on the personal approach early in the process.

  1. Who are other key “stakeholders” in my transition, and how might they be affected? What, if any, input needs to be gathered from them as decisions are made? Does the transition involve current, former or future employers? Colleagues? Friends? Existing clients? Mentors and advisors? How will I involve those key people in our “new” life, and in the decision making process along the way?
  2. What are the financial implications of an impending change? Will this change advance our overall goal plan in the short-term? Are there short-term sacrifices for long-term gain?
  3. What’s our plan to acknowledge and deal with challenges (both known and unknown), and what policies and tools do we develop to allow flexibility? How will we identify and celebrate successes? There’s an adage in planning that “we don’t know what we don’t know.” Remaining flexible and agile can help reduce stress and trepidation along the way.

While this is not an exhaustive list, being able to answer these questions is integral in our transition. And it’s important to note that objective guidance throughout our journey can be a critical factor in managing the emotional ups and downs we all face when life happens! I look forward to sharing the trials and tribulations, as well as the opportunities and successes, with you along the way!

Mike Branham, CFP®, is a Sr. Financial Planner in the Anchorage office of The Planning Center, a fee-only financial planning and wealth management firm. Email him at: mike@theplanningcenter.com.

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