The Guy with Black Turtleneck on the Sailboat and Other Financial Fantasies Debunked

We’ve all seen that handsome guy on the sailboat, salt and pepper hair, confident look and black turtleneck with a caption that talks about investing. It’s conjuring up the good life, wealth, power and of course, self-esteem. It’s aspirational. It speaks to us. We can see ourselves on that sailboat.

Maybe all we have to do is invest… with him… or his company… right???

Shockingly, that’s not so. Where the rubber meets the road in personal financial planning is NOT on the sailboat. It’s not with investing. Let me say that again…. It’s not with investing. Very few Americans have investable assets (money they can invest) outside of their 401k plans, which are usually managed by their employer.

Solid financial planning is about knowing exactly what’s happening in your finances, where you weak spots are, how to protect against catastrophes, and what and how to save to achieve your goals.

So where DOES the rubber meet the road in personal financial planning? Monthly spending. Yup, boring, frumpy, unsexy, un-aspirational, un-inspirational monthly spending. Sorry, folks, but it’s true. Containing monthly spending IS the cornerstone of solid financial planning, because that is how you accumulate savings, and savings is the foundation of wealth creation.

Yes, that’s why it’s hard to get your spouse, your adult child, your best friend or maybe even yourself to see a financial planner who charges by the hour, like me. Talking about monthly spending is simply not glamorous.

If your real desire is to feel great about your financial position, you have to:

  • Know how much you spend as a household EACH MONTH
  • Know how much of that spending is for full discretionary items (and what is discretionary and what is not for your family)
  • Know how much is left over each month for goals and saving
  • Know how much you need for boring things like emergency and rainy day savings
  • Know what percentage you need to contribute to your retirement plan

Do not get me wrong, investing wisely and prudently is critical to unlocking the magical powers of compounding interest and growth, without which it would be very difficult to achieve your retirement or other long term goals. But, investing is secondary to getting the basics right.

Spend less than you earn by a margin that is large enough for you to save for emergencies, rainy day events (e.g. car repairs) and annual needs like vacations and camp. Remember to withhold enough so you-know-who is happy. Then, consider your investments, if you funds over and above the list of savings I just mentioned.

How boring? No sailboats and fancy brand name investment banks. Just get on top of your monthly spending and you may be “boring”, but you will definitely be saving, confident, relaxed, unstressed and wealth building at the same time.