You Are Here


Every so often my wife sends me to the mall with a list and instructions to visit specific stores and pick up specific items.

Being a man my mission when I go to any retail establishment, especially the mall, is the get in and get out as quickly as possible.  I’m a hunter, not a nomad, I bag my prey and go home.  I don’t have the time or the patience to wander around looking for something.  If it’s not exactly where she said it would be or I can’t find it in about 30 seconds they don’t have it.

Because I am always in a hurry, the first thing I do when I go to the mall or any large unfamiliar place is look for the map or seek out an associate who can point me in the right direction.  Most people when they look at a map will spend most of their time looking at their destination.  Of course, that’s important but knowing where you are going is only half the battle.  You also need to know where you are right now so you can plan a route.  It doesn’t matter if it’s the most direct route, or the most picturesque, or the one that takes you past the Dairy Queen so you can get that banana split you’ve been craving.  It just matters that it gets you from where you are, to where you want to go.

That’s why every mall map has a bright red dot marked “You Are Here.”

Personal financial planning is kind of like a mall map.  It’s all well and good to have clearly defined goals but without a clear understanding of your current situation, and how you got there, all the planning in the world is really just staring at your destination and wandering around without any clear idea of how to get there.  You might make it you might not but more often than not you’ll end up spending your whole life in the food court eating banana splits and wondering why your dreams never seem to come true.

There are key moments that occur in every financial planning relationship.  Usually sometime after, but sometimes before we determine some goals, we need to have the “you are here” discussion.  This is where we gather the data, look at what you’ve done up to this point and map out the route from where you are to where you want to go.  It doesn’t have to be the most directly route, there may be a few detours along the way.  Just like going to the mall, family members have a way of pulling you off course.  Goals and circumstances can change and sometimes that banana split, new car or dream vacation just calls out to you.  That’s okay.  But a financial plan, just like a mall map, only works when you have a clear understanding of where you are at any given time.

Now, here’s where the analogy breaks down a bit, so stay with me.

Once the plan has been established it’s the job of the financial planner to be your constant “you are here” dot.  Continually reminding you of where you are and providing route options to get you to your destination.  If you take a detour or break for a banana split, the planner is there to help you get back on track or reassess your goals.  The last time I checked the dot on the mall map doesn’t move around with you, a good planner does.

So, how does your planner keep you on track?  Let me know in the comments.

I’m off to Dairy Queen, I suddenly have a craving for a banana split.

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