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Anniversaries and ambitions: why financial planning’s always personal

Daniel Marsh17 June 2019

At some point in every relationship, you have a series of ‘those’ conversations — the ones you know are bubbling under the surface, but which neither of you really want to initiate. The (sometimes) scary, serious ones.

‘Where are we headed? And what do we want out of life?’ — great questions which, on the surface, should be fairly easy to answer. Dig a little deeper, however, and it might not be as simple as it seems.

This weekend, my wife and I were thinking about how we could celebrate our first wedding anniversary, which is coming up in a few months. As we excitedly started to discuss some new watering holes where we could sip on cocktails made with the finest distilled gin and an excess of decorative foliage, the conversation took a slight turn when I started to think about the cost.

“But aren’t we trying to save? Maybe we could go to the pub instead?”

And so as these conversations often tend to do, it drifted into a much bigger chat about the future in general. More specifically, what we wanted as a couple, and how we were going to get there.

I hope she won’t mind me saying, but I found it a little uncomfortable. Not because it’s a difficult topic, or even because we disagree, but mostly because articulating ideas you have floating around in your own head can — let’s be honest — feel a little exposing.

Yet, in my professional life, most of my working week is spent facilitating these exact conversations with clients and trying to find the common ground. Arguably, I should have been uniquely well disposed to have this chat. But I wasn’t.

So I thought to myself, how would professional me try to coach myself through it?

The SMART approach

Goal setting for me is a two-part process. Part one is probably the easier of the two: dreaming big and working out what you want (you can read my previous article about thinking big here).

Part two is about working out how to actually get there. A slightly harder task.

There are lots of different ways you can define your goals. Personally, I prefer the SMART approach. It’s typically used in business but I think it works nicely for personal stuff, too. (But maybe that’s just the planner in me…!)

It’s a system that allows you to critically evaluate your goals and see if they pass muster. Ask yourself, are they…

S – Specific. Is the goal clearly defined? M – Measurable. How do you measure whether the goal’s been reached or not? A – Achievable. Is it a pipe dream, or something you can realistically achieve? R – Relevant. Will this goal help you achieve the life you want to live? T – Timebound. How long do you think it will take you to achieve it? This one’s super important: be ambitious but be realistic.

Applying this to my own situation, one of the big goals that my wife and I have in the next few years is to move up the ladder and own a larger family home. And that means getting another mortgage and, to do so, saving for a bigger deposit.

Using the SMART approach, let’s see how this goal stacks up:

S – We know where we want to live and the size of the property we want, and we know we’ll need a bigger mortgage to make both those things happen M – It’s certainly measurable — we can either get the mortgage (and the house) or not A – It’s going to require a lot of hard graft, but if we stay on track we should be okay R – If we can buy the type of property we want, we’ll be better placed to hit our other life goals T – We have, for a number of reasons, a timescale of 18 months we are working to

We now have an objective we’re working towards and can make adjustments in our lives accordingly. This way, we’ll give ourselves the best chance of succeeding.

Quite often in client meetings, I’ll actually go through a very similar process with those who have done part one — they’ve dreamt big. The real joy of my job is helping them sort out part two — making it happen.

For us, making it happen means focusing on two things. Firstly, putting in place a monthly savings plan that will help us with the deposit side of things, and secondly, clarifying the level of combined earnings we would need to get the mortgage we needed — both of which ultimately rely on reducing our expenditure.

Perhaps this year’s anniversary would be more of a ‘cheap red from Tescos’ kind of night than juniper-infused gin cocktails…

If you already think you have Part two sorted, I’d challenge you to talk your goals through with an impartial third party. If they stand up to scrutiny, you’re probably doing a better job than most. But if not, perhaps it’s time to go back to the drawing board…

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