Each morning we start our day full of potential and possibilities. Some of
us are graced with the ability to recognize that we don’t start it with an
empty tank, sort of speak. That is, we are aware of the fact that no
matter how bleak our present life situation may appear, we are still in
possession of at least one, if not several resources on which we can count
to get us through the challenges we encounter. Others, faced with some
sort of unbearable pain, wake up feeling so depleted that they fail to
perceive a treasure or two at their doorstep.
Whatever terminology we apply (resources, treasures, advantages,
talents, gifts), we are speaking of assets which we can utilize and
depend on to make the most of any situation. Identifying these
assets and their value to us is an important step in clarifying our
goals and objectives, financial or otherwise.
Short or long-term financial planning should be based on the solid
foundation of clearly defined goals. We determine our goals based on
what we value most in our life. Since almost every financial decision
involves making some sort of compromise, it behooves us to examine
possible trade-offs we may be willing or sometimes forced to make in our
decision-making process. These trade-offs are made within and among
different aspects of our life, aspects that also constitute our different
forms of assets.
The following is an examination of seven general aspects of our life
that at any given time can be counted upon to serve as a major
resource for support and sustenance. They also serve as the field
were certain trade-offs are made when making serious financial
decisions that will strongly impact the quality of our life.
You can call this your spirituality, your true religion, your faith in a higher
power or the Great Spirit, your quest for Truth, your relationship with
nature, self-awareness or any other name you wish to apply. Even if you
are an atheist or an agnostic you may still possess this asset. It is the
bedrock of your emotional stability. It is what is constant for you,
independent of what happens in the external world. It is the guiding light
helping you make all your decisions. It is the source of your of self-
worth. It inspires the conviction, enthusiasm and perseverance you have
to pursue your dreams and aspirations.
Of all the assets considered, this is by far the most valuable one. No one
is ever able to take it away from you. It is the form of resource you have
the most control over because it is the most personal one. This asset
has the potential to play the largest role in your well-being if you truly
appreciate it as an asset. Furthermore, one of the best things about
getting older is that usually self-knowledge increases with age.
Whenever we lack the inherent fulfillment that comes with self-knowledge,
we automatically try to achieve it through other means, most commonly
through excessive consumerism. As a result, your expenses increase.
Then, the only way to meet your financial obligations is to accept a high-
paying position that you dislike, because it has no value to you other than
the income it provides. You end up spending many hours every day
doing work that is unsatisfying to you. As a result, your mental health
suffers, your relationships may be negatively impacted, and you may not
even reach financial freedom.
On the other hand, someone who genuinely possesses an internal
constant that regulates their life and maintains their composure will find it
much easier, if necessary, to withstand working in a job that may not be
especially meaningful or even financially promising.
Our relationships with family, friends, business associates, even our pets,
comprise our connection to life, the unifying force in our world. Second to
self-knowledge, relationships are for most of us our most valuable asset.
Stability in our life greatly depends on relationships that are fulfilling,
trustworthy and reliable. Financial decisions will frequently require a
compromise that tests one or more of our relationships, even if only
Imagine that in the eyes of the world you’re nothing special, just another
Joe Blow. You don’t hold an influential position, are financially successful,
or particularly ambitious. However, throughout the years you have
earned many good friends who love to be around you because you have
the extraordinary gift of making persons feel good about themselves.
You are generous with your time, effort and resources. If you were to
suddenly become disabled, you know that there are people who genuinely
care about you and would help you out in any way they could. They
would not let you be without a roof over your head or sleep on an empty
stomach. They know that you would do the same for them. How much is
this worth to you?
This refers to both physical and mental health. Physical health, as an
asset, depreciates with time. However, both our mental health and
lifestyle can certainly affect the rate at which our physical health declines.
Mental health is intimately related to the self-knowledge and relationship
assets, which in turn strongly influence the lifestyle we lead. It is true
that with this and all other assets some of us are more generously
blessed. However, it is also true that all of us are equally capable of
squandering this valuable asset as any other we are fortunate to possess.
Assume a credible financial advisor tells you that it is better for you to
carry your mortgage into your retirement. She even shows you the
numbers to prove it. When contemplating your retirement, you always
envisioned yourself physically healthy and free of debt. Based on your
advisor’s announcement, however, you are now confronted with difficult
If you carry your mortgage into your retirement, you will not be free of
debt. The ensuing anxiety that you may experience will seriously
jeopardize your mental health, and possibly your physical health as well.
Taking on a second job to pay off your mortgage sooner may also
compromise your health. You may find it difficult to continue your daily
regimen of home-cooked meals, exercise and sufficient sleep. Although
evaluation of other factors in your life will help clarify your decision-making
process, some sort of compromise is inevitable.
This is what most people have in mind when they refer to assets,
personal physical possessions and properties. Financial assets are the
most quantifiable of all our resources, and the ones with the most
liquidity. Given the current financial state of affairs in our society, it is
also the asset a lot of people most fear losing.
It is almost impossible to maintain your health and relationships if you are
chronically dependent on others for financial help. The constant stress
and anxiety caused by financial insecurity can greatly threaten other
dimensions of our life, most notably our health and relationships.
Collectively, our education, knowledge, skills and experiences comprise our
know-how. Your income is directly related to how much the market
values your know-how. During this critical economic period, it appears
that a great number of us are discovering that the market doesn’t value
the worth of our know-how as much as before. Consequently, a lot of us
are putting our effort into maximizing the use of our own skills and
knowledge while minimizing our dependence on that of others.
You hate to cook, wash dishes and shop for groceries. You also hate to
eat alone. You would much more prefer to go out and meet friends for
dinner rather than spend your evening fixing a nice meal for one.
However, after your hours were cut to prevent major lay-offs, you
discovered that your budget could not sustain your monthly eating out
expenses anymore. Unhappy at the prospect of limiting your social life,
you decided to ask your friends to join your newly-established Dinner
Club. Every member of your group agrees to once a week host a dinner
at his or her home. Every member that attends that dinner agrees to
bring an item to complement the host’s main dish and participates in the
clean-up process. Your friends are delighted with your suggestion since
all of them face the same economic crisis and value their social ties as
much as you do.
This is the perceived amount of time we have left in our life to pursue our
dreams and aspirations. In the absence of any unfortunate event, a
young person would have more of this asset than an old person. A
person who squanders his physical health will most probably have less of
this asset as well.
Your daughter just got engaged. She is exuberant about her wedding
plans. After several weeks of feverish dreaming and scheming, she
proposes that it will only cost you $32,000!! After recovering from the
initial shock, you start considering various wedding options that will be
more in line with your pocketbook and at the same time make your
daughter happy. The maximum you can afford to spend is $22,000. You
suggest to her that if she is willing to go with a simple $7,000 wedding,
you will put the remaining $15,000 toward the down payment of their first
house. After sitting her down and showing her the numbers, you
convince her that going with this option, she and her husband will be able
to retire five years earlier. Having raised a self-confident daughter with
good common sense, she happily agrees.
This category includes education, transportation, parks and recreation
areas, as well as any other publicly-funded service. Our collective social
assets also include intangibles such as concepts like democracy and a can-
do attitude that may, in a time of crisis, pull the society together.
Independent media sources that provide unbiased news and
commentaries are also a prized shared resource. A sustainable and
healthy environment greatly benefits the community at large. Although
our individual shares of social assets may be hard to quantify, we do feel
their value if deprived of them. At local, regional and national levels, there
are many instances where the returns on the investment of time, energy
and financial assets are maximized when they are used to protect and
grow the social assets of our community.
Cancer is one of the leading causes of bankruptcy in the United States.
The astronomical high cost of medical care in our society forces a great
number of individuals and families to suffer catastrophic economic decline.
How much would you pay to live in a society where the grief of poor
health or a potential terminal disease is not exacerbated by the agony of
Count on your strengths
Honest introspection is a crucial component of any planning process,
financial or otherwise. Trade-off decisions are extremely personal and
should be considered under the light of past experiences, heartfelt
aspirations and concrete facts. It is also wise to remember that trade-
offs that directly affect more than one individual in a household should be
made collaboratively. This maximizes the potential for a positive outcome
and honors the value of each individual concerned. Present difficulties call
upon us to make hard choices. Full recognition of all the resources we
presently have at our disposal will greatly assist us in making the best
choice possible. Moreover, there is nothing more empowering than
profoundly appreciating the strengths that already bless our existence.
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