Monday, June 11, 2007

Do You Have Any Financial Goals? If So, You're Ahead Ahead of the Game!

I have been reading a lot of FM blogs which focus on the details of financial management. Some of the instructions are extremely complicated, with a myriad of options that become dizzying, rather like dieters focusing on the precise calorie count of every imaginable food. I read a good antidote in an article by Walecia Konrad in AARP magazine. (Sorry, it's not linked online.)
"People with financial goals have more than double the wealth of those without, according to a study by scholars at the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth college." It sounds so self-evident as to be a joke, or maybe an article in The Onion, kind of like "people with a map are 50% more likely to find their way to their destination", but apparently it's not so obvious. A goal focuses your attention, and then your energy. If you and your life partner share that goal, it focuses you on a joint project. Meeting financial goals requires deferred gratification, something our materially-jazzed society does not reinforce. So the details don't matter as much as having the plan to being with.
Likewise, having a goal for charitable giving/philanthropy focuses one's attention on donating. Before we adopted our tithing goal, we sent off checks as we went through the year, meeting our charitable obligations and then making additional gifts when the cash flow was good. At the end of the year we would add it up and try to increase it the next year, but our goals were very vague. We didn't skimp, but we didn't have a clear vision, either. Having a firm goal gives us an actual budget to work with, and a framework for thinking about our charitable priorities and allotting the pot accordingly. Much better approach.
Likewise, we recently set a goal of investing 1% of our net worth in directly social responsible entities, a goal put out by Co-Op America. At the moment we have funds at The Reinvestment Fund which earn a below-market return, fixed-rate competitive CD's through Equal Exchange, and a variable rate with RSF. Before the goal, we had TRF investments, made because someone solicited our involvement. We reinvested, since it didn't require any action, but we didn't get around to adding to that investment. (One really off year, when the stockmarket tanked, the TRF 2% interest was our best return!) Once we set the goal, we did the research, made the decisions, and completed the paperwork to make the investments happen.
I can see why you need a plan to get anywhere! No goal, no action. If you have a plan, even if you don't meet all your goals, you're still way ahead of where you'd be if you were just winging it. So don't beat yourself up too much if you don't get every detail right.

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