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Eighteen years ago today, on April 9th , my father died. My brother Simon, my mother and myself stood at his bedside in Intensive Care as his breathing faded. I remember the moment clearly.
 
I have talked about my father's death before and how it has helped me to understand why my work as a financial planner matters so much. Earlier today walking down a street on paving slabs made shiny by April showers, I remember he used to make concrete slabs at a yard in Walsall. This is a man in his late fifties with a heart condition who spent his working days lifting concrete slabs on and off a truck. On and off. Over and over.
 
I have a black and white photograph of him on my office wall standing in his yard. Looking straight into the camera, a benign stare as he waits for me, a photography student, to take the picture. It is one of my treasured possessions.  He was always working. Even when he was not at work, he was digging the garden, replacing the engine in my Mum's Mini or building a gazebo. He never stopped.
 
Talking to a friend about this she told me how lucky she felt to have parents who taught her how to work. She complained bitterly as a teenager that she was always expected to help out in the family business at week-ends, while her friends were off playing. Now in her early forties she is grateful to her parents for teaching her the habit of working. It has served her well helping her to be fearless and competent as she starts her own business, whilst being a Mum and running a home. Work provides her with financial security and satisfaction from doing a job well.
 
My Dad has inculcated that work habit into me and I too am grateful. Other than the fact that my children are no longer children I could not have predicted any of the things that have happened to me over the last eighteen years. The real benefit of financial planning is about planning for an unknown and uncertain future. As John Lennon sang, “Life is what happens when you're busy making other plans.”
 
The paradox is that without a plan we are tossed hither and thither with no sense of direction, no insight and no goal to strive towards. It's the striving that makes it all worthwhile. My Dad never recognised the moment to stop striving, he never had a plan to arrive. I see men and women striving upwards and onwards with no plan. It can  only end in exhaustion and disappointment. This three minute video tells my Dad's story.
 
Have you a plan for your future? Do you know when to stop striving? How do you know if you've arrived at your goal?
 
If you would like to spend an hour with Nicholas at his expense to discover how financial life planning may be able to help you, drop him a line at nlee@demontfort.biz or call 07725 784348

I_want_thatEveryone knows that money can't buy you happiness... right? Obvious! The evidence is overwhelming – lottery winners who end up in a dreadful mess despite their millions, successful businessmen and women with divorces and strained relationships despite their wealth and success... the list goes on.
 
In my experience the opposite is also true. Lack of money is equally debilitating – too much month at the end of the money, rising credit card debt, a mortgage that never seems to diminish. This leads to a corrosive sense of hopelessness which looks and feels very much like despair. Most of us have had an experience of this at some time in our lives – and none of us want to go back there.
 
Where is the balance? This is a personal challenge for all of us because there is no 'one size fits all' answer... Here are some thoughts in no particular order.
 
  • First thing is to accept the importance of money in our lives – and not ignore it, avoid it or somehow imagine it will take care of itself. It won't – trust me. Getting a grip on your finances takes time and effort.
 
  • Second, we need to acknowledge that we live in a consumerist society. There is a whole industry dedicated to creating desire and they know how to do it very well. To imagine that we are somehow immune to their clever, subliminal blandishments is naïve. We all believe that a Rolex watch, a BMW motorcar or a detached house defines our success. Just pick your example – it may not be watches or cars or houses for you…but I bet it's something that somehow enhances your sense of self. It might be qualifications conferring status. Be honest with yourself...
 
  • Third, we need to ask ourselves the right kind of questions. What makes us happy? When do we feel most at ease and relaxed? Answering these questions honestly requires courage – we have all been subjected to conditioning, so don't take your first answer as the best one. Think of a time when you felt happy – where were you, who were you with, what were you doing? These answers will give you valuable clues about to what really matters to you.
 
  • Fourth, start thinking about how you might do some more of that. Ignore the rational excuses for now – haven't got time, need to pay off the mortgage first etc. etc. Allow yourself to dream just enough to begin to sense what freedom might feel like. This is the beginning of thinking for ourselves and creating our world, not one that has been sold to us by advertisers.
 
Most of us won't do this. It's challenging and time consuming and, in my experience, we need help to get started and maintain momentum. I have two suggestions: Read 'Your Money or your Life' by Vicki Robin & Joe Dominguez (http://goo.gl/m3g9iM) and follow the 9 Steps. This will help you to understand the single most important concept in personal financial planning: our most valuable resource is time, not money. Once we understand and act on that truth the way forward becomes much clearer. And find a financial planner you can trust and work with them. We all need guidance with this, very few of us manage it alone.
 
If you would like to spend an hour with Nicholas at his expense to discover how financial life planning may be able to help you, drop him a line at nlee@demontfort.biz or call 07725 784348. More information at www.financiallifeplans.co.uk
Toby sits in the first floor window sill of our bedroom staring intently at the birds, mostly squawking gulls, across the street. Occasionally he will whimper and his tail will bang up and down in, what I imagine, is a
mixture of frustration and anticipation. He’s wanting...  and wishing. 
cat_for_blog
The gulls fly past the window. Nothing in Toby’s head connects with the impossibility of his wanting and certainly not the ludicrous nature of this endeavour. He just carries on wanting like the cat that he is, driven by some ancient instinctive part of his brain over which he has no control.

Sound familiar? Idle wanting. We all do it. One of my clients said he wants an Aston Martin. No real reason. He probably likes the shape, the shininess, the cost, maybe has some fantasy hidden deep in his psyche about being James Bond. Now he owns a very nice Jaguar and he’s quite happy. He no longer wants an Aston. It was just idle wanting.

Most of us have done this at some point in our lives. Thoughtless and greedy we want more and more...
How many of us have ‘stuff’ in our houses that we never use – books, gadgets, clothes – purchases driven by idle wanting? Surely it’s harmless... No it isn’t! Aside from the sheer waste of our money the real cost to us is the unreal nature of our wanting. We turn fanciful wanting into ‘stuff’ piling up around us simply because of the power of a credit card. This undermines the respect we must have for our money if we are ever to make any progress towards financial freedom.  We are literally frittering our lives away on idle wanting. (Have a look at my previous blog http://www.financiallifeplans.co.uk/2015/03/17/how-much-of-my-life-will-this-cost for more on this).

The financial life planning process helps us to see what we’re doing and to move forward by defining our real needs and our life purpose. This takes patience, effort, persistence and clarity of thought. It is the precise opposite of idle. And most of us won’t do it.

We’ll sit on the window sill wanting and wishing and feeling frustrated, driven by forces over which we believe we have no control.

What about you?


If you don't want to watch the video today, why not read the transcription below instead?:

It's 2015, I am sixty this year and I thought it would be fun to do a series of short blogs in which I talk to my younger self in the four decades since my twentieth birthday. It's the stuff I would have told myself if I'd had the sense to listen!
 
Thinking back to my twenties I know I made plenty of mistakes which is probably what our twenties are about. The scenario is likely to look something like this: you've been to college and therefore have some debt, especially if you had a Gap Year. You are in your first or second job so have some idea where you are headed at least for the next ten years or so. By the way there are almost certainly a couple of false starts somewhere along the way, even a love affair that went wrong and may have left you feeling sad and possibly with a financial burden that won't go away easily. Welcome to your twenties!
 
You may have a clear idea of where you are going and it will be helpful if you have, but what you won't know is how you're going to get there. And that's okay. There will be many bends in the road.  Your job is to keep going and accept that's the way it is, go with the flow, do your best and learn from your mistakes.Current_Reality_-_Goal
 
Looking back I would give myself three pieces of advice:
 
1.Take money seriously - Don't ignore it (too boring), don't imagine it will turn out okay (it won't). If you don't pay attention and treat money with respect it deserves it will bite you on the bum and cause you problems for years to come.
 
2.Cut up your Credit Cards – seriously. Just do it.
 
If you need anymore convincing on this subject work out for yourself how much an interest rate of 20% on a debt of £2500 will cost you over five years. Go on. Get your calculator out and multiply 2500 by 20% x 5.
 
Yes, it's £2500 paid in nice monthly instalments of £41.66. Forty quid a month doesn't sound too bad does it... it's two and half thousand pounds! And that's only the interest, there's another £41 per month of capital to pay back as well over five years.
 
Please, save yourself the pain, cut up your credit cards! It will go on for years if you don't. And if you are in debt work out a plan to get rid of all debt (other than a mortgage on bricks and mortar) as quickly as you can. If you need help, ask for it.
 
Trust me you won't regret it.
 
3.Make a Budget – this doesn't have to be an elaborate affair, just write down on a piece of paper how much money you spend on basics – food, accommodation, travel - and see how much is left every month. Then decide what you want to spend it on. Easy.
 
Put around 10% of your income into a savings account at the beginning of the month before paying anybody anything. You're not working to keep the utility companies and the credit card companies in business, you're working for you. So start by paying yourself first.
 
We haven't talked about the 8th wonder of the world – compound interest. We'll come to that later.. think of it this way, it's the exact opposite of credit card charges – it rolls up for your benefit and nobody else...
 
If I'd just done these three things in my twenties the next thirty years would have been so much easier.
 
Tell your friends. And if you want to chat this through – call or email – I'm here to help.

Regards,

Nicholas.
In my work as a financial planner I invite people to engage in a simple three part process.
  1. To Create a Budget – so that they know what is coming in, where it is being spent and what, if anything, is left over. This process includes a complete review of their assets, income, expenditure, investments and debts. It allows them to see a financial summary of where they are. They can then begin to determine their financial priorities.
  2. To Protect what they Have – their income, assets and wellbeing – from the financial consequences of premature death or unexpected disability and illness. The information on the financial summary enables us to quantify this accurately.
  3. To Save and Invest – once we have protected where they are we can begin to save for short term goals and invest for their future and long term well being.
Put like that it all seems very simple and logical. For most people it is not, most people feel daunted by taking these steps, confused by financial jargon and unsure where to start. The vast majority of us avoid the issues all together and simply muddle through.

Muddling through definitely works in the short term. The long term reality sadly is unrealistic expectations, disappointment and a sense of regret. Most of us in our thirties and forties struggle with the demands of a growing family, and perform a high wire act between the  income that never seems to keep pace with rising prices and a vague sense that we are not managing things as well as we might. And most of us in our fifties and sixties have a sharp ‘reality check’ at some point and wish we had taken more care of our finances when younger.

With these thoughts in mind I have devised a series of short videos that address the main issues we face in each of the decades between 20 and 60. Watching them won’t put things right for you, but it might motivate you to talk to a financial planner and take control of your finances once and for all.

The videos will be shared over the next few weeks, I do hope you enjoy them. 

Regards,

Nicholas.