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Step 1: Create a Written Financial Plan

For the holidays, we put together a menu about two weeks in advance. We know who is coming and what each course will be. We shop early for everything we need, using the menu as a checklist. We plan our cooking strategy knowing we cannot wait for the last minute. The Menu is our written plan—and it works!

If a written plan helps us run our kitchen better, think of the impact it can have on the “big things” in life. The Harvard Business School studied their 1979 MBA graduates in relation to where they were 10 years following graduation. Less than 3% had written goals and plans, but those that did had an average income ten times greater than those with no plan (What They Don't Teach You in the Harvard Business School, Mark McCormack, Bantum Books, 1984).

A proper financial plan has three key elements:

  1. It lets you identify important financial goals, such as education, retirement, survivorship planning, disability planning, etc. In addition to these traditional family goals, Special Needs families have a whole list of additional considerations, including special health care, caregivers, advocacy, governmental assistance, independent living costs and more.

  2. Next, it identifies the financial resources needed to meet each of these goals. One of the biggest mistakes people make in determining the cost of funding a goal is to overlook the impact of inflation. For example, a $20,000 one-year tuition bill today could cost nearly three times as much by the time a child becomes college-age. The costs of many healthcare programs are growing at more than 5% per year. Special Needs families should consider whether State budgets will be able to keep up with that inflation rate and continue to deliver the same benefits in the future.

  3. Finally, it helps you allocate your resources by prioritizing spending decisions. Spending decisions are critical for most families in today’s economy. Many clients we meet buy a big home and then struggle to make school payments and barely have anything left for life insurance, emergency savings or retirement. When we ask them if their house is their top priority they often say no, it was just the first goal. When constructing a plan, we advise our clients that, while it is ultimately up to them to choose their priorities, it is imperative that they be sure to fund what is most important first. A good plan lays out each of your financial needs and lets you look at them all together and decide how to allocate your money to each one appropriately.

Not every family needs a big, elaborate or expensive financial plan. But every family should go through the planning process. Dwight D. Eisenhower said, “Plans are nothing; planning is everything.”

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