Have you ever thought you were heading in one direction, only to have plans change? How did you react? Having a plan brings tremendous benefit, even if the plan changes. Today’s article highlights a real life situation my wife and I have faced in our retirement planning, and how our plan helped, even though it was wrong.
As recently as a month ago, we thought we’d sell our house in 2017.
Yesterday, a “For Sale” sign was planted in our front lawn.
Our plan was wrong.
“The hardest part about making a plan, is making a plan you can make.”
I have fond memories of working with a particular Welshman earlier in my career. The quote above was his, and heard often. He typically used it “against corporate” when he was negotiating for his monthly production target. As a plant manager, he was always trying to negotiate for an achieveable plan to boost morale of his plant workforce (it’s always a better feeling to “beat the plan”). “Corporate” was always trying to push his number up. The battle occured monthly, and was entertaining to observe.
Because he was a notorious “sand bagger”, he frequently exceeded his plan. Whenever he did, he was accussed of setting the plan too low.
The battle ensued.
Month after month.
In honor of my Welshman friend, the Welsh Flag. He was particularly proud of “The Red Dragon”!
He deserves public recognition. He once agreed to have my daughter, who was in fifth grade at the time, interview him for some extra credit points on an assignment about Wales. As I listened in on the upstairs phone, I smiled at how professionally she interviewed him, and how beautifully he handled the “interview”. He didn’t let her off easy, and make her work for her extra credit. I’m forever grateful to my friend and mentor, The Welshman.
Businesses needs to have “A Plan” to forecast the future, monitor their progess, decide on expansions, prioritize capital investments, reward employees for performance, etc. I expect most of you in the workplace deal with some sort of “Plan”, and all that it implies. We’re currently working on updating the 5 Year Strategic Plan in my workplace, and I can attest to the amount of time and energy exerted on attempting to predict the future. Inevitably, the plan will be wrong, but it provides value in creating an opportunity to think about the future and how we should be preparing for it today.
If essentially every business does planning, it stands to reason that there’s value in the process.
But how many of you reading this have “A Plan” for your personal finances?
A plan can be as simple or as complex as you prefer, but the value comes in thinking about where you’re heading. Our lives are built around hundreds of minor daily tasks, which have a powerful impact on our lives over time. Are those minor daily tasks all done with the longer term impact in mind, or do we just randomly go through life?
In my view, the two biggest areas for consideration of “A Plan” regarding your personal finances are:
- College Financing for your children
- Retirement Planning
Create an opportunity to think about the future, and how you should prepare for it today. Take some time to think about how you’ll cover significant financial events in your life. Are you saving enough in your 401(k) and College 529 Plans? Have you set up automatic investments, so the money magically disappears from your checking account every month without any thought on your part? Guess what? That’s a plan.
Your Plan Will Be Wrong – A Personal Example
Several years ago, my wife and I entered “The Red Zone” (5 years before our potential retirement date). Up until that point, we had a general “plan”, but no specifics. We automated our monthly savings at the highest level we could afford, we increased it each year when my raise came in, and I worked hard to be a success in my career. I’d run a few retirement calculators throughout my career, and knew we were generally on pace.
Once we entered The Red Zone, a more detailed plan was required. I’ll save you the details, but the plan included the following key elements:
- Track our spending for a year to see what we really needed to live on.
- Build a cash flow model to see how much we could expect to generate from our savings, pension, social security, etc.
- Run a more detailed online retirement calculator as a cross check to my own spreadsheets.
- Get our daughter through college and established on her path to independence.
- Buy a vacation cabin for eventual downsizing. Rent it to generate income in the interim.
- Plan on eventual sale of the primary residence and move to the cabin.
- Plan on buying a truck large enough to tow a 5th wheel.
- Plan on buying a 5th wheel as we closed in on retirement.
Life didn’t follow our plan. Shortly after starting our Red Zone plan, my mother-in-law started showing symptoms of Alzheimer’s. We eventually had her leave her life of independence and move in with us in Georgia. We felt a strong obligation to “pay back” the love she had shown to her children in their years of need, and had no regrets during her time with us.
The plan was modified. New Plan:
- On the advice of a friend, we pre-established criteria for when we would agree that it’d be best for Mom to move to a nursing home.
- We moved into a less specific planning period, realizing Mom’s transition would be the priority on any decision.
- I kept up the annual monitoring on cash flow, net worth, etc., just so we’d know we were on track “when the time came”.
- After a few years, we started having family discussions about what was the longer term plan for Mom.
- As she gradually deterioriated, we “knew the time was near” for a home, but were having trouble making that decision.
The decision was made for us, as is often the case. Mom fell and broke her hip in January 2015, and had to enter nursing home for rehabilitation. Doctor’s orders. Decision made.
The plan was again modified:
- Mom entered nursing home near our house.
- Our downsize plan was modified, realizing Mom’s care was highest priority.
- Ohio side of the family agreed that Mom should transfer up there when we were nearing retirement.
- We targeted 2017 for a possible house sale, thinking this would align well with Mom’s transfer to Ohio.
- Realizing the downsize is looming, we begin to gradually sell “non-needed” items (e.g., pool table) on Craigslist
- Realizing a house sale is in our future, we begin gradual maintenance upgrades to our house.
All Heck Breaks Loose
The past two weeks have been among the most hectic in my life. Yet through the chaos, the fact that we had been thinking about our future and developing plans proved invaluable. As Christians, we believe God has a way of making his Will known, if you’ll only search for it. He made it crystal clear to us, and that combined with the planning we’d been doing brought us peace in a very hectic time. Here’s what’s evolved in the past few weeks:
- We find out a transfer to Ohio for Mom isn’t feasible (Medicaid issues going across state lines).
- With Ohio no longer an option, we come up with a revised plan to evaluate transfering her to a nursing home near our “downsizing strategy” cabin.
- Our brother decides he’s moving to Southern Tennessee, near our downsizing home. Agrees to watch her after we retire & travel.
- We visit nursing home near cabin, realize it’s a MUCH nicer home for her than the one near our house.
- We initiate transfer paperwork, expecting it will take several months.
- We find out she’ll be transferred NEXT WEEK
- We live 2 hours from the new nursing home, but our cabin is 5 minutes away. NEW PLAN! Sell the house! Move To Cabin, now!
- A realtor meeting we had already arranged (to seek advice on upgrades), becomes a high priority “Let’s Sell It, Quickly” discussion.
- Mom moves to nursing home in the mountains.
- Wife and I blitz the house, preparing for listing.
- Paintbrushes fly. Steam cleaning done. To Do list enormous.
- Every room decluttered, staged for photography.
- Photographer covers house.
- Wife moves to mountains, part time.
- House listed. “The Sign” was planted in the front yard yesterday (see below)
Our Plan Was Wrong. It’s a Good Thing We Planned Anyway.
Even though our initial plan has evolved and been modified several times, the plan has provided immeasurable benefit. The thinking and preparation we’ve done over the past few years made the past two weeks relatively easy. We already knew what we had to do, we just expedited everything. The planning we’d been doing had prepared us well. Had we not been thinking of the future home sale and taking some steps along the way (e.g., Craigslist Sales! Front Door refinishing! Deck railing repainted! Goats moved, barn cleaned!), there is NO WAY we would have had the house ready as quickly as we did when the plan changed.
We’re now developing a more detailed plan to transition into retirement in a few years. Until the house sells, I’ll commute from there to work. After the house sells, I’ll get an apartment near the office. My wife will come to the city as she can, I’ll spend my weekends in our cabin. I’ll sell whatever I can from our house while we’re waiting for it to sell, the balance I’ll take with me to the new “city apartment”.
I’m heading up to the cabin next week for vacation (ironically, the week’s vacation was planned months ago). Instead of vacation downtime, we’re now planning on spending the time getting the cabin ready to be our new home instead of a rental property.
We’re installing WiFi.
It’s all part of the plan.