Now What? When Life Isn't So Perfect

By: David Smyth, June 5, 2019

We often talk about financial planning like it's a big jigsaw puzzle, and once you drop in that last perfect, magical piece, the picture comes together and it finally all makes sense. It's easy to make assumptions about life based on the images painted on TV and on social media, where everything looks like the perfect happy moment on a beach with your significant other after you've lived the perfect life and found the perfect retirement. Except then you realize it's not a perfect retirement - you're actually in that Cialis ad with all those scary side-effect warnings!

What's not talked about - whether you work with a financial planner or not - is, what if that future you dreamed of and worked for doesn't pan out? What happens when life takes twists and turns, and things aren't as bright as when you started out? I can spew out some lame platitudes about making lemonade when life throws lemons, but the reality is that sometimes those worst-case scenarios do happen, often leaving people thinking, "now what?"

For example, say you've got a great job in a great field. You have a great family with great kids who are all through school and don't depend on you (as much) anymore. You meet with a financial planner to finalize your 10-years-to-retirement plan, when, whammo! - that great company decides to downsize because of corporate requirements to thin the herd. Since you're one of the highest-compensated employees, you're the first to be let go. I see this situation happen to five or 10 of our clients families each year, and I know it feels very personal.

As a financial planner, we feel for you, and we know it's frustrating. We'll do everything we can to help keep you afloat, but it's one of those circumstances that's out of our control. It can feel like all your best-laid plans, hard work, and saving aren't going your way, but we will do everything in our power to help you adjust to your new situation.

Or, maybe you've tied the knot and you and your beloved are building your family and raising a crew of adorable kids. Then, one of those perfect kids is diagnosed with a learning disability, or a speech impediment, or a hearing impairment that requires you to divert funds from retirement savings into specialists, therapists, and counselors. We understand that life can sometimes not look the way you thought would, and all of your best efforts at a "perfect" family feel like they've been negated by an unexpected diagnosis.

It's easy to say, "don't worry, we'll deal with it," and we will - but there could be ramifications that affect you long-term. It's easy to love and be a good parent to your kids, but it's difficult to accept that everyone's future plans have just changed.

In other demographics, what about the seemingly healthy 30-50-year-olds who may not have kids, and whether it's from job stress, the stress of caring for aging parents or other life stressors, it all adds up and you find yourself with a stress-related physical ailment. The more you're dealing with in life - divorce, deaths in the family, job loss, changes in financial state, holidays, moving- the more likely you are to be physically affected by the stress you're under. Trust me, I've seen this in my own life and in my clients' lives. People have strokes, heart attacks, develop diabetes from emotional eating or a weakened immune system from lack of sleep that also leads to poor decision making. When these types of events play out, it can change your current and future plans, and having to adjust your financial plan accordingly doesn't usually go over well.
These things all can and do happen, and there's no one to point the blame at. Life does change. But here's what I want to leave you with (before you think I'm being too gloomy): you're not on your own. We see 20 or 30 families each year deal with these types of life situations that alter the course of their financial plans and their life paths. But, it's also a chance to acknowledge what you are grateful for, and to press forward with a new resilience and a new plan. Life may not be the vision of "perfection" you had in your mind, but that's okay - and you can make lemonade.Platitudes aren't always a bad thing. Maybe you'll discover an unexpected later-in-life career that brings more joy (if not money) than the job you lost, or find inspiration as you watch that child face his or her obstacles head-on, and overcome them. Stressful life situations ebb and flow, and once the clouds have passed, you'll never take your health for granted again.

I've said many times that at Family Financial Partners, we see ourselves as financial therapists, and I mean it. Whatever you're dealing with, we're here to help however we can. Or to at least offer up some lemonade.


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