When it comes to your finances, are you on offense or defense?Me, I’ve always been a defensive player by nature. I was never the one sprinting down the court for a fast break to the basket. But I was usually the defensive player who intercepted the pass and got it to that point guard for the fast break. I’m finding the same is true in tennis these days. I am MUCH more comfortable as a baseline player reacting to the return rather than charging the net to take the ball out of the air and putting away the point.
Many of us take the same approach to our financial goals. We decide to wait until things “calm down” in the markets or until the kids are through college to really address our longer term needs. We keep more than we should in cash in the hopes that we’ll feel more comfortable down the road with investing it. We assume that we can start saving for retirement after we’ve paid for college educations for our kids. Essentially we are on the defensive, continually reacting to the latest financial news or waiting for the “ball” to get closer before we make a move.
But lately I’ve been trying really hard to go on the offensive. Standing closer to the net is out of my comfort zone, but my partner and I are winning more points and more matches by doing so. We are, in fact, accomplishing the goal we set at the beginning of the season. Such a change in behavior doesn’t come without risk – I’m petrified of being pummeled by a line drive. Or embarrassing myself by having my overhead smash sail out of the court. And sometimes both of those things actually happen. But what a thrill when our offensive play pays off in a win!
So what exactly can you do to be more of an offensive player with your finances?
1. Identify your shortest term goal.
What may come to mind is fixing the roof or taking that anniversary trip overseas. But your shortest term goal is really about protection. Even in tennis, it is a given that you would like to avoid a match-ending injury. So, take a few minutes and review your insurance coverage. All of it – life, disability, homeowners, auto, umbrella…You don’t want an accident or illness to prevent you from achieving all of your other financial goals in life.
2. Identify your longest term goal.
Is it passing on a certain amount to your kids or living well in retirement? Very few people actually take the time to articulate where they would like to see themselves in 10, 15, or 30 years. Put some numbers around it. Then work backwards to figure out the steps required to get there. If I wanted to win 4 out of 5 matches this year, I needed help – the right partner, the right coach and a change in the way I play. But I also had to admit that I couldn’t get there on my own. I had to try some new ways of doing things to figure out what was really going to work. For many folks, that’s exactly what you are going to need to accomplish a secure retirement.
3. Train more.
This is really about education. You don’t know what you don’t know. Find out what you are missing. Increased knowledge of the markets or of tennis gets us more comfortable with changing our game. There are experts to help you, but when match time comes, it’s really up to you and the decisions you make that dictate success. Coaches know this all too well – what works for one player may not work for another.
4. Pace yourself.
Unless you’re over 90, accomplishing that longest term goal is going to take some time. The winner in a marathon isn’t usually the fastest sprinter in the race. If you chase the markets-investing when it’s up and sitting on the sidelines when it’s down, you are trying to sprint your way to victory in a very long race. Don’t get me wrong, if you are trying to invest your excess cash and even making new investments on a regular basis, there will still be times when you won’t be out front in the race. In fact, these last three years many of us have felt like we are running in place. But the finish line is getting closer. So what if we haven’t had our “best times” the last few years – we still have more than where we started. Or should…
5. Learn from your mistakes.
Why did that shot go into the net? What could I have done differently? In investing and in planning, there are going to be a few hiccups as you get better. Many tennis matches are still won, even when we’ve made a few bad shots. I can’t imagine giving up on tennis entirely just because I played badly one match. Nor should you give up on investing or planning your financial future just because your investments went down this year.
6. Celebrate your victories.
There will always be another match, a tougher opponent, a new hurdle to overcome. All the more reason to enjoy the accomplishments.
Now go attack the net!