Optimize Everything?

One of the benefits to the flood of information available on the web, and the self-publishing industry that the web makes possible, is that in two seconds or less, you can learn the ultimate best way to pick stocks (so they say), paint your porch, or manage your office work flow. Not a day goes by that I don’t get calls or a dozen emails from people pitching me to optimize my insurance recommendations, my archival backup, or my time management. Have a senior in high school? If they don’t know how to write a college admissions essay, hundreds of books and consultants will drum it into their slacker little heads.

But should we? Maybe even Harvard can’t transform Junior from a slack-ass into a star. Of course, if Junior’s last name is Bush, it won’t much matter in the slacker department. If not, he better be knocking himself silly from seventh grade on. In the rush for college admissions that consumes the better part of all day, every day from September to January for parents and high school seniors, I’m bemused (horrified, actually) at the number of kids I know with eating disorders, super-sensitivities, self-harming behavior, can’t be touched, not interested in the opposite sex—all the same issues as stressed lab rats in too small cages. In “my day” we just smoked dope, hated our parents, and went to protest rallies. And didn’t think the world would end if we didn’t go to Ivie U.

So let me ask you, have you had anything like these conversations lately?

            “So, how have you been?” “Really busy, as always.”

            “I’m sorry I haven’t gotten back to you, I’ve just been so BUSY.”

            “Is now a good time to talk?” “There’s not really ever a good time.”

Yeah, me too. Regrettably. And I keep picturing a future when things are sure  to “slow down”.

Then there’s the endless financial and job advice.

  • Are you saving enough for retirement? (the answer is always no).
  • Is this a good time to buy ______? (No, but whenever you didn’t, THAT was the good time)
  • Is this the optimal mix of investments? (let’s argue about whether you should have 8% or 11.5% in internationals).
  • Should I buy Apple? (Even if you did, you won’t be happy. Because then you should have bought it in 1985, when it was $15 and your ex-husband wouldn’t let you. Or you did buy 25 shares at $200, but why didn’t you buy 100? Both of those would be me.)

So, my financial advice for today is, go live your life! Go slurp down a frappucino without thinking about the calories or the cost. Your kid will survive a few rejection letters. Don’t have a virtual life.

Maybe, just maybe, financial planning advice could set some of these things to rest. As to the optimal mix of investments, we do know what “works” and it’s pretty simple—keep costs down, don’t churn your account, have a decent mix of types of investments, save and live below your means. A financial advisor can certainly help with a plan, set it in motion, and help you manage it. Professional advice can do much of the fine-tuning (and worrying) for you. But really, lighten up. You can only control your decisions, not every possible outcome. Make a sensible plan and let go.

About the author

Danielle L. Schultz, CFP®, CDFA
Danielle L. Schultz, CFP®, CDFA

Danielle L. Schultz, the principal financial planner of Haven Financial Solutions, is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), a NAPFA-registered Financial Advisor, and a Registered Investment Advisor in the State of Illinois. She studied financial planning at Northwestern University’s Certified Financial Planner™ certification program. She also holds a Series 65 license (Registered Investment Advisor Representative) and a CCPS (Certified College Planning Specialist).

She writes a regular column for Better Investing magazine and is currently working on a revision of their mutual funds handbook. In addition to academic training and professional experience, Ms. Schultz has personally managed Social Security, Medicare, retirement and long-term care issues; college funding concerns; and cash flow and transition planning in self-employment and divorce situations. Her social work background gives her an innovative perspective on financial planning issues; for her, financial planning is not only about money, but also a key component in a satisfying and well-lived life.

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