"If you fail to plan…"

Benjamin Franklin is often credited with one of my favorite (and most appropriate, considering) adages, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” As the year is still relatively new, and the stress of getting your taxes filed winds down, it’s not a bad time to be reminded of this fact.

Remember, you are the focus of the financial planning process. As such, the results you get from working with a financial planner are as much your responsibility as they are those of the planner. When it comes to a planning engagement, to achieve the best results you will need to be prepared to avoid some of the common mistakes by considering the following advice:

Start planning as soon as you can: Don't delay your financial planning. People who save or invest small amounts of money early, and often, tend to do better than those who wait until later in life. Similarly, by developing good financial planning habits such as saving, budgeting, investing and regularly reviewing your finances early in life, you will be better prepared to meet life changes and handle emergencies.  

Set measurable financial goals: Set specific targets of what you want to achieve and when you want to achieve results. For example, instead of saying you want to be "comfortable" when you retire or that you want your children to attend "good" schools, you need to quantify what "comfortable" and "good" mean so that you'll know when you've reached your goals. 

Understand the effect of each financial decision: Each financial decision made can affect several other areas of your life. For example, an investment decision may have tax consequences that are harmful to your estate plans. Or a decision about a child's education may affect when and how you meet your retirement goals. Remember that all of your financial decisions are interrelated. 

Be realistic in your expectations: Financial planning is a common sense approach to managing your finances to reach your life goals. It cannot change your situation overnight; it is a lifelong process. Remember that events beyond your control such as inflation or changes in the stock market or interest rates will affect your financial planning results. 

Re-evaluate your financial situation periodically: Financial planning is a dynamic process. Your financial goals may change over the years due to changes in your lifestyle or circumstances, such as an inheritance, marriage, birth, house purchase or change of job status. Revisit and revise your financial plan as time goes by to reflect these changes so that you stay on track with your long-term goals.