NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

April 30, 2013

Are you driving from dot to dot?

Money Matters
Don Askey

---- — My wife and I recently drove down to Philadelphia, supremely confident that between the Garmin and iMaps we had all of the navigational tools necessary. Little did we suspect that on no fewer than three occasions, at a speed of 70 mph, we approached turn-offs or Ys, each of us with a conflicting interpretation of what our electronic devices were saying. “Go straight.” “Take the turn-off.” “Straight!” “Turn!”

Needless to say, like most domestic altercations, moments of aggravated silence and fulminating followed. In the end our course was righted and calm restored, but we both realized we could have avoided these small diversions if we had had a printed large-area map to consult quickly.

We were caught in the moment and needed to make a quick decision, but we did not have a printed overview of our entire route. We had been relying exclusively on the directional arrows immediately in front of us. We brought no guidebook for the full course.

Our navigational missteps remind me of the questions I frequently get: What should I do given today’s market performance? Am I invested in the right stuff? How do I protect my savings? Should I do this or not do that? Absent any other information, the answer from me to these questions is, “I don’t know. What is your plan? What’s important to you and what are you trying to do?”

The truth is you can’t meaningfully answer those questions with outside information — information from the market, information from the media, information from your friends. The answer to those questions ultimately comes from within you. But unless you have a written plan or roadmap, neither you nor I can respond confidently.

You can’t answer those kinds of questions at speeds of 70 mph. You can’t answer those questions in the thick of traffic or in midst of market volatility.

Without a clear and written roadmap, which you, your spouse, partner, family and adviser, have helped draft with you — your own personal guidebook that maps your financial course with well-marked risks along the way — you are driving dot to dot from one intersection in life to another.

A solid written financial plan details how you can preserve or protect what you own, how you can mitigate damage from the risks that befall us all, and how you can see comfortably ahead for yourself and your loved ones. A life-benefiting financial plan is a lot more than an investment or distribution strategy. It is a guidebook and the basis for many future conversations down the road.

If your financial plan is not written you will fall prey, as my wife and I did, to confusion at high-speed intersections. If your plan doesn’t spell out in language you understand the risks and possible rewards of taking specific steps forward, then you may not get to where it is you want to go.

Are you driving through life dot to dot or are you following a well- balanced blueprint?

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Donald E. Askey, a fee-only financial adviser and planner with offices in Amesbury and Boston, can be reached at daskey@oakmontpwm.com.