The softer side of financial planning

Gary Alt |

As a financial planner, I love helping people find answers to their questions. Sometimes they ask me about long-term financial strategy. At other times, their questions are more immediate in nature, like should I take Social Security now or should I do a Roth conversion this year or buy that new car I’ve been thinking about.

The answers to client questions usually rely on information that only the client can provide. Though it often takes some effort, most people can dig through their check registers and credit card statements to get a clear sense of how much money they spend. Likewise, they can look at pay stubs and tax returns to figure out how much they earn. Insurance policies, mortgage statements, investment account statements and employee benefit summaries are also important sources of information for financial plans.

On the other hand, many people shy away from the softer side of financial planning—questions about values and preferences. Coming to grips with this softer side requires introspection. If you are married or involved in a long-term relationship, this “coming to grips” may require you and your partner to discuss things that are emotionally difficult. However, I have also seen that some of the most impactful financial planning happens when clients are willing to engage in this way. The core message is this: If you are going to do a financial plan, don’t neglect the softer side of the plan.

Several years ago, a couple engaged us to do a financial plan. They had recently sold their business leaving them with plenty of financial resources. As we worked through their financial plan, we could see that some aspects of their financial lives did not align with their values. For example, travel was very important to them. Yet they worked long hours as employees in the business they had sold so they could afford a large home they really didn’t want. Their financial plan helped them see this disconnect. They sold their home, quit their jobs and started traveling more. Their planning helped them create a life that was more consistent with their values.

With that in mind, here are 14 “soft” questions you should ask yourself as you work through your financial plan. If you have a spouse or a significant other, you might use these questions as the basis of a very fruitful discussion.

  1. What are your top five priorities right now
  2. If you knew you only had three years to live, how would your priorities change?
  3. What are the top three problems in your life that money can solve?
  4. What are the top three problems in your life that money cannot solve?
  5. If you knew you were going to die tomorrow, what would you regret not doing?
  6. If money were no object, what would you be doing right now?
  7. Do your financial habits create for you a world of abundance or a world of scarcity?
  8. Which is stronger within you, your desire to be part of the group or your determination to fulfill your vision?
  9. Do you tend to be an optimist or a pessimist?
  10. What do you most fear about your financial future?
  11. What do you most eagerly anticipate about your financial future?
  12. Do you have a household budget? If so, how long have you lived with it? If not, why not?
  13. Do you feel like you are on track to achieve your goals?
  14. Which risk concerns you more, inflation or stock market volatility?


Steven C. Merrell  MBA, CFP®, AIF® is a Partner at Monterey Private Wealth, Inc., a Wealth Management Firm in Monterey.   He welcomes questions that you may have concerning investments, taxes, retirement, or estate planning.  Send your questions to: Steve Merrell,   2340 Garden Road Suite 202, Monterey, CA  93940 or email them to: