Authored by Joseph R. Weiland, CFP ®, Managing Partner

I have lived only one financial life.  I have coached and mentored hundreds and witnessed, with no knowledge of the details, thousands. There is a difference between living your financial life and seeing others live theirs.  While living our lives, we get caught up in our own details and have no way of having perspective on others financial lives.

Years ago, I met new clients from Los Angeles.  They were a good-looking couple and they changed me forever.  Let’s call them John and Sue.  He wore cashmere and she a current designer dress, they lived in the hills of Hollywood and drove a Lexus when it was still the hottest car on the street, think Telsa.  They ate at all the good restaurants, attended all the hard to get into parties and the kids went to the right private school. As a very successful doctor, his medical practice was a winner, producing a $400,000 annual paycheck.  This was the mid-90s, when that was an even better paycheck than today!  Their hand was on the financial throttle and they had it wide open!  The house was fully leveraged, the Lexus leased, the clothes purchased on the credit card.  They had about 2 weeks worth of money in the bank and next month’s bills on the way.  No retirement plan, no emergency fund, some life insurance and a deep, deep need for the next paycheck. 

They were perfect on the outside and unhappy on the inside.  They were living a very precarious existence.  They had set up a structure for long-term failure.  Unfortunately, I have seen this many times in my career.  What was remarkable about this couple was what happened.  Anytime a person or couple comes into our offices, we give them the best advice that we can give, be it a refinement of a business structure, clarity of future goals and a smooth path to make it all happen, or wholesale change.  Refinement is easy, wholesale change is almost non-existent.   This couple needed a new way of being.  We set up a plan.  As always, this is a fun process. Imagine the possibilities of a future with you in control and things lined up the way that makes your life better every day.  They left with a plan and we spoke about a week later with a vague promise from them to follow up on their to do list.  I was never able to get them to respond to another call. I pictured their hand still on that throttle, wide open.  Gaze, a little glassy towards the next turn and in denial about their current situation.

Two years later, I received a call from John.  They had changed.  He thanked me for being a pivot point in his life.  The story is simple, he was suffering from prescription drug addiction and had a crisis.  This brought to light that their life was an illusion and forced a complete break from their old ways.   When they came out of this crisis, they implemented our plan. He called from Colorado where he was on staff at the local hospital and his kids were in the local public school.  He and his wife were still stylish, I am sure, but they were no longer using next months money to pay last month’s bills.  They lived within their means.  They were relaxed and happy.  They were a team making a future. 

When I met John and Sue, I was relatively new to the financial planning profession.  Maybe I had 5 years under my belt.  I did not know how thin the veneer of success could be or how difficult change truly is.  They opened my eyes and changed me forever.  Their story makes me more thankful for my financial life, my old car and growing retirement plan. I strive harder to give my clients the understanding that nothing feels better than money in the bank, not new cars, new cloths or fancy parties.  And nothing is more important than a good relationship with your partner to get through the tough times.

Choose your financial life.   It is your hand on the throttle!