A couple of weeks ago I was thrilled to be invited to see the new kitchen at the home of two of my clients, both Partner Physicians who had invested much of their precious spare time into planning this major project. It was gorgeous. A beautiful island with a cooktop. A wrap-around bar. Marble tile floors. It was the kitchen of their dreams, and it looked (and smelled!) fantastic.
I was especially excited to see the result of this marvelous renovation. Why? In short, it was a dream I had helped to make come true. We had talked about it during our very first meeting together, but they had thought it was much too expensive and well beyond their budget. I made it my mission to help them find a way to make their dream a reality.
Helping my clients’ dreams come true is one of the most fulfilling parts of my job, and yet most of my clients seem shocked when they learn that I’m as excited to tackle the challenge as they are. I suppose it’s no wonder. When most people think about financial planning, they think about long-term goals, such as saving for retirement, making sure trusts are set up and running smoothly, and funding their children’s education. And while these things are certainly vital pieces of any strong financial plan, I believe that helping my clients live the life they want to live for the next three, five, and ten years is just as important. It’s all about making dreams come true.
In the case of the new kitchen, making it happen didn’t require a radical lifestyle change, a surprise inheritance, or selling a prized possession. All we had to do was put a plan in place based on available resources. I began by showing my clients that by making just a few small tweaks to their financial lives, we could quite literally build the kitchen they had dreamed of. We started by focusing on four simple things:
- We created an emergency fund. One of the first steps in the financial planning process is creating a carefully calculated emergency fund. Knowing that there’s almost no emergency that can’t be planned for, we began by looking at the potential emergencies in their own lives. Was there any structural work that needed to be done on their home, such as a new roof, electrical or plumbing updates, or new paint? One rule of thumb is to save 1% of the value of your home each year, which meant contributing about $15,000/year for home maintenance “emergencies.” Would either of their cars need to replaced in the next five years? We earmarked money for these expenses and more, and then looked at how they wanted to spend the rest. Their new kitchen was at the top of the list.
- We planned for their off-cycle paychecks. Like most Partner Physicians, my clients based their monthly budget on two paychecks a month, but they hadn’t considered what to do with the two extra, off-cycle paychecks they receive every year. Because they are both physicians, we suddenly had four whole paychecks—totaling a full month of income—to help fund their dream project.
- We optimized their tax savings account. Many partner physicians rely on their year-end bonus to fill the gap for anything owed to the IRS or FTB on April 15. Instead, we calculated the correct amount of tax they needed to save from every paycheck to cover the tax bill. This simple adjustment gave them the freedom to put their annual bonuses toward their dream project. (Using the taxpaying strategy I wrote about in my blog post A Savings Strategy for Your Estimated Tax Payment is another way to build up some excess funds in your tax savings account—even after you make that last estimated payment in January.)
- We added some extra Ws. The plan we created had put them closer to their goal, but they were so excited about their goal that they decided to accelerate the process by picking up some extra Ws to boost their savings even faster. (This was a great tool, but I don’t recommend adding more than one extra shift per month! My wife, a clinic-based internist, and I have been there and done that!)
As I stood there admiring my clients’ sparkling new kitchen, I felt a wonderful sense of contentment. Knowing that they had succeeded thanks to the fundamentals of financial planning filled me with appreciation for the planning process itself, and it made me grateful that, as their financial advisor, I was able to help them bring their vision to life. Cheers to making dreams come true!