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May 2, 2019

Your Financial Plan Will Fail – And That’s Okay

by Richard Vetter

Richard VetterMost Canadians do not have a financial plan. Of those who say they do, less than half of them are written plans that follow the process advocated by The Financial Planning Standards Council.

We all know it is important to have a plan but few of us ever take action. We spend far more time planning our vacations or binge-watching on Netflix!

Those who have written plans do far better than those who simply seize the day. Why then do we self-sabotage by managing our financial affairs using the default setting dictated to us by our emotions?

I believe we fear that financial planning will fail and end up being a pointless exercise. We are correct on the former but very, very wrong about the latter. I also believe that the failures we encounter along the way can serve us as fuel for our future breakthroughs.

Nelson Mandela once said “I never lose. I either win or learn.” Despite massive setbacks and being jailed for 27 years, he had a very clear vision of what he had to accomplish in order to end Apartheid. I’m sure that the road was not exactly what he planned though.

When we establish a financial plan, there will be failures and that is where we must continually course-correct. In a day when many still thought the earth was flat, Christopher Columbus set out for an easier trade route to the Far East. His thinking was correct, but he ended up landing in the Bahamas. His horizon changed and so will ours after we set upon our own journeys.

Nothing will go as expected and there will be many failures, barriers and other surprises along the way. Our response to these challenges is what will determine our level of success.

Following are some typical failures and obstacles that tend we can turn around for the better.

Failing To Understand The “Why”

I love the movie “City Slickers” where Curly asks Mitch: “Do you know what the secret of life is?”


Curly holds up one finger and says “One thing, just one thing – you stick to that and everything else don’t mean s**t.”

Once you figure out what your “one thing” is, the financial planning process can be inspiring.

Romancing Your Finances

I’ve seen financial plans that are absolute works of art. The financial statements are precise to the penny and formatted just right, the graphs follow a consistent colour theme in just the right earthy tones and the stock photos are breathtaking. They answer the core questions we ask in countless different ways and they bring tears to my eyes. Not because of their beauty, but because they will remain a feature on someone’s bookshelf rather than a practical tool for growth.

The financial plan is a work in progress and must always direct you toward what your next steps are.


A very real danger is to see your past financial procrastination and setbacks as a waste of valuable time and resources. On the contrary, they are actually a treasure of research and development preparing you for the breakthrough you are about to embark on right now.

The important thing is to take on the mindset that your procrastination is your most powerful weapon. By identifying your top financial procrastinations, you will identify the top items that require your attention.

Getting Ready To Get Ready

The Palo Alto Research Centre (PARC), launched as a development arm of Xerox in 1970, was responsible for many successful innovations. Many of their breakthroughs however might not have seen the light of day. Enter people like Steve Jobs. He took two of PARC’s ideas out of the research lab and onto the desktops of millions of people around the world: the computer mouse and the Graphical User Interface (GUI). Microsoft and other software developers quickly followed suit and forever changed our relationship with computers. Jobs succeeded in two habits that we can apply to our financial plans:

  1. There comes a time when we’re ready enough and simply need to take action.
  2. It’s often better to adopt someone else’s great idea than to reinvent it ourselves.

Always ask the following question whenever you are getting ready to get ready: “Do I really need more information, time, resources, etc. or do I simply need to do something with what I have?”


We can be so judgemental when comparing our progress to future goals and expectations. Instead, measure the progress you have made so far. The future doesn’t actually exist. It is simply an abstract that serves to motivate you. Looking back, be grateful for the progress you have made and the valuable lessons you have learned.

Once you have measured your progress, use that information to set new goals based on what your past experience has been and what you want to accomplish in the future.

Not Taking Action

Nothing happens until you do something, knowing that failure is highly probable. Remember that this is where the learning lives. Developing an action plan is very simple:

  1. List your vision. What needs to be true when this goal is accomplished? Be specific in your time frames and measurements of success in order to complete the focus in your mind.
  2. List all the obstacles that are in your way and/or the failures that you encountered the last time your best intentions went offside.
  3. Focus on each obstacle and see it as a tool that you can leverage in moving toward your visualized result. This is less of a mind-bender than it sounds and quite motivating when you get the hang of it. For example, if I want to pay off the mortgage within the next five years, my main obstacle is that there is often no surplus left at the end of each month. I can transform this obstacle fairly quickly by tracking our spending, identifying all opportunities to save money and thereby find the hidden cash flow that I can apply to pay down the mortgage.
  4. For each obstacle or failure list the next logical simple step that will establish forward progress. Once you have completed each step, automatically list what comes next and continue to take action.

All this can be overwhelming. The problems continue to get worse without a real action-driven financial plan and unexpected curve balls usually set us back without the correct response. Technology should be making this easier, but it’s not, especially given the increased level of noise that it creates.

To keep from going insane, you really need a guide. Now is the time, more than ever before, to work with your financial advisor to regularly do the following:

  1. Establish a clear vision for what the future needs to look like for you and your family.
  2. Identify the obstacles holding you back and the past failures that you can learn from.
  3. Look for the opportunities that are waiting for you. Many of them can be found hidden within your obstacles.
  4. Leverage the strengths that you already have in terms of your resources, experiences and yes, your failures as well.

If you’re not getting that from your advisor or if you don’t have such a guide, maybe it’s time to change that.

Richard Vetter, CFP, CLU, CIM,