There's a reason people used to set their watches by the train station; train schedules are perfectly timed and intricately planned. If one train is off, many locomotives could be hurtling toward disaster.
On Thanksgiving 2004, my family and I went to Knott's Berry Farm amusement park in California. It was crazy. We were sandwiched in the park with what seemed like half of Los Angeles. The lines were long enough to reach the ocean and moved slow as a turtle. We felt frustrated and exhausted, it was like a train wreck.
The next year we decide to do it again. This time we had a plan. Our children mapped out their favorite rides. We arrived early and beat the huge crowds. The lines were short. At the end of the day we were tired, but we achieved our goal — a day of family fun.
When I was in my 20s I dreaded financial planning. It was more painful than Knott's Berry Farm on Thanksgiving Day. I had no clue how to do it. I questioned why it was important. I was a financial train wreck waiting to happen.
When I realized I was not going to win the lottery, inherit a fortune from a wealthy relative or win a game show, it was time to kick it into high gear and make a plan. My husband taught me how.
Over the last 20 years I have learned seven valuable life lessons about why it is essential to have a long-term financial plan.
Life is easier with a plan
A plan helps you avoid unpleasant bumps and detours. When you take an unplanned turn for the worse, you fix your plan and update it. My plan has evolved over the last two decades. It looks nothing like the original — that is fine. I am no longer a train wreck; I know where I am going, and what I am working toward.
Time is of the essence
A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step. Taking the essential first step sooner leaves more time to reach your destination. Procrastinating until the last minute and sprinting the final 500 miles will wipe you out. The earlier you come up with a long-term financial plan the easier it is to reach your goals.
My husband worked with a crusty old engineer who said, "Poor planning on your part doesn't constitute an emergency on my part."
Often emergencies are avoidable with effective planning and consistent work. Proper financial planning lessens future financial emergencies.
Time marches on
Eventually you grow old. Each year you claim to be 29 years old, time is still marching on. If you fail to make long-term financial plans you eventually face life crises. Self-denial and ignoring them won't make them vanish. Don't make your long-term plan — No Plan.
Making long-term financial plans gives you peace of mind as you implement your long-term plan to save a little, pay off debt, and spend less. As your long-term financial plan develops it bestows a calming peace in your life.
Practice builds self-confidence
Practice gives you the skills and confidence to succeed. It teaches "muscle memory" that creates lifelong habits. Your plan provides direction and focus. The effective habits you develop foster success in your long-term financial plan.
Learn from your experiences
My husband and I thought we had a great long-term plan during the 90s. Then the "Tech wreck" hit and we discovered some problems. We patched them up and were hit head on by the Great Recession. We found more holes in our plan. Living through two recessions in less than 10 years gave us valuable experiences. Our long-term financial plan continues to evolve. Prepare for those dark times and learn from your experiences.
The more you develop and improve your long-term financial plan the more you'll grow to love it.
It is comforting to look back where you have been and then look forward to where you are going. I enjoy my life journey because I have seen much and look forward to a bright future with anticipation and excitement.
Long-term financial planning has made my life more livable. It brings peace and serenity. It builds self-confidence and hope in a bright and beautiful future.