George Kinder: Three questions about life planning

I spent last Tuesday at the mid-winter conference of the local financial planning association. I was there to give a one-hour presentation about financial blogs, but I had a secondary motive. I wanted to hear the keynote speaker, George Kinder.

George Kinder takes a unique approach to financial planning. He moves beyond the numbers and tries to address the goals and values of the client. Kinder calls this method “life planning”. From his website:

Life planning focuses on the human side of financial planning. In life planning we discover a client’s deepest and most profound goals through a process of structured and non-judgmental inquiry. Then, using a mix of professional and advanced relationship skills, we inspire clients to pursue their aspirations, discuss and resolve obstacles, create a concrete financial plan, and provide ongoing guidance as clients accomplish their objectives.

In this three minute video, Kinder explains that in his view, life planning is financial planning done right.

Three Questions

Kinder believes that life planning is essential to developing a sound financial plan. “Without life planning,” he said during his talk at last week’s conference, “financial planning is like using a blunt instrument on the organism we call the human being.”

I’ve argued before that the road to wealth is paved with goals. This is a similar sentiment — but it’s not the same. Kinder isn’t simply asking us to set goals; he’s asking us to examine our values, and to decide what’s important. To help clients discover the deeper values in their lives, Kinder poses three questions:

  1. Imagine you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. How would you live your life? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back on your dreams. Describe a life that is complete and richly yours.
  2. Now imagine that you visit your doctor, who tells you that you have only 5-10 years to live. You won’t ever feel sick, but you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining? Will you change your life and how will you do it? (Note that this question does not assume unlimited funds.)
  3. Finally, imagine that your doctor shocks you with the news that you only have 24 hours to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Ask yourself: What did you miss? Who did you not get to be? What did you not get to do?

Kinder says that answering the first question is easy. There are lots of things we’d do if money were no object. But as the questions progress, there’s a sort of funnel. They become more difficult to answer, and there are fewer possible responses. Life planning is all about answering the third question.

Three Answers

During Kinder’s presentation, we were given several minutes to answer these three questions for ourselves. This was difficult for me, and more emotional than you might imagine. I’m at an interesting place in my life, a sort of crossroads. Before hearing Kinder speak, I had already been exploring these subjects and ideas.

My answers to these questions were fairly consistent. If money were not a concern, I’d continue to write, but I would do less of it, and I’d do it without a schedule. (I realize that my schedule here at GRS is self-imposed, but it’s still there: a daily deadline.) If I knew I only had a few years to live, I’d travel more, and read. I’d spend more time with family and friends. And if I only had a day left? I’d miss not having traveled with Kris, not having spent more time with her.

According to Kinder, the third question usually generates responses that follow five general themes:

  1. Family or relationships — 90% of the responses to the final question contain this topic.
  2. Authenticity or spirituality. Many responses involve leading a more meaningful life.
  3. Creativity. Surprisingly, a large number of respondents express a desire to do something creative: to write a science-fiction novel, or to play guitar like Eric Clapton.
  4. Giving back. Further down the list are themes about giving back to the community, about leaving a meaningful positive impact.
  5. A “sense of place”. A fifth common theme (though nowhere near as prominent as the top three) is a desire to have some connection with place: a desire to be in nature, to live someplace different, or to help the environment.

Kinder says that some people — the facts and figures people — look at the life-planning process and ask, “What does this have to do with money?” It has everything to do with money. When you understand what you want to do with your life, you can make financial choices that reflect your values.

All of these questions — and the entire life-planning process — are meant to cause the participant to ask herself, “Who am I as a person, stripped from what I do as a job every day? Is it possible to derive meaning and satisfaction with this stripped away?” Inevitably, the answer is yes.

George Kinder will return to Portland in a couple of weeks to present a two-day workshop for financial planners. I’m trying to decide whether I should go. It’s expensive ($1300), but it’s a business expense, so I’m okay with it. My concern is whether I could get enough out of the experience to share with you, the readers.

More about...Planning, Psychology

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