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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RobertD
RobertD
11 years ago

This is for once the honest truth do you notice that having more stuff is not on the list of regrets, and neither are things like a bigger house, vacation homes.

He is right that unless people really sit down and think about what is important to them they are going to waste time and money on garbage they do not want or need.

If we all stop to answer those questions then we would have much happier lives.

Chett Daniel
Chett Daniel
11 years ago

JD, Last fall I started my classes for the education requirement for the CFP exam. I am in the middle of my second course, estate planning. The first night of my classes each person had to introduce themselves and announce why they were taking the classes. Most stated they were pursuing a degree in finance, others were already planners who were beginning the process of becoming a CFP. When it was my turn I stood up introduced myself and said, “I teach 4th grade, so naturally I need to complete the CFP program,” then sat back down. The program is… Read more »

Beth@SmartFamilyTips
11 years ago

This post goes along nicely with the earlier discussion of emotional maturity. Only once we reach a level of emotional maturity can we answer Kinder’s three questions and, ultimately, make smart and worthwhile decisions about our finances. I’m very interested in his approach. If there’s any way you can make the next workshop, I’d love to read more about it.

JerichoHill
JerichoHill
11 years ago

Like Chett, I’m taking classes for non-career or non-monetary reasons, but for strictly personal reasons. I wanted to challenge myself, so I began taking additional post-graduate courses in Economics. I pay around 3K per course, so it is a hefty expense.

If I wasn’t challenging myself, or rather, getting outside my comfort zone, I wouldn’t have the discipline and energy to maintain focus on the other aspects of my life.

Take the course.

Jeremy Deedes
Jeremy Deedes
11 years ago

JD,

Believe, me, you will find every penny of the two day is worth it. Go for it.

Jeremy

Dylan
Dylan
11 years ago

I’m a fan of George Kinder, too. I’d suggest, before signing up for the workshop this time around, increase your frame of reference about “life planning” first. Kinder has authored a couple of great books and others have written about his life planning approach. While you can read his books in a few days or weeks, spending a several weeks or months reflecting on his ideas and discussing them with others is how you’ll really start to figure it out. I think spending several months or so developing your knowledge about planning and life planning could help make Kinder’s 2-day… Read more »

Austin
Austin
11 years ago

Hey J.D.

For what it’s worth, I think Dylan has the most reasonable plan. Also based upon your answer to the third question it would seem to make more sense (financial and otherwise) to use that $1,300 to take a “business” trip with Kris, thus fulfilling part of the life planning process. Maybe the both of you could set aside a week or weekend each year to a “life planning experiment” and share your thoughts from that experience.

Ron@TheWisdomJournal
11 years ago

I think deep down, we all know what would be more satisfying to each of us, but we continuously pretend that it’s something else. Why? Maybe we’re afraid that we’ll be exposed as frauds by not living the life that we know is important to us.

This post makes me take a long hard look in the mirror.

BPT - MoneyChangesThings
BPT - MoneyChangesThings
11 years ago

This is really interesting. Last year when I was working hard on figuring out what next career i wanted to launch, I thought quite seriously about taking the Kinder training to become a certified LIfe Planner. Their approach makes a lot of sense. However, I chickened out because it would have involved a lot of marketing to find clients, and my job at GreenMicrofinance materialized. (Pretty lucky! I wouldn’t want to be hustling clients in 2009, given how panicked even wealthy people are!) I think his idea is pretty simple, really – it’s creating a personal mission statement and then… Read more »

Michael
Michael
11 years ago

Great article, J.D. It makes me realize that I’ve approached my financial planning in a totally backwards fashion. I live by a budget, and I’ve managed to set a few short-term goals, but I’ve utterly failed to visualize the “Big Picture” that you’ve talked about in your post about The Third Stage of Personal Finance.

I’d certainly be interested in hearing more about Kinder’s approach to life planning, but perhaps it would be more economic to just review his books rather than attend the conference?

elisabeth
elisabeth
11 years ago

a contrarian thought — people SAY they want more time with family etc, but some of that is because that’s the culturally “right” answer. I think that these thought experiments need to include a real examination of the choices one is already making, because the decisions that you are making every single day do mean something. The experiences of people who win the lottery seem to indicate that most people don’t change their lives much, and work, especially, seems to offer many people an organizing structure for their lives that they don’t want to give up for more autonomy. Similarly,… Read more »

Andrew
Andrew
11 years ago

Agree with Dylan. Start with Kinder’s books (no doubt his publisher would send a review copy). He’s also profiled regularly in financial planning pubs and books like “In Search of the Perfect Model,” and you might gather enough actionable insights for your readers.

Vern Gillespie
Vern Gillespie
11 years ago

A book I recommend is Richard Swenson’s Minute of Margin. Swenson talks about leaving a legacy, simplified living, time management, unplugging our electronic devices and many other topics. His book would provide some good things to think about regarding Kinder’s three questions.
http://www.amazon.com/Minute-Margin-Restoring-Balance-Lives/dp/1576830683

Minute of Margin is Swenson’s Margin book broken into 180 daily readings. The following blogger reviewed Swenson’s prior book Margin.
http://www.thesimpledollar.com/2008/03/16/review-margin/

Kristy @ Master Your Card
Kristy @ Master Your Card
11 years ago

This is right in line with Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits series, which I absolutely love. It’s about understanding the legacy you want to leave behind and living your life towards that end. Once you have an understanding of what that is, the rest makes more sense and falls into place. I started my financial journey with a mental picture of what I wanted to accomplish in life. That branched off into smaller goals I wanted to accomplish and it all eventually trickled down to my financial goals. However, I never started with the financial first. I’m inclined to agree with… Read more »

Ari Lestariono
Ari Lestariono
11 years ago

Life planning and financial goes side by side, what we don’t know is, what happens next, tomorrow life goes on vividly and unpredictable while you are planning, it’s the chaos situation that you have to fix to get right back on the course you are aiming, and doing it. is not easy, believe me, it take guts and high commitments to ourselves.Great post though

Camille@TheFinancialWoman.com
11 years ago

Nice post. Thanks for sharing your answers. It reminds me of the saying “Begin with the end in mind”. In this case, life is the end. For me, there is definately a relativity factor. Having had several jobs in my life, the one I liked the least was the first, selling shoes by the time clock at age 14. My values at that point would have been obtaining a college education. Many jobs and years later, I am now fortunate enough to have my own business, which incorporates my values and goals on many levels; being home with my sons,… Read more »

JKC
JKC
11 years ago

@ elisabeth (#11) Thank you for this thought. It reminds me of “Stumbling on Happiness” by Daniel Gilbert (which was on JD’s reading/review list – maybe now is the time for a review). The book does a good job of divorcing the idea of what you call a “culturally right answer” from what actually happens with real people in real life situations. Speaking for myself, I know I require some structure in my life. And while the idea of meditating in a cabin in the woods for the first six hours of every day is ridiculously appealing to me, I… Read more »

Jen M.
Jen M.
11 years ago

JD, wonderful post, and wonderful advice by Kinder. I have answered those questions, but my problem has been that I’ve taken on too much responsibility to really feel free to pursue what means the most to me. That said, I am taking small steps to do so. I have started a business that encompasses a lot of Who I Am. I think Kinder’s books and such might be worth a look. Another book along the same lines–although it has to do with time management more than financial–is _First Things First_ by Stephen Covey. I love this book! It’s some of… Read more »

Roger Wellington
Roger Wellington
11 years ago

Hello everyone– I work with George Kinder as the Executive Director of the Kinder Institute. I’ve only been working at the Institute for a few months (my background is in non-profit management, finance, and corporate training). I’ve done loads of workshops, meditation retreats, and other personal growth seminars for over 25 years so I was doubtful about how much “Wow” I would find in Kinder’s seminars. However I’ve found his Life Planning trainings to be amazing. Kinder is really on to something here. He shows us how to penetrate the world of money and finance—the realm that is so often… Read more »

Kevin M
Kevin M
11 years ago

Thanks for pointing out Mr. Kinder’s work. I’m interested in this field as a CPA and this gives me more fodder to discuss with clients.

As far as your attendance at his conference, I would say look at your own answers to his 3 questions. Is spending 2 days at this conference worth it (aside from the financial aspect) or is there something else you’d rather do with the time?

Beth
Beth
11 years ago

Go for it! Even if you don’t get enough for a full post, it will enter the matrix of your thoughts and experiences and increase the chances of enriching your own life.

Martha
Martha
11 years ago

I would have to read his book before having much more to say about him or his ideas, but I hope it is all right to make this point. He wants $1300.00 per person for a two day workshop. That’s very nice financial planning — for himself.

Marie Swift
Marie Swift
11 years ago

People who are interested in keeping up with the latest and the greatest from the Kinder Institute can sign up and “follow” at http://www.twitter.com/kinderinstitute.

JD – call or email me and we can talk about things. Let’s pick up where we left off…

katsuzharris
katsuzharris
10 years ago

Wow, this post is just what I needed to read. Thanks for your work. I’m getting ready to be financially responsible and your blog is helping me pull things together.

kfg
kfg
10 years ago

Just thinking that the construct makes this an artifice. What one deems important in the(known) last 24 hours of one’s life are perhaps not the same things that are important to us day in and day out for years at a time. How could they be?

Roger Wellington
Roger Wellington
10 years ago

KFG—please note that the penultimate “3rd Question” does not ask what you deem to be important in the last 24 hours of life but what you feel you would have missed IF you were faced with the end of your life. The question therefore focuses one’s heart on what we find most meaningful NOW. Having done this exercise several times (an annual re-visiting is something my financial adviser does with me)I’ve found that there is a slow evolution in my responses, appropriate to my circumstances. It’s a wonderful, simple, and poignant way to remember what actually gives our lives meaning… Read more »

Ralph Fogel
Ralph Fogel
9 years ago

Thanks for the link to Kinder’s website. I will have to check it out.

Dezarae
Dezarae
9 years ago

I really enjoyed this video. It really made me think more about my future and my financial status.

Sharon Bumgarner
Sharon Bumgarner
8 years ago

I attended the two day workshop in 2003 and it was life changing for me. Part of the effectiveness of attending the workshop is exploring your beliefs about money with other participants. Most of us don’t take two full days to focus on ourselves without being in a workshop setting. I had the privilege on the last day of being the client in an interview with George. It was very powerful. Amazingly when we drilled down at the end of the workshop to put a dollar value on what would make us happy it wasn’t all that much money to… Read more »

Amber
Amber
8 years ago

“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.”

Daniel Hanzelka
Daniel Hanzelka
7 years ago

Thank you for the article on Life Planning method of Financial Planning. As a Financial Planner I have become aware of the system in 2005. Using the 3 questions or questions similar to this will start a financial conversion that will help any family to see what is really important. I know having a family meeting will help with this process. The financial business is not about money we heave to learn what our relationship to money is. I touch on this in my book Financial Reset. In this economy we need to reevaluate what is the purpose for Life… Read more »

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