Contributed by Lewis J. Walker, CFP®
There are over 2000 references in the Holy Bible concerning money, possessions, riches, charity, the proper uses of wealth, and the conduct of business. The writers of the Old and New Testaments authored the original financial and life planning guide several thousand years before such concentrations emerged as a profession and focus in the 1970s.
Written in the period A.D. 90-100 by a Jewish writer in the Greek style, The Letter of James offers one of the more intriguing passages. “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we shall go into such and such a town, spend a year there doing business, and make a profit’—you have no idea what your life will be like tomorrow. You are a puff of smoke that appears briefly and then disappears. Instead you should say, ‘If the Lord wills it, we shall live to do this or that.’”
If you were in the Middle East and said to an Arab friend or business contact, “Let’s meet for coffee tomorrow,” the response would be something like, “Yes, let’s meet at 9 a.m., Insha Allah.” Insha Allah is a phrase meaning “God willing,” or “If God wills it.” Sometimes you may see it written as one word, “Inshallah,” for easier pronunciation, but properly it is two words. In my travels in the Middle East I found the phrase both endearing and respectful. It warns against presumption as we saw in James, recognizing that we humans cannot really know the future. John Lennon used the line, “Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans,” in his 1980 song, Beautiful Boy. The quote actually originated with Allen Saunders, creator of the Mary Worth soap-opera comic strip. Cited in Reader’s Digest, January , 1957, Saunders said, “Life is what happens while you’re making other plans.” (Craig Thompson, “Life Is What Happens...Isn’t a John Lennon Original,” 2/6/2013, www.clearingcustoms.net).
In his book, The Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten described “chutzpah,” as “presumption plus arrogance such as no other word and no other language can do justice to." All of this points to the wisdom of humility, recognizing that life is full of surprises; stuff happens; only God knows our true future.
Fundamental to life and financial planning is eschewing procrastination and building a “what if?” firewall—appropriate legal documents (will, powers of attorney for assets and health care, trusts if applicable, business succession and continuity plans for owners and professionals, a “Family Love Letter” explaining your wishes); prudent levels of life, disability, health, liability, property and casualty, and long term care insurance; sufficient cash and liquidity to get you over the hump without going into debt or jeopardizing your financial independence and that of loved ones.
In investing, if you live long enough, you will see all matter of ups and downs; recessions, black swan surprises at the macro economic market level. At the micro personal level, illness, accidents, career challenges, financial reverses, unexpected needs on the part of loved ones, etc. Those starting out should put the basics in place, including the appropriate legal documents and insurance while initially resolving to accumulate a minimum of one year’s living expenses in cash while keeping debt under control.
Once the basics are in place and short-term goals are covered, longer term planning comes into view—buying a home, starting and sustaining a marriage, starting a business, planning to fund educations, funding for retirement, whatever that is and however you care to define it. We all will retire, even if we go out the door on a gurney!
Building a rewarding financial estate requires planning, time, patience, and depending on your goals, defining and dealing with risks. In the short-term, market fluctuations and the actions of many investors are driven by emotion and fear. In the long run, markets rise, and certain asset classes recover from downturns, reflecting the true value of the underlying businesses.
A sage once said, “Discipline is freedom, control the controllable, trust in God for the rest.” How can you answer the “What if?” questions? As the timeless proverb notes, “Man plans, God laughs.”
Lewis Walker is a financial planning and investment strategist at Capital Insight Group; 770-441-2603. Securities and advisory services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA). Lewis Walker is a registered representative and investment adviser representative of SFA which is otherwise unaffiliated with Capital Insight Group.