Because financial planning seems like such an overwhelming task, many people put it off until it’s too late. Financial author Carl Richards offers an approach anyone can follow: First, answering your personal “Why?” regarding money, then identifying the few specific steps you should be taking to reach your financial goals.

SMI has long advised making a long-term, personal investing plan using a similar blueprint. Start with the steps outlined here, then add your top financial goals, a brief explanation of your investing approach, and the strategies you intend to use. Creating such a plan is time well-spent: consider it an investment in your future financial success.

Not long ago I was e-mailing back and forth with Dan Heath. He’s a writer and a successful one at that. Together with his brother Chip, he has a few New York Times bestsellers under his belt so he asked me what I was working on. I told him about two ideas I had been thinking about for books, and then, almost as an afterthought, I mentioned something I’d had in the back of my mind for ten years. It was a book I was thinking about writing someday called The One-Page Financial Plan.

“I’d buy that,” he replied almost immediately.

Surprised by his response, I asked him to tell me more. I was curious since I’d only told him the title. What exactly did he think he’d be buying? Why the sudden interest?

“Creating a ‘financial plan’ just seems so overwhelming,” he responded. “I’m going to have to meet with a lawyer and a financial planner and decide what my goals are for the rest of my life, and then face the overwhelming and depressing truth about planning for retirement (it seems you need to have $7.8 million saved by age sixty-five or else get ready to eat dog food), and then pick among a thousand mutual funds, but then there is the 40l(k) plan at work with these Latin American government bond funds and such, and so the only rational response is to not create a financial plan.”

It doesn’t surprise me that my most successful friends are confused when it comes to savings and retirement. When they do something, they want to do it right. They don’t just want good advice, they want the best advice. They’ve often got a shelf full of books about investing or finance, but they simply don’t have the time to really dive in so, rather than do the “wrong thing,” they do nothing.

How important is it to get started? “The average working household has virtually no retirement savings” was one of the startling conclusions of a 2013 report from the National Institute on Retirement. “When all households are included not just households with retirement accounts the median retirement account balance is $3,000 for all working-age households and $12,000 for near-retirement households. Two-thirds of working households ages 55-64 with at least one earner have retirement savings less than one time their annual income, which is far below what they will need to maintain their standard of living in retirement.”

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