A few years ago, ING ran an ad campaign that showed people going about their day, each carrying a number. The number was the unique amount each of them needed to save for retirement, and the focus of the ads was asking “Do you know your number?”

This is what most people think of as financial planning — figuring out “their number.” And it’s a reasonable first step, better than most people ever achieve. Unfortunately, there are two problems with that approach to financial planning.

First, when your financial planning focuses on rolling everything into one big number, the process tends to degenerate into a tedious focus on current and future cash flows. How much are you spending now? How much will you need then? Ugh.

Second, those who use this approach often have a hard time separating the core issue of “Will I have enough money to survive in retirement?” from the more upbeat analysis of “Will I have enough to thrive in retirement?” It’s difficult to distinguish between not being able to fund all your goals versus not even having enough to meet your basic needs.

If you’ve tried this type of financial planning in the past and found it to be a painful process, don’t despair: The planning approach introduced in this month’s cover article is different. Before delving into any numbers, you will begin by focusing on what you want your retirement to look like. That’s a lot more fun! You can enter many specific goals or just a few, categorizing them into three tiers: Needs, Wants, and Wishes. Right out of the gate, you’re encouraged to dream a little, to define retirement on your terms and pull your gaze away from “figuring out how much money you’ll need.” Later on, this goals-based approach to planning will help you easily see the impact of various trade-offs, sacrificing a little of this in order to get more of that. That’s real life, right?

Ultimately, financial planning is about identifying the decisions that need to be made while it’s still early enough to make them. Whether your version of retirement is having enough to regularly travel to see the grandkids or working full-time at a ministry that has captured your heart, a good plan can help you figure out what changes you can make now to boost your chances of having your desired lifestyle later. It can help you both define your goals and learn what you must do to get on track to achieve them.

Due to the costs, many people have believed that personalized financial planning was out of reach. However, thanks to our friends at SMI Advisory Services, that dynamic is changing. They have entered into an agreement with MoneyGuide Pro® (MGP), which has been ranked the number one financial-planning software by advisors the past eight consecutive years.

Normally, this software costs financial planners $1,295 per year to use, and individuals have had access to it only by working with an advisor. As SMI Advisory Services has used MGP with its individual clients, SMI Advisory has recognized the potential value of this amazing tool for our do-it-yourself audience.

The deal is simple: SMI premium members will be able to access this award-winning software for a single, one-time payment of $50, and that access will continue for as long as their SMI premium membership remains current. This incredibly low price constitutes a wonderful opportunity for SMI premium members.

As an MGP user, you will be able to create and save your plan. You can return to it year after year to update it, make adjustments, and see the impact of market events on your probability of success — all at no additional cost after the single up-front charge.

(This $50 fee is the incremental cost that SMI Advisory pays for each additional user, meaning SMI Advisory isn’t making anything from this arrangement. They’re simply passing along the cost of each new user.)

If you’re wondering what the catch is, there isn’t one. SMI Advisory has the same goal as the SMI newsletter — to help as many people as possible be the best stewards of what God has entrusted to them.

A new year has begun. What better time to take stock of your finances and make personalized retirement planning a priority and increased giving a possibility? An overview of the MPG process and what you need to know to get started awaits you in An Exciting New Opportunity for SMI Members: Personal Financial Planning via MoneyGuidePro®.