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How a Modern Financial Planner is like a Mountain Guide with GPS

Dan Loose CFP ®

Recently, I had occasion to backpack into the Frank Church River of No Return Wilderness Area in central Idaho with a group of friends. Being late September, the temperatures were already beginning to dip down into the 30s and 40s nights. As fate would have it, a major storm front passed through the entire region the week of our departure bringing loads of precipitation. In fact, as we made our way over three 9,000-foot passes on our way to the trailhead, snow was falling—and accumulating--on the narrow 4x4 road. We parked at the trailhead and quickly donned our backpacks for the approximately six-mile slippery hike to the campsite, not knowing how much snow we would encounter on the trail and road on the way out.

Despite the initial weather concerns, the rainclouds cleared that night and the rest of the trip turned out to be a huge—and dry--success. Our trek would take us down approximately 3,000 vertical feet to the river bottom where the temperatures were considerably warmer.

We saw beautiful vistas; the water was clean and clear; we met no rabid wolves; none was taken ill or injured; and everyone got along great—sharing stoves, tents, food and drink. A billion stars illuminated the nighttime sky. In fact, from that remote location away from city lights, I could see the milky way probably as well as I have ever seen it my entire life.

Unfortunately, time does not stand still--one eventually runs out of trail mix and dehydrated food and must return to civilization. That’s where the trip became interesting from a financial planning perspective. You see, not knowing what we would encounter, this pilgrim (to borrow from the Duke, John Wayne) had his risk management concerns while packing his backpack so he brought more clothing, fuel, and food than was necessary for a three-day trip. That 3,000-foot elevation drop on arrival soon felt like a 30,000-foot elevation gain with a now-“lightened” 42-pound backpack on departure.

In preparation for the ascent, in my mind, I broke the trip up into its respective parts, calculating the distance (and the corresponding elevation gain), on the various legs of the trip back up the mountain. The first leg of the trip down to the tributary would be approximately 1 mile and no real elevation gain. Then the second leg of the trip would be 1 to 1.5 miles with very moderate elevation gain. The third leg was now a little fuzzy in the mind. Was there much elevation gain? I couldn’t remember exactly. We were still following close by the stream, however, so the elevation gain would be not as bad as the latter legs. We would separate from paralleling the stream on the fourth leg. That had to result in greater elevation gain. Then we would reach the mining cabin where we could rest. Relief for a second. Grab a light lunch. Drink up. Then there was the final, steep, push to the top.

Fortunately, our group was being led by an experienced mountain guide who knew the general landscape and had been to the location before. In addition, our guide had a map of the area on a handheld GPS device. This GPS device was so good that he could update both distances (how far we had come and how far we had left to go) and elevations (how many vertical feet we had climbed and how many vertical we still needed to climb) whenever we wanted to know. And those periodic updates made all the difference in the world in keeping this pilgrim motivated to keep moving onward and upward to the goal--the top of the mountain with the waiting 4x4s, where I could shed my 42-lb load.

I kept thinking that the role of our mountain guide was like that of a good financial planner. As planners, we are there to assure our clients that we too know the terrain, that we have already been there with other clients. We give them the assurance that they can reach their goals if they are indeed committed to those mutually defined goals; continue along a well-defined course; and have the tenacity to keep pushing on even when the going gets tough.

Thankfully, with the financial planning software we are able to make available to our clients today, when the path is steep and rocky (think volatile markets or macro-economic uncertainties) and our clients begin to lose heart, they can easily access their financial planning dashboard 24/7 to assess how they are doing. That feedback loop can be a huge motivator to help people know that they are making progress towards reaching their goals.

Do you have a financial planner who has the experience and the tools to help you not only reach your goals, but also help you feel secure while on rocky paths? What about one who is there for you, meeting with you, monitoring your progress, and motivating you when the path gets steep? If not, call to set up a free consultation appointment with one of our planners at Medicus Wealth Planning. As fiduciaries, we are committed to coming along side you in helping you reach your goals.