LB – “Holistic Financial Strategies – TM”

A – Overview:

I prefer following guidelines for “Holistic Financial Strategies- TM”(here called HFS) rather than traditional financial planning for a few reasons:

(1) More personalized – HFS involves a more overall review of a client’s financial health and its fit with the client’s goals and objectives in life.  Through probing,  HFS addresses deeper goals and objectives such as “making a difference in people’s lives” or “utilizing my creative talents” instead of superficial pat goals like “build my portfolio” to retire. Retire and do what? Play golf and go to early dinner while what you may really want to do is actively run a business until you are 80.

(2) Effective and efficient – HFS focuses on the 4 or 5 most important issues facing a person now through the medium term, and only after a thorough review of the 4 facets of evaluating a person’s life and money, namely (1) Health and Wellness (2) Money (3) Family and relationships and (4) Personal Power, that includes characteristics not only intelligent, educated, experienced, wise but also important ones like resourcefulness, inclusiveness, fairness, fortitude, tenacity, independence and courage.

(3) Lower fees – The fees for HFS are usually lower than traditional fee-based planning, because the HFS advisors are usually more well-rounded, multi-disciplinary, seasoned, excellent communicators, with an extraordinary network of associates to tap for specialist advice.  Fran Sisco’s usual HFS fee is $960, based on her 6 estimated hours X $200 hourly rate = $1,200 less introductory discount of 20% = 960.  There may be fees for implementation of the agreed strategies, either hourly or performance based.

(4) Independence and objectivity – Fran supplements her knowledge and experience by working closely with a broad array of professionals, including lawyers, other financial advisors including planners, broker-dealer representatives, insurance specialists, business coaches, etc. The suggestions for clients are thus well-considered and independent of the influence of large corporations.

(5) Life-changing – The related recommended strategies are usually more significant than the ordinary suggestions to reallocate investments and save more, and actually could be breakthroughs for the client, such as recommendations to sell a business, open a new one, downsize housing, get better protected, curtail excessive spending, end a partnership, etc.

B. Tools and methods – 

The initial discussions with the client are quite interactive and explore many areas beyond the typical assets, liabilities, cash flow, insurances, etc. to include relationships with family and friends and networks and personal traits and preferences.  The HFS advisor prepares a Family Profile (similar to a family tree with comments), a Financial Snapshot of Assets and Liabilities, a Financial Snapshot of Cash Flows, A Risk Review Report Card and is interactive with stories and suggestions.  More information is in the following essay authored by Fran Sisco, one of if not the first developer of Holistic Financial Planning.

C. Pertinent essays by Fran Sisco – 

“Holistic Financial Planning”

Published in the Westchester Jewish Chronicle in February 2004.
Copyright 2004 Fran Sisco
What is holistic financial planning? Holistic financial planning encompasses how you share your life with your family members and your friends, why certain songs are your favorites, how you juggle your time for hobbies, business and home, your passions, and your relationship with God and other people, as well as all the traditional considerations about personal finance.   Yes, your relationship with God and with people can have a greater impact on the success of your financial planning than the latest return on the S&P 500 index or the newest tax law.   Holistic financial planning, a new and burgeoning trend in personal finance, has at its core the importance of putting the pieces of an individual together in such a way in order to make the whole person, and his or her finances and even life, much greater than the parts.   Holistic financial planning strives to create a beautiful puzzle out of a mix of components.   The essential ingredients in the process are sharing openly and honestly, with your financial advisor, family members and individuals with whom you are closely involved.

Goal-setting and sharing it. What has been missing in the traditional planning process is a sharing of goals in an honest way.   George   Harrison said in his song “Any Road” on the “Brainwashed,” album, released posthumously, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”   Your heart and soul know where you want to go, but often your mind does not, and that can be the problem.   Too often, I’ve asked clients about their goals and objectives and it seems that they answered me with surface responses or what they think I wanted to hear. Answers such as a secure retirement; a bigger house; top colleges for their children; coverage against calamities; more money for travel; their own business.   Usually their responses were bland, almost apologetic.    Very infrequently do clients say what they really might be thinking, such as a breather from the rat race of keeping up with the Joneses; feeling young and vibrant again; finishing the novel started years ago; having time for romance; feeling free of worry and confident that God will make things work out; the quick recovery of a family member who has cancer; freedom from an obsessive-compulsive disorder and so on.

Here’s a list of goals that I rarely hear, but should hear, from clients during our introductory sessions.

1.   A loving relationship with family, friends, community, self and God.

2.   Continued peace and security.

3.   Improved likelihood of physical and emotional well being.

4.   Greater freedoms of all kinds.

5.   Enhanced self-expression.

 Most people are not accustomed to sharing intimate aspirations and beliefs, or they think somehow that the sharing does not pertain to the development of strategies for improving their finances. Many people are not in touch with their innermost drives and desires, or have squelched them for other reasons.   Much of my own life has been that way and perhaps yours too.   Furthermore, goals can be moving targets in today’s complex and quickly changing world.

 Getting the help of a financial advisor.

The best financial advisor is usually one who is holistic in attitude, experience and in approach.   She or he sees how money can be created and understands your own circumstances and goals and how to get you to openly share about them. Ideally, one financial advisor should be the quarterback of your financial matters.

Tags and designations can help you to narrow your search, but can be quite misleading, frequently change or fall in and out of favor. A person having several designations may be better equipped to offer a more holistic, balanced approach.   More importantly, it depends on an advisor’s attitude, sensitivity and dedication to helping clients in a way that is objective, fair and maximizes value for the client.   Check out how the advisor has handled similar situations and talk to references.   The advisor should be creative and an excellent communicator, and a team player.    Often, a warm caring approach can count as much as, if not more than, technical skills.   The old saying is apt:   “People don’t really care how much you know, but they know how much you care.”

The process of holistic financial planning.

 There are seven main phases:

1.   The initial contact is usually through a referral from the prospect to the holistic advisor.

2.   Setting the context.

3.   Building rapport and developing understanding.

4.    Identifying real needs and goals.

5.    Creation of financial strategies, holistically and sensitively.

6.    Implementation of key strategies.

7.    Follow-up, empowerment, referral.

For each phase, the holistic advisor gathers information about the client’s key sensitivity attributes, and what influences these attributes.   Financial strategies are tailored around these attributes that include being:

· Free and not burdened or controlled.

· In-the-know and not left out.

· Understood.

· Respected as an individual and not exploited.

· Efficient.

· Responsible and not too risky.

· Young at heart, fresh, innovative.

· Successful financially and successful with relationships.

· Loving, harmonious, spiritual, and not controversial.

The financial planning techniques are personalized for clients.   Fees are usually based on performance and value created, rather than merely based on time spent.   Story telling is an important tool in communicating ideas and the views of the client and advisor.

 The spiritual component.

For individuals who get comfortable with holistic financial planning, the next deeper level of such planning is to include the spiritual component pervasively in the planning process.

Studies show that over 90% of us believe in God or whatever name is given to the higher force that has a hand in our lives.   From a holistic financial planning viewpoint, the differences among religions are not important.   What is important is that a person believes that a higher force can influence the person’s life directly or through other people.   And by believing that unconditionally, it then opens up the possibility for great strides in the holistic financial planning process.   The person becomes able to see their own life as the beautiful blend of experiences which all had purpose and meaning, and that the current life is a launch pad for an even more remarkable life to come.   This makes it possible to fit together the component strategies into a cohesive whole that is a reflection of a person’s true inner being.   I also think the belief in God, the higher force, and in other people then opens one’s heart as well as mind to a more open sharing of one’s life, and this leads to results more closely tied to what a person really wants.

 Here are seven spiritual principles, for your consideration, that if followed I believe will help you to attain your goals of life and finances.

1.   Ask and it will be given to you.

2.   Be here now, with God, calm and simple.

3.   Forgive, give, share, and be tolerant and humble.

4.   Add real value, utilize resources and live with integrity.

5.   Follow your heart and your soul.

6.   Serve and be served by people instead of things.

7.   Believe in God and yourself, mind the signs, and open yourself to God and miracles.

Holistic financial planning is spreading quickly and could make a profound difference in your life and the differences you make in the lives of other people.   If you are interested in more information, please contact Fran Sisco.

“Financial Planning With Heart – Part 1”

Published in the nine newspapers of The Martinelli Publications in Westchester County, NY on 6/8/05. Copyright 2005 Fran Sisco

In financial planning for major issues of life and money, the heart should rule the head, or at least show leadership.   Too often, we make financial decisions as if we were engineers, lawyers or accountants.  Researching and studying, analyzing and reanalyzing, graphs and spreadsheets, charts and calculators.  And usually the true goals are missed by a long shot. It happens even when financial advisors are involved in the process.

Clients meet with their advisors and tell what they see as the issues and problems  The advisors come up with several suggestions and they discuss the options and settle on a set of action steps.  All very professional and polite.  However, the tough questions are often not asked, the questions that tug at the heart, the ones that can be unsettling.  Why don’t you close your marginally profitable business?  Do you really want to exclude one of your children from your estate?  Why haven’t you gotten sufficient life insurance and long-term care insurance for your loved ones? Why do you spend so much money on clothes? The tough issues are usually skipped or paid merely lip service by both the client and the advisor. Often the advisor does not want to cause angst that might lead to inaction.  Usually, the client has difficulty in properly expressing the feelings related to the facts. Sometimes, both are clumsy initially with a more meaningful discussion. Significant potential financial loss and emotional upset can result.

The family profile is one tool some advisors use to uncover a person’s particular situation, especially for individuals who are middle aged or older. The advisor builds a family tree with the clients’ help (both spouses present if possible), detailing the names, ages, occupations, disabilities, sub-family, etc.  As the information is recorded on the family profile, the clients are asked questions about each key relative and out of the client pours heart-related information that reveals important financial considerations.  The love of a disabled granddaughter who warrants annual gifts to help with special therapy and education.  Fairness for a helpful cherished son who deserves a larger share of the estate.  Admiration for a deceased father who built the family business and put several children through college, leading to the client’s desire to generously help his grandchildren.  Adoration for the mother who handled admirably the family finances, leading to a client’s greater sophistication about the financial markets and complex investments.  Emotional upset about a grandparent’s long horrible illness contributing to the clients’ intense desire to protect assets by getting long-term care insurance and being more conservative with investments.  Financial failure of grandparents during the Great Depression and the loss of a residence, resulting in a low tolerance for risk and a preference for guaranteed investments and minimal debt.  Frustration over the conflicts among adult children and their unwillingness to be financially responsible, making difficult the process of planning for the succession of the family business.

In next month’s column will be more about financial planning tools to help expressions of the heart.



“Financial Planning With Heart – Part 2”

Published in the nine newspapers of The Martinelli Publications in Westchester County, NY in 6/05. Copyright 2005 Fran Sisco

In last month’s column, there was a discussion of the significant role of emotions in effective financial planning.  If the heart does not show leadership over the head, the individual’s true goals can be missed by a long shot, even when financial advisors are involved. Covered in that article was the family profile and how some advisors use it as an important tool in uncovering a person’s particular situation, especially those who are middle aged or older.

A second tool used as part of the financial planning process is storytelling.  Because good financial planning involves making sound financial decisions based on the fit of the financial environment with key strategies and one’s own circumstances, the better the fit, often the better the results.  Stories help get the right fit.

Let’s first look at when you try to get this fit on your own without the direct help of a financial advisor.  Like most, you probably learn new information, especially complicated financial information, when it is in an accessible, easy-to-understand format, which is often a rarity.  Engaging stories told by real people of their life experiences (e.g. building a very successful business, losing a large portion of life savings through inappropriate investments, or rectifying decades-old family animosity over financial matters) are understood and retained better than are dry articles of technical information loaded with graphs and charts and esoteric concepts.  In addition, for many people, the richer the medium the more enhanced their understanding.  A financial-related story conveyed by a celebrity in a polished television show beats out a news article void of personality.  Engaging retained information can lead an individual to make meaningful positive changes in their lives.

When you are getting the help of a financial advisor, storytelling plays an important two-way function. One way is you to the advisor. In order to communicate information about yourself that the advisor needs to help you through key decisions (e.g. your feelings about family responsibilities, phobias about risk and loss, internal need to excel, compulsions to spend, etc.), you should tell the advisor compelling stories.  For example, it is not enough to tell your advisor you have a moderate level of risk tolerance. Moderate is vague.  You need to tell stories about situations in your life involving risk-taking and discuss your feelings about them.  The advisor then gets a much better idea of what moderate means for you.  This way the advisor retains interest in your special circumstances and tailors personalized ideas and strategies for you and your family. The second way is the advisor to you. The advisor does not need to be an accomplished filmmaker, television talk show host or radio star to make a lasting impression on you, but should have the ability to keep you interested and involved throughout the entire financial planning process by telling engaging pertinent stories, which contain important clear lessons about life and money.

Lively engaging stories, supported by real facts and research, can go a long way in helping you realize your financial goals.

 “Financial Planning And Trust”
Published in the nine newspapers of The Martinelli Publications in Westchester County, NY on 2/16/06. Copyright 2006 Fran Sisco.
Last month’s column on “Financial Planning and Surprise” may offer guidance on coping with the recent Katrina tragedy.  An excerpt follows: “The surprising event often causes major disruption, sometimes permanent, and usually life-changing.  If we cope well with surprise, then we often make it through, and perhaps even flourish. By fortifying our belief in ourselves, expressing our trust in our relatives and friends, and deepening our faith, we can often overcome adversity brought about by surprise.” This month’s column deals with the matter of trust.
Webster’s dictionary defines trust as an assured reliance on the character, ability, strength, or truth of someone or something.  Without having trust in people, it is very difficult to handle significant financial matters.   You need to trust that your employer will keep its commitment to provide you with an income and various benefits and a safe workplace.  You must trust the community in which your business is located so you may continue to operate profitably.  You need to trust your family members that each will continue to do his or her share for the family’s well being, including earning income, controlling expenses, maintaining property, etc.  You should trust the financial institutions and financial advisors and intermediaries who serve you.  And you need to trust the governmental entities, agencies and representatives, that they all will continue in your best interests.  You also need to have a reasonable amount of trust in the future and that it will not be filled with catastrophe, risk and terror.  A tall order to trust in all these.  One problem is that so many people and institutions have breached your trust.  So many across all disciplines and on all levels.   In the corporate world, the high and mightly have been made low and our trust shattered.  Enrons and Worldcoms abound,  In the religious world, abuses by many priests have shattered our trust.  Politically, our reliance on leaders has diminished greatly as the wrongful acts of several taint the good intentions of many.  Globally, countries’ leaders spar and show disdain and distrust, spilling over to the citizenry. Terrorists go loose.  Advisors fall from grace, such as big accounting firms, banks and brokerages. With your trust being destroyed, or at least challenged at every turn, of course it affects how you deal with your financial planning matters.
It’s no longer enough to try to confine your dealings with people or firms you think you can trust, because it is extremely difficult to sort the good from the bad.  Making it even more complicated is that many individuals and firms are so tainted and so caught up in conflicting interests and greed as a way of living that they don’t even realize they don’t deserve your trust, and sometimes you don’t realize it either.  The devils are not wearing horns or tails.  Often they wear pleasant smiles, cute outfits, sharp suits and the buildings have stately columns and expensive furnishings.
Here are some tips on the matter of trust:
1. Give up the idea that you can give up trusting.  You would become jaded.  You must trust in order to live well.  You must be a vibrant interactive member of your family, your community and world.
2.  Now, determined to trust, make it clear to individuals and companies that you are placing your trust in them, but you need reassurance that they will do the right things for you and in your best interests.  Ask for examples.  Be expressive.
3.  Monitor your involvement with the individuals and firms, and what happens to your financial situation.  Speak up when you get frustrated or feel the trust has been violated.
4.  Do your part to show you are deserving of trust.  Don’t ask your CPA to bend the tax rules or look the other way.  Withdraw from conversations that are mean-spirited or littered with gossip, hurtful comments, prejudices, racism, and talks of violence, lying and cheating.  Hold yourself to the standard you hold others to.
5.  Make trust an essential ingredient in even the smallest of transactions, even the mundane and commonplace.  Look people in the eye and speak truthfully and from your heart.  Extend yourself to others.
6.  Start small in your own family, among your friends, in your community and then watch trust spread like it was contagious.
7.  As you deserve more trust and give more trust, extend the boundaries.  Trust your financial advisor with providing strategies for more of your investment holdings.  Allow your insurance agent to design a policy that is better for you.  Ask your estate attorney to give ideas on succession planning for your business.  Enroll your employees in your latest long-range project.  Tell your employer about your latest brainstorm.
The dilemma is how do you handle your important financial dealings if it is so tough to trust.  Next month’s column describes ways to build, share, evaluate, monitor and expand trust. Email the author with ways you find helpful and he will incorporate them into the column.
Once trust is on solid footing, you will have a greater chance of dealing with surprise, whatever is your own Katrina.

“Financial Planning Basics – Part 1 and Part 2
Part 1 – Published in the nine newspapers of The Martinelli Publications in Westchester County, NY on 2/23/06. Copyright 2006 Fran Sisco.
Last week’s column focused on trust, and its effect on personal finances, as well as offering suggested guidelines in a world where our trust in institutions and people has been shaken.   This week’s column covers several of the basics of effective financial planning.  Thanks for your feedback so I can write essays that you consider being pertinent and valuable.
Personal financial planning does not need to be complicated or stressful, especially if you are mindful of certain general principles. As you get more involved in the financial planning process and the related key decisions, either on your own or with the guidance of financial advisors, you should develop a keen understanding of these basic principles that will guide you.  Nine basic principles are as follows.  More will be covered in future columns.  Of course these are general guidelines and all of them may not apply to your own situation.
1. Be personal – As discussed in prior columns, it is essential that you get clear about what are your particular financial circumstances in the context of your relationships, responsibilities, psychology, risk tolerance, past experiences, education and financial knowledge, network, assets and income, etc.  Being honest with yourself, and with your advisor, about what you want and what you can handle are matters to be continually evaluated each step of the way in planning.  Don’t take on measures you really do not understand or will not follow as time unfolds.
2. Stay in as much control as possible – Most people want to be in control over their own financial destiny.  Unless you are very wealthy, you should avoid strategies that involve giving away large portions of your assets, as you may later regret the decision and feel vulnerable.  There are ways you can stay in control while setting up provisions to take care of issues of disability or incompetence (e.g., revocable trusts instead of irrevocable trusts).  Some seniors give away assets and then need the money back to handle medical catastrophic expenses.
3.  Be conservative and protective – Why take chances if you don’t absolutely need to or if you get stressed out?   Often, in a quest of a higher return on their money, investors place too high a portion of their money in variable investments, like equity mutual funds or stocks, only to find themselves fearful when the prices go down, and they then bail out at a loss.  Also, get and stay sufficiently insured (e.g. health, life, disability, long-term care, home, auto).
4.  Strive for simplicity – You should be able to understand and explain to someone else in a few short sentences each of your assets and liabilities and the underlying strategies.  Minimize the number of banks, brokers and insurance companies, as well as the number of people on your financial planning team.   Too often, people become prisoners of a recurring avalanche of statements, confirmations, phone calls and emails.
5.  Focus on making more money from your skills – Put more emphasis on boosting your earned income, either through a new and different business, career or job position.  This can have a much bigger positive effect on your financial health than decisions about investments or expenses.
6.  Be frugal with money and time – The old adage “a penny saved is a penny earned” is very appropriate in today’s times when consumerism has run amok dragging many of us along with it.  Make a concerted effort to minimize your buying and spending and shift your money and your time into more creative efforts like secondary businesses, physical activities, the arts, and community activities.  Your passions and hobbies could even become sideline incomes.
7.  Prioritize – Because financial planning can become extensive in scope, and even overwhelming, you should first focus on the most important areas no matter how tough.  Examples follow:  If you are over 50 with less than two million dollars in liquid assets, I believe you (and your spouse or partner) probably should get some long-term care insurance, well before trying to tweak your investment portfolio.  If you are not on target to retire by age 72, get help to find ways to increase earned income significantly, including changing a career or business.   If detailed plans are not in place to handle the possibility of death, disability or incompetence, you should get these done in the next few weeks and before you toy with tax strategies that might save you mere hundreds of dollars.
8.  Increase your value to others – Whether you are an employee or self-employed, your income represents compensation for the value that you provide.  Usually, the more value you provide the more the marketplace rewards you.  However, many people hang on too long to an outdated view of the monetary value of their own work.  Here are a few examples: small businessmen in old-fashioned distributorship businesses with excessive margins, and not in tune with the efficiencies and lower prices of Internet commerce.  Or middle-level management white-collar workers pushing pencils and figures around on pages to justify decisions for which they have little input.  Or factory workers toiling at repetitive tasks when robots do the same tasks 3,000 miles away at one-fifth the cost.  Please get it straight.  In today’s challenging world, no one owes you a job or a business.  You’ve got to fight for it by being as forward thinking and creative as possible. Reflect on what you can do to give more value in whatever you do.  The more you give out the more you get back.
9.  Leverage relationships and time – Before you consider acquiring properties or expanding a business by leveraging credit, I suggest that you consider leveraging people and time instead.  Leveraging credit is a pleasant term for the unpleasant experience of taking on more liabilities, which can lead to excessive debt if the related venture does not produce ample cash to pay down the debt.  Furthermore, with debt the leverage factor is finite. Leveraging people, with a much smaller amount of credit, can have a much bigger impact. Using a network of people for customers, clients, advisors, and associates in your business can have an exponential effect.
Additional general principles will be covered in next week’s column.
Part 2 – Published in the nine newspapers of The Martinelli Publications in Westchester County, NY on 3/2//06.
Copyright 2006 Fran Sisco.
This week’s column focuses on the following three principles:
10.  Develop your purpose. – You may be able to create a significant amount of resources, involving time and money, by reevaluating your life’s purpose and realigning to it.  Sometimes our purpose is not clear and we choose wealth, property or fame, at the expense of our important relationships.  Other times, we hop from career to career in search of meaning, later to find it was already deep within ourselves.  Evaluate what is truly important to you and assess your boundaries, by taking on small new projects.  Examples are a volunteer activity, a home remodeling chore, a new artistic hobby, visiting old relatives and friends, creating deeper relationships with business associates, reading a best-selling self-help book, writing a song, and so on. Even put yourself into uncomfortable situations and observe how you handle them.  Be patient with yourself and others around you as you develop ideas of what makes you feel fuller and happier.  Take these experiences and place them into the context of your life’s journey thus far, and then evaluate what you believe is your main life purpose.   Keep evaluating and revising your purpose, with its several layers, so that you can be in better sync with your purpose.  For example, as a nurse your main life purpose may be to help people become more comfortable and happier, your narrower sub-purpose may be to administer to patients in a hospital in a loving empowering manner, yet professional and efficient.  If you change your career to being an elder lawyer, you may not need to forsake your overall purpose but rather merely to adapt a new sub-purpose to different circumstances, thus providing some consistency and stability in your life.
11.  Express yourself effortlessly. –  Harboring feelings can cause a lot of stress. Doctors and psychologists often say “better out than in.”  Keeping so much inside can have a very detrimental effect on your financial well-being as well as your physical health.  It prevents other people who are in a position to help you, including advisors, from seeing the underlying problems.  Strive to share yourself more with others, starting at home, and then branch out to the office or factory, the community and your advisors.
12.  Heal important relationships within your family. – No one is free from the concerns or complications of difficult relationships.  Most of us, when faced with a problematic family member, take a detour rather than facing it head-on and doing whatever needs to be done to repair the relationship.  Unresolved issues in relationships could cause havoc not only on one’s peace of mind and happiness, but also on one’s health and financial well being.  Often, the effect is felt after a death and the allocation of assets.  Take Ellen who has written out two of her four sons from her will because of a disagreement years ago.  If she never resolves it, forgives them and gets the missing sons back into the will, then ill feelings and imbalances in the sharing of assets will live on for generations.   Another example is about how two brothers, who never communicated well with each other, found themselves arguing often over who was handling more of their mother’s needs as her health declined due to Alzheimer’s. For several years, the older brother, who took over more healthcare responsibility, warned the younger one to be very frugal and avoid any large expenditures because at any moment their mother’s assets might run out and they each might have to pay for very high long-term care expenses.  When the mother finally passed away, the younger brother learned that the mother had an amount of assets more than sufficient to handle the long-term care expenses for many years, and the older brother’s caution was unfounded. If they had been communicating more honestly and more thoroughly with each other, this unfortunate misunderstanding could have been avoided.  For years, the younger brother had lived not as fully as possible. He avoided buying a house and sending the two children to better more expensive schools.
Children often are conspicuous spenders as a way to assert independence from a dominating parent, wasting money and time for the whole family.  Some husbands and wives let their relationship drift into despair and then divorce, often resulting in financial chaos. What might have been needed was better and more loving communication earlier in the marriage.  In business partner entanglements, improving communication can foster understanding and can save a business.
Take the first step toward resolving difficult relationships.  Let your fairness and forgiveness lead the way.  Get the help of other family members or advisors if necessary.   Heal and watch your finances improve greatly.
Next week’s column deals with suggested steps on how to choose a Certified Public Accountant for you or your business.

“Financial Snapshots”


Published in the nine newspapers of The Martinelli Publications in Westchester County, NY on 10/4/07. Copyright 2007 Fran Sisco. All rights reserved.


There are two worksheets that I call Financial Snapshots, which I’ve found to be very helpful when making personal financial decisions for my family and for my clients.   These snapshots are essential for major personal financial planning decisions about (a) spending significant amounts for homes, cars, college education, starting or expanding a business, significant medical expenses including long-term care, etc. (b) saving or investing (c) reallocations of investments or withdrawals including retirement planning (d) budgeting and borrowing or refinancing (e) evaluating the adequacy of insurance coverages (f) planning for handling estate planning including the distribution of assets, beneficiary designations, gifting and transfers, etc.   To make intelligent responsible decisions, at least big ones, you need to have the facts handy and the snapshots are important tools.  Other important tools (such as a family profile, an understanding of risk tolerance and psychological considerations, questionnaires, stories, legal documents, detailed statements, etc.)  are covered in separate articles, including about the trend toward “holistic financial planning,” also called ‘sensitive financial planning.”  The snapshots take several hours to prepare, and often require the help of a professional.  In my opinion, they are well worth the time and cost, and often uncover many potential problems that can be corrected and may have ordinarily gone undetected.  The financial snapshots are useful for people in all income and asset brackets. I’ve prepared snapshots for people with less than $10,000 of assets or income, but who need correct information for social service agencies.  And I’ve prepared snapshots for clients who have over twenty million dollars who need to make many varied different decisions about their money and their lives.


1.  Financial Snapshot of Assets and Liabilities.  – This snapshot details each asset, including investments, your home, real estate properties such as a vacation home or rental property, your business, insurance policies, etc. The liabilities section includes all your liabilities including mortgage and home equity loans, credit cards, credit lines, business-related loans, personal loans and other borrowings.  This snapshot should include account numbers and key contact information such as brokers, bankers and insurance agents.  The column that includes current values should have next to it the “as of” date.  In a separate column, next to each item should have an identifying reference number (such as L1, L2, etc. for liquid assets or R1, R2 etc. for retirement assets such as IRAs).  This reference number is handy to use on file folders that you have that contain the related supporting documents like bank statements, brokerage account statements, insurance policies, etc.   I have helped many clients organize the files of their assets and liabilities using this system and most have found it to be very helpful.  The system also represents a convenient way to update the snapshot and provide important timely information for future financial decisions, especially for older individuals who find it necessary to enroll others to help them.  Almost every snapshot I have prepared has revealed important changes that should be made.


2.  Financial Snapshot of Cash Flows.  – I prefer to use a standard preprinted form I designed which has line items for many expense categories, which may get overlooked if you prepared the cash flow worksheet on a blank sheet of paper.  This snapshot should have detailed income items such as salaries of each family member in the household who is contributing to running it, business income, pensions, retirement plan distributions, social security benefits, investment income (estimated interest, dividends, capital gains), and other sources of income. The section for expenses should be categorized by expenses for household, autos, child-related, education, insurance, personal-related, business-related expenses, miscellaneous, and taxes.  Within each category, there should be detailed line items  (e.g. Under taxes, there should be real estate taxes, social security taxes, income taxes by Federal, State and City, if any).  The snapshot should have 2 columns of numbers, and filled in for each line item whichever is most appropriate – monthly (e.g. meals out) or annual (Federal income taxes).  I suggest preparing the snapshot using Microsoft Excel so that the numbers can easily be tabulated (e.g. the monthly numbers can be multiplied by 12 to give an annual total; the categories can be subtotaled and the entire worksheet totaled.)  Also by using computer spreadsheets, they can be easily updated as information changes.  In many cases when I’ve helped clients prepare their Financial Snapshot of Cash Flow, we found that their original drafts left out, or understated, personal-type expenses like vacation, travel, gifts to others, clothes and consumer goods, etc.    After working together, we recast the snapshots to be realistic representations of the current status, and then worked with them in identifying how to reduce (or reallocate) certain categories.

It is very important for you to have the entire picture of your finances. The right time to prepare Financial Snapshots is now.


For an image of the Financial Snapshot of Assets and Liabilities and of the Financial Snapshot of Cash Flows, please send in a contact form and request them.