Our financial security and our overall sense of wellness are intrinsically interwoven. After all, money impacts our ability to do almost everything in life. Finding a healthy balance between the two can prove challenging though. In order for someone to live a joyful, fulfilling life doing all the things that they enjoy, they require the financial means to do so. On the other hand, someone who spends too much time focused on building a healthy pot of money may have no time to actually enjoy doing those things that light the fire inside them, which will ultimately leave them feeling unhappy and disillusioned.
We live in a consumerist society where we’re conditioned towards the need to earn more money. For many, more money is an innate part of their self-worth and how ‘successful’ they feel. The problem lies when earning more money comes at the cost of other things in life. Taking on more hours at work can leave less time for hobbies or caring for loved ones. Building a side hustle to bring in additional income may mean sacrificing time previously spent at the gym or with friends. Accepting a new higher paid job with a longer commute could impact the amount of time spent with family. When our focus is on earning more, other important areas of our lives can be negatively impacted.
This is where life planning comes in. Life planning is the marriage of meaning and money. It involves uncovering what it is that lights us up, and then pulling together a very intentional plan for our finances to make sure we can live the life we deserve, both now and in the future. In essence, life planning helps determine the balance for our unique, purposeful life, and develops a plan to get there.
Kinder’s ‘Three Questions’
Known as the father of life planning, George Kinder, a Certified Financial Planner, developed a framework encompassed by his famous ‘Three Questions’.
“Life planning hinges on our individual responses to profound and provocative questions challenging us to look at how close we are living to what would be most meaningful, passionate and exciting for us.” - George Kinder
The ‘Three Questions’ exercise facilitates the creation of an intentionally designed life. It helps you to get crystal clear about what will make you happiest and then prioritising what matters most. I recommend you give it a go! It’s a great exercise to do independently if you’re in a relationship, and then come together to see each other’s answers.
Before you read further, be aware that it pays to really take the time to be true to yourself in your answers. Throw out any ideas of what you feel you ‘should’ do with your life and lean into what you truly want. Also, it’s best if you complete your answer to question one in its entirety before even reading question two, and equally important to finish the second question before considering question three.
Question 1: Design your ideal life
The purpose of this first question is to figure out what matters to you in life. Essentially, it’s about your broad life goals.
Imagine that you are financially secure and that you have all the money you need for the rest of your life. How would you live your life? Would you change anything? What would you do? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back your dreams. Will you change your life and how will you do it?
The joy here comes from having unlimited funds to enable you to go wild in terms of what you would do with that kind of freedom.
Answering the first question is fairly easy because if money were no object, there are plenty of things we would all want to do. However, the questions do become progressively more difficult to answer and require some deeper introspective thinking.
Question 2: Time is running out
This second question is a little more tricky to get your head around, as now you don’t have unlimited funds, but instead have a finite amount of time in which to do what makes you happy.
This time, you visit your doctor who tells you that you have five to ten years left to live. The good part is that you won’t ever feel sick. The bad news is that you will have no notice of the moment of your death. What will you do in the time you have remaining? Will you change your life, and how will you do it?
In answering this question you will develop your unique ‘bucket list’; those important things that you want to do, be or have before the end comes.
The point of this question is to evoke deeper clarity over your most deeply held values. If you already have an understanding of those qualities that you believe are most important in the way you live and work, you have a head start. However, this second of Kinder’s three questions helps go much deeper into what you value most by imposing a time limit to help you get really clear on your priorities.
We’ve all said to ourselves or loved ones ‘we’ll do that when….’. The answers to this second question helps enlighten us that we can and should be living our best life today. We don’t have to wait for when the kids are at university, when we earn more or whatever self-imposed milestone we have put in the way of taking action. The time is now.
Question 3: Today is the day
But what if you knew that the end of your life was coming even sooner, what would you do differently?
This time, your doctor shocks you with the news that you have only one day left to live. Notice what feelings arise as you confront your very real mortality. Reflecting on your life, on all your accomplishments, as well as on all the things that will remain undone, ask yourself: What did I miss? Who did I not get to be? What did I not get to do?
What’s really apparent with the answers to this question is that typically, people will not express a wish that they had earned more money or worked more late nights or taken the job that took them away from their families. In contrast, they wish they had spent more time with their loved ones, travelled more widely, enjoyed their passions and ensured that they were leaving a positive legacy.
According to Kinder, the answers to this question tend to fall into five categories:
- Family or relationships and a desire to spend meaningful time with those we love. 90% of the responses to the final question contain this topic.
- Authenticity or spirituality.
- Fulfilling creative goals.
- Giving back to the wider community and leaving a meaningful positive legacy.
- A “sense of place” (visiting places that are special, a desire to live somewhere different or to help the environment).
Feeling the emotions
Completing these questions can be quite an emotional exercise. Question one has the potential to evoke strong feelings of excitement, ambition and joy. However by question three, the tears may be flowing alongside feelings of regret and sadness at things you haven’t got round to doing which are so important to you.
Being aware of these emotions for what they are is really key here. The ultimate aim of this process is to enact a life plan that will often require a change of behaviours, habits and choices from those which we currently demonstrate. How we ‘feel’, or want to feel, can be the kickstarter for those changes. Emotions are powerful drivers for our behaviour. Take the time to acknowledge what comes up for you with each question and the strength of each emotion, then use this to fuel your actions.
Take your responses and turn them into inspired action
The Three Questions exercise can be truly enlightening. It highlights any obvious disconnect between what you value the most and how you are currently spending your time. Additionally, it clarifies the importance of aligning your behaviours and choices now with what you want in the future.
But it’s not enough to just have the awareness. The real value comes when we choose inspired action to live the life we most long to live. This often requires the support of a professional financial planner who can marry your life goals with your financial choices to ensure that you can achieve your life plan. Alternatively, a website called Life Planning for You is available from the Kinder Institute. Here you can document your answers to the three questions, as well as other useful life planning tools, and have a go at mapping out your life plan yourself.
It can be hard, especially for the younger generation, to save money for a future which seems such a long way ahead. However, using these questions, instead of thinking of putting money into a pension ‘for retirement’, this process allows you to see your greater life vision, feel all the emotions associated with creating that life, and create a sense of intentionality around where your money goes, to make sure that your life plan actually happens.
What typically comes across in this exercise is that what most of us are really seeking out of life isn’t more money. It’s quality time. Time to enjoy the things we love most, time to live a purposeful life and time to enjoy the company of those who mean the most to us.
Everyone should be investing financially for their future selves. But alongside that, this highlights the other investments you need to make. Make a conscious choice to take the time to invest sufficiently in your relationships and hobbies and communities.
So many people go through life dissatisfied with how it’s turning out for them. Instead of living a life by default, choose to live your life by design!
As always with investments, your capital is at risk. The value of your investment can go down as well as up, and you may get back less than you invest. This information should not be regarded as financial advice.
Emma Maslin is a certified Financial Coach and Mentor, Financial Wellness Speaker and Founder of multi award-winning personal finance education website The Money Whisperer. A former Chartered Accountant, Emma believes financial health and wellbeing isn’t a luxury just for the wealthy; it’s a basic need for all of us.