By Thomas Moser

Every year the squirrel hunts for nuts, eats what he needs, and stores the rest away for the long winter.  Unfortunately, the squirrel is often unable to recover all or even most of his hidden bounty. Sometimes trees fall and bury his stores, other creatures steal them when the squirrel is busy, or humans pave over them with a new parking lot. Imagine if the squirrel had the knowledge and foresight to implement a plan that successfully recovers all of the nuts.

If the Mayan calendar does indeed signify the end of the world, then none of this will matter.  But assuming the world continues after December 2012, then having a comprehensive plan will put you in a much better position than our Squirrel to tackle the future.  When it comes to financial planning, your needs will vary with your age and goals, but one thing remains certain – the sooner you start planning, the more likely you’ll reach your goals.

Retirement is only one central consideration of financial planning.  Other major concerns include:
- Saving for education
- Investing in a home
- Saving for the unexpected (medical bills, family emergencies)
- Saving for your dream vacation(s)
- Career advice and compensation
- Starting or fine-tuning your small business
- Insurance needs (risk control)
- Estate planning (succession planning and preserving your legacy)
- For those already in retirement:  assuring your savings survive you

Financial planners can assist not only in achieving goals, but in identifying and refining them as well.  There is no one, or even three -size fits all solutions when it comes to financial planning.  A skilled fee-only advisor will listen to your needs and customize a plan specific to your unique goals.

Financial planning encompasses a broad spectrum of skills and knowledge.  Qualified financial planners come from a variety of backgrounds (education, certifications, and experience).  To select and manage the appropriate investment vehicles to achieve your goals, financial planners must be knowledgeable in numerous business, investment, and tax disciplines.
- Selecting appropriate investments based on type of income, risk/return, investment horizon
- Constructing portfolios to minimize nonsystematic (diversifiable) risk
- Analyzing portfolio performance
- Assisting in debt management (credit cards, mortgages)
- Tax planning (timing, estate planning, social security, tax-preferred savings)
- Other expertise (business management, insurance, and much more)

Is Financial Planning Cost-effective?  You’ve heard the saying, you generally get what you pay for!  The right advisor can help you determine the level of planning appropriate for you, bring you peace of mind, and provide objective insight on important decisions.  By reducing risk and increasing return, good financial planners should generate portfolio revenues several times in excess of their fees. With a solid financial plan in place, you’ll be able to focus on tasks you do best, earn more instead of spending less, spend more quality time with friends and family and enjoy a good night’s sleep.

Already Have a Financial Planner?  The sooner you start planning, the better – talk to your kids about planning and start contributing to their savings today.  They could potentially put up to $5,000 of earned income into a Roth IRA annually and benefit from a lifetime of tax-free earnings.

What About Your Parents?   If your house is already in order, you might consider asking your parents and relatives if they have someone to help with retirement planning and investments.  Studies suggest cognitive abilities peak between the ages of 50 and 60.  It is important to develop and implement a plan, as well as consider an advisor, while you are still sharp as a tack.  Having a financial planner can help mitigate increased susceptibility to fraud and abuse, as well as the natural psychological resistance to preparing for one’s own cognitive decline.  Estate planning and regular check-ups are two valuable advisor services to keep elderly investors involved in maintaining a solid financial plan. And it’s never too early to start discussing retirement with your kids!  Remember, the best time to start planning for the future is today.