Chasing Future, Advisers Sacrifice Your 'Now'

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HUNT VALLEY, Md. (MainStreet) -- A few days ago, I tweeted a question that got some interesting responses: "Is it possible that financial advisers' bent towards long-term saving strips clients of joy today?"

Please also be mindful, if you're not a Twitter aficionado, that the medium restricts you to no more than 140 characters. As a result, tweeters get right to the point, sacrificing context.

The responses I got were vociferous, both in support and opposition of the implied comment in my question. Interestingly, all were from financial advisers. Here was the first grenade lobbed back: "It's not just possible; it's a fact. We're in the business of selling deferred gratification."

That comment came from a good person who is no doubt an excellent adviser. And without a doubt this is the majority opinion of the estimated 500,000-plus who refer to themselves as some form of financial adviser or professional in the lower 48. So advisers are in the business of selling deferred gratification, knowingly stripping our clients -- you -- of joy today? How do you feel about that? Does that make you want to run out to hire one?

This faulty premise leads to a number of mistaken presumptions and results. First, many financial advisers do see themselves as the protectors of their clients' futures, an ostensibly noble mission until we're reminded most also just happen to get paid more the more you're willing to defer. There's no way around this blatant conflict of interest, and any adviser caught obscuring this truth behind a veil of self-righteousness is deluding himself or herself.

There is no question that the job -- even the duty -- of a financial adviser in almost every case is to encourage clients to consider and establish a reasonable plan for deferring some of today for tomorrow, and to occasionally protest an attempted withdrawal spurred by a temporary urge in spite of better judgment (like the time a 20-something client wanted to take an early withdrawal from his Roth IRA to buy a Jet Ski). But I believe financial planning focused too heavily on the future is little better than encouraging an "eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die" approach.

While I absolutely believe we, as humans, have a tendency to overvalue that which is seen or imminent over that which is unseen and seemingly distant, there is also no denying the "one-in-the-hand, two-in-the-bush" adage. We must resist the urge to make a comprehensive financial plan the protector of only the future and strip funding from what people need today. The ideal financial plan helps manage the short, mid and long term, balancing money and life.

Encouragingly, I believe there is an awakening among financial planners to the reality that for a plan to be relevant, it must help more of life's timeline. In response to my tweet, Nathan Gehring, a Wisconsin cheesehead (and financial planner and blogger), called for balance and Dr. Carolyn McClanahan, a physician-turned-planner in Florida, noted she feels a duty to provide a plan more relevant to today. Interestingly, McClanahan and I share near brushes with death that likely add to our insistence on this issue. But it doesn't take a near-death experience to grasp this important truth.

By the way, the biggest mistakes planners and clients make regarding deferred gratification are not in our saving and investing patterns, but in our choices of vocation ... how we choose to spend the estimated 101,568 working hours in our lifetime. In 1902, Alice Morse Earle wrote, "The clock is running. Make the most of today. Time waits for no man. Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That's why it is called the present."

How much of life do you spend chasing tomorrow?

If you are in the market for a new financial planner, take a look at MainStreet's look at why smart financial advisers are worth it!

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