6 Financial Planning Questions We Wish Our Clients Would Ask

We are a team of Wealth Management professionals with collectively over 50 years of experience between us. This means we've had thousands of conversations with our clients about a broad range of topics. Afterall, a significant part of our day is dedicated to answering client questions to help them make the best financial choices possible.

The questions we get asked often vary by life stage - either the stage a client is currently in -- or the stage that's right around the corner. For example, clients who are newly married, new parents, and nearing and in retirement.

Below we've summarized that most important questions our clients should be asking at each life stage.

As newlyweds:

Q: 'Now that we're married from a legal and emotional standpoint, what are the next steps to becoming 'married financially'?'

A: It is important for couples to have conversations about budgeting and finances together. Far too frequently, these conversations don't take place before getting married. It's easy for couples to get caught up in the fun of a wedding and married life, and finances get put on the back burner. Because these can be tough conversations to have, couples often avoid having them all together.

However, we encourage our clients to make sure they understand what is important to their partner and what their partner will need to enjoy life. Once that is established, they can create strategies with each other in mind, rather than continue to go at it alone.

As new parents:

Q: 'We've decided to have children, what should we be thinking about?'

A: Talk about a life-changing event? This is it! The moment that you and your partner decide to expand your family and have a child is like no other. The sheer amount of information coming at new parents can be overwhelming, especially in today's environment where so much information and opinions are available in the palm of your hand.

In addition to all the joyous firsts, there's everything from preparing a 'proper nursey', to how to sleep train, to healthy nutrition choices and so much more – it's a lot! Far too often, parents don't have a free moment to stop and think about the finances associated with having a child. However, having a child is more than a 529 account or your 401(k). Questions like, 'How much do we need to be saving for college?' and, 'Are we paying for a new car at age 16?', and 'Do we want to contribute to their wedding expenses?' are all considerations that can get lost in the late-night feedings, nap schedules and nanny searches.

We advise that couples start to build good savings habits before they decide to have children. It's incredibly easy for DINKS, (Dual Income, No Kids) to spend their discretionary income rather than save it. Designer purchases and exotic vacations seem much more appealing and look better on Instagram than putting hard earned dollars into a savings account. However, building strong habits early pays off!

For example, putting away $1,000 a month for 27 years, earning 8% grows to over $1M. If you were to wait until an oldest child is 7 years old and a second child is 5 years old, $1,000 over 20 years would be just over $500K.

Another important question for parents to ask is:

Q: 'What really happens to a family if a parent passes away prematurely?'

This question allows us to guide clients to make personal life insurance decisions that go beyond the formulas. A quick internet search will advise that 8-12X income is the right amount or perhaps it's 5-10X income + mortgage payoff, but by having a discussion with us, we can make a recommendation that is much more personalized and a better fit for their family's long-term well-being.

Things we advise clients to consider are:

  • Losing a spouse's income
  • Losing a portion of your income as you take time to grieve for yourself and help your children grieve
  • On-going childcare expenses now that you're a single parent. You will need more help than when there were two parents
  • Keeping as much consistency for your children as possible, by being able to keep your home and not having to move them to a new location (and potentially a new school.)

These are difficult conversations to have, but so many times in our profession, when an insurance claim is paid, we feel better knowing that the remaining family members have one less thing to worry about. Money cannot replace a loved one, but it can certainly lessen the stress and burden during what is already a tremendously challenging time.

Moving towards retirement:

Q: 'How much do I need to retire?'

A: This is a basic question and an important starting point for an overall retirement strategy. While the “number” is important to understand, the reality is that we don't distribute all that money on the first day of retirement. In theory, some of those dollars will not be needed for years or even decades into the future. So, just as clients typically live during their working years based on the monthly income they receive from wages, how can they spend comfortably and confidently throughout their retirement years without running out of money? What is a “safe withdrawal rate?” There are financial tools and strategies that allow them to optimize lifetime retirement income, creating a “retirement paycheck” to provide safe, sustainable spending.

Questions ALL clients should ask regardless of their life phase:

Q: 'Will our investment strategy change during volatile markets?'

A: We believe it is important to have this conversation at the outset of our relationship, because inevitably volatile markets will happen. Knowing in advance that the overall theme of “stay the course,” but with some potential tweaks along the way, helps both the client and our team approach market downturns thoughtfully and rationally.

And,

Q: 'What level of service can I expect from your team?'

A: Often clients get focused on financial products and fees—and rightly so—but sometimes lack an appreciation for the service provided by our team. From handling IRA and 529 plan distributions to wiring money to facilitate a real estate transfer; helping to establish a securities-backed line of credit; address changes, beneficiary changes, banking changes; protecting against fraudulent transactions, etc., it is these things that often result in saved time and energy that working with an 800-number or online platform does not offer. We always welcome the chance to showcase the strength of our team and the stellar service we provide.