Are you pondering some critical decisions in your life, wondering whether you should have another child, retire, start a business, go back to school, or remodel your home?

Sometimes I will meet with individuals new to the concept of financial planning that ask ‘should’ they do any of the above. And in walking through the conversation of pros and cons, the analysis of available resources, the what-if’s and how’s, I always find I’m never the one making that decision.

In fact, as much as we like to think we’re an intelligent bunch, one area financial planners are not generally equipped to handle are the ‘shoulds.’

You are probably thinking, “Don’t people hire financial planners to answer these kinds of questions?” Yes they do, but they can’t make decisions that reflect your personal values. They can discuss if you ‘can’ afford something; or, if you can afford it if you sacrifice in other areas. But, they are not always the right people to decide those sacrifices for you. For that, you need to bring much of yourself to your financial planning engagement and add a little soul to your financial plan.

For example, if you have another child, you might have to forgo the types of vacations you enjoy for the next several years. If you retire, you may need to consider downsizing your housing expenses. Remodeling your home may mean some trade-offs in your short-term savings plan.

And so we come to the trade-off. Should you take the vacations, or the baby?

Most would answer “Both!” But we all know from economics 101 that our scarce resources can only go so far. While the trade-off may not be as direct an exchange, rest assured they exist somewhere.

And this is where an advisor can help you sort through the issue of “at what cost” and help you evaluate the cost-benefit analysis. For example, you can always stop working (or retire). It may mean living on beans and rice, but some people value the opportunity to structure their own time over dining on haute cuisine. And some people who have saved diligently all their lives will never spend much of their money and will choose to continue to work just for the joy they receive from doing a job they love. The choice comes from what is most important to you.

And then decision making gets interesting! Is it worthwhile to work an extra year to be able to take the sort of trips you enjoy, live in the community of your choice, or know you won’t have to count on others for help with long-term care?

Most of us won’t change our standard of living during retirement, which makes it easier to discuss retirement goals. But with all of the potential trade-offs and ranges of ideal versus acceptable possibilities, the choices can seem overwhelming. (e.g., I would accept a retirement that involved taking at least two major trips per year, though I would prefer also owning a vacation home, although I would settle for my current standard of living if it meant being able to retire).

When I hear from clients how much it will mean to them to upgrade their home, the resources are available, and they are being realistic about the costs, it’s never my decision when clients ask if they “should.” Often they are asking for permission to spend and want to know where the cash will come from. But when placed in the context of having to replenish savings accounts at $350 per month for two years to pay for the upgrade, the costs become concrete and the decision is easier to make.

So while working with your financial planner on your comprehensive life plan, make sure to inject all you can into the conversation about your personal values. I enjoy talking to clients about their choices and acting as a sounding board as they bounce ideas back and forth. But in the final analysis, some decisions ‘should’ only be made by those that know best.

The preceding blog was originally published by the Financial Planning Association®(FPA®). To view the original blog please visit the FPA Web site (

Author's Bio: 

Robert Schmansky has a wealth of personal finance experience in insurance, banking, professional money management, and holistic financial planning.

Rob began his career with a fee-only financial planning firm specializing in investment management and tax planning; he subsequently worked as an advisor for one of Michigan’s largest independent investment management firms before founding Clear Financial Advisors in 2011.

Rob earned a B.S. in human ecology from The Ohio State University, majoring in family resource management, and a M.A. in economics from Walsh College. His professional credentials include CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ (CFP®), Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), and Chartered Advisor for Senior Living (CASL). Rob is a participating member of the Financial Planning Association (FPA) and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).

A lifelong student of personal finance with a commitment to consumer education, Rob has taught required courses for the CFP® examination as an adjunct instructor at Saginaw Valley State University. He has been a contributing writer to the FPA’s blog All Things Financial Planning; an investment expert for FiLife, a former Dow Jones/IAC joint Internet venture; and a writer for other publications including Yahoo! Finance.

Rob is frequently quoted in the media, including the Wall Street Journal, Dow Jones Newswires, MarketWatch, National Public Radio, and other industry and consumer outlets.

In his free time, Rob enjoys coaching youth lacrosse, reading fiction and books on historical people and events, and jogging.