Disclosure: Individuals used in case study stories are purely fictional characters. Case Studies are quotes from the book "It's Not About Your Money, It's About Your Life
Discovery Process – Sheila
Sheila experienced the value of developing her vision after receiving a large bonus. A hard worker and determined goal setter, Sheila had started working at her company as a mailroom clerk and 26 years later she became CEO. Her career was all-consuming, so her finances were not well organized. Still, Sheila had amassed several million dollars by the time she came to see us.
Initially, Sheila simply wanted a recommendation of where to stash her bonus, which would only have added to the hodge-podge of her portfolio. But through the discovery process, Sheila developed a broader vision for the ultimate purpose of her wealth. She began looking at her future with new eyes, uncovering exciting possibilities. Travel with her nephews? A second home in Europe? She loved her work, but realized that she could now enjoy a more flexible schedule and mentor others in the process. She also realized that she could take some of her business skills and apply them to causes that she held dear. Suddenly, Sheila’s bonus was not just another page in her portfolio, but an entire world opening before her.
Sheila’s Blind Spot: As a determined goal setter, Sheila got stuck in the habit of saving everything she earned rather than balancing saving money for the future with enjoying some of her money today.
Discovery Story - Howard
Howard, a general contractor who ran a successful business building custom homes, believed strongly in the values that sports polychromos pencils propelling pencils shading pencils short pencils wax pencils writing pencils 4b pencil black prismacolor pencil caran dache pencils cheap colored pencils crayola watercolor pencils derwent graphic pencils ferby pencils flexible pencils fuzzy pencils green pencils karisma colour pencils kindergarten pencils number 2 pencils pencil kits pencil tins prismacolor pencil set small pencils can teach: teamwork, fair play, preparation, and practice. He had been involved in his children’s sports activities when they were young, coaching them and practicing with them. Once his children had grown up, his only sports involvement was as a spectator.
As Howard dove into the discovery process, he realized that mentoring young people and teaching the lessons of sports were still very important to him. “Through my company and personally, I had always financially supported a myriad of local charities, but it never felt that great. I honestly didn’t even know what some of them did. When I started focusing on the two things that were really important to me—kids and sports—I got really inspired.” Now Howard not only supports four local Little League teams for at-risk children, he also developed a training program for coaches to make sure the underlying lessons of sports are taught as well. He has trained several of his employees and, with their help, the program has spread throughout the region.
Howard’s Blind Spot: Howard wasn’t fully aware of what he really cared about. When he discovered it, he was able to make that passion a focal point in his life.
Discovery Process – John & Janet
As a couple, John and Janet had amassed $5 million in net worth the old-fashioned way: they spent less than they made. Without really being aware of how much they had saved or spent, they maintained a strong pattern of living frugally. By their mid-fifties, John and Janet found themselves wishing they could afford to do some of the things their friends were doing: buy a boat or fancier home, travel first-class, or join an upscale country club. They were frustrated but didn’t know if they could afford to do those things without destroying all they had worked to build.
Through the Red Dot and Lifestyle Price Tag calculations, they realized that they could afford to do all the things that their neighbors were doing — but they also discovered that they didn’t really want to. They realized that although travel was a priority of theirs, they would rather spend their money designing their own trips than buying package tours. They decided against a vacation home but opted for an international time-share that gave them more flexibility. They decided against the country club membership in favor of giving more to their favorite church and to charities. The discovery process taught them how to assess their true financial position and to explore their genuine, unique desires, and the power of clarity they achieved through these exercises allowed them to make decisions that improved their lives.
John and Janet’s Blind Spot: John and Janet got caught in the comparison trap, thinking they should buy the luxuries their friends had.
Helen & Doug
The Ah-Ha Moment - Over the years, we’ve often had the pleasure of witnessing that magical moment when people who have worked hard to save and preserve their wealth but have worried about finances, finally realize they truly do have enough. When Helen and Doug first came to us, they found it difficult to discuss money even with each other. Helen refused to attend the first planning meetings because she thought we were going to put her on an even stricter budget than the severe budget her husband had her following. After listing all of their real estate and retirement assets and running a financial projection using their Lifestyle Price Tag (their yearly spending plan), we advised them that they could sell or close down their business and still have much more money than they would ever use in their lifetimes.
Like most people who have amassed fortunes, they needed us to run and rerun many varied scenarios for the truth to sink in: they had enough. In fact, they had much more than enough. One of their biggest hurdles to realizing that fact was the diversity of their assets. They had assumed that this diversity created security, but in reality, it created uncertainty about where they were financially at any given time. With a little help consolidating retirement accounts to one reporting system and assistance in hiring a CPA to keep track of their real estate holdings, Helen and Doug felt secure enough to begin to wind down and simplify their business activities. Two years after they first came to us for planning, they closed their business.
This, of course, created a new issue: “How will we now spend our money?” At the date of this writing, they haven’t quite figured it out, but a holiday card we received from Helen proved that their perception of their wealth had changed. It said, “Happy holidays, and thanks for letting me live budget-free!”
Helen and Doug’s Blind Spots: A complex financial situation prevented Helen and Doug from seeing the big picture.
Financial Independence – Kim and Stewart
Not all entrepreneurs close down their businesses when they recognize that they have enough. Sometimes, that confidence actually allows them to build a bigger dream.
Kim and Stewart spent three decades growing their second-generation family business beyond what they had ever imagined. Since they both worked in the business, it was easy for them to get consumed by its details and drudgery, as well as by the instinctive drive to keep it growing. The concept of retirement wasn’t something Kim and Stewart ever discussed. They gave to local charities, typically between $1,000 and $2,000 at a time, but were not involved in the activities of those charities. They wanted to take vacations and be with their grandchildren more. Though they didn’t really talk about it, both of them were terrified of retirement. As long as they focused on growing the business, they felt confident their financial security would be protected. When Kim and Stewart came to see us, we broached the subject of financial independence. After 30 hard years in the construction business, the concept of such freedom was scary but enticing. After completing the Red Dot process and understanding their own Lifestyle Price Tag, they saw that they had amassed a net worth of $8 million. Based on their lifestyle, vision, and desires, Kim and Stewart realized that the most they would ever use of this amount was $5.2 million.
Kim started thinking about building houses for the people who were struggling in the tough neighborhood where she grew up. Stewart had always dreamed of building a health clinic in a remote village in Mexico. Their $2.8 million surplus was more than enough to do both. The realization was exhilarating! They decided to keep growing the business for now, but their new perspective affected their attitude toward money and time. Stewart started taking every Friday off to play golf, and Kim volunteered to watch her grandsons one day a week so that her daughter could have a little downtime. They no longer feared the peaks and valleys that life might bring because they were 100 percent confident that they had enough.
Kim and Stewart’s Blind Spot: Kim and Stewart didn’t think that they would be able to help others in a really meaningful way until they knew they had enough for themselves, but they were so afraid of not having enough that they refused to look at their situation.
Red Dot Net Worth - Mary & Joe
Mary and Joe built a very successful real estate firm in collaboration with Mary’s brother. Through the years, they became involved with several general and limited partnerships to purchase real estate. Joe liked to invest in various stock and bond investments as well. Their assets grew — not only in worth, but also in complexity.
After they sold their company, Mary and Joe wanted to be less involved in their many investments but didn’t think it was possible. After completing the Red Dot process, they were thrilled to discover that they could not only simplify their holdings, but improve them as well:
- Four stock and bond accounts were reduced to two, and five non-performing stocks were sold.
- Six retirement accounts were consolidated into two and the investments were integrated into a portfolio and diversified through proper asset allocation.
- Two limited partnerships that had become cumbersome and stressful were sold.
- Another partner’s interest in one investment was bought out so Mary and Joe could have full control.
- Two income-producing properties were identified and repositioned so they could be passed on to Mary and Joe’s children.
- An insurance policy that increased estate tax liability was transferred out of the estate.
- A mortgage was paid off to enhance a property’s income stream.
- Two assets intended to be part of a living trust were correctly re-titled.
Mary and Joe’s Blind Spot: Past financial transactions that went unexamined created needless complexity for Mary and Joe.
Lifestyle Price Tag - John and Sue
John and Sue, both healthy and in their mid-sixties, asked us to run two financial independence projections for them. They did not want to spend the time calculating their Lifestyle Price Tag, so they roughly estimated that they would spend between $150,000 and $175,000 annually, two totally unsubstantiated numbers. Our first projection showed that John and Sue’s assets would comfortably cover 25 more years at the $150,000 yearly spending level. However, if they wanted to spend $175,000 annually, they could only produce 18 years worth of income. Since they both had parents who had lived well into their nineties, John and Sue became very motivated to determine exactly what level of income they really needed after seeing the difference it could make in their financial security.
John and Sue’s Blind Spot: John and Sue did not realize that a rough estimate of their Lifestyle Price Tag wasn’t enough. They didn’t have the concrete evidence they needed to know to give them the confidence that they were financially secure.
Closing Your Gaps - Vince and Diana
Vince and Diana had operated a successful restaurant for many years and had accumulated a substantial portfolio of commercial real estate, mainly medical office buildings. Their three children were grown and were beginning to establish families of their own. Though they had loved the restaurant business, Vince and Diana wanted to slow down their pace of life and spend more time with their young grandchildren. They were fairly certain that they could sell the restaurant for a good price, but they couldn’t figure out how to replace the income it had generated for them. Their real estate produced income, but they were tired of managing the properties. Additionally, Vince and Diana were uncertain about their estate plan, about what taxes would be due and how much would actually go to their heirs and charitable beneficiaries.
To close the first gap — uncertainty about income after the sale of the restaurant — we created hypothetical projections for two separate investment strategies that could generate the $150,000 annual income they wanted to replace. These options incorporated existing assets and new possibilities. To close the second gap — the burden of managing their real estate — we researched two approaches: tenants in common (TIC) limited-partner options and the Triple Net Lease structures, which provided income with less maintenance responsibility. Both offered the potential of a deferred exchange. Finally, to resolve the third gap — uncertainty about the disposition of their estate — we, along with their attorney, helped Vince and Diana review their current estate documents, converting the existing plan into specific distribution numbers (dollar amounts to each heir and charity) based on current asset values. We then helped them compare it to their ideal distribution plan to see what changes should be made.
Vince and Diana’s Blind Spot: Vince and Diana couldn’t move forward unless they saw specific strategies that would get them to their desired future.
Strategy Filter - Steve
Years ago, Steve had a number of competent and enthusiastic advisors. One day, Steve’s investment broker called him to let him know about an intriguing opportunity. After hearing his advisor out, Steve felt excited about the opportunity’s potential. He called his CPA of fourteen years to get another opinion. The CPA thought the idea might have merit, but had an opportunity of his own he wanted Steve to consider. Steve’s call to his attorney elicited yet another investment possibility. Over the next week, Steve felt like a ping-pong ball, bouncing from call to call, idea to idea. He had lots of expertise at his fingertips, but no clarity.
After doing some work to focus on the treasures he sought from wealth, Steve was able to create a clear and specific Strategy Filter. Now, when an opportunity presents itself, Steve simply looks at his priorities: increasing cash flow to invest back into his business, remaining debt-free except for his home, giving substantial tithes to his church, minimizing stress in his life, and having time and resources to travel abroad. If the opportunity doesn’t address those priorities, Steve is able to let it pass and sleep well at night.
Steve’s Blind Spot: Any opportunity seemed like a good idea when Steve failed to use a filter that focused on his priorities.
Your Strategy Filter not only informs your advisors, but also gives you a clear way to assess your current portfolio and screen new opportunities. At one time or another, most people get caught up in the financial strategy du jour, or that clever tax-avoiding structure in Money Magazine, or a tennis partner’s latest high-yield venture. Some people may look at their existing holdings and wonder what function they serve in the overall scheme of things. With your unique Strategy Filter in place, there is no mystery. You know precisely what structures and investments serve your vision and how they do so.
Leave a Legacy - Patrick and Joanna
Patrick and Joanna had been, for the most part, very conscientious about the fulfillment of their financial strategies. They had consolidated cash accounts, divested themselves of non-performing assets, and created a living trust. They had named a local professional as successor trustee of their living trust, which stipulated that certain assets would go to their children and the remainder would go into a charitable foundation after both Patrick and Joanna died. As years went by, the foundation itself was never fully discussed. There were no gifting guidelines, no governance documentation, and no family meetings to discuss the foundation or its operation.
When Patrick was diagnosed with rapidly advancing Alzheimer’s, Joanna decided it would be prudent to introduce the children to their advisor and explain aspects of their estate plan. Because the family hadn’t previously discussed these arrangements, the children had always assumed that they would inherit their parents’ entire estate. Already emotionally distraught over their father’s condition, they were even more upset to learn that the foundation would receive nearly 50 percent of the estate. Further, when the dust settled around that issue, the beneficiaries of this foundation became the center of a heated debate. Patrick and Joanna had always felt strongly about preserving wildlife and natural habitats, but both of their children were adamant about giving to local charities. The family finally worked through a compromise and documented it, but the whole situation took its toll on Joanna.
"If we’d done this before, while Patrick was still healthy, it might have turned out differently," she told us. "I'm not sure whether I’ve done the right thing, but the children were so upset and I couldn’t risk alienating them further. At least the foundation will do some part of what we intended." Had they completed work on their foundation and discussed their estate with their children years before, Patrick and Joanna’s intentions for their legacy could have been fully met.
Patrick and Joanna’s Blind Spot: Patrick and Joanna procrastinated in their estate planning because they assumed they had plenty of time.
Parents Doing Estate Planning with Their Children
We conducted a family meeting for one of our clients who had two children. Their older son was financially competent and successful, their younger son financially incompetent and poor – a discrepancy not unusual in families today. Like most parents, our clients felt they should not punish their older son for his success and leave the entire inheritance to his brother. The parents equated money with love and fairness, and wanted to show both children how important they were to them through their estate plan. Because they all communicated candidly during the family meeting, the parents came to understand that their older son was worried about having to take care of his brother after they were gone. The older son was able to tell them that he wanted them to leave $50,000 to each of his two children and the rest to his brother’s trust so that he would be relieved of the burden of his financial well-being. The family’s love for each other grew, and their security was assured for years to come. A beautiful legacy!
The Parents’ Blind Spot: Parents think that their estate plan is none of their children’s business. In this family, communicating with their children about their estate plan meant that they
- had an opportunity to co-create a multi-generation plan and
- put in place a structure that supported long- term family harmony.
If communication with children about their parents’ finances is rare in this culture, communication about what happens after their parents die is even rarer. Lack of communication on this issue can destroy families and lead to tragic misunderstandings, battles, and lawsuits. The absence of communication leaves children with only their imaginations, and the imaginations of grieving children often get out of control.
It's Never Too Late to Educate - Karla and Kyle
Our new clients Karla and Kyle had done extensive estate planning before coming to us. Nevertheless, after we asked them to think about the potential treasures of their wealth, they realized that there were much more satisfying ways to resolve the concerns they had about leaving vast sums of money to their son, Mike. At 32, Mike was still fairly naïve and irresponsible about money. He had always spent his full allowance immediately, and when he entered the work world he did the same with his paychecks. Though he seemed to have his father’s knack for making money, he was unable to save or invest and had little to show for it. Concerned that Mike would run through his inheritance as quickly as his paycheck, Karla and Kyle’s original estate plan included a carefully restrictive trust arrangement that would allow Mike very limited, incremental access to the estate; however, this solution felt uncomfortable to all three of them.
When they took the perspective that part of their legacy was to empower Mike, Karla and Kyle realized that they would like to leave their son with the stable and comfortable relationship with money that they had. They decided to give Mike a substantial portion his inheritance now within a structured mentoring process. Mike was responsible for finding a financial advisor, and the three of them attended planning sessions together.
Mike became a dedicated student of the process, studying markets and doing research on his own. He even began to save and invest from his own earnings. Family dinners became lively discussions of effective financial strategies, expanding into the value of philanthropy. Mike no longer felt stressed and embarrassed by his financial naïveté, and Karla and Kyle felt the satisfaction of giving their son a true legacy — that of self-confidence and self-reliance.
Karla and Kyle’s Blind Spot: Karla and Kyle treated Mike as though he had no capacity to deal with financial matters. Is it ever too late? Probably not, but children who inherit wealth with no guidance, structure, or value system will certainly have a much rougher time building the skills and confidence to manage money. Today is the day to begin teaching your children, regardless of their age.
Sudden Money - Tom and Marcia
A couple, Tom and Marcia (ages 45 and 42), received a very large check from an inheritance. They were clear that their two most important goals were buying another house and retiring. The analysis showed that this was not possible with their current lifestyle, which they enjoyed and hoped to maintain. They decided that they would buy a slightly smaller house than their original plan and retire at ages 54 and 51, a slight compromise on both goals. Taking their time and gaining clarity paid off for Tom and Marcia. They were able to cancel the offer they had placed on a big house just before their consultation and ended up fulfilling their goals.
Change in Marital Status - Merrilee
Merrilee was married for 25 years and received a sizeable settlement in her divorce. She was relieved to be out of her unhealthy relationship and she had her independence since her children were now grown. She wanted to start a new chapter of her life and had always wanted to be a singer. We developed a financial plan that provided income and money to invest in developing her talent. Armed with determination and a basic level of financial security, Merrilee developed her voice and began to sing for parties and in clubs. She says she pinches herself now that her dreams are becoming reality.
Moving from Working to Retired - George and Virginia
George and Virginia came in to plan for their transition to retirement. They had always been conservative and had saved diligently for this time of their life. Their goals were modest – pay off the remaining small balance on their mortgage, take a few trips around the United States, and indulge the grandkids. The analysis showed that their nest egg would keep growing during their retirement years which meant that they could spend more money than they were planning. This opened up a new world of possibilities that stretched their imagination. With a consulting process that involved both of them, they had a chance to discuss new options from a fresh vantage point with no limits. They discovered that they both loved penguins and decided to have an adventure-of-a-lifetime by viewing the nine varieties of penguins in the seven different countries which penguins inhabit. They would never have allowed themselves this new possibility without a discovery process.
These stories are composites of clients we have worked with and not actual clients in detail. We guard our clients’ privacy and want them to have the assurance that all personal information remains confidential once it has been shared with us.
These client stories are purely educational and for illustrative purposes only. They should not be deemed a representation of past or future results. They are not intended to provide specific legal, tax or other professional advice. For specific professional assistance, the services of an appropriate professional should be sought.