Aug 27

If you fail to plan, you plan to fail…

Back in May, I felt happy and content. Now I feel anxious and frustrated. A lot has changed in three months.

It was inevitable, to be honest, and I should have expected it given the lack of foresight and planning. Life was changing and I had done nothing to prepare or adapt. To be fair, the first five months of the year had gone so smoothly I might be forgiven for assuming life would continue to tick along like clockwork.

I’d been building towards my May moment for almost a decade and to finally chalk off a long-term goal was special. Not only was I elated to have secured my sub-three-hour marathon, but I also assumed that my training plan had been integral to my success. As it turns out, I was soon to learn an important lesson.

With any goal, a number of different factors need to come together to be successful. As I’ve written before, motivation and recognising why the goal is important are crucial to keep going. These helped me to finally run the 26.2 miles in under three hours back in May. But despite this success, I still hadn’t done it at an official event. I’m comfortable that I achieved my goal, even if there wasn’t an official timekeeper standing at the finish line. However, it would feel great to do it at a huge event like the Manchester Marathon which has always been the plan in October.

Fast forward to mid-August, I am not on course to hit my next target. My times are much slower and I’m struggling to run even three-quarters of the required distance. Since May my training has suffered. I have found it harder to fit my runs into my busy schedule and I felt my motivation had dwindled. Whilst this might have been the case to some degree, I later realised that this wasn’t the true reason for my uphill battle.

In reality, my struggles were utterly predictable. As the summer came, so did the easing of lockdown restrictions, the European Football Championships, the Olympics, and my underwhelming holiday to South Wales. I suddenly had many more demands on me and by the time Giorgio Chiellini had inexplicably escaped a red card for his cynical foul on Bukayo Saka on 11 July, I was already losing fitness and it was proving difficult to lace up my trainers as often. However, despite all these distractions, I still felt the desire to hit my target in Manchester.

What I recently realised was that it wasn’t a lack of motivation that was the problem, it was a lack of ongoing planning. I was fortunate during my training in the first half of the year. Lockdown restrictions meant there was very little else to do, and a very simple initial plan was sufficient for my regular routine to take over. The real issue was my failure to update my plan when life started to throw obstacles in my way. A more defined plan was needed to keep me on track.

As a financial planner, I should have known better. If you fail to plan, you plan to fail. Although much of what we do relies on establishing goals and putting plans in place to realise them, we know that obstacles will fall in the way from time to time and that our plans continually need to be reviewed and updated as a result.

I see this every day when planning for our clients’ retirements. It might be an unexpected cost that means retirement will need to be put back by a year or two if action isn’t taken or a welcome windfall that means that retirement could start sooner, but only if the numbers are crunched to make it clear this is the case. Often it might be a desire to work part-time in early retirement which had not previously come to light. You might expect that this wouldn’t make much difference to your overall finances, but the extra income could easily bring retirement forward by a couple of years.

We also see it with Inheritance Tax and estate planning. Unless a financial plan is regularly updated, it is difficult to estimate whether cash gifts are affordable or whether they might have a detrimental effect on your own financial well-being. Without continual planning and forecasting, it can be easy to wait until a potential Inheritance Tax liability is so obvious that it can’t be ignored. This is often when it is too late to do anything significant about it. As cash gifts take seven years to fully drop out of your estate, it is important to get started as early as possible. Continually reviewing and updating your financial plan and forecast each year is absolutely key to this.

I have definitely learned an important lesson that relates directly to what I do every day as a financial planner, and I hope this underlines the importance of ongoing planning in your own life. With this in mind, I’ll keep plugging away with my training but this time with a more robust plan through to October. I don’t know if it’ll be enough but at least I know that from this point forward I’m giving myself the best possible chance.

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