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Back in the game

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It’s been a while since our last get together, and I’ve been getting an earful about it.  So, during this Easter season, it seems fitting that I would resurrect the blog. Granted, this resurrection will have eternally less impact on the world than the one soon to be celebrated. But hey, we all have our part in the play. Maybe this is mine.

Speaking of playing, we recently took the boys to watch big brother Nicholas’s baseball game. We brought a blanket to stretch out on as well as a picnic basket of snacks to avoid the concession stand markup. We sprawled out just behind the backstop to ensure the umpire could clearly hear our unsolicited supportive commentary. The sun had just set, and we settled in for a typical, slowly moving, high school baseball game. Lots of batters going deep in the counts this particular evening. Meaning, the batters were seeing lots of pitches before either putting the ball in play, walking or striking out.  This goes on for a few innings before Callahan, 9, turns to me and asks,

“Why does the umpire keep checking his phone?!”

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What?! Certainly not! I said to myself. Is no place safe from the intrusion of the cellphone?! And just as I was formulating my rant on social media dependency, I saw it. The umpire wasn’t checking Facebook or a stock ticker app, he was looking at the balls and strikes counter used to record each pitch!  Sweet, concerned Callahan. He was so curious as to what must have been on the ump's "phone" that he had to look at it after every pitch!  (A week later, it still makes me laugh. You'll think about it later today and you'll laugh, too.)  We were watching the same events taking place, but a 9 year-old boy doesn’t have the same reference that a 47 year-old man has. He sees a guy pull a rectangle out of his pocket, look at it, and put it back - of course he thinks it’s a cellphone! How many times a day do you see people checking their phones? Unless you’re Amish, or my cousin Prescott, I’m guessing that number's quite large.  (Prescott's a wildlife officer somewhere in Alaska.)

This is where context becomes so important.

Context is defined as the interrelated conditions in which something exists or occurs, or environment setting, if you like.

More often than not, it seems, personal financial planning focuses on numbers and results.  Will I meet my goals? What are my returns for this quarter? Nothing wrong with those questions. They should be asked. But the appropriate context should be applied in the response.  Quarterly returns on your investments, I might argue, are not as important when placed in the context of the overall plan. One quarter’s returns, for example, may be insignificant to the overall success of the plan.

What if you viewed your financial life in the context of your entire life rather than just numbers on a page? It’s my belief that you already do. And your advisor should as well. We'll visit this idea in future posts…

To Callahan’s defense, he recognized the disconnect between the umpire’s responsibility to the game and a perceived dependence on a cellphone. He knew that while it’s very common to use a cellphone, the umpire shouldn't have allowed it to keep him from his primary objective of managing the game before him. (See what I did there?) Similarly, I believe there’s a disconnect in financial planning, and I believe we need look no further than to our own values for the solution. A few numbers on a page with some cool pie charts just won't cut it any longer.

Numbers and colors don't tell the story. You do. Through the decisions you make from the values you hold. The context in which we should be viewing personal finance is how well our financial decisions line up with our personal values.

In future posts, this is a topic that I hope will give the home team something to cheer about. On that particular day, however, and despite a five-run seventh inning, the home team came up one run short.  And I should concede that it was by no fault of the umpire. He called a pretty good game – and as Callahan could now tell you, he didn’t even have to use his phone.

Happy Easter everyone!

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