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By Carl Richards

Doing Nothing Isn’t a Financial Plan

“I don’t know what to do.”

I’ve heard those words a lot over the years.

Smart, successful people with good educations would sit across from me and tell me they’d done little to no financial planning.

They just didn’t know what to do, so they did nothing.

I’m not surprised.

financial plan

Uncertainty has a way of paralyzing even the smartest people.

If we don’t know exactly what we’re doing or when we’re doing it, we tell ourselves we’re better off waiting until we do know.

The problem with this logic is that we’ll never know everything.

Life will happen.

Plans will change.

The unexpected will occur.

We need to adapt.

Adapting doesn’t come easily to everyone, but it’s a valuable skill when we’re dealing with goals and money.

We can start by treating our financial planning a little more like a vacation than a board meeting

For instance, instead of a minute-by-minute agenda, start with a list of things you’d really like to do.

Then, give yourself windows of time to check things off the list.

Let’s say you planned on going to the museum on Tuesday, but Tuesday looks like it will be the sunniest day that week.

Doesn’t it make more sense to take your walking tour that day and save the museum for when the weather turns chilly on Wednesday?


We’re not talking about throwing your plans out the window but giving yourself wiggle room.

You still want certain things to happen.

But instead of chiselling them in stone, you give yourself permission to guess what will happen and go from there.

Let’s say the big-picture stuff looks the same 10 years from now.

You still live in the same city.

You’re still married to your spouse.

But the rest of life looks a little murky.

Maybe you’re still working for the same company, but maybe you’re not.

Maybe you’re still living in the same house, but maybe you’re not.

Does that mean you shouldn’t be setting goals and saving money over the next 10 years?

Just think about what’s happened during the last 10-20 years

Today, we walk around with smartphones glued to our hands and college tuition equals the GDP of a small country.

Who could have predicted that future perfectly?

We simply don’t know for sure what will come next, and the freedom that comes from admitting that we don’t know is huge.

Instead of beating ourselves up for not being able to predict the future, we commit to the process of guessing.

And over time, we adapt as needed and keep moving towards a future that looks more (or less) like the one we envisioned.

Editor's note: This article was originally published a number of years ago and has been republished for the benefit of our many new subscribers

About Carl Richards Carl Richards is a Certified Financial Planner and a columnist for the New York Times, Morningstar magazine and Yahoo Finance. He is author of 2 books, The Behavior Gap & The One-Page Financial Plan. Carl lives with his family in Park City, Utah. You can find his work and sign up for his newsletter (which has an international audience) at
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