Financial planning is like a puzzle

When was the last time you assembled a puzzle? I recently spent a Saturday afternoon with family, and someone had an idea that we should spend it working on a puzzle. So we turned on some tunes, made a few drinks, ordered some grub, and got to it. 

This experience got me thinking about how putting together a puzzle is very similar to financial planning. This puzzle (a 3000-piece one) had a beautiful image on the box, which we were all excited about replicating by connecting each of the 3000 pieces.

Financial planning is kind of like a puzzle. For example, we can all “see” or visualize what financial success or achieving financial goals looks like (the image on the puzzle box). But then, we need to consider all these different products and services (the puzzle pieces) to put our financial plan together. That’s where things get tricky, and at that point, we’ve got to develop a strategy.

Many would agree that the most basic, fundamental way to start a puzzle is to separate the edge pieces. This way, you have secured the perimeter and can now begin the next phase of filling in the puzzle. The most fundamental step someone should take with financial planning is completing a balance sheet (this captures your assets and liabilities). The balance sheet helps you take inventory of where you currently stand financially. It’s like seeing your financial situation from a 5,000ft view. This is an important step because many people prefer to start purchasing financial products and services but aren’t sure how they “fit” into their overall financial strategy. 

The next phase of the puzzle typically involves segmenting out specific colors. During my puzzle experience (a nature-themed puzzle), there was a substantial portion of the sky, water, and trees. So, the best strategy was to separate all the light blue pieces (the sky), darker shades of blue pieces (the water), and the various shades of green, which would cover the trees. Eventually, we knew this was an efficient way to build our nature scene puzzle.

A similar approach can be utilized to craft a financial plan. For example, we could break it down into three primary sections; money management (cash flow/budgeting), offense (investments, retirement, real estate, running a business), and defense (life, disability, health, or any other type of insurance). By breaking down your planning efforts into those three categories, it’s easier to see where the opportunities might lie. This is a simplified way that more people should think about financial planning, but it’s hard. Why? Because the world (your family and friends, the news, social media influencers) is telling you what you should do with your money instead of being in control of your money and directing it accordingly. 

The one thing I want to highlight is that my puzzle experience included multiple people. It’s not that I’m not capable of strategizing on my own and completing a 3000-piece puzzle, but the overall experience was much more enjoyable. See, I had people assisting me with completing the puzzle, which helped save a ton of time. 

Many feel compelled to go at it alone with financial planning, which wastes time because they’re trying to become the expert in everything. Plus, it’s impossible to be an expert in everything, so why not work with a professional or team of professionals (check out my article called Your Money Team) to assist you with crafting a solid financial game plan. And, because you’re not an expert, you might not be making the financial decisions that are in your best interest, or there could be blind spots within your plan that you’ve overlooked that could be detrimental to your long-term future financial success. 

The #BuildWealth Movementworks tirelessly to Disrupt Generational Poverty™ for everyone so their kids, kids, kids can live a life of privilege.


Your Money Team

During speaking engagements, I like to talk about financially successful people and how they are constantly focused on building their respective empires. One of my favorite examples is Beyonce and Jay-Z. This is what most might call a power couple. As a power couple, their time (like most others) is precious, and I’d assume the two of them are really busy. Busy being parents and being moguls. So when do they find the time to become experts in all the various components of financial planning? They don’t! Highly financially successful people (from my research over the years) all do the same thing regarding their financial affairs. They have a group of people they work with to keep their finances on point. This group of people is called the Money Team. 

In my opinion, EVERYONE needs a Money Team! (Yes, that includes me too) This team of professionals is comprised of the following (not in order of importance):

  1. Banking professional
  2. Tax professional
  3. Insurance professional (there are numerous you might need)
  4. Investments professional
  5. Real Estate professional
  6. Attorney (there are numerous you might need)
  7. Financial planner

I’m sure some of you reading this are saying, “I can’t afford to pay all these people.” And that may be the case now, but think about it this way. You are making an investment in these professionals to ensure that your financial house is in proper order. Remember, do you really have the time or want to devote the time to become an expert in all seven of those areas? Some may decide to go the Do-It-Yourself (DIY) route, and that’s perfectly fine. So keep at it as long as you get the results you desire. 

However, experience has taught me that many DIYers tend to lag behind in accomplishing financial goals in the time frames they initially set. Plus, because they don’t work with experts, they sometimes make or have made questionable financial decisions that weren’t in their best interest. Nobody is there to validate the decision(s) in question, so many DIY financial people don’t achieve the financial success they dream about.

When discussing the Money Team with people, one of the first questions most ask is, “Why do I need all these people?” Let me break it down for you, and I’ll tackle each team member’s importance in order.

Banking professional – Banking has changed over the years, and the industry relies heavily on conducting business virtually. However, what hasn’t changed is that people will always need to borrow money. So when you need money, looking good on paper or on the computer is one thing, but having a relationship with a lender could prove highly beneficial for your transaction. If you don’t believe me, ask a business owner who has tried to get a loan from a financial institution with no previous relationship.

Tax professional – Everyone should pay their fair share of taxes and not a cent more. And everyone should make it a point to avoid any issues with the IRS. If you’re a business owner, you should know what you can and can’t do from a tax standpoint based on how your business is structured. If you don’t work with a tax professional, you’re probably paying the government more money than you should. Having a tax professional is critical to your financial success because they pay attention to the tax laws and codes that are constantly changing, be it federal, state, or local. And, you don’t have the time (nor do you plan on making any) to do that kind of research to stay up-to-date with all the taxes changes. 

Insurance professional – There are various types of insurance you might need to consider having during your lifetime: life, disability, health, umbrella, business, and long-term care, just to name a few. This might prompt you to connect with multiple insurance professionals because particular licenses are needed to sell certain types of insurance. Thus, you must make sure the insurance professional is properly licensed. No matter what kind of insurance you’re looking to add, the process should go in this order. With the help of your insurance professional, you (1) determine how much insurance (whatever type it is) you need, then (2) explore the various options based on the need. The process should always follow those steps.

Investments professional – This team member has fallen out of favor (somewhat) because many people feel they can use technology and do their own investing, be it for general purposes or retirement. While I know this to be true, studies have shown that the average person gets better investment returns over the long haul simply because they work with an investment professional. Why? Because this professional will help you not get emotional when it comes to making investment decisions. Just ask yourself, what did you do with your investments back in 2008-2009? Did you run scared and take your money out of the market? Or did you invest more and capitalize on one of the greatest bull market runs, which started in the latter half of 2009? Having someone close to you who can help you make prudent investment decisions is why this person is so important. 

Real Estate professional – Whether you’re looking for your first home, an investment property, or working to build your commercial real estate empire, you will probably need this expert to assist you. The real estate market is like any other market, it will ebb and flow, and at times it’ll be a buyer’s market, and during others, it will be a seller’s market. So it will be easier for you to navigate the market if you have this professional by your side.

Attorney – When it comes to legal matters, you will need assistance from a legal professional. Like the insurance expert, you might find yourself enlisting the services of multiple attorneys depending on your specific need and making sure your attorney is properly licensed. So, for example, if you have an estate planning need and want to make sure your family will be good long after you’re gone, you’ll probably be better served by an estate planning attorney instead of a divorce attorney. 

Financial planner – This member could serve as your team’s quarterback. They aren’t trying to sell you any particular product, but they work with you to give you clarity about your financial situation. Essentially, this team member helps you see your entire financial situation from a 5,000ft view. Plus, as they work through the planning process with you, they will probably ask to coordinate their efforts with your other team members. For example, if your financial planner is having a retirement conversation and trying to figure out if a Pre-tax or a Roth contribution is better within your 401k, they will want to consult with your CPA or accountant. Lastly, you may meet with your financial planner at some agreed-upon frequency, like quarterly, twice a year, or annually. This will ensure that everything is going…as planned. 

The key takeaway here is time. You don’t have enough time in the day to become an expert in everything. Let the experts do their job because their sole purpose is to help you do the heavy lifting. Becoming a financial rockstar isn’t easy when you go at it alone. But, having your Money Team in place will allow you to get back to living life with a lot less stress.

The #BuildWealth Movementworks tirelessly to Disrupt Generational Poverty™ for everyone so their kids, kids, kids can live a life of privilege.


Financial literacy efforts in the U.S. need some work

Please visit The Nation’s Report Card on Financial Literacy and see what grade your state has earned for its financial literacy efforts when you have a few minutes. I want to spotlight two states near and dear to my heart, North Carolina and California. North Carolina is my home state (born and raised in Durham), and they received an A. I currently reside in Oakland, CA and California received a D. That grade doesn’t sit too well with me.

John F. Kennedy famously said, “One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” After learning of this report card website, I decided I would try to make a difference. So I set out on a data-gathering and outreach adventure that would keep me occupied for a few months. I compiled a list of about 250 School Board Members and high school Administrative leaders, like Principals, Vice Principals, Deans of Students, etc., and various teachers. If you’re curious about why I targeted high schools, here’s why.  

I’ve spent countless hours volunteering at elementary, middle, and high schools (through my work with the Urban Financial Services Coalition), conducting financial literacy sessions. While some have professed that earlier is better, I’ve seen the biggest and most immediate impact happen at the high school level. Thus, I decided to focus my efforts there.

What would I offer these high schools to help improve financial literacy? A free, 6-part high school financial planning curriculum courtesy of the National Endowment of Financial Education (NEFE). This curriculum was legit! It came equipped with the lesson, a teacher’s guide to the lesson, and supporting materials for the lesson. Literally, anyone could pick up this curriculum and teach any one of the six lessons. In my mind, I knew this curriculum would be a huge hit!

I curated a series of emails that I would send to giveaway this free high school financial planning curriculum. To make sure I didn’t seem like a scammer, I was completely transparent about why they were receiving this email and what I expected to gain from it. There were no ulterior motives. Just say you wanted the curriculum, and I will send it over. 

Well, this experiment didn’t go like I thought it would. I sent over 1000 emails (over those few months), and the response rate was abysmal. Of the few who responded to at least one email, here are my favorite responses:

  • “Not interested!”
  • “I’m too busy to include financial literacy into my lesson plan” (this was from a math teacher)
  • “I’m not confident in my personal financial skills to teach such a robust curriculum.” (No experience was required to teach the lesson plan. It was all laid out, so you could “fake it til you make it”)
  • “We don’t have the budget to pay you” (I didn’t ask for any money. I was volunteering to donate a curriculum)

I can’t say that I’m completely shocked by the lack of response because most of the country doesn’t teach financial literacy in school. But I was hoping for a few outliers who might have truly understood that my efforts were pure. Plus, my experience over the years taught me that the faculty/staff at schools are uncomfortable with administering any financial literacy program because of their personal relationship with money.

So what now? If you’re reading this and you are a high school teacher, high school administrator, or school board member and would like to discuss the financial literacy curriculum in more detail, send an email to In the subject line, write FinLit Kids. Or, if you have a good relationship with a high school teacher, high school administrator, or school board member, please share this article and encourage them to reach out so we can have a discussion about we can leverage this 6-part financial literacy curriculum to educate our youth.

The #BuildWealth Movementworks tirelessly to Disrupt Generational Poverty™ for everyone so their kids, kids, kids can live a life of privilege.