If you were to die tomorrow, what would you regret missing, not doing, or not being? It’s a probing question, and probably not one you’d expect from a financial planner, but that question is where “it all comes out,” according to Jill Hansen, the president of Hansen Financial MV in Vineyard Haven.
Jill says life can be like “a treadmill....You’ve got to keep going, keep going, keep going, and the end point isn’t really clear. And that creates a lot of stress for people....Most people never give themselves time to get off that treadmill and find out what deeply matters to them.”
That’s a central concept of financial life planning. In contrast to traditional investment management or financial counseling, which isolate monetary objectives, financial life planning seeks to align one’s economic plans with his or her personal values and goals. Jill, whose background and core business are traditional financial planning, explains, “The entire financial industry is going toward a holistic approach.”
Jill was trained by the Kinder Institute of Life Planning in Littleton, which works specifically with financial professionals. “We try to know deeply what your life goals are by going through the process,” she says. Jill begins with three questions, paraphrased here: (1) How would you live if you were financially secure? (2) How would change your life if you were financially secure but had limited time? (3) What would you regret if told you would die tomorrow?
The client is given the questions a week or two before the initial session, and couples answer separately. Jill says she can always tell if someone has not been sufficiently honest, especially if they don’t really answer a question, or they make excuses such as, “My spouse wouldn’t let me...” Clients also set goals and priorities in that first session, which lasts about two hours.
At a second session, they discuss obstacles preventing the client(s) from living their dreams, and Jill says that clients usually come to their own solutions. After the goals are set and obstacles identified, Jill and the client(s) form a financial plan. Jill notes that while some people need to control spending to reach their goals, others need encouragement to spend more, “to live in the moment now.”
It’s not a process for everybody. Jill says she’s gone through it with about twenty-five of her clients, but only if they request it or if it’s plain to her that it would be helpful. “You have to be committed to the process,” she explains. “It’s time-consuming for the client and for me.” It can also be very emotional and is not inexpensive. The program costs about $2,000, but the fee can be reduced for clients who also use her investment services.
While the probing, introspective aspects can be challenging, Jill says, “When you discover what your deepest values are, and you align your financial goals with them, you have such a peace about you.” She speaks of a client who began taking art classes off-Island after meeting with Jill, only to discover a talent and a confidence she had never known she had. “She just needed someone to tell her to give herself permission to do it,” Jill says. “It’s encouraging people to live into their dreams.”
Even clients with enormous wealth have benefited from life planning. She says, “If you’re not using that wealth in a way that is in line with your values, then it’s not going to give you fulfillment.”
And while it’s an intensive undertaking for Jill, she says, “I love to see people realizing their potential...becoming the person they should become.”
Q: How has financial life planning influenced your own life?
A: Jill Hansen went through the program herself during training. “It’s changed my life in profound ways,” she says. “We all think we want things, but we only want those things because of the feelings they give us.” Jill herself had always wanted a ski house at Stowe in Vermont; then she realized what she really wanted was close family time. Vacations, such as renting a sailboat in the Caribbean, have given Jill’s family that quality time. Similarly, a client wanted a vacation home in Maine, which she couldn’t immediately afford, but during the life planning process she realized she really just wanted to be close to her grown children who live there. She ended up buying a piece of land and slowly building a house. Jill says, “She says it was the most gratifying experience of her life because her son, daughter, and husband were all involved in designing and building the house.”