PRN: New Year's Resolutions

Physician's Money Digest, January31 2004, Volume 11, Issue 2

Don't you sometimes wonder whywe even bother? Our collectiverecord for making and sustaining annual,year-end, noble pledges of changedbehavior for the coming year is terriblysmall. We apparently feel the need toreview the past year with the hope thatwe might have learned something thatcan be used to improve our lot. But alltoo often we are just setting ourselvesup for future failure.

Leave the Past Behind

Mutual fund ads always say, "Pastperformance should not be construedas a guarantor of future results." Thisseems very appropriate and applicablewhen making New Year's resolutions.Many times it's not what we plan forand worry about that is our undoing;it's the unanticipated and the randombanana peel that can change our lives.

The MillionaireNext Door

What we can do about these uncertaintiesin our lives is plan more. Truth is,most of us don't do enough of it. AsThomas Stanley pointed out in (Pocket Books; 1998),the wealthy often wind up with moremoney simply because they plan more.

Find Happiness

And many of us will admit, grudgingly,that our financial affairs andportfolios are an untended hodgepodge.We do know that happinesscomes from inner resources, not fromthe accumulation of assets per se, butgetting organized for the average typeA personality is a comfort in itself. And,as they used to say years ago in vaudeville,"Rich is better," even if just tokeep our list of options wider.

Increase Success

One trick to increasing our chance ofresolution success is to set the rightgoal. Make it doable, a baby step thatyou can build on. And be realistic. Researchshows that most of us are not, infact, very good at predicting what willmake us happy in the future. Goals thatare out of touch with your real feelingsmight often end up making you moreunhappy and poorer than when youstarted. You know the old saying, "Becareful what you wish, because youmight actually get it." And then theLaw of Unintended Consequences takesover, to our chagrin.

Now, the good news. A too-oftenoverlooked, essential, and doable taskthat we can start the year with is tomake sure that we have assembled acomplete and up to date collection ofimportant documents. These are theskeletal support for our financial livesand an appropriate place to start theNew Year. Put the following documentsin a safe place and make sure someoneyou trust knows where that safe spot is:

  • A will and revocable living trust
  • Social Security number and records
  • Deeds to property
  • Mortgage payment records anddocumentation of any home improvementexpenditures
  • Insurance policies, such as life,health, disability, property, liability
  • List of all investments with accountnumbers, beneficiaries, pensionplan documents, and contacts
  • Tax returns for the past 7 years
  • Preferences for funeral and burial

As always, plan for the worst andhope for the best. Happy New Year!

Jeff Brown, MD, CPE, a practicingphysician who is a partner onthe Stanford University GraduateSchool of Business Alumni ConsultingTeam, teaches in the StanfordSchool of Medicine FamilyPractice Program. He welcomes questions orcomments at jeffebrownmd@aol.com.