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Holistic Financial Planning

It's easy to get trapped by a financial obsession. One's mind can become fixated like a laser on the performance of a single stock or the fee for an ATM transaction. An uptick in the price of gasoline can overtake the entire financial sector of one's brain. How many times have I caught myself mulling too long over whether to buy the cheddar cheese block or spring for the already shredded cheese?

These little indicators give us important information about the health of our investments, our purchasing power, and our spending habits, but they can also cloud the big picture. So, with apologies to Jon Stewart, let's all pause for a moment of Zen.

Set aside your financial obsession of the moment, clear your mind, and consider the entirety of your financial life. You might want to do this sitting down. Make yourself some green tea and turn on some relaxing music if that helps. It's a little overwhelming to try to think about everything at once.

When you look at the big picture, you can see the things you're ignoring that might undermine an otherwise rock-solid financial world.

You probably have an idea about the area of your money life that you're neglecting. It's the thing that's constantly popping into your head, but you keep putting off. Or, it may be kind of eating at the edge of your subconscious mind, and you're barely aware it's there. Maybe it's been sitting on your desk for a month, but it's now buried under so many other things, it's become a project just to unearth the paperwork.

To get you started, here are some questions to ponder:

  • Are you tracking every penny of spending with complicated computer models and budget categories but only dimly aware of your overall net worth?
  • Are you diligently saving for your children's college educations but neglecting your life insurance or failing to write a will?
  • Are you planning a major household remodeling project (like a new kitchen, perhaps), but can't confidently say whether you have enough coverage through your homeowners insurance? (I'm trying to slink under my desk to avoid this question even as I type it. It's hard to type from underneath the desk.)
  • Or, do you have adequate life, health, and homeowners insurance, but you haven't protected your essential documents in a fireproof safe or safe-deposit box?
  • Are you constantly worrying about cutting your tax bill but never worrying about whether you'll have enough money to retire?
  • Are you watching your retirement assets grow, and your credit card balance grow even faster?
  • Are you scrupulous about paying your credit card bills on time, but you've never once looked at your credit report?
  • Are you building a big stock portfolio but lack an emergency fund?
  • Are you planning for some goals but ignoring others? Or, are you failing to set goals or uncertain which priority should come first?
  • Are you spending all your time worrying about your money, leaving no time to read your favorite novel or contemplate the colors of changing autumn leaves?

Maybe that's getting a little too Zen.

My apologies if I've overwhelmed you with all those questions. I don't mean to send you into a Zen-like catatonic state of paralysis. Hopefully, they helped you light up some of the dimmer corners of your financial world that you haven't thought about in a little while.

The general idea to keep in mind is that a solid financial picture is made up of a puzzle of solid financial parts. If you've noticed a part that's been neglected, then step in and start thinking again about the specifics. Get to work on a few things that will make your next financial Zen meditation more peaceful.

Related Foolishness:

Take control of your finances from the grocery store to the stock market -- and beyond -- with a free 30-day trial of our new personal-finance service,Motley Fool GreenLight.

Fool contributor Mary Dalrymple welcomes your feedback. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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