What I'm talking about is a financial plan -- and I don't just mean someone telling you how to invest your money. No, a true financial plan goes much further than that, and it's something that can help you condense all the wants and needs in your life into a manageable, evolving roadmap that you can follow and build on over the years. Even though it has a lot of moving pieces, your financial plan can lead you in the right direction and make sure you stay on target even when the unexpected happens.
Why investing is not enough
A vital part of reaching your dreams, of course, is investing successfully. Having enough financial resources to support yourself through thick and thin often determines whether you're truly financially secure, and without that financial security, you're at risk of losing everything you've spent a lifetime building.
But accumulating wealth is only part of the solution. You also have to make sure you preserve and protect it against everything that threatens you and your family. Here are just some of the threats you face:
- Turning away the tax man. Every year around this time, your eyes turn to a necessary evil: paying your income taxes. Minimizing your taxes isn't just about what investments you buy; it's also about where you put those investments and when you make changes in your portfolio -- independent of the fundamental merits of holding onto them.
- Dealing with the Grim Reaper. It's not a subject most people like to talk about, but making sure that those who depend on you won't have major financial troubles after your death is a high priority for many -- especially if you're the only one with expert knowledge about your investments and other money matters.
- Reducing other risks. Whether it's the possibility of needing long-term medical care or facing a lawsuit over a car accident, the right protection can answer all your needs. There are amazing tools that can help you reduce the chances of events that can cause a financial cataclysm if you're unprepared -- if you make the right moves beforehand.
If you're a self-taught investor, you could probably take the time to gain expertise in all these areas as well. But getting the right knowledge about every element of a successful financial plan is a huge undertaking, and in some cases, you may find yourself almost having to treat the people who want to sell you the financial products you want as adversaries. Consider:
- The securities regulator FINRA has had to impose fines on companies such as H&R Block
(NYSE: HRB), Citigroup (NYSE: C), and Credit Suisse (NYSE: CS)for various failures in its relationships with their customers.
- Similarly, insurance companies such as Conseco
(NYSE: CNO), AIG (NYSE: AIG), and Aetna (NYSE: AET)have faced regulatory scrutiny concerning alleged abuses related to various insurance-based products.
- Even with typically smart investments like low-cost mutual funds, you need to be conscious of conflicts of interest. Big fund companies such as Fidelity and T. Rowe Price
(Nasdaq: TROW)are known for their low-cost offerings, but they're also motivated to earn profits for their owners.
Moreover, many of the things you have to protect yourself against are both complicated and require sophisticated strategies to solve. Even worse, many of the products designed to solve problems seem almost intentionally designed to be obscure and difficult to understand.
Someone on your side
That's why a professional who knows everything there is about all the financial issues you face is the most valuable person you can have on your team. Someone who's working for you and has the ethical obligations to act solely in your best interest will keep you from having to watch your own back against those who might attempt to rip you off.
Unfortunately, you can't assume that just any financial professional will fit the bill. Certified financial planners, on the other hand, are governed by a code of ethics that assures you that they're on your side. More importantly, they don't just know about investing -- they'll also guide you on everything from taxes and estate planning to budgeting and buying the right insurance.
Finding the right CFP for you isn't always easy. That's one reason why The Motley Fool has partnered with the Garrett Planning Network, a group that has CFPs available around the country to help you create the financial plan you need.
Regardless of whether you go with a Garrett CFP or another professional, you won't want to wait long before creating a broad-based financial plan. By covering all your bases, you'll make sure you get the most from all the work you've done building the perfect investment portfolio.
As part of our partnership, the Garrett Planning Network is offering a limited-time 10% discount for new Motley Fool clients. Just click this link, search your state, and look for the Motley Fool icon to identify participating advisors.
Fool contributor Dan Caplinger has had a Certified Financial Planner credential for five years now. He doesn't own shares of the companies mentioned in this article. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. The Fool's disclosure policy treats you like a pro.