Keeping you on course - no matter which way the winds blow

Your financial life is like sailing around the world. The voyage won't always go according to plan, there may be gale winds and rough seas, but the odds of reaching your destination increase greatly if you are prepared, flexible, patient, and well-advised.

A mistake many inexperienced sailors make is not having a plan at all. They embark without a clear sense of their destination, and even after choosing a route, they often find themselves lost at sea, with inadequate provisions.

Likewise, in planning an investment journey, you need to decide on your goal. A first step might be to consider whether the goal is realistic and achievable. For instance, while you may long to retire in the south of France, you may not be prepared to sacrifice your needs today to satisfy that distant desire.

Once you are set on a realistic destination, you need to ensure you have the right portfolio to get you there. Have you planned for multiple contingencies? What degree of “bad weather” can your plan withstand along the way?

The key to a successful voyage is a good navigator. A trusted advisor is like that, regularly taking coordinates and making adjustments, if necessary. If circumstances change, the advisor may suggest you re-plot your course.

As with the weather at sea, markets can be unpredictable. A sudden squall may whip up waves of volatility, which can threaten to blow you off course. Like a seasoned sailor, an experienced advisor will work with the current conditions.

Once the storm passes, you can pick up speed again. Just as a sturdy vessel will help you withstand most conditions at sea, a well-diversified portfolio and a trusted advisor can act as a bulwark against the periodic tempestuous conditions in markets.

Circumnavigating the globe is not something you'd choose to do every day. Patience is required with local customs and paperwork as you pull into different ports. Likewise, distractions can also send investors, like sailors, off course. In the face of “hot” investment trends, it takes discipline not to veer from your chosen financial plan. Like the sirens’ song from Greek mythology—a song so captivating that sailors who heard it were lulled into a blissful state as their ships crashed into the rocks off the shore, media pundits can also be distracting; tempting you to change tack and act on news that has already affected market prices. Just as Odysseus’ crew plugged their ears with wax to resist the sirens’ song, a trusted advisor will remind you to tune out the media noise.

A lack of flexibility is another obstacle to a successful investment journey. If it doesn’t look as though you’ll make your destination in time, you may have to extend your voyage, take a different route to get there, or possibly moderate your goal.

The important point is to recognize that uncertainty is inherent to your financial journey, just as it is with any sea voyage. That is why preparation, planning, and a trusted advisor are so critical. While you can’t control every outcome, with the help of your trusted advisor, you can be prepared for the range of possibilities, and understand that you have clear choices if things don’t go according to plan.

If you can’t live with the volatility or the improbability, you can change your strategy. If the goal looks unachievable, you can lower your sights. If it doesn’t look as if you’ll arrive on time, you can extend your journey.