Financial Planning Process

How To Lead The Ideal Life Without
Becoming As Broke As The Joneses
Your Values Should Be A Driving Force Behind
Money Decisions, Financial Planner Says

It’s human to feel envious when a neighbor drives up in an expensive new car or posts photos online of a two-week European vacation.

But when you let that envy drive your decisions about spending money, you could be headed for financial trouble – the same kind of trouble the seemingly affluent neighbor already may be facing.

“Too many people get caught up in accumulating things and projecting an image of success,” says Brad Berger, author of the book “Stop Trying to Keep Up With the Joneses – They’re Broke Anyway” (

“Often they make decisions based on how other people lead their lives and the image those people project. But in many cases, the people you think have money because of the cars they drive, the homes they live in or the vacations they take, may be barely scraping by.”

Such people create an illusion of wealth because they live extravagantly today, but lack any coherent plan for tomorrow, says Berger, who also is a managing partner and owner of Cornerstone Financial Strategies in Tacoma, Wash.

They let someone else’s values, rather than theirs, determine their financial choices.

“The secret to success is determining what you – not someone else – want to achieve and then figuring out what it’s going to take to achieve that,” Berger says. “Living in alignment with your values doesn’t automatically bring on the good life, but it becomes the foundation that guides future decisions about what you want to pursue.”

Berger says people’s needs and concerns are too individual for one-size-fits-all financial advice. Instead, he says, you should strive to live your ideal life through a financial planning process that:

•  Aligns your financial choices with your goals and values. “It is important to understand what drives your decisions,” Berger says. “I regularly double check to make sure any action I am about to take is in alignment with what is important to me. In other words, I ask whether my action is in keeping with my values or takes me further away from them.”

•  Gets your entire financial house in order. Not only do you want that financial house in order, you want to keep it that way forever. That’s easy to say, but more difficult to do. Part of this means focusing on your values and setting goals based on them. But it also involves planning and figuring out what the best investment strategies would be. And then it’s important to regularly monitor what you’ve done to see if adjustments need to be made.

•  Gives you confidence. You want to feel that, no matter what happens in the markets, the economy or the world, you will be on track toward your goals. Financial planning isn’t just about investing in the stock market, Berger says. You also need to manage risks, plan for retirement, develop a comprehensive tax plan and put in place a plan to take care of your family after you are gone.

•  Frees up mental and physical space and time. Ideally, your plan will give you the peace of mind to stop focusing so much on money and what it can buy, and instead home in on the things in your life that are more important. “I have learned that the accumulation of shiny objects does not lead to happiness,” Berger says.

Even when you finish setting up your financial plan, you aren’t finished.

“Financial planning is not a destination; it’s a journey,” Berger says. “I’m constantly monitoring and tweaking my own plan. As I accomplish goals, I regularly add new ones. I adjust to changes in the market and to estate laws and taxes.

“The plan evolves as my family needs change. There is always some way to improve it.”

About Brad Berger

Brad Berger, a managing partner and owner of Cornerstone Financial Strategies LLC ( in Tacoma, Wash., is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ Professional with more than two decades of experience. He also is the author of the book “Stop Trying to Keep Up With the Joneses – They’re Broke Anyway: A Financial Planner’s Guide to Living Your Ideal Life.” He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and served as a Scout Platoon Leader in Berlin, Germany, during the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Securities offered through LPL Financial, Member FINRA/SIPC. Financial Planning and Investment Advice offered through Financial Advocates Investment Management, a Registered Investment Advisor, DBA Cornerstone Financial Strategies LLC and a separate entity from LPL Financial.

Talking to Your Family about Money

6 Ways To Talk About Money With Your Family
Finance Cuts To Our Emotional Roots, Money Professional Says

When we think about money, let’s be honest – we’re not talking about just money, but also a host of related consequences and deeply felt emotions, says retirement specialist Lee Stoerzinger.

“Money cuts to the emotional roots of every human issue,” says Stoerzinger, a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, head of Lee Stoerzinger, Inc.,( and author of “On The Back Burner.”

“In my years of advising, I’ve come to understand that when we talk about money, we’re layering in fear, spirit and soul. When we strip away the facts and figures, money is all very emotional. We can’t really make progress until we understand those emotions. I have found that most people don’t necessarily want to be rich—they just don’t want to be poor. Isn’t that what we all want – security?”

Stoerzinger, who says he began to see money in a new way after adopting two children from Haiti and who has helped streamline adoption efforts for other Haitian children to American families, offers ways adult children may speak to their retired or retiring family members about money.

• Start by appreciating storytelling. We communicate with one another through storytelling, and if you want to learn more about yourself, then listen to your family stories. Don’t be afraid to get your parents talking – about how they met, their first or worst job, what the economy was like when they were younger, etc. For many, talk about money is tough because families often are not communicative in general. Get to know your folks better. While you have gotten older and developed your own sense of self, you may be shocked to learn how much you have in common. Appreciate the stories and try to make for a comfortable environment, such as dinner.

• Be true to your feelings. Let your parents know how you really feel (the good and the not so good). Your feelings will outlive your parents. Let them out now, while there is time to resolve them. Clear things up and be honest. It’s good to do some spiritual housekeeping.

• Appreciate their plight and express compassion. Let them know you recognize the efforts they have made in this world. It’s very powerful to be able to say to someone, “I understand.” Everyone has sins, mistakes, failures, pain and guilt. Though you were not around to observe, your parents endured broken hearts and tough circumstances, too. They did the best they could. Let them know you “get it.” You may not approve of their actions, but you can certainly understand them.

• Be thankful out loud with gratitude. These are, after all, the people who toilet trained you. Thank them for giving you life. Think of the good times and appreciate the opportunities they provided. Vacations, education, special outings, bicycles, time together, a room of your own—let them know how grateful you are for these things. “I’m willing to bet there were times when you as a child were neither loveable nor available,” Stoerzinger says. “Their love is ultimately unconditional.”

• Apologize and make amends. We’re all capable of being mean. Whatever it is, take responsibility for your actions. A genuine “I’m sorry” allows two people to talk through a situation. This will be hard, but you won’t regret it. Sometimes it’s better to be kind than right.

• Let forgiveness in. Resentment gets us nowhere. Forgiveness is humbling in any relationship, and it helps to say, “I love you so much and I am willing to set aside my pride in order to remain in your company.” Let’s move on to more important things. Forgiveness keeps us together, even when opinions clash. In the case of profound hurts, forgiveness can be a way to heal and move on. The pain may never be resolved, but at least we can gather our dignity.

About Lee Stoerzinger

Since 1993, Lee Stoerzinger, CFP®, has dedicated his professional life to the study of finance, and to helping people become financially independent. His perspective on “true wealth” involves celebrating what we already have, honoring our commitments and helping those who need it most. After graduating from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire in 1992 with a bachelor of arts in cumulative finance, Lee began his career as an independent financial representative at his firm, Lee Stoerzinger, Inc., ( Lee is a registered rep with SII Investments, Inc. A self-proclaimed “student of the world,” especially faith, history and politics, he spends much of his time trying to figure out “what it all means.” He savors his time with his wife, two children and a wonderful community of genuine friends.