Strategic planning for individuals and families, Part 3

This is part of a series of articles, which may be found at the following links, and should be read in numerical sequence:

Since every individual has his or her own abilities, interests, aspirations, hopes and dreams, it’s impossible to impose a ‘one-size-fits-all’ set of objectives on everybody.  The same goes for couples and families.  Furthermore, a lot will depend on where we are in life.  A young, single person has a great deal more flexibility than an older, married couple, whose lives are already tied together and who must therefore take each other (and their children, if any) into account.  The best I can do is to use a few real-world examples as illustrations, and invite you to conduct your own planning exercise accordingly.

It’s also important to be realistic in your planning.  To make a plan for the next twenty, or thirty, or fifty years is probably unrealistic.  Who knows what the economy will do over that period, or what social upheavals may take place?  If a company had made a detailed 30-year business plan in 1990, when the World Wide Web wasn’t much more than a twinkle in its designers’ eyes, would that plan have been able to cope with the new opportunities and threats offered by that technology?  I’d say probably not.  I therefore suggest to people that they make a plan for the next five years as an initial exercise.  With that under their belts, and while implementing it, they can start planning for further out – say, the next ten years.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Joe has just completed a degree in education.  He wants to teach, but also needs to pay off his study loans, which amount to about $50,000 and will be a crippling financial burden.  Furthermore, he’s pretty serious about a young lady, and they’ve discussed marriage.  However, given his existing study loans, their credit rating won’t be good enough to qualify for a mortgage, so they’ll have to rent a home together – and rents are very expensive in the area where they live.

Joe starts by defining his personal objectives.  He places a high priority on paying off his study loans;  so, being a teacher, he hopes to take advantage of teacher loan forgiveness programs.  However, doing so will require him to teach in any of a number of schools and school districts designated by the government.  This may restrict opportunities elsewhere, and/or require him to live and work in an area that isn’t particularly attractive to him.  On the other hand, doing so will pay off some or all of his student loans in a reasonable period of time, after which he’ll be free to move on.  He’ll have to do a cost/benefit analysis to decide whether such programs are worthwhile for him.

His acceptance or rejection of such programs will impact his other objectives.  One may be to live in a particular city or state;  but if that area doesn’t have teaching positions eligible for loan forgiveness programs, he may have to defer moving there until a later date (or not use the programs, but pay off the student loans from his own earnings and other resources).  Another may be to buy a particular model of car that he finds attractive.  However, if he has to work in a less affluent area with higher crime rates, it might not be advisable to drive it to work every day, for fear of theft or damage.  Should he drive something less attractive to criminals until he can move to or work in a better area?

Joe must also consider the views and aspirations of his partner.  She’ll need to do her own individual planning as well, then they’ll have to sit down as a couple and compare notes.  Consider:

  • Joe may want to live in an area where he has easy access to outdoor sports such as mountain climbing, hiking, hunting, fishing, etc.  However, she may want to be close to gyms, yoga classes, and so on.  Are their desires compatible with a single city or area that they both like?
  • Joe may like simple, home-cooked food, and enjoy grilling steaks on the barbecue at weekends.  She may dislike cooking, and prefer to eat at restaurants more often, particularly if there’s an ethnic cuisine such as Chinese, Thai or Indian that she enjoys.  Can they compromise?  Can they afford to eat out more often?
  • Joe may have to move to and work in a given town or area, in terms of the loan forgiveness programs.  However, there may not be many jobs there for someone with her qualifications.  She may prefer to stay in her present location, where she already has a well-paid job.  What will this mean for their future together?  Which is more important – their jobs, or their life together?

All those considerations will affect where they decide to live, how much money they need to earn to indulge their desires and aspirations, etc.  What sacrifices are they willing to make to be together?  If the sacrifices appear very great, is their love for one another sufficient to make them worthwhile?

Let’s use an older couple as our next example.  They have no children, and don’t expect to have any.  They’re considering where would be the best place to live.  There are a number of factors they’ll have to take into account.

  • Both have suffered injuries and illnesses that restrict their mobility to at least some extent, and can be expected to become more restrictive as they get older.  Therefore, they can’t move too far from readily available medical assistance.  Living out in the boondocks may be relatively low-cost and private, but it’s a long way for an ambulance to come and get them in an emergency, and driving to doctors and pharmacies may become a burden.
  • They’re on a limited income, and want to live within their means.  However, the city where they now live is expensive, particularly where property is concerned.  They’re therefore considering less costly neighborhoods, including moving to another city or state if necessary.  Houses may be cheaper there, but what about the cost of moving?  Do they have enough money to do that?  What about health care in their new location – will it be as accessible as where they are now?
  • One partner has no relatives within easy reach, but the other does.  Can they move further away from them without imposing undue strain on such relationships, or is it important to maintain closer proximity to them?  What about friends?  The same considerations apply to them.
  • One partner is self-employed, and can work from home wherever that happens to be.  The other is not, and would prefer to continue employment outside the home.  Will jobs be available if they move?  How important is that as a factor influencing any decision to relocate?

What’s more, bear in mind that all these questions relate specifically to the question of where to live.  That’s not the be-all and end-all of that couple’s life together;  rather, it’s only one out of a laundry-list of factors affecting their lives together.  They have to look at what they want to do together;  how they want their relationship to grow;  where they want to be (metaphorically and literally) in, say, five years’ time;  and so on.  If one partner wants to further develop a career, is the other willing to make the sacrifices necessary to do so, or are they motivated by something completely different?  Their strategic planning process will have to take all those elements into account, and many more.

What will emerge from the planning process is a list of objectives that are constantly being refined, and which help to refine each other.  Here’s an example.

Joe:  “I really want to buy a Supergizmo Hyperspeed sports car as soon as we can afford it.  I’ve wanted one for years!”
Mary:  “I don’t see why.  I mean, sure, those things are super-fast, but you’ll be driving it on city streets where you can’t use all that performance.”
Joe:  “Yeah, but… speed!  Cornering!  Babes!”
Mary:  “What do you mean, babes?  You’ve got me!  How many more do you want?”
Joe:  “Oops…”
Mary:  “Besides, we’ve agreed we want children soon.  The Supergizmo Hyperspeed only has two seats.  Where are we going to put the child seat?”
Joe:  “Maybe I need to rethink that one.”
Mary:  “Yeah, I think you do!”
Joe:  “You’ve also got some thinking to do, honey.  You said earlier you really want to hike the Appalachian Trail from one end to the other in the next year or two.  I like that idea, but you also want kids as soon as possible.  I don’t see how the two can go together.”
Mary:  “But it’s something I’ve wanted to do for years!”
Joe:  “I know, and I’d love to do it with you, but what comes first?  Trail, or kids?”

When all the objectives have been discussed, and impractical ones discarded, and viable ones refined, you’ll end up with a list of things you want in the short to medium term – in other words, objectives – both as individuals, and as a couple.  The former will influence the latter, and vice versa.  When the list is complete, you can use its elements to compile a single, one-sentence statement of purpose that encompasses them and gives you a simple, direct yardstick against which to measure your progress.

Remember, each objective has to be quantifiable and measurable if it’s to be of any value.  If you can’t quantify or measure it, how will you know whether you’re getting any closer to achieving it?  If you want to buy a Supergizmo Hyperspeed sports car, you know what it will cost, and how much of a deposit you’ll need to put down, and what the monthly payments will be.  You can measure those numbers against your savings and monthly disposable income, and figure out how close you are to getting one.  On the other hand, you can also figure out what kids will cost you, and how much you have to budget for their needs each month – and that may make your ambition to buy a sports car recede into the more distant future, until the kids have grown up and are able to support themselves.

Joe and Mary may compile a statement of purpose for the next five years of their relationship that reads something like this:

To support each other in developing our careers, and earn enough to allow us to have two children over the next five years, while moving closer to Mary’s parents, in order to have their help and support in raising our kids.

That’s fairly specific.  They could be more explicit if they wished;  instead of saying ‘develop our careers’, they could specify that Joe wants to become Vice-President of Sales in five years, or Mary wants to become a partner in her law firm in the same period.  They could quantify the amount they’ll need to earn to be able to afford the kids they want, or move closer to her parents (or help her parents to move closer to them).  However, I think those may be better expressed as objectives beneath the overall statement of purpose.  Make the objectives as specific and measurable as possible, then frame a statement of purpose that encompasses them all – or, at least, all the important ones.

Note, too, that some elements are taken for granted, and not explicitly stated.  For example, it’s presumed that Joe and Mary will remain a couple.  It’s assumed that they love each other and have no plans to divorce.  If their relationship is on rocky ground at present, they need to deal with that before they have kids or move closer to her parents.  That needs to be an explicit and mutually agreed expectation, and incorporated into their planning as a very important element.  If they don’t get that right, no other elements of their shared plan will be very important any longer!  (As a corollary, building and maintaining a relationship is hard work.  It’s probably worth codifying in one’s plan any specific expectations in that regard.  For example, a couple may place a high priority on having a ‘date night’ at least once per week, with nothing to distract them from being there for and with each other, no matter what other activities each of them may have.  That ‘date night’ should be a specific objective in their shared plan, and prioritized as such.  If it isn’t, other elements will get in its way sooner or later – probably sooner.)

Furthermore, make your plans flexible enough to account for new and unexpected developments.  Let’s say you’re an older person or couple, facing health issues (eyesight or co-ordination, for example) that will affect your ability to drive as they get worse.  You may have resigned yourself to a certain loss of independence by moving into an assisted living facility and giving up your car and/or drivers license(s).  However, the new technology of self-driving cars is already being tested, and is likely to be commonplace in five to ten years.  If your present state of health can be preserved and extended for that long, you may not need to move out of your present home, because technology may help to preserve your independence.  Furthermore, robotic ‘assistants’ for the elderly are already on the market in places like Japan, and are certain to become available in other countries before too long.  They, too, will help to preserve your independence.  Those are good examples of how current developments may affect future plans.

In the next instalment, we’ll look at a way to evaluate our purpose and objectives to see whether they’re practical and feasible.  After that, we’ll see how we take a specific objective and begin to develop strategies and tactics to implement it.


1 comment

  1. Peter
    I'm really appreciating this series of articles. My family and I are at the start of a substantial change, moving back to the US after 10 years in Africa as missionaries (I'm a bush pilot here). The three articles so far have been helpful to me and my wife in putting some coherence iinto what would otherwise threaten to be pretty much total chaos. So, thanks! Also as a side note, it's plain from this series that you were a pastor and plainly still have at least some of that calling, offering wise counsel to those who will hear it.

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