What I have learned from my clients

Steve Lear |

by Steve Lear, ChFC, CLU
Principal and Financial Planner

The first thing you need to know is who my clients are. In my opinion, I have the world’s best clients. I would characterize them as being prudent (for the most part!), planful, thoughtful, curious, and caring about others. I truly hope that I'm considered a reflection of both my colleagues and the clients who I assist in reaching their financial objectives.

The Millionaire Next Door

However, I'm certain that my clients don't represent the world in general, although I believe that a huge number of the world’s inhabitants aspire to be like my clients. The book The Millionaire Next Door [1] has the following descriptions of the people I would characterize as my clients.

  • They live well below their means.
  • They allocate their time, energy, and money efficiently, in ways conducive to building wealth
  • They believe that financial independence is more important than displaying high social status
  • Their parents did not provide economic outpatient care.
  • Their adult children are economically self-sufficient.
  • They are proficient in targeting market opportunities.
  • They chose the right occupation.

With that in mind, what have I learned?

Connect with others
If possible, do not live alone. The vast majority of my clients either have a spouse, a significant other, or children. And if not, they live in some kind of communal setting. These individuals have mentioned to me that even being able to say hello to somebody during the day makes them feel more connected. Being connected to one another appears to be one of the major ingredients in living a long, healthy, meaningful life. [2]

Continue to contribute until you cannot
My older clients who have transitioned to a non-traditional working arrangement appear to have the greatest amount of energy and enjoyment. My definition of non-traditional work is a regularly scheduled time set aside for contributing to others, either for pay or not for pay.

People need deadlines and structure—many individuals would never get anything done without them. In fact, one of the most important aspects of structure is arranging to spend time every day getting out of the house and being somewhere, doing something for someone. You don’t need to spend the entire day, but you do need to spend at least a portion of it.

Contributing can be in the form of doing anything for another person, be it helping to raise a grandchild or helping take care of a peer.

Contributing is also about engagement—about continuously learning and growing. I have found that people who are no longer engaged start to lose their edge. As they become less interested in the world, they become less interesting.

The bottom line—contributing your time (and money, if possible) makes for a better life for everyone.

Set goals
Another thing I've learned from my clients is that life is about far more than investments. I haven’t tracked this, but I am guessing that in a 60-minute meeting, approximately 10 minutes of it will focus on the specifics of investment management. The vast majority of time is spent on creating realistic expectations of what is going to be needed to reach a goal. Often times the discussion might focus on “What would be a wise goal now?”

Life is like baseball

baseball.jpegNothing is static. We progress from one situation to another and the financial remedy for one situation is oftentimes not the remedy for the next. The most joyful of my clients are the ones who can consistently hit the curve balls that inevitably come their way—not for a home run, but for a single or perhaps a double.

Seeking balance can lead to conflict.

While conflict is not bad, seeking integration, and therefore harmony, is better than seeking balance

I have been asked to seek balance in my life. People have accused me of being a workaholic, but when I’m asked to seek balance, I start to feel conflict and guilt. I have witnessed many joyful clients who appear to have balance, but I have learned from them that this is not balance in the sense of discrete portions of time spent on one activity after another. I now view balance more as integration.

One of my sources of inspiration was the following from Padmasree Warrior, U.S. CEO of NextEV:

I don't like the word ‘balance.’ To me, that somehow conjures up conflict between work and family... as long as we think of these things as conflicting, we will never have happiness. True happiness comes from integration... of work, family, self, community. [3]

Collect relationships, not things
Most people spend a lot of time thinking about housing, and as a topic, it’s often discussed in the financial sense. We spend time buying, selling, and trading homes—as well as what goes into the home and what needs to be done to make the home more pleasant. People collect homes as well as stuff that is stored in homes.
But the most joyful clients I have are those who have collected relationships. Some of those relationships are deep and others are more casual, but regardless, relationships truly appear to be the key to a joyful life.



[1] Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko. The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets of America's Wealthy. 1996.
[2] For more on this subject, see:
[3] Read more by Padmasree Warrior at: http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/p/padmasree_warrior.html

The views and opinions shared in this article are strictly those of Steve Lear and do not represent Affiance Financial or Cetera. Further, nothing in this article should be viewed as financial advice. Please consult with your financial professional.