Morningstar's Personal Finance Pyramid

An addition to a useful planning tool.

Morningstar recirculated an article from a couple of years ago (via Abnormal Returns) that featured the following financial pyramid. Christine Benz does a useful deep dive on the various layers that is worth reading.

The way the pyramid is constructed, the further down the more important the item is, so Benz places the highest priority on having a goal. It's not that I disagree with her but I would add more to her comments. In thinking about financial goals it is reasonable to include the dollar amount you think you will need for your retirement. There are other goals as Benz discusses but this is a big one. If you have some sort of number in mind you probably either did some sort of assessment of your life and spending needs (this is preferable) or you made a number up (don't laugh, people do this).

An important point of understanding about your number, regardless of how you came up with it, is that there are only three outcomes in relation to your number; you beat it, you are fairly close either way or you are noticeably behind. There's probably more nuance but one way or another...

The point I would make here is to be prepared both emotionally and with specifics to adapt to coming up well short and being prepared emotionally and with specifics if you hit your number and it turns out it wasn't enough. I've written many times about having met people where I live who don't have a lot of money but who make it work just fine. They figured out how to adapt because they had to.

Things I write about like monetizing hobbies, downsizing into a tiny house (or a very small house), going to live in another country as a young retiree (not selling your house, living off the rental income and then coming back later) and the others are ways to adapt and if you think about it you would come up with other ways that could fit in to your lifestyle.

I agree with placing so much emphasis on savings but I would move behavior down the pyramid to be more important than asset allocation. There are of course serious asset allocation mistakes someone can make but investors are more likely to make mistakes with behaviors than asset allocation.

Somewhere in there, perhaps in conjunction with behaviors I would add the manner in which we take care of ourselves physically. I write about this so often for many reasons; interest in my own personal aging, making friends more aware of healthier lifestyle choices, setting an example for the fire department where I am the Fire Chief and I believe it adds to credibility, professionally. Personal finance articles warn up and down of the extent to which healthcare is a/the largest retirement expense we face. Proper exercise and nutrition could result in no money spent going to the doctor (save for an annual physical) and no money spent on drugs to manage chronic maladies related to blood sugar, weight or hypertension, even depression issues can be improved with diet and exercise.

You may think that is unrealistic and maybe you're right (I do think many people can manage these issues with diet and exercise though even if not everyone can) but being healthier won't make it worse. Furthermore, being more fit increases your optionality for how you adapt to not reaching your number or finding out what you thought you needed isn't enough.

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