In new book, financial planner divulges his secrets
May 1, 2015
The publicity work had begun to wind down, and Carl Richards eased into a chair in his sun-filtered office overlooking a steep hiking trail. He took a breath.
His recent months have been filled with 13-hour days, spent on the phone talking about his latest book, "The One-Page Financial Plan." Richards, a financial planner who first earned widespread recognition for his weekly "Sketch Guy" column in The New York Times, has been interviewed by radio stations all over the country. There have been times a 20-minute break to grab food was a luxury.
It was something he’d never wanted to do again.
The first book Richards wrote, "The Behavior Gap," about the difference between what people do with money and what they should do, was a hit when he released it in 2012. But the publicity tour that followed was exhausting. It made the actual act of writing the book seem like the easy part. Never again, he told himself.
"But almost within a week," said Richards, a Park City resident, "I heard this little voice bugging me about another idea. I was like, ‘No, shut up. I don’t want to do it.’"
The idea was to take 15 years of working with clients as a financial planner and put it into a simple, accessible form. The voice kept him awake at night and tugged at him as he rode his bike through Park City’s trails. Richards eventually gave in. The idea became "The One Page Financial Plan," which was released March 31.
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"I wanted to get as close as possible to peeling the curtain back for people," he said. "I wanted to say, ‘If you’re going to work with an adviser, here’s a great tool to get you primed for that relationship.’ If you’re not going to work with an adviser, I still certainly hope these tools will help you do it yourself."
But writing a book designed to be a simple tool for readers turned out to be complex. Richards began writing what became the book’s final seven chapters but realized he was giving prescriptions without diagnoses. The challenge then became ensuring people could recognize the problem in the first place. That section eventually became the first three chapters.
There was one other factor complicating the writing process, as well. Personal finances are more about the personal than the finance, he says. There are no one-size-fits-all solutions.
"The problem is really complex because normally the answer is: It depends," he said. "The answer depends on your situation."
Roughly a month after the book’s release, Richards is satisfied he successfully navigated those problems. He claims the book accomplishes what it was supposed to.
What has surprised Richards is the audience the book has reached. While he labored over ensuring the book included principles and concepts that readers could apply to their own situations, he had a very specific type of reader in mind.
"I was thinking to write it for the kind of people you run into (in Park City) — successful people that are, like, in their 40s and things are starting to get really serious," he said. "But I’ve got a ton of response from people younger than that. And there have also been a lot of older people reading it."
As the publicity work for the book has started to come to a close, a familiar feeling has begun to creep back. The nag of the voice is again pulling at him. This time, the idea is to help people become mindful about their money. He wants to explore the secrets people who never seem to struggle with financial decisions hold.
Again, he is trying to spurn the voice. But already he wonders if he can hold it off.
"The same voice is saying the same thing, and I know exactly what the project is," he said. "I’m trying to find other ways to fill it, like maybe a podcast. I may be able to silence it with that, but I think maybe there’s another book coming."
That Richards is even in the position to be grappling with whether to write another book has taken a run of good fortune, he admits. He never intended to become a financial planner — "I got into the industry quite by mistake," he says — but it has led to two books, the column in The New York Times and an opportunity to travel the world.
While those have been wonderful experiences, he said there’s another, more important reason he remains passionate about his work.
"I’ve stayed in this industry on purpose because of the interesting mix of spreadsheets and calculators and behaviors and emotions," he said. "That mix, I think, is just fascinating. We’ve got analytical stuff and people crying in the same conversation. That’s amazing.
"This is a human condition, this idea of struggling with making sense of financial planning. It’s an anxiety that we all share. It’s the one common thing I’ve seen all over the world these last four or five years."
For more information on "The One-Page Financial Plan," or to access a free chapter of the book, visit Richards’ website, behaviorgap.com.
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