Book Review
Title: "The Ultimate Financial Plan: Balancing Your Money and Life"
Author: Jim Stovall and Tim Maurer
Publisher: Wiley, 2011; 257 pages; $27.95

Financial planning books are nearly as numerous as people who need them. Unfortunately, making a plan lies near the very start of the path to a prosperous life; adhering to it is possibly more essential to reaching the objective, but is also much more difficult to do.

In "The Ultimate Financial Plan: Balancing Your Money and Life," authors Jim Stovall and Tim Maurer argue that failure to set or understand a larger, personal purpose behind our financial plans is the death knell for most of our future-oriented financial plans and actions.

They propose that building such a purpose around the aim of balancing our personal values and vision with the influence money has in and on our lives is the solution, and sets us up for success at sticking to our financial programs.

The book offers a mix of education around concrete financial tools and instruments, like Roth IRAs, bank accounts and real estate, and inspiration driven by the personal values and purposes these tools can further, including "purpose-filled careers, sleep-at-night security, artistic endeavors, creative philanthropy, fulfilled retirements and meaningful legacies."

Throughout, the authors focus on helping readers create highly personalized statements of their intersecting life and financial goals, from determining whether a traditional retirement is even what you really want, to prioritizing extracurriculars like artistic expression and exercise appropriately in your life — and your budget.

The book is organized as a series of 16 life-meets-money lessons, or "gifts" from the authors to readers, each of which is a potentially powerful aid to readers who have long wanted to get their money matters on track, but find themselves time and time again failing to follow their own budgets and financial plans.

The authors also endeavor to take this information from knowledge to action, by offering "Timely Application" strategies and tips for each gift.

These "gifts" include:

1. The Gift of Money. Here, the authors cover some basic definitional differences when it comes to understanding the true value of money, advising readers that only four things can be done in the world with money — acquire stuff, buy security, create memories and make the world a better place — and that achieving a personalized level of balance between these four possibilities will ultimately be what empowers readers to become wealthy and content, versus rich and greedy or poor and struggling.

2. The Gift of Discipline. The gift of discipline, according to Stovall and Maurer, is to have a stable flow of cash into and out of your household. The authors provide a basic primer on the three basic personal financial statements that allow for this level of discipline and the freedom from crises it allows: a cash-flow statement, a balance sheet and a budget. They also encourage readers, through the tedium involved in maintaining these documents, by painting a compelling picture of the calm and prosperity that can be theirs if they give themselves the gift of discipline.

3. The Gift of Certainty. Certainty is the authors’ keyword for the purpose served by auto, home and life insurance; they position these policies as powerful risk management tools that are absolutely essential for readers seeking to build truly prosperous household finances. And they feel very strongly about it; "[b]uilding wealth and planning your financial future without protecting your family and your assets through appropriate insurance is like trying to fill up the bathtub with the drain open."

4. The Gift of Health. Assuming that even the richest of individuals values his or her health even over their money, the authors admonish readers to undertake aggressive health maintenance (i.e., wise self-care through diet and exercise), and acquire health, disability income and long-term care insurance, as appropriate, to give themselves the gift of health.

5. The Ultimate Gift. Stovall and Maurer reposition the chore of estate planning as a potentially "life-giving exercise that changes lives — yours included," telling readers the contrasting stories of bereaved families whose deceased loved ones used their estates to bestow very different legacies.

These are just a sampling of the 16 "gifts" Stovall and Maurer bestow on readers. If you are wracking your brain for holiday gift ideas for yourself or someone you love, consider regifting these 16 gifts — they include time-tested truths, bite-sized action steps, and a powerful new perspective that puts personal purpose behind otherwise dry, empty and hard-to-stick-with financial plans.

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