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Navigating the road to financial success is like driving in Michigan.

During the peak of rush hour traffic, it normally takes me twenty minutes to get home from my office. However, since I’m not usually on the road during rush hour, my time behind the wheel is less than normal.

In the winter, of course, it might take an additional fifteen minutes. That’s the norm. But in mid-May, my commute home took more than an hour. I couldn’t even get into my garage because construction traffic kept me from the regular entrance to my sub.

Rather than waiting or taking an extra three-mile loop, I simply pulled my car into a shopping center and walked the remaining half-mile home.

A few days later I made a trip up I-75 to Petoskey. Traffic moved fairly well, but there were many one-lane stretches. Just as in Metro Detroit, there are orange barrels and detours throughout the state.

These experiences made me think of the parallels between travelling Michigan’s roads and the financial path we follow through life.

Take the unanticipated detour, for example. Too often, people expect the road will always be perfectly paved. They’re not prepared for a washed-out bridge or a falling market.

With such a mindset, it’s easy to live for today, and not worry about saving for retirement. Unfortunately, the road through life isn’t always smooth. There’s usually a bump or roadblock somewhere along the way.

If you don’t have an emergency fund you may not be able to repair your car or fix your portfolio. Life in the fast lane may be exciting at the moment, but eventually you’ll realize that following the speed limit and anticipating the unexpected is the proper path for a lifelong journey.

In this day and age of high tech, we not only have road maps but also GPS to help us navigate the roads. GPS shows us there are many routes that can take us from point A to point B.

 It’s the same with investing. Some people are stuck in a routine and won’t even consider alternate routes. If it’s a road you frequently travel, you might even get used to the bumps and think nothing of it.

It can be difficult to leave your comfort zone, even if it’s a job you don’t like. But the route from A to B could be through a new employer, or a trade school or a few night classes at a local campus. 

Good roads and proper financial planning both need a strong foundation. There’s a way to build roads that can survive bad weather and heavy traffic. There’s a way to build a strong financial foundation as well. It’s called a strategy.

You shouldn’t be investing if you don’t have one. Occasionally, I run into people that are financially out of balance. They have all their money in one asset class.

There are obvious risks in putting all your money into stocks, and still more subtle risks if it’s all in the bank. A smart investor spreads money across several asset classes, according to an actual plan.

We all know that patchwork doesn’t work on the roads. It’s just a temporary cover-up. As an advisor, I can assure you patchwork isn’t a good financial strategy either. A resilient financial plan and a durable road both need a strong foundation.