Financial Boulders in the Fields

There’s an old story about a farmer who for years, plowed around a large rock in his field. He cursed that rock which had broken many a blade. One day, enough was enough. He decided to do something about it and put the digging bar to it. Surprisingly, the rock pried free from the earth. It was only six inches thick. The farmer smiled as he returned favors with his sledgehammer, and mused, “I should have done this sooner.”

Charles Schwab does a semi-annual study measuring advisors’ views on various subjects. The 12th study reflected the responses of 839 advisors (July and August). We participated in this survey. I share several of the key findings – boulders in the fields – and their relevance to you.

  • 81% believe “The American Dream is still alive, but it’s different than it was a generation ago.” The remainder are equally split between “Alive and well for most Americans” and “No longer a reality.”


  • “Issues that will have the most negative impact on American’s ability to achieve The American Dream” – Federal Debt (65%); High Unemployment, Cost of College Education, Health Care Costs, Federal Fiscal Policies, and Personal Debt (each scoring 56% to 61%); Taxes, and Quality of Public Education (50% and 49%); Student Loans (40%). Additional issues included Loss of Home Equity (27%) [Note: this was a national study, and likely a bigger issue in the hard hit States (NV, CA, AZ, MI and FL)]; Offshoring of Jobs, Environmental Regulations, Illegal Immigration (15% to 19%); European Fiscal Policies, Chinese Fiscal Policies, Other (5% to 9%).


  • “Difficulty in achieving clients’ goals moving forward” is 63%, down from a high of 71% in July ‘10, and up from a low of 27% in July ’07.  Percentage of clients needing reassurance dropped from 49% (July ’09) to 24% (July ’12), yet twice that in July ’07.


  • Feel that the Millennials will a tougher go at it – Millennials achieving same economic status as their parents? “Most of them will” (10%); “Most of them will not” (36%); and “Some will, some will not” (52%).


  • Percentage of advisors expressing “Improved Conditions” over the past four years: State of the US Economy (29%), Stability of the US Economy (24%), American Ingenuity (22%), America’s competitive position in the world (22%), Opportunities for US entrepreneurs (18%); Profitability of American small business (16%), The American Dream (7%), and Political gridlock in Washington (1%).

I wasn’t too surprised in the results and recognize that (a) it’s a survey by advisors about their ‘average’ clients… your answers will vary, and  (b) respondents may have had a “good hair day” (or not) at the time of the survey (emotions affect outlooks and opinions).

Think about the farmer plowing his or her field. Which boulders do you need to need to get out the way now, which shall remain as permanent monuments that you’ll forever plow around, and those to be picked another day? The survey hints to solutions that you can control – ditching the hopeful “Tinker Bell” dreams; having a written financial plan to ensure that you don’t run out of money; aligning with your partner and loved ones; engaging experts; voting and emailing our policymakers, etc.

May your harvests be bountiful.

About Brian Loy

Brian Loy writes insightful and inspiring articles about the ever-changing world of personal finance and the global trends that affect the risk and return on investments and shape the financial- and retirement-planning process.
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