The Levers to Financial Freedom

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“Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.” -Archimedes

Virtually the entire financial services industry is built upon spending vast amounts of time, money and other resources on things over which we have absolutely no control – like attempting to manage investment returns. 

Russ Thornton

By focusing on those things you can control, however, you as a financial planner can build better, more resilient plans for your clients. Pushing or pulling on the key levers in those plans lets you adapt to changes in the market or in your clients’ circumstances – keeping you in control and ready to adapt to unforeseeable events.

I recommend a passive investment strategy using low-cost, highly diversified funds and ETFs. But, regardless of how you invest, no one knows how the market will perform tomorrow or next year, much less five years from now, or even twenty-five.  Even if we disagree about the best way to invest, we stand on common ground with regard to the simple fact that the future, for everyone, is unknowable.  Managing investment returns is something we can’t control.

So if investing represents something we can't control, what are some of the things that we can?

In most financial matters, we exert some degree of control over three primary areas:

  • Time
  • Cash Flow
  • Risk

Endless articles and opinions detail the minutiae of financial planning and investing, but everything rolls up into one of those three categories, which constitute the levers you control in the financial planning process.


Many decisions in the financial planning process hinge on time frames which are inherently flexible. How long until your clients plan to retire, buy a home, or send their kids to college? Will there be a time when they anticipate the need to care for their parents?

Time also captures the duration of a financial event.  Most people plan for their kids to attend college for four years (although the five-year plan seems pretty popular these days).  But what is their life expectancy?  Or, if they lose their job, how long will they be unemployed and without income?

The lever of time covers a lot of scenarios – some more certain than others.  Even still, a basic truth always holds: the sooner you start to plan for something, the better prepared you'll be to deal with the inevitable surprises and detours you’ll encounter during your journey.