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I recently heard an unattributed quote that seems to have taken permanent residence in my head.

“Life is simple, people make it complicated.”

I couldn’t agree more.

One of the guiding beacons in my life is the KISS principle.  If you’re not familiar, the start of the acronym stands for Keep It Simple.  The fourth S can take on any number of iterations; silly, stupid, seriously, sir, etc.  A quick search on Amazon turns up dozens of books on the theme.  There’s even a Wikipedia page that gives definition and history to the principle.

The trouble is, like all things in life, even simplification needs a heavy dose of balance.  This is especially true when it comes to our finances.  There are no shortage of tools and advice for the masses, but we often don’t know what underlying data goes into that advice or the intended audience.  Two pieces recently struck me as excellent illustrations of the hurdles associated with oversimplifying our finances.

The first, the start of a series from CBS MoneyWatch’s Steve Vernon, reviews retirement calculators on leading money websites and, using the exact same variables, finds disturbingly different results.  This really isn’t a surprise.  These calculators, like many simple financial tools, might be good at framing basics, but are unable to dig deep enough to supply a meaningful result and have to use vague variables to plan for the future.

The second is an insightful video from Carl Richards that further defines the problem with making the assumption that the latest tip from Suze Orman, Jim Cramer or Dave Ramsey is directed at you.  His advice is that, when in doubt, ignore generic financial tips and advice.

The findings and opinions expressed in these pieces demonstrate why having a trusted advisor to guide you through the financial aspects of your goals is so important.  Every individual and family has unique circumstances that impact the planning process.  It is those characteristics that make the business of personal finance ill-suited for broad formulas, rules of thumb and overly simple advice.

We seek to use planning tools and invest in technology that allows us to be as efficient as possible in every area of our business that makes sense so that we can spend the time saved focusing on each and every client’s situation like a blank sheet of paper.  Keeping the total number of people we work with small, understanding those people and their families as more than just numbers, and appreciating the motivations behind their goals will generate better plans and set clients up for a successful, long term experience.