Life has recently become more exciting (and frustrating and tiring) as we have welcomed a new addition to our household – Ollie, a Great Pyrenees/Border Collie/Who-Knows-What-Else mix. Since its been 6 years since we brought Tucker home, the first lesson learned was how quickly you forget how much work a puppy is. The second lesson – and most shocking one – is how much difference the breed makes when it comes to training. Tucker is a Shetland Sheepdog, a breed known for being smart and eager to please. And among an incredibly easy-to-train breed, Tucker stands out as possibly the poster child for a compliant, well-mannered dog. Like most parents with an “easy” first child, I of course came to believe his faultless manners were due to my superior training. So, when we fell in love with sweet Ollie in the rescue cage in the middle of PetSmart, I found myself thinking how much Tucker would love a playmate, and “How hard can this be anyway?”
Anyone who understands the history and breeding of Great Pyrenees would be laughing right now at my naivete. Great Pyrenees were bred to guard livestock in the mountains without human supervision. They are “independent” (i.e., follow instructions only if and when it pleases them), nocturnal, roamers and barkers. Training techniques that worked beautifully and quickly with Tucker made no impression on Ollie. Realizing we were in over our heads, we brought in a professional– an amazing trainer named Megan who took Ollie home with her during a two-week trip we took. He came home a changed dog and we were thrilled! But in no time, he was sliding back into his “independent” ways. Clearly we didn’t command his respect the way Megan did. So, it was time for us to go back to Megan for “owner training.” We learned all the mistakes we were making and are trying hard to correct them. Ollie still doesn’t jump to attention when he gets a command from us like he does for Megan, but we are making progress. As I write this blog, I am thankful that he is chewing a bone contentedly on the living room rug, not a shoe or piece of cabinet molding.
What does any of this have to do with our financial lives?
It occurred to me yesterday that many of the same principles we are learning and using in raising Ollie would help all of us be more successful in our financial lives. The parallel was especially driven home to me as I was reviewing a presentation given by a financial “professional” for a young friend of ours. A 35- page PowerPoint full of complex financial concepts with colorful graphs and lots of hypothetical illustrations, you had to dig deep to figure out that this 24-year-old (with no dependents) was being asked to purchase a large and expensive whole life insurance policy. What could he (and all of us) learn from Ollie and from this presentation?
- Do Your Research – A Sheltie and a Great Pyrenees are not the same dog; neither is an “investment” in a life insurance policy and an investment in a mutual fund, and you need to understand the role each plays.
- Ask for Help – Know when you are out of your league and bring in a professional – we researched dog trainers and believe we found one of the best in the city, and at a price that didn’t break the bank. Do the same for your finances.
- Keep It Simple – We have to keep our commands simple and consistent for Ollie to understand and obey. If you don’t understand your financial plan, get clarity. If your advisor can’t explain things in a way you can understand, it might be time for a simpler plan or a different advisor.
- Do Your Part – Even the best constructed plan requires your active participation (we needed training, not just Ollie). Work hand-in-hand with your advisor to be sure you are doing your part to put – and keep – you on the path to success. Great plans that aren’t implemented are worth nothing.
How interesting that success is so many aspects of our life boil down to a few common principles – whether it’s with our work, our home life, our finances or our pets! If you find some of these lessons resonate with you, and you think we might be able to apply them together to improve your financial life, we are always ready to help. And stay tuned in the future for more lessons from “Life with Ollie!”