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A Life Planning Approach to Financial Planning


Steven Shagrin, CFP, has a law degree and started his career in finance as a tax accountant before spending twenty years as vice president for investments with Smith-Barney and Pain Webber.  As one of the pioneers of the life planning approach to financial planning, he started his own company, Planning for Life,  to reflect a more holistic financial planning style. He provides fee-only money coaching, retirement counseling, and life planning.  He is also vice president of the Money Coaching Institute and is based in Walnut Creek, CA.


Meeting with private clients typically when they come in for the introductory meeting.


Private clients (individuals and couples) coming to develop their financial life plans.  Although he mostly uses Money Habitudes with new clients, he will also use them with ongoing clients.


  • Tools help CFPs be more responsive to clients.  The profession is changing and clients now demand more from their advisors beyond recommending investment products.  More CFPs are spending time helping clients understand how their financial plans may be affected by psychological issues related to the role money plays in their lives (e.g. security, fear, status).
  • To build trust, start conversations, provide a safe way to talk about a difficult topic, and make it more comfortable and interesting for the client.
  • As an easy and efficient way to more fully understand clients and their needs.
  • To understand where a client’s mindset is planners can begin to explain their service offering from a perspective that’s acceptable and understandable to the client.


  • When new clients come in, to get them started he gives each person a deck of cards to sort (so a couple is doing it individually at the same time).  While they do the standard solitaire activity (which usually takes 10-15 minutes to sort the cards) he will use the time to review their file.
  • Once they are finished, they talk about the card sort and it begins the conversation.
  • Although he starts with Money Habitudes, he also uses a variety of tools with his new clients including the Money Coaching Institute’s Money Type Quiz and the Money Quotient Self Assessment.


  • It helps couples understand their differences related to money. Instead of fighting about each other’s money habits, Money Habitudes give couples a new perspective.  They can still disagree but understand each other from a different point of compassion.
  • Whether it’s estate planning, planned giving, or another facet of a client’s financial affairs, the cards help identify underlying, non-financial issues in the family dynamic such as divorce, health problems, trust and esteem issues, etc.
  • By using the cards it’s easy to see the red flags that can become part of the discussion to determine if a person or couple is a good fit for him and his practice.

Observations and Comments:

Shagrin finds the usual process of getting to know clients “woefully pitiful.” New account forms focus on net worth, liquid net worth, investment history, employment, and tax rate, neglecting how clients think about and make money decisions. Despite discomfort in discussing assets, clients want to feel understood when entrusting their life savings.

Money Habitudes act as trust-builders and conversation starters, helping Shagrin better understand clients’ needs. It improves interaction, resulting in a more informed, relevant relationship and advice appreciated by clients.

In situations where couples don’t get along, discussing money with a planner may lead to silence. Money Habitudes cards provide an independent perspective to address disparities non-threateningly. Shagrin uses them to navigate issues like control dynamics, fostering better communication.

Even with long-term clients, Money Habitudes cards break logjams in planned giving and estate planning, offering fresh insights. Financial advisors benefit by understanding clients before taking them on, enhancing their ability to provide tailored advice.

Steven Shagrin: Three Client Stories

Jane, a client, had an equal split in Status, Targeted Goals, Security, and Selfless habitudes. This caused frustration and paralysis in managing her money, as having more than one dominant habitude pulls a person in different directions. She’d worked in real estate but switched to a nursing home due to a bad market. Divorced for two years, her retirement funds dropped, and she wanted to help her son with tuition.

Every dollar in her hand left her torn about what to do. With a comfortable framework to share her story and interpret her history in a financial context, I approached her situation differently than if I were only working with a spreadsheet detailing her assets.

Robert and Elaine, in their late 70s, worked with me for over five years, dealing with a logjam in planned giving and estate planning. Despite being married for over 40 years, having plenty of money, and believing themselves financially compatible, I asked them to try working with Money Habitudes.

Both had strong and dominant Targeted Goals, identifying with eight of nine cards in that habitude, with seven common statements. Their secondary habitudes were different, focusing my attention to resolve their impasse.

Her second-most-dominant habitude was Selfless, wanting to help grandchildren pay for college. In contrast, his secondary habitude was Security, hesitating to part with money despite having more than enough.

Using Money Habitudes helped them understand differences. Discussing his fear of not having enough money, stemming from living through the Great Depression, provided context. With this, the couple better understood each other’s motivations. I framed a plan appealing to both. Demonstrating how giving options would impact long-term cash flow, and addressing the security need, they agreed to give $10,000 a year to each grandchild, bringing greater peace of mind. They weren’t arguing about money; both acknowledged having more than enough but about what money represented emotionally.

Tracey and Will were separated and contemplating divorce. Will owned two sports bars.  After doing the cards he identified with Free Spirit and Spontaneous Habitudes. Will recounted a childhood where his father would come into money, lease a Cadillac, and take the family to Florida.  Then leaner years followed. He learned: that when you have money, use it and take advantage of it because you never know if you’ll get it again, so live for the moment.

Tracey was in nursing school and identified with Targeted Goals and Security. She grew up with alcoholic parents and had to steal from their wallets to feed her siblings. For her, having money in reserve was one of the most important things, and knowing where it was going to come from and how it was going to be spent was tied to her core survival. They each found in the other person what they wanted for themselves until it began to drive them crazy about 15-18 years into the marriage.  When they played Money Habitudes it gave them a new perspective. Instead of fighting [about each other’s money habits], they could still disagree but understand from a point of compassion.  It made for a very different and more effective conversation.