Bricolage is a French word every financial planner should be familiar with. The core meaning of the word is to be creative and resourceful with whatever materials at hand regardless of their original purpose. To be able to adjust and innovate in real time. Musicians call it “playing by ear.”

A chef uses bricolage in the kitchen to make a spectacular meal using leftovers from the refrigerator; an artist creates a masterpiece using junk found on the street, and a teacher draws on the tapestry of the students’ prior experiences to bridge the gap of understanding. Bricolage is critical to creativity which is required for a successful financial planning experience. Unfortunately, most financial planners have traded the thoughtful for the mechanical, adopting spreadsheets, mathematical formulas, and projections for the realities of our daily existence. People that are consistently successful pay attention to the resources available to them and a good financial planner uses bricolage to expand the options using the resources at hand.

I will give you a quick example of bricolage as it relates to financial planning. About 2 years ago, I was sitting with a widow with about $2 million in assets and a need for income. The problem: interest rates for decent bonds were below 2%. She could not generate enough income without increasing the risk of the portfolio. The financial factory proposed an annuity locking her capital away forever. It did not feel right to her and thankfully she said no. After several discussions, one of the children sheepishly said it would be really helpful if I could pay Mom instead of the bank. This was not my idea but all of sudden the light bulb went off and I yelled “YES!” in my head. From that one thought, we discovered that both of her children could not refinance their mortgages, both had good jobs and both were worried about an upcoming balloon payment. I quickly scanned the numbers and it made perfect sense. If she became Bank of Mom, she could get the income she needed and help her children at the same time. Sure there is risk – not all kids are created equal. The factory tried to force her into a mold that took her resources for their purpose – commissions and fees. She said no, used the resources at hand, and bricolaged her way to independence. Go Mom!

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