4 Questions to Ask to Help Clients Set Financial Goals

As a financial planner, you help your clients create a road map to meet their financial goals. But that can be challenging when your clients don’t know what their goals are. Some clients just aren’t sure how to create realistic financial objectives. And others may feel pressured to pursue “traditional” goals (like being debt-free) even if they aren’t really passionate about them.

So before you can create a financial plan for a client, you may need to spend some time working with them to define their goals. That might mean helping them come up with meaningful goals from scratch. Or it might mean encouraging them to re-evaluate their initial goals to ensure alignment with their current values.

How can you help your clients set those goals? It all starts with a conversation. By asking some key questions, you can help your clients identify their financial priorities. Once you know those, you can work with them to create a plan to meet those objectives.

Question 1: “What’s most important to you?”

This is a good place to start for most clients. Just ask what’s important to them, and don’t limit their answers to financial topics. The goal here is to figure out their priorities so you can work with them to make goals that align with those values.

For example, maybe their most important value is spending time with their kids. That might translate into choosing a job that offers full-time remote work, even if it means taking a smaller salary than an office job. Or maybe your client really wants to travel. Their financial goals may revolve around saving enough to retire early and start traveling the world.

Make sure your clients know there’s no right or wrong answer here. The point is to take an honest look at the things that truly matter to them in their everyday lives. 

These priorities may not match other people’s, and they might not align with traditional financial goals like getting out of debt as soon as possible. Reassure your clients that the most important thing is knowing and sticking to their values. That’s what will help them stay motivated to follow the financial plan you set for them.

Question 2: “What does financial security look like to you?”

“Financial security” might seem self-explanatory, but the truth is that it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. For some people, financial security means having a big emergency fund. For others, it might mean being debt-free. For other people, it might mean having a down payment for a house or enough space in the monthly budget for convenience expenses, like takeout and a house cleaning service.

So ask your clients what they think about when it comes to financial security. And if they aren’t sure right away, consider asking some follow-up questions. Try tying the idea of financial security back to that conversation about their values — thinking about their priorities might help them recognize what makes them feel secure in their finances.

Question 3: “What do you want your retirement to look like?”

Retirement planning is a big reason that many people see a financial planner in the first place. But often, planners start by asking their clients how much they want to save for retirement. 

Unfortunately, that can be a tough question for many people to answer, especially when they’re just starting out. Trying to figure out exactly how much money to save for retirement is a complex proposition — that may be why your client wanted to meet with a financial planner in the first place.

Unfortunately, that can be a tough question for many people to answer, especially when they’re just starting out. Trying to figure out exactly how much money to save for retirement is a complex proposition — that may be why your client wanted to meet with a financial planner in the first place.

So instead of trying to get them to commit to a dollar amount that they want to have saved, make things easier for your clients. Ask them what they picture when they think about retirement.

Is it having the freedom to travel or owning a vacation property or a winter home in a warm state? Does it mean having the funds to pay for their kids’ (or grandkids’) college education? Or does it involve having an account set aside for medical bills and long-term care?

Once you get an idea of what your client is picturing for their retirement, you can help them figure out how much they have to save to make that dream a reality. And with that number in mind, you can create a financial plan that will allow your client to save the amount they need.

Question 4: How do you want to feel about money?

Finally, help your clients get in touch with their financial emotions. It might help to ask them how they feel about money now and whether that’s different from how they wish they felt about money. 

For example, maybe you have a client who feels guilty whenever they spend money on a nonessential purchase. That client may want to feel confident in their spending decisions instead. Another client may be afraid to check their bank and credit card accounts but wish they felt secure in the knowledge that their spending habits fit their resources.

When you know how your clients want to feel about their money, you have a better idea of what their financial plan should look like and how you can encourage them to follow it.

Serving your clients well starts with asking questions

Financial planning isn’t just about passing along your hard-earned knowledge and advice to your clients. It starts with communication — thoughtful questions that encourage your clients to understand their own financial feelings and priorities. Once you know what your clients truly value, you can help them set goals that are realistic and meaningful.

Want a first-hand look at what it means to ask questions and help your clients set financial goals? You can get that experience when you subscribe to Amplified Planning. 

Your subscription gets you access to recordings of real-life client meetings with behind-the-scenes commentary from the planner leading the meeting. Plus, you’ll get access to online forums, educational resources, and the chance to earn CFP® credits! Subscriptions start at just $30/month. Find out more and join today!