Hannah McQueen is a Chartered Accountant Fellow, Financial Advisor, Personal Finance Author and Founder of enable.me – Financial Strategy and Coaching.
OPINION: I recently had a client who, after I explained to him what financial stage he was in, how it had helped him in the past and where we needed to take him, gave an answer that left me breathless.
“Oh, so this is like the phases of launching a rocket into space?”
I’m not a scientist, but I’m a fan of good metaphors – and (after giving myself a Google guide on how to launch a rocket) I decided it was perfect.
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So tell me, if you will, what rockets can teach us about your path to financial success.
I promise it’s more nuanced than “go for the moon” — but I’m not promising scientific rigor (there’s a reason we compare intellectual endeavor to rocket science!)
The most important parts
A rocket consists of four systems:
- Propulsion (which creates the thrust that moves the rocket)
- Structural System (the frame that contains the rocket)
- Guidance system (guides you to your destination)
- Payload system (what a rocket can carry).
The same four elements are fundamental to making financial progress when chasing a rocket’s trajectory.
Thrust needs fuel – and for your financial plan, your rocket fuel is your cash surplus. To ensure your money is as meaningful as possible, you need to manage and monitor your money.
Lots of people, once they cross a certain threshold, think that discipline is below them – but your rocket doesn’t go far or that fast without it.
Bestselling Habits author James Clear says, “You don’t rise to the level of your goals, you fall to the level of your systems.”
Your financial structure helps automate your progress so you don’t rely on memory, discipline, or motivation—all of which can let you down at key moments.
Your financial structure is your foundation – it needs to be strong but flexible enough to adjust when needed and resilient enough to withstand financial headwinds.
Before the rocket even remotely lifts off, a gigantic amount of mathematics goes into pre-planning the journey, and a team of experts monitors every movement. They don’t go to get coffee after take-off, they’re there for the whole ride.
The more precise, conscious and pre-planned you are in your financial journey, the more likely you are to succeed – which is why it pays to seek advice.
But this isn’t just important in the beginning—when you set the goal, identifying the risks, potential detours, costs, and opportunity costs—it’s crucial as you move through the stages of your financial life.
The payload is what the rocket can carry. I think of that as your financial performance, and we’re often not sure what that performance is until it’s measured. Overestimate it and risk not having enough fuel to get you there, underestimate it and miss an opportunity to go further.
David Boyle on what to do when you suddenly have a lot of money.
We all know the first phase: take off. You need to build financial momentum by leveraging your resources to get things off the ground quickly. You fight against gravity – the distractions, excuses, fumbling – that risk slowing your progress.
However, we don’t think too much about how things need to change as we enter different stages of our financial life. When the initial thrusters run out of fuel, they fall off, the rocket gets lighter, and the next thrusters take over.
In the financial context, some people are reluctant to give up habits or systems that served them well in the early stages but are now just unnecessary baggage that can hold back their financial progress.
For example, some customers had recently managed to get out of short-term debt by adopting an envelope-based cash system. It worked for that purpose – but now with a mortgage and aspirations to become real estate investors, it obscured visibility of their current financial position, created inefficiencies and cost them interest. They needed to switch to a leaner rocket that would serve them better for the next phase of their financial lives.
The steps taken during the journey are crucial to ensure you reach your destination – but it’s all for naught if you don’t master the landing. It’s a different type of rocket engine required to land on the moon than the one that helped lift it off Earth.
Similarly, retiring and managing your money for your incomeless years requires a different mindset and strategy than what you used in the earlier stages of your life.
Whatever phase of your financial journey you are at, have a plan before you start, have the right systems and fuel for each job, apply the right thrust, monitor your progress so you can change your trajectory if necessary Can customize and make sure you have a plan to nail the landing.
Perhaps most importantly, at each stage, you bring in the right experts to help you refine your approach, boost performance, and streamline your efforts.
Hannah McQueen is a Financial Advisor, Certified Public Accountant, Personal Finance Author and Founder of enable me – Financial Strategy & Coaching.