One Most Important Thing

George Vertue [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

George Vertue [Public domain or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“I give myself sometimes admirable advice, but I am incapable of taking it.”  ~Mary Wortley Montagu

I hear you, Mary. Sometimes I give my clients advice that they do not implement and I wonder why not. I think that sometimes they choose not to take all of my advice, and I have no problem with that. I don’t take all of my doctor’s advice. But other times, I believe that they plan to act on my advice but then do not. I have assumed that they simply did not have or make the time. But one of my clients recently gave me some insight into his behavior that told a different story.

He explained that he is not very interested in the mechanics of his finances, so it was easy for him to ignore my detailed instructions for rebalancing his portfolio. Then he told me what would help him, and introduced me to his handy acronym – OMIT. It stands for One Most Important Thing. He wanted me to give him advice and instructions in bite-size chunks rather than all at once. He asked me to tell him the most important thing he should do for his finances at that moment. When he reports back that he has completed it, then give him the next action item to (not) OMIT.

I really like the concept and I now use it regularly for my own work. I think to myself, “What’s the one most important thing I should be doing right now?”. Still, I realize that everyone is different and what works for one client may not work for another. During your next financial review, let’s talk about how I can provide you with advice that best suits your style and past behavior. Maybe OMIT will work for you.


My wife wanted the kickstand back on her bike. I had taken it off years ago when we were competing in triathlons. No serious triathlete (which we weren’t) would have a kickstand on her bike.

I tried to put the kickstand back on myself. How hard could it be? There was only one screw and one nut and seemingly only one place it could go. Yet I couldn’t figure out how to get it back on in the few minutes I devoted to trying.

Since the bike needed a tuneup anyway, I took it to a bike shop. The repairman could not do the tuneup that day but said that he would be happy to install the kickstand for me. It was on and ready to go in about two minutes.

At first I was embarrassed that the kickstand was so easy to install and I hadn’t figured it out. But the more I thought about it, I realized that repairing bikes is what this guy does for a living. It’s his expertise. He has the tools, knowledge, and experience to work on bikes efficiently.

This experience got me thinking about financial advice. It’s not rocket science, yet many advisers go out of their way to make you think it is. Most of the information you get from a good financial adviser, you could research yourself if you had the time and interest.

The difficulty is separating the sound financial advice from the noise. An objective and experienced financial adviser can efficiently guide you. We have the tools and knowledge, and we know where to look.

I realized something else during my short visit to the bike shop. The repairman never made me feel dumb for not knowing how to install the kickstand. I have had experiences when a professional or tradesperson has patronized me for not knowing about something that is his expertise. I have wanted to ask him to tell me the equation for the Capital Asset Pricing Model (something only geeky finance types would know) to get my point across, but I never do.

When I give financial advice, I remind myself that the reason that my clients come to see me is that they are not experts in personal finance. They are experts in their own fields. Something that is simple or matter-of-fact to me may be completely foreign to them. It’s my job and privilege to share with them the knowledge I’ve gained from years of study and practice. I help them put on their kickstands.