For many of us, our personal finance plan is so complex, we can’t even understand it. Who wouldn’t be confused today? Investment pitchmen, mega-insurance companies, and even state and federal governments are vying for our money, making it more difficult than ever to manage it how we want. But simplifying our plan and reclaiming what’s ours is easier than you think.

Award-winning financial planner Michael Lynch wrote Keep It Simple, Make It Big to help readers create, protect, and enjoy financial success. He shows how to recognize and overcome common financial mistakes, from paying too much in taxes and falling victim to inflation, to blowing investments and failing to protect what you cannot afford to be lost. I recently caught up with Michael to learn what inspired him to write the book and his favorite ideas in it.

Published with permission from the author.

What happened that made you decide to write the book? What was the exact moment when you realized these ideas needed to get out there?

I’ve spent much of my life and certainly now most of my day telling stories to illustrate important concepts and things I feel are deep truths. The urge to get it all in one place consumed me two years back, as the summer gave way to the New England fall colors.

I lit a fire and started writing. Keep It Simple, Make it Big is the result. I designed this book as a comprehensive, yet extremely accessible overview of the fundamentals and strategies of personal financial success. I’ve had years of experience working every day with middle-class American families and I wanted to share the strategies that create financial success.

The United States retirement system is often criticized for not really being a “system.” That is, journalists and academics are inherently biased to favor a top down, one-size-fits-all system that is regulated and controlled by the government and other large institutions that can be manipulated, prodded, and controlled by pressure groups. I, on the other hand, think the system is not only not broken, but offers fantastic opportunities for almost everyone to create their own financial success. It is self-serve, however, so people must act.

What’s your favorite specific, actionable idea in the book?

Hands down, it’s “big goals motivate.” Don’t ask: “Why.” Ask: “Why not?” A great life doesn’t just happen, it’s created. I view finance as a fuel to power the life of one’s dreams.

For most people, wealth is not an end in and of itself. It’s a means to an end. We all need to understand this, take a step back and, as Dr. Stephen Covey wrote, begin with the end in mind, and decide what we want out of our short time on this earth and then go get it.

As it relates to finance, this goal will determine how much one needs to accumulate and that will determine the best places to do so: Roth IRAs, employer plans, non-qualified investment accounts, etc. Getting into financial details, the actionable items include people really understanding the basic structure of our tax code and how it relates to their family’s income and what they get to keep. Also, the proper use of insurance to protect that which they can least afford to lose, along with a proper understanding of investment risk and time horizon.

Specifically, assets such as CDs that appear safe are actually high risk over the long run and assets that are risky in the short term, such as ownership of publicly traded corporations, are the safest over the long run. Finally, our financial lives tend to be based on the primacy of income while we are working and the primacy of expenses when we are retired.

Published with permission from the author.

What’s a story of how you’ve applied this lesson in your own life? What has this lesson done for you?

I’ve pretty much spent my entire life applying these principles. Asking “why not” allowed me to change careers twice, each time with a reduced income stream. The second transition, from a writer to financial advisor, occurred when I had a brand-new baby and a brand-new mortgage.

I left a near six figure writing career for a position that paid $800 a week for 13 weeks and zero after that. I was able to do it because I followed the principles I document in the book.

I always saved and invested and understood my expenses, necessary and otherwise. I dug in and paid the price of success. With family help, I was able to take care of a disable daughter and build a good life. These days, I track all my time. I work a 50-hour week, I’ve been fishing 40 days this summer with friends, family and clients, and pre- and post-COVID I will visit every major league baseball park with my parents. My son is getting a fantastic education at a boarding school, which I can afford due to years off business building.

Again, ask: “Why not?” I am currently in the process of getting my Commercial Driver’s License back so I can drive semi-trucks. I love trucks and I had a license when I was 18 but I went to college, drove buses then, and eventually let it lapse. I’m nor sure how I’ll use it, but you may just see me in your rearview mirror heading south. I’m pretty sure I’ll be in a rare club: a financial advisor who published a book and secured a Class A license in the same year.