I wonder if you have seen any of the new series on Channel 4 called “Compare Your Life”. In essence its a show where a couple would like to change their lives and using a series of questions determine the options for a significant life change. I have only seen one episode, so my observation may be rather narrow. The adviser to each couple is Carlton Hood, who used to be head of Confused.com and now marketing himself as a guru of choice elimination.

The show is useful in that the subjects get to see “real-life” options. In other words, moving to France and setting up a small town business – means going to France, selecting a small town and considering the businesses for sale. The “clients” are asked to focus on what they say they value.

My main concern is that whilst this choice reduction exercise has a place, to run a business (which is effectively what is being offered) you need a broad skill set or an awareness of the skills required so that these can be outsourced and secured. Running a business is not easy, most fail within the first 3 years. It can offer a different lifestyle, but not necessarily a better one. I have reservations about precisely how the list of choices was reduced, which seemed rather random. To make a business work, a high degree of commitment and passion are required, picking an “off-the-shelf” option doesn’t really engender either.

The episode I watched (2) involved an employed couple in their mid-forties, seeking to spend more time with their children. The end solution selected from those proposed involved both of them quitting their jobs, moving location to a smaller house, running a post office/village shop whilst increasing their borrowing considerably. This may work out very well for them, but running a retail business requires staffing most days of the week, most hours of the week. The mere fact that the business is physically part of the home, can be helpful, but of course the reality is that they would technically always be at work. The smaller living space also posed problems for growing children and the yet to come teenage years.

So whilst the premise of considering what life options you have is very valid, the argument that emotion can be removed from choice is a peculiar one, given that most of the choices exercised were based upon emotion (time with children). I also found it odd that this was really a programme about choosing a new lifestyle, without really defining what the lifestyle was and how much it would really cost. To my mind, this was not a scientific approach at all, but a guestimated hope that the short list was indeed suitable. Yes choice can be overwhelming, but failing to properly identify the lifestyle you want is the biggest and most common mistake. This is precisely what good financial planning should achieve.

Dominic Thomas – Solomons IFA