Time Is Main Obstacle to Financial Planning

A lack of time is the main obstacle for people to do proper financial planning, says a study by Northwestern Mutual.

The “2013 Planning and Progress Study” showed more than six in ten (63%) Americans say their financial planning needs improvement, with the main obstacle cited as not having enough time (24%) to properly plan. 

“There’s an interesting parallel that exists between managing your finances and managing your day-to-day life in that it’s so easy to let short-term needs and wants over shadow the more critical long-term goals,” said Greg Oberland, Northwestern Mutual executive vice president. “We’re all susceptible, particularly today, as we’re often overloaded with information and over scheduled.” 

Oberland added that Northwestern Mutual’s study results should be read as “a wake-up call to put long-term financial planning on our collective to-do lists.” 

According to the study, most Americans (69%) say the pace of society makes it harder for them to stick with long-term goals. More than one in four (26%) people say they either often or always feel too busy to think about long-term goals. And nearly one in three (31%) say they find the level of immediacy of society today–characterized by 24/7 connectivity and accessibility–to be distracting.

The study also revealed that when people were asked to specify what type of planners they are:  

  • Some (40%) described themselves as “Informal,” meaning they have a general sense of their goals and how to meet them, but have no specific plan in place;  
  • Others (9%) said they are “Non-Planners,” meaning they have neither specific goals nor specific plans of any kind;  
  • One in three (34%) people described themselves as “Disciplined,” meaning they know their goals and have a plan in place, but deviate at times because they do not always stay on top of them; and  
  • Just 16% said they are “Highly Disciplined,” meaning they know their goals, have a plan in place to meet them, and rarely deviate from that plan. 


When it comes to financial planning, the study showed those in Generation Y (who are currently ages 25 to 32) may be the most disciplined generation, with 24% saying they are “Highly Disciplined” planners. This is a 50% increase over the full-sample average (16%). The discrepancy is even greater when comparing Generation Y to Baby Boomers (ages 47 to 66), among which only 14% considered themselves “Highly Disciplined.” 

“While overall discipline remains low, we’re encouraged to see that the youngest generation of adults appears to be taking demonstrable action,” said Oberland. 

The study was conducted by independent research firm Harris Interactive, and included 1,546 Americans, ages 25 or older, who participated in an online survey during January 2013. The study report can be downloaded from here.