How discipline dictates financial success

Shelly Gigante

By Shelly Gigante
Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Posted on Feb 18, 2021

It’s neither net worth nor income that dictate our ability to meet our financial goals. It’s discipline, according to MassMutual financial professional Ryan Donaghy.

“Financial success has far more to do with understanding and controlling your emotions with your money, developing positive behaviors, and aligning those with your values,” he said. “If you can do all those, then you’re going to be successful.”

As a financial professional with HF Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina, Donaghy said he wears many hats, helping clients navigate a path to a comfortable retirement, providing guidance when they reach a financial crossroad, and reviewing their coverage to be sure that their loved ones are protected. But the greatest value he imparts, in his opinion, is counseling — helping clients take emotion off the table during moments of stock market turbulence. (Related: Crazy stock markets? Count your financial eggs)

By communicating the dangers of market timing, he encourages them to keep their investment strategy on an even keel regardless of which way the market winds may blow, so long as it still aligns with their long-term financial goals and risk profile.

Indeed, investors who pull their money out of the market when stocks decline often achieve lower long-term returns, he said, primarily because they wait too long to put their money back to work, which perpetuates a pattern of buying high and selling low.

“You can’t look at your own money objectively,” he said. “And emotions mixed with money leads to mistakes. I help people look at their money through logic, and I help guide them.”

That guidance was critical in March 2020, when the stock market suffered a precipitous slide. While many investors, particularly retirees, were concerned about their financial situation, his clients remained calm.

“I was incredibly proud of my retired clients,” he said. “I like for them to keep about three years’ worth of reserves available, so if the market goes down, we don’t have to worry about it for three years. In March, I reached out to them and said, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’ The ones who were relying on their assets the most said, ‘I’m good.’” (Related: Protecting against market fluctuations in retirement)

You can’t get that kind of security with a one-size-fits-all financial plan, said Donaghy, who encourages his clients to prioritize their goals as a family.

“I refuse to have a meeting without both spouses present — because both parties need to buy into what we are doing and why,” he said. “Everybody has their own situation, their own risk tolerances, and their own goals, and their financial plan needs to be tailored to them and their unique situation.”

Donaghy, whose childhood dream was to become a psychologist, said it was one of his clients nearly 10 years ago who summarized his niche as a financial professional best.

“He said, ‘You’re like my financial psychologist. My wife and I come to you and we talk about things that we really don’t share with any other person. You lead us through questions and help us come to our answers and develop action items,’” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Oh my God. I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do my whole life.’ … It’s psychology and problem-solving all rolled into one.”

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The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual and its subsidiaries, employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.