The Best Place to Start

By The Advocates

Have you heard of wedding day amnesia? Effectively, your special day is a blur. You don’t really live it while it’s happening, and what memories you can make fade quickly. Unless you have hyperthymesia, this is normal for most of us.

We plan for few things in life like our nuptials. I got engaged in 2004 and married in 2006. In those two years, the wedding preparations took over my life. Too bad there was no Pinterest then. I could have planned that whole wedding a week.

18 years later I have only a few clear memories, one of which is the sickening sound of fabric tearing as my dad stepped on my dress while walking me down the aisle. Whatever ripped, I never found it.

You may have guessed that the financial planning equivalent of your wedding day is your retirement. You will work hard for many years, try to make good choices with or without the help of a professional, and try to imagine your life without work, probably with some excitement about what you’ll do with all your free time. Then one day you’ll be in the thick of retirement and you may find the experience underwhelming.

No plan survives its collision with reality. Not your wedding, not your retirement. Rather, you must be prepared to adapt, as we will help adapt your financial plan when changes are needed. That’s where we try to focus our energies in client conversations. How will you adapt when you see the reality of retirement?

To do that successfully, we need to understand not only the logistics of your ideal retirement, but the reason you find certain things “ideal” in the first place.  These reasons are your values. This is what we mean when we say, ‘We help families live their values”. 

It’s our two-fold commitment to 1) understand what’s important to you and why and 2) disregard today’s cultural milieu when it comes to money.

Uncovering your values

I have a hard time grasping the implications of abstract concepts without a story in which to ground it. This means that you can expound upon the definition of say, leadership, for books on end and it won’t stick to me the way a story about an actual leader does.

In that spirit, when we’re trying to help clients find and articulate their values, we often use the example of one of our dear clients who sadly is no longer with us.

A big part of his vision for retirement involved the purchase of a vacation home in the state he grew up in. His advisor was unable to adapt the plan to this sizable purchase without putting his entire retirement in jeopardy.

The client’s insistence on the purchase was unwavering; that was a clue that this was about more than the house. It was about, after some frank discussions, having a place to gather every year with his family, in a setting he loved. The value for him was family time.

With a little creative thinking, the problem was solved by budgeting for a long-term rental in the area every year.  It wasn’t what he planned, but it fulfilled the real need.

Contempt for “sage” advice

There’s no cookie cutter solution that works for everyone. If you accept advice, it should be informed advice, meaning it needs to account for the factors in your life specifically and, of course, what’s important to you.

It used to be said that you needed a million dollars to retire. Now they say a million dollars isn’t what it used to be. You need only know what a million dollars means to you.

That’s the basis for your plan. Sure, there are nuts and bolts to put in place. But they only matter if they serve the vision and values you set for yourself.

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