Dan and Kim had never worked with a financial advisor before, and when we sat down together for the first time, I could see the worry on their faces and hear the concern in their words. Both in their mid-50s, they wanted to start thinking about retirement, and they were worried they might not be financially prepared. As Dan put it, “What we really want to know is how much longer we’ll need to work to maintain our lifestyle in retirement. We don’t want to be eating peanut butter sandwiches in our 90s!”
I braced myself when I started looking at the numbers, but what I saw in front of me was anything but what I’d expected. Both educators, their income was relatively modest, but they had saved every dime. Their house was paid off, they had no debt, and they had nearly $3 million in assets. It was an advisor’s dream come true. I was thrilled to be able to tell them that their nest egg was plenty big enough for them to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. It was a surprise for all of us.
And yet the real surprise came about a year later when I got a phone call from Dan. Their refrigerator had broken and he was having trouble finding a repairman who could make things right. The reason: it was more than 30 years old. “Do you think we can afford to replace it?” I couldn’t believe my ears. He knew how much money they had, and I had told them both they were financially set. So where was the disconnect?
What I realized was that because Dan and Kim had spent a lifetime together pinching pennies, they didn’t have a clue how to spend their money. What they needed from me wasn’t help planning how to save more assets, but guidance understanding how to spend what they had so they could truly enjoy the fruits of their labor.
I immediately scheduled an appointment with them both (after their brand-new refrigerator was delivered and installed!) to talk about their personal wish lists. Dan had always wanted to travel, and he loves to fish, so I encouraged him to splurge on a cruise to Alaska that allowed him to do a bit of both. Kim had been dreaming of remodeling their kitchen for decades, but she’d never realized she could actually afford it. We also set up a 529 plan to help fund their granddaughter’s education. It was just one more thing on their financial bucket list that they didn’t realize they had the means to do.
Since that meeting, they are now traveling more, spending more on what they once considered unobtainable dreams — all while staying within a budget that fits their long-term financial plan.
It was a wake-up call for me as a financial advisor. One of the greatest joys in my work is being able to tell people that they’ve done everything right, but I realized that to really help each client live their best life, there was an important piece of the puzzle that needed my attention as well: helping them find that delicate balance between saving and spending. Many people fear that “working” with a financial advisor means one thing: belt-tightening. Of course, for anyone who has not saved well, that can certainly be true (which makes financial planning particularly vital!). But in many cases, that “work” delivers an unexpected freedom. Instead of having to worry about the unknown, a well-designed and stable financial plan can help you find that ideal equilibrium between saving and spending so you can live the life of your dreams. Instead of living for “someday”, you can rest assured that your future, no matter how unknown, is covered, and you can begin living to the fullest today.
Ask anyone in their 90s for advice on how to live life well and they’ll all tell you the same thing: the biggest regrets they have in life are not about money or career, but about making the time to build strong relationships and go out and create the experiences that make life so amazing. If you’re not living your ideal life today—if you’re waiting for “someday” to enjoy the fruits of your labor—take that first step today and create a financial plan that not only helps you build a solid financial future, but that gives you the financial confidence and freedom you need to truly start living today.
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