So much of reaching our true potential centers on how we think and our ability to cast our minds into the future, to envision and see our lives unfold potentially many years before our reality is upon us.
This is true in our financial lives as well. In pre-retirement, we live in the accumulation phase of life. We may raise a family, build a career, purchase a home, send kids to college and along the way hopefully save enough for our Golden Years. As we near retirement and reach the top of the mountain, we don’t realize that most of the economic rules in our lives are about to change. The risks, strategies and financial tools we encountered, deployed and used on the way up the mountain shift into a different array of risks strategies and tools that we soon learn we may be largely unprepared.
Consider this shift in perspective as we enter retirement:
- On the way up we are saving and adding to our nest egg. On the way down we are withdrawing from it.
- One the way up we think of the rate of return of an accumulation rate, on the way down we experience a distribution or spending rate.
- On the way up the mountain when the market is down, we learned to ignore it and in time our assets recovered. But, in retirement our time frames narrow. We don’t have as much time to recover and so our feelings regarding market risk become more conservative.
- On the way up we don’t spend a lot of time thinking about the financial ruin and family trauma caused by an extended long-term illness or having cognitive failure, but on the way down this potentiality can haunt us.
- On the way up the mountain the timing of our Social Security election is a fleeting thought, but in our late 50’s or early 60’s, it becomes a pressing question.
- On the way up we don’t think too deeply regarding what happens economically when a spouse passes, but this question is at the heart of most pension elections.
- On the way up the mountain pondering how assets transfer at passing is largely not considered, but on the way down it is the number one question at my many Estate Preservation Workshops.
We may instinctively recognize that the details of our financial lives will change as we enter retirement, but many do not have the vision, mindset or proper perspective to see their financial lives in advance and then to plan accordingly. Therefore, having a clear vision and an ability to cast our minds into the future is such a valuable skill, not only in our financial decisions and choices but in all areas of our lives.
Consider this illustrative story.
In the 1300’s at Cambridge University in England, a chapel was constructed for one of the colleges. Huge beams fashioned from old-growth oak supported the vaulted roof of the chapel. Seven hundred years later, the beams had so deteriorated that the roof was in danger of collapsing. The building required extensive renovation, including replacing the beams. But where, in our time, could those repairing the building find giant oak trees of such an age and quality as had been available to the original builders?
The answer lay right outside the chapel doors. The original builders of the chapel had known that at some point far in the future, the structure would need new oak beams, so they planted acorns in the churchyard. Over the centuries, a grove of oak trees had grown to full maturity.
The chapel builders were rooted in a sense of personal mission and vision. Their mission and vision were built upon their values—a solid foundation that gave direction and meaning. The mission of the chapel builders was to ensure the survival of the chapel hundreds of years into the future. Their vision included planting the acorns as a means of achieving their mission.
A vision is a picture of future success. A vision forms when we think far enough ahead to realize there will be important challenges we can prepare for now, perhaps by doing something as simple as planting a few acorns.
Proverbs 29:18 reads, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” Having personal vision is a requirement for financial peace. As we project our minds into the future, we are better able to prepare for the challenges and obstacles that might confront us. With difficult winds swirling around us a demonstrated vision allows us to chart a better course.
Many struggle with the ability to exercise personal vision, however, being able to see the end from the beginning is a quality that each of us can learn. This ability comes in part by slowing down our pace, pondering our present reality and then projecting ourselves into the future. As we visualize the road ahead, 10, 15 and 20+ years hence, we should ask some important questions.
- What are our hopes and our dreams?
- What experiences do we want to have?
- What do we want to be remembered for?
- What impact would we like to have on those around us?
- What contributions do we see ourselves engaging?
No matter our age, we must believe that our future is bigger than our past! This optimistic perspective can help us become true goal cultivators, which can translate into happier tomorrows.
Inquisitive forward-looking questions can be insightful. My parents often encouraged me by saying, “The sky is the limit. You can achieve anything you desire if you are simply willing to pay the price.” I believed this counsel and have taught my children the same mantra of personal vision and consistent diligence.
The late Steve Jobs of Apple fame said, “If you are working on something exciting that you really care about, you don’t have to be pushed. The vision pulls you.” I have seen this true in my own life.
In our financial lives, we must capture a snapshot of the future before we can seize it! As I work with pre and post-retirees, having a clear vision of one’s financial future is essential for economic survival, especially given the myriad of changes thrust upon us when we crest that proverbial retirement mountain. Again, slow down and ask yourself important probing questions about your financial life, projecting yourself many years into the future.
- What are your living circumstances?
- Are you living in the same home or do you plan to downsize?
- What are the financial threats you might encounter?
- What if you have a prolonged illness?
- Who will care for you?
- How will you pay for it?
- What happens to your income if a spouse passes?
- How will you replace this income?
- What if the markets experience another major crash?
- Do you have time to recover?
- What if inflation or taxes go up?
- Do you have a guaranteed flow of income that cannot be outlived?
- What specific financial tools and strategies must you engage to live out your golden years as you desire?
As you consider the answers to these questions you are challenged to ponder a host of issues and topics that you might not have considered. This engagement confronts your present reality with needed solutions and strategies for your later years. The by-product of stretching your mind into the future, like those old chapel builders who planted a few simple acorns in the churchyard, is now positively shaping your tomorrows.
Helping pre and post-retirees sharpen their personal vision is my passion. The objective is to be prepared for the threats, risks, opportunities, and circumstances that one might encounter in the future. The secret is being open-minded enough to consider the possibilities and potentialities of our future lives. Once envisioned one then can build the strategies to combat and take advantage of them. The result is finding oneself on the road to financial peace.