life planning

Caps, Gowns, and the Coronavirus

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COVID-19 has caused shifts and pivots across organizations and even whole industries. Along the way, many folks have decided to delay or cancel what would’ve been some wonderful milestones: a long-awaited family trip, a wedding, a move across country.

Some families will still be wrestling with such decisions for the months—and maybe years!—to come.

A college education is a common enough savings category, but some are rethinking their investment goals with so many changes coming for institutions.

We realize it can be hard to get perspective right now. The stress of the upcoming school year is looming, and prospective students will be making huge decisions based on information that seems to keep changing.

We wouldn’t dream of suggesting the “right answer” for you or your family. Here, however, we’d like to offer a little distance on some of the issues at the heart of this topic.

Is it worth it? Schools are being forced to experiment with how they will structure classes and campus life, so as consumers, many families are questioning the value of the experience they’re paying for. To zoom out, we recommend remembering what a degree will mean for a person after they’re done with it.

Yes, we want students across the country to enjoy a safe, rich, and rewarding couple of years at school, but both the journey and the destination should be part of the equation.

One thing that the pandemic won’t suddenly change? The long-term value of a college degree.

“The lifetime payoff to earning a college degree is so very large, in health and wealth, that it dwarfs even high tuition costs,” writes economist Susan Dynarski. “College is an especially smart choice during a terrible job market.”

An education is not armor against all the problems ahead, but it may still be a sound investment and worthy savings goal for you or your family.
Clients, if you want to talk through this or anything else, call or write.

Transitions Mean Change

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One of the hardest things about major life transitions is that many habits, customs, traditions, and ways of doing things become obsolete or counter-productive at once. It takes time to deal with these cascading effects, big and small, on our lives.

One friend who lost a spouse to a fast-progressing illness had to quickly deal with decades of deferred home maintenance, previously a mutually agreeable way of life. Who had time to fix stuff when leisure pursuits or travel beckoned? It was a difficult situation.

Another had to confront a set of retirement intentions that had everything to do with the couple, but zero to do with the survivor. It was like waking up a few years before retirement, with plans that made no sense at all, and no prior thoughts about alternatives.

And many are forced to learn how to deal with things a spouse formerly handled: everything from oil changes to investment decisions. If the spouse had been a do-it-yourselfer in a particular role, the survivor sometimes has trouble envisioning the need to pay for services. Their life experience taught them that paying for that service is not worth it.

That lesson is incomplete, of course. Paying for the service is not worth it if you have the interest, knowledge and experience to do it yourself. But when the experience and knowledge is taken out of the equation, then the DIY course may be vexing and expensive.

Changing circumstances sometimes require a change in ways of doing things. What was done before made sense for the conditions that prevailed then. It can be hard to recognize the things that have changed. Our affection for those who are gone sometimes leaks into a positive view of their way of doing things, even when those ways may no longer be appropriate.

My own life experience has taught me patience and empathy for survivors who are grappling with these things. Each of us is on our own journey. We each make decisions in our own time, when they make sense to us. All we can do here at 228 Main is listen, provide a framework for thinking about things, and support people going through transitions.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

The Book of Life

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Books have chapters, each one a thread that is woven together with the other chapters to tell a story. Characters come and go, things happen, the plot advances. When a character’s part is finished, they do not appear in future chapters.

They were there for a reason; we remember them through the rest of the book. I’ve come to see that life is like that, too.

Our lives are a book with different chapters. In the hardest times, it helps to think there are more chapters out there. It will not always be the way it is now. The current chapter is not the whole book.

And in the best times, the same framework reminds us to be grateful for the moment, for what we have.

The way things unfold for some people, it may seem like half or more of their lives are in a single chapter. When the chapter ends, one might wonder if life is ending. But the chapter is not the book. (Or at least it does not have to be.)

C.S. Lewis noted we cannot go back and change the beginning, but we can start now and change the ending. Our sorrow is that we cannot change the prior chapter, but there is joy in being able to change the next chapter. This is why we make plans for the future!

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

What Are We Going To Do With All This Future?

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It is tempting to think of the future as a place of endless possibilities, fulfilled dreams, unleashed potential. “What are we going to do with all this future?” is the work of Spanish artist Coco Capitan, in collaboration with the Gucci fashion brand. It seems to capture that spirit of possibility.

Our work together with you is about the future. But when you get down to it, saying yes to one goal might mean saying no to others. We cannot do everything.

Resources are finite. As we think about retirement destinations or second home locations, choosing a Rocky Mountain high might mean that finding your beach is out of the question. Relocating may mean less time with family. Retiring at a younger age could mean getting by with less money.

This is why we invest so much time in striving to understand and clarify your priorities.

Of course, creative thinking may let us meet apparently contradictory goals by making thoughtful adjustments. A more modest home in one location may free up money to travel other places, or even have a second home. (This is the strategy I employ to live in Floribraska, Florida and Nebraska.)

Clients have chosen to retire and work at the same time by making the retirement-age job a part-time or seasonal or flexible hours arrangement in a field they enjoy.

Some couples choose to spend weeks each year pursuing different interests. Golf in the sunshine is hard to reconcile with watching grandchildren play winter sports up north.

So your own answer to ‘what we are going to do with all this future’ may take a lot of thought to get your priorities defined. Some creativity or adjustments may be needed to make the most of it. This really is the first step in long term planning.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Special Relativity

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A friend wrote to me recently about the two kinds of time. The time that gallops onward in an undistinguished blur, versus the time that resolves itself into perfect crystal moments that stretch on to forever. Haven’t we all had those kind of peak moments?

We seem more prone to the ‘undistinguished blur’ sort of time as the years go by, and routines get set. Perhaps breaking the routine, new experiences, are what sets those forever moments apart.

My friend concluded that if there is a secret to keeping time in a bottle, it must involve moving forward – a special kind of special relativity. This notion has some interesting aspects, including one that bears on our work for you, I believe.

Many financially independent retirees have noted that they spent much time when younger worrying about having enough money in later years. Then, when they get there, they discover that money is abundant, compared to time, which is finite.

If we spend our working years on a treadmill of accumulating a fortune for enjoyment way down the road, perhaps we live life in a routine, in which time is an undistinguished blur. This shortens the subjective experience of our lives.

Alternatively, we can work to understand and perhaps moderate what “enough” means, and balance living in the moment against our longer-term objectives. Would this leave us open to more new experiences, new ways of thinking and being, and that sense of moving forward that might bring about more of those ‘forever’ moments?

Hey, I don’t know either. But I’m in favor of more special moments, and less undistinguished routine. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Life and Savannah, Georgia

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Traveling recently, I had the chance to spend 24 hours in Savannah rather than drive right by. This is a new thing again for me; my life has been too full for side trips most of the last few years.

At best, 24 hours does not even scratch the surface of a city like Savannah. The largest historic district in the country included markets, churches, temples, homes, and mansions. Now it is also home to museums, shops and restaurants.

The unique and beautiful squares or parks, more than twenty, were originally laid out from 1733 to 1801. Many have fountains or statues or otherwise commemorate notables from history. Ancient and stately oaks grace the squares, and indeed the entire city.

The river features shops, entertainment, and dining housed in the centuries-old brick buildings originally used to service a working waterfront.

In preparing for this day, it took some time to understand what all there was to see and do. And then, how to make the most of it? Trolley tours, boat tours, guided walking tours, solo hiking, or some combination?

(I won’t bore you with my decisions; they suited me. Yours would be, or will be, different.)

The task of figuring out how to spend 24 hours in Savannah, Georgia is akin to how we live our lives. When we choose to focus our time and energy, we forsake everything else for a time. And we can never get around to all that the world offers. And the span of our lives in the world is every bit as limited as 24 hours in Savannah.

I did learn that with planning you can see a great deal in Savannah in 24 hours; I am still in the process of learning that with planning you can do a great deal in life.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.

Confusion, Wealth, and Options

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A confession: I am confused about a fairly important life question. Some of you have been, or will be, facing similar conundrums.

You may be surprised, depending on how well you know me. Clarity is something I strive for.

When I am home in Louisville Nebraska, there are no traffic lights between my modest abode and my shop at 228 Main Street, a ten minute walk if I choose. Life is simple, inexpensive, and easily within the means of future benefits from Social Security and a small pension.

I also have a home in Florida which is not particularly modest. We chose it a few years ago, when I was part of a ‘we.’ It met the needs of my high school sweetheart as she worked to extend her life in the face of serious health challenges. The original rationale for the decision no longer holds, as Cathy passed away last summer.

You may recall our original decision a decade ago to adopt a snowbird lifestyle, in the hopes of making my plan to work to age 92 a sustainable one. I had no appetite then for decades more of Nebraska winters.

Now I am confused.

• I still have little appetite for Nebraska winters.
• The Florida home is more than I need.
• It takes money to maintain a second home.
• Where I will want to spend how much time in the future is something I cannot answer now.

What is needed to cure my confusion is time. The old rule of thumb about dealing with wrenching personal change is “don’t make any big decisions for at least a year.” Now I understand this rule, after giving myself whiplash trying to make plans prematurely.

The answers will become clear with time.

What gives us the time we need is money. I have some; you have some. Money for its own sake has little value, but the time and flexibility it provides is priceless.

Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

 

New Lifestyles, New Plans

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It seems that life used to be plainly segmented. First we got educated, then we worked, then we retired.

Financial plans followed suit: first we accumulated during our working years, then we spent in retirement – hopefully, not running out of money before we died.

Increasingly in the 21st century, life is sliced and diced. Periods of education may happen at any age. People remake themselves to meet the needs of the marketplace, or their own preferences. Stretches of leisure may be mixed in with periodic bouts of consulting or other work in the golden years.

Some people choose to retire to volunteering or a new business venture or employment in a more enjoyable field, or seasonally, or part-time. There are a lot of ways to live life these days.

In addition to changing lifestyle patterns, people are living longer than ever before.

In this new environment, financial plans and planning need to be more flexible, and serve different purposes. The key theme: flexibility.

1. Investment products that tie your money up for years are less appropriate than before, as changing circumstances could mean an unforeseen need for liquidity.

2. The accumulation of funds in traditional retirement accounts still makes sense. Adequate funds make work optional in later years, or enable volunteer work or even a business start-up.

3. It may pay to pay more attention to tax brackets, as shifting circumstances could change tax status from year to year. Techniques to take advantage of low-bracket years may reduce lifetime total income taxes.

The key, of course, is not what the trends are or what many people are doing, but what YOU want to do. Clients, if you would like to talk about this or anything else, please email us or call.


Content in this material is for general information only and not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.