Your Financial Trip of a Lifetime

FiLife in partnership with The Wall Street Journalby J. David Lewis, MBA

Friday Oct 16, 2009

As a financial adviser, I should help people have their trip of a lifetime. We can find insights by comparing an elaborate vacation to building a successful financial trip of a lifetime.

Working out at the gym one morning, I overheard someone describing their trip to Mount Kilimanjaro, in Africa.  Evidently, it was quite an expensive adventure, climbing to the top with a guide and a small group of hikers.  He used the term “trip of a lifetime,” and I started thinking about how different people would have different events they might call their trip of a lifetime.  As a financial advisor, I should help people have THEIR trip of a lifetime.  What would I call my trip of a lifetime? 

I have had some pretty great trips, including tours of the western United States in the 1950s.  I was about 12 and I still have the map with the highway routes marked.  There were college road trips to Texas, New Orleans, Montreal, and Florida.  In the 1970s, I drove into Colorado and Utah.  Around 1980, I made a few trips to the Caribbean and Hawaii.  More recently, I have been on driving tours in northern Arizona, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Alaska.  Father’s Day Weekend trips with just my son have included Nova Scotia, Yosemite, Death Valley and Bryce Canyon.    

I thought about the question while I pushed and pulled on various exercise machines.   What trip could stand out above all the rest?  My “trip of a lifetime” materialized in my mind as I approached my office that morning.  My life is my trip of a lifetime

From this comprehensive, yet concise idea, we can understand that real financial planning is about that lifelong financial trip of a lifetime.  The financial trip of a lifetime is a matter of understanding and balancing amenities of life (the vacations and such) with a family culture that fosters growing financial security.  The portfolio, mortgage, college savings plan (or college loans), life insurance, and all the other specific items are only tools.  Each “trip of a lifetime” is more like the way we live everyday than an adventure to Kilimanjaro or anywhere else. 

Recently, a 55 year old gentleman visited us, with a clearly articulated reason he has the significant wealth he has.  In his very early career, a person he described as an important mentor, talked about his paycheck.  The mentor covered part of the check, as he said “don’t think of all this money as yours to spend now.  Always put some away.”  Our visitor listened and apparently used investing tools well.  His manner seems conservative and cautious.  There may have been some investment risks that did not pay off.  I doubt they were many or large.  Continuous contributions overcame them.

Now he and his wife wonder whether there is enough wealth to accomplish a personal vision they have carried for many years.  My years of experience tell me disciplined contributions and caution are the most important elements in reaching this enviable question at their ages.  Although the answer is not yet clear, this financial trip of a lifetime may be close to fulfillment, until another long range vision appears.  They are young. 

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