06 Nov If Not Now, When?
“I guess it comes down to a simple choice really. Get busy living or get busy dying.”
Andy Dufresne, The Shawshank Redemption
Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve met with several of our long-standing clients for their annual review meetings.
I always enjoy these meetings, catching up with what’s going on in their lives and, wherever possible, having lunch after the meetings so we can chat about things completely unrelated to their financial planning.
Two of these recent meetings have stuck in my mind since I arrived back home.
The first was with Peter and Susan*, a couple who have been clients of ours for close to 20 years. I’ve had the privilege of watching them progress from fairly high pressure, demanding careers, to enjoying their financial independence. Some years ago, after they’d stopped working for a few years, but had not yet made the mental adjustment to become ‘spenders’ rather than ‘savers’, I remember saying to them, “From now on, please turn left when you get on a plane – you can afford it!”. I’m pleased to say they took my advice and have been happily travelling the world in style ever since.
When they came into the office for this year’s meeting, they both – now in their early 70s – looked healthy and full of life, in spite of fairly recent major heart surgery for Peter. Their eyes were twinkling as they reported they’d had seven holidays the previous year – some were just weekend European city breaks, but some further afield as well. For the coming year, they have a trip planned to Japan and a ‘grand tour’ of South America. They are living life to the full, enjoying the fruits of all those years of hard work. It was just lovely to hear all about their adventures, and such a privilege to have played a small part in getting them to where they are today.
The second meeting I wasn’t looking forward to, to be honest. Several years ago, Matthew and Jenny*, clients for more than 15 years, had started planning in earnest for their financial independence. This meant Matthew starting to work fewer hours, the plan being for him to stop working completely at the end of five years. Sadly, just as Matthew was creating a plan with his business partners which would allow him to do this, Jenny was diagnosed with cancer. Suddenly, those best-laid plans weren’t looking achievable.
Jenny died last year and the last time I saw Matthew – which was when Jenny was still alive – he’d looked drawn, stressed and frankly worn out. Although I’d spoken to him on numerous occasions since Jenny’s death, I wasn’t sure what sort of state he would be in.
To my surprise – and delight – a very relaxed and happy-looking Matthew walked into the meeting. He has found someone new. He wasn’t looking for another partner. It was just one of those happy coincidences (helped along a little by his daughter in law and her best friend). It’s early days, but they really seem to have hit it off, and suddenly Matthew is tentatively making plans for the future again.
When Jenny received her diagnosis, she and Matthew had to face the fact that the life they had planned to live when he stopped work was gone. He had to cope with nursing Jenny through her illness, not knowing what the future held, and facing a life without the woman who had been by his side for decades.
We were able to provide support in terms of dealing with various aspects of their finances to ensure that Jenny’s wishes as to what happened to her assets were met, and we were able to use their financial plan to show them that Matthew and their family would be fine, financially, after Jenny’s death. These are the conversations we never want to have with our clients, but sadly it can’t all be long and happy retirements and seven holidays a year.
We never know what’s around the corner. I am so happy that Matthew has found someone who might turn out to be the person he spends the rest of his life with. He still has a lot of living to do, and while his future is not the one he envisaged, he is now able to look forward rather than back.
As financial planners, I think we spend a lot of time thinking about how we help to educate our clients – whether it’s on the value of having a plan, the investment philosophy we use to manage their money, or encouraging ‘good’ investor behaviour which helps them to avoid making the mistakes so many investors make.
But how much time do we spend thinking about what our clients are teaching us? One of the biggest lessons I have learned from our clients is to live life to the full because you never know what the future holds. Don’t put things off thinking you’ll get around to them when you stop work or aren’t so busy. That day may never come. If there is something which you would class as being ‘your heart’s desire’, DO IT NOW.
In recent years, as I’ve seen several clients suffer serious illnesses of one sort or another, I’ve made a determined effort to redress the balance in my own life a bit between living for today and planning for tomorrow. I have looked at the things I would love to do but have been putting off until ‘later’ (that undetermined future date we all push stuff off to) and am now making a conscious effort to do them sooner rather than later.
More to come on that shortly……
“There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live.”
– Dalai Lama
*Names and some details have been changed to protect our clients’ anonymity