What struck me is that they all died at relatively young ages, still doing what they love and enjoying what can be described as the prime of their life. I am also guessing that none of them saw it coming.
Closer to home, many of my friends, clients, and others I know have lost loved ones this year – often unexpectedly and in the prime of their lives.
As a financial planner I help people set, plan for, and realize their (mostly financial) goals. I also help them plan for life’s most likely worst-case scenarios. While the odds of a long, healthy life may be in your favor, none of us really knows for sure how much time we have or what that time will bring.
So, my theme for the New Year is to plan for tomorrow while making the most of today. There is probably a more clever way to phrase that, but you get the gist of it.
Below are some ideas about how to manage your personal finances in the New Year so you can add a little more life to your days.
1. Take a day off once in a while. I like that the New Year always starts with a paid day off for most of us. We need more of those. From 1976 to 2000, Americans averaged about 20 days of paid time off. Since then, the number has dropped to about 16 days – nearly an entire week less of paid vacation.
Not only are Americans getting less paid vacation, we are wasting a good chunk of what we do get. According to Project Time Off, 55% of all American workers had unused time off at the end of 2015. This tallies up to over 658 million unused days of paid vacation. What’s worse, the “use it or lose it” feature with many employers has resulted in over 200 million days of paid time off that was permanently lost.
When we do get a day off many of us spend at least a portion of it reviewing email, checking voicemail or (ahem) even writing blog posts. Paid time off is an asset just like money in the bank. Use it. Don’t lose it.
2. Update your financial plan. Yes, I know. We are focusing on the moment, and not on the future. But if your financial plan is up-to-date and you know that you are doing what is necessary to reach your long-term financial goals, and you are prepared for life’s most likely worst-case scenarios, it makes it a lot easier to enjoy your time off or spend a little more money on shorter-term goals and experiences.
Updating your financial plan also includes getting important, but not always urgent action items done while you are still able to do them. In the next 30 days: Review and update your beneficiary documents on all your financial assets. Schedule an appointment with an estate planning attorney to review and update your legal documents. Write your healthcare directive. And review your insurance to be sure that what you have will meet your needs.
3. Fire your fear. I have written about this before. Fear may be the single biggest thing preventing people from getting more life into their days. We all have things that we want to do, but we’re afraid to spend the money, of wasting our time, or that we might make a fool of ourselves.
According to Deirdre Van Nest, author of the book Fire Your Fear, “Fear is temporary. Regret is forever”. Don’t let fear become the primary decision maker in your life. I have taken these words to heart on many occasions.
My oldest daughter’s dance studio has a “Dancing Dads” group where dads and daughters wear ridiculous costumes and perform together on stage. It’s a huge time commitment, and it can be expensive. Plus, all the other dads look like idiots.
It’s also a rare opportunity to bond with your daughter, create lasting memories, and learn some white-hot dance moves sure to impress everyone at the next wedding you attend.
True. Dancing to the Gilligan’s Island theme song while dressed as a mermaid can lead to some high anxiety, but in the words of Carrie Fisher, “Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action”.
After funding your retirement accounts and paying the bills, if you still have some extra cash in your stash, don’t be afraid to spend a little money on yourself or your family especially if it creates an experience that you’ll remember forever.
4. Use your money to buy time. Over the recent holiday weekend, my uncle uttered the following words of wisdom: “Stick with what you know”. Save time and money by doing what you do best and delegate other tasks whenever possible.
If you can afford it, don’t waste your limited time on Earth with do-it-yourself projects that you hate, you stink at, or that someone else can do better and in less time. Not only are you probably not saving that much money, you are losing time you will never get back.
Hire a neighbor kid to shovel your driveway or mow your lawn. Pay a plumber to fix your pipes. Let someone else to do your heavy lifting.
Then spend that time with your grandkids, riding your new bike, or having coffee with your BFF.
5. Wear purple socks. One thing I liked about “The Purple One” and others like him is that they pretty much live life on their own terms, doing what they want, the way they want to do it. If that means changing your name to a symbol or dressing in purple everyday, so be it.
I remember a time when my industry had a very liberal dress code — as long as it included wearing a dark colored suit. Dark gray and navy blue were best. We were encouraged to wear colored shirts as often as we wanted – as long as they were blue or white, and had a tie attached. Black socks were all the rage.
Today that dress code is more flexible, but it lingers in office life. Most days you will still see me in a shirt and tie. Maybe even a suit, if it’s cold outside. But if you pay attention, you may also notice a hint of purple, green or even tangerine between the top of my shoe and the bottom of my pant leg. It’s my way of having a little fun while trying to conform to the conventions of office life.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that just because something feels good you should do it. But if wearing purple socks, literally or metaphorically, adds some joy to your everyday life, why not?
Your greatest asset and most limited resource is time. Make the most of it.
Save the navy suit and black socks for another day.
Happy New Year!