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Into the Woods

Ross Menke  |  May 27, 2019

JADAV PAYENG lives on a remote river island in India and is eloquently known as “Forest Man.” He has been planting trees his entire life, one at a time, to revive the ecosystem of his native land.

Today, the island is a dense 1,300-acre forest. It’s home to hundreds of thousands of trees and a variety of animals, such as tigers, deer, monkeys and elephants. How did he do it? Payeng credits nature.

In a 2017 interview with NPR, he said, “It’s not as if I did it alone. You plant one or two trees, and they have to seed. And once they seed, the wind knows how to plant them, the birds here know how to sow them, cows know, elephants know, even the Brahmaputra river knows. The entire ecosystem knows.”

From my perspective, building a forest, where once there was barren land, isn’t that different from saving for retirement. When you graduate from college with little or nothing in the bank, you’re starting with an empty desert. As you contribute to your retirement account every paycheck, bit by bit and over many years, you’re planting your own future forest.

Just as trees produce new seeds, your retirement investments produce new income in the form of dividends. By reinvesting those dividends, you promote the compounding process. Before you know it, you’re well on your way to building a retirement forest.

Payeng was also wise enough to diversify the trees he planted. He started with bamboo trees, then switched to cotton trees. “I kept planting—all different kinds of trees,” he said.

Much like building a healthy forest, a healthy investment portfolio requires diversification. You don’t want to rely too heavily on one company’s shares or one market sector.

When you start investing, you may be primarily focused on stocks. But as your portfolio grows and you near retirement, adding more stable, income-producing investments should help ensure your retirement forest’s consistent health. These types of investments typically include bonds and real estate.

What impresses me most: Payeng wasn’t asked to build a forest. He wanted to help his land to thrive once again, so he took the initiative. No one is going to knock on your door, asking you to save for retirement. There’s always going to be another, more immediate financial need or want begging for your attention. Want a comfortable retirement? You’ll have to be the one to take that first step.

Ross Menke is a certified financial planner and the founder of Lyndale Financial, a fee-only financial planning firm in Nashville, Tennessee. He strives to provide clear and concise advice, so his clients can achieve their life goals. Ross’s previous articles include The Happy EmployeePar for the Course and Not Toast. Follow Ross on Twitter @RossVMenke.

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