JUST BEFORE CHRISTMAS, I had a call scheduled with a financial planning client to discuss investment and tax strategies, with an eye to making sure everything was squared away before year-end.
This client is a retired executive who was successful because of her attention to detail. Her retirement is no different. She’s savvy and loves to get into the weeds of financial planning. As a financial nerd, that’s fine with me.
Naturally, given her personality, she has saved a tremendous amount. Her plan is one of the best I’ve seen. Her wealth is projected to grow throughout retirement. I think she likes it that way or, at least, how it looks on a spreadsheet. As you might expect, if you’ve read some of my earlier articles, I regularly challenge her to enjoy her money more. Every meeting, I tell her that she can afford to spend more and that, in my humblest opinion, she should. She always appreciates my sentiments and says that she’ll do so. But it’s a work in progress. No matter, to each their own. My biggest concern is that she knows that she can spend more if she so desires.
After we were done discussing various tax strategies, and the pros and cons of each, we got to talking about the holidays and our respective plans. I told her that I’m blessed that most of my family are nearby, so I won’t be traveling at Christmas. I know that her family lives in the South, so I asked her if she’d be heading there as usual. She loves her family very much and they’ll likely be the beneficiaries of her lack of spending.
She sighed, “I wanted to. But this will be the first time in 20 years I’m not going to make it down there. I’m just going to spend Christmas at home by myself.”
Immediately, my mind began to race. Something bad had happened. But what? Was she ill? Was there a family dispute? We’re comfortable with each other, so I prodded, “Why not?”
“The flights are too expensive,” she whispered.
Like a train pulling the brakes to a screeching halt, my immediate reaction was disbelief. I told her, “Wait, wait, wait. Not only can you afford this flight, but I also want to ask you a question: Do you think your family would rather have you at Christmas this year, or inherit an extra $1,000 in 25 years?” We had a big laugh, and some humorous back and forth, and she quickly agreed that she may be overthinking it a bit. After a while, I wished her a Merry Christmas and told her I hope she isn’t at home on Dec. 25.
About an hour later, she sent me an email that just said, “Thank you for perspective.”
I haven’t yet caught up with her in the new year, but I like to imagine that she was booking a flight in the time between our call and that email. Maybe wishful thinking.
Whatever the case, I believe there’s a good lesson here. Sometimes we get so caught up in the routine of our life that we lose perspective. What better purpose for money could there be than to use it to spend the holidays with family? Of course, she already knew that. But sometimes it helps to have a reminder from a third party. We all need people who care enough to speak up and point out our blind spots. And maybe even more important, we should all be open to different perspectives—and be willing to change our minds.
Luke Smith is a CFP® professional and practicing financial planner. He creates customized financial plans for each family he works with around the country. Luke pursued financial planning to combine two passions: finance and people. He spends his free time with his wife Heather and their family in Maryland. Outside of work, Luke enjoys the outdoors, golf, reading and writing. You can reach him at Luke.Smith@Wealthspire.com. Check out Luke’s earlier articles.
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I too suffer from an excess of frugality at times. We flew to visit our daughter and five grandchildren on Christmas Day 2021 and flew home on New Year’s Day, as tickets are traditionally cheap on those days. We had plans to do the same this last Christmas but to my horror it would have cost us almost $2,000, in contrast to the year before when it was only about $800. We’re living on SS and my earnings, as hubby retired a year ago and we’re not planning on drawing on our savings until forced into it. We’ve also had a lot of other expenses lately so we decided sadly not to go. I have to say, we weren’t so sad when we saw the horrible mess that was air travel in the USA for that week between Christmas and New Year’s Day. My frugality paid off this time. But I agree, sometimes you’ve just got to enjoy your hard-earned money and throw caution to the wind.
You are a great sounding board for your client. I’m not a financial planner but have helped my MIL for the past 3 years since her husband passed. My wife is the executor of her future estate. I’ve been working with her to up her xmas gifts to her grandchildren from $50 to $1000. She did it and the kids who are all young adults were ecstatic. The only string was that they needed to tell her what they did with the gift. She enjoyed how her grandchildren spent the money. Now to up bday money haha.
Good job, Luke. Thanks for helping her with this.
Thanks for sharing the story, and it is nice to put money in perspective. Nice article.
Good article and it reminds me of when a few years ago someone I golf with said, “If you don’t fly first class, your kids will.” I will probably never fly first class (too frugal) but last fall I went to Ireland for a 1 week golf trip and the year before I went to Las Vegas to play in the World Series of Poker. And in April we’re renting a beach house for a week vacation near Charleston SC with our kids and grandkids. It is hard to switch gears but I’m working on it!
I am like Luke’s client in some ways – I am retired and have plenty of money. But I buy whatever I want, and I still have more than half my income left over. This year, I have increased the amount that is automatically moved to my checking account every month – maybe I will spend it.
Good article. Thanks for sharing.
Some people are so focused upon saving for the future that they forego living in the present. Once they have achieved wealth it is hard to switch gears and enjoy it. Like so many things, this requires balance of their saving and enjoying life.
Very good article … you sound like my wife.😃