I’ve been listening to the inspiring Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks recently. His blog and his podcasts are inspiring (it’s no surprise coming from a man who served as Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth for 22 years, was awarded the 2016 Templeton Prize, has taught at Yeshiva University, King’s College London, and New York University, and is the author of more than 30 books). His latest blog post, Investing Time, resonated with me. As I sit here today after the long Labor Day weekend, I ask myself, “Am I on the right path?” It’s a weighty question. Perhaps that’s why, so often, we tend to avoid it altogether—including from a financial perspective.
Sacks's blog post is rooted in the festivals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the days when Jews stop for a period of self-reflection. As Sacks says, “Time is short…without a wakeup call, we can sleepwalk through life, wasting time on things that are urgent but not important, or that promise happiness but fail to deliver it.” It’s a message that keeps coming back to me, both in my own life and in the lives of so many of my clients.
Like Dominic and Paula. When they retired two years ago, they found themselves in an enviable financial position. They had sizable retirement accounts after saving and investing for decades. They had wisely waited until age 70 to claim Social Security to maximize their benefits. (For more on the benefits of delaying your claim, read my blog post How long do you plan to live? And are you planning for it?) Plus, they each have something that has become increasingly rare: a guaranteed pension. They were enjoying their journey and had enough income to live a very (very!) good life.
What they didn’t have was a plan.
For the past two years, I’ve watched Dominic and Paula take oodles of money out of savings—far more than a safe 4% withdrawal. Dominic’s gut tells him everything will be just fine, so they have been living the high life. Though Paula stresses about how they can sustain their lifestyle, it’s easier to go with the flow and pretend money is not a concern. They say the current spending is temporary, but without a plan, they have no way to know when they need to change direction.
Sheryl is the opposite extreme. When her husband died last January, she took control of her finances—something she’d never had to do. Jack had handled everything himself, so she had no visibility into how much they owned or owed. Sheryl came to me for help right away, but changing direction has proved to be a challenge. We put together a carefully constructed plan, yet her emotions make her unable to see or believe the numbers. Because she feels off balance and out of control, her finances feel that way too. The result: she continues to work and continues to worry about money, even though she is far under-spending her savings. My job now is to help her stop and take an honest look at where she is today so she can trust that her path—and her plan—is on track.
Sacks says, “Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur are festivals that ask us how we have lived thus far. Have we drifted? Have we been traveling to the wrong destination? Does the way we live give us a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment?” How interesting that these are the same questions we ask when building a financial plan. What have you done so far to reach your goals? Moreover, what can we do to be sure you are traveling in the direction of your goals and creating the financial capacity to live your life with a sense of purpose, meaning, and fulfillment?
What I find beautiful about this time of year is that it offers us hope. Our time on earth is short and “unlike money, time lost can never be regained.” When we invest our time wisely following Rabbi Sacks’s Ten Life-Changing Principles, we focus on the things that truly matter. And whether you are investing your time, your money, or both, you need a plan. Which once again brings me back to the words of the wise Rabbi: “Without it, we can sleepwalk through life, wasting time on things that are urgent but not important, or that promise happiness but fail to deliver it.”
No matter your faith or beliefs, may the new year bring health, happiness, joy, and peace.
L’ Shana Tova U’Metuka.