For most of my life, I had no real financial plan. Sure, I was contributing to a 401K and a savings account. I invested in some mutual funds when a life insurance rep visited my company (all his company products, of course). I even bought savings bonds when people came around selling them. But it was all very haphazard. A box would just appear, and I would check it. I assured myself I was doing “financial things” and continued to ignore thinking about the future.
Retirement seems very far away when you are in your 20s! Meanwhile, I was making good money and was able to pay off my school loans early and buy a condo before I turned 30 (with my parents’ help). All good, right? Then, as I approached the age of 30, I thought I should probably have a will…
Fast forward to TWENTY YEARS later. Fifty years old and STILL NO WILL. And NO PLAN. Now I was beginning to get antsy about it, but where do you begin? So, I continued to avoid addressing the situation until one very hot, humid day in July when I “ran” a 5-mile road race in Weston. (Actually, I think I was just oozing along at the end.) Recovering in the tent after I finished, trying to drink water faster than I was sweating it out, I saw this perky young woman sitting behind a table covered with handouts. (Clearly, she had not run 5 miles!) My curiosity got the best of me, and I wandered over. This was when my financial life changed; this is when I met a professional financial planner.
I had been meeting once a year with that insurance company rep who never called and never offered anything but more company products. No counseling or planning, no asking me what I wanted my future to look like, just selling. Now I was having a conversation about ME. And answering a TON of pretty good questions…most of which I had to answer with “uh, no...” Will? No. Trust? No. Health Care Directive? No. And so on. And then there was the list of assets.
It took me awhile to think of everything because I had had such an arbitrary, slapdash approach to investing. But I finally rounded all my assets up, including some Northrop stock I was given when I left the company. I remember how my face fell when my planner informed me that the fancy piece of paper declaring my 38 shares of Northrop stock was not actually the stock. Mind you, I had taken particularly good care of that certificate (unlike the ten savings bond I stuck in a book and lost for 40 years…) So where was the stock I asked? Turned out that the state had escheated it (look that one up!) when I had moved, and they couldn’t find me (despite my being in the phonebook and my current address on record for my state taxes). My planner was able to track it down and get it back, adding $6K to my total assets (a lot now and even more 15 years ago!) After some reorganizing and consolidating; researching my work benefits; a visit to an estate lawyer; giving my end-of-life care some thought; and shopping around for a long-term care (LTC) insurance policy (a real effort as I had a preexisting condition), my boxes were all lined up and checked!
So here I am at 65. Retired? You bet! For over six years! I met my planner a few months before my 51st birthday and woke up retired on my 59th. Not bad, huh? Of course, I had a good job and was saving as best I could. But I never would have been able to retire at 59—leaving a stressful job adversely affecting my health—without a solid plan (based on MY vision of retirement) and my planner’s support and wealth management skills. So, if you think you missed the financial planning boat, relax, there’s a new boat leaving every day! But the sooner you get on one, the quicker you will get to where you want to be.
Jeanne Brady is not affiliated with LPL Financial