Concerned that I might not have sufficient savings for retirement, I recently consulted a financial adviser in order to find out if my retirement plan was “on track,” and what to do if it wasn’t.
My adviser, a nice young fellow named Mike, welcomed me into his office with a firm handshake and asked me to sit down. After reviewing the documents I provided detailing my current financial situation—two Post-it notes and a rather insensitive letter from the IRS—he entered my data into his computer and “ran the numbers” to determine the best way for me to achieve my financial goals.
He informed me that at my advanced age, and with a life expectancy of thirty more years give or take, I would need a nest egg of roughly $3 million in order to sustain the lifestyle to which I’ve become accustomed: i.e., spaghetti dinners, Netflix, a functional toilet, and a dry place to sleep. Since I long ago liquidated my 401K to pay medical bills, have no stocks or other investments, and have accumulated several-hundred-thousand dollars in debt over the course of my working life, he calculated that I was roughly $3.4 million short of my goal—so I needed to get cracking.
Then he delivered the bad news: Considering my age and current portfolio, I was going to have to make some sacrifices in order to achieve my stated financial goals.
“If you had started when you were twenty-five, I could have advised you not to buy a café latte every day, and we wouldn’t be having this discussion,” he said. “But in order to reach your goals, I’m afraid you’re going to have to not buy a lot more lattes.” He then informed me that in order to reach my financial finish line, I would need to not purchase a grand total of 112 lattes a day from here on out—and, if I could manage it, he recommended not buying as many as 120 lattes a day.
I told him I was prepared to do whatever it takes. However, I expressed some concern that his latte-deprivation strategy wasn’t diverse enough. What if Starbucks goes out of business in ten years, I asked. What then?
He hemmed and hawed and chewed his pen, then admitted that if I wanted to create a more diversified retirement portfolio, he couldn’t help me. What I needed was something called “wealth management,” he said, and he knew just the man.
As you might expect, the wealth manager’s offices were quite a bit swankier than the mere financial adviser’s digs. Frosted glass windows, leather chairs, a cherrywood desk, lots of wall plaques, an in-office mini-fridge—the guy had it all. The casual luxury of his workplace filled me with confidence that I had indeed arrived at the right place to fulfill my financial dreams. Clearly, this was a place where money flowed like the Chicago river—backward and into areas no one would ever expect.
My hope restored, we wasted no time getting to work. My wealth manager, Grayson, dismissed the whole café-latte strategy outright, and immediately declared that my financial goals would require a more “aggressive” approach.
“How would you feel about not buying any new clothes or shoes for the next twenty years?” he asked. I told him that would be no problem, since I haven’t bought any new clothes in the past twenty years, either, so all I had to do was keep not buying them.
“That’s an excellent start,” he said, and tapped a few notes into his computer. “Now, what would you say to not buying a Ford Escape every year for the next thirty years?” he asked, noting that at $25,000 apiece plus interest, the savings would be more than $750,000 alone, and would get me 25% closer to my $3 million goal.
I told him I was prepared to go one better and not buy a Lexus X350 every year for the next thirty years, which would net me a whopping non-consumption savings of more than $1 million.
He nodded his approval, then leaned forward and asked in a weird whisper how much “risk” I was willing to take in order to achieve my financial goals? I told him the same thing I told my financial adviser—that I was prepared to do whatever it took.
“Then would you consider not buying a 60-foot yacht every other year for, say, the next twenty years?” he asked.
Sure, I said. I’d not bought boats before, I told him—a canoe, a small bass boat, and a twenty-two foot sailboat—but I was prepared to endure the pain of extended yachtlessness if that’s what was needed. He said it was, but that we still had a way to go to develop a viable portfolio of non-purchases in order to ensure a comfortable retirement.
“It might hurt a bit more, but I’m going to ask that you not to buy a home every five years from now on. Can you do that?”
I said I could, but that I might need to purchase a tent at some point. He indicated that buying a tent would be fine, as long as I didn’t need to set it up on land that I owned. “I only say that because you’re going to need to not buy several acres of property in the coming years, and a tent could complicate matters.”
The good news, he said, was that if I was willing to not purchase a bunch of Lexus 350s, several yachts, numerous houses and acres of prime real estate, I would be within reach of my retirement goals. If I did all that, I could rest easy in my golden years, secure in the knowledge that my financial stability was all but guaranteed.
“In the end, it depends on how long you live,” he explained. Past the age of eighty-five things get a bit more difficult to predict, he said—but he did have one more piece of advice.
“If, at 85, you need triple-bypass surgery, my advice from a wealth-management perspective would be not to have the surgery and save yourself $75,000,” he said. “If you did that, you’d die sooner, and you’d need less money going forward. Because, you know, there would be no more forward.”
I agreed that not living was an excellent strategy for containing costs, as long as I didn’t purchase a coffin or require a funeral, both of which are prohibitively expensive. He allowed as how some costs are unavoidable, but encouraged me to think “outside the box” when it came to my burial arrangements. A nice little urn, say, or an old pickle jar.
As painful as it was, I feel much better now that I have a concrete financial plan in place. All I have to do now is not buy a lot of stuff for the next few decades. And on those days when my resolve weakens and I find myself in a Starbucks, I will give myself permission not to buy the most expensive item on the menu, knowing as I do that my financial future may well depend upon it.###