"Regrets ... I've had a few ... But then again ... too few to mention." — "My Way," as performed by Frank Sinatra
If you could go back to a pivotal age in your life, say 16 years old, and start over again, would you choose to do it?
Think about all the things we could choose to do differently. We could relive our lives and never say a bad word about anyone. We could do more listening and less talking. We could choose this career and discard that one. We could travel, learn to speak another language, take better care of our health. We could be better, smarter people.
My husband and I fell into this conversation during a recent holiday respite. While both of us wish we could have avoided some mistakes and missteps and make better use of our time, neither of us said "Yes, I'd like to go back and relive most of my life."
My guess is that most, but not all, people would make the same choice if granted the option of starting over. Maybe we're happy with the way things turned out. Maybe we're just tired and can't envision pushing the rock up the hill again for decades. Maybe we feel like we've faced life's most difficult challenges, like childbirth and raising small children, or growing a business from the ground up, and we don't want to return to the starting line. Maybe, though, we realize that even if granted another chance, we'd probably make mistakes in our second life, too.
The same is true of our financial history. We all experience mishaps with money. How much better off would we be financially if we could go back 50 years and do things differently? We'd save more, wouldn't we? We'd start investing at an earlier age. We'd spend less on useless items and eschew unnecessarily expensive purchases. Maybe we'd make an investment that scared us off at the time; maybe we'd avoid one that didn't turn out as well as we had hoped.
Managing our money is a lot like managing our personal lives. We've all made mistakes. We all need to forgive ourselves. And we all need to realize that it's never too late to turn things around.
Winning the lottery or scoring big at a casino isn't the answer. It's not too likely, anyway. What most of us need to do is simply attempt to live within our means, to save and invest as much of our income as we can, and to keep our investments in the black each year. Some years we'll earn more than others, but we just need to move in the right direction over time.
Margaret R. McDowell, ChFC, AIF, author of the syndicated economic column "Arbor Outlook," is the founder of Arbor Wealth Management, LLC, (850-608-6121 — www.arborwealth.net), a “fee-only” registered investment advisory firm located near Sandestin.