"These days I seem to think a lot ... about the things that I forgot to do ... for you ... And all the times I had the chance to." — from "These Days," as performed by Gregg Allman
George Costanza is in a diner and he thinks he's having a heart attack and tells Jerry and Elaine. Right about then the bill comes and George looks at it. There's a mistake and he's been overcharged. The trio delay rushing George to the hospital so he can complain to the waitress about the erroneous amount.
This genius episode of "Seinfeld," written by Larry David, tells us a lot about our relationship with money. It's something we care deeply about, even when we think we're dying.
I recently read several articles about what people regret most at the end of life. All the expected responses were listed, including spending too much time at the office; not trying hard enough to save a struggling marriage; failing to spend more time with family and children; regrets about being a better parent; not paying proper attention to our health; not reconnecting with old friends who were once important to us; and not following our "true north" in a choice of vocation. Surprisingly, one item listed that many people regret is not taking better care of their finances.
Isn't that interesting? You'd think that that would be the last thing on peoples' minds during life's final stage, but instead, it's often a major consideration. And it makes sense when you think about it. How we handle our financial affairs is related to our quality of life and the lifestyle that we're able to enjoy and provide for our family and our heirs. And it's often commensurate with exercising willpower in various other areas: if we don't have the self-discipline to exercise or balance our home and office hours, we probably won't have the willpower to organize and care for our financial health. People very much regret not saving and investing money during their peak earning years or having squandered their resources.
Of course, it goes without saying that many folks delay addressing estate planning issues. One of the great entertainers of our generation, Aretha Franklin, died last year without proper estate planning. We're all guilty of postponing these duties. Nobody wants to spend an afternoon poring over the details of their own demise. That said, estate planning is something we address as an important kindness to those around us.
The fact is, organizing our personal finances, saving for retirement, and living on a reasonable budget are all significant factors in creating a healthy life for ourselves, and in minimizing regret. We ignore our financial health at our own peril, just as we fail to take care of ourselves physically at our own risk.
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.