“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately”
When I was an English teacher, I enjoyed teaching my juniors Walden, by Henry David Thoreau. Walden is not reserved for an environmentalist, nature-loving community. Rather, it has messages and themes that can apply to all of us in various areas of our lives.
When I meet with clients and prospective clients concerning their retirement planning needs, I find myself constantly quoting one of Thoreau’s most famous passages from the book:
“Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion.”
In my view, many people spend their working years collecting various financial instruments that may make sense for them at particular points in their life. However, when they begin to plan for retirement, they realize the multitude of statements, companies, and relationships they’ve collected over the years can be daunting.
I met one gentleman who brought in a large binder of statements from the past few years. He had twelve individual CDs, two fixed annuities, one variable annuity, a 401k, two IRAs from a previous employer, and various savings accounts at multiple financial institutions. We spent a lot of time working through the purpose of each account, why it was opened, and why it remains open.
What I’ve found is that life goes on after accounts are opened, and, in many cases, people do not review their total portfolio year-after-year. One of the main benefits a financial planner can add is working with a client towards the simplicity of their financial picture. Retirement can be about enjoying your spouse, your children, and grandchildren rather than studying financial research and listening to analyst calls. Few advisors will advocate subsistence living in the woods for two years, but they should help clients in a fiduciary manner to simplify, simplify.