Financial Life Focus

How to clearly navigate your financial life

Thanksgiving Stories

The Power of Expectations

I love Thanksgiving. It's my favorite holiday and most treasured family time. While my wife does shoulder much of the preparation (think breads, pies, cookies, and a variety of wonderful side dishes)—my job is the turkey. Cleaning, seasoning, cooking and carving it are all within my realm and my great joy.  This year however I must, due to a (temporary) limitation, abdicate my most favorite of jobs. The hours of preparation and cooking, followed by the careful and loving process of carving and presenting my annual masterpiece won’t happen this year.

I have had to manage my expectations and shift my thinking from "doing" to "being."

It’s been a tangible reminder that my turkey is not what makes the holiday so treasured—it’s that we’ll all be together. The conversation and laughter and love and—well—time are what we value most.

Sometimes we need a reminder of what really matters.

Leading up to retirement, John and Ann wanted nothing more than to move away from the hectic NY lifestyle and live in their rural escape in New Hampshire.  We reviewed their budgets and held many conversations regarding the cost of living, their expectations for income and the amount of their resources at retirement.  Six years had passed since they relocated, enjoying the beauty and comfort of their New England life.  During these years, anticipated income didn't materialize while their expenses expanded. Then some health issues arose, prompting them to spend more, especially in travel costs—feeling like it might be their last opportunity.

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Recently, the conversation took a new turn, "I don't think I can take much more of these extreme winters.  We'd like to spend some time in Florida."

John’s words left an empty space and I knew what conversation needed to happen. With both John and Ann on the phone, I began.

"Well, it's been about eight or so years since we started talking about retirement and you guys have enjoyed the last six years in your New Hampshire wonderland.  You've also spent more than we ever anticipated on travel, repairs and things—even during the recession. Now, the markets have helped restore some of your wealth, but I do not think that you can financially support two homes. It also doesn't seem likely that you will wake up three years from now magically tolerating the sub-zero weather and snow any better.  Does it make sense to consider moving to a more moderate climate that will better suit your needs?"

I heard John exhale. "Wow! Well, that's been in my mind, but I was really afraid to come to terms with this.  We do not want to own two places, even if money were not a factor.  But leaving here feels like defeat."

"It isn't defeat, John, it is logically what's next.  We cannot know how long we will have our health, our strength, our will to do certain things, so we have to find that pathway to accept where we are and what is in our best interest.  Right now, what seems to be in your best interest is to be in a living situation that offers less stress and more comfort.  With Thanksgiving right around the corner, perhaps it's time to consider your 'next' and what would make you both feel more secure and on a better path for you right now?"

Ann, having sat quietly throughout, finally added. "It's been so hard to articulate these fears we've had—even to each other. But I think you've spoken the words we've needed to hear. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to realign our thinking, our needs and we know that ultimately, it's most important to be safe, comfortable and together."

 

 

Michael F. Kay, a Certified Financial Planner, practitioner and a CPA, is president of the firm Financial Life Focus.

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