Too many people postpone what they really want to do until an undefined time in the future when they feel they can finally afford it. Though that may sound like a safe, conservative strategy, it is actually fraught with risk. What if "someday" never comes?
I encourage my clients to abandon the "deferred-life" plan and live life now, rather than in some uncertain, idealized "later" timeline. When I sit down with a perspective client, the first order of business is to understand their perspective on what their future looks like and the hopes and aspirations embedded in that vision. I look for threads that run through their personal and professional dreams to find out what makes them tick in terms of the goals they want to achieve and the experiences they hope to savor. In some cases, a major life goal relates to leaving a family legacy; others express themselves in terms of the mark they want to make on the world. I try to understand why these goals are so important to the client. It's not about the money. Money is just a facilitator and helps create options.
More and more, I'm seeing a new breed of mid-lifers who are eager to embrace and experience their dreams. They're thinking progressively and designing their lives around what is meaningful to them rather than following the standard template. For example, a local couple in their mid-50s dreamed of travelling more extensively, but their wings were clipped by home responsibilities. As small business owners, they could work remotely, but they felt tied down to their large house in the Philadelphia suburbs and burdened by home maintenance and "stuff."
As their youngest child was preparing to head off to college, they decided to get rid of the albatross of a home they've lived in for 20 years and put it on the market. Now renting an apartment in an urban neighborhood where they're considering buying, the couple has not only unshackled themselves from the burdens of owning and maintaining their home, they've freed the equity locked up in the house.
Continuing their downsizing efforts, they've distributed much of their furniture and possessions to their kids who are starting households of their own and really need and appreciate them. Physically and mentally unburdened, the couple is going forth and pursuing their passions -- and they're having the time of their lives.
No matter what your financial situation, you can start living the life you dream of now. It just takes creativity. Rather than put off that trip to Europe until later in retirement when you're sure you'll have enough money, why not go now while you're still physically fit and can enjoy it. Don't think you can afford it? Look into travel options such as roadscholar.org, an educational travel organization for people over the age of 55 that offers comfortable and inexpensive housing at colleges and universities in 90 countries worldwide. Previously called Elderhostel, Road Scholar has relaxed its age restrictions and offers a number of intergenerational trips where grandparents can bring along the grandkids (ages 6 to 17); adults over 40 can come along as well. The variety of programs is phenomenal and includes everything from traditional tours to bike trips to ocean liner cruises. The organization even offers scholarships of up to $800 to qualified recipients.
Another way to travel for less -- especially for extended stays -- is to participate in a home exchange, where you trade homes with travelers who live in places you'd like to visit. Often the homeowners will throw in their car as part of the deal. Two of the most popular home exchange programs are HomeExchange.com and digsville.com.
Can't afford a summer home or ski condo? Rent or buy a timeshare with a family member or friend. While I don't recommend a timeshare as an investment, it can be a great way for frequent travelers to save on accommodations in their favorite vacation spots. If you tire of going to one place year after year, timeshare networks like Marriott, Disney Vacation Homes, RCI and Interval International allow trades that will give you access to accommodations in those faraway places you've fantasized about.
Always wanted to attend a top-drawer university? Quitting work to get a PhD in philosophy may be out of the question, but schools like Harvard, Columbia, Princeton, the University of Chicago and Stanford all offer adult continuing education courses, seminars and workshops where you can spend a few months or even a weekend studying subjects from anthropology to software development to winemaking. Or you can simply log onto YouTube's education channel and "audit" courses at schools like Harvard, MIT and Oxford or visit the highly acclaimed kahnacademy.org, where you can learn physics, finance -- almost anything -- gratis!
Love the theatre or opera, but a yearly subscription is not in the budget? Volunteer as an usher and see all the shows you want for free. Always wanted to own a vintage car? Check out barter sites like swapden.com or u-exchange.com. And if recreation is your bailiwick, there are a number of websites out there such as groupon.com and livingsocial.com that allow you to save up to 80 percent on activities ranging from wine tastings to spa services to flying lessons.
An exciting, well-lived life does not necessarily require a lot of money. But it does require intention and deliberate planning. So go ahead and dream. Imagine opening that winery, travelling the world or giving that cherished family heirloom to your daughter while you're still around to see her enjoy it. Imagine buying that classic car, getting your pilot's license, retiring to St. John or not retiring at all. A registered investment advisor or wealth management expert can help you design a plan for your life that allows you to achieve your goals and dreams, while still enjoying the journey along the way.
The information in this article is general in nature and may not apply to your own financial situation. Please consult your own professional estate, tax, and/or financial advisor regarding this information and your own personal financial needs. For a complete disclosure statement, please see my biography.