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“He is the richest man in the cemetery”

“He is the richest man in the cemetery”

July 28, 2020

My family and I were driving South on I-81 recently on our way to visit some relatives. One of the greatest perks about your kids growing up is their ability to share in the driving – fantastic for long trips! Now, this benefit does come with its side effects. My daughter insists on throwing up a different Spotify playlist for each leg that she drives, giving me an introduction to some different genres and tunes than maybe I would normally listen to. It was during one of her driving legs that the lyrics of the song “Cemetery” by COIN, an American band out of Nashville, caught my attention:

He was born the fall of ‘58
Made a fortune selling real estate
Golden lions waited at the gate
He was lonely, but it all looked great

Never made time for the family
But he is the richest man in the cemetery
Only made time for the company
But he is the richest man in the cemetery…

The song certainly had a catchy tune which was a little odd given the subject matter. For me though, the lyrics speak to a really important topic in financial planning (and life): Balance.

Our response to uncertainty in financial planning is diversification* and balance. For example, one of the most important pieces of data in planning is one that clients flat out refuse to give me. As many times as I’ve asked, not a single client has ever given me their date of death. Without this key piece of information, we are always guessing about your lifespan and this leads to lots of hard decisions about how much you can spend in retirement, when to start social security, when to start your pension, should you pay taxes now or defer, etc. We have to hedge against and balance between the two extremes – an unexpected, early death; and an unusually long life. But the concept of balance goes beyond financial planning.

As the song points out, there is a big difference between “living to work” and “working to live”. If you spend all your time working, earning and saving, you leave precious little time to enjoy life. On the other hand, if you don’t work hard and save for the future, you may find yourself unable to provide for your lifetime needs.  Because we don’t know what will happen and we don’t know our own date of death, it is important to make the most of every day, even if your current day is spent at work. Perhaps this new work-from-home environment provides for more flexibility and you can dedicate more time to family and less to the company.

Twenty-one years ago this month, I started my practice with a business plan explicitly structured to let me be Dad first. I wanted to walk my daughter to school and pick her up at the end of the day. Now that she is headed off to grad school and to her own life, I cherish those hours together early on. Over the past two decades I feel good that I was able to achieve a good life/work balance and still build a thriving practice ranked as one of the top in the Avantax system.

Balance can be achieved but if I had to choose, being “Dad” would have been my priority. Please make your goal to live a good life, not to end up as the richest person in the cemetery.

*Diversification does not assure or guarantee better performance/profit and cannot eliminate the risk of investment losses in declining markets.