I recently attended a memorial service for one of my client’s fathers and it inspired me to write this edition of our newsletter about something not related to money or financial planning. My friend Beth gave a beautiful memorial speech about her dad and everything that he meant to her, their family and many others. She quoted emails that he’d sent her over the years, told stories about him and remembered him as the great son, brother, husband, father and grandfather that he was. Through the memories she detailed, she also brought him to life for those who didn’t know him well.
Most of my friends and clients know that my mother, Connie Meade, recently elected hospice due to her ongoing fight with breast cancer. She has been a warrior through the whole endeavor and I’m so glad she’s been able to create wonderful memories for my sons, ages seven and 10. (The only thing I remember about one of my grandfathers is him being sick around Christmas – a memory I don’t like reliving.)
At a recent conference, I learned that memories are influenced by the emotions you’re feeling at the time. The stronger the emotion (e.g., fear, happiness), the stronger the memory and the more likely you’ll retain it. The reason I probably remember my grandfather, although I was only five or six at the time, is that I was scared and fearful for him. Thankfully, my children will remember my mom being there for all of their baseball games, birthday parties and holiday festivities. They were happy at the time and that will reinforce their memories of her well into the future.
I also am grateful my mother taught me the value of working in a field that you love. Ironically, she was an oncology (i.e., cancer) nurse most of her career. She loved her job and was distraught when she had to retire from Northside Hospital because she couldn’t handle her chemotherapy regimen while taking care of her patients. Over the years, she attended countless funerals and memorial services for her patients; however, she also attended many birthday parties and celebrated countless career advancements and family births by staying in touch with them. Remaining close to the patients she had cared for was very important to her. I have always admired her for that.
Where am I going with all of this? According to Dictionary.com, wealth is defined as “a great quantity or store of money, valuable possessions, property, or other riches.” A second definition describes it as “an abundance or profusion of anything; plentiful amount.” I disagree with the first definition; it’s one way to define wealth, but I don’t think that’s what most people strive to have. The second definition, in my opinion, better captures the essence of life. An abundance of memories is what truly defines us.
Being happy also defines us. My mom worked in a profession she truly loved and I am fortunate to be able to say the same for myself. I enjoy helping people solve problems and plan for their futures. So much so, in fact, that on Sunday nights, I look forward to going to work the next day. My mom was the same way.
Does money make people happy? Some say it does, but again, I disagree. Money provides security. It also allows us to make more – or different – memories and it helps us buy nice and expensive things, but the quantifiable part there is the memory that the money enabled us to purchase. I love to travel, for example. Money enables me to visit exotic beaches and places I could never drive to and, for that, I appreciate it. However, if I traveled to the Georgia coast or somewhere in the middle of Georgia, I could make memories there as well. Money simply influences where I make the memory.
“Not everything that can be counted counts….and not everything that counts can be counted.” Some attribute this quote to Einstein while others say it was a quote he displayed in his office. Either way, it’s a great way to describe what matters in life. Memories really can’t be counted; they simply inhabit your brain, waiting to be accessed via a picture, diary entry or conversation with friends about the past.
Those who know me well know that I spend a lot of time with my boys coaching their baseball teams. I’ve been asked many times why I spend so much time at the baseball field. My oldest son Ryan summed it up last week when he told me, “Dad, when I grow up, I want to coach my son’s baseball team and spend time with him that way.” That is how I answer that question now. Baseball allows me to spend a lot of time with my boys doing something active outside. To me, it’s a perfect way to make memories with them (and get them away from their video games).
My grandfather once told me that you never see a hearse pulling a trailer full of the person’s money behind it. In other words, spend your money while you’re alive. You, of course, should save enough for an adequate emergency fund, a bountiful retirement and amounts for college, weddings and such. However, be sure to also use your money to make yourself – and those around you – happy, thereby creating memories. After all, you can’t ever truly plan your retirement and you may not have a very long one. My mom never traveled to New York City, Niagara Falls or other points of interest around the U.S. and the world. And now her retirement has been stolen from her by cancer.
I’m going to New York City this month for my annual wedding anniversary trip with my wife. I also plan to take my boys to Niagara Falls and Cooperstown within the next year or so. In honor of Beth’s dad and my mom, I encourage you to also use your money to enhance your memories or create the ones you’ve imagined throughout the years. Don’t define your wealth by how much money you have; define it by the things that can’t be counted.
Shawn Meade, CPA, MS, CFP®
Partner, Senior Wealth Manager