You’ve worked hard for 40 years or more. You’ve achieved some level of financial success. You’ve decided to slow down and smell the roses. That may mean slowly reducing your caseload. It may mean dramatically slashing your caseload. It may mean working part-time. Or you may not be thinking in terms of just slowing down. Rather, you are ready to screech to a halt. So long, practice, I’m retired.
Wherever you fit on this spectrum, it is time to begin to enjoy the fruits of your labor. Now, some of us have more fruits than others. You might have overflowing bushel baskets. You might have a small bowl. Whatever you have, it is time to enjoy at least some of the fruits.
But this idyllic concept becomes complicated. How long are you going to live? Not an easy question. You could get hit by a bus tomorrow or you could stay above ground until your age hits triple digits. So, how much fruit can you consume while retaining enough to be sure that you will have a roof over your head and that you won’t miss any meals for the days, months, years, or decades you have left?
Since you are not Bill Gates (and, Bill, if you read this, please don’t send me a letter saying, “Yes, I am”), and therefore can’t just spend whatever you want, secure in the knowledge that it won’t impact your future well-being, you have to engage in a delicate balancing act.
If you knew that you were going to die on a particular day, the analysis could be a simple one. You would only need to hold back on enough to take care of your day-to-day needs until that date. The rest of it? Spend away. Take that around the world cruise. Take two. Sign up for a space flight. Eat in the finest restaurants every night. Buy that car you have always wanted that runs well into the six figures. A pool table? Why not? Add a new room to the house to make space for the pool table? But of course. Manage the dwindling of the fruits so that, on the final day, all that remains is the core of the last apple.
Of course, the word “could” in the preceding paragraph is an important one. Many of us wouldn’t want to enjoy all of our fruits, even if we had the ability to time them in a manner that would let us have an ongoing orgy of hedonism for the final chapters of our lives.
No, many of us want to enjoy some of our fruits, but leave some of them for our children, grandchildren, relatives, friends, charities, or causes. And that creates a new balancing act. How much do you use? How much do you leave?
It is easy to be torn in trying to reach an answer. You deserve some reward for all your sweat and toil. Yet, you want to provide. Will you feel guilty if you take the cruise or buy the car? Will you harbor a subconscious resentment if you don’t?
Yes. And yes.
So, what do you do? There is no single answer that works for everyone. If your kids are successful and financially stable, it is much easier to spend on yourself. If not, or if there are going to be ongoing special needs for them or their children, you will feel an internal (and sometimes external) pressure to limit your outgo. The travel may become an occasional weekend at the beach. The car may be downscaled to the lower five-figures, perhaps with a few frills (I recommend seat massage).
Here’s an idea that might strike a good balance for you. Buy a second home. You will enjoy it during your lifetime. Your assets will likely not be diminished by the outlay needed for the purchase because the property will probably be worth as much or more than you paid for it when you die. (As they say in the financial world, past performance is no guarantee of future success, but, if you choose reasonably carefully, this seems like a pretty good bet.)
The first thing to do is decide on the setting for the second home. Do you want a lake house, beach house, or mountain getaway? Do you want to be a snowbird, spending winter in a warmer clime (or, for those residing in places like Florida or Arizona, spending summer in a cooler one)? Do you want a pied-a-terre in a big city to give you more exposure to museums, plays, and so on?
Whatever you want, where do you want it? Within a few hours’ drive of your residence? A full day’s drive? Far away? Remember, if you choose a location within driving distance (a very subjective term that depends on your tolerance for the road), you will have a car to use at the second home. If not, think about how you will get around when you are there.
In undertaking this analysis, focus on what will make you (and your spouse, if you have one) happy, not what the kids prefer. The purpose here is for you to enjoy your assets while maintaining them for the kids after you are gone. So, if you want the place on the lake because you can go fishing every day, and your progeny find the lake boring, too bad. They can sell the place when the time comes and use the proceeds however they want.
If they say, “But, if you get the apartment in the big city, we would use it when you’re not there,” tell them that they should view the lake house the same way they would view your investing the money in stocks. They don’t get an immediate benefit but they get a long-term one. The only difference is that you are investing in something that will bring you pleasure while you are still here.
The next thing to think about is the size and nature of the second home. Consider how much time you expect to spend there. A one-bedroom condo might be fine for weekends, but if you are spending the winter there, you are probably going to need something larger. Are you going to do any work there? If so, make sure you have room to accommodate your needs. Do you want a house or an apartment? Remember that yards require attention even when you are away. Apartments pretty much just sit there.
Do you want company? Think this one through. You are presumably going to an attractive location. As the term suggests, people are attracted to attractive locations. You are going to get calls or emails galore hinting at or outright suggesting that the senders would like to visit you. Cousin Goober is going to come out of the woodwork.
Some people find this to be a wonderful thing. They welcome the visitors and consider them a blessing. Others are less amenable to sharing their quarters. They are glad to meet for dinner with out-of-towners who are staying at nearby hotels, but they want their space to be their space.
No right or wrong here. But, if you are the happy host type, make sure you have enough room for your vacationing hordes. If you’re not, a smaller place provides a built-in excuse for suggesting the Holiday Inn down the road.
Some practical considerations when buying a second home:
- You will have to buy furniture. This is not as easy as you think because you have to furnish an entire home. Buy a sofa? Great, but its style and color will dictate at least to some extent what you can do with other pieces. That table you like doesn’t work with it. The rug clashes. So, you need to pretty much decide on everything at the same time.
- Mail can be a horror. Important communications can be lost. The form to renew your driver's license can disappear into a parallel universe. Regular forwarding used to be fine (although anything not sent first-class, like magazines, got thrown out). Nowadays, it does not work. Your carrier no longer simply forwards it to you. Rather it goes to a regional location, allegedly to be sent on. We have had two homes for over seven years. That’s about how many forwarded letters reached us with regular forwarding. The answer? Premium forwarding. Costs about $20 a week, but it gets your mail to you.
- No matter how well you plan, there will always be things in the other location that you want to be present for. Yes, you can wait until after Aunt Lucy’s birthday party to leave, but once you’re gone, things pop up. Social events, funerals, your brother-in-law’s parole hearing. The list is endless. So, be prepared to go back and forth more than you expect (easier if the second home is within driving distance) or to miss some things.
- You have medical and dental providers, but they are not near your second home. You can get a second set of providers (and should do so for emergencies), but these professionals do not play well together and communication between the first set and the second set can be problematic. (Of course, if you are the type that welcomes company, you could invite your doctor or dentist to visit.)
- If your drug store doesn’t have a presence in your new locale, switch your prescriptions to one that does. If your bank has no branch near your second home, open an account in one that does.
None of these considerations should deter you. They are just things you should be aware of and plan for. We live in south Florida and have found much satisfaction from our second home in Asheville, NC. We’ve made many new friends there. We’ve escaped hot summers. We’ve had a refuge from threatened hurricanes (my wife wants to head there whenever there is a breeze off the coast of Africa). And our second home is now worth significantly more than what we paid for it.
Similar benefits could await you.