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The best investment you can make

As a professional financial planner, I am often asked: “what is the best investment I can make?”. These are the kind of sound bites that the media are particularly fond of what’s hot and what’s not right now.

This speaks to many things about our society and culture in general, most notably, our desire for instant gratification—the elusive “quick fix”, the financial silver bullet. There must be one, surely? Social media fuels this (false) narrative. If you are not living your best life (i.e. the high life) right now, regardless of your age and stage, you must be doing something wrong. But you’re probably not. You’re merely part of the vast majority of people doing their best every day to get by as best as possible. For most people, life is hard. It always has been and likely always will be, in some or other way.

So let’s get back to the question. What is the best investment we can make? Naturally, the tempting answer is a purely financial one: a left-brain, critically analytical, definitive answer based on historical data, research and professional experience. The takeaway is, at the very least, a wise opinion that either confirms what you already know or challenges you to consider an alternative view.

However, in my experience, the most common phrase we hear from clients is: “I just wish we had more time…”. I’ve been privileged to journey with many different people at various stages of their lives, but mostly in retirement. And nowhere more so than when we face the latter stages of our lives does the perceived value of time (in good health) become ever more valuable. Priceless, in fact, increasing in value the older we get due to the ever-increasing scarcity of supply. So our most prized possession becomes quality time. To be spent (invested) with loved ones, friends, others, with yourself. If this is true, then it answers our question in a fundamentally important way. The best investment we can make is how we use (invest) our time. Carpe diem; seize the day.

When approached from this perspective, it can be beneficial to any financial planning scenario. Take, for example, two retired couples, one with barely enough savings but whose children and grandchildren live nearby. They are forced to live frugally but have ample quality time with their loved ones. The other couple is wealthy and unlikely to outlive their savings, but their children live in different countries. They live comfortably but consequently spend much less time with their loved ones. Which couple is the happier of the two?

The frugal couple will tend to discount the quality time they get with their family and focus more on the increasing cost of living. The wealthier couple will tend to discount their comfortable lifestyle and focus more on their longing to be closer to their children. The reality is that for both couples life is hard. Frugality is hard. Family isolation is hard. It would be helpful to remind the frugal couple how “quality time wealthy” they are. And for the financially wealthy couple, perhaps exploring options to enable more quality time abroad living with their families. The saying “be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” comes to mind.

Let us all mindfully live our best lives by maximizing our quality time. After all, that is the best investment we can make.