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Don’t Save For a Life That May Never Arrive

September 29, 2017

This time we hear from Bruce Primeau, president of Prior Lake, Minn.-based Summit Wealth Advocates. He recounts how a client who got an unexpected diagnosis taught him how saving for retirement shouldn’t be your clients’ only goal.

Before I became a financial advisor I was a public accountant. One of my clients was a doctor and Vietnam vet who had divorced and remarried in middle age. His second wife was 10 years younger than he and the expense of the divorce had set him off course financially. To make sure his new wife would be taken care of in his retirement he worked long hours and spent little on himself.

A few years after I became an advisor, I ran into his wife, and they soon became clients. By this point the husband was closing in on 70 but still plowing away at his job and hanging on to most of his money.

Shortly afterward he was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer. His doctors gave him four months to live. He and his wife both retired right away and began taking the trips they’d been putting off for so many years. He visited medical centers in Europe with highly trained specialists and state-of-the-art care. He ended up living three more years, defying his doctors’ predictions.

Watching this couple enjoy their unexpected retirement against all odds had a huge impact on me. It struck me that this guy had spent decades planning for a retirement that never came. It took a cancer diagnosis to get him to enjoy his life the way he wanted to.

When I work with other clients as a financial advisor, I try to apply the lessons I took from his experience. It’s easy for clients to get focused on a particular retirement goal, but I make sure to remind them to enjoy life. I’m here to manage their money, of course, but money isn’t an end in itself — it’s a means. For example, one client couple with very young children are from farming families; they were taught to save as much as they could and to spend frugally. But when they were considering buying a vacation cabin, I told them to go for it. You only get one shot at life, I said, and your kids only get one childhood.

Bruce Primeau

I’ve put this same philosophy to work with my team as well. Everyone works from home and there is no set schedule. As long as the work gets done, that’s what matters. If an employee wants to go to their kid’s birthday party or baseball game, I encourage them to schedule around it and go. The same goes for vacations, long weekends and time off. If you’d rather work three hours on Sunday morning than three hours on Friday afternoon, that’s fine by me.

I think this makes the firm a more attractive place to work and reduces employee stress. And when I tell my clients that experiences are worth more than money, they can tell that I’m not just paying lip service to this idea — I really mean it.

I don’t approach my own work any differently. I used to save every penny and work 60-hour weeks. Life goes too fast for that. Now I work 40-hour weeks and spend money on the things my family and I love to do. I have daughters who are 20 and 18 years old, and I’ve gotten to see them grow up in a way that a lot of people in my line of work don’t get to. And it’s all because I made the decision not to take things for granted.