Every year while putting my holiday decorations away, I think about the season’s festivities and all of the good times I shared with family and friends. I treasure the gift of their presence and the memories we’ve created together. They’re as much a part of my “personal wealth” as any of the financial investments that secure my present and future well-being. As such, I’ve always factored “memory making” into my planning horizon.
I recently saw a sketch by famed financial guru and New York Times columnist Carl Richards in which he illustrates the importance of spending money on building family memories rather than buying more plastic junk. He reminds us that our enthusiasm for the latest gadget can dissipate shortly after the wrapping is off. Yet wonderful memories last a lifetime.
Memories have gained special significance this year given my mother’s ongoing struggle with Alzheimer’s disease. These days, the smallest tasks prove overwhelming for her. She cannot handle money, loses track of time and dates, sleeps constantly, and needs help with most daily living tasks. She can become agitated easily and is prone to uncharacteristic outbursts. Mercifully, her loss in short-term memory relieves her of the burden of reliving the less pleasant aspects of her condition. Her long-term family memories bring her joy and provide a means to engage in conversation with her loved ones.
As we think about saving for our retirement years, we certainly need to provide for our basic living expenses. We should also consider establishing a discretionary fund that enables us to build some great family memories. That fund might pay for a family vacation, provide transportation to a family reunion, or enable us to fly across the country for a grandchild’s graduation. Such experiences are among the most important investments we can make.