A recent long-term study looking at aging and financial decisions making shares two fascinating insights. One is that a decrease in cognitive abilities due to aging tends to reduce general self-confidence; but it doesn't reduce confidence in one's financial management abilities. Unfortunately, that self-confidence doesn't reflect reality. The researchers find that falling cognition tends to accompany a decline in financial literacy.
The second insight is the conceptual link between driving and finances. Elderly drivers who acknowledge their declining sensory abilities and adjust their driving accordingly have fewer accidents. Maybe the same could be true in the case of financial management.
Taking stock of your limitations is rarely a fun and exciting exercise. How can you set yourself up for long-term financial success without having to worry about whether you're still a safe driver?
Generally speaking, people are rather good about seeking help when they need it. About half of the survey participants who experienced cognitive declines turned to someone for assistance, both within their households or outside of them. But that means that about half did not.
Avoid falling into the latter camp by getting help before you need it. This way, you can be assured that you're set up for the future, and you can take the time to find someone who you trust and like working with. Whether it's a financial advisor, your spouse, or your kids, it's a good idea to have someone to turn to for outside advice, even if it's just the dreary labors of household financial management.
Why not? After all, if you're retiring, you might as well make use of the excuse to offload boring tasks onto other people. (Just don't put it to your spouse in those words).
Getting help goes hand in hand with planning ahead. This includes estate planning, health care decisions and powers of attorney, and issues like account beneficiaries and insurance policies.
It might be unpleasant to think about, but take the time to get your "worst-case scenario" plans in order -- and that applies to people of any age. Aging aside, you really never know what's going to happen. Don't put yourself in a corner later on by avoiding the issue now.
Instead, give yourself the gift of never having to worry about it again -- unless you're partial to family political dramas involving last wills and the withholding of inheritances.
Do you have accounts all over the place and a complex system of investment strategies? Maybe it's time to simplify your financial life by combining accounts, and recognizing the benefits of passive investment management. Not only are the fees lower and, for most people, the returns better, but it might just lead to a more relaxing life in retirement. As the economist William Sharpe said about passive investing: "In the long run this boring approach can give you more time for more interesting activities, such as music, art, literature, and sports, and so on. And it may very well leave you with more money as well."
Taking the time to make things easier on yourself now is kind of like downsizing into a ground-floor condo instead of a fourth story walk-up: You probably don't care about the stairs right now, but it could very well make a big difference in 15 years. And let's face it... do you really want to move again just because of a stupid flight of stairs?
That would force you to have to deal with an unnerving situation -- and the recognition of an annoying limitation -- in the moment. Why not just be nice to yourself by preparing for a hypothetical instead?
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