The Pursuit of Fulfillment (with your Finances)
The purpose to life is a heavy and controversial question. However, I believe we can agree for now that it isn't merely existing–simply to be alive--but the quality of this time that is important. To live a miserable 100 years is not anyone's goal. We can often get hung up on the duration when perhaps it is the ability to "suck out all the marrow of life" that we should strive for, as Thoreau famously said. What if we could have both?
This is as true for one's finances as it is one's health. Both are extremely important to how you experience this journey and socking a bunch of money away when your health prevents you from enjoying it is a waste. Equally tragic is outliving your money.
But is living a "normal" life any more noble? The above tragedies are much talked about (the latter one we discuss in many meetings with our clients) but at the end of this life, with the luxury of more perspective, what is it that will define our brief story?
Thoreau was on the right track–there is a difference in living and living life to the fullest–but he went to the woods alone. I have, and still occasionally do, see this rugged individualism he subscribed to as appealing, but going it alone falls short. If we rise in our company, secure property in the most coveted zip code, drive the fanciest car, belong to the right clubs, and amass the most wealth, but it only benefits us individually and our status here, do we feel differently in the end? I don't mean to be morbid, but is there a better way to judge our life than the way we feel at the end of it?
I think it was Emerson who penned a better way to live: "to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; that is to have succeeded." If our time here only benefits us, I think we are missing the deepest fulfillment we can have in this life. And does the credit of any of those worldly successes I mentioned earlier actually belong to you? Maybe at first glance, but how different your circumstances could have been. And who is ultimately responsible for the credit when a blender makes the perfect smoothie? The blender? Or is that shortsighted? After all, it is only doing what it was designed to.
I believe we are called to help others. Help your neighbor. A cause. Your family. Your church. A friend. Or a stranger. We are, after all, only a conduit for things in this world. Like your oxygen mask on a plane, take what you need and then look around for those who need help. The best part is we benefit too–maybe most. This isn't necessarily just financial help, but it's definitely part of it.
There is a reason there are so many disillusioned retirees out there. Some experience this feeling/epiphany early if they are lucky, and have time to adjust and change. This means an attitude shift from scarcity to abundance. A recent study put out by the University of Notre Dame found this paradox is real: those who gave away more (time or money) experienced more health, happiness and growth.
There are a couple of ways to accomplish this efficiently with non-profits and charities, maximizing the tax savings while doing a great thing:
- Donor Advised Fund (DAF): This is a personal 501c3 that benefits clients by avoiding paying unrealized gain on appreciated investments. This process allows you to give away the same amount as giving from cash, but helps your future tax liability should you need to sell these appreciated assets later.
- Qualified Charitable Distributions (QCD): For those aged 70.5 or older, you are able to give away your required minimum distributions from your IRA or 401k and avoid paying income tax. If you are not currently able to itemize your deductions when filing your taxes, this becomes a real benefit as you can deduct the amount given away whether taking the standard deduction or itemizing.
- Charitable Remainder Trusts: This would be a tax-exempt gift to an irrevocable trust, and would allow the donor an income stream from the trust for their life (or some other term) and then the designated charity receives the remaining assets at the end of the term. This tool may not apply to many, but is another method to use one’s charitable goals to save on taxes now.
Let us know if you have specific questions on these tools to enhance your giving—we would love to see if there are ways we could make your giving more efficient and allow your legacy to grow. Start building in purposes, avenues to give away your time or money, and create an impact that will live beyond you. You see what you look for. Notice and hone the ability to see those who need help and help them. It's the best investment you will ever make.
Jeremy & Eric