“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago, the second-best time is now” - Old Chinese Proverb
Over the past year, our financial stability, our savings, and our investments have all been tested. As we all prepare for the next chapter in our journeys to financial freedom, understand that it is never too late to start making smart financial decisions that will have meaningful impacts on your future, even if you have to start over.
Life would be much easier if we could plant a couple of quarters in the ground and sit back as they sprout into 100 dollar bills; but as I’m sure you’ve heard a thousand times, money doesn’t grow on trees. However, as we round the corner into Spring, and in the spirit of Earth Day, what learning about the life stages of a tree can we apply to our own lives as we contemplate our financial freedom?
Well, it begins as a tiny seed in the dirt. Careful nurturing allows it to sprout into a sapling. And finally, after years of growth, it stands tall, with a sturdy foundation and deep roots.
Sprout/Seedling - Just like the helpless sprouts and seedlings attempting to set their roots in the ground, this is when you’re at your most vulnerable. Maybe your obligations have strained you to the breaking point. Maybe you’re navigating institutional systems that make it challenging for you to survive. Whatever stressors are impacting you, it is important to seek help. Financial wellness begins with mental and physical wellness.
Begin with identifying your most basic needs that are not being met. Determine what would help you alleviate that distress. Seeking advocates in your community or agencies designed to deal with the challenges you are facing is key to minimizing your vulnerability. A clear vision of your goals during this time sets the stage for your potential freedom. It is important to nurture and nourish yourself because you are your foundation. A strong foundation cannot manifest from a platform of instability. Before you give your limited resource to someone else, ask yourself, what have you first done to strengthen your foundation?
Sapling - During the sapling phase the tree begins to take root and the trunk is flexible; however there is an inability to produce fruit and flowers. While this may not seem like a powerful stage, creating the right financial plan can support you in establishing those strong roots that will help to secure your future.
Are you looking to achieve a major life goal, such as having children, making a home purchase, getting married, or starting a new business? If you focus on the wrong conditions it may affect your ability to grow into a mature tree and produce the fruits of success. Shifts in your mindset and making small savings decisions can oftentimes have a significant impact. Do you have a budget? Where can you cut costs? Are you surrounded by “undesirable things” that drain your resources or take you off course from your financial plan? What investment decisions can you make that increase your flexibility and ability to withstand unexpected setbacks?
If you are thinking of making job changes or unexpectedly have to care for an aging relative while in this phase, financial education and a backup plan will be key. Meeting with a financial advisor, accountant, or other trusted resources with financial expertise will help you choose options that make sense for your unique circumstances.
Maturity - Like that sturdy tree, you now have a strong foundation and are producing fruit. Your day-to-day needs are met, you have a significant cushion in the bank, or maybe a second home. Perhaps your business is profitable or about to be acquired. You are taking care of many people beyond your family including employees in your organization and impacting the community through your philanthropy. What does financial freedom mean to you at this point on your journey? Is it the ability to wake up every day doing what you love at a pace that serves you?
This is a time when the goals of financial freedom begin to take shape for the long-term, perhaps for the next 10 to 30 years. It’s important to ask yourself what price you’re paying for the freedom you desire. If the price of sustaining these resources adversely affects your health, quality of life, or your relationship with loved ones, now may be an opportune time to once again explore and reprioritize the “undesirable things” affecting your financial freedom journey.
We live in unprecedented times. This past year has been a powerful time of transition where greater forces and unpredictable events continue to destabilize many of our financial situations, even if we’ve made all the “right choices,” whatever those may be. Beginning to save for the future may feel like an impossible task at any stage of our life journey, but there’s a forest of trees around us that prove otherwise.
Financial freedom is a lifelong pursuit and despite the many stumbling blocks along the trail, in this time of great volatility and vulnerability, the most important step we can take towards our financial freedom is to be gentle with ourselves as we strive to build the clarity and courage required to walk our unique paths.