Updated on 06.06.11

How Long Is Your Long Run?

Trent Hamm

When I think about the long run, I’m usually thinking about what I would call “retirement.” It’s a state I hope to reach in my fifties or sixties or so where I can spend my time working on projects that may or may not result in any sort of financial gain, but simply projects that I can enjoy. Almost every thought about the “long term” in my life leads to that point.

I asked my mother a few days ago about what she considered to be the “long term.” She basically pointed to a point about ten or fifteen years down the road when my children are graduating high school.

I asked my oldest son what he thought about the future and what he thought of as the biggest thing that would happen in his life. He thought about it and he said it would be when he was a parent, roughly when he was my age. Let’s call it twenty years.

I asked my father-in-law what he thought of when I said the words “long term” and he pointed to a point about eight years down the road when he hoped to retire.

Seven years. Twelve years. Twenty years. Thirty years.

One of us is looking at that long term with (relatively) shorter-term retirement savings in mind as a tool to get there. Another sees the route to the long term coming through health maintenance. Yet another sees it as a natural outcome of growing up. For me, it’s all about the long-term retirement planning.

We all have very different definitions of the long term. We all have very different actions we need to take to get there.

Whatever your definition of the long term is, though, you don’t just get there by wandering in the wilderness. It takes work, and it takes a plan.

I’m saving steadily for retirement and putting that money into investments that are fairly high-risk. As time marches on, I’ll be pulling the throttle back and moving into less risky investments.

My son is so excited about school starting in August that he’s already wondering about school supplies.

My mother rather carefully watches the food she eats.

My father-in-law is saving for retirement hand over fist.

We each have our own visions of the long term. We each have our own path to get there.

The key word in personal finance is personal. We all have different goals and dreams. Those goals could be as close as a year into the future or it could be several decades down the road. Depending on where we’re at right now, the things we need to do to get to that point might be drastically different, even if the goals are similar.

What’s the point? You’ll find the most success with personal finance – and with life – if you don’t just copy someone else’s plan. Instead, learn the principles and figure out your own plan that takes you to wherever (and whenever) your long term happens to be. Along the way, don’t be afraid to grab great ideas from others and add them to your own plan, just as long as it keeps taking you to wherever it is you want to go.

Loading Disqus Comments ...
Loading Facebook Comments ...
  1. Debbie M says:

    My long-term view has also been retirement. But for the past decade, I’ve been focusing more on the beginning of it (now less than four years away). In the beginning I will still be youngish, healthy (probably), and having all my faculties (probably). I haven’t really thought about what I’ll be doing when I’m 80 or 90, maybe not so mobile, probably aching with arthritis.

    I’ve tried to take care of my energy-requiring goals early on (like vacations involving hiking). But how long will my corrected vision be good enough for things? My hearing? My fine motor coordination? My gross motor coordination?

    I do make sure that some things I do focus on balance (yoga, ballroom dance, putting on socks while standing up)–you hear about old people falling and breaking a hip.

    I do remember deciding to try never to become too weak to get out of a chair, but it turns out that some people who look like they are too weak to easily get out of a chair are actually in too much pain to easily get out of a chair. So, there’s no telling.

    Still, I’m saving video games for later.

  2. *pol says:

    My long term keeps getting shorter at an alarming clip. How did I get to be almost 40 so FAST?! I have been putting money away for “long term” for about 16 years, but life kept interfering with the goals… marriage, house, 2 kids, another house, market tanking (sweeping what little progress we thought we had made away)! I keep trying not to beat myself up too badly. No consumer debt, a small mortgage and at least SOMETHING for the long term — not hopeless, right?

  3. bogart says:

    Interesting post.

    I’ll quaintly admit that (a) I want to retire at some point in my life and (b) — this is the quaint part — I am convinced that it is not logically possible to (need to) work in retirement. That is, all the pop media pieces about how people are now “working in retirement” because those “retirees” need the money are, in my book, completely missing the point and/or misleading us. Not to say that I’m opposed to down-scaling, working in a paid profession for reasons other than the income, etc., but if I’m working because I need the income … I’m not retired.

    So, at some point I need to reach a stage where not only do I have enough passive income to live on in my then-current condition, but also to last long enough and be able to cover my time in the nursing home. That’s my long-term.

  4. getagrip says:

    My long term is financial independance. That really means kids out of college, out of my house, having their own lives, and having set them up for potential success (one goal I have is to take the money I’ve been annually saving for each of their college funds and start a Roth for each of them for a few years post college as their guaranteed, and potentially only, inheritance). Basically I want them off my dime because they tend to be my biggest unknown variables. That said, we’ll see what the future holds. What’s that old saying:

    Expect the best, plan for the worst, life’s a play and we’re unrehearsed. :)

  5. lurker carl says:

    I have some long term goals that stretch out beyond my death, whenever that time comes. Several are spelled out via estate planning and other projects will mature for the enjoyment of future generations. Milestones are not endpoints.

  6. Telephus44 says:

    I guess what I want to focus on my life then is the “mid-term.” I am saving for retirement, but making plans 5-10 years out is more meaningful for me. Who know what I’ll want to do when I’m 80? Maybe my health will limit my activities. Maybe I’ll have a new hobby or interest that I don’t have now.

    But 5-10 years out – I have a better handle on what I want to be doing. I have a better idea of the relationship I want to have with my son when he’s 9, rather than trying to look in my crystal ball and figure out where he’ll be when he’s 30. I know what I want my career to look like 5-10 years out.

    I mean, planning for the long term future is good – and necessary – but it isn’t always the best frame of mind to approach things. I wouldn’t necessarily ask a 5 year old where he’s going to college, but I would ask him if he wants to be on the competitive little league when he’s 10.

  7. Alice says:

    Trent, I believe you will be very successful in saving for retirement. You may be surprised to find out that you have no hobbies or other activities when you reach your selected retirement age if you don’t find some now.

    It seems we always put that type thing on hold until we get there. One can only play games and watch TV for a time and then we must get out and be more physical each day. I’d like to suggest that you start thinking about some constructive things you would like to do when you reach retirement. Maybe it will be to build bird houses or carve usefull woden items or grow the greatest garden in your area. Just have a few things in mind so that when you do retire you have a sense of direction for the next steps.

    I am enjoying my semi retirement at age 70. I don’t think I will ever fully retire and since I like to stay active. I still run my business from my home office and I enjoy the work. I just pared down my client list so that I’m not working just for the money.

    Bogart at #3 – Why think you will spend your last days in a nursing home? I plan to stay in my present home for many more years and I don’t even think about nursing homes as an alternative. You shouldn’t either – just stay active and you might find that you don’t need that type of care.

  8. bogart says:

    @Alice thanks for your comment. I’ll admit my early comment above was a bit cynical; I don’t “expect” to spend my last years in a nursing home but I do think it is a realistic possibility that I will need to spend time in a nursing home and something I should plan for. If you look at the statistics, lots and lots of elderly people (and some not so elderly) do.

    My dad, who has dementia and has never regained the ability to walk after breaking a hip, is in a nursing home. Really (to be fair, due in part to his own lack of planning) there is no alternative. He needs around-the-clock care available in a setting where there is always someone available who is strong enough safely to lift a 200# man from his wheelchair to a bed, or to a toilet, or to change his diaper. I’ll never be a 200# man (and hope never to hit 200# myself, which would be quite overweight for me), but securing safe living arrangements for my dad have helped me understand just how difficult (and expensive) this can be.

    If it reassures you, though, I’ll add that DH and I have remodeled 50% of our single-level home and have plans to remodel eventually) the other half. I have insisted that we do so with an eye to accessibility issues, and have considered things like the availability of accessible public transportation (we haz it). So I am planning ahead to try to reduce the probability of this need, as well as to be prepared for it.

  9. Andrew says:

    At 50, I am living a life completely different from the one I envisioned at 20 or 25. In some ways it’s worse, in some ways so much better than I would have thought.

    So, I’m reluctant to plan in too much detail for my life at 80 or 85–too many things can happen, on both individual and global levels, to make that a useful exercise. I’m suspicious of long term goals!

    I’ll do what I can to make the future easier, but I’m not expecting

  10. Andrew says:

    Hit “return” too quickly. No, I’m certainly not “expecting!”

    To complete the sentence–I’m not expecting life to turn out exactly as I would desire.

  11. SLCCOM says:

    I am touched by the faith in “staying active” and staying slim to keep you out of a nursing home in the end. This isn’t a bad idea, but assuming that you have any real control is nothing more than magical thinking. Smart people will plan ahead. And keep in mind, when you look at nursing home life from the eyes of a young, healthy person, it isn’t necessarily the way someone who needs 24-hour care looks at it. And expecting your kids to do the care to keep you at home is simply selfish. I’ve seen many a person nearly destroyed by the burdens.

  12. valleycat1 says:

    RE nursing home: These numbers are from the prevous census, but the newer version I’ve seen (but can’t put my mouse on right now) are basically the same:

    According to the U.S. Bureau of the Census, slightly over 5 percent of the 65+ population occupy nursing homes, congregate care, assisted living, and board-and-care homes, and about 4.2 percent are in nursing homes at any given time. The rate of nursing home use increases with age from 1.4 percent of the young-old to 24.5 percent of the oldest-old. Almost 50 percent of those 95 and older live in nursing homes.

  13. Tara C says:

    The long term for me is retirement… which is 20 years out. I am busy saving so that my goal is achievable. I have no idea what I will want to be doing at that point, but I trust that along the way I will figure it out. Near term (the next 5 years) I have career plans that I plan to execute to help me find a passion that will carry me through to retirement and hopefully beyond.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *