(As posted on Kiplinger.com on December 26, 2018.)
Happy New Year! The ball is about to drop, and the revelry is just beginning; there’s no better time to reflect upon last year and consider some changes for 2019.
Are you dreading the phrase, “New Year’s Resolutions?” I am, because the first one always involves dieting. Time to hit the salad bar. If you are like most people, after we resolve to lose weight, our next most popular resolution usually centers around our money habits. You know the drill … shed the debt, save more and spend less. However, as February creeps in, so do the burgers and fries, not to mention, the credit cards. Many of us have a tough time sticking to the promises we make to ourselves.
Who Thought of New Year’s Resolutions, Anyway?
According to History.com, “The practice of making resolutions for the new year is thought to have first caught on among the ancient Babylonians, who made promises in order to earn the favor of the gods and start the year off on the right foot. (They would reportedly vow to pay off debts and return borrowed farm equipment.)”
I’m not sure if they were more successful in paying off debt than we are today (and I’m also not sure about how much farm equipment was returned). It’s nice to know that “shedding pounds” is a modern problem and the words “salad bar” were not in their lexicon.
NEW New Year’s Resolutions
How about if we change the dialog and set up resolutions that still can deal with money, but focus on our most important asset: our grandchildren? Maybe it’s time to focus on the real legacy we want to leave. Maybe it’s time to design that legacy and resolve to share that with our next generation of loved ones while we are alive.
What Is Your Legacy?
Is your legacy the money you will leave or the memories you will leave? You know that this is a rhetorical question, but sometimes we get caught up in the money because it is tangible. It is not to say that this divvying of the material should not be dealt with. By the way, if this is not dealt with while you are alive, it will be after your death; and perhaps with the consequences that you most dread. More families are pulled apart because of money issues. Don’t set your kids and grandkids up to hear about your wishes when they are sitting in front of an unknown financial expert after your death.
The Money: All Children and Grandchildren Are Not Created Equal
Because all kids are not created equal, in death, you don’t have to treat them as such. You may have special needs grandchildren who may require lifetime care. These issues have to be dealt with. Trusts may have to be established to provide for those situations. The biggest issue is to explain your intentions to all who are involved. (I feel a New Year’s Resolution developing.)
You also may have kids or grandkids that may have a profession that does not pay as lucratively as others in the family. Therefore, you may decide to leave your concert violinist grandchild more money than your investment banker grandchild. Again, the issue is to explain this to your loved ones before your death. (Do you feel another New Year’s Resolution coming on?)
Memories are intangible, but very real, nonetheless to the loved ones holding onto them. I remember my grandma Jewel lugging her homemade chicken soup and matzo balls to our house every week because she knew how excited I was to come home from school to find her there with a piping hot bowl of love. We would sit for hours and talk. In fact, I spoke to her every day of my life until her death at almost 100 years. Yes, another memory was her teaching me how to make her matzo balls and her never commenting to me that hockey pucks tasted better. Of course, money was left, but it was never about the money.
You are alive. The biggest resolution you can make now is to get on that memory train and create new meaning in your relationships with your grandchildren. These don’t have to be huge. They only need to involve time and love. Keep “stuff” out of it. Your grandchildren may think that a new iPad is the legacy they want, but trust me, when you pass, that will not be what they remembered you for.
Famed banker David Rockefeller told me something really interesting once. I used to work with him when I was at Chase Bank. He was reminiscing about how his family was really close and how they did lots of things together. He talked about the fact that the meaning for him was never about the family’s wealth. He quipped, “You will never see a hearse with a luggage rack.”
Be the Change
Make sure that your New Year’s Resolutions are your goals, not someone else’s hopes for you and your loved ones. Don’t just pop the bubbly and say you are going to change because the new year is here and you are wearing those goofy 2019 sparkle sunglasses.
Change is about you and your life. Remember, your resolutions begin with you and the life you want and the legacy you leave.
Happy New Year.