They say experiences matter. As a financial advisor, I like to understand what matters most to my clients. I also want to help them maintain their desired lifestyle both before and during retirement. That can lead to tough choices as you try to balance saving for tomorrow – funding college and retirement are two biggies – and having experiences today.
When working on financial plans for my clients, I make sure that their goals include at least some of their bucket list items. Sometimes I need to remind myself that experiences matter for me and my family, too.
When my kids were younger, I could be found coaching at least one of the sports teams they played on almost year-round. It started with baseball. I coached several kids that my oldest son, Joshua, played with on the high school team. A few years ago, one of the dads who coached with me passed away. After his funeral, Joshua and I attended a “celebration of his life.” His son told a story about a spring training trip he took with his father and the great memories that resulted. The story served as a great reminder as to why experiences matter.
That story struck a chord. I talked to my wife about it. We decided that the high school graduation gift for each of our three boys would be a spring training trip centered on seeing the Yankees. We’d stay in Tampa – the Yankees’ spring training home. We'd do something different for our daughter, Sarah, as she doesn't have the same level of interest in baseball as the rest of the family does. These trips would allow us to create special experiences before it was too late. I lost my mom when she was only 53. Hearing Joshua’s teammate share his memories about the trip he took with his father reminded me that any of us can become terminally ill unexpectedly. Experiences matter. Putting special trips off until later can mean you never get to go.
Joshua graduated high school in 2015. We had a wonderful trip to spring training in March 2016. Our second son, Daniel, graduated from high school in 2019. We booked a trip to Florida for spring training in March 2020. Covid hit. We canceled. Last year we couldn’t go again because of Covid. This year there was too much uncertainty because of the lockout.
A Change in Plans
Upon my wife Diana's wonderful suggestion, we decided to change course and plans. Daniel’s spring break coincides with the weekend of the NCAA Tournament’s Sweet 16 and Elite 8. We looked at the locations this year and agreed on San Francisco as a destination. We booked flights and a hotel without knowing who would be playing. Daniel’s a junior at the University of Maryland. They had a tough season and a tournament berth for his team seemed unlikely.
As I discuss in more detail below, I’m a Duke alum. Financial issues kept me from graduating. I left after my junior year. The money I made while I was out of school and working plus some other assistance was used to repay what I still owed from my last year at Duke. While I could have returned to earn my degree, my career goals had changed. Duke doesn’t offer accounting degrees. I graduated from Rutgers, but I’ve always identified more with Duke. I was more of a college student there. At Rutgers, it was all about school and the part-time jobs I took to help me finish school. As a result, I didn't experience many aspects of college life at Rutgers.
A Dose of Good Fortune
Anyway, I paid close attention to the projections for this year’s tournament and where Duke might go. I knew there was a possibility of being the number two seed in the west. I watched in anguish as we lost our final home game to Carolina. Then we lost to Joshua’s Virginia Tech team in the ACC finals. Somehow that all worked out for the best as far as I’m concerned. I eagerly waited on Selection Sunday for the tournament seedings to be announced. They revealed the West region first. It was great news. Duke was seeded number two. Everything was in place. We already had plane tickets, game tickets, and a hotel. Now Duke just needed to win its first two games.
I admit to being concerned about the Michigan State game. We hadn’t played well at the end of the season. We were ahead of Michigan State for most of the game. Then we lost our lead and fell behind by five points late in the second half. But the players rose to the occasion and pulled out the win.
Imagine this. As a college freshman, I was at Duke during Coach K’s first year there. Now it’s 42 years later. I was going to take one of my sons to see a game (hopefully two) during his last year. It felt poetic. I couldn’t have written a better script.
San Francisco, Here We Come
We arrived in San Francisco on Wednesday night. After dinner, we hiked from the very bottom to the top of Lombard Street to the top. We rented bicycles from our hotel each of the next two days. Of course, we played disc golf – one of Daniel’s favorite activities – at a beautiful course. Since we didn't rent a car for our trip, we did a lot of biking and hiking. We biked across the Golden Gate Bridge and hiked several trails – Land’s End was my favorite. We went to the top of both Coit Tower and Twin Peaks. After climbing to the top of both peaks, we hiked from Twin Peaks to Glen Canyon.
I know I slowed Daniel down a little at times, but we did and saw a lot. We had a wonderful time. We made some lifelong memories. The trip serves as a perfect example of why experiences matter.
I also realize how fortunate I am. Daniel will finish his junior year of college in a couple of months. He was excited about the trip when I suggested it. There was no question that he would go. The same applied to Joshua. I expect the same with Michael – son number three. Truth is, he would have loved to come with Daniel and me. I explained how I wanted to have a one-on-one experience with each of them. He said he understood and knew when it was our turn (next year) “it will be great.”
I’m proud of each of our kids and who they are growing up to be. The one-on-one time with Daniel during this experience helped to reinforce that belief even more.
As far as basketball is concerned, we saw three great games. Even better, Duke won twice and is off to New Orleans this weekend for the Final Four. It will be the first time ever that Duke and the hated Tar Heels meet in the NCAA tournament. Hopefully, this game will have a similar ending to the one played at Duke my freshman year. It was Coach K’s first-ever victory against Carolina. For hours after that game ended, my ears were still ringing from the LOUD chants of “Go to hell Carolina, go to hell,” and “Let’s go, Duke!”
After reading this, I take it that you understand the image I shared for this post. It was taken after we won Saturday night. I understand that not everyone will like that image. There’s a reason for it though. If you read the rest of this story, you’ll understand why it’s there.
Some Historical Context
Here’s a little more of the backstory for those who may be interested. I thought it would be worth sharing because I start every client relationship with a life planning conversation. That discussion helps me get to know my clients better and understand what matters to them. This blog gives you a little more insight into me and what matters to me as well.
If you have read this blog, or know my backstory, you know that I spent my first three years of college at Duke. I was a Psychology major and a pre-med. Financial issues caused me to leave school after my junior year. When it was time for me to go back to school, I had decided to pursue an accounting degree. Unfortunately, Duke does not offer accounting as an undergraduate major. But they do offer accounting courses. I took my first accounting course there. The professor was regarded as one of the school’s best.
I remember learning about financial statement ratios in that class. That was something that helped pique my interest in investing as well. I took that class in my junior year though. The origins of the story I’m about to tell go back to my first year at Duke.
A New Coach
It so happens that my freshman year was also the first year for the team’s new basketball coach. At the time, hardly anybody knew his name – almost nobody could spell it. Many questioned his hiring, too. Since then, that coach – Mike Krzyzewski – has become a Hall of Fame coach. Many consider him the greatest coach in college basketball history.
In my freshman year, we had a good but not great team. We didn’t make the NCAA tournament. It was a lot harder back then because the field was so much smaller. We did make the NIT. We won a couple of games and lost to Purdue in that tourney’s Elite Eight. The regular season was capped by the best game I saw as a student. It was the final home game for our two best players – Kenny Dennard and Gene Banks. We beat a Carolina team led by Michael Jordan, James Worthy, and Sam Perkins. Banks sank a jumper at the buzzer to send the game into overtime. If you look hard, you might find me in the stands in this video clip. It’s much grainier than what we see today. It was also the only time we rushed the court after a win in my time at Duke.
Time for a Change?
In my three years at Duke, I missed one home game. That was by choice. There wasn’t a Krzyzewskiville back then. We did “camp out” the night before the Carolina game I just talked about, but that was it. For the next two years, we were a bad team. We finished Coach K's third season losing by 43 points to a U Va team led by Ralph Sampson. Many wanted Coach K fired. I was on the fence as his third recruiting class was great. You could see their potential. Those players formed the backbone of the team that lost to Louisville in the 1986 NCAA championship game.
Fortunately, Duke’s athletic director, Tom Butters ignored the naysayers and kept Coach K around. In fact, he gave him a contract extension the following January. The rest is history. I’m hoping Coach K’s final season is capped with two more wins.
Experience matters. I’m fortunate that my wife reminds me of that. I’ll always treasure the trip I took to San Francisco with Daniel. I hope he will as well. I have fond memories from my trip with Joshua a few years ago, too.
Our third son, Michael graduated from high school last year. Next year it will be his turn. Our daughter Sarah is a high school sophomore. She’ll have her trip as well. Diana will take her, but I’ll have to come up with an idea for her at another time, too. Hopefully, we'll both get to go on a one-on-one trip with each of our kids in a different year.
We worry about saving for the future. We are concerned about maintaining our quality of life in retirement. But we can’t neglect the present. Experiences matter. They represent an important part of your financial plan. Build memories that can last forever. If we fail to do that, we will likely end up with too many regrets.
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