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Going on autopilot for a while isn’t a bad back up plan

Recently I read an article in the Harvard Business Review titled “Stop complaining about how busy you are.”  The article went on to discuss how we’re all busy and no one needs to hear about it.  The discussion board received comments about people needing to be better time managed, efficient, or learn to take on fewer commitments, while others argued that if you weren’t busy you weren’t successful, almost lazy in fact.

When I read something like this, I think about how indeed we are all so busy with our work, family, spouses, children, friends, volunteering, etc. and how our busy-ness is central to how we live our lives.  It seems that many of us, especially those with growing kids, are in a similar boat.  I get thinking about all of the things in our world that we are advised or feel pressured to do.  Things we ‘should’ do to be a good business person, parent, friend, and to take care of our health, our finances, our homes, etc.  It’s a bit overwhelming.

The ‘to-do’ messages scream for our attention from every walk of life: you ‘should’ get exercise every day,  you ‘should’ have your annual physical , you ‘should’ get your teeth cleaned at the dentist every 6 months, you ’should’ read with your kids for 20 minutes each night, you ‘should’ visit your relatives, you ’should’ volunteer in your community, you ‘should’ chaperone your child’s field trip, you ‘should’ throw fun birthday parties, you ‘should’ keep your house clean and tidy, you ‘should’ put in extra hours at work to build your business or climb the ladder, you ‘should’ participate in charitable events, you ‘should’ spend time to prepare and include fresh fruits and veggies rather than packaged food in your kids lunches, you ‘should’ keep your landscaping and lawn looking respectable, you ‘should’ coach your kids sports team .....

Are you exhausted yet?  No wonder we talk about how busy we are!

And yet another ... you should review your financial plan once a year.  Right.  I understand.

I can’t tell you how many people we have seen over the years in the same situation who were literally swept away with the busy-ness of life as the years flew by.  Their stories go something like this;  “Well, we were going to save before we had the kids but with the new house we never got around to it.  Then we hoped to set up an education plan but I guess we got too busy.  We meant to contribute to an RSP but the deadline came and went and we would vow to do it the next year.  Now here we are with teenagers thinking about university and we haven’t thought about retirement.  I don’t know how we let it get this far.”

If you are amidst the busy-ness of life right now reading this here is my advice to you.  If you take some time right now (and I understand it might take a lot of juggling to get it into your schedule) and get a regular savings plan started, you build yourself the ability to go a little bit on ‘auto-pilot’ in the event that you don’t get around to review as often as you like.  It is better to set up a long term savings plan right out of your account and let it do the work for you until you can re-visit it.

Here is another version of the same story: “Well, we started the $100/month RSP years ago when we were married, and then added $50/month into the kids RESP’s but we haven’t really done much since.  I don’t know where the time went and I’m afraid we’re going to be behind.”  While not ideal, I can guarantee you these people are in a much better position than their counterparts.  Let me be clear – I don’t think it is ever good to neglect your financial plan, however, in reality I know that people don’t get to it as often as they would like, therefore it is better to set something up with a long term buy and hold plan in mind, and let it accumulate while you focus on the rest of your life day to day.  You’ll be in a better position when you get around to revisiting it.

It’s amazing how fast these middle years actually go by, so as a back-up plan to a busy life, I would rather be on autopilot for a while then still be at the starting line.

Appeared in Elgin This Month October 2013 edition (page 7)