Johnson Financial Advisors: Lessons from the Smartest People I know

Lessons from the Smartest People I know

In an article that first appeared in Southern California Senior Life, Paul Merriman shares what he’s learned from smart people who have retired successfully:

Since the mid-1960s, I have been helping people manage their money and their lives before and during retirement. I’ve seen the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

A successful retirement, like a successful life, rarely happens by accident or default. It happens by design. I’ve had the good fortune to know thousands of very smart people.

Here are 10 lessons they have taught me:

Lesson One: Happiness in later life is not a direct function of how much money somebody has.

This is hard for many folks to accept, but it’s never a surprise to the smartest people I know. Happiness depends much more on attitudes and behavior than on the numbers in somebody else’s computers. (And in today’s world, that’s essentially what money is: numbers in distant computers.)

Lesson Two: Wealth comes from choices, not chances.

Smart people know that all the tomorrows we assume are ours can be snatched away in an instant. They identify their passions, their dreams, and their goals, then find ways to make those dreams a reality. Every day, they cultivate habits and follow rules that others don’t. If you want to be wealthy, live below your means. Pay yourself first and build wealth, not a lifestyle that saddles you with expenses. When you save and invest, make your money work hard for you.

Lesson Three: Those who plan also prosper.

Smart people plan for retirement—in writing. I know a written plan has no magic of its own. But people who are serious enough to put their plans in writing are likely to identify where they are, where they want to go, and what they must do to get there.

Lesson Four: Don’t wait to start saving.

Smart people learn early in life how to defer gratification. If you’re in your 20s, retirement seems pretty remote. But time gives you an opportunity to do a lot for a little. A one-time investment of $5,000 when you’re 25 will grow (at 8 percent) to $73,927 by the time you’re 60. But if you waited until you’re 45, you’d have to invest $23,305 to get the same result.

Lesson Five: Retirement belongs to those who are still with us.

Smart people take care of their health. If you want to retire rich, you’ve got to live long enough to retire and be healthy enough to live it up. Smart people see their doctors periodically and follow the advice they are given. They don’t neglect their mental health either.

Lesson Six: The quality of your life is shaped by the quality of the people in your life.

The happiest people I know seem to have many favorite people in their lives—including some who are younger than they are. At the end, life can sweep away our dignity and money, but if we have friends with whom we can share joy, pain, and respect, we are blessed.

Lesson Seven: We older folks could learn some common sense from high school students.

That may surprise you, but it shouldn’t. Every year I speak to high school students. I ask them if they had money to invest, would they want to invest like millionaires or like poor people. They never get this wrong. But I’m continually amazed why so many of their parents continue to invest like poor people. In a nutshell, here’s the difference:

If you invest like a millionaire, you’ll carefully choose an advisor who has no conflict of interest with you. You will invest in hundreds or even thousands of stocks. You’ll take a long-term view. You’ll keep your costs low and your expectations realistic.

There are many ways to invest like a poor person. One popular route is going to a broker and buying some “hot” individual stocks, hoping to get rich by exploiting insight and knowledge that you believe you or your broker have—that for some reason everybody else on Wall Street is too dumb to recognize. Yeah, right!

Lesson Eight: Active trumps lazy, every time.

Smart people of all ages keep themselves active mentally as well as physically. People who regularly challenge their brains live longer than those who get intellectually lazy. Want to have a long, happy retirement? Then do stimulating things like reading, crossword puzzles, taking a class—or teaching one. If you can, travel to unfamiliar places and try new things.

Lesson Nine: Smart people don’t wait around for “real life” to start.

The happiest people I know, whether they’re retired or still working, would have no trouble making a list of 100 things they’d love to do if they had the time. Places to go. People to see. Books to read. Golf courses to master. Smart people know that all the tomorrows we assume are ours can be snatched away in an instant. They identify their passions, their dreams, and their goals, then find ways to make those dreams a reality, starting now.

Lesson Ten: The very best investment you can ever make doesn’t cost a dime.

This isn’t news to the smartest people I know. Every reader of this publication has something valuable to give that you have not given yet. It might be money. It might be time or volunteer work. It might be a helping hand. It might be the gift of listening. If you will take the time to discover what this gift is, and if you will give it generously, I guarantee your life will be richer and more satisfying. I also guarantee that you will make the world a little better place. You might be surprised by how few people purposely and consciously live their lives this way.

These ten lessons serve as valuable guideposts for a successful retirement and a fulfilling life. They remind us that true wealth goes beyond monetary figures, emphasizing the importance of choices, planning, and early action. Health, relationships, and continuous personal growth are essential ingredients for a joyous retirement journey. By investing in ourselves and others, we create a legacy that extends far beyond financial gains. Let us embrace these lessons, live intentionally, and strive to be among the smartest people who shape their lives with purpose, wisdom, and compassion.

Those who do are the smartest people I know.