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As a child, I spent a lot of time with my Grandma and Grandpa. They reached retirement shortly after my birth, and both of my parents worked full-time jobs. During the summer months, I spent one day each week with my grandparents. I will forever cherish the memories of eating homemade toasted bread and strawberry jam by the morning sunrise, the countless mornings spent building utility trailers with grandpa, sunny afternoons at the park, late-afternoon naps, trips to the pool, and the unparalleled hearty dinners from Grandma’s kitchen. Life was good.
During the school year, Grandma and Grandpa picked me up at the bus stop until I was old enough to stay home alone for a few hours. Those afternoons, too, remain as poignant memories. Grandpa and I often drove to the lake to feed the ducks, roamed the Earth in search of free lumber, or took his hunting dogs for adventures in a nearby wooded area.
During one particular walk in the woods, Grandpa and I wandered off the beaten path and onto a narrow, single track trail. At the end of this trail, we discovered an old, junked out car which had been left in a large hole in the ground. To the adventurous mind of a little boy, we had just discovered the equivalent of the Lost City of Atlantis.
I recall spending the remainder of that day thinking about that old car. Who had owned the vehicle? How it had gotten to its final resting place? And how had it had managed to sit in the woods untouched, year after year?
Grandpa knew how to entertain me, teach me to think, and lead me to dream big. This all came naturally to Grandpa, because he was an entertainer, a thinker, and above all, a dreamer himself.
As I grew older, my adventures with Grandpa became less-focused on the things of childhood and more focused on life lessons and my future. Ever a motivator and encourager, Grandpa believed in me and had big dreams for my future. He said that I could be a doctor, lawyer, or businessman if I studied hard and earned good grades. Grandpa knew a thing or two about hard work, but he was the first to admit that he never saw a good grade in his life.
When I reached my teenage years, Grandpa became less-mobile, and our time spent together grew more and more sedentary. We traded walks in the woods for visits over coffee and cookies in the three-seasons room of Grandpa and Grandma’s new condo. Since Grandpa passed away in 2013, my biggest regret remains that I did not record more of Grandpa’s stories and advice.
One story, however, is permanently etched in my mind. One afternoon, Grandpa the told story of how he get started in investing. He explained that he had seen his neighbor drive by and wave in a brand new car every spring. One year, in his typical, rather direct fashion, Grandpa asked the gentleman how he could afford new cars each year. Unembarrassed, the neighbor told him that he had high-performing stock investments and that dividends were the key to his annual car purchases. He also spoke glowingly about his financial advisor.
In an instant, Grandpa had hatched a new dream far bigger than new cars. He wanted a piece of the pie for himself and for his family. Later that week, Grandpa went down to the advisor and opened a new brokerage account. The rest is history.
I grew up hearing faint whispers about Grandma and Grandpa’s wealth. They were thorough practitioners of stealth wealth, and while they owned their modest home outright and drove nice vehicles, they lived a minimalist lifestyle. The watched evening television in the dark, did not have central air conditioning, and rarely spent money. At Grandpa’s funeral visitation, an old friend told me that he once saw a moth fly out of Grandpa’s wallet. Literally.
Only one memory lingers as an indication that Grandpa and Grandma had money. Grandpa and I had just sat down for lunch at the kitchen table, and Grandma walked in from getting the mail. She handed Grandpa a piece of paper, which in hindsight was an investment statement, and said, “Well, you’re half of a millionaire.”
Grandma probably didn’t know I was listening. Without knowing for sure, I suspect that Grandma was being modest. I am confident that their investments represented only a portion of their assets. I was likely being thrown off the trail of two Secret Millionaires!
The Fruits of Their Labors
Among many the many benefits of their financial wisdom, Grandma and Grandpa were:
1. Financially Free. They had no debt, no obligations, and as a result, they could do virtually whatever they wanted when they wanted to do it.
2. Frequent Travelers. They vacationed a lot and visited every place which interested them.
3. Generous to Family. They provided weekly Sunday dinners for 20+ people, often took the entire family out to dinner, provided nice gifts for birthdays and Christmas, and gifted a one-time lump sum to each of their grandchildren one year in order to reduce their tax liability.
4. Proud Yet Humble. They knew they had earned everything they possessed, yet they never boasted.
A Contagious Dream
For years, I have desired to experience those fruits for myself. Ever since that afternoon at the kitchen table, my foremost financial goal has been to reach millionaire status. Not for vanity or bragging rights, but for the feeling of freedom, the ability to help other people, and to give away massive sums of money.
Today, as I write this article, I cannot help but wonder:
Will a cool million really be enough?
According to the life expectancy calculator at John Hancock, I can statistically expect a baseline life expectancy of 83 and a projected life expectancy of 93. Considering my goals of early retirement, it appears my nest egg will need to last upwards of 40 years! And what if I live to be 100?
Factoring in rising inflation and the decreased buying power of money as I continue to age does not increase my optimism that $1 million will be enough. Even if it were enough for me and Mrs. Superhero to live on, would it really permanently change our family tree? Would it benefit future generations of my family? Would it truly leave a lasting legacy?
I have few doubts that Mrs. Superhero and I will reach millionaire status, even though we are far from it at this point. But based upon the 4% Safe Withdrawal Rate, I question whether $40,000 per year will be sufficient.
Is $1 Million Really Enough?
While I am an advocate for specific written financial goals, my target retirement number is surprisingly fluid at this stage in my life. Mrs. Superhero and I are focused upon eliminating our non-mortgage debt over the next couple of months, and I find it too distracting to focus upon too many goals at one time.
In the meantime, I am still dreaming of my own retirement. My dream is simple at its core:
Be free from the rat race–forever!
Enjoy carefree experiences with Mrs. Superhero, our siblings, and our future children and grandchildren
Work on my own terms in my future retirement, if I choose to do so, and answer to myself and no one else
Change my family tree forever
Never experience stress due to work or money issues ever again
Until my dream is redefined again, this is my motivation.
Readers, what are your dreams for retirement? What motivates you? If you are currently retired, are you living your dream as you had hoped?