Isaac Newton, Financial Planner

Warren Ward |

Sir Isaac Newton was, among many other things, a philosopher and financial planner. He may have thought he was simply describing physics when he formulated his three laws of motion but I think they may have broader applicability. 

His first law states that an object in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted upon by an outside force. Similarly, an object at rest tends to remain at rest, unless acted upon by an outside force. Baby Boomers’ reaction to reaching retirement age seems to demonstrate this law, in stark contrast to the “Greatest Generation” clients of previous decades. Back then, many people, especially men, worked in physically taxing jobs and were glad to retire as their bodies slowed down. In contrast, many of my Boomer clients have office-based jobs that they love and are still able to perform well so they have stayed at them for some years past age 65. You might say that they have built up significant momentum toward going to work and require some sort of outside force to counteract it. 

Newton’s second law states that when an outside force acts upon an object, it will cause it to accelerate (or decelerate). Like gravity aiding or hindering a ball rolling down (or up) hill, the ageing process begins to act upon even the most dedicated Boomers and we do begin to slow down. However, modern health care and some healthier habits have resulted in Boomers being generally healthier than their parents were so we may be doing better at avoiding age-related slowdowns. 

The concept of equal and opposite reaction is introduced in Newton’s third law. It suggests that when a force is applied to an object, that object pushes back with exactly the same amount of energy. In financial planning terms, that means that when retirement looms, many of us Boomers are pushing back just as hard as it is trying to stop our forward progress. For years, we noticed that our male clients struggled with retirement. When we asked them to describe themselves without stating their occupation, many were simply unable to respond. Now, for better or worse, our female clients often have the same problem. Many people, including this writer, have trouble imagining life without a place to go to be productive. Perhaps you feel the same way. The reality of not working calls a person’s societal value into focus. Who am I if I’m not a ________? (Fill in the blank.) How will I spend my time? How will I add value to the world? 

Earlier this year, I began producing a music series, Jazz at Helen’s, in collaboration with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. I feel very fortunate to have this opportunity. Not only do I get to experience live music that I love but I’m providing a chance for amazing musicians to share their gifts with the people of Columbus which allows me to feel like I continue to make a difference.  

Many people have found that retirement allows additional time for satisfying volunteer work. The United Way in our community provides a referral center that matches skills with volunteer opportunities, providing a strong likelihood of a good fit. There’s a significant body of research suggesting that socialization is important for retirees, so “working” whether for pay or as a volunteer can be good for both your mental and physical health. 

Back in 1979, musician and financial planner Neil Young wrote the lyric ‘It's better to burn out than to fade away.’ It has become something of a catchphrase for Boomers and was famously quoted by Nirvana frontman Kurt Cobain, in his suicide note. An aphorism in the world of financial planning is that at the end of their lives, very few people say that they wish they’d spent more of their years working. Finding a balance between burning out and fading away remains a challenge for all of us as we age and, as always, we are available to offer suggestions and referrals to our clients.