As we celebrate our Independence Day, it reminds me just why we have this federal holiday. It is the celebration and acknowledgement of our society adopting the Declaration of Independence on July 4th, 1776. Imbedded in that document is the powerful second sentence that reads: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."
This sentence is by far the most influential in shaping our collective perspective of what it means to be American and in turn what we refer to as The American Dream.
Do you have a definition of your very own American Dream?
I like this from Wikipedia: The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.
Also, James Truslow Adams, in his book The Epic of America, which was written in 1931, stated that the American dream is "that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.
It has been many years since the Declaration of Independence was signed but I believe the American Dream is still our country's best solution for conquering tomorrow's obstacles. It is our country's best hope for unifying our people and it is our best chance at honoring all that makes us American. It is also our best personal endeavor.
As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, it is particularly motivating to assist people with their pursuit of the American Dream, and challenge them to define what that looks like for them. Whether it is a family, home ownership, an education for their kids, a career, retirement, etc.; all have represented our society's definition of the American Dream at one time or another. But who am I to tell someone else what their dream should be? My job as a planner is to help them define what it is they want to achieve, and then try to help them understand what it would take to be able to afford that dream. In short, I don't tell my client how to live, just whether they can afford the lifestyle they so desire.
It is also my role to help balance the financial tradeoffs in life. There are three forces that are working on our financial lives at all times; our current lifestyle, our future lifestyle and if disaster comes along.
Of course, it is always more fun to spend than save and focus on the current lifestyle. After all, what is the purpose of money if you can't spend it? However, being responsible has its mandates. The American Dream is about what we do with our lives today but also what we are creating for ourselves, our families, and our society for tomorrow. It is also making sure that those who believe in your pursuit aren't left worse off if disaster strikes.
It is in the future lifestyle that we are failing as a country. You can read so much about the statistics of retirement savings online that I won't add any here. This shift in focus from striving for a better future to focusing on the here and now may go back to the days of the gold rush as noted by Historian H. W. Brands...
"The old American Dream ... was the dream of the Puritans, of Benjamin Franklin's "Poor Richard"... of men and women content to accumulate their modest fortunes a little at a time, year by year by year. The new dream was the dream of instant wealth, won in a twinkling by audacity and good luck. [This] golden dream ... became a prominent part of the American psyche only after Sutter's Mill."
I certainly hope that we collectively shift our focus back to balancing today and the future. Being personally financially responsible is the easiest way to spend a little today on the lifestyle we can afford, put a little away for the lifestyle we hope to achieve, and make sure we have our insurances in place if something goes wrong. Many baby boomers have reached their American Dream in their current lifestyle but aren't sure if they can afford it in the future. That's what we do at Pathfinder. Let us guide you forward to your American Dream and your personal Independence Day.