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Annette White always had a passion for food and travel. Having turned her passion for food into her life’s work by running a series of successful restaurants with her husband, Peter, she longed to pursue travel in a similar way, making it a more meaningful part of her life. She wanted to live her travel “bucket list” while she was still young. So why wasn’t she?
Recognizing that a sense of financial insecurity was holding her back from the life she wanted, she took a leap of faith, moving beyond her perceived limitations to make her dream a reality. Her first stop: a solid financial strategy. Her next stop: the world. Watch her story now and be inspired to fund—and then follow—your own passion and live your own dream.
The answer may lie with focusing on experiences rather than objects—and staying financially fit for the long haul.
“It’s not how much money you have, it’s how you spend your money and your wealth that really is the biggest driver of your long-term happiness.” KATHERINE ROY, CHIEF RETIREMENT STRATEGIST, J.P. Morgan Asset ManagementLearn More
Americans’ right to the pursuit of happiness is written into our Declaration of Independence. Yet that simple phrase calls up a complex question: Where can you find it? When it comes to the connection between money and happiness, for many Americans meaningful experiences such as travel hold more value than physical objects do.
Across generations, 42% of Americans in Chase's 2016 Generational Money Talks study* Also referred to as the Chase-University of Colorado Boulder's Center for Research on Consumer Financial Decision Making study. ranked having enough money to enjoy life's experiences as the idea most associated with the American Dream, with owning a home coming second (34%). That sentiment was highest among Baby Boomers, 53% of whom favored experiences.
“It’s not how much money you have. It’s how you spend your money and your wealth that really is the biggest driver of your long-term happiness,” says Katherine Roy, Chief Retirement Strategist for J.P. Morgan Asset Management. “Buying experiences really has a strong, positive, long-term return.” How you pay for those experiences matters, too, Roy notes. A trip you’ve carefully budgeted and paid for in advance will make you happier than one you fret over paying for when the bill comes due.
Academic findings support the enduring value of well-planned experiences. “Scientific research runs counter to the logic that, if you pay for a vacation, it will be over and gone, whereas if you buy a tangible thing, like a couch, at least you’ll have it for a long time,” says Amit Kumar, a fellow at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business whose research focuses on the relationship between money and happiness.
Studies by Kumar and his colleagues show that pleasure from buying a new possession fades relatively quickly. “Most of us adapt pretty quickly to material goods like a smartphone, a new television, or new clothes,” he says. Meanwhile, the positive aspects of experiences like attending concerts, going to the theater, taking classes, and traveling have staying power—particularly when they’re shared with friends and family. “Positive social relationships are essential to human happiness,” Kumar says.
Not all experiences have to be exotic or expensive. Family dinners and shared moments can have lasting value. Still, when it comes to travel, many families are eschewing the standard beach vacation, says Paul Cohen, vice president of travel consultancy PHG Consulting. “Family travel today is about diving deeper. It’s about learning and actively engaging in new cultures and experiences,” he explains. “That can mean going to China to take a course on caring for pandas or to Uganda to track chimpanzees. When you take a trip like that with your children and grandchildren, that’s a bonding experience that lives on forever.”
Three secrets that could lead to a happier financial future.Learn More
Family trips that involve making a difference—volunteer vacations—also fuel happiness by coupling the benefits of a shared meaningful experience with the satisfaction of contributing to a cause. From tending to rescues at an animal sanctuary and cleaning up forests in the Appalachian Mountains to teaching English in Peru, a wide range of such opportunities can be found through organizations like Cross-Cultural Solutions, Global Volunteers, and the Sierra Club.
Of course, enjoying wonderful experiences requires careful planning and, sometimes, difficult trade-offs between what you want to do right now and what’s best for your financial future. As you juggle your competing goals and expectations, says Roy, a financial advisor can help you determine a strategy at every phase of life. Here are some points to consider.
You’re young, and right now feels like the time for adventures. That’s true, but you need to make sure that your experience today doesn’t come at the expense of necessities, such as paying off your student debt or saving for a home, or of the freedom to enjoy experiences decades from now. One approach is to set specific savings goals for different priorities—with one being something fun, such as a vacation. One ongoing goal should be retirement, says Roy, who suggests steering a 15% portion of your annual income to a tax-advantaged retirement savings plan.
In the end, how you should go about pursuing personal financial freedom at every age will depend on your individual circumstances. Working with a financial advisor can help you make sure your assets are on track, Roy notes. With life’s necessities accounted for, you can turn your attention to those “magical moments,” she says, when you “give the gift of experience to others and experience it with them.”
Research confirms what many of us intuitively suspect: Real happiness often comes from what you do, not what you own. Chase's 2016 Generational Money Talks study, which captures how different generations talk and feel about money, shows that Baby Boomers plan to spend much of their wealth on travel and other experiences. And Millennials are starting to save for retirement 17 years sooner than their parents did—in hopes of retiring early enough to enjoy a full share of adventures.
But financial security and other long-term goals, such as putting your kids through college, are also essential to happiness. The challenge is balancing your desire for meaningful experiences while safeguarding your financial future.
Why a wandering spirit needs a sound financial strategy.
Adventure! Thrills! New heights, exciting depths, and to make it all happen…a financial strategy? It may sound counter-intuitive, but if you want to be true to your traveling urges, a solid financial strategy is a crucial support, helping fund your voyages while keeping the rest of your life and goals on track.
Whether you’re planning a big trip or just to take some brief time away, a financial advisor can work with you to help earmark savings and keep your eye on longer-term financial goals. So think about making that connection, and get excited for your next adventure.
Explore some ideas below.
By letting go of fear and embracing her life passion, Annette is living her Bucket List now.Learn More