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Climbing a 14er

We had the opportunity to spend a week in the Colorado Rockies earlier this month with our oldest daughter, Michelle, and her family. Being an avid hiker, she thought it would be “fun” to climb one of the 58 peaks in Colorado that rise above 14,000 feet, which hikers refer to as a “14er”. I’m always up for a challenge so I agreed to join her. We were staying near Breckenridge for the first part of our trip, which is home to Quandary Peak, one of the 14ers considered to be for “beginners”. Our house was at 10,500 feet so it took us some time after arriving to acclimate to the elevation. We weren’t staying in this location long so we only had one day that worked for our Quandary Peak hike.

Unfortunately that day turned out to be rainy, foggy, and cold. We started our hike at 5:20 am to make sure we were off the mountain by the predicted afternoon thunderstorms. We hiked the first half in the dark in the woods and once we got above the treeline there was nothing but rocks. The rain was off and on, fog rolled in and out, and the last half of the 3,500 foot vertical hike was very tough. There were 4 or 5 “false peaks” that kept providing a false sense of hope that we had almost made it. I am in very good shape and work out regularly, but hiking at that altitude is a completely different experience and frequent stops were necessary. 

I was determined to make it to the top so I focused on putting one foot in front of the other and after 4 hours we made it! Unfortunately, Quandary Peak is a narrow ridge and the wind, snow and sleet at the top made it impossible to celebrate our accomplishment. We didn’t spend much time there before we started the difficult hike back down. As I worked my way down the mountain, which was tougher on my knees than going up, I started thinking about goal setting and the work we do with clients in the financial planning area. It took 7½ hours in total and it was a mental and physical challenge, but here are three key lessons I learned:

  1. Preparation is key - Many times on the way up I realized how important it has been to keep working out on a regular basis. My Peloton rides, stand up paddleboard (SUP) sessions, and hiking in Loch Raven all winter definitely paid off. We saw many people who weren’t as prepared turn around before reaching the summit. Keeping your financial goals in mind as you do the day to day work of saving, managing expenses, and controlling your taxes is critical to reaching your long term goals. It is often hard to see the progress you are making over the long term, but when you do, you realize the foundation you set for yourself is the key.
  2. Be ready for the unexpected - Luckily, I packed a good raincoat, hat and gloves because they came in VERY handy when the snow, sleet and wind started. In financial planning, you need to be prepared for life's unexpected events. While you don’t know what type of financial challenge you might face or when it will hit, preparing for any impact is critical. That is why you buy various types of insurance coverage, diversify your portfolio, and keep a cash reserve for that rainy day.
  3. Sometimes reaching the goal is ENOUGH - It was so cold and windy at the peak, we did not take time to enjoy the amazing views from 14,000 feet, even though the fog was hiding most of it. We had reached our goal and that was enough for me. On the way back down, Michelle started talking about the “next” 14er, but I am completely content having checked that box off. We often see clients who reach the financial goals they have set for themselves and their family, only to then raise the bar higher. They don’t take time to really appreciate what they have accomplished, to “smell the roses”.  Perhaps they put off retirement to make their portfolio a little bit bigger or chase the next dream job, but what are they passing up as a result of this decision? Are they doing the things that really matter in their lives? We only have a short time on this Earth and we need to make the most of it!

Helping clients work toward their personal financial goals is a very important part of what we do. Those goals need to be part of an overall financial plan that addresses many aspects of your finances. Doing hard work day in and day out is the foundation of financial success. Always thinking about the unexpected events along the way that could derail your plans is an important part of the process. And don't forget to enjoy the view from the top once you have achieved your goals!

- Lyle K Benson Jr., CPA, PFS, CFP

The views expressed represent the opinions of L.K. Benson & Company and are subject to change.  These views are not intended as a forecast, a guarantee of future results, investment recommendation, or an offer to buy or sell any securities. The information provided is of a general nature and should not be construed as investment advice or to provide any investment, tax, financial or legal advice or service to any person.

Please see Additional Disclosures more information.