“What’s today, my fine fellow?” said Scrooge.
“Today!” replied the boy. “Why, Christmas Day.”
“It’s Christmas Day!” said Scrooge to himself. “I haven’t missed it.”
A good friend of mine sits down on Christmas Eve every year and watches Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol with his family. It is an enduring classic that’s still as relevant today as it was when the book was first published in 1843. It’s probably Dicken’s most-loved work, which is saying something for one of the most popular writers who ever lived.
Ghost stories at Christmas were a keen custom of the Victorians. This is what Dickens tapped in to in A Christmas Carol and its central theme of inviting miserly humbug Ebenezer Scrooge to reflect on his life with the help of three chilling apparitions: the Ghost of Christmas Past; the Ghost of Christmas Present; and the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come.
As well as the important and timeless lessons about compassion and caring for each other at this time of year, Dickens’ wisdom can be applied to other areas of our lives. So, what more can the three ghosts of Christmas teach us?
The Ghost of Christmas Past…
Through the Ghost of Christmas Past, Scrooge relives his experiences as a child and a young man when he was still surrounded by compassion. This ends with his failed engagement as his fiancée sees him becoming more and more self-centred and isolated from the warmth of the world. It is here that he begins to rediscover who he is.
At Progeny, we often take clients through a discovery process where we get to know about them and their family, their financial priorities, goals, ambitions and retirement dreams, as well as the boring stuff like investment aims and risk tolerance. To be able to help clients achieve their goals and give them the best service we can, we need to know as much as possible about who they are and how they think. We all have different goals in life, and these are all informed by our past experiences.
While we can’t change our financial past, we need to remember that it will affect our financial future. An open and honest exchange about financial history with an adviser, even if it contains mistakes you’d rather you hadn’t made (as behavioural economists will tell us – we are all only human after all), is the best way to keep past mistakes firmly in the past. And, unlike Scrooge’s Ghosts, we won’t judge you!
The Ghost of Christmas Present…
The Ghost of Christmas Present shows Scrooge how those around him are living their lives. His clerk Bob Cratchit’s family are poor and their son Tiny Tim is desperately ill. Despite the hardships in their lives, these people find purpose and meaning every day in their relationships with each other.
When it comes to all areas of our lives – family, career, financial planning – we all need to know where we are today. An honest appraisal of the status quo is a firm foundation for building the bridge to where you want to get to next – be it in wealth, family or personal fulfilment. We work with clients to create a WealthAnalysis Report to give them a clear picture of their present day, which will be the basis of their financial plan going forward.
It’s also important to remember that we’re all often susceptible to ‘present bias’ when making our financial plans – but this is nothing to do with running up too big a credit bill and going crazy on the gift-buying! It’s when we’re tempted to give in to immediate rewards like treating ourselves to a mega-holiday today instead of putting more money aside for tomorrow. Making a sound financial plan with your financial adviser will help you to get the best of both worlds – living your best life today while also ensuring a comfortable and fulfilled future. Which brings us to…
The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come…
The final ghost, and the most terrifying of all for Scrooge, is the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. This ghost shows Scrooge how he will end up if he doesn’t change his ways – dying lonely and unmissed by those he leaves behind. It’s a startling vision of how his future may turn out.
Having an accurate projection of the future is a vital part of financial planning. We need to ask ourselves where we want to be and what sort of life we want to look back on, because no one wants to end up like Scrooge. A well-structured financial plan can make sure we build and enjoy a ‘life well-lived’, whatever this looks like to each of us as individuals – a better work/life balance perhaps, or the opportunity to do some charity work or spend more time with our loved ones. At Progeny, we use lifetime cashflow modelling to look into the future. It allows us to predict financial needs in the years ahead by showing the projected outcome of our decisions today.
When we talk about the future, it’s not just our own that’s important, but also those of the next generations of our family. To make sure we give them the best future we need to plan accordingly. Drawing up a will and putting in place a Lasting Power of Attorney in case of any eventuality are both necessary to decide how our estate is divided up and passed on. Careful tax planning can also help us prepare for and mitigate the effects of Inheritance Tax on what we leave behind to ensure we pass on our estate as efficiently as possible.
As we know, Scrooge was finally shaken out of his miserly life by these horrifying visions of the past, present and future. They transformed him into a better man. Happily, most of us try to live far better lives than old Ebenezer, without needing to be terrified out of our wits. However, Scrooge’s journey to enlightenment still reminds us of the important things – enjoying life, looking after each other, and providing for our families now and after we have gone. These are respectable aims at all times of year, not just at Christmas.
To borrow the final words of A Christmas Carol and a quote from Tiny Tim: “God bless us, every one!”