I usually smile when I run. In some places, this would be nice. In Minnesota, it is strange. I smile because I am happy that right now I am still able to run. I also find that when I smile, it seems to make my runs easier. I notice, though, that not many people smile back. Yet I am determined not to allow the reaction of others to impact my own gratitude for being able to run.

Mary Oliver ends her poem, “The Summer Day,’’ with “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Has there ever been a more important financial planning question?

I was talking separately to a couple of clients who were approaching or recently entering retirement. Both had similar feelings regarding this milestone: How will people view me if I am no longer important (famous, productive)?

These were women who had done everything that they were supposed to with regard to their careers, saving and investing. They were financially secure, but it seems like that may be where their security ended. They had two key issues with which to wrestle before they could be comfortable in retirement. One — what is it that they plan to do with their one wild and precious life? Two — how can they distinguish who they are from what they do?

When people ask me what I do, I have begun to answer, “Where should I start?” There isn’t a simple answer. My work or my writing are a part of me, but they aren’t me. My investment portfolio doesn’t speak for me. My financial security or insecurity represents my feelings about money, not my success.

One of our clients received a very small inheritance from her mother. She wanted to pass it through to her children, who she felt could use the cash. Instead, we talked about what if she could take some of that money and do something with the children — small, meaningful acts that would not be something that they would do on their own. When I say a small inheritance, we’re not talking cars or trips, we’re talking sitting next to each other for a manicure or going to a baseball game. But by being very intentional, she can honor her mother’s legacy by creating experiences with the grandchildren and honor her own wishes of connection with her children.

Our money is not a means to an end. We trade our means — work life, inheritance, family dynamics, etc. — for things that money can buy. This trade we make involves our relationships with others, our personal time for reflection and our presence in the community.

With the change in Minnesota’s gifting laws, we recently met with clients regarding whether they wanted to increase their gifts before July 1 — when the law goes into effect. We talked about how much money it would save them. But we also talked about potential costs — do they feel comfortable with their own security before giving to their children? Would they make this gift if there was no tax reason to do so? Would they take away some of their children’s motivation by offering them some financial security long before they had earned it? The decision could have an impact on their children that goes well beyond tax savings. Tax laws change, but these types of decisions may have permanent influence.

No one else can own your wild and precious life; and you get to choose if you will be smiling through it.

Spend your life wisely.


Ross Levin is the founding principal of Accredited Investors Inc. in Edina. His Gains & Losses column appears on the last Sunday of the month. His e-mail is ross@accredited.com.