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Friday Thoughts

Two weekends ago, since the kids had a long weekend for Martin Luther King day, we took a camping trip to Chester State Park. If you know much about my family’s camping adventures, that doesn’t sound particularly special or unique. This trip was special, though. This was the 47th SC State Park that we’ve been to - and there are 47. So, we are now what are known by the SC State Park System as “Ultimate Outsiders”. 

This has been a fun journey for us. Nancy Lee added it up and this has been our 35th trip in our camper since we purchased it the first weekend in June of 2020 (not all parks have camping facilities). That means 35 trips in 31 months, and we had to take a chunk of last summer off while the camper was in the shop for repairs!

I’m not writing all of this to brag about what we’ve been up to. While on that trip, I happened to pull up twitter, while sitting around the campfire. Mostly, I follow economists, money managers, and financial folks on twitter, a group often referred to as FinTwits. One of the “suggested for you” tweets just hit me wrong. It read “Anecdotally, I’d say that the absolute worst purchases I see are snowmobiles, jet skis, boats, and RV’s. The cost per use, for most people, is astronomical. Massive money pits.

After I got home, I looked up this person. He is a licensed financial representative in Michigan, but is not an advisor, as he only has his series 6 and series 63 registrations, which he passed just last summer. As of a few years ago, in order to call yourself a “financial advisor” you must be registered as an investment advisor, which requires passing additional examinations that he has not done yet. 

His thoughts are exactly what I think is wrong with most of the “Financial Advice” business. If you look at only the dollars and cents, yes, our camper isn’t the best financial expense. If we would put that same amount of money into a low cost, well-diversified mutual fund that we put into the camper we would be looking at a substantial amount of money in 20 or 30 years, if it performed as it historically has.  

A well advised plan is so much more than just the dollars and cents. It’s about lifestyle and choices. We have made the choice to have experiences with our children as they grow up. We’re seeing things that most people don’t even know exist. 

That weekend, for example, we hiked around the 160 acre lake to the dam and spillway. The spillway was very unique. As the kids were climbing around some of the rocks, Sam Henry noticed something carved into the mortar around some of the rocks. It said, “CCC Sept 1936”. We had known that the park was built by the Civil Conservation Corps, but that carving in the mortar prompted a question for the ranger. 

We learned from Ranger Zach that Chester State Park and Poinsett State Park, in Sumter County, had a connection. The CCC crew that started construction of Chester got moved to Kings Mountain and Chester was to be abandoned. The CCC crew that started construction of Poinsett was a unique one. They were all of African heritage. Apparently, the folks of Sumter County weren’t pleased to have a black team building the park in their county and used some political leverage to force them out. That crew went to Chester and finished that dam and spillway and built several more structures to complete the park. This led to conversations and lessons that we would have never had in a resort hotel.

Can boats and Rv’s be horrible purchases? Absolutely. If it’s something that you won’t use, it will become something that you grow to resent. That’s why Nancy Lee and I made a commitment to take at least one trip a month, on average, in our camper. Boats can be the same way. If you desire to live a lifestyle on the lake, or river, or offshore, by all means make it happen. I was talking with a friend about this earlier this week and we said that he spends nearly every weekend on his boat from May until college football starts, and has since his first child was small. 

To me, that’s where a financial advisors work truly finds its value. We don’t just run numbers for the sake of running numbers. We make dreams happen. We help you figure out how you can afford to make the camper or boat work into your financial plan, now and later. 

I had a mentor a number of years ago that told name not to have financial magazines like Forbes or Money in the lobby and not to have CNBC on the TV. Rather, have magazines about travel and hobbies for clients to scan over. His point was that we want to focus on the long term vision of why we're doing this planning now. He said that saving and investing can be frustrating and tedious at times. But, we need to think about the lifestyle we’re aiming for. 

Since then, I’ve had a family of my own and I’ve realized there’s still one thing that he was missing. It shouldn’t just be the lifestyle of retirement that we’re planing for. It needs to also include our lifestyle that we’re living today. That still requires planning and diligence. We need to realize how we’re paying for these things and what we’re having to sacrifice in order to do them.

Could the money we’ve spent added up to make a bigger nest egg for us later down the road? Of course. But, my kids wouldn’t have seen the sunrise over Lake Wateree, the sunset over the marsh at Hunting Island, hiked along the creeks at Table Rock or Jones Gap or Croft or one of the many other places that we’ve hiked. We may have to work for a few more years because of these trips. But, that’s something that I’m completely okay with. That’s what real financial planning is all about, to me. 

We’ve already booked most of our trips for this year. We’re not done with the SC State Parks, but will be starting to venture out to some other parks now. Next weekend, we’re heading to James Island County Park, outside of Charleston. Over spring break, we’re going to two Georgia State Parks near Savannah - Skidaway and Fort McAllister. Then, two weeks after the kids are out of school we head to Vogle State Park in the mountains in northeast Georgia. We come home for a week, then are off to our favorite little beach shack at Ocean Lakes that we’ve been visiting since Nancy Lee was pregnant with Clara. We then head to Devils Fork State Park on Lake Jocassee for Independence Day week. Finally, we have reservations at Tulluah Gorge State Park (home of the largest gorge on the east coast) over Veterans Day weekend in November, hoping we get to see some colorful leaves. We’ll fill in some weekends with returns to some our favorites. 

If you would like to start to do these types of things, but don’t know how to make it happen, let me know. It does’t have to cost a lot of money. It can! But, it doesn’t have too. My number one piece of advice is to go explore your nearest State Park. Woods Bay State Park borders Sumter, Florence, and Clarendon County and doesn’t cost a penny to go explore. If you want to visit a State Park that requires an admission fee, you can check out a SC State Park Pass from any county library for free. 

If the weather is nice, maybe give it a try this weekend.

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