Since my last post, I've done complementary financial coaching calls with some blog subscribers. Whether as the primary topic of discussion or a related one, investing for (and in) retirement came up fairly often.
Investing is an important topic. Whether you're a DIY investor or working with an advisor, it's good to have at least a general idea of how to build a retirement portfolio that aligns with your risk tolerance and capacity and is based on sound investing principles.
The goal of saving diligently and investing wisely is so that we can have enough. (I discuss this further in chapter 20 of the Redeeming Retirement book—it's titled "When You Have Enough.")
As I was thinking about it, this thought came to me: "Investing for retirement is important, but there are some investments that are better than financial assets." These investments also offer the potential for growth and pay dividends, just not financially.
Better than money?
When we think of investing in the context of retirement planning, our thoughts usually go to buying stocks and bonds or mutual funds to build monetary wealth that can be used as income in retirement when we are no longer working for a living.
The interesting thing about monetary wealth (think "dollars") is that it has no intrinsic value. It's just a tool—technically, a "medium of exchange"—we can use to gain easier access to things we need and want: food, shelter, enjoyments and conveniences, and the opportunity to do what's meaningful for you before and during retirement.
Working for money, which we can then exchange for goods and services, is how our economic system operates. It can also be a way to express generosity—giving money to individuals, ministries, or organizations that accomplish those same purposes to the benefit of others.
So, if money has no intrinsic value, what are the things we can "invest" in that do?
There are several lucrative areas that we can invest in that don't require any (or very little) financial capital. Unlike monetary investments, such as stocks and bonds, they perform better during times of hardship and recession and when trials and tribulations come our way. They deliver direct gains in the form of physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being in both the short- and long-term for ourselves and others. And they will even "perform" in our eternal future!
What's in view here is investing in things that bring us joy, enrich the lives of others, and further God's kingdom on the earth. It's investing in things that are so valuable that a wise person would be willing to sacrifice all to do so.
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls, who, on finding one pearl of great value, went and sold all that he had and bought it (Matt. 13:44–46, ESV).
1. Family and Friends
Two are better than one because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! (Ecc. 4:8–9, ESV)
Like the stock market, relationships have their ups and downs. Although they can be messy and sometimes even painful, it would hard to make the argument that building and maintaining strong personal relationships with friends and family isn't a good investment. Especially during difficult and challenging social and economic times such as these, investing in relationships returns high dividends.
Good relationships retain their value, no matter what the economy is doing, and their value rises when life gets especially tough. My wife and I had COVID in January, and we were pretty sick for about three weeks. (Thankfully, we fully recovered without any serious complications.) During that time, friends and family checked on us regularly, ran errands for us, brought us meals, and prayed for us regularly. What a return on our investment!
Some of us are blessed to have parents, brothers and sisters, children and grandchildren. We may also be blessed with lifetime friends, whereas others will come and go for one reason or another. No matter how many friends or family members you have or how long you have them, strengthening those relationships for as long as you do improves your quality of life (and theirs) in almost every area.
How to Invest:
To build and maintain good relationships with family and friends, you need to have regular contact with them (duh).
The pandemic was a setback in this area. The regular rhythms for family, church, and community gatherings have been interrupted, but thanks to phones, emails, and videoconferencing (Zoom, anyone?), most of us were able to maintain contact with those closest to us, even if it wasn't always in-person.
Thankfully, things are finally starting to return to some normalcy. In-person gatherings are becoming more common (many churches are re-opening), though still restricted in some areas.
Relationships take initiative, even if it isn't immediately reciprocated. Sometimes, it can be just a call, a text, or some contact that you know your friend or family member would appreciate. Other times, face-to-face contact is best, though not always possible.
Returns and Dividends:
Fun. Companionship. Help, advice, and support. Purpose and meaning. Know and be known. Loving and being loved. A sense of being appreciated and understood. Opportunities to serve another. Imaging the love of God for his children. Accountability. Input. Perspective. Knowledge. Wisdom. More friendships.
2. Health and Fitness
Bodily training is of some value (1 Tim. 4:8b, ESV).
Over ten years ago, my wife sustained a severe shoulder injury that eventually led to her having a "full reverse shoulder replacement." She had two surgeries and a long, difficult recovery. She was a trooper, but during that time, her overall fitness level declined. After she got better, and through the recommendation of a friend, she started working with a functional fitness trainer. That was about three years ago, and the results have been dramatic.
Interestingly, this type of training is described by the words "functional" and "fitness." When people hear the word "fitness" or "fitness trainer," they most often think about losing weight and improving their physical appearance. Those can be good things, but the primary focus of what my wife does is improving her physical "functionality."
We can improve our overall health and fitness (functionality) by investing in a healthy diet and physical activity. Almost all of us could eat better. And everyone has some fitness level and can increase it by spending time regularly in some kind of exercise.
I used to run (jog) and play softball and tennis, but I find walking much more beneficial now since a back injury many years ago and some minor knee problems. I started walking about twenty years ago and estimate that I have walked many thousands of miles since then. (I also enjoy hiking in the mountains when I can.)
Walking is enjoyable, and it helps maintain the functionality of my lower extremities, but it hasn't transformed me into an ideal physical fitness specimen (my wife would agree).
The more strenuous activities you engage in, the greater the benefits (providing you don't hurt yourself in the process). I have some strength training equipment, and I've hurt myself on more than one occasion by over-doing it. So, I've learned to be more careful. The key is to find something you enjoy that also has physical benefits and do it—consistently.
Remember, the goal is to maintain and perhaps enhance physical function and long-term health. A better appearance, though not a bad thing, is an incidental benefit.
"Bodily training is some some value," so doing something is probably better than doing nothing.
How to Invest:
When it comes to health and fitness, the two words you hear the most are "diet and exercise." A lot of people diet to lose weight, and thereby improve their appearance. But the health benefits of eating wisely and losing weight far exceed its effects on our looks. Physical activity is similar in that it can improve our appearance, but its health benefits are far greater.
The key here is to find a physical activity that you enjoy that's also challenging enough to strengthen you but not so difficult that it's demoralizing (or worse, injurious). For example, if you like working in the yard, plant a garden. Or, if you like calisthenics, such as pushups, pull-ups, or leg raises, do them. Maybe you like working with weights (a set of dumbbells will do the trick), do it (but be careful not to overdo it). If you enjoy walking, as I do, get out there.
Fifteen or twenty minutes of strenuous work, or thirty to sixty minutes of less taxing activity (such as walking), should do the trick. You can put on a podcast or music while you do (I do that when I'm walking) or a TV show if you're working out at home.
As you gain strength and greater function, you can ramp things up if you want. You may not ever run a marathon or do 200 pushups, but you can still take incremental steps to push yourself a little more. But again, be careful; the older you get, the more prone to injury you are, and the longer it takes to recover.
Doing it regularly and consistently is the secret to serious wealth gains here. Some will want to do something every day (which is best); others will work out three or four times a week. You may want to "mix things up" for variety by doing an outdoor activity (such as walking) one day and some strength training indoors on others.
Returns and Dividends:
Generally feeling better. Improved physical function. Less weakness and pain. Fewer illnesses. Less disease. Better sleep. Fewer injuries. Fewer doctor visits. Less health anxiety. The job of accomplishing something worthwhile. May lose a few pounds and look a little better (we can hope).
3. Devotional Life
Seek the LORD and his strength; seek his presence continually. (1 Chron. 16:11, ESV)
What we're talking about here is Bible reading, study, meditation, and prayer. It can also involve worship and reading good devotional books. Having a rich and regular devotional life should be the practice of Christians of all ages. But we all know how the busyness and distractions of life can get in the way.
Discipline, time, focus, and concentration are the keys to a consistent devotional life. Having reasonable expectations and goals is essential also. If you decide to read a book of the Bible each day, every day, for a year, you may be disappointed. Or, if you commit to the Lord to spend at least one hour in prayer (which would be an excellent thing for all of us to do), you may end up feeling guilty when you only spend fifteen minutes.
As with other good "investments" in retirement, doing something is better than nothing. If you are too busy to spend at least 30 minutes in Bible reading and prayer, you are probably too busy.
A big challenge these days are the distractions of our phones and computers—emails and social media. Cultivating the ability to focus and concentrate is extremely important for our inner spiritual and devotional life.
How to Invest:
Close your computer and put away your mobile phone. If you use them to read and study (I use the Olive Tree Bible App and various study guides on my iPad, and the ReadingPlan App when I want to track my progress reading through the Bible in a year), try to resist the urge to check your email or the latest Facebook post while you do.
Daily Bible reading and meditation, even just a few minutes' worth, will pay huge dividends. Even better is to supplement reading with meditation on God's Word, which is just time dedicated to strengthening focus and attentiveness and letting the Holy Spirit help you discover how you can apply God's Word to your heart and life.
Prayer goes hand in with Bible reading and meditation. Some suggest praying using the pattern of the Lord's Prayer: Praise, agenda, provision, forgiveness, protection, doxology.
Returns and Dividends:
Fellowship and communion with God. Growing in grace, and faith, and trust in God. Learning more about God and the Bible. Biblical perspective of the world. Better self-understanding and awareness of areas that need growth. Conviction of sin. Spiritual growth, wisdom, and discernment. Increased gratitude and peace. A quieter soul during difficult times.
4. Church and Community Life
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. (Heb. 10:24–25, ESV)
We've looked at investments in our personal relationships, so here we turn to our investments in our community—the broader social contexts we all live in. For most Christians, the primary community they engage with is their local church. From there, we look outward to our neighborhood and the broader community in our area (town, city, etc.).
Just recently, on a Baptism Sunday in our church, I was freshly reminded of the sweetness of the Christian community. Several young people and a college student who came to Christ through our college ministry were baptized. After the service, I spoke with an older couple who said it was the first large group meeting they had physically attended since the pandemic began. Their faces radiated with great joy.
Investing in community doesn't mean selling everything and moving to a communal farm or sharing a big house. It's simply living life together with other believers while sharing a common life in Christ.
Instead of succumbing to the temptations of self-centeredness and the isolation of private lives, biblical community challenges us to invest our time, talents, and treasure in a larger community of believers, typically in the context of a local church.
Investing in a community helps us grow as Christians, but it also enables us to help others grow. As we learn together how to love one another, forgive each other, and regard others more highly than we do ourselves, we grow in the 100 or so "one another" verses mentioned in the New Testament alone.
In the context of the Christian community, relationships can be the basis for deeper fellowship, mutual care, and gospel partnerships focused on a shared mission. I know how grateful I am for my family and friendships, especially those in my local church where I can express care for and receive care from others and walk and work alongside them to fulfill the church's mission to make disciples serve our community.
How to Invest:
Intentional engagement with others and the development of meaningful relationships take time. But everyone has to start somewhere. If you aren't part of a local church, consider finding one and commit yourself to get involved. If you're already in one, honestly assess your commitment/involvement level—are you just attending meetings but not involved in the lives of others by generously giving your time, talents, and treasures? If so, map out a strategy to increase your involvement.
To grow our "community wealth," we have to learn to cast off our self-interest for the good of others. We do that by learning to share—sacrificially, at times— what God has given us, whether it's goods or spiritual gifts or both. We also, at times, have to allow ourselves to be served, lest we be prideful and reluctant to receive the humble service of others.
Then we have to "just do it," which will look different from one person to the next. There are many ways to participate and serve. Enjoy children? Teach Sunday school. Enjoy studying the Bible? Lead a Bible study. Have a mercy gift? Pursue a ministry of prayer and healing. Interested in financial stewardship? Become a financial counselor. Care for the homeless? Serve in ways to help address the plight of the homeless. Have a heart for the forgotten elderly? Visit them in nursing homes. Concerned for those going without food? Start or serve at a food pantry ministry.
Others will want to focus on teaching, or evangelism, or justice for the oppressed, and much more. Every healthy community has things you can get involved in to help expand God's glorious Kingdom in an increasingly hostile world.
Returns and Dividends:
Joy and satisfaction from serving others. Ability to use your gifts. Impacting others and the community positively. Visible and tangible expression of the Kingdom of God. Expansion of God's Kingdom on the earth by making disciples. Fun. New challenges and adventures. Grow friendships and make new ones. Meaning and purpose—a sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. Growth in empathy and compassion.
5. Hobbies and Recreation
And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun. (Ecc. 8:15, ESV)
I've had quite a few hobbies in my lifetime. When I was young, I collected things: coins, stamps, bugs, baseball cards, snakes (live ones), and rocks. (I still have my coin collection and some stamps. And my wife would say that I'm still a collector—of books.). I found great pleasure and enjoyment in collecting things. I still remember the excitement of getting a new coin that I purchased or traded for. Or catching a new snake to add to my makeshift backyard serpentarium (which my mom was never crazy about).
I also enjoyed sports (mainly baseball and tennis), but the "biggie" for me was surfing for quite a few years. I grew up in Central Florida, and Cocoa Beach was close enough to leave my high school and be in the water in about an hour. (You sure can't do that now.). Now I enjoy saltwater fishing when I can, hiking in the NC mountains, and even OHV–ing from time to time.
Since I retired, I've spent more time writing (this blog and three books). It's a "hobby"—making money isn't my focus. I enjoy it a lot and like being able to help people in the area of retirement stewardship.
You probably have things like these (with the possible exclusion of surfing) that you enjoy. That's all the more reason to enjoy them when you're retired!
We enjoy these things because God has given them, and many others, to us for our enjoyment and delight. Not that any of them can ever compare to the joy and satisfaction we can only find in him, but they are still God's good gifts that we should not take for granted, nor should we feel guilty about enjoying them (in moderation, of course—we never want to "worship" them).
God created us to enjoy coins, rocks, bugs, and fishing, and hiking (and even surfing, if you're up to it). A literal reading of Ecc. 8:15 would be that God intends for us to enjoy these things, with gratitude and the knowledge that they come from his gracious and loving hand.
How to Invest:
Find something you enjoy (and you can afford) and do it. If you want to learn a new craft or skill that you can enjoy as a hobby, take lessons. Some take music or art lessons, or gardening or cooking classes. (You can even take surfing lessons if you want, providing you can get to a beach.) Or maybe you can "rediscover" an old hobby or activity you enjoyed when you were young. (I have no plans to build another serpentarium.)
Some people can afford more expensive hobbies (such as boating or international travel), but there are lots of things you can do at little or no cost. I like to hike; all that takes is investing in a good pair of hiking shoes (a must), gas to drive to a state or national park, and a few bucks for some snacks (I like to take beef jerky with me).
Returns and Dividends:
Enjoyment of God's good gifts. Pursuit of personal interests. Learn new skills or update old ones. Greater appreciation for the beauty and wonder of God's creation. Fun and relaxation.
Investing financially for retirement is good. But investing in the better things because God has made them so are the best investments of all. Giving of our time, talents, and treasure for the sake of the gospel, which is absolutely true, incomparably beautiful, completely good, and totally life-changing, produces our greatest wealth: A life lived under the sun that is full and rich and joyful because of the finished work of Jesus Christ.
Because God loves us so deeply and richly in Christ, and because of his sovereign rule and reign over all things and his providential care for each of us, we can trust him by investing our lives in these things and then rejoice and be glad every day of our lives as we receive wonderful dividends and anticipate the greatest and most glorious one of all: eternal life (see 1 Corinthians 15).