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For future consideration...

By Beth Henary Watson

Americans’ inability to think about the future can be summarized by these facts:


- Around 50 percent of adults don’t have a will.1

- A mere 40 percent of adults own life insurance.2

- Just 48 percent of older Americans have a designated financial power of attorney.3

- Almost no one has long-term care insurance.4

- Few save enough for retirement.5


Most of us live day by day—at most week to week—and it can be hard to break out of the present and consider our future selves.

Much of the problem is that people process time in different ways. In fact, of the six time perspectives identified by the prominent psychologist Philip Zimbardo, four are present or past oriented.6 What Zimbardo and his co-author John Boyd call a “present fatalist,” for example, chalks things up to luck. “Present hedonists” live for the moment. It’s against their natures for such types to extensively consider their futures.

While too much focus on the future may keep you from enjoying your life today, moderate attention to tomorrow is part of a well-balanced perspective on life, Zimbardo said in his TED Talk on the research: “What you get from the future is wings to soar to new destinations, new challenges.” 

We financial planners face this time perspective challenge with clients every day. Talking about future long-term care needs and just straight up aging cause many to simply freeze up.

It is hard to imagine ourselves existing any way other than how we are right now. Anecdotally, many of those I’ve talked to who purchase long-term care insurance have personal experience with long-term care dilemmas, usually with a parent. In other words, they’ve had a glimpse of future possibilities through present circumstances.

In a similar vein, research has suggested that showing younger people age-progressed versions of themselves may encourage them to save more for the future.  Without feeling connected to their older selves in some visual way, people tend to relate to that “other” person as they would to a stranger.

In our office we frequently encounter prospective clients with incomplete estate plans and holes in their financial plans. Either they lack a will or living trust or it’s sorely outdated, to name a common problem. We encourage them to attend to these matters immediately. As many of them are heading into retirement, the time to take care of their futures is now.

Without taking the 61-question Zimbardo Time Perspective Inventory, you probably have a pretty good idea of your own time orientation tendencies.

What’s important is to be aware of how a heavy bias toward the present or even the past might sabotage your well-being later in life, and to take steps today toward a healthy balance.