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  • Writer's pictureBridget Sullivan Mermel CFP(R) CPA

Your 200 Year Legacy | Nurture what Matters!

Your 200 Year Legacy is something that can be difficult to wrap your head around. Thinking about your legacy can enrich your life and help you find meaning.

John Scherer details how he thinks through this legacy, then he and Bridget Sullivan Mermel discuss how this can help reframe your thinking so that you get beyond the day-in-day out troubles.

Bridget's grandma passed along values to her, while John experienced a 200 year legacy moment with his family at the Hoover Dam. Both Bridget and John share one important value--which is highlighted when they talk about the 200 year legacies they hope to leave.

What about you? What legacy do you want to leave? Leave a comment! We'd love to hear from you.

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John: Have you ever thought about your 200-year legacy? That's our topic on today's episode of Friends Talk Financial Planning. Hi, I'm John Scherer, and I run a fee-only financial planning practice in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Bridget: And I'm Bridget Sullivan Mermel, and I've got a fee-only financial planning practice in Chicago, Illinois. John, before we get into the 200-year legacy, we want to remind people to please subscribe. It helps our credibility with You Tube and helps us feel appreciated. So 200-year legacy. I'm really interested in what you have to say about this and how you think about this.

John: Yeah, it's something that I came across a while back, and at first when I heard that 200 years, I thought, “That sounds crazy!” We can remember back to the Bicentennial in 1976. 200 years before that was literally when the country was born. You might be thinking, “200-year legacy. What does that mean?” And so, I explain it like this. Think about a family that has a second generation, has kids every 30 years because it's easier to do math for that. So go back somewhere around the time we were born. Let's say we were born in 1970. If you go back 30 more years, that means our parents were born about 1940.

And you go back another 30 years. And our grandparents were born about 1910. So grandparents in 1910, parents in 1940, us in 1970, and then go forward another 30 years. So then our kids were born in the year 2000 and their kids our grandkids in the year 2030. If the kids born in 2030 live until they're 70, that's out to the year 2100. So think about the years from our grandparents to parents to us to kids to grandkids stretching from 1910 to the year 2100. 190 years doesn't sound quite so sexy as a lead in, but that’s basically a 200-year period from grandparents to grandchildren.

As I think about this, some of the meaningfulness or the usefulness of this approach is just getting beyond the short term and thinking, “Oh yeah, I know my grandparents. What things have my grandparents taught me, whether it's about values, ethics, property, other things. And what can I do to set that up for my grandkids? What are the things that we want them to have?” And again, we can get into a conversation about money, about values, about many things, but looking at that 200-year period is really interesting and useful for thinking about something bigger than just ourselves in our lifetimes.

Bridget: Yeah, I think it's interesting in a couple of different ways. When you brought this topic up, I had just read somebody who was very successful saying that when he’s faced with a decision he asks, “Does it matter in five years?” And that really resonated with me, because I can worry about a lot of things for which the answer to that question is no, it doesn't matter in five years. And so, this is like saying, “Okay, what about 100 years?” And I go back to my grandparents’ legacy and my parents’ legacy and think, “Yeah, how is that all flowing?”

And it's interesting to think about, because at first, I couldn't think of anything, but then I started thinking about one of my grandmas, who was very into education, particularly for girls and women. And she had gone to UW Madison and her sisters had too, and they would work to put each other through college. And this is grandma, but it did have an effect on me, because her appreciation for education passed on to my mom, passed on to me, passed on to my sisters, passed on to their kids.

And my brothers are really smart, too. I'm not dissing my brothers, but I would say that in my family, honestly, the girl’s education is one of the values. And again, you wouldn't necessarily think about this because a lot of times you might think more about what you don't want to do when you're calling some of your ancestors than what you do want to do. But in this case, it really shined a light on how I have that value, too. I value girls’ and women's education in kind of a different way than some of the other things.

John: I wanted to pull out two things that you said there, Bridget. One is I love that idea of asking, “Will this matter in five years?” There are so many things on a day-to-day basis that I get anxious about and only think about those things. And at least for me, most of the things won’t matter in five years. And to focus on those things where it is going to matter is really important. And I think the same thing is probably true as you think, “Is this going to matter in 200 years? Will this make a lasting impact?” And again, most things don't, but those things that do could be really critical.

Think about that story you just shared about your grandmother and her sisters and how that went. And I love that you said it's not necessarily what they would have said had you asked them the question, and yet it carries forward through the generations. And so that was really insightful, in that so many of us today are in a position where it's not subsistence living. It might seem like that’s just easy for me to say, but we just took a vacation down to the U.S. Southwest, and we did a little tour of the Hoover Dam. It’s an incredible engineering marvel.

And one of the things that we had taken away and shared with our kids is the number of people who helped to build it. And of course, I forget the exact number, but tens of thousands of people went there to find work because it was built during the Great Depression. They only had jobs for 3000 or 5000 people or something to this effect. But the idea of saying, “I'm going West to see if I can find work to make ends meet for my family” is very uncommon for us. So many of us are thinking very different things. We're not necessarily worried about where the next meal comes from.

And thinking about, “What am I communicating to my children and grandchildren? How can I return to those things that were meaningful to me and be intentional about perpetuating those for others?” For some of us, certainly it's moving to the next level, socioeconomically and those things, but once you get to a spot, then what? Then you get to a position when you want your kids to be even richer than you. Maybe that is the case, but what else is meaningful? It’s such a big thing. And I think some of this is just being able to think in that direction.

Bridget: Yeah. And for me, again, it gets back to your deeply held values. For instance, education is one of mine, and then another is honestly the environment. And I think for both of us, that's actually one of our values, though it plays out in different ways. You wouldn't necessarily think that is the case because I live in the city of Chicago.

John: There's a tree there, isn't there? 😊

Bridget: Yeah, I planted some. The thing is there're all kinds of positive health benefits to trees in Chicago, and there was even a study that it helps with shootings. And maybe it's just because the environment's better, because I don't think trees are getting shot too often😊 And so, it's interesting how when I think about 100 years in the future, I think about that value. I want to do more in that regard and have more of an impact.

John: It's interesting you brought up trees. I own some farmland, and two of the things we do is plant a lot of trees and try to regenerate prairies. And you made me think of a story. I was out helping one of my friends plant some trees at the farm, and my boys were there, and he was saying how we're planting these trees now, but it's going to be for my kids, basically, when the acorns fall off the trees for the animals and things like that. And I remember Gary asking of my son, “Well, in 30 years, how old will you be?”

And so, Vince did the math on that, and he said, “How old will I be?” And then he said, “Well, jeez, you'll be dead.” We all had a good laugh about that and the honesty of kids, but thinking about that tree metaphor is really an interesting thing. There're trees in parks and other places that have been around 200 years. Maybe that idea of “What am I planting today?” is not just for my children and not just for my grandchildren, but for my great grandchildren and down the path. Maybe it's a physical tree.

It’s awesome to think about the trees that you planted, and though I give you a hard time about planting trees, those trees are going to be around for hopefully 100 or more years. That’s a meaningful legacy. And then what are the metaphorical trees that we're planting such as things like education for women and girls? And I know I got from my parents the idea of taking care of people that can't take care of themselves, looking out for the underdog sort of thing.

And for me, that manifests in different ways. I believe in charity and giving time and money. And it wasn't explicit. My parents didn't give a lot of time and money, yet their careers were based on helping people. And it’s interesting to think back on how I feel about things based on what I learned. It’s really interesting to dig into those things and then to think about going forward. What is it that we want to do with our remaining time? And then what type of trees are we planting now for the future?

Bridget: Great.

John: That's a great way to wrap things up. Here with this discussion on your 200-year legacy again, I'm John Scherer. I run a fee-only financial planning practice in Middleton, Wisconsin.

Bridget: And I'm Bridget Sullivan Mermel, and I've got a fee-only financial planning practice in Chicago, Illinois. John and I are both members of ACP, or the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners, which is a group of comprehensive fee-only financial planners with a tax focus. And there're planners all over the country, so if you're looking for someone who thinks like we do, a great place to check is

John: That's right. And don't forget to hit that subscribe button.

At Sullivan Mermel, Inc., we are fee-only financial planners located in Chicago, Illinois serving clients in Chicago and throughout the nation. We meet both in-person in our Chicago office and virtually through video conferencing and secure file transfer.

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