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A financial lesson from Woodstock and the moon landing.


Fifty years ago, our family was on vacation at a cottage on Wampler’s Lake in the Irish Hills. I vividly remember watching our astronauts land on the moon. This year, we’re also observing the 50th anniversary of the Woodstock Music Festival.

If you don’t think fifty years is a long time, take a look at how primitive a 50-year-old television looks compared to current TVs. The massive computers used at Space Center Houston might better serve as anchors for ocean liner in today’s high-tech world.

Technology has certainly come a long way. I recently attended a concert featuring a rock band that actually performed at Woodstock. One look at the band members was strong visual proof that 50 years is indeed a long time.

Driven by technology, the world has changed significantly over the past fifty years. And the financial services industry has changed right along with it.

In the early 1980s, I bought an IBM computer to assist in my planning and research into the investing process. At the time, all those bulky monitors were green. I was very proud when I upgraded and bought one of the first amber monitors. If any still exist today, they’re probably in a museum.

Woodstock was a dream that was implemented without much planning or attention to details. It kind of just happened. There were shortages of food, water and other basic essentials. By comparison, the Apollo mission was planned to the minutest detail. NASA anticipated and was prepared for anything that could go wrong.

I find it interesting that they represent two substantially different approaches to the financial planning process.

Woodstock may have been a great event, but it was little more than an out-of-control, once-in-a-lifetime party. Memorable, but in many ways a disaster. On the other hand, the Apollo mission, with its detailed and documented planning was a monumental success, a wonderful example for disciplined savers and investors.

At the time, there were plenty of reasons why Uncle Sam could have tabled the space program. 1969 was a turbulent year. The Vietnam War was ongoing and we had lost both Robert Kennedy and Dr. King to senseless violence in 1968.

An investor back then might have rationalized that it wasn’t a good time to invest; that waiting might be more prudent.

But with NASA-like discipline, smart investors stick to their financial objectives in good times and bad. In spite of the turbulent times, those who saved just five percent of their pay every payday for the past fifty years would have a pretty substantial nest egg today.

More often than not, with discipline and a measurable objective, investors can reach their goals.

In spite of the lack of preparation, Woodstock showed that some things, in some way, could work out some of the time. Many people enjoyed the music, but efforts to have a 50th anniversary Woodstock crumbled when authorities refused to issue permits. On the other hand, NASA’s moon landing demonstrates that goal setting and sticking to the plan in spite of setbacks is a sounder approach.

When it comes to finances, I think most households are better off using NASA as the role model for building a retirement nest egg. We’ll likely reach the moon again. But there will probably never be another Woodstock.