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Mar 2, 2015

Pebbles into Gems

by Ian Burns

Ian Burns and Shelley Johnston

There is an old fable (author unknown) about a young man who was on a journey to the rich city which was three valleys away and across the river of no return. The young man came across an old man who was very weak. The young man stopped to ask if he needed anything, and the old man replied,

“I am beyond help, but thank you. I will give you some advice: collect as many pebbles as you can along your journey before you cross the river – you will be both happy and sad.”

The young man was puzzled and asked “Why?” but could not get an answer as the old man had gone back into a deep sleep. The young man continued on his journey and collected pebbles as the old man had told him. After the young man had crossed the river, he checked his pockets which were beginning to feel heavy, and to his surprise the pebbles had turned into precious gems. At this point the young man was both happy and sad— happy because he had picked up some pebbles but sad because he wished he had picked up many more and it was too late as there was no turning back once you had crossed the river.

You may be wondering why we are telling you this old folktale and how it applies to personal finance. Just as the pebbles turned to gems, insight is the wisdom or knowledge one gains only after something has already happened and we are looking back.

Unfortunately, “if only” is a phrase we hear all too often. Take life insurance, critical illness and income protection, for examples. It’s all very well saying, “I have enough,” I don’t need it,” or “It won’t happen to me.” However, “what if you don’t?” “what if you do?” or “what if it does?” Do you have a lifestyle protection strategy in place for when you may need it most? You owe it to yourself and your family to plan for the unexpected by protecting your income and as well as their lifestyle.

Recently a close friend was diagnosed with throat cancer. The good news is that he had critical illness insurance to help him and his family through this challenging time in their lives. However, looking back, he wished he had purchased more. His critical illness protection was enough to pay down his mortgage and cover the bills for the last eighteen months. Unfortunately he is far from ready for full time work. He asks, “If only…”

The fable about the pebbles reminds us that as we go through life there will always be financial decisions to be made. Most importantly as we are making decisions, we need to remember this fable—Pebbles to Gems—and know that the payoff will be worth it in the end.

Ian Burns, CLU, ChFC, EPC and Shelley Johnston, CFP, EPC, The Pension Specialists, Authors of “Pay Attention to Your Pension”, Whitby, Ontario, (888) 279-0622,