Five weeks transpired between learning that I had qualified to donate my kidney to my daughter and the scheduled surgery. Comments from family and friends during that period focused on expressing support or acknowledging how miraculous it was that we were a match.
One morning, an acquaintance approached me with a troubled look on his face. "Are you sure you can live well with only one kidney?" he asked. His question was driven by concern, I'm sure. It was a question perhaps shared by others not familiar with the statistics on kidney donor mortality1. But it was jarring to hear. Is one kidney really "enough?" I thought I had settled the issue for myself. His question reignited a level of apprehension. Should I hold on to both my kidneys, or is one kidney really enough?
The objective answer, let me hasten to say, is yes. For some 60 years since the first kidney transplant, lots of donors have lived long, healthy lives with only one kidney.
Data reveal that kidney donors show no increased medical or mortality risks compared to the general population. (That's perhaps because donors are very healthy to begin with.) More sophisticated analysis, comparing donors with control groups of healthy non-donors, finds a slightly elevated risk of developing end-stage renal disease. But researchers acknowledge the need for more studies, much more data, and the interplay of other variables.2
My own initial assessment simply compared the high probability of improved health for my daughter with slim odds that I would suffer any long-term complications. As an investment advisor, the low risk/high reward ratio made this an easy decision. My anxiety subsided as I went through the thought process again. On with the transplant--let go of that extra kidney! And we had the surgery on June 12th.
Now back at work, with both of us recovering well, the question lingers, and takes on new meaning. When do you know you have "enough?" Can one's thinking about donating a kidney inform one's approach to financial planning? Let me try to explain why that's actually not such an off-the-wall question.
First, some background: Most of our clients are familiar with the planning exercise. You compile your list of financial "needs, wants, and wishes." Identify all the resources available to fund those goals over a long retirement. Simulate returns on the portfolio. Inflate the cost of the goals over time. Calculate the projected yearly cash flows. Then determine for what percentage of the simulations is there at least one dollar left over when the plan ends.
We reassure clients that they're on track if approximately 75% to 90% of the simulations end with money still in the portfolio. This level of success generally positions the client for a successful outcome. Much can change over 20 or 30 years, but mid-course corrections are possible.
Some clients establish a base level of desired assets and hope to grow that further. Most assume that the higher the percentage of successful simulations, the better. In the face of uncertainty in forecasting years into the future, many figure that more is always better. For many, trying to determine how much of a portfolio is "enough" is too imprecise, too subjective, too risky an exercise to quantify. At least that's conventional wisdom.
Having concluded that one kidney is "enough," however, it's intriguing to ask whether one might consider applying the same assessment process to one's financial assets.
Letting go of that kidney has been a life-altering experience for me. What I thought would be a largely medical/biological exercise turned into an emotional and spiritual journey. My family and I were overwhelmed by support and prayers from friends, family, and clients. Sharing a small part of me with a beloved daughter and anticipating her renewed health—well, words can't do justice to the symphony of emotions put into play by successful transplant surgery. Enabling a loved one to gain something of a new life results in a wonderful sense of purpose and satisfaction.
But parallels to financial planning? What might result from "letting go" of some of what generates that confidence level of 75% to 90%? What might be the consequences if we draw down the portfolio and end up with an 80% confidence level rather than an 85% level? More important, what could we do with whatever those assets amount to? What might be the implications of a financial version of "letting go of an extra kidney?"
If you come to the conclusion that "enough" is less than what you might have previously thought, new goals will emerge: changing lives through charitable giving, educating a generation of descendants, endowing scholarships, taking memorable trips to exotic locations with family or friends…the list can go on.
This is not a recommendation to be reckless with your money, nor to overspend the budget. It is a suggestion that life (and your asset base) offers opportunities to engage in wonderful experiences if you dare to believe that "enough" doesn't require you to hold on to it all until the very end.
If you’d like help in re-assessing "enough" for you, give us a call. And if you'd consider donating a kidney to someone you love or even to a complete stranger, I'd be happy to share my experience in discovering that one kidney really is "enough."