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One of the best things about walking our dog early in the mornings is being alone with my thoughts.

On a recent morning, one of my favorite quotes by journalist Sydney Harris popped into my head: "Regret for the things we did can be tempered by time; it is regret for the things we did not do that is inconsolable."

A primary job of financial planners is to help their clients see what is possible. It is also to help them balance living today while preparing them for tomorrow. But not knowing how many tomorrows we have can create too much emphasis on an uncertain future.

How do you strike a balance to avoid regret? The answer is simple but not easy: Be conscious of the choices you are making and for whom you are making them.

One of our long-term clients is now in hospice. As we were talking, she said how grateful she was for what she and her husband did with their family and how they were not too conservative too soon with their money. The couple never fully lived in the comparison world, so their own personal values influenced their decisions. They did not spend much money on housing, but they lived comfortably. They chose to invest in their children's education and travel, both things that brought them joy. They often paid for their adult children to travel with them to underscore their value around family. Although cancer will rob her of some years, she has lived her life fully.

I have worked with countless clients, and here is some wisdom I have discovered that helped them avoid regret:

  • They don't begrudge others for what they have. Being genuinely happy for the happiness of others reduces the focus on what you don't have and increases the satisfaction of your own life, a surefire antidote for regret.
  • They don't compare their lives to those of others. You make the choices that are important to you, not because you are measuring yourself against someone else.
  • They say yes more often. Sure, you end up making some mistakes, but you also open yourself up to more fulfilling experiences. Pleasant memories expand through time, and time tempers the sour ones.

As I look back on my life, something I won't regret is my simple morning walk with our dog.

Spend your life wisely.

Ross Levin is the founder of Accredited Investors Wealth Management in Edina. He can be reached at