By Cass Grange, Sr. Advisor Associate

So-called “alternative investments” are a hot topic nowadays. For the last several years the world of professional money management has seemingly been obsessed with finding novel ways to diversify beyond traditional asset classes.

But I have some suggestions for alternative investments you will never hear about in the Wall Street Journal or on CNBC, and they probably make sense for just about everyone. They too will generate returns and help provide protection against risk, but unlike many of the novel “AI” schemes being offered by Wall Street, they are time-tested and proven.

2014 September English Country House

Invest in your friends.

You may need them sooner than you think, and great relationships have huge value. Two weeks ago my colleague, Megan Poore, dislocated her shoulder very painfully. On her second day back at work she asked me if I would pull her hair up in a ponytail. As I brushed her hair it felt a bit awkward helping someone at work with something so personal. I said to Megan, “this is what it is going to be like when we get old.” Everyone in the room giggled nervously. Yes, if we all live long enough we will surely need help with something, but as this example shows, it may happen well before then. So be good to your friends and your coworkers. Invest in those relationships by being a good friend yourself. If you do, it’s much more likely they’ll be there for you when you need them.

Invest in your neighborhood.

High density neighborhoods can be safer than subdivisions with big lots and high fences, especially if you look out for each other. Join the HOA.  Join the party committee. Show up for the meetings. Invite people over. It is fun and it pays off.

My dear friend, who is a wonderful neighbor to all, has a child who has been at the Children’s Hospital for the last four months. Since May, neighbors and friends have mowed their lawn, cleaned their house, brought food every night, sat with them, and prayed with them. People have been so generous with their time and money and love that it brings tears.

The generosity shown to my friend and her family isn’t accidental. She is a kind, caring person herself. Over the last 18 years she has brought dinner to the sick, given thoughtful gifts, volunteered at the school, mailed warm cards, and has given good hugs to so many people in this neighborhood. My friend didn’t do it with the thought that people would reciprocate. But they have – in spades – right when she needed it most, and it has helped to make her huge burden just a little bit easier to bear.

Invest in your family.

The traditional model for us is that adult children will take care of their parents. However, many people don’t have children.  Or, their kids live 1500 miles away. I think we all need to think more thoughtfully about how this plan could work better.

I see many older adults asking their adult children to perform tasks like cleaning their house or mowing their lawn that they could easily hire someone else to do. Save your relatives for bigger, more complicated help, like advising on your technology or health issues.

Try to build relationships with your relatives while you can give them your time and your interest. Why is that song “Cat’s In the Cradle” so poignant? We all know of families like that one.  I had a colleague who was very cool to her dad.  “He wasn’t there for us ever when we were kids, and now he thinks he can rewrite history and we can spend lots of time together as adults. You are what you spend your time on.”

I have another set of friends who don’t have any children. However, they do have two nieces and a nephew who just graduated from high school.  My friends took them on a trip to New York City for graduation. They also gave the three of them their old car, rather than trading it in. They send them thoughtful, fun birthday presents. They are present in their lives and have been all these years, even while living in separate states.

I once commented on what thoughtful relatives they are, and my friend told me “part of this is purposeful. We don’t have kids of our own, and I can see that even with money, people need friends and family who care about you.”

Final thoughts.

Studies show we live longer and healthier lives when we are connected in our community.  So diversify your network purposefully with people of different ages, viewpoints, and abilities.   Guard your relationships wisely and reconnect with your old friends and keep adding new friends in your life. Your social and family wealth is as valuable as any financial asset on your balance sheet.  Connecting with people pays dividends of joy and love, and the payout is priceless.

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