What’s On Your Client’s Bucket List?

More advisors are helping clients budget for and plan their dream vacations, either directly or indirectly.

By Linda Hildebrand 

RIA Lauren Gadkowski Lindsay’s client had planned a dream Alaskan cruise with her husband for years when he dropped dead of a heart attack six months before they finally were to cast off.

The client was devastated.

The more they had planned together for years, the more special — and expensive — the trip became and the more they felt they should save. When she went on that cruise three years later with a girlfriend, all she could think at every remarkable sight and experience was, “He would have liked to have seen that or done that,” Lindsay says.

“It drives home that we’re not promised tomorrow,” she says, which is why she tries to find her clients ways not just to save and grow their funds, but to spend their money to accomplish their bucket lists.

“Over time, the more I come to believe that experiences, and not stuff, is what makes life rich,” says Lindsay, CFP, of Beacon Financial Planning, based in Houston.

Another single client’s young son’s heart was set on seeing the stage play “Six” at Hampton Court Palace.

Lindsay helped her budget savings and investments for an affordable trip to London by telling the client about ways to save money on most parts of the trip — like using credit card miles and traveling on odd days, at odd hours — so she could afford the pricey tickets to see the play performed in the theater in the very home of King Henry VIII and his six wives some 500 years ago.

Travel is something Lindsay likes to chat about with clients. “When people tell you about their dreams, it does make a connection,” she says.

As someone who prioritizes travel in her own life, she says, “I learn from them, too. I find out things I didn’t know. I’m a DSW, TJ Maxx, Marshalls shopper … I don’t have tons of designer handbags and stuff like that. I prioritize travel financially and having amazing trips. But we do it on the cheap.

“It’s important to use the money that you have to make memories,” Lindsay says.

Trend in the Business

More financial firms, big and small, have been reaching out to clients about their travel bucket lists, with various degrees of personal interaction.

Michael Nathanson, CEO of The Colony Group, based in Boston, says his clients “need and deserve far more” than just asset management and financial planning.

That belief evolved into Colony’s trademarked concierge platform, Curated by Colony. The online suite lets clients access three different types of travel and life experiences, as well as other third-party experts in medicine, acute and memory care, psychological counseling, education, second-career consulting, and cybersecurity.

Bank of America and Merrill Lynch recently added Indagare’s travel site access as part of its rewards program for clients with more than $10 million invested in the bank and brokerage, says Julie Ehrenfeld, Bank of America’s vice president of media relations.

Indagare has offered clients a few free virtual trips online this year. Its first actual trip to Napa, California — “at a cost to the client, the benefit being access” — is planned in November, Ehrenfeld says.

Nathanson says Colony’s clients in surveys “have consistently revealed that travel is a continuous life goal, a satisfying way to pursue further learning, and an opportunity to generate meaningful and joyful experiences with family and friends. In our last major client survey, it was a top-2 priority for clients.”

Colony negotiated fee concessions with three different travel assistance companies. Clients can access them online directly or through Colony’s platform.

“We already have had substantial interest from clients and advisors,” says Nathanson. “We ran a webinar for one provider that attracted many attendees. We expect usage to increase substantially as advisors become even more proactive and more granular in discovering what our clients really want and making sure that we are there to get it for them as efficiently and effectively as possible.”

The Personal Touch

Lindsay says she starts her connection with clients by asking them how they prefer to travel. Some go for luxury, perhaps save for the five-star hotels and Michelin-rated restaurants. Others like to camp, perhaps rent an RV and stay at parks as they visit America’s roadsides.

“I start with overall annual budget and then break it down and talk about ways to make a trip less expensive or more affordable,” she says.

A few tips:

  • Look for flights traveling Wednesday to Wednesday, when airfares tend to be lower.
  • Scour best fares and flights at online brokers, such as Expedia and Orbit, then check them against direct purchase from airlines, especially if flying nonstop. Except for Southwest, most search engines capture most available flights.
  • Sign up for emails from Scott’s Cheap Flights, especially if a client is flexible enough to commit instantly when Scott’s team digs up rare deals and airfare mistakes.
  • Use Viator to self-plan city tours. The travel-booking website consolidates local tour operators and partners with hospitality firms for discounts.
  • Check out TripAdvisor, another online travel helper searchable by location and with accessibility information and useful real-life member reviews of accommodations and attractions.
  • Visit websites including Vrbo and Airbnb that make it easy to rent vacation homes and find pet-friendly lodging. If clients want to buy a vacation home, Lindsay says, she recommends they first use Vrbo to visit the location to test if it’s a fit for them. Some have come back preferring to continue to rent vacation-home space rather than commit to second-property taxes and upkeep.
  • Join AARP for discounts on hotels, car rentals, cruises and group bookings.
  • Visit the Atlas Obscura website to find mostly free roadside sites along the way at are, sure enough, obscure.
  • Before visiting museums in person, preview them on virtual tours. More museums added virtual tours to their websites after Covid-19 shut down much of the world.

Clients with flexibility, like some retirees, may have special travel options. Lindsay says a family member is such a “serial cruiser” that ships have him on their standby lists to fill cabins last-minute. “He went on a lot of inexpensive cruises that way,” she says.

“You do have clients who are happy to be budget travelers, and others want to live it up,” she says.

“One of my clients just went to an exclusive private spa in Houston but now is partnering with another mom to rent an Airstream to travel to parks together with their kids and camp,” Lindsay says.

Then again, “You don’t have to go overboard and use all your money for your bucket list all at once,” she says.

Additional Reading: The Best and Worst Destinations for Older Travelers 

Paying for Travel

The couple who lost out on their dream anniversary cruise together were both still working when he died.

“It wasn’t about affording it but more about planning the dream,” Lindsay says. Getting time off was a bigger impediment than current earnings to pay for it, she says.

“But the longer they saved for it, the more extravagant the trip got … and the budget went up,” Lindsay says.

Clients over age 59 and a half can tap some retirement assets without penalties. It’s still taxable income, of course, Lindsay says.

Working people over age 55 may be able to use Rule 72(t) for a continuing revenue stream from a 401(k) account, too, she notes.

“You have to know how the laws work,” she says. “What you don’t want to do is take it out and lose 40% to taxes. That can happen. You have to do it the right way.”

Linda Hildebrand is a longtime newspaper editor and consumer reporter.


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