Forest Man

What if your life mission was to single-handedly transform a desert into a thriving forest? This story sounds like one of generations past, but is taking place as we sit here today. Jadav Payeng lives in a remote village in India, and is eloquently known as “Forest Man.” He has been planting trees his entire life, one at a time, to revive the ecosystem of his native land.

Today, the remote island is a dense 1,300 acre forest. It is home to hundreds of thousands of trees, and a variety of animals, like tigers, deer, monkeys and elephants. Did he do it all on his own? Payeng gives credit to nature for its help.

In a 2017 interview with NPR, he says “It’s not as if I did it alone. You plant one or two trees, and they have to seed. And once they seed, the wind knows how to plant them, the birds here know how to sow them, cows know, elephants know, even the Brahmaputra river knows. The entire ecosystem knows.”

From my perspective, building a forest isn’t much different than saving for retirement. When you graduate from college with little to nothing in the bank, you are starting with an empty desert. As you contribute to your retirement account every paycheck, you are planting another tree.

Just how trees produce new seeds, your retirement investments produce income in the form of dividends. When those dividends are reinvested, the compounding process begins. Before you know it, nature is doing its thing and helping you build a retirement forest.

Payeng was also wise enough to diversify his investments, er forest. He says he started with bamboo trees, then switched to cotton trees. “I kept planting -- all different kinds of trees,” he said.

Much like what it takes to build a healthy forest, a healthy investment portfolio requires diversification. You don’t want to rely too heavily on one company or sector to provide for your long-term financial health.

When you start investing, you may be primarily focused on stocks to build your forest’s foundation. As your portfolio grows and you near retirement, more stable and income producing investments may enter the picture to provide consistent health to the forest. These types of investments typically include bonds and real estate.

Lastly, what impresses me the most about this story is that Payeng wasn’t asked to build a forest. He saw his land needed help and he took the initiative himself. No one is going to be knocking on your door asking you to save for retirement. There is always going to be another financial need begging for your attention, but you will have to be the one to take the first step.

If you do decide to move forward, maybe one day your family will ask how you did it? You can tell them, “I kept investing -- all different kinds of investments.”