Saturday, June 24, 2017

Talking About Money - and Death

It is important to talk about money, although most people refuse to do so.

A friend recently took me to task, as she said, "All you ever talk about is money and death!"   And to some extent, she is right.   We live on a retirement island, and many of our friends are in their 70's, 80's and 90's.  Every day, the ambulance goes by, and like nervous cattle in the feed lot, we wonder, who it was this time, to leave the island feet-first.   Or who is found living in their own squalor, to be shuffled off to assisted living - their obituary being casually read many months or even years later.

Some think this is morbid.   And it is, but it is also liberating.   Once you realize that your life is finite, you are freed from tyranny.   What do I mean by this?   Well, my friend is caught up in the rat-race of the big city - much as we were - not realizing that 5/8ths of her life has expired, and maybe 3/8ths remains - the last 1/8th being anything but a picnic.   If you see this, you realize that life is very short and should be enjoyed to the fullest.   If you want to do something with your life, do it now, because there won't be many tomorrows left.

When you are working and living in the city, or worse yet, the suburbs with all the other cubicle dwellers, you may be lead to believe that what is important in life is what is on TV, what happened at the office today, or what your kid brought home from school.   It is easy to live too much in the here and now and not realize that this piece of artwork that is your life will eventually be finished, whether you like it or not.

So many people in the US are not prepared for the inevitable.   They lurch toward retirement, laid off at an early age, without enough money to pay for their own upkeep.   It seems like a logical thing that you would want to be able to support yourself in your old age, when your body and mind start to fail - and it happens sooner than you think.   Oh, sure, we can "keep active" in our 70's and 80's.   It doesn't mean we can keep working, unless we own the company and they can't fire us.

It is a logical thing.   People think emotionally.   And for many people, so long as their parents are alive, they kid themselves into thinking that I don't need to save up for old age as I'm still a kid!   There will be plenty of time "later on" for that sort of nonsense.   Might as well enjoy ourselves today!  Let's get a Starbucks and go off to Whole Foods!

And yes, that was me, 20 years ago, when I lived in the big city and had the high-paying job.  We spent money and didn't even look at prices of things.   If we wanted to go out to eat at a restaurant, we never thought about the cost of whether we could afford it.

Now, being retired, and early-retired at that, we have to think about how much money we have left and how much things cost.   To my friend, this is buzz-kill.   Why not just go and have fun?   But the reality is, if you think that way in retirement, you'll end up broke.   So you look for ways to have fun on a budget.   There is a happy hour the retirees go to with $3 drinks and $5 appetizers.   It is as much fun as the fancy hotel with the $10 drinks and the $18 appetizers.   But you feel better about yourself the next day.

"But I have plenty of money!" you say.  And lottery winners say the same thing - and end up broke as well.   Even Billionaires have to have a budget and watch their money.   In fact, how do you think they became billionaires in the first place?  Not by spending willy-nilly.

Many if not most people don't like to talk about money, and this leads to a lot of trouble.   For example, we all assume the "other guy" is making more than us and we resent it.   But the "other guy" maybe heavily in debt - mortgaging his future to put on the appearance of being wealthy.   And if he knew how much you made and vice-versa, maybe he wouldn't feel the need to "keep up" with his neighbors in spending.   Of course, this often backfires, in companies where everyone's pay scale is known to everyone else - people resent those they feel are "overpaid".

And it would be helpful if people weren't ashamed to admit when they are snookered in a deal.   The crooked players in the marketplace succeed in life because they know that most folks won't own up to being conned or taken advantage of, unless of course, they want to play the victim card, and hope someone starts a gofundme page for them.

But my friend is right, once you are retired, you think more about money, as you don't have an unlimited potential to earn it.   That paycheck isn't coming in every month, so you have to think carefully about where it goes. 

And since you are looking at the second half, or even the final quarter of your life (and since life is non-linear), you think about what you want to do before the final checkout.   A year for me is less than 1/50th of my life.  When I was 10 years old, it was 1/10th.   Time is not only running out, it flashes by faster and faster as I go.

You can say that is morbid or sad or depressing or whatever.   That doesn't change the fact that it just is.    Your life is finite whether you want it to be or not.   So make the most of it, and don't delude yourself that your life or your checking account balance is endless.