At some point during the graduation festivities a few weeks ago, I found myself looking over at my mom, then at Oldest Son, and it occurred to me that I’m smack in the middle of the two generations. Twenty years younger than my mom and 25 years older than Oldest Son offers an interesting vantage point. On one hand it doesn’t seem so long ago that I was graduating high school myself, which lead to this scary thought: that means it’s just a short jump away until I’m at my mother’s stage, contemplating retirement.
I’m still learning from my parents and without even thinking about it, often put myself in their shoes as I observe how they’re getting older. Will I want a Hilton-on-wheels motor home someday? (I don’t think so. But you never know.) Can I do anything now to avoid health challenges they’ve faced? Will I be able to help my kids financially the way my parents have helped me?
That last question has bothered me. My father is a helicopter pilot and my mom has had a long nursing career, much of it spent managing a regional pediatric intensive care unit. Shawn and I will likely never have the same earning power they do. But does that necessarily mean we can’t retire with as little worry as they seemingly are?
Then just the other day, a co-worker was celebrating her 61st birthday. She’s worked for our newspaper for 34 years, and without prompt said, “You know, I just thought I’d be in better financial shape than I am by now. I thought if I worked hard, put money away in a 401K and didn’t live high on the hog, I could retire comfortably, but that just isn’t the case.”
Hearing her lament the sum of her years of hard work, I felt like the universe was sending me a message, only it wasn't specific. It was more like: DO SOMETHING!
Which wasn’t very helpful.
I would love to travel and help others more when I retire, but really my wishes for latter-year finances can be boiled down to two absolutes: I want to have enough money to visit my kids, grandkids, family and friends whenever I want, and I never want to be so broke that I’ve lost options and need my children to care for me.
I’ve always wanted to think the world will support artists and dreamers, myself included. But lately, with the knowledge that I'm going to get old just like everyone else becoming undeniable — and that getting old is expensive — I find myself more practical-minded. More likely to tell my sons, Well, it turns out that money does actually matter. Go out and have some fun after graduation, see the world if you want, but then find the intersection between what interests you and still allows you to support yourself and your family the way you want.
So anyway, the DO SOMETHING for now is to look into turning our current house mortgage loan (which was refinanced to 4.25% interest two years ago and has 28 years remaining) into a 15 or 20-year loan. The increased payment will smart — and maybe even decrease our options in terms of always needing jobs that pay a certain amount — but left as is, our house will be paid for when I’m 70. Also, Shawn is getting a slight pay raise this year, so maybe that’s actually what the Universe was saying (I’m hard of hearing, you know): HAND OVER YOUR RAISE.
END NOTE: The other day I stopped at the drug store on the way home from work to buy some chardonnay. The good news is the woman behind the counter carded me. I was stunned giddy and speechless, just able to push my wallet across the counter at her. “I’m going to need you to remove your I.D. for me,” she said in a way that can only mean, “I’m so sick and tired of you kids always pulling this sneaky shit on me.” Her eyesight appeared sound, and I experienced perhaps the happiest 15 seconds of my life before she added, “We card everyone now — company policy — even if you’re 90.”