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view from the middle

My mom, Shawn, Youngest Son, Oldest Son, me, Middle Son and my dad gather for a photo on graduation day.

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.”

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Reader Comments (8)

Ah, yes, retirement. A subject that I think about more & more often these days. FavAuntie & I are extremely fortunate in that regard, seeing how I have almost 30 years with the Feds (30 years!). I attended a retirement seminar a couple of years ago and then ran my numbers. My first reaction was "Jeez, that's not a big percentage of what I'm earning now." My second reaction was "Jeez, that's a lot of money compared to the vast majority of my friends." We won't be out on the street, but we won't be on the Riviera either.

Instead of refinancing (again) have you considered making extra payments on your mortgage? With some discipline you can pay it off early, but not be locked into a larger payment for those times when you need 4 new tires. Or a new roof. Or a weekend at the spa.

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrotherJohn

I'm with BroJohn on the extra payments without locking yourselves into a scary level. In my second (ill-fated) marriage he took a 30 year mortgage on the house, and the whining was deafening. Being somewhat of an amateur micromanager myself (and pretty good at it, too) I suggested he double the payments, since it was easily within his budget. The marriage was over in four years, but the house was paid off entirely in seven. SEVEN, not 30. And the savings had to be rather impressive. I wouldn't know. I was happily several states away.

I sense the obstacle for you in this happy plan is that word 'easily' which I glibly dropped in. So don't actually double the payment. But come as close as you possibly can.

I'm watching my parents in their late 70's and wondering if magic will apply since they're less than prepared. I have only one piece of advice for you since I didn't learn much. That is: live well below your means. I mean, act like you're poverty-stricken, all the time. Put every lousy nickel into debt reduction. Nobody actually NEEDS most of what we give ourselves, and by giving it to ourselves now, we are denying ourselves basic needs later. Had it not been for winning RRD's affections, I swear I'd be the old bag under the overpass, begging for cat food.

I LOVE your family picture! Sweet, sweet, sweet.

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterNice Lady with Dog

This is why I married BroJohn. Okay, one reason among many. Otherwise, I'd end up moving in with you and then I'd be CrazyAuntie instead of FaveAuntie and you'd be bitching at me to stop drinking all your Cardbordeaux.

Nice looking family, by the way.

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterFaveAuntie

It is really spooky how you keep getting inside my head and writing what I am thinking. (only worded much better and more measured) Freaky, seriously.

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPooknelle

I looked at the photo before I finished reading your post and so, even before reading about your sad attempts to buy illicit alcohol underage, I was cattily thinking to myself: "Biyotch looks about 15"!

June 21, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterElizabeth

BrotherJohn: Well, we have been adding a bit of extra money to our principal payments lately, since paying that debt down is more lucrative than anything we can save in a savings account right now. But here's what I found out: A 15-year loan will add $250 to our monthly payment and take our total interest paid (compared to our current loan) from $118,000 over 30 years to just $34,000! But as you and NLwD mentioned, getting locked into that larger payment can be tough. So here's an interesting compromise: A 20-year loan will take 8 years off our current loan, and reduce the total interest to half at $60,000, all with nearly the same payment as what we're paying now. So I think we may go for that. And then we can make extra payments towards principal to try and take years off...I'm glad you and FaveAuntie are in good shape. Should I send a thank you note to the Feds?

NLwD: I've been thinking about you today, hoping your surgery is going well. And I so agree about living beneath your means. We do pretty well in this regard, but we could also do better, you know? I embarrass my kids to death when I start pulling out my coupons at a restaurant, but cheaper still is eating at home.

FaveAuntie: CrazyAuntie sort of has a catchy ring to it. I'll be watching for moments when I can apply it now :)

Pooknelle: It figures, as we're in similar stages in life. Sometimes when I don't see options, I realize that there are actually options when it comes to finances, I just don't like the "options" very much!

Elizabeth: That is about the sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me! Note to self: Group photos over portraits.

June 22, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterminor catastrophes

Dear, dear Megan, you just don't take my advice at all, do you? The book you delivered to my bedside where a bravely convalesced in Belgrade the other day, I realized you went out and forked over FAT CASH for! I'm utterly delighted, and honored you'd give the time and the investment to me and my nurse/daughter. I keep starting to say, "Oh, you shouldn't have," but the truth is, I feel absolutely cherished. I love your idea of passing this wonderful Lamott book around, so instead of underlining, I'm taking notes. Thank you, thank you. Next, Ruby, then you. Then... up to you.

And surgery went easily and recovery is a happy study in self discipline. People stroll home the next day from hip replacement. Why does foot surgery keep you immobile for two months? I guess the foot has more responsibilities than the hip, but it's a privilege to go through this for the reward. Thanks.

June 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterniceladywithdog

Hmmm...now I'm going to have to think about retirement. I keep putting it off. Plus, since I had my kids, ahem, later in life, their college costs will be too close to my retirement. I hate dealing with money....

July 1, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMel

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