finance · gratitude · retirement

The Ant and The Grasshopper: Retirement Edition

12.4.18.jpgYesterday morning, I ran into a coworker in the faculty lounge (basically, where we drop our lunch in the fridge and leave).  She’s youngish, new this year, and somehow we got to talking about financial planning (I think we were talking about her having moved out on her own recently).

She said she didn’t really understand the whole financial world, and I offered that, whatever she did, she should take advantage of the matching retirement plan at work.  She replied that she’d wavered on that for a few months, but has finally taken advantage of it, somewhat reluctantly.

I said, Yes, it’s an act of faith in the future.

She continued that, Yes, because who knows if that system will even be in place in the future.

And I added, Well, yeah, but I meant that it’s faith that we’ll even be alive to take advantage of it.

Thaaat… kinda brought her up short.  I guess people aren’t used to talking about mortality before their morning coffee.

I said I had some health history that makes me think about things like that, then another coworker walked into the room and it didn’t make sense to continue the frankness of the talk.  I told her to check out the book I’d read earlier this year, Money: Master the Game, by Tony Robbins — because although, yes, it was about the basics of personal finance, it also came with a values-based bent because it was him.  (Not to say that I subscribe to all that he says or does, but the basics are there.)

What I’ve been reflecting on lately is that, with my slight increases in income and sharing the costs of living with J., I have some money that I can decide what to do with right now.

This month, I decided to put a third of my pay into my school’s retirement plan.

And this both brings me be agita and glee!

Because what my coworker says is true (we’re putting faith in the financial systems of the future that we cannot predict), and what I say is also true (we’re putting faith in the body systems of the future that we cannot predict).

So, I’m left with a bit of a Ant and Grasshopper moment: do I put even more into my retirement, which right now I can afford?  How much is too much to put there?  What about saving it as cash so I can use those funds to support other, non-retirement visions and goals?

And also, what about just being the Grasshopper?

My Ant freaks out: SAVE YOUR DIXIE CUPS!

My Grasshopper replies, Okay, but for what?  For my 35-year from now self, or for my 10-years from now self, or for my 1-year for now self?

How much saving is too much?  How much should go into the deep future now while I can afford it, as I don’t have children or other large financial obligations?

As I ponder these questions, which I did in my journal this morning, I also wrote about the following moment of financial distress 12 years ago, when I was between jobs (again), literally didn’t have $5 in the bank or in my wallet, and didn’t know where my next rent payment would come from:

“Remember driving in my car to another interview & knowing that all I needed then, I had: coffee, gas, heat on, clothing — just at that moment.

At just this moment, I have much the same things: coffee, heat on, clothing.  Plus, here’s a cat, a glass of Airborne, a knitted blanket and a hat.  A pen, a page.

How abundant, and too, how little my wants & needs have truly changed over time.  In 50 years, it will be the same!  Coffee, gas, heat, clothing.  Perhaps a cat.  Or dog.

Thank you.”

It’s important, as I contemplate where to put my money to best support my visions and goals, that I remember to come back to the moment of where I am, to be present, and to be grateful.

Yes, save for later; yes, save for now.  But as I finagle with those minutiae, I must pull back the frame of focus to encompass all that I already have.

I don’t know that either the Ant or the Grasshopper had that present-moment awareness.