midlifedude

Man at midlife making second half matter

Archive for the category “retirement”

Is the Grass Greener?

I typically believe the grass is greener on the other side, just over the next hill. It may be self-delusional or wishful thinking, but it’s my nature, however torturous it can be, to believe there’s something better.

Such thinking can be the curse of people who are never satisfied with life and what they grassfield_greenerhave, always seeking, never arriving. Or it can be the motivation that leads to risk-taking, improvement and growth.

I have been seeking greener grass in my career through a marathon five-year journey, and now that I’m on the brink of making a transition from public relations to mental health counseling after what will be 22 graduate courses and two years of internships — and one collapsed full-time job along with its reliable income under all that weight — I am pretty confident that the fescue indeed will be brighter.

I also have been thinking that as I launch my new career in 2017 – which will include, ideally and ultimately, my own independent practice – that a new geographic location may offer greener pastures than the Baltimore-Washington megalopolis where I have been stationed for 28 years, business-, lifestyle-, scenery- and culture-wise.

My thinking is that the time to make a geographic change would coincide with my career transition, or at least relatively early in my new career, before becoming established in one place.

I also will be 54, far into midlife, by the time I graduate the counseling program. If I go somewhere else, I want to be young enough to become engaged in the fabric of the new community occupationally, socially, civically, recreationally and other ways, not just to live out retirement (which I don’t know if I will ever want to reach anyway).

I have already had people advise me against moving, telling me essentially that the grass is not greener, that the desire for something fresh and new is merely a cover for a compulsion to escape.

The idea of moving is complicated by several factors, primarily family concerns. Some factors I believe are manageable: I don’t have a big fear of change; the move wouldn’t necessarily be irreversible if it didn’t work out; I believe I could make new friends and keep old ones with some effort; I am confident I can earn a living and be successful starting a business, though research is needed.

But family, that is the hardest one to gauge. I’m a new empty-nester. Both of my kids are attending Maryland colleges. My daughter will graduate the same weekend I will in 2017. She may go to France to teach English; she may follow her boyfriend to an engineering job in Texas or beyond; or she may stay in Maryland. My son will have at least two years left. My extended family is small and scattered.

My wife’s family and her roots are in Maryland. She doesn’t want to leave. I understand. Many would argue that factor alone should kibosh the whole idea. And perhaps it will. Or perhaps there could be room for compromise and negotiation as events unfold and more is discovered.

There’s no doubt that the belief that the grass could be greener can complicate life and cause angst. But it’s also a belief that gives those prone to seeking an excitement about the unknown, about a new experience, about what could be around that next corner, over that next hill. Will it be emerald green, or drought-baked brown?

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Living on the Cheap

Since I left my full-time, public relations job last October to focus on my unpaid counseling internship and a full-time course load as a master’s degree candidate in pastoral counseling, I’ve adapted to living on the cheap.

I can’t say I’m living a deprived life or even struggling. I have everything I need and much more. I can’t say I have any idea what it’s like to live day-to-day, hand-to-mouth, wondering where the next meal will come from or worrying about losing my shelter. Comparatively, I’m well-off, not one of the “1 percenters” but probably closer to that than the bottom 75 percent.

But I am more aware of, and closely monitoring, my discretionary spending, much morePennies_cheap than when I knew my bank account would be replenished with an equal amount every two weeks. I am subscribing to minimalism, at least to some extent, as described in the book, Everything That Remains by The Minimalists.

Still, just as I’m transitioning careers in midlife, I’ve hit a time of financial stress and challenges. In addition to my own graduate school tuition, I’ll have two children in college in the fall. Three simultaneous higher educations will blast a cannonball-sized hole in any family budget. I am not so many years away from typical retirement age – though with my new career, I plan to work as long as I want and don’t ever envision really retiring. And if the theory holds true that you will need $1 million in retirement to last, I have a long way to go. And I have an aging parent who could need financial help in the future.

Despite my income needs, I reached a point where I knew I couldn’t adeptly handle a full-time job, a part-time internship and graduate school classes, and perform any of them well and with full focus, without suffering from stress, exhaustion and dissatisfaction. Trying to handle them all might have doomed completion of the counseling master’s degree after a four-year investment.

Luckily, I have a wife with stable employment (though with a company known for frequent layoffs and restructurings) that has provided a financial anchor while I scramble to produce more erratic income from various sources.

That’s what brought me to the Sea Colony Tennis resort in Bethany Beach, DE to work as a seasonal tennis instructor for the summer. Though it required me to be away from home, it provided the greatest earning potential for the short period between internships and semesters.

I found the cheapest place I could rent, no easy feat along the shore, and am living with two roommates. One roommate is another tennis instructor who is living similarly frugally. He turned me on to the Dollar Store, where we’ve bought a lot of our food, toiletries, medications and household items at half the cost of the grocery store. We found the Atlantic Community Thrift Store, where I got a cool Old Navy bathing suit for $2 and he found a Pinehurst Golf jacket for pennies on the dollar and a desk chair for $3. My roommate has found a way to play several holes of golf for free by walking onto a course near our house after regular hours.

I’ve been here for 15 days, and have gone out for a meal only once, my first night. It’s tempting, with all the restaurants, seafood and pizza joints and junk food establishments at the beach, but I’ve held off so far. I question each expense to determine if it’s necessary, while still allowing certain indulgences like Dollar Store sale-priced Doritos and ice cream bars.

The tennis teaching season has started relatively slow, while school is still in session and most tennis-player vacations are planned for July and August. That’s when I’ll make my money and the investment to live away from home pay off. I’m conscious that going out for a beer and appetizer plus tip can wipe out the earnings of a one-hour tennis clinic, and what would be the point of that?

My one other indulgence was the clunky, antique, heavy-as-hell cash register I bought on a whim on my way to move to the beach at a roadside antique and junk shop. Even then, I bargained the proprietor down from $50 to $20. I have no idea its worth and it needs some refurbishing, but it looks retro-stylish. I think the guy just wanted to get rid of it, an indication it’s not worth much in its worn condition.

Living cheaply means living more simply. I like it. As long as I have enough income to meet my needs and preferably a few wants, I’m happy. It’s less stressful than trying to make more money so I can live bigger, have more and maintain more. Living cheaply, I can focus on the things that matter – relationships, pursuing fulfilling work, helping others and doing things I enjoy with my time, which will be more possible when my income needs are less.

Living on the cheap was brought about for me largely by necessity. But it is a lifestyle choice that I embrace.

Social Insecurity

God help me if, in my supposed “Golden Years,” I’m hanging out by my mailbox, hopefully not hunched over like Quasimodo or leaning on a walker or sitting on a scooter (no offense to those who need them for mobility, I just hope it’s not me), on a certain day of each month anxiously awaiting my Social Security check so I can survive for another month.

Often through no fault of their own – or sometimes, through bad luck, setbacks, unfortunate decisions, costly medical problems, lack of foresight and typical life struggles – that is the fate of many older people in the U.S. The fear that I may join them drives me to try to maximize my income-producing options for the future and save and invest as much as possible, as hard as it is with two college-age children, my own graduate school education, a mortgage, and a life in a metro area with one of the nation’s highest costs of living.

The AARP’s Retirement Confidence Survey revealed that nearly half of 50+ workers and nearly three in five retirees have less than $25,000 in savings and investments. That, to me, certainly seems like a crisis of poverty engulfing our elderly citizens. Think about it: three of five retirees who may live 20 years in retirement may have $1,000 or less in savings and investments for each of those years. That’s a retirement of mere survival.

Most 50+ American retirees have less than $25,000 in savings/investments.

Most 50+ American retirees have less than $25,000 in savings/investments.

The survey found that Social Security is a major source of retirement income for two of three retirees over age 50.

The survey concluded that Americans age 50 and older may not have a realistic view of their financial future in retirement and are not adequately preparing for it.

Whether many people could possibly adequately prepare for it in this age is another matter, with wages and income stagnant in perpetuity; rampant employer layoffs, persistent and widespread unemployment and jobs shipped overseas; escalating and unaffordable college tuition; high student and consumer debt loads; and rising consumer costs and government fees and taxes.

In my state, Maryland, politicians are trying to force workers to save for retirement. A new legislative effort has been launched to establish retirement security plans for more than a million Marylanders who would otherwise rely entirely on Social Security in retirement.

U.S. Labor Secretary Tom Perez joined Maryland leaders to promote the national initiative at the state level: the creation of workplace savings accounts in which employees would be automatically enrolled but would have the right to bow out of participation.

While I believe the financial fate of the nation’s elderly is important to the U.S. economy and society’s overall health and well-being, I contend that the government is overstepping its reach in this effort of forced “workplace savings accounts.” I also believe in individual responsibility and accountability and free choice. And where does this policy leave entrepreneurs, consultants and other non-traditional income earners in this unstable economy which is increasingly moving toward a free-agent model and employers cannot be counted upon for a secure job for life?

As for me, this fear of over-reliance on somewhat meager Social Security payments is one of my motivations for pursuing a graduate degree in mental health counseling. Counseling is something I can do independently to produce income if I so choose, and a career that doesn’t necessarily come with a built-in retirement date. It expands my options, and I want all the options I can generate at my disposal to live life on my own terms in the future.

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