Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Prayer for the Epiphany

It is interesting how things you learn in book form or academically seem so simple and so reasonable when you learn them, but then you meet them in real life, face-to-face and they don't seem so simple anymore.

The other day, I met with a wonderful man. Through mutual friends, he sought me out for advice on dealing with financial matters.  When he told his story, I could only think to myself that this man has done everything that society asked of him, and now, that very same society has turned its back on him.  Society - to use a business term - "externalized its expenses" on this man.  It took everything in me to not tell him to simply re-externalize those same expenses on it by simply walking away and letting their problems be their problems.

In a nutshell, his story starts with something completely outside of his influence.  He was born at such a time that he turned 50 at the time of a crashing economy.  By no fault of his own, his company "downsized" him.  Of course, there was no hiring for several years due to the recession/depression, so he did what we are trained to do - he prepared himself for returning back to work by seeking and obtaining advanced education in his field.

Now, at the age of 55, he has come to realize that he is essentially unemployable due to his age.  Younger holders of the same advanced degrees will work for far less money, mostly because their parents paid for the advanced degree.  In addition to being unemployable, he has the burden of debt from seeking the education - an education which in retrospect he would not have pursued with his new understanding of the whole 55+ plus thing.  To compound this, he also has burden of debt from his recently graduated daughter's education.

So, I ask you:  What did this man do wrong?  He:
  1. Held down a good paying job for many years;
  2. Owned a reasonable house, car, etc;
  3. Helped his daughter get the tools she needed;
  4. Did the "right" thing preparing himself for his next chapter.
Here is exactly where he went wrong - all of which now painfully evident through the gift of retrospect.
  1. He should have saved more/spent less while he was working despite that being frugal is "bad for the economy";
  2. He should not have bothered to get his advanced eduction;
  3. He should have realized that at age 55, nobody would want him.
This is the grandiose message of living in the US.  Take heed of it.  It will happen to you.  It will happen to me.  Beware of society's apparent plan to externalize its obligations on you.  See it happening.  Be prepared:
  1. Assume you will be unemployable at the age of 55.  If you have a job, its a winner for you, but if you assume you'll have a job and don't, you're screwed.
  2. Be very, very frugal with your education spending.  Nobody cares where you went to school (within reason), especially undergrad.  That applies to your children as well.  Don't pay $100k for a degree that wins you the ability to have a job that pays $25k/year. I'm not saying don't study what you love, you should do that, but be very, very mindful of what you pay for it.
  3. Surround yourself with people who want less - people who find joy in life, not joy in things - people who fail dismally at quantifying success;
  4. Realize that you don't deserve anything.  Nothing.  Not a single thing.  House, car, wardrobe - all can be smaller.  So make it smaller before someone forces you to make it smaller.
  5. You will be abandoned by society.  Plan for it.  You will get sick two years after you're "downsized" and two years before you're Medicare eligible. It will run you into bankruptcy and the quality of your care will take a nosedive, and you will hobble sick and broke into Medicare eligibility.
  6. Lastly, keep in mind that you are not your money.  You cannot be accounted for on a ledger.  You can fail entirely at money and simultaneously be a success at life.  The system is set up to assume you will fail.  That should tell you something about your chances.

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