How Long Do You Get to Live?

Just yesterday.

A woman said.

“I can live until 77.” Cracking a joke everyone over 50 identifies with.

I thought, when is the value of a life measured in dollars and cents?

Of course, she was referring to her retirement account and it’s longevity. Which seems to be the determinate of a lifespan (at least among my crowd) these days.

Saving for retirement is a lot like saving for a child’s college. Completely necessary, often forgotten, and, I would add, not always realistic when college tuition is skyrocketing, and stocks are dive bombing. I was told 2 things regarding old age.

  1. Marry well so someone can take care of you in your old age.
  2. If you don’t marry well, have a lot of children so they can take care of you in your old age.

I did neither. I’ll add that neither did I work for the state, so they could take care of me in my old age. The conclusion: Someone is necessary to take care of me in my old age. I rebel at the thought, while recognizing the changes age is definitely bringing with it.

Vulnerable.

That describes my emotions as I move into this last 1/3 of my life.

Planning.

That’s the word I hear from financial planners to insurance salesman to my AARP magazines. Plan for retirement, plan for long-term care (they turned me down), plan to downsize so my expenses are less. You cannot plan enough. Who can plan all of that and even hope to get it right?

I don’t really want to know when I’m going to die, but truly if one did know, and the means thereof, the planning would be a tad easier.

Enjoyment.

I’m told to enjoy these final years. I find that word a bit pandering.

Someone recently told me that life was not a spiraled progression but a series of circles. We stay in one circle until it’s time to go to the next one. And then we must leap to the next one. The time immediately before leaping is the hardest. We don’t often know what circle is next or what to expect when we get there.

I don’t like the stereotypical circles for “elderly,” retirement communities, cruise ships, nursing homes. I can’t see myself in any of those circles. They remind me of the show my College Son watches, The Dome. an encapsulated place predetermined by God knows who that is supposed to meet my needs, but doesn’t quite, and even separates you from family in some cases. But, I don’t think I’m so smart I can outwit old age, and avoid those places. Sometimes life is about finding meaning and purpose right where you are, encapsulated in a dome or not.

If I had a bucket list, it would have only one thing on it: Purpose.

I want my last years to be an exercise in addition not subtraction. What can I add too? Where can I give? Where is the circle that accepts what I still have to offer? I want my days, when I am laid to rest and the reminiscing starts,  to be added together, each day added to the previous one to equal the sum of a life with purpose. Giving, loving, blessing, contributing, belonging. If subtraction enters the equation, I only want it to do so based on what I gave, not on what I depleted.

And, if there is any money left in any accounts (and, hey, don’t forget all those off-shore accounts :), then oh, do spread it around. Don’t stress over it’s longevity. Cast it onto the waters,  and see how it returns.

Things My Financial Planner Says

The first thing I said to my financial planner, in a somewhat desperate voice, was, “I am throwing money away on rent. Shouldn’t I buy a house?” (Where I planned on getting money to buy a house, I just do not know. I obviously had delusions of grandeur.)

He replied calmly, “Why is it throwing away money to put a roof over your head?”

Well, now, there’s a good point.

Then I confessed that I’d been supplementing my income with my savings, and braced myself for what was sure to be a lecture. He replied, again calmly (he’s got that I-walk-to-the-emergency-while-everyone-else-runs thing down), “You are a one-income household now, and your income is pretty low. I think that qualifies as a reason to use your savings.”

I briefly considered bringing up the college kid’s inability to see any grade above a “C” as all that important. (“Cs” get the degrees!) The guy was on a roll, and I have chewed the fingernail polish off my nails over that one.

He was doing for me what I do for my garden clients. I talk calmly, try to ask the important questions, while assuring them that the universe will not stop if they don’t get the beds weeded. Admittedly, not as important as cash flow, but when I’m helping clients that are downsizing and worried about curb appeal (their cash flow), well, life starts to happen in those conversations.

I try to get the lay of the land (no pun intended) because this is their home, the place they raised their family–be it children or dogs–and they’ve invested themselves in it. It is no small matter to them or to me. But sometimes, perspective is in the eye of the coach.

My financial planner tells me to do three things:

  • Earn all you can.
  • Save all you can.
  • Give all you can.

I tell my clients to do three things:

  • Always improve the soil.
  • Don’t prune it if you don’t want too.
  • Plant enough for the neighbors, maybe they’ll help weed.

When I ponder his three instructions, I feel better. I’m not told to do more than I can, but what I can. It takes some of the pressure that I put on myself off, and helps put life in perspective, again.

One recent night I walked through a couple’s yard, listening to them as they stressed over whether or not they should do this or that, in case the future homeowners would prefer it. I finally said, “Time out. You’re worrying about potential buyers, and your house isn’t even on the market yet. Let’s talk about what we can do right now, not what we think we should do for folks we haven’t met.”

The husband said, “That was worth 85 dollars.” (My fee.)

What I’m saying is this (and I think my financial planner would agree), we think we’re talking money or plants, but we’re really talking life.