Growing older?

Roger Schlesinger
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Posted: Feb 27, 2007 8:08 PM

The thing we all look forward to with diminishing enthusiasm is getting older. When we are young, birthdays are exciting and newsworthy. As we become a "wee bit long in the tooth" is growing older, however, they become troublesome and are looked upon with dread. I myself looked forward to only 3 birthdays: My 13th because I was finally a teenager, my 21st because I was legal in all ways, if you catch my drift, and my 40th because I was told by my cousin who had a heart attack in his early 40's that you need to be 40 to survive a heart attack. He is still kicking at 70ish, and although I haven't the slightest idea if he was correct, I have long ago passed that age so who cares! That's it for birthdays other than my thought that if I was in decent health and of sound mind (as sound as my mind can be anyway) that 100 might be nice.

So as I am about to turn another year older (a Pisces for those who are interested), I am starting to think more about my situation, from health to finances and everything in between. Pete Rose is about six weeks younger than I am. I am fortunate to have had this type of thinking for twenty or so years, so the only thing wrong with this birthday is that the number is higher than it was last year. I am hoping that finally my golf score will be getting a bit lower as an offset.

My thoughts at this time are really not about me but about you. Do you keep checking the important things in your life as you age up? Good health is a blessing but it is also your own responsibility to ensure that it stays that way. Do you have the proper check-ups? When you do, do you listen to the doctor and do what he says? I confess that I don't always take all the tests he wants me to, but I follow a proper regimen. I routinely check my cholesterol, my skin (susceptible to skin cancer), my teeth, and my prostate, and then hope and pray for the remainder. I watch what I eat (and don't fret if I cheat on some desserts once in a while), and work out as much as I can. All of this is not easy, but I have a poster in my office that says "Growing older is not for sissies". And I tend to agree with the poster. Every one of us has an idea of what is good for us and what isn't, but I am afraid that too many people do not watch their health enough. That leads to a simple thought: It is cheaper to be healthy.

Now what about your finances? It is easy for me to take a financial inventory, and I always do. I constantly check our finances against competing ideas to see if what we are doing is still the best option. I talk with my loan officers to see if they have ideas that I haven't considered and once in a while they offer me another perspective on my situation. Does that surprise you, that the boss can learn from the others in his company? It shouldn't. Does it surprise you that I would spend a great deal of time analyzing our situation? That shouldn't surprise you either because my wife and I have the same goals as anyone else has: To be comfortable in our golden years, and have some gold as well to ensure that comfort. Now it is time to ask yourself if you are taking a financial inventory periodically to see if you are on the right track to achieve your goals. For some, setting goals would be the first step to achieving them. It may sound silly, but many studies have shown that those with goals fair far better financially than those who simply cope with the situation or situations as their arise.

I believe good health and good financial well being go hand in hand. The stress of not doing well can take a toll on your health and of course poor health can certainly hurt your chances of attaining your goals. Most likely the vast majority of us do not have the power to cure ourselves, but we do have the power to protect ourselves financially from things that can come up that hurt our physical being. It is called insurance and it is the one true protection we can get. From my view as a financial service provider, and not an insurance man, it is totally under-used. Once you are 50 years old you should have both disability insurance and long term care even at the cost of lowering some life insurance coverage. Remember that we took out life insurance to protect our family if we were prematurely taken and that family has grown and the coverage is now either there to take care of the spouse or inheritance taxes. If neither is applicable, then what is the life insurance for? Especially term insurance.

That gets us to the retirement picture. I for one haven't a thought in the world about retiring because I wouldn't know what to do. I love what I "work at" and I do what I would be doing if I retired anyway. That includes reading, writing, golf, and travel. The idea that is important to me is this: Could I retire if I changed my mind? I certainly believe I can. What about you? Are your retirement plans heading down the right track? If you wanted to retire, do you have anything else going for you other than social security? Do you ever think about it, and if so have you gone as far as changing your tactics to help ensure that you meet the goals that you set?

Last year I wrote a column, "Retiring the retirement plans," where I proposed that paying off your house will give you all the retirement you will need. I still believe that to be true for the vast majority of Americans. However so few of us will ever get there. Why? Because time moves faster than we do. The "round tuit" is a hard idea to master, as in "I never seem to be able to get around to it." Working into your 70's, 80's, and 90's is great if you love what you do, but I am not sure how great it would be if you had to keep working because you never set or ever accomplished your goals. The answer is still paying off your house, and if you feel you can't accomplish that, seek help from someone who either has paid off his house or who can show you how to do it.

As I conclude, I am not sure whether age brings wisdom or just long windiness. Whether you agreed or disagreed with what I have said, I hope my dissertation will at least get you thinking about yourself and your future. If it does that then maybe it was a successful column.