Waiting Is Risky

David Gartland

“YOU CAN PAY ME NOW—or you can pay me later.” Years ago, that was the catch phrase, spoken by an auto mechanic working on a broken-down car, in ads for FRAM oil filters. The pitch: If you spend a modest sum on routine car maintenance, you’ll avoid far bigger bills down the road.

The same philosophy applies to retirement savings. There’s a constant tradeoff between now and later.

Faced with life’s challenges, we need to strike a balance. We need to balance our work with our home life. We need to balance risk with reward. We need to balance growth with income. And, yes, we need to balance saving with spending.

None of us knows how long we’ll live. It’s good to make plans and have goals. They act as the proverbial carrot, encouraging us to keep moving forward. But we also need to enjoy today.

Each one of us has our own ideas about what’s fun and what’s worth spending money on. We need to balance the things we must do with these things that we want to do. The musts provide us with the financial foundation that allows us to support ourselves and our family. The wants make our life worth living. We can pay now for our wants or we can pay later—assuming we live long enough to get the chance. The choice is up to us.

Many folks say they can’t wait to retire so they can do the things they’ve put off doing because of their careers, family commitments or lack of time. The benefit of this approach to retirement: It gives you something to look forward to. All your hard work will pay off when you’re sitting on that tropical beach sipping that umbrella drink. The downside: If your health deteriorates prior to retirement, you may never do all the exciting things you dreamed of.

I’m in the opposite situation. I’ve done all the things I wanted to do, and I did them while I was working. I visited all 50 states. I traveled the full length of Lincoln Highway, which was first conceived in 1912 and which runs from New York City to San Francisco. I traveled Route 66 from Santa Monica, California, to Chicago. I visited eight foreign countries and took four ocean cruises. I visited many national parks after buying a lifetime pass for $10 when I turned age 65. I took a motorcycle racing course at the Watkins Glen race course, took a go-kart racing course in California and drove a Ferrari around the Pocono race track in Pennsylvania. Such things may not be important to others, but they were important to me.

The upshot: I’m not facing some large expense for that vacation of a lifetime. I’m also not worrying about whether my knees or my health will hold up, so I can fulfill some big retirement dream.

On the other hand, I also don’t have anything major to look forward to. I’m not complaining. It’s better to have lived life as you chose than to have others decide for you, and it’s better to do at least some things you enjoy now, rather than leaving everything to be done at some uncertain future time. Still, I need to invent new goals and dreams. It’s a good challenge.

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