AROUND THE TIME of my birthday each year, I request a copy of my Social Security Statement. This year, as l reviewed my report, I realized many life stories lie behind the numbers that appear in my earnings record.
The first year I had taxable earnings was 1985, the year I graduated high school. Minimum wage was $3.35 an hour and my annual income that year was $861. My earnings over the following seven years were meager,
AS I CHILD, I REMEMBER reading a series of “choose your own ending” adventure books. These novels allowed the reader, at different junctures, to choose how they wanted the main character in the book to proceed. I always enjoyed rereading these books, creating a different story each time I progressed through the pages.
At this point in my life, I’m beginning to feel like my eventual retirement is a bit of a “choose your own ending” adventure.
TWENTY-FIVE YEARS ago, I found myself quite unexpectedly spending a night in Reno, Nevada. Gambling was the obvious form of evening entertainment, but money was tight back then. A friend convinced me to splurge and spend $20 playing a slot machine. My measly 25- and 50-cent wagers kept me entertained for nearly an hour, but when I was down to my last few quarters, I bet them all on one final play.
The machine immediately lit up with a colorful array of flashing lights and I waited patiently for my winnings to start spilling out.
WHEN I GOT DIVORCED, I went from living in a 3,000-square-foot house to a 700-square-foot apartment. For 20 years, I’d been a homeowner. I’d dealt with the drudgery of yardwork, the financial pain of a city-mandated “sewer upgrade” and a never-ending stream of issues with broken appliances, furnaces and hot water heaters.
For the past five years, I’ve been a renter. I’ve dealt with noisy neighbors, steep rent increases and the inevitable boredom that comes with living somewhere where you can’t paint the walls,
MY MATERNAL grandmother recently celebrated her 97th birthday. Until three years ago, she lived in her own home. Now, she lives in a senior apartment community, where she remains active and independent.
Part of my grandmother’s decision to move out of her home was prompted by her desire to be closer to family members who could assist in her care. According to a 2015 study, over the previous 12 months, more than 34 million Americans had provided some type of unpaid care to an adult age 50 or older.
IT’S PROBABLY NO surprise I gravitated toward a career in the sciences: I love compiling data. My master’s thesis was 150 pages of charts, graphs and tables that summarized two years’ worth of research.
When it comes to my finances, I’m equally compelled to gather data. I do so, in part, to create a set of documents that are more tangible than the pixels that make up the account balances on my computer screen.
AS A LIFELONG perfectionist, it’s always painful to admit mistakes. When it comes to my finances, I’ve made plenty of good decisions. But I’m willing to confess to at least a handful of errors:
1. Not saving more when I was younger. When I got my first fulltime job, I was thrilled with the salary. I was making $16,000 a year—roughly twice what I’d been living on as a fulltime student.
I’VE BEEN EMPLOYED on at least a part-time basis since I was 17 years old. For almost three decades now, I’ve been working fulltime. It’s probably not surprising that, at almost 51 years old, I’ve reached the point where I spend considerable energy contemplating a life beyond work.
The idea of achieving financial independence and retiring early—captured by the acronym FIRE, short for financial independence/retire early—is never far from my thoughts. As a born planner,
AS A FORMER journalism major, I’m a sucker for a good headline. I understand how difficult it is to grab a reader’s attention in ten words or less. So, when I came across a headline proclaiming that a group of Stanford researchers had determined the “best” retirement strategy, I admit I was intrigued. I clicked on a link to the study—and found not only a useful retirement planning system, but also a portal into the Stanford Center on Longevity.
WHEN I FIRST encountered the acronym FIRE on Bogleheads.org, I had no idea what it stood for. It didn’t take me long to decipher the wordplay. More problematic: figuring out what FIRE—financial independence/retire early—is all about.
Studies show over two-thirds of Americans have left behind fulltime work by the time they’re age 66. But many retirees continue to work part-time because they don’t have the financial resources to avoid working altogether. A 2015 GAO study found that 52% of households age 65 to 74 had no retirement savings—and,
I HAVE ALWAYS BEEN a meticulous record keeper. As a child, my 4-H record book often won top honors at the county fair. As an adult, my career as a laboratory manager requires me to keep detailed records about budgets, lab prep and equipment maintenance. All that recordkeeping has bled over into my personal life as well. I have drawers full of neatly-labeled file folders filled with receipts, tax returns and other personal documents.
DEAR 18-YEAR-OLD Kristine: You’re about to embark on adult life, so I want to share some financial advice with you. You will do many things right—and a few things wrong—so listen closely.
You’ll be heading off to college soon. Even though many of your high school classmates will be attending four-year schools, you’ll be staying closer to home. The local community college will be a good choice, since you have absolutely no idea what you want to do with the rest of your life.
MY INTEREST IN personal finance began during a road trip five years ago. Driving alone, in a desolate part of the state, my choice of radio stations was limited. Desperate to find something other than static to listen to, I punched the “seek” button and came across Dave Ramsey’s radio show.
As someone who has always tried to live within or below my means, I appreciated his “beans and rice, rice and beans” philosophy.
I SPENT THE FIRST three years of my college career pursuing a degree in journalism. Any time I submitted an assignment that had even a hint of my own opinion inserted into it, my advisor would sternly remind me to report “just the facts and only the facts.”
These days, it’s increasingly difficult to find a piece of journalism that doesn’t have a personal edge to it. Between fake news and political propaganda,
EACH SPRING, I WATCH a fresh crop of college graduates transition from the world of fulltime academics to the world of fulltime employment. Eager to begin “adulting,” many of them focus on the salaries offered by their employer-of-choice and give little consideration to the various benefits that supplement that salary.
That’s a mistake. As someone who’s been employed fulltime for the last 26 years, I’ve learned the importance of performing a cost-benefit analysis on the perks offered by various employers.