WHAT WILL BE YOUR legacy? It’s a question many of us ponder as we get older. My conclusion: It’s the wrong question to ask.
The fact is, the whole notion of a legacy is a tad delusional, and very likely a trick played on us by our genes, which want us to care deeply about future generations. The reality: Most of us will leave scant mark on the world and we won’t be remembered for very long after we’re gone.
WE’RE ALL CAPTIVES of our own experiences. Want to behave more rationally? We should set aside our life’s anecdotal evidence and instead make decisions using the best information we can find. Yet our experiences—especially those during childhood and that involve family—tend to triumph, shaping our world view and potentially setting us up for costly financial mistakes.
What drives your behavior, financially and otherwise? A little introspection could help you better understand your financial choices—a crucial first step to behaving better.
I LEARNED OF MY brother’s death by Googling his name. I always wondered whether his family would let me know if he was ill or had died. After Google led me to his obituary, I had my answer.
My brother and I were co-executors and co-beneficiaries of my mother’s estate. From the start, we couldn’t agree on how to settle her affairs. I wanted to sell everything and divide by two, but he wanted to hold off selling my mother’s house.
WHEN I MENTION THE word “bands” to my friends, most think of the Rolling Stones or Grateful Dead. Among fellow financial nerds, the word can prompt a discussion of rebalancing strategies. What about me? I think about my billfold, which has been to more places and countries than I have.
Many years ago, I spent a week away from home attending a scientific conference. By the meeting’s conclusion, I was exhausted. I had a history of returning from longer trips bearing token gifts for my twins.
MY WIFE WAS STILL waking up from the general anesthesia. She’d had a Cesarean, or C-section. Meanwhile, I was in the nursery, helping the nurse record my newborn son’s vitals.
The Harry Chapin song Cat’s in the Cradle came over the loudspeaker. For readers unfamiliar with the song, it tells the story of a dad who is more interested in his job than his son. Having kids was never my priority. Making money was,
MY MOTHER AND MY future mother-in-law met at a funeral 37 years ago. They started discussing their respective families. It was during that conversation that they realized they each had an unmarried child, and they decided it would be nice if their two children got together. Thus, on that fatal day, my life was changed forever.
One of the stories I heard early on about my mother-in-law was how she lost a house to foreclosure.
HOW MANY OF OUR adult financial habits are shaped by childhood experiences? My parents, who grew up during the Great Depression, weren’t fans of providing allowances for my sisters and me. My oldest sister, Gail, got no pocket money but remembers being offered a quarter to fill a grocery bag with dandelions pulled from the yard. Lynn, 10 years older than me, received a quarter a week for a short period.
My first allowance was also a quarter a week,
HI CHRIS, IT’S BEEN 45 years since we broke up, we’re now both age 78, and I’m winding down. I wanted to touch base and catch you up, but mostly let you know that I often think back on our 11 years as husband and wife, and how much I value the time we spent together. Sometimes, that period of my life seems far in the past, but other times it’s right on my shoulder,
HAVE YOU HEARD THE parable of the white elephant? In southeast Asia, possessing a white elephant was symbolic of power and prestige. It was a good omen to find one in the wild, signifying peace and prosperity for the kingdom. They were considered sacred and could not be used in war or for labor. To receive a white elephant from the king was a great honor. Who would turn down such a special and unique gift?
THE MOST FRUGAL person I’ve ever known was my Great Aunt Beatrice. To all the family, she was just Aunt Bea. Never married, she was the sister of my paternal grandfather, a man who passed away 14 years before I was born. She was a dignified lady, proper and pleasant, and not given to bursts of laughter. Still, I felt closer to her than to any of my living grandparents or other relatives from that generation.
“AMORTIZATION, STEVIE, amortization. When I make a mortgage payment, part goes to the bank, the rest comes back to us.” My father’s cigar flailed as he patted his back pocket. “Listen to a man who worked his way up through the college of hard knocks. Don’t be a jerked-up kid.”
Wearing a sharkskin suit, charcoal shirt and wide red tie that preceded The Godfather’s Michael Corleone, my father confused talking about himself with teaching me.
AS I PREPARE FOR retirement, I’ve been reminded that I should “retire into something,” that I should use my anticipated free time for a meaningful purpose. During the past couple of years, I’ve discovered that—for me—one of those “somethings” is to care for “the farm,” 200 acres of rolling countryside in western Tennessee. This discovery has been both surprising and delightful for me, and has led to a reconnection with the farm and, through that reconnection,
DOES THE RISE IN dual-income families, which started in the 1960s, mean that today it’s almost a necessity for both spouses to work? In my opinion, absolutely.
Our first child was born in 1970. That was the last time my wife was employed, apart from a brief part-time job when our youngest was in high school. But we’re the exception. Over the past 40 years, the number of couples where both have jobs has soared from about half to 70%,
I GRADUATED FROM the University of Central Florida in 2001 with a degree in information management systems. Thanks to academic scholarships, working part-time and family support, I graduated debt-free and, indeed, had some $15,000 in savings. Amid the economic turmoil of the dot-com bust and subsequent recession, I was fortunate to land a fulltime job at Fiserv, a banking software company.
That’s where I met my wife. We were engaged six months later and married in 2002.
MY MOTHER WAS AN elementary school teacher, with a large break in her work history to raise three daughters. My father spent three years in the Navy before enjoying a successful career as a business executive in sales. Because of my father’s job, we moved a lot when I was growing up. My parents bought and sold eight homes during their working years.
They eventually settled in Connecticut and retired in their early 60s.