Growing up in the 60’s and 70’s was unique. Drugs were everywhere, and the Beatles were in their heyday. The baby boom was coming to an end. To our parents, we baby boomers were a confusing lot. We turned into outspoken and assertive 20-somethings. We wanted everyone to get along and were determined to change the world.
For me, the 60’s was when I learned about death. Grandma’s illness was not discussed except in whispers behind closed doors. I was not allowed to see her. I heard the word “cancer,” but no one told me what it was. I had no clue how serious it was until she died.
I wasn’t allowed to go to the funeral. When I inquired, my parents said, “you wouldn’t understand.” It was the 60’s and my only outlet for grief was the reception at my grandparents home afterward. I saw a lot of tears and a bunch of people I never met before. Seemed like everyone clammed up when I came around. When my grandad died while shoveling snow a few years later, again no one talked about it.
The 70’s brought high school and coming of age. Front page headlines were full of bra burnings, women’s liberation and the Vietnam war. Stories of nuclear activity, environmentalism and rock and roll were front and center. Oh, and the oil crisis; long lines for gasoline were everywhere.
I got my first job and car while I was in high school. Money was easy; I had a part-time job, and I was living at home. All my income was disposable in those days.
The messages were clear. Get a job, buy a car and get on with living. The only thing that mattered was my job, my car. The idea of being proactive, intentional and saving money wasn’t on my radar. As a young man, I had other things to do. I was not happy but I was good at my job.
The 70’s were rough years. It was a time of great change in politics, economics and the world. Nixon resigned in 1974, the same year that my father died. I was nineteen. I got married in 1976. It was a weird time to get married. My wife talked about women’s liberation and I didn’t want to be known as an MCP (male chauvinistic pig). Then, in 1978 my brother died.
I was in shock. As I look back, the 70’s were a blur. I was in survival mode and did my best to carry on, and somehow deal with my grief. Little did I know, I was locked in a death grip of survival.
I had a bit of an attitude problem. I dealt with my financial health like my physical and emotional health; I ignored it. I thought, "I will deal with all that crap later." I was busy making a living. In denial about my own mortality and did not know how to handle the grief. Being the sole income earner limited our choices.
I became a very successful salesman in the 80’s. Little did I know how important being able to “close a sale” would be. I had an entrepreneurial itch that got scratched in my sales career. I learned how to solve my money problems by making more money. Sales was just the ticket.
I did my best to provide for my wife and myself. The economic impact of 21% mortgage rates of the 1980’s seemed to put home ownership out of reach. Yet I was also making more and more money.
My sales skills earned me an above average income, trip rewards and bonuses. I was living the dream. A very short sighted dream.
I was enjoying my growing income and struggled to save anything. Retirement was not something on my radar, not by a long shot. I was busy living. I took that famous movie line from the Shawshank Redemption, “Get busy living or get busy dying” to heart.
It was very clear to me that time waits for no one. Suck it up and get busy living or get ready to give up. I was not going to give up.
I doubled down and poured myself into my work. As a commissioned salesman, the harder I worked the more money I made. I was still in survival mode. Getting through the day making a buck was a victory. I had no time to waste.
What I know now, was lost on me then. Money touches every single area of our lives, either directly or indirectly. Money provides us with choices and options, that I understood. When money is not there when we need it, our choices are limited. I was a very successful salesman; I won all the sales contests. I had cash flow and an uncanny ability to make it and spend it.
Like the Fram filter commercial of the time “You can pay me now or pay me later,” I always choose later. Money was for spending. I had seen so much death; I didn’t expect to live long. I lived for today, and whatever pleasure I could extract from life meant it was a good day.
I used to deal with money the same way I dealt with my health. I took it for granted and waited until there was a problem. Out of sight, out of mind was my motto.
I developed a very good avoidance habit. I did not want to deal with anything that was stressful. I avoided anything awkward, uncomfortable or I didn’t understand. Even though I was making good money, the cost of living due to inflation in the 70’s and 80’s was challenging. I did not grasp retirement and saving for it seemed stupid when we were experiencing so much change.
Looking back I wished I had a financial planner or someone to get in my face to help me deal with my money issues. I have been fortunate to be able to come into money in large clumps. Either through sales bonuses or later selling a business. This only fueled my “pay later” mentality.
The problem with procrastinating around retirement and money issues is it is a slow burn. It smolders, you see the smoke, the consuming fire is not yet visible. The fire of lost opportunity eats at your future. For me, I could not see the full blown fire until I hit my late 50’s and early 60's. That is when I remembered that I was supposed to retire at 65. Damn, now what am I going to do?
I recommend getting some help. It feels weird after a lifetime of self-reliance to get help. If you’ve been a better saver than me, you owe it to yourself to get professional advice. If retirement is looming, investigate your options. You might be surprised how viable it is to replace your paycheck with your cash flow from your investments. It is affordable and manageable to get the support of a team of financial professionals. Find yourself an independent investment advisory firm.
Create a financial plan and get busy living.