I spent some time this weekend updating the financial tracking software I use. It’s not quite the elegant solution I’d like but it does give me real time, at a glance visibility of everything from credit cards to mortgage debt to retirement accounts. If you know where you’re trying to get, I’ve found it helpful to also know where you’re currently standing. It’s been a years-in-the-making process to find something that would work close to the way I wanted. With the exception of a few loose ends, I’m reasonably happy with how it’s all working.
I try to make a habit of doing monthly review of where things are, how they’re doing, and what could be better allocated elsewhere. What my last half dozen reviews have told me is that despite my friends being sharply divided on the presidency of Donald Trump, the markets are more than happy to have him in the big chair. It’s probably impolitic to say, but with all other considerations being equal, I’m going to generally fall in on the side of whatever is putting dollars in the bank.
Don’t mistake that to mean that I’ve developed a deep, abiding love of Donald Trump. I know this administration has issues, I know the country is wide open to political debate about what we should and shouldn’t be doing, and while I love all of you, regardless of political affiliation, I’m not about to argue with anything that racks up double digit returns on investment and improves my chances of punching out of my cubicle for the last time somewhere close to on time and near target.
1. Sales tactics. We live in the real world. I’m perfectly capable of understanding that the price of everything generally tends to go up over time. It’s the nature of inflation. Fine. I don’t know who the marketing executive who decided it was a good idea to make everything smaller while also charging more for it, though. I really truly don’t mind paying more for a product I was going to buy anyway… but I hate the hell out of paying more for less while being expected not to notice that everything from packaged coffee to toilet paper is half the size it use to be.
2. Parties. You’d think retirement parties would be moments of supreme satisfaction. In my experience no matter how nice they are they can’t help but being a reminder that we all spend our lives trading youth for a few bags of cash and some nice words at the end. No matter how well laid on, I always find them just a little bit depressing.
3. Information. I need to get my fingerprints taken. The why isn’t germane important to the story. What is germane, however, is that I spent some of this week calling several of the places the State of Maryland say are approved on their website. Each of the three places I called were only too happy to inform me that they don’t do those pesky state-approved prints any more. It seems to me that if the state is going to mandate prints they might at least be able to tell you where to go to get them. Then again that presupposes that the state has any interest in actually facilitating this particular type of lawful commerce instead of making it enough of a pain in the ass that the average person might be tempted to give up.
1. Bossing. I don’t like being a supervisor – even when it’s only a temporary expedient. I didn’t like it when I was one and I don’t like it when I get to pretend to be one now. I like it even less when top cover is nowhere to be found. And while I don’t like it, don;t think for a minute that I’ll shy away from making decisions. They might not always (or even often) be the right one, but we won’t flail around blindly in the name of indecision. Mercifully nothing I touch is life or death so the consequences of straying outside some unknown left or right boundary marker are pretty minimal. I suppose they could always throw the job to someone – anyone – who might be more interested or more qualified, but that’s most likely wishful thinking on my part.
2. Email. If you send me an email there’s a better than average chance that it arrived. You don’t need to call me 15 seconds after hitting send to ask if I got it and then ask me to opine on the topic of your inquiry. The fact is, I wasn’t sitting at my desk staring blankly waiting for your email. I know some people are a bit ADD about checking their email as it arrives. I’m not. I’ll work in whatever issue you have after I’ve reached a suitable stopping point with whatever it is I was working on while your message was winging its way across the network. Even then, sadly, you may not be the most important thing in my inbox. Priority of effort goes (not necessarily in order) to the boss, the uber-boss, echelons higher than the uber-boss, and then, lastly, everyone else. It’s not personal, but I feel like tending to people who have some authority over my yearly performance appraisal first is a pretty good system. Believe me, I will get to your message, even if I don’t consider it as much of a crisis as you do.
3. Millennials who bitch about the stock market. If you have 20, 30, or more years before you plan to retire, a down market is the very least of your worries. In fact, it’s kind of a gift. You’re getting the opportunity to by your shares at crazy deep discount price compared to what you would have paid a year ago. It must be hard to believe, but more shares bought cheap compounded out over the next 30 years is in all likelihood a thing of financial beauty. Sure, it looks like you’re taking a beating on paper right now, but you’re supposed to be playing the long game here. No one loses actual money until the cash out their chips and make the loss “real.” That’s not you, kids. Let your parents bitch about that down market because they’re the ones who are getting taken to the woodshed if they planned on retiring any time soon. For you, my millennial friends, this whole thing could shape up to be a once in a decade or once in a generation buying opportunity, so play your hands accordingly.
1. I don’t think I’m giving away any state secrets when I say that if you build a giant office complex at the end of a peninsula and then fill it with people, there are only going to be a limited number of ways people can get and their cars and drive away from that facility at the end of the day. When you close some of those already unlimited number of exits things get worse. When you additionally closed one of the few that is usually open just in time for peak traffic, well, you get thousands of people clogging every feeder road fighting to measure progress towards the gate in feet rather than inches. I get that shit happens, but when it does I feel like someone would have a plan to address it – like maybe opening up one of the long shuttered gates just for the day and just for outbound traffic. Being the considerer of worst case scenarios that I am, I’m abjectly horrified at the prospect of what a real honest to God emergency evacuation of this place would look like when just closing one single gate can leave traffic gridlocked for over an hour.
2. The death of a dream. With my 1.6 billion dollar dream now laying in ashes, divided to those with better luck in California, Tennessee, and Florida, I suppose it’s back to building wealth the old fashioned way – piling money regularly into a well-balanced, low-fee retirement vehicle. It’s not nearly as sexy or exciting as winning the Powerball, but it’s something… and statistically way more likely to pay out, though I think my newest ambition to retire early to a 17th century Scottish grousing estate may have to be shelved for the time being.
3. Extemporaneous speaking. Back when dinosaurs rules the earth and I was a student we were required to deliver “off the cuff” presentations. Being able to give a talk without the benefit of notes was something they assured us would be of the utmost importance in whatever fictitious versions of the “real world” they’d concocted in their heads. In the actual world I inhabit, extemporaneous remarks have almost never come into play. Instead of mastering the content there’s a constant stream of requests for notes, bullet points, or an entire script no matter how mundane the topic at hand. Maybe having that seamless, well-reasoned, and articulate messages is reassuring to other people around the table, but for the guy putting the words in your mouth it never rises above “vaguely unsettling.”
I’ve always read that people who don’t have a plan for what they’re going to do in retirement are the ones that end up bored or worse – longing to return to the orderly days of life at work. While a two week vacation hardly qualifies as a dry-run for retirement I can say with at least some degree of certainty that a really detailed plan to fill my days may not be strictly necessary when the big day comes.
For the last week or so I’ve mostly done as the spirit moved me. I ate when I was hungry, slept when I was tired, and filled in the other hours cooking, tinkering around on minor repair projects that time never seems to be found for, devising less-than-lethal anti-squirrel devices, and reading. To put it simply, I excel at simply puttering around the house and doing whatever strikes my fancy. I think I could be ok doing that for a long, long time.
Of course I’m not retired – and not even on the same continent as that far off day. Now is the time (or more precisely tomorrow is the time) when I’ve got to go back to busting my hump to pay for the possibility of unlimited free time at some point in the future. As this particular winter Sunday draws to a close, I find my motivation lacking… anyone out there want to pool our funds and buy a crapload of Powerball tickets?
I’m running down the clock on my last few hours of mid-summer vacation doing laundry, making dinner, and generally trying to smooth the transition back to work tomorrow. I’m not going to lie, there my have been a FML moment when I cracked my eyes this morning and realized I was 24 short hours from diving back into the grind. It’s not that I hate work, but like everyone else there are just a trillion and a half things I’d rather spend my time doing. Such is life.
One of the unavoidable conversations you hear at the office is contemplation about how people will keep themselves busy in retirement, whether or not they’ll be able to adjust effectively to a world where a third of their day isn’t pre-planned for them. Every time I get away, I’m reminded that I won’t ever have to ask myself that question. I know with absolute certainty that I’ll manage to fill my time with activities that feel way more rewarding than ginning up a well-crafted PowerPoint or thousand column spreadsheet. Mercifully, my interests don’t require a small fortune so when the time comes, it’ll be surprisingly easy to flip the switch and get on with it.
Yeah, so while I’m not ready to get back to the so-called real world, I’ve got readiness in spades for the day I don’t have to. Talk about long range planning.
Independence Day week is, in my opinion, second only to the week between Christmas and New Years in terms of how little actual productive work takes place inside Uncle’s vast machine. It’s true that not everyone takes the week (or four days) off, but for the most part the number of people on vacation approaches the point of critical mass where it becomes nearly impossible to get anything accomplished if it requires more than two people to be part of the decision-making or work flow. I’m sure there are plenty of old hands who might deny what I’m telling you, but experience tells me that this week is a dead zone for productivity. No matter how many memos you cram into the pipeline, if there’s no one there to read them on the other end, it’s just so many trees falling in the forest.
I’ve always felt like this week was the civilian equivalent to an operational pause – a breather before the long march through summer towards Labor Day and the close of the fiscal year. There are still plenty of people giving the illusion of getting something accomplished, but I suspect that if they were all honest at least half the emails they send are greeted with an out-of-office message. By early in the day Thursday, you’re going to find even the most dedicated of employees giving up the illusion and watching the clock with the rest of us poor dumb working stiffs.
That’s just part of the magic joy that is the trinity of three-day weekends in the summer. They feel different. They’re special. Maybe they hark back to being fourteen and having the whole summer stretched out in front of us like a never-ending weekend. Or maybe we just appreciate the reminder of the life we can look forward to in 20 year, 11 months, and 1 day… if we were so inclined to count the amount of time until we’re eligible for retirement.
Talk about celebrating a real independence day.