Almost, but not quite halfway…

My “official” calendar in Outlook is often what could generously be called a hot mess. ​It’s filled with blocks of times for actual meetings I expect to attend, meetings that I just need to know are happening, generic reminders of when certain things are due, the full range of vacation days and doctor appointments, and often as much other information as I can cram on to them to make the days at least look productive.

As I was projecting out the schedule on some longer range projects that had known timelines stretching through next spring, when I ran across a chit I had put down long enough ago that I don’t remember doing it. Sitting there on the calendar not too deeply into 2019 was a simple block that read “Career Halfway Point” marking the temporal spot mid-way between January 13, 2003 and May 31, 2035.

I’m honestly not sure if finding this particular Easter egg has left me feeling better or worse. Better that the halfway point is a relatively close-in target now, yes. Worse, because It means there’s still slightly more asshattery ahead than there is behind.

I won’t say that time precisely flies, but it does seem to move with haste. At least that’s how it feels when considering time in long stretches – some of the individual days and weeks can feel like they’re dragging on for years all on their own. There’s a big part of me that feels unqualified glee at the idea of being over the hump. My inner pessimist in me, of course, also can’t help but note that the closer to the end we are the closer to The End we are. It’s not quite a Pyrrhic victory, but it shares a zip code.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

Note: I usually let each edition of WAJTW stretch broadly across three topic areas. On rare occasions, I feel compelled to focus in on just one. This is one of those weeks.

Because I refuse to let my social media feeds descend into a single ideology echo chamber, I’m seeing a lot of posts screaming that Justice Kennedy is a “bad man” or has “betrayed the country” buy announcing his retirement. While everyone is entitled to have and voice their opinion, the simple act of having or voicing that opinion doesn’t necessarily make you right.

Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy is 82 years old. He was first appointed to the federal bench by President Gerald Ford. Take a breath and let that sink in. He was appointed to the US Court of Appeals in 1975 and elevated to the Supreme Court in 1988. Take another breath. That means he has been serving his country as a judge for more than 40 years – longer than I’ve been alive and certainly longer than the angsty millennials who seem to make up the largest block of those calling him a “traitor” have been around.

I don’t always agree with Justice Kennedy’s reading of the law, but after entering his 9th decade and serving 43 years on the federal bench, I’d say he’s entitled to move off into retirement any damned time he wants to. If you think an 82 year old man wanting to retire is an act of political cowardice, I suspect you’re the one who has a particularly craven view of politics.

Here’s a pro tip – if you can’t somehow manage to see life through any lens other than politics, go outside for a while, or pick up a book, or watch a movie, or do whatever you need to do to get your head a little unfucked. Seriously. Do it. You’ll thank me later.

By 35…

I’d never really thought of MarketWatch as a leading newsmaker, but after their social media post noting that “By 35, you should have twice your salary saved, according to retirement experts.” They’ve experienced their 15 minutes and then some.

The thing is, if you’re contemplating what it takes to achieve a “normal” retirement at the “normal” age in the “normal” way, their post isn’t broadly off the mark. Their point, beyond being something that seems to beggar belief to millennials, is that if you ever want to retire in the traditional sense of the word, you need to plan for it… and more importantly you need to save for it. Only you know for sure what right number – 2x, 10x, or 50x your annual salary invested – is going to meet your needs at any given time along your glide path.

“But,” you say, “Everything is so expensive. I have loans, and bills, and kids, and a master’s degree in advanced basketweaving. I can’t save anything.”

That’s fine. In many cases those expenses came along with decisions you made. That means you placed a premium on those other options rather than building a stable platform for retirement. It means you’re going to have to work past the traditional retirement age or contemplate a significant lifestyle change in order to realign you financial priorities. In some cases, especially for those who decide the whole long-range planning things is just too hard, you may have to accept that there’s a good chance you’re going to die in harness.

I got my first “grown up” job at 22. Making about $30K a year, paying rent, a car note, household bills, buying groceries, and all the other expenses that come along with being a grown ass man. It sucked. Money was always short, but before I saw a nickel of it in my checking account $25 of every check that first year went into my retirement account. Let me be clear on this – to me, back then, $50 was a shit ton of money to “do without” from month to month. There were a lot of things I could have spent that cash on to make life a little more civilized and comfortable that first year. The thing is, even at 22, when I still believed I was on my way to a long and fulfilling teaching career, I knew I didn’t want to still be touching America’s youth when I was in my 70s.

Here’s the kicker: Life isn’t easy. It’s full of hard decision, medical emergencies, and events that don’t work out quite as you had planned. Take it from a guy who changed careers, lived through five regional or cross country moves in 18 years to follow better opportunities, and then took a bath on a house he bought at the height of the real estate bubble. I know this shit isn’t easy.

There are precisely 300 million websites out there that can help you develop the mindset and skills that make retirement a thing that’s possible. But it means you’re going to have to do more hard work and educate yourself on the topics and the tools available. If you’re sitting around waiting for someone to do it for you while shitposting on Twitter, well, I guess you’re right – retirement is definitely never going to happen.

Fifteen…

This coming Saturday will mark an auspicious milestone for me – The 15th anniversary of signing on as one of Sam’s civilian employees. The truth is that number feels vaguely fictitious. It clearly isn’t possible that much time has passed since showing up to meet the bosses and a gaggle of other new employees at a Shoney’s restaurant just outside the gates of Fort Lee in Virginia. As much as those days in the old Blue Auditorium and nights of bar hopping between Petersburg and Richmond feel like a different lifetime, they also feel a bit like they happened last month.

Due to some of the vagaries of the dual age and years of service requirement of the federal retirement system, racking up half of 30 years doesn’t quite put me officially halfway through a career. I won’t hit that magic point until March of 2019. Having fifteen years down still feels good. Just knowing you’re close to the back half of the game give a bit of comfort that sitting in cubes working on PowerPoint won’t last literally forever… even on days when it feels that way.

So what have I learned over the last decade and a half? I’ve learned that some people are heroes and others are knaves. I’ve learned that management and leadership are rarely the same thing. I’ve learned that no matter how hard you roll your eyes they actually won’t fall out of your head. I’ve learned, perhaps most importantly, that given enough time and distance, even the worst of bad days isn’t as awful as it seemed in the moment. That’s the kind of folksy wisdom you need to remind yourself of as frequently as necessary.

So as for me, Saturday will mark 15 years down and about 17 ½ left to go. For anyone else out there following along in Uncle’s great civilian army, you know that magic 15 year mark also means one very important thing. It means that I’m adding another 52 hours of vacation time to the mix. If you think having an extra week plus a little of new found time off coming my way every year from here on out to the end doesn’t hit me right in my happy place, well, you might not know me at all.

Miles to go: or Reaching for that long, long weekend…

When I see stories like the death of Malcolm Young at age 64, I’m even more convinced of the need to retire at the earliest available moment. All life is a gamble. Sure, your day is probably going to go without much trouble – or it might be the day you get run down by a bus. Malcolm was 64 – an age that I increasingly think of as “not that old.” He has the resources of a lifetime spent as a rock star to draw on to fight the disease that struck him down. He died anyway.

Just last week, someone in the office next door went to meet her maker. She left Friday afternoon, called out on Monday, and on Tuesday she was dead. She had four decades of good and faithful service under her belt. She died anyway.

Given my lifestyle – with its love of red meat and carbs – I can’t reasonably expect to be a centenarian. I’m under no illusions there. Still, I don’t intend to die in harness, although I understand random chance could have something to say about that. As of right now, unless Congress weighs in and changes the rules mid-game, I need to reach the magic combination of 57 years of age and at least 30 years of service. I’ll land on that milestone on June 1, 2035. It’s a date that still seems awfully far away, but not nearly so far as it was once.

The very fact that time is limited drives me to gather up what I can as fast as I can and then get on with enjoying that (hopefully) long, long final weekend. I’m determined that I’m not going to allow myself to be the guy in the office who sticks around until 70 out of fear that the money might run out before I do. At least I’m well served that my desired lifestyle in retirement is largely quiet and relatively inexpensive. As long as I’ve got coffee, a few books, a quiet place in the woods, and a handful of critters warming themselves at my hearth, my needs and wants are largely met.

Now I’ve just got to try to not drop dead before I can get all the pieces lined up.

Impolitic priorities…

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.

What Annoys Jeff this Week?

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.