By Seth Busetti
My mind doesn’t really want to accept that at 39, I am middle aged. But it is true. My kids are no longer babies. My beard is equal parts gray and whatever color it used to be (my beautiful wife Alexis has managed to fend off the effects of aging!). Sometimes I wake up and my back is sore, not from cage fighting or other extreme sports, but apparently from a combination of supercharged project planning teleconferences in the daytime and high impact sleeping at night.
Recently, Alexis and I have been coming to terms with the fact that our lives now resemble that of a middle aged couple, not 20-something hipsters. Maybe you’re middle aged too and you can relate to us. Or maybe you are starting on your path to growing a family and adulting. Like me, you also recognize that getting your album on the Billboard Top 20 is going to have to be a fallback plan now, you know, if your current 8 to 5 gig doesn’t work out. And so, like me, you probably want to build an expandable financial foundation for your future just in case anything changes in a positive direction. We want you to be ready! Here are a few normal and good middle aged things that caught up to us.
Investments – We both grew up in family cultures where retirement basically consisted of employer contributions to a 401K and perhaps a passive pension – we weren’t exposed much to other forms of building wealth. In contrast, because we were able to get out of debt pretty early in life and we have access to a lot more options, middle aged for us means having a more robust portfolio of financial investments. I’m thinking of the scene from Meet the Parents when Greg (Ben Stiller) has an awkward conversation with his soon-to-be brother-in-law, Kevin (Owen Wilson) and father-in-law Jack (Robert De Niro):
Kevin: What about you, Greg? What line of work are you in?
Greg: I’m in health care.
Kevin: Yeah, so you know what I’m talking about. There are a lot of Benjamins to be made now with biotech stuff. I don’t have to tell you that. How’s your portfolio?
Greg: I’d say strong…to quite strong.
Kevin: You gotta strike while the iron’s hot. Now’s the time.
Jack: Greg’s a male nurse.
Greg: That’s right. Thank you, Jack.
That’s pretty much how I felt before getting married, and then as a couple prior to 2011 which was the first year we started having enough excess money to really think about investing. So now we read articles and books, consult with other finance professionals, and have hired an investment advisor, all to make ourselves competent to invest wisely. Do you want to leave an inheritance to your children’s children, as the Proverb says? Well, that’s unlikely if all you’ve got is a passive 401K and are clueless about everything else. Portfolios…that is so middle aged!
Rising Health Costs – Now this is a killer for the ego. We’re getting older and health costs are keeping pace. We were married for six and a half years before we had kids, and during that time had very few health costs. Then the children started to come and we had more women’s care visits, then hospitals, kid monthly check-ups, etc. That season is passed and we are starting to see an increase in family health care costs that we have to accommodate. For example: We carry a lot of term life insurance on me as the primary source of income because if I got eaten by a bear there would be a lot of mouths to feed for many years. We have dental coverage for everybody, but still pay for anything that isn’t a 6 month cleaning, like the two times my daughter had to go to the oral surgeon for tooth injuries. We went from having essentially no doctor copays to having to budget for the whole family (ear infections, flu, broken bones, you name it). A few years ago I had shoulder pain issues and had to get injections. Alexis got reading glasses. We’ll have to start paying for eye care. We learned a few years ago that Alexis has some health issues we want to treat more holistically, so we recently started getting some help from a nutrition coach (i.e. off the insurance plan). Yep, gradually increasing medical costs in my opinion is both a blessing and totally middle aged.
College Saving – I know, helping your kids with college is completely optional. But it is something we want to help our kids with, at least partial funding of in-state expenses. Neither of us got much help with college, which contributed to our acquisition of piles of student loans. That and not having the wisdom and knowledge we wish we had as very young adults making life-changing decisions. We want to teach our kids about the pitfalls of student loan debt, and for us, part of the teaching process is helping them learn to choose a college and degree program using a business-savvy strategy. Will we pay for everyone to go out of state to an Ivy League school? Doubtful. But providing college savings for our children is a reasonable goal and a very middle aged thing!
Kids’ School Expenses – When we first got married, both Alexis and I were pretty opposed to private school and homeschool. The former was too expensive, the latter was too quirky. We both went to mediocre public schools, got good college degrees, and turned out fine! Well, this isn’t public school in the mid 1980’s; we live in a major city with all sorts of diverse influences, and we have a very strong family value to surround our children with Christian influences. And frankly, we can afford to do it. So we shell out the money for a university-style private/homeschool hybrid Christian education. Public school has costs too. Field trips, pizza day, uniforms, books, fees, fees, and more fees. You know you’re not 20 anymore when you stop worrying about your own education because the more pressing issue is that your children are all in school and need stuff.
Maturing Standard of Living – I read a lot of personal finance blogs about couples telling their stories about camping out in their parents’ basement, living in an RV, or eating nothing but canned spinach for a year to pay off student loans. I’m sure it makes for a great story! But when you are middle aged, not only is that not practical, it wouldn’t be responsible. Unless you are forced to live in a parallel universe like Manhattan or Tokyo because of a unique job, it isn’t a grown up thing to just rent housing and live like a rolling stone forever. At some point we have to create some lifestyle and financial stability for our families. Eventually, the value menu at Taco Bell seems like a sad use of the precious restaurant envelope. Our better health instincts (and doctors and dieticians) remind us daily that a diet based on dollar menu fast food or ultra-cheap calories like Ramen Noodles just isn’t sustainable. Date night with your spouse evolves too, you have to factor in babysitting, and you may eventually want to go somewhere nicer than Applebee’s. In time, you will want a matching living room set or at least a couch that didn’t come from a dumpster or handed down from your parents. If you are a professional working in an office setting, you might want to buy some nicer clothes. If you regularly meet with clients you might need a nicer vehicle that doesn’t smoke and rattle (no offense to your ‘91 Accord with 327K miles) when you pick people up for business meetings. Reasonable wants, not needs. You get the picture.
What I’m trying to say is that our lifestyles evolve, and that’s okay. We’re not supposed to be 23 forever. The truth is that I really like being middle aged! We payed off our last consumer debts in 2011 and haven’t looked back. We spent years learning how to not only build wealth, but how to live like prosperous people. We’re still learning that. The goal isn’t to hammer on debt and then spend the rest of your life living like you are poor. We want to live, to grow, to enjoy life, to take care of our families, to give generously, to support good causes with our money do so well for ourselves that we can’t help but to bless others with our overflow. We are in that phase of life and it is amazing!
What about you? Where are you in your journey? The steps aren’t age-dependent, but they do go in sequence – you often have to master one thing before you are ready to move on to the next. If not, life won’t slow down and wait for you, you’ll just feel like you are swimming. Maybe that’s preparing for kids to be born, or sending them off to college, or paying for their weddings. Maybe you are focused on getting a first retirement strategy set up, or getting an aggressive mitigation strategy in place realizing you went too many years not planning for retirement. If that’s you, contact us, we can help you figure out how to conquer the current step and move to the next stage in life.
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