The first time I applied for a loan, my bank required that I produce an annual balance sheet. They wanted me to convince them I wasn’t blowing all their money in Vegas.
Over the decades I came to enjoy this ritual. I’d sit at my desk grinding out my assets, liabilities and I’d smile as the house appraisal went up, the mortgage balance declined, and the stocks did Ok. Tending my little nest egg of assets, I felt I was moving up in the financial world. It wasn’t a big deal like having a happy wife or getting the kids into college. No. But when the market was up it was always a secret source of pride.
Year after year, my net worth growth became a dependable norm. But then, GASP! Suddenly one day, it wasn’t.
My career, my salary income, and business perks all came to an abrupt end. Whereas once I added to the saving account, purchased a stock or bond, now the time had come to sell assets and eat into my savings.
Nobody’s so dumb as to be surprised by retirement. It’s as inevitable as taxes. What did surprise me was the psychological trauma. It was not welcome. Liquidating assets seemed to be a violation of the natural order of things. Dogs don’t fly, robins don’t bark and I wasn’t created to liquidate my assets.
My positive asset balance was my baby. I cared for it from the start, as a momma grizzly bear defends her little cubs from all attacks. Now, what was I supposed to do? Eat my creation? This was more than just a life cycle adjustment from work to retirement. In the economic lobe of my brain, I was doing something immoral. I was a cannibal eating my own.
Fidelity, Schwab, and the financial big boys hound us all our lives about the retirement planning. They offer programs and planners to prepare us for what comes next. What they do not disclose is the psychological stress of liquidating the assets we’ve become attached to.
In my generation, wives purchased the household necessities. Spending was their job, and in retirement, nothing changed dramatically for them. But now here I was going from breadwinner to “spendo” in one day. It hurt like a lightning bolt. Consume instead of earn? That’s not who I am. For my whole life, I’d study income opportunities, bank interest rates, and how to get the best return on my IRA. In the bar business we used to say alcohol is for selling not drinking. Money’s the same way: Something you earn, not spend.
Talking to others for sympathy got me nowhere! When I talked to friends or relatives, they’d start counting what they estimate my money pile ought to be. Then they’d calculate all that they would do with it. I detected more jealousy than empathetic assistance.
There are always financial advisers lurking around new retirees. They’re there to tell us what’s possible versus what we’d like to do. We might have questions about how much we will be able to spend or what the new budget’s going to look like?
So I consulted with Mr. Retirement Advisor his computer programs, actuary studies, interest rate projections, probability theory and everything I didn’t care much about. He began with the fun part: Looking me in the eye he began “First tell me when are you planning to die? If you’re going to croak tomorrow, then you can spend a bundle today.”
I just knew this guy was going to be a hoot.
“Okay, Mr. Fun guy, when should I plan on going?” I asked.
“Statistics for your age group suggest you’ll be gone at 86. However, since you’re still here now, we better settle on, say, 94 as an unlikely but worst case scenario. I don’t want you spending the last of your golden years living in a cardboard box or eating dog food. You’ll be unhappy, and if word got out it would be bad for my professional reputation.”
I stared at is color charts unable to comprehend them but his conclusions were clear.
“You have four choices. Choice number one give up everything you like that costs money. If your wife is not keen on that option, you still have a wealth of choices at your age:
2.) Become a greeter at Wal-Mart.
3.) Bag groceries at the supermarket.
4.) Flip burgers till you kick the bucket.”
He grinned, proud of his expert advice, while I contemplated my options. So now I’m convinced. Time to start nibbling at that nest egg, so it won’t expire before I do. The My stocks, my bonds, my savings accounts and the house might have to go. But which one to liquidate first? My assets don’t talk but they have a way of communicating. Each one is now crying, “Oh no! Do not guillotine me. Liquidate the others first, but please let me live.”
“Come on guys,” I replied, “Some of you have to take the bullet. I’m getting hungry so, it’s one of you or dog food for me. I’m not moving into the cardboard box for anyone. So who’s up first?”
“Come on yourself.” They retort in unison. “You devoted your life to bringing us into the world. We’re your assets. We thought you loved us. You were supposed to hand us over to your children, – like some kind of tax-free bequest. Why don’t you just make a trust or something? If you don’t care about us, don’t you love your biological children? Your dad did! He left you an inheritance. It’s not our fault you blew it. Now you’re going to leave your kid’s zip? If you care nothing about them, what about taxes. Go ahead, just try to sell one of us long term assets and the capital gains tax will kill you.”
And they didn’t stop there:
“If 10 million American dogs can eat Purina Puppy Chow, it can’t be as bad as eating us, your own creations. Think about that: You cannibal!”
This is all very painful in a way that Fidelity and Schwab never discussed. I’m still in limbo. Every time I go to Wal-Mart I wonder if I should apply for a greeter position or head for the pet food section.