My Birthday and Other Excruciating Introspections
Today, I want to talk about something I once-upon-a-time used to look forward too, but now fills me with sheer dread - my upcoming birthday. I know what you’re thinking, no one likes getting older, but it’s not even about that. Aside from the pains in my joints that exponentially increase with each passing year, and the extra gray hairs, I don’t particularly mind the getting older part. My birthday just feels underwhelming. Every year. After turning twenty-one, what is there to even celebrate? Being able to rent a car? Ew.
No. To me, it’s more about looking at my accomplishments (or lack of) and this compulsive need I have to reflect on my life. I’ve always been this way. I remember when I turned eighteen. It was 70 degrees outside, which is unheard of in February in Ohio, and I sat in the backyard after school in shock that I was officially and legally an adult. It blew my mind. I was wrapping up my senior year of high school and getting ready to go to college in 6 months. What was I going to do with my life? I certainly didn’t feel like an adult. If we’re being honest, I still don’t feel like an adult. To this day, I get that panicky feeling every birthday…what am I doing with my life? You’d think by now I would have figured it out, but I’m pretty sure I’ve just been pretending for the last 20+ years.
This feeling used to leave me unnerved for weeks, but I eventually came to realize this is something I should take advantage of because we should be checking in with ourselves. We should take measure of our goals and our priorities once in a while. We should reevaluate where we are, where we want to be, and how to get there. And what better time to do it than our birthdays. So many things can change in a year, it’s the perfect time to gage if we are where we need to be. There are obviously a lot of different aspects of our lives to inspect – families, work, health, happiness, etc. Being in the financial industry, these are a few questions I believe are important to ask yourself.
If you have kids, have you started saving for college before fully funding your retirement? If you answered yes, I’m going to ask you to rethink this position. Our generation has seen massive student loan debt. We don’t want to burden our kids with the same kind of debt we had when we graduated. I get it. It would seem to make sense to fund college first because that will come in a short 18 years, but the truth is, retirement is much harder to fund. With college, you only pay for 4 years, give or take, but retirement, you’re looking for income for 20+ years if you’re lucky. College is expensive, but not compared to retirement. Plus, there are no loans or scholarships for retirement. Sure, there’s social security, but that typically isn’t a large amount of money, and with the way our government spends, there’s no guarantee it will be around by the time our generation is ready to retire.
College also grows assets because it prepares your kids for what will hopefully be a successful career post-graduation. Retirement only depletes assets. Once you start taking it, you’re not typically adding back to the pot. The earlier you start saving for retirement, and the more you can put into it early on, the more compounding interest you’ll get. You can always suspend contributing to your retirement account during the college years if you need to. At that point you should have a nice chunk of money that will continue to compound during the suspension. If you are able to save for your retirement instead, you should be selfish and do it. Think about it this way, what if you save and save for college and then your kid decides not to go! If you put the money into a 529, you can’t take it out without penalty if it’s not going towards education.
Another thing to think about is life insurance. Do you have a policy? If you have a family, even if you’re a stay-at-home parent, you should look into coverage. If something happens to you, will your spouse have enough for childcare expenses while he/she works? I’m not sure if you’ve ever had to pay for daycare, but it is RIDICULOUSLY expensive. An easy way to help with coverage is if your employer has group insurance. If they do, and you’re not participating, you should look into it. Those policies are typically low cost and provide coverage even if you can’t get an individual policy on your own.
If you do have a policy, a question I always ask myself is, is it enough? Being underinsured isn’t a problem, until it is. Think about what your life was like when you first bought your policy compared to your life now. Maybe you haven’t had any major life changes. Or maybe you’re like me. When I first bought my policy, I was in my late 20’s, married, and a stay-at-home mom to a baby girl. The policy I purchased was more than enough at the time. Things changed. I had another child, got divorced, became a single mom, and got a job. If something happens to me, my children are going to need more than my original policy would provide.
The same holds true for things like estate documents and disability insurance. Do you have a will? If yes, when was the last time you updated it? Have you had any life events that might impact your will? Did you get married? Have another child? Has your sister, who you originally wanted to leave your kids with, joined a cult and only responds to the name Hibiscus? I don’t know! Review your documents and contact your estate attorney if you need to make changes. If you can’t afford an attorney, there are websites where you can create your own will online. It might be that easy. Also, double-check your beneficiaries. Is your ex-husband still listed as the primary beneficiary on your accounts? You might want to update that information.
As far as disability insurance, I think we all have this idea in our heads that disability happens to older people, not us, or that it’s caused by freak accidents. According to the Council of Disability Awareness, more than half of Americans who are disabled are workers between the ages of 18-64 and the causes are not from accidents. They are from more common things like carpal tunnel syndrome, PTSD, cancer, and back pain. Statistics show that “just over 1 in 4 of today’s 20-year-olds will become disabled before they retire”. Will you be financially okay if you’re unable to work? (n.d.). Council for Disability Awareness. The International DI Society. https://Internationaldisociety.Org/Council_for_Disability_Awareness
There are so many other questions I compulsively think about, some every day because it’s part of my job, and others I save for special occasions like my birthday. The financial ones, I can help with. The other ones, I’m just as lost as I was at 18. The good news is that it’s never too late. While I may feel like my life is one hot mess after another, every day gives me a new opportunity to get myself on track or find someone that can help me. If any of the questions I posed are things you’ve pushed to the back of your mind, but have caused indigestion while reading this, let me know if I can help. Sometimes it’s as simple as finding an employee benefit you didn’t know you could utilize! Sometimes it’s more complicated. Either way, please feel free to reach out if you’d like to schedule time to chat – Jennifer.Jenkins@bluestonewp.com. By the way, I’m not 40, but that was the last time my picture was taken for my birthday. 😭😭