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Money, that’s what I want

June 19, 2012


I am no spring chicken.  In fact, I’m spending some time thinking about retirement.  Possibly I could say I’m planning, but that may be too strong a word for what I’m doing.

The thing is that such planning, like so many things I think about, has so many variables that it seems nearly futile.  I’m an actor.  My income is variable, to say the least; but then nearly everyones’ income seems to be variable these days, particularly in terms of all or nothing.  The 2 actors’ guilds I’ve been a member of for many years recently merged, but, because of the structure of laws surrounding such a merger, the 2 separate organizations that handle the pensions from each of the formerly separate guilds are still separate.  They may merge.  I don’t know what effect that may have on my pensions, although, supposedly, they are protected by federal laws.  Soon, the acting work I do will all be under contracts with the new, combined entity (SAG/AFTRA).  Since the pension plans are still separate, I don’t know how I can increase my pensions.  I’m sure something will be figured out, but in the meantime, it makes it that much more difficult for me to “plan” my retirement.  I know approximately what I can get from social security, and that there may be cost of living increases.  I also understand that at some point in the future, but still within my likely lifetime, the SSA won’t have enough money to pay, in full, all the people who are eligible.

I keep track of what I spend, and so I have a pretty good estimate of what I need for a year’s time, but in planning for retirement, assuming I live, I need to plan for over 20 years.  Of course, there’s Jackie Mason’s take on the matter, which goes something like this: “I have enough money for the rest of my life, unless, you know, I buy something.”  Or, another way to look at that, is that I’m in great financial shape for my retirement, assuming I die soon.  But more to the point, I don’t know how inflation will alter my financial needs.  I just read in a financial planning book, that inflation has averaged 3%/yr. over the past century.  Of course, that doesn’t mean it will continue to average 3%, or that a 3% average could be meaningless over a particular ten year period, which could be a ten year period within the years I’m retired (& still living). 

My health is another important factor.  I’m in good health, knock wood.  But anything can happen.  And how much more might I need if I reach a point where I can no longer take care of myself?

How much will food cost?  Water (because an assortment of people say the 21st century wars will be fought about access to water)?  Medical care and medicines?  Housing costs?

I suppose the smartest thing I could do is whatever will bring me the highest income for the years I have left that I can work.  So, I would either need to achieve significantly more success as an actor (why didn’t I think of that before???), or go into some other field that offers a greater likelihood of actually working and getting paid to do so.  Of course, the current economy is hardly encouraging in this regard.

Or I could do what nearly everyone does (certainly nearly everyone I know): ignore the issue except to worry about it occasionally.  The problem with that is it leads, all too often, to cutting one’s prescription medications in half and becoming acquainted with the cheaper brands of cat food.  Or being written about in one’s local newspaper as the AARP bank robber (give me all the money, and hurry, the lunch special at Denny’s starts soon).

How many people in the United States, five years ago, thought they were on their way to a financially secure retirement, and now it turns out they aren’t?  How many people who had invested with Bernie Madoff felt that way?  How many people in Greece, three years ago, maybe 2 years ago, maybe last year, thought they were financially secure, only to have had their pensions cut by 40%, and now face the possibility of leaving the Euro and returning to the Drachma, with little real idea of what that will mean to their financial well-being, but all indications being that it will be painful?

Maybe it’s my own fault.  Certainly my father would have wanted me to choose a career that led to making a lot of money.  Certainly there are people who make their career decisions that way.  They want more than just financial security.  They want wealth.  Even great wealth.  And they do whatever it takes to get it, sometimes honest, sometimes not so much.  Maybe it isn’t reasonable to think one can really plan this sort of thing.  It has occurred to me to say ‘to hell with it’ and go have a couple of wild years and then be broke.  Probably not my style, though.

So, as it turns out, like with so many things, I don’t have answers.  I don’t know how to reach a decision because there are so many variables.  And I further the opinion of some of my friends that I have difficulty making decisions.  However, since we’re talking about money, maybe I’ll just flip a coin.




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