I just returned from a three-day trip to my undergraduate university and my 50th reunion. Yes, you read that right. Fifty years. Okay, so I started college at 10. About 400 showed up for this clambake and the most startling thing of all is that I recognized nobody and they probably felt the same about me. To the credit of the planning committee, the name badges draped around our necks not only had our names, including any nicknames known in school at that time in 1954, but also our graduation picture. That made it much easier to recognize people. I would simply go up to some unknown face, look at the picture on the name tag, and say “Hey, Bill, I know you.” And then lift my eyes to his face and say, “But you I don’t know.” What a wakeup call. Interestingly enough, if I talked to 10 people, only one—one mind you—was still working. The other nine had all “retired.” I put quotes around the word “retired” because retirement is not in my lexicon. I believe in changing lifestyles but sitting home, watching Oprah, and eating bon bons is not my ideal life. I would have to keep the brain going and the muscles in the body stimulated. Now, of those 10 people, the one who is still working is not doing it by choice. He is working because he “has to,” meaning he doesn’t have the funds to “pack it in”…another phrase commonly used at this reunion. The other nine? Catch this. None of them went to a financial planner. They used their accountants to determine what the income flow was (Social Security, pensions, securities, savings, et al) against what the expenses would be. This is a complete turnabout with what is going on today where Baby Boomers are flooding to financial planners and the financial planning niche is the fastest growing one in the industry. Why is that? One thing to keep in mind. At the time my colleagues decided to put a brake to the 9-5 grind, the economy was in good shape, stocks were up, there was pretty solid economic growth. This was all pre-9/11 and pre-Iraq, because the majority of my colleagues stopped full-time work by the time they turned 60, some 12 years ago. Today, the economy is panting, stocks are taking a beating, cost of living is sky-high, and everyone is running scared. A different world from one decade to another. What I found also fascinating is that my classmates were not living like Donald Trump. They were comfortable with enough money for their basic needs and at least one vacation (not more than $5,000) a year. Many had moved to other parts of the country to keep costs down. They were extracting only about five percent from any pension plans; in effect, living off the interest rather than the principal. And oddly enough (and maybe it’s the generation), nobody was scrimping and saving to leave a big fortune to kids and grandkids. “Shrouds have no pockets,” said one classmate. “You can’t take anything with you. I’m spending every last cent.” Another chimed in with “Hey, my kids make more than I did.” But, these weren’t cries of bitterness. They were statements of fact. I think the most telling aspect of this reunion and the one that woke us all up was a particular dinner where the university president offered a slide show in which he talked about our class and what we had and didn’t have when we came to school as freshmen in 1954. Up there on the screen the only electronic equipment we saw was the record player spinning 78s and 45s, and the old Underwood manual typewriter with those red/black spools that had to be changed quite frequently. And then he showed us what the kids of today have: computers, desktop and wireless, Blackberries, Blueberries, iPods, DVDs…it went on and on and on…and we all groaned. “Yeah, look at what we had and now look at what these kids have.” Everybody griping until the president ended with these words: “And you people should have no regrets, for after all, you invented all of this.” End of story. See you in another 50? Sure. Take two and hit to right.
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