Getting My Financial Sh*t Together: A Rant before Beginning

My father’s estate has been settled, his worldly goods (I’d like to know where to find his “otherworldly goods” because I suspect the value may be greater and perhaps not subject to inheritance tax) and small investments divided. And…the semester is over, my sabbatical has begun. It is time – long past time, according to the experts – to tackle “financial planning.” This project will compete for attention (more like plague my waking hours and disrupt my sleep) with the stated purpose of the leave…finish the book.

Stocks, bonds, annuities, savings accounts, IRAs, different kinds of IRAs? What are they? How much should be where? What’s already there? How much do I have for putting in different places? How should I “redistribute assets” to “maximize benefits?” And, oh yes, something called “social security planning.” And, if I don’t “plan” I risk losing “hundreds of thousands of dollars.” Really? Hundreds of thousands, from Social Security.

Financially comfortable and invested in TIAA-CREF, I’ve never wanted to think farther about ‘money management.” And true confession…I hate this stuff. What is it that drives the people who are interested in such things?

Alas, for me, “the time has come, the time is now…” And so I begin with a search for resources. It’s just another research project, right? Read what others have to say, gather the evidence, write the paper? Well, no, it’s an ongoing, never-ending bother, that, apparently, is never published and must be edited over and over and over. Analogies from a life in academia don’t work.

Two words in myriad messages on websites and in books about retirement income set my teeth on edge, two words that seem to make the whole project a study in absurdity. How does one “plan” and “risk” at the same time? Or “plan” for the “unknown?” Ugh…I have rhetorical dissonance to confront along with the coins stashed under my mattress. How does one control the unknowable? This problem sounds more spiritual than financial, and perhaps I should be reading Weber instead of the AARP Retirement Guide and Social Security for Dummies. NO, she screams….I will not be diverted from the task at hand. No wandering in the realm of religion or philosophy. I will be sticking to the hard, solid facts of finance. (That’s sarcasm.)

Here’s what I’ve learned so far: 1. There are way too many books and websites out there that aim to “guide” me; it is a growth industry I wish I’d invested in so I would be set for retirement. 2. The message they agree on…I’ve waited too long to begin planning (analogy, it is year five on the six-year tenure clock, and that book manuscript is no where near seeing a publisher) 3. But, they also tell me that despite the procrastination, it is not too late, if I am prepared to hunker down, do the work, stop spending, allocate wisely and; 4. Most important, my first step should be to locate and trust an expert.

OK, as for #1, I’m an academic, and that means I’m supposed to know how to separate wheat from chaff when reading what others have written. But then it has taken decades to hone those skills for historical research. Are the skills useful for winnowing out the retirement planning chaff? And after only a brief foray into the financial planning bibliography – there’s a lot of chaff out there! As for #2 and #3 the clock can’t be rewound, time to forge ahead with the financial resume I have, however meager it may be, rather than the one I might wish for; i.e., one must be a realist at this stage of the process. And then, there’s #4. Apparently there are many folks out there willing to serve as my financial mentor. Having spent those same teaching decades also studying how medical and psychological “experts” earned their chops by creating a problem and then professing to be the solution, I am ever the skeptic of self-proclaimed experts who would have me believe that the solution they offer to the problem at hand is the “best” one, the one most likely to relieve my symptoms and my underlying distress. I fear that, for #4 searching for a crystal ball and a fortuneteller might serve me just as well.

These early forays into financial planning, have, at least, led to a “to do” list:

1.Round up the paper work and the numbers- a monumental task of creating order out of a file cabinet of disorder. Make sure the workspace is safe from natural disasters and cats whose sold purpose in life is to sleep on (and thus destroy) piles of organized research.

2.Find a financial advisor who will give me absolution and point the way to financial redemption. Google “financial priests, location Blacksburg.”

3.Determine how long I will live, what my health problems will be, and how I will die. Search Amazon for the crystal ball that reviewers have found most satisfactory for this task. Weigh negative reviews against cost, while adjusting for free shipping.

4.Close my eyes and pin the tail on the date-for-retirement donkey.

Those books I’m reading have been really, really helpful already.

Now it’s back to “The Oblivious Investor,” the blog whose title alone made me want to become a “follower.” And to Personal Finance for Seniors for Dummies. where I’m now reading that I should eat my vegetables and volunteer-because my physical and mental health are more important than, though clearly not unrelated to, my finances. Just a thought, will I be able to afford vegetables when I retire?


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