It seems strange to say this, but I have to keep reminding myself that I am precisely who I am and where I am today because of choices that I made. On the surface, this is an utter cliche, but the will strongly resists the notion that outside forces aren’t more to blame for me being who I am than I am. If I remember right, the latest round of parenting articles actually poo-poo this type of child education–it was a fad for some time in the nineties and early 2000s to incessantly tell your kids that the choices they make cause the outcomes that they experience, but now something else has taken its place. I don’t know what.
I don’t think I will refrain from teaching this to my son, though. The sooner he starts to learn that he is making choices and his choices have consequences that can snowball into situations that make him unhappy, the better.
I also tend to forget that I haven’t made all bad choices in life, either. My present situation isn’t such a one where my parents are still bailing me out of jail and putting me into rehab, time and time again. I did get a college degree. I did hold down a full-time job for fifteen years that saw me learning dozens of skills that enabled me to remain employed during economic downturns.
I made horrible decisions with my finances. I spent money I didn’t have too many times to count, and bore the burden of paying off all of it and all of the heavy interest accrued on it, rather than declare bankruptcy or ask my parents for endless gifts that we pretended were loans.
It is disheartening to consider that if I’d taken the extra $1500 I had when I first moved down here and put it into a mutual fund, and continued to drop only a modest amount each month into the fund, while earning a realistic compound interest on it, I would have about a quarter of a million in savings today. I can with some confidence and with little actual guesswork assert that I probably paid out that much in credit card debt and car loans over this period of time (which would have obviously netted me even more savings had it all gone into savings). It roughly comes to a little more than a grand a month, and I know there were months where I was eating pasta and beans every day in order to survive while paying interest on many loans.
None of this is really anyone else’s fault. I have at times blamed parents and teachers for teaching financial education minus credit cards and car loans. It is pretty straightforward to learn about how if you make this much money, you can afford this much stuff, or save that much money, but credit wasn’t taught a lot, or very well. When I was 23 and suddenly had a bunch of credit cards with high credit lines due to me lying about my salary, I thought it was free money, more or less.
But, that’s all my fault. There were people telling me that it was going to kill me if I continued to abuse credit cards in that fashion. There were plenty of words of wisdom about going out and taking out another loan on an impractical car right before you have your practical car paid off.
Is my decision to use the extra savings from the past few years to go back to seminary a poor one? It is definitely foolish to anyone who keeps their eyes on their money at all times. If I don’t go on to use my education to help others, I think it will have been but another selfish purchase of an expensive thing that I’d hoped would finally make me happy.
The good news is that if I can keep my health together, and I look to save modest amounts moving forward after I embark upon my new career, and I am able to work for another thirty years, then I could end up with around $1.5 million in retirement, not counting whatever my wife saves and what goes into social security (which I don’t especially count on at all.) Now, obviously, this amount isn’t much and will probably be a lot less in thirty years. But, if I live to be 100 and do work for 30 years after getting my master’s degree, then $1.5 million only has to last for 25 years.
That means I would get paid $60K a year for the rest of my life after retirement.
Now, I will be the first to admit that I’ve made hundreds of calculations about how much money I might have one day if I just work at it and save a lot, and I inevitably end up not saving very much at all. The short term always looks much more attractive–even if it is just spending a little extra on eating out, or nicer food at the grocery store, or a few extra gifts for family, or an extra vacation. Eating peanut butter sandwiches all week and pasta on the weekends, and taking vacations to campgrounds within a hundred mile radius is a nice idea, but it never seems to work for very long. Once the money appears in the bank, the first question asked is: “how can I spend it?”
I wasn’t intending to think so much about money. Perhaps I should think even more about it than this, but the point was meant to be how I am the one who is responsible for the financial state that I am in–nobody else. I have made choices about where I was going to work, or not, that have seen me leave some fairly lucrative opportunities behind for the sake of finding something that will make me even happier. I started to go back to school four years ago to learn math–I would be getting a BS in math this year if I’d followed through with that.
Why didn’t I? I think it inevitably ends up being the two main culprits–fear and laziness. Once those two enter and conquer, then everything you hear me say after that is just a bunch of rationalization about why I didn’t follow through. However, the real reason always goes back to fear and sloth.