You think doing your taxes is a soul-sucking experience? Try retirement planning.
What sane person wants to risk knowing they’re not saving nearly enough — to be told they’ll be living on canned beans during their golden years?
This is why I’ve avoided professional analysis of my financial situation all these years. I’ve preferred no news to bad news.
Cheryl’s been with me on this. She’s been an enabler of blissful ignorance.
Where I slipped up was in making a call last month to the financial services company that is the holder of much of my so-called net worth.
I had a little question. A tiny little question about IRAs.
The friendly young man on the other end of the line said he’d do much more for me than answer an IRA question. How about we do some financial planning?
Instinctively I grabbed my wallet.
Not to worry, he said. It’s free.
We all know that “free” generally isn’t. Still, it wasn’t as if I hadn’t needed to talk to someone for decades.
In a moment of bravery — or was it weakness? — I said yes. If I’m likely to someday live at the Vets Home in Yountville, I should probably know it now, not later.
We made an appointment for two weeks hence to have a lengthy phone conversation. I needed time to track down all the places where I’d squirreled away money over the years. The adviser also wanted an estimate of current household spending.
I had a general sense of the former. I had no idea of the latter.
In the lead-up to the phone conference, I endured bouts of financial terror, which led to insomnia. I just knew this was going to be ugly.
I was wrong. At the appointed hour my finance guy didn’t call. When I tried calling him, no answer.
Dodged a bullet!
Then I got peeved. The next day I called his supervisor. Better check on Charlie, I said. He may be behind a closed door, dead at his desk.
This is an exact quote. The supervisor did not laugh.
Charlie wasn’t dead. He’d gone on vacation and forgotten about me.
When we hooked up a week later, Charlie was profusely apologetic. We set up another appointment.
This turned out to be a marathon session lasting an hour an a half. It was positively brain numbing. By the end, this stranger knew EVERYTHING about us. Cheryl and I had been stripped of all financial privacy.
Before he could render an opinion on my financial health, Charlie needed to know about my retirement dreams. Did I want to travel, own an RV or maybe a second home?
I couldn’t relate to the question. No RV or second home for me. I wouldn’t mind visiting Starbucks more often.
Charlie didn’t accept this answer. He asked the question twice more. Everyone in retirement wants to splurge a bit, he said.
Fine, then, I said. We’ll go to Europe.
During my grilling, Charlie kept calling me “sir,” which had a nice ring to it, but I didn’t quite relate. Does your company, which is recording this conversation, allow you to call me by my first name? I asked.
I can call you anything you’d like, Charlie said. But he never did. It was “sir,” “sir,” “sir.”
At the end of our talk, my head was swimming with information about flexible retirement annuities, the need to rebalance my so-called stock portfolio and the shame of owning savings accounts that were earning maybe .01 percent interest.
I will talk to Cheryl about all this, I said.
First I shared the good news. Charlie thinks I should plan to live to age 90, something that no Courtney has ever done, I said. I like this guy’s optimism.
Then I unloaded some of Charlie’s weighty financial observations. As I did, I watched as Cheryl’s brain locked up and she dropped into a black hole of willed incomprehension.
I was sympathetic. These matters hurt. Perhaps they shouldn’t but they do.