Forced To Eat Cat Food When You’re Old
January 27, 2018
David Treece, who wrote the following piece, is a financial advisor down in Miami, the kind that has a fiduciary responsibility to clients, who doesn’t get paid on commission, which allows him to give sound advice. This is from a draft of his upcoming book, which is all about the ability to retire, to shore up the damage you may have done so you don’t run out of money before you run out of life. When I read it, I knew I wanted to share it with y’all.
People are irrational. People make bad decisions and non-decisions based on emotion – fear, greed, ego, avoidance, resistance, and sometimes just plain laziness. If you have fear, and make a bad decision or non-decision based on fear, just wait until you get the negative effects of that decision or non-decision. Talk about fear.
For instance, you feared old age and the loss of independence, but also feared buying a long-term care policy because of the cost, and now your fears have come true. You are old, and need help and can’t comfortably afford it. You did this to yourself. And this is just one way you can do yourself in, making your retirement years a living hell.
Maybe this is the ghost of your future self. Or maybe I will get to you on time, save you from this fate. Wake you up from your dream world, drop you back into reality.
One thing I have learned is that some people are hard to help. Don’t mislead yourself about your life, about your money, your retirement, and your older self.
I’m here to help you plan for your retirement; plan for aging in general. But I’m also going to impart some financial wisdom or even financial “therapy.”
Therapy Lesson #1: The conflict between what you want and what’s best for you is at the root of the problem.
You learned this as a child when you were told to eat your vegetables. You know this when it comes to working out in the gym. You know this when it comes to smoking. It’s just as true when it comes to money.
You want to spend and not save. You want to lease the expensive fancy car rather than buy a car that is not as nice, but one you can afford and pay off.
You need to know yourself, how you react, what influences you, and learn to do what is in your best interest, not what others expect of you, or what you think is “normal”, or what will impress people.
Mature people are willing and able to delay gratification; they choose long-term gratification over the instant variety.
Therapy Lesson #2: Financial attitudes are contagious, and your weaknesses will be exploited.
We are learning that fat is “contagious.” We talk about an obesity epidemic as though it were a communicable disease. What we’re really talking about is being influenced by others’ behavior. If everyone eats fast food or junk food, it becomes normal, and we just live with it. It’s the same with overspending and accumulating debt.
You are affected by your surroundings and by the company you keep. If everyone has expensive toys and consumer debt seems normal, or if everyone takes out expensive student loans, you end up doing the same. A herd mentality is one of the biggest detriments to saving and investing. You have to ask yourself, “Do I want to look rich or do I want to be rich?”
Fear of missing out, keeping up with the Joneses, or just the need to feed your ego and have status will make you overspend or get into too much debt.
This human tendency is exploited at every turn. Advertisers try to get you to overspend. Scam artists will try to trick you out of your money.
Changing your mindset to be different from others may be the key to your success.
Therapy Lesson #3: You pay too much attention to the present and not enough attention to future possibilities.
You are focused so much on daily living or on the short-term future that saving for retirement, which seems so far off, isn’t a priority. You trick yourself into thinking that you will start saving when you make more money, but even when you make more money you still spend it because saving was never a priority. If you don’t plan your savings, a higher income will probably not help.
You trick yourself into believing that you have plenty of time to get your finances in order, but the greatest power in finance is compounding, which is a function of time.
Therapy Lesson #4: You don’t think about unpleasant things, especially unlikely unpleasant things.
Sh*t happens. Be prepared. You should still be prepared for an accident, a layoff, an unexpected sickness, a recession, business difficulties, or an expensive family problem. Because it’s not if, but when.
Therapy Lesson #5: Your beliefs may be totally off, which will only cause you financial trouble.
Here are just a few examples of what I mean, with a nod to the research of Richard Nisbett, author of Mindware.
You are overconfident about your ability. You misremember the past, misperceive the present, and mis-imagine the future.
You compare the present with the past when you ought to be comparing it to the possible.
You believe you know what you want, but you really don’t.
You believe that you will live to regret the wrong things.
Here’s what I mean: Nine out of 10 people expect to feel more regret when they foolishly switch stocks than when they foolishly fail to switch stocks because most people think they will regret foolish actions more than foolish inaction. Nine out of 10 people are wrong. People of every age and in every walk of life seem to regret not having done things much more than they regret things that they actually did. People regret not going to college, missing a business opportunity, not traveling more, not spending time with family and friends, and most of all not saving enough for retirement. It’s what we don’t do that causes us regret.
You believe what you see, but appearances are deceiving, so you incorrectly compare yourself or make false assumptions. You just don’t know enough, and you often don’t know what you don’t know. People will gladly tell you about their successes, but they rarely tell you about all their failures. It really creates a misleading impression, and you have to learn to take it with a grain of salt, and not think you are missing out.
Therapy Lesson #6: You continue to hold on, instead of bail, despite the evidence before you. This is the fallacy of sunk cost, in other words, don’t trip over what’s already behind you.
Economists know, and business schools teach, that the value of a future action is tied to its future worth and not what has already been spent. This is a really hard concept for most of us to grasp. Only future benefits and costs should figure into your choices. If you spent $100 to go to a concert, and you hate it, should you just leave? People don’t want to give up on the hundred dollars that they’ve spent in this example. But absolutely, you should forget what has been spent that cannot be retrieved, and only think about what is best going forward. So absolutely you should leave the concert and go and make the best use of your time.
Use this concept to avoid making bad decisions today based on bad decisions you made yesterday. Put the past behind you. Think of your life going forward. You can beat yourself up over: “What if I had only…? Why didn’t I…?, If only I hadn’t…., Most of all, don’t throw good money after bad money.
Therapy Lesson #7: You are fooling yourself. We all do it.
Denial is a powerful thing. You may even deny that you are in denial. This denial of reality comes in several guises.
Some people have what I call rescue fantasies in which they chose not to worry about something they should worry about, thinking that someone else will swoop in and eliminate the problem. Or somehow they think that things are just going to work out. Somehow they think that things are just going to change on their own.
I once had a woman tell me, in the context of addressing her shaky finances, that she wasn’t so worried because she was expecting to get married. She wasn’t even seeing anyone at the time, but she was definitely planning on getting married, and in her mind this was going to help solve her financial challenges. Ladies, a man is not a financial plan.
Sometimes you fool yourself by thinking you have more control than you really do. You actually make decisions based on these perceptions of control.
People feel more certain they will win a lottery if they can control the choice of numbers on their ticket, and studies also show that people think they have a better chance of winning if they get the choice to throw the dice themselves.
The famous comedian Joan Rivers wrote, “Life is too random, too unfair, and too absurd to think that we can ever control more than half of it. Almost everything we do involves luck. Caesar’s Palace may have organized its luck, but you and I can’t.”
About the only thing that comes to us without effort is old age, but preparing for old age does take effort.