5 days until Christmas.
4 shopping days until Santa comes.
1 day until the world ends.
You do the math. Feel free to stop your holiday shopping now, unless it’s for canned food and an underground bunker.
It’s the End of the World as We Know it?
I am not superstitious or a fanatically religious zealot (hail Zorp), but I do have to say that the Mayan Apcocalypse prediction has given me pause. I’ve often heard the hypothetical question asked: “if this were your last day on earth, what would you do?” But today, I really feel it. I still fully believ that I’m going to wake up on Saturday morning and there will not be any fire and brimstone in my back yard. And yet, I feel naturally reflective, especially the way I’ve been handling my money lately.
So as, the question I keep asking myself is this: how do I balance living in the moment and preparing financially for my future if I don’t know what the future will bring?
Financial Planning for a Person Whose Life May End Tomorrow
1. Should I Bother Saving for Retirement?
As a present-thinking twenty-something, I’d like to think that it shouldn’t matter whether or not I save for my retirement. 60-year-old Stephanie seems like an unlikely, unreal character of the future. But as a twenty-something who is overly risk-averse with her money and who has tried really hard to eat enough vegetables to live for a long, long time, I think I may need to save for my future wrinkly self. But what if the future never comes? What if my demise comes before I hit retirement … like tomorrow?
Answer: You just never know what the next day or the next thirty years will bring. Living in the moment is a rare skill, and you shouldn’t sacrifice your happiness now for future security. But you don’t want to be that 50-year-old that opens up your retirement portfolio and realizes you don’t have many options as an aging senior. I for one plan to live until I’m 92-years-old (Doomsday be damned) and will need a robust retirement fund to support that.
2. Should I Blow All My Money Now on Doing Things I Love?
This is a tempting question, particularly considering that I may only have 24 hours left and I have a sizeable stash of cash in my savings account that’s just dying to be spent.
There are two extreme approaches to this: As a recovering cheapskate, I know that completely denying myself any financial splurges in my life doesn’t do me any favors. It makes me feel cheap. On the flip side, spending all of my money on some temporary pleasure (i.e. shoes) may feel empowering and liberating in the moment, but doesn’t contribute to my overall happiness – now or in the future.
Answer: There’s a happy medium somewhere in here, and I’m confident that I can strike a balance. I can live my life to the fullest without spending a lot of money. But planning ahead lets me do awesome things, like seeing my family on the West Coast for Christmas or taking a trip to Vietnam. I’ll continue to invest and save for the things that matter (but allow for the occasional splurge purchase here and there).
3. Do I Regret Anything I’ve Done with My Money?
I took a quick look at my Mint.com account and realized that I spent almost $30,000 last year. A lot of that was on food and shelter, but a good portion of that was on things I can’t remember. I can’t name one thing that I bought in a store that changed my life or that made me significantly happier. What did I do with my money that made me happy? Anytime I saved for something meaningful or cut out a big chunk of my debt.
Answer: Of course I have regrets. But reflecting is far more powerful than regretting, and I plan to seriously realign my money with my values in 2013 (if I live that long).
One final parting note: let me remind you all that the Rapture was scheduled for May 21, 2011 last year. The end of days has come up a lot, and we’re still here. After all, when a calendar ends, including a Mayan calendar, the world doesn’t end… it just means you need to buy a new calendar.
Photo credit: Craigsoup.com