A Blogger Looks At 55
Around the time I turned 40, I wrote a blog post titled A Blogger Looks At 40 which is a play on words of the Jimmy Buffett song A Pirate Looks At 40. Then when I turned 50 I wrote an update called A Blogger Looks At 50. Generally speaking these milestone posts benchmark a few things related to the arc of getting older like ideas on career, life at home, health, hobbies, life priorities and whatever else comes to mind. I'm now going to do these every five years as I think people go through a lot of changes between 50 and say 70 or 75 or at the very least they contemplate a lot of changes. For many people, this sort of wide window of time is when important decisions have to be made. So I am five years into this window and haven't had to confront any of this yet, obviously I don't know when or if I will need to contemplate big changes to my life but hopefully this series, as infrequent as it is can be helpful on some level even if that is helping figure out what not to do.
My career continues to be a lot of fun. Markets obviously challenge people and I still very much enjoy the challenge. Since the pandemic, maybe longer, nothing has made any sense in markets, plague; market doesn't care, borderline depression; market doesn't care, people are speculating on all sorts of nonsense like digital cat memes (NFTs) and what might turn out to be fake money (cryptocurrencies). Interest rates are at zero and the Fed is printing money nonstop. If that doesn't make you want to jump out of bed to see what's next, then yeah maybe you should find another career but I am fascinated by all of it.
I am aware that I am lucky in this regard. It is common for people my age to be fed up with what they do. I talk a lot about doing things now for the future you. Relative to when I turned 40, the future is here. While I still enjoy my work, what if between 40 and 55 I came to hate it? What steps could I have taken at 40 to give myself optionality at 50 or 55 or 60? At 40, I figured I would still like my work but there was no guarantee that I would continue to do so. At 55 now, there is no guarantee. As I have said before, I cannot envision the scenario of wanting to do something else but there is no way to be sure. How old are you? How long to plan to keep working even if that is forever? Ok, that is your Plan A but we don't all get to play out our Plan A which is where optionality and having a back up plan or two comes into play. You never know what the future you will want so give the future you as many options as possible. If you don't have a Plan B, I would encourage you to start figuring one out no matter what your age.
The one big financial change in my life over the last five years has been buying the cabin next to ours and renting it out through Airbnb. This was my wife's idea and it has wildly exceeded expectations. We're booked all the time, were on a reality TV show on CNBC with it, got included on a list of Airbnbs with the best views in America on MSN and a couple of other things. Assuming we stick with it which is our plan, it would be meaningful income stream if we ever need it.
One new financial priority is that I have come to have greater appreciation for having Roth IRA/401k assets. While nothing has changed in terms of the mechanics of the accounts, a few years ago a client needed to buy a new car and only had a traditional IRA account. This is a scenario I have since referenced many times. If you only have a traditional IRA then a $40,000 car is going to cost $50,000. I personally would not want to incur a car loan at an older age so there is a suboptimal choice in that scenario. Take on debt or spend an extra 20% (or whatever your tax bracket is) to buy something I needed. The Roth gives you optionality
A friend of ours recently said to my wife something like "it's great that you two still like each other." We've both been working from home for a long time and we do enjoy each other's company. I appreciate being lucky on this front but being/staying happy at home is a huge priority and makes just about every other aspect of life easier.
Right before my 51st birthday I was diagnosed as prediabetic. This was one of the most important things that's ever happened to me. I learned firsthand that at some age, different for everyone, you can no longer out-exercise a bad diet. This sent me on a whole new topic to learn about, metabolic health and related issues. I greatly reduced my carbohydrate consumption and reversed the prediabetes in a few weeks. I also lost 25 pounds I didn't know I needed to lose and am much healthier for the experience. Here is a link to a Tweet thread more focused on diet, exercise, supplements, important benchmarks for health and so on. One neat byproduct of learning this stuff for myself has been helping quite a few other people make similar improvements by posting about it on social media.
People sometimes have trouble with getting older which is understandable. I had trouble with that around graduating college and turning 25 as lines in the sand between being a kid and an adult. None of the big numbers since then have bothered me. In the past I have attributed that to being happy at home and enjoying what you do everyday (probably your job). Someone who is unhappy at home and miserable at work seems likely to have more regret with each passing milestone age like 40 or 50 or whatever. Far more superficially, I've started to think that aging is a little easier if you're fairly healthy and look fairly healthy. Yes, superficial but I think there is something to it. This is partially genetics and I am lucky there but it is also behavioral. Someone who smokes, does not exercise and eats a lot of sugar is going to be biologically older and probably look older too.
Actually, I can envision one big change in my life coming fairly soon related to my involvement with Walker Fire. We have a volunteer fire department where I live. I've been a firefighter since 2003 and have been the chief since 2012. We think we are the largest volunteer department in the state in terms of personnel with about 35 people. I hope to make it to at least the ten year mark as chief but am very unlikely to still be chief at the 15 year mark. I hope to keep fighting fires and stay with the department to a very old age but spending less time on this part of my life in the near future appeals to me. Of volunteering, I have long said the more you put in to it, the more you get out and I have gotten a lot out of it for which I am grateful but in addition to officially being the chief for nine years and a few months, I was kinda sorta the chief for the previous couple of years too when I was the assistant chief so it's a long time now.
My priorities in life have not changed much but the way I describe them has changed. I want to own my time, set my schedule. I have been doing that for a long time now. Part of owning my time is doing the things I want to do which means being able to do the things I want to. Three or four times a year that means fighting a fire which is physically challenging. Physical challenges require being physically fit so I make sure not to miss workouts. They don't take long but if you are fit and not distracted by being unhappy at home then the other parts of your life start to get easier.
Also important as a life priority is self sufficiency wherever possible. Not just financially but also more everyday life things like being able to lift the occasional heavy thing, being able to fix a few things (not that I am legitimately handy but can fix some stuff). We have solar power with a backup battery in case the power goes out for an extended period which happens here every so often. These are just examples. If this point resonates then you might have your own ideas about self sufficiency that I would encourage you to pursue them.
Circling back to a point earlier in this post that I have made before which is that in your 50's, and I will probably say the same thing ten years from now, your future is already here. Just getting a few big decisions right early can make everything about the aging process easier. If you're biologically younger than your chronological age thanks to decisions about diet and exercise and you've spend the last 20 or 25 years living below your means then you've got some money in the bank which results in another big life priority for me which is optionality.
There is tremendous emotional value in being able to make changes even if you don't actually want to. That is freedom and I would wish that for everyone.
Finally, it is not lost on me how lucky my wife and I are. That is never lost on me. We're happy, we're healthy, we're financially comfortable and we both do what we want. Our good luck really does stem from just a couple of big decisions on things that everyone learns early on. You can't spend more than you make. You need to save some money. You need to exercise. Too much sugar is bad for you (I learned a little late how little sugar it takes to be unhealthy and still turned it around very quickly). This is basic stuff that people just drift away from. With a sample size of two, my wife and me, sticking to the basics makes aging easier.