Dissecting Gen X's Angst

You can figure it out now or you can figure it out later, but you’ll be much happier if you can figure it out now.

Tadas Viskanta at Abmormal Returns had an interesting post related to something I wrote recently about the grumpy middle, the idea that in our 40’s and into our 50’s we tend to be at our least happiest point in our lives. Tadas cites all sorts of articles and thought leadership on the issue. Many of the earlier bloggers, Tadas is one as am I, probably got going in our mid-late 30’s, I was 38, and one thing that is emerging is that our blogging is tracking how we are evolving as people in terms of who we are and how our life circumstances are evolving.

Tadas cites issues for our age cohort related to coping with the disappointment of not being President, a professional athlete or whatever we said we wanted to do when we were 12. There is also the element of our cohort not quite easing into the most lucrative earnings years for various reasons. And there are other components to this issue.

This is something I have been writing about one way or another for many years. In the earliest days of Random Roger, I quoted our
friend Bill from here in Walker (the little community near Prescott, AZ where I live) as saying you can figure it out now or you can figure it out later, but you’ll be much happier if you can figure it out now.

Figuring it out has a couple of different levels. For some folks this means figuring out how to function as an adult in terms of having a job and paying the bills; millennials use the word adult as a verb...adulting. The next level deeper is more about self-discovery and ties in with much of what Tadas covered like not worrying about what other people have, figuring out what makes you happiest and then figuring out how to do that to avoid growing old in a hated job.

As I go through this it is crucial to understand that there are no short cuts to figuring yourself out and making the life you want a financial reality.

My wife and I don’t have the angst that apparently many Gen-Xers do. There are several possible reasons for this. One is something we have been living ever since we got together and that I have been writing about for a very long time which is living below your means. Everyone knows they should do it but very few actually do. Quite obviously living below your means allows to build up something of a nest egg that can be very empowering in the face of financial shocks or other (financial) life events including downsizing your career into something more enjoyable when presented the opportunity even if a little less lucrative.

You no doubt have seen the articles saying that the number one thing couples fight about is money. You’re less likely to fight about money if you have some saved and aren’t living under the weight of a $3500 house payment and two $700 car payments. That is a big bogey if something unforeseen happens versus a $1500 house payment and no car payments for driving your cars for a long time. This is not a high earner situation it is a low overhead situation. This leaves room for spending on experiences like going places (yes, a millennial expression) without adding to monthly overhead. If you can afford to take a trip you do it and if you can afford it right now, you wait.

Included in Tadas’ article is a Tweet from Josh Brown about health and aging. Physically taking care of yourself is another thing that everyone knows they should do but can be very difficult to find the time. Part of the thesis of why Gen-X is not happy is declining health. Remaining fit and active staves off those issues along with good genes, depending on the circumstance. Success here is about self-motivation but quite obviously if you hurt less frequently you might be grumpy less frequently.

I figured out in 1991 when I first went to Walker that it was where I wanted to live, or at some place like it. The world sort of fell into place in terms allowing people to work remotely (the internet) but up to the top of this piece there were no short cuts. It took 12 years from that first visit to move there full time and the trade off has always been less financial opportunity (could I have earned more in SF or NYC?). I have no idea what would have happened financially had I pursued working in the business in a large city, but certainly greater opportunity is in large cities even if I personally wouldn’t have benefited but that was not what I wanted.

I wrote a piece the other day about financial independence versus retirement. The above is a path to independence, I believe. One way I have framed this is to say that if you make enough to pay the bills, save a little money and have some left over for some fun, then you’re better off than most folks. There’s nothing in there about making a lot of money.

It all just boils to figuring it out, the sooner the better.

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