You Need More Optionality, Not Less


Marketwatch looked at the impact of potential job loss for people older than 50. We all know people who had their hand forced at work due to things like downsizing, obsolescence, some sort of unprovable bias or something else. The article paints a picture of someone who is about 50 and on track for retirement but likely still relying on more years of "peak" earning and putting away more money.

In a related note, I saw a quote attributed to Jaime Dimon, CEO of JP Morgan, that by 2030, 30% of US jobs will be replaced one way or another, off shored or replaced by automation. If he's right then Gen-X, currently aged 40-55, would seem to be at ground zero of this threat. Being honest, are we, Gen-X, more or less likely to hard time learning new technology cold and doing so quickly after being caught off guard by a layoff? Some in our cohort (I am toward the older edge of Gen-X) will have any easy time but the majority would not.

Getting out in front of this threat and learning something new before it was needed would greatly increase the odds for a layoff not being devastating. There are many articles that underscore the importance of learning new skills, updating your skills or otherwise making yourself more marketable is easy to say but it takes a serious commitment time-wise.

One aspect that I don't think gets mentioned is that it isn't necessary improve/update marketability with a more technical path. Think about the scenario laid out in the article, someone who is 50 and on track to have the retirement they want may not have to worry about saving more so much as not spending what they have yet. Being able to save more would be optimal but depending on the sequence of life choice made previously may not be vital. At 50 with 15 years until retirement, an accumulated savings balance could easily grow by 50% in 15 years and based on past market cycle results, a double in 15 years is not beyond the pale.

Someone who can't afford to stop working but can afford to earn less has far more optionality than the person who must replace a $200,000 salary with a $200,000 salary; living below your means.

The task of creating optionality takes many years or at least that should be the expectation, there aren't likely to be shortcuts. Here's a related article about how to find a volunteer gig. Putting in many years of volunteering is creating a path to a potential income stream. I would add that no one should wait until they are retired to decide how to volunteer (to the extent they're even interested in that). This is something that should start now for two reasons; no shortcuts and to the start of this post, there is the potential of an unexpected job loss. I would also add a third thing which is the psychic benefits that go with actively volunteering.

I enjoy writing posts that might help people look for innovative solutions to potential bumps in the road and to that end it is important that I do the same things that I write about. Long time readers will know I am many years into volunteer firefighting and have gone beyond the basics to get extra training that I could potentially monetize if I ever needed to.

Like many people and their jobs, I cannot envision a scenario where I don't want to work in the stock market (my job) but we are all vulnerable to the unexpected. I personally don't want to be financially done in by the unexpected and if that resonates with you then investing time in your optionality now, when you don't need it, is the best chance for having a robust solution in the face of job loss or some other adverse outcome.