The trials of long-term financial planning

(This one’s a little bit of a downer, I’m afraid.)

In most ways, I am a boring, responsible adult. I obsess over my bank account balances, deliberate over each time I eat out or stop at my favorite coffee shop, save my receipts to check against my bank statements each month, and file my taxes about a month in advance. I even used to record every transaction in an old-fashioned bank balance book. I would like to credit my step-father for instilling such Responsible Adult Practices in me.

But there is one area for which I have very little capacity, and that is retirement planning.

This is an unfortunate weak point, I understand. Rest assured I have managed, if a little belatedly (considering I am still only a quarter-century old), to get through setting up a 401K, and I assume it runs itself.

But every time there appears to be a need to make a slight adjustment or to remind myself what exactly I’ve arranged for my future, all the original difficulties wash over me again.

And I would like to say that is not a ridiculous reaction, when apparently a key part of Financial Planning involves answering questions like “What tax bracket will you be in when you retire?” and “What will be your average rate of return between now and then?”

Oh my God. Do you know how many things could happen between now and then? I’m a writer with an interest in politics — I can think of a lot of potential variables, their likelihood impossible to predict. How can I possibly make a reasonable prediction for what my tax bracket is going to be in forty years?

I think this is particularly difficult for me to contemplate because the first time I was ever prompted to look into creating a 401K, my brother happened to commit suicide in the same month. I’ve never been seriously suicidal, but it’s fair to say that death was strongly on my mind. Even ruling out the possibility that my life ends by my own hand, the notion of planning my octogenarian years felt a little preposterous.

There are times — especially that month — when it feels vastly preferable to live another four happy decades and die peacefully on the cusp of retirement, than to go through the headache of strategizing and struggling and stressing to accumulate what feels now like an impossible sum of money, in order to cushion another twenty years.


[Note: This is not a request for any kind of assistance or recommendations for financial advisers or products. Please refrain from commenting with such suggestions.]

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