Reap a Fatter Retirement Harvest by Embracing the New Economy
This is not a story about rice. But bear with me for a moment while I tell you a story about rice.
A video popped up recently on TikTok or YouTube or one of the video platforms I futz around with. It’s a guy who spends a couple hours (in time-lapse) counting out 10,000 grains of rice. Each grain represents $100,000. By the end, there’s a huge pile of grains to one side representing the net worth of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, and on the other side sits that lonely grain, representing far more wealth than most Americans currently own, according to various studies.
It’s the ultimate manifestation of the rot that fundamentally permeates American-style capitalism these days (the cause of which is an entirely different story). The result is that many of us in or on the cusp of retirement suffer a profound sense of frustration at a moment in our lives where our past efforts should now have us adequately prepped for tomorrow. Alas, those past efforts are decidedly not an indication of future results.
Indeed, a colleague sent me an email last week that captures a feeling that, I suspect, haunts a great deal of early Gen Xers and late baby boomers. It’s from a friend of hers who posted this to one of her social media accounts:
“So I’m driving to work and I no longer have a rear windshield wiper—it corroded and broke off. I’m thinking how lucky it is that I’m getting a new car this year. Of course, that’s if neither [my husband] nor I get laid off… And I realize I’m still not financially safe. I worked really hard. I got good grades. I strove. I tried to do the right things financially. I have no unsecured debt.
“And yet we’re not really safe. And I feel guilty wanting a new car even though the one I drive is 14 years old. This is my reality. And I am able to earn at nearly five times the poverty line… The longer I live with the realization that this is capitalism, the more I am convinced it’s not worth saving.”
I get it.
My grandparents didn’t have it this way, even though they worked in relatively low-wage jobs—my grandfather a mechanic and tires salesman, my grandmother a secretary for a chemical company. They never had a ton of money, and my grandmother certainly lived a pedestrian retirement. But they lived in a time when even their meager efforts at saving—at doing the right things financially—paid off.
But the U.S. has changed. Times have changed. The economy has changed. Opportunities have changed. And when life changes, we have to change, too…or be cast aside by our own inaction.
The analogy here, I know from personal experience, is losing a job, which I’ve written about before. My previous company quit on me, just as America has quit on so many Americans who feel lost in their own country. But in those moments, you don’t quit on yourself. You adapt. You find a new way or a new place to do you.
Maybe that’s a new career with a new employer doing something different than what you did in your old life. Maybe it’s learning a new skill that jibes with where the money is in modern America. Maybe it’s taking a chance on yourself to pursue a lifestyle earning an income based on your own entrepreneurial efforts as a freelancer, or with your own startup (lots of people in the post-50 set are going that route nowadays, which is a story I know one of my other colleagues is currently working on).
Or maybe you opt for a different part of the U.S., or even a whole new country, with new opportunities, which, frankly, is a primary part of my rationale for decamping to the Czech Republic. A brand-new set of opportunities to build a brand-new Jeff. A more entrepreneurial Jeff who is actively building multiple streams of income because I don’t want to be in the situation I was in when the guillotine fell on me, out of the blue, at 52.
So what I’m saying is that I completely understand the angst that wafts across Americans of a certain age these days. We did all of it right—or, at least, as much of it as we could—and still the system abandoned us. But that’s the mutant, end stage of capitalism that has emerged.
There’s good news here at the end, though. We can stop wringing our hands and we can stop feeling guilty about wanting to replace our near-antique car…and we can, instead, decide to build a better future for ourselves so that we reap a fatter harvest regardless of the system.
Maybe this was a story about rice after all…
Written by Jeff D. Opdyke