by Judy M McCutcheon
Traditional and cultural norms have held us captive for centuries as we do things without understanding why or even appreciating their significance.
Let’s take Santa Claus for instance. Do you know why we tell kids that Santa exists or that it is Santa that brings their gifts at Christmas? I believe in the concept of Santa, as a matter of fact, I love the concept of Santa. I am the only person in my house who believes in Santa or Christmas for that matter. There is so much we can learn from the Santa concept; first and foremost, the big ole bearded guy is all about planning. He has to plan a year in advance so that he is able to deliver gifts to kids all over the world. That takes a lot of prior preparation, to get it just right. I can bet you he has started planning for his next trip around the world. Christmas is over and according to the Trinis “fete over, back to work.” But is it just business as usual? We are at the start of a brand-new year, so what about planning ahead so that you can get the very best out of this year? Confucius said that a man who does not plan ahead will find trouble at his door. We can avoid most of that potential trouble with a little bit of forward-looking.
How does your future look? Have you seen a glimpse of it lately? The thing about the future is that it will happen whether you are ready for it or not. So why not be as ready as you can possibly be to face it? There’s a saying, if you are planning for a year, plant corn, but if you are planning for a decade plant trees. Let’s plant some trees then. The year is still very young, so now is a good time as any to get your financial life in order. It’s not going to be an overnight success, but if you start the process now, you can still be ahead in the game.
I am currently reading a book called “55, Underemployed and Faking It,” and while it’s based on American society, it’s not remote for us here in the Caribbean. Many of us have close relatives living in the United States and this could be the reality for many of them. As I am fast approaching 50, the statistics on aging and poverty are sobering and gives me quite a cause for concern; not only for myself but for the thousands of women out there, who are getting on in age with no real plan in sight as to how they will make it for the next 20 years post-retirement. While the statistics are daunting in general, it looks really bleak for women. Women on average live longer then men, they represent 70% of people living in nursing homes, there is the gender wage gap, plus women, in general, tend to save less than men. Couple that with the fact that women tend to leave the workplace to take care of their children, their aging parents or other older relatives.
The US government shutdown – 35 days, the longest in its history has had some disastrous effects on many persons. It has also revealed that Thousands of people are living pay cheque to pay cheque with no clear plan of how to redress the situation. I wonder what would have happened if the shut down continued for another 15 days. The bottom fell out for many after just one week without salary. This points to a very glaring fact – people are not able to save enough to have at least a month of salary in case of emergency. The point is, many of us have no pension, no substantial savings and many of us are scared to even take a peek at our future. How are people to save in a depressed economy with stagnant wages? How do we survive job losses and job cuts? If you are young and have the luxury of time on your side, then it’s easier to switch jobs and get back on your feet quicker. But what happens if you lose your job when you are age 50 or 55? How do you survive that loss of income, especially if your savings are minimal? How long before your savings run out? These are all pertinent questions to consider, even if you are not in this position because one thing, I can guarantee you is that life can flip on you in an instance. Can you survive one major illness and not go broke? Do you have adequate health insurance in place to help you ease some of the pressure? You will face the economic challenges of aging if you don’t die young, therefore, you need to have some sort of strategy to treat with it.
If you are under financial pressure, which we might all be, it’s best to rethink your strategy. Eisenhower once said that plans may be useless, but planning is indispensable. So, start planning for how you want your future to look, don’t worry if you veer off course, that’s ok. Things may not work out exactly the way you planned it, but having a plan helps you to think through your options clearly. You need to know what your contingencies are and how you might mitigate your risks. Having a plan gives you something to work towards. It’s really a question of what you want to happen in the fourth quarter of your life. Are you going to be living in a room by your sister, or are you going to be living with your son and his wife that you don’t like? Our lives are the sum total of the decisions and choices we make. Some things we can control and some things we can’t. Planning for your future is within your control, it’s your only get out of jail free card in your fourth quarter, but you are going to have to decide how you use that card.
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Judy McCutcheon is a partner in the firm Go Blue Inc, a Human Development Company.
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