We hear and talk a lot about mid life. We have mid-life babies, mid-life crises, mid-life issues, and mid-life career changes. But when exactly is this period of time we call mid life? Just when can we expect our mid-life babies, issues, crises, or career changes to come?
Apparently, the definition of mid life depends on who you ask. It’s variously defined as the period between 45 and 65 years old, the period between 40 and 60 years old, and even the period between 25 and 75 years old. We would have hated to think when we were 25 that we were already middle-aged. On the other hand, coasting along in middle age until you hit 75 doesn’t sound all that bad.
Obviously, the definition of middle age—or the mid-life period—is subjective. And, as we’ve all certainly realized by the time we reach mid life, age is more of a state of mind than a number. Everybody’s all probably met energetic, fun-loving men and women in their 70s who seem years younger than some stuffy, sedentary 50-year-olds.
For the purposes of this book, we’re going to assume that middle age—at least as far as your finances are concerned—is the period between when you’re 40 and when you’re 60. When we talk about personal finances in your 40s and 50s, we’re talking about middle-age finances.
We’d all do well to talk—or at least think carefully—about our middle-age personal finances. After all, if we’ve already hit mid life, can retirement be far ahead? Hopefully, everybody’s in pretty good shape with retirement savings, and we’ll all have enough to live comfortably and still be able to have some fun right now.
Unfortunately, there are reports out there that indicate many baby boomers—that would be the 76 million of us born between 1946 and 1964—are largely unprepared financially for retirement. The American Savings Education Council’s 1999 Retirement Confidence Survey showed that the average amount of assets of 40-somethings is less than $50,000. It should be clear to everyone that $50,000 in savings, even if it’s coupled with Social Security payments, isn’t enough to assure a comfortable retirement.
The Metropolitan Life Insurance Company reports that the average American spends 18 years in retirement, but fewer than half have put money aside specifically for those years. Those could be 18 very, very long years.
And studies show that most people need at least three quarters as much money to maintain their standard of living during retirement as they required while working. This varies, of course, depending on factors such as health, location, and so forth, but most financial advisors these days are recommending 75 percent or more.
Social Security benefits for the average retiree are about 40 percent of his or her preretirement earnings. As you can see, there’s a large gap between what Social Security provides and what it costs to live in retirement.
That’s why it’s so important to take a long, hard look at your finances now, while you still have the time to improve your financial situation, if necessary.
Social Security is the primary source of income for about 66 percent of elderly Americans. And experts say the rate of dependency is unlikely to drop in the future because of low savings rates among baby boomers.
Time is a funny concept. It sometimes seems like just yesterday that you were in college, enjoying the frat life and worrying about whether you’d get that term paper written on time. Or that you’d just landed your first job and were trying to figure out what you would wear and how you would act when your boss came around. You can remember perfectly how you scrimped and saved so you’d have enough money to rent that cute little apartment near your office building.
Time continues, and you remember your wedding day. And the day your first child was born. And the second one. It seems like minutes ago that your daughter was sitting on your lap, absolutely entranced as you read Sleeping Beauty for the five-hundredth time. Now she’s 19 and starting her second year of college.
No wonder some days we look in the mirror and hardly recognize the middle-aged person who looks back at us. How did that happen? Who is that person with the graying hair and noticeable laugh lines?
It’s hard to comprehend that 25, 30, or 35 years have passed by since those college days. Or that your children, who seemingly just yesterday were looking to you for all the answers, now have all the answers and are grown up and living on their own. Maybe you’re a grandparent. You might have moved on from that little, rented apartment to a house, and then a bigger house, and now an even bigger house and a vacation home.
Time passes quickly, that’s for sure. We’re at what might be the busiest period of our lives—juggling kids, jobs, and aging parents while still trying to find time to walk the dog, work out at the gym, and maintain some semblance of a social life. We often think that there ought to be hours added to every day, just so we can accomplish everything we need to.
The average life expectancy is 76.7 for men and 79.5 for women, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. You’ll get an idea of how time flies when you consider where you are on your passage through life.
The bottom line is, we’re not kids anymore. And as we move through middle age, our thoughts naturally turn more and more to what’s ahead of us. Someone’s on-the-Internet definition of middle age is “the period when you start looking at your future in terms of limitations rather than opportunities.” We’d like to think that all our futures hold great opportunities, and few limitations.
The fact is, however, that middle age and beyond often presents challenges that our younger years don’t. Many of us will be faced with health issues that we wouldn’t have given a thought to 20 years ago. Maybe you’ve had to give up jogging because your knees can’t take it anymore. Or your doctor may have suggested that you start exercising because you’re 30 pounds overweight and your blood pressure is too high.
A lot of middle-aged folks are helping to care for their aging parents. Anyone who has been there can tell you how incredibly demanding and draining that job can be. At the same time, you may still be taking care of—or at least still worrying about—your kids. And let’s face it, kids can cause big worries, especially in the financial department. There’s college, cars, weddings, and down payments for homes.
While all of this is going on in your life, you might suddenly face a major career change. Reports show that 142,208 Americans lost their jobs in January 2001. Call it laid off, downsized, terminated, let go, or just plain old fired, that’s almost 150,000 people who in one month found themselves without a job. Losing a job when you’re 23 might not be that big of a deal. Losing one when you’re 52, however, is bound to be a bit more unsettling and traumatic.
How you react to and cope with all these changes of life will, in part, determine what your future will be like. If, at 52 years old, you lose the job you’ve had for the past 25 years, will you fall apart, moaning about how life (and the American workplace) is unfair and clearly geared toward younger people? Or will you be innovative and figure out how to make your work situation better than it ever was?
If your doctor tells you that you’re 30 pounds overweight and your blood pressure is creeping up toward a dangerous level, will you buy yourself a treadmill and start working out every morning? Or will you bury your troubles under a big, thick, juicy steak and baked potato with all the trimmings?
We all must deal with changes as we pass through middle age. Some of them we’ll like, others we won’t. It’s important to remember, though, that the way we handle those changes will impact on our futures and the futures of those around us.
If you’re thinking middle age isn’t so great, consider this quote by Thomas Arnold, a British author and educator. “Probably the happiest period in life most frequently is in middle age, when the eager passions of youth are cooled, and the infirmities of age not yet begun; as we see that the shadows, which are at morning and evening so large, almost entirely disappear at midday.”
You probably gathered from what you’ve already read, that health gets to be a big deal once you hit mid life. And even if you didn’t catch that idea from this chapter, you’ve no doubt realized it from listening to your friends talk.
A gathering attended primarily by folks in their 40s and 50s can sound more like a visit to a health clinic than a party. Backaches, bad knees, and high cholesterol are high-priority topics of conversation. Comparing the benefits and side effects of various prescription drugs becomes an amusing pastime. Let’s face it. Most of us never would have wasted time 20 years ago talking about our aches and pains. Largely because we didn’t have aches and pains back then.
The news of what happens to our bodies as we age can be pretty darned discouraging. We gradually lose elastic tissue, resulting in wrinkles and sagging skin. Many of us also have already seen the result of thinning hair.
Between the ages of 30 and 75, our hearts lose 30 percent of their efficiency. As if that’s not bad enough, our lungs and kidneys become 40 percent less efficient, and our livers 10 percent less.
Don’t Go There
If you’re thinking about buying long-term-care insurance, don’t put it off too long. Finding a policy when you’re relatively young and healthy is less expensive and a lot easier than waiting until you’ve already developed health problems. You’ll read more about long-term care insurance in Chapter 24, “You’re Never Too Young to Plan.”
If you’re not already wearing glasses or contacts, consider yourself lucky. By the time we reach our mid-40s, many of us require reading glasses, thanks to a very common refractive error known as presbyopia. If presbyopia, which also is known as “aging eyes” doesn’t get you, myopia (near-sightedness) or hyperopia (farsightedness) just might.
Hearing in many people also becomes less efficient during the 40s and 50s. Most women go through menopause during these years. Bone density decreases. Sleeping habits tend to change. It’s enough to make you want to sign up for assisted living, isn’t it?
The average person reads at about 16 inches away from his eyes. And it takes just about 40 years for the average person to lose focus ability at 16 inches, due to presbyopia. That means you’ve got to change the distance at which you read, or get yourself a pair of reading glasses.
All right, enough already. We know we’re getting older, and we know that our bodies aren’t the same as they were 10 or 20 years ago. That doesn’t mean, however, that we should hang up our jogging shoes and head for the showers for good. There are plenty of things we can do during our 40s and 50s to maintain (or help to achieve) good health. Here are a few:
Health is more than just being able to get through the day. The World Health Organization describes health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” There you have it.
Watch what you eat and drink. Cut back on fried and fatty foods (fast-food comes to mind), and limit red meat to twice a week. Eat more fruits and vegetables—most people don’t get the five-a-day as recommended for better health. Eat lots of grains and watch out for highly processed foods and overly sugary ones. Keep an eye on how much alcohol you’re consuming. If you think you’re drinking too much and you can’t stop, call the Center for Substance Abuse Treatment at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357). Staff will give you information about treatment programs in your area and answer any questions you might have.
Get regular check-ups. Experts recommend a physical every one to three years for people in their 40s and 50s. Ask your doctor what tests and screenings you should have as you age, and how often you need them. Some of those tests include mammograms, prostate cancer screenings, pap smears, cholesterol checks, electrocardiograms, blood pressure checks, stool screenings, rectal exams, and bone density checks. Don’t forget eye exams, including glaucoma screenings after age 50.
Take charge of your own health. If you know your blood pressure tends to run high, keep track of it. Don’t wait until you see your doctor to have it taken. There are lots of pharmacies and health clubs that have blood pressure monitoring machines, and they’re usually free. Know the warning signs of cancer and pay attention if you develop any of them. Read up on vitamin supplements and use them if you think they’re necessary. Get enough calcium.
Stay safe. Wear a seat belt. Wear a helmet when biking. Avoid unnecessary risks like using rickety ladders or towels instead of hot pads to remove food from the stove. Wear protective goggles when you’re mowing the lawn or using power tools. Practice safe sex. Don’t ever drive after you’ve been drinking, and don’t ride with anyone else who’s been drinking.
Make time for fun and foster your relationships. The happiest people aren’t those who spend 80 hours a week at the office and another 20 catching up with more work at home. They’re not the ones who are constantly plugged in and on call and connected. Happy people know how to kick back and have some fun. They take time—or make time—to spend with the people they love, and they don’t take themselves—or life too seriously.
Taking care of yourself during middle age will go a long way in ensuring good health in old age. People who are in good physical condition are more likely to be able to remain living on their own than those who aren’t. Being fit and healthy also will keep your insurance premiums at a payable level.
If you’re feeling a little bit stressed (and who isn’t these days?) don’t worry. A limited amount of stress is actually good for you. It’s what makes you productive and active. When stress gets to be too much, however, it can have some really nasty effects on your health. It also can badly strain your relationships and make everyone around you pretty miserable.
All of us get stress from different areas of our lives. Maybe it’s your job that’s stressing you out. Maybe it’s your kids, or your spouse, or your ex, or your dog, or your mom, or the noisy neighbors across the street, or the fact that next Tuesday is your forty-eighth birthday. Let’s face it. We live in a pretty stressful world.
Studies on the connection between stress, health, and the proper functioning of the immune system show that stress contributes to 50 percent of all illnesses in the United States.
A publication from the Clemson University Cooperative Extension Service called “Stress Management—Taking Charge,” offers the following suggestions for managing stress:
Stress may make the world go ’round, but too much of it can stop us in our tracks. If you feel that you have more stress than you can handle, contact a counselor, psychologist, or mental health agency in your area.
Recognizing that you have a problem and getting help before the problem gets out of control is a smart and responsible thing to do. You’ll be thankful that you did, and so will your family, friends, and co-workers.
You can check out Clemson’s report on handling stress at this Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site: www.cdc.gov/niosh/nasd/docs4/sc98012.html.
If you’re like many baby boomers, you’ve got two or three kids of your own. And depending on how old you were when they were born, they may be anywhere from toddlers to adults living on their own. We know 50-somethings who are just now making the rounds of elementary school concerts and parent-teacher conferences, and other 50- somethings who are happily playing with their grandkids.
In addition to your kids, regardless of their ages, let’s assume that your parents are still living, and that they’re elderly. And you’re helping to take care of them. Sound familiar? Hello! Welcome to the sandwich generation.
Most of us don’t plan to become our parents’ caregivers. It begins very suddenly one night, when you get a call from your mother, telling you your dad’s had a stroke and is in the hospital. At that point, your life may change drastically.
Suddenly, instead of tending to your kids, your house, your job, your volunteer work, and your social life—you find yourself running back and forth from the hospital, making arrangements for Dad to go a rehabilitation center for therapy, trying to figure out insurance statements, and helping Mom take care of the house while Dad’s not there. All of that occurs in addition to your obligations to your own family. Needless to say, being sandwiched between your kids and your parents is not the easiest, or most comfortable, place to be.
If you are a member of the sandwich generation, you’re at least in good company. The National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), based in Kensington, Maryland, estimates that there are 25 million family caregivers in the United States. These caregivers, nearly one quarter of whom are watching over aging parents, provide about two thirds of all home care services. The NFCA estimates the value of these services at $300 billion a year.
More and more baby boomers are caring for aging parents, and making major changes in their own lives as a result. The fastest growing segment of the population today is those who are 85 years or older, including many of our parents. Our parents are living longer, and many of us will be challenged to step up and take our turns as caregivers.
A survey by the National Family Caregivers Association shows that of the 25 million family caregivers in the United States, 81 percent are female, 79 percent are married, and 70 percent are between the ages of 40 and 60. On a scary note, nearly half of all caregivers are thought to suffer from prolonged depression.
If you are, you should know that there’s help available. Several good books and Web sites about caring for aging parents are listed in Appendix B, “Resources.” You also could contact your local area agency on aging for information about care giving.
One thing to remember is that planning ahead can save you a lot of trouble and heartache if the time ever comes that you need to step in as a caregiver. The best thing you can do is to sit down with your parents today and talk to them. That isn’t an easy task, because the topics you need to discuss are difficult. Some of the issues you should discuss with your parents are . . .
Knowing that you’ll be available to help them may be comforting to your parents, but it’s likely to be a touchy subject. Admitting that they need help probably isn’t easy for them, and the changing roles of parents and children may be difficult.
Breaking the ice and starting a conversation, however, will bring this difficult topic to the surface and begin discussions about how to handle it.
Mid life is not without challenges, to be sure. There are, however, plenty of opportunities as well, both for now and the future. Take a deep breath, and think about all the good aspects of your life. And now, let’s get started on some of those middle-age financial issues.