Monday, November 27, 2006

Tater Tomater

Today in the lunch line, I overheard a couple of conversations. I'm not much of an eavedropper, but when there are twenty people waiting to order their bacon cheeseburgers and Frostys, it's the best entertainment available. Especially when said twenty people are all within 8 inches of each other.

The minor conversation was between two women, middle-aged, discussing some younger woman in their office whose boyfriend is in Iraq. One said to the other that this young lady makes up things to be angry at him over so she doesn't worry so much. I thought that was tremendously sad. Here is the poor guy across the globe fighting and living in conditions unthinkable to typical Americans, and his girl is making up crap to hold against him just so she won't have to cry at night. I hope she gets dumped soon.

The other conversation was between an older man and woman near retirement age--or that age I think retirement is supposed to occur. That was their topic of discussion. The man was wearing a suit and tie, talking about how his brother bought a house last year for $510,000 that is now only valued at $420,000. The woman said her husband is a physician, and he cannot retire because they can't sell their house. Obviously, neither of these folks has never had to worry about clipping coupons or the price of a gallon of milk, at least not in decades. It was also clear that despite their economic positions in life, they were sweating bullets over money.

It got me thinking. I'm habitually worried about money to begin with. I don't make much and way too many of those dollars go out than stay in. I've never paid much attention to the economy; I've always had a steady income, meagerly middle-class though it may be, but now that I've begun aging out of my irresponsible youth I realize I don't have the luxury of ignorance much longer.

I'm worried about retirement; I don't know how long I will have to work, and I have absolutely no clue if or how I could ever save the requisite $2 million or whatever it is before I can expect to retire. I don't even know if I can keep my job that long.

I'm worried about my kids' college savings. I want them to succeed, like any parent, and I believe them to be truly unique individuals that can change the world given the chance. They'll never get close to that chance without formal education, and I can barely put money in a savings account, let alone save for three tuitions.

I worry about the value of my home. Our house is no crown jewel, but homeownership is still something to be proud of. Now, with the neighborhood going to hell and the schools a mess, I wonder if it's something we should forfeit for the chance to "trade up". Two weeks ago, I had the ironic satisfaction that we couldn't afford to move anyway, so the drop in housing prices was something we could ride out, at least as sellers. Now, I'm not so sure.

I worry about my health. Sure I worry about everyone else in the family's too, but ever since I broke my arm I have wondered what would have happened if it'd been more serious. The way my insurance is set up currently, it would be much preferable for me to die in a serious accident than come out disabled in any way. How would I provide for my family? Who would take care of them if I couldn't? And even if nothing bad happens to me, I'm already seeing the effects of three years out of my twenties. If I don't get on the stick, ten extra pounds will turn into God knows what. Will my health outlast my children's dependence on me?

In this season, the key is to be thankful, and I'm trying to remember that. But for now, the balance between staying positive, laughing with and kissing the kids, going out occasionally for nice dinners, getting Nancy that thing she really wants for her birthday; and taking care of business: making an extra house payment, saving for tuition, paring back at Christmas time, and generally staying way way in the eluding me. At least through December, I will err on the side of thankfulness and carefully measured denial. But after that, I somehow have to try again to cope with it all without making plans that begin by upping my life insurance.

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