If the employment picture is so great, why are people unhappy?

Female WWII aircraft workerDon’t believe everything the President tells you. In fact, it’s a generally accepted principle that for anything he says, the opposite is true. Which is really chilling when he announces that we have the best employment and economic picture, well, since forever.
That’s not the felt experience of nearly every client (or family member, or friend) that I see. Although most people I see do have a job, I see certain factors that paint a far less rosy picture:

• Even if you have a job, you’re scared that it may evaporate. Corporate and institutional loyalty to employees is long gone. People definitely get fired at will, or on a whim.• If you’re young, you’re expendable. They can definitely find someone with your (limited) skills.
• If you’re old, you’re also expendable. They can definitely find someone younger for far less, and who cares about your experience. Your skills are probably out of date anyway.
• Ha-ha on worker protections. Do you really think this administration is going to go full throttle on discrimination claims, disability accommodations, or workers’ rights?
• You probably don’t have a union to protect you. Somehow employees were convinced that unions weren’t for “professionals” and that union dues would send them into poverty. Being on your own with no backup is certainly worth it, right? To the employer, that is.
• If you just graduated, you may feel hopeless about finding a job at all, and therefore aren’t counted as in the labor market. Congratulations if that $120K-$250K you just spent got you any services at all from your school’s Career Services office.
• The gig economy has infected even so-called full time, in demand jobs. Staffing companies have appeared like cucarachas in the so-called in-demand fields like health care and computer services. They may offer you a tiny bit better hourly rate (and it’s always hourly, not a salary), but your benefits are non-existent, they probably aren’t going to contribute to any retirement plan, your paid days off may not exist, and you’re very likely to be held to unreasonably high “productivity” standards. You’re working for Uber, whether you know it or not. So yeah, I guess you’re in demand.
• We have a miniscule social safety net nowadays. Social Security is unlikely to be anywhere near enough to cover expenses. You’re a unicorn if you still have a pension, and even if it exists you’ll have to work longer to qualify than indentured servants in the colonies did.
• Good quality childcare is so expensive that it’s not even worth it to work in some professions (you know, the helping, socially useful ones).
• Make me laugh, let’s discuss health insurance. If you leave your job, once it runs out you’re back on the exchange. And if you take a new one with group insurance, unless the employer has the same insurer, you’re probably going to have to meet a second deductible. If you do find yourself in this situation, be sure to discuss this with the new insurer—some will give you credit for having met your deductible. Despite how it looked when the Affordable Care Act went into effect, most of us are afraid to leave our jobs because of the cost of insurance. Oh well, at least we can get it now.

Except for the childcare (mom stayed home until I went to school) NOT A SINGLE ONE OF THESE POINTS was true for my parents (born in 1913 & 1915). Sure, there’s lots that was wrong in previous eras (discrimination, worker safety), but full employment under Harry Truman (I just finished David McCullough’s biography) looked a lot different than what “full employment” means today. And not in a good way.

Read this before retiring!

Public service announcement: the age to collect your full Social Security benefit is NOT 65, and hasn’t been since 1983! Every year I see people who are planning to retire at 65 because “that’s when Social Security kicks in”. Please see a financial planner before you notify your job or the Social Security Administration that you’re retiring. AND, SSA is not in the business of telling you how you can get the most money, so know your options before you commit to anything.

Financial decisions: I shoulda done better


It’s taken me a while to realize that not everyone loves financial planning. I mean, when I first started this I assumed all my clients would be deliriously happy about what a positive future we were going to plan together, and untangling any knots would be fun along the way. I love it, so everyone else should too, right?

It took me years to realize that many people who came to me were scared, embarrassed, or at least nervous. The great thing about working with people is that, in almost all cases, I can help most people make a good plan and feel much better. But I continually listen and try to learn, and after hearing so many stories over the years, I can distill a few principles which I repeat over and over to myself in my own life.

  1. You can never fix the past. In all the (now) hundreds of people I’ve seen, perhaps one or two had no regrets about their financial decisions. That’s not to say there weren’t regrets about other issues. Nevertheless, you have absolutely no way to rewrite your past decisions. Most of them either seemed right back then, or you knew they were wrong but did them anyway for what seemed like the easier or better way at the time. You have absolutely no control over the past at this point.
  1. The only reason to go over your past mistakes is to learn how to do better in the present and future (and to make atonement if necessary). If you can learn from this review how to make better decisions now and going forward, it’s worthwhile.

My first ex-husband has a wonderful phrase he uses to evaluate his public speaking engagements. If he thinks it went badly, he tells himself I was not satisfied with my performance. This is just a wonderful way to characterize a less-than-ideal effort, with no blame and every possibility to learn to improve. And yes, he’s a wonderful speaker.

  1. If it’s not working for you, you have to change. You can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. Sure, something may be too hard (break it down into smaller steps), not have taken into consideration all factors (then revise until it works) and the ideal outcome may not be possible (but some improvement surely is).
  1. It’s not hopeless unless you’re dead. I’m not speaking of actual physical illness here, I’m talking about money. You may not be able to create exactly what you want (can we ever?) but you can almost always make things at least a little better.
  1. Any change is more likely to succeed if you can set it up so you make the fewest choices possible. It’s much harder to decide to save every month if you have to write the check or make the transfer, than it is if you decide to set up automatic transfers and forget about them thereafter—you’ve only made one choice, not 12.
  1. The older you are, the more creativity it may take. You can go back to school, relocate, get rid of a car—things that may have been unthinkable in years past can actually become liberating and unburdening. You most assuredly do not need all the stuff you have—no American does. Will a yard sale fully fund your retirement savings? No, but a lot of littles can add up to big.

Bottom line: a financial plan isn’t a punishment where you review all your past sins. It’s a way to wrest control from chaos and fine tune your financial engine to hum along at a better velocity.